A Pox on the Patriarchy
This is a blog I’ve been meaning to write for a while. I’ve held back mainly out of fear. I know that by writing this for public consumption, I’m giving more ammunition to those who seek to discredit me and dismiss everything I say as the irrational ramblings of an unbalanced hysteric. I also know that when they use this post to undermine my words, it will hurt me. But I feel like it’s my duty to write this, because there might be other people out there who have been struggling like I have, and don’t realise they don’t have to live this way. And also, I feel stronger now. I feel like maybe I will be able to cope with the inevitable jibes.
Here goes. For the past few months I have been on anti-depressants. I went to the doctor because I was so depressed and anxious that I was turning down work left right and centre. I’ve always struggled with anxiety, but it had recently got incredibly bad. I was in a really dark place. I was crying all the time, I had no control over my emotions. I was set off by the tiniest of obstacles. I realised I needed help. I realised this wasn’t normal.
When I went to the doctor, I assumed that my inability to cope was after effects from the trauma of the avalanche of rape and death threats I received online last year, as well as the pressure of suddenly being a name people knew, which has meant I’m a target for people’s bile on a daily basis. People think having a “platform”, aka a twitter account (contrary to reports, I don’t have any permanent writing gigs) is great. It’s not. It’s great for being able to spread a feminist message; for me personally, for my mental health, it’s been a disaster. I had hit rock bottom. I simply wasn’t coping.
After a couple of weeks on the medication, I started to feel a bit better. A bit more like “normal”. But it wasn’t until about 6 weeks in that suddenly it hit me that what I classified as “normal” was far from most people’s experience. I can only describe it as a fog suddenly clearing – except I’d been living like this for so long, I had no idea the fog was there. I thought that was what the world looked like. I thought life just was a struggle. I thought it was normal to cry every day before going to work. Just one of those things. I probably just didn’t like my job. I thought it was normal to have days where I just couldn’t face humanity, couldn’t face leaving my flat, couldn’t face getting dressed, couldn’t face washing. I didn’t see myself as a depressed, anxious person, so how could this be anything other than just me being pathetic?
But as the fog has lifted and I look back on the past two decades of my life, I am gob-smacked at what I thought came under the banner of “normal”. How could I ever have thought it was normal to be so anxious about going to the supermarket to buy food that I’d rather eat stale bread for supper? How could I ever have thought it was normal to be so anxious about calling up utility companies, banks, shops, to ask questions, that I had to work myself up for at least twenty four hours beforehand to make myself do it? How could I ever have thought it was normal to wake up every morning with a feeling of sick dread in my stomach, and a tight clutching at my throat, so I felt I was choking? So I felt I couldn’t breath? How could I have dismissed my attacks of dizziness that were so intense I couldn’t stand up and walk without clutching at the wall, as “just one of those things”? How could I have thought is was normal to need three days to recover from the stress of a social event?
I had grown used to thinking of life as a struggle. I had grown used to thinking that it would be so much easier if I were dead – I am too scared of death to have ever contemplated suicide, but I have certainly wished it would all just end so I didn’t have to struggle anymore. But suddenly, life doesn’t seem like that anymore. Suddenly, life seems doable. Suddenly, I am not scared of people. I am not scared of going out of my house. Being on medication has stopped making going to the gym such a huge mental effort before we even get to the physical effort. And removing that psychological block has meant I now not only go to the gym, but I’ve taken up boxing – and feeling fitter both psychologically and physically has completely changed my life. When I give lectures in public I don’t burst into tears as soon as I’m home and spend the next twenty-four hours recovering in a dark room. I’ve realised that the way I’ve been living was not normal. It was far from normal.
Since I’ve become something of a public figure, the accusations that I’m mad, crazy, irrational, “bonkers” – this one only from last night – have increased exponentially. And I know that this post will give them the evidence they’ve all been gagging for. But if I can help one other person who has been struggling with such tiny details of life, who finds something as banal as going to the shops an ordeal they have to psych themselves up for, if I can help one person living like this who, like me, doesn’t realise it doesn’t have to be this way, then it’s worth it and it’s my duty. There shouldn’t be such a stigma to mental illness. All mine means is that I suffer from crippling anxiety which has prevented me from doing all sorts of things from the tiny to the huge; from the social to the academic. It doesn’t mean I am incapable of rational analysis. It means I’m anxious and depressed. That’s it. I shouldn’t worry that publishing this will negatively affect my career.
If you recognise yourself in this, if reading this, you think, yes I also panic about having to go to the supermarket, about having to call a utility company, about having to phone a family member I don’t talk to that often, about seeing even close friends, then listen to me carefully: it doesn’t have to be this way. The way you feel is not how most people feel. Get help.
I’m not going to pretend all my troubles are over, but I can now cope with the minutiae of life. And as a result, the big things don’t floor me so much that I am paralysed into doing nothing at all. I regret that it took me to the age of thirty to realise this was how things should be. If you’re reading this and you’re younger, don’t wait as long as I have. If you’re older, it’s never too late to realise that life doesn’t have to be a struggle. I hope you can find a way to be happy. It’s so worth it.