World Mental Health Day
I’ve always been good at this, haven’t I? Reaching people with words on a page. And it’s always been how I work things out, and right now I really could use with working some things out. So even though this feels mad to write about, today is all about challenging the stigma around mental health. Here goes…
I’ve just gone back to work after over two weeks off. On social media, I keep saying I’ve been ill, and I have. Just not in the way I’ve implied.
The truth is this: I suddenly couldn’t cope with, well, anything. A combination of exhaustion, a physical illness, insomnia and a bad reaction to new anxiety medication caused a rapid spiral that left me crying in my mother’s bed, feeling like a child. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t think, and I was so, so scared.
I’m doing much better, thanks to changing meds, establishing a sleep pattern and giving myself a rest. I’m ok, and I doubt the exact combination of rubbish that lead me to such a low will ever happen again. But I want to stop lying.
I want to peel back the brave features I have subconsciously plastered on my face for as long as I can remember. I want to say that sometimes I am exhausted and everything is too hard. I want to say that often I need help. I want to say that I am not always fine.
Ironically, most of the people around me know this already. In pretending I have successfully lied to them I have actually been lying to no one except myself. I have put so much pressure on myself to always be ok that I couldn’t recognise that that in itself was a pretty sure sign that I wasn’t.
The causes of my anxiety are not hard to identify: school bullying, a loved but high pressure job, a society that refuses to accept the disabled body I live in. I could go on.
The things my brain tells me are cruel: that my friends dislike me, that I am not good enough at work, that I will never, somehow, belong.
The rational knowledge that I am being irrational only serves to make me feel worse, as if I should know better. Although, of course, I do know better, I just don’t feel it. I have spent so long trying to understand why those two things are not the same.
Last year was tough. I had lots of problems with care, work was uncertain and my love life… well, the less said about that the better. And, heartbreakingly, we lost our beloved Rocs. There are still no words for the sadness I feel for my family.
On the face of it, this year has been so much easier. And yet I have struggled with one thing time and time again. As exhaustion from insomnia and general cerebral palsy has increased and I have experienced real pain, I have been forced to miss so many days at work. And I have felt so guilty and so angry.
Not guilty in the sense that I am doing something wrong. I know I am trying. I know it’s not my fault. But guilty because I’ve been breaking a fundamental promise I made to myself many years ago: that my disability would never affect my work, even if it shaped everything else.
That promise was naive, but I needed to believe it and now I can’t. So I add my physical ability to do my job to the long list of things I cannot control, and it makes me angry. And so I try to fight reality, and it makes me anxious. This, right here, is the first time I’ve admitted this.
This post is not – I repeat, not – a badly hidden ploy to get my brilliant friends to tell me they like me or for my colleagues to reassure me about my contribution to our work. Frankly, if it was I would at least disguise the whole thing much better than this. It is just an effort to be honest, with you and for once with myself. It is an effort to start – maybe, hopefully – asking my brain to be gentler with me. I am doing my best.
I can only hope that writing this is a sign to someone else that they, too, can be honest. That it’s ok, because you don’t have to be fine all the time.