I’ve been wanting to write this post for so long, but I’ve never been able to find the right words – and even when I do manage to put the words down I never manage to press the publish button.
Anxiety. Mental Health Issues. Depression.
These words carry so much stigma in our society. You can have a physical ailment and everyone is understanding, supportive, empathetic. But you try and tell someone that you have a mental health illness and suddenly it’s awkward, uncomfortable, and you find them looking at you a little differently – or just staring at you seemingly worried that you are about to snap and hurt them.
One in four people will experience a mental health problem every year* – that’s a LOT of people; that’s one of your co-workers, your friends, your family… maybe that’s you. And yet, despite the volume of people who experience them we are seemingly unable to talk about the subject or to share our suffering with others. This lack of communication is a vicious circle – you have mental health issues, you feel like you can’t tell people and so you isolate yourself more, the more you isolate yourself the more your mental health deteriorates and so on. I know this from my own experience – it can be so hard to start the conversation, it can feel impossible to get others to understand what you are going through. And yet the right support can really help with mental health issues.
Even as I write this post I feel embarrassed, ashamed and scared; I am worried that when I click publish people will look at me differently or that they will find it uncomfortable to be around me. I worry that writing it down makes it more real, my chest is hurting and I feel nauseous thinking that other people will know this truth about me – they’ll know my weakness.
But if this post helps just one other person open up to mental health issues, if it helps one other person find the courage to tell a friend what they are going through, if it gives just one person a better understanding of anxiety then sharing my experience will be worth it.
When my little girl was about a year old I went to my GP. I told him about how I was feeling – how I felt low, tired, sad, worried. I told him how I was thought that I was a rubbish mum, about how a few times a week I would sit and cry, and about how overwhelmed I felt. I remember he smiled, told me I had the ‘baby blues’ and that I could either go on anti-depressants or simply ‘feel better in time’ as ‘all mums get it’ – looking back now – I’m mortified that he was so unhelpful but at the time I was just mortified that he handed me a leaflet on post-natal depression and showed me out.
I was NOT depressed – I had seen on TV what women with PND did; they were women who didn’t love their children, they were ‘nutcases’ and I was NOT one of them. And so off I went home to my beautiful little girl and carried on fighting a silent fight. I still struggle now to think that I had PND – if you research the symptoms there are usually mentions of ‘loss of interest in the baby’ or ‘feeling negative thoughts towards your baby’ and I didn’t have those – I loved my little girl; in fact she was the highlight of my life and many days the only thing that made me smile. The connotations of PND are so negative and extreme that I found it, and still find it, practically impossible to associate that illness with myself. I was clearly clinically depressed – I was struggling, and I had no idea how to handle it. Luckily I have a super supportive husband who had to handle so much to look after me – and he really did look after me and Lily, and on days where I struggled he was so patient and caring. Looking back now I wish I had realised just how much he was giving because I was not giving anything back – I had nothing to give.
By the time Lily was 3 I was in a better place mentally; I still had ‘moments’ and there were countless nights I’d find myself locked in the bathroom crying into a towel so as not to wake anyone up. If anyone had asked me what was wrong I wouldn’t have been able to answer them. I kept myself frantically busy, always just on the edge of burn out – because if I was busy then I wasn’t alone with my thoughts. I had created coping mechanisms to get through the bad patches and I honestly don’t think anybody even noticed that I wasn’t OK.
I think even now most people who meet me or know me would not believe that I have anxiety (or at least I would like to think so) – I can walk into any room and start up a conversation, I can present in front of people without so much as breaking a sweat, and i’ll be the life and soul of the party – the one shouting ‘TEQUILAAAA’ at midnight and encouraging dance offs. Anxiety takes many forms, it just so happens that mine is not social anxiety – I am not, in general, nervous about meeting new people. My anxiety is an insidious thing that has just become a part of who I am, and something I have become an expert at hiding from other people.
My anxiety manifests itself in many different ways – from restless nights and chest pains, through to crying without reason and full blown panic attacks. My triggers vary depending on my mood, sometimes it will be set off by a throwaway comment made by someone else, sometimes its stress at work, it could be something as simple as trying to decide what to cook for dinner.
