THE HONEST TRUTH: DEALING WITH GRIEF + MENTAL HEALTH

Hello, it’s been a while hasn’t it?

I feel like I’ve been drafting this blog post in my head for some time, even before everything properly started. You see, I’ve had a pretty hard time recently – in fact, it’s been one of the most challenging periods of my life. Apologies in advance for the ridiculously long post, but it’s been a long time coming.

As some may know, in January 2015 (exactly 3 weeks after my 23rd birthday) I lost my amazing dad suddenly. He was 49, he went to work one day seemingly perfectly healthy and never came home. A matter of weeks later, my grandpa (my dad’s dad) was diagnosed with cancer. It was terminal and over the months I watched him become weaker until we said goodbye in June. I was working in a job I desperately needed out of, coming home crying most days while knowing another funeral was on the horizon. Another horrible loss. Another link to my dad gone. I kept strong, focused. I booked a holiday with my boyfriend and was desperate to just keep going until I got another blow; one of my old work friends and fantastic managers, a mum and wife only in her early 30s, had died suddenly. I didn’t quite realise at the time how traumatic the events were, going into complete survival mode, slapping a smile on and keeping my head held high. I bobbed along, not drowning, but not exactly swimming either.

I’ve always been a bit of an over-worrier. I worry I offend people, I worry what to wear, I worry what I’m doing a week on Saturday and whether I should be doing something else. After so much loss, my worries started to get worse and, very slowly, more and more negativity seeped in. I quit the job I hated so much by the winter of 2015, but the toxic atmosphere had already seeped in and made me feel low. I had a new job lined up for after Christmas and looked forward to putting 2015 behind me. The festive season loomed and all I wanted was my life back to the year before, happy with my mum, dad and sister on Christmas morning, but the three of us pulled together and managed to get through it without him for the first time ever. On Boxing Day, I started to feel unwell and by New Year’s Eve morning, I was taken into A&E after a night in severe pain. It turned out I had pleurisy, made even better by the fact I’m asthmatic. As midnight came, I spent the first moments on 2016 knocked out on painkillers and antibiotics, cursing the ridiculous events of the past year.

‘JUST KEEP GOING’

The next few months got brighter. We passed the one-year milestones of all the things that happened from the life-changing moment when we lost my dad. I liked my job, my blog was going well, I had lovely friends and family; I should have been okay. I just couldn’t shake off that horrible anxious feeling, the one where your chest is constantly tight, like you can’t get a breath in fully and I just felt on edge constantly. I went to my doctors – I needed help. My over-worrying started to spiral. Every time my mum, sister or boyfriend left me, I was terrified something would happen to them. I’d create full scenarios of how I would cope, what would happen. My doctor listened, but I felt let down. I had two options; go on tablets or I could be signed up for an online course (how personal, I know). I chose the latter as I wanted to try and adjust my thinking without medication – something I totally understand works for so many, but it was my personal choice at the time. I waited for the course to contact me. And waited. And waited. Nothing ever came and I convinced myself I was fine. I was going to events, chatting away, booking my summer holiday and going out with friends. Everything seemed fine on the outside so surely, I could just keep going? Things also changed in my career too – my dream job came up and gave me a new focus. It finally felt like it was all going okay and I shook off the negative thoughts, hiding them in a box way at the back of my brain.

I started my new job – I was seriously just so delighted to be doing what I’d always wanted to. My first photoshoot was arranged and I was determined to show how capable I was. Oh, I should also mention – I’m also my own harshest critic. I focus on the downside and put incredible pressure on myself, even if no one else does. I was running around the night before the shoot and had a heart stopping moment realising I’d left one of the crucial parts of the shoot in the office. Everything was sorted straight away with one phonecall, but I couldn’t help beating myself up about it for the entire evening. My alarm was set for 6.30am and I was up getting ready, but 5 minutes before I left, I looked in the mirror and couldn’t see half my face. A delightful migraine aura had decided to pick that exact moment to strike and I was inconsolable. The shoot had to be cancelled and I felt devastated and frustrated at myself. The shoot was rearranged for the next day and I was terrified it would happen again, but I managed to get there and get through the day.

