The last few months have given me a lot of time to think. As external influences from our weekly routines and interactions with the people we see disappeared, I found myself thinking a lot about identity and sense of self. This has been spurred on by the fact that the lockdown also coincided with the start of a cognitive behavioural therapy course that I’d been referred to back in January. Although no formal diagnosis, I scored highly for anxiety and moderately for depression on the tests and this was my lovely GP’s suggestion to try and get my head in a better place. And a lot of the work involves really examining yourself and your thought processes to try and change the way you think and consequently, act and feel.
Through my adolescent and adult life I have variously tried to identify and label myself as an activist, a musician, a sailor, a mother, a knitter, a doula, a writer, a runner, a weight lifter, a forest school leader, an employee… I’ve never felt I belonged in any of these categories, I didn’t feel I was accomplished enough, experienced enough, committed enough. I didn’t feel that I was good enough. During my CBT course, this theme kept emerging. Not being enough. Which has been traced back to having a really crappy sense of self esteem. I don’t know where this has come from, I’ve been blessed (lucky?) enough to not experience any real trauma in my life and have got a blooming’ amazing support network of family and friends.
During lockdown, I’ve particularly felt I’m failing as a mother. Work has been incredibly busy and I really felt for a while that I was living and breathing it, that I was constantly telling the kids I had an email to send, a phone call to make, a meeting to attend. My work-life balance felt totally out of sync. I’ve been beating myself up about it for weeks. However, one of the exercises on the CBT course made me take stock and actually reflect on what we’ve done over the last few months, not just take my perception of it for granted. And I realised that we’d not done too badly. We completed our WWII project, completed a science climate-change project, started a new history project and the kids have worked on their music practice and maths and English regularly. We’ve also taken a lot of day trips; to the woods, to the moors, to the beach and I’ve done a ton of running. So I guess I haven’t done as badly as I thought.
I have realised two things though. Firstly that the why doesn’t particularly matter. It’s just one of those things I guess. What does matter is what I do about it now and how I build my sense of self to be more positive (or at least, more realistic!) The second thing is that I need to care a hell of a lot less about what other people think of me and a lot more about what I think of me (and preferably, it’d be good if I liked, or at least accepted, myself a bit more!) This also means that actually, I don’t need a label. I am not just one thing. I am multi-faceted and it doesn’t matter if I don’t fit into a box.
I hesitated to write this blog. I don’t want to elicit any sympathy. In fact, I struggle to accept it anyway and find it incredibly embarrassing. Which is all part and parcel of the thing I’m working on I think; in lieu of being relaxed enough to really live in the moment, I want to be liked, to make people laugh, to want people to want to be with me. In fact, the realisation that I don’t laugh as much as I’d like to has been a real turning point to me and my self development. I love to laugh, those endorphins are addictive! But I’m too wrapped up in my own head and constant mental to-do list to really be present and relax. The favourite people in my life are the ones that make me fully embrace the moment and that I laugh with.
Rather, I wrote this because I truly believe it’s important to be honest about mental health and if it helps someone else to be brave enough to reach out for help if they need it, it’s worth the vulnerability. I’ve put off getting help for many years, probably since Eli was born. I was embarrassed about it. On paper, my life is pretty damn good and I didn’t think I had any right to need help. I thought I just needed to get over it, to figure out my own way to worry less and be happier but turns out, I couldn’t do it alone.
Recently, I’ve seen a few people in my sphere open up about their mental health and it both surprised and encouraged me. People who I thought totally had it together apparently, did not. And I realised that means that they might have needed support but same as me, not reached out for it. How can we be good friends and look after those in our ‘virtual village’ if we don’t know when people need support?
So yes, at the beginning of the year I was having a bloody hard time. On more than one occasion, I sat in my car after a run or a visit to a friend not wanting to go home. And not because anything terrible was happening at home. Just because life felt too much. I wanted to get on the road and just keep driving. I wanted to lose myself. But in the months that followed, I’ve actually found myself. Irritating at times but passionate about what I believe and care about, not hugely accomplished at any one thing but happy with doing the many things I like at an amateur level, good at getting physically lost but always happy to take the risk anyway (just last week my patient family experienced this again, proving that even a coast path walk doesn’t always go to plan), flawed but ultimately, not too bad. This doesn’t mean I’m ‘fixed’. Just the last few weeks I’ve felt everything getting too much again. But I know now that I don’t have to run away or hide, that I have the tools and support to get through this rough patch, just like I did before.
And if you’re struggling as well, I’d encourage you to reach out and ask for help. From your friends and family, from your doctor. If you’re in Devon, you can self refer to TalkWorks, a depression and anxiety service funded by the NHS. It might not be enough for you, but it’s a start.
And a massive thanks to a few people in particular that have endured listening to me waffle on over the last few months and supported me through it all, you know who you are and I love you guys.