Although my recovery from severe anxiety and depression has since plateaued, in the first few weeks following diagnosis I was surprised at how much better I felt so quickly.
A number of things had changed during this time:
- I had spoken to the doctor about how I was feeling, and entered the system of seeking treatment.
- I had written about how I had been feeling, and had a lot of conversations with people on and offline about mental health.
- I took on more responsibility at work and got a pay rise.
- The gym re-opened and I developed a regular exercise habit.
- I overhauled my diet: less carbs, more protein (including shakes and supplements after working out), less alcohol, and started taking daily vitamins.
- These last two resulted in visible changes to my body, with people telling me I felt more toned (I can also feel my abs move when I walk, and so have taken to keeping my palms pressed to my core).
Basically, I started doing stuff and I started seeing results of what I was doing. It reminded me that one of the most powerful things you can do to improve your happiness is to feel in control of your own life.
Granted, in the midst of depression this can be difficult. But even things like choosing to and being able to cycle somewhere (previously I had been to anxious to get on my bike) made me feel powerful. Small wins towards my goals, like making it to the gym for ten minutes or turning down a second biscuit at work, built up momentum and I was gradually more able to feel in control of the bigger things.
Once I had decided that control was a key to happiness, I started noticing it everywhere.
Trigger warnings for sexual assault and Too Much Information – like, if you’re a member of my family, you probably don’t want to read this.
Five minutes after my first kiss I was hiding in the toilets. “It seemed less awkward to make out with him than tell him I didn’t want to,” I told my friend. “Kate,” she said. “You are the only person who would think that.”
At the time, I believed her. What’s wrong with me? I told myself again and again. I was unaware that my crippling social anxiety was far from unique. At the time, it seemed something to be ashamed of, to hide away from the world at all costs while I pretended to be a happy go lucky teenage girl.
Which is why, a few months later, I found myself in the back of a car with the same boy, trying to remove his hands from my underwear whilst trying to look after a friend on the other side of me, who was throwing up the evening’s vodka onto her lap. With hindsight, I should have turned round and punched him. But I was worried about being impolite.
Trying to do what I was supposed to do, and fear of being judged, has defined most of my sexual experiences.
I’m currently reading Becoming by Laura Jane Williams and would definitely recommend it. She writes with such intelligence, self-awareness and grace about her journey to where she is today. There have been so many moments in it that ring so true for me, I have to pause and let them sink in a little bit.
This one in particular stood out because it was about something that I’ve been wanting to write about for a while. I just didn’t know where to start, so let’s start with what Laura has to say.
I wanted love to wash over me and heal me and be me and become me.
I wanted to love myself.
That was it.
A voice raged inside me as the thought wandered across my mind.
YES! She screamed, uncompromising and forcefully. YES, YOU DO! THAT IS WHAT YOU WANT!
I let that sit with me. I wanted to love myself. I didn’t know how to get there, to that. How it looked. But I knew how it would feel.
It would feel like enough. And I – I desperately wanted to feel like enough.
As people, and especially as women, we are not very good at loving ourselves. We shouldn’t beat ourselves up about this. For the most part our culture is set up to make us feel bad about ourselves, so we might buy all the things to make us feel better, to keep the economy going and make sure everyone has a job (which they need to make sure they can buy the things that probably won’t make them happy).
The thing is, I’m starting to believe more and more than loving ourselves might be the thing that helps us most in our lives. I don’t want this to be the answer. Firstly, because it sounds really trite, and secondly, because it’s a lot more effort than buying a new dress. But boy does it work.
I finished these socks! Finally! And the person I made them for seemed happy with them. So that’s good.
Read part 1 and part 2 of this story here.
So, it’s nearly the end of May. I cut my capsule wardrobe short by about a week because I wanted to wear some of the things I picked up at a clothes swap a few days ago.
How did it go?
It went great. I took one jumper out of the suitcase, but apart from that I dressed exclusively from my capsule wardrobe and didn’t miss anything at all.
