In honour of the brilliantly timed combination of both Share a Story Month and Mental Health Awareness Month, I figured I should practice what I preach, and tell my story. It might just help someone, somewhere. Maybe. Postnatal (or postpartum) illness drove me to the brink of suicide but, the anxiety that I had carried with me for my entire life ended up saving me in the end.
The words “anxiety” and “saved my life” don’t usually go together do they? They’re almost, always a conflict in terms; Ying and Yang, parallel, polar opposites that don’t attract. But they did for me.
It was early 2015 and my life was falling apart. I didn’t know why but I knew I was in the depths of despair. I hated waking up and found no joy in anything at all. To smile; a genuine, heartfelt smile that touched my eyes, had become such a rarity that I thought I may have lost the ability to do it at all. I hated my life, even though I had everything I had ever wanted. The things a child wishes from when they’re growing up. I was successful, I had a career, a husband and daughter, a beautiful home and I was even finally at the ideal body weight that I’d always dreamed of. Still, I was miserable.
I didn’t know it at the time but I had postnatal depression. The only box that I didn’t fit in (you know, the tick boxes that help you diagnose yourself with anything these days!) was that I didn’t hate my baby. I loved her with every ounce of my soul. My problem was that I couldn’t be with her and I couldn’t be without her. I was stuck.
My problem was that I couldn’t be with her and I couldn’t be without her. I was stuck.
It came down to the simple fact that I would drive to work each morning and get to the same set of traffic lights. I knew that if I ran that light I’d be in a horrible accident. I’d get to the same tight bend in the road and know that if I went just that little bit faster, turned the wheel just that bit too sharply, I would crash perfectly into that beautifully placed wall. I’d drive around the same country roads and know that if I sped up, just a little, I could easily lose control of the car and see the end. I knew the patch of woods that I could curl up in and not come out of. I knew where I’d park, what I’d do. I had it down to the finest detail and I’d think about it. Every. Single. Day.
I knew Every Detail of my Death
I didn’t know why. I just knew how I felt. Hopeless, useless and completely without purpose. I could not process my life but I could plan my death. That was the easy part. But I didn’t. And there was one simple reason why I didn’t.
It wasn’t the usual, or what you’d expect I suppose. I loved my family but they didn’t need me. I adored my daughter but she didn’t need me as a mother. I loved my job but someone else could do it just as well. I adored my house but someone else could live there and love it like I did. I loved my husband but hated him at the same time. I didn’t really know why. My friends had each other, my family had each other, my husband would love again and my daughter would never know me. Maybe it was better that way.
The thing that saved my life was my anxiety. I knew, from my job and my life growing up as the daughter of a firefighter the impact that death has. Not necessarily purposeful death or those that chose to take their lives but anyone who happened to die somewhere outside of the norm. All the folks that happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. The accidents on the road, the fires in the house, the slip down a mountainside or turn in the weather, the medical conditions and all the other “events” that resulted in one more angel and one less soul on earth. Those that chose to take their life were just another statistic; A different column on the chart of fatalities that year. And yes, their loss was felt so deeply by their people, their friends, family and colleagues. But they weren’t the people I felt for. They weren’t the ones my anxiety screamed about.
My complete lack of self-worth was only halted by those who chose to help; The doctors, the nurses, ambulance staff, fire fighters, police officers. And then there were the poor passers-by, those that happened to be in the wrong place at that time. Those were the people I stopped for. Those were the ones who stopped me from turning the wheel too sharply, from accelerating instead of breaking, from pulling into the woods and not coming out. They saved me without ever having to see me or even knowing they did. It’s the crazy part of the crazy you see.
My anxiety wouldn’t allow me to cause pain, additional work, unease, paperwork, sleepless nights or grief for people I didn’t know. For people who didn’t want to be in a situation that was so easily avoided. They wanted to help people, not pull a body from a wreckage or cut one down from a tree. They want the possibility, the hope of a good outcome. They are there for the potential of life and to save it. Why would I put them through something they didn’t need to experience for my own selfishness when there was no chance of hope.
And for those poor souls who were around when I swung out of control on the motorway, for that farmer whose field I ended up in, for the poor dog walker who found me in the woods, for the hapless passer-by who witnessed my meeting with the wall: what about them? They didn’t ask for that. They didn’t want their life to be impacted by someone else’s actions. They were going about their business and happy. I couldn’t be the one who stole that happiness for a week, a day, or a minute of their lives. That’s too much power.
And that was what saved me. They did. All those people who didn’t know until now. My anxiety around being a burden, a nuisance, a pest, was the one thing that saved my life. I got help soon after because someone else noticed.
So, my message for today is simply this; the things that seem the hardest are often the key to your becoming. The mountain that is in your way is what inspired you to climb. The fear of darkness and all that the darkness entailed is what inspired man to create fire. And damn have we made the most of that fire! What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. So, cherish the things you feel are a burden on your life, because one day, they might be the key to your survival.
I only ask one thing of you; share this story with your network of people, whoever they are. You never know who is fighting a secret battle that no one knows about. #MHAW17 #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek
You can get hold of the full story in eBook format here or in paperback here