The first time I felt my mental health
There’s a lot of talk about mental health, but little of it resonates with me from what I’ve actually experienced. I want to share more of my stories as a way of hopefully demystifying what mental health is.
I’ll write about my experiences of therapy, coaching and emotions I’ve felt along the way.
This is my first story in what I hope will be a weekly series, it’s about the first time I can actually remember properly feeling what I thought might be my mental health.
When your heart beats fast
11am. Family home. A week day. Fire on. Blanket on. Laptop shut.
I don’t know what day it was, all the days had blurred into one big mush where I wasn’t sure where one day ended and a new one had begun.
I was still kidding myself into thinking that I had work to do, even though I clearly didn’t. I’d left London a week ago and been at home ever since. I was trying my best to run my life at 100mph even though life here was averaging at about 30. I was waking up bolt upright at the usual 7.30am, with an alarm set, getting up, having breakfast and then getting that laptop lid open.
It was still covered in the stickers of my old company, but I wasn’t ready to peel off that plaster yet. By 10am I was finished for the day and my mind was confused as to why I wasn’t racing ahead.
It was over, I just didn’t know it.
My body had been running so fast for so long that I didn’t know what it felt like to sit still. I’d been charging around London for 3 years, from meeting to meeting — high on caffeine and pumped with adrenaline fuelled by the thought of making the next big thing happen that was going to salvage my car crash of a business.
With my chest stuck out, my high collared coat turned up and my pocket square neatly folded I’d been flat out selling myself for 10 hours a day minimum for 5 days a week. The remaining 2 days were filled with more stimulation, mainly in the form of all day drinking sessions and heavy nights out. Holidays were a way to do more of what I did in the 2 days, and time with family was placed firmly at the bottom of the priority list, that was a place to just do the hungover thing.
I’d been in battle, I’m not sure with who or what, but I’d been in one somewhere. My face was tight and contorted and my slicked back hair was almost pulling the skin on my head back with it. I felt like I was made out of stone, like a rock that’d been constantly battered by the wind and the rain. Yet, in this case, the elements were stress and pressure. They say pressure makes diamonds, and for a long time I was hoping that’d be the case, but it turns out we’re humans, not rocks.
All of a sudden, I was out of the furnace of the big smoke and into the warmth and familiarity of my family home. I had no reason to throw myself into the elements, because it was over, the storm was slowly coming to an end.
I was “in-between jobs”.
That statement made me shudder, but the shame of failure wasn’t even on my mind as a sat in front of the fire on an unknown weekday with nothing to do and nowhere to go.
I became acutely and increasingly aware of the beating of my heart.
Of course, my heart had been beating for a long time, every day since birth to be precise, but I’d never really felt it, not until recently. After a night of intense intoxication I could feel it going to sleep the next day, but I assumed that was just my poor heart doing it’s best to push the alcohol far far away.
I could feel it hammering against my chest.
It wasn’t just beating, it was bouncing around in there. Like the fist of a prisoner slamming on it’s cell door. My heart was ferociously pumping against my ribcage. If it could talk, I’d imagine it screaming; “Let me out!” With a prolonged and despairing groan.
It was the hint of desperation in it that scared me, as if my heart didn’t want to be inside me any longer, it was wriggling to get out.
I put my right hand to the inside of my left wrist to check my pulse like they taught us in school. I’m not sure what I was hoping to find, but it felt like the right thing to do and as far as I could tell blood was coursing through my veins at a colossal speed.
I then turned to my breath with the accompanying internal monologue of; “just breathe”. Some deep inhalations through the nose and some loud whistling expulsions of air through the mouth were distracting but didn’t seem to make any tangible difference.
I even told my Mum. She checked my pulse dutifully, declaring it was completely normal. Being a nurse for 30 years gave that statement all the gravitas it needed, but she did seem concerned.
Admittedly, I was half hoping there would be something physically wrong with me so I could know what it was, the fact that my heart was seemingly beating in a typical fashion made how I was actually feeling even more abnormal.
“I’ll take you to the doctors if you’d like?”
“No, it’s OK”.
Hours later, in the car on the way back from seeing family I was still feeling abnormal and now I was being abnormally quiet too. Most of my mental effort was invested in keeping my heart beating in a controllable fashion which in turn meant I displayed a long horizontal frown across my forehead and concerned look on my face.
“Are you sure you’re alright? We can take you to the GP you know”
“No, it’s fine, I’ll be OK”