I’ve always had an overactive mind. Since I was a little girl, I thought that if I didn’t jump up and down until 10 times in the shower before going to school, something bad would happen to me or my family. I would think about that bad thing over and over until it crippled me with worry or until something else distracted me. I’ve always thought that if I didn’t do something as small as not turning the light on and off more than once – there would be consequences. Sudden death to put it lightly. I won’t even go into when I found out about superstition. Cause we could be here all day. It can’t have been any earlier than year 7, what’s that? 11…12. At this point I’m not completely sure. It’s mad to think that I did that now. It’s mad to think of an 11 year old with OCD. The jumping act that I experienced at that age is my earliest memory that I had any sort of mental health problem. But at the time I didn’t understand why I needed to do it. I just did. It oddly almost seemed almost fun to get the jumping out of my system before school so I could get on with the rest of my day in peace. It became a daily ritual that was part of my morning routine. Some kind of messed up self care. What I got in return was that great feeling of relief. Yes. I did it. I’ve survived another morning without the demons coming to take me away. Success.
Throughout my teen years, my issues manifested and developed into something else. As the years went on it slowly began to feel bigger than me. I’ve suffered from anxiety for as long as I can remember, which manifested into depression, when I was at university, topped up with more anxiety, then the panic attacks came. Followed by more anxiety. I sometimes experience episodes that feel like out of body experiences, that I can’t control. They end with more panic attacks too, just to keep it interesting. I’ve had moments in my life when I can’t leave the house in fear that people are following me. I’ve planned escape routes when in situations that I feel threatened, even when sitting and enjoying dinner with friends. Suffering from an anxiety disorder means you will always think the worse. No one is safe. More importantly, you aren’t safe. This situation isn’t safe. These people are unsafe. There isn’t a safe place. It just doesn’t exist. I learnt to live with it. It became my norm. That feeling of hopelessness. The butterflies. The constant questioning of everything you do, before you do it. Looking behind you and seeing a stranger, coincidentally twice in one day and deciding they are after you. Overwhelming amounts of worry and a feeling that you are completely not the owner of your own body and have no control over any of your thoughts. I experienced lightheadedness, daily. For years I ignored it all. I got on with it, shook it off and found a distraction. When I was a child I can’t really remember how I shook it off. I think it must have been a case of telling myself to snap out of it. Literally talking to myself in my head. Once I gradually got older and into my later teen years and early adulthood, the distraction typically came in alcoholic form or the act of tying to fix someone else rather than myself. Alcohol became a very good friend of mine, like most people in their early twenties at university. I discovered narcotics of a different kind that would take me to another level for a night, which became the best distraction I had ever met. I know most people that have taken drugs will say that we’ve all been there and yes some have but lets face it, using drugs just made my problems manifest quicker and make my mental health worse. I did it because it was fun. Don’t get me wrong, I was experiencing some kind of hedonism at the time. I felt kind of powerful. Powerful within myself. There was a sense of control; I felt like a different person, going out drinking and partying was a mask on top of the mask I wore daily. There is also a strange feeling of community when you take drugs with people. That everyone’s-doing-it-feeling. You feel like you’re never alone. They are the same as you; you all get each other. To some extent, there’s an element of truth in that but in a lot of ways, definitely not because no two people are ever the same and you can never truly know what is going on in one another’s minds, especially if you’re not talking. I don’t mean general chit chat, who got with who and the newest person you’re pissed off with, I mean actually talking, asking ‘how are you’ and waiting for a reply that’s not a brush off, ‘I’m fine’. Not facing up to my emotions and feeling like I had no one to talk to was making me sick. Uni itself wasn’t great either, two years into my second course/attempt (of three) at trying to figure out what I want to do with my life, I was diagnosed with dyslexia, also known as a complete head fuck/are you serious how did I now know this all this time I’m 24, which basically meant I had to re-learn how I learn (still figuring that out, stay tuned). I now don’t think I should ever have gone to Uni but you live and learn and to be quite honest it’s given and taught me a whole lot more than the course I chose ever could have and the degree certificate I didn’t quite get. I never handed in my work on time, I barely showed up, physically or mentally, not cause I didn’t want to go but the sheer thought of stepping into a class full of people or even the university building, crippled me. It was bigger than me. I now feel that I just plodded along through the years, just seeing it as living somewhere different for a while, an extended holiday I guess. I would get the brief at the beginning of term and feel immediately overwhelmed. Feelings of self-doubt, constantly measuring my talents to my peers. I convinced myself that what I had to give wasn’t what the university wanted. I’m sitting here writing this now thinking that you’ll have heard this all before too. Daily feelings were that I didn’t belong here, my ideas were rubbish and everyone else’s work was always going to be better than mine.
