“If you can’t keep yourself alive and safe then I’ll have to send a psychiatrist around and bring you into hospital.”
I never thought I would hear those words and I cried and cried down the phone to the duty doctor at my GP practice feeling a rising sense of desperation. I wanted and needed help but this wasn’t it.
The duel impulses of wanting to take my own life, as I couldn’t cope with managing my own mental ill health with thoughts running alongside of all I had achieved that hadn’t quite unfurled yet was breaking me into pieces. I wanted to live and I wanted to die and I felt the weight of both pressing on me to cast the deciding vote on my life. Life is standing uneven footed on this edge, facing down the nameless void and being overcome with unshakeable opaque blackness or tilting my weary head up to look at the blue, expansive sky with the possibilities to come. Sometimes gravity is stronger than freeing myself to fly up to the warmth of the sun.
Hospital was not an option and I made sure it didn’t happen but when a GP uses that as a threat when you’re getting help, it makes you cynical and hardens you up a bit.
I have thought long and hard about whether to write this post on my professional website.
This blog came about as I wanted to bring thought and personality into my work, as that’s part of the reason to commission me for photography and writing. However, I always considered the tone of voice I use and the personal information that I put out in a professional context. Fundamentally, I’ve always been an honest person and I truly believe that if you strip away the layers, you are left with the essence of who you are so it’s important to speak with an authentic voice about my truths and my reality.
I have suffered from severe clinical depression and anxiety for a long time so that it’s classed as a disability. Many times it has cut into my life and stopped me in my tracks, interfering with my ability to do normal daily things like cooking, reading, getting dressed or halting achievements and plans of mine. For an intensely driven high achiever with the work ethic of several small countries, frustration does not even cover it, I know when it descends, I am weighted down by the part of me I try to keep from blotting me entirely with black inkiness.
There are many eye rolling stories about the colleague that overshares to the point of discomfort and that is not my aim here. This is who I am and a part of my make up but right now I am fighting for it to not consume me and it will never run me. I spend so much time thinking and photographing around identity and the hidden and with that trust my sitters give me to see into their lives, I would like to give something back and knock down those suffocating barriers that don’t end up protecting us but create a wall of silence. This is me and I hope to conquer it and get stronger again.
Mental health conditions aren’t rare, 1 in 4 of the general population will experience a mental health problem in any year. Whenever I have talked about my condition it has led to others opening up, stigma is something that stopped me writing on here but it should be out there. This condition influences the jobs I’m able to take, the decisions I make for myself and the ways that I am able to work. Mental health can be damaging and negative but it can be a positive story where people survive to fight another day to achieve all these big and wonderful things. I feel that by writing this, I am reminding myself not to effervesce myself into glittering blackness because it feels good at the time of productivity and I can tell myself to just keep putting one foot in-front of the other until it feels natural to walk again.
As I sit here typing, medication which I got put on and now taken off is buffering me with waves of sedation mulling my braincells into dizzying heights, spaced out and suffocating where my head swims back and forth. I want my sharp, quick witted brain back. It’s not like the past few days, with a trip to hospital and sleeping all day as medicine was knocking me out. Today, I draw the line under it and am trying to continue the battle without chemicals. I’ve been drafting this post for weeks but have just been too unwell but it either gets said or sits there silently gathering weight. I’ll take the odd sleep patterns, crying in a heap not knowing why, squaring up with suicide, unsure how to respond to people asking “how are you?”, the unshakeable grip of feeling just a bit too raw and the rest, if I can keep myself going.
In the middle of healthcare bureaucracy, I’m trying to set up professional support and relying on friends becomes difficult as I feel like a dead weight burden. Trying to put anchors down amongst all the wavering uncertainty. Who I become when I get ill is the opposite of who I am when I am well but these sides of me need to co-exist in a healthy way and not jostle for space in an all or nothing bid for war. Internally, keeping myself alive and well sometimes feels like the most impossible task when I hit the lows with no end point in sight and ping back up in anxiety driven jitters of activity where my perception starts to distort and I can’t trust what’s in-front of me.
This recent bout of illness has been a case of quite a lot happening in my personal life and juggling that with the responsibilities of a very intensive and demanding course. Since the end of January, I started an industry recognised NCTJ diploma in written journalism on a eighteen week fast track. It’s not been easy due to an enormous workload and I know it’s challenging and not me when my peers wander around looking like drained perma-zombies with glassy, blinking eyes. My ability to do well on this course may well be jettisoned by ill health and this feels like the biggest defeat of all.
Amongst all of this my management strategies have either not been possible due to lack of time or have really failed to work. After a mental health assessment, I decided to go to Green Park to enjoy the sun and try and get some normality back in my life but this proved to be one of the worst things possible. I lay on the grass and the merging of hundreds of conversations, traffic noise and general city buzz which I usually thrive off started to sound like a million telephones ringing, the people talking took on a metallic quality like sheets of metal rumbling and grating at the same time. The sky loomed over me and I felt like it was going to cave in on me as it was getting oppressively closer. It scares me to not be able to trust my own perceptions as every sense of mine has been turned up to maximum volume so everything is in overdrive. I usually buzz off lots of information and multi-tasking but I’m inundated with sounds, sights and touches that feel overwhelming now. I can’t even cycle at the moment either due to intense fatigue or the reverse and feeling wired and risky on the bike.
I’ve worked in enough big companies where they put you through psychometric tests to figure out your personality type to slot you in to the grand masterplan. An important theme that came out was that I was happiest in my work when I demonstrated courage and empathy.
What does courage mean? For me it means not giving up, not letting go, asking those questions others are afraid to ask, tackling tough issues and dealing with conflict.
What does empathy mean? One of my biggest strengths is being able to sit down with a complete stranger and get their life story in minutes and to not to be afraid to share mine, fractures and mistakes included and to be able to bring people out of themselves.
These are strengths that make me a strong journalist and photographer.
But for me right now when I shrink it down to the waves of dizziness circling my head, courage is facing up to being ill, being vulnerable and being able to stick my hand up and still be counted and not give up and I ask for your empathy and to remember it for when you see someone you love or know suffering with their demons.