Thursday, 17 December 2020

Where Have I Been?

Some of you may have noticed, some of you might be like "you were gone? gone where?". Well, half way through October my mental health finally caved in. I knew throughout the first lockdown that I was struggling, but I didn't really have any signs or symptoms. It wasn't until around August that I could feel myself snapping at small things, having emotional breakdowns whilst at work and starting to feel physical symptoms of anxiety. Most of my anxious thoughts were in my head from January, and I think I had no idea what was happening in 2020 so I couldn't process these worries.

I feel like the beginning of the pandemic was the earthquake, and now I'm feeling the aftershock. 


Shot by Connor Cleary at Durdle Door during my break in October

There was nothing special about the day where I completed broke. I woke up as usual, a bit groggy but nothing out of the ordinary. I had been wanting to start writing down my moods and emotions since I had been feeling extremely angry and anxious a lot, so I began to write a mixture of positive and negative events and feelings. Whilst doing this I started to feel off. My body just didn't feel quite right. I had to start doing deep controlled breaths, but the panic was already there. I began to feel queazy, thinking I might actually throw up. I felt hot and claustrophobic, although I was in a spacious room on my own with easy access to open the windows. I headed to the bathroom because I knew something was wrong. A few days prior to this I had been worrying that I had anxious IBS symptoms, and on this day I was granted my answer. I don't often get my IBS symptoms unless there's a particular nervous occasion; like a job interview. 

Of all the places to finally have a huge breakdown, the toilet would not be my first choice. My depression and anxiety finally took over my mind and body. I was crying, shaking, struggling to breathe and my head hurt so much. I knew I wasn't alone in the house and I did not want an audience so I had to try and keep my sobs and gasps of breath quiet, which is super hard when you've lost all control of yourself. Once I managed to get off the toilet I curled up in the bed; a safe comfy place to try and calm down. I needed something comforting so I popped Gilmore Girls on the TV. I could feel myself start to slowly float back down to earth. Trying to comprehend what the hell happened and why. Before my episode I had texted Connor so say I wasn't feeling well, and I wasn't sure why. He was out working, and I don't normally message him stuff like this when he's at work, but I was alone and worried. He called me up when travelling to another job to see what was wrong. I was still extremely fragile and I didn't really want to get into it. Over the years Connor has really tried to understand my mental health, and has been a huge part of my support network. However, now was not a great time for his questions and lack of understanding. The whole phone call ended up being very triggering and my episode turned into a two parter. I was just wailing on the phone and not getting anywhere. I knew I had to end the call if I had any hope of recovering quickly.

I returned to controlled deep breaths and trying to clear my mind of everything that made me lose my mind.

What happened? I hear you ask.

If I had to draw a timeline, I'd say I still had a lot of loose ends from my cognitive behavioural therapy sessions back in 2016. The therapy was amazing and really helped me get back on my feet, but unfortunately as a free service the course had an expiration date. I had learned coping mechanisms and unlearned unhealthy behaviours, but I hadn't really learned how to look after myself and how to check in with my mental health. I had a lot of traumatic things happen between 2015 and 2016 and they really did a number on me.

As I threw myself into my university work and getting a job when I graduated, I was just refocussing my brain and distracting it. When I was made redundant in April 2019, again I threw myself into getting another job and having money to pay my bills and get out of debt. I never really processed the redundancy, and cracks in my emotions and mental health started to show a little while into these new jobs. So much so that I had a breakdown in the first week of a new job, and had to take the whole weekend off work because I was struggling and was so overwhelmed. I am not someone who likes to call in sick. Even after this, I continued to shut off my emotions. I told myself I didn't have time to crumble, I didn't have time to tune into what was going on with me. That it was the best course of action for me.

Wrong. That's the worst thing I could do.

All I was doing by putting everything in crammed boxes in my brain, and pushing them to the furthest side, was letting the problems brew longer. Letting them multiply until they finally burst out at the most inconvenient moment. When actually I need to set aside time, pick a box and begin to organise and process its contents. Being aware of what's in those boxes is far more healthier than being ignorant. Still I did not put this into practise. I changed jobs, and kept my head down whilst I proved my worth and got myself out of my overdraft. 

In January of this year, we all started to pay attention to the coronavirus outbreak in China. When I saw this news, I knew immediately that this was not good. I've only lived through two similar events; bird flu and swine flu. Both of which were quite mild in the end, but I remember it taking over our lives and taking hand sanitiser everywhere. Yet we all carried on going to school and work, nothing stopped. I was worried that Connor and I weren't going to be able to go to New York; should we wear masks? Can we cancel? Well, there's no reported cases so it must be ok, right? To my knowledge we were fine, but I remember being very conscious of touching surfaces and making sure we sanitised, just in case. When we got back a fellow Brit arrived in the UK from France the same day, just a different airport. This man unknowingly had infected his group on holiday and tested positive when he arrived back. I couldn't believe how close I felt to it. But it was all fine, not our airport, no symptoms. 

