Real Stories

One in four of us will experience a mental health problem at some stage in our life. Often, we can feel like we are the only one suffering alone.

In this section people who have used Self-Help to assist them in dealing with their mental health problem share their stories.

Real Story 1

What was your main problem?

The problem started when I fainted in the staff canteen. I'd had a lot of stressful things going on in my life and I had just moved from a job that I enjoyed to one where there was a lot of tension and low morale. I initially approached my new role with a positive attitude but I gradually found myself worn down as I received very little encouragement from my new employers.

The working environment was also quite unpleasant. It was a large, open plan office with a lot of distractions from phones, and the heat was unbearable. When I returned to work after the fainting incident I felt very self-conscious. I started to become very anxious every time I felt too hot, in case I fainted again.

I went to my GP before going back to work, and she ran all the usual tests. Although nothing showed up in the tests, she said she would prefer I saw a heart specialist, 'just to be sure'. Naturally, I began to worry there was something wrong with my heart.

How did it affect your life

When I returned to work, I worried constantly about the heat of the office. Every day I woke up with dread at the thought of going to work. I spent most of my days in work trying not to faint. I had a constant knot in my stomach, and lost about half a stone in weight over a short period of time. I had no real appetite and had to force myself to keep eating regular meals.

Driving became a nightmare, as I was terrified of passing out at the wheel, yet I couldn't cope with the crowds and heat on buses. I experienced bouts of road rage when other drivers did silly things like cutting in front of me. As the weather started to become warmer, I became obsessed with the weather forecast, and was thrown into a panic every time it was expected to be above 20°C. I tried to make sure my car was always parked in the shade, and kept a bottle of cold water close at hand when I was driving. Eventually I fainted again, this time at home, but after another stressful day at work and driving home in a hot car.

How did you get help?

At a visit to my General Practitioner (GP), I became so upset I could hardly explain my problems. The GP suggested referral for Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), as she explained that this could help me to break out of the cycle of negative thought patterns that I seemed to have fallen into. She also suggested that using a self-help book on CBT, such as the Feeling Good Handbook, by Dr David Burns, while waiting for a referral. Although I was quite sceptical about the self-help book, I decided to at least give it a try and bought a copy on the way home. I started reading the book and doing the exercises in it thinking 'Well, it might not help but at least it shouldn't make me feel any worse!'

Although I was coping better with the help of the book, I still felt very anxious and found every day a struggle, so I was relieved when an appointment came through for an initial assessment for CBT. This was followed by an offer of a short course of guided self-help. The course consisted of a series of meetings with a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist, with some 'homework' to do in between. At the first meeting, I explained a bit about the fainting incidents and what had happened since.

The therapist explained that I was suffering from agoraphobia, but that there were techniques that I could use to help me deal with it. He gave me a self-help manual with some information about the condition and some exercises for me to work on, which we discussed during our next session.

With the therapist's help, I started to identify some goals to work towards, which involved gradually exposing myself to situations I found stressful and learning to manage the anxiety. The goals were put in order from the easiest (shopping in a local supermarket at a busy time) to the hardest (driving seventy miles to visit family on a fast, busy road). I started working on some of the easier goals, gradually building up the length of time I would stay in each situation. As I became more confident with these goals, I started to introduce some of the more difficult ones, always starting with short periods and gradually building up my tolerance and confidence in the situation.

Gradually I became able to carry out more and more activities that would previously have filled me with dread, and began to feel less and less anxious about doing them. I started to feel more positive about my life and more in control of what I was doing and how I was feeling. Although I still had moments of self-doubt and anxiety, they became just that – moments, not days or weeks or months. When I did start to feel anxious, I could use some of the exercises I'd learned through CBT to help me deal with it, so that it became less of a problem.

How has the help changed your life?

It didn't happen overnight, but now I find myself popping out to the supermarket, driving to work and even going Christmas shopping in the city centre without thinking about it. The permanent knot in my stomach has gone, and I've moved to a job that I enjoy and where I feel much more valued and fulfilled. I can go on holiday without dreading it, and have actually found myself looking forward to a night out with friends, driving friends and family on outings and generally enjoying life.

I've learned how to face my fears and deal positively with them, to the extent that recently I did an abseil down the Europa Hotel for charity, despite being terrified of heights. This is something I could never have considered when I was at my lowest point. Although it was pretty scary, I was able to use some of the CBT techniques to get me through it. The buzz when I reached the bottom was fantastic, and it has given me a real sense of achievement that I can recall when I am feeling anxious in other situations.

While I['m now feeling much more like my 'normal self', I am much more aware of how easy it can be to let stress and anxiety take over my life than I was before, and probably more alert to the signs of when I could be drifting in that direction. At least I now know what to look out for, and have a few extra tools and techniques at my disposal to help me deal with life's pressures when they do arise, but I don’t think I will ever take my mental health and well-being for granted again.