Motherhood, mental illness and beyond

Posts tagged ‘trust’

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.

Friendship – offline vs online

“Friend” is a word with so many nuances. A friend can be someone you meet for coffee occasionally or someone you’ve known for years; someone you chat to about anything except the important things or someone who knows your deepest darkest secrets. I used to have many friends but these days I have only a few, despite having many acquaintances. My mental health problems seem to get in the way. I struggle with meeting new people, I struggle to meet the people I already know. Even worse my illness surreptitiously destroys friendships like a tree that rots from the inside out; I only see the decay as it collapses and dies.

Over the last decade in addition to my amazing husband I have had 4 wonderfully supportive, close friends with whom I could be utterly honest and lean on when I was struggling. Now I have 2. The others abandoned me, telling me that my mental illness was too much for them to cope with. One told me that she was fed up with giving me advice that I didn’t follow and that she felt I wasn’t trying to fight the depression. She had her own problems and in a way she was right – at that time I was fighting as hard as I could but I was still drowning, still wishing for death every day.

That kind of thing must be hard to deal with. I don’t blame them for leaving me but it does make me sad that I am so difficult to be friends with. And it makes me reluctant to be honest about how I really feel. How can I trust anyone? Why be truthful if it just drives people away?

Ironically some of my best support these days comes from virtual strangers online. These people have never met me, they don’t know my real name and in most cases I don’t know theirs. But they are kind, supportive and non-judgmental, and they have held my hand through some dark times. When I was suicidal with PND and the first friend abandoned me it was posters on Mumsnet who supported me, talked with me and helped me see that there were other choices. It’s no exaggeration to say that they saved my life.

These days most of my social interaction is on Twitter, where there is another amazing community of people who are kind and supportive. There are many that I would call friends despite having never met them. I turn to them when I am struggling and don’t want to burden my husband or family; they have never let me down. And I am so grateful for them.

Here’s to you, online friends. You know who you are and you are amazing. You, DH and my 2 trusted friends are the reason that I’m still here and still fighting.

Thank you.

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