Today is World Suicide Prevention Day.
And if I don’t share my real story with you today then I never will… I’ve been absent from social media for quite some time. Late last year, for the first time, I began to experience suicidal thoughts daily. This lasted for about 5-6 months.
I’m better now and have been for about 6 months. I just had to take some extra time away to make sure it stayed that way by continuing to protect my mental health, wellbeing, time and energy.
My story, my symptoms, my struggle:
Sometimes there may not be a ‘reason’ why you’re feeling this way right now. Mine was probably a combination of multiple triggers.
I left my career as HR Director 15 months ago. For about a year before making the decision to change careers, I was crumbling emotionally and physically, but I kept powering on. It’s only when I finally stopped that I felt the full traumatic effects of corporate burnout and PTSD.
And as if that wasn’t enough to deal with, the menopause hit me…hard. Anxiety, depression, headaches, hot flushes, night sweats, panic attacks, joint pain, brain fog, memory loss, low libido, insomnia & more! I saw a few GPs who repeatedly insisted that I was too young (45 when symptoms started), regardless that my blood test results told a different story. These GPs sent me away each time with prescriptions for anti-depressants. But you know your own body, and I knew mine. I knew anti-depressants might alleviate some symptoms, but not the underlying cause, which I felt certain was perimenopause.
That meant I was going through a number of major life changes while dealing with the simultaneous avalanches of burnout, PTSD and intense perimenopausal symptoms. They share similar symptoms, such as anxiety, depression and insomnia, so together they dealt me a triple whammy.
I’ve experienced periods of depression and anxiety over many years, so I had reasonable confidence that these episodes would pass. The depression and anxiety ‘only’ appeared for a few weeks at a time but it was during those times that I became really concerned that I might not be strong enough to fight the suicidal thoughts.
6 years ago, I lost an ex-boyfriend to suicide. Over recent years, I’ve lost work colleagues and supported other colleagues who had lost close family members. I’ve supported close friends through periods of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts. I worked in student accommodation and was responsible for supporting employees who were immediately affected when we tragically lost young residents through suicide.
Around this time, I attended a workshop on Postvention which promotes intervention on the basis that family and friends of the suicide victim may be at risk themselves. Perhaps, having had so many exposures to suicide and bereavement, I was more at risk myself.
I’ve been shocked and concerned by how women share that they’ve been having suicidal thoughts or ideations when they join our FB group and tell me about their current challenges. I hoped to reach personally and privately out to each and every one of them but the group grew so quickly, I’m not even close to reaching most of them yet.
I’m normally upfront in talking about mental illness. I’ve been involved with a few amazing mental illness charities and I fronted a campaign for mental health in the workplace where I spoke publicly about my own struggles.
But this time was different. The social isolation, guilt, sleep interruption and nightmares were unfamiliar symptoms.
However, it was the social anxiety that really isolated me. I’ve never been particularly active on social media so believe me, I know how bizarre it is that I set up an online business and Facebook group. I pushed myself too far out of my comfort zone into the world of social media at a time when I wasn’t well enough to handle it.
The social anxiety seemed to grow into a social media anxiety that led to me retreating offline and away from our FB group, which simply served to heighten my social isolation.
During this time I read The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are and Brené Brown’s words affected me deeply.
“Shame loves secrecy. The most dangerous thing to do after a shaming experience is hide or bury our story. When we bury our shame, the story metastasizes.” I could recognise my shame growing but couldn’t find my voice to share my story.
Shame can’t survive being spoken. But I believed that to host a group and have a voice online, I had to be seen to be strong, to be invincible. I felt that I was expected to have it all sorted. When I didn’t.
It’s easy to look back now and recognise just how much I was going through…significant life changes, PTSD, spiritual awakening, menopause, setting up a new business on my own.
I felt I didn’t know enough about my own challenges to advise, especially when I was still finding my own way through. But what I’ve realised is that I’m going to be on this journey for life and sometimes I’ll lose my way. But I’ll always find my way back, or find my way onto another path.
Ironically, I realised much later that I went into hiding from the very group where I could have got invaluable support. And in doing so, I kept my story from those who may have gained strength or understanding from it.
So I kept quiet, then didn’t know how to find my voice again on the way out.
My road to recovery
Thanks to all the spiritual and soul work I’ve practiced over the past year, while battling these thoughts, I just gave myself permission to prioritise myself and prioritise my own health.
There were days when I didn’t want to get out of bed. So on a few of those days, I gave myself permission to just stay in bed. Permission to keep myself safe and allow myself that time to get well. Strangely, most times I gave myself that permission, I felt well enough to get up.
Alcohol: I had stopped exercising, wasn’t eating as healthily as normal, and found myself drinking in an unhealthy way. I wasn’t drinking huge amounts but I recognised that I was self-medicating with alcohol to escape from my own perpetual thoughts, and that’s when I sought CBT.
I self-referred myself for CBT. The programme I signed up to wasn’t right for me, but the counsellor was. I give gratitude every single day that he was brought into my life. So much so, that I’m now studying a Mindfulness based CBT diploma so that I can share some of these powerful techniques with others.
Avoidance: I tried not to allow myself to really consider how I might take action if it ever got to that stage. I also threw out almost every medication that I had in the house.