The following week, it happened again as I got ready for work. I had an exciting day planned with a makeup masterclass with Charlotte Tilbury herself in the afternoon and this time I wasn’t playing ball – I was not missing out. I went to sleep for an hour, pulled myself together even though I should have been resting and insisted I went to the masterclass and a blogger event after work too. I was ignoring my mind and body, so focused on everything but my health. Everything seemed fine until the next weekend I went to a family party and took the worst migraine I’ve ever had,my vision still blinded the next day. I was terrified and sobbed my way into the doctors who tried to put my on Beta Blockers for the migraines, but again I was too scared to take tablets. I decided to calm it all down blog-wise and the next few months were okay. I came across as happy, content and motivated but inside I knew something was amiss. It was like I was empty, feeling panicky every day. We went on family break at new year and as soon as we arrived I took yet another migraine. I felt low when I was alone first thing in the morning but would keep going when everyone got up. I went back to work and felt fine when I was with people, but alone with my thoughts I’d feel confused, angry and sad. Driving anywhere gave me more thinking time and I felt overwhelmed by life.

THE GUILT + FEAR

While this was going on, I was also putting serious guilt on myself regarding my blog. I was seeing life through an Instagram frame, constantly looking for my next picture and comparing myself online for hours. I speak about this in past tense, but this is admittedly still happening now, just on a smaller scale. I was working through my lunch hours to try and edit blog posts, feeling like a failure compared to so many others. I was in the middle of Glasgow one Saturday when a wave of panic hit. I suddenly felt out my depth in my own life, terrified what I was going to do next. I cried and cried as we went home and everything started to bubble; my fear of loss and death, my lack of ambition, why I wasn’t happy.

Monday morning came and I was so scared to go in to work – I didn’t want to bring emotion into my professional life, but when I got there everything was okay. It started to become my place to hide from my thoughts. I love my job and it gave me a place to escape from the negative space. It was a random Tuesday afternoon that it all started to crack. I’d had an appointment for a blog feature on the Sunday and felt really upset when I left, knowing the opportunity wasn’t for me and was nervous to turn it down. Monday was a flurry of blog emails at lunch and, in the evening, I spent the time photographing content, leaving myself tired with no downtime before bed. I jumped up on the Tuesday morning with my mental to-do list running through my mind. The morning went in as usual and I wrote a blog post on my lunch, when I looked at my screen and suddenly couldn’t see it. A wave of anxiety hit me; I was having a migraine. By the time my boyfriend had arrived to get me, I couldn’t form words and my hands were completely numb. The day was spent sleeping in a dark room, feeling vulnerable and scared. After a horrible 24 hours, I went back to work on Thursday, just really hoping that I’d be okay.

I had an event that night, but I felt completely removed from the room. I was going around, speaking to other bloggers, brands and the lovely PR team but felt like I was putting on a show. My smile wasn’t as strong, my enthusiasm wasn’t as loud. I got in my car and recorded a video of me doing my best happy blogger routine, but watching it back now, I know there was something brewing. I went to an event on the Saturday before a day out with my mum and sister, finishing with an early dinner and prosecco in one of our favourite spots. As I left them to travel to my boyfriend’s house, I started panicking on the train – what if I’d made the wrong choice? What if something happened to them and I’d left them? What if I stayed with them and something happened to my boyfriend? What was I meant to do? The rest of the night, my anxiety didn’t subside. By bed, I felt seriously low and remember wondering if I’d always feel like this. Sunday evening came and I received an online order for my holiday. Sitting in my living room surrounded by lovely new things, I felt completely numb. I cried and couldn’t put my finger on what was wrong.

ANXIETY TAKING HOLD

Again, I went to work on Monday feeling fuzzy and out my depth. I was also started my 10 week fitness programme that day (more on that later), something I should have been positive about, but instead I started to panic about what I could eat. On Tuesday, I felt irrationally concerned about another migraine, as if it would become a weekly thing. At lunchtime I tried to read a magazine and stumbled over the words. I tried to talk myself around, willing it not to be happening but there I was, having a migraine. My fear had happened – and I felt out of control. I tried to hold back tears as I struggled to see my phone screen to call a taxi home. As I collapsed into my bed, I begged for it to go away. When I woke up later in the evening, I can’t quite put into words how I felt. I don’t think I’ve ever felt lower than that moment, it was like a dark cloud had consumed me, like every ounce of happiness and hope would never come back. The fear within me wouldn’t retreat this time, the terrified thoughts that had been building and building were here and something in me knew this migraine was different – it was like a voice in me was telling me I couldn’t avoid things anymore and I knew I had to listen.

