I have written a lot of questionable things in my time. I once wrote a TV review about a show on Richard III with the headline ‘he got stabbed in the arse, basically’. I’ve written extensively about boobs, bums, online dating, being an idiotic teenager. I’ve sworn too much, been excessively mean about celebrities, and divided opinion; but I’ve never been scared to write or publish a piece, even if it made me look a twat. Until today, World Mental Health Day. Because as much as I give it all big balls on the internet, in real life I suffer from some pretty severe mental health problems. I can count on my fingers the amount of people who really know about what’s been happening over the years, because as most people with mental health problems know, it’s easy to become a master of disguise.
So here’s the truth. No hiding behind fake smiles and excuses and constant protestations that ‘no, I’m fine!’; because a lot of the time I’m not. The truth is that I have pretty much continuously been on various types of medication since I turned 18, nearly 9 years ago. I’ve had problems with panic and anxiety since I was a kid. The various psychiatrist reports over the years have diagnosed me with Panic Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Emetophobia, Agoraphobia, and with elements of OCD. Don’t worry if you don’t know what half of those are; I’ve bloody got them and I still don’t really understand. In essence, what that means is that I’m pretty much scared of everything.
I have panic attacks at the drop of a hat, and I’ve got deep running issues behind them. The usual family stuff; abandonment, identity issues, fear of being left and alone (shout out to all the absent fathers!). I’ve been in therapy on and off for years, and not a lot of it has worked. CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) had me running for the hills, as it tried to make me confront the physical stuff before I’d had time to deal with the emotional baggage. Now I see someone every week and we just chat about whatever is on my mind. I’m slowly starting to unpick my past, like pulling a thread on an old jumper, and I’m a lot more aware of why I am the way I am. Things have happened that have led me to fear the world, and I’m relearning that it’s not always such a scary place.
The reality is that my mental health issues have stopped me from living the life I wanted. I couldn’t go away to university. Travelling is hard. I can’t apply for half the jobs I want because I’d just end up ringing in sick constantly. It’s made me physically ill as well; I live with near-constant nausea, migraines, exhaustion. Some days I’m so scared of everything that it’s hard to even shower, or walk the dog. Some days, if I had my way, I wouldn’t even open the curtains. I’d lie in bed, watching shitty American TV shows under the covers, so I wouldn’t have to think. Most days I force myself to get up, because I have to hang onto a shred of reality.
I think I’ve been wanting to write this for a really long time. I didn’t want people to know because I was afraid of being judged or pitied. But I think that now, as I’m about to turn 27, I’ve stopped giving any of the shits. My problems don’t define me, but there’s no point pretending they don’t exist; it’s pretty obvious. Especially when I can often be found hyperventilating behind some bins on a night out, or crying and clawing at myself because I’ve had to go further than the outer ring road. I’ve got an amazing family, and great friends. My mum, dad, and sisters have been unbelievably patient with me. They’ve sat with me and let me sob for my past, the things that I’ve missed out on. I’ve seen my mum’s heart break in two when I was too scared to go back to 6th form; she took two weeks off work and sat in the car in the school car park for 7 hours every day. At first this was all too much for them; but over the years we’ve all got our heads around it.
I’m not saying this is my lot for life and I’m not going to try. I’m going to try very very hard. But even if I do a fucking brilliant job of beating this, it will always be with me. If we were all more honest about mental health (me included), then being carrying it with you would be less of a hindrance, and more of a badge of honour. Because overcoming stuff like this, or even just managing to live with it; that shows bravery and spirit, and it’s something we should all celebrate.