The other week was Mental Health Awareness Week and I had planned to post this then as a celebration of my own mental struggles – but of course I never got the time/had the energy to sit down and polish off the right words. I do think it’s great that this week is marked in the calendar and that it prompts so many valuable discussions. In the wake of the devastating news about Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbits, it feels especially poignant.
Where do you even start though when you’ve been plagued with doubt your whole life? And why does it always feel so narcissistic to talk non-stop about this stuff? I’ve dealt (and sometimes ignored) my own depression and anxiety since teen age. I always thought I was just supremely anti-social and lazy (I am lazy) but I’ve come to understand that it’s not that black and white. Sometimes the feeling of not being able to physically haul yourself out of bed isn’t just because you’re a sloth. As for being around too many people, that’s all symptom of the same condition. Some days I can’t bear the thought of having to deal with another living soul. My family used to describe me as sensitive and you know what, I really am – and there’s nothing wrong with it.
When I first moved to Brighton I was grappling not only with a dramatic move and adult life away from home but with crippling loneliness. I didn’t like myself very much, felt hideous 24/7 (adult acne did not help) and all I wanted to do was hide away. As I adapted to my new life some of that fell away but I’d fall hard for the wrong men and then feel everything ten fold. The first time I sought (not very good) assistance from a medical professional was because of a man (I had an affair with someone completely unavailable). Really it was about all those feelings backing up one on top of the other and having no understanding of how to deal but the boy was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
I was immediately medicated with no other discussion and whatever I took then was not the one. My doctor was well-meaning but not exactly open to a conversation about mental health and I guess I didn’t really care to understand the whys then, I just wanted to be ‘fixed’.
A few years later, during my black period (age 24-30), I was in a very bad place. I was trapped in a relationship that was slowly killing me. For the most part I was numb and uncaring about everything but inside I felt trapped, scared and I did not want to be part of anything anymore. I walked on eggshells around a man that scared and controlled me in subtle ways. When he told me I was crazy I believed him. When he told me I was lucky he didn’t hit women, I believed him.
Well, hindsight is a wonderful thing and it’s sometimes hard to remember how bad things were then but they were the pits. I thought seriously about ending it and planned my out meticulously, something I’ve never really told anyone and certainly nobody at the time. I had it all mapped out but now I think if I’d gone through with it, it would have been a cry for help. Not to trivialise the choice to end a life, I have every sympathy for anyone in that position but I personally wanted a way out or for someone to reach out and tell me what to do. I’m thankful I didn’t act on that and one day did find the strength to leave him. I still dream about that time and live in dread that one day I might bump into him again.
Life since has been up and down of course because it’s life but it’s been good. That anxiety though just doesn’t want to let go. Everywhere I go I am constantly wrestling with the internal voice that tells me I’m worthless and failing at everything. Every time I walk into a new social situation I’m sure everyone hates me – and I will often lie awake at night because I forgot to say goodbye to someone and have probably upset them in some irreparable way.
It’s a funny old battle – the war between this negative voice and the real me – but they are both me and we have to find a way to co-exist. I’m medicated again, I started up on Sertraline about ten months ago and it seems to be suiting me. My lovely doctor also got me signed up to some CBT training and counselling and has generally been adorable every time I’ve rocked up to her office and sobbed my heart out. I’ve been lucky this time and things feel more manageable. Some environmental changes can trigger a particularly bad period but other than that I’m coping.
My heart goes out to anyone with the same feelings and it breaks my heart when another person loses their battle but I understand. Suicide doesn’t make a person weak and if that’s the only way to find peace then I get it – although I would hope there’s always another way.
Things might be getting better and there is less stigma attached to these mental conditions but we still have a long way to go.
Here are a few deeply relatable illustrations about anxiety that I love: