Mental health dialogues are important and not just because it’s mental health awareness month. Mental health is a year-round problem and it affects people no matter how big or small they are, no matter what colour skin-suit they come in and certainly no matter how much they’ve got in the bank.
I am writing because it is the only thing I know how to do and my theory is that by documenting what I am experiencing, I can make sense of what’s happening and forever remember this post-graduate slump as being exactly and only that. This is not the defining period of my life, not if I don’t want to be, and anxiety/depression are not the central, defining attributes of my personality, if I don’t want them to be. Do they contribute towards my identity in some way? To the way that I view myself and others around me? Most definitely. But anxiety/depression isn’t ALL that I am. It is important to establish that.
I posted a status the other day, pleading for advice. I have not been myself lately. Many people tell me this is because I have been under a great deal of stress and that now, I should ‘relax’. I know this to be true, but the issue for me is achieving relaxation and finding a way to take my body down from its extremely ‘fried’ condition to normality. Close friends and family know this to be an integral part of who I am as a person: my tendency to stress and my difficulty to relax has been noted since I was a kid. This time round, I can fully admit (as scary as this is) that I am completely and utterly floored. This is what I would ordinarily acknowledge as a ‘comedown’ and I’ve historically had these following gigs, which always bring me uncomfortable anxiety. However, my thesis submission seemed somewhat anti-climactic (given the months of agonising anticipation) and I severely underestimated the ominous extent to which the physiological damage had been done by stress, below the surface. You know, you anticipate this moment of handing in and the world just simultaneously exploding or something. That thesis had become my entire life and in the process of producing it, after being let down by a job I’d been accepted for, I systematically isolated myself out an inability to separate myself from writing. My life completely and utterly revolved around those words and that research. Despite this, I had a suspiciously calm demeanour in the days leading up to my deadline submission. I was well and truly deceived by my body into thinking that a series of self-care routines (physical and mental) had averted the storm of stress. I was home-cooking delicious (often nostalgic Bangladeshi and vegan cuisine) meals, reading books recreationally again, applying for new jobs, doing weight training from home, attempting some meditation and even making time for aromatherapy aided baths. I thought the lack of mental breakdowns was quite promising, actually.
I was wrong.
My plea for advice online preceded a depressive breakdown which consisted of sobbing heartily for about half an hour as my perplexed boyfriend tried to coax me into talking about what was wrong. I was non-verbal and completely overcome by emotion. I can’t even say, with retrospect, what that emotion (if singular) was. This breakdown was not ‘out of the blue’. In the days following my submission, I found that, as opposed to relief, I was struggling even more to eat a full meal or sit without feeling jittery as I read a book (a privilege I’m now entitled to within my ‘free’ time). Since then, starting conveniently whilst on holiday in Copenhagen, I have been experiencing an extreme warp of reality versus the imagined, a furthered nausea/loss of appetite strong enough to ward me off drinking even water, a constant pit of dread nestling in my stomach and the inability to sleep due to all of the above but most importantly, the unrelenting whizz of thoughts running marathons in my brain. I have lost a stone. I have subconsciously caused the erasure of caffeine, alcohol and cigarettes (entirely of my own volition) from my life and found myself struggling to understand this alien body, to which I no longer feel a secure attachment. I cried in the shower of our shared AirBnB abroad as I lathered my body with gel, feeling the ugly flatness of a stomach I didn’t recognise, attached to the protruding bones of my hips. I felt as though I was in a weird nightmare clash of expectation versus reality- I had anticipated days of gorging on foreign cuisine, at least a sip of wine at every castle and late nights feeling inspired in a beautiful country. Yet instead, I was riddled by an all-encompassing anxiety that made me struggle to leave the AirBnB. I was exerted from walking a flight of stairs, pushed to my shrunken stomach’s limit to a cup of dry chips (for the day) and constantly battling this feeling of being a burden upon my friend (with which I was travelling) and all those at home including my boyfriend, my parents, my family etc.
I don’t have the most astute understanding of what is happening right now. I am speculating that this disorientation is a natural effect to the traumatic cause of handing in a Master’s thesis (as well as numerous other changes including having to move home and essentially lose all the autonomy I’ve had for the last few years). It’s annoying that the impact is following some sort of delayed onset pattern wherein all the coping strategies I adopted for stress management seemed to just about carry me through to the finish line, before leaving me kaput. It’s the aftermath I’m having to deal with- the stress comedown, managing excessive cortisol, suddenly seeing the world as this large and overwhelming oyster that is no longer something to consider in the future but something to savour now. I have lost the capacity to enjoy the things that once brought me solace, I have lost the capacity to feel gratitude and happiness, I have lost the desire for food or for spontaneity. I am in a position now where spending precious time with my friends and family is difficult because I am prone to spontaneous outbursts of hysterical crying and anxiety attacks.
In theory, logic (cause and effect) should help me as historically, whenever I have had a specific reason for feeling low or stressed, it has become easier for me to eventually manage and overcome those spells. This time round, things are substantially different. I don’t know what I need, I don’t know what I want. I’m an unemployed graduate awaiting her corrections, abandoning her independent life and moving back to live with her family with seemingly no prospects about her. I have no idea what my purpose is.
This journal-keeping is to document the ebbs and flows of my journey, navigating through mental health in an honest and candid way. I want to make it through this. I don’t want to feel like the ghost of myself and I want to live to tell the tale of this dark time, so that I can never forget and I can always remember with fondness all that I have overcome.
Mental health is no easy ride but it is a ride we have to experience nevertheless, my aim is to be as transparent as possible as I go through this vulnerable time in the hopes that I contribute towards a destigmatisation of mental health.