Mental Health Hangover

For once I took my own advice! I took some time to rest following the emotional outpouring of my latest posts.

Beyond taking time to absorb the catharsis and recover from the anxiety and emotion of sharing something so personal online, the post had achieved what I hoped, a line drawn under that period of my life.

Of course, I haven’t forgotten, but I am no longer haunted by the events of those two years. I now feel able to purely look forward and embrace the new experiences that motherhood will bring. That was why I wrote that post in the first place, so I could welcome my baby without the experience being tainted by the negativity and, frankly, toxicity of that dark period.

Mental Health Hangover

However, I do have one last hangover from my mental illness. I just can’t think of a better way to describe it. It’s just one enduring element that I haven’t yet resolved. Recently though, I have been working on addressing my obsessive behaviour before baby arrives, as it was getting particularly extreme with nesting habits and to me represents the final phase of recovery.

As ever, by starting to write about it, I have been able to unpack this particular episode, and no surprise it’s rooted in the events of three years ago.

I have had obsessive episodes since starting school, but this one in particular is derived from an overwhelming notion of contamination. Now that I have actively thought about how my anxiety is manifesting (in obsessive cleaning rituals), the connection between my behaviour and the past seems obvious. Survivors of abuse, assault and rape, frequently refer to feeling dirty, a natural consequence of the violating trauma experienced.

Obsessive Behaviour

In the back of my mind I know that the object of my obsessive focus it is not dirty, that placing something on a surface does not immediately contaminate everything else in contact with that surface, for instance, chairs that are positioned on the floor, as chairs usually are, however, my brain doesn’t get satisfaction from cleaning the floor, the chairs must be scrubbed too along with any other floors I might have encountered whilst gathering cleaning products, and sometimes, the products themselves. At this point, as you can imagine, the cycle of percieved ‘contamination’ is agrresive and interfering with daily life. It also affects marital harmony, for as patient and understanding as Samuel is, by the umpteenth cleaning cycle, even he is beginning to get frustrated. I mean, I am frustrated too, it would be wonderful to be able to pick something up and put it down somewhere else without concern for what had previously been situated there. It’s one of the reasons we still have unpacked boxes from moving a year ago – it just takes so long for me to perform this cleaning ritual on each item.

This is why it is a hangover, I don’t view my house in the same terms as the items I’m moving into it. For instance, the dog goes out for a walk, plays in the garden, lays on the floor, the sofa, on her dog bed, and I simply mop the floor and wash her blanket. If she has found something especially delicious and nasty (she is very fond of a dead seagull) then she is bathed and paws washed off. Thus, the dog, the house and the humans in it, get muddy, dusty, dirty and are cleaned in the usual, typical and healthy way. No environment is completely sterile and not expected to be. This is the normal practice of hygiene, it’s dirty and it gets cleaned as part of generic housework.

However, because my recovery only really began following the move, whilst our current house holds no bad memories or associations, the flat we rented was full of my toxic baggage. Whilst, it was filled with the happiness of newly-weds, it was also where I gradually shed the negativity of the previous year and finally finished my degree. Therefore, whilst the house we now inhabit is regarded by my compulsion as clean, the things being moved in from the flat, are not. They are contaminated by the past and therefore the ritualised cleaning has developed, not so much for the items themselves, but for my mental recovery.

Yet this is not a healthy recovery, it is merely replacing one kind of mental illness with another. Having identified (to myself) the source of and outlining the nature of my obsessive behaviour I hope to review the steps I am taking to address it.

 

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‘New Year, New You’

Trigger Warning: This post contains references to rape, sexual assault and suicidal thoughts.

Today was my first day back at work following the festive season. I am very fortunate to have a job that I really enjoy and is relevant to my past (and hopefully future) studies. Whilst I was down in England I had my haircut. A very simple action, but one that received a lot of (positive) attention. I am very grateful for the compliments my friends have sent my way but some comments at work got me thinking.

When I walked into the office this morning a number of people called out, ‘New year, new you!’ The New Year actually wasn’t involved in the decision to cut off over a foot of hair. I thought it was a very practical choice as I work as a tour guide in a city that has average wind speeds of almost 13mph. I was getting fed up of having my hair tied up all the time, especially as I am not very good at styling and so it just ends up in a lacklustre ponytail. So I thought a bob was the way to go. Easier to wash, quicker to dry, letting the style do the talking as it were. However, perhaps there was an underlying motivation.

Me Too

It had been over 3 years since I last had my haircut or styled, coinciding with the start of quite a dramatic period in my life. Summer 2014 had been a really fun time for me. I had just finished my second year at university and I was able to travel, working on archaeological excavations and staying with friends living across Europe. I felt very happy and positive.

Then I went back to university.

I entered into a relationship in the middle of the first semester and it took me a long time to realise that a number of aspects of it were unhealthy. During this time my mental health began to decline. I have always suffered with anxiety, I am prone to overthinking, catastrophizing and compulsive hand washing. For the first time, I began to experience stress-induced migraines, panic attacks and suicidal thoughts.

My confidence was slowly being chipped away by what evolved into, what I truly believe to have been, an abusive relationship. My boyfriend complained about my cooking, so gradually I stopped. He attacked me about my religious beliefs and when we moved into a one bedroom flat, I lost a safe space to pray. I used to have a mole on my back, it never bothered me but my boyfriend would often comment on how ugly it was. It eventually had to be removed for health reasons, and I expected a positive response. But I was left with a scar which I was told was ugly too.

My boyfriend struggled with my anxiety and I was not without fault during this period. I have a very quick temper and unpleasant insults were exchanged on both sides. There were times I caused him to worry because I was out late with work colleagues without my phone. However, one night I had been out with colleagues after work, answered his texts concerning where I was, and looked behind me on my way home to see him following me. I was working a lot during this time and researching for my archaeological dissertation. I was tired as a result and no interested in sex. But my boyfriend would pester me until I would allow him to have sex with me so he would let me go to sleep.

Eventually, I voiced to a colleague what was going on, and that I didn’t want to go home that evening because I knew that I would have to have sex. She asked me why I was staying. It was a wake up call, I finally realised that I didn’t want the relationship to continue. I went home and told him I was leaving. A number of things happened next, including some very manipulative behaviour, culminating in him raping me.

I was lucky. I was scheduled to leave for an archaeological excavation the following day and I was able to pack a bag and walk away.

Unfortunately, although it was the end of that relationship, it was not the end of a year of sexual harassment, assault and suicidal experiences. But this was one of the main purposes of starting this blog, to be able to work through what happened, to gain healing and to talk about it – something that I am very passionate about. I posted on social media as part of the recent #MeToo campaign. It was really emotional, and almost frightening, to speak out about my experiences for the first time. Society needs to change so that those who have experienced any form of sexual misconduct or mistreatment no longer feel afraid, embarrassed or fear that they will not be believed if they speak out. I believe the best way we can support each other in anything is by talking about our experiences and encouraging others to talk about theirs.