As a bit of a follow on from my last post, and the part about my past, the last year has been, at least mental health wise, rather up and down. Anxiety isn’t predictable as such, I can’t tell if next Wednesday for example I’m going to have ‘a bad anxiety day’ far in advance until I actually wake up that day. On the other hand there were periods where my anxiety was brilliant, almost invisible as it gets, which I suppose gives an almost false sense of security.
I was settled-ish in my then new job, making friends with colleagues, working well. Then I made a mistake which turned out to be, shall we say, not one of my finer moments. Probably from then on I was constantly on tenterhooks or in the back of my mind I probably was. Other factors were also in play at this point and as someone who believes in standing up for what they believe is right and what they believe in, and also as scientists we are taught to question everything, I questioned something but may as well not have bothered. Morally I knew I was in the right and my anxiety levels were on the high background side because I was in between a rock and a hard place – I wanted to leave because the stress was making me hideously anxious , to the point of illness and migraines, but I wasn’t in a financial position to do so at that point . As somebody with anxiety it’s horrendously difficult to explain to somebody else, particularly at work who hasn’t experienced anything similar personally why you aren’t so chatty, why you don’t want to go out, why you’re quiet. You’re afraid of letting everyone down, scared of being made a scapegoat and not being able to fight or defend yourself because you’re tired of fighting your own mind.
Workplaces should do more than just sticking up the odd poster for mental health awareness, they need to be proactive about it and make it okay. I asked 4 times to be re referred to occupational health because I myself felt I wasn’t coping (this was before I had the meltdown in my bosses office in December) but no notice was taken and that really upsets me, not just for selfish reasons, but how many others does this happen to? I didn’t even get to go back to occupational health before I left my job. Mental health support in workplaces in the UK is poor really and this is a massive disadvantage to anyone feeling mentally unwell at any degree. Awareness, getting rid of the stigma and using mental health as ‘ bargaining chips’. The latter has to stop – it makes genuine people feel like shit and it’s harder for them to be taken seriously – it’s not a fucking status symbol! And the former two should be going hand in hand with each other and each of us have a responsibility to educate ourselves and promote talking about our own mental health. Ask your mate if they’re ok, I’d they say yeah, ask again. It could be an incredibly important conversation. It could save a life.
This used to be and still is a huge trigger for me. A message, voicemail, text or email, not stating what it is that’s going on immediately gets my back up and flicks the anxiety booster pack switch. Even now just writing this is making me a little anxious. This used to happen a lot at work. I told my boss about how it made me feel but it still happened and I felt so stupid and silly. Great. So not only anxiety ridden, but now feeling like a time waster and idiot too. So a message like “can you pop up to my office” is a massive massive trigger for me and I obviously need to work towards improving my response to it eventually, but ignorance is not really helpful. Just tell me!! If I’ve fucked up or even if I haven’t please just say so, I’d rather just know rather than wind myself up unecessarily and then it’s you that has to deal with me, the anxious mess. No benefit for either of us.
Further back into the past, it may or may not surprise you to know that I was bullied for almost 9 years across primary, secondary schools and college. All because of the way I looked ( I had sticking out teeth and glasses from age 9) , the fact I wasn’t loud and gobby and was usually shy (not anymore lol) and probably because I was clever and actually gave a crap about learning stuff and still do now. Probably the reasons why I have such crap self esteem and self belief I shouldn’t wonder. You’d think by the time I’d got to doing A Levels at the age of 16-18 my peers would have grown up and stopped being pricks and bullying by then. Nope. I just kind of stopped giving a shit about what they said about me. I got the odd comment or look at my first uni too while doing my foundation degree , even to the point of being pushed into cupboards and things in the lab, but I just got my head down and did the best I could, as some others on the course were obviously not arsed about doing any kind of work whatsoever. I kind of had in my head that I was only there (Salford) for the year and it would be worth it in the end. It was, eventually, but I felt very isolated while there, doing the 100+ mile round train trip 3 times a week minimum from York to Salford with 5am wake up calls for a 9am lecture then a full day, arriving home at 7pm then having to do it again the next day. Some weeks it was 4 days and others it was 2 , but at one point I did end up with a bacterial chest infection because I was just so wrecked with the travelling, the stress of studying and probably, now seeing it in hindsight, the social anxieties and bullying/idiots faced.
I had what I consider to be life changing jaw surgery in 2014 just after the first year of my degree ended, and it gave me a lot of self confidence back. It was a long recovery having to eat liquidised foods only for 12 weeks then re learning how to chew but it’s pretty good now. I should think so, with 6 titanium plates and 25 titanium screws holding my jaws in place!
