When does it end?

When my ex-husband first left me, I fought with everything I had to survive. I read something in the beginning that said it takes half the length of your relationship to get over someone. I thought this was ridiculous and there was no way I was going to allow this to happen to me. 

It’s been almost 4 years now. We were together 11 years in total. I stopped loving, missing and needing him in those first few months. I stopped thinking about him in the first year. Since the divorce and my reversion to my maiden name, I’ve only had communication with him twice via email, on matters relating to mopping up the practical side of 11 years. But the ordeal is not over for me yet. 

I’ve been with my current boyfriend for over two years. So why is it even now I wake up and believe – truly believe – that the man laying next to me is my ex about to desert me? He couldn’t be more different, physically, emotionally and in the way he loves and cares about me, and has done so much to help me mentally. 

I see scary, contorted skulls. If you’ve seen the Lord of the Rings, it’s like when Galadriel tests herself and appears to be this terrifying skeletal darkness. First thing in the morning, or in the middle of the night, I’ll often see my boyfriend’s face as a twisted dark skull. Anyone who truly knows him, knows absolutely that he is the most kind, loving and caring man. He cares about me more than I realised anyone could care about another, outside of myself. He’s been so patient and supportive and is genuinely helping me to practically and emotionally fight my darkness. It’s the first time in my life I’ve felt truly worth it. He’s made me feel that way. He’s had to work so hard these past two years. I’ve made it so difficult for him. Before the fluoxetine I did and said some awful things. He could see I wasn’t well and stuck by me. 

So why is it I still see terrifying skulls, dark eye sockets and twisted features, existing only in my imagination but feeling as real as the air I breathe? Two of my previous counsellors said they believed I had been emotionally abused by my ex. I don’t know, but sometimes my brain creates false images that provoke the deepest feelings in me. Or perhaps my feelings provoke those images. The truth is, I live a daily struggle with deep fear of abandonment, loneliness and the anxiety of being found out for the fraud I am. 

If I had written this blog two or three years ago it would read differently, more erratically. That’s another story, but I’m the most stable I’ve been in nearly 4 years now, and I can see I’m starting to get better. There is no quick fix. You simply have to live every part of it. 

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Animals everywhere

So the first time I questioned – I mean seriously questioned – if I wasn’t just ‘clinically depressed’ but actually something else was going on, I suddenly found myself sitting on a park bench about a mile from my house. To this day I have absolutely no recollection of leaving my house, or how I got there. The ‘why’ is an even bigger mystery. Drink? One can of beer about an hour earlier. Drugs? Nope. Not even legal ones. 

Looking around in a complete bewilderment, I wouldn’t have even described my state as panicked or anxious. I was just confused. A man with a dog walked past. Then a woman holding a cat. Looking further, there was a cat swinging gently in the breeze, from the top of a tree. Focusing again I saw a man with a briefcase, a woman with a shoulder bag and a plastic bag caught up in the tree. There were no animals. The emptiness and loneliness was crushing. I was afraid to trust my own eyes, my own thoughts and I felt utterly alone. The animals had been some comfort to me, not even companions as they were a way away, but somehow they felt so rooted in nature, in reality, in calm. When they ‘disappeared’ I was no longer at peace. 

Months later I recalled the time that I had taken steroids for a medical reason some years ago, and drank some wine whilst having a meal in a restaurant with my ex. I had been absolutely convinced that a ginger cat walked across the restaurant. And that was before my world was turned upside down. 

I can’t explain my penchant for seeing animals, but it does seem to happen under stress or the influence of substances, and it brings me peace in the moments before reality beckons. 

Christmas: we are all happy

It’s that time of year again. Even the most balanced, contented and cheery person may struggle with the social pressures and change in routine. 

I’m currently living half way across the country from all my family and friends, so this Christmas was a 4 hour drive to fit as many people as possible in, in 4 days. Arriving at midday on Christmas Eve, by the time it was the evening on Boxing Day I was exhausted. Emotionally and physically. For the first time since my parents split up 3 years ago, it was actually a fairly regular Christmas with no real hiccups. By bedtime on Boxing Day I was wired but shattered, desperate to be at home and see no one for days. The next day was 4 more people and the long drive back. Don’t get me wrong, I care very much about these people and see them a lot less than I’d like, but right now I don’t want to see any of them. Right now I’d like to be alone on a mountain top. Right now I’d like to not exist. 

I’ve believed for years I’m an extrovert. I’m fairly convinced these days that I’m an introvert who suffers from chronic loneliness and separation anxiety. The paradox of this is exhausting. I’m desperate for people to like me, for that real human connection. But there are so few people I genuinely have that connection with, the rest is acting. 

I’m the happiest person, I enjoy having a good old chit-chat, I never bring you my problems, my life looks pretty darn good. The only problem is, none of that’s real, inside I’m curled up in a little ball rocking back and forth, clutching my cuddly toys. But you’ll never see it.

And there lies the real question: take off the mask and lose ‘friends’ who believe you are that act, or keep these people believing you’re the fun, happy person who’s nice to be around?

I can’t answer this. I’ve never come close to removing the mask. 

