Earlier this year for Mental Health Awareness Week ,I wrote a blog post on ‘Living with Anxiety’ which was my way of telling the world how I had lived with social anxiety since adolescence.
As part of World Mental Health Day, Mental Health First Aid England are running the #Take10Together campaign encouraging people to have a meaningful 10 minute conversation – with a friend, a family member, a colleague or student about their mental health.
I wanted the opportunity to seek out and have a chat with a fellow anxiety sufferer to understand how they dealt with their condition. This led me to ‘Taking 10 Together’ with Claire Eastham. Claire is an award winning mental health blogger and soon to be published author of “We’re all MAD here, the no-nonsense guide to living with social anxiety”
What I loved about getting to know Claire (apart from the fact is that she is so bloody lovely!) was how we laughed about our similar experiences, about trying not to swear inappropriately and generally just talking about our condition as you would do the common cold. Here’s how our conversation went:
How long have you suffered with anxiety and panic attacks?
The anxiety started when I was 15 at secondary school. I hated attention being drawn to me. I could just be asked a question in class and I would blush and have tremors. The panic attacks started when I was 24 and these were the last warning sign before I had a nervous breakdown.
A support system can be really important when dealing with mental health, how did your family and friends deal with what was happening to you at the time?
I had kept my condition under wraps for almost 10 years. My Mum was devastated I had lived with it all this time. My family were incredibly supportive even if they didn’t necessarily understand what I was going through. My friends were there for me if I wanted to talk and I was lucky that I had those people around me.
How did you find seeking support and guidance about your mental health? Were there any specific resources aimed at young people or girls in particular which were helpful?
I first went to the Doctor with my Mum and they talked to me about the traditional medication route, unfortunately the practitioner I saw just told me to drink chamomile tea! At the time I felt incredibly lost. I turned to the charities where there seemed to be more support, Mum and I found Anxiety UK, who provided me with guidance and support. It was a relief to know there was a proper name for how I had been feeling. The NHS had a waitlist of three months for me to talk to someone, but with Anxiety UK I got access to therapy quickly at a reduced cost, having spoken to one of their call handlers. There wasn’t anything specific out there at the time, although there were forums (which I’m heavily against as they can be unhelpful and not monitored). There are now more organisations out there for support, for example Youngminds.
Your blog has become really successful why do you think that it is?
I take the clinical definitions, turn into English and try to explain it in a simplified way. I normalise and use humor so it feels ok to talk openly about mental health.
Do you think in the public eye there are a lack of individuals talking openly about mental health?
Yes, I do, but, when ‘celebrities’ do this they also need to be doing it for the right reasons. I thought it was good that Zayn Malik from One Direction was able to say the reason he cancelled some performances was due to his anxiety and not covering it up with another illness.
You are about to launch your first book about dealing with anxiety – does this bring home to you how far you have come on your journey?
It really does. I have to keep giving myself credit. It’s taught me that you can conquer it and you can get better, you just take one day at a time. It’s about not being ashamed of yourself and never to shy away from talking about it.
What practical tips would you suggest as a starting point, for a College or University, to start addressing this with their student population?
We have sex education in secondary schools why not mental health education, or when you start at university? This is often when sufferers start to see their symptoms manifest. We need to normalise it and have more peer-to-peer support groups which would be really useful. Even if you have a different condition it is often relatable and good to talk to someone your own age who is going through the same experience.
Do you think the Government needs to provide better support and funding to sufferers of mental health conditions?
Yes – absolutely! It shouldn’t fall to the charities to lead this. With suicide being the UK’s single biggest cause of death among men under the age of 45, more must be done. We have campaigns for stopping smoking; they must spend more money on mental health awareness.
If you could go back and speak to yourself at your lowest point what would you say?
I know you feel hopeless but it will get better, believe me. Good things end but so will this and you will find a way out of it.
Finally, what would do you say to empower yourself when looking in the mirror?
“It’s ok to be you”
Claire’s book is out in November published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.