It’s taken me a while, but just recently I finally admitted to myself that I’m struggling. Struggling with my mental health.
Not exactly what I’d planned to be the next post published on the blog, and not one I actually planned to write at all.
In fact, I decided to write it about five minutes ago*, and here I am.
I have no idea where this is going, what my point is or where it will take me, but it might just resonate with one or two people out there who, like me, have always thought they had this whole lockdown situation in the bag. You know, in answer to the question ‘How are you doing?’ it’s always been, ‘I’m absolutely fine to be honest’.
Now? I’m not sure that I am. And by that I mean I was neither being honest, nor am I fine. If lockdown really were the only thing I had to worry about I might REALLY be ‘fine’, but unfortunately it’s at the bottom of my list of worries. Let’s put it this way: it’s not helping.
*that was ages ago, it took me wayyyyy more than a week to finish
Trigger warning: This post, or pages it links to, contains information about mental health which may be triggering to some. Please note that I am not claiming to be any kind of expert about mental health or depression – far from it. This is merely me writing about my own experiences and what I have been going through lately.
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What triggered this realisation about my mental health
I can’t definitively answer that question – I don’t know exactly what made me realise that I’m struggling.
~ Maybe it was yet another 5pm rolling around and me thinking how I hadn’t actually eaten properly that day, like yesterday and the day before.
~ Maybe it was looking at that pile of clean laundry that I STILL hadn’t put away, god knows how many days later.
~ Maybe it was the tears that came out the blue and for no real reason at all that were pretty much like the tears the day before, and the day before that, and the day before that.
~ Maybe it was me wondering when the last time I felt truly happy was.
~ Maybe it was me getting stressed by looking at my overflowing-to-the-point-of-bursting Inbox and, instead of sitting down and tackling it, I decided to pretend it didn’t exist yet again.
~ Maybe it was me lamenting the fact that last year I got superbly fit and healthy but soon let it slip after one too many niggly health issues PLUS Christmas PLUS the cold, wet weather.
~ Maybe it was me not wanting to look at my tired face and aching body and lamenting the fact that I hated what I saw in the mirror.
~ Maybe it was me seeing my dirty hair one morning and not being able to remember when I last washed it. Or even BRUSHED it.
~ Maybe it was the muscle I pulled in my back last weekend that added to the tennis elbow pain I’ve had for a year (and can’t get physio for #becauseCovid) plus the leg injury pain that seems to have resurfaced, plus, plus, plus.
~ And a week later, the minor skin surgery I had to have a not-nice looking mole removed (and worrying about the results back from the lab).
~ Maybe it was the constant, always-on-my-mind worry about my parents’ health problems I’m having a really hard time coping with.
~ Maybe it was the news I received about a friend last month that shook me to the core and am having a hard time coming to terms with, thinking I wasn’t a good enough and ‘available enough’ friend when they really, really needed someone.
~ Maybe it was when I looked at some of our finances and me wondering if we would ever get the chance to go on holiday or do anything exciting outside of our area, like, EVER again.
~ Maybe it was me getting to yet another weekend and thinking that I couldn’t come up with anything I’d really achieved that week.
I could go on and on with loads more things I’m dealing with, but I’ll spare you the full sh*t show that is what I’m feeling/going through right now. I won’t go into the other things (and that are really too personal to share), but I think that list above will suffice to give an idea of what’s going on in my head right now. It’s not fun.
What I “see” when I read others’ posts about their mental health
They say you should never accept someone’s life as presented on social media as real life. Which is true, and I don’t. I know it is, for the most part, staged.
Whether it’s a selfie blasted out with extreme filters or just the tidy corner of their house on show with piles of laundry and toys purposely shoved out of sight, there are very few of us who show our lives, warts-and-all, on social media. OF COURSE we want to show off the good stuff. OF COURSE we don’t want to depress our readers and followers by showing the unattractive side of life that we all experience.
But something that has caused me conflict within my emotions are the posts that ARE honest: not so much visually, but the ones which DO mention mental health and how they’re struggling.
Which is great, because we need to talk about this stuff.
What causes me inner conflict is how I often find that the same people who say they’re struggling also show the fabulous, nutritious dinners they make every night. Then they’ll give us their To-Do list for the day on stories and cross off everything as the day goes on. Then they’re doing a makeup tutorial, and in the next post still talking about how they’re struggling. And they post on Instagram every day like clockwork, without fail.
(I’m 100% not judging… I’m explaining the emotions it stirs up in me. No one has the right to judge someone’s life/emotions/mental health based on the outward impressions they give.)
Meantime, I’m forcing myself to even brush my damn teeth. To do ANYTHING before 1 pm. Post on Instagram?! Pfffft, forget it. I’m forcing myself to not sit and stare into space because I just don’t know what to do with myself, and anyway I hate myself too much to put on nice clothes or even look at myself in the mirror. To do everything I can to NOT have yet another day when I’ll sit and cry for an hour then realise I’ve done literally NOTHING for the past four hours except sit on the sofa.
