Death

Eight Years On – Eight Years Of Anniversaries

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

Update – Mental Health Blog Awards, Anxiety and Physical Health (18/10/21) – Video Post

In July, I was lucky enough to win Vlogger of the Year in the Mental Health Blog Awards, here I talk about that, the worst period of anxiety I’ve possibly ever experienced and the physical health problems I’m currently trying to deal with.

A Bad Day With Anxiety (06/04/21) – Video Post

I posted this video on YouTube in April and forgot to post it here on my blog so better late than never, this shows a bad day for me with my anxiety during a very difficult time.

Seven Years On – Seven Years Of Changing and Staying the Same

It’s that time of year again where we hit the anniversary of me being signed off sick from work. I swear it comes around quicker every year. As ever, I don’t really know what to talk about but having noted this day in written-form for the last 6 years, it seems a shame to quit now so I’m probably going to do what I’ve done almost every previous year and ramble until I come to a close.

Yesterday, I thought I’d read through all of my previous posts written on this date each year to see how things have changed or stayed the same, to see how my writing style has evolved and to see if it would inspire a specific thing to write about. It was a strange experience. My sense of things is often at odds with how they actually are and this is most notable in my sense of my writing. Often, when I write a post, I think it’s truly dreadful and mostly a rambling mess. I take a big breath in and start reading through ready to attempt to heftily edit whatever meandering thought soup has been typed out. Almost every time, I’ll barely edit it at all because when I read it back, it actually says what I want to say in a surprisingly coherent, cohesive and interestingly written way. But it never feels like that when I’ve written it and I’ve never been able to work out why. It’s exactly the same with my vlogs. I suffer from dissociation symptoms and usually only get 2 lines into my vlogs which I start knowing a theme and a couple of examples and little to nothing else in terms of a plan, and then I dissociate and have little to no recollection of what I’ve said. It means I have to go back and watch every video before posting it to check I’ve not sworn or said anything I’m not allowed to and haven’t gone too personal or dark or overboard about whatever the topic is. As yet, there’s never been a video that I’ve had to edit, re-record or not post. But still, every time I feel I have to check because my brain tells me that these things are not things I’m good at, that I’m not a coherent writer, that I’m extremely negative and that I’ll say all sorts of things I’m not aware of or won’t make sense. This has never been the case but somehow that doesn’t change my viewpoint.

When I read back all of my previous anniversary posts, I expected the first few to be ropey and written in a completely different style from how I write now. It’s not something I’ve worked to improve upon, I just assumed that with practice and time and ageing that my style would have adapted or changed and possibly improved. As far as I could tell, it’s not changed one bit. I still punctuate in the same way, I still love sentences that are far too long and I still list almost everything in groups of three because it makes my brain happy to write like that. As for the content, again, I fully expected that to really change because I know my conditions have over time but again, it was surprisingly samey. Not in a boring way, but in a, this feels like it changes but sounds remarkably similar year on year sort of way. I’ve mentioned before that my anxiety attaches to different sources and these change a little over time so I can get more or less anxious about being observed doing things or my health at different points through my time of being ill. But the severity of the anxiety, the magnitude of it seems to stay quite constant and while it does improve and deteriorate, this is just the pattern it takes, like the changing of the tides really, there are high tides and low tides but one always follows the other and they don’t get more or less over time, they’re just high and low and high and low. The most common themes I noticed though are that despite it feeling like it changes, my confidence levels are mostly very low and my ability to sleep properly is almost always something I struggle with. I’ve used the phrase before that these things are sadly bad and worse and nothing outside that. It sounds super negative but there’s honestly no other way of describing it because I don’t ever seem to have periods of good sleep where I’m consistently sleeping 8 hours a night straight through and waking up in the morning not feeling like death, or periods where I suddenly feel confident or develop self-belief. I seem to wade through life constantly battling those things, always trying to sort out my sleep and always trying to force myself to do things that everyone tells me I’m capable of and that I’ve previously shown myself to be capable of and still permanently feeling like I’m not and that I’ll spectacularly fail. Those things are mostly a constant for me. I guess it’s why I find it hard to know what to write about because often, the only change is the passing of time or what’s happening in my personal life, my inner life doesn’t really change all that much and so I tend to run out of words or ideas for a new spin on the same very old idea that it’s absolutely no fun at all to be ill with anxiety disorders.

