I first felt it in the summer of 2014. I must have looked so strong back then. I’d just returned from a long trip to Japan, was working with high-profile clients, preparing to do a stint in New York, was getting my sailing licence — and every day, I felt a little less able to breathe. I started waking up scared: of going to work, of receiving an email or phone call, of someone wanting something from me, of not being able to cope. But I ploughed on.
Then, in early autumn, my parents and sister came to visit to celebrate my birthday. And suddenly I felt like the loneliest person in the world. As we sat around the dinner table, a belt tightened around my chest. I drank to mask the fact that I couldn’t eat. I smiled to stop myself from crying. I had no words for what was happening to me, so I didn’t talk about it.
It was actually my mother who gave me the words, when I completely broke down a couple of weeks later: depression. Oh god what a relief that was, to finally be able to name it, to start understanding. Depression! I employed the word liberally, told not only friends but work contacts, even wrote about it a year later. I didn’t stop because I had no reason to: talking about it not only demystified the scary things that were happening to me; it also opened little windows of intimacy between me and the other person. And wonderful things happened in those windows.
I’d never thought that speaking about what I’d considered weakness would have such an amazing effect. It was as if the world had softened around the edges, as if I were in one of Philip Pullman’s parallel universes and physically connected by an invisible chord to whoever I was speaking to. It felt like something, at a time when I was able to feel very little.
It’s my birthday again this weekend. Today, two years later, I have many words to talk about my mental and emotional states, a whole private vocabulary that helps the people closest to me understand, and a public one that allows me to set boundaries when I need them. It’s not a complete language yet, but it’s getting there. I just need to keep talking.
I believe we should all talk a little more about being Anxy.