Leeds Trinity University PhD student and novelist Liz Mistry has struggled with anxiety and depression for many years. In this blog post, for World Mental Health Day (10 October), Liz shares her story and talks of the extent of her mental ill health and how she overcame her problems to succeed as a writer.
For over a decade I struggled with mental health issues that stole a large part of my life. I want to share my story in the hope that it might help someone else in a similar position.
I've suffered from debilitating mental health issues for a number of years. At my worst, I was unable to leave the house, or often my bed, and interact with my family and friends. I was suffering from insomnia, regular panic attacks, feelings of depersonalisation and palpitations. Simple everyday tasks were beyond me. My husband had to monitor my personal hygiene and came home at lunch time to makes sure I'd eaten or had a drink. In effect he was my full-time carer as well as a single parent.
For years, I wasn't a mother to my three children. I was unable to help with their homework or support them when they needed it. I cried lots and spent long periods of time being introspective. The entire family suffered from my inability to engage with the simplest of tasks and they missed out on the support and love of their mother/wife.
All of this was made worse because I was aware of how much my behaviour affected my family, and yet couldn't do anything to improve the situation. This led to a cycle of feeling worse, not sleeping because I was remonstrating with myself for being the way I was. I felt so lonely and had so much despair, some days I would pull the covers over my head and cry for hours on end.
I had lost my psychiatrist input from not being able to attend appointments. When it got to a critical level my husband took me to my GP who initially wanted me to be an in-patient at a local psychiatric hospital. My husband and I argued against this and my GP reassessed my medication recommending a reduced dosage and referred me back to the Primary care team. They initiated changes to my medication, supported by dynamic counselling and Mindfulness.
This multi-faceted approach combined with alternate medications slowly allowed me to develop my confidence. My concentration and memory also became stronger. I had always dabbled with creative writing and as I began to feel stronger, I was able to focus on my writing for longer periods. So, when I saw the Creative Writing Master's Programme advertised at Leeds Trinity University, I applied and was accepted. Right up until the point where I started the course, I was unsure whether I'd be able to start, but with my counsellor we worked on developing strategies to build my confidence. Alongside that, the student support team at the University were supportive of my needs as were the department and my supervisors.
For me, the key was getting the right intervention. Previously I'd had phone assessments which were incredibly stressful. Often the call would be cut off or the line would be so bad, I couldn't hear what the assessor was saying and vice versa. On occasions, I would cut the call short because I was hysterical. This was the worst because, I was on my own with no support. The person on the end of the phone had no indication other than my voice as to how I was coping with the interview. The result was, I avoided asking for this help, because I couldn't cope with the process involved in attaining help. In effect, I couldn't access the help I needed because it wasn't delivered in a user-friendly way.
In terms of my continued education, I found that the synergy between the creative writing process and academic research worked for me. Doing both aspects together helped my mood improve and helped to develop my concentration, organisation and my ability to retain information. The positive effects of studying, with the right support in place, have meant that I've achieved something for the first time in years. By the end of the MA I had a publishing deal and a book published. I now have five crime fiction books published and am a PhD researcher at Leeds Trinity University.
So, has my anxiety and depression gone? – Unfortunately, the answer to that is no. It hasn't gone. However, I am now more equipped to manage my condition. I can recognise possible triggers for anxiety/panic attacks and have developed techniques to help me through them. In terms of my depression, I accept that after busy periods I will have a depressive slump and I now factor that into my life. There are still days when I don't get out of bed, the difference is that now I know that if I give myself the time to heal, speak to my family and tell them how I feel and not blame myself, then it will be short lived. My family are also on alert to intervene if they see any of the symptoms that I am falling into a slump and insist I take time out and talk through what's happening.
Second to my family's support, my writing is my biggest endorphin boost. Escaping creatively allows me to explore my demons and in effect exercise them. If I have a period without writing creatively or researching and thinking about the wider aspects of crime fiction, my mood slumps a little. Bit by bit, I am snatching back some of the time I've lost over the years.
With my fifth book due out at the end of the month, I wanted to give something back. I'm taking this opportunity to keep the spotlight shining on mental health issues. So, if you donate via my JustGiving page you will be in with a chance to 'GET BUMPED OFF' in my next book and win a bag of goodies. But more than that, you will be contributing to a charity that really makes a difference to the lives of those with Mental Health issues, Mind in Bradford.
If you are coming to my launch on Wednedsay 31 October, 6.30 - 8.30pm at Bread and Roses café, North Parade, Bradford you can donate there. Raffle money raised on the night will go to The Cellar Trust Mental health charity in Shipley.
For more information on Liz's fundraising visit her JustGiving page here.