When I started obsessively checking the news at the beginning of the year, I noticed that my eating habits started to rise. More binge eating, snacking and pudding intake was on the rise. Usually I'd just give myself some time, get it out of my system. However, my appetite didn't seem to be slowing down. After awhile, I put it down to stress eating. I was subconsciously really stressed about this virus, and was eating as a coping mechanism. I remember when we started to have more and more cases being reported, that I'd look around at work and in public spaces. People were just walking around like normal? But there was a pandemic unraveling? I started to try and leave plenty of space between myself and others, not touch door handles and wash my hands a lot more (not that I was an unclean person before). I began to social distance from my parents as a precaution because I did not want to be a part of the spread. I wasn't scared about catching it at this point, I just didn't want to feel responsible for passing it onto vulnerable people. 

On 23rd March, the prime minister announced an immediate national lockdown and I was officially terrified. This was now serious in the eyes of our nation, and many others. All of a sudden five adults were mostly confined to our house (with the exception of work or exercise). Usually we all come and go because of varying schedules, but now the house felt very small and cramped. Trying to find a space to unwind became more difficult. I could feel my mind on edge because of all of the uncertainty, and having no answers. It did not help that for the majority of the week I'd be at work with around 50+ colleagues, and sometimes not able to maintain social distancing and at the time; no masks. Being so afraid of other humans and trying to picture in my head two shopping trolleys to see if there's appropriate distance. Running in the road and holding my breath as I pass pedestrians. Recoiling when anyone outside of my household tries to touch me. All of this was chipping away at me. I had no physical symptoms of anxiety, but I could feel it there, just below the surface. We're good friends, basically family so I know it quite well now. Just not well enough to know how to stop it. 

Lockdown came and went, restrictions were lifted. I gladly saw friends and family following the rules, however feeling very drained and feeling anxious, but only temporarily. I'd sometimes limit how much I'd socialise in a week, to stop this drained feeling. 

Then, the outbursts started. At work I could feel myself getting irate and a bit irrational, I could feel myself on the verge of hulking out. Of course I'd try and use my rational voice to calm down, I don't want to actually have a violent outburst whether it's verbal, punching or kicking objects. I'd have to take myself off for an impromptu toilet break to neutralise. On the opposite spectrum for me, was emotional breakdowns. Almost for no reason bursting into tears uncontrollably for lengths of time. As I started to lose count of these episodes, I knew something more was coming. I didn't know what, or when but I could see a huge breakdown on the horizon and I couldn't change paths. When talking to my lovely MindMappers we rate how we are on a scale of 1-10, and I kept finding that I had been at 4/5 for quite a while. In limbo. Not ever really feeling consistently happy, but not always feeling down either; neutral. Knowing that all over the world we were all feeling the same uncertainty, people suffering and being scared. We are all united in this one horrible event. Yet no one knows the way out. I thought that maybe it would help, knowing I wasn't alone. But knowing that no one can help, or have any answers just made me feel worse. 

A few weeks before my major breakdown, I downloaded Headspace and started to make fairly regular time to meditate, just take some time out for myself and breathe. I really enjoy meditation, but I'm terrible at sticking with things. I also think it was too little too late. I was grasping at straws to try and mend the wreckage in my brain.

During my episode I was overwhelmed with thoughts of: Covid-19, Black Lives Matter, our bumbling government making terrible decision after terrible decision, my less than ideal job, not having a house, a handful of health problems all running through my brain and frying it like an egg. I was focussed on all of them at once, and it was like multiple people were shouting inside my head. It felt like my head was going to EXPLODE. All rationale had gone out the window. I had lost myself. I hadn't felt like this in so long, so weak and small. Fragile. One blow of air and I would shatter.

One of the biggest, immediate things I wanted to do was to come completely offline for a period of time. I had been struggling with the bombardment of horrible events, negative and bitchy posts everywhere, everyone fighting with each other online and looking for arguments. I had done a social media break before for a week last year, and it did wonders for clearing my head. At this time my head was a deep thick fog, so I didn't second guess this decision. All social media apps were deleted: Facebook, Messenger, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat and WhatsApp (I realised too late that I didn't back up my messages and that I couldn't access this on my computer; idiot). I also turned off news notifications and avoided it whenever possible. I have a post coming all about my whole online detox. 

The thing I hadn't planned, was being offline for a month. No, you don't need to adjust your screens; I said one month. I don't think I've ever been offline for that long since before social media was created. It's really been a blessing and I definitely needed more than a week, I reckon I would've had a relapse shortly after. I am not ready for another one, I do not have the energy to keep dragging myself out of this dark pit. Depression and anxiety separately are awful, but together it's an even more monstrous cocktail. In this time away I've had a lot more time to think, to assess my life and make changes for the better. This may include a complete rebrand across my blog and social media (possible post to follow).

I don't plan on going anywhere anytime soon, but my habits with social media need to change. I've always been very susceptible to the negative side of social media, and I need to do more to look after myself. After giving some time to recover from my breakdown, from the bad news of my car's MOT and an eye injury (yeah bad stuff tends to happen all at once for me) I've been trying to work out things to keep me grounded, and in check with my mental and physical health. I started doing yoga before bed thanks to the #21DayChallenge with the MindMapper crew and it was so refreshing to set myself some time each day just for me. 

I'm going to continue with certain activities, and I'll do a write up if I find that they've helped - because they might just help someone else too. 

This post turned out to be much longer than expected, but I wanted to give a good insight into why I've been quiet online and hopefully you can relate to my experience as well. You are not alone, there are plenty of people out here to help.

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