Finding your motivation

As I type, I am sat in a coffee shop, eating some late lunch and sipping on an iced coffee while I wait for my dog’s grooming appointment to be finished.

I woke up this morning, not wanting to do any of this today. The urge to call and cancel the appointment was strong, but if there’s one thing that trumps my crippling anxiety, it’s the need to look after my baby (yes, I’m talking about my dog – fuck you if you judge me for that).

My little dog, Charlie, has always been the one thing that can pick me up no matter what. When I got him as a puppy, completely unexpectedly I might add, I was in the midst of a deep depression that, at that point, had lasted about a year and a half or so. There was a period I hadn’t left my house for almost 3 months. Charlie changed that. All of a sudden, I was responsible for this tiny creature’s health, happiness and safety. I had someone depending on me now to look after him. He hadn’t asked to come along and be my dog, I had made that choice. So it was my responsibility to make sure he had everything he needed. And I quickly learned that I couldn’t bear even the thought of my little Charlie being even a little unhappy, or not having his needs met.

Day by day, I began going out to take him for walks – hurrah! A miracle! That’s not to say some days I didn’t have to force myself into changing out of my PJs and putting my shoes on and stepping out of the house, because I did, but it was a lot easier with my best friend, my one reason to keep going, beside me.

Lo and behold, I started doing things I NEVER believed I would have been doing – I would chat to other dog owners on our walks, we even became friendly with a few and would arrange walks together so Charlie could make some friends and play with other dogs. I was socialising, with strangers no less, and getting out every day. I discovered parts of my town that I’d never been to before despite living here my entire life. Beautiful scenery had been around me all along and I’d never taken the time to stop and look at it.

Charlie still gets me out and about now. It’s not always for long strolls, sometimes it’s only for a fifteen minute walk round the block, but I make sure I do it. Without Charlie, I’m quite sure I would still be stuck in my room, miserable and desperate and lost. I think what I realised is, you have to find something that gives you a reason to get out of your head – whether that be a person, a pet, a job, a dream, a hobby, anything. Will it magically cure your depression, your anxiety, your mental illness? Absolutely not. But will it make your life infinitely richer? One hundred fucking percent.

The importance of being honest

There are some days, just like the one a few days ago when I wrote my first entry to this blog, that I feel depressed and anxious and generally a bit shit, but I see the light at the end of the tunnel. I don’t feel magically cured or free of my mental illnesses, but I feel realistically hopeful and optimistic, like I can see things will get better if I’m patient and work at it.

There are days like I had on Friday when everything feels dark and black and the hope has packed up all its shit and peaced the fuck out. All I can think about on those days is how I am a burden, I am a disappointment, everyone wishes I was dead, if I was abducted and murdered the people I love would feel relief. I’m well aware of how absolutely and ridiculously dramatic that sounds, but it’s totally true. I think about the man who assaulted me and relive it in my mind, or I think about my dad and how readily he jumped ship to another shiny new family. Perhaps I’ll think about how my family would be better off if they never had to deal with me again, or how every human being I’ve ever come across hates me and thinks I’m a waste of space. Sometimes I’ll think about my boyfriend (that man really has to put up with a lot of crazy) leaving me for someone else, or even just telling me he doesn’t love me anymore, maybe even telling me he never has. I think about how I am not enough for anyone in my life. How I deserve none of the people around me, and how selfish I am for making them endure me and all my shit that comes along with it.

I’ll obsess over the tiniest things on these days – they took an hour to text me back? They hate me and I’m annoying. They didn’t laugh at a joke I made? They wish I’d fuck off and stop trying so hard. I’ll convince myself that someone looked at me in a different way than usual or smiled at me weirdly that there’s something terribly wrong and I’ve upset them massively somehow and now they hate me and they’ll never talk to me again and they’ll think I’m a terrible person who never cared and… breathe.

