By Pavelka team member Lesley Scrine

The first instance I personally had of mental health issues was when I was 22. I had just returned from travelling around the West Coast of America with my boyfriend at the time.

We had spent weeks exploring, eating out, seeing amazing sights and living a fantastic life. The return to normal, my full-time job at a production company in Birmingham with travel and long hours, our little flat and little money really sent me into a spin.

What worked for me: counselling

We had spent a year planning this trip and it was suddenly over. No real-life threatening situations or calamities to deal with, but at the time I couldn’t get out of bed, stop crying or function day to day. I sought advice and help from my doctor and over time, medication helped but more so the counselling I received.

At first glance the reason of my depression was not having a focus after the travel, in reality it was the job I returned to which was the root cause. Not because it was terrible employer, far from it, but the way I handled certain situations that arose caused me massive anxiety, it was only the counselling that helped me see that.

What worked for me: getting a dog

Another thing that totally lifted me and changed my focus was the decision we took to get a dog. Nothing like a small (or large in our instance) furry friend to find appreciation and support in dark days.

The second instance was much more serious and prolonged. My fiancé went through a period of incredible stress, work was very difficult and resulted in him leaving his job at the same time as his father passing away through a series of strokes over a prolonged period. The two events were intertwined and for him, resulted in deep depression, suicidal thoughts and periods of nothingness. We went through counselling, doctors’ appointments and medications, gradually things improved but never fully.

Over a period of 10 years we had plenty of highs, getting married, having kids, moving houses, changes in jobs but his mental health took a huge toll on our relationship. Each job interview he attended brought a round of depression and anxiety which gradually got worse over time, he had successes and periods of employment but he was never happy and the anxiety toll going to work created a sick man who couldn’t cope.

We moved house a lot, the grass was always greener somewhere else. I won’t go into the full details here, but life was hard. You throw in the added pressure of being the sole income for the majority of that as well as a mother to three kids; it was a lot to deal with. There were more issues that lasted for years and I was at breaking point.

What worked for me: The Four Elements

When the opportunity to change jobs came up, Pavelka offered me a job, it would mean a complete change in working lifestyle, I could work from home, see the kids either side of childcare, be present more. And that point things really started to change, I really learnt what health meant, how I could fit it in, that these Four Elements as simple as they are had a huge impact on me. Every day I would write down what I was going to do to implement them, the biggest shift was Think and Connect. Allowing myself a few mins of each day to consider my own mental health, how to deal with our lives.

But while there was some improvement, again my domestic life threw up much more stress and difficulty. Our marriage ended after 12 years together.

So I did what I do best. Head down and crack on. I really couldn’t stop going now, I had three kids to provide for and I was working full time. I probably did stuff that you wouldn’t call healthy – hindsight is a wonderful thing – but I kept going, I kept my Four Elements alive, I embraced a better diet, increased my gym work, kept my running up, started boxing, saw friends, enjoyed time with my kids and talked. I talked so much I was sick of my own voice. My friends were sick of it too eventually.

What worked for me: keeping a diary:

I also wrote a diary, whenever I felt things were getting on top of me or the anger was rising or when I’d achieved – something I was proud of I wrote it down. No one will ever read it, it’s only for me. But it helps, it really helps to see the wood from the trees, see what’s actually going on and looking back, reading those first few pages I can see how far I’ve come. I can also see what may have dropped off since, where old habits have started to creep in. But it makes me a better person.

During Lockdown I struggled, I made no shame in telling work that, my colleagues knew when during a team meeting we were all asked how we were feeling and my anxiety got the better of me and I burst into tears. Constant heart palpitations, no sleep and also living with my at-risk parents and my kids all in one house pushed me to the brink again. So I started writing it all down again, journaling, taking advice from Jill and Jessie not to be too hard on myself.

Like a lot of people I put on the ‘Covid lockdown’ weight, I did less exercise because it was a battle but I kept moving, we did long walks, I did PT sessions online, we ate cake to cheer ourselves up and had movie days at the weekends. We survived. It was a balance.

I know we are still in that period of uncertainty, we potentially have future lockdowns to go through, but I’m prepared, I have the tools in my box to deal with life, to refocus when needed and I have a supportive team at work who know my struggles.

Mental health is different for everyone, we all approach it differently and have different struggles. I have to deal with the guilt I still feel. But I can’t live my life trying to prevent that, what kind of a life is that? You have to put on your oxygen mask first then you can look after others.

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