Today’s anonymous contribution to my Untold Stories series is an incredibly brave and incredibly sad story about a woman trying to live with Generalised Anxiety Disorder through lockdown, and how that is impacting on her relationship with her husband and her children. I’ve noticed over the last couple of weeks that people are talking more and more about the impact of the coronavirus on mental health and I’m sure today’s storyteller can’t be alone in finding herself struggling to cope with this new way of living. If you have any words of comfort or reassurance, or are experiencing any similar, please do leave a comment, I know it would be hugely appreciated. If you have your own story you’d like to share, please get in touch.
I am THAT person
This pandemic. This coronavirus. This new way of existing. It’s terrifying, it’s depressing, it’s beyond our control.
I’m pretty sure mine is not the only household that’s reeling under the pressure cooker atmosphere of lockdown. Many are struggling to contain their kids or not particularly enjoying their partners working from home. It’s absolutely not a way of life that any of us are used to, nor do many of us like it.
But I wonder how many people have discovered that they themselves are actually impossible to live with. This is a sickening realisation that I’ve had to come to terms with. I have Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD). To explain: this does not mean I “worry”. It means that I spend my entire day in “fight or flight” mode. It’s a constant, exhausting, terrible fear. It’s a permanent attempt at holding it together, pushing down the urge to shriek with panic, persistently trying not to cry. It’s constantly seeking reassurance, constantly asking questions. It’s trusting no one. It’s catastrophising every single thing, until the world seems to be a terrible place not worth living in. It’s such a burdensome load to carry, that it seeps into my veins and poisons my blood with a depression that never lifts.
The pandemic has magnified my disorder. I rant, I cry. I’ve told my husband several times that I want to end my life. I drive him to the very ends of his patience, asking him questions about this pandemic that nobody can answer. His frustration with me boils over into him reprimanding me for irrational behaviour, for being “ridiculous”, for putting him under more pressure than he can bear. My daughters (18 and 20) comfort me as best they can, but inevitably become upset or frustrated. They are seeing me in a way I never wanted them to see their mum. I’m ashamed for not being strong, not being encouraging, not being positive. Neither of them will look back at this time and say that I was a ‘rock’ or ‘inspirational’. They’ll just see a sodden wreck of a woman, trying to get through the day. Unlike so many mums out there, I’m not taking up new hobbies, learning a new skill or raising money for the NHS. All I can do is focus on being sane.
In recent weeks, I have lost one of my closest friends. She works in a well-known supermarket and I asked her advice about collecting a grocery order. I’d been scrolling through Instagram and a very well known news reporter had shared a hugely alarming video about coronavirus. I instantly fell into a state of complete terror and panic and all I wanted to do was lock all the doors, shut all the windows and hide away. In my meltdown, it was my opinion that none of us are safe, we’re all going to die, the groceries aren’t safe, going to collect them isn’t safe… until I couldn’t breathe. My husband lost it with me, the girls lost it with him. Such a mess. Such a horrible, loud, exhausting mess. I sent my friend a panicked text, asking for advice and she replied nicely enough. I didn’t hear from her for a week. Then I received a heart-stabbing text from her saying that she was very angry with me: my text had been condescending and demanding. Despite our 17 year-long friendship, that was it for her. Despite her telling me just days before that she was “there for me, always”, this was too much for her. I get it, I sound like a maniac when I’m in the grip of this disorder. But this hurts. The kind of hurt that weighs you down and makes your chest feel heavy. I haven’t known how to reply and still haven’t.
The thing about GAD, is that it strips you of confidence. It makes you feel like you are weak, you have no control of yourself and nothing you say is either valid, real or rational. The resulting self-hatred is all-consuming.
My husband and I have talked of divorce, when this is all over. If it ever is all over. In all honesty, he has never been patient with my mental health disorder, which has caused a lot of conflict over the years, and I’m seeing that I have become someone that he doesn’t want to live with anymore. I can see my youngest daughter champing at the bit for uni to start, so she can move away. And the pandemic is making her panic that uni won’t happen for her, which makes it so much worse. My eldest, who was living at uni with her boyfriend, is also desperate to be back with him and away from home, away from me. Nobody wants to live with someone who has a mental health disorder, during a pandemic that never seems to end.
I make sure to get straight into the shower every morning – something I’ve trained myself to do over the years of battling GAD and depression. But now I use it as a space to heave heavy, angry sobs. Uttering ranting prayers to a God I’m not sure I believe in anymore. The rest of the day is spent staring out of windows, blindly doing household tasks and not really talking. I’m too afraid I say anything that upsets anyone else in the house. Any anxious thoughts that I utter are met by my husband with a heavy sigh or a tut. So there’s no point in talking.
I generally avoid the news and I’m really careful on social media. But I know most of the talk is about the physical casualties of this virus. However, there will be other casualties – in my case, declining mental health and a failed marriage. The future looks so bleak and terrifying and I honestly don’t want to spend my days keeping quiet because my disorder annoys those who I live with. But I have no choice. Because I am THAT person – the person who other family members mock on social media; the person they can’t live with during the lockdown; the person they didn’t realise was so annoying until they were forced to be with them 24/7.
I am that person and I don’t want to be. I’m what they call ‘medication resistant’, in that no meds respond my condition, or they make me suicidal or very sick.
I’m fighting this by myself and I’m hanging on by my fingertips.