When I started this blog, I was hoping to knock out around one post a week. I thought it would be easy enough, but the last few weeks I’ve been struggling with being ‘out there’, posting under my real name and publicising the blog. I thought once I’d started this, the worst bit was over. What has actually happened is that I swing between feeling proud one minute and wracked with insecurity and embarrassment the next.
I’ve managed to overcome some of the negative self-talk by reading about a fresh spate of celebrity mental health revelations in the press. The latest being from Natalie Imbruglia and Frankie from the Saturdays. Both of them have opened up about suffering from depression and have chatted with various women’s magazines about the struggles they have faced. It must be such a hard thing to admit if you are a rich, beautiful and successful pop star. I’m really glad they did because it shows that depression can affect anyone. It also made me think that I have a lot less to lose and if they can do it, so can I.
So I will carry on telling you what happened to me at the end of 2009. I approached Christmas slightly comforted by the fact my counselling appointments were approaching, but that still left a festive celebration to get through whilst feeling like my brain was coated with mould. I had reviewed the prescription for diazepam and decided not to take one 2mg tablet twice a day, but would save them for the overwhelming anxiety rollercoaster episodes. I thought this might guard against becoming addicted. I did make a special exception though and took a few before I did my Christmas shopping. This sends me mental at the best of times, so I decided it would not be best practice to attempt it in the throes of a full-on breakdown. I can highly recommend it. I managed to get 90% of my shopping in one trip and was completely unfazed by the crowds, prices and Christmas songs blaring over the loudspeakers.
I can remember thinking everything about Christmas seemed totally irrelevant. My only goal was to survive it until the counselling appointment came through.
January came and I felt overwhelmed by the endless days of feeling terrible. I attempted a return to work as I couldn’t cope with being on my own all day feeling so lost. I managed two days before being sent home again. I thought I had managed to disguise the worst of what was going on in my head, but my boss took me to one side and said he didn’t think I was well enough to be there.
I had to go back to the doctor’s for another sick note. I asked to see a different GP and he was slightly better. He made eye contact, which is always a good start and was of the opinion that I need to be off work for at least the next month. His kindly manner fooled me into thinking he knew what he was talking about, but then he said that I shouldn’t worry about being on diazepam because “loads of housewives in the area were on it” and it was fine because it worked. He also finished the session by saying, “Don’t worry love, you’ll be alright!” How the f**k did he know whether I was going to be alright?! I felt sorry for all the housewives in the area with him as a GP. Surely the goal is to find ways to manage your anxiety and only take tranquillisers when you have to? I was only planning to be on it until something better came along.
It was February 2010 when the counselling appointment finally came through. 3 months wait, which in relative terms is not bad for the NHS, but when you feel horrendous it is an agonising length of time. I should have known after all my experience of counselling thus far not to get my hopes up too high, but still I pleaded silently with the universe to send me someone good.
The first thing that happened was I couldn’t find the building. It was in Garston, a less than salubrious area of Liverpool and I had wandered along the main street for half an hour, trying to ignore all the boarded up shops and ‘scene of the crime’ tape outside Ethel Austin. It was about time that shop was cordoned off – I could only assume the incident involved a crime against fashion.
I eventually found the building tucked behind a ramshackle pub called the Dealer’s Arms. I know the NHS is strapped for cash but having to traverse such a grim area was adding to my depression.
Pamela ( not her real name ) called me into her office and I had barely sat down before I unleashed the great backlog of built up torment and unhappiness which had been brewing for months. I’d had a lot of time to think about why I felt bad and I thought I had explained everything very clearly. She listened, she nodded and empathised quite nicely at times. But I got to the end of the session and thought, “Is that it?” She hadn’t questioned me at all or offered any illuminating insights. I went home feeling deflated. I tried to be positive and think that at least I had someone to talk to. But she hadn’t been much use. Not really. It had been little more than a nice chat. Her main strength was pulling a very good concerned face.
I went back for my second and third appointments, hoping that once she got to know me a little better, things would improve. Sadly, she remained useless and it turned out she wasn’t even a specialist bereavement counsellor, which I thought I’d asked for at the doctors. She was just your regular bog-standard Diploma graduate. In some ways she was not only pointless but counter-productive. I was finding it really difficult bringing up my deepest darkest feelings about my Dad’s death, only to leave with everything hanging in mid-air. I wasn’t given any guidance about how to handle these emotions and I would go home feeling terrible after I’d seen her. I reluctantly came to the conclusion that she was actually making me feel worse. A LOT worse. I also realised that now I had begun to verbalise my feelings that I couldn’t push them back down again.
I wasn’t sure what to do. The anniversary of Dad’s death approached – 21st February, followed by his birthday. The combination of the terrible counselling and date situation was starting to ferment dangerously. I thought I had felt what it was like to be at rock bottom, but I hadn’t. There were new levels of rock bottom below it.