“She Knows You’re Not The Full Schilling”

Finally, she knows. The only problem with this is that I am the full schilling. This was the unfortunate term used by my ex girlfriend, just weeks after we broke up, to inform me that her mother finally knows I suffer from panic disorder & depression. After 4 years of thinking I was just a waster, she finally knows the real reason I’ve been struggling to be productive in any way, shape or form. That term, like “a few sandwiches short of a picnic”, “not playing with a full deck of cards” and whatever else people use, are terms used to describe someone with intellectual difficulties. That’s not me. Intellectually I am 100%, but I do have a mental illness. While it was unfortunate and probably a bit inappropriate to use this term, I know for sure my ex realises that I am “the full schilling”. What is telling about it is that this is how some people do think about people who are mentally ill.

Before I get all personal, I just want to say that I am not writing this as a pity party for me. Pity means nothing to me. I just want to be as real as I possibly can be about living with anxiety & depression. I have paid a huge price for being sick. That price is the most important relationship with the most important person I’ve ever had in my life. That’s not all it cost me but other things pale into insignificance compared to that.

My anxiety started as a kid of no more than 4 or 5. I won’t delve too deeply into my childhood right now, but what I remember, vividly, is being told by my mother that if my father had a heart attack, it would be my fault. I would stand at the front door, crying, as my father went to work and would not sleep until he came home at night, which was often far later than a 4 or 5 year old should be awake. This is my first real memory of any sort of anxious feelings. That’s a lot for a kid that age to take on board and as a result I spent most of my childhood terrified that he was going to die. During my teenage years and into my twenties I suffered from bouts of depression and anxiety but I didn’t really realise what it was. I thought I was just moody.

I now know that most of this time I was really only treading water . Things were never right. I had self esteem issues, struggled in social situations with new people & had hypochondria. I think my childhood played a huge part in me having these problems. I don’t care who you are, there is no way for someone who grew up with a mother as psychologically & emotionally abusive as mine was, to end up as a well rounded teenager or young adult. Luckily for me, my was father was an absolute gent of a man so having him around for as long as I did definitely negated some of the shit she dished out.

The straw that broke the camels back for me and has led me to where I am now was burnout and an eventual breakdown in 2012. The cause of the burnout is an article in itself but in short, I was working 60–70 hours a week and sometimes up to 80 for around 4 years. 3.5 years into this I told them I wasn’t prepared to do that amount of hours anymore so the company began to turn the screw on me to get me to quit. Maybe I should have quit but I didn’t and they really got in on me. This is when I had a breakdown. I was out sick for 7 months before finally leaving the company.

At the time I didn’t realise the severity of what had happened to me and how long it would take me to recover. I had met my ex a couple of years before hand and after a couple of years with her I knew, without doubt, she was who I wanted to spend the rest of my days with. So when I finished with that company I decided that it was a good time to go to college and get a degree and a career doing something I like. The whole thing thought me that being happy and having a good work life balance is far more important than having a fat bank account. It was a decision we both agreed on and decided that 3 or 4 years of not having a whole lot, but enough to get by, was the way to go because at the end of it I would pretty much have a guarantee of work in the field I was studying. I had a year to get myself better before I started college.

As is often the way though, things didn’t turn out quite how they were planned. That year to get myself better ended up being a year of huge turmoil and I was technically homeless for a while, but still had a roof over my head. The house I lived in was repossessed by the bank because the owner stopped paying the mortgage and I couldn’t find somewhere I could afford. A few weeks after I was supposed to be out a complete stranger came through and offered me a nice house out the country that I could afford and where I could bring my dogs. That was the key, the dogs stayed with me no matter what. I was dealing with panic attacks, daily. In the barbers, in doctors waiting rooms, standing in queues, on buses & trains, in college, at airports, at home & in friends houses. I could literally have had a panic attack at any time or place and there were days I would have panic attack after panic attack, each one kind of rolling into the next one. I had to stand between carriages on trains with my hood up and headphones in so no one would see me having one. On buses there were only 2 seats I could sit in, down the back on the lower deck at either window. If those seats weren’t free, I either stood or got off the bus. There were many days I had to get on and off buses 7 or 8 times for what should have been an hour long journey. I would get the earliest bus or train every day so there was the fewest amount of people on them and to give myself time to get where I was going. Travelling from home the 7:15 or 7:45am trains would have left me enough time to make it to college for 9 or 10am lectures but I had to get the 5:40am one, just to avoid crowds. Nights I stayed in Dublin I had to get the 6:20am DART(commuter train) when the 8:20 one would do.

The reason for all of this is that when I have a panic attack I sweat. Not normal sweating though, it is literally like I am standing under a tap. It pours from my head and is, to put it mildly, embarrassing. So I wore hats or hoods all the time. I can handle the pounding heart & chest pain, being light-headed or dizzy, chills, tingling or trembling because by and large other people can’t see those things or I can hide them, but when sweat pours from your head, there’s no hiding that. Panic attacks are not only taxing mentally, they are also extremely hard on your body physically. They are exhausting.

So college ended up being a monumental struggle! Getting to and from college was harder for me than the course work, which says a lot because I was doing a BSc(Hons) in programming and they are by no means a cake walk. I got through 1st year and attempted 2nd year twice but both times I hit a wall towards the end of the year. I had to defer both times on medical grounds but was going to give it a third and final shot this year. A week or two before I was to start, I was told that the place I stayed a couple of nights during the week last year in Dublin was not going to be available to me this year. To be honest, at the time, it wasn’t really too upsetting because I was far from confident that I was going to be able to do it. The almost 3 years I did do were extremely challenging and I was absolutely exhausted, but I wanted to give it one more shot because I really didn’t want to let my ex down. She had supported me completely throughout the previous 4 years and I couldn’t bare the thoughts of her being disappointed. But as it turns out, that for her was the final straw. It took her a few more months before she finally ended it but she had lost all faith in me and I really can’t blame her.

