So I was really proud of me when I preemptively booked a CBT appointment to fall in between the end of the wedding/honeymoon period and before the start of my new job.
Briefly: I was a full-time maths teacher in a secondary school, and commuting at least an hour each way. I was the “yes” person who added on heaps of responsibility myself, and wouldn’t turn down ANYTHING that was asked of me. Unsurprisingly, this led to me becoming very ill. I subsequently had to take some time off work. Two weeks turned into a couple of months which ended up as 11 months off, and me deciding to resign and find something less intense. During all of this, I was planning my wedding, which took place during the summer holidays (13/08/16 to be precise), and then we went for 12 days honeymoon and a few days away with family. I knew after all of this I would not be mentally prepared for change, and I wasn’t going to enjoy the end of the whole wedding/honeymoon period.
So I went to my CBT appointment last week and I was more determined than ever to be totally 100% honest with the therapist.
I finally admitted out loud that I was off work with depression.
I had literally, never, said it out loud. I had said that I was stressed, I had blamed physical shortcomings like lack of energy and fainting, and I had even identified as having Anxiety. But for some reason I couldn’t say that I was depressed.
It was because of a few reasons I suppose…
Firstly, I didn’t understand depression as a condition. I was under the impression that depression was sadness. Tears and self harm, maybe. But what I was feeling was a nothingness. A complete nothingness, an inability to take joy from anything, like I was seeing things through frosted glass. It was an emptiness and a scary feeling of not knowing what to do for the best. In some ways, Anxiety is easier for me, because it’s an active feeling that I can deal with and rationalise out, now that I have had some practice. But how on earth do you deal with NO feelings?
Secondly, depression has much, much more stigma attached. Anxiety is something that is associated with hard-working, perfectionist, high-achieving females. It almost felt like a terrible, heavy, badge, but a badge nonetheless.
So during this CBT session, I heard myself saying these things and admitting to a number of things that I didn’t realise I was so upset about, and that I had let define me for so long!
I kept saying the word “shame”.
Blargh. Shame. Ashamed of myself, shameful, an embarrassment to the family, a source of shame to my loved ones.
So do you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to write down three of the most “shameful” things that I talked about that I felt had let my world down. And why they aren’t actually shameful at all.
- I only have an automatic driving license.
I had a little Vespa to commute to work, I had a very minor accident that ended up with me being basically terrified of riding it again. I had gone over the handlebars on an A road and the bike had landed on me, but luckily I escaped with nothing but shock and a broken little finger (still aches through the winter!). And I wanted to learn to drive as quickly as possible. So I decided to take lessons for automatic only. I know, I know, you should learn manual and then you can drive both.
But I was learning with undiagnosed Anxiety so GO ME for passing first time!
- I only got a 2:2 at uni.
I was called “oxford” by the cretins at school (it was a tiny ex-mining town school with hardly any kids), because I was intelligent and wasn’t embarrassed about doing well. I went to college, and I was immediately bottom of the class. I worked crazy hard and managed to crawl back up to a “respectable” standard within my class. Cue university. Where no matter how hard I worked, I was never going to be in the top band of kids doing maths. Throw in a relationship with a narcissistist, a year abroad learning maths in French, and undiagnosed anxiety and depression, and you get someone struggling to cope with anything. In the first year I managed a first. In the second year, my grades slipped to a 2:1 due to a large surge in my anxiety. Third year, I went to live abroad in France, which was a life-changing, amazing, experience but I was on medication with a side-effect of depression and although I wasn’t aware that was what was happening, I was suffering big time. I took that back to final year. I remember crying most evenings, feeling like I was so out of control and didn’t know what to do about it. I booked a session with a counsellor but cancelled it, thinking no-one should have to listen to my problems. I struggled on, and scraped a third in final year, and this averaged out at a (high) 2:2. It didn’t matter at the time because all I needed to get into teaching was a 2:2. But it was still a huge source of shame.
But you know what. GO ME for getting a bloody maths degree at a Red Brick university while suffering with mental illness!
- I only work part time.
All my life I’ve grown up knowing the following: You do well at school, you go to college, and then university, and you get an amazing career. And you do that full-time, you work ALL THE TIME and you earn the big bucks. Now, going into teaching, I was never going to get the high salary, but I definitely worked ALL THE TIME. But if there’s anything a mental breakdown will teach you, it’s that jobs come and go, but you have to live with your own mind ALL THE TIME. I worked myself into a state where I was dreading the drive to work so much that I would pray that oncoming traffic would drive into me so I could escape for a while. I would count down the hours until the end of term, because evenings and weekends were consumed with work anyway. I took the decision to leave full time teaching and go into part time, self-employed tutoring instead. A truly flexible arrangement that means a massive pay cut but a massive pay boost if you look at the amount of money per hour that I work. And? GO ME for getting back into work after 11 months off.
GO ME for taking control of my life and making it work for me.
I may always feel a bit shameful of these three things, and maybe even more in the future, but I’m going to work damned hard to overcome it and celebrate the wins!