The Great Fire

One day, my mum and I went into our local town. We were only there for a short while, so I parked outside the shops on one of the main roads, where you can park for an hour for free.

When we got back to the car, the car wouldn’t start. I rang a friend who works with cars, and he immediately came out to look at it. The fix was easy… just tightening something up as there was an issue with a connection, and it had let a bit of fuel out.

Relieved that it was all fixed so quickly and that it had only been a simple issue, we went on our way to a supermarket in a nearby village.

By the time I had come out of the shop, I had begun worrying about the fuel that may have spilled out of the car… I couldn’t help but wonder, panic… How much fuel had leaked? Should we have cleaned it up? Should we have told someone?

My mum isn’t an anxiety sufferer, but with my incessant panicking, I had even convinced her that maybe we should have done something. I began wondering… who would we tell? Should we have told the fire department, would they be able to help with a clean up of a big fuel spillage?

I was worried it would set alight. It would be so easy… someone just flicking a cigarette end, not realising there was fuel on the floor. And then what? It could hurt someone really badly! And what about the other cars parked up too? It could be really bad. If there was a fire and then that spread to a parked up car…. Oh God, this could be bad!

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I told my mum I wanted to go home via the point we had been parked, and she agreed, just so that we could check it was ok, or to decide from there what we should do.

As we drove back into town, my stomach was churning – replaying every possible scenario of what might happen, who could be hurt, what the consequences would be for me. It was an accident. I never meant to hurt anyone, but nevertheless, I was responsible. I could have done something. I should have done something.

As we hit some traffic lights, we heard sirens from an emergency services vehicle of some kind. My stomach dropped. I felt absolutely sick.

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Finally, we reached the road where we had been parked, and as we drove up to it, there was absolutely no sign of where we had even been parked. Nothing. No sign at all of even the tiniest bit of fuel spillage.

The whole thing had been built up in my head. From essentially nothing, I had basically convinced myself I had neglected the safety of others and catastrophized, imagining people would be hurt and I would be in trouble.

This is anxiety. This is what it does. It does this over and over all day, every day with the smallest of things. It is exhausting. This is what it is like to live with anxiety. This is the reality of living with mental health issues, this is what it is like.

 

The Right to be Depressed

I’m gonna come out and say it…

I don’t always remember it, but I’m pretty lucky.

I grew up in a “Nuclear Family”, which is often referred to as the “cereal packet family”. It is so-called because of the use of this kind of family set up when advertising.

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For example – a breakfast cereal advert may focus on a father and mother in the kitchen one morning – the father dressed in a suit ready to go to work (the bread-winner husband), his wife preparing the children’s cereal for them (the mother as the primary care giver), with the son and the daughter (average 2 children who are both born to the same parents) looking anticipatingly at the amazing cereal they are about to experience!
The subliminal message from the advertising company:
This family is ‘perfect’ – and yours could be too… if you buy this cereal!

Now we know that this is, of course, just an advertising ploy, but generally people do make the assumption – even in these days – that a ‘cereal packet’ family is a happy family.
Lets not assume that is the case for all.
However, it was the case for me.

I was so lucky as a child – My dad worked as the bread winner for the family which meant that when it came to birthdays, Christmases, holidays… we didn’t want for much.
Although mum did work, my dad worked some long hours, so mum took care of us, the house, and provided the family with lovely nutritional home made meals etc.
Dad would ring the house phone from his car phone (welcome to the early 90’s!) for 3 rings to let mum know he was on his way home, and she’d have our family meal ready for him coming home.

We went on annual holidays – camping holidays, exploring the British coast, swimming, crab fishing, flying kites, building sandcastles.
When we got a little older we had annual trips abroad to various European destinations – Spain, Malta, Portugal, Greek islands… and more.

My brother and I had our own bedrooms and when I was 10, we moved to a larger detached house which gave us added space in our rooms as well as a spare room, and also meant no longer having to share a bathroom with everyone. My friends at school even expressed their envy at our amazing new home!

Growing up I was able to go on all the school trips I wanted, I enjoyed time with my friends and rarely missed out on anything.
Outside of school my friends and I were often at the cinema, visiting theme parks, or going shopping with our pocket money…

When I did well at school I got extra pocket money.
When it came to my GCSEs, my parents rewarded my grades with money.

I had a plan… I was going to be a teacher. I went to college with my sights set on following it up with University… however things didn’t quite turn out that way.
I spent more time out with friends and focussed on alcohol than I care to admit. Although I did get the first part time job I applied for to make money while I was still in full time education – I spent very little time thinking about my coursework outside of college.

After 2 years, I left college with nothing to show for it, other than some life lessons.

I landed a full time job and have been employed ever since, always landing on my feet through every redundancy.

I have worked for 11 years at the current company I’m employed by…. And have progressed during my time there.

After meeting at 20, and getting engaged at 21, my husband and I were married in 2012. Following years of support from my parents while we saved, we bought our first house.
We still live there now with our 2 cats. We live in the same town as both sides of our families and are financially stable.

My life is perfect.

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Except for the fact that it isn’t of course.

