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SARAH: DEAR ANXIETY, WITH LOVE

I interviewed Sarah about her experience with anxiety and depression, and how she used social media to share her story and come to terms with this as an experience. Sarah is a care home manager who uses her experience to inspire and care for other people. This is not intended to be the “right way”, simply a perspective to generate conversations and reduce stigma.


Matthew:

Thank you so much for doing this! Do you want to tell us a little bit about yourself?


Sarah:

Yeah. I'm Sarah Louise. I am currently a care home manager for a 70 bedded nursing home, managing 60 staff, I am currently living on my own. Well, I've got a dog. So yeah, that's me.


Matthew:

And we actually met at university almost 10 years ago now (mind blown). I just want to give the readers a bit of background about what inspired this interview if that’s ok.


So, we met at university on a bus to a night out, I believe, and have been on each other’s social media double tapping each time there was a life update. I noticed that you would always be so open about your experiences of anxiety and depression, and would post your experiences and really cool, inspirational messages and quotes to people. I think that really stood out to me, because social media is often a place people share the amazing, positive things in their lives. I just had to ask if you would come on the blog.


So, I guess a great question to start with is when was the first time that you realised that you were having difficulties with anxiety and depression, and how did that develop, one before the other? Or more of an amalgamation of the two?


Sarah:

It was definitely anxiety first, and I think the time that I actually realised what it was, was about, I'd say three, four years ago. But I think looking back at it now, when I’m in a clear headspace, I can see that had it for a very, very long time. But it really raised its head like three, four years ago.


Matthew:

Okay. That is actually so helpful for people to consider, anxiety and depression don’t just appear overnight, we actually experience low mood and anxious thinking all the time, its only when it becomes problematic and interferes with our life that we really pay attention to it. Was there anything really significant happening around three, four years ago that you feel comfortable talking about now?


Sarah:

Yeah. So I was, I was working at the care home that I'm at now. I had a manager who was brilliant, but she could be really hard on me. She would say harsh things that would make me question myself. So that really started to trigger me quite a lot, because I care a lot about what people think about me, I always have. If I think somebody is angry with me or upset with me, I can't get it out of my head.


Matthew:

So, would you describe yourself as a bit of a people pleaser?


Sarah:

Yes, a massive people pleaser. Like I'm trying to talk myself out of it, but it’s so imbedded that sometimes I accept that it's just me.


Around that time, I also had to move out of my dad’s house. He just walked up to me one night and said, that him and his partner were thinking of moving in together, so I needed to move out and it was like, wow, okay then, and I didn't realise at the time, but change is hard for me to cope with. So that was another trigger. It was like all of these things were happening at the same time and then I just remember sitting alone one night in my new house, and I just broke down, I just couldn't stop crying, I didn't know why. And then from there, everything started to come to the surface.


Matthew:

There was a lot of change and uncertainty at that time then. How did the anxiety manifest for you at that time? I know from experience that everyone describes a very different experience, whether that’s being overwhelmed with thoughts, feelings, or a combination of the two. What was your experience?


Sarah:

It’s the thoughts, it’s getting out of my own head. It’s like being on a roundabout, I will have the same thoughts and I’ll go through the same processes over and over again. I might speak to different people, and I’ll still be speaking about the same things because I’m almost looking for them to give me the answers, I think I need. I do get the physical feelings too, but I definitely think the thoughts are the hardest for me. I just want to get out of my own head, to escape, turn it off.


Matthew:

Do you think that the reason that you don't find that as difficult is because you have resources that you can use to cope with that, whereas the thinking aspect you have less?


Sarah:

Definitely. I can identify with the physical signs, there's a lot more resources to be able to manage with those like you're breathing techniques, CBD oil (that really helps me whether it's a placebo or not), pet therapy. I know how to do it, how I can deal with it. But when it comes to the mind, I started CBT a couple years of ago, I don't do it anymore. It didn't work at the time. But the anxiety at that time was incredibly difficult, and I just couldn't get my head into what I needed to do to get through it.


Matthew:

You just mentioned how CBT was not successful for you, and that this was because you were not in the right place for this. That is so key for a therapy like CBT. I have heard numerous people tell me they don’t think CBT will help, or that it’s too structured. It’s definitely a model that requires motivation and commitment to change. I personally like the structure that therapies like CBT offer. I agree that it is definitely dependent on the individual, and it’s the responsibility of the therapist and the client to identify this and make a new plan, or to label it and say: “I’m not sure this model fits what you’re looking for” or even “I don’t know if you’re ready for this”. What do you think?


