After Bec bravely wrote about her experience with anxiety and depression in this post, I feel compelled to share a bit more of what was going on with me at the same time.
On the one hand I feel like I have learnt so much and grown so much as a person and I just want to share it with the whole world to help make everyone happy and make the world a better place blah blah blah but I don’t really even know where to begin with all of that. I suppose that’s the purpose of this blog in a way…to tackle each of these things one at a time in a blog post. There is a bloody lot to cover when it comes to mental well-being.
But on the other hand there’s a bit of an uneasy feeling about sharing everything because it kind of freaks me out, being that open about having to show vulnerability. Also, there still is very much a stigma when it comes to mental health issues so that’s scary too. What if someone judges me? My wise mind is all “screw them, if they’re judging you that’s THEIR issue, not yours! They need to look inwards and sort their own shit out because as long as they are focusing on themselves, they wont have the time or inclination to judge you!” but my emotional mind is all “argh OMG I care what they think!”
And as Bec mentioned in this post, what if a future employer finds this when they’re looking at my digital footprint before they give me a job? They’re not going to send me to Africa to live in the desert in a tent and for work for 8 week stints like I used to do if they don’t deem me as mentally sound. They might see me as a liability and give the gig to someone else! The last thing they need is someone who has a mental health episode and need to be heli-vacced outta there! It’s happened on sites I’ve worked on, and let me assure you, people were not understanding. It’s bloody hard to find a replacement at that short notice and it put the rest of team under pressure to make up that work.
BUT as much as this blog is about sharing the good stuff, it is also about sharing and talking about the hard shit. Tackling the tough topics and making it normal to talk about the kind of shit that has a stigma or is still kind taboo. Removing the stigma associated with mental health. Because let’s face it, if you’re a human, then it’s something you’re gonna have to deal with at some point in your life.
So I figure I’ll just share what I feel comfortable sharing…
Anxiety and depression are weird things. And when you’re so caught up in everything, well when I was, I never knew to step back and take a look at everything as a whole. I didn’t have the self awareness to realise what was going on with me. One of my ex’s used to tell me “you’re depressed, you’re depressed” but I remember going to the depression.org website and I didn’t necessarily have the symptoms of depression; it was weird. He talked about his depression when he was younger and how he was put on medication for it in his late teens and was treated with therapy and after having lived his entire life completely depressed, un-enthused about anything, he suddenly woke up one day feeling amazing – euphoric, even. He said to me: “imagine your whole life being so unhappy, all through your childhood but you don’t even know it…and then one day you wake up and feel like you’re on top of the world, it’s like a high.” That’s how he explained it, at least. But I still had my joys in life, I had my dogs which I would walk, I had my garden which I LOVED to potter away in, I had my arts and crafts – I would sit in our lounge with the fire cranking doing cross stitch (yeah I’m a grandma whatever, but who cares, I love that shit), I’d bake raw vegan, dairy free, gluten free etc etc cheesecakes, I had my friends at the bar where I was working when I wasn’t working in Turkey and I socialised with them – concerts, walks, lunches and meals out at, weekend trips away with the girls etc. It certainly didn’t seem like I was depressed, but there was something wrong, because we would have these horrendous fights. Usually started by me and I never knew why. All I knew was I seemed to sporadically behave like a fucking awful dragon bitch. One minute I was fine and the next I was screaming that I hated him and was filled with rage and overcome with emotion. There would be tears, histrionics, shouting and then more tears. I ended up hating myself a lot of the time. And let me tall ya, it’s bloody hard to love someone else if you can’t even love yourself.
I remember going to my GP and being given medication. It was for anxiety and depression. I didn’t know what anxiety was then, I didn’t know it was a thing. But I didn’t think I was depressed as I still didn’t think the symptoms really fit me that well. I was scared to take the medication. My ex had put ideas in my head about how terrible it was. How it made him do impulsive things when he took it, how he would steer clear of it at all costs, that shit’s dangerous, they shouldn’t be giving it out willy nilly without any warnings. To make things worse, when I’d been to the Chemist to pick them up, the girl who served me asked if I had taken that medication before. I told her I hadn’t. She told me to take it at night and to be careful driving and of sharp knives. Sharp knives?! I wasn’t suicidal! What the hell kind of medication was this? If I took it, would it make me want to kill myself with a sharp knife? I had heard that some medications made you worse before they make you better and I had read in the newspaper earlier in the year about a guy who had tried to commit suicide after being put on medication due to some kind of horrendous side-effect of taking it. This shook the farrrrrrrrk outta me.