Perimenopause: I (literally) begged my medical practice for an appointment with a women’s health expert and started HRT (in my case Oestrogel & the Mirena coil for Progesterone). HRT very quickly worked miracles for me, my energy and my sanity and I will definitely write more about that later.
Exercise: Almost as soon as I’d started the HRT, I refound my energy for exercise. I now walk 4-5 miles in green spaces at least 5 times a week. Even in the rain. I get fresh air, exercise and the grounding benefits of nature.
Yoga: After my Yoga Teacher Training I’d stopped practicing properly for months. I think I was partly afraid of another injury after tearing my hamstring. Ironically it was another injury that made me determined to get back into shape and improve my strength and flexibility. And now I’ve rediscovered so many benefits of my daily yoga practice.
Clients: I also knew that I had a responsibility to prioritise my time and save my energy for my paying clients who had trusted me to guide them through their own challenges. It’s an honour every single day to be invited to share in someone’s journey and I wanted to be able to show up fully to serve them. Which brought me purpose, so important when you’ve feel you’ve lost your way.
If you’re coming out of a stressful or traumatic experience, please seek help to support you through the impact it can have on your emotional, physical and mental health.
In my case, I recovered through rest, CBT, HRT, a healthy, more active lifestyle, prioritising myself, my health and my clients.
So it turned out that I needed to follow my own advice and slow down, do the inner work (again) and do some heavy lifting in my personal life. This work is challenging but so important to do if you want to live a fulfilled and happy life and, now I’m out the other side, I can see how very necessary the process was, and I’m so grateful that I had all of the tools I needed at my fingertips.
That gave me the time to rethink my business model too. I’ve refined my niche and want to specialise in working with successful women who are suffering from corporate burnout or overwhelm and want to regain balance in their lives. I’ve been lucky that my new business has taken off so well but that’s given me the chance to realise that I’d prefer to work with even fewer people at any one time so that I can devote more time to holding out a metaphorical hand whenever it’s needed.
I had originally planned to work with a small number of 1:2:1 clients and deliver group programmes online but for now I’ve decided against the group programmes as I personally don’t want people ‘disappearing’ within a large group. I prefer to get to know them and their stories so I can be of service however they truly need be. And every person is different, I want to be able to intuitively adapt to that.
Now that I’ve stripped back my lifestyle so much, I’ve been lucky to realise that the most precious thing to me is time. Time for my daily practices and especially time I can spend over a coffee or glass of wine with close friends and family. I’ve been working about 5 or 6 hours a day and I’d like to keep working fewer hours, while making these coaching and personal growth tools and programmes accessible to many more people.
So I’m going to be giving away lots of resources and tools for free on my website and within this group, then I’ll be bundling some of them up into affordable digital courses.
“Life is difficult.”
That’s the opening line in The Road Less Travelled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth (Classic Edition) by M. Scott Peck.
“Once we truly see this truth…once we truly understand it and accept it – then life is no longer difficult”. “Life is a series of problems… and it is in the whole process of meeting and solving problems that life has its meaning…It is only because of problems that we grow mentally and spiritually.”
This year I have taken the time to reconnect with myself – mind, body and soul. I’ve really tuned in and learned to trust myself and I’ve grown mentally and spiritually. “Life is difficult”. But we don’t have to face it alone…
I’ve been away from actively participating in our FB group for such a long time but I have been checking in behind the scenes while I was getting myself back to full health. Thanks to all of the incredible ladies who have kept this group alive with your inspirational posts and quotes. I’ve lost count of the number of times I checked in and was brought exactly the message I needed, precisely when I needed them most. And thanks to those who have messaged me personally. You know who you are. I feel truly blessed to have such generosity of knowledge, spirit and energy brought into my life.
Yet, in choosing not to reveal my struggles, I missed out on the chance to get the support from this amazing, supportive movement of women and also to share my story with those who might recognise themselves in it.
I thought I had to be more. More spiritual, more learned, more educated, more experienced, more balanced, more successful, more visible, more everything! I was exhausted trying to be who I thought I should be, who I thought people wanted me to be. When my work is to enable women to find themselves and be themselves.
To “Be More You”.
So this is me. Authentic. Flawed. Vulnerable. Imperfect. Content. Exposed. Alive. And finally very much at peace with myself and my life…
How to help yourself if you’re dealing with suicidal thoughts:
- Talk to someone you trust about how you are feeling. Help and support is available.
- Phone a helpline.
- Seek medical advice.
- Don’t make a decision today. You don’t need to act on your thoughts right now. If you’ve had these thoughts before, you’ll know that you might be better able to cope in a few days.
- If you have a crisis plan or care plan in place, follow this. If you don’t have a crisis plan, you could make one.
- Avoid any triggers, whatever makes you feel worse.
- Avoid drugs and alcohol.
- Get yourself to a safe place or be around other people.
- Give yourself permission to stop. Just get through today, try not to think about the future.
- Do something you enjoy, like spending time with a pet or getting out in nature.
- Do something that will help take your mind off how you are feeling.
- Longer term, consider counselling or CBT if it’s available to you
- Get moving – unfortunately it’s when you feel least like exercising that you could benefit from it most. Try it is you can to release some ‘feel good’ hormones.