It’s been a while since I’ve blogged. A combination of my Masters assignments, throwing myself into my placements (27 hours done, 73 to go!) and a period of good mental health (I generally blog more when things are tough for me), has meant that I haven’t felt compelled to post.
That changed this morning.
Today is seven years since I was hospitalised at the start of the most difficult period of my life; a time in which everything I thought I knew about myself was ups for grabs. Seven years since the start of my breakdown.
With the benefit of hindsight and lots of therapy – which still plays an important role in my life, as both client and trainee therapist – I realise now that the five nights I spent in Epsom and St Hellier hospital in December 2014 were not the start of my unravelling – those seeds had been sown years before and just been waiting for the right conditions to bloom. It was the combination of the work I was doing; the culture of the organisations I was doing it within; the bad choices I made to put work before my health with my overriding feeling of full responsibility for anyone and everything around me (thanks to some of the things I’d experienced as a child and since); coupled with my lack of vigilance over my mental health (I missed so many signs – including big ones like crying at work, disappearing into side offices to get the tears out and dry my eyes before returning to more testosterone-fuelled, overly-pressured meetings), that eventually brought the seeds out of the ground and into view.
As I write today, I am transported back to that A&E waiting room: I can hear the crash-bang noises as I was admitted with pneumonia; I can remember the cannula going in and the four hour observations; I can smell the ward and the people within it; I shudder as I remember the sleepless nights and the old men shouting out in their sleep, crying out in fear and pain, moaning and groaning all night long; I recall the look of concern on the doctors and nurses and the endless tests to find out why I was so ill as my kidney and liver starting to feel the strain and my eyes carried a yellow colouring; I can almost taste the realisation I had whilst lying there of the toil the work and my lifestyle (working constantly, no breaks, no rest, 100mph 100% of the time) had taken on me; I felt the exhaustion in every part of my body; I felt the shame of failure.
My life today is world’s away from the days that led up to my 2014 pre-Christmas hospital stay, or the years afterwards as I came to terms with the fragility of my mental health and the need to make some big changes to how I was living and experiencing the world, as well as building vigilance into my day to day life and redefining what success was to me. Gone went promotion priorities and financial goals and in came being present with my amazing wife and daughter, savouring every minute with them and being grateful I was alive to enjoy the blessings they represent.
I never seriously contemplating taking my own life in those dark days and months, but I did wonder whether they would be better off without me; without my sadness; my weakness; my despair. I felt like I wasn’t good enough; I was a burden; I was a drag on the team. I have grown and changed a lot since then and know that the days in hospital (I had also been in bed for nearly a week at home before being admitted unable to get down the stairs except on all fours) were a necessary turning point that forced me to confront who I had become and what I was doing with my life. It wasn’t rock bottom – that was still to come – but it was the start of the journey of discovering what would make me happy and offer me the chance to enjoy life fully.
This is not a fairytale or a rosy happy ending. Life remain tough at times and without hard work, daily efforts and hyper-vigilance, I can easily fall into bad and sad habits and be hit with periods of anxiety and depression. As most depressives know, those dark periods can still come along even when I am doing my bit to be heathy, but I feel like I have this now; many, many more good days than bad.
Two days ago, there was a new story coming live from Epsom and St Hellier Hospital. I felt a lump in my throat and I tear in my eye when I spotted the hospital building on my TV and recalled my humbling time there. A time when my feelings of invincibility were shattered. It was my first hospital stay – and I hope my last.
Seven years today I dragged myself in there, falling apart at the seams. To quote Evelyn Waugh in Brideshead Revisited, at that time I was: “A tiny bit of a man pretending he was the whole.” I write this today feeling like a whole person again. Full of hope. Full of gratitude. Full of life. I am grateful – beyond grateful – that those five, long and painful nights away from my wife and daughter marked a major milestone on the road to becoming a better, healthier person. Someone who is worth knowing and loving. Someone I am proud of. Someone who knows what success really means.