I started this blog so that I could play my part in challenging the prejudices that continue to exist in our society around people who have mental health issues. I can get quite political about it, but it’s also very personal and I’ve realised that I need to share that part of the journey too. It’s not easy, but I believe that personal stories will end the shame and stigma I and so many others feel much sooner than politics.
It’s been another week dominated by paralysing lows and as the weekend arrives, I’m quite exhausted by it. Shadows from my past continue to loom behind me and when they grow too big to ignore I sit hiding, curled up in a ball on the stairs in my home. It happens daily and I know it’s completely illogical because my torments are internal, but I feel safer because there are no windows or doors – they can’t look in and see me. I grow cold, I shake, I can barely breathe. If I had anyone to talk to I would stammer. I know this because I try to tell my dogs I’m OK when I’m so broken and the fear is all-consuming.
This is me, the side I try so desperately to hide from the world. It fills me with shame, fear and feelings of utter failure, but this is what my life is like. I’m unnerved by how familiar the routine has become.
It’s an unfathomable contrast to the persona I put out to most people – smiling, positive and engaged with the world. Somebody I know and whose ideas and insight I value greatly, described me as being a breath of fresh air when I arrived at the place we both used to work: Inside I felt anything but. During those years, when I was doing a job that had close relationships at its very core, the same shadows were looming. I just kept so busy with other people’s needs that I managed to shove them aside. I don’t think the shadows liked that.
Some of you will recognise this picture because you’ve either been there yourself or have walked with someone in similar shoes. I’m very lucky – I have a few friends that have never hesitated to stand by me and walk by my side as I navigate the world through frightened and traumatised eyes. But I’m becoming ever more aware that this path is mine alone. Those that I love and who for some reason love me back, can stand shoulder to shoulder with me as I fight the shadows, but this is my battle – I am fighting myself. Will the ghosts ever leave me? Right now, I can’t seem to feel hopeful.
The flip side of the week has been falling back into old habits – working long hours so that I don’t think. I’ve been incredibly productive. I’m self-employed now and work from home. I love my work but I’m acutely aware that I’ve created a life that minimises the symptoms of my mental health issues, and not recovered from them in any way. It’s not about the money – thank god – it’s just a way of keeping the shadows at bay for longer. And I don’t have to leave the house or ‘perform’ for eight hours a day – as I rarely feel completely safe in my home, you can image what the big wide world does to me.
I ended up in tears to my GP today. From confident woman to complete mess in less than two minutes. I tried to explain that I was frightened, that I didn’t feel safe being out of the house because the biggest shadow of all would get me. I was genuinely terrified. I still think it will, it feels inevitable. I think my GP was at a loss. In the end she prescribed diazepam and I can’t say that I wasn’t grateful.
This is me. This is what my life is like.
I don’t share this with any glee. There is no triumph or satisfaction in admitting any of this. I post this with the heaviest of hearts, but I do so that you might remember that however smiling a person appears, you rarely know what’s going on for them.
So I ask, as another nightmare-laden sleep looms, please – let’s give each other a break.