The effect that stress was having on Anne (not real name) meant that her whole life was being impacted upon; over 12 months she was on 28 different antibiotics for a range of infections, her hair was falling out, her nails had become brittle and were breaking and when she wasn’t at work she would sleep for up to 24 hours. She constantly worried about things at work and she rarely spent any quality time with her two teenage children.
When she went to her GP about what she thought was another infection it was put to her that she could be suffering from stress.
Anne, who lives in the Eden Valley, said:
I contacted First Step and they gave me a couple of options. I decided group therapy would be better because I would probably be able to avoid talking about myself. It took a lot of courage for me to go to the first session, I nearly didn’t. But I sat at the back, said nothing and listened. By the end of that very first session I honestly felt stronger.
Anne was taking part in a free seven week programme called Ways to Wellbeing. The course aims to give some ideas for practical actions that can be used in your everyday life to maintain your own wellbeing.
The second week was about wellbeing and sleep and it honestly changed my life. Sleep was a big problem for me, I would lie awake worrying all the time but when I was off work I would sleep all day. They gave us simple steps to take that put you back in control of your sleep pattern, we reprogrammed our body clocks. Things like have a warm bath instead of a hot bath, have milk before bed and eat two lettuce leaves – this may sound a bit random but it works for me.
Through the course I learned to de clutter my mind, so it wasn’t full of what were unhelpful thoughts, I still have bad days but I feel that I now have the skills I need to cope when I have bad days whereas I didn’t before and I got into a downward spiral.
I was continually worrying about everything at work and my mind was very jumbled. I was always stressed at work and at home I wasn’t very engaging , First Step have re-connected me with my family.
I found every week of the course useful and actually I was quite sad when it finished. That first week I didn’t make eye contact with anyone and I didn’t participate at all by the end of the programme I was sitting at the front of the class, I had cut my hair into a funky short style and I had gone out for a meal with my family. This doesn’t sound much but this was something that I found too difficult before.
Laura Cairns is a First Step Practitioner who runs the courses she explains:
Stress is a common experience and we will all experience stress at times. Not all stress is bad for us but when it gets out of balance it can have a negative effect on us. This may affect us physically for example poor sleep, or emotionally for example being irritable, it can affect the way we think for example excessive worrying and negative thinking and our behaviour for example avoiding situations.
The Ways to Wellbeing course aims to give you some ideas for practical actions you can use in your everyday life to maintain your own wellbeing. It will introduce you to goal setting skills, problem- solving skills and give you practical ideas to enable you to manage stress, worry and mood.
I feel like I am back in the human race again and I am living now instead of existing from crisis to crisis. Work is much better my colleagues have said they have noticed a huge difference. I now take a break when I am supposed to and I have confidence to say when I can and when I can’t do something.
If anyone is reading this and thinking that they feel like I did I would say to them don’t hesitate to get help, I wasn’t able to make the last week of the course so only covered the six weeks but those 12 hours of my life have completely transformed my life.
I’ve finally found the right treatment for me
Until recently, Sandy* couldn’t tie his shoelaces. He couldn’t sleep and he couldn’t touch everyday household items. He had the same CD playing in his car for 12 months because he couldn’t bring himself to change it. Yet, this was not as a result of anything physical – Sandy has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), a condition that has been with him for much longer than he first realised. Sandy describes what it is like living with OCD and his frustration over wasting 10 years of his life by not finding the right help earlier.
Toilet training can be a testing time for everyone concerned and as children get older, difficulties become harder to deal with. In Sandy’s case, things didn’t go well and he was frequently punished for soiling his clothes and immediately plunged into a cold bath to make sure he was clean. As an adult, severe bouts of Irritable Bowel Syndrome triggered compulsive behaviour and rituals including constant hand washing to the point of broken and bleeding skin. His behaviour became so obsessive that it was interfering with his work and personal life. Part of his condition led him to hide the constant washing from the outside world which only made things worse.
I worked a lot from home so the rituals were easier to deal with. But in an office environment, it was extremely difficult. The more I tried to hide my rituals from the outside world, the more I was doing them – to the point that I only spent 20% time working and 80% of the time worrying.