Victoria and Yasmin helped me cancel blog commitments, I called my boss trying (and failing) to keep it together as I rambled everything that was happening and I told my PT I couldn’t do my fitness programme, something she luckily talked me out of. I wanted to lock myself away, I couldn’t do it anymore. I went to bed more tired than I’d ever been, wanting to sleep until I was better. First thing the next morning, I got a doctor’s appointment with a new doctor and let it all out, every fear I’d been hiding, how I felt I’d never be happy and my constant negative thoughts. For the first time in my life, I was signed off work. To start with, I felt ashamed – would a stress related line be seen as weak? I came home, still completely numb and texted work to update them. At this point, I need to point out how amazing my work have been, their support has been immense (they even sent me a care package which included what’s in the photos – their kindness honestly made me cry). It felt like a tiny weight had been lifted though, knowing I had some time to myself. I feel the following days all merged into one for a while after that. As the second week came to a close, I knew I wasn’t ready. At that point, I honestly thought I’d be back to everything the week later – funny how things work out in ways you can never predict.

I had planned my return to work – I would be feeling better and happy and be back at my desk planning my outfits for my summer holiday. Unfortunately, it was not to be and my holiday to Ibiza was actually where things got a lot worse. Working with both my doctor and counsellor, every time I felt anxious I was to imagine my happy place. For me, that was sitting at the pool on my summer holiday to Ibiza in 2014 with my boyfriend – I was happy and content then and thinking about it really did help distract from my anxiety. That was until I was literally sitting back in Ibiza and suddenly felt anxious. It was as if my brain went into overdrive and nothing would work to stop the all-consuming panic. I couldn’t cope. Here I was, actually in my ‘happy place’ with the person I love and who supports me, but I just could not calm down or be happy which made me even more upset and feel as if I was the most ungrateful person alive. I cried so much that holiday and, as we landed back in Glasgow, I knew something had to change – I couldn’t fix how I was feeling all by myself. My doctor signed me off for another 4 weeks and started me on a very low dosage to boost my serotonin. I was back with my counsellor but I felt numb and scared. I couldn’t be bothered with make up or wearing anything other than my gym clothes or joggies. I just felt so low and upset, I can really only describe it as my personal rock bottom.

THE NEXT CHAPTER

Fast forward over 6 weeks and luckily, things have started to get better, brighter. I now have a proper goal in place for going back to work in the coming weeks, I’ve started to be excited for things again and feel like there’s hope. I had been putting pressure on myself to ‘get back to normal’, but the truth is the way I’ve been feeling for so long was not normal so I need to find a ‘new me’. That can be just as scary as anything else; I feel my mind has been so clouded for so long that sometimes it can feel overwhelming to not be exactly sure where you’re aiming, but I’m taking it a day at a time. At the start of this period, I really thought I would need to give up my blog. I’ve hidden away from social media, turned down all event invites and haven’t dared to think of an outfit to put on Instagram. I’m worried I’ll fall into the same pitfalls as before; the comparisons, the feeling like you should make more blog time and worrying what others think, but I truly now think I can blog, but in a healthier mindset. That’s why I felt I had to write this post; to be honest, hold my hands up and say ‘life can be crap sometimes’. It’s not all prosecco brunches and new shoes as my Instagram used to have anyone who viewed it believe. I’m ready for the next chapter in my life and on the blog, but I know I need to take it slow.

