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.

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IF I OPEN THE CAR DOOR AND FALL OUT IT WILL ALL BE OVER

We were on the motorway on our way to a holiday with friends. In the back of the car were my two sons. I felt like I had my hand in a plug socket and a powerful electric current was flowing through my body. Nothing would take it away. I was so desperate for it to go, to feel normal, to feel well.

But it wouldn’t go away. It was with me from the moment I woke in the morning to the moment I fell asleep. As soon as I opened my eyes it was there, wave upon wave of anxiety. Even completing the simplest of tasks took a herculean effort. I understood why depression and anxiety drove people to drink or drugs; all I wanted was a momentary escape.

I hadn’t expected to have a relapse. Things were going well, I had felt fine. The antidepressants had worked and I was ready to come off them, or so I thought.

What I didn’t do was speak to my Doctor. I had been on antidepressants for about four months and I thought I was better. Instead of asking for medical advice, I literally stopped taking them.

All was well for a couple of months and then I began to feel a knot in my chest. That knot began to spread, until I felt my chest getting tighter and tighter. It took me a couple of days to realise that the anxiety had returned.

I called the Doctor and got an appointment and a new prescription and started taking the tablets again, but they don’t start working overnight and I was back to square one. Except this time it felt worse, much worse. What if I would never get better? What if I would have mental illness for the rest of my life? What if the tablets didn’t work this time?

I had always wondered what Hell would be like and here I was feeling like I had arrived, with no escape.

And that’s why I nearly opened the car door. It was so tempting to end it all. But of course I knew that I couldn’t do that, to myself, to my family and friends.

In that moment I chose. I chose to have hope, to believe that I could and would get better.

As I write this I want you to believe that too. That you can get better, you can recover from mental illness, that death is not your friend; it is your enemy. You are here to have life, and life in all its fullness. Look around you at the signs of spring. Of the daffodils and crocuses in bud. They are there and I am here to show you that there is hope that you can recover and life can get better. Grasp it with both hands.

 

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.

The best way to protect your mental health

Wear leopard print stilettos

I have always loved leopard print shoes. In fact I love animal print, but I don’t like it overdone – no mixy-matchy for me. They need to have a bit of a heel, but not too high. You can wear them in any season and they go with almost anything.

By now you might be wondering what have leopard print stilettos got to do with mental health? Well, I have no scientific or empirical data but I can tell you that they have everything to do with it.

You see, I’m wearing my own pair. Something else might do it for you, but for me leopard print stilettos float my boat.

They tell me to be my own person, to wear the shoes I want to wear and not someone else’s. And that’s the point. We all need to wear our own shoes. If you were to put on mine they would probably be uncomfortable, too big or too small, too wide or too narrow. Don’t look at what someone else is wearing. Be you.

For too long I tried to be someone I wasn’t until a time came when I couldn’t do it anymore. It was too much like hard work and I ended up becoming ill. Fortunately that’s not the end of my story and don’t let it be yours.

I went on a journey of self-discovery that involved walking away from a business that I had built up, and counselling and prayer.  What has been so amazing is that I’ve learnt so much along the way and the biggest thing is not to be anyone else but me.

What about you? Are you trying to be like someone else? Stop. Take a minute, a day, a week, a year, and think. Who are you?

There is no better time than now. Take time for yourself and be gentle; who knows you might end up wearing a pair of Louboutins or Dr Martens, whatever.