It has also affected his relationship with his wife and daughter.
At home, everything had its place and I couldn’t bear for certain things to be moved from their place in case I had ‘contaminated’ them
Obvious pressures arose from sharing this space with his family and the constant worry and rituals led to a tense atmosphere and his wife to describing his mood as ‘very maudlin’.
Over the last ten years, he has made attempts at seeking help and first went to a psychologist when he was living in South Scotland. But since moving to Carlisle, Sandy tried again and his GP arranged for him to seek help through First Step. The first appointment didn’t go well for him, as he felt he couldn’t confide in the younger female practitioner. But First Step accommodated his need for an alternative therapist and Sandy has never looked back since.
Through First Step, he has found acceptance that there is no cure for his condition but that he can manage to live with it. He has realised how his problem began and that he has probably had OCD since his teens. His treatment has focused around setting objectives to increase his level of exposure to the things that he is worried about. His therapist has visited his home and talked him through touching things that bother him, such as tying his shoelaces that he worries have become contaminated and realising that nothing happens if he ties them. He has learned a variety of coping mechanisms to deal with his worries such as taking a deep breath and knowing that it will disappear. He has also had to take responsibility for his own recovery and knows that it takes a joint effort to get results.
It’s a bit like giving up cigarettes, you have to want to do it for yourself and my therapist has been really clear about saying ‘if you don’t want to change we can’t do it for you’. The support is there to do it and if you put the effort in, it will pay off.
Sandy’s wife and daughter have also noticed a big difference.
My wife has commented that she hears me laugh a lot more and my daughter even says I’m relatively chilled!
I know that if I had sought help earlier, I could have nipped it in the bud and the problem wouldn’t have been as deep. I still have bad days – we all do, but my quality of life is 95% better than it has been over the last ten years.
*Sandy’s name has been changed.
I’ve turned my life around – so can you
Kerry’s doctor referred her to First Step when she was struggling to manage her anxiety and she has since turned her life around. Now she wants to raise awareness of the condition and encourage people to seek help if they find themselves in the same situation.
My anxiety was crippling. I couldn’t get out of bed, answer the phone or have visitors and I couldn’t go any further than the garden. I wasn’t living – just existing. When my husband had an accident at work I couldn’t physically go and visit him in the hospital because of my anxiety. It made me feel like a failure as a wife and a human being, I felt suicidal and thought about ending it all (thankfully I didn’t). My husband was very understanding, but some people weren’t – they couldn’t understand how tough it was for my husband and me. I’m not telling you this to make you feel sorry for me but to make people understand what it’s like living with anxiety and it’s not just a case of pulling yourself together.
Anxiety comes in many forms and it can be past experiences or childhood that can contribute along with the day to day life and worries. I knew when I had hit rock bottom
Jane (not her real name) wanted to share how being supported by an Employment Advisor at First Step has not only enabled her to get back to work, but improved her all-round wellbeing as a result.
I was referred to First Step with anxiety and depression, and my physical health had recently worsened because I was recovering from a stroke. During my consultations I was informed about employment support which I could access through First Step.
Ramona, an Employment Advisor, met with me several times, and her support and advice really helped me – not only in my return to work, but also addressing my worries and concerns about other personal issues too.
The advice and help I have received from Ramona has allowed me to return to work with the support I need. Ramona’s support was paramount during a mediation process with my employer, and she successfully arranged an occupational therapist appointment for me (which had never been considered before).
Ramona has also helped me to find other sources of help; for instance, she found me funding which enabled me to get a specialist seating solution to support my posture and reduce back pain.
She has been supportive, helpful and kind; she has encouraged me and really boosted my self-confidence and self-belief. I am hopeful these will continue to grow and my mental health and wellbeing will also carry on improving.
Ramona, the Employment Advisor who supported Jane, added:
I found it really a humbling experience to be part of Jane’s journey back into work. It was impressive how much she managed to go from strength to strength. I was touched by her ability to express herself so clearly in the mediation meetings; it helped bring awareness of the invisible effects of a stroke and its impact on her in the workplace. Happily, we all worked together to support her to return to her job after over a year of being off sick, which has caused a huge improvement to her self-confidence and happiness.