Vol 2, Episode 1: The Ghost Returns
In which our protagonist wakes up, realises it's been five months of silence and she should really pull her finger out...
Ummm… hi. Remember me? Once upon a time I used to appear in your inboxes every week with some musings on how I was trying to prioritise my own needs after a burnout-fuelled breakdown.
And then, suddenly—
—But not so suddenly, really—
I just… kind of…
I last spoke to you on 6 December 2021, when I wrote the following:
“If I’m being honest, I’m struggling with the whole back-to-work thing. It’s really taking it out of me and, as I anticipated/suspected/feared, I’ve already started to overthink everything. I’ve already started biting off more than I can chew. I’ve already found my brain unable to shut off at the end of the day, seeing things at random intervals that take my thinking back to things that should only be dealt with in specific time frames. I never was good at compartmentalising when it comes to work. Turns out I haven’t learned much in this year of being self(ish).”
Talk about self-fulfilling prophecies.
Dear reader, not long after that I found myself back in the hole. You know the one— that deep, black pit from which it’s impossible to return without pristine crampons and ropes? Turns out my mountaineering equipment was faulty. I went down… down… down… and couldn’t get back up.
I went quiet. I went into one of my hermit phases— that’s what I call them, when I don’tspeakdon’tmovedon’tleavedon’tdoanythingbutsleepandstareatthewall. I got worse, and worse, and worse.
I once spoke about the mask I wear, and this kept many unaware of my struggle. Others, though, saw straight through it. They worried. They poked. They checked. They were kind and compassionate, holding my hand and waiting patiently, ready to jump if needed.
For those people, I am eternally grateful. These plague years have been horrid, but they have at least increased the numbers of those with keys to my hermit cave.
I slid down, dear reader, so far down. When I’m at my worst, I get these visions… I might tell you about them some time, but I was getting them a lot. And I worried my rope would break this time. I worried I wouldn’t be able to drag myself up this time. Which is why I went back to therapy.
Therapy is not a dirty word
I feel like the loneliness epidemic and the just Real Hard Times of the last few years has really brought mental health into the open—though there is still far to go—but there was a time when I would’ve been embarrassed to admit I was seeing a psychotherapist. My past experiences have not been super great when it comes to the talking cure; Cognitive Behavioural Therapy has been thrust upon me many times, but my issues are much more deep-seated than any amount of smiling at strangers and making eye contact is going to fix. I had given up on therapists, figuring I was incurable.
But maybe I’m not.
Someone was recommended to me and I went in there with all guns blazing—”I am f*cked up beyond belief and therapy doesn’t work for me”—and she nodded and asked me why I felt that way. And she listened. And she nodded. And she asked more questions. And more questions. And, well, we’re getting to the good stuff now. She’s not trying to change me or get me to do actions and report back; she’s just asking questions and getting me to dig deeper each week. The potential breakthroughs are being flagged up, and we’re heading towards them with heads held high.
Sometimes I look at my privileged upbringing—my parents stayed together; we went to good schools; there was love and care in the house—and wonder how I ended up with this crushing sense of despair on my shoulders. How I ended up with a massive black cloud following me around. How it is that I just feel invisible, forgotten, not wanted, a burden, an embarrassment. How I feel like I’m always on the outside looking in, never part of the proceedings. And then I remember—teenage girls are horrible creatures, and schoolyard bullying has long-lasting effects.
I’m trying to remember that people aren’t staring at me, laughing at me, judging me, making fun of me behind whispers and giggles. That I have things to offer that no one else has, that I am unique and that is a good thing, not a point of ridicule. And I need help to do that, and that is ok.
You know what else is ok? Being on medication. Let’s bring that out into the world as well: I have been off and on with antidepressants for about 20 years. In my dark pit earlier this year, my dosage was increased for the first time ever—that’s how I knew I was bad. But they gave me the space—ok, I’ll be honest, they numbed me enough that I could be a bit more objective and seek the help I needed.
Why am I telling you all of this?
First of all, because I’m celebrating climbing back up that rope. I’m not at the top yet, but I am starting to see the light.
But mostly because we need to be honest about these things. Keeping our mental health in the dark, not talking about our challenges, not being open and honest and asking for help—these are the things that make Very Bad Things happen. If we could just speak more openly about this with each other, we would literally save lives.
If you’re struggling, please ask for help. Talk about what’s going on. If you can’t find someone to talk to, there is help out there—try Samaritans if you’re in the UK (ironically I once trained to be a Samaritan and was told I was “too perky” on the phone, can you believe it?!)—and remember, you are not alone.
Help is out there.
And yes, you deserve it.
Should I get back to these missives or have you all moved on? Let me know in the comments!
The week ahead 🗓
I recently had the plague—it’s a whole thing; don’t get me started—and my brain is still a bit mush so planning is beyond me.
Writing: Oh yeah, I’m writing a whole new book! I’ll tell you about it sometime.
Work: I’m about to launch the reason I joined Minds@Work—an online community for those responsible for workplace cultures to get support to build mentally-healthy workplaces. And I really need to work on that elevator pitch.
Health: Therapy, both psycho and nutritional. Yes, I have filled out a stack of forms and need to do a food diary.
Routine: I’m still figuring out what I can do. Plus, join me and hundreds of others at the LWS Writers’ Hour every weekday: 8am London, New York, California and Wellington.
On the stereo 🎧
Wet Leg, by Wet Leg
It feels like these ladies have been around forever, but this is only their debut album! It features all your favourites, like Chaise Longue and Angelica. Get into it.
Off the shelf 📚
Wild Card: Let the Tarot Tell Your Story, by Jen Cownie and Fiona Lensvelt
So, since we last spoke I’ve become a bookfluencer! OK, OK, maybe not—but I did receive an advance copy of this fabulous book from the duo known as Litwitchure. I’m in the midst of it now, and will report back using the means of social media before it is officially released on Bluebird Books on 28 April.
Get an eyeful 👀
Barry (HBO/Now TV)
This finally came onto a streaming service at a time we noticed and so we’re binging it, me and him. It is superb.
Visual confirmation 📷
I’ve also gotten a bit *too* into oracle cards as I start to emerge from my Dark Pit of Despair—but I figure, whatever works, right? This deck by Rebecca Campbell seems to know exactly what I need to hear at all times. It is pure magic, and I’m not sorry.
I highly recommend Somatic Experiencing. traumahealing.org There are specially trained practitioners all over the world. You can pick one and do a zoom call if there is not one in person near you. The only thing that works, in my opinion, gets to the cause. Been there. Hugs and love. Thanks for being vulnerable and brave/
Late to commenting... by all means KEEP writing!! You are 100% a champion to take all the steps you need to to care for your mental health, and talking about it means other people will see what you are doing and feel brave enough to do the same. ;-) xx