At the beginning of 2017, I put a post on my personal Facebook page. This post was about my nervous breakdown in 2013 and basically how we shouldn’t stigmatise or feel embarrassed about discussing mental illness. There was a chain of events and reasons that led me to make this post – none of which are important anymore. As I don’t generally post a lot of personal stuff on social media; I was completely staggered by the responses and support I was met with, following my admission. As clearly mental health is an issue that is far reaching and will probably touch all of us in some way or another during our lifetime; it was important to me that – as a women’s lifestyle blog – this site should cover the topic; along with the other more “fluffy” stuff.
To start; my observation is that we live in a world of self-help pollution. Simply checking my Facebook every day uncovers a new “life coach” espousing their own particular brand of wellness. The market is fast becoming saturated and the pressure to be happy/together/successful/fulfilled has never been more apparent. Now don’t get me wrong; I love a good Guru as much as the next hot mess – one look at my Kindle library will tell you that – but for some people; they’re simply not ready to take that trip. For many out there, there’s a more important journey they need to take first – the journey to recognition. Recognition that there’s something very, very wrong in their life. Recognition that they’re not feeling right. Recognition that they’re not coping. This is that story.
So, leading on from that point, just what make me so qualified to write this? Well you asked, so here goes. I. AM. A. FUCK. UP. Yep, you read that right – I’m a fuck up. So, sue me. The truth is we all are in some way or another but sometimes our poor behaviours and choices get the better of us. When this happens, the biggest favour you can do yourself is admit it – because that my friend; puts you in the unique position to actually do something about it……
How it all started for me.
In 2013 things started to unravel for me in a fairly dramatic way. Truth is, they’d actually been pretty shitty for quite some time but as one of life’s “copers” (let’s change that to martyr shall we), I had become very good at shoving a lid on my unhappiness ……correction…..FEAR. To summarise; since 2008, I had been on a rollercoaster of life changing events – a serious back injury followed by a diagnosis of Fibromyalgia, death of a stepdaughter followed shortly thereafter by a marriage separation and inevitable divorce. I had moved my life 300 miles from Cheshire to Scotland, pretty much on a whim. I had no support network and no friends. As well as the emotional impact of the marriage separation; the financial element was shattering. So, to numb the pain, I dove into work. I was a Regional Manager in the Motor Industry and my job took me all over Northern Ireland and Scotland. I worked with some amazing people and I worked extremely hard, often arriving back from the ferry port on a Friday night at 11pm and working through the weekend on reports. I was permanently tired and was not sleeping properly….but at this point was coping….just. Slowly, insidiously, a voice started creeping into the picture. A voice telling me that I wasn’t good enough. That I was actually terrible at my job. That I was a fraud. That I’d be found out.
Obviously, feeling this way was the perfect time to move into a new role – a more demanding role – but I did it anyway – “feel the fear and face it anyway” and all of the crap we tell ourselves to justify our crazy decisions. I realised pretty much immediately I had made a HUGE mistake. Having had a really great relationship with my previous boss, from the outset, I just knew I’d made a serious error of judgment in deciding to work for my new one. We were completely different people and just not a “good fit”.
By this time, I was in pretty bad shape both emotionally and physically. I was SO paralysed with fear and a terrible sense of foreboding, that I just wasn’t sleeping. At all. I was convinced that another life-changing drama was just around the corner and I was powerless to do anything about it. Every work meeting I attended was preceded by a pep talk to try and calm the sense of dread and inadequacy I felt. This was crazy considering I was highly qualified for the role with over twenty years’ experience within the industry; but nonetheless I felt like a total imposter. To add injury to insult, my damaged back was permanently in spasm from all the driving and the nerve compression was giving me a numb right leg. Just to get through the day I was shovelling pain killers down my neck at an alarming rate. Despite all of this my “game face” was nailed tightly one but I was dying inside. I felt like a rat on a wheel, just peddling mindlessly along whilst everything unravelled around me. But I had no idea of how to stop the ride and get off.
And then my second step-daughter died. Suddenly and without warning. I’d had to deal with the news a few months earlier that my ex-husband had been in hospital for several weeks and had nearly died, without anyone telling me (they had their reasons I guess). Having only seen Rebecca five weeks prior to her death, it was surreal and six years on it still shocks me. After the funeral, I returned straight to work, still racked with the same fear, still feeling inadequate and still working for a person I had nothing in common with and who wasn’t interested in supporting me. Nonetheless, I kept lying to myself that it would all be okay…..somehow. However, on top of all of this; I was now grieving.