I feel mental health is something I want to write more about, I find it therapeutic putting my thoughts out there. It’s still a taboo subject for many, but I love that so many bloggers are sharing their story – it really helped me through some of the hardest times at the start. What Amy Did and Hannah Gale are just two bloggers whose writing helped me in my worst days. Everyone is fighting their own battles, no matter what their Insta feed might tell you. If you’re feeling low, anxious and upset, please tell someone and get the help you need. It’s not a weakness like I once worried it would be seen as, it’s a strength, knowing that something isn’t right for you and addressing it. I’m by no means at the end of this journey, but I see more and more blue sky beyond the dark clouds and it gives me hope.  Here’s to finding my ‘new normal’…

17 Comments

  1. September 19, 2017 / 4:55 pm

    What an amazing, open & honest post. It takes courage to put those words down nevermind sharing them with the world. Glad to see you back! Don’t put pressure on yourself, you are stronger than you think!

    • Rachel
      October 2, 2017 / 10:19 am

      Thanks so much, I so appreciate you saying that – feel so glad I shared it as so many lovely people have got in touch

  2. Kirsten young
    September 19, 2017 / 5:37 pm

    Rachael so proud of you for talking about this xx

    • Rachel
      October 2, 2017 / 10:19 am

      Thanks so much Kirsten xxx

  3. September 19, 2017 / 5:48 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing. I am going through a relly hard time with health just now. All I do is look at other people and wish it wad that simple. You sharing has made me see people we admire struggle too. This post means so much to me. x x x

    • Rachel
      October 2, 2017 / 10:21 am

      I’m so so glad this post could help even a little. Really hope you’re feeling much better soon, health is just everything and I don’t think we realise until we’re the one going through something, either physical or mental. Sending you lots of love xxx

  4. Cari
    September 19, 2017 / 7:51 pm

    What a brave piece to write but I’m sure it’s a step to you feeling better , putting it down on paper & sharing it. Grief is life changing in so many ways but from experience you will come out of the other side a stronger person, even if it doesn’t seem like it now. Take care. You are moving in the right direction xx

    • Rachel
      October 2, 2017 / 10:23 am

      Thanks so much Cari, means so much to hear everyone’s kind words and experiences xx

  5. trish
    September 22, 2017 / 8:22 am

    Good luck Rachel on your beautiful journey. You have already made a difference to people’s lives by sharing your story. You are a strong.beautiful.inspiring person.xxxc

    • Rachel
      October 2, 2017 / 10:21 am

      That’s so so kind, thank you for this – lots of love xxx

  6. trish
    September 22, 2017 / 8:22 am

    Good luck Rachel on your beautiful journey. You have already made a difference to people’s lives by sharing your story. You are a strong.beautiful.inspiring person.xxxc

  7. Karen Clydesdale
    October 3, 2017 / 10:21 am

    I know how difficult the last few years have been for you, your sister and your mum but you are through the worst and on your journey to recovery together. Take comfort from the strength of your family unit and those friends and work colleagues who have stood by you – waiting for the time you are ready to face the world again – strong, confident and happy. Times like you describe can affect anyone, it takes courage to admit that you are not coping and need help. At those times you have to accept the love and support of your friends and family and get better. Your turn to support others will come. Just putting your thoughts, feeling and experiences out into public domain will, in turn, help others. I hope you continue to feel better, enjoy going back to work and feel that your life has purpose again. If nothing else, realise your honest words will help others turn the corner – just as you have done.
    Love to you, Beth and your mum, Claire – one fantastic lady who has changed so much in the short time I’ve known her. Kx

    • Rachel
      October 22, 2017 / 2:30 pm

      Sorry Karen, I’ve literally just seen this! Thank you so much for your kind words, I so appreciate it x

  8. Karen Mcinnes
    October 7, 2017 / 6:57 am

    Well done Rachel for sharing this. You have helped so many people & you’ll get there. You’re doing so well. Good luck,Karen,x

    • Rachel
      October 22, 2017 / 2:31 pm

      Thanks so much Karen xx

  9. Lisa Kennedy
    October 12, 2017 / 11:05 pm

    Thank you so much for your honesty! It’s incredibly difficult to be so open about mental health issues but you must know that in doing so you’re encouraging others to share what they are going through & to assist their recovery! Have absolute admiration for your bravery! Sending you all the positive vibes for a bright future x

    • Rachel
      October 22, 2017 / 2:31 pm

      So sorry Lisa, I’ve not been getting notifications so just saw this. Thank you so much, so lovely of you to say xx

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