Rachel Hawkins of Our.Rach from Bristol, England (in conversation with Meredith Arthur)
MA: Did you make up the term GADDer? I made up Gaddie. I don’t know what we’re actually called, either in the US or in the UK.
RH: To be honest, I’ve never really referred to it as a term, but I guess if I were to then it would be GADer. I’m not too sure if there is a term that is referred to GAD sufferers, I’ve certainly never heard of anything before.
MA: Can you tell us a little about how you found out you had GAD? How did you decide to start writing about it?
RH: I was diagnosed in January 2015. I’ve always been something of a worrier, dating back to early childhood. I was diagnosed with OCD at the age of 8 and struggled with the overwhelming feeling of worrying on and off for years subsequently. Everything came to a head for me during 2014 and into early 2015, I had my son in late 2013 and suffered from Post Natal Depression & Anxiety, I had a breakdown New Year 2015 which culminated in me being diagnosed. I had it in my head that I was suffering from something like Bipolar or Schizophrenia, health anxiety has always been at the helm of my anxious state. I was put on Citalopram which is an SSRI drug, slowly building up my dosage (I was terrified of the side effects – to be honest, they were nowhere near as bad as I thought they’d be) and referred to the Mental Health team near to where I live. This was for me to be assessed for Bipolar and/or other mental health conditions. After a couple of appointments where we discussed all sorts of topics surrounding my mental health, it was decided that I was in fact suffering from Generalised Anxiety Disorder. I’d heard about the condition before, and wondered if I may have had it, once the diagnosis was confirmed everything started to make sense a little bit.
In June 2015 I decided I wanted to finally fulfil a long term goal of mine, to begin a blog. I didn’t consider writing about GAD or my experience with PND/PNA initially but in August 2015 I decided the time was right for me to put finger to keypad and talk about my illness and what I’d been through. The reason for this was twofold. I find writing cathartic and I also wanted to potentially help others. I recall reading a few blogs about Post Natal OCD when I was at my very worst, not long after I’d had my son. It helped me more than you could ever imagine, to realise that what I was suffering, was something that others suffered from too. Although I wouldn’t wish the condition on my worst enemy, it did help me to gain a tiny bit of perspective at a very challenging and turbulent time.
MA: Was it hard for you to talk about in the beginning? Did you feel like you were “coming out of the closet”? I ask because I’m trying to figure out how the UK is different or similar to the US.
RH: In all honestly, it really wasn’t. I remember my first ever ‘mental health’ blog. It was called ‘My Experience With Post Natal Depression & Anxiety’, it was such a long post, but I really enjoyed writing it. It put a lot of things to bed for me and meant my site took on a totally different dimension. To have people contact me to say that reading my post had helped them was one of the best feelings in the world. It meant so much to me that it had meant something to them. Looking back, I can recall feeling a surge of anxiety and adrenaline when I hit publish on the post itself. I knew deep down that I wouldn’t be judged, the people I have on my Facebook/Twitter etc. wouldn’t do such a thing. Yeah there were people who I’d hoped might respond to it but didn’t, or contact me to ask how I was but never did, but hey I firmly believe when you go through something like I have, you realise who your true friends are. You learn a lot about yourself and the people around you.
Here in the UK, I still find mental health seems to have a stigma that needs breaking down, even in the year 2016. What worries me is how there seems to be many people out there who don’t feel like they are able to discuss their mental health condition as openly as they would if they had broken their leg for example or had a physical condition. This makes me sad, by opening up about the conditions we suffer from, it allows us to accept support from others’ we might not have had and indeed treatment, if we hadn’t have discussed our mental health. It also helps to break down these barriers that seem to surround so many people who suffer from mental health illnesses. I hate the thought of anyone suffering in silence, feeling frighteningly alone and worrying they would be judged or vilified if they told someone how they were feeling.
MA: How does having anxiety differ in a mid-sized city like Bristol as opposed to London? Or a small town? Do you think it makes a difference? I think having anxiety in San Francisco, CA can be a different experience than in, say, Defiance, Ohio (where I lived as a little kid).
RH: Difficult one to answer as I’ve only ever lived in Bristol. Bristol has, speaking from experience, a good mental health crisis team who I’ve dealt with on 2 separate occasions. They don’t judge, they understand and they know exactly the right treatment to deliver in order to enable recovery. I am a huge champion of the NHS, I feel incredibly lucky to live where I do and to have received the treatment I needed to get better. Having spoke to a few people who suffer from mental health conditions in other parts of the UK, it’s my understanding that other cities around the country aren’t as lucky as us Bristolians. Waiting lists can be a lot longer than Bristol’s and the right support can be hard to pinpoint.
MA: My impression is that there are more resources in England for anxiety than there are in the US, be it blogs or books (I’m reading DARE right now). Or, said differently, the awareness and discussion around anxiety seems more nuanced and mature than it does here in the US. Does that seem accurate to you?
RH: That’s an interesting point. I work for an Education charity where mental health and wellbeing of staff is taken very seriously. I definitely feel supported there, it’s a topic that I wouldn’t shy away from discussing there. I definitely think that things are changing with mental health in the UK in that the Government seem to be taking it more seriously which is incredibly important. I only hope they continue to inject as much money as possible into mental health services.
I’ve read some fantastic British blogs around the topic of anxiety and depression. But then equally I’ve also read some great American ones too, a Post Partum Depression one will always stick out in my mind, I found great solace in that blog at the end of 2013.
Aside from support from health professionals, I think there are some superb Anxiety support groups on Facebook, of which I’m a member. There are also some GAD support groups too which are equally fantastic – it’s great to have those resources so easily assessable. Mindfulness is something that has really taken off in the UK over the last couple of years, I’ve read a book by Ruby Wax around this topic. Mindfulness is a very effective tool in combating anxiety and I cannot speak highly enough about it, I’d certainly recommend fellow anxiety sufferers researching Mindfulness a little.
From this side of the world, thank you so much for taking the time to share your wisdom, Rachel!