So Dotty asked me to talk about mental health, my experience of it, I didn’t think I had any experience of anything other than healthiness in the mental department, but maybe it comes down to definitions.
If you asked most of my friends to describe me you’d get a generous helping of ‘very strong and together’ a modicum of ‘good value on a night out’ a smattering of ‘good listener’ and a soupçon of ‘formidable’. Ask one of the 5 people I am closest to in the world and they might add ‘tries to do too much’ ‘doesnt share her big problems’ ‘bottles too much up’.
I have always thought of myself as being mentally robust, I have 100% Irish genes so I have a capacity for ‘copping on to myself’, as I look back on some of the hardest times in my life I have ‘copped on to myself’ with varying degrees of success. Mine is not a life changing story, in fact, it’s an every day one, but by its ‘everyday’ nature, I guess it happens to lots of people everyday? There was this one time (at band camp) where I had an epic fail.
We moved our whole family and possessions overseas, sounds privileged but it wasn’t, we had no choice, it was a work thing, his work, not mine. I was the main earner before we left, I ‘chose’ to give it (and the company car, very begrudgingly) up to follow my husband and support his career. So, there I am, in a strange country, don’t speak the language, no job, no money (of my own, big shock had jobs since I was 13) got an 18 month old I hardly know (crap maternity package meant I had to go back to work full time when he was 4 months old), don’t know a single soul, no phone, no TV, the weather is shite (considering I’m of Irish descent, brought up in Lancashire, that’s quite a weather statement right there) I started to feel a bit 2D, flat.
I just couldn’t seem to fit in, for the first time in my life I felt at odds with everyone and everything around me, I didn’t recognise myself, I started to believe I was worth less now than when I was the career-woman-doing-it-all-and-still-an-earth-mom. The Mr in my life didn’t help, it might be worth saying at this point that although I love him dearly, he was at the back of the queue when they were handing out emotional intelligence but right at the front like Oliver asking for more in the ‘blame’ queue.
He was incapable of leaving work bollocks at the front door, he was so wrapped up in being a little emperor at work he failed to notice me wilting under the shame of how pathetic I was, I became a ‘pleaser’, kept the peace, acted like a doormat, took the shit, even apologised for feck all time and time again, God I hated this tragic version of me, giving in, giving control away, allowing myself to be ‘done to’ because I felt I was a bit pointless.
I hated myself for being so weak.
This went on for almost a year, I couldn’t see how to get back to being myself, I figured it was gone and this was it, I cried a lot alone, obviously, and told absolutely no-one, had to keep up appearances.
I lost weight, fake smiled, declined invite after invite and hid away, I did this for months and none of the people closest to me knew because they were thousands of miles away. Every last cell in my body was screaming at me to run away from my life, but my son’s expectant little face yanked at my heartstrings (chordae tendineae, actual thing, Biology student so I know some Latin shit), I had zero power, I was scared of the confined space inside my head.
No-one noticed except my brother, he was honest with me, asked me why I was taking that shit from the emperor, being the good, strong, big hearted, protective northern brother that he is, he threatened to go and beat the crap out of him. The confirmation that I wasn’t imagining this shit was monumental to me, I wasn’t making it it up, or over dramatising it, there was no point in a brawl, the only one with the power to change my life was me, I knew that. When he left I dug very very deep, buckled up and had the ‘chat’ with the emperor, he cried, I cried, lots of remorse, sorrow, guilt and apologies from the emperor, he hadn’t realised….you see what I mean about back of the queue for EI ?
At the start of this blog I mentioned definitions, until recently I had never really tried to define this period in my life (other than describing it as a ‘bag-o-shite’, thank you 1990s Steve Coogan/Paul Calf) I was too ashamed of my inability to cope. I now see that my mental health was suffering, if I was self-diagnosing I would say I had post natal depression, whatever, I wasn’t coping and because I didn’t have my network round me it went unnoticed and I got lost. Honesty from someone I loved and trusted energised me, gave me the push I needed to get back to me. The honesty of loving friends and family has been a lifeline many times in the 15 years since this happened, I have felt that scared and rudderless since but the ever present 5 (+2 new ones in my now, teenage kids, who both have more than the average share of EI and know how to use it, I made sure of that) have always been there, sometimes in the wings, sometimes centre stage and always with the right word or a hug at the right time, sometimes that’s all it takes.
Let love in ❤️