So this pretty much brings me to now. At the end of November I was dumped. Dramatic I know but that’s how it feels when it happens. I really had no reason to suspect it was coming. We had a 20 minute chat a couple of months previously where she told me some of her concerns but in the intervening months I did exactly what I was asked to do, so I thought we were good. I know now she probably wanted out then but when she started to do it, maybe had second thoughts or bottled out and rowed back. It can’t be easy to give up on someone and a 7 year relationship, but she did and life has to go on. She decided that her life would be better without me in it and that has to be respected. Relationships end all the time, people become memories and those memories fade over time. There’s no doubt I miss her and am still in a stage of reminiscing about all our good times but she has moved on with her life and is doing her thing. I do not have one bad thing to say about her. At the end of the day she was my best friend for 7 years, stood by me through thick and thin and is without any doubt, the most selfless person I’ve ever met in my 36 years.

So whats the point of this whole thing? Its been said to me that it’s okay to be depressed but 6 months is enough time to get yourself right. That came from someone that I have a huge amount of time for, but obviously they don’t have a notion what they’re talking about. It’s an uneducated opinion and shows a complete lack of awareness. But this is a very common opinion. I’ve been accused of being lazy. More uneducated crap. Generally I find younger people to be far more aware than older people but I have friends who have straight up told me they ain’t the person to talk to about whats going on. Not everyone is comfortable talking about it and I can understand that. I also have friends who have really stepped up for me, particularly in the last few months when I’ve needed friends more than ever and I have friends who have distanced themselves from me over the last few years. But that’s just how things go, some people get it and some people don’t.

Four and a half years ago I was earning €50k, driving a nice car, had money for holidays and whatever I wanted pretty much. Now I exist on €10k a year. Of that 10k I pay €4,800 in rent. Of the remaining €5,200 I spend€1,440 on dog food and €1,040 on electricity. €600 on phone and internet. I am on medication that costs me €15 a month and every time I go to the doctor its €55 but thankfully that’s only twice a year now, unless I get acceptably sick, ya know, not the mental kind of sickness. So that leaves me with roughly €35 a week for food and anything else that comes up. My shopping list is usually porridge, bananas, milk and coffee. I can only hope one of the dogs doesn’t get sick. I have 2 pairs of runners left, the sole has been fixed on one but is falling back off and the other pair have holes in them. I live 20km from my home town where my friends and one of my siblings are. I have no heat except for a stove in one room and I am just out of fuel for it. Wouldn’t of even had any if it wasn’t for my ex’s mother giving me some last year. I go to bed every night in a cold room and wake up wheezing every morning. I have no car. 3 weeks ago I didn’t see another human being for 6 days. It’s not usually quite that bad though. I spent Christmas Day alone but was brought some dinner that evening by a friend. I spent New Years alone. I am completely isolated and very lonely. There are many times over the last couple of years I’ve felt like ending my life. Christmas/New Year 2016 I was at rock bottom, there’s no doubt about that. I live the way I do because I’m lazy? Give me a break!

But as bad as that sounds and I’m emotional even writing it, I do have things in my life to keep me going. I’ve got my dogs and I’ve got some hope. Obviously when you look at the numbers, I can’t afford 4 big dogs but they are what gets me out of bed every morning. Every day they get me out of the house for a few hours and if I didn’t have them, I’m not sure where I’d be. Others have given up on me but I haven’t given up on myself. I know if I can quiet my mind and focus on what I need to do, I will get it done and I’ll pull myself out of the hole I’m in. My anxiety is a lot better than it was a couple of years ago but the depressive episodes are a lot worse. It’s all about finding a way to manage things though. I’m looking forward now. Things can only go one way from here!

If you happen to read this and you’re one of those folks who reckons people with a mental illness need to just smile, pull up your socks and get on with things, you’re an idiot! I am glad you got this far because I wrote it partly for you guys. This shit is real as fuck. No one chooses to live this way. It’s dangerous and kills more young people than anything else. There is not a person alive that doesn’t know someone who has it. There’s no shame in being sick. Read about it and learn what you can do to help your loved one. It’s not rocket science, it just takes a little bit of desire & knowledge on your part to find out whats going on and what you can do to help. That’s what its all about.

If you got this far and know someone who is sick or are sick yourself, try to get some help. Ireland is not great when it comes to services for mental health but there are some good things you can do. Make sure you have a good doctor. When things got bad for me in 2012, my family doctor, who I had been going to since I was born told me I had nothing to be stressed about! There are guys like that out there but doctors are generally going to be clued in. Try CBT and mindfulness meditation for the anxiety. A bit of exercise helps if you can manage it. Doesn’t have to be a 5k run or anything, just something that works for you. You might wonder who am I to be offering advice but I’ve lived with this shit full time and in my face for long enough now to know a few things about it. This is what gives me the hope that I will come out the other side.

And finally, If you read this, and you know me, you will know who wrote it. I didn’t use my ex’s name because she is entitled to her privacy so obviously I I’m not going to use my own name. I also signed a non disclosure agreement when I left that company I worked for until 2012 that stops me from speaking about them in any way. I didn’t go into too much detail here but I will at another time if I keep writing.

Thanks for reading