This blog is not the one I intended to write. It’s not my life on lockdown diary which I’m sure you’ve been waiting for with bated breath! Nope, sorry. What happened instead is I sat down at my laptop and realised I felt calmer than I had for a long time….calm in the middle of this crisis. WTF?! And so, I started writing about it. The end result is this blog; a mini-trip back in time and a complete overshare of my mental health!
Towards the end of last year I started to feel a strange, new, ominous feeling. Not all-consuming but a slight bubbling of anxiety, something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I’d go to bed with a sense of unease trying to pervade my sleep. I’d say to my husband, I feel like something bad is going to happen. I wasn’t particularly low in mood but out of nowhere I might find myself sobbing on the shoulder of a friend, in the middle of the street, on the way to do school pick-up (oh the shame of arriving red faced and puffy eyed as you battle through a sea of St Albans Mums!) But I wasn’t crying often, I didn’t feel sad, there were just days when some kind of emotional energy felt like it was trying to overflow my usually well-reinforced cup. I felt like I was waiting for something; I just didn’t know what.
I put it down to the delayed effects of worrying about my daughter’s health condition…two years of ambulances and hospital visits. Day after day on high alert, always on the look-out for warning signs. Night after night waking at the slightest murmur; fearful of what I might find when I went to check on her. It wasn’t illogical to connect these worries with this new, slightly anxious state in which I found myself. I’d been struggling with my own health as well. I was given a ‘label’ of M.E. about 12 years ago. It’s never sat particularly well with me and it’s not something I usually talk about. My natural drive to keep busy doesn’t match so well with a health condition which sometimes leaves my body and mind unable to keep up with the pace. Anyhow, I’d been having some worsening symptoms. There were tests and unknowns. On the surface it didn’t feel like a big worry, maybe deep down it was, maybe it was feeding the disquiet within me more than I realised.
There was a lot going on. The last five years had been busy. It was the usual gig…I’d had two children, three house moves, two house renovation projects, a convoluted redundancy process and the unexpected identity swap to stay-at-home-Mum. We sadly lost loved ones and we had family members who weren’t well. My oldest daughter had started reception…there were tears at leaving me and tales of loneliness in the playground which broke my heart. My husband was working long hours. I won’t go on; you get the gist. But that’s just life. It’s what we all deal with. So why was it weighing more heavily on me than usual?
Was this anxiety, low mood or just the overload of life? Or could it be alcohol related? I’d been off the booze for a few months so perhaps I was just experiencing a prolonged comedown? Not that I’d been heavily drinking, but I’ve partaken a few times a week, for what…20 years! And at the beginning of August I gave up completely. I went cold turkey overnight to see if it would help my health issues. Maybe now I was finally starting to feel all those anxieties and emotions that I’d previously muted with a glass or two of vino?
Or was this a newly unleashed version of me? Had I just become a little undone at the seams after a year of studying psychodynamic counselling? A year of learning about the work of Freud and his pals; a year where I spent three hours a week confined in a room, unable to hide away from myself. I’d tried to resist at first, as I quickly learnt, my defences were high. But it wasn’t long before those boxes I’d unconsciously constructed over the years, those boxes where I’d buried my emotional baggage; they began to come unstuck. So, was this slightly more antsy version of me just a result of those defences breaking down, of starting to be more in tune with what I’m feeling? As you can tell, I was pondering a lot of what ifs; of maybes; of this and that.
I’d hoped that December would lift my spirits. It did to some extent but not entirely. Perhaps it was the lack of mulled wine and less festive frivolities than usual. Possibly. And to be honest, since having kids I’ve found the whole Christmas countdown a little overwhelming. I want to relish the excitement, to make amazing memories and feel all-round joy with the world. But more often than not, I feel short of time, stressed because I’ve left all my preparations to the last minute and the expectation to put on the best advent ever, filling the days with cheeky elf antics, panto trips and Christmas crafting…it’s the motherload of freaking pressure. And December 2019 was no exception. There were definitely some ‘fake it ’til you make it’ days!
