Brett Townsley recently trained Angie on Awareness of First Aid for Mental Health, it was during this training Brett discovered how much of a struggle Angie has faced with her own mental health. Angie kindly agreed to a Q&A with us to share her experiences and help remove the stigma around mental health. 

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I’m Angie, just a very everyday person. 

I live in a small village by the sea with my husband, two children and our crazy Staffy, Boomer. As you’d expect with two young boys, a daft dog and a husband who works offshore, I’m always kept busy. I have been lucky enough to have had the opportunity to stay at home with our kids for the past eight years however now they’re both at school I have been able to focus more time on deciding what the next chapter holds for me. 

You underwent quite an experience can you explain?

Back in 2014 I became unwell, on my wedding day of all days, I missed the majority of our reception but from what I hear it was a pretty good time.

I spent the next four days in hospital (not exactly a fairytale start to married life).

What followed over the next few years was a rollercoaster of events including the birth of our second son, numerous stays in hospital and being told that in order to get better I would need to undergo surgery. 

It was manageable to begin with but over time my health only deteriorated and life with two young children and a husband working away became tough.

As if all of this wasn’t enough to cope with I experienced what would become a life changing event. 

Due to my condition I was always on some kind of medication but one day, out of the blue I suffered an allergic reaction to an antibiotic, which I had taken without complication for years. I didn’t know it at the time but that was the moment that mentally broke me. 

For sometime I had only one goal, to reach my surgery date, believing that this would mark the end of physically and mentally draining time of my life. Unfortunately this wasn’t to be the case.

What impacts did this leave you with?

After finally undergoing surgery I initially had to physically heal. What I hadn’t considered was the impact all of this had had on my mental wellbeing.

I became completely withdrawn from normal day to day life. Then all of a sudden I didn’t feel comfortable leaving my house, I couldn’t be the mum I once was, even taking my son to school was absolutely terrifying.

Everything terrified me. Panic attacks became a regular occurrence and I lived in my own little bubble where I saw everything as a threat. 

Until that point in my life I had never experienced anxiety, I didn’t know what it was, however it very quickly took over every aspect of my life in ways you believe. 

How has this experience shaped your mental health?

Before becoming unwell I had never suffered with any mental health struggles and I genuinely didn’t think I ever would. How wrong was I? One thing I have learned is that everyone can be affected by mental health struggles and anxiety.

In 2017, six weeks after my surgery, I was diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder. The following couple of years I continued to struggle with severe anxiety despite counseling. This then led to a diagnosis of PTSD in 2019. Since then, with lots of time, patience and support I have learned to live with my anxiety and although it no longer completely controls my life, it has shaped it.

What has that experience taught you in terms of skills for mental health? 

My experience has taught me about compassion for myself and others and greater self awareness (of both my physical and mental health). 

Probably most importantly I learned to talk about my feelings, not only as a means of support to me but to help others understand the effect of mental health struggles. 

I now have a range of healthy coping skills to help me manage my anxiety, it is thanks to these that I can function in daily life.

To gain a greater understanding of Anxiety and PTSD I educated myself as much as possible and was inspired to pursue training in the FAA level 1 Awareness of First Aid for Mental Health.

Do you feel performance is affected by mental health issues? 

Yes, absolutely. From my own experience almost every aspect of my day to day life was affected. Before I experienced it first hand I wouldn’t have believed how much it could effect the smallest and easiest of tasks. 

Anxiety has a way of making you doubt yourself, what you’re capable of and prevents you from functioning as you once did. Whether that be the ability to concentrate, to sleep, or even to do things you’ve done umpteen times before-they can all easily become a struggle or even seem unmanageable.

The embarrassment and worry around this caused me to withdraw meaning that my performance as a mum, a wife and a friend was affected. 

You have begun building new skills in mental health, why? 

After my own experience I wanted to offer my support to people suffering with any Mental Health struggles.

At the beginning of the year I had started researching support groups local to me only to find out there weren’t any. I personally feel there is such a need for this, anyone going through a similar situation can relate to how you feel and you no longer feel you’re alone.

So I put the wheels in motion for opening a group only for things to be put on hold due to covid. 

In the meantime the need for mental health support was greater than ever so I created a social media page aimed at reducing the stigma around talking about mental health. I was overwhelmed by the response to my discussing my own daily anxiety hurdles and how this encouraged people to open up to me about their own issues.

I have recently qualified in FAA level 1 Awareness of First Aid for Mental Health.

I hope to complete the second part of this training soon as I would like to continue to support those who seek help. 

Talking about my own feelings, emotions and anxieties has been a huge benefit to me in my recovery and I want other to experience that benefit too. If telling my full story could help one person then I would tell it a million times over. 

To hear more on Angie’s story and anxiety blog follow this link