This time 371 days ago I was interviewing for a job that I’d been trying to get for 9 months. It was a permanent role on the ward that I loved working on and meant that I would finally have job security, guaranteed hours, proper support and training.
370 days ago I was on top of the world after being offered the job. I was in work that day and the patients and staff were all thrilled for me and very excited that I was officially joining the team. I was filled with pride and excitement that I’d finally got to where I wanted to be and was one step closer to my dream career of Clinical Psychologist.
369 days ago and things weren’t as rosy. I felt strange all day. I was worrying a lot and felt a lot less confident in my ability to do my job and keep my patients safe. I started to doubt myself a lot and felt very insecure. In the evening I went out for a meal with my boyfriend to celebrate my new job and I deteriorated over the course of the meal. I couldn’t stop worrying and felt really on edge. I didn’t want to walk anywhere, even to the loo, because I felt like I was going to collapse and like everyone was watching me. On our journey home I was clinging to him and when a drunk sat opposite us on the train I could barely hold it together. I just couldn’t deal with it all. I burst into tears the minute we got through our front door and struggled to sleep that night because of all the worries going through my head.
The next day, 368 days ago, I got up for work and just felt paralysed by fear. I tried to work through it and make myself go in knowing that I’m obviously good at my job if I’d just been offered a permanent role but the fear took over and I had the first panic attack of what would soon be many and had to phone in sick.
Over the weekend I deteriorated further. I needed to do a food shop and simply couldn’t face doing it on the Saturday. I don’t remember the exact thought processes but I just felt unable to cope and unable to deal with that many people and pressures and how busy the supermarket would be. On Sunday I felt that if I didn’t go that day then I’d end up stuck indoors and frightened to leave. I don’t know why I thought that but it was a very strong feeling and I knew I had to try. It was awful, the train ride there despite only being 6 minutes felt like a lifetime and the shop was really busy. I got the bare minimum that we needed and more than once I almost abandoned my basket because I felt so anxious. The only thing that stopped me was the worry of what people would think if I just left it. I cried the whole way home and got stared at a lot by other passengers on the train who couldn’t understand why I was sobbing surrounded by shopping bags.
365 days ago I went to the doctors. It’s a 2 minute walk around the corner from where I live and I had to force myself to go because being outside was now terrifying. The noise, the brightness, the people. Everything was just overwhelming. I cried as soon as I started talking and was immediately prescribed medication and signed off sick for 2 weeks while I waited for the worst of the side effects to wear off and for the drugs to kick in. I haven’t returned to work since. The drugs didn’t work, the side effects never wore off. Neither did the following two medications.
I’ve been medication-free for just over a month and am still no closer to returning to work and my level of functioning has barely changed. I’m less physically ill now I’m finally drug-free but the anxiety is not shifting. I now realise that a huge amount of why I was feeling so bad was because of the side effects of the medications I was on rather than the condition itself. This has been very difficult to come to terms with – to know that for 11 of the last 12 months I’ve been made worse by the very thing that was supposed to be making me better. I still don’t have a diagnosis, I haven’t had a new psychiatrist allocated since mine left in October and I’m still not receiving any psychological therapy on the NHS. I’ve just been left to deal with this condition that has no name on my own.
Now my reality is that everyday mundane tasks are completely terrifying. I think back over things I’ve done in the past, things that were huge achievements like my degree, getting the job, moving into university miles away from home and it feels like a completely different person did those things. I think back to all of the small things I used to think nothing of doing like popping to the shops, going on the train to Brighton for the day, visiting my mum on the Isle of Wight, taking the bins out. Now, just thinking about those things makes me feel sick and tense. I can’t fathom how I was able to do them when I’m so frightened of everything now.
My existence is almost solely contained within the walls of my flat and my world has shrunk to be unimaginably small. The person I once was is (I hope) hiding, but it feels like she’s gone. All of the things I’ve done in the past, the small things right up to the huge things don’t seem to count towards my confidence because I can no longer associate with them because they no longer feel like something I did. I’m now the girl who’s scared of her own thoughts, who’s surrounded by wool and spends her days watching tv, crocheting and cleaning. I don’t even recognise the girl with the psychology degree who was going to change the world.
So here I am, one year on. One year and a week ago the world was my oyster and I felt excited about the future, my career, the lives I would try to help change. Now my world mostly consists of fear and distraction from fear. I’m not excited about the future, I’m fearful of it, I don’t know what my future will hold and it’s currently unknown whether I’ll get better, stay like this, or get worse. The biggest thing I have going for me though is that I’m determined, more determined than most and I fight, despite feeling weaker than I thought it possible to feel. I don’t give up and I carry on hoping. I try not to set time-limited goals because I fear failing and feeling even worse, so instead, I hope and I aim for things without setting a time limit. My hope is that my future will be normal, quite uneventful and that I’ll be able to recover, not relapse, and be able to help others because I truly believe that’s what I was put on this planet for. My aim is to get better and to stay well, to decrease stigma, to increase awareness and understanding of mental illness and most of all, to no longer be afraid to go outside and do normal things. Here’s hoping that one year on from now this will all just feel like a bad dream and I’ll be well, working and helping people, if that’s not doable then I just hope that I’ll be better than I am now and I’ll be able to look back and see the improvement. One whole year of fear has been exhausting and this has been one of the longest years of my life. I’m not sure I can face another year like this but at least I’m facing it medication-free and with a few really supportive people around me who cheer me on no matter how small the victory and cheer me up when the condition gets the better of me. Maybe this coming year can be One Year of a Little Less Fear!