MY BATTLE WITH STRESS
I was a nervous, highly-strung, not
confident, teenager who had little self-esteem and worried a
lot. I was bullied a lot at school – Primary and Grammar – as I
was very intelligent, quiet and shy. I grew up thinking the
only way to be accepted was by being the best academically,
which led to school prizes, but took its toll when I did not
achieve ‘perfection’. I was a good runner at school in my
form. I would come in the top 3 in my class. Therefore I was
part of the cross-country team for many years, which I hated,
but was not good enough to make the running athletics team.
Competing against girls my age from other schools would leave me
near the back! My best result was 6th place out of
80 girls in the inter-form cross-country race in 1986. However
I spent my lunchtimes at school running. I even used to run
with my sister and father on Sundays, my father having been one
of the best athletes in his teenage years on the Isle of Man.
I studied pharmacy at Nottingham
University from 1990-1993. My running career ended and
bellringing and walking became my forms of exercise. I was
introduced to cider and met my future husband. During third
year the beginnings of stress were showing. My best friend
suffered from severe exam nerves and this affected me and I lost
weight. This was to become a symptom of stress in a few years
I left university, got married and
took a hospital pharmacist post in Manchester. My husband and I
bought a lovely, small house and everything looked perfect. A
career, money, holidays and the possibility of children – life
However work was a long car journey
away through rush hour traffic. Being on-call for a whole week
was terrifying. Married life was hard. In the pharmacy there
were never enough staff or medicines. Queues for the
outpatients were very long, tempers fraught and I never finished
my day’s work on time. I found the solution or at least I had
found a temporary anaesthetic – alcohol.
At first it was not a problem – a
few drinks a night at home. Then I became more reliant on it.
I started lying about how much I had to drink, began to plan
when to buy it, felt panic if there was no cider in the house.
My husband and I went to the pub more. It started to become a
In 1995 the physical symptoms
started. I had three terrifying bouts of angioedema; a mystery
illness like anaphylaxis that can kill you. The only conclusion
– I was ‘allergic’ to stress. Panic attacks started. Then I
had my first grand mal seizure. This led to being off-sick from
work, as I could not drive, so could not get to the hospital.
Trying to cope, I drank more alcohol in order to forget the
loneliness of being at home, homesick for my parents on the IOM,
bored, fed up, scared…..
1996 got worse. I could not cope
any longer. Alcohol became my life. I had regular seizures,
panic attacks and severe anorexia. A & E became my second
home. Then at Easter I was told that these symptoms were in my
head. I needed a psychiatric ward. The hardest thing about
being admitted to a ‘mental’ ward was seeing my husband cry as
his wife was labelled ‘mad’. By now the ‘pseudoseizures’ were
happening about 7 times a day with or without alcohol. When I
was discharged I would go back to a non-existent life, only to
overdose or cut myself to get back to the security of the
hospital. The psychiatric ward became my second home. My
husband tried to help, but I was lost. I no longer knew who I
was or how to cope.
After a huge Paracetamol overdose in
February 1997, whilst on a hospital ward, I was discharged to my
Mum’s care in the IOM. She looked after me wonderfully, despite
every attempt by me to harm myself at every opportunity, but in
September I was sectioned and put in seclusion. That was to be
the lowest point in my life. I was in a living Hell. I did not
know how to get better. I thought I would die.
In 1998 I separated from my
husband. I was receiving lots of counselling and taking
‘antabuse tablets’. In 1999 I was given the opportunity to go
through the rehabilitation houses on the IOM. It was to prove
the start of my recovery. It was not easy, but with the support
of my mother and my key worker, who is now my community mental
health nurse, I became stronger and able to tackle cognitive
behavioural therapy. My psychiatrist stabilized me on an
antipsychotic tablet to control the mood swings and I was
discharged into my own flat.
Since then I divorced my husband in
2000. Fortunately he has found love and happiness with a new
lady. The past seven years have been full of setbacks and
progressing forwards. I have not been in hospital since 2004.
I have not cut myself or taken an overdose for three years. I
have experienced numerous different jobs, including community
pharmacy, which is too stressful, and found the job I love – the
gym. I have lived in different places but found a flat I like
and have been here for four years. The alcohol is under
control. My weight is normal. I don’t see a psychiatrist
anymore, although I have my community psychiatric nurse. I take
a tiny amount of medication. I am positive, optimistic,
confident, active, and energetic and love the life I have now.
Running has proved a great
de-stressor. I have always been active, although when I was
very ill I did very little. My Mum had to force me to go
outside! When I started running 3 years ago, I had no idea of
the benefits it would lead to. It has changed my life. Races
give me something to focus on and goals to achieve. I have met
like-minded dedicated runners I can socialise and run with.
I enjoy running
first thing in the morning. I watch sunrises, look at rabbits
and pheasants, am awake before most people stir or get into
their cars. It is my escape, my freedom. It is ‘my time’ to
make decisions, think about problems, or look forward to the
future. Regular exercise clears my head and thoughts, relieves
stress and pressure, and makes me happy. It keeps me toned,
young and athletic. I am not fast but I can run long
distances. It makes my life positive, focussed and
challenging. It has replaced alcohol and medication. I am
stronger physically and mentally.