Mental Health Awareness Week

Having the courage to ask for help

May 15, 2019
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I wrote this blog to reach out to others to give inspiration that it is possible to recover from mental health issues, as I write this we are in the middle of Mental Health Awareness Week and I want to encourage people to find their voice.

My personal healing journey began after experiencing mental health issues which I saw, at the time, as a sense of failure rather than as being essential to my personal development and change. Prior to the birth of my daughter in 2005, I had not personally encountered mental health issues, despite several life challenges, divorced from my first marriage, a stressful job managing a large team of people for a prestigious global company, working long hours and travelling abroad I seemed to cope OK.

I left my job to take a career break in order to bring up my daughter. Following complications during the birth she was born with cranial problems, which we were unaware of at the time. She had problems feeding, lying flat, sleeping and also developed chronic eczema. Lack of sleep, worry and the feeling of not being able to protect her took its toll on me. Life had changed so much from the one I had left behind and I developed what the doctor thought was post-natal depression. It was during this time that I started taking anti-depressants and embarked on some counselling. My daughter was also treated by a cranial osteopath and after the first treatment she fell asleep on her own. For me, this was a turning point with the start of normal life and sleep resuming.

After talking to mums at local groups, it was clear that others were struggling with similar issues but were scared to speak about it. I then decided to train as a counsellor, not only to help me work all this out, but also to be in a position to help other struggling mums find a voice. I realised that, for me, there was a pattern emerging – because I didn’t have the perfect baby and life was not as I had expected, I made myself feel quite unhappy. This pattern has continued in my life. Now, using mindfulness, I am able to observe that my mood and temper change when things are not going as expected and I try to remember that it is ok to have a melt-down, I just don’t need to unpack my things and live there permanently because it will pass.

After my training, and from speaking to trained colleagues over the years, I now know I suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) arising from the birth and ensuing complications with my baby rather than post-natal depression.

Looking back, despite what life dealt me, I seemed to cope by simply existing rather than living. It was the death of a very close friend in 2011 that caused a level of trauma, anxiety and panic so huge that at times I retreated to my bed. My whole world was turned upside down; I began questioning my own mortality and the precious gift that is life. I became very scared as I thought my anxiety was never going to go away and I kept this dark secret to myself for over a year. 

My symptoms came in the form of palpitations, sweating, nervous twitches, teeth clenching, feeling sick, tightness in the chest, a tingling feeling at the base of my neck, churning stomach, absolute fear or dread on waking (similar to waking from a nightmare or bad dream), fatigue, upset tummy, pins and needles in my arms and legs, tears, insomnia, shaking. At times it felt like I was looking down on myself, my peripheral vision became blurred; I couldn’t concentrate and grew forgetful. I became good at acting out my own life in order to keep things together; everything was an effort, I had dark thoughts and couldn’t find joy in anything. Eventually, in 2014 after a particularly bad day I was taken to hospital in an ambulance. Following an ECG scan, a very kind Doctor asked me if anything was worrying me. I simply said, “How long have you got?”

During the PTSD period, my GP had prescribed me anti-depressants which seemed to work. This time anti-depressants weren’t the right approach as they just made me worse. I was frustrated because I had worked in the well-being industry; I was a trained holistic therapist and knew I should be able to fix what was wrong with me. One lonely, dark day I decided to re-visit my reiki roots and use meditation again.

Meditation gave me some space away from my churning thoughts, allowing me to sleep for the first time in months and it started to connect me to my intuition. This was extremely empowering in my own healing because as my brain relaxed through meditation I started to be ‘given’ little snippets of information indicating that my self-esteem was in tatters. Meditation became quite addictive and that was when a lot of the internal work began for me.

This led me to research ego and mindfulness, both of which provided light bulb moments and actually changed my life. I went on to gain qualifications in mindfulness and meditation and began paying these skills forward in the form of local meditation classes and mindfulness workshops. As a qualified teacher, I like passing on information and seeing the joy I gave to others through my work made me realise that I had at last re-discovered my purpose.

In 2015 I set up The Mindfulspace Wellbeing Company to encourage the use of mindfulness and meditation by providing workshops and classes. A BBC journalist picked up my story and filmed a piece of my work in schools for a BBC documentary. Having an educational background, my dream was to teach others so that the work could expand and continue.

The centre opened in February 2017 and it has become a hub for like-minded souls, both individuals and professionals. I worked hard creating courses and gaining accreditation with an awarding body. 

Within six months the centre had expanded to double its size and we added regular meditation classes, a one to one mindfulness program, counselling, a treatment menu, workshops galore, yoga, Pilates, sound therapies, baby massage, Qi gong, retreats and self-development book clubs. Today we teach qualifications in mindfulness, meditation, massage, Indian head massage, reiki, baby massage and yoga instructor, holistic facials and deep tissue massage. The centre also supports local charities; I speak about mental health issues and take the well-being message out into the wider community. I also record free meditations which are available to listen to on my website below.

If you are struggling with your well-being and mental health issues, never be afraid to speak up, you are not a failure, people are kinder than you think.  Good places to start are to pay your GP a visit, tell your friends and family, avoid just existing and battling through each day and try not to be frightened of the symptoms anxiety brings – it will only continue the fear cycle. My life completely changed in many ways through living with anxiety, panic and depression and some of it has been for the better.  When I look back, the small step of speaking out that day in the hospital was the start of my recovery.

Some of the above are extracts from my book The Gateway – A journey to re-claim your power from stress and anxiety.

Love and light

Gail

 

www.gaildonnan.com

 

 

 

 

Gail Donnan

Owner and Author, The Mindfulspace Wellbeing Company

I have been working in the holistic/well-being industry since 1995. In this time I have trained as a traditional counsellor, holistic therapist, Mindfulness Practitioner, a Teacher in Further Education, Meditation Teacher, Bach Flower Essence Practitioner, Qi Gong Instructor, Reiki Master Teacher Practitioner and life coach. I have spent ten years teaching others and own The Mindfulspace Wellbeing Company in Ripon, North Yorkshire which is an accredited training centre in wellbeing modalties. I have written a self-development book, offer workshops, Retreats and a study program to help people inspire change in their lives. I specialise in mental health issues, anxiety, depression and inspiring others to make life and career changes towards the well-being industry. I am a published Author of "The Gateway - A journey to re-claim your power from Stress and Anxiety".

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