It’s Mental Health Awareness week so, although I think Mental Health should be something we think about regularly; other peoples and our own, I think MHA week is a good way to focus on experiences that many have and yet still, perhaps, feel unable to get help for.
Today I want to talk about a particular aspect of my own anxiety and depression: Dissociation or the inability to connect. Before I go into how this affects me personally, I’d like to say that not every person experiencing this lack of connectedness will experience it in the same way as me; no one size fits all.
So, deep breath … here goes …
For the past year, I have been quite productive. I have presented at three academic conferences, have had an academic article on ‘Why Expansive narratives matter’ accepted for publication in an academic journal. I have written four books, three of which are now published…
However, in all of this, I have been dissociated – I have been unable to feel fully engaged with my achievements and have gained no enjoyment or satisfaction from them. At times, it’s been like I was a fly on the wall looking down at what was happening in reality.
Conversations and activities with friends and colleagues happened with me participating, yet inside, I felt like I was in a fugue state – not connected with them, not part of the group and very isolated. This flat feeling meant that most of my energies were put into trying to appear normal, but because that was too hard, I began to isolate.
Withdrawing from friends and extended family is a coping mechanism to allow me to try to concentrate on areas where I can be inside my own head, with no expectation to interact. It is not a healthy one, I agree, however, sometimes when things just get too much, it’s the only way I can manage … and it pains me to admit that, even now, I find it hard to tell anyone how I’m feeling – partly because, even with all the publicity around MHA, many still don’t understand and partly because, people, trying to be kind and supportive offer advice which at that particular point in time is just not achievable for me, thus sending me further into isolation. Comments like, ‘Go for a walk’, or ‘talk to someone’ or force yourself to do such and such’ whilst perfectly good advice, at that point only serve to make me feel even more of a failure than I already do.
Of course, when my mental health declines, other symptoms kick in. Panic attacks often wake me up at night, or in the evenings. Tiredness and insomnia go hand in hand as I ruminate over the things I should do, the people I should meet, the way I’m letting my family down and more. Tension headaches kick in and shoulder, back and neck pain join it.
The worst thing is the ability to focus and concentrate on the things I want or need to do is impaired. Writing a paragraph of a novel can take me days, although in my mind, I’ve written and rewritten it a trillion times already. Reading an academic article takes so much energy and leaves me listless and fatigued.
But, for me, the worst part of all of this is the inability to connect and enjoy life. It’s like a huge hammer has come down and shattered my enjoyment receptor and it really sucks.
Now, I’m lucky enough to have a supportive family who ease the pressure of the mundane day to day things from my shoulders and bear with me when I can’t interact with them. They are my rocks.
Having suffered periods of this sort of mental ill health for years, I know that I can and will get better. In fact, I am beginning to turn the corner and little things are beginning to give me pleasure again; a face time with my two younger children, sitting on the decking in the sun with my husband, reading a good book, hearing birds sing, short walks; all of these things are beginning to make me smile.
I didn’t write this to be a moan or to get sympathy, I wrote it because I want to make people aware that Mental Ill Health affects different people in very different ways and to remind people that, what you think is going on on the outside of a person, may only be a façade for something more troubling on the inside. Never before has the #BEKIND been more important.