I am going to state something that it is so incredibly obvious when you think about it, and yet it is so unbelievably hard to believe in it, especially when the person who is going through it is you.
Ready? Steady? GO:
IT IS OK TO NOT BE (MENTALLY) OK
If you are going through something that it is currently making you feel low, sad, depressed, or even worse, suicidal, let me tell you something: as upsetting as it is, it is ok to not be ok.
I swear, it is absolutely, 100% ok to feel the way you feel.
I’m not a happy guru trying to feed you some positive garbage for the sake of looking good: I have been thinking about ending my own life for three good years in recent times. It is fair to say I know a thing or two about not being ok, alright?
I don’t know why there is a stigma linked to mental problems, I really don’t. Surely the brain is just like any other organ of our bodies, albeit a very special one? Why our kidneys, our stomachs, our eyes, our lungs are allowed to have issues, but not our beloved brains? Yes, yes, I get it, when you end up being coo-coo in your head, it is not the same as if you get gastroenteritis. Ok. But still.
You know what drives me mad with anger? When mental problems, which are not “as severe as” dementia or Alzheimer, gets brushed off not only by friends and family, but also by doctors: it feels like nobody has, or want to have, the time to just listen to what is going on in your head. The common “suggestion” you’ll get is “don’t be a pussy and put up with it” as “there are worst things in life”.
You know what?
F*CK THIS SHIT
I have suffered with anxiety all my life. At intervals, I had spells of depression, and panic attacks here and there. To be honest, I can consider myself lucky I “only” had that to deal with: in my family from my mum’s side, we cover the whole spectrum of mental illnesses, from “depressed”, via “multiple mental breakdowns” to “in and out of mental unit with no hopes to lead a normal life ever again”.
Things have been ok-ish, up until I gave birth, and then things went very, very, very bad. VERY bad. Calling what I had “post-natal depression” doesn’t really describe it. I wasn’t necessarily depressed. I constantly had panic attacks. I am not exaggerating.
I was scared of going out, because “what if I drop dead in the middle of the street? What will happen to my baby?”; but at the same time, I was also scared of staying in, because I was alone, and what if something happens to me? What will happen to my baby?
I tried to speak with my (at the time) husband about it, and it didn’t go down well. When you have to deal with someone who likes to always be “the one worse off” (“my foot hurts” “HA! Not only my food hurts as well, but I also got pain in my leg AND my arm, plus, I think I may have the flu”), telling this person that you are not quite ok is a recipe for disaster.
One day I was in the middle of an excruciating panic attack. I was running around the house, I was mental, I was scared, I was crying, it was horrendous. My son started crying for an unrelated reason. My ex-husband started chasing me around the house, with the baby in his arms, yelling me to stop behaving like a lunatic, my son needed me, WTF are you doing, get a grip, you are not the only one with issues, I am VERY depressed too and I don’t sleep and I go to work, you should consider yourself lucky, now stop this hit and be a mum, and so on.
In hindsight, I can tell you that my marriage finished there and then.
I ended up feeling even worse than before, because now, on top of my issues, I had the “I’m not a good mum”. I decided that, every time he was around, I was going to hide whatever I was going through.
What a dumb idiot I was!
But that’s not it! I wanted to prove that I could handle shit.
Even if I couldn’t spend 3 seconds without my brain spinning, I cut my maternity leave short and I went back to work after 4 months.
Before I got pregnant, I was studying Law at university. Even though I was in a total state, I kept studying. Not only that: I doubled the courses. I Increased the challenges. I managed to graduate!!! I made my life a living hell, on top of what I was already going through. I pushed my problems deep down inside my bran, as far as I could. I hid my panic attacks at work by suddenly rushing to the toilets or having a very long walk to the printer 3 floors down. Nobody saw my pain, partly because I was very good at hiding it, and partly because they simply thought I was just quirky. I lied, I lied like a pro, everything was FINE, OK, YEAH, ALL GOOD, COOL.
If you are about to ask: “but what about your doctor?” well…
When I felt that something wasn’t right, the doctor I saw brushed it off with “it’s just baby blues, you gave birth, it’s fine, it happens, it will go away”. But it never did.
So I went back. This time I got told “well, you could take antidepressant, or you can just put up with it, I’m sure you’ll be fine”.
At my worst, I finally managed to dial some sort of mental support. I had to wait for 2 weeks to get a triage call, and once the call finished, I got told “ok, now, the waiting list to see someone is three months long (!!!)”.
I sat on my bed, phone in my hand, completely shocked.
“THREE months? I… I cannot live like this for three months, this is not life, I…. I rather die!”
“well, if you are suicidal we may need to call social serv…”
“no no no don’t worry it was just me exaggerating, I’m fine, yeah, don’t you worry”
Now I was also scared that, if my secret got out, social services would have come knocking on my door to take my son away from me. Thank you very much, that was exactly what I needed.
