Patchwork Saved My Life

It’s a pretty dramatic statement but it’s true.

When I was at my lowest point suffering from anxiety and depression, there was nothing that would lift me out of a very dark place. Nothing gave me pleasure. I felt anxious, sad and lower than I would ever have possibly imagined.

When I was a small girl I used to stay every so often with Helen. Helen was deaf and lived on her own. When the doorbell rang she had a light bulb in every room that lit up. I loved learning about her world.

Helen had a passion for sewing and her home was filled with beautiful things she had made. It was Helen who taught me the art of Traditional Patchwork, otherwise known as  English Paper Piecing.

Little remnants of precious fabric that she had held onto, stitched onto paper hexagons and then sewn together with a small whipstitch. It is time consuming, and if you are quick it might take a year to make a quilt. But that doesn’t matter. It’s the process that is so beautiful.

It was January when I began sewing again. A dark cold month exacerbated by my illness. I sat on my sofa and stitch by stitch I felt I could breath again. Slowly and carefully, patch by patch sewing together all of those precious remnants. It was life-giving. It was life-saving.

How mental illness took me from hero to zero in 24 hours

I didn’t spot the signs and carried on regardless, but if I look back now I can see that they were obvious.

It all happened very gradually. I had begun to feel disconnected from my business partners, not wanting to answer their phone calls, I was forgetful and disinterested in my work. The last thing I can remember clearly was sitting in a meeting room listening to the managing partner of a well-known private equity house and thinking “blah blah blah blah blah. I DON’T CARE. I DON’T CARE. I just don’t want to do this anymore.”

A week or so later I was standing outside the Doctor’s surgery at 6.30am desperate to get an appointment and something to help me escape the anxiety I was feeling. I had come to the realisation that I couldn’t go on running a business.

Just five years before my business partner and I started a small PR consultancy advising private equity houses. Our first client signed before we had even worked out our notice. That first client took our salary levels beyond anything we could imagine and that win was quickly followed by three more. We just couldn’t believe it. Here we were having only just started and already we were running a successful business.

Those wins were only just the beginning. We went onto secure one of the largest PR accounts in that sector. We were on the invite list for the annual Sunday Times Christmas party at Claridges, went to industry conferences in Monte Carlo and regularly lunched with journalists from the Financial Times, Telegraph and The Times.

My journey to the top was rapid, but my fall from grace felt as fast as Usain Bolt running a 100 metres final. Now, when I look back, I can’t believe how quickly it all came to an end. It took just one meeting with my business partner at a cafe in Green Park and within 24 hours I had resigned from my business. There was no way back. There is still no way back.

At the time I felt such a huge sense of relief. I didn’t need to pretend any longer that I was well, nor did I have to drag myself to meetings and engage with others. But what didn’t stop was the shroud of darkness that had begun to  wrap itself around me, getting tighter and tighter until I was unable to breathe. Huge waves of anxiety and fear engulfed me and I sank fast.

I had gone from being hugely successful to lying on my bedroom floor crying out to God to make me better.

And there began a very different journey. Swapping manicures and high heels for antidepressants and counselling. Trying to work out who I was, and finding a new purpose in my life, or infact any purpose.

Now four years on, I’m so glad it happened and that I escaped,  but I wouldn’t wish the descent into darkness on anyone.