To be honest, it wasn’t a big a deal as I made it out to be. I didn’t feel restricted, and my style didn’t look or feel that different (just more refined, I guess). It did make dressing less stressful, but it also meant I needed to do laundry regularly.
It was a victory for worried-about-being-late Kate when I arrived at my appointment 40 minutes early. The door was locked so I had to ring the buzzer. “Erm, hello, I’m really early. Is there a place I can sit and read for 40 minutes? I’ve brought a book!”
I tried to read but couldn’t manage it. This must be the short concentration span and lack of focus that the pre-appointment anxiety quiz was asking about. Eventually, it was time for my appointment.
The practitioner introduced herself. We sat down and talked for a bit about how I have been since my assessment. I was half concentrating on this conversation and half on her eyebrows – they were amazingly neat! Goodness, I thought, mine must look awful in comparison. I really need to be better at personal grooming. I’m such a mess.
We talked through what she called the cognitive cycle. This is what it looks like.
“My word for 2016 will be peace. I’m going to focus on staying still.” – Me in January
At the start of the year, I set my one word goal as peace. I’m still not sure whether it was prompted by trying to stay still, but the months that immediately followed setting this resolution were possibly the most emotionally tumultuous of my life. They say that if you want to make God laugh you should tell him your plans.
Emotional roller coaster sounds like such a cliche but it is the most useful way of describing how it felt. I went from not wanting to get out of bed to manic excitement in the space of a few hours. I returned home from work a nervous wreck, likely to collapse into uncontrollable tears for barely any reason at all. It was exhausting.
Thanks to a combination of medication, writing and talking, my moods are now much more stable. I’ve had a chance to think about how my year is going in terms of peace. The conclusion? I’ve learnt a hell of a lot.
After I was diagnosed with “severe anxiety” I resigned myself to a lifetime of panic attacks and mood swings. Once I did that, I stopped having them.
Okay, it’s only been about three weeks since I last broke down in hyperventilating hysterics for no real reason at all, so I hardly think I’m “cured”. But it turns out that things get much easier once you stop beating yourself up about something and start showing yourself compassion.
I stopped telling myself I needed to stop being so ridiculous, and let myself relax. I stopped panicking that I was about to start panicking, and accepted that I probably would at some point, but it would be okay and that I didn’t need to worry about it before it happened. I accepted that I was ill, and I started treating myself more like somebody who needed a bit of help. I went to bed early, I stopped insisting that all my time be productive, I stopped making myself do things I didn’t want to do.
Once I noticed how good this felt I started doing it in other areas of my life.
Depression got the better of me at the start of the month, and I didn’t do my usual I made it! monthly roundup for March.
Nevermind. Here’s two month’s worth of what I’ve been up to.
When I was a student, somebody I knew once criticised me for going for a run because she considered it to be un-feminist. “But aren’t you conforming to patriarchal beauty standards by jogging to be thin?”
Firstly, even if I did want to “conform to patriarchal beauty standards” that would be my choice and it would be just fine if I wanted to.
Secondly, that’s a huge misconception about why women exercise. I say women, because I don’t think that men get this bullshit. Men are allowed to exercise to be fit, to be strong or because it’s fun. Women apparently exercise to loose weight. I know this because every time I talk about going to the gym at least one person chimes in and says, “But you don’t need to to to the gym! You’re so thin!”
Again, if I wanted to go the the gym to loose weight or to keep weight off that would be my choice and it would be just fine. But it’s not the reason I go to the gym so it’s really annoying. And it’s exactly this kind of attitude that does enforce the patriarchy, by assuming women are thinking about their weight all the goddamn time.
Now I have gotten that off my chest, I can move on to talking about the real reasons that I exercise.
I have another memory from around the same time that I was told that jogging what un-feminist. I remember running late at night, around and around the block in which I lived. I remember the way the street lamps hit the pavement, and I remember how powerful I felt. How alive it made me feel to work my legs and raise my heartbeat after a day hunched over a computer writing my dissertation. I remember how soundly I used to sleep, often still in my running kit, when I returned from these late night runs.