WHEN ANXIETY TOOK OVER I FOUND THE COURAGE TO ASK FOR HELP
A challenging set of circumstances led to Farida’s sense of social isolation and overwhelming anxiety that left her house-bound. But blurting it out to the right people turned out to be a turning point.
There were a number of factors that led to the illness that briefly took over my life last year, when I found myself in a tight, restricted corner and couldn’t see a way out. Self employed for four years, running my own HR company, I was struggling with the isolation and lack of mental stimulation. I was also experiencing money worries. For years I’d been used to being independent and paying my way, but soon I found I’d gone from having a comfortable life to ‘how am I going to pay the mortgage next month?’. The pressure became unbearable.
But there was another factor that contributed to my situation – having my elderly mum live with me. Growing up, my mother didn’t like me and I’d get blamed for everything so we didn’t really have a relationship. Being the youngest of six I’d grown up thinking I was never good enough or important enough for people to care for me. But after my dad passed away and Mum lived with different siblings over the next 15 years on one occasion, my brother, who she lived with for a while, abandoned her. My mum suffered a breakdown and following further distressing family tensions I decided I couldn’t stand the thought of her being alone. There was nothing else for it – she had serious health issues and I got her to move in with me. In spite of the fact that I’d never seen any love from her, I just wanted her to feel happy and safe.
This came at a price. When I’d left home 30 years before the woman I’d left behind was very sociable and chatty. Diagnosed with schizophrenia, she was now a different woman – quiet, meek and terrified of being a burden. And gradually I came to love her, taking her for walks and doing her hair and nails for her and it’s been nice to have that relationship with her at last. But I’m now the parent and she’s the child, and it’s taken some getting used to. As she’s registered blind I have to check on her all the time to make sure my home is safe and that she won’t slip or trip on anything. I also provide her with meals and keep an eye on what she spills and can’t see. There’s been a lot of adapting so she’s part of my daily plans.
She’s also diabetic and hard of hearing, so there are hospital appointments and her medication and care to organise. She’s got no friends around where I live so I’ve had to work with the local council on arranging for her to go somewhere where she can meet other people, as well as arranging for a nurse to do her injections. The flat has been adapted, with a safety alarm in case of emergencies.
“I thought everyone else around me was doing well and therefore I couldn’t hold my head up high”
I did all this willingly, but I now realise that the restrictiveness of the situation contributed to my anxiety. The reality is, at the age of 48 I was no longer able to go out at will. I couldn’t leave her on her own for too long and needed to make sure she saw me during the day. I couldn’t come and go as I pleased – as I had before – and it restricted my social life.
Gradually my mental state deteriorated. The combination of money worries, the isolation of my work and living situation and the lack of social interaction and stimulation all contributed to my overwhelming anxiety. I isolated myself more and more, and felt I wasn’t part of the normal world. I thought everyone else around me was doing well and therefore I couldn’t hold my head up high – I felt like a fake. At one point I had to ask mum to lend me some money. She was fine with it but I just cried.
My anxiety became so bad that I could no longer go out. I found it hard to socialise, because I struggled to even talk. I stopped going to events organised by the business networking group I belonged to – events that I’d formerly loved.
Then one day I forced myself to go to a lunch. Sat at the table, surrounded by women who were all so successful and vivacious, I felt like a total fake. But I was terrified that if I admitted the truth I’d be judged for it. We were going round the table, with each one of us saying what we wanted for the next month – things like ‘help launching my book’, or ‘to be introduced to a fashion buyer’ – and before I could stop myself I’d blurted out ‘I don’t want to be scared’. Everyone looked at me in surprise. Bursting into tears I admitted how bad things were. And everyone was just incredible – warm, supportive, full of kindness. Being from a big family where I never thought I was good enough for people to care for me, I’m not used to people being so kind. But kind they were, and it was a real turning point. I realised people did want to help and that I was worthy of it.
One woman in the network is a hypnotherapist and counsellor and, at everyone’s urging, I made an appointment to see her. I was nearly sick on the way to hers, I wanted to turn round and go back home. But incredibly I left her consulting rooms feeling back to my normal self. The effect was immediate. Apart from the hypnotherapy on the day, she gave me a recording to listen to twice a day for three weeks. And now I hear her calm voice in my head whenever I become a bit down and start thinking negative thoughts about myself. And every time that happens I realise it will be ok. I feel like she’s given me by life back.
“We can’t do it all on our own – and people really do want to help”
Since then my whole life has turned around. I’ve got a job in HR for a global company, so I don’t have to worry about money anymore. For the first time in years I can go shopping without having to worry about what I’m putting in the trolley, and I can treat mum. I’m even planning to take her to Pakistan to visit family. I’m taking time out from my business to think about how I’m going to get the show back on the road.
And the anxiety’s gone. I’m still taking antidepressants but maybe that’s OK for a while – at least I’m back in control of my life, and feeling content and confident again. What I’ve learnt is the importance of family and friends. We can’t do it all on our own – and people really do want to help. I almost didn’t weather the storm – I could have curled up and stayed at home. But I’m no longer embarrassed to say I’m not well and to ask for help.