Mental Health Awareness Week: How Buoy 13 saved my life.
Its mental health awareness week so I guess it’s a fitting time to share last years events with you. I love sharing my experiences with others – it’s how I connect with people. But this story feels different. I have been sitting on it for a long time: Although I have openly discussed my struggles with those who are close to me, this is the first time I have documented it on paper.
Sometimes it’s still painful to think about what happened. It still feels raw. I get flashbacks when I see something that triggers my memory back to the dark place I was in; my heart starts pounding and breathing goes shallow. One part of me wants to keep these series of events hidden away, because its easier that way. Writing it down makes it feel real, like it actually happened. I can’t hide away from it. But there is another (bigger) part of me who wants to share my story. My struggles last year have shaped me to be who I am now. There is a reason I have a crazy ‘fuck it’ attitude who jumps at any adventure.
My mate described me as being ‘bloody minded’ and continued to say; “[You have a] to hell with it, let’s give this whirl, what have you got to lose’ type of approach”. She hit the nail on the head: I say yes to life. But I haven’t always been like this. I guess this is what the blog post is all about: how I survived the worst few months of my life and came out of it a hell of a lot stronger. I’m the same Lauren, but different. FAR more confident and outrageous.
So what happened last year? It went something like this…
July 2017: Back to the UK, Re-adjusting
I returned from Australia. I moved back in with the parents and a few days later I started at the same job I had before I went travelling (I was skint so had to start earning asap!). Looking back now, I realise there was no time to process travelling or to adjust back to UK life. I think this sparked the troubled few months.
The anxiety started to creep in. I couldn’t talk to others without analysing what they were thinking, and it would always be negative. For example; “they think I am boring to talk to”, “they think that I am not living how I should be” ,”they are thinking I am getting nowhere in life” etc etc… With. Every. Conversation.
I got by and was functioning from the outside: I was holding down a job, occasionally meeting friends and doing a bit of exercise. I don’t think many people noticed that I wasn’t myself – I may have just looked a bit on edge. But on the inside nothing felt right, I felt uncomfortable in my own skin. I was resisting everything. It felt like I was in a glass box: I was still participating in life but also felt cut off from others. I could visualise how the usual Lauren would be in certain situations (bubbly, smiley, chatty), but for some reason I couldn’t be ‘me’. I felt empty. So I ended up becoming very quiet and low.
Then, in August (with a nudge from the rents) I decided to see a counsellor. I went for one session and I cried for the whole hour. I explained how I didn’t know how to bring the things I had learnt in Australia back to the UK. I also felt like I had changed whilst travelling and wasn’t understood or accepted after these new experiences which was the worst feeling.
But then I was offered an opportunity. My friend asked if I would temporarily house sit for her in Manchester whilst she went travelling. I jumped at the chance! I thought it would give me a fresh start, a second chance. Manchester was an exciting place, I would get a job, make new friends, see what it’s like living in a city, join the triathlon club and maybe try new things like climbing.
However, I knew something wasn’t quite right with the move. I became very anxious before I left: I didn’t want to do sport, I avoided packing for the move and generally wasn’t nice to be around. I guess deep down I knew I wasn’t solving anything by moving location. Instead, I was avoiding the problem. I wasn’t being honest with myself with what I truly wanted to do and was hoping Manchester would ‘fix’ me.
But I pushed all the doubts to the back of my mind and moved to Manchester on the 4th September.
September 2017: Manchester, where the wheels fell off
Initially things seemed to go well, I went through the motions. I got a job at a grocery shop that seemed to fit with my Auz experiences. I volunteered for a cool social enterprise called ‘Sow the City’. I joined the Manchester Tri Club and went to one bike ride and a few swims. It looked like I was functioning on the outside. I think I even fooled myself that I was fine.
But I couldn’t shake the anxious thoughts I’d had at home. Negativity encompassed my whole presence, like being in thick fog. I felt so alone. In the flat I cried every night. I would get out of bed at the last possible moment to start the day. I couldn’t make decisions on anything (it took two painful hours to decide on a pair of running trainers.) I even left a group interview at LUSH in tears at the second question; I choked up and lost the ability to even speak coherently because I was that anxious.
In my eyes life was so depressing, I couldn’t see one ounce of goodness. I never smiled. I avoided conversation with others. I wouldn’t get out of bed until 2pm on my days off. I would cry all the time. I would tell a select few how I didn’t want to be here anymore. I stopped doing any exercise. I wouldn’t cook meals for myself and would just binge eat – I pretty much lived off bread, humus and chocolate for 2 months. I stopped looking after myself. I think this self destruct mindset was my way of asking for help – I just stopped participating in life and hope the world would stop or someone would pick up the pieces for me.
