It’s that time of year again and as has become my custom, I reread last year’s post to see if it would spark inspiration. It’s always interesting reading where I’ve been and where I’ve come from because I tend to live quite in the moment, from one event to the next and I quite quickly forget what came before. It didn’t overly help me with what direction to take this year or what topic to choose to write about. But one thing that did pop into my head at the very end of reading was just how long this experience has been and how significant this specific anniversary is. I realised that later this year I’ll have been mentally ill for half of my life and have spent a quarter of my life living with severe anxiety disorders. A quarter! I had just turned 23 when my world came crashing down around me and now I’m 31. Every time I say my age, and I say it a lot in order to remind myself of it, I’m shocked by how much I don’t feel that age. I know everybody says that as they get older and I’m sure it’s true to different degrees for all of us but honestly, I still feel stuck at 23 in an ageing body with lines becoming more prominent on my face but my soul never seems to catch up. I’m surprised by how I look in the mirror and often expect people to take responsibility off me or question my ability because I don’t feel old enough to be doing adult things. I’m always shocked when girls I went to school with get married or pregnant because I can’t possibly be old enough to be doing those things and then I remember that actually, I’ve been old enough for 13+ years!
The last year has been a particularly difficult one. The year before had been very dramatic with the pandemic kicking off, global lockdowns and my mother-in-law being diagnosed with and dying of cancer and then my Grandad dying 3 months later on her birthday. This year has been much less dramatic in terms of events though it’s certainly not been a walk in the park in that respect either but my mental health has nosedived a few times and I’m very unwell at the moment. In previous years although I’ve not shouted about it on my blog, I’ve been able to be more in control of my anxiety and stopped it from seeping into all aspects of my life, I was able to go out sometimes and got into visiting my Dad very regularly but most of that has been stripped away. I still push myself to do these things and I’m gradually pulling out the other side of a huge dip that started before Christmas but it’s been a really scary time and since drafting this last week I’ve taken another huge nosedive. In July last year my functioning dropped off a cliff, I couldn’t do anything for myself apart from shower and get dressed and even that wasn’t as regular as it should’ve been. I didn’t eat properly when Joe wasn’t home to cook and if I ate anything it was just junk food because I didn’t have the executive functioning to cook or even prepare fruit. I couldn’t even pick things to watch on TV I’d just turn on a channel and watch whatever was on for hours and scroll aimlessly on social media on my phone. I was absolutely terrified and it’s the closest I’ve got throughout all of these years of anxiety disorders to thinking that I was going to end up hospitalised. It feels really silly looking back on it because I knew at the time that a hospital couldn’t help me, my conditions are medication-resistant so there wouldn’t have been anything they could do but I was barely functioning and no longer wanting to keep myself safe and thoughts of suicide were constant because I just didn’t want to feel that way anymore. I was on the verge of a panic attack all day, every day for 3 days straight and this was the peak after weeks of my anxiety consistently increasing to unbearable levels. I was barely sleeping and waking up crying, drenched in sweat having panic attacks the few times I did sleep. I felt completely broken. I eventually told my mum and a friend about it and this seemed to just take the edge off enough that I was able to gradually pull myself out of the hole. For months afterwards I was on the edge of the hole looking in and trying to put as much distance as I could between me and it but never able to work out why I’d ended up in it in the first place.
A difficult few months followed including a family crisis that my support was required through. Amazingly, I managed to hold it together and keep going and actually continued to improve so I thought that awful period of anxiety was behind me, just a random blip. But by December I was back on the edge of the hole, staring into the abyss with no idea how to not fall in and after having awful anxiety for hours on Christmas Day and not calming down until 3pm it all came crashing down at home that night when I suddenly realised just how much I’m at the mercy and not in control of these conditions. I’d been meant to go with Joe on Boxing Day to see his family and I just couldn’t. I was awake for hours having had a panic attack at gone midnight and ending up sobbing on Joe and I felt completely panicked and out of control again. That feeling didn’t shift for a moment until 2 days later. For most of January I was firmly in the hole, having better and worse days but feeling on the verge of a panic attack multiple times a day on the better days and constantly on the worse days. It was horrific. It really scared both of us because we like to think that I’m at least partially in control of how bad this gets and that as long as I work hard, it won’t get worse than it’s been in the past but this was a really rude awakening for us that that’s simply not the case. By the end of January, I’d taken some tentative steps to remove myself from the hole and until this week I had been spending about half of the week, sometimes a little more, out of it and sat on the very edge staring in with the other few days sadly back in the grips of my anxiety hammering me at full force. I’m doing everything I can to spend as many days out of the hole as possible and to avoid doing anything that puts me back in but it’s certainly not easy. Each time I’m back in there it feels like it chips away another bit of hope because it feels like that path is better worn and easier to slip down. Having been back in the hole for the last 2 days and spending a great deal of time sobbing, having panic attacks and feeling totally overwhelmed, I’m back to fearing everything and wondering how I’ll ever not feel like this again, that’s how quickly it takes over. Thanks to how my brain works, the memory of how I was this time last year or any other times during the eight years I’ve been anxious for is hazy at best and I can no longer remember what it felt like or what I could and couldn’t do and why. I don’t know how I got here, or why, and I certainly don’t know how to get out but I’m trying hard to find a way and I have good people around me who are trying to help too.
