You can barely scroll a screen at the moment without encountering mental health awareness- from Prince Harry, to the London Marathon, to Prince Harry at the London Marathon, to Mental Health Awareness Week (this week) and BBC documentaries.
It’s fantastic. It’s genuinely breaking down the stigma of mental illness. Many words about it have been written, by people with more experience than me, and incredibly moving personal stories.
But I do think it’s worth adding more voices to the chorus of ‘me too’ (is there any phrase in the English language more heartening?). So, here goes…
I cherish my own mental health. I prize it more dearly than any possession. I was, once upon a time, in a deep dark place, with diagnosed depression and (I now feel pretty sure) undiagnosed OCD. Not the fictional ‘likes to have a wipe around’ type of OCD, but the terrifying ‘these intrusive thoughts will destroy me’ sort. I was sucked under, not for long, but long enough to feel l was losing my breath. Back then, nobody really spoke about it. Maybe now, with all the coverage there is and all the people bravely speaking up, I’d know that I wasn’t a complete freak, as well as really sad and scared.
With professional help and personal support, I fought my way out. And I haven’t fallen back in for at least fifteen years. Even after my sister died, even after having two babies (all of which could have been big triggers) I have stayed on solid ground, and I could cry with relief just thinking about it.
Peace of mind was all I craved in those difficult times, and now, I think I have it, as a baseline at least. I’m actually happy. It’s amazing! Thank you, NHS!
But. But. I’ve been wondering whether, while we are all becoming more aware of mental health crises and mental illness, are we still lacking awareness about being properly, mentally well? Because I’m not 100% sure, despite the beautiful absence of illness I enjoy, that I am completely mentally well.
The title of this blog post will be, I only half-joke, the name of my memoirs. “Something terrible is about to happen” is a very familiar feeling for me. It’s understandable, you might think. Something terrible did happen. It happened suddenly, and shockingly, and the newspaper headlines you shudder at became my life.
But here’s the truth. I always felt that something terrible was about to happen, even before Helen died. And now that I have children, it’s ever-present.
I know that becoming a parent ushers The Fear into our lives, for all of us. The horrible lurking dread that you could lose your precious child/ren, that never really goes away and never will. That’s unavoidable- even my partner G, who is so level headed you balance a mug of tea on his bonce, feels The Fear. If they sleep in too late in the morning, we both hold our breath as go into their rooms.
But I’m not sure that the level at which I experience The Fear is normal. Say one of them is running around and around a tree; each time they disappear behind the tree, panic rises. I know they are behind the tree. There is nowhere they could disappear to. But I panic for the two seconds it takes for them to pop back into vision.
Or at the soft play centre. My eyes are fixed so firmly on the exit, just in case some imaginary baddie tries to abduct my children, that I can’t properly hold a conversation with the friends I came with.
Once, my daughter and her friends virtually pissed themselves laughing on the way home from school, imagining how I would react if they ran off round the corner. ‘Other mummies would be fine, but you’d be like AAAAARGH!’, they LOL-ed.
When people say ‘you have to let children take risks’ I want to bellow ‘OH NO YOU FUCKING DON’T!’
I tell myself that it is because I love my kids so much. But then, other parents love their children just as much. And they can take their eyes off them for two seconds.
And then there’s the generalised anxiety I often feel on a day-to-day basis. About work (did I screw up? Will somebody die because of it?), about friendships (do they hate me?), about whether I am a complete twat (does everyone, in fact, hate me?). Sometimes it’s a physical feeling, like I am constantly about to hiccup.
All of this, and yet I am actually happy. This anxiety is so much a part of me, that I wonder if it’s just my personality. Maybe some of us are just sensitive. Or maybe, just perhaps, it’s something I should be addressing.
Maybe I am still, in fact, mad. If only slightly mad.
But life is so busy, and ironically, it becomes one more thing to worry about. And I don’t have time, what with everything else,to worry about that, much less to do anything about it. But maybe that should change.
I applaud mental health awareness. Perhaps, for many of us, that should also mean a little more self-awareness, to help us become truly well.
I’m getting there. I think I’ll get there. If nothing terrible happens before I do.