When the shit hits the fan

by Mx Ruby-Rouge

This post isn’t pretty, or necessarily useful to anyone reading it. It’s simply here as part of my own recovery, and to document how I’m feeling right now. Massive trigger warnings for mental health, depression and to the nature of relationships with people. 

In April 2015 I wrote a very personal piece on here, detailing my own burnout and how I’d come to be in that position.  Going public with it was important for two reasons – one was to admit to myself how bad things had got, but the second was to let everyone important to me know where the land lay without having to have an emotional outpouring each time. Writing that post was hard, but necessary – but reading it now I see how naive I was about just how bad things were, and how much worse things were going to get. Little did I realise that even though I had accurately figured out what the problem was, the damage was done, and it would take way, way more than I anticipated to get functioning again. Arrogantly I figured I could take a bit of a rest, dial back stressful things and I’d be back to my usual, multi-functioning, uber-organised self in a few months. This arrogance was short-lived, let me tell you – and quickly followed by frustration that the miraculous recovery I had planned and scheduled for hadn’t occurred.

Then, and only then did I hit rock bottom. I’ve been there before, when I got divorced from my first husband. Despite the horrors of that relationship, the split and divorce was messy, and my life was in tatters. I spent years on medication, in therapy and generally being a horrible, miserable person. I live in perpetual fear of falling down that particular rabbit-hole again. Only this time was different. Instead of misery, I had smothering, incessant apathy. Life felt like I was permanently accompanied by a dementor; nothing was pleasurable, nothing was fun. Hobbies I had hitherto enjoyed for relaxation couldn’t keep my attention for more than a few minutes, and spending time with people took excruciating amounts of effort and tolerance. I started to shrink into the safety of my house more and more, and as my mental state got worse and worse, so did my physical ailments. In some cases, I have disappeared from social circles for over a year. Others have been maintained only by sheer stubbornness or out of an overwhelming feeling of obligation.

When people think of a nervous breakdown they often imagine a hysterical person, rocking and sobbing in a corner. It’s actually not usually like this – it’s the person who suddenly disappears from life. The person who seems perpetually exhausted and strained in social settings. The person whose face is etched with stress, worry and insomnia. What a nervous breakdown is, technically, is a level of stress so intense and sustained that the person is no longer able to cope and function with day to day life. I’d have scoffed at that 18 months ago, but now I know not only how that feels, but also how easy it is for someone like me to get there. When getting out of bed becomes a goal you aim for, the only goal for that day – you know it’s bad. When brushing your teeth feels like you’ve just climbed Everest and leaving the house feels like an Augean task, you know it’s bad. When life itself feels so heavy and pointless you just stop trying to do the minutiae of life, you know it’s serious.

It’s nearly a year since then, and I’m only just beginning to see signs of recovery. It has taken months longer than I expected and has not been a linear progression by any stretch of the imagination. I can’t pinpoint any one particular thing that has been key, other than cutting back or quitting pretty much every demanding thing or obligation I had. Once I’d cut back as much as I could, and had plans in place to dispose of other things, I could focus on the basics; getting out of bed at a reasonable time, getting dressed, brushing my teeth, showering, eating properly, taking a walk in the local park, spending time doing whatever relaxing thing I fancied that moment.

Right now, I can see I’m having more good days than bad, on average. I can see I’m sleeping better, eating well, and taking joy in things again. Playing the piano brings joy to my heart – pride that I can play Time by Hans Zimmer. Sewing quilts for others, but also for me, and for charity – and I can look at some of them and be pleased with my efforts. I’ve managed to pick my studies back up, and there are big and exciting changes planned for me this year on many other fronts [which I can’t talk about yet].

However, with getting better, I’ve also realised how lonely my life has been this last 6-12 months. Part of that was intentional – not only did I retreat from social situations out of necessity, but I also took down all my dating profiles over a year ago, as I was in no fit state to date or commit to a relationship. The other part was how I realised which of my close friends had stayed in touch, even though I’d been flakey, distant and unwell – and those who hadn’t been there. The friends like H who are always forgiving, understanding and supportive – always more than I feel I deserve, and I endevour to be a better friend to her. People like K who, even if we aren’t in contact that regularly, is someone I know I can count on if I really need them. To my sister who I’ve become much closer to in the last year, as we’ve shared our troubles with each other and supported one another as best we can. Finally to my wonderful, patient, supportive and loving husband, who has listened to my constant emojaculations, to my best laid plans, to my anger and fears. He’s looked after me, picked up the slack in our daily life where he could and made really helpful suggestions of changes to make things easier. He’s the best person in the world.

Then there are the majority of my so-called best friends – those who I only hear from when they want something like advice on a legal matter, or a playdate. The ‘friends’ who never ask how I’m doing or check in with me. The ones who only seem to notice that I’m not my usual fix-all, do-all self, but never connect or ask why. The ones who don’t even seem to have noticed that I’ve had a fucking breakdown, despite being told. I am so fucking angry at you. I’m angry at myself for wasting time and energy on such shallow friendships, and for believing they were more. The tears I’ve shed over hurt feelings and rejection from your absence of care is ridiculous. But here’s a promise I keep repeating to myself: Never Again. Your cards are marked and I won’t be bending over backwards for you fuckers any more. I will never allow you to drain myself of energy and love for you again. If you’re reading this and thinking that I’m talking about you, that probably tells you something important.

The thing you learn about the quality of your connections with people isn’t just to do with love, lust, NRE, limerance or any of the good things. The quality is shown when things go bad – the arguments, the illness, the money worries, the absences. When things go pear shaped the people who stick with you, who are considerate, who support you are the ones you want to hold on to. Cherish those connections. Reciprocate when they have hard times, because true, loving connections that can thrive in the good and survive the bad are rare. Make sure you value the ones you have, or risk losing them forever. The rest are just window dressing: treat them accordingly. Life’s too short to waste it on emotional vampires and vapid relationships.