“The admission itself makes me stronger”Maxpixel

Content note: this article discusses anxiety, depression and other symptoms of mental illness.

Sitting in my final session with my college’s counsellor, I was told that it is normal for both parties to use the time as an opportunity to talk retrospectively about their experience. My counsellor told me what she had found difficult and what she had found fulfilling about our sessions. And then it was my turn to do the same.

I want to use this final article in a similar manner. It feels appropriate; in some senses, this column has been a form of public therapy for me. It has allowed for me to open up like I could never have imagined before, with people I would have been unlikely to confide in. Away from my laptop, I am wary to confess the ongoing effects of my early childhood with strangers. In some ways, it has been cathartic.

My experiences are mine alone. I cannot speak for anyone else’s

But, in others, it also has been very difficult. It has made me worry, repeatedly, about my motive for writing publicly in the first place – whether that search for catharsis was egotistical, or whether I was looking for a place to shout my troubles into the ether without considering the effect. When I am rational, I hope (at least) that these self-attacking thoughts are not true. I tell myself that they are doubts which are probably common to writing on such personal subject matter. I know that they are themselves symptomatic of my anxious thought-patterns. They are the kind of ideas which, in the past, prevented me from speaking to others about my problems. Yet they remain, nagging like back-seat drivers even as I write this. 

“I am still realising more and more about my mind”Bocchetta et al

I worry that, by writing in this manner about something experienced in diverse and intensely personal ways by so many, I have placed myself on a pedestal which I do not deserve. My experiences are mine alone. I cannot speak for anyone else’s. I fear that, if I have made generalisations, I may even have made things worse for some readers. I often worry that I might mislead others into using what I have described as anxious tendencies in myself to self-diagnose problems of their own – when in fact, in these situations, professional advice should always be sought first.

I also worry that I have misrepresented myself, as well as the problems I have discussed. I often tried to present my story as a positive one to read. Whether I felt that was true at the time (or wanted it to be), or whether I thought it was important to sound hopeful against statistics of rising suicide rates and bad mental health support provisions. I worry that, in doing so, I fell into the trap of writing patronising you-can-do-it posts, similar to those critiqued (excellently) by Hannah Jane Parkinson as “hastag healthcare” for the mentally ill.

Again and again, I have run into the problem of how to talk about these conditions

I am still not well. If I am honest, the last few months have been far less straightforward than I have indicated. I decided to stop taking my medication in late May during a particularly nasty bout of depersonalisation and derealisation, having spent five days feeling almost as if I was watching someone else’s life in first person. At one point, I ended up wandering down the middle of Trumpington Street, feeling as if neither I nor the oncoming cars were real or tangible. I was then referred more testing for a potential bipolar disorder, as (off medication) my mood stability barely exists. At the appointment, the representative from Cambridge’s Primary Care Mental Health Service (PRISM) told me that, due to lack of resources, she couldn’t refer patients to an NHS psychiatrist unless they were at their worst. Without private health care, I have to be visibly suicidal or psychotic to move through the system. I spent May Week oscillating between hypomania and wanting to cry. Since then, I have been in a depressive lull, desperate for time alone to think and process the year I have just been through.

What I have described previously as anxiety and depression might, in my case, be far more complex. I am still realising more and more about my mind, even as I try to avoid the danger of self-diagnosis. The balance is hard to find.

Again and again, I have run into the problem of how to talk about these conditions. The medical terms I use are practical necessities – but they can also leave people with unhelpful misconceptions. Every time I say “I have a diagnosis for anxiety”, I wonder what they imagine. My medical anxiety is not the same as “feeling a little worried” over something or taking it too seriously. The dictionary definition is not appropriate. It is a sense of fundamental irrationality, of being unable to think in a straight line no-matter how much I would like to. Telling me to “stop overthinking” will only make me angry. Telling me that the panic you experienced in a nightmare once is similar to my having been unable to dispel the sense that nothing was quite real, even when awake, will alienate me from the conversation entirely.


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Unfortunately, these well-meaning words tend to emphasise the limits of empathy. In the case of anxiety, the difference between its medical definition and everyday use can even be harmful. These common misunderstandings can cause me to hold back from explaining myself until I absolutely have to.

Despite this, and despite my worries about even having written this column as I have, I am still determined to persevere. I am not well. I have to remind myself of that every day. But the admission itself makes me stronger. I am determined to become better. Though I might forget it at my worst, I have the rest of my life to try.

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