Instead of writing about others, Head Talks’ editor Emma Price shares some of her own struggles with mental health.
What is my story? It is a different one depending on when you ask. Had you asked me two years ago, or even a year and a half ago, I would have told you a positive story full of light, success and promise. If you ask me today, it is a story full of fear, anger and despair, tracing all the way back to my early childhood. Amazing how perspective can change, depending on where you are in the present.
I remember feeling anxious as a small child: existentially anxious. Thinking we were going to die when the petrol of our car would run out, that I would slip through the cracks of the bridge at my grandma’s. Why was I anxious? I don’t know. Probably because my father was an anxious and emotionally unstable man, and my mother very sweet but not very solid.
That was even before the big blows. Parents divorced at age nine and then, at 12, a cancer scare. A lump was discovered in the soft tissue of my right armpit. They removed it, but the verdict was: “We don’t know what it is, it isn’t black, it isn’t white, it is grey.” And that verdict didn’t change during all of my teenage years.
I spent at least seven years thinking I was going to die. This became the undercurrent of my life. Doctors would check me once every while and when, at age 19, I went to the hospital to ask for their records and a final diagnosis, they dryly said: “It didn’t come back so in the end we decided it was benign.”
I still don’t understand why neither my parents or the doctors hadn’t been clearer about it. Maybe they had, maybe I just didn’t hear it as I was too consumed by my anxiety. But I am pretty sure it was never stated to me in an obvious way that I was in the clear.
I thought I was going to die, I thought I was going to die, I thought I was going to die.Yet I was embarrassed of my feelings, felt like I was ‘the weakling’. Also, I had to cater to my parents, especially my father, to whom I had become a friend/emotional carer.
I broke free in my twenties. Escaping the suffocation of a depressing environment, I travelled to the Middle East, got swept up in its energy and proceeded to do my university studies both in my native Holland and Jerusalem. The toughness of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict enabled me to order my own anxieties into the corner. Occasionally I would suffer, throw up, spiral into the floating world of fear and dread, but overall I had managed to put a lid on what I thought was an unacceptable part of me. I did an MA in History and became a journalist. As soon as I could, I based myself back in Jerusalem, where I covered the second Intifadah. I met my future husband and together we travelled to New York and then Brussels.
The birth of my two daughters in quick succession brought anxiety back into my life. For the first time I experienced the full destructive force of anxiety coupled with depression. Sleep deprivation and a hormonal imbalance meant that I eventually ended up in hospital and on medication. I was a wreck: couldn’t sleep, was shaking, couldn’t get my head to stop, and when I did, fell into a very, very deep pit. Life was not worth it like this. The guilt and responsibility towards my children made things ten times worse.
Luckily, the Belgians were quick with what turned out to be the right type of treatment. Anti-depressants worked miracles and soon I was back on my feet. And that is where I was until a year ago, when I was suddenly struck by sleeplessness, anxiety, and their inevitable chaser: depression. For four horrific months I went from GP to Crisis Service and even a recovery home. Back on a gruelling regime of anti-depressants, sleeping pills, and diazepam. Diagnosis: an anxiety-driven depression.
It took a friend of mine to get me to ask for a hormone test. The result was that I was peri-menopausal. I was peri-menopausal! I wasn’t going crazy. A massive weight lifted. The GP apologised, and I started hormone replacement therapy. This seemed to – slowly – work. But anxiety was still very much on the surface. Depression too. During the summer holiday I was either feeling anxious or very down. As if the strings inside me had been touched by a bow and couldn’t stop vibrating. September came and I wanted to ‘start my life again’. I had lined up a course, some work, some volunteering. But I soon realized that things still quickly threw me off balance.
A bout of nerves about my course, and then a nasty cough led to a few weeks of bad sleep. Which then led to a very deep fear that everything would come back. The whole fucking nightmare.
And it did come back. Sort of. And I am angry with myself for not being able to stop the panicky thought-train which keeps me in this loop. Because rationally speaking the crisis isn’t necessarilyback. It is just that I am so petrified last year’s episode will repeat itself that I have given anxiety a new life. Mine. I am looking over my shoulder for it to pounce and am therefore giving it power. And keeping myself imprisoned.
I meditate. I run. I do yoga. I see specialists. It all helps. But I am still struggling. Struggling to get through the horrible days and struggling to find out who I am: the brave, anxiety-free journalist or that little petrified child that has taken over. More to the point actually: who of the two to believe in at this point in time?
Please feel free to react. I would love to hear from you.
- We would love it if you send us your stories. Putting your thoughts to paper (/screen) can be a very empowering and therapeutic experience. And sharing it with others might help both writer and reader. Send your thoughts or stories to firstname.lastname@example.org.