The above is my life as seen from the outside.
It doesn’t reflect the inside.
That’s not to say that any of it is untrue, because every word is fact. Nor does it mean that I had an extremely difficult and traumatic childhood, because thankfully I didn’t.

What it does mean is that there is more to my life than is seen on the outside.
Experiences and events are what shape us.

Mental Health issues are not as straight forward as they may sometimes be perceived.

Being depressed doesn’t mean that you hate everything you have, or that you’re ungrateful for it. It doesn’t mean that you hate the people in your life, or that you don’t appreciate them. It doesn’t mean anyone has caused it or let you down.
It’s more than likely that you don’t believe you deserve it. It’s more likely you feel so much hate for yourself that you find a reason that you shouldn’t have this as it doesn’t feel right that you have nice things or people in your life.

There is misunderstanding that if people are depressed then they are just being ungrateful for their life and the things they have.
That they need to ‘snap out of it’ and realise what they’ve got.
Yes, knowing that there is a lot to be thankful for can be helpful, but mental health issues are more complex than that.
Adding guilt won’t make someone more likely to recover quicker, quite the opposite.

“There are people a lot worse off than you” – what does this even mean anyway? We’ve all heard the phrase, probably even said it at some point in our lives. Yes. This is true. But that doesn’t stop the pain we feel does it?

If someone cuts their finger it can really sting. We all know how bad a paper cut can be.
If we compare that to someone who has lost their finger, it doesn’t take the pain of the paper cut away does it? It doesn’t make us ungrateful for having a finger to cut in the first place.

And what if the person who lost their finger compares themselves to someone who lost their hand? Does it make it easier for them to cope if they think about someone else who has no hand, so they should be grateful they have the rest of their hand?

And what about the person with no hand comparing themselves to someone who’s lost an arm… it could go on.
It’s not about comparing ourselves. Everyone is different.
Everyone struggles at some point and that’s ok. It’s ok to struggle. It’s not about what you had or have. It’s about what you think and feel, and your ability to manage.

We don’t have to explain our issues, or justify or explain why we feel the way we do. There are a million reasons why someone may be depressed and a million reasons why they “shouldn’t be” – but they are.

We have the right to be depressed without owing anyone an explanation or an apology.

We have the right to be ourselves.

Great Expectations (Of Others)

Isn’t it nice when people show an interest in us? In our lives?
It’s good to know they are interested in how our lives are going.

But what about when we respond with something that they didn’t anticipate?

What if we are not up to the ‘right point’ in our lives that society expects us to be?

There are so many expectations for every stage of life… So many questions… So much judgement that comes with it.

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The earliest age I remember someone commenting on one of the first stages of my life was when I was about to turn 13.
My Aunty commented on the fact I was about to enter my teens and that now my life would be all about boys and having my first period – to which my mum corrected her that I had already had my first period. Of course I was already into boys too – so I guess first test passed!

Throughout my teens, adults wanted to know all about “do you have a boyfriend?” and “What are you going to do when you leave school?”
Meanwhile peer pressure pushed us into smoking, drinking, and comparing tales of sexual experiences.
There was a constant pressure to grow up fast and constantly focus on the future and where we were going rather than being in the moment and appreciating what we had.

So what happens when you reach adulthood?

Leaving school, it is all about the next stages – Uni and/or work/careers, meeting someone etc.

So, you get a job and meet someone and the next questions are all about where you are going next – the expectation to move out, settle down, get engaged.

Onto the next ‘stage’ – save for a house, get engaged, and save for a wedding (this is the point people start helpfully telling you what they think you should do or have for your wedding – despite it being your money going on the wedding).

And if you’re not at that point? Well that’s when the questions come:
“Do you not want to get married?”
“Do you have to save for a deposit – Could you not rent so you can move out sooner?” “Are you looking for a relationship?” “Whatever happened to ‘So and so’, I thought you two would have got married”.

The expectations are always there from others. The pressures of what you should do in your life and when.
It amazes me the lack of boundaries some people have at times.

I’ve known people to have opinions on, and comment on women in their 30’s who are single. I’ve heard comments on women who have children but work full time. Comments on stay at home mothers who don’t work.

I’ve been asked multiple times if I am going to have children now I am married. I have been asked outright if I am able not able to have children.

I had a friend who fell pregnant and gradually told work colleagues, only to be asked by one of them if the pregnancy with her husband was planned?

And when someone does have a child… they can be just out of the hospital before someone is asking “Do you think you’ll have any more?”

There is always more expectation and judgement… “I think it’d be nice if you had another so he/she isn’t on their own”

And if you have more children than people expect, again, comes the judgement!

Before we know it we have bounced from life event to life event living under the expectation of others!
And if we haven’t reached any of those expected life events, then what? We failed?!
A life without those means a life not well lived?!

Each person’s life is their own. They may want to meet someone, they may not. They may want to live alone, they may not. They may want to get married, they may not. They may want to have children, they may not.
And sometimes life takes these decisions out of our hands.

Stop pushing people. Don’t judge. Expect things from your own life not from the lives of others.

Live and let live.