Ouch. Those words are painful to say. Just 2 words, 3 syllables all in, but they’re incredibly daunting. They open up so many questions, they may you feel incredibly vulnerable. You’re putting yourself out there to be judged. By opening up you feel you’re going to be alone because people don’t understand.
“She looked fine the other day.”
“He was laughing when I saw him earlier.”
“Think someone just wants a bit of time off to skive, I’d love a lie-in.”
Do you know what? They probably do look ok. On the surface they have a smile, chat like normal even laughing and joking. Sometimes that works. That facade works. You are able to kid yourself that you’re doing ok and the best way through this is to pick up your bag, lean into the wind and brace yourself. Power on through. Paint that smile on your face and pretend everything is normal; the proverbial swan, beautiful and calm on the surface, but paddling like crazy underneath just to stay afloat, but barely a ripple on the surface to show for it.
Do you admit you’re struggling and break that facade or do you paddle on through?
Do you say those words? Or do you keep pretending and hope how you’re feeling will pass?
“She looked ok last time I saw her, clearly spent ages on that make-up, can’t be that bad.”
“But he has just treated himself to a new phone, can’t be that bad.”
People who are struggling from anxiety or are on that slippery slope to becoming depressed aren’t likely to be the ones dragging themselves into work like a Neanderthal. (Well they might be, but that’s not what they’re going to show you.) They may turn up wearing more make-up spending longer than usual on their appearance to make sure their mask in firmly in place. Others may buy themselves a new something or dress a little smarter to deflect from how they are feeling, which doubles as something else to talk about rather than what is really going on inside their minds.
People may not want to talk about their feelings and what has triggered them, but it is so important that they know they have the option and freedom to. Asking them how they are feeling may not deliver instant response. They may not suddenly break down and cry in front of you weeping and wailing and spraying their whole life story all over you, but they will be making a mental note, they will know that when they do need someone, you may be that person they can turn to.
Those words don’t come easy and they’re not said with the plastered smile on your face no-matter how hard you try. They are spoken with a barrage of emotions that hit you all at once. Emotions break through the flood defences that have been firmly set in place, they are no longer able to hold back the flood. I have compared this to the Friend’s episode where Chandler is unable to feel or show emotion, but it transpires that once he does show emotion and let it all out, he is unable to stop. You may walk into that doctor’s office or see your manager or a friend or family member, promising yourself you’re not going to cry or show any emotion. Before the cheeks of your bottom have touched they cold plastic of the chair it’s likely you will be crying. By walking through that door you have already decided it’s time for a change of tactic. The powering through approach hasn’t worked, and this time has resulted in complete exhaustion. Sometimes this is when you are at your most productive because you need that distraction, sometimes the feelings don’t pass and it’s time to explore a different route.
Admitting you’re not coping and letting others in is a moment that’s been a long time coming and a decision that wasn’t taken lightly.
People may feel anxious and feel everything is too much for many reasons. They may be grieving and when I say this I don’t mean in the days and weeks after, I mean in the months and years, for the rest of their lives. Sometimes it can sneak up on you and pounce out of nowhere grounding you in an instant. Other times it lingers and stalks, quickly retreating when it is challenged, but always hovering at the back of your mind, waiting for that moment of weakness. It can be lying dormant, resting; biding its time for that trigger to set it free again. Sometimes things happen in life that people never ‘get over’ and it is really upsetting that people think that years down the line time has healed all and you should have moved on. It simply isn’t the case.
Sometimes a big life-changing event may not be the cause of the anxiety. Sometimes it is lots of little things that build up. All these scrunched up little pieces that you stuff so far down, making a mental note to deal with later or taking on-board things your simply do not know how to deal with and cannot process. You keep adding more and compressing them down adding and compressing. Not dealing with these little things can leave them hanging over your head like a tidal wave, covering the sun and casting shadows, shrouding you in darkness and where the threat of drowning becomes very real. Eventually, there is very little space left. If anything more should happen or ‘crop up’ as it inevitably does, there is physically no room left to take it on-board, but you try anyway.
“Ha! What has he got to worry about?”
“I only asked her to make sure the reports were on my desk for the end of the week! No need for that!”
That one little stress can be enough to make you explode, snapping and sniping when you are handed something else to deal with you blow. This could be the tiniest inconvenience but you simply don’t have the reserves to deal with that forgotten lunch-box or the broken computer, so you snap. And to the outside world it is over nothing, but they have no idea of all those tiny issues that have all added up.
