I’m heading to work, reaching the vast, empty square that I often amuse myself by walking across blind, eyes firmly closed behind my sunglasses, for as many steps as I dare, when I realise that there is no music in my headphones, and there hasn’t been for some time. Just a resounding silence. My life is no longer set to a soundtrack.
This is the first sign.
Once at work, the weird situation of not really having much to do – because my job should probably never have been created in the first place – is suddenly getting me down and stressing me out, instead of amusing me, as it had for the past two or three months. Now I’m doubting my own abilities, fearing every new task and filled with a nauseous dread when I think about the week when my colleague will be away and I’ll have to replace her. Imposter syndrome, flatlining self-confidence, retiring to the ladies’ toilet to rest my head between my thighs and breathe through occasional panic attacks…
These are the second set of signs.
Then there are the interactions with people I care about. Face to face is less of an issue, as I tend to bask in the presence of people I love, and also to drink alcohol when I’m socialising, both of which lift my mood. But WhatsApp, for example, the medium of choice for most of my phone-averse nearest and dearest, where banter has hitherto been fluid and easy and fun, has suddenly become a minefield for me. My wit feels dulled; my sparring sword blunted and rusty. Worse still, my reactions are off: I might take offence where none was intended, misunderstand the meaning of something ambiguous (but take it the worst possible way), or read volumes into a protracted silence.
Of course I’m self-aware enough to know that this is happening, so I am beating myself up about my own behaviour and try to address it by either staying offline altogether, to avoid causing harm (which makes people worry) or logging on and making attempts to sound normal.
This is the third sign.
There are other signs, I could go on, but… let’s face it, there is no sense in lying to myself any longer, I just need to admit this. I’m struggling, right now. No-one or nothing rational is to blame, and there is nothing to be gained in looking for a reason, a trigger, a fix.
It’s September: back to school, back to reality. But I’m not sure that summer’s end makes other people spend parts of each day feeling like their skin has been flayed and they want nothing more than to curl up into a tight little ball? The most convincing explanation I have is just that this is the flipside to shooting skyward – for no reason – back in May.
It’s costing me, every day, to wear a cheerful mask in front of my colleagues (who know nothing about my diagnosis), or to attempt to hide how I’m feeling from my children (my eldest does know, and worries, and asked me sternly yesterday whether I was taking my meds – I am).
Then there is the guy I’m seeing. It’s new. He met me when I was right at the apex of my curve. I suppose I’m a little afraid that he may like this new me less, or lack the patience to deal with some of her quirks and insecurities.
But experience has shown me that there is little I can do but wait for the worst of these feelings to pass, and pass they will. It’s not all day every day. It’s just some of the time. It peaks and troughs. It comes and goes. And the alternative is to be medicated to be the point of numbness. That I do not want.
So I’ll roll with this paranoid-melancholy-anxiety rollercoaster for now. If this is the price to pay for my fucking amazing summer, I have no regrets: it was worth it.