Ashley’s Mental Health Story: Early Signs You’re Struggling
Updated: Aug 31, 2022
All it took was nine minutes, 540 seconds for my life and mental health to be turned upside down. It’s been almost four years since my dad was laid to rest and over four years since he passed. Nine minutes is the time it took between our last WhatsApp message (what would unknowingly be our last conversation) and his time of death. The news was delivered merely weeks after I finished my second year of university. As I think back to that day, it still feels surreal. Before this life-changing event, I would say I had moderate awareness of mental health. But, it wasn’t until the days, weeks, and months proceeding that day that I became attuned to what it feels like to have poor mental health.
When my third and final year of university came around in the September of that same year, I felt a wave of unbearable sadness. It’s widely said that there are five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The model was put forward by Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. The stages aren’t backed by empirical evidence and they aren’t necessarily experienced in order. However, the moment I found out that my dad was gone, never to return, I was undeniably in denial. I felt numb.
I carried on with my summer plans and pushed any and every thought of death into the furthest, darkest corner of my mind. Yet, once back in my university’s halls of residence, being alone in my accommodation room no longer felt like a place of peaceful solitude. I was distressed. Now, experiencing immense sadness (aka grief) in response to the loss of a loved one is natural and it isn’t abnormal for it to linger. There is no time limit or timetable for grief. In my case, the emotion overpowered me throughout the entirety of my final year (and still has a hold on me today). This alone was hard to grapple with on top of university work, but what was more overwhelming were the other behaviours that began to arise and accompany my grief. To tell you the truth, I can’t completely remember what came first. Whether it was the shaky hands, the struggling to concentrate, the brain fog, the trouble falling asleep, the suddenly low energy and mood, or the constant feeling of being on edge. All I recall is the burden of being weighed down by my emotions.
I had no idea back then that these were early signs of a mental struggle. I was fortunate enough to have support systems around me, yet I couldn’t shake the behaviours I was experiencing. By the time I graduated and sought professional help from outside of my university’s wellbeing team, my mental health was in the gutter. I had been tirelessly attempting to cope on my own, chugging along on autopilot, trying to be the ‘strong Black woman’ society expected me to be for over a year. After completing various wellbeing questionnaires (PHQ-9; GAD-7; WSAS), I was told by my therapist that I was showing signs of generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) and depression.
Fast forward to today and I still battle with anxiety and depression. I am back in therapy, learning healthy ways to manage my mental health and how to be more attuned to early signs of mental health decline. Spotting and addressing such signs ensure they don’t grow and lead to an uncontrollable, downward mental health spiral. It’s a practice that helps to maintain mental health, and one that’s at the heart of Inspire UK - The Charity.
The community of therapists provide early intervention adult (18+) mental health and wellbeing support that is, most importantly, affordable. Seeing a therapist should be as normal as going to see your GP, so if you’re struggling mentally and want to find out more about how Inspire UK - The Charity can help you, click here.
All conversations are confidential.
For more information on how you can gain access to our mental health support email firstname.lastname@example.org
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Written by Ashley Faith Fontaine, Trustee