Trigger Warning: Discussions of mental health – depression and anxiety and also suicidal thoughts.
There have been quite a number of campaigns across all forms of media recently about ending the stigma associated with mental health. I am an avid supporter of getting people to talk, in order to get others to understand the complex nature of an often misunderstood disability.
I have suffered depression and anxiety most of my life, including a breakdown, suicidal thoughts, post natal depression and agoraphobia. Every day is different, as is the ability to cope. How I view my depression and anxiety is not always the same as others view it. This became quite clear a little while ago.
I hadn’t used the library for about three years but I had a conversation with my daughter, who was concerned at the rate libraries were being closed – because people weren’t using them. As we live in a town that has a high percentage of unemployed or low paid families, our local library is an essential resource for many families. I got six books out, which gave me a feeling of satisfaction that I was in a small way helping. I let the books go over due. As I have a disability exemption on my ticket I wasn’t worried about charges. Policy had changed since I had last been and I was hit with £18 worth of charges. This of course, sent me into a tailspin of panic. I had to sort it out as soon as possible!
“My heart started racing, I felt sick, I couldn’t catch my breath, I started shaking, the heat rose up in my face and I started to sweat.”
My daughter came to the library with me as I was feeling quite anxious. When the librarian told me the head librarian was off on holiday and I would have to come back, full blown panic emerged. I couldn’t sort this out straight away. My heart started racing, I felt sick, I couldn’t catch my breath, I started shaking, the heat rose up my face and I started to sweat. Thoughts became jumbled in my head and I couldn’t speak.
The response from my daughter and the staff was wonderful. All I could say was sorry, which I just kept repeating. They told me I had nothing to be sorry for. My daughter and the staff sorted a drink out for me, so I could take my “panic tablet” (beta blocker) which I find are very effective. The staff were unassuming and non intrusive, whilst my daughter was able to comfort and reassure me. I was given understanding and time to calm myself down.
When I felt able to leave the library, we met up with my husband and decided to go and get lunch at the chip shop. My brain was still racing, I had to concentrate and tried to speak concisely to give our order. The woman serving looked at me like I was either being condescending or stupid. So I said sorry for my behaviour and explained that I had had an anxiety attack. She shrugged her shoulders and walked away. We had our meal and left.
It was only as we went into the shopping centre it occurred to me that I’d said sorry about my mental health on two occasions in the space of twenty minutes. Of course, I then became upset and my husband puts his arms around me as I was crying.
Two women pushing prams came out of the shop, nearly knocking into us. As they walked away they said something we couldn’t understand, they then pointed at me and started laughing. My husband and daughter were understandably annoyed at their response to a visibly upset member of their family, who had been having quite a time of it and was trying to overcome her panic, instead of saying f*ck it and going home. My husband’s response was a two fingered salute in their direction.
Now, I don’t know those women, I’ve no idea if they share to their Facebooks all of those posts saying “Talk to me about your depression” or “I support people with mental health problems”, but I didn’t feel as though my mental health was appropriate in a public place. They had made me feel that it wasn’t. The woman in the chippy had made me feel that it wasn’t. The librarians and my family had been excellent, but the stigma was reinforced, and I felt as though I had to say sorry. And I’m not sorry.
“I’m not sorry if I randomly burst into tears in the supermarket.”
I’m sorry if I’m in someone’s way or I’m causing a big queue behind me. I’m sorry if I upset someone. But I am not sorry for my experiences of anxiety and my expressions of such in public. I’m not sorry if I randomly burst into tears in the supermarket. I’m not sorry when my daughter sits me on a bench and has me do breathing exercises. And I’m not sorry if my husband had to drop everything and remove me from a public place at a moments’ notice – even if you feel that somehow you’re inconvenienced by that.
What I am, is trying to live my life as a woman with mental health issues. I have my coping strategies, but I have these symptoms that are going to occur in public. And my newest aim is to not apologise for them. Because I am not sorry.