Having not had a romantic relationship since my divorce and now feeling very much alone, I decided to cheer myself up by dating (seriously, WTF was I thinking). To my total and utter surprise, I met someone who I really liked and things moved quickly. Although ideally, I wanted to take things slow, I kept telling myself “ Laney, you’ve had your share of shit, what could possibly go wrong?” and to be fair, for a while, it was lovely. It took the edge off the pain I was feeling and gave me something else to focus on other than grief and work. However, coupled with that rosy tinted glow we all cast on a new relationship; was a sense of feeling overwhelmed and mixed up about just how quickly things were moving. This just added to my inner turmoil ultimately. A few months down the line and in January 2013, I came to the unfortunate realisation that this person was not right for me and I ejected him fairly brutally from my life. “Expose the wound” I thought “hurts like hell for a while but the fresh air helps it heal.” (I’m just full of these gems, right?) Although this was absolutely the right decision to make; by this time I was too emotionally battered and bruised to deal with the fallout…..and this brings us to when shit really started to go sideways….
I decided to talk to my work about how I was feeling and get some CBT sessions. Whilst they (work) outwardly made all the appropriate gestures of support; you could tell that inwardly, they just wished I’d miraculously get “better” and fall back into line….. and boy, I tried. I really tried. But, by now, I was too far gone. I was quite literally, “wired to the moon” through lack of sleep, fear and popping prescription pills like smarties. I estimated that I hadn’t had more than three hours sleep a night for over eighteen months. I felt like I was outside of my life looking in; banging on the window for someone…ANYONE… to notice I was in trouble. Something had to give. And it did. In the middle of a team meeting to be precise. Having spent the whole morning staring and nodding at the obligatory PowerPoint presentation slides, bit by bit a wave of total panic began to overpower me until I quietly excused myself, went into the ladies, lock myself in a cubicle, lay on the floor and sobbed for about twenty minutes.
What happened next?
Around thirty minutes I managed to compose myself and returned to the team meeting. I must have looked like crap when I sat back down but no-one acknowledged the fact or bothered to ask how I was. I should have been upset, but actually, it didn’t matter to me anymore. For the first time in ages; I had clarity. I needed to stop trying to do the right thing and to look after myself. No-one else was going to. So, I signed myself off – initially for a month. However, it soon became clear that if I was going to get better; returning to that job was not an option for me. And then some game changers: an interview with an Occupational Health Therapist (who clearly didn’t think I was a fraud), a formal and proper diagnosis of my back injury and most importantly, a conversation with my CBT counsellor at The Priory who suggested I attend “Group” therapy, as it was covered by my work insurance policy anyway.
For three months I attended Group CBT sessions and I have to say it was the best thing I ever did. Group therapy allows you to explore the individual elements of cognitive behaviour therapy more in-depth and replace unhelpful coping strategies and learned behaviours with ones that serve you better. It makes you dig deep and at times is exhausting. Mental Health is an inside job and you have to want to do the work. It also makes you drop any preconceptions you had about the type of person that suffers with mental illness and why someone chooses a particular coping strategy or unhelpful behaviour over another.
Now, I was immensely fortunate to get the help that I did and not everyone will be so lucky, I understand that. However, mental health is gaining more and more awareness and less and less of a stigma. More and more help and resources are becoming available. In sharing my story; I can’t tell you how many people came forward to tell me they’d struggled too at some point – people I have known for ages yet had NO IDEA about their experience with this issue. Here’s the truth. Life has never been tougher: we’re all working longer hours than ever and the advent of the internet and social media means we are literally ambushed with stimuli twenty- four seven. Given humans weren’t designed to cope with the bombardment of the twenty first century lifestyle; we need to learn (and practice) coping strategies that work for us.
Everyone’s experience of a mental health issue is different and personal to them. My Boss made the idiotic remark that I wasn’t having a nervous breakdown because “my mother had one and it was nothing like you say.” We must never fall into the trap of labelling how something should look. For me, my issues were anxiety related – most likely exacerbated by a succession of major life events within a relatively short time frame. I had become so expectant of the next “trauma” that I was in a constant state of alert (fight or flight mode, basically) resulting in massively heightened anxiety and unhelpful thinking patterns (catastrophising) and ultimately lack of sleep. Conversely, one of my closest friends is clinically depressed – a trait that runs in the family. She can have months of happiness when bang! out of nowhere, a black cloud descends and literally, immobilises her. She’ll hide under the duvet for days and ignore ‘phone calls and messages, until the blackness lifts. Although I used to get terribly concerned about the radio silence, I now realise it’s her process and we have a system for handling it.
