Phew, said it.
(Photo: Good day)
It’s taken me three months to open up about this. It’s been a huge mental journey and I’ve been hesitant to share my truth. Partly because I’m looking for work at the moment and didn’t want it to hinder my prospects. However, I figured if the organisation I may work for in the future discriminates against mental health I probably don’t want to be there. My mental health doesn’t affect my work it just consumes my inner world when I ignore it. Now I’m acknowledging this is me now and I accept my journey.
Here’s my story as I currently know it. I’ve included photos of good and bad days to show it’s not always easy to tell.
Meet anxiety: Every new day became a battle
(Photo: bad day)
I’m not sure where it began. I’d wake up in the mornings between 3–4am, or I may not have slept at all. My thoughts would consume the early morning silence. It was overwhelming. Some mornings I’d wake at 6am gasping for breath like I’d been shocked, with a feeling of dread that overcame me. Every possible outcome of the day ahead strangled me. So I’d try to sleep some more to ease the pressure, while I’d dream about further possible parallel dimensions determined by every decision I’m yet to make.
I’d get the kids and I ready and head off on the school run, then rush to work because the meeting times had changed and I now always arrive five minutes late. I’d spend the next 40 minutes dreading being five minutes late despite not being able to do anything about it. I’d respond to emails on the train, draft a progress report, press release or blog or whatever, send it for review then get to the office and join the first of many meetings. The panic would die down, then bubble up, then repeat depending on what was going on that day. On the surface, apparently, I looked as cool as a cucumber. I didn’t intentionally create this facade, I didn’t realise my inner chaos was often invisible. I thought everyone could see it, I know some did.
Anxiety doesn’t necessarily mean getting flustered easily or not being able to deal with pressure. I’ve realised I thrive under pressure and perform my best work when I’m challenged. Anxiety in my case makes the miniature decision-making moments a silent strain and makes feeling at rest impossible. It’s questioning the integrity of your thoughts. That’s the best way I can explain it.
When it’s at its worst I debate every single choice and decision in my life and potential future. Like moving home, whether I took the right course at the right place, whether to tackle the diy or garden or loft, whether my hair is short enough, my parenting style, my plastic wastage, the outcome of Brexit, racist abuse, the now useless old pound coins I forgot about, Syrian and Serbian refugees, my son’s self esteem, my daughter’s hyperactivity… you get the picture. There’s no structure to it other than it increases in intensity the longer it goes on for.
I’ve noticed one of my triggers is when I have to make a moderately significant decision about something that I’ve anticipated for a while. Although sometimes taking an hour to decide whether the app telling me to “go to sleep now to get enough sleep” is right or not is a little excessive.
Bit by bit everything became blah and then didn’t
Everything. The weather, the kid’s bedtime, our massive family holiday, the meaning of my work, interactions with people, answering the phone, politics, volunteering work. I was so indifferent and that’s not like me. I’d usually have passion or compassion flowing out of my ears! I care a lot about things that don’t directly affect me and I’ve always embraced that. I talk quite openly and fearlessly about those things too. When I became indifferent I knew something wasn’t quite right and others began to notice and ask questions. My friends, my colleagues, my brother. Patrice wasn’t her usual optimistic self, is she ok?
Then I’d have a moment of still and cry my eyes out uncontrollably. Full-on unattractive mum wailing. If in public it would be a silent steady trickle from my cheeks while my insides burnt. I’d argue with myself for being ridiculous as I couldn’t pinpoint what was making me cry. I just felt overwhelmingly helpless and useless. What was the point? It’s all rubbish anyway. Nothing will ever get better it’s only going to get worse.
Depression served, with a topping of anxiety.
Fighting the good fight by getting from A to D
It is a fight because it’s constant and exhausting. Some periods I’m positively explosive, ridiculously determined and goal orientated. Tunnel visioned. Then once it’s over I’m questioning everything I did and its impact.
Thoughts ensue, anxiety takes its cue then depression draws the curtains. Soon after I’m running on empty doing the necessary things to keep my children well, my head above water and the outside world kept firmly outside.
I wasn’t coping and I began to speak out to anyone who would listen because I was scared I didn’t have an answer to get out of this. Friends were my voice of reason when I felt it was getting too much. My partner and family are extremely supportive too and spoke through what could be bothering me and the tools I could use to tackle them. My mum is a qualified counsellor so we pretty much had unofficial talking therapy sessions. My brother and I have unconsciously learnt her techniques so are excellent people observers and fixers. It’s always so energising to speak with them.
Not everyone was supportive.
