Writers’ Blokke
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Writers’ Blokke

When darkness overwhelms you.

Sometimes having a bad mental health day can be like being smothered by a dark blanket but there is always a little bit of light that gets through even the thickest weave.

Photo by Elia Pellegrini on Unsplash

Yesterday I had a mini panic attack bringing the bins in from the curb. It isn’t the first time this has happened. But it is the first time it’s happened at my own home.

I walked out of the gate feeling ok (for me at the moment anyway) but once I reached the bins and looked up and down the street it started. The short, quick breaths, feet frozen to the ground, a sense of panic rising in me from the ground up. A complete and sudden fear of being beyond the sanctity of the four walls of my house.

It is illogical I know. It is unexplainable. It is also deeply embarrassing.

How do you tell your partner that you froze in fear on the pavement outside your house? I don’t even know what I was afraid of. I just know I felt an overwhelming fear smother me.

It took a few minutes to get back inside the gate. I didn’t leave the yard or my house until the next day.

Lately I am finding I am “trapping” myself in the house more and more. The fewer people I speak to, the less need to go out, the more I stay home and the harder it is to leave. At times I want to hide below the windows for fear of people knocking on the door and me having to speak to them. I know this is not a good nor healthy situation to be in. It’s not sustainable. I have a husband, son and cat who need a person who has their shit together and can get out of the house.

I haven’t completely shut the world out — I do force myself to go the gym (less and less often now) and the supermarket. I even helped out at my son’s school disco — but it took a lot of deep breaths and a little (sorry to admit) “Dutch courage” in the form of a couple of beers before I went, to be able to attempt conversation with other mums. This didn’t work out so well.

This isn’t an unusual situation for me. I have gone through phases like this many times over since I was a child. Hiding from the world, under tables, behind bookcases, by sofas so I can’t be seen from windows, not answering door knocks and phone calls. Wide panic-stricken eyes watching the windows and doors should someone come.

Ever since moving back to my home country I find it harder and harder to be the social person I was known as. I try to find excuses to get out of family gatherings. If I do go, conversation is strained and hard to come by. It never used to be this bad.

I have struggled with balanced mental well-being since I was a child but have usually managed to take enough deep breaths to step on through the darkness and move forward with life. I got through university, met a lovely bloke, moved countries, made a new life, worked my way through the corporate world, started my own business (with hit and miss success), travelled, and become a mum (via adoption). In theory I should be proud of myself, hold my head up high and be able to converse freely with all walks of life.

Unfortunately, if you struggle with mental health, you could be the most successful (whatever that means) person in the world with a happy family and a broad variety of friends, and the darkness will still descend, the light at the end of the tunnel will become a pin prick in a black hole.

This is where I find myself now. The dark has been coming for a while now. I can feel the light getting further away, barely visible.

I cannot blame Covid and the seemingly endless lockdowns we were experiencing. I loved them — I didn’t have to socialise, I could walk in the hills — on my own, I didn’t have to suffer the polite parent conversations and empty promises of playdates with my perceived ‘difficult’ child. I can blame Covid for adding to the failure of my consulting business — this was just another nail as it were.

My darkness was already beginning to engulf me.

I pushed it to the side, to be dealt with on my terms on my own, while as a family we made the preparations for the move back to our home country of New Zealand.

Being distracted by the stress of moving countries, packing up friendships, houses and half a lifetime along with late-night calls to my terminally ill mum kept my own demons at bay. Reprieve came in the form of a two-week forced break from life in one of New Zealand’s Managed Isolation and Quarantine hotel stays. Then Christmas came.

Well, that didn’t go so well. That’s another story — one too long to tell here. Needless to say — siblings being faced with a dying mother aren’t always rational to each other…

It was a hard day. It began my tipping point.

Then we moved into our lovely big house, and I could be distracted again. Sorting out my son’s school needs, entertaining him during the remainder of his summer holidays, visiting my mum.

Once my son was at school, gardening was a blessing — our huge garden was overgrown and unkempt — I could lose myself in weeding, trimming and digging. Then my mum died.

A vast hole opened up and began to swallow me faster than I could scrape a hold. Panic attacks were no more. Nothingness covered me. My days consisted of just enough energy to be ‘present’ for my son to get him off to school then hours lying on the floor unable to function feeling the carpet becoming porous pulling me under.

The grief was all encompassing but did not last forever. These very hard days are far and few between now. My grieving is not over. But enough time has passed for those around me to assume and expect it to be. So, I ‘suck it up’, put a face on and move through my days allowing them to pass me by without my participation.

Now the conversation turns to money. Never an easy conversation among couples. My husband has a relatively well-paying job. The pressures of being the sole earner (as I’m regularly reminded) are hard, especially as living costs here are a lot higher than we anticipated. We’re not moving forwards I’m told. You need to get a job he tells me. “What are you doing for work?” the in-laws ask within five minutes of the latest family gathering.

My heart quickens. Pupils dilate. Breathing shallows. Silence.

My brain is going through scenarios. You’re a woman in the dawn of your forties, with a child who needs you around, you’re limited to look for a job that’s 5hours a day in a city that is conservative and sees you as past your use by date with little flexible job options. Panic rises more. And that’s the logical side of my brain working through how it sees my situation. These are barriers I am putting up — excuses I guess — I spill them out. The reception is less than chipper…

In my head the truth is — my darkness is so smothering I can’t see where to begin, or even how to step into the void beyond the gate to talk to a potential employer. I don’t see any skills that are valid. I dismiss my experience as irrelevant here.

I don’t know where to begin.

The excuses, the fear, the demands spin above my head so fast I feel dizzy. I need to lie down.

I’m writing this because I believe it’s important to share our own personal stories when we are struggling. I don’t have any special tips for getting out of the darkness but when I find them I will be sure to share.

All I can say is not every day is dark, some days can be darker than others. One thing I can pass on, well maybe two. The first is one piece of advice I read somewhere but I no longer remember where — was to make your bed everyday, this way you have achieved at least one thing.

From my own perspective, get dressed, clean your teeth and dance every day. There may not be disco lights to brighten the darkness but there will definitely be more of a sparkle.

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Trudi Bishop

Trudi Bishop

Kiwi by birth but not always by nature. Spent most of my adult life in the UK. I’ve landed back in NZ, a stranger in a familiar land. Trying to figure this out.