We went and got a second opinion from another doctor who reassured me it was fine, it was a common course of treatment and to give it a try. It was prescribed for both anxiety and depression and it was extremely common. In addition to that, I phoned two helplines. On one of the helplines, I spoke to a nurse. I voiced my concerns again and again and was quite worked up. Eventually she told me that while my concerns were not unfounded, I would have to just take the medication, suck it up and see what happens. She actually used those words “suck it up and see.” But what if I tried to commit suicide like the guy in the newspaper? I wasn’t going to just “suck that up and see.” No, that was it, I wasn’t that bad, I didn’t need medication that badly that I would risk that. I was still too scared to take it. What if it did to me what it did to him?
And don’t forget, the most important person in my life at that time was very strongly against medication. He told me about how drug reps would come and wine and dine doctors to get them to prescribe their drugs. Doctors got sent to conferences where they were treated like royalty all in the name of sucking them in to prescribe hideous drugs from these evil pharmaceutical companies. Had my doctor prescribed me this because she had been wined and dined by the drug company? Furthermore, he would go on and on about how not many years ago doctors were still electrocuting people who had mental illnesses. Shock therapy and whatnot. That it was still a field of medicine that was in it’s very early stages. Did I really want to trust medication from a field who was electrocuting people and giving them lobotomies only a couple of decades ago?
In hindsight I look at myself and I want to shake the me back then. What was I thinking?! I’ve got my own brain! I could have formed my own opinion, I didn’t need to let his opinion rule me and mine and override that of not one but FOUR medical professionals!!!
But when you are trained to rely on someone in your life the way I was, when they say things to make you do things or make threats which make you feel a certain (horrible) way, you go along with them. I remember after one fight, he said he wasn’t coming home (to our house which we owned together, with a garden and two dogs and a garden and a fence and all that jazz) if he couldn’t get his own a car. I was working month on, month off overseas at that time, so we were running on one car after his last two had broken down beyond repair. He wasn’t working so of course I would have to buy it and I did. Stupid girl. The bro got a sweet Holden Commodore ute which he would then rock around town in wearing his Ray Bans with the American Bulldog on the tray. Stupid girl. But I was in a loving relationship, or so I thought. So I trusted what this guy said beyond anything else. If he said something, it was 100% true. That’s just how my brain was wired. I don’t know where that changed. I don’t know where that turning point in my life was. I’ve always been a smart girl. Switched on and clever. So I don’t know when exactly it happened that what he said overrode not only my own opinions, but those of others – friends, family, respected medical professionals. But somewhere along the way it did. It happened to me, me of all people. One of the most steadfastly opinionated and stubborn girls there are. One of the most headstrong girls you can imagine (just ask my parents!), one of the least impressionable girls you could think of. One who formed her own opinions and judgement on factual evidence. It happened to me.
Now I can see I was a stupid girl. Why the hell would I kowtow to some stupid threat like that? I should’ve said ” if you want a car, get a job and don’t emotionally blackmail me into buying you one.” But when someone treats you like that day in, day out, you live to please them. Your purpose becomes their happiness and if it doesn’t, then you’re made to feel bad. These bad feelings eat at you, leave you short of breath, leave you feeling constantly nervous, like you’re about to get on stage a make a speech to thousands of people…except it’s all day, every day. It’s a fucking hard job, living to please someone else, living with someone else’s happiness being your number one priority. Constantly on edge, tummy pains like you want to do a nervous poo but you can’t because you don’t need to poo! You are literally TRAINED to behave and react in a certain way. Maybe if I wasn’t so mentally run down I would have been stronger, but hey, that’s life. That’s just how it was at the time. At the time, I didn’t even recognise that it was not acceptable for him to be speaking to me in a certain way. He was allowed to talk to me like that, it was justified in fact, because I was such a bad horrible person who had put him through so much, and it wasn’t his fault he spoke abusively to me, it was my fault because I pushed him to it!
Well I’m sorry Sophie from 18 months ago, that’s not how it works. Everyone is responsible for their own words and actions. I was not responsible for his words or actions, he was. But as I say, I was trained to believe all of this. It was my mindset. And it took a lot of therapy sessions to break. Because habits are really hard to break. You know what else is hard? Re-wiring your brain and permanently altering your thought processes. When I re-read that sentence, which is EXACTLY how I thought and felt at the time, it sounds like I was a domestic abuse victim. “He hits me because I’m angry, it’s not his fault…” You know domestic abuse isn’t just physical. It’s psychological as much as anything else.
And often the people doing it don’t even realise they’re doing it. And you know what? Even I did it to him without realising. Which doesn’t at all justify him doing it to me. But I did it, and I got help and I’ll never do it again.
