[Trigger warnings for mental health]
Yesterday, I spent 40 minutes answering questions about my life, my habits, my thoughts, and my feelings. I was more honest than I am with most of my family and friends. At the end of the appointment I was told that I am displaying “moderately severe” symptoms of depression and “severe” symptoms of anxiety. Hey, at least I aced the PTSD test! With a score of just 24/88 I’m barely displaying any symptoms at all.
Now, I am struggling with the identity shift that has come with a mental health diagnosis. I’m not just grumpy and neurotic. This isn’t just a slightly charming personality trait. I am formally, clinically, depressed and anxious.
I was surprised at my reaction. Even though I have offered support to friends with mental health problems without (or so I thought) judging them in the slightest, I guess I felt that I was somehow above them. I was the person who had their shit together, and who other people (the kind of people who didn’t have their shit together) came to me with their problems. In short, I have been a bit of an arsehole. And I might have carried on being an arsehole, had I not married someone who has their shit together even more than me.
I’ve not been feeling up for writing this week, and as hard as I try I can’t craft a proper post with any kind of lesson. I know that writing can help me come unstuck, and that getting words on a page can start to fuel my creativity. But I’m stuck in a catch 22, where I need to write for inspiration but I need inspiration before I start to write.
Does anyone else get this?
Thinking that anything would be better than staring at a blinking cursor on a screen, I started to just write out how I feel. Aha, a blog post. It’s not the best thing I’ve ever written, but it’s where I am right now. And I’m going to be kind to myself, and let that be enough.
So here’s a list of what’s in my head this week; my frustrations and my dreams.
I’ve been up to London a couple of times recently for work, supporting some people who have a learning disabilities to take part in a Guideline Committee for NICE. It’s the first time that they have involved service users who have a learning disability in the production of their guidelines, and they are keen to make the process as accessible as possible.
At the start of the process they have asked the committee members, “How can we support you to participate?” I think this is a great question. But I think we’re at risk of creating unnecessary divisions if we only ask it of people who have a learning disability.
You don’t need to have a learning disability to have support needs. Some people have hidden disabilities, some people have mental health difficulties, we all have our own things that help us participate in meetings or at social gatherings.
In 2014 my anxiety about life became enough for me to go to the doctors and be booked on to a course of CBT. One of the things I learnt about myself is that I tend to sabotage myself using “All or Nothing Thinking”. For example, “I can’t show restraint so I’m going to eat nothing.” Or in this case, “I find some parts of Facebook problematic and difficult so I’m going to delete my account.”
When asked about not being on Facebook I’ve been telling people that it has been bad for my social life but good for my mental health. For most of the last ten months I have been super happy with this trade off, but in the last few weeks not being on Facebook has started to frustrate me. I’ve wanted to group message friends, take part in discussions that happen in a Facebook group, or stay in touch with someone that’s moving away. Of course, there are other ways of doing these things. But Facebook is the easiest. And it’s got to the point that the only reason I am not on Facebook is because I made a big show about deleting my account and I’m embarrassed about telling people that I’ve changed my mind.
I’ve been looking forward to some time off because I keep thinking I need to “sort things out”. What I need to sort out, I’m not so sure.
I feel itchy, dissatisfied… my mind keeps casting itself to the corners and storage places. The boxes under our bed, the clothes in the corner, the disorganised scraps of paper where I keep ideas for things I want to write or make. I crave focus, clarity. But I know from experience that taking bags to the charity shop won’t bring me that. Or at least, it will bring peace but only for a day or two. Then I will want to move on to the next thing: which area of my life shall I organise now? I will go through my archived mail, labelling and colour coding emails that I might one day need, deleting those that I won’t. And again, I will feel peace. Until I won’t.
How many times have you started something or somewhere new and told yourself “This is going to be different”?
I went to university determined to reinvent myself but found myself feeling out of place downing shots in nightclubs, desperately lonely and wondering why.
I switched to more interesting jobs, only to slip back into the same patterns of procrastination.
I started new relationships promising myself that this time I will be the perfect girlfriend, that I won’t let the crazy show. Only to find myself binge eating cookies whilst crying my eyes out.
Despite this, part of me believed that coaching was going to “fix” me. That now I know that most of my suffering is caused by my own thoughts, I’ll be able to coach myself out of having a crisis. I’ll be completely in control all of the time.
How wrong I was
I have this vague recollection that I used to laugh a lot more than I do now. I never used to take anything seriously, and now I worry about everything.
It’s difficult to tell whether taking life seriously led to my anxiety, or my anxiety led to me taking everything more seriously. I don’t know if this matters, what matters is breaking the cycle.
In his book Play It Away, Charlie Hoehn explains that the cure for his anxiety was starting to play again. He suggests that we make lists of things we enjoyed as children, and start to incorporate these activities back into our lives.
Lately, I feel as though I’m going slightly mad.
I read everything that catches my attention.
It all adds to the noise in my brain.
I recommend you read this article by Alexandra Franzen about not using social media for her business. She makes a lot of good points, but here is the line that made a big light bulb appear above my head.
I wrote a piece for xojane.com about how I stayed in an awful relationship because I thought that was all I deserved. You can read the whole thing here.