Motherhood, mental illness and beyond

Is it me?

I’ve had mental health issues for as long as I can remember, from compulsive binge-eating and self-harming at the age of 7 to depression which began in my early teens and my current diagnoses of cyclothymia, generalised anxiety disorder and binge-eating disorder. Despite my mental peaks and troughs I’ve always been able to function, hold down a good job and socialise with friends.

Until recently. The birth of my daughter, four and a half years ago, plunged me into a pit from which I’m still struggling to escape. Not because I didn’t want her or love her, but my postnatal depression (PND) was so absolute that it seems to have altered my mental state almost permanently. After a couple of years and several therapies I felt pretty recovered, only to succumb to antenatal depression (AND) while I was pregnant with my son. Unsurprisingly after his birth I was once again plunged into depths of PND. Once that was resolved I was referred to a psychiatrist who diagnosed me as having cyclothymia (or rapid cycling bipolar disorder) as well as anxiety issues.

At the time of writing I am fairly functional most days thanks to medication and a heightened awareness of my mood state. I do however really struggle with social situations and talking to strangers, which is utterly ridiculous when you consider that I was in the civil service for 6 years! But for how that’s how it is at the moment. I recently had to describe my social anxiety to a friend:

“Chatting to people at playgroups, in cafes, even the school run can be torture. When I have to speak to someone unfamiliar in a social situation my heartrate increases and my breathing gets shallow. My mouth goes dry and I feel as though my throat is closing up. If I can’t escape then I usually end up having a full-blown panic attack”.

Obviously this causes problems when it comes to having a social life of any kind! In the last year I’ve managed to go out with friends once. Just one time, to a local Thai restaurant, and even then I could only stay for about an hour and a half before getting overwhelmed and having to leave.

My current state seems to be hard for friends to cope with. Over the last few years I seem to have misplaced quite a few peripheral friends but also 2 very dear, loved and trusted friends. These friends knew everything about me, about my struggles with mental illness, and encouraged me to be open with them. But in the end the burden of my problems became too much for them to deal with on top of their own lives, and they disappeared. Now I may be losing another good friend, someone I’ve been friends with for over 20 years, because of my mental ill health.

There are only so many times DH can tell me that these losses are not my fault but theirs, before it starts to ring hollow. If it’s not my fault then why does it keep happening? Maybe I don’t try hard enough – I’ve been told in the past that I wallow in my depression instead of fighting it. Or maybe I’m too truthful, I’ve been told that by being honest about my struggles I’m making others miserable and overwhelmed. I wonder whether it would be the same if I had a long-term physical illness? Would friends still drift away or would they cope? Am I the problem? Am I asking too much of my friends? Am I too needy, too confiding, too overwhelming? Because to be blunt, it’s pretty bloody overwhelming being trapped inside my mind day in and day out. At times the despair (will I ever recover?), the self-loathing (I’m so pathetic!) and the constant self-examination (is that a rational thought or is it my illness talking?) are so overwhelming that I would do almost anything for just a few minutes peace. Even my nights aren’t restful, thanks to frequent and vivid nightmares.

Whatever the reason may be, with a couple of notable exceptions I’ve stopped confiding in friends now, and even with those exceptions I’m careful about what I say and how much I reveal. I have a couple of trusted family members and of course I’m completely honest with DH, but as I explained in my last post he has his own issues to deal with at the moment. My only other real solace is Twitter, where hundreds of people who barely know me are kind and supportive. How odd, that I can be so open with virtual strangers yet have to be so wary around friends.

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Comments on: "Is it me?" (9)

  1. I have so much to say but can’t find the words. One thing I will say though, your DH is absolutely right, it is about them not you. It has taken me 40 years to get to the point where I can begin to deal with my issues (very similar to yours) through the combination of a real life friend who can deal with me being honest in the way no-one ever could before, my husband being quietly supportive as always and the power of twitter. Please don’t give up hope. Please don’t stop talking to people. If they walk away they weren’t who you needed. It may only take one person, if they are the right one, to change your life. Sending you love and strength xx

  2. First, have a huge hug from me, because it sounds like you need it. Second, I don’t think it’s you. I’ve never met you but from following your blog and tweets you come across as a lovely person, a caring mother, someone with a sound social conscience and a sense of humour. Anyone who doesn’t want someone like that as a friend is missing out. I’m a huge introvert and find meetings new people really hard going (toddler groups are the epitome of ‘things I hate’), but I love the internet because I can make friends with people in a way I’m more comfortable with. I think you have a lot of friends online who are here for you. Again, big hugs. X Emma

  3. Lady, I haven’t commented on your blog before, but this one damn nearly broke my heart. It is most certainly not you. I want you to know that I am here, and will always be here, if you want to talk, shout or scream. I might not be one of your oldest friends but I feel like I’ve known you a lot longer than I have, and also feel we are very similar in many ways. I might not always be able to help from a place of experience, but I know how crippling anxiety is. You never need to worry with me – I’m as present or absent as you want me to be in your life, and that is fine. You don’t need to put a brave face on with me. I love your company and see you as a brave, honest, caring, funny and beautiful lady. If I can do anything, or help in any way, just ask, both practically or emotionally. Jamie and I care for you and your family very much – you are all amazing. Hugs and love to you all, and you especially.

    • Aw, thank you sweetheart. You are a great friend and I know you’re there for me, just as I’m there for you if you need me. Love you loads.

  4. I wonder whether it would be the same if I had a long-term physical illness? Would friends still drift away or would they cope?

    Yes, it would be the same and some people would still drift away. Some people cannot deal with long-term complications and those people who cannot support you during your lows do not deserve you during your highs.

    This is only a season in your life. A wintery, dark, miserable season but only a season nonetheless. And like winter, some days are dreary, cold and lonely, some have a chink of sunshine peeping through and some are bright and clear and you can see spring is coming. The people who matter are the ones who want to be there with you in every season. Because in your bright summery days you are confident, happy, smart, beautiful, sexy, assertive and you shine.
    At the moment a lot of this you can only show online and I understand that but that doesn’t change the fact that you are all of these things and I know this to be true Xx

  5. “I’ve been told that by being honest about my struggles I’m making others miserable and overwhelmed. Am I asking too much of my friends?”
    It must be awful to be so fragile, and so bloody self-centred, that when a friend tells you about their troubles, instead of wanting to help, your reaction is that *you* can’t cope with it.
    It always amazes me how people are able to make others’ mental illness about *them*. Probably the worst thing I heard, during all my struggles with OCD, was ‘Don’t you see how upsetting your behaviour is?’ Sod me, sod the misery I was going through, feeling I had to wash and clean for hours a day; this was somehow about other people. No-one would ever say to a cancer patient, ‘Stop complaining you’re sick after all that chemo – it’s bringing me down!’
    I can only echo the sentiments above and say that true friends will stick by you no matter what. People who are too selfish to be able to support you don’t deserve you.
    As for being too honest, if adults want a world where everything is smiley and fun all the time I suggest they tune into CBeebies. The rest of us appreciate your honesty – it makes us feel we can open up about our own troubles. Personally, I find that being around fake people who pretend everything is fine all the time only makes me feel more isolated.

  6. muminahurry said:

    This strikes so many chords with me! As do the comments above. I don’t have the energy to rattle out a long reply plus most of it has been said above but I completely relate and feel for you. Can I be one of your twitter friends cos I think we have a few things in common!

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