|The Red Arrows flying “Tornado” on Monday.|
Mental health is always a tricky subject for me to deal with "out loud" as it were. Some people are quite happy baring all on social media and face to face with others - I'm not one of those people. For me, talking about my mental health - or specifically mental ill-health - is something I have to take a big deep breath and steel myself to tackle and that I am only comfortsble talking about in what feels like a “safe space”. It's something I've been working on - I've been fairly open on here about the fact that I have suffered from depression for over 10 years now, and anxiety for a little over 5. The majority of those I consider to be friends will be aware that I have had my struggles, those who are closer have a bit more knowledge, but beyond the very occasional oblique reference I rarely reference it on twitter or facebook for example. For me (and I stress "me" here - this an entirely personal point of view and relates purely to what I choose not to share) it all feels as though it is undeservedly self indulgent, as though I should just "get over myself" or "pull myself together" and even as though if I did go into any further detail, someone would tell me I was attention seeking or making it all up. Almost worse is the prospect of having references met with sympathy - something which is meant with kindness but I find extremely difficult to know how to react to (which is why comments will be disabled on this post, too!). As a result the easier road has been to find my safe spaces elsewhere - this is where the blog comes in as here I can write about what I like, nobody can try to "edit" me. Even here, I struggle to say much - this post, like others where I have referenced my MH will take an age to write and probably just as long to get the nerve to post, too.
I said when I posted for Mental Health Awareness Week that mental health looks different for everyone - and what affects one person might be very different for another. Indeed everyone has their own triggers for things being less than great, too. For me anxiety can arrive in a few ways - at the start of the current Covid-19 crisis the constant flow of drip-fed bad news proved to be a gentle slope that I slipped down almost without realising it - almost learning to live with the constant heavy, dragging feeling of trepidation after a while. The cancellation of so many events at things unfolded was more of a "progressive loading"- one thing after another dragging me down slightly further each time until suddenly I had arrived at the bottom of the black hole. At other times it can be a single traumatic event that lands with a bang - and even being aware that this sort of event is likely to cause me problems doesn't always help to ward off the descent. For me, a really bad anxiety attack is almost paralysing - it affects my appetite, my sleep, my ability to function at all, to be honest even though that might not be immediately obvious to the outside world - and that is where I've been for the past few days. I referred a few days ago to something that had happened completely out of the blue with someone I trusted, considered to be a friend. In a single sweep that trust was gone, and I was left questioning why I had been so stupid as to feel that I could speak freely in front of that person, why I should feel that I have the right to state an opinion, and most of all why I was too stupid to spot the warning signs that had in fact been there previously. (That last is an interesting one - a good friend said something similar about herself and a situation she has been dealing with recently and of course I reassured her that she wasn't stupid at all...apparently it's not possible to apply that reasoning to myself, though. Sigh). Initially I couldn't stop shaking, feeling sick. My heart rate shot up and I found it impossible to breathe other than in short gulps. Yes - that is indeed a panic attack I'm describing - horrible things as anyone who has had one before will know. Being able to recognise it as a panic attack can help - at least you then realise that it's not something physical - but making it go away can be something else altogether. Further messages arrived on my phone - each one adding to the feeling of panic; what was going to be said next, how was I going to be attacked further. I wanted to run away, block the number from my phone to stop any further contact. After a while I got the nerve to read the further messages, initially a qualified apology, then, subsequently, a more genuine one. I couldn't reply at that point - firstly my hands were shaking too much to text - a message to another friend took me a ridiculous amount of time to type out - and in any event I simply didn't know what to say. Eventually several hours later I simply said that I thanked the person concerned for apologising, that I needed to work through how I felt about things, and that I would appreciate being left to sit with that for the moment. Then the guilt kicked in - a mutual friend who also knows what has happened said that the message sender was feeling dreadful about it. My knee jerk reaction was that the easiest thing to do would be to just accept the apology and let things go back to normal - that would let the other party feel better about things, and genuinely, I hate to think of them feeling so bad about it. BUT. And it's a huge, pretty much life changing "but" in this case - things can't go back to normal, or at least certainly not the same normal as before for me. This event has ripped away a support network that I have had in place for a long while - the thought of being able to speak freely in that setting again is now impossible. It feels as though everyone else in the group is allowed to have opinions - but for some reason, for one person, the rules are different for me. Simply because they don't agree with those opinions it's fair game to attack me for them - but privately, where nobody else will see, rather than openly as part of the (group) conversation that the opinion was voiced as part of. I can't get past the fact that it is going to be a very long time - if ever - before seeing that person's name flash up on my phone doesn't make me feel incredibly anxious and panicky. At the moment at least, self-preservation has to come first - I'm starting to climb out of the worst of the anxiety symptoms now - a bit more sleep the last couple of nights helped massively (having to drive about 300 miles on Monday on just over 3 hours sleep wasn't the best thing I've ever done, bluntly, but I was damned if I was letting the event affect me even more by meaning I cancelled something I had planned a fair while ahead!), also being proactive as far as social media is concerned.
Sadly I suspect I may lose other friends from within the same social group over this which I would be truly sad about - it's inevitable I suspect that it will be seen by others as "Robyn has flounced" as I'm not going to share what was said more widely even though probably it would be reasonable for me to do so in the circumstances and it would certainly put a different light on things. My only hope is that me not opening up doesn't lead to anyone else being attacked in the same way - there are others in the group who also have fragile mental health and would probably struggle every bit as much as I am if not more if it happened to them, and I would feel horribly guilty if that did occur. I'm also feeling horribly guilty about being unable to just let this go and say "it doesn't matter" - but that would really be selling myself short - it DOES matter, and I am entitled to feel hurt, upset and incredibly vulnerable over it too - this was a message that was designed to wound, to hurt, and to create guilt - and those feelings can't be banished overnight or those words unsaid just by way of an apology. More guilt around even writing this down and posting it - indeed had I thought there was even the vaguest possibility that the other party would see it there is no way it would ever have seen the light of day! I actually do feel calmer for having written it all down though and now read it through too. I can also now acknowledge that no, I did nothing to deserve or invite the message that was sent to me or the allegation that was levelled at me. That I’m not ever-reacting - people who’s opinions ai trust have reassured me of that. That yes - it's ok to feel as though I can't just brush it under the carpet. And no - it is not my job to behave in a particular way to assuage someone else's conscience either.
For now - deep breaths, self care (that always sounds cheesy to my ears!) remembering that I CAN still allow myself to trust people, and above all time to take stock and re-set things, then to start tentatively feeling my way towards a new sort of normal.