Guest Post: Potato Salad

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

To say that the last ten years of my life have been a ride would be, as the French say (don't quote me on this) un grand euphemisme. 

In that space of time, I've enrolled (and dropped out of) three universities, worked as a social care worker once, a shop worker twice, an assistant at a independent music distributor (not as rock and roll as it sounds, trust me.) I've tried my hand as a clinical assistant in a gynaecology and colorectal clinic (stressful, sad and messy,) worked for three long miserable years in medical governance and now I am working as tutor - but who in the hell would trust you with their kids?! I hear you cry - and I don't blame you. 

This smorgasbord of random career choices has been interspersed with lovely panic attacks on my various commutes, relationship problems, a large dose of insomnia , various medication (not taken for the correct course, of course) an often distraught family, concerned friends, sheer exhaustion and finally my exciting series of Great Escapes (I've never been able to work out a full notice period in my life, but I leave that little nuance out of my CV, natch.) 

So I'd worked all these jobs, played all these different roles, but what I hadn't truly been since I left Sixth Form with three glittering A level certificates boasting "A A B" (now I wonder if that stood for Aggressive Anxiety Brewing) was, you guessed it.... anything near to all I really ever wanted to be, HAPPY. Why? Yep, guessed it again. Because I, like the 350 million other people around this crazy, ever moving world have been continuously ground to a halt every time I thought I was on to something by that unfortunate buzzword on everybody's lips; Depression - with a delectable side dish of anxiety. 

I suppose now, looking back, I always showed signs of not being entirely content with myself or situations around me from when I was a young child. After telling my mum about a particular therapy session I had with the woman who, not to wax lyrical, pretty much saved my life last year, she reminded me of a party she took me to when I was six years old. All of the mums had been asked to bring a plate of something they'd cooked to add to the buffet table, and my mum had made some of her famous new potato salad. She put it alongside the plates of sausage rolls, cheese cubes, cherry red jelly, and tiny triangular sandwiches and joined the other parents in the living room for a glass of wine, expecting me to run off and lose myself in two hours of chaotic fun with all of the other little darlings. 

That didn't happen, though. What actually happened was that for the next two hours I would come bounding though the dining room doors every five minutes to inspect if anyone had eaten any of my mums potato salad; if they had, I would go and excitedly let my mum know, thinking that the reception of her offering was the most important thing in the world to her too. And, if the level of the bowl hadn't decreased I would be overcome with such sadness and sympathy for my lovely mum that I simply had no interest in winning, or even competing in Whats the time, Mr Wolf, or musical chairs, or pass the bloody parcel. I was obsessed ; completely taken over by this one overriding thought - I don't want my mum to be sad, and if people don't eat her potato salad she will be and I just can't stand that, so I need to monitor this situation ; and if I don't then no one will eat it and it will be all my fault . This, to me, is anxiety in a nutshell - or in a bowl of potato salad. It's being totally engulfed by worry, consumed by invasive thoughts and the absolute inability to rationalise. My therapist put it like this : you were worried about your mum's potato salad then, and you've been worried about other people's potato salad ever since. It might sound ridiculous, but it's true. People pleasing has always been a major problem for me. 

Fast forward 21 years to 2017, and I'm in a job that I've hated for two of the three years I've worked there, but I need to stay because if I leave yet ANOTHER job, what would that make me? A loser. A quitter. A waste of space. Pathetically weak. Certainly unemployed, and definitely broke, and I couldn't do that to my boyfriend - we'd been living in our own place for a year by that point, and I couldn't even entertain the idea of telling him that I needed to get out of my gainful employment, again, and that he would have to pay for everything. I can't do that, so I carry on. I carry on peeling myself out of bed every morning after a pitiful amount of sleep, I carry on getting on the train but not knowing what to do with my hands, or my feet, or my face (please don't sit opposite me, please stop staring at me, please, please, please,) I carry on making a huge cup of coffee every morning in an attempt to gain some kind of energy, I take up smoking, I make small talk with my colleagues, crack jokes and pretend that everything's okay. My best friend at work can tell somethings up, but I try to reassure her. "Oh it's just one of those days, one of those weeks, one of those months, I'll be alright, don't worry, I just get like this sometimes." 

So I carry on. I carry on. And then, all of a sudden, I can't carry on anymore. 

One morning, just like that, I crash. It's happened before, yes. But this time, it's different. This time, it's with such force that I can't get off of the sofa for a month, I can't eat; I have the opposite problem with sleeping, I can't stay awake. I call my boss to say I'm sorry, I can't do this anymore, thinking that that would make me feel better but then I start obsessing about mistakes that I thought I'd made at work, and now that I wasn't there it was even worse because I couldn't even try to fix them. I would be exposed, and everyone would finally know what a complete piece of shit I actually am. (Word to the wise - if you are in any way an anxious person, do not work in medial governance.) 