Some shrugged it off as life and said get on with it, you can’t always be happy. Don’t get me wrong I get it. I am the Queen of get on with it. I’m not where I am in life without sacrifice and pushing the boundaries of my horizon. My work ethic is solid, always has been. I’ve faced real adversity many times. But this time there was nothing left in me to suck it up. I was drowning.
I thought anxiety and depression was too serious to be what I was experiencing
Fast forward a few months. When I returned from holiday I realised how emotionally unstable I was.
I had a few unexplained outbursts and down days while I was there. I’d often be staring into the distance but not because I was admiring the picturesque beauty, it was because I was lost among it. I was also emotionally detached from visiting my grandmother’s grave while also feeling everything at once. It was strange. Then I had a feeling of dread that my whole family abroad would pass away and I’d never see them again. I hated every moment flying back home.
I felt incredibly vulnerable. I was a mess.
My brother convinced me to see my GP. I did. Took the kids, put on their headphones and YouTube so they were “protected”. Looked at the GP and the words just wouldn’t come out. It was so hard to articulate what I was feeling. In all the years of Comms and PR I was for the first time, speechless. My carefully crafted words failed me. She was patient and eventually I said some things she made sense of.
I cried a lot. It was raw emotion that had found its escape route at the GP surgery. After a few appointments I felt even more lost. I can’t have depression and anxiety. Am I faking it? This is serious stuff not to be trivialised. I’ve supported nurturing mental health and supporting those who are vulnerable since I could remember. How did I miss this? Then it clicked.
It’s hard to articulate something so intangible to others who haven’t experienced it. There’s no comparison. They can sympathise but not truly empathise until you’ve touched it. A bit like sexual abuse (Me too movement) or racial discrimination (black lives matter). You can’t feel it until you’re in its skin.
Coming to terms with how my mind works and all of its wonders
I want to say “and all of its flaws” but I’ve moved beyond building perfection and focusing on what’s important to change. I’m a deep thinker, since I can remember sitting back and wandering off into my own head until my mum checked I was still there. I wanted to be James Bond so I read countless spy books and imagined completing top secret missions.
I’d spend months memorising every number plate we drove past during car journeys. Or the models of cars we saw and how many. Or counting up in common numerals for hours. There was something so satisfying about it. No idea why but it worked for me.
I embraced those habits then. Now I have to accept my mental health and learn new habits. I am acknowledging the signs and interrupting my irrational responses more. My awareness has made me so much stronger.
There were days where I couldn’t lift myself out of bed, where I had no interest in anything including food. There are other days where I want to switch off my head because it won’t stop obsessing over everything. Where I take the whole world’s problems onto my shoulders and implode. There are times – in fact many mornings – where I don’t want any human contact and actively avoid speaking to anyone because I just need to survive the motions.
It has got so much easier by paying attention. My journey is continual and filled with support. Especially the new peers I have met as a result of our shared mental health journey. Not everyone with mental health conditions approach management in the same way, we’ve had our disagreements and that’s healthy. I’ve also had quite difficult conversations with people, trying to rationalise why their life is still worth living. Puts it into perspective.
Helping someone isn’t as simple as checking in
Not sure why but when I was diagnosed I decided I had to write this. Perhaps to hold myself to account or to free myself from secrecy. Perhaps to make it official or to force myself to understand. I do know that I’ve decided not to keep quiet because while mental health awareness is growing, people still aren’t speaking about it. I’ve made it my business to tell everyone who I speak to that I have anxiety and depression, to make it easier to have that conversation now and in future.
Refreshingly my mental health is easy to share after inviting someone to talk about it. I’m most shocked by the amount of people I know who are also dealing or have dealt with mental health conditions. So I want to get us talking more however I can. Recently, a friend’s mum asked me without prompting “how are you doing within yourself mentally?” instead of finishing at “how are you?” It was extremely easy to open up after that.
Checking in on people doesn’t work as anxiety and depression is taught to conceal. Being with them and being prepared to listen to their response as you ask questions will help to get through to them bit by bit. My friend’s mum accepted the question she asked and was prepared to accept the answer. With great listening skills comes great responsibility. Do use it generously. Everyone needs someone.
I see myself as someone who is quite resilient, tough and determined while being quite nurturing of everything around me. I can’t help it, it’s in my nature. My doctor has said the same thing about me. However no matter how resilient someone is life can get to them and eat away at their health if they don’t tap out when it makes sense to. I’m so glad I tapped out otherwise I wouldn’t feel healthier today.
My journey is only beginning and has already been very rewarding. Thank you for getting this far. I hope you have something to take away with you.
This content was originally published here.