Clearly, this is a huge topic and consequently, there are a couple of follow up articles I’m already writing as an add-on to this post. I’d also welcome any stories that you might like to share – if so, please get in touch or add your comments in the thread below. In closing though, if you or anyone you know is struggling or has struggled with your mood; I hope you’ll take the following from this article.
Our increasing acceptance of cosmetic procedures and plastic surgery is hardly headline news anymore but there’s no denying the sheer velocity of it’s popularity over the last three years…..particularly amongst young girls.
So what has changed? Why are twenty-something hotties getting regular Botox injections and lip augmentation treatments? What is making attractive young girls with dewy, line-free skin and already ample lips, visit the cosmetic surgeon?
It’s no accident that in this current world of instant gratification – the one where young women are addicted to their social media feeds – the need for acceptance and to conform to the images they’re continually shown; is immense. And it’s not just how they should look. There’s the designer duds they need to wear, the car they should be driving and the (perceived) lifestyle they need to be living. It’s exhausting and it’s relentless.
A case in point is the current poster-girl for cosmetic procedures – Kylie Jenner. Along with completely changing her face (check out the infamous time-lapse video on YouTube and you’ll see she’s virtually unrecognisable from the girl she was three years ago) she has seemingly set the precedent for the image that girls in their teens and twenties want to project. We now have an epidemic of young women who fanatically control and curate every element of their lives, all so that they can post the perfect selfie on Instagram.
Now you might be forgiven for thinking I have a downer on Ms. Jenner. I don’t. However, she’s a girl born into relative wealth (even before the explosion of KUWTK ) and who has every contact and resource available to her in order to carve out the life she wants. Does that mean she doesn’t work hard? No. Does it mean she deserves to be verbally pelted on social media? Of course not. But it does give her a huge advantage and set her apart from the vast majority of other young women her age. Kylie Jenner is not the norm. Nor should she be held up as being so. It’s an unrealistic benchmark and moreover, it sets people up to feel like failures.
Which is precisely where things get to start a bit messed up. Here’s a synopsis of what Freud believed about The Pleasure Principle and our need for instant gratification.
“The id is an important part of our personality because as newborns, it allows us to get our basic needs met. Freud believed that the id is based on our pleasure principle. In other words, the id wants whatever feels good at the time, with no consideration for the reality of the situation”.
So, how does this relate to an addiction to cosmetic procedures? Well, it’s ultimately the pursuit of instant gratification (how many people liked our photo, viewed our video etc.) through altering our appearance or portraying a certain lifestyle; at the expense of what is actually going to give us long-term fulfilment. And this is where – like any unhelpful behaviour or coping strategy – the need for many young women to continually get cosmetic procedures, is potentially a mental-health ticking time bomb.
“That’s all a bit dramatic Laney”, you might say. Well no, it’s not. Just think about it. In a sea of young women fighting for social airspace and acceptance; what happens when your wrinkle- free forehead, overly large lips and teeth veneers still haven’t landed you a rich boyfriend/husband or a career as a millionaire Beauty Entrepreneur? Plus there’s the mounting cost of all this work (not to mention the financed Mercedes parked on your mums drive). Just what happens when you’re still feeling desperately insecure about your appearance ( now your celebrity idol has had yet another procedure done and you literally can’t …well…..keep up) despite having all of this stuff done? What then?
It’s because of this very factor, that the cosmetic enhancement industry needs to not feed this potential mental health issue. From an emotional standpoint, they have a real responsibility to manage expectations about what a cosmetic procedure can (and can’t) do.
Before you start thinking I despise the cosmetic enhancements industry; it’s actually quite the opposite. In the right circumstances, a cosmetic procedure can transform someone’s life and provide them with a new-found level of confidence they didn’t have before. In those cases, it’s not just about instant gratification. It’s a life-changing and pivotal decision in their lives that provides them with real fulfilment long-term. That’s why any cosmetic intervention has to be a well thought out decision and not something done on a whim (or because all your friends have it). No amount of fillers or injections will make you happy, if fundamentally what you’re unhappy about or pursuing, actually isn’t (in reality) related to the size of your lips or how many people like your selfie on Instagram.
Need further convincing? As I was writing this blog entry, a story flashed up on my Sky News feed. The story had broken that day and involved ex Facebook executive Chamath Palihapitiya. He was voicing his concern over our unhealthy relationship with social media sites and how this manifests in our attaching importance to gratification, not fulfilment. In his words:-
“The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops we’ve created are destroying how society works. We are in a really bad state of affairs right now.”