Yet when I’m asked, “How are you doing? How’s lockdown been?” I’ll still say I’m fine, because I didn’t ACTUALLY think I was finding it hard. I’ve worked from home for the past eight years; I’ve got this down to a fine art.
But, comparison being The Thief of Joy such as it is, I’d look at those Instagram posts and stories and wonder how they’re struggling with their mental health and yet manage to function on an everyday basis. If I’m being honest with myself, I’m not functioning. I’m barely functioning at all.
Yet even with all that in mind, I kept telling myself I wasn’t struggling.
Staving off a three-day headache
Trying to work out if I’m just blue – or something else
Even now, as I’m writing this, I’m pretty convinced I can’t be (shouldn’t be?) in any stage of depression. I don’t have a serious illness or disabling condition. I’m in a happy, stable relationship without the stress of children (by choice). I have a loving, supportive family. We have a mortgage but we’re not in any sort of severe financial debt. We have (an albeit) modest, lovely home and don’t have to worry about putting food on the table or being able to pay the bills. I have so much to be thankful for.
So my thinking has always been, YOU HAVE NOTHING TO BE TRULY FEARFUL OF, CATHERINE. No way can your mental health be a problem.
Not that I planned this at all, but this week mental health has been a forefront topic in the media. Meghan opened up about her mental health in the Oprah interview. Channel 4 and the BBC aired their documentaries Caroline Flack: Her Life and Death and Roman Kemp: Our Silent Emergency** respectively.
Last month was the one-year anniversary of the death of the TV presenter Caroline Flack who tragically took her own life. I saw the trailer for the documentary about her a few weeks ago.
I saw the trailer when I was at a REALLY low point. I sat there watching it, thinking about how she must have been feeling to do what she did. And for a split second, a little part of me actually thought, ‘You know what, I can totally understand why she did what she did’.
The VERY SECOND I thought that, the realisation hit me like a bolt of lightning. The mere thought that taking your own life (as an option I could sympathise with) popped into my head – no matter how briefly – scared the f*cking bejesus out of me.
So although I started this blog post with the words “I don’t know exactly WHAT made me realise that I’m struggling”, I can at least answer the question of WHEN I realised I was struggling.
It was THAT moment. The moment I realised I had sympathised with someone for taking their own life and not finding it as shocking as I thought I should find it.
I guess that was my turning point, and it was soon after that that I told Keith “Look, I’m not doing so good”. I didn’t exactly feel a whole lot better… I definitely didn’t feel like the weight of the world had suddenly lifted off my shoulders. But I knew it was an important, significant step.
To work out the extent of my struggles, I didn’t know what to do except Google ‘symptoms of depression’. All the time still thinking I was, essentially, “fine”. That’s EVEN WITH the sympathy I felt for Caroline Flack’s state of mind. That’s EVEN WITH the fact that I’d frightened myself the second I thought it.
I hadn’t actually come even REMOTELY close to thinking that I’d be better off not being in this world at all. If you’re a close friend or family member DO NOT panic, this isn’t a cry for help. It’s merely me thinking aloud and getting these thoughts down ‘on paper’. I know myself well enough to know that I am a very, very, very, very, very, very, VERY long way from being even remotely in that frame of mind; I’m not even a tiny bit close to remotely in that frame of mind.
I just think that a lot of people were, have been, are and will be in a similar frame of mind to mine at some point and that’s why it’s so important to recognise symptoms in others.
Recognising mental health problems at an early stage is, I guess, what it’s all about. Both in yourself and in others.
Looking at that list of symptoms/signs of depression that I Googled, these were some of the things that jumped out at me, the ones I could recognise in myself (with a few descriptions tweaked to describe my own situation):
- Lacking self-esteem and hating yourself
- Feeling numb, empty and helpless
- Feeling tearful and crying a lot
- Feeling irritable
- Having little motivation or interest in things
- Getting no pleasure out of life
- Feeling constantly anxious, restless and agitated
- Feeling physically exhausted and lacking energy
- Having disturbed sleep
- Avoiding doing any work or housework
- Neglecting your hobbies and interests
- Drinking more than usual
That’s not a healthy list. It’s also not a short list. We all go through a lot of these things at different times throughout our lives, but when you recognise these things as stuff that’s happening on an almost daily basis… that’s not good. It’s A LONG WAY from good.
And of course, there’s one other thing that does spring to mind when you consider I’ll be 50 next year: menopause. I’m pretty sure I’ve been in perimenopause for a few years now, but I’m not in full menopause. I’m still getting regular periods (albeit light ones) and hot flushes haven’t happened yet, but my prediction is that irritability and mood swings will be my body’s menopausal symptoms of choice.
