Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and looking back if I had known then what I know now, I could have taken better control of my life. Thank-goodness awareness with regards to Mental Health has progressed over the years, but at a snails pace and that just isn’t good enough and although much more awareness is out there it is still very much a taboo subject which people would rather ignore and sweep under the carpet.
So this is my story…
There was something wrong but I could never put my finger on it. It happened often enough and for so many years I just thought it was a part of me and my personality. I guess in those teenage years my sense of awareness about myself and who I was was minimal, but as the years progressed and I matured, I started to listen more intently to my body and what it was saying to me. My moods seemed radical, almost off the scale. For part of the time I felt hyper, chatty, full of energy and happy, on top of the world. Suddenly and what seemed like overnight, that changed. A rage so violent would encompass me and it took every strength to keep it at bay. That rage, on occasion, had even got physical as I tried desperately to vent what was building up inside me.
How do I explain that?
Think being on the very edge of a cliff tottering there and just waiting not for a push but a tiny nudge, because that is all its going to take, any excuse to let it out. And I mean any excuse. A word, look or comment I would misconstrue. Mole hills were surrounding me and fast becoming mountains and as each mountain grew taller around me, my hole grew deeper.
Then there was the next phase…quiet, black sadness. I couldn’t focus, my memory was foggier than our famous Levanter, I shunned everyone around me, I couldn’t and wouldn’t motivate myself to do anything other than lie still and cry. Its funny to admit looking back but no matter how old I was (and I am 52 now), I cried for the only two things that seemed comforting to me…my mum, and leaving this world, because if I was dead I wouldn’t be able to feel and surely that was better? Yes, those ugly and forbidden thoughts of suicide that most won’t admit to having for fear of being frowned upon and stigmatized by.
And then when you try to talk It’s the usual isn’t it? We have heard it all before…”I know how your feeling”, NOT, “Come on girl snap out of it, you have so much to live for” NOT. On and on it goes, people mean well and in doing so are full of advice trying to make you feel better but what a mistake they make. I don’t want you to tell me what I already know, what I should do or what is best. I am just desperate for someone to LISTEN!!!
Gosh, its so hard to explain how awful this space is in your head where every month my relationships, my home and the happy balance that normally existed were destroyed by this monster knocking at my door.
It took a long time for me to work it out. Actually it took years, many doctors a few psychiatrists, much research and soul searching. I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder but I knew that wasn’t it because when I started to listen more intently to my body and write things down, I found there was a pattern and that pattern of mood swings and physical symptoms was crucial.
PMDD (Premenstrual dysphoric disorder) is a chronic condition that requires treatment but is very hard to diagnose as there are so many overlaps with other mental disorders. Only 3%-8% of women suffer these extreme symptoms and they can be severe and debilitating leading to suicidal thoughts and depression.
After struggling with this for years and thinking I was bigger than it, I finally gave in to medication at the empathetic hands of someone I consider one of Gibraltar’s finest Doctors. The person who really got me was Dr. Vassallo. She took the time to listen to my symptoms and when I finally got my diagnosis and treatment the first thing I did when I left the surgery was call my partner and just cry with relief. I wasn’t crazy, I wasn’t weird, I was struggling with an imbalance of Serotonin in the brain which every month when my hormones decided to play havoc, reared its ugly head.
I am not ashamed to say I have a mental illness, nor that I take medication to keep it under control. PMDD could be asthma, heart disease or a damn flu. But as it’s the brain and not another afflicted body part, I may be looked at as different so I should hide it? Not talk about it? Really? Does that seem right to you?
Women’s mental health is the highest it has been in twenty years including hormone related illness like my own, postnatal depression, self harming, etc etc. Unfortunately the list is endless. Women are struggling like so many men who find it hard to talk. Don’t. Please don’t. There is a lot of help in Gibraltar and a lot of very kind people who are there for you. GibSams at the end of a telephone line, they are trained listeners who will not judge but in contrast empathize.
Pick up the phone call 116123 for free and talk, let it out and they will LISTEN.
I once watched a Ted Talk by a man who had been ready to end his life jumping the Golden Gate Bridge. He said at the end of his talk “never underestimate the power of listening” and that was the reason he was there to say it. Having someone to listen to him is what changed his mind and listening, talking and finding the right kind of help like I did, could well change yours.