I’m currently sitting on my bed eating strawberries like I’m Carrie Bradshaw, one knee up with my chin resting inches away, dripping sweet red strawberry water all over my keyboard. The keys are sticky and the warm kisses of the first days of spring that feel more like summer are drifting through an open window. Someone more mentally stable might describe it as idyllic, but nevertheless, it’s all very Sex and the City. Now, don’t judge me for being a die-hard SATC fan, it’s got me through some tough times, which is exactly why I’m currently binge-watching it for what feels like the hundredth time. I feel like I need to explain a little, to anyone who has found themselves reading this blog and wondering why I don’t post regularly but rather sporadically. Even for friends who wonder why I fall off the radar for weeks, maybe even months at a time and aren’t so immersed into my incredible small inner circle to know what they’re dealing with. For a long time, I’ve been paranoid about seeming flaky and antisocial to people who I really care about, or to creatives who have been interested in collaborating and have been initially met with an abundance of enthusiasm and then after a while, the line goes cold. I’m tired of feeling like a girl who doesn’t keep her word and to convey this with the most honest transparency, I need to stop trying to cover it up.
I had been feeling great for a few months, even around winter where I wasn’t particularly productive, my mind was relatively sane. I was shuffling around life like a post-hibernation dormouse, slowly but surely. Three weeks ago I had my first full-blown panic attack in years, very far underground in Bank station. I had been feeling off-balance the whole day and the previous night I couldn’t sleep, I had dreams of eating prawns that weren’t cooked properly and woke up in sweats. I was on my way home to see my family, sitting on the DLR to Bank when I felt the semi-dormant anxiety inside of my body begin to rise. My first response was to frantically text my boyfriend who is almost always my anxiety antidote while simultaneously trying to desperately concentrate on the Lilo & Stitch soundtrack playing in my ears (it sounds ridiculous I know…but it has prevented more meltdowns than I care to admit. Welcome to my dirty little secret.) I went underground thinking the anxiety would pass, having warded off many potential panic attacks before. Then as I got out at my usual tube station, bam, I couldn’t breathe. Anyone who has ever had a panic attack knows that the minute it begins, your mind instantly unravels, you can’t think properly and you feel like you’re falling apart. I stood on the platform aimlessly trying to figure out how to get out without passing out. My chest felt like it was closing in and I couldn’t believe how far underground I was. Each set of stairs I climbed, each escalator I reached the top of, I desperately hoped it was the last one. I was hyperventilating and having to watch people avert their eyes the minute they saw me clutching my chest in panic. It must have taken me under ten minutes to get out but it felt like eternity. The second I got outside I rang my boyfriend and he ran from Shoreditch to Bank to be with me. I was crying and coughing and I couldn’t believe my mind had put me through this again. I was even more stressed about the fact I knew the underground was tainted and would be a problem now on, which is almost impossible to work around when you live in London. Three weeks later and the thought of being in Bank station still makes my chest ache. A very real fear after having a panic attack is feeling that horrendous sensation again, panicking about panic attacks is an ongoing cycle that is so hard to break out from.
So, why am I sharing this intimate and challenging moment with you? Because it’s a product of my mental health problems. The problems that dominate my life in varying degrees. The problems that not everyone is aware I have. I can go for a long time feeling okay and getting things done and being the reliable person I wish I could always be; then I’ll get a kick out of nowhere and feel like I have to crawl my way back up from the bottom to where I was before. This incident spurred me to go to the doctors and admit that I’m not ok…again. Every time I do this I feel defeated and full of exasperation that I can’t handle my own mind on my own. It was also for the sanity of the people closest to me, especially my boyfriend who absorbs a lot of my problems and pain, as well as tackling his own. I will potentially write further posts about the ins and outs of my mental health issues because I know it helps me reading about other people working through similar problems and their coping mechanisms. Let me know if you would be interested in more posts on this subject.
When I’m in the midst of a bad “episode” which can last days, weeks, even months, I’m a shadow of myself; inactive, paranoid, antisocial and exhausted. All the things that usually bring me happiness fill me with dread. I don’t want to write, I don’t want to create and I can’t even entertain the thought of picking up my camera. I spend a lot of my dark days staring at the works of brilliant creatives on the internet and internally beating myself up until I’m raw and sore. I put so much pressure on myself to keep up with people that are mentally sound and are strides ahead in their own endeavours while trying to remind myself that I’m racing against people that don’t have anxiety, depression and OCD weighing them down. I’m trying to teach myself that it’s ok to feel like shit, that it’s ok to put my mental health first a lot of the time because either way, it’s going to wrestle to the top of my agenda anyway. What is hard is letting people down and for obvious reasons, not wanting to divulge the demons I’m battling with but also finding that a text saying “sorry, I’m feeling really anxious today” isn’t really cutting it. Equally a text saying “sorry I can’t do the shoot tomorrow, I spent most of today convinced that I was losing my mind as a result of a non-existent brain tumour and I’m finding it hard to leave my flat, while simultaneously being scared of being in my flat alone with many sharp implements, you know, just in case I lose control over my body” is just a little bit intense.
I’m writing this post because it’s important to speak up about mental illnesses and also in the hope that anyone reading this will have a better understanding of why I can sometimes seem different, unresponsive and generally a pain in the ass. Welcome to the pity party. I’m also writing this thinking, who really cares? But what I’m trying to say is…for anyone who does care…at the moment I’m somewhat unreliable, somewhat unstable and I hate it. This happens and it’s difficult to shake. Mental illness is stubborn at the best of times and at the worst of times, well, we won’t go there right now. I hope this resonates with anyone who is struggling with a mental illness. Spending so much time in your mind can make you feel completely alone, but I promise you, you’re not.