I not only survived in my mental hell for those three months, but for two long years afterwards. Then it started to get better, but it took another year before I could feel “ok”. Which was not good, but at least it was something.
I spent an awful lot of those three years hoping to die, and when the hope was not enough, I thought about actively doing something to end it. I never attempted to kill myself because… I didn’t want to leave my son alone, motherless.
At the ned of those three years, something incredible happened to me. A friend of mine read a book that Randy Blythe, singer and frontman of a heavy metal band called Lamb of God (that I absolutely LOVE), wrote to share his experience of when he got wrongly accused of murder and ended up locked in prison. In Prague. For a month. Scary stuff. Since I was (and still am) a fan of the band, he told me to buy and read it (if you are interested, the book is called “Dark Days“)
I started reading this book a bit unconvinced – generally speaking, very few of these autobiographies are good, some are barely ok and the rest it’s pure tripe printed on what could have been an amazing, beautiful tree. What I wasn’t prepared for is that Randy not only wrote about his jail time, but also about his demons. How he suffered with anxiety and depression for years. Like me. How he turned to drugs and alcohol in his youth to cope. Like me in my youth (in my case, it was cigarettes and alcohol)! He described his pain, his mental state, his suffering in such a raw, uncensored way… It was beautiful, but so, so painful to read.
I started crying. I couldn’t stop. I cried all the tears that I didn’t allow myself to cry for 3 years. Seeing my feelings, my demons, my pain, so…. In front of my eyes… has been a revelation. The more I kept reading, the more I kept crying, and when I finished that book, I spent a week completely empty. I then had the (lucky!) chance to meet Randy at a gig. I thanked him for the book, and I shared a little bit of my hell with him. We both got emotional and he gave me the biggest hug ever. For the first time, in those three long years, I felt loved, understood, not alone.
A tiny, little thought started creeping in my brain.
The thought was “if he had the balls to be so open about these things, to share them with THE WHOLE WORLD…. Why are you hiding yours?
I slowly started to open myself up.
I wanted my pain out of my head and into my reality.
I wanted that dreadful weight to be lifted from my shoulders.
I wanted freedom of not having to lie anymore.
I started talking about it, and some more, and more, till it became “yes, this is my story”. And here I am talking about it again. I’m not scared of it. It is part of who I am. It is what made me the person I am now. You can either accept it or not, I don’t really care. I lost people along the way, whether because they chose so or because I pushed them away (including my now ex husband). I took an oath with myself: no matter what happens, I’ll never hide again. EVER.
Seems like life decided to test my oath and three years after that, this breakup arrived.
It hit me hard. Oh gosh it did. Ok, nothing compared to THOSE three years, I grant you that. But still, it is an awful time and it deserve respect. And I am not hiding it.
I am in pain. I am suffering. I am crying like a baby. I am grieving the man I loved to bits. I am desperate to have that love again in my life. I am not strong in this moment, and I DO NOT CARE IF IT UPSETS THOSE AROUND ME. I asked for help. I am seeing a therapist to just get things out of my chest. I took a break from some friends because I couldn’t handle their happiness when inside me I was (I am) so broken. I am doing everything that I feel beneficial for ME and no one else, including writing this blog. Selfish? You bet. Ashamed? Not at all.
Whoever you are, wherever you are, no matter what you are going through, please, listen to me: don’t hide your pain. Don’t put a brave face and tell everyone (and yourself) that you are fine if you are not. Don’t pretend, with others and / or with yourself. Don’t keep everything inside you.
You are NOT alone in this.
Don’t be scared of what other people may or may not think. Fuck that! Those who love you will do their best to help, even though you may need to guide them a bit. Those who don’t, well, good riddance. Think you’ll end up alone? You’ll find new, better friends.
Speak up! Tell those around you how you want to be helped, even if it is “sorry I need a break from this because I just cannot cope”. Own your “not ok-ness” because there is nothing to be ashamed about it. Is it your fault that you are that way? No, it is not. Would it be your fault if you were to get the flu? Of course not. It happens, unfortunately. Also, there is NO FAILURE if you don’t bounce back in a matter of a second. These things take a lot of time and a lot of effort. There are ok days, good days, extraordinary days, shit days, I-don’t-want-to-get-out-of-bed days. If someone tries to push a deadline on you, including your very own self, well, tell them to do one.
I can assure you, there is strength inside you. Maybe you cannot see it now, especially if you are too deep into the painful stage of what you are experiencing. And it is OK! But believe me, it is there. Hold on to it. Cherish it. Grow it. Little by little. Find a therapist that will listen to you. Try and try and try some more until you find the things you feel ok with. Use Google to find the help you need, or the people to talk to. Buy yourself flowers, a slice of cake, a nice dinner. Cuddle yourself and love yourself through the pain. And if you end up going back to square one? Guess what? It is not a problem. It happens!
The light outside your dark, horrendous tunnel is there. Believe in it, even if you don’t see it.
My heart is with you.