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  • Writer's pictureAnna Blackman

What I learnt about my mental health......from breaking my leg

A year ago, I wrote a blog about my experiences with mental health and my role as a Mental Health Advocate at PwC. I find sharing my experiences with others really helps me feel like something good can come from a challenging time in my life - so one year on I want to do that again.

Part of that blog talks about the stigma associated with mental health……..

“The stigma associated with mental health means people are reluctant to ask for help or talk to their friends or colleagues – fearing that they will be seen as ‘not being able to cope’ or ‘crazy’. If we could change this – I believe people would ask for help sooner and get better quicker. We would all ask for help if we broke our leg – having a mental health illness is no different and let’s face it – we employ people for their brains!”

The broken leg analogy is one I often use with people who seek me out to talk about mental health as it always seemed like an easy way to demonstrate my point.

Well, in March 2018, I did break my leg! And I didn’t just break it and need to be in plaster for 6 weeks - I broke my fibula, dislocated my ankle and damaged the ligaments - so I needed surgery, 10 weeks in plaster and I then I was in a fancy walking boot. I was not allowed to put any weight on my leg for 10 weeks. And let me tell you - crutches are the most evil invention ever!

I managed to get to 38 and never break a bone - despite being really quite clumsy and as my husband always tells ‘not very spatially aware’ so I have a tendency to walk into things! So as far as he is concerned its a miracle I haven’t broken a bone before - in fact that is exactly what he said to me when I phoned him from A&E!

In March, I was feeling really well. I was a year on from getting the help I really needed to work through the post natal depression I had following William being born. I was busy at work but doing work I really loved and I was making plans for the future. I was eating well and exercising. I was in a really good place.

On 22 March I slipped in Reading - in the street whilst with members of my team at PwC. Before you think - wow this is a depressing read - don’t worry - this blog is really about what I have learnt about myself over the past 6 months and all the positives that have come from a broken bone!

I am not going to lie - the first week was awful. I was in a huge amount of pain and really struggling to get around. But more than that, I felt embarrassed, ashamed and stupid. I felt like I was letting people down and I was worried what people would think. BUT I recognised those feelings and I pretty quickly talked about them with Beth - my coach at PwC - which really helped. Recognising the feelings and talking about them really helped me process them so I could focus on getting better. This was me taking my own advice - talk to someone you trust - which historically I have been terrible at (positive number 1!).

So what else did I learn from the experience?

I learnt that I need to be kinder - to myself (positive number 2!). After breaking my leg I was told by my orthopaedic consultant that I had to rest - with my leg elevated above my heart for at least week before he could operate. Because I had been trying to still go to work and look after William when I was at home (who was only 3 at the time!) - my ankle was VERY swollen - and unless the swelling went down significantly he wouldn’t be able to operate. He also said I had to keep it elevated after the surgery - ideally for a couple of weeks. So I did!

When I have struggling with my mental health, I haven’t taken care of myself - and I haven’t given myself the time to properly get better or done as I am told by my doctor. My inner critic (which says things like “pull yourself together” or “everyone will think you’re crazy” or “just get on with it”) is pretty damaging - but with something physical I was much more able to shut my inner critic up! I have asked myself why - and I think maybe it is because as much as I rationally know mental health issues are just as ‘real’ as broken bones (they are, afterall, at a basic level chemical imbalances in the brain!), when I am feeling low its hard to be rational and I do feel like I should just ‘pull myself together’. So I am trying to be kinder to myself - making sure I get enough sleep (which has the biggest impact on my mental health)

but also planning holidays, occasionally reading a book that isn’t about Thomas the Tank Engine and I am trying to kill off my inner critic (kindly of course!).

I learnt it really is okay to ask for help (positive number 3!). I am a fiercely independent person and a huge part of my drive is to look after other people - I rarely let people help me. Well when you have a broken leg - you have to let people help. You can’t make a cup of tea and carry it anywhere, you can’t open doors and you can’t get on trains! When you have a broken leg - people help you even when you say no!! I think for me, asking for help is a skill I have had to learn as it doesn’t come naturally to me - and I have now had to practice that skill!

I never asked for help when I was dealing with the challenges I was having after William - I just tried to keep going and took life day by day. It is really hard to ask for help when your mental health is suffering - because of the stigma but also because being entirely rational and logical isn’t always easy. I didn’t ask for help - and I wasn’t offered any! When I had a broken leg, people helped me, even when I said no! When I was struggling with my mental health - they didn’t - because they didn’t know.

And there is my real motivation for writing this blog. I think people would offer help if they knew how to. Breaking my leg proved to me that most people (including complete strangers!) are kind and compassionate. And would help if they could - but it is a classic catch 22 - if you are struggling with your mental health it is really hard to ask for help and it is hard to help if you don’t know someone needs help.

So here is what I think you should know if you are worried about someone……

……….make them a cup of tea and ask them how they are, then stop talking and listen.

It really is that simple. And if they say “fine” then don’t give up - make idle conversation with them - and try again the next day..

Lastly I was reminded that IT DOES GET BETTER (positive number 4!) - it feels like the past few months have been tough but I am okay and I am clearer than ever that my mental health challenges have made me who I am. I wouldn’t be the person I am without them.

First published on PwC's website in October 2018


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