herald

Thursday 23 November 2017

'I've been terrified of my mind since I was a small child' - Mum (28) on her life long battle with mental health

mental wellbeing

Grace Rattigan (28) battles with anxiety.
Grace Rattigan (28) battles with anxiety.
Grace Mongey (FacesbyGrace) with her daughter Sienna

For mum-of-one Grace Rattigan (28), anxiety has been a constant companion in her life. When she was just 17 years old, she was involved in a harrowing car crash that nearly left her paralysed and when she was just 23, she lost her best friend and mother to cervical cancer.

Having battled depression and chronic anxiety, Grace, who is expecting her second child in September, refuses to let her illness rule her life.

Determined to share her journey, the sales administrator who lives in Citywest with her husband Stephen and daughter, Rebecca, set up her blog Frilly Flossy to remind people to 'count their rainbows, not their rainstorms'.

"I have been terrified of my mind since I was a small child. One of my biggest fears was someone I loved being involved in a car crash. Then I got knocked down by a car. I was terrified of losing one of my parents. Then my mam died at the age of 48.

"I will give you an example of my anxiety. I know almost every symptom of nearly all cancers. I may offer you my sympathy and smile politely at you when you tell me you're sick, but secretly, I'm wondering have you considered you might have the rarest cancer possible?

Or if you casually mention that you haven't been able to reach your loved one for a few hours, I'll reassure you that they're okay. While in my head, I'm screaming, 'Christ have you tried every means of contacting them? Have you checked the news for workplace accidents? or AA Roadwatch for car accidents?' That's what it's like living in my head.

In the weeks and months after my mam passed, I had diagnosed myself and others with so many forms of cancer.

When Stephen developed a cough - a cough that came out of nowhere and to me was unusual and prolonged, I panicked.

His cough, however, was simply a side effect from the blood pressure medication he was taking. But until I knew that, I spent hours and hours online, always coming to the same conclusion. I had enough, so I took the extreme option and I turned up at his routine doctor appointment totally unknown to him and asked the doctor if he thought Stephen had lung cancer. Stephen was 27 years old, and a non-smoker - of course he didn't have lung cancer. But to me, he could have been part of that very small 2pc who I had read about.

Another time, I looked in the mirror and seen a small dent on my breast. I went straight into the doctor the next morning. My own GP wasn't available, so I went to another doctor. He gave me a quick check and fobbed me off. For the next week, I was engulfed with fear, I spent more time on Google than I did sleeping or eating. By the Friday, I became a shell of a person so I booked in with my own GP.

I don't even remember the drive down, or how I managed to get there safely, but I made it and sat crying in the waiting room for a half hour. By the time I got into his office, I was uncontrollably shaking and sobbing. He went so far as to put his career on the fact that I didn't have breast cancer.

I came away from that GP appointment with a new prescription for antidepressants. Since the age of 17, after I was knocked down, I had been on and off antidepressants. I have seen so many psychologists and counsellors, some helpful, some not. Nothing has ever 'fixed me', I always just felt it was being masked by medication.

I think antidepressants are a wonderful thing, and not for one second will I ever discredit their use. However, three years ago, I decided I was packing in my contraceptive pill which I had also been on since I was 17. I just didn't feel it was agreeing with me anymore. So, I decided the antidepressants were going with it.

My biggest fear now is that the adorable, impressionable little mind of my daughter will be affected by my behaviour and that she will turn out just like me. I am so adamant not to let this happen that I am learning every day how to control this and my mind. I'm teaching myself to react differently and to try not always jump to Google and/or the worst case scenario.

Rebecca is heading for five years of age, and the first time she seen a doctor, she was two and a half. She's only been a handful of times since then, and only ever for the normal illnesses she picked up in school.

For now, in general, am I still worrying? Of course - I worry more than the norm every day and I don't think that will ever change. I still suffer from extreme anxiety and I believe I always will, but I'm getting there and I'm still medicine free.

One piece of advice I would offer is 'never be afraid to accept help, and never be ashamed to admit that you aren't well."

• Follow Grace's journey on Facebook (FrillyFlossy), Instagram (@frillyflossy) or Snapchat (@frillyflossy)

'i couldn't leave the house without feeling completely paranoid'

You may know her by her social media handle FacesByGrace, but behind her hugely popular blog, Grace Mongey (29) is among the mass of Irish people who struggle with anxiety and depression.

