If popular music and mainstream media are anything to go by, we all know that b*tches be cray. A throwaway phrase used to explain any behaviour displayed by one (usually female) human, that another does not – or does not care to – understand. But if we agree to ignore the distasteful and outdated language, there is an unfortunate truth in the phrase. Some b*tches really do be cray. And get this – some men be cray too! In fact, 1 in 4 of us – regardless of gender – will, at some point in our lives, be ‘cray’. Right now, I am one of the chosen ones.
I’ve been struggling with depression and anxiety for around 5 years. Or at least, that’s how long it’s been since I had a diagnosis to explain what, to me, was just…well, me. Anyone who has both anxiety and depression will tell you that it’s like a constant tug of war, an evil juxtaposition. But more on that later. If my mental illness were to be shown in a pie chart, most of the time, it would look like this (10% depression, 90% anxiety). Anxiety is the real boss and depression just tries to creep in whenever life – and anxiety – has worn me down. Sneaky bastard. I recently came across this term, and an accompanying video on The Mighty, which really resonated with me, because it perfectly explains how I’ve felt for so long but never really known that other people felt it too. High functioning anxiety.
It hits the nail on the head perfectly. When other people look at me, they see someone who is super ambitious, career-driven, is always busy, super social and is generally always on-the-go. And that’s all accurate. What people don’t see, is the driving force behind me. Anxiety fuels me forward with a crippling fear of failure, constant reminder that I’m not good enough and other such intrusive thoughts. The easiest way to live with this intrusion, is to outrun it. So I keep myself busy, make sure I’m always active – because if I’m not, anxiety will tell me I’m wasting my life and will never succeed. And then comes bedtime. Time to drift into the land of the unconscious where this monster can’t hurt me, right? Wrong. With anxiety, comes insomnia. But remember, I’m running away from anxiety so if you think I lie there awake in bed, plagued by dark thoughts, you’re wrong. I try my utmost to think of anything but those thoughts which are fighting for my attention. I sing songs, I count sheep (yes, really), I think through all the mundane tasks I need to complete, I distract myself by Googling something that I can’t remember, I try to trick my mind by ‘fake dreaming’ in an attempt to fall asleep…anything but thinking the thoughts that are keeping me up in the first place. Sometimes, I manage a couple of hours of sleep, sometimes I don’t. Either way, my alarm goes, I put my mask on and do it all again.
Almost a year ago, my long-term boyfriend and I broke up. As with many relationships coming to an end, ours was likely contributing to some of my anxiety (based on the situation NOT the individual, he is lovely). So, when it ended, that anxiety disappeared. Brilliant! Right? Wrong. Remember what I said earlier about depression lurking around, waiting for a chance to pounce? Well, here’s my updated mental health pie chart after that break up (40% depression, 60% anxiety). Of course, I could see – or rather feel – depression’s cold tentacles closing around me so I responded the same way I believe many people do. I ran faster. All the things I do to run away from anxiety intensified. Well, the less productive things did anyway. Instead of going out a couple of times I week, I was out every night. Every night I could find someone to drink with me, I went drinking. Even when I couldn’t, I justified a couple of glasses of wine with dinner. Substance abuse is both the best friend and the worst enemy of someone with a mental illness. In the short term, it is the perfect escapism. In the long term, it leaves you in a worse state than you started in. Despite my best efforts to outrun depression, it caught up with me. I began losing interest in my hobbies – yoga, writing, even Instagramming (!). At first, I used my extra free time to – you guessed it – drink away my troubles. But then, even that became boring. I didn’t want to see my friends. I didn’t want to speak to anyone. In fact, all I wanted to do was lie in bed all day. And that’s probably what I would have done, but, anxiety. When depression makes me so exhausted I can barely string a sentence together, anxiety tells me that if I don’t keep up the charade I will end up poor, alone and a nobody. When depression makes me keep taking bathroom breaks at work so I can cry, anxiety tells me to be extra chirpy so nobody can tell. When depression makes me think the world might be better if I wasn’t in it, anxiety tells me that, despite that being true, only a weak person would take their own life. And I’m not weak. I’m strong. Or at least, I used to be.
The thing with running away is that, eventually, you get tired out. And, boy, was I tired. After a few months of masochism, I got my act together and asked for help. I still feel like a complete failure. I’m relying on medication to give me at least enough motivation to get out of bed. For someone like me, that feels like a failure in itself. My insomnia is still wreaking havoc in my life but I know I’m taking steps now that will (hopefully) one day free me of the monster in the night. I know I’m not currently able to perform at 100% at work – if anxiety told me I wasn’t good enough when I was actually doing great, imagine what kind of thoughts go through my head now! – but they have been incredibly supportive and, again, I know that things will get better from here. I’m still ill – but I’ve now made a conscious effort to get on the road to recovery. So, this is why I created this blog. It’s for 3 people:
- This blog is for me – my therapist actually suggested I start this blog. Writing is a pastime that depression stole the enjoyment out of. Now, by writing about my experiences, not only am I finding that enjoyment again, I’m also helping myself in identifying and acknowledging my thoughts, my feelings, my progress. No more running.
- This blog is for the 1 in 4 – one of the worst parts of any mental illness is the feeling that you are alone. If you are one of the 1 in 4, this blog is for you to know that we’re all on the journey, and we can help each other through it.
- This blog is for the 3 in 4 – another frustrating thing about mental illness is that for those who have never experienced it, it’s impossible to understand. Hopefully this blog can go some way to educating friends, family and even employers who are supporting the 1 in 4.
I strongly believe this should be a conversation, so the comments section is open – please be kind! And, as no two journeys are the same, I’m super keen to post stories from other contributors here – if you’re feeling brave, get in touch!