Then there are the days like today. Days where I feel…nothing, really. Not happy. Not sad. Not up, nor down. Flat. I find I can still do what I usually do on the dark days if I absolutely have to and put on the big smile and be jokey Katherine and make everyone else laugh to hide it all. But some days I really don’t want to. Some days I want to be able to just be flat or dark or depressed or an absolute nervous train wreck.

One thing in common with whichever one of those days that I’m having, is that I will try to hide it every time – sometimes, I fail catastrophically at that, other I succeed. I don’t know why really. If I had to take a wild guess, I’d say it’s a mixture of a few different things – I worry that people are used to the smiley, jokey Katherine and won’t want to deal with depressing, downer Katherine; I worry that people will realise how mentally ill I am and think I’m a freak or a weirdo or a psycho and make fun of me for it; I don’t want the people I love to worry about me, I know how it is to live with constant worry, I don’t want to be the cause of that for those I love. Mostly, I suppose, I’m worried of scaring people off, of how I’ll be judged, of drawing attention to my issues.

I’m working on being more honest with how I feel and how I present how I feel. If I’m having a shit day and I want to cry, I should just cry, instead of going into the loo to have a little cry and then coming out and pretending everything’s super. I told the doctor the other day that I’ve always underplayed how bad I really feel, always left out things and not been honest about certain things I’ve done or thought in the deepest depths of my mental health woes.

‘You can’t help someone who won’t help themselves’ is a phrase I hear often, and I’ve said it myself a lot too. And it’s true. If I want help, I need to be honest. With everyone. Yes, it might be embarrassing and scary. Yes, it might mean I have to really face those dark fucking moments head on.

But what was it that Martin Luther King said – darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that.’ So maybe to get the darkness out of my head, instead of trying to push it to the back of my mind and hide it, I need to bring it out into the light, really get to know that fucker and then it can pack up its shit and the light can move in instead.

Taking the leap

TW: sexual assault

I’ve suffered with mental health issues since I was 16 when my dad upped and left us to be with his new family 10 minutes away and never looked back. The trauma of losing the man I’d always seen as my hero and my best friend has no doubt had a lasting effect on me. I’ve struggled with depression ever since.

A few years later, in my early 20s while working in an office as an administrative assistant, one day I just…broke. I woke up that morning and went and hid in the shed in the garden. Yep, you read that right. The garden shed. I couldn’t face going out into the street that day, let alone going to work, but I was embarrassed and didn’t know how to tell my family how I was feeling. Shit, I barely even understood how I was feeling myself. So I hid. It was at this point I also developed severe anxiety; so severe, in fact, that I didn’t leave the house – not even to go to the garden shed – for nearly 3 months.

From then on, I spiralled into a rut of depression and anxiety that I would been stuck in for years, a rut that had left me unemployed and desperately unhappy. I had to give up my job, – I simply couldn’t function well enough to be a useful employee – I lost friends because I couldn’t face even responding to a text sometimes for weeks at a time, I lost my relationship with my first love who I’d been with for 3 years, and I’d lost my independence; I relied on my ‘safe people’, those being my mum and my brother, to help me get about. If they couldn’t come with me, I wouldn’t go, even just to the shop down the road. I lived in a constant state of fear and dread and anxiety that something bad was going to happen to me. Perhaps I’d be attacked, mugged, raped, kidnapped, murdered. Perhaps I’d run into my dad and see him living his happy new life with his new family who he loved now instead of me.

Things turned around in April 2018. I got a job. And not just any job, it was a job I’d dreamt of doing since I was a child. I was given the incredible opportunity to be a teaching assistant! Amazing! Slowly, life began to look hopeful again. Good, even.

