So this is not my usual travel related Blog post but something that is still as equally as important to me and something which I am very passionate about.
Did you know that…..
•Approx 39% of ambulance staff suffer from PTSD
•Approx 91% of ambulance staff have experienced stress or suffered poor mental health
(Statistics taken from Mind)
For the last few months I know I have suffered from poor mental health. Triggered by a personal bereavement in the most tragic of circumstances and being forced to return to work too soon after this, I soon found that I was becoming upset and angry at the world. I was turning into an irrational and anxious person that I didn’t recognise and I didn’t understand why this was happening. I found I had no motivation to do anything and simple daily activities were turning in to a chore. I found it difficult to be at work because I felt like no one understood how I was feeling. And truth be told nobody did understand how I was feeling because nobody knew what I had been going through as I hadn’t been open and honest about how I was feeling or what had been happening, instead choosing to just keep everything to myself and try to deal with it all alone. But my grief was consuming me. This, combined with the NHS pressures we as Paramedics are continually facing, started to become too overwhelming and being at work at times just felt tiring, tedious, demanding and stressful. I found it increasingly hard to bite my tongue toward patients who had called 999 for insignificant reasons and became resentful of being there. I felt like not only had I lost my spark, but I had lost my care and compassion.
The most important thing about any mental health issue is to acknowledge that things are not okay which I am so glad I did. I had tried to carry on as normal for as long as I could because I thought that’s what everyone around me expected me to do. I continued to put on a brave face but behind closed doors my reality was very different. I didn’t want to burden any of my family or friends about how I was feeling. But keeping everything bottled up for so long was inevitably only going to end one way. The realisation that things weren’t ok came to me after a horrible incident on a boat during my recent trip to Indonesia which was honestly one of the most frightening things I have ever faced. This experience really shook my confidence and afterwards I found that things that would normally never bother me, such as turbulence on a plane, were now turning me into an anxious mess. I knew this wasn’t me…..I spent 8 years of my life flying around the world during my time at Virgin Atlantic yet here I was suddenly panicking about a bit of adverse weather. However, I returned from this trip and STILL tried to continue on as normal but after one particularly terrible night at work, I knew something had change…..
Until this point I had never had much empathy towards people having panic attacks or episodes of anxiety and I didn’t understand how they couldn’t just snap out of it, but when these kind of irrational thoughts take over it is easy to see how they manifest and how difficult it can be to break the cycle.
I have realised now that there is no shame in admitting you need a break or a time out from daily life. Most people will experience some form of depression and anxiety during their life, especially those working within the Ambulance Service, and you may just find that people are more supportive and helpful then you think once you open up and admit this.
I have also taken some other simple steps in order to try and turn things around…..
✔️ I have started exercising – yes most people will be shocked by this but improving my physical health has in turn improved my mental health. I joined a local boot camp which was just what I needed and it gave me a daily purpose to get up and get out (shoutout to everyone at Fit Body Bournemouth in particular Spencer, Kate, Matt, Roxy & Luke – you guys have helped more than you’ll ever know) – friendly, motivational and most importantly I got some great results which I have not managed to achieve from attending traditional gyms. I am nearly 5% body fat down, I’ve never felt fitter (though I still have a long way to go) and have some of my confidence back….. ! 👊🏼
✔️ I have started to really look after my body – for months I had been eating whatever I wanted as a form of comfort. My weight began to creep up and I felt sluggish and lethargic, which just demotivated me even further. But after changing my eating habits I have began to eat well, avoid the junk and alcohol and I instantly started to feel better – it’s true, your food does affect your mood!
✔️ I found something that really helps to clear my mind……cycling. Cycling really is the best form of meditation. If you had asked me a year ago if I would come to love cycling then the answer would have been no…..but now I regularly cycle 50-60km at a time and find that is a great way to blow away the cobwebs, forget your problems, stop worrying about irrelevant things and think about positive things.
✔️ I started counselling – I am definitely not a fan of this as I’m terrible at talking about things, especially about my emotions, but it honestly really has helped to start to process what has been going on and help me come to terms with everything, including the guilt I was holding on to. Initially I was super sceptical about going as I knew nobody would be able to answer the questions that I needed answering but in persevering with it I have now started to see some benefits.
✔️ I got my Blogging and photography mojo back. Picking up an old hobby or trying out a new one is essential to serve as a distraction and focus your mind on new things. I find writing things down much easier and so my Blog has been a really helpful outlet.
✔️ I have made a conscious effort to only surround myself with people who make me see the positives in life or encourage me to be the best me – I’ve got some amazing family and friends who have helped more than they will ever know. At times like this you soon realise the people that count. There have been those people who you think you are close to and who you think would support you no matter what who in fact haven’t…..and then there are those unexpected friends who have surprised me by being there without me even asking.
✔️ I have also taken a step back from anything causing me stress or from any toxic environments. For me the biggest cause of my stress was work (for many reasons). I had really started to loathe being there and I knew I needed to take a break and after having a few weeks off I am feeling more ready to hopefully return soon and start a new chapter, focusing on my own career goals and moving forward.
✔️ Whilst taking this break from work I have made sure I have used my time productively – whether it be trying a new activity, reconnecting with old friends or making new friends. Yes it may just look like I’ve been having a nice time whilst I have been off work but I knew I needed to find things to occupy me physically and mentally so I was not sat at home dwelling on things. And yes, I have documented all of this on Social Media, but I won’t apologise for this or feel guilty as it’s what I do. The people who know me know what has been going on. And the people who don’t know me and who still think am taking the piss being off from work then you should try to be a little kinder as you never know what a person is going through. People can be so quiet with their pain that you can forget they are hurting.
✔️ I also now have lots of things to look forward to – everyone knows that a new trip is the ultimate cure for me and so my diary is now full of exciting adventures including upcoming trips to Morocco and Prague. Travelling is my passion and a new trip or adventure is what I strive for in life and what ultimately restores my happiness and helps the most with balancing my mental health.
So, although I have improved my own mental health significantly there is still some way to go. I will never fully accept what has happened and it will still always be difficult to think about but I know that some point you have to let go of the anger and sadness and I now have techniques and tools to help deal with it. I’ve learnt that you don’t really ever get over grief but rather learn to live with it and deal with it accordingly when it surfaces. A much wiser person than me told me that on days that grief shows itself, the best way to deal with it is to invite it in like an old friend, confront it, take the time you need to deal with it, then carry on.
I have also changed my daily routine to try to create a more positive mindset and try to make the best of the situation by focusing on my own personal goals and what I want to achieve out of life as dwelling on the past was just proving to destructive and detrimental and I don’t want my bitterness over everything to steal my sweetness. Instead I have been focusing more on my own self care and happiness instead of trying to please people who don’t matter and doing things that don’t make me happy or healthy because by taking care of myself I have much more to offer the world then when I am running on empty……
I also always try to remember that no amount of guilt can change the past and no amount of anxiety can change the future.
So stay tuned for more…..👀✌🏼