It’s been over four months since my last blog post, so the first thing I need to do is apologise to all the people that are kind enough to follow me and read my blogs. Whenever someone reads one of my posts or comments on it I really appreciate so I do feel bad that I haven’t been keeping up my side of the bargain, as it were.
The reason I haven’t been posting is that I’ve been ill. As regular readers may remember, I decided to start a new career in January, and to do so freelance. I have been lucky enough to pick up regular work since then but it got to a point where I had too much work and felt incredibly inexperienced. In the space of a day I found myself under the most unbelievable stress. I have been anxious before and depressed before, but nothing like this. I had a constant feeling of dread and what I can only describe as total fear. I was barely sleeping and eating, I felt sick all the time and my stomach was constantly churning. My skin was tingling, as though there were insects crawling under my skin. I couldn’t stop crying. It felt as though I was standing alone in the middle of a large desert, with nothing and no one for miles, or stuck on a platform really high up with nothing to catch me if I fell. I couldn’t even wind down reading or watching television because I just felt so worried. Even writing about it now I can feel some of those symptoms coming back. It was absolutely unbearable. I went to the doctor immediately, because it just felt like I couldn’t possibly bear to feel this way for another day longer.
I managed to clear some of the work, got some medication for my stomach (which sadly only works intermittently) and pretty much dropped everything else, including all my writing outlets. I stopped drinking and started eating soups that didn’t upset my digestive system. My only focus was on how to feel better. Unfortunately, although I removed a lot of the reason behind the stress, the stress itself didn’t go away. I started attending a cognitive behavioural class with the Primary Healthcare Trust, and one of the things they explained was that once stress has been triggered, even if the cause goes away the stress can remain. This happened to me, and I started to feel really low. Like I said, I have felt depressed before but in the last four months I have really discovered that feeling depressed is nowhere near the same as depression.
I started to just hope that I would die in the night and I felt disappointed in the morning when I woke up. I never got to the point of actually thinking about killing myself, but the idea of just accidentally dying, like in a car accident or from a previously undiagnosed heart condition. Even a major injury that would force me into hospital for a few months or a year sounded appealing. The crying continued, especially when I was at home by myself, which as a freelancer working from home was quite a lot. I wondered what I was doing with my life, what the point of me was, why I even bothered. One good thing was that I never lost sight of the fact that people loved me, but that started to feel like a burden rather than a blessing. I envied people that could just get up and walk out of their lives without anyone noticing. I just really wanted to opt out.
I’ve always been someone that feels people should take responsibility for their happiness. If you want to lose weight, eat better and exercise. If you want to go out with someone, ask them. I’m not saying that I’ve always been great at those things, far from it, but I understand that there is no one else that can fix me apart from me. As such, I have really tried to identify what the problem is. Yes, it all started from overwork, but the change was so swift and dramatic that I feel certain that it was building for a while. My stomach had been playing up for at least a month, because I already had a doctor’s appointment booked when I suddenly got ill. A lot of the time, one of the hardest things for me was feeling I didn’t know what was wrong. In theory, although life isn’t perfect, my life is pretty good. I live in an equal and democratic society, I have a family who loves me, a fair amount of financial security. It feels wrong to complain when I am so much better off than other people. However, regardless of that I still wasn’t well.
I think being 30 is a large part of the problem. I know that 30 isn’t old, yet it is an age where you feel like you should know what you are doing. A lot of my friends struggle with that now, wondering if they are in the right career, whether they should be having babies, why they’ve not met the right person or bought a house. Perhaps coming up to 30 wasn’t the best time for a career change, although one could argue that being in a job you know you don’t really like could be worse for you. In addition, I’m not sure that the new career is for me. Part of the reason I changed was to try and really make an effort as a fiction writer, yet I was so busy with that and blogging every day and domestic stuff that I really didn’t have the time. I also felt as though I wasn’t doing anything to really help people. My last job was working in pensions administration for charities, so although I wasn’t exactly on the front line, it felt like I was helping people that were. Another problem was that the solitude really bothered me. That was a big surprise. I don’t think I’ve ever been what I would call a people person and so I thought that working alone at home would suit me. Unfortunately I just felt isolated.
In the end, I decided to call it a day, career-wise. I rang up the guy that I do most of my work for and explained the position (against the advice of my partner, who thought I should just say I had had a better offer). I thanked him for the opportunity but explained I was really struggling and that I was going to return to office work and asked me if he wanted me to work any notice to give them a chance to get someone else in. I don’t know quite what I expected to happen, but he was great and ended up offering me an increase in my hourly rate so that I could work just the mornings and have the chance to get out in the afternoons. I had a think about it and at the moment I am doing that and going to a friend’s in the afternoons to do some writing.
I also thought that I needed to give myself some goals to focus on, and to start thinking about how I could help other people. There are two things in particular that I have been thinking about for a while, Girlguiding and a charity challenge. I have started volunteering with the Girl Guides as a unit helper, and so far I am really enjoying it. The girls are aged between 10-14 and are quite challenging to say the least, but I think it is a good thing for me. I have also signed up to to a charity trek to Machu Picchu, forcing me to get fit and requiring a lot of fundraising! I did my first 10k run last month and completed it in 1 hr and 6 mins which I was really happy with, mainly because I didn’t walk once! My charity is Pancreatic Cancer Action, in aid of my niece Lydia who was diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer at the age of 5 in 2011. You can find out more about that at http://www.laurasmachupicchutrek.thechallengenetwork.com/ if you are interested, and of course all donations are very gratefully accepted!
So I’ve got all that going on, and I decided today that I was ready to start blogging again. I’ve really missed it, which surprised me a little. Often blogging can feel like just sending a message out into the void with very little idea of who reads it and how it is received. I’m not going to try and go back to my previous schedule, but I am going to start posting on how I’m feeling and things that interest me and really try to get back into the swing of things. It’s been amazing just how much my mental health has affected everything. I had a brief bout of anxiety at university but nothing at all like this and I do still feel a bit like I’m balancing on a see-saw, poised to tip back over the edge again at any time. Hopefully it won’t happen, and certainly it won’t be for a lack of trying to be well.