As I write this it is world mental health day.
It’s an important day. It shows how far we have come in trying to remove the stigma that is attached with it.
It’s ok not to be ok.
There are still plenty of people out there who don’t understand it. And to be fair until you experience it yourself it’s really hard to relate to someone telling you that they feel numb, that they feel nothing.
I have experienced two people close to me go through it. And there isn’t always a trigger. There isn’t always a trigger that makes sense to us people who are not going through a mental health crisis.
Indeed my own mental health crisis was triggered by something some people would sneer at. Which then meant my mindtalk around it made it much worse.
Mine happened just over 2 years ago. My greyhound Jimmy had just died. It was a horrific day. It was my ex-husband’s grandmother’s funeral, which I was suppose to be going to.
But Jimmy had got up and thrown up. He had no interest in food and we couldn’t get him to get out of bed.
8 weeks previously the same thing happened with our greyhound Poppy. And she never returned home. She had very advanced liver cancer. And I never saw it coming.
So I was petrified for Jimmy. I asked if it was cancer when we took him to the vets. Very unlikely as he is young was the response.
So off my ex went to the funeral whilst I stayed at home. Jimmy remained at the vet to have some tests.
The blood tests were inconclusive. So I got a call to get authorisation (for the £600 cost) to do a scan.
Of course I agreed.
Then came the call that will haunt me forever. Jimmy has advanced liver cancer. We are keeping him comfortable but you need to get here quickly. We need to end his suffering.
Can it wait till tomorrow so that my ex can be there? No, it’s not fair to Jimmy.
So off I went on my own to say goodbye to my boy and hold him whilst he went to sleep forever.
I felt so much guilt. Guilty because I lost 2 dogs suddenly with cancer within 8 weeks and hadn’t noticed any symptoms.
I hadn’t failed just one dog, but two.
I especially failed Jimmy. You see Jimmy was the dog I got after our attempt to adopt was turned down. I needed to nurture. Desperately. So I got another dog.
A dog to pour my heart and soul into. A dog who helped me get over the grief of not having a family. Jimmy was my baby.
He had helped me (along with counselling) and yet I had failed him.
And I couldn’t shake that feeling. That gloom. I became scared to go out. I started to find situations too peopley. I started to struggle to get up. I became convinced I was being talked about.
I was aware I was sinking. So I went to the doctors, cried my heart out and asked for help.
I was prescribed antidepressants. Anyone who has taken them knows it takes a while for them to kick in.
During this time, no one except my ex knew. I was horrified that people might find out. I was ashamed. I was ashamed that having experienced it with 2 family members close to me, I hadn’t been able to stop myself becoming ill.
I knew that getting up having a shower, looking after yourself and having a little walk all helped.
Yet I couldn’t do it.
So not only was I ill, I was feeling guilty and ashamed.
Eventually the tablets kicked in. I think I told my mum about 6 months later that I was on them.
And guess what I couldn’t wait to get off them. Because in my head if I was taking them I was ill and I didn’t want to be ill. The common sense part of me told me that they were doing their job.
So I tried to come off them. Slowly. It didn’t work, in fact I had to have the dose increased.
So I stayed on them. I was planning to come off them again last winter. But my marriage ended abruptly so I figured it wouldn’t be the right time.
I’m now taking a quarter dose of what I use to take. Hopefully in the next 6 weeks I will be off them.
However, here’s the thing. I’m coming off them because I feel stronger, because I’m in a better place, because I’ve forgiven myself. It’s different this time.
And if I need them again in the future then I won’t hesitate to go back on them. Because they work.
I’m always going to have anxiety about things. In fact a couple of days a month I feel like I’m useless and I can’t do anything. My black hole days which are usually linked to my monthly cycle.
I’ve learnt to go with those days and just do whatever feels right. I’ve also learnt to just take it day by day.
I’m very lucky (or unlucky on my black days) that I have to get up and get out.
I have dogs and cats who are waiting for me. So even if I wanted to stay in bed, I couldn’t. Which is a really good thing for me.
So that’s my mental health story. An illness that was, for me, triggered by the death of my dogs. That in itself made me feel guilty.
I have been through quite a lot in my little 45 years. Yet none of that had brought me to my knees.
I felt guilty that even the death of some of my much loved family hadn’t brought me to my knees.
But my Poppy and Jimmy did. And for anyone who dares say to me that they are only dogs are likely to get me telling them to F off.
Please don’t be ashamed, like I was, of my trigger. In fact a lot of people don’t even have a trigger.
All I ask is that if you need help, ask for it. Ask your family, ask your friends, ask your doctor. Ask me.
Don’t suffer in silence.
Weirdly, the loss of my beautiful dogs brought me to my knees, but it was also dogs that healed me.
Everyday my own dogs would stay close and give me a reason to get up. The dogs I walk always greeted me like they hadn’t seen me for weeks.
It helped so much. I would never have got through the last year without Frank.
It’s ok to not be ok.
Love, Sally xx
Sally Cousins is a self confessed mad dog lady!
After being mum to several rescue dogs she decided to turn her passion in to her career and set up her own dog walking business back in 2015.
Sally not only runs her business, she also writes for her own blog and also does guest blogs for other dog businesses. You can also find Sally chatting as a guest on dog related podcasts.