White Flag By Lorna Hayward
First things first – picture me writing this hiding behind a cushion. Large vino in hand. Perspiring.
Let me explain. This post isn’t something I’ve been looking forward to writing down for all to see. It feels more than a little awkward. I know that some people (who I really rather wouldn’t) will potentially read this and I am more than aware (less so prepared) for some silent judgement coming my way. Equally, I could just keep this to myself. But it feels a bit ridiculous to have started a blog as a cathartic way of helping me process my thoughts and emotions, if I don’t do just that.
A wise lady once said, “Anxiety. She’s a funny ol’ gal…” and she was right. Another told me “OCD is a bitch” and she was pretty much spot-on too.
Both anxiety and OCD have been present in my life for a very long, unwelcome time. In fact, it had got to a point where anxiety was such a familiar foe of mine, that who I was, and how I felt and acted on a daily basis, had become the norm.
The tricky thing is, when you believe that something is normal, and ‘just the way you are’, it’s hard to identify it. And if you can’t identify it, you cannot diagnose it – and so, you just tell yourself to crack the fuck on, pull your socks up and cope better.
And that’s dandy for a while. You can leave anxiety and OCD simmering softly in the background, but ultimately, at some point they’re likely to boil over. And boil over they did.
Three days after returning to work from my second maternity leave I had what you might like to call, a modest breakdown. I refer to it as a modest breakdown because very few people knew about it. I was fairly discreet. I wasn’t housebound, shouting and weeping for all to see. I was up after very little sleep, getting the girls ready, leaving for work with Elsie sobbing at the door, commuting, doing my job – but inside, everything felt more than a little bit broken.
My return to work, coinciding with settling my eldest into a new preschool & my youngest with a new childminder had all intensified symptoms of my existing OCD and anxiety. I was on edge, paranoid, frightened, angry and exhausted.
I felt shitty. Properly shitty. I am still unsure as to where my white flag juncture arose from, but I decided I didn’t want to feel like that anymore, and so, I asked for help.
Due to the stigma that still surrounds mental health, asking for help (namely from my GP) still doesn’t sit comfortably with me. That might sound ridiculous, however for me, and for so many who I have spoken to since, I was not alone in thinking I was a bit of failure for seeking support.
Mental health is awkward to talk about. But I’ve had to talk about it, process it and indulge myself in the cracks of it to assist me in my voyage to feeling better. I’m a raconteur (can you tell?) I like to chew the fat, have a good chin wag – but to suddenly be complacent with discussing some seriously dark shit, and having to say aloud ‘Um, I’m not coping. I think I need some help’ has been excruciatingly painful for me. Mainly because I like to think of myself as being fairly robust. Yeah, I’ve had a few challenges thrown my way during my short stint on this earth – some small, some great and more recently the births of my daughters which I believe may have potentially fuelled my existing anxiety and triggered some PTSD (Post traumatic stress disorder). Nevertheless, I like to think I’ve pasted on my brave face (and that bloody Rimmel lippy again) and cracked on with it. I believe so many of us do that; succumb to what we believe to be the norm and trot along our merry way with the bulk of so many awful worries on our shoulders.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m a crier. I’m a moaner. I’m not discreet in my emotions – happy to howl, cry and shout in public me – and I certainly don’t handle stress and anxiety with elegance and grace. But I do cover up a lot.
You would think anxiety is quite difficult to conceal, it’s not – least not in my experience. My anxiety does not manifest itself in nervousness, isolation or fear of leaving the house. My OCD does an awesome job of shrouding itself behind the impression that I like to live in a perfect show home, so – to those around me I’m just the same old Lorn! Historically I’ve found it’s easier to make light of my mental health worries; I’m all for a bit of banter so appending a little farce into how I was feeling somewhat took away the sting. I mean who doesn’t like to laugh at mental health? It’s hilarious right? No. It’s not really. It’s actually pretty bloody unfunny.
What is mildly amusing though is that after I sought help and made a plan (there always has to be a plan my friends, that’d be the OCD creeping in) I felt such a strange sense of empowerment. Despite originally feeling pretty disappointed in myself for having to surrender to the shitters that are anxiety & OCD, I also felt a sense of relief – that I could say to my friends and family whom I had confided in ‘I haven’t got my shit together. I’m struggling’.
“You keep it on the inside, because that’s the safest place to hide.”
In the UK, anxiety effects 4.7 in 100 people and women are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed in comparison to men; and yet, there is still so much notoriety surrounding mental health, and in turn taking medication. Why oh why my friends? I’m a little reluctant to admit that years ago I might have envisioned an individual requiring medical support, to be sitting rocking back and forth, imprisoned in white washed walls. How wrong I was. Opening up the forum of discussion around mental health, I have discovered a surprisingly large amount of people who see that accepting the help of a little pill is no bigger deal than popping a vitamin C every morning. And why should you? The proven chemical imbalance that comes hand-in-hand with anxiety and depression are just that – a chemical imbalance. Medication simply serves to correct that imbalance. So why all the shame?
For some, I know the process is so much harder – a lengthy road to recovery – but if you do decide that medication is right for you, why would you not snatch the prescription out of the GPs hand, leg it to the nearest pharmacy and cash that bad boy in? I think it’s shame. Stigma and shame. Anyone would think it was on a par with shooting up of a morning before sitting down to your latte. I have lost count the amount of times I have heard “But if you had diabetes you would take tablets for that, it’s the same thing” – and in the midst of my epically low days, I would want to scream back “NO NO IT’S NOT – because diabetes is an actual illness and it can KILL you, so you HAVE to take medication”. And yet, if I was talking to a close friend or relative of mine, I would be battling against every single word I think and mutter. I would stand forthright and offer words of encouragement to them and say how proud I was of them for seeking help. Why is it that a lot of the time we are incapable of doing this for ourselves?
I also know that for many, medication isn’t the answer and that’s ok too. There are many avenues to finding inner contentment again; CBT, counselling, exercise, mindfulness; whatever YOU choose on your journey to feeling brighter and happier and ultimately less like a massive bag of SHIT is up to you.
A crucial synopsis to this post (I’m still hiding, and sweating behind the cushion by the way) is that you’re not alone. Although I was lucky enough to have wonderful support from a network of friends and family, I still felt isolated. I don’t anymore.
And finally (if you’re still with me), I believe it has to be your journey. Own that shit.
This has been and still is mine, and it’s certainly a process – but another wise lady once said (And I know a few) – “Forward is forward” and I’ll take that.
Check out Lornas blog www.themumblings.co.uk