Inspired by my little brother, I am going to take my 5 minutes to share my story on #timetotalk day. I have been trying to write blog posts about this all day, but I think I have been going down the wrong avenue with it – I have been trying to write posts full of advice about Yoga and walking, and how these can help so much, in so many ways, but I think that what I really want to do is share my story, my battles with my own mental health troubles.
I have had numerous issues around self esteem and negative thinking for as long as I can remember, going back to primary school I remember strongly thinking I wasn’t good enough, that I didn’t fit, and that no one liked me. This was a pretty hard way to grow up, self loathing became a constant way of being. When I discovered alcohol at 16, I realised that I had found something that could help me pretend I felt different. When life got to be difficult, and started to spiral out of control when I was 20, I realised that if I drank enough of it, I could block out all the negative thoughts and head straight to oblivion, a very welcome destination at the time. Of course, most of these nights I would end up crying inconsolably into a friend’s arms as well, and would often find myself making some really stupid decisions I wouldn’t have even contemplated when sober.
Alcohol quickly became my crutch to help me get through social situations, and times when I was on my own, with only the thoughts in my head to listen to (they never said anything good about me, I didn’t like listening to them at all). I ignored the stomach upsets that are an inevitable side effect of too much Strongbow, and the near constant fog in my head, and the voices in my head telling me that I was killing myself, and managed to convince myself that it was ok, I wasn’t an alcoholic, I was ok. I managed to get a 2:1 teaching degree while living like this, I have often mused on whether I would have got a first had I not been drinking so much.
When my brother died in 2005, I found myself reflecting on the eulogies that had been given to him at his funeral and wondering what people would have said about me had it been me that died. All I could think of was that I got pissed a lot. I didn’t ever ask anyone that question, I don’t think I wanted to know, but that was all I could think of, which was worrying indeed. I decided that I wanted to have a life I could be proud of, so I threw myself into walking, yoga, fundraising, and having adventures. These all helped enormously, boosted my self esteem massively; although there was still a considerable amount of self loathing there, I was able to feel good about myself a lot more. I know without a doubt that walking massively helped me in the almost impossible task of getting over my brother’s death; it helped me find peace where I never thought there would be. But I was still drinking heavily, as this was by now such an ingrained habit I didn’t know how to stop.
When another brother went into meltdown and we realised the extent of the drinking problem he had hidden from us for many years, I started to really look at my own behaviour, and while I still wasn’t quite ready for that big scary ‘I am an alcoholic’ statement, I could no longer deny it to myself. I was not, however, even close to being ready to admit it to anyone else, for fear of potential consequences. Fortunately for us all, my brother got through his problems and is now doing really well and is very healthy and mostly happy. Like me, he had learnt a great deal from his experiences and is using that learning to help others, by training to be a mental health nurse. Fortunately** for me as well, this coincided with numerous other stressful events happening in my life, and in August 2013 I hit a wall, probably had a ‘nervous breakdownthrough’, gave up work, fell apart and started rebuilding myself (admittedly, with quite a lot of red wine at first!)
I read a lot around mental health issues and concluded, after reading lots about the symptoms and talking to friends with the condition, that I was on the extreme end of BiPolar Disorder. I went to my GP who referred me to the mental health services.
I had wanted to teach Yoga for many years, and am 100% sure that had I not been practicing Yoga as much as I had, my meltdown would have happened sooner, and been far more severe. I knew that I didn’t want to go back to office work ever, as sitting at a computer left me with far too much time to wander off in my head and get myself into a state. I started looking for Yoga teacher training I could attend and found Kalavathi Devi, of Om Studio, and contacted her and got my name down for her training. It was the singularly best thing I have ever done in my life.
On January 2nd 2014, with a particularly savage hangover after a fairly crappy night, I decided I was going to stop drinking on my own, and would only drink in company. This proved astonishingly easy, so by the time I started the yoga teacher training I was in a much better state than I had been for years (although to the rest of the class, I apparently appeared completely frazzled, even though I felt calmer than I was used to!). I was certainly not someone who would have made a particularly inspiring yoga teacher!
From the time I started the course, the learning experiences I have had, not just about Yoga but mainly what I have learned about myself have resulted in such dramatic changes in my mind and body, that I can barely identify the person I have just been writing about as myself. I certainly don’t like her, and wonder how anyone could stand to be in her company!
I stopped drinking completely nearly 4 months ago, after reducing my intake drastically over the previous few months. This felt like no effort, I just reached a point where I simply didn’t want to anymore, but of course, I had actually been engaged in some very deep “self therapy” for about 6 months prior to this, and practising a lot of yoga, so had done a lot of work to get to that state of mind. Giving up drinking is one of the proudest achievements of my life, because a year ago I just wouldn’t have thought it was possible that I would ever really want to, never mind actually enjoy living without red wine!
I know that my Yoga practice and walking in nature have saved my life and saved my sanity. I get very passionate now about both, as I know what immensely powerful tools they are for both physical and mental wellbeing. I no longer worry about my physical or mental health, although I know I must be very vigilant in my practice, as I know I am a long way from being fully ‘cured’. My future, and that of my children was not looking so good a while ago, now I can really think I will get to see grandchildren and be a grandmother they want to know (one day – not yet boys!) I don’t want to drink anymore, but also there is a part of me that simply doesn’t dare to, I don’t want to take the risk of going back to being that person again, I don’t like her, I don’t need her in my life!
I could write loads more here, but I have already spent far longer than 5 minutes writing, and if you are still reading, this has definitely taken more than 5 minutes to read! So thank you if you are reading! If you would like to know more about how walking and Yoga can help you, please get in touch, or keep watching for more posts….
**I say fortunately here with the wisdom that hindsight can offer, it didn’t feel like i was very fortunate at the time!