Apologies for the lack of blog day last week. I took a week off, for the first time since starting this blog and mainly on the advice of Mother DinosaurPirate who recognised that perhaps I wasn’t coping with my sudden and unexpected internet exposure entirely as well I was pretending I was.
I can honestly say that the last few weeks of my life have been some of the weirdest and most intense of my life. The online form of performance anxiety I mentioned last week not only failed to dissipate but only grew as my ‘tea’ blog shot its way around the world and I continued to receive an unexpected amount of attention for a blog that (confession time) I’d thrown together after a frustrated flippant comment made to a friend during an online discussion over why people couldn’t grasp the concept of consent. I nearly didn’t even write that week, and was going to allow myself my first week off ever as so much was going on, but the idea was in my head, and sometimes when I have ideas in my head they sort of tickle until I let them out. So I let the idea out, and that idea put a girdle around the earth in 48 hours.
As crazy as I thought that first week was, it was nothing to the second, when my average views per day shot up to almost 50k and it was picked up by (amongst others) Buzzfeed & Huffpost; and stuff in my personal life – previously fluctuating at an alarming but manageable level – chose that exact moment to throw all it possibly could at me. For someone with a history of mental ill-health which particularly manifested itself in a complete inability to be able to hear people say nice things about me, or even think positive things about myself, this was kind of hard. I struggled on, as you do, and if anyone asked me how I was I just kind of laughed and went “er, yeah! haha!” and walked off hoping they wouldn’t notice. It actually felt like I was having a sustained low level panic attack which just wouldn’t stop. While I was hugely flattered and touched by the messages I received from people saying that my analogy had helped them acknowledge unresolved trauma in their past it was also somewhat triggering for me and I had to admit that perhaps there are things in my past I thought I’d left there that I need to face up to myself.
At the exact same moment the article was posted on Buzzfeed, I read about Terry Pratchett‘s death. Regular readers will know how Pratchett is a formative background to pretty much my entire social life and may understand why it was at this point that the cope ran out. There was no cope left in the cupboard. The cope train reached the end of the line. cope had left the building. Cope was not here right now, please leave a message at the restrained sobbing. I packed up my stuff at my day job (which is, alas, nothing to do with having strong opinions on the internet) and told my manager I was leaving for the day and went and sat in the park, had a bit of a cry and hoped that dogs would come and say hello. Dogs make everything better. Then I went to talk to the sausage dog hedge, which also makes everything better just by the fact of its existence.
In all the years that I’ve been well, my biggest fear is of falling ill again. Over the last year with my booze experiment panning out so well and with my new found body positivity, while I’ve been proud of myself I’ve also had an unacknowledged sense of that fear of falling ill again growing. That to experience a mental dip now would be failing. How could I start to fall ill again when I’ve worked so hard to be well and to build positivity around me? What would people think? They’d be so terribly disappointed in me.
While most of the Personal Life Stuff was dealable with, as I’ve had, you know, experience of stuff going tits up before, the blog stuff on top gave it an added garnish of WTF. I’ve been through several rounds of therapy in the past for my mental health difficulties and am generally pretty good at analysing what’s going on in my brain and what symptoms I am having and trying to put in sensible strategies around it. But there was no frame of reference for my brain for the viral blog business. No way for my emotions to find a previous pattern or experience on which to base an appropriate response. One minute I would be laughing my head off going THIS IS JUST WEIRD WHAT and the next I’d be terrified that I’d never be able to write anything coherent every again and the entire internet would be terribly disappointed in me.
Of course, none of this is really about other people being disappointed in me. It’s about me being disappointed in me, and blaming myself for feeling down. And that’s how a downward spiral starts. And I’ve been here before, and this time I am not falling for it.
I’ve had a crazy couple of weeks, mentally. Enough to make anyone feel a little battered in the brain department. It’s not weak to say yeah, actually, need a little help and a little time here. It’s not a failure to say yeah, actually, a little worried about myself and my health here.
One of the tricksy things about depression that it tries to make you think that you are a failure; that by the mere dint of having depression you have failed. But really it’s no more a ‘failure’ to have a struggle with your mental health after an intense period of emotional change as it is to have a cold after spending too long out in the rain or sunstroke after spending too much time in the sun or to have really sore muscles after pushing yourself in too long a cycle. In fact, I’d go further than that; as depression can hit anyone at any time. Depression is no more a failure than catching any illness. And the best thing you can do when you are ill – with anything – is to rest, be gentle with yourself, and get help when you need it.
My blog two weeks ago touched many people, and while some of the emails and messages I received were difficult to read most of them also had a sense of hope that they could move on. To those people who reached out, that realised they had things in their past unresolved: it’s ok to ask for help. It’s ok to say you aren’t coping. You haven’t failed, and it’s ok to suddenly find yourself not coping. And as that’s the advice I would give to all of you, I am going to be kind to myself, and take my own advice.