Taking to her platform to speak candidly about mental health, the mum-of-one from Tallaght believes that meditation and mindfulness were key to her recovery.

"At the peak of my struggle with anxiety, everyday life seemed like a struggle. I lost my appetite, I couldn't sleep. When I did manage to sleep, I had night terrors. My panic attacks became so intense that I couldn't work. Simple things like going to the shop became a struggle. I couldn't leave the house without feeling completely paranoid. I was convinced everyone was looking at me.

If I was in a crowded place or a social situation, I would feel a pain in my chest or sudden waves of nausea and dizziness. I later learned this was a panic attack. As my anxiety progressed, I began to have more severe panic attacks. I experienced heart palpitations and pins and needles throughout my body and in extreme cases, I felt like my throat was constricting and I couldn't breathe.

Although I never knew the term 'anxiety' or what it meant when I was a child, I remember having the most extreme thoughts. I was convinced my house was going to be broken into or that it was going to go on fire. Everyone just thought I was a worrier and that I had an overactive imagination.

I was 17 when I realised something wasn't quite right. I began to withdraw from my friends and family. It was more than just exam-related anxiety or the stressors of being an average teenager. My doctor recognised that I had symptoms of anxiety and depression and I was referred to a counsellor.

It was only when I moved to Australia, away from my family and friends, that I experienced the lowest point in my life. I was 25 and my whole world felt like it was falling apart. Small everyday tasks became overwhelming, I would collapse into tears and felt like I was unable to cope.

When I came back from Australia in 2014, I was diagnosed with depression, referred to a counsellor and put on antidepressants. It was the first step in the healing process.

After four months, I decided to come off my medication and really educate myself about anxiety and depression and that is when my life began to fall into place.

Determined to get my blog off the ground, I threw myself into my career, along the way I met my boyfriend, Chris, and for the first time in a very long time, I put my needs first.

I decided to invest in therapy once more. I was quite sceptical at first as I'd seen three other therapists in the past, but never really gained anything from my therapy sessions. After the first session, I could feel the change. As hard as it is to open up to someone about your past and all that you have gone through, it is relieving. Suddenly, there were answers. I realised why I was anxious and why I had been as a child, and more importantly, I was told I had every right to feel the way I did.

I didn't have to question myself anymore. Before, I was constantly searching for this one thing that would explain why I was so anxious. I lost my dad to cancer when I was 20, which was an incredibly hard time in my life. I still miss him every day and while that contributed to my anxiety, my dad's death wasn't the only reason behind my illness.

It was at that point when I finally realised that anxiety was part of my make up. Being anxious is normal, most of us will experience anxiety in some shape or form, but sometimes we don't even realise we are suffering.

Our mental health is so important, and one thing we should take so much care of. Each week, we need to check in with ourselves and see are we doing okay, and remember, it is okay not to feel okay.

It is so important to talk to people and if you don't feel comfortable opening up for family or friends, I would highly recommend speaking to a trained professional.

I recently went back to therapy because I was feeling overwhelmed and I was putting myself under too much pressure

When I am feeling particularly anxious or think that a panic attack is coming on, I take deep breathes and focus on living in the moment (not in my head). This is easier said then done - it takes practice. I try to practice mindfulness as much as I can and meditate when I am feeling overwhelmed. I also use sleep meditation when I am finding it hard to switch off.

Having a support system is so important. My partner Chris is amazing. Talking to him really helps to make me see sense and the reassurance from him, and others makes me feel that what I'm going through is all in my head. The mind is so powerful and can make you believe the racing, panicked thoughts in your head are true. I learnt that I was focusing on the negative thoughts in my mind, some of which were completely fabricated and untrue, rather than living in the present moment.

I decided very early on that my blog would be a platform where I would speak openly and honestly about mental health.

By responding to one of my followers emails, I know I can change someone's day from a negative to a positive. I am actively changing people's outlook on their health.

I am doing something that I never thought was possible."

• For more on Grace Mongey, visit www.facesbygrace.com or follow her on Instagram (@facesbygrace23), Twitter (@FacesByGrace) or Snapchat (Facebygrace23)

Promoted articles

Entertainment News