To cut a very long story short of which I will go back too, as I don’t think we’ll ever get through everything in one post, let’s go back a little bit to 2015 where all of the worry, pain, masking, comedowns, hangovers, self doubt, paranoia, sinking feelings, all came to a head, sitting in my flat in Nottingham. It was about 3am and i was in bed. I’m in my final year/final month of university, having just come back from a festival, which was fun but that I should never have gone to, with my due date looming. I lied to my mum who questioned my going and said that I had everything under control (bullshit, did I). Anyway I was in my room, finishing what I could of my final degree work, already stressed and knowing I was never going to finish any of it but trying desperately to anyway because at this point, this is my only purpose. I thought, if I can’t do this then I’m a failure in every aspect and what will everyone think. Six years, one and a half courses, countless amounts of money wasted and no degree to show for it. Travesty. I was drowning. Then at that very precise moment….my laptop dies. Flat dead. No coming back. In that very moment every single day I had spent at university closed in and I couldn’t breath. I called home, hysterically crying. That’s it. I’d lost it. Shouting down the phone ‘ I can’t do this anymore’. ‘ This is fucking bullshit’. Screaming the words. The huge, eye opening, whopper of realization that this shit can’t go on. I had run out of smiles and steam. I didn’t even feel like me anymore. I felt lonely, lost, confused and everything was uncertain. The future felt impossible. But the scariest thing to me at the time was that small sentence ‘what will everyone think?’. I had come this far, masking and pretending. I didn’t feel I knew how else to be. It was time to stop doing what I thought I should be doing and what I needed to be doing. First step in recovery…. admit there’s a problem. I left Nottingham the next day, I remember touching down at Kings X feeling like absolute shit but parallel to that feeling like I was beginning to wake up. I would finally have to come out and admit the downward spiral for as long as I could remember and finally take control.
I’m reading a book at the moment of which I could quote from all day but there’s a line in it that I read today. It says something like ‘I learn from the past so that the present can be, understanding that my actions will have consequences tomorrow’. What I did from that day forward, is begin to recognize that I’m different and that’s okay. My mind is precious and should never be taken lightly. You have to feel how you feel and trust yourself, seek help, ask questions and know your emotions.
Its not been plain sailing since. I think we are on meltdown number 3 now…but each time I feel different to how I have ever felt before because there’s a small word called triggers that I’ve come to know and kind of love. I know my triggers. We are friends and we communicate. I know what makes me retreat and what makes me unhappy and most importantly, I know what makes me happy. I know my emotions and no longer use a mask to get through the day. I’m discovering a small thing called self-acceptance. You have to be kind to yourself and take each day as it comes. You are completely in control of your own life and I’ve accepted that my mental health will always be part of my makeup but I’ve learnt that you have to know your patterns, whether they are positive or destructive. Use the lessons you learn to be able to maintain a level of detachment from old patterns so that you can keep up that level of self-care to help you move forward. I’m learning what’s good for me in the long run but I am also learning there are many more of these lessons to come, after each episode it’s an opportunity to discover a little bit more about yourself, to unfold a new part of your inner beauty, to breathe, to reflect and to prepare for the next chapter because there is a whole lot of good about to come.