So earlier this year I had what many people would term a ‘mental breakdown’, which is a phrase I never thought, and never hoped, I would have attached to myself. My life long low-level anxiety and OCD took over my life to the point I couldn’t look after myself and I had to leave uni and come home to recover.
Thanks to counselling sessions, prozac, being looked after and generally having time to heal I am more or less back to ‘normal’ and I can function well. But carrying on life as if it never happened is not a choice I have and I can’t help but feel I had the stuffing knocked out of me and you can see where I’ve stitched myself back together. So I thought I’d take a look at just what it means to live after a breakdown.
The biggest change is now knowing what is ‘wrong’ with my mind. I always noticed my compulsions and irrational worries, but I always just sort of… put up with them. I believed my worries were legitimate and my odd compulsions were just a habit, a tic, an annoying part of being me. Now I know what to call myself, and these labels are more freeing than oppressive. Knowing that these are illnesses I have and not just something that I am is empowering, now I can fight them when I see them, they can’t sneak up on me. I talk about it as a ‘blessing in disguise’, it was horrible but getting to the point where I had to seek help and learning what I had meant I could find out how to fight it.
What surprises me looking back is just how passively I accepted what was happening to me. I was having a bad time anyway and when my anxiety flared up and my OCD became the cruellest, most abusive dictator imaginable who delighten in seeing me torture and humiliate myself, I suppose my strength to fight it was waning. Or I just didn’t know how far it could go. I didn’t think it would leave me in physical and mental agony, I just thought it would eventually die down like it has done before. I will no longer remain so accepting of it. Now if my compulsions come back I fight them. Walking down the street while visiting friends in Hull I had the same nagging voice return, telling me to walk on certain patches of pavement or step there or go back to that and I shouted NO. Out loud, in a (luckily) empty street. There was no way I was letting that nagging voice inside me keep me from going where I needed to go. It helped, strangely enough, I surprised myself with my newfound assertiveness.
The other side of discovering this strength is realising just how weak I was at the time. I now live with the horrible knowledge that my mind is capable of turning against me so entirely that I can’t take care of myself. That is a terrifying thought. I have to be on guard for the rest of my life, and I must learn to accept that what happened before could happen again and I will have to adapt to that and learn how to cope. A stranger at the post office kindly offered me a lift home the other week, and told me she worked in mental health. I said what had happened to me and we discussed just how common these problems were and how they could happen to anybody. I certainly didn’t think I would ever have mental health issues as a part of my life, they were something other people suffered from. Now I know I am no less weak or susceptible than anyone else, which applies to everyone.
Generally I view myself at the time it happened as a stranger. That wasn’t me, it happened to somebody else. Sometimes it comes back, like 5000 volts of electric memory, the times I nearly passed out with exhaustion completing my routines, the times people stared at me or shouted things at me in the street, the time I was stopped by a policeman asking me what was wrong. When I remember, really remember, I feel terrified, vulnerable and lonely. I usually curl up into a ball and tell myself it’s all over now I and I will never be that humiliated or scared again. I have always prided myself on being a strong person, someone with insight and enough emotional intelligence to withstand things. Nothing is more humbling than fully remembering. I don’t really like talking about it that much, and I only do so when I feel it is necessary. I hate listing my tics or discussing them openly, I found it hard enough to write this. I understand terms like ‘mental scars’, what happened was, in every sense, traumatic and it’s a horrible thing to know happened to you.
I’m more aware of myself and the world than ever. Now mental health issues apply to me, they mean a lot to me. I was delighted to hear Jeremy Corbyn had appointed a Minister for Mental Health, and to hear people discussing what needs to be improved in treatment of mental health. I wince if I hear someone who is a bit tidy describe themselves as OCD. I ended up bonding with people around me who had similar issues, and I joined the mental health awareness society at uni. It’s a shame that it took something as dramatic as that to make me take notice of just what a big problem it is. It will remain as an issue close to my heart and I will try to be as helpful as I can to others suffering similar things. The prejudices I had about mental illness have gone and my language has changed. I’m happy to see this happening on a bigger scale, people now seem to seriously debate the issue and try and take down the stigma, and I often find myself against people belittling anxiety, OCD and other disorders, or not changing their language to reduce stigma and false stereotyping. I will always be on the side of political correctness.
So I have emotional and mental scarring, which, while invisible, often feels like I am living after a serious physical injury. Knowing what I have is both a blessing and a curse and will require me to take care of that part of my health for the rest of my life. However it is freeing, knowing I can get over this, I shouldn’t put up with this and I am certainly not alone.