Today is World Mental Health Day, and I wanted to say something. I have thought quite hard about whether or not to share this post. Part of me was worried that it would be seen as attention-seeking, jumping on a bandwagon, or airing my dirty laundry in public. Another part was concerned whether this might impact my job prospects, since I am still actively seeking a job in publishing and refer to this blog in my CV. I was concerned that this would show me as ‘damaged goods’, and not worth taking a risk on.
But the reality is this – I have been struggling with my mental health.
I shouldn’t have to apologise this or feel ashamed of it. I shouldn’t be frightened that saying this will prevent someone from wanting to hire me. I shouldn’t have to make excuses for my illness, or be concerned that by declaring it people will think I am seeking attention.
I have had ongoing anxiety and body image issues for a long while. I’ve had two separate courses of counselling, and a course of CBT. As of April this year, I have also been on medication for my anxiety and low mood. I developed binge eating disorder and put on nearly a stone in six months, which impacted my low mood because I hated how I looked, so I ate more, so I gained more weight. It became a cycle. I have problems with intrusive thoughts when I’m driving, unable to banish thoughts of taking my hands off the wheel, or swerving across the lanes or through the barriers. This has developed into anxiety attacks where I feel like I’m not in control of the car at all. It’s made my daily commute to work on the motorway a delight, let me tell you. I feel like I’m tired all the time.
When I say that my year in Publishing was one of the happiest years of my adult life, I mean it quite literally. I have struggled with my mental health ever since I studied my PGCE at 21. I wasn’t suited to teaching, and the culture of feeling constantly like I had to perform exhausted me, and by the end of it I felt like I had barely managed to keep on top of things. It took so much out of me, my confidence was shattered and I had no faith in myself, my decisions, or my skills.
This continued over the years, through a string of jobs that I was overqualified for, which required only GCSEs or A-Levels whilst I had a degree, and it took me a long time to apply for the MA. I was certain I would be rejected. And then when I wasn’t, several times in the run up to my start date, and early on in the course, I was convinced I’d made a horrible mistake. That I wasn’t good at academia, that I wasn’t suited to it. I set myself a target of getting at least a Merit – I didn’t think I was capable of getting a Distinction.
I got a Distinction. I got the course prize. I got two incredible internships, based on my merits, my work.
As the year went on, I became more and more certain that finally I was capable, I knew what I was doing. I was happy, confident, and for the first time in nearly a decade I was achieving things at the level I was capable of. I was so happy and healthy.
And then the course finished, and I went back to my job full time – a job I am now more overqualified for than when I started, since I have gained an extra degree – and… got a lot of interviews, but not a lot of job offers. Not even a single job offer. The further away from the MA I got, the more my confidence in myself shrank, the less I believed in myself. The first few interviews came without any of my trademark interview anxiety, because I knew I could do the jobs, I knew what I was doing and that I was capable. As time went on the anxiety started to come back, and I started to doubt myself. Surely if I was capable, someone would have hired me by now? I bombed my last interview, because the panic came back.
It’s very hard to sell yourself in a job application, or a job interview, when the little voices in your head are constantly telling you you’re worthless, incompetent, and a waste of space. It’s very hard to convince someone to hire you when you’re spending most of the time wondering what the point of you even is.
Some advice given is to “fake it til you make it”, but that’s exhausting. Days when I’ve had interviews, I’ve had to turn the dial up so much higher. I’m not just having to pep up for the interview, I’m having to scramble my way over the barriers my brain has erected before I can even get to the base level that I pep up from. And of course, after every interview I get the two opposing, but equally unpleasant Fears. Fear that I won’t get the job and I’ll be right back where I started; and fear that I will get it. I used to be excited about getting a publishing job, but now I’m back where I was before I applied for the MA, I’m burrowing in where I am because even though it’s not good for me, it’s a known entity. Every rejection I get, the more I burrow, and the more I burrow the harder it is for me to accept that I can do anything else. Job hunting is exhausting and heartbreaking at the best of times, and I am a long way from the best I can be right now.
Most people don’t realise I have a mental health problem. I took some time off this year to try to treat it, and that came as a surprise to people. I’ve been making a conscious effort since then to work with this and make good choices, be kinder to myself, but some days, some weeks are better than others. Generally most people see me as cheery, and happy, because that’s the way I’ve always been, and the idea of being anything else to people seems untenable. Everyone puts up a sort of protective mask, mine is a happy one, so then when it gets too much and I burst into tears after it has built up and up inside to breaking point, for everyone else it seems to come out of nowhere. I probably look erratic. I probably look unstable. And I worry about that as much as anything else.
It’s so hard to remember that I was good at what I did on the MA. 12 months since submitting my dissertation seems a lifetime. My brain has forgotten all the good things it could do.
It’s World Mental Health Day today, so I just wanted to let you know that I’m struggling. It’s okay that I’m struggling, and if you’re struggling that’s okay too. It doesn’t seem okay, it seems like shit, but it is okay. And maybe it will get better, people keep telling me it will, but right now it’s hard to see that, or imagine the end of it. Maybe you can’t either. Maybe I’ll just spend my life swinging wildly between thinking I’m better and thinking I’ll never be better again. But I have been happy before, so, statistically, odds are good I’ll be happy in the future.
If you need support with your mental health, you can find information and support here: