Fuck It! Strength through Vulnerability. Part 1 of 3.
I have always felt that life is about spinning plates. A Saturday afternoon in London in October 2015 was when all my plates fell down. I had a breakdown. Just typing that brings back the painful memory of that day, but by writing this I have accepted what happened and feel that I am on a journey to learn to accept myself. What I actually remember from that day was getting up as normal but soon after not feeling myself. I didn’t even know who I was any longer. I was all over the place. I’d been found out, exposed for the fraud I was. My girlfriend and I went for a coffee, returned home, then I sat on the sofa and it began.
The previous day had seen me sent home from work and told to seek help regarding my anxiety. Instinctively, I had gone home and made a doctor’s appointment for the next day. I remember I went to the cinema, alone, for the first time as I didn’t want to be at home alone and didn’t want to think about what had happened. I sent a text to my Mum and my girlfriend explaining what had happened and then I just sat and stared at the wall. I was lost. In many ways, I was relieved to be out of work and away from the stressful environment which was consuming me. Now was the time to think.My first memory of the breakdown was starting to cry, it felt like a normal cry but then it gradually became more intense. The true horror of the mess my life was in started to dawn on me. The plates were smashing. Overwhelmed, the cries became screams, breaths became shorter. I had experienced a panic attack about three years previously but this was something else. I remember screaming something about not wanting to go to hospital, body rocking and shaking uncontrollably. I know my Mum was called, I remember speaking to her. I remember feeling like I had let everybody down. I was staring at the edge and I didn’t want to carry on anymore. I was lucky. My closest friend and his partner arrived and while my friend tended to my girlfriend, his partner was able to comfort me. Just seeing them come to my rescue immediately made me step back from the edge. Being hugged felt like the best thing ever. They stayed and helped me navigate through the next few hours. I am forever grateful for their actions on that day. I was so fortunate to have them as my support network. I shudder to think what might have happened if I had experienced a breakdown like that during the two years previous to that when I had been living in Italy. They were the first step to inspiring me to change my life. But these journeys are complicated and this blog is about what has followed and the feelings I have experienced and the things I have learned. I could go on and on about what happened that day but now I see it as something that just happened and I learned from. The next step was to attend the doctor’s appointment with my friend later that afternoon. He was able to explain to the doctor what had happened to me when I couldn’t find the words. It was clear that my anxiety and whatever else I was suffering with was affecting me very badly. I was put on medication. It was agreed I would go and stay with my Mum. I was signed off work. Now was the time to rest and try and put myself back together. My Mum missed a holiday to stay at home with me. That’s just what you do. Again, I was lucky. I remember feeling looked after, valued, protected. We made lemon drizzle cake one day, my cousin and his girlfriend came to visit the next. I didn’t know what day it was. I learned more about my Mum that week than I had in all my life. We went for an Italian meal and my Mum told me all about her childhood. She booked me in to see a councillor. My Dad came over and I remember a strange moment where I had a coffee with my parent at a hotel my Dad was staying at in Manchester. Since they divorced when I was 11 it has always felt strange the three of us being together. I remember coming back from the toilet and seeing them deep in discussion about me. It felt nice to be the topic of conversation, to have those closest to me rallying round me. Family circumstances have clearly had an effect on me. My parents divorced when I was 11 but were distant before then. Dad worked away a lot before he left. As a young child, I was told that I was intelligent and incredibly perceptive. I sensed the mood in the house, I knew it was wrong. It was not what it should have been. Don’t get me wrong I didn’t have a bad childhood. I love my parents and like them both as people and they did their best but it isn’t easy. I’m sure at times they just muddled along and did what they could, like most. As I’ve grown up as an only child I can’t shake the feeling that I was the product of something that didn’t last and as a result have gone long periods without the true parental attention I felt I deserved, for which I take some blame for. That is why it really pisses me off when people say all only children are spoiled. At the time of writing my overriding feeling is wait for me to sort my shit out and we’ll talk about this another time. I can’t remember how many weeks I was at home for. I had three really constructive sessions with a counsellor. The medication was starting to regulate my mood. I had taken them previously over the years but always wanted to get back to a life where I didn’t need to take a pill every single day to function. I knew I was going to have to make changes. When I returned I tried to repair what was already a broken relationship. We were not right for each other but that is easy to say with the benefit of hindsight. I also had to decide if I could carry on with my career as a teacher. After a lot of contemplation, I decided to make a go of both of them. I used the rest of my time off to try and keep fit and look after myself but I felt that I was still in a position of fear. I was scared of my partner’s judgement, scared of going back to work. Honestly, I was just bumbling along with no plan, doing what I could. I attended regular wellbeing workshops, I started practising Mindfulness techniques, I tried to inject passion back into a relationship which was already dead. The point is I tried. I did something. In terms of the relationship I took it all on myself. Stupid of me. Mentally I punished myself for showing weakness, for being too sensitive. I was trying to hold it all together and be someone I was not, to prove to her I was good enough. In December, I was signed off by Occupational Health for a phased return to work. I probably wasn’t the best boyfriend and I must have surely been difficult to live with. I would have mood swings but my heart has always been in the right place. I felt I should have been supported more, I deserved that. That feeling will never completely leave me. I had to do something, leave my job or leave my girlfriend. I just wasn’t ready to do both at the same time! So just before New Year when we returned to London I ended the relationship and yet again was supported by my closest friend and went to live in his flat. The people closest to me were all in agreement that this was the right choice. I saw it as cutting a massive chunk of stress out of my life. Over the coming months I had to cope with establishing myself back at work, processing a break up and getting back out into the world to meet new people, a tall order. Despite feeling vulnerable, I celebrated my 30th birthday with my friends and they helped put me back together. As the months rolled on I just kept on going, keeping my head down and trying to get on with my life. I wasn’t addressing the issues I was facing but I was doing a damn good job of faking it. Again, I probably wasn’t the finest person to live with, for which I am truly sorry, but it is truly exhausting to not feel good about yourself, to constantly question everything and feel pressure building on a daily basis. I recently watched a documentary about people who have experienced mental health issues wanting to run the marathon. One guy explained that he felt his next bout of depression was ‘in the mail’. This was exactly how I felt at that time, yet I didn’t know when it was going to hit. For a couple of years my relationship around alcohol had changed. I was no longer a happy drunk and was using it as a crutch to cover up my insecurities and present a better version of myself. It ended up having the opposite effect. I knew I had to address this but I wasn’t ready, I wasn’t strong enough. To be successful I needed to have a platform to achieve. Having not had a bolthole for a long time I was still feeling lost. I was muddling along like everybody else, hoping nobody would notice this imposter among them. In some ways, I was on top of things, in others I was teetering on the edge of a cliff. The platform was not secure. This was not the time. I was struggling to control my emotions. They were overwhelming me. It was affecting me at work. Had I taken on too much too soon? I was fast becoming disillusioned with the teaching profession. For sure, I knew I was hurtling towards a stress related meltdown. Even in times like these however a person is capable of making some good decisions. I had joined a dating site and started to get out and meet new people, it probably wasn’t the right time and maybe I should have just taken some time to enjoy being on my own. Except I wasn’t enjoying being on my own. Emotion was always bubbling under the surface. When my friends announced their engagement on Valentine’s Day I burst into tears of happiness in the middle of a pub. Being asked to be a best man is a tremendous honour. That motivated me to look for someone I could really care for. After a number of I dates I met somebody who was really nice and kind. I was very honest about the things that had happened to me and felt like I could be myself, whatever that was. The things that make people interesting are the things that aren’t perfect. I immediately could see she appreciated my imperfections. I remember going to watch her run the marathon and feeling incredibly inspired. It was then I felt ready for a new relationship. Of course, this was when some of my plates fell down again. I had been working incredibly hard and knew that something had to give. The anxiety and stress I felt around teaching and the way I addressed stress was about to come to a head. After a disastrous pupil progress meeting where I felt completely dismantled as a professional, stress overcame me and I broke down. After school, I threw a stapler on the floor in a fit of anger, which felt great after the day I’d had. Maybe I wasn’t mentally prepared for the meeting, but I felt utterly humiliated. I don’t want any teacher to go through what I went through that day. If it was a boxing match my corner would have thrown in the towel early on. Enough was enough, after four hours effectively being told you are shit at your job and being informed in a very insincere manner that you could not leave the school premises until somebody was at home to ‘look after you’ was the final straw. I was finished at that school and after my friend was called and told to await my arrival I plucked up some courage to walk out with my head held high knowing I would never return, I’m glad I was able to do that. I had let them break me but I could come back from this elsewhere. A taxi was arranged to take me home, while I sat on the pavement and cried. Many people lack empathy or pretend to show it but from a young age I would never suffer fools gladly. That feeling was magnified and reinforced to me that day. Don’t pretend to care, I can see through you. It upsets me when I see others hurting and for me that is how I know I am a real person who wants to make a difference. I get that from my Mum. From this wreckage, I had started to develop an attitude of ‘fuck it’. We had a nice date planned for the next night, I wondered whether I was up to it. In the taxi home from school I bared all and revealed to her what had just happened, the mess I was yet again in. She was so understanding and came through for me that day. We have subsequently gone from strength to strength, we are currently living together and we are planning to move up to Manchester together. Now I finally have somebody who likes me for who I am. I can actually be myself which is a major fucking relief, let me tell you. Too many times I have tried to be someone am I not. In the midst of one of the confusing periods of my life I have got something completely 100% right! Soon after I went through my teaching union, finalised the end of my contract, moved into a house share and started moving on with my life. I found myself damaged, but not broken and finally free from the two biggest problems in my life. It was then I started to confront who I really was and the negative thinking patterns that had troubled me throughout my life. After another break, I registered as a supply teacher and started working in various locations throughout London. It was then I started to think about what I really wanted out of life and what I really wanted to do if I weren’t a teacher. After years of being consumed by pressure and self-doubt I started to look around at those closest to me. I came off the tablets. I did 33 days off the booze. It was time.
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