The anxiety I get can be quite debilitating – just yesterday I had a panic attack that left me feeling unable to breath, drenched in sweat and shaking outside the tube station. The rest of the time it’s just there under the surface with my brain feeling like it can’t be switched off even when i’m trying to rest. I have habits that I can’t seem to break – buying a red bull every morning, listening to music that I know can be a trigger, staying up half the night because I worry I won’t be able to sleep; and even though I know they are bad things to do they are also almost like a safety blanket – what if I don’t do them and something happens? Will I get through the day without the red bull?
I question everything – everything I do, everything people say, everything I see. I get nervous when I don’t have control over a situation – even something so silly as not being the one to decorate our Christmas tree; I sat feeling nauseous and shaky and emotional.
This year has been very tough – my parents divorced and I cut ties with my mother and this seems to have made my anxiety worse or, at the very least, added to my list of things to worry about. Not to mention anxiety about the state of the entire World. What if i’m like my mother? Is anyone walking their dog? Will I have a job after Brexit? Will Trump press the big red button?
I’ve stopped watching the news, simply because it puts me into a mental fog and I can’t focus on anything after watching it. I keep meaning to go sign up to the gym but I can’t do it because I’m worried about the cost, I’m worried that I won’t go, I’m worried that I’ll get attacked walking home after a class, I’m worried that I’ll be the fattest person there, I’m worried that my sports bra doesn’t fit and I’ll get breast cancer (I know – it’s ridiculous!)…
I worry about my daughter. Does she enjoy school? Is she getting bullied? What if she doesn’t like me? Will she hate me when she gets older? What will I do when she gets a boyfriend (she’s not even turned 7 yet I know it’s a long way off)? Will she resent me for being a working mum? Would she be unimpressed if I was a stay at home mum? Does she wish I was there to collect her from school? Does she think I’m moody?
I worry about my husband. Will he leave me? Does he love me? Am I kind to him? Does he hate the fact that I’m useless at housework? Would he prefer it if I lost weight? Is he just being nice when he says I’m beautiful? Is he bored? Does another girl fancy him? Would he be better off with someone else?
I get paranoid that people are looking at me, or laughing at me, or find my sense of humour inappropriate. I worry that people don’t like me and just say they do to be nice. I worry that I’m a rubbish friend. I worry about being the DUFF. I worry that people will judge me when they see my stuff on the belt in the supermarket. I worry that I’m not good at my job. I worry that I don’t actually like my job. I worry that the future will be awful. I worry that I’ll lose my job. I worry that my colleagues don’t like me. I worry about finding time to see all of my friends. I worry about money. I worry that I’m unfashionable. I worry that I have bad taste in music. I worry that I leave the oven on when I leave the house. I worry that I didn’t lock the door. I worry that my bus will crash. I worry that there will be a terrorist attack on the tube. I worry that I’ll die. I worry about getting mugged. I worry about eating carbs. I worry about eating fat. I worry that I’ll never be ‘fixed’. I worry that there will be spiders in my bananas. I worry that I forgot to brush my teeth. I worry about running out of toilet roll. I worry that my chest aches are a sign of something worse. I worry about never being satisfied with my life. I worry about learning to drive. I worry about never learning to drive. I worry about the microwave blowing up. I worry that my brother will crash his motorbike. I worry that I’ll have a heart attack before I’m 30. I worry that I’ve made the wrong choice when I order in a restaurant. I worry about China. I worry that I’m thick. I worry that something will happen to my family or friends. And the list goes on and on…
I worry and I worry and I worry some more. And the constant worrying leaves me feeling completely exhausted all of the time.
I don’t have a solution for the anxiety, as much as I wish I did as I’d use it on myself tomorrow if I could. I can only be honest and open about how I feel, and hopefully that will help someone else. I don’t want to sweep this under the rug anymore. I want to feel like I’m not alone.
I met a new blogging friend recently, Jemma blogs about her anxiety and mental health here. She’s inspired me to share this part of me – I guess in a way I am hoping that sharing will help me to deal with some of the everyday issues I have. This has turned into a pretty long post so I hope you’ve not fallen asleep! I also hope you don’t mind the oversharing!
* statistics from Mind
* all images by Gemma Correll