Mental Health Awareness Week blog series
Cat in a hot tin hat
by Kylie, Peer Support Worker
I do like writing alone, no one watching, uninhibited. The act of writing this, of completing it, of someone else reading it, is a challenge in itself. That old classic ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’, that’s what I’m trying to do, because I know it’s worked for me, avoidance doesn’t. I still avoid, it’s my default, I have to use all my inner resources to push avoidance down the stairs, keep myself at the top head held high, in my best ‘OWNING IT!’ pose, resist that urge to run back down, help avoidance back up off the ground, apologise ‘it’s all my fault! What was I thinking?’, and seek solace together in the cupboard under the stairs.
My mental health has taken its fair share of dips and has shifted into various forms over my life. A few years ago, I was stamped with a brand new label-OCD. Not a fan of labels myself, I’m more of a vintage/charity shop/I found it on the street kinda gal. For some, labels are helpful, but I resent being put in a box, mental health is so complex, people are, we are blurry. But to explain something, you have to box it up, so here is a brief overview of my mind at that time (enjoy, you lucky thing).
I have always had an overactive imagination plus I am an overthinker, sometimes I can’t breathe from how vast I go, I have to stop myself for fear I will never come back. It can be more a feeling, a sense, something existential, I’m not here, this other force, a power over me. I thought it was all orchestrated- life. I thought my husband was a robot, I thought my husband was Jesus, I thought he was the devil (not just a handsome devil, he would interject). I was sure the devil was out to get me, everything was building up to that moment, there were signs everywhere, it all made sense. If I didn’t look too hard, if I kept pulling myself back, if I ran from every situation, took myself out of it, shut it out, don’t say it, don’t think it, avoid these thoughts at all costs, I can stop or at least postpone it from happening. If I spoke about it, it would become true, if I stayed in the room with all the signs, symbols, colours and numbers, the devil would appear, I would go through the matrix, I was on the Truman show, the big reveal would be out.
The end of the world was in my head, I had the power to make it happen, if I succumbed to it. Avoidance, block it out, that was how I tried to cope, but it didn’t work, the intrusive thoughts gnawed away at me, the paranoia continued to find me.
I received help, my therapist explained that my thoughts were the ‘O’ – obsessive thoughts, and I used avoidance, escape and blocking out as my ‘C’- compulsions. I underwent exposure therapy, I would put myself in situations or do tasks that would provoke my intrusive thoughts, rather than distracting myself from these thoughts or escaping from the situation I was in, I had to sit with it. I believed I would die, I was dying or was I already dead, that the therapist had been in on it all along, the end of the world had begun. But I continued, I knew I had to do it otherwise I would live the rest of my life in fear. I made progress, I slowly began to trust the idea that my thoughts didn’t manifest everything into existence, I hadn’t yet willed these catastrophic things to happen. I looked into the abyss and survived. I still had the intrusive thoughts, the woman on the edge still lived in me but overtime she became a less intense version, with shorter lived episodes.
Which brings me on nicely to the hot topic of the moment, it would seem illicit to try and write something without featuring a little bit part from Coronavirus. As reports started to come in about this new virus spreading, moving its way around the world, I could feel the woman on the edge (complete with tin hat accessory) breaking back in full technicolour, starring in her upcoming show ‘Cat in a hot tin Hat’, ready to belt out her new and improved repertoire including ‘Maybe this time (it’s the end of the world)’, and ‘There are worse things I could do (then create a pandemic or 2 )’**.
I considered trying to get in touch with my old therapist, am I responsible for this pandemic, is it because I haven’t been thinking positive thoughts, I’ve made this happen. I was also able to look at things rationally, I felt grateful I had sought help, that I had made huge progress and that deep down I know (I think!) this pandemic isn’t on me. I’ve also come to the conclusion there are things I will never understand or know how they operate, I have to live with the fact I can’t be reassured everything will be ok, and fearing it won’t change it. This time has made me reflect on how far I’ve come, but also made me aware that I have to keep challenging myself, there are still things in my life I’m avoiding, things I want to do but I hold myself back from. So I’m trying, I’m trying to expose myself to those things that scare me. I tried to avoid writing this, giving myself every excuse, I wasn’t capable, but I knew I’d feel better for doing it, and I do.
** I send my apologies if those musical references are missed, and made purely for my own satisfaction.