"What are you like when you're well?"
Louise talks about how her response when she was asked this question.
This is a question recently asked of me by my Therapist, and one that I’ve deliberated over a lot. Looking back on my life thus far, I have never felt as though I fit in anywhere. School, from a social point of view, was a nightmare.
University was a bit easier because I found myself in an environment where people generally kept themselves to themselves, and there was no pressure to conform to certain trends, listen to certain music etc. I put my head down and got through the work, and that was ok with everyone else.
I think that, inherently, anxiety and avoidance have always been part of my make-up. Depression, self-harm, anorexia...none of those things reared their heads until I graduated from University and was forced to join society. To me, that was akin to being thrown to the wolves.
All of a sudden, I found myself undergoing job interviews and being employed. I was expected to attend, and contribute to, meetings. I had to sit in busy offices with their cacophony of phones, fax machines, printers and photocopiers. Worse, I had to USE the phone to SPEAK to people...until, eventually, it became too much and I could no longer hide that I wasn't coping.
I used to sit frozen to my seat, my hands shaking, terrified to move. On one occasion, I even treated the rest of the office to the unpleasant reality of a full-blown panic attack. I stopped work in September 2011 and officially lost my job in March 2013. I have never returned to employment.
But what about “when I’m well…?” I have lots of happy memories from childhood and early adolescence: family holidays, picnics in the summer, Christmas mornings, being read to, running around with my dad and brother kicking a football about (yes, I was a Tomboy!). I’ve had some lovely holidays. In July 2010, my sister and I travelled to Dublin to see Bruce Springsteen play live and I remember laughing for most of that time. It never stopped raining, yet our spirits remained un-dampened and we had a ball.
I don't think any of these memories constitutes wellness though, because it all involves escapism. I have some nice things to look back on, but they're not examples of me being well. Instead, they are examples of me being removed from the difficulties of 'real life', and being allowed to breathe.
Sometimes, family holidays have actually caused great distress. For example, the last one I managed (in 2009) was a huge ordeal and, incidentally, was the first time I was ever prescribed medication for anxiety. Since then, I have managed nothing more than a couple of short-breaks and, more recently, mere afternoons out. I haven't attended family functions for years, have missed weddings (including that of my sister), funerals, landmark birthdays...
I often find myself despairingly confused and frustrated because there is no concrete explanation for any of this. Officially I have Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) with avoidant personality traits and depression. I am currently undergoing testing for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Avoidant Personality Disorder (APD). I’m hoping this might give me some identity, provide an underlying cause for my Mental Health problems, and allow me to come to terms with the way my life has turned out.
So the answer to the question is that I have no idea what it is to be well in the conventional sense of the word. I know there are environments which are more conducive to feeling well than others, environments in which I am more readily accepted and allowed to 'be'.
I find strength from the MH community on Twitter, reading MH blogs. I’ve recently started attending an Art Therapy class, facilitated by my CMHT. I know there are certain personalities that are more understanding, empathetic and compassionate toward me than others.
I can only hang on to the hope that a more accurate diagnosis, coupled with my newfound ability to express myself through words and drawings, may eventually amount to a scenario in which I am allowed to function, to contribute something to society, help others in a similar position and, most importantly, feel consistently well.
I’m 31 years old and live on the SW coast of Scotland. I have suffered with MH problems for most of my adult life and my official diagnoses are GAD and Depression. I’ve also been treated for Anorexia in the past.
You can find me at imillnotcrazy.wordpress.com
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