Sarah:

I think that would have been really helpful at the time, if my GP or my therapist were to help me to see I wasn’t in the right place to take it on. I just wasn’t at a level at the time where I could actually deal with it. So, while I don’t think it helped me then, that isn’t to say it would never help me now. If I went back into it, with my current clearer headspace, it may be very different. I do agree that a number of factors contribute to that- timing, the individual. It’s just got to be right.


Matthew:

It almost sounds like the stars need to align, and I guess that’s true. You need to be ready; you need to be motivated. For our readers, would you be able to talk us through what your next steps were, because this has been a journey for you, hasn’t it?


Sarah:

The first thing I did, I actually reached out to my best friend, we've only actually known each other for five years now. But, you know those people that you have an instant connection with and you're like “you're my person?”


Matthew:

100% I understand that completely


Sarah:

Yeah, it was 100% like that.

The biggest turning point for me though when I realised that I really needed help, was I started to have suicidal thoughts. It scared me. It really, really scared me. I wasn't going to tell anybody. I was on a week of annual leave, I had this thought and it was the first time that I'd ever had anything like it. I was like, Okay, this is crisis point. I remember calling my best friend the next day on the phone. She was at work, I was driving (hands free through the through the car) and I just started telling her, I just broke down and I told her exactly what I had thought, what happened.

Within the next week, I was at the doctors, and I completely offloaded to them, and they were absolutely fantastic! We started on antidepressants, and that was really the start of things changing, and me moving in the right direction for the support.


Matthew:

I love that your experience was so positive with your GP. I say that because a lot of people are worried that interaction will be negative so this might offer some reassurances to people reading who have or are experiencing something similar.

Do you mind me asking what medications you were started on?


Sarah:

Of course, It was citalopram 20mg, I’m still on them now. I'll never look back.


Matthew:

So, for those people reading this that are going through what you were going through or still experience, rather, what would you say to them when they have these thoughts of not wanting to take medication, not wanting to go to therapy, to seek support. What would you those people to know?


Sarah:

It’s really simple actually. If you've got a heart condition, you take tablets. If you've got high blood pressure, you take tablets. Your mind is exactly the same. You know, sometimes we have a chemical imbalance, and something's working more than it should be. Sometimes we just need help. Don't rule it out, you know, they saved my life. Honestly, that is what saved my life. If I didn't start those tablets, I wouldn't have been able to have a clear path.


Matthew:

Okay. That's really good advice. I like how you compared it with your physical health because I think a lot of people, they see them so differently. But actually, they’re not, because if you neglected yourself and you didn't wash, get out bed and all those small things we don’t think about, that would affect your mental health. And vice versa, if you don't do anything with those negative feelings they can worsen to the point where you then aren't able to go out where you then aren't able to clean yourself when you're not able to eat, and then that affects your physical health.


Sarah:

It is, and even still it surprises me how mental health is taboo, and you feel like you can’t talk about it. And that's why I work so hard to, especially within work to just break that stigma. I've just been really open and there have been many people say to me, I'm on antidepressants. And it just, I'm like, wow, you know, it's accepted.


Matthew:

It sounds corny but that fills me with so much warmth. You have been so open and invited people to talk about and share their vulnerabilities which has empowered them to seek support and not feel so lonely. That in itself is powerful. What we have learned with mental health that a close support network is so helpful, and by being so open you have created that place for people, especially in a workplace where people are often stressed.


Sarah:

Yeah. I mean, I don't see it like that. I guess, I just want to help people. I mean, I've got an employee who has been struggling, and she had never dealt with it. Now she's managed to go to her GP, she's getting the support. She's on track. And it's like, wow, I had something to do with that.


Matthew:

And that must also be really great for your mental health too.

I know that medication has been a massive part of your journey to where you are today, I’m just wondering if there were anything else, any other factors or forms of support that was offered or you used?


Sarah:

Honestly, it's been friends and family. That's been my biggest. Without them, I would have never got through, but it took a while to make them understand. Some were more accepting than others. I think it's really important to stick with it. You know, loved ones find it so hard to accept that this is happening and sometimes they don't know how to deal with it. But they have been my absolute rocks, and they still are. They're my heroes. if I was feeling down even now, I FaceTime, I go and visit them.


Matthew:

That’s great! You spoke about how some people found it difficult to understand or accept, which I think is a really important factor to consider here. Although mental health is universal, everyone has experienced different things, they may have faced more adversity than others that increases their vulnerability to higher levels of anxiety. I know I have come across that in my personal life, people having very little understanding of anxiety.

What advice would you have for those people who are afraid to tell other people?


Sarah:

You'll surprise yourself and people will surprise you. Your family love you and they just need to hear how exactly how you're feeling. Don't pretend to be anything other than you are because you're valid. Your feelings are valid. Take a moment to say you know what, stop and listen to me. This is this is what I'm going through, and I need your help.