So I certainly don’t think (peri)menopause is The Problem – I’m sure without all the sh*t I’ve had to deal with lately I’d be peachy. I’m ruling it out as the only cause, but, like lockdown, it sure ain’t helping.
This is the part where I come a little unstuck and draw something of a blank. To be totally honest I don’t know what comes next, what I’m going to do going forward. What I’m NOT looking for is advice, and I really hope this doesn’t sound ungrateful, but I’m not in a position or in the right frame of mind to be told what to do yet… no matter how good the intentions.
Therefore, I’m kindly asking – with the greatest respect – that you please don’t leave me lots of advice in the comments. However, by all means share your own experiences. I wrote everything down here both to help myself (my theory is that if I say it out loud by writing this post it may help me be a little more objective about what I do and where I go from here) and hopefully also help others realise they’re not alone.
Maybe you too, or someone you know, are struggling and you just didn’t know it – much like myself till just recently. Maybe you think you’re “absolutely fine” and that lockdown hasn’t affected you that much either.
Well maybe lockdown hasn’t affected me all that much, but looking back on what I’ve written it’s all too obvious that I’m far from okay. And YES, I know “it’s okay to not be okay”. (That’s been bandied about the internet A LOT the past 12 months.) But that doesn’t really help me at the moment.
This week? The skin surgery I had over a week ago has dragged me right back down again – because of where the mole was, the wound has been incredibly painful and debilitating and the slightest movement has hurt me. The pain was so bad I got extra strong painkillers from the doctor, only to find they made me faint (three times – what can I say, I’m a fainter) and nauseous (constantly for two days).
So I stopped the prescribed painkillers and I’m just putting up with the pain now. Eight days later and it’s the first day I’m not in excruciating pain… maybe today is the first day it’s getting better. But it’s stopped me from going on my morning walks, clearing up the house or being able to wash my hair. Keith can only do one of those things for me and maybe help with one other. I’m tired and irritable and no fun to be with (and my hair looks like sh*t).
Overall I need things to change. I need to see light at the end of the tunnel. I need to see a way out.
Thankfully, just in the last couple of days, something has happened in the family which is BRILLIANT news. It’s something that’ll be amazing for the people involved and will be really, really good for the rest of us too. It’s something to look forward to this year.
Now it’s almost finished I’ve read back over this post, and it’s been cathartic. Not everything will get better, and some more, as yet unknown, sh*t may well fly my way in the coming months.
But I’ll just have to deal with that as and when (and if) it happens. One day at a time.
Please do share anything in the comments without leaving advice or judgement (for me, or anyone). You can leave a comment anonymously, meaning you can just use a pseudonym… the fields will ask you for an email address but you can make one up and it doesn’t get published or used. Thank you so much for reading and for your understanding x #BeKind
Stay safe, stay well, seek help if you need to XOXO
** The Caroline Flack: Her Life and Death documentary is available to watch on Channel 4 and the Roman Kemp: Our Silent Emergency documentary is on the BBC iPlayer, I saw both on Wednesday night. Both were an extremely hard and harrowing watch, but it’s a MASSIVELY important topic. We can all learn so much from both programmes, I thoroughly recommend them if you are able to access them where you are.
A couple of exerts from Roman’s documentary about male suicide that really hit home:
Ashley’s death prompted the three friends to share more about their own feelings. “We would talk before, but it wasn’t as in-depth,” Lysander explains. “Now we have the two ok rule. ‘How are you doing, but how are you doing really – mentally? Are things a bit hard, are you down?’“
“I love that,” Roman responds. “The two ok rule. If you don’t mind, I’m going to use that. I wish I’d said to Joe, ‘Mate, I know you know this but I’m going to tell you again. I am that person that you can talk to about that stuff…’“
“Asking someone if they’re ok, is a question we ask each other every single day. We glaze over it, that’s the fastest part of the conversation,” Roman concludes. “When really, that’s the most important one. ‘Are you ok?’ is the most important question you can ask a friend.“
A final note on getting help…
If you’re having the sh*ttiest time in life then please, please, please reach out to someone. Whether it be a friend, a relative or a professional, just reach out and ask for help. Things can get better… just don’t try and get through it alone. There will always be someone who can help you.
If you’re in the US, call the US National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on 1-800-273-8255 or the Crisis Test Line by texting HOME to 741741.
Linking up to… Monday: Inspire Me Monday, Ageless Style Linkup (first Monday of the month), My Glittery Heart, On Mondays We Link Up || Tuesday: Style With a Smile, Trend Spin/Walking in Memphis in High Heels, Turning Heads Tuesday, Spread the Kindness, Confident Twosday, Happy Now Blog Link Up || Wednesday: Style Me Wednesday, WowOnWednesday || Thursday: Chic & Stylish || Friday: Fancy Friday, On the Edge, Fabulous Friday, Fabulous Friday’s Link Up