I am panicking today. Not a hysterical, flapping, screaming panic, but the kind of silent, painful, creeping panic that is so so much worse. In my mind, everything I'm doing is wrong, I cannot satisfy myself that any task is done right (even though most of them HAVE been done right) and I can see absolutely no way in which anything will ever get any better. I will continue to accidentally mispronounce things, forget to fill the dishwasher and feel slightly awkward whenever I speak to someone new until I spiral into a big useless mess, my parents will pass on and my sister will move out and I will be alone and penniless in a cold, desolate bungalow in a road full of pensioners. Today, this morning, that is all I can see in my future. Yesterday, I was happily making plans to backpack around New Zealand.
My senses are heightened to terrifying, razor sharp precision. I can't bear hearing my own voice being fed back into my headphones with a half-second delay - on any other day it is mildly off-putting and I just shift my earpiece to block the sound. Today I cannot be rid of it. Today my own voice being fed through a tube to Ipswich and back again is frightening and though I lift away the source of the feedback I can hear the whisper of an echo still, can feel the vibrations through the foam on the edge of the headphones.
The slightest noise behind me makes me jump and whip round in my chair. The slightest shift in light, and I'm convinced someone is standing behind me, peering over my shoulder. My eyes pick out the tiniest blemishes on the computer screen and suddenly these minuscule specks are huge, obstructive, I spend my shift swiping at them. The fear manifests itself in a physical, feel-able pain. It feels like someone is trying to bore a hole between my eyes, all the while tightening the vice around my chest.
I lose my sense of time. I mentally try and plan a whole lifetime of work to be completed in two weeks. I set impossible tasks in impossible timeframes and mock myself when, inevitably, I fail. I sit down at my desk at 6am, and am gripped with cold fear when suddenly it's 10 o'clock at I've only done the work I was supposed to do. I become completely blind to the fact that I was in near-constant acting work last year, and that this year is looking the same way, and that I've lived in France and worked in a circus and was part of a project to bring theatre to rural Romania. But because I'm not a clarinet virtuoso/amazing cook/multi-linguist/someone's partner, I have failed.
If you're still reading and haven't brushed this off as a self-indulgent rant (which it partly is, and I do feel a bit better now, thank you) you most likely have some concept of that what it really going on. You may recognise these things yourself, have experienced them first hand perhaps, or have had someone close to you go through something similar.
Mental illness is at it's most destructive when it is not understood. And often, it is most difficult for the patient themselves to grasp what is happening to them.
Every one of us has said or done things when we've been angry, upset or disappointed that has been hurtful to others. Imagine for the moment that, for no reason apparent to you at that time, you live in a constant state of misery. You think you're doing what you love, but you feel so numb you cannot remember the last time you really enjoyed yourself. You can't stand it when people try to talk to you but you yearn for company when they stop. You cannot give an answer when people ask what's wrong and you snap, you cry, you say incredibly stupid things and eventually, the people around you quite rightly leave you alone and get on with being happy.
The problem lies, as with any illness, in symptom recognition. for years people have campaigned for more awareness of the symptoms of the various types of cancer, a heart attack, a stroke. People are now prepared years in advance for any of these things to happen and as a result many illnesses are caught early, many lives are saved.
I cannot recall "getting" depression. I wonder if I would be able to, if someone had sat us down in a classroom at school and spent half an hour talking to us about how to lead a happy life. A few NLP and positive thinking exercises during form time. How much quicker would I have come to the conclusion that actually, things don't have to be this way - if only I knew then that bawling my eyes out every single day for a reason I could not provide was a red flag, instead of assuming I must just not be working hard enough.
Why do our children not know how to listen to their own minds? Why are they not being told how to recognise signs of potential mental illness in themselves and others? How many years of unhappiness, broken relationships, even suicides could have been prevented if only those people had been educated properly? If we are going to strip the taboo of mental illness in it's many forms, we need to start before the damage is done. We need to reach out to the children who will take in the knowledge, so that they can grow up with the tools to deal with difficult emotional times. We need to instill knowledge of what to do if you are despairing early on, where it will be held for life, and it will NOT be a surprise when suddenly, years of illness down the line, one of them looks back at the amazing times they could not enjoy and the friendships they could not appreciate, and only then, perhaps too late, learns that help can be sought and changes can be made.