Awake

Ah, 4am. I don’t often see this time anymore. I started taking fluoxetine (Prozac) about a year ago. One of the side effects that (overall) has been a real benefit to me is the sleep factor. A typical night for me now consists of nodding off at 10pm with a tiredness that can only be fought with a large dose of caffeine, and only waking when my alarm goes off at 7am. 

I’ve never slept this much in my adult life. I think it has a massive contribution to the success of this drug for me. For a person who deems 6 hours sleep a good night, to consistently have 8-9 hours sleep night after night is incredible. Fighting the irrational beast in my head is so much easier when I’m not sleep deprived. 

Since fluoxetine has been, in the main, quite a success for me, I’m at the point where I’ve been able to examine a lot of the reasons for the way I’ve been living. One of the biggest realisations is that a lot of my acute episodes are triggered by a physical issue first. My inability to read my body sends my thoughts into a place perfect for misery, panic and a complete departure from reality. 

First pointed out by my sister – ‘you’re getting more and more anxious and holding your stomach – didn’t you say ages ago you needed the toilet?’ and then my doctor – ‘you’ve got a couple of long term medical issues on record here, do you think they’ve had an impact on your mental state?’ Easy to dismiss and think the very notion that it’s having an effect on me is absurd, but on reflection, maybe they’re right. I should point out, the cause of my long term medical issues is unknown but it’s a physical issue related to my development whilst in the womb. I’m really unsure whether to disclose it here as it suddenly makes me a lot easier to identify. Probably not many will read this anyway. I’ll think about it. But it’s something I’ve lived with all my life and has not stopped me participating in a ‘normal’ life. Many people have no idea unless I tell them. But lately I’ve been realising it explains so much. I’ll come back to this, but for now I have one thing to take away: when reality is disappearing, do whatever it takes to stop where you are and ask the question, ‘is there something physical I need to address first?’ Of course, the ability to stop mid-panic is something I’m having to fight tooth and nail to achieve. The trouble with losing your rational thinking and all sense of what is real, you do rather forget all the things you know, deep down, to be true. 

Curbing your individualism

Most people would probably agree that the struggle during your school years to fit in and make friends is a tough one. The beginning of secondary school (11+) was a more positive time for me. 

For the previous 6 years at primary school, I’d ended up in a small group of ‘friends’ whose dynamic consisted of one attention seeking bully, Charlotte, and us three outcasts, who were desperate to not be left out. For my part, not only did I not want to be left out, I needed to be liked and I couldn’t bear to be alone. 
So most days would consist of whatever Charlotte desired. Break and lunch times were a constant source of dread to find out who was going to be mocked today, who was going to be ignored, who would be alone. Obviously we did what she said, which would involve turning on our friends. Them today, me tomorrow. We just did it. Anything involving choosing teams was the stuff of horror. Obviously we all chose Charlotte first, and then picked whoever Charlotte told us to. We had to let her win games. Her power over us, her determination to be better than us and keep us down was so strong. She would mock me if I received any praise from a teacher. I was called a teacher’s pet, and it was often used as a reason to isolate me from the group. The level of pain caused by being better than her academically was so hard to tolerate, I deliberately wrote wrong answers in my maths exam at the end of primary school and got a grade lower than I rightly should have done. The shame and sadness this brings as an adult is immense. 
I didn’t find out until later that my mother asked the headteacher of the secondary school to keep us separate. This was probably the best thing that happened to me in my school life. Although I had deliberately achieved poorly in that maths exam, I took entrance tests for the secondary school and ended up in the top set. She was a couple of groups down, and as powerful as she had been, the most she ever achieved in secondary school was to persuade a handful of her classmates that I was a ‘boff’ (boffin) and ‘stuck up’ and a person to be hated. After a few weeks of name calling, we were largely separated into ability groups, and she was no longer a big fish in a small pond. The second and third years of secondary school (aged 12-13) were the best for me. I met my best friend, did well academically, and things finally started to fall into place. 

Happy or guilty

In my earliest years I was the incredibly lucky recipient of a mother and a father in a stable home, with a wider family in which everyone had 2.4 children and divorce and death were things that happened on the news. Of course my mother may have been deeply unhappy and struggling to cope, and my father may have been incapable of emotionally engaging with her, or their children, but I was safe from abuse and loved, with an enormous dose of naivety about the world.

Looking back it seems strange that  from around the age of 13 (puberty is brutal) I had recurring thoughts of wishing my grandparents would die so I had a reason for all this unhappiness. I then felt such guilt at having these thoughts, I would resolve to pretend to myself that I was happy, force myself to be happy, but the minute I weakened and felt anything other than cheery and wonderful, I’d go back into the cycle of desperately wishing something awful would happen. I could then tell people how unhappy I was and they’d understand, sympathise and look after me. But just as my sister and I would often ask my mother “what’s wrong?” with no response, I knew there was no explanation for the way I was feeling that I could justify to those around me. Until I had a legitimate reason, I’d better not be unhappy.

Anonymous

Like so many, only those incredibly close to me have any idea of my fight to get through each day. I’m not going to use real names or places, but otherwise I’m laying it out there, brutally and totally. I need to for my own sake. If I write, perhaps things will seem more reasonable, less unusual, or maybe I’ll learn to love my own brand of crazy so much more. I’m a 30-something female living in the U.K.  I’m going to call myself Sarah.