Updated: Mar 23
CWC Director Sarah Cutler talks about her own mental health journey for Mental Health Awareness Week.
Sarah Cutler I CWC Director I 10 May 2021
So as it’s Mental Health Awareness Week, I thought I’d quickly tell you about my own mental health story. Last week for Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week, I wrote a little about how my mental well-being declined after both my children were born…but actually, my low mood and anxiety disorders were around long before that.
My mental health problems started around fourteen years ago, when I was about twenty-two which back then might have made people think - “What the hell does a twenty-two year old have to be depressed about?!”. Awareness surrounding mental health has changed a lot in the past decade though, and this past year especially has highlighted that the mental wellbeing of a twenty-two year old can be impacted upon just as much as that of a thirty-two year old or a forty-two year old. Mental health disorders are indiscriminate when it comes to age.
At that age all I knew for a quite a while was that I felt unhappy and dissatisfied with life, and with myself, until eventually it spiralled to become ‘a problem’. I felt this urgent need to escape, so I went to Africa, on an adventure to volunteer in an orphanage. Except the reality of the experience didn’t quite live up to the expectations I had of this amazing life-changing adventure. Or it was life-changing, just not in the exciting way I thought it would be. The deep unhappiness inside hadn’t gone away, I had just changed my location from a home where I had loving parental support to being in a third world country, struggling with awful digestive issues and left to supervise about fifteen infants all on my own who I couldn’t control or communicate with. Ultimately it pushed me over the edge and I had a mini breakdown I guess you’d call it. I came home traumatised, having panic attacks and was so low I felt numb. I felt broken. I recovered to a more normal state of living, but my mental health was never the same after that.
I was diagnosed with Low Mood and Anxiety and it’s been up and down ever since. There have been some really rough times, usually triggered by some life event or situation. There’s been counselling, hypnosis and CBT, increases in medication. It became worse after having both my children, because mental health and sleep deprivation and all the other stresses of early motherhood don’t particularly mix very well. There have been times I couldn’t pick myself up off the floor and times I thought, I’m embarrassed to say, of death, for the peace of it, like a long, restful sleep where I no longer had to suffer through life. But there’s been a lot of joy too. It’s been a long journey so I’ve learnt a lot about mental health, which I now use to help others. Maybe that’s the silver lining to having struggled for so long, that I can write about my experiences to help others, and also writing is a form of therapy for me, because I love to write.
For me, almost the worst part of mental health, is that it’s confusing. You would think after over a decade struggling with it, I would know exactly what causes my ‘poor’ mental health, but just when I think I’ve got it all sussed, that I know my mind back to front and inside out, something will dawn on me or I will read new research that causes me to question everything I thought I knew! The truth is, in the busy, chaotic lives we lead in this modern day, full of countless pressures and responsibilities and expectations, more often than not, a decline in mental health will be down to a combination of contributing factors, rather than one thing alone. In hindsight when I was first diagnosed, I wish I’d begun to keep a journal of my thoughts and feelings and memories. Why? Because although at the time it seemed glaringly obvious what was causing the decline in my mental well-being, I was actually missing things, or at least missing the level of impact that specific things from both the present, and the past, and even the future, were having on me. Would things have been different the past fourteen years if I had connected the dots earlier? Who knows, perhaps, perhaps not. I can’t turn back the clock, but what I can do, is to stop letting things control me going forward.
If you experiencing a decline in your mental health, please do visit your GP.
To share your own mental health story with us, contact firstname.lastname@example.org