But I can’t just write that sentence and leave it at that. I can’t forget that he wasn’t the only one who said bad stuff. God almighty, I said and did AWFUL things. I had no idea what anxiety was, and that all of this anger and emotion that was coming out of me was anxiety. Later, when I discovered the anxiety help page on the Mental Health Foundation website, it was like a light went off in my brain. Hallelujah! I know what is wrong with me. I could stop wishing for a brain tumor like I had done in my worst times. I had wished that it was one I would recover from, but I was so desperate for an answer as to why I was behaving like I did. Because I had no idea why. Outbursts of range and anger, triggered by the most nonchalant of things. Triggered by the smallest and most pathetic things. HUGE outbursts of emotion and hurt over the tiniest things and I did’t know why. I thought a stranger had invaded my body and was making me behave like this. Oh my god it was so fucking awful. I literally remember thinking on many occasions, “I just want to know what is wrong with me. It HAS to be something” because I knew it wasn’t in me to behave and speak like that normally – or was it? …Then the doubt would creep in and I was convinced I was a horrible person. It ate me alive. I was reading through my old diaries the other day and I found this:
“Something is wrong with me. I don’t know what it is, maybe I’ve just changed. Maybe I’ve changed and I’m just a horrible person now. Because I just had the worst fight ever with John* and I said the most unforgiving things to him. I don’t know why I do this, time and time again. I love him so much so why do I treat him like this? This surely can’t be normal? I mean I know you’re always hardest on the ones you love but this is next level. I don’t want to take responsibility for this, for being this awful person I’ve become. I don’t even know what happened to me to make me become like this. Maybe I am sick? Maybe there is something wrong with me? I wish there was, obviously nothing serious or fatal, but I honestly wish for a brain tumor. I wish I had one (one that I know I will survive from) because then they could cut it out of my brain and I would stop acting like this and hurting the ones I love and feeling so much guilt from it all. And it would justify my behavior. It would prove to me that I am not awful, that it’s just the tumor fucking up my brain. But I know I don’t have a brain tumor so it’s a very bitter pill to swallow to acknowledge that I have become this awful horrible dragon bitch.”
Pretty heavy shit really!! Look at the amount of self-hate in those words.
Now I know it was the anxiety. When I made that revelation I cannot express how happy and relieved it made me feel. It didn’t excuse any of my awful behaviour, but it sure as hell helped explain a lot of it. And once I had that, I knew I could go about treating and fixing it. The relief was immeasurable. I only wish I had known sooner and then maybe the carnage wouldn’t have been so big and bag and ugly.
I feel like this is really important to mention, because a lot of people don’t understand what anxiety is. And if you’ve never experienced it, it is extremely hard, if not impossible to be empathetic and compassionate, because you simply just don’t know what it’s like. I find that other people who have suffered from anxiety understand more about about what went on with me when I explain it to them, than those who haven’t experienced it firsthand. They get it, their eyes don’t glaze over. They know it’s a real thing, not just an emotion or a feeling. It’s a whole, proper, full on mental illness. And it’s not just sitting, rocking in the corner. It can manifest itself as so much more than that and mine manifested itself a lot of the time as anger and rage, and that can be extremely hard on the person who you are with, especially in my case since we didn’t know I was suffering from anxiety. So there was a lot of fighting. I ended up thinking I was an awful horrible person and that he thought I was a monster. Had we known, we may have reacted and responded differently in so many situations. Had we known, maybe my violent outbursts and “I hates you”s would have been dealt with differently. Maybe they wouldn’t have happened and if they did, maybe he wouldn’t have fired straight back at me, possibly the worst thing you can do to someone who is suffering from anxiety. But hey, we didn’t know. That’s why although it’s extremely hard, I feel it is so important for me to talk about this, to raise awareness.
I remember being on the phone to him at Bec’s house freshly after we’d broken up. I was so dependent on him, I had been trained to believe I could not live my life without him. I didn’t know how to feel when he wasn’t there telling me how to feel, so I just constantly wanted to talk to him because at that time, it grounded me and it was about the only goddamn thing that would ground me. He’d tell me what was up and that was what was up. He told me his opinion and that was the right opinion. He’d tell me how to feel, and that’s how I felt. It was great! No thinking for myself! Until we broke up and I was like shit, I can’t do this for myself! I don’t know how to feel because he’s not here to tell me! I don’t know what to think because I’ve never heard his opinion on this, so I don’t know! That’s when the anxiety would set in big time. I didn’t know how to what to feel or respond without having a massive anxiety attack. Remember, anxiety isn’t just a feeling or emotion. It takes over your body and your brain. In my case, it affected my life so badly, impacted me so deeply, that it changed me into a different person. Thank fuck I shook that motherfucker and I’m back to being myself again.
