I spend most of my life thinking that mortal peril is surely heading my way. It only takes someone to look a little pale on the tube and I can be led awake days later whilst my brain convinces me that I have an unknown illness which is bound to make me vomit.
I have been through spoken therapies and CBT to manage through particularly tough times, which have included but are not exclusively linked to severe vehicle accidents, my wife’s pregnancy and dealing with a 3 month olds spit up! There is something very degrading about the bodily functions of a baby affecting a father’s mental health. I felt then, that I was somehow less of a man.
I can be pretty cruel to myself.
My work colleagues know that I am not good with sick. I have dealt with severed arteries, broken bones and most things in between, but when it comes to vomit my team rally around me. One time though I had no choice and I realised that the focus and care that I was giving to another person, made me able to cope with what was going on around me and I even slept reasonably well the following night. I had engaged a different part of my brain and somehow felt less affected by the sickness.
This is a skill that I have been using a lot lately. Covid-19, for someone like me, is the realisation of one of my worst nightmares. I was already the person who carried bottles of antibac gel in my pocket but I knew there would need to be more to put my mind at rest.
I put my energy into preparations, batch cooking food, creating lessons for my son, DIY… just to give myself a focus that wasn’t “ there’s an illness out there and it’s out to get me”. It worked for a while and then I realised that there was a lot of coughing going on in my house – wife and son had developed a single symptom which could have meant the dreaded virus. Determined not to break, I engaged that part of my brain that I had used in first aid scenarios and I tried to maintain normality (in front of my son at least) and keep on going. I built a routine of walks – 233 laps of my garden became my 10,000 steps a day, I worked out, I searched online delivery sites endlessly to no avail, and I spent time with my family. Every instinct of self-preservation was telling me to run and hide, but I did everything I could to be tactile and loving however mentally enduring it became. My resolve was constant. Luckily no further symptoms developed and both are right as rain.
I also spent time reconnecting with friends and family and trying to build up their spirits. I like to be needed and focussing on others meant that I wasn’t alone in the mental hell-hole of my own making. I was surprised at how well I was doing. After being furloughed from work I knew i would find it even harder, and it was. But I scraped on through and was finding an even footing again.
Yesterday, I woke up with a genuine sense of foreboding. I don’t mean to sound dramatic but I knew it would be bad. I usually get a warning ahead of a bad day and on Friday night I had told my wife that I was feeling overwhelmingly lonely (this is usually how it starts). With that feeling came a worthlessness and mental exhaustion which I can’t even describe. After climbing up the stairs with zero energy i realised that I had left my phone charger downstairs and this almost broke me.
So when I woke up I wasn’t surprised to find that I could barely move, it took 15 minutes to make contact with my newly charged phone and check the time. I could hear movement downstairs, porridge being slurped and cupboard doors being opened and closed. I made a list of things I had to do:
Brush my teeth
Have a shower
Apologise for sleeping in
The only thing I achieved in the next hour was boiling the water for the coffee and the apology…so naturally I mentally harmed myself – I told myself that I am useless, that I look terrible and that I am selfish. Tears well up, but I know if I cry, my son will ask why, then I’ll feel worse.
I can’t really remember what happened for the rest of the day – I tried to nap, played a games console for a few minutes and then put away some washing. When my son woke up I left my wife sleeping and brought him downstairs to play, but I could not move or engage with him very well.
I started to cry.
I called mum and dad because I didn’t know what else to do. They got me through, with my mums care and lightness of conversation, and dad’s empathy and belief in the man that I am – even when he’s sees value in the qualities that I see as weakness.
I didn’t want to get to this place and I had tried really hard not to, but you can’t be in control all of the time. Emetophobia is a daily struggle that I deal with and times could not be harder than they are right now.
I am the luckiest man in the world. I have an amazing and supportive family, I know how these things start with me and I know they rarely last for a long time. But aside from those things I am not afraid to open up and share how I am feeling. And knowing that makes all of this a lot easier to deal with.
So can I ask just two things of anyone reading this?
1. Please stay home. Don’t bend the rules – just stick to them as they are intended. Please make sure that your young people are doing the same – they may not understand why it is so important to do so.
2. Mental health issues affect many, many people. It is not discriminative. It affects any gender, any sexual preference, your average joe, to the rich and famous. Please show some care and understanding to others and make sure you talk about how you feel. You do not need to suffer in silence.
I think that sometimes the older generations had it right. If you don’t have anything nice to say, then you should probably refrain from saying it. Or as I have often said:
Just because you have an opinion (which you are 100% entitled to) doesn’t mean you have to shout it from the rooftops!
I hope you are all well and staying safe. This won’t be forever.
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