Oh. My. God.
This evening marks the end of day two of my Mental Health First Aid Training, and the way I'm feeling right now is amazing! Let me fill you in on what happened...
Turning up for the course was scary, and I put it down to thinking that lots of awkward ice-breakers would be involved and I'd be the 'odd one out.' How wrong I was. I met Simon from Mind, who seemed really approachable right from the start. There were about 13 'trainees' and no one knew each other. They were from all different walks of life, all different ages. Even better, we weren't made to do ice breakers! We had 'ground rules' so rules we decided between the whole group and that was enough.
Onto to learning. I can't believe how much I learnt just yesterday. We covered several topics, and learnt about how to care for someone in different situations, the same as you would in physical first aid. That was the best bit about the whole course - the way we all spoke was just so... normal. Like mental health is as important as physical health. Of course, it is just as important, but it's about time more people started to realise this.
The great thing was there was no pressure to speak or stand up. You did get the chance to ask questions (and answer them!) and share your viewpoints if you wish but there was no pressure whatsoever. I fell completely head over heels in love with the environment and atmosphere.
Day two was... strange! But in a good way!
I knew we were going to be focusing on anxiety, and I suppose I anticipated to feel a bit uncomfortable with it being very close to home. We covered a few other subjects too but I knew this was first thing. When I arrived in the morning, I was fine. But as the day went on and we started talking about experiences, panic attacks, OCD, and what an anxious person might look and feel like, I couldn't cope. My heart was pumping so hard it was like it was going to pop outside of my body. I knew what was happening, I knew I was just experiencing what we were discussing, but I pushed it down, telling myself to stop it, get over it, I have to stay here, I HAVE to learn. It got to the point where I got asked something. I wasn't put on the spot, nothing like that, we were just talking about a particular experience and the leader asked me if I wanted to share. I nodded. I wanted to interact but the words couldn't come. And then? I said sorry, and left.
I had to escape. It was too overwhelming. I think it was a mixture of intense learning, with a funny dream the night before, and the fact that we were talking about something so personal to me. I want to open and frank, but I had anticipated feeling anxious and in turn, I had made myself have a panic attack. At the time, I couldn't realise that. I felt embarrassed, guilty for disrupting, and I wondered what on earth people must be thinking of me.
Sitting outside the room, it was quiet. I was in a little conservatory area, with no one else around, and it was hammering down with rain. I started crying, this feeling just coming over me, my hands were shaking and my mind felt buzzy with thoughts. And then, it started to subside. My heart slowed down, and I could breathe properly again.
I got up, and I have no idea how, but I went back in. I actually opened the big squeaky door and walked back into the training room. And it was... fine. No stares, no whispers, just... normal. And it felt good! I sat down in my seat and then in five minutes it happened to be time for a break. The leader came and knelt down next to me, to check I was okay. And yes, I was, weirdly! Knackered, but fine. He said about how it's actually good that I made the choice to leave. I recognised my boundaries, and I did what was best for my health. And to come back in was a huge thing. He said that after I had left, he used me as an example of actually understanding your anxiety, knowing what you need to do. I had never looked at it that way before.
At lunchtime, people were interested in hearing about my attack. They asked if I had them often, and the amount of people who had been in the same situation as me took me by surprise. People were actually sitting and debating anxiety with me. We were talking about panic attacks like we would the weather. We discussed medication like you would discuss your favourite foods. I had never felt so content.
At the end of the day? We had a few minutes and the leader opened up to the group to ask questions or share what was the biggest thing they had learnt. I eventually plucked up the courage to say what I had learnt.
'I am not ashamed.'
And I'm not. Truly and honestly. Sitting here writing that is just adding to the relief I have felt today by accepting who I am and being proud. I have a mental health illness and while it does control me, I will recover. I may have bad days, but I'm going to have good ones too. I know that if people don't want to accept my illness then shame on them, not me, I'm not being ignorant to it, they are.
My wish would be for this training to be as common as first aid (physical) training. I'd love for it to be rolled out to schools, workplaces, and other organisations.
My mission is now to use my illness as a positive. I'm going to raise money to help fund research into understanding mental health illnesses better, and I'm going to get people talking.