I stand in my kitchen the morning after leaving my sixth job, and the walls feel like they're caving in on me. I can't breathe. I call my mum and text my friend from work and my boyfriend, and they all rush home from work together to find me in a soggy mess on the sofa, unable to do anything but cry. I feel embarrassed at all the attention, certain that they must all think I'm a major burden but they hug me and kiss me and tell me; enough. Enough now - We are going to sort this.

I don't believe them, of course, but I don't believe in anything. So I go along to the doctors still under the cover of my own personal black cloud and I tell them that yes, I promise I'll take the tablets properly and for long enough this time, and okay I guess I'll go to a therapist too, but I still don't believe that anything will really make a difference. I'm simply not destined to be happy, that's what it is. I just have to start accepting that. 

I start taking my tablets, citalopram, 20mg a day, just before bedtime. A tiny little white oblong which is supposed to make me feel like I want to live again - impossible, I think to myself. But I take it anyway. And I make my first appointment with a therapist near Liverpool Street, paid for by my unbelievably supportive parents, who I don't feel I deserve at all. I take my tablets, and I go to weekly sessions for nearly three months, and slowly, slowly, I can't believe it but the black cloud starts to clear: I sit and she talks, and I listen and I cry, and I talk, and she listens and she says everything I need to hear. I take my tablets every night, I go on walks with my boyfriend, I start to socialise again. Then one day as I'm leaving the offices where I've been laying my heart out to this incredible woman for an hour every week for the past two months, something clicks in my brain - Mia, you have a condition, and you need to keep treating it. 

As obvious a revelation as that might sound to anybody reading this, or anybody who knows me and how unstable my life has been for as long as I've been an adult and had to make my own decisions (this was another issue identified by my therapist,) it just hadn't been obvious to me up until that point. Even though mental health problems have affected other members of my family for years, even before I was born, I just never made the connection that maybe I wasn't just lazy, or incompetent, or weak, or pathetic - maybe I actually suffered from a real illness too, that I needed to address like any other so that I could start to feel better. Maybe I could monitor this, and I could live with it. Not only survive, exist and just keep keeping on, but actually LIVE. And I cannot stress to you what an important revelation that was. 

Now, it's the beginning of 2018 and I'm happy (yes, actually happy!) to report that I'm doing better than I have done for a very long time. I'm lucky enough to be able to work part time at a local tuition centre, and who would have thought it, I'm actually not too bad with kids! The feeling that I get when they've finally mastered the times table that I've been helping them with, or the verb form, or when they pass me a note saying I'm their "BFF" is seriously like a shot of liquid gold to me. I've also been able to continue with my English Literature degree which I started with the Open University four years ago, as I've got more time on my hands. More time means more time to relax too, and I try to make sure that I go for a walk every day - to me, exercise is also a important part of keeping my mind healthy. Not that there aren't some weeks when all the exercise I get is pressing the button to let Netflix know that yes, I do still want to carry on watching Ru Paul's Drag Race actually - but I TRY, and I think that's the most important thing now. Ive started to write poetry - what a cliche! But I'm so glad to have discovered my love for writing again, when this time last year the thought of picking up a pen was akin to the running the marathon with my feet encased in concrete blocks. My relationships with my boyfriend, friends and family are better than they have been for years - and I know how lucky I am to have them, and how so many people have to endure their struggles alone, which I can't even imagine. Sure, I'm pretty much broke all the time and I still have bad days, sometimes bad weeks, but not whole months anymore - and I'm so grateful for that. 

So, if you've read this far, thank you, and if you have recognised yourself in any thing I've said, or in any one else's story, because there are many - I urge you to please reach out and ask for help. Try to accept that this isn't your fault, that your feelings and worries are valid, but that your illness is just that - an illness which you CAN treat. Trust me, if the neurotic kid who was obsessed with how much of their mum's potato salad had been eaten can get through this then mate, believe me, you can too. 

Written by Mia

Whould you like to comment?

  1. That's beautiful Mia, you have a real talent for writing. For me aspirations fuck us up, it's instilled in us to get a job that defines us as a success. If we don't we a failure if we do we not happy anyway. We gotta try and enjoy life and be nice to people xx

    1. Could not agree more! When Mia sent this over I was blown away by how much I could relate. Such a great piece. x

  2. Lovely, your writing style makes reading so easy. Thank you for your post. I wish you the best in your journey.

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