Mental Health & Mental Breakdowns
This is going to be a different kind of post. I’m going to tackle the topic of mental health. More specifically, my mental health. I’ve made no secret, on here and on social media, that I suffer with anxiety, in particular social anxiety disorder and OCD. I’ve had anxiety for my entire life. The last twenty-four hours have been, for lack of a better term, hell. I’ve almost had a complete breakdown. I’m going to talk about what happened (as much as I can), what I’ve done about it, and where I’m going from here. I’ll warn you now that this post is quite long, but with the way my thoughts have been in the last 24 hours, I needed to get all of this out.
WARNINGS: mentions of emotional & physical abuse.
Okay, so what’s caused this almost breakdown in the last 24 hours? It was a combination of things, really. It started off with a small argument with Dave. No relationship is perfect and mine certainly isn’t. Couples argue. It’s normal. But anytime I have an argument with someone, I lose it emotionally. I cry and I cry and I cry. I can’t stop crying. I feel like it’s my body’s way of coping with what’s happening, except my brain can’t process it quick enough and so I only have one state: hysterically crying. Arguments are a huge trigger for me, even the smallest ones. Having social anxiety disorder has always made me wary of conflict – I tend to shy away from it and have always been careful about what I say and do to avoid conflict as much as possible. This has gotten worse in the last six to seven years. My parents had an extremely bitter divorce when I was a teenager. They actually broke up the day after my 17th birthday. It was extremely difficult. I was the one who watched and heard the arguments. I was the one who was awake until the early hours of the morning when one parent stormed out in the middle of the night. I was the one who almost lost both parents to suicide. I was the one who was left to pick up the pieces. I was the one who essentially had to keep my family together. I was the glue. I’m not going to get into too much detail about this, but, suffice to say, it’s left a permanent mark on me. So arguments, both big and small, have the ability to reduce me to a blubbering mess. Or I shut down. It’s only ever one or the other.
Except this argument I had with Dave wasn’t the direct cause of this near breakdown. It was a conversation we had a while later. I’ve never spoken much about this but I was emotionally abused by a family member who will remain anonymous. I’ve also been physically abused by this family member as well. Not only that but they stole my identity and used it to exchange letters with a suspected pedophile. Writing these words is painful and extremely difficult to do. I’ve never fully allowed myself to process what I went through. I’ve never allowed myself to grieve for what happened to me and the events surrounding it. I’ve never addressed what I went through. I’ve talked to Dave about it, and certain members of my family know about it, but, aside from that, I’ve never admitted it. I’ll be honest and say that I’ve been ashamed and scared. I ended up pushing it aside, mainly out of concern for everyone else, but also because some of the reactions I’ve had to it, in particular from family, have been quite negative. Some didn’t see it as such a big deal, which really weighs heavy on my mind. Sometimes it doesn’t even feel real that all this happened to me. I’ve always downplayed it in my head. I have to remind myself that it is, in fact, a huge deal. No one should be subjected to that.
So late last night, when we were talking about it all, everything came flooding back. All the memories. Because I’ve always pushed everything to the back of my mind, because I’ve ignored it, it has ended up making it worse for me. When you go through something as traumatic as that, which I think is fair to say that it is traumatic, you need to address it and you need to process it. Pushing it to the back of your mind doesn’t work. It numbs how you feel for a while, but when it comes flooding back, as it did last night, it only makes the pain worse when you finally feel it again. I’m like a volcano – everything builds up inside me and eventually the pressure becomes too much and I explode. It leaks into every part of my life, completely consuming me. I’ve spent most of today in a bit of a haze, if I’m being honest. It’s one of the reasons why I’ve been on Twitter pretty much constantly – the routine of tweeting and having somewhere to focus my thoughts has helped to keep me grounded.
WHAT HAVE I DONE ABOUT IT?
I easily could have stayed in bed all day. I’m fortunate enough in my work that I can call up in the morning and ask for a day off, which will almost always be granted. Working in local government does have its perks. But I didn’t do that. I got up, got washed, got dressed, and I showed up. Honestly, the first couple of hours in work are a bit of a blur. I completely immersed myself into my work so that I didn’t have to think about the hundreds of thoughts running through my head at that moment. I also made a doctors appointment. It’s the advice I know I would have had from everybody, especially from being part of the mental health community on social media. These are people who have endured similar battles, have sought help, and have come out on the other side. I could either wallow in my misery or I could do something about it.
This afternoon, at 2:20pm, I went in to see my GP. I had practiced over and over again in my head of what I was going to say when I got in the room to see him. As is the usual case with me, what I said was not what I had trained myself to say. I completely lost it when I got there and anxiety took over. I’m actually disappointed and quite angry at how the appointment went. I’ve had counselling from my GP surgery earlier this year for an unrelated (kind of) issue where they’re unsure as to whether my symptoms are physiological or psychological. The waiting list to see a specialist is much longer so they gave me counselling in the meantime in order to see if that would make a difference. In case you were wondering: no, it didn’t. They gave me six sessions then told me I would be better off seeing a private therapist because the NHS doesn’t offer the type of therapy I need. So when I went to see my GP today, he focused on that particular issue. He kept going back to the fact I’ve had counselling before and wouldn’t let it go, even when I said to him that that issue was only one issue out of a dozen more that I’m struggling with. Except that didn’t seem to matter. He essentially told me that I should contact the private therapist because, while they do specialise in one area, they are also able to help with the other issues I’m experiencing so it would be a win-win situation.
