I’ve taken many different medications for my mental health over the last 18 years: antidepressants, antipsychotics, mood stabilisers. I am an advocate of taking psychiatric medication because it is one part of the bigger picture that helps me to live a stable and fulfilling life, not dominated by mental illness.
A couple of years ago I started to experience a lot of generalised anxiety, something I hadn’t really dealt with much previously. I also had a very rapid and severe anorexia relapse which ended up exacerbating the anxiety.
The more unwell I became, the more I found that sleep started to completely escape me. The less I slept, the more anxious I became. I found myself continually buying sleeping tablets over the counter, because I felt like it was the only thing that was helping. I was hesitant about asking the GP for anything stronger through fear of becoming dependent, or being ‘caught out’ that I was relying so much on them.
As I experienced treatment for my eating disorder once again, and began to recover, I found that my sleep hugely improved. I was able to sleep soundly for the first time in months.
Then coronavirus hit and suddenly my anxiety was back through the roof. There was so much uncertainty: my treatment was disrupted, people were getting sick, my support network felt distanced, and the way I carry out my job completely changed. I found myself tossing and turning at all hours, waking up in spirals of anxiety.
I was proud of myself, as up until this point I was able to manage without any sleep aids, and was initially reluctant to ask for any support because it felt like I was ‘giving in’. However, having bipolar disorder means that too long without sleeping often can be dangerous and lead to manic episodes, further complicated by the fact that when I am manic I end up unintentionally restricting food and fluids, which could end up having a knock-on effect on my anorexia recovery. Mental illness can be exhausting!
I am a champion of reaching out for support and always encourage other people to do this. However, when it came to struggling with my sleep again, I felt worried. I wanted to try and manage it alone. But the more I tried to manage it alone, the more anxious I got, and the less I slept. After waking up for the umpteenth morning in a row feeling drained and full of worry, I realised that I was doing myself a disservice. Why was I not following my own advice? Reaching out to my GP didn’t mean I was failing, it meant I was being successful at managing my own wellbeing and mental health. I already took a mood stabiliser and an antipsychotic every day to manage my mood – why should this be any different?
There is absolutely no shame in reaching out for a bit of extra support, no matter what you need it for. Sleep is a key component to maintaining good mental health, but many of us are going to experience difficulties with it at times, especially those of us who deal with mental illness. Asking for help does not mean you are failing, it means you are winning at taking some control and responsibility for your own wellbeing. You deserve to put yourself first.”