Jesus it took a wee while to find myself again. It’s not an overnight fix at all. And anyone who has been through it will know how bloody hard it is to get back out. To make your way up from rock bottom. To rebuild your foundations on rock bottom. It’s something you work at, constantly, day in day out. You have to, to retrain your brain. You’re making new connections in your brain, re-wiring it. But old habits die hard and it takes so long to shake them… To recognise them, to recognise when they’re coming on, to learn your triggers, to learn the strategies and to learn how to execute them. It’s fucking tough. It’s not like you can go for a run and there’s your exercise done for the day. No sir, it’s an all day, every day thing, day in, day out for what can feel like eons. But the thing about anxiety is, slowly you change, slowly all of this happens, the re-wiring of your brain, the tactics you implement to not let it hit you as hard and sure, you get caught off guard from time to time or you have your guard down cos you’re not concentrating and it comes up again like a monster, but you have the coping mechanisms and strategies and tactics and you know how to use them by now. Then one day you wake up and realise “shit, I haven’t felt anxious in a while”. It’s never fully gone, if you don’t look after yourself, if you don’t keep it up, it can come back. But you’ve got the tools and shit to deal with it now.
Anyway, we were on the phone at Bec’s house and he was yelling and ranting at me down the phone. Probably saying stuff he would now regret the way that I regret so much of what I said and did to him.
And after we got off the phone, I saw Bec cry for the first time in my life. Bec isn’t much of a crier really. I’ve known her since I was 16. And that’s the only time I’ve seen her cry. In almost 13 years. If I’d been in a better head space at the time I might have thought more of it, but I was a zombie. I don’t know if she was crying for me or crying at how badly he spoke to me, but I was crying and all of a sudden she said “I hate seeing you like this” and her voice broke in the most awful way and she burst into tears and did something like touched her head and grabbed me a hugged me and sniffed a lot. And her just-turned-three year old son was in the room with us, pulling funny faces trying to make us laugh. Well holy fucking shit. A three year old trying to cheer up his Mum and Godmother. That’s unacceptable. It is OUR job to make HIM feel safe and secure in this world and he should NEVER have to have seen that. At the time I didn’t think about it. If you know me, you will know how unfathomably out of character that is for me. But now I realise how unhappy it made her to see me like that, how hurtfully he spoke to me and how I wasn’t even the real me anymore. I was this different version of myself that had changed from the old me because of the dynamic of the relationship. (God whenever I think of that moment now I want to squeeze that boy and never let him go and suffocate him with kisses. That’s when you know you’ve raised a good kid, right Val? I have a lot of love for my Godson:)
Then about a month later when we were walking through the Warehouse, looking for drink bottles for the kids to have their “dinosaur juice” in (great way to get their fruit intake in, by the way – just a wee parenting tip for you) and I was still in this head space of “oh we might get back together, this is just a break, he just told me he wanted space for a while..” And she said to me she wouldn’t comment on it. Finally I pushed her and she sighed and said “Fine. I don’t think you should get back with him. Why would you get back with someone who spoke to you like that and treated you like that when you were at rock bottom and deserved so much more.” I think I was ready to hear that, because after that I never wanted him back. It was like a flick switched in my mind. Enough time had passed and I had (through a lot of hard work) accumulated enough self worth to see what she meant and I finally agreed. I deserved to be happy but more importantly, I deserved for my own life to be about my own happiness and not someone else’s at my own expense. I was free now, to live my own life to serve myself. Why would I give up that freedom to go back to a person who made me live to serve them and their happiness at the expense of my own quality of life? I wouldn’t. I had wised up by now. Even if I had gone back, it never would have worked. I was too different, I was too much my own person again and there was no way I would have lived to serve another person and their happiness at my own expense. So it never would have worked. When you’re no longer anxious and are mentally stable, you can’t be manipulated like that anymore.
So that’s a bit about my story. This was a fucking toughie to write and not gonna lie, I’m scared about what people will say/think about this post. But it’s good for me to chuck myself out of my comfort zone right? Show some vulnerability in the name of spreading the word about mental well-being. Mental Health is still a tricky topic. I remember when I went back to the town I used to live in with my ex partner. One of the guys I used to work with said in jest “Oh you’re back! You went crazy and then you came back, eh?” What a thing to say! I don’t hate the dude or think any less of him for saying it, but get a fucking clue bro. This came from a dude who suffers from depression himself. Seems that people with mental health issues themselves even have issues exhibiting a level of empathy when it comes to mental health. I didn’t go mad. I had anxiety. I still do. I manage it now though and it no longer controls or even affects my life.
I guess now you want to know how I dealt with that bitch eh? How I killed the anxiety monster? Jeez, you guys want to know EVERYTHING! Well stay tuned, because that’s coming soon in another post. This one is already too long and let’s face it, most of the people reading it are millennials with goldfish attention spans. So if you’ve made it to the end of this post then good on ya!
Ok, now I need you folks to all give me some love. This was a hard one to write and a fucking scary one to post.
Don’t leave me hanging out here on my own! So give a bitch some love and leave me a comment. A nice one obvs, telling me how amazing I am 🙂
Oh and while you’re at it – give yourself some love, yo.