Today is the one year anniversary of the day I got my first sick note for “work related stress” and I felt it was a good time as any to actually discuss what happened and how I feel about it one year on.
LET”S START AT THE BEGINNING
I was 29+3 weeks pregnant with Sienna on the day I woke up and began to get ready to return to work after two days off with a migraine. I’d been suffering with them throughout the pregnancy but didn’t think a lot of it as I’d had them with my first pregnancy too. The morning I sat at my dressing table, putting my make up on, I text my best friends and said “I don’t know what’s wrong with me but I feel really jittery.” They offered words of support but, as someone who is fairly laid back, I knew that what I was feeling was alien to me and it was unsettling. That being said, I managed to get myself ready and I made it as far as my works car park where I sat in the car, unable to open the door. I knew something was “off” and after about ten minutes, I rang my doctors. As the receptionist asked what was wrong, I babbled. I probably made very little sense but the lady on the other end of the phone was lovely and quickly booked me an appointment that morning. I had no clue what I was going to say to the doctor as I didn’t know what was going on but my first hurdle before that was to go into work and inform them of my appointment. After all, they were expecting me back in work and lessons were beginning shortly.
As I walked down the short corridor from the entrance to the Performing Arts office, I heard students saying “Hi Miss!” but all I could think was “shut up, shut up, shut up”. My Head of Department (HoD) was talking to some students in the doorway but could see I wasn’t right as I walked in so ushered them away. As the door shut, I broke down and as I tried to explain I panicked, getting more and more worked up.
Sat in the doctors office, about an hour later, after telling her the above, she said I’d suffered a panic attack. She then began asking me a lot of questions
- How often have you felt down, depressed, or hopeless? (No.)
- Have you had any thoughts of suicide? (No.)
- Do you prefer to stay at home rather than going out and doing new things? (I’m nearly 30 weeks pregnant, yes I prefer staying home at the moment.)
- How do you sleep? (Again, I’m 30 weeks pregnant and usually sleep on my front, how do you think I’m sleeping?!)
I knew what she was doing and we both knew from my answers that I wasn’t depressed but then she said “I think you’re suffering with anxiety.” I was dubious. I’ve always considered myself a laid back person, so much so my Mum was convinced that the reason our son was such a placid baby was because of how calm I’d been during my pregnancy. I’m not a worrier so anxiety wasn’t even on my radar. The anxiety was not linked to my pregnancy, the baby or family, but was mostly work related. Everyone knows that teaching comes with lots of pressures and a high work load. Usually, I take it all in my stride but, as the doctor and I talked, I realised that I had been (metaphorically) drowning since before the summer holidays. I was unable to deal with the job like I usually could and my coping mechanisms that I would usually use such as “Only X amount of days till holiday.” or “Only one day then the weekend” were not working. I felt a sense of panic when I read emails, I avoided specific people at work and, as I realised whilst talking to the doctor, my migraines were more frequent during term time and I’d not suffered one over the summer holidays. For the good of my own mental health, and the health of my unborn baby, I was signed off work, initially for two weeks but it continued until I started my maternity leave.
WHAT HAPPENED NEXT?
As I left the doctors I had a handful of leaflets and contacts but the first thing I did was head to one of my best friends house, where I distracted myself with entertaining her five month old son while she got some jobs done. We chatted about it but she knew that I needed the distraction and her little lad was it, plus it was helping her too. The whole diagnosis of “Anxiety” didn’t sit comfortably, nor did not being in work. “People are in higher positions and under more stress than I am” I told myself and others. “But they’re not pregnant” my friends and family told me, but I struggled with it until I went to a one- to-one counselling session with Talking Therapies. At the beginning of the session, I was asked what was making me anxious and my answer was “I don’t know!” by the end of it the lovely lady said “So actually, there is quite a lot thats making your anxious.’ Everything had spurted out like verbal diarrhoea and, truthfully, it felt good. The main thing that sticks with me from that session was that she asked “What do you need?” and my response was “I need to get back to work.” “Do you?” she responded, “Or do you think thats what you should do?” She was right, what I needed was to be away from it. I went on to do a series of CBT (Cognate Behaviour Therapy) sessions in a large group to help me deal with my anxiety but, in the interest of honesty, I didn’t rate them. As a teacher, I was frustrated by the delivery of them and sitting on a hard chair for an hour and a half in the third trimester of pregnancy was not ideal. Saying that, the booklet I was given on the first day was helpful and gave me strategies for dealing with it.
ONE YEAR ON
If you had told me on the day of my panic attack at work, that a year on I would have resigned from my teaching post, I wouldn’t have believed you. Whilst I knew it wasn’t a role I would do forever, I certainly didn’t intend to leave so soon. Reflecting on my anxiety, I do think that some of the contributing factor was the extra girl hormones from carrying my daughter. There are days were I joke that she sent me crazy in pregnancy, mentally I certainly wasn’t me and, since she’s been born, I haven’t experience anxiety half as much. Yes, it’s still there when work is involved. Even when I drove there over the summer to get my things from the office and hand my keys/badge in, I had to take a deep breath as I pulled onto the road leading to it. Feeling like that makes me secure in my decision to resign. It was the right thing for my mental health. The aspect of my life that was causing the anxiety has been removed (I am lucky that I am in a position to do that), and the extra crazy girl hormones are no longer there either so I’m much better. I haven’t experienced a migraine since I gave birth to her in December 2017. Coincidently, my first ever HoD messaged me around the same time it was happening and said she had experienced the same thing when pregnant with her second born, a girl…but then her other two children are girls too and she didn’t feel it with them!
Having had no personal experience of anything linked to mental health in the past, I feel like my experience of it as made me much more empathetic to those suffering daily. I was lucky that my case was short lived and not extreme but it was still difficult to deal with so I have a lot of respect for those that are in a constant battle with their head. I feel like I know myself a little better and, when those feelings I now know are anxiety appear, I am more equipped to deal with them.
Do you/Have you suffered from anxiety? Did you suffer with anxiety in pregnancy? How do you combat it? Please comment below with any hints and tips for those dealing with anxiety and you can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.