For nearly two years now, I’ve been experiencing an extreme amount of stress. Some days and weeks have been harder than others, but there hasn’t really been a period of un-stressed time. And a few months ago, the stress got so bad that I was struggling to function.
There are a couple of major causes of stress, including malicious harassment and strained personal relationships, and some medium stresses like re-entering the dating world and on-going illnesses. And there was the stress of dealing with a dear friend’s death. Then there is the low-level stresses, like living on a meagre budget. And, of course, there’s the stress of grief and bereavement that never quite goes away.
But the biggest problem over the last two years is that there have been so many stresses that I’ve not been able to find enough peace and calm in my life. And each time I think I’m starting to even out, something else happens. So when things began to pile up a few months ago, I found myself unable to function well. And that meant that my stresses compounded. And after a while, I started to worry about my capacity for stress; I began to worry that I would break if any more stress and upset was added to my life.
I got to the point where I was frightened that I might be heading for the edge of the cliff. And I found myself worrying that I was going to break; that I was going to have one of those meltdown episodes that leads to hospitalisation.
And by the end of March, I was honestly beginning to worry about my mental wellbeing. I was beginning to worry that my fears of having an ultimate breakdown might actually be a warning sign for mental illness. So I began to reach out to a couple of people to let them know I was feeling overwhelmed and frightened that things would get worse.
And after my nephrologist (kidney doctor) noticed I was so stressed, he urged me to see a mental health professional. Only then I started to worry that maybe the referral was because I really was mentally ill!
So I walked into the appointment with this massive fear that I would be told I was suffering from some mental health problem. I worried I would be told I needed medication or worse—hospitalisation.
And I wondered what the referral letter said, too. I wondered if this man knew a crazy lady was entering his office.
But it turns out that the referral letter only said I seemed very stressed and probably could use some counselling. The letter said that the kidney doctor didn’t think I was suffering from a mental illness, but he worried that I wasn’t getting the emotional support I needed. And he wanted a “professional” to give their opinion.
So we talked. Or rather I talked. Or, more accurately, I cried. I let everything out for the first time in ages. All of the stress I’d been holding in was released. It felt so good. And I felt so much better for just having talked to someone. In the end, I was told I am not crazy. I’m not suffering from depression. I don’t have a mental illness. I don’t need medications. I don’t need the care of a psychologist.
Instead, I was “diagnosed” with loneliness, grief, and self-imposed isolation. It was also discussed that my lack of a confidant to share my stresses with only makes things worse. (Note to self: Find trusted friend who you can be completely open and honest with. Second note to self: Let yourself trust someone!)
In the end, I was told that all of my feelings were normal. I was told that if I did have a mental illness, it would have shown up long before now. And I was told that most people dealing with the amount of stress I’ve dealt with in recent years wouldn’t have managed as well. I was also told that my occasional panic attacks (always when in the midst of stress!) aren’t panic disorder but are a symptom of stress.
But I was also told that the stress could cause mental health issues if I didn’t deal with it. And that maybe dealing with the stress was as easy as finding outlets.
Since that initial meeting (there has been one other) I have felt normal again. (Well, normal for me.) I have felt a bit of stress, but it’s no longer compounding and I am no longer afraid that I am nearing the edge of some mental health cliff. I haven’t felt overwhelmed. I haven’t felt worried about my stress levels. And I haven’t had any feelings of panic or anxiety—at all! I have just felt… normal and (mostly) calm.
I am sane! And I intend to stay that way.
Thankfully, I have reached out to a couple of friends (as I said earlier) so I now have just enough regular coffee dates or other meet-ups with people I trust; people I can confide in; people I can relax with. So whilst I am still suffering from loneliness and grief, at least I’ve (mostly) ditched the self-imposed isolation.
I am sane.
Those words calmed me down after two years of feeling I was going crazy. And now I know I wasn’t going crazy, I was just stressed out.
I. Am. Sane.
(But don’t worry, I’ll always be that little bit crazy. Just not in the mentally ill way!)