The only problem there is that the private therapy he suggested is run by a charity who receive no funding from the government and therefore rely on payment from clients with each session being £59 ($76.22 or €65.74). Yes, that’s right, each session. As someone who is dropping down to two days a week in work in order to go back to college three days a week (to improve my quality of life), that sum of money is going to be impossible to find, especially with running a flat, paying for transport, and paying off a holiday, something that was already booked before any of this came up and so I’m committed to it. The fact of the matter is that the NHS is drastically underfunded, especially where mental health is concerned. There’s a reason people are unable to seek help and this is it. The fees are astronomical for those of us who aren’t on a good wage.
Suffice to say, I left the surgery feeling extremely deflated. Here was a woman that was absolutely terrified of opening up and asking for help, yet did it anyway, only to be let down and disappointed. I’m understandably devastated and I’m absolutely furious about it. I wasn’t referred for counselling with the practice again nor was I referred to any mental health teams. I was simply told to go away and sort it myself. What kind of message is that sending to people?
WHAT AM I GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?
Right now I’m not sure. Private therapy just isn’t an option right now. I did call them up to see what they offer for low income households to be told that all they could do is offer me a £10 discount. £49 is still a huge amount of money. So I have to go at it alone… again. I’m fortunate to have such incredible support from Dave. He’s been my rock through everything, even when it has been emotionally taxing on him, because anxiety and trauma is hard on the people closest to you. It’s one of the reasons why I bottle everything inside because I’m terrified of unloading onto him, especially when he is, for all intents and purposes, unable to help me. He can’t stop what happened to me. He can’t change it. It happened and I have to live with that.
Writing this post has been a huge help. I’m not gonna lie, it’s been one of the hardest posts I’ve ever had to write. Writing is a form of release for me. I find comfort in it. I’m also much better at articulating my thoughts in writing than I am in speaking. My anxiety gets the better of me and I tend to say the wrong things or not explain myself fully. Writing this post has helped to slow my brain down; the thoughts in my head are much calmer. When people say that writing is a form of therapy, they’re really not wrong.
Where do I go from here? Well the first step is acceptance. I need to accept what happened. I need to accept that I’ll never have all the answers to the questions I’ve so desperately tried seeking an end to. I need to accept that no amount of anxiety is ever going to change what happened to me, but it is having a negative impact on my future. Dave is always telling me that anxiety is like a rocking horse – it gives me something to do but is never going to get me anywhere. If I want a better future for myself, one that isn’t hindered by anxiety, then I need to learn to accept the things I cannot change, otherwise I’m going to be stuck in this position for the rest of my life. I’ll always be stuck in the same rut and never fully able to move on with my life if I’m too focused on the past. Part of acceptance is moving on, something that I struggle greatly with. I’m not great with change. I’ll admit that a part of me has held on to what happened to me, which has, in turn, created an identity for me, something that I really don’t want. I want to be more than that. I am more than that.
The next thing I must focus on is allowing myself to feel. I’m allowed to feel upset and furious and disappointed. I’m a human being and part of that means accepting all of the emotions that come with being human, even the negative ones, the ones that I would much rather bury deep. Accepting these emotions is a step forward in healing.
Do you know what we don’t do enough of? Talk. We don’t talk enough about the things that hurt us, that upset us, that anger us. We’re encouraged to ‘get over it and move on’ but that can only happen when it’s addressed. Talking about it, even when it’s difficult, is important for healing. It’s important for moving on because you’re never going to move on if you’re not allowed to vent your frustrations, or, in my case, sob your heart out. Crying, for me, is like a reboot to my system; once I’ve cried it out, I can start thinking more clearly and more rationally. Part of the reason I’m on edge all the time, why my anxiety is always present, is because I don’t talk enough about what I’m feeling or going through. I suffer in silence because I’m constantly thinking about everyone else and how they’re feeling. I worry on an almost constant basis that I’m going to irritate and frustrate them by talking about myself and my problems. I feel guilty for it because the whole world is suffering, there are acts of terrorism and brutality that happen all over the globe on a daily basis, things that have the power to end the world, yet I’m having a sob fest over something that is trivial in comparison. While yes, the world is ugly and terrible things happen every day, there are also amazing things that happen, someone somewhere is born, someone gets married, someone wins the lottery, so by saying to myself that I can’t talk about my problems because someone has it worse is like saying that I can’t be happy because someone else is happier.
Maybe if we talked about how we feel, about all the terrible things that have ever happened to us, even if it’s through a social media platform or a blog, then maybe we’d be able to cope a lot better, and maybe we would eventually be able to start the healing process sooner instead of ending up almost having a complete nervous breakdown because it’s been bottled up inside and ignored for so long.
So that is exactly what I’m going to do. I’m going to accept what happened, I’m going to talk about what happened, and then I’m going to move on with my life and not let it define me so much. I am more than my trauma. I am more than what happened to me. Then, hopefully, I’ll be able to get into a habit where talking about things more openly becomes a habit. The last 24 hours has been a whirlwind of emotions and I’m exhausted from it, but it also terrified me. It’s not something that I ever want to repeat. This post and this moment right now is the first step to my healing.
I didn’t lie when I said it would be a long post. I surprised myself with how long it actually is, but it was needed. I feel lighter. If you read all of this then thank you.