One thing I have noticed is that despite the past year being exceptionally challenging for me due to personal circumstances and events (more info on this can be found here), in some ways my anxiety has felt more stable at points too. It certainly hasn’t been stable at the points where my world was turned upside down with benefits decisions and diagnoses and deaths of family members, but the bits in between have seemed like they’ve been a bit more stable. I think this might be because expectations on me have been lower than ever before thanks to the pandemic. It’s no longer expected for me to go out, to socialise, to be able to go shopping or to parties. For months at a time, we’ve been required to stay indoors, stay solitary, and keep ourselves safe. In some ways this has given me the space to just be and to not be constantly reminded of all of the things I can’t do but I do wonder how this experience might change as the world opens up again and those things all become encouraged once more. I’m also fully aware that my view on all of this, as ever, is hugely skewed by how I’m feeling while I’m writing this because for the last couple of days my anxiety has levelled off after a week of it being off the scale and so the relief that brings is all-encompassing and often blinkers my view of how good or bad things have previously been. I’m not very good at gauging that kind of thing. Just like my writing and my videoing, if I’m feeling good right now then things have been pretty good and I forget the intensity of the badness that I’m not feeling currently but if things are bad then I often also forget the intensity of the good periods too. It’s part of why I always intended (though never achieved) to blog regularly because I very much write in the moment and once that moment passes, my thoughts and feelings and take on the world shifts a bit. It’s why I usually have to create content all in one go because if I lose my flow, if I go back to it on another day then I’m almost never in exactly the same headspace as before and I lose all of the potency of the point I was making because it’s no longer quite as relevant to me.

I’m not sure that any of this sums up where I’m at right now because to be honest, I’m not really sure that I know. My Grandad died 10 days ago and that’s been a lot to take in and get used to on top of the anniversary of the UK going into lockdown, the illness and death of my Mother-in-Law, so much political turmoil about so many different things and spending almost a year fighting to be awarded disability benefits. I’ve spent a lot of the last year feeling like I was drowning and gasping for air. I spent more time than I care to remember genuinely wishing I was dead for the first time in a long time because things had got so bleak. I tend to look at the past, inadvertently, with rose-tinted glasses. I know the facts of how suicidal I was at points but because I don’t feel like that right now, I don’t feel that it was that bad but at the time I do still remember having to get myself through the day in parts because I just wasn’t coping. I know I’ve suffered from increased isolation and loneliness but also increased connection and communication and that’s been quite confusing. This year has been the year I’ve been least productive out of all of the years I’ve been ill for and I’ve found that so hard. I hate just existing and not having anything to show for my time and feeling like I’m just wasting time, life, waiting and wishing away the days until I feel better. I tend to avoid writing about the future because I know all too well how little control I actually have over that and so often I think that a little plan or a little aim will so obviously be doable that I’ll set it in stone here but I now know that’s not how it works and life twists and turns and often your plans and aims don’t keep up with you. Of course, I wish that by year 8’s post I’ll be telling you that I’m recovered and all of the wonderful things that would come with that but the realist in me tells me that’s quite unlikely. I’m just hoping more positive things will have happened this coming year, that I’ll keep the connection and communication I’ve built with people around me, that there will be less illness and death to contend with and that I’ll find my passion for something again and be able to get my teeth into a project, it’s been such a long time since I did that and it really is time.

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

Update – Relatives, Death, Lockdown and More (21/03/21) – Video Post

Finally an update explaining where I’ve been and why I’ve not been posting for such a long time.