This is the tenth time I’ve attempted to sit down and write this blog post. Words seem to fall short. I can’t quite capture how I feel. Is it sadness? No. Is it anger? No. Is it fear? No. It’s some strange emotion that has not name. It’s like I’m a pane of glass and all the emotions are raindrops. The rain is heavy. Some raindrops bounce off. Some raindrops linger for a second before deliberately rolling down, leaving a small path behind them. But the path isn’t small. It’s a ferocious river. Its walls groan against its weight. But there’s no stopping it.
The raindrops look small. But they are a tsunami. The pane of glass looks sturdy. But I can feel cracks starting to form. And I feel like I’m going to implode, throwing shards of glass in a million different directions. You might try and look through me. But there’s always a thick fog outside. You might think it’s romantic. But the fog is hiding something. You might look through me. But you don’t feel what is me. You don’t see what I see.
Everyone thought I was living the life. I was young, attractive and smart. I was paid to travel the world. And I was constantly told how lucky I was by friends, family and perfect strangers.
In 2014 I was sat in a modern kitchen in an old shot-gun house in New Orleans. It was a paid trip. My phone rang. It was a friend. I picked up and quietly said ‘I can’t do this’. His perplexed response was met with a firmer ‘I don’t do this’. And without hesitation I began saying, shouting ‘I can’t do this’ over and over again. My brain was working but my consciousness had gone. The more times I said those four words the more tears fell from my chin. I was performing the fanatic ritual of my thoughts. I said only those four words for twenty minutes. It felt like the world had stopped moving.
I had finally cracked.
I didn’t realise at the time the enormity of what had happened until much later.
In the several months that followed I had done little work. I couldn’t focus. I had heart palpitations. I was overly-emotional. I had a panic attack every night. And I had become self-destructive. I tried everything to try and stop whatever it was I was feeling. But after the day was done, those thoughts would come creeping back. They were the shadows on the wall in the early hours of the morning. Turning on the light would only keep them away temporarily.
I decided to see a therapist. We talked about what had happened to the led-up to my breakdown. I identified several events and people that had profoundly affected me (which I’ll perhaps save for another post). She asked me to fill out some forms. Two questions that stuck with me was ‘Do you feel like a failure?’, and ‘Have you thought about hurting yourself?’. I answered yes to both. My therapist advised me to see a doctor.
After speaking to a doctor I was advised to start medication immediately. I had been diagnosed with depression and anxiety.
I believe I’ve always suffered from depression and anxiety. I always felt melancholy as a child. Several times I contemplated what the world would be like if I wasn’t in it. And I was too anxious to talk in school or at home. At first people thought I had learning difficulties. Then people thought I was just a quiet child.
Life ebbs and flows. For the first ten years of mine I was comfortable with being an under-achiever. I was put in small classes. It was slow-pace. Expectations were low. And, best of all, I could escape into my imagination.
When I was eleven I started to work hard at school. Mainly to prove the people around me wrong. Any feelings of inferiority disappeared for a few moments when I got an A*. People were, for the first time, proud of me. I pushed myself to be the best.
I began to associate intelligence with happiness. I thought I could study my depression and anxiety away. At the end of my MA I began to seriously doubt my mental health. I had just received a PhD scholarship. I told my mother how I felt. She told me I should do the PhD. I put my feelings aside.
I wish I had listened to my better judgement.
Life is nuanced. And, as such, I can’t pin-point a single reason that led me to my breakdown. But I have learnt a lot from it. Happiness is independent of success. Happiness and health are the most important things in life. If you’re looking to cure your depression and/or anxiety by moving up to career ladder you might be disappointed. Some times what we think or are told is the right thing to do isn’t always the best thing for us. You should never do something to please other people. Listen to what your gut is saying. Know that being capable of achieving something doesn’t always mean you should do it.
We live in a meritocracy. We value money. We value status. But don’t for one second think that either of those things will make you happy.
I’m not sure I will ever overcome anxiety and depression. We are like old enemies now. But I am learning to live with them. I have accepted there will be bad days and good. And I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. When I feel like a pane of glass, overwhelmed with the rain, I remind myself that this is just a chemical imbalance. There’s nothing wrong with me. It doesn’t define me. And I certainly shouldn’t feel ashamed.