This certainly isn’t how I envisaged I’d be feeling eight years in. I was meant to be off work for 2 weeks and then grabbing my career with both hands and riding off into the sunset. Even last year I thought I’d at least be doing better than then after such a challenging year that that had been. There are all sorts of things that have been going on behind the scenes that I’m not yet ready to share with you all and that’s been hard too. As someone who prides themselves on being an open book, mostly because I struggle such a lot with secrets or anything that isn’t 100% honesty, it’s very hard having all of these events and parts of me that I can’t currently share. Sometimes it makes me want to scream because it’s all fizzing away inside of me wanting to be let out but that doesn’t feel safe at the moment and I’m not mentally strong enough currently to deal with anything other than people being supportive and kind and accepting and so I have to keep all of that to myself. I’m writing and videoing content sporadically as I go that I intend to publish in the future when I am ready to share these things in the hopes that my journey can help others and also, because my memory at the moment is shocking and I’ll forget all of this and how it felt otherwise. I’ve never been very good at describing the past stuff, I’m much more a here and now documenter. I hope this will all make more sense one day and that people will understand why I couldn’t share now and be accepting of me then, that’s one of the things I’ve longed for most in life, to be accepted.
Eight years on, a quarter of my life spent anxious and nearly half of my life living with mental illness, I had hoped that I was tentatively coming out the other side of one of the worst periods of illness that I’ve had, I’ve got even less to show for my efforts than I had last year in terms of things I’ve accomplished or achieved but I’m still here, I’m still fighting, I’m still just about clinging onto hope and I’m doing everything in my power to get better and to recover some functioning and semblance of a life again. It’s proving infinitely harder than I thought but I hope that it’ll be worth it, one day.
If you want to go back and read all of my previous anniversary posts, they can be found below:
One Year On – One Year of Fear
Two Years On – Two Years of Trying
3 Years On, 3 Years of Managing
Four Years On, Four Years of Frustration
Five Years On – Five Years Of…..
6 Years’ Agoraphobic – Coping with Social Distancing, Self-Isolation and Being Housebound: Advice for COVID-19, Anxiety and Beyond
Seven Years On – Seven Years of Changing and Staying the Same
Hello Lucy 🙂 I hope that your Friday is going well and at least the sun is shining. Reading your latest post has felt quite surreal. I have never really considered anniversaries of when my mental illness began but now I realise that in mid-June it will be exactly 45 years since I had my breakdown and had to be removed from school. My story is uncannily similar to yours except that I was much younger at the onset of my agoraphobia (13) and really, in 1977, mental illness was hardly being recognised in children. My parents were threatened that I would be taken into care if I did not return to school and there was a long battle with the authorities to have my condition accepted. We later realised that I had shown signs of social anxiety from the age of 5 which is when I started primary school. I have never documented my illness anywhere; I am nowhere near as eloquent and articulate as you are and my extreme social anxiety would prevent me from ever speaking on camera. My mental state has peaks and troughs of course, that is the nature of the beast, but the last 4 years has seen me completely housebound again. I take no medication because my body cannot cope with drugs and I currently have no medical support. But I battle on with my books, watercolour and music. I am sorry that you too are experiencing a difficult phase of life and I hope that you will begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel very soon. For me, my thirties and early forties was a much better phase of life and I hope that the same will turn out to be true for you. You are still very young, age is definitely on your side. Thank you for continuing to highlight the plight of we, the agoraphobics who are so often invisible, overlooked and forgotten by society. Best Wishes for a happy and healthy time ahead, Nadine.
Thanks so much for taking the time to comment and sorry for such a delay in replying! I’m so sorry to hear that you’ve experienced mental illness for such a long time and that it’s so difficult at the moment. You’re not alone. It does so often feel like us agoraphobics are invisible and forgotten and it’s such an isolating condition because the very nature of it means that we can’t congregate and support each other except for online! I hope you’re right and my 30s and 40s will be a better time, I’m certainly working very hard at recovery in the hopes that they might! I’m the same as you with medication, I can’t be on it for mental health as my body doesn’t tolerate it, it’s very hard. I hope you’re able to mentally escape sometimes and have some peace and thank you once again for sharing with me and taking the time comment. I hope you are managing and can get some relief soon. Lucy x