Whilst I have managed to keep some semblance of a normal life strung together, there are things that are or have been different for me of that I’ve missed out on due to my mental health. This post probably bears too much similarity to my post on things affected by anxiety, but regardless, here they are.
I can no longer work full time, and every time I try to think about it I realise how far away I am from actually being able to hold down full-time employment. I’m not in a great financial position, but I can manage working from home. The thought of putting myself in another position where my employment might be jeopardised by my health fills me with terror and anger. It only takes one bad day for me to realise how much of a struggle it might be. I do feel in a better place to attempt work now – but the irony of that is, I feel better precisely because I am not working.
This is a logical extension from the difficulties I have had with working full time. Over the past couple of years, I have slowly decreased my earning precisely because I have had increased time off sick from work and exhausted my paid sick days. Towards the end of my last job, I wasn’t earning enough to pay my rent, so my savings have taken a huge hit. My savings were supposed to be for holidays, maybe a car. Once upon a time, the idea was that we’d save for a house. Any ideas of buying a house, a car, getting married, having children, anything that our peers are managing to do is completely off the cards for us at the moment. I’m not ready for full time work, I’m not earning enough to pay my rent. Our lives are essentially on hold, and it’s directly to do with my mental health. If I think too much about it, I get sad. I understand that comparison is the thief of joy, and I’m not wishing I could do these things necessarily because other people are doing them, but because I’d like my life to proceed.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not as though I am some friendless pariah, although my brain would absolutely love that to be true. However, I do wonder if it’s been harder for me to make and maintain friendships because of my mental health. Even with friends I have known for years (which is, essentially, all of them) I’m still reticent to make the first move, as it were, because I always assume that other people have more important things going on, or that if I suggest meeting up they’ll only agree because they feel sorry for me. This hasn’t been a conscious thing, so it may have appeared to people as though I’m not bothered or don’t want to maintain a relationship. I think I’m slowly unlearning this, but that’s mainly due to the reassurance that most of my friends have been in my life for well over a decade, and it’s pretty established that we do actually like each other by now.
In new situations I still feel awkward and very reluctant to share information about myself. I’m quite private, I suppose (the irony of this being written in an online blog is not lost on me). I fear judgement, or that people will simply not care, despite the number of times I have listened to people prattle on about their fucking boring jobs or something. The problem is, as well, that I have certain expectations of people, and not everyone will meet these. This can make friendships hard, and in the past, I think I’ve let friendships be very much on the terms of others.
Hobbies and talents
I may be ‘recovering’ but that doesn’t mean I would ever, ever have the mental capacity to consider myself as anything approaching talented. Nevertheless, there are things I have enjoyed, maybe even been good at. The jury went out for deliberations on this one and never came back; I’ve never been in a position to objectively assess myself as anything other than shite.
When I was younger, I played the piano, the clarinet, and I taught myself to play the guitar. Objectively (as objective as I can be, anyway) I wasn’t great at piano. As an adult (isn’t being an adult great?) I can see that was clearly because I didn’t practise, but I probably didn’t practise because I either wasn’t enjoying it and too scared too say, or because somewhere deep in my little child brain I was frightened about not being good, so instead of trying to be good, I pushed it away.
I fared a little better with the clarinet, continuing until my teens and then taking up singing lessons to do my A level music performance. I taught myself the guitar when I was younger, learning from books and a CD or two. My ear is far from perfectly musical, and can’t just pick things up by listening to them. Guitar chords or tabs available on the internet and album songbooks kept me playing for quite a few years. I was never confident enough to try to form a band or anything, even though secretly I would have loved to – I just never thought I was good enough.
I’ve never enjoyed the possibility that other people are better at things than I am, which is starkly in contrast to me thinking I’m useless at everything. If I’m as useless as I say, then surely everyone would be better? Nevertheless, it hasn’t been an easy pill to swallow and I’ve usually used it as an excuse to give up on things. The exception is writing – I don’t think I’m the best in the world, and I know there are others better than I am, but for me this is personal, and the quality of my writing isn’t necessarily tantamount to my ‘success’.
I’ve touched on this before, but it’s quite hard to be in a relationship when you’re a total fruitcake. When I am ‘okay’, from looking at the past, it seems as though I still bury negative feelings and have never let myself admit that I’m not happy in a relationship simply because I had no reason not to be. This has, quite frankly, led to fairly messy and shit endings to relationships which could have been avoided had I only been sensible enough to actually acknowledge my feelings rather than bury them. I don’t trust my own thoughts or feelings at all, and I can never really tell what’s a valid thought worthy of consideration. Sometimes I think my current relationship isn’t right for me, and I have no idea if that is because it isn’t, or because my anxiety just likes to make me worry that it isn’t and something terrible will happen. As it goes, me and Mr Seeds muddle along quite well, but fuck me if it isn’t a confusing mess in my brain sometimes.
Every time I do something sociable, it completely wipes me out for a couple of days depending on how much sleep I’ve had, alcohol consumption, travelling, that sort of thing. Throughout the course of my most recent episode I’ve learned that I simply can’t do the things I used to be able to do any more. A few years ago, before my episode, my then-boyfriend and friendship group did a fair bit of pub-haunting of a weekend, often afternoons turning into evenings and sometimes full on nights out. We were around town all the time, and it felt more like living than my current efforts.
That’s a superficial comparison, as my social activities now are undoubtedly far more meaningful and worthwhile to me. I spend time with lifelong friends, I’ve celebrated birthdays, weddings, births, all manner of exciting, fun things. Whilst I used to be able to hit the town (wow, I sound ancient) two nights on the bounce I can barely even stay awake past 10pm two nights in a row these days. Despite the improved quality of my interactions, it is nevertheless frustrating that I can’t flit about like I used to. This weekend, for example, I’ve over committed myself and have three potential outings to go to. I know that I’ll suffer if I try to manage all three, and I’m still recovering from the past two weekends.
It’s hard to accept but having chronic mental ill health and taking a barrow full of psychoactive medication every day has a significant impact on what I’m physically able to do, never mind what happens when a cloud of depression or jolt of anxiety take over and convince me I don’t even want to do anything.
These things may seem trivial, but when I think about them properly or add them together, I know that things could easily have been different. Absolutely, they could have been worse, but they certainly could have been better. For the most part I have stumbled through life with the illusion of having things together, but there will always be a part of me wondering ‘what if’.