This piece was contributed by Hannah Allsop.
Disassociation, panic disorder, suicidal thoughts and how finding my purpose has made more waves to a cure than the thousands I’ve spent on therapy.
My mental health story
It started when I was 14 during a Religious Education class at school where the teacher played us a video about euthanasia. The woman in the video had a physical illness, she was suffering so much so that she wanted to die. Little did I know that one second later, through mental illness, that was about to become my reality too. I had my first experience of disassociation and panic disorder during that class and my life hasn’t been the same since.
I remember it so well, one minute I was watching the video, the next, internally I was shouting “oh my god, oh my god, oh my god”. It was a terrifying out of body experience, I had no idea what was happening to me, but a switch had been tripped and it never switched back.
For years, I felt so alone, like I was the only one suffering – not helped by the fact that I didn’t resonate with all of my diagnosis about panic attacks. I ticked the physical boxes – heart racing, whole body shaking, teeth chattering, extreme nausea, diarrhoea, short of breath. “And they last no longer than 30 minutes?” No, try hours. “And your symptoms make you feel like you might die?” Well yes… but I wanted to die because I felt like I was going mental in the head. Self-diagnosis – disassociation.
Logically, disassociation makes sense…when it all gets too much, my mind disassociates from my body as a way to protect itself but of course it doesn’t feel like protection. It’s fucking scary. The way I describe it is being trapped between life and death. When I experience it, my reality is utterly terrifying, and I don’t want to live. The thought of death is a huge relief but without a magic pill to put me to sleep, the suicidal thoughts kick in. The thought of suicide though? Utterly terrifying and I don’t want to do it. Hence feeling trapped between life and death, trapped in my mind and body, unable to escape.
Somehow, I always survived. I would ride it out and then live in fear of the next one. I never attempted suicide but there was one significantly awful day where I planned it. I needed to know I had a get-out, and that is honestly the only thing that got me through that day…
Crazy golf with family friends, the worst day of my life to date. I had been suffering for approximately two weeks, all day, every day, I couldn’t eat and my mum was sleeping in my bed. I wanted to stay at home but the fear of being alone when contemplating suicide was worse than leaving the house, something I could barely do for months after that day.
I remember the journey, I kept saying “I want to die,” I was shaking SO hard, I swear I was dislodging my organs. The family friend told me to simply pull myself together. I don’t blame her, she had zero idea that I might run up to the café above the golf course, burst into the kitchen, steal a knife and stab it into my heart at any moment… yes, that was my plan.
“Pull yourself together.” Perhaps people say it out of fear, it’s that British ‘keep calm and carry on’ thing isn’t it? Whether it’s out of fear or ignorance, we need to change our dialogue. When someone is suffering, they need support. Don’t even get me started with “you’re too pretty to cry.” I’m not actually, I’m sorry if my crying is an inconvenience for you and makes you feel awkward but do not suppress me. Hold me and tell me it will be okay, even though neither of us know that for sure.
My mum told me it was just a phase, and I prayed that was true. After all, my problems started in an instant, why couldn’t they change back in an instant? As the weeks, months and years went on, it became clearer and clearer that it wasn’t just a phase. I’m glad I didn’t know my fate, because truly, I don’t think I’d be here today. I constantly told myself that there was light, somewhere at the end of the long dark tunnel. There had to be.
I am so grateful to not be in that place anymore. I’m now approaching 29 and although not cured, my panic is occasional. My anxiety is daily and it can be strong, but my god, I don’t want to die anymore. How did I get to that place? Honestly, I’ve been in therapy since I was 14, for 14 years now. My parents and I have spent thousands, and I believe that it has all contributed to where I am right now, as well as time, time is a great healer. The biggest shift I have experienced however, has been in the last two years.
After coming out of the dark depths of my teenage years, throughout my mid-twenties I experienced what you might call the typical struggles for my age group – the quarter-life crisis. I hated my job, didn’t know who I was or what I wanted from life and I felt so much pressure to be ‘sorted’. I desperately wanted to tick the career, house, marriage and baby boxes because… that’s just what you do, right? Watching others seemingly happy doing just that, made me want it too but the desperation felt unhealthy and deep down I knew I wanted this ‘perfect’ life to cover up how lost, stuck and confused I felt.
After seeing yet another therapist, this time one who said that she couldn’t help me, I realised that I was focusing SO much on fixing my anxiety that I forgot about the rest of me. I forgot to look at my life as a whole, to find who I am and what I want out of it. I saw that there was more to life than ticking boxes, there had to be, otherwise, what was the point? I wanted to know why I was put on this earth, I wanted to find my purpose.
Finding my purpose has not only given me direction in life but it’s given me answers to “why me?” in relation to my mental health problems, something I’ve asked myself for years. Why did I suffer with mental health problems and my friends didn’t? How could I not question life and what it all means after everything I’ve been through? These questions lead me to a spiritual awakening where I now see the bigger picture and that shit happens for a reason, to help us grow and lead us onto the right path. I also see the way that society controls and manipulates us, I see that it doesn’t have to be this way, and that we already have the answers inside of ourselves.
See, so many of us are sleep walking through life. My experiences forced me to wake up but my mission is to help women to discover what I have, before they get a shitty wake-up call. I am now a life coach, helping women get un-stuck from their quarter-life crisis. I love to wake and shake women up to the shiny possibilities out there for them and support them to live the big-ass life they want and deserve.
About life coaching
Life coaching is very different to therapy, but the two can go well together, hand-in-hand. Life coaching is very much future focussed, I help my clients to set goals and work with them to achieve them through positive, aligned action whilst keeping them accountable, motivated and supporting them to create mindset shifts.