Speaking About My Broken Brain

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At 17 I left home, by 22 I was married, divorced at 26 but I never truly felt grown up until I was 30. That was the age I decided to (wo)man up and ask for help with my failing mental health. I had been experiencing bouts of depression, anxiety and insomnia since my teens but when the issue came up with my GP it was always by accident. Luckily my doctor wasn’t clueless and when I would say “Oh, I have a twisted ankle and by the way I haven’t slept properly in three weeks” he would always probe me on the insomnia rather than the ankle. I fell into a cycle of taking some tablets, being referred for counselling that I inevitably cancelled after one session and eventually feeling “better”.

In early 2012 I turned 30 and had everything I could possibly need: a job I enjoyed, good friends, a loving family, money in the bank and a roof over my head. I had nothing to be sad about but I felt completely and utterly empty. I was given good news by people I loved and I couldn’t raise a smile. I didn’t suffer from low mood – I had no mood. I couldn’t concentrate on anything and would find myself reading the same article in a magazine repeatedly and not absorbing the words. I became so forgetful it scared me. I would look at people I know and struggle to recall their names and forgot my PIN number so many times I had to save it in my phone to avoid embarrassment in the supermarket.

In March 2012, I made an emergency appointment at the doctor after I realised that I had been subconsciously stockpiling paracetamol. I wasn’t sure if this was because of genuine forgetfulness or if I was planning a suicide attempt. My appointment was due to last 10 minutes but I left after half an hour with a puffy tearstained face, two prescriptions and an urgent referral to the local mental health assessment centre. I had completed the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) and was found to be severely depressed. I remember my doctor asked if I planned to take my own life I said that I had no real plans but every night I went to bed hoping I wouldn’t wake up. That’s when the tears started. It was the first time I had ever said that out loud.

I would love to say that after that day everything fell into place and I was miraculously well again. Unfortunately that was not the case. My depression wasn’t triggered by anything specific and I didn’t gel with the counsellor I saw. I took the medication and whilst this helped with the depression my anxiety increased. My insomnia spiralled out of control and I had a constant sense of impending doom. I was convinced horrific things would happen to my family and had nightmares about car accidents, fires and violent deaths. But rather than give up, every time I felt worse I kept going back to my GP. My medication was changed, I self-referred to a work place counselling service which was much better suited to me and I started talking to people about how I was feeling. My mental health issues were always my dirty little secret, I was ashamed to tell people I was close to how I was feeling because I didn’t want to be judged.

I just started to feel a little lighter in mood then my mum was diagnosed with terminal cancer in June 2012. It was as if all the nightmares had come true. In my head I felt like all my anxiety had been justified and that I was somehow right to be so paranoid and pessimistic. I now realise this was my broken brain speaking. What happened to my physical and mental health during the period of mum’s illness and the time following her death were devastating but I truly believe that I wouldn’t be alive right now if I hadn’t sought help before the shit hit the fan. I don’t believe in psychic abilities but I have always had a decent sense of intuition. Maybe in the months before mum’s diagnosis my brain started sending me signals that I was going to need all the help I could get.

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week and I am saddened that in 2017 many people still can’t talk openly about their mental health. They are ashamed, disgusted with themselves, misunderstood and maligned. I have been called selfish, lazy, an attention seeker and a psycho (that last one was from an ex-boyfriend, charming fellow). But the more we talk about mental health, the more normal it becomes. The more I talk to people about what I am experiencing, the more they understand. If you keep cancelling plans because you are too anxious to leave the house, tell someone that rather than make up a bullshit excuse, they are more likely to offer to help or come to you. Some of the best friends came to see me when I couldn’t face the outside world.

I am not “cured” as mental illness is something I will always have in some form. I deal with life one day at a time, take medication as anyone with a long-term health condition would and just try to be as kind to myself as possible. Remember, asking for help isn’t a sign of failure. It’s scary and the process may suck sometimes but talking about how you feel may just save your life.

If you or anyone you know may be suffering from mental illness please seek professional help. I found the following websites and podcasts helpful:

Mental Health Foundation – Practical advice to help with your mental health and well-being
https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/

Mind – A-Z of mental health, an online community and tips for everyday living are just some of the excellent resources
https://mind.org.uk/

Samaritans – if you are in the UK or Republic of Ireland you can call Samaritans on 116 123, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. This number is FREE to call. You don’t have to be suicidal to call.
http://www.samaritans.org/

Bryony Gordon’s Mad World Podcast – A ten part podcast series in which Telegraph journalist and OCD sufferer Bryony discusses mental illness with a different guest every week. The Prince Harry episode gained worldwide attention and started a lot of important discussions around mental health.
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/bryony-gordons-mad-world-podcast/

Dear CC

broken-heartI am so sorry I didn’t say goodbye properly. I found out you were really sick on Friday and by Saturday night you were gone. I wrote a short message that didn’t even begin to explain how much I wanted the news about your failing health to be an ugly rumour. I needed to tell you how much you meant to me and how much you will be missed. You were my first real friend. Two doors down the street and born three weeks apart, it was almost inevitable that we would be buddies, especially given how close our parents were. Inseparable during their pregnancies, our mothers were delighted to give birth to two daughters in the same month that would grow up together.

We weren’t just friends, we were family. We called each other’s mothers “Mum” and became the sisters we both craved so much (I was big sister, you were little sis). We spent weekdays together at nursery, then school and at weekends had sleepovers at each other’s homes. You had a Christmas stocking and an Easter egg to look forward to every year at my house. I put more time and effort into our friendship than I have with any subsequent romantic relationship. Although we looked so different we always dressed alike and I laugh now looking back at pictures of your long slim body in the same outfits as my short round frame.

