I haven’t written anything for a while because life has been particularly overwhelming. After Joe’s inquest, I had a few days off and then went back to work, but couldn’t function. I managed to get up, get on the train and get into the office every day but it was as though just getting there sapped all my energy and I would sit at my desk, stare at my screen and do nothing. The physical symptoms of anxiety returned and I was breathless, my heart beating too quickly and my hands shaking. The smallest things felt overwhelming and it was taking all my strength not to curl up on the floor and tell everyone to fuck off.
My colleagues and doctor suggested I take a break from work for a while (please get out of the office!) and I was signed off with anxiety and depression. Admitting that I was struggling was hard but with the support of family, friends and work, I took a step back. The first thing I did was visit my parents. I stayed with them for 10 days, hardly left the house, slept more than I thought possible, ate home cooked food and read a lot, when I wasn’t asleep (which was most of the time; I’m very good at it).
My body needed the rest and I needed to be in a place where no one was relying on me or needing anything from me. That might sound selfish, but I’d kept going since the day Joe died and hadn’t once pulled the duvet over my head and shut the world out. The sadness, anger and guilt had been building up inside me – I’d kept pushing them down, but the buggers won in the end.
A dear friend explained it to me as fight, flight or freeze, and I was frozen. The part of your brain that deals with shock and trauma had basically caused me to react like the proverbial deer in the headlights and I was stuck, unable to move forward, unable to do the most basic of things. And it was scary because I couldn’t remember what being ‘normal’ felt like and I couldn’t see how I was going to get back to a point where I didn’t just want to sleep all the time and block the world out.
I’ve always been happy on my own and I’m a classic introvert, so I need to be on my own more often than not in order to re-energise and process my thoughts. But now my brain was taking this to a new level. I hated crowds and noise; I didn’t want to see people; I only wanted to be in my house or my parents’ house: it’s like I was scared of the world.
So, I took some time and was off work for about six weeks. Work, and my boss in particular, couldn’t have been more supportive and I’m very lucky to be part of such a brilliant team who pulled together and got shit done while I ran away and hid for a while.
My boss always says they knew what they were taking on (!) when they offered me a permanent role in the months after Joe died, and they’ve certainly proved that my somewhat unpredictable mental health issues aren’t going to phase them. And for that I am extremely grateful because there is definitely still a stigma around being off work because of your mental health rather than your physical health. It’s changing but as with all of these things, it takes time.
I’m back at work now after giving myself some time to try and fight the anxiety. It’s still hard and every day is a struggle to try and be ‘normal’, to smile, to be professional etc etc… But the routine of being back at work helps, my colleagues are incredibly supportive and I’m doing my best. I’m seeing a counsellor, I’m on medication and I’m trying to look after myself as best I can.
Life has changed so much in the past 18 months. Everything I once held true has been called into question, everything I felt so cockily certain of has been tested and it’s changed me – for the better, for the worse, I don’t really know – but I do know that Kit pre-9th June 2017 is gone and a different Kit is sitting here, writing this.
One of the most sobering realisations I’ve had is just how hard Joe must have struggled to keep going in the face of his illness and how much energy it must have taken to keep his depression hidden from us. The magnitude of his illness, how it consumed him and how he managed to live with it for as long as he did, is incredible to me. He was beyond brave and I’m proud of him every day.
And guess what? During all of this – on the days when I wondered how we are supposed to carry on without Joe, on the days when I couldn’t face getting dressed and leaving the house, and on the days when the rest of my life seemed too joyless to contemplate, I DIDN’T HAVE A DRINK. Not one. Nada. Zip. Zilch.
292 days and counting…