Knowing Your Own Mental Illness Warning Signs

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I wasn’t going to write this post because I’ve made myself a v strict little blog plan in the run-up to Christmas, so that the content’s regular, but y’know, there’s still time to drink mulled wine, eat mince pies and be merry.

But it seemed important. Important in the way that it might help someone.

So here goes.

Last week started normally. You know when you’ve had a really good weekend and the reality of Monday is all a bit grim? But you handle it like the sass pot you are with a mug of coffee, Christmas songs and the heating on full whack? Well that was me.

We bought our Christmas tree, we decorated said tree, and I tried to mosey through my to-do list without making too many breaks to pick up the cats and cradle them like babies.

I’d decided that for the three weeks before Christmas, I wasn’t going to go into London for meetings. PR agencies were winding down and festive events were mostly confined to November, so I thought it would be pretty darn lovely to stay home and enjoy some one-on-one time with the tree and the twinkling lights, making me feel all fuzzy inside.

It also meant that I could save a few pound (or y’know a couple of hundred) on train tickets, I’d have more time to work on my content, and I’d also be able to do cute things like wrap presents whilst surrounded by Christmas cookie candles and the Home Alone box set. It seemed like a v sensible and chilled-out plan.

But the reality of staying put in Ipswich, and the reality of depriving my brain and my mood of people, of hustle and bustle, of eye contact, of face-to-face interaction, of something to break up my week, did something a bit funny to me.

Because on Thursday evening Chris came home to me pulling weird facial expressions at my laptop as I used every muscle within my face to hold back one of those big, sexy, ginormous cries that make you sound like a hyena during mating season.

I was so sad.

Not anxious or stressed or overwhelmed, just sad. So he took me out for burgers and a stroll around Ipswich’s late night shopping offering, and it perked me up enough to stop the tears and make me feel a bit more me.

Nothing was particularly wrong, and although this kind of random BLUB BLUB BLUB outburst used to be pretty common with me a couple of years ago, I’m really not that same person anymore. Or at least I don’t feel like her anymore.

And so, I was mildly freaked out that it felt like this version of me had leaped out of nowhere and made me all teary over nothing.

Chris had his work Christmas party on Saturday and my plan had always been to stay home – to treat myself to some Tesco finest filled pasta and ALL the Parmesan (no you live a very glamorous lifestyle), to film a video, and to maaaaybe get into a new Netflix series.

But after dropping him off at the train station and coming home and sitting down on the sofa, I realised that out of nowhere I felt very not OK. I felt frantic and anxious and low and in a place that doesn’t feel quite so familiar to me anymore.

I felt lost. I felt a little broken. And I felt, overwhelmingly so, that I needed to take action, to take control to find a way out of the black hole that was opening up below my feet.

So I made last-minute plans to see a friend in London.

I packed an overnight bag, I left the cats a mountain of biscuits, and I left. I got in the car and started driving the two and a half hour drive to my people.

The first half an hour was pretty hideous. I felt like maybe I wasn’t stable enough within myself to actually drive – like I’d make stupid mistakes and crash into someone. I managed to half convince myself I would actually die, that this journey would be the last I’d ever make. The other part of me was sure I was making a bad decision, like I was a lazy and weak person to turn my back on work, and being alone.

I was so close to turning around. To saying that I’d made a mistake. And retreating back to the sofa and the ugly whispers of my own mind.

But there was something in me, a gut instinct maybe, that told me that if I’d just make it to London, to friends, to good people, to company, I’d be OK. That it would revive me and bring me back to my former headspace that I’m so fond of.

And so I did.

The ending of this story is that blankets and candles and Disney films and cookies and people, cured me. They put me back on track, and I drove home feeling optimistic and light again.

And the moral of this story is that just like with physical illness, mental illness can strike at any time. One day you’re dancing around to Mariah Carey and the next you’re crying at your laptop because the world just doesn’t feel like a place you want to be anymore.

And it can be really easy, and really tempting, to just succumb to it. To curl up in bed and let it wrap its arms around you and mutter dark nothings into your ear, until you fall deeper and deeper into its grasps and it seems impossible to leave behind.

Which is why it’s so important, so vital to your health and your wellbeing, to notice the symptoms that mental illness is creeping its way back into your life. To recognise that actually, it’s not OK, to not feel OK.

And to know the things, the people, the actions, that help bring you back into your good space.

I suspect that I will spend my entire life treading the fine line between feeling content and good, and feeling overwhelmed and unstable, but so long as I am aware of my own warning signs and my own triggers and I know the actions to take when it feels like I’m being engulfed in one giant wave of darkness, I know I’ll be OK.

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