Alison*, 42 years old, used to work at a high-pressure job selling high-end jewellery. The expectations at work were high and often she would find herself working in her free time and never truly taking a proper day off. When she made a sale near the quarter million dollar range, she would get a little “dopamine kick”. But eventually the pressure took its toll and she would bring the anxiety home with her.

The first time she suspected there was something more to the “stress”, she was doing housework and felt like she was “revving” up and just could not relax. She was obsessive, on the edge and pushing herself too hard.

But, in the end, she brushed it off as another side effect from a high-pressure job. Things started to get worse. She would wake up really stressed before work and occasionally have an anxiety attack. She would get annoyed at things that did not really matter. Her relationship was becoming strained.

Her partner did not know how to handle the situation and ended up saying things like, “I am not your counsellor” and felt there was nothing he could do to help. This led to a relationship breakdown. It was when she started developing serious back pain, a prolapsed disc with no known reason for what caused it, that things truly went downhill. The cumulative effect of job pressure, a broken relationship and chronic pain led to a breakdown at work.

her concentration was affected, like she was “thinking under water

Her sales dropped, she felt constantly drained and ended up in tears at the back of the shop one day. Her manager did not know what to do and suggested that she go home. Fortunately, Alison has a very supportive family and she ended up moving back home. Her mother, an intuitive woman with a family history of mental illness, suggested that Alison go to a doctor and speak about what is happening. Alison went to see her GP in March of 2019 and  was very open with her doctor, raising both her back pain and her mood. He quickly recognized that she was struggling with her mental health and gave her questionnaires to fill in. He was very compassionate and gentle and explained she has depression and anxiety.

Her doctor recommended a three-tier approach to her treatment:

  • a daily walk outside
  • seeing a psychologist on a mental health plan
  • she was prescribed an antidepressant

While Alison was recovering, it became apparent her manager was not the supportive type and preferred to sweep things under the rug. In order to get better, she felt she needed to leave her job. Still, Alison was not well. She was not only struggling with a depressive mood that had her feeling hopeless but she would get really anxious in public and not bother talking to people. She was overly self-conscious and would rather stay in bed and read. Although she preferred to read, she felt her concentration was affected, like she was “thinking under water.”

“give them time, be gentle and do not judge”

It took Alison 6 months before she started feeling better and began caring about the specific antidepressant she was taking. She started doing research online. She was particularly interested in how it reacted with alcohol and weight gain as a side-effect, given that she had gained 6kg from her normal weight over time. She was also curious about feeling “dulled”. She realised the true extent of this feeling when she had a death in the family but did not cry as much as she normally would. She was also becoming annoyed by her foggy head and the feeling of “thinking under water”.

Alison decided on Christmas of 2019 that she wanted to come off her antidepressant and start the new year more like her old self. She discussed this with her GP who explained that he would like to discontinue the antidepressant slowly to make sure that she was okay regarding her depression. Despite this, the withdrawal was uncomfortable and she experienced “electrical zaps” in her head. Over time she worked with her GP to reduce the medication to a low dose. She still remains on this low dose of her antidepressant – not because she needs it for her mental health but because it is difficult to come off it completely.

Her message to people who have loved ones struggling with mental health problems is to give them time, be gentle and do not judge.

*Names changed. Stock photo shown.

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“My life wasn’t meant to be like this“ – Lynn*, 31 years old

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“Medication and talking therapy helped my resilience“ – Natalie*, 21 years old

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