Within a month, it fell apart; I was raped. To this day, I still can’t say that out loud. Suddenly, the hope and excitement I’d felt only a month before had vanished. I went into work the next day, feeling numb. I remember having scrubbed myself raw in the shower as I cried, which became a morning ritual for many months afterwards. Every now and then I still do it; sometimes a nightmare will trigger the feelings of disgust and shame and repulsion at myself, at my body for allowing itself to be violated in such a way, and I’ll be compelled to scrub and scrub until I bleed. I do absolutely believe that one day I’ll do that for the last time and then I can say ‘fuck that guy. I beat you, you fucker’. Within ten minutes of the kids coming into the classroom that day, two of them came up to me and told me I was their favourite grown up and they loved me, and I wanted to burst into tears and hug them. Instead, I went into the toilet and cried. I didn’t want anyone to know something was wrong. I couldn’t risk anyone knowing what had happened to me. I didn’t want the questions or the pitying looks, but most of all, I was terrified people wouldn’t believe me, that somehow it was my fault.

I just wanted to pretend it had never happened and move on.

Of course, now I know that’s not how it works. You push something to the back of your mind, and it doesn’t disappear. No. It just waits there to ambush you at whatever moment it sees fit.

So after hiding it away for months, it sprung up and refused to be ignored any longer. I was seeing him everywhere. A black car would pass me on the street and I’d be convinced it was him, following me, coming back for round two, maybe even coming back to kill me. I started to see him in the corner of my eye, and I’d turn to look and there’d be no one there, or there would, but it would just be some poor, unsuspecting individual. One day I thought I saw him in the aisle of a supermarket and froze on the spot, terrified that he would come round the corner any minute. My brother had to come and find me when I didn’t come back to the shopping trolley for several minutes. I told him who I thought I’d seen, and he looked ready to commit murder. One thing I learnt over the years is that I might have lost my hero in my dad, but I replaced him with my brother who is now, and always was, far more worthy of the title of ‘hero’. Without my dad leaving, I would never have become as close with my brother as I am now and I wouldn’t change that for the world. Silver linings.

So in 2019, I added PTSD to the ever increasing list of diagnoses I had received. Depression, anxiety and PTSD; if mental illnesses were horses, I’d be a damn good cowgirl by now.

And now, here we are in 2021. Where are we now, you might ask. Well, today I took the plunge and spoke to my doctor – my amazing GP who has endless amounts of patience for me and all the problems I bring along with me. Over the years, I’ve often wondered if there’s something more going on than depression and anxiety. Sometimes, I still can’t leave the house. Some days I can fight it. Others, there is an invisible wall right outside my front door – I can’t see it, but I can feel it looming over me like an imaginary prison, and I physically cannot get past it. It really makes you feel bad for the Balrog whom Gandalf forbade passage. I spoke to my GP, reading out a long list of things I had written down after spending yesterday doing research into what the fuck could be wrong with my brain. I’ve had just about enough of my mental illnesses sabotaging me and turning everything upside down. I didn’t sign up for this rollercoaster of bullshit. I don’t even like rollercoasters.

I admitted to my GP that I’ve never quite been totally honest with any medical professionals about the extent of my feelings, thoughts and actions. There’s certain things I’ve never spoken about because I didn’t want to be judged, I felt like I was making a big deal out of nothing, or because I just felt stupid and didn’t want to waste their time. Some stuff I’ve never brought up because, until yesterday when I spent the whole day deep diving into the different mental illnesses many people have to deal with daily, I’d always just believed certain things were just… me. My personality. Normal. Not normal for most people, but normal for me – I’d been that way for as long as I can remember.

But what if it’s not my personality? What if I’m not naturally an anxious mess who is constantly on edge, thinking everyone hates me all the time, constantly finding new things to worry and stress about? What if it’s not really me that believes people are mocking me, people wish I was gone from their lives, that I’m a failure and I let everyone I love down all the time? What if it’s my brain just telling me that? What if there’s something that can be done to stop living my life like this and just be…calm? Serene? At peace?

Lesson of the day. Hell, lesson of my life; just be fucking honest about how you feel, ESPECIALLY with medical professionals – their job is to help you, not to judge you. If something doesn’t feel right, it’s probably not right and it’s okay to fight your corner, to be your own cheerleader. I have no idea what is going to happen, but I feel okay about that. For now, anyway. Ask me again tomorrow and the answer might be completely different. Such is life, but it’s MY life, and shit, why should anyone else but me have control over my life? Deep, I know.