I’ve spoken about what I felt was the major trigger for my anxiety before. It was about 2 years ago, and I found myself in a situation where I was terrified of going to rugby training because of an individual, their actions in gaslighting me causing me to doubt everything about myself even things not related to rugby. My first big anxiety attack came from a voicemail and two missed calls left by her on my mobile one day while I was at uni, which she knew about, followed by an abrupt Facebook message asking for me to phone back. This had come after weeks, perhaps months of frustration of what I felt was being treated unfairly after grafting my arse off in training, doing fitness work in my own time, when others weren’t bothered, and wasn’t being chosen to play or even given a chance at all, I had, unfortunately, ranted over Facebook messenger to who I thought was a mate, that I felt pretty close to, who, it turns out, was also close to the coach. The situation there was bad enough that it wasn’t somewhere that I personally felt I could speak to anyone about how I felt because they would tell the coach and that then makes the issue worse. When you (and I wasn’t alone in this) get pulled up negatively in front of all the squad over and over again, plus when you aren’t present at the time there’s a real lack of respect, and obviously made me a paranoid anxious mess. How or why should I play for someone or play alongside people that potentially don’t trust me? I won’t put my health or body on the line for that reason. At one point my commitment was even questioned, which is frankly laughable, as in 18 months I had missed under 10 training sessions, if that, in total,, and was accused of not being committed enough for not asking someone to drive me 40 miles to training, with one lane of the motorway completely closed due to flooding, a strong chance the rain would continue to worsen amd threaten to block the return route, the A road towards the training ground mostly flooded, I just said no chance, because we aren’t paid to play, in fact we pay to play, I’m not risking my own and others safety over one training session that isn’t realistically going to make a massive difference in the grand scheme of things. The reply was hilarious to be honest, something along the lines of, well if it was work then you would have to go. Big difference in the fact we get paid to work, this was amateur rugby. When people instil that kind of fear into you for not going to training and flinging false accusations about then you know it’s not a good place, you should not be scared about being forced to be driving to training in torrential rain on the M62, obviously if you’re a professional player then there’s a difference, when we were told to be “mentally prepared” for matches when she didn’t even bother naming the team until the Friday before or in some cases the night before, it’s absolutely impossible, but you could predict the majority of it anyway because of the favourites .When allegations are made over messenger and at a meeting about your supposed behaviour, supposed negative body language at training and setting a bad example to the younger players, all of which are unbelievably untrue and frankly an attack on my character, the paranoia is increased and obviously proven that I was right to be paranoid and anxious, which made me feel so much more on edge and worse. The fact I wasn’t even offered an invitation to this meeting and suspicions about certain others that are likely to have been discussing false unfounded allegations which are none of their fucking business at this meeting. I just wanted to get on and play rugby but wasn’t allowed. I could never really tell other people the real truth about why I stopped playing because of the fear that they wouldn’t believe me and some people knew the coach and obviously victim blaming is going to occur, so I just used the excuse that I had a dodgy neck, which was half true and a prolapsed disc and didn’t want to risk it. I’m no angel but there’s not an excuse really for putting people through hell knowingly is there? Her wife also sent me a message afterwards accusing me of things too, after sticking her claws into me acting like my best pal. These people had been who I thought were friends for around 2 years. And quite obviously now I have huge trust issues because of her, because of my so called mate. At one point I was told to basically choose between uni (I was doing my masters) and rugby because I apparently wasn’t committed enough. I’m just surprised I didn’t snap earlier. Rugby isn’t a realistic career option for me, I had one shot at a Master’s, nearly ruined it because I was so fucked up but proved a big motivation for me, plus then had I somehow continued I would have had to find a career around rugby which realistically I would have just gone “I think not” because some of them couldn’t give a flying fuck about me and to be honest vice versa.
A couple of weeks back I saw her and her wife, I instantly recognised them. They didn’t recognise me straight away as I’ve grown my hair since then but I did see her turn, point and smirk in my direction when they were at a safer distance away. Obviously this wasn’t great for me but I’ve done no wrong in this.
I went on citalopram becsuse of my anxiety from this which did really help at the time, and am now on setraline which is pretty good too. I do get tingling feet though. There’s no shame if you need medication to help you feel ok, I know I wouldn’t be able to function very well without mine if at all. Some days even with it, I’m really anxious and have to use various other ways to get through it like mindfulness, music , and CBT techniques like controlled breathing. Sometimes just talking does help or writing it down. That’s how this all started.
Right now, I’ve just had session 4 of 6 1 to 1 counselling IAPT sessions where I’ve been doing some exposure therapy to try and reduce my anxiety in certain situations and happily it has been going reasonably well. One of the things I recognised that made me anxious was sitting on the inside seat of trains or buses because of my perception that I would get trapped and not be able to get off in the right place or at all. I’ve now “exposed” myself to this situation with safety behaviours which were having my earphones in playing music and playing with my phone as a distraction several times, with my anxiety decreasing during the exercise at each attempt. I’ve now done it twice with no safety behaviours with minimum anxiety.
Also I’ve had the unfortunate pleasure of being unemployed and had put in a claim for Universal credit, and was set to receive my first payment next week, however, good news……. I start work tomorrow (Tuesday) at my new job, it all happened quite quickly but after being unemployed for around 3 months I will be glad to get back to it!!
On another note, after these 1 to 1 sessions are complete, my therapist is referring me for some more intense CBT for my social anxiety. Now, I didn’t really recognise my anxiety as particularly social anxiety , but sitting down and doing the CBT counselling exercises, because you have to try to help yourself , I realised a lot of situations that cause me anxiety are social, like ordering in restaurants, paying at a till, and eye contact. Eye contact is something I’ve struggled with for a long time now, I’m not sure why though, maybe it’s because I’m really self aware or self conscious of people looking at me or they think I’m staring, maybe it’s the idea that someone can ‘look you in the eye’ and blatantly lie to you, or maybe it’s because of the bullying that happened , maybe even because I’m afraid or even because of something I can’t think of right now.
I’m still dealing with my trapped nerve / mystery problem in my neck at the moment, which I’ve had an MRI for, in the process inadvertently curing myself of my fear of the scanner going in head first, by accidentally opening my eyes at the wrong moment!! I’m waiting for the results now, just like I’m waiting for the interpretation of some blood tests I had a couple of weeks ago regarding some medical issues, including unexplained tiredness, “brain fog”, terrible concentration and general muscle pain, plus other things. I’m the kind of person who would rather just know what I’m dealing with so I can face and tackle it.
I’m still happily gardening, my peas are close to podding, tomatoes are getting there, garlic and onions have finally started to show (and smell!) and my garlic chives and spring onions are plugging away.
Suppose it’s now onwards and upwards, keeping on keeping on.