I’ve written this blog many times, some on paper, some in my head, but it is time. It’s not perfect, it’s probably not going to be finished, but I’ve given myself an hour and then I’m going to press send.
First reason, it is Time To Talk Day, a day where we can all discuss mental health issues in the hope of reducing the stigma around them
Second, I recently found the first draft on my computer in unfinished form, almost exactly a year ago
and Third, this week marks my being signed off from our local mental health team with a Monty Pyton-esque ‘You’re Cured, Mate’ without so much as a by your leave. It feels like an occasion.
If you’ve read my blogs before, you will know that anxiety is a common theme – anxiety about Brexit, my children, exams, George Michael, running, anything really. But the causes aren’t the real issue, as much as the anxiety itself.
It’s hard to talk about. On the one hand, admitting that you have a mental health issue does carry with it a certain amount of stigma. On the other, the fear that it will be dismissed as middle class whining when people have real illnesses to worry about is strong.
The ability to be simultaneously fearful that people will think I am both too mental, and not mental enough, is a pretty accurate illustration of what we’re dealing with.
Things came to a head with a visit to the GP. It was not about me, it was about one of the children, but it became apparent that all was not well in the state of Denmark. I am incredibly grateful to have a local doctor who I have known for a long time, and who took the time to ask me if, aside from my children, if I was OK. I wasn’t. I didn’t really realise just how much I wasn’t until he asked me “when was the last time you really enjoyed yourself without worrying about anything” and I couldn’t remember.
It wasn’t because enjoyable things hadn’t happened, they really had, but that I was incapable of enjoying them without worrying that the house was burning down, or the door wasn’t locked, or we were all about to die in a ball of flames.
He referred me to the Mental Health Team who diagnosed me with Generalised Anxiety Disorder. Basically, I’m terrified of EVERYTHING. The only other time I had heard this term was when Oscar Pistorius used it in his defence, which was not a great start. I was cross about this. I’ve always been a little bit sceptical of mental health issues if I’m honest. I mean, it’s all very well for other people but surely I’m made of stronger stuff than that. I had expected her to tell me that I was absolutely fine and should just get over myself, that I was a shining example of coping and togetherness. I was a little fearful I was going to get told off for wasting everyone’s time and resources. Apparently not. So here we are, 9 months of CBT later.
You don’t look like an anxious person
Too often, anxiety is confused with nervousness. It’s easy to conjure up images of Victorian smelling salts and pearls to clutch, whereas actually it’s actually nothing of the kind. I can work a room with the best of them, I’m quite obnoxious and opinionated, I’m more than happy to address a crowd. Nerves are not the problem.
We’re also different to that depression bunch. Yes they can often go hand in hand, but they are very different beasts. It’s not about being miserable.
It also isn’t dramatic. It’s not about panic attacks or histrionics (although one day I may tell the story of Carbon Monoxide gate).
It’s more like The Twits. I’ve always been someone who worries, but gradually, little by little those worries became stronger and more numerous. And gradually, the things that made me uncomfortable became the things I didn’t like to do, then became the things I didn’t do. Then other things became more uncomfortable, so that you realise that you are suddenly a lot smaller than you once were.
All fears essentially can be put into one or more of the following boxes … and sometimes all three.
- Something terrible is about to happen
- You’re doing this all wrong
- It’s all your fault
The most overwhelming thing is the noise, which can be deafening. I likened it once to being Kirsty Wark on Newsnight, yes she might look calm and collected on camera, but in her ear are multiple voices shouting instructions, corrections, random pieces of information about what she just said and is about to say. The world becomes a cacophony of confusion, contradiction and chaos.
All that noise doesn’t translate into actual speech, which means life becomes incredibly lonely. You may be surrounded by people who love you but they have no idea that what they think is silence is anything but.
And it is exhausting. A permanent state of Defcon2 can’t be sustained for prolonged periods of time. Every possibility has been mapped out, every angle covered, every eventuality catered for before any action can be taken. It’s easier not to take any action at all.
That means there have been things that I would have liked to do that I haven’t done, there are friends that I think about all the time, but never contact because it will never feel enough. And the less I try the more anxious I feel that I should be trying harder and the more I feel I’ve failed everyone, and so it continues. The noise, and the loneliness and the tiredness.
The saddest part, is that it has stolen a lot of the joy that I should have felt over the past years, which I wouldn’t let myself feel. I’ve stopped beating myself up about that and life is a lot more joyful as a result.
Now I wouldn’t exactly say I was cured, but things are much better than they once were. I still worry, I still overthink, I still have a superhuman ability to imagine imminent catastrophe in lightening speed, but I’m much better at talking myself back down, and letting other people talk me back down too.
Being able to talk about it and having people who are willing to listen has made all the difference. Sunlight is indeed the best disinfectant and it is incredibly how quickly fears can fade away once you say them out loud. I’ve very grateful for an NHS that cared that I was struggling, as much as they would have done with a bad back or a nasty cough.
Now my hour is up, so I’m pressing send. I shall no doubt return to the subject again. It’s not the best thing I’ve written, it’s not finished, but it’s good enough and that’s OK.
“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.”
– Mary Anne Radmacher