Then the suicidal thoughts began.
At my lowest point that was all I would think about. I had given up on life. I had stopped participating in every way possible. I wanted the world to swallow me up. I planned how not to be here: I would walk over bridges and have to fit every muscle not to jump off. I would lie in bed and think about where I could buy rope. Looking back now, it was pretty horrendous.
The worst part of all this was putting those who loved me through this emotional turmoil. I knew my actions and words were hurting them, but what I was feeling was still so real. I convinced myself I didn’t want to be on this earth – how scary is that?
In the end Dad told me on the phone I needed to come home, but he made it clear I was the one who had to make the decision. Again, I delayed and delayed making another decision – it took me about three weeks! Eventually I realised I had to get out. I accepted I couldn’t do this alone, I needed help. So I came back to the lakes.
November 2017: Getting Lauren back
I was back at home. In my eyes I was back at square one – and worse: I was unemployed, felt like a failure and was anxious and depressed. I was still avoiding social interactions due to the fear of being boring and no one would want to spend time with someone who is depressed. I was doing them a favour by cutting myself off.
My parents thought medication would help but I didn’t want to go on antidepressents. I went to the doctors anyway and I told them I didn’t want medication, so they recommended some counselling. In the same week as this I somehow got a job at Phase Eight in town. Hurray, I was no longer unemployed! This forced me to put effort again into looking after myself as it was a fancy clothes shop. This was the start of the slow turnaround – I had put a bit of normality, routine, structure back into my life.
Buoy 13 Swimming Club
After telling people these events, most people ask “How did you get yourself out of it?” and I always struggle to answer them.
There was absolutely no quick fix.
I had to force myself out of the door every single day for a few weeks. Force myself to chat to friends. Force myself to go and do ‘normal’ tasks like get out of bed, have a shower, make breakfast. Then I forced myself (with the help of Dad) to do things I knew I enjoyed but for some reason was avoiding, like to go on a bike ride and go swimming.
What is crystal clear now is how cold water swimming was a constant theme throughout it all. And this is all down to the amazing Buoy13 Swimming Club. (We aren’t really a club but it sounds catchy!). Buoy 13 swimming club saved my life. ‘How?’ I hear you ask? Well;
- The act of swimming helped bring me back to myself: The tranquil, serene, (flipping cold!!!) water was a distraction to all the negative, draining thoughts encompassing my mind. I escaped from all the anxieties in the cold water.
- The people I have met through this wonderful hobby: The morning chats after the dip, the coffee and cake are the best way to start the morning. The simplicity was amazing. I felt human again. I felt part of something.
These combined, for me, were better than any form of medication or therapy. (I mentioned previously I was referred for counselling by a doctor – I had a telephone assessment and two counselling sessions but didn’t find them to be very useful). This is why cold water swimming will always be such a big part of my life.
So, thank you Buoy13 Swimming club. Thank you for accepting me when I wouldn’t talk and was an anxious mess. I owe you everything. I also owe the Giant lot in Kendal a big thank you, the girls I worked with at Phase Eight, and to everyone who managed to put up with me the latter part of 2017. You guys will never know how much you helped me.
I wanted to share my experiences with mental health because I think it is important to recognise that anyone can have bad spells; however extreme and whether it lasts a few days, weeks or months. I am aware most people view me as a confident, positive and chatty person; and I am most of the time. But, like everyone, I have my moments where I am insecure, low and anxious. And that’s also okay. We are human, we are allowed to go through rough patches. For me, I now recognise when I feel a bit low and remind myself it is just a feeling and it will pass. I will either go for a swim / run / slack lining / adventure of some sort, meet a mate for a beer or have an early night and know that I will wake up the next day feeling great again.
I recently discovered the beautiful song by Vera Blue, ‘Regular Touch’ and loved these words:
“Feel securer in your own skin
Love from within, time to begin”
Going through this episode of depression and anxiety, I have learnt so much about myself. Although I don’t think I have fully processed it all yet, I am in a good place where I see it as a learning curve. This is where my new life philosophy was born: As I survived the scariest threat on this earth (myself), with a bit of grit, luck and sass, I can do anything.
… And the best bit of advice I got?
Three words: You do you.