My lovely friend Alex at Medicated Follower of Fashion posted this wonderful insight yesterday, into her experiences with anxiety, and it inspired me to talk to you about my own experiences.
Yesterday, I had a "black hole day". I haven't had one of those in a really long time, but as anyone who has ever experienced anxiety and/or depression before will tell you - it can go away for really long periods of time, but you are never completely free from it. It hangs around outside your house like a wolf, occasionally growling at you, peering through your windows, reminding you every now and then that it's still out there, waiting for you to leave your door open long enough for it to pounce.
As you know, I'm a bit too honest. I overshare. Nothing is sacred, but I see that as a strength rather than a weakness. I want you to know when I'm having a bad day, or feeling inadequate, or struggling to think straight, so that you can read it and know that you're not alone.
When everyone else seems to have their shit together, when they say they're doing "great, fabulous, never better", and you wonder if they've ever had a bad day in their life and you're the only one winging it, I'm the one who will stand up and admit that I feel weak, lost and tired sometimes.
It's not a whinge, and I'm certainly not asking anyone to tell me what to do. I'm saying it because it's true, and for the most part, I know that everythnig will be alright again in an hour, a day, a week. But in THAT MOMENT, I will step forward and say "You know what? This is really bloody hard".
It's scary. Once I've posted it, I think "Shit, now everyone knows that I'm having a bad day", but I'm always surprised and encouraged by the number of people who tell me they're really glad I posted, because they felt the same way and didn't want to admit it.
I've suffered from several periods of depression and anxiety in my life - the very worst one probably being when Charlie was about a year old. I'd given up my nursing career (by not renewing my registration, my qualification became null and void), and was struggling as a stay at home mum.
I was constantly reminded of my inability to contribute financially, and often felt useless when there were financial struggles.
I became obsessed with Charlie being happy at all times, and couldn't cope when he cried for the simplest of reasons, because I felt as if I was failing at making him happy. The slightest comment from anyone made me fly into a panic, because I felt as if motherhood was literally all I had, and I couldn't even do that right.
I became an absolute nervous wreck, bursting into tears all the time and feeling as if Charlie would be better off without me.
I even developed a form of psychosis, believing that someone wanted me dead, and they were trying to make it look like suicide by planting thoughts in my head. I self harmed, by battering my head off walls and punching myself in the face.
If anyone ever wonders why I so vehemently advocate non judgement of Peaches Geldof, this is why. No-one really knows how it feels to be inside someone else's head. When I self harmed, I wasn't being selfish, I genuinely believed that Charlie had been cursed with a useless mother and deserved better than me.
I eventually managed to drag myself out of that particular bout of depression, but the wolf was always there. Even when I had months or years at a time of feeling good, I could feel his breath on my neck when I had a stressful moment, nuzzling my face, asking me if I wanted to go and snuggle up in a black hole where it would be safe and cosy.
Most of the time, I was able to take a deep breath and remind myself that the wolf wasn't real, but every now and then the stress would overcome me and the wolf would pounce.
The anxiety was the worst. Feeling tight chested, unable to breathe clearly, unable to think in a straight line.
I could usually keep the wolf under control by writing lists. Obsessive, endless lists of everything from making a cup of tea, to having a shower, to dressing the kids.
It was literally the only way I could keep track of my thoughts. Of course, occasionally, things would happen that were not on the list, and the panic would overwhelm me. The wolf would pin me against the wall and the only way I could get any oxygen would be to hit myself and bring myself back to reality.
Anyway, I digress. These black hole days are now very few and far between, my situation is now much calmer, happier and most importantly, full of support. The wolf is still there though, I know he's out there and I can never fully allow myself to forget that.
This week, things became a bit too much. An incident involving my children being criticised and my mothering skills being questioned, not just once but over and over and over again, caused the panic to rise. The person in question didn't know it, or mean any real harm, but they were picking a scab over a very deep wound, and when the wound was opened, the wolf jumped out and grabbed me right by the throat. Without even taking a breath, I was thrust back into the blackest hole I've ever been in, the one where I believed my mothering skills were useless, my kids were being failed, and everyone deserved better than me.
I so wanted to scream at the wolf that he wasn't real, that I knew I was a good mum and that I wasn't going to stand for this, but the doubt, the self loathing and the blackness overwhelmed me.
I cried for about 4 days straight, and wondered if I was ever going to be able to pull myself out of this hole. So I did what I do best - I took off my armour, I went into the lion's den and I overshared. I posted on Facebook that I was in a black hole and asked for some help to pull me out.
What happened? My lovely, gorgeous friends, who all know what it's like to be in a black hole, reached their hands in and helped me. With kind words, offers of tea and cake and cuddles, and general loveliness. I grabbed every one of those hands, and I got out.
With my invisible army behind me, I found the strength I needed to lock that wolf back where he belonged.
So, that's my experience of anxiety, and if I had one tip for anyone who suffers, it would be to ask for support. Not help as such, or advice. None of us needs to be told what to do, we just need someone to say "I understand how you feel, and I'm here".
I hope that's what I do for you.