Or it can make you curl up into a ball for self-preservation hoping a shield of armour will envelop around you and protect you from anything further. This also means you are unable to take anything else on-board, leaving it all to stack up, causing further worry when you sideways glance at that ever increasing tower. It’s not more than a glance because that pang of worry that you feel in your chest stops you from perusing it any further. Instead you retreat back inside yourself, and jump back on the treadmill of worry – running over those thoughts and worries but never picking them up to process them. You are just doing the bare-minimum to get you through each day.
People cope with their anxiety in many different ways. One way, and it isn’t for everyone, is to see a counsellor. Whenever you mention to people you are seeing or have seen a counsellor they assume you’re crazy. They assume you’re one step away from running naked down the street with your knickers on your head asking people if they have seen your pet banana. (I quote the amazing Kath Crowe here, I remember reading in one of her blogs that she was never afraid of growing old and going slightly doo-lally and in fact would have been honoured to be that crazy lady running down the street with her knickers on her head had cancer given her the opportunity.) But that isn’t the case just because you are seeing someone to talk to. People are judged for seeing someone for any issues they may have. There is SUCH a taboo about seeing that professional whose job is to help you. No-one every shouts from the rooftops they are seeing a counsellor, they rarely even drop it into conversation and only for the fact they are unsure how the other person will react or that they will think less of them for needing that extra support.
As with finding the right partner you may need to kiss a few frogs. Not everyone is the same, as in life they get on with some people better than others, so you find the right professional for you. If you don’t get on with the first one you meet, don’t be put off. Try someone else. It’s ok.
I have seen and am currently seeing a counsellor. I am not ashamed. She is amazing. She can’t fix me, she isn’t going to pat me on the head and tell me everything is ok. She lets me pour out everything I am feeling. She helps me to unknot that ball of wool that sits inside my brain. She straightens it out with her strategies and breaks what can seem a completely overwhelming mountain down into bitesize chunks. Step by step. I have seen others along the way, but they just didn’t suit me and that’s ok.
I don’t see her often. In actual fact it is almost 9 months since I have seen her. I saw her on the run-up to getting Arlo’s post-mortem results, because at that time I was struggling with the wait and anticipation of the appointment. I was waiting for a teddy to be made to store his ashes in, that wasn’t yet ready so we couldn’t bring him home. I was unable to get closure on something that had happened and I had put a complaint about some flooring that I was waiting to hear back about. Sounds stupid, but on-top of everything else it felt bigger than it was especially when I was waiting for any one of those things to land and be put to bed.
I have seen her recently because I am struggling again, I felt I was in self-preservation mode, letting things stack up because I was trudging through the day-to-day. I was snapping and stressing should the slightest thing go wrong or should an extra, unexpected one require attention. There were so many things going on I just needed a safe place to vent. I needed to speak to someone who doesn’t try to tell me what I should do to make things better, someone that doesn’t give me sympathy because I don’t cope well with that. I hate people feeling sorry for me. Be it friends or family, I instantly clam up, I have an overwhelming need to prove to them that I’m ok immediately after the slightest drop of sympathy. That is just me. It doesn’t mean I don’t love my family and friends, but I almost want to protect them too. If a tragic event has happened in your life, the ripples will have reached your family and friends too. I find it easier to offload to someone that isn’t directly involved. They do that job for a reason. They didn’t walk in off the street, they have trained and have the personality to be able to do the job. They are in that job because they want to make a difference and help people.
There are many questions I will never have any answers for, things I will never be able to put to bed and close the door on. From time to time they sprout up from nowhere; I go over and over them trying to find an answer in my own head. During these periods everything becomes knotted and I start to flounder. She sits back and carefully unravels the knotted wool, picking her way through to help me straighten things out and make sense of them in my own head. SO I am able to see a clear route forward.
Please be kind to others, you can never sure what battles they are fighting. No one is asking you to try to understand them deeply, but understand that the choice they have made is best for them at that time.
Remember… It’s ok not to be ok!
On Days Like This
On days like this I want to be anonymous,
And be where no one knows my name.
On days like this I want to be no one,
No recognition, just tunnel-vision,
And definitely no fame.
On days like this I don’t want to be me;
Smiling and always polite.
I want to scowl and frown and shout,
Feeling darkness, no glimmer of the smallest light.
On days like this I’m happiest alone,
That way there’s no pretending.
Allow me the days where black clouds hover;
Let me have my days like this,
I pretend to be happy ever so often.
Let me be just this one day,
Let the shell-like exterior soften.
Let me cry and sob and shout,
Let me be that angry person.
Let me not be myself today,
But don’t let the dark sky worsen.
After today help me back on my feet,
And help me walk again.
I’ve never liked needing support,
But I need your help through this pain.
Let me have my days like this,
Though few and far between.
I need them to recharge and become,
The person you’re used to seeing.
By Sarah Ward