The new year brought some fresh optimism. I felt more upbeat, more energetic and ready to tackle 2020 head-on. But there was still that niggling undertone that I was waiting for something to happen. Maybe it was the incessant negative news – terrorism; Trump; Brexit. The noise about the environment seemed to get louder and louder. Rightfully so, but never a day went by without the guilt of how we were all destroying the planet. There were floods, bushfires, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions. It felt like some greater force was at work.
And then we were reminded that there is sometimes a limit to the human spirit; that many amongst us are close to their breaking point. When I found out Caroline Flack had died, I felt sick. I didn’t know her. But like millions of others, I’d been suckered into watching Love Island a few years back. As the tragic news unfolded of her suicide and the desperately bad place she’d been in, I wanted to cry. A few days later I did cry. I cried for someone I didn’t know. I cried at the horrible waste of her life. I cried for all the people I have also known that have left us too early in their lives. I felt strangely unnerved. The sense of uneasiness from the last few months was now lodged in my chest. And there it stayed, until the real sh*t hit the fan.
It was like the something I’d unconsciously been waiting for came roaring into view. COVID-19! And the strange thing, now that this ghastly pandemic is here, it hasn’t (yet) pushed me over the edge like I expected it to. I hate to think of the death and destruction this virus is causing. I miss my family and my friends and life as knew it. But the unrest that’s infiltrated my being for the last few months, it’s seems to have calmed a little. Why is that? Am I just detached and deluded? Perhaps those psychological defences of mine are back on full alert and I’m in complete and utter denial with one hell of a meltdown on the horizon…quite possibly!
Maybe I feel less on edge because life as we knew it has stopped, the pressure is off in some ways. The pace of my life has slowed. I’m putting less expectations on myself. My head isn’t whirling as much. I’ve gained some perspective about what’s most important. There are just two halves of my existence right now – what’s happening in my house and what’s going on in the world outside. And I guess that’s part of it. Right now, everyone I know is safe and well. I’m lucky. I can go about my day under a false pretence because I’m not out there fighting this the horrendous virus, I’m not on the NHS frontline or risking my life as one of the many key workers. I can sit safely at home because there are amazing, selfless people out there keeping this country going…and I can’t thank them enough.
And in light of what other people are going through, is it somewhat insensitive to sit here and talk (again) about myself? I do make apologies for that. I know I have it easier than some. I’m not suffering as others are. But, amidst all this chaos, now feels like the time for greater honesty. For sharing more truthfully about the big and little mental health challenges we all have…and we do all have them (it’s just a question of how much we admit to ourselves and to others). For quite some time I’ve felt like I was carrying a worrisome weight on my shoulders. As I write this, some of that weight seems to have lifted. But just because I feel good today doesn’t mean I will in the weeks and months to come. I’m not naïve, I know I’m in something of a bubble right now and who knows when that bubble will burst, and how I’ll feel when it does. But it’s not in my best interest to contemplate that.
I know it will do my sanity no favours to mourn the past or dwell on the future; fretting about what life will be like on the other side of this. There are no answers right now. Worrying is not going to change anything. All I can do, all any of us can do, is to keep going. Taking it one day, one moment at a time…holding onto the glimmers of light in the darkness; opening our hearts to the little things in life; keeping connected to people and being honest about how we feel. This new world we are now existing in is a powerful reminder that there is a limit to what we can control. We never really know what tomorrow will bring; or indeed what the next hour will bring. We can plan and pursue our desired paths to some extent but there are things bigger than us. A daunting realisation but it also gives perspective. A wake-up call to appreciate what we do have, to focus on the things we can control and let go of all we can’t.
I have to admit I was on the fence about publishing this blog. As well as it being rather self-indulgent, I wonder if I am verging on this being my own self-therapy and you, my lovely readers, are being unfairly inflicted upon! So, my apologies for that. But maybe there is something in this blog which resonates with you and if there is, I hope you may find some comfort in knowing you are not alone in how you feel. And if you aren’t doing great, if you feel sad or alone or anxious please don’t suffer in silence. Please don’t think everyone else has their sh*t together (they don’t, even if their social media may convince you otherwise). Please don’t feel you need to put a brave face on it. Please reach out to someone. Please keep going.
This was a long ole post so if you made it this far, thank you!
Look after yourselves.