I still remember the day 26 years ago when I broke your heart (your words, you always had a flair for the dramatic). I told you I was moving house. Not very far away but enough of a distance to move school and for everything to change. We both wept and vowed to be friends forever, in a way that only nine year olds can. I promised to phone every day and write letters every week to tell you what I was up to. You told me that no one would ever replace me. We continued to have sleepovers, although they went from weekly to monthly and eventually stopped altogether.

Neither of us wanted to admit we’d outgrown each other. When we met up things seemed strained and we couldn’t just pick up a conversation where we’d left off, there was so much explanation of “who’s who” in stories that it was too much effort. Also, the differences in our personalities became more apparent as we got older; you loved a party and I loved staying in with a book, you looked like a model and loved fashion, I looked like a hobbit and was sporting hand me downs (from my brother).

We went years without speaking and I regret not making more of an effort. There were times I would see you on a bus or on the street and I would hide behind a book or scarf to avoid your gaze. Your life always seemed so fabulous and glamourous. You travelled for a living and I was stuck in the same city in a dead end job. I thought being around you would make me feel like a lesser human.

I thought of you often and when I joined Facebook in 2009 you were one of my first friends, just like when we were born. You ended up amassing 10 times as many friends as me and I do admit to the odd pang of jealousy. We exchanged the occasional message, particularly in times of crisis. When your dad passed away I had to let you know I was there if you needed to chat and you were one of the first people I heard from when my mum was diagnosed with cancer. I will never forget the kindness of you coming to mum’s funeral when you didn’t even live in the same country as us anymore.

I was speaking to dad about you just over a week ago. We were both wondering aloud how you were, you had been uncharacteristically quiet on social media and I hoped it was because you were loved up and enjoying life offline. I didn’t know you were fighting for your life. When I found out on Friday night what was happening I wanted to give you the biggest hug. I wanted to kiss your forehead the way our mums did when we were sleeping over at each other’s houses. Or I wanted to make you laugh, you had a bloody ridiculous snorting laugh and I can’t believe I’ll never hear it again. I also can’t believe I am referring to you in the past tense. I am so sorry.

Love always, BS (Big Sister)

Chills, Thrills and Penis Pics 

Was one of your resolutions for 2017 to find love? Then you may be one of the thousands who signed up to Tinder in January. If you have no concept of Tinder, perhaps you’ve been living under a rock or recently released from a cult, here’s the deal; it’s the world’s simplest dating app. All you need is a Facebook account and a smartphone. You enter basic details of what you are seeking: gender, age range and distance from your location and Tinder will find singles in your area. It’s stunningly superficial, users have 500 characters and six pictures to sell themselves. You swipe through a series of profiles – right to say you are interested and left to say you are not. If you both “like” each other you have a match and true love can blossom 😂

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Sober

At the ripe old age of 35 I’ve come to a startling conclusion: I don’t like the taste of alcohol. I started drinking at the age of 14 so you’d think I’d have worked it out by now. Last Monday I went to my GP and told him I didn’t like alcohol and how it made me feel during a chat about a recent bout of insomnia and anxiety. His solution was simple – stop drinking. If only it were that easy.Read More »

13/10/03

I never thought a date at the age of 21 would change the course of my entire life. And to think, I was 15 minutes away from cancelling. I was on a train en route to another city to meet a man for the first time who was already giving me butterflies. He seemed too good to be true – honest, funny, charming, intelligent – on paper he was perfect (if such a thing existed). By his own admission he wasn’t the best looking guy going but I’ve never been hung up on looks. I find a person can become more or less attractive based on their behaviour rather than whether they have a beard/specific haircut/body type. I was so nervous I felt sick. I hadn’t been on a date with someone new for three years. At the penultimate stop I hovered at the door, wondering if I should just turn back and go home.Read More »

Breaking the silence

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I apologised to my rapist. It took me five years to write that sentence and will take me many more years to understand why. What happened that night in August 2011 has haunted my dreams, damaged my friendships and obliterated my trust in men.

I relive that night and the aftermath frequently. I know my rapist. He was a close friend. He’s the husband of one of my best friends. Before today we were the only two people who know what happened that night.Read More »

Just a bit of banter…

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I’ll always remember the first time I encountered sexual harassment in the workplace. I was 17, new to a small company where I was the only female employee. I was encouraged by my boss to be “one of the boys” and join in with the office banter which seemed to revolve around critiquing the tits of the models in lads magazines. I shared an office with Peter, who was in his late 30’s and proudly displayed pictures of his wife and children next to his desk. Peter became really interested in finding out about my life and would quiz me on my breaks. Did I have a boyfriend? Had I had a lot of previous boyfriends? Where did I like to go out? Had I ever had plastic surgery? I felt uncomfortable with his questions, especially when I found out he was relaying my answers to the rest of the team when I wasn’t around.

Peter kept finding ways to come over to my desk, usually under the pretence of borrowing some stationery. He liked to put his hands on my shoulders and slyly look down my top or he’d reach past me and brush his hand against my chest. I started wearing high necks and baggy clothes to deter him. I told him I didn’t like having my personal space invaded but he didn’t listen. I was friendly, smiley and chatty with anyone who came into the office but when we had client meetings I’d often hear one of the guys say, “Watch out for her, she’s a maneater.” I’d blush with embarrassment and tell them to shut up but it just seemed to encourage them.Read More »