I live with my partner and eight-year-old daughter in Cardiff although I’m originally from Felindre, a small village north of Swansea. When I first moved to Cardiff from the countryside I thought the streets would be full of drug dealers and burglars but to be fair it’s a nice city to live in.
Our house overlooks the river Taff and on the weekend we can watch the rowers propelling themselves up the river as well as cyclists and runners following the path that leads from Cardiff Bay all the way to Brecon.
Whilst I imagined a city full of high rise blocks I’ve been surprised at the number of parks and green spaces growing out of the city centre.
Pontcanna Fields on a weekend will be full of families and friends setting up barbecues and playing sports.
It’s lovely to be surrounded by so many people who clearly enjoy getting outside but up until last year I didn’t have the time to do any activities. Ok I lie. I did have the time, but I didn’t feel it was important to allocate any time for what I wanted to do.
My everyday life
I work full time as a civil servant splitting my working week between Cardiff and the West Midlands where my customer base is. I’m fortunate in that my employer understands that I’m a single mother and they offer the flexibility I need to care for my child.
My parents, who live in Porthcawl, and my partner are also very supportive and willingly help with childcare.
With so much support how was I not able to fit in time for myself? I think it comes down to ‘mother guilt’. Whether it be cooking, cleaning, ironing or gardening – the list goes on – there’s always something to do and if I didn’t do it I’d feel that I was letting the family down.
I’d feel guilty if their clothes weren’t ready to wear; guilty if their food wasn’t cooked from scratch; guilty if the house wasn’t spotless for them to relax in. The guilt from the non-completion of endless tasks was adding to my anxiety.
Symptoms and triggers of decreased mental/physical health
When I turned 40, just over a year ago, the anxiety increased, and I found myself spiraling into depression. I thought only men suffered with a mid-life crisis [cue stereotypical images of men leaving their wives of twenty years for a younger model and a faster car].
Yet here I was overweight, grey hairs, lines in my face and past my prime declining into crisis.
I was stressed in my job and had to sell the family home due to the relationship breakdown with my daughter’s father.
I can remember sitting in the office staring into space whilst people were time lapsing around me. I’d cry uncontrollably and was irritable with everyone but most of all my partner.
I felt like a failure and these continuous negative thoughts led me to consider taking my own life. Of course, I didn’t do it because I’m here writing this.
My daughter was the main reason I stuck around, I didn’t want to leave my daughter without a mother. I had my reason to stay but I still felt out of control with no understanding of how I was going to become well again.
My employer encouraged me, wrongly I feel, to take antidepressants and whilst these are the answer for some people I wanted a more holistic cure.
Managing my wellbeing
A friend suggested that I work through the Wales Online ‘100 Things To Do In Wales Before You Die’ bucket list.
I wasn’t dying but I was thinking about dying so why not? I challenged myself to complete them all in one year and make myself accountable by recording them on Instagram.
Bucket Lists are a great tool for improving mental health. Some of the benefits are:
- Items on the list help you connect with something larger than yourself. For example, by completing the Welsh 3 Peaks I raised £800 for Ty Hafan and understood that there were people a lot worse off than me;
- Crossing something off a bucket list gives a sense of achievement and accomplishment;
- Life is short so bucket lists force us to look at what we really want to get out of life;
- The day-to-day tasks of life can get you down. Writing a bucket list is exciting and will give you something to look forward to.
At the end of the year I had completed 54 out of the 100 challenges. Initially disappointed, my mind changed when I realised that I’d completed 54 activities that normally I wouldn’t have done.
I’d entered the World Bog Snorkelling championship, hiked up Offa’s Dyke and wild camped alone, saw puffins and dolphins up close on the Pembrokeshire coast, kicked the bar in Aberystwyth and embraced the beauty and culture of Wales.
Aside from all that I’d met some fantastic people on my travels and through Instagram. I’m lucky in that every person on Instagram has been positive and encouraging along my journey.
I’m aware that the downturn in my mental health isn’t a one off. I’m sure in the future I’m going to face difficult times such as the loss of a loved one.
What I’m certain of is that there are people out there willing to support me, and you, providing we’re willing to reach out to them.
As we move away from the traditional community groups to online groups and social media you will find like-minded people who have been through the same situation and don’t want you to feel alone.
Things I feel are essential to sustain a positive level of wellbeing
My experience has taught me how important it is to put aside time for myself, to reach out to others, and to be grateful for what I have as well as what I am able to do.
Many thanks to Sian for taking the time to share her personal experience about physical and mental health with the West Wales community. We hope these stories will provide you with food for thought and inspiration to take positive action for your own wellbeing.