Matthew:

I loved that part where you said, “because you are valid”.


Sarah:

It’s the basics we don’t think about, showing people warmth and empathy and compassion.


Matthew:

Absolutely. I approached you about doing this for a couple of reasons, one to share your personal story but also to talk about how cool you are and how vocal you are about mental health on social media, not just about talking about your own experience, but you share really cool resources, you share videos, you share quotes, all these different things for people. What was it that gave you the confidence to be able to do that?


Sarah:

it was actually down to a couple of my friends; they've been great throughout, and they saw that I was starting to talk out and encouraged me to do it. They actually encouraged me to initially start an Instagram page, which I did do (@dearanxietywithlove). They said, just talk, you know, we are interested, we want to hear about it, and people will want to hear about it. As I started it became a bit of more of an outlet, and then people started reaching out and coming to me for support, and I realised who I could go to for extra support. You know, sometimes you don't want to go to the people you know if that makes sense.


Matthew:

I get you, sometimes you need a bit of distance from your life, because your life's already quite difficult with those thoughts and feelings, isn't it? Sometimes going to a stranger effectively removes that expectation that people will be judgemental or not believe you.


Sarah:

Yeah, and I had that at the beginning, and in the end, they were very open to it, but because I was so guarded and fearful of what they might think or not believe. I would only tell them little bits and now I can call one of my sisters or text and say, I'm not good today, and they know what to do.


Matthew:

Right. That is a really good point you've made, that you are in a much better place from what you're telling me and at the same time, you're also saying, I get bad days. It doesn't go away; those emotions are there for a reason. I think it's really important that people recognise that there's no cure. It's not about being curative, it's about identifying ways to live with something and look at it in a different light.


Sarah:

I still have bad days. I had the paramedics out to me at work about just before Christmas. I'd had a really bad anxiety attack, I didn't see it coming, there were no triggers at the time. It happens, you know, but I've just learned now how to cope. I accept it. That was my brain's way of saying to me, slow down, take a minute, and so that's what I did.


Matthew:

It’s so nice talking to someone soi open and honest about it. It’s quite refreshing actually. Sometimes, when I meet new people and they find out I’m a therapist, the conversations go quiet. I think people are worried about what I may ask or want to talk to them about.

Where do you think that view of it being negative comes from? I was going to ask you about your opinion on social media representation of mental health, because you share all this good stuff. But there's also a lot of wrong, bad things out there. Do you think that that's where that comes from?


Sarah:

100%, I think the media plays a big role here, especially in the past, I mean, when we were studying in university, or had to do work on moral panics and how the media contributed to the way we looked at things and the way they spoke about mental health. You were “crazy”. I think it's still there today, we have never quite broken out of the box.


Matthew:

I know that there's this whole understanding that men don't talk about their feelings and when they do people look at them as if they're weak, do you think there's also that stigma with women? I've seen things online, if a woman's really open about those feelings, she's emotional or she's hormonal. What is your opinion on that?


Sarah:

I definitely do. I think a lot of that negativity comes from men. I hate to say it, but I do. I've experienced it myself. I've been told it's my hormones. Yes, I am sensitive, but I'm also a boss bitch. It's got nothing to do with my hormones.


*Round of applause for this statement, please*


Matthew:

Why is sensitive even a bad thing? If I meet someone that is sensitive, they fit with my values, because I know I can talk to and know if I'm going through something tough, you're not just going to say, Oh, you just need to ignore it.


Sarah:

I totally agree, and with sensitivity, you're empathetic. I am such an empathetic person I really am and that I can just feel what someone's feeling so much. And I think, what's wrong with that?


Matthew:

I hope people who read this can relate to what we’re saying.

Do you have you got any final words or advice that you would want to tell the person going through something that you were going through? What would your parting words be with to those people?


Sarah:

Don't see it as a negative. Learn from it. Embrace it because it's who you are, you know, be yourself. Don't ignore the signs and symptoms. Ask for help when you need it and don't be embarrassed to ask for help because people always surprise you. Don't rule out anything that anybody offers you, try everything. If it doesn't work for you, that doesn't mean you broken, it doesn't mean that nothing is ever going to work. You've just got to find your fix. You've got to find what works for you and keep trying until you do. You are only human, so be kind to yourself.


Matthew:

That’s really powerful. I just think that your story and what you have spoken about is going to be so helpful for someone. Thank you so much, honestly, it means so much to me, and I'm sure it's going to help even one person.


Sarah:

Thank you too, it's so nice to be able to talk about it to somebody who understands. It means a lot to me.



You can follow Sarah’s Instagram page where she posts about her journey with anxiety over on @dearanxietywithlove




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