When mental health runs in the family

mental health

Five years. That’s how long ago we had to admit my mum to a mental health hospital, and how long our journey into the rollercoaster of emotions that ill mental health can cause has been. Before that point, Id never really appreciated the fact that we all have mental health – good or bad. Stupid I know, but because the bad side had never touched me, I just didn’t really comprehend it.

Going back to before I was born, my grandfather chose to end his life by suicide. I’ll never know why, and when we were growing up the subject was always changed whenever we asked innocent questions about him. I never really thought much of it, and continued not to do so until one year we were on holiday in Hong Kong visiting the old army camp that he was stationed at. My dad took me to one side and warned me that my mum might ‘act funny’ because her dad had ended his life years ago, and so being there might cause her upset due to the memory of him.

Wow. What a bombshell. And to then to have to act like nothing had happened, whilst being on tenterhooks seeing if mum would react. She didn’t luckily at that point, but it wasn’t until years later that her own mental health started to spiral out of control.

I’ll never forget the day I got a phone call out of the blue from my dad telling me that he couldn’t cope anymore with my mum’s behaviour. It was so out of character that I got straight on the train to go back to see what was going on, texting my boss to say that I’d had an unexpected message from my parents and that I’d had to go back to theirs but I’d be in London the following day still.

Arriving at my family home it was clear that I wouldn’t be going to work the next day. My mum was very unwell, and now having trained as a mental health first aider myself I realise that she was actually in a state of psychosis. We had to call a crisis care team to try and get her assessed, but safe to say that took time and also a lot of effort to try and keep mum calm. I won’t go into details, but safe to say it was hands down the worst day of my life.

We ended up having to admit mum against her will into a mental health hospital that wasn’t even anywhere near home. Leaving her there was the hardest thing i’ve ever done. We did manage to get her moved to a bed closer to home, but it was still miles away from either my dad or I. Six months of travelling after work to and from the hospital was mentally draining. 

Luckily the support of my husband was amazing, and together we got through it, whilst also supporting my dad.

I started blogging about our experiences as a family because I realised that if we continued to brush things under the carpet, things would never get better. I also found out that my great grandfather was also sent to an asylum after WWI, for what would now be deemed PTSD, so where would it end otherwise, and how far back up the family chain did mental health problems go? By being open about my experiences it’s enabled many conversations with others.

Running for me is a way to unwind mentally. I was fortunate enough to get a place in the London Marathon last year for Mind and raised over £5,500 for them by running another two marathons and an ultra-marathon in the process. There’s nothing quite like running through my local park, next to the river and hearing the birds singing to bring you back to the present. 

However, it was when I was marathon training that I started to struggle mentally myself. My manager at work was bullying me, and I was travelling a lot around the UK for work, whilst also studying for my Master’s degree part-time. Things came to a head and my brain decided it had had enough of trying to juggle everything. I was signed off work with stress as a result of generalised anxiety and burnout. Everyone has a breaking point, and I’d unfortunately found mine.

I’d never experienced anything like it. To anyone who thinks people taking time off work for stress is just being awkward or seeking attention – they really aren’t. It was horrible not being able to concentrate on one thing for more than about a minute at a time. My brain was all over the place, and I’d become a shell of myself – as one of my friends put it ‘you’ve lost your sparkle’. I decided to be open about the fact that I was struggling, and several friends that I’d met through the running community reached out and forced me outside for things like dog walks and bingo; whilst my longstanding best friends checked in on me daily, and my husband supported me by taking on all the tasks in the house and just being there for me.

As the weeks passed by, I eventually realised that I couldn’t go back to my old job, I’d finally had enough of being bullied and I didn’t want to keep working for her. I went back instead to my old team for a while, but the damage was done and eventually, I left the company. Instead, I moved out of the industry altogether and partly as a result of having gotten my Master’s I managed to move sectors. This proved to do wonders for my mental wellbeing and gave me my confidence back that I knew what I was doing when it came to work. The work-life balance was great, and I could do yoga or go swimming in my lunchbreaks.

I do still run and have during lockdown turned to open water swimming as well. It’s been a refreshing change to try something that I was no longer able to do as a result of COVID. 

Swimming is so good for your mental health, and it’s a great way to explore and switch off your mind.

The last few years have been very up and down for my mum, and therefore by default for us all as a family. The positives to come out of the whole experience though are that I’ve learnt who my true friends are and that it’s made me more compassionate towards others who are struggling as I now understand it more. I became a Mental Health First Aider late last year as it was something I wanted to do to be able to help others in the workplace if they are also struggling. It’s okay not to be okay, and the more open we can be with one another, the better.

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