I've never lied about my struggles with my mental health - and when I reflect on the periods where things have been the most stressful, it's really no coincidence that for me the biggest challenges to my mental health have come at times of great change - of the kind of change that makes me have to reassess my identity.
For example - those first few months of motherhood, where I didn't know what day of the week it was never mind who I was any more. I had gone from being the career woman who always did everything right to being this zombie who couldn't soothe a colic ridden baby.
Then there was pregnancy number 2 - the hyperemesis months - where I had so longed for a lovely pregnancy but ended up living in perpetual fear of boking my anatomy in public. (Which I did, on several memorable occasions). I could not control my body - and this led my mind to take a little wander all of its own.
Other periods of ill health have come with their challenges but most recently it has been the redefining of who I am that has had me swimming in a pit of anxiety. And that pit is a horrible place to me. It's quite dark. It's too warm. It's clammy and sticky and it makes you smell bad. There are distorted mirrors on the walls - so you never see a true reflection of who you are - just weird, fucked up images which make you wonder if you ever really knew yourself at all.
Kind of. But anxiety is a strange place. It's both overly, horrible melodramatic with lashings of over sensitivity and paranoia but it is also, almost impossibly, numbing. Hours have been spent just staring - at nothing. At everything. Watching the numbers tick over on the clock. Crawling under the duvet and sleeping away 2, 3, 4 hours during the day then sitting awake at night - anxiety firing on all cylinders. (One upshot is that my housework gets done with little interruption in the wee small hours).
The accelerator for this current madness?
It's hard to know. I think not having the identity of Claire who works for the Journal any more has played a part. That was 18 years of my life - that is now gone.
Pushing myself creatively - into darker places - has also played a part because to achieve what I want I have to work harder, have to put myself out there more. Have to be afraid of once again (although metaphorically this time) boking my anatomy in public. Having to stand there - vulnerable, exposed, hoping people like the new you. Hoping they validate your choices.
Or maybe, just maybe, there's a little piece of my brain that's always going to be wired a little differently. It's always going to take notions to act the maggot from time to time.
And through it all I, like so many people out there, just keep going. Because that's what we need to do. Even when it is scary (and I am scared a lot of the time at the moment) and even when it hurts (and I hurt a lot at the moment) and even when we really, really don't want to.
My lovely writing friend Rowan Coleman shared a picture of a Post It Note on which she had written "Keep Showing Up" recently. I know Rowan loves that motto - but for me it has been one that really has kept me afloat these last few weeks. Just Keep Showing Up - push through and do it, because the alternative is unacceptable.
Although the headline on this blog post says I refuse to feel ashamed - something happened this morning which jolted a wave of shame inside me.
It was the sharing of a stupid Meme on Facebook - by someone I know would not have intended to offend. It's the same Meme I have seen shared many times - it seems to do the rounds every three or four months - and each time it makes me feel unsettled.
You see this meme states that taking antidepressant medication is "shit" - and that the real antidepressant we should be looking for is a walk in the country.
I have thought about this a lot - especially as someone who has spent the lion share of the last 15 years on some form or another of antidepressant medication.
There are times I have come off it - and all has been well for a few months. Once I managed almost a year. And then, you see, the old feelings started to creep back in. The dark thoughts. The loss of interest in anything. The self destruct button was primed and ready for pushing.
The scary thing is, each and every time those thoughts came back - they came back harder, stronger, deeper, scarier.
Until the time I found myself pounding my head with my hands to try and get them out. Banging my head off a wall, literally to stop them. Planning how I could stop them for good.
Or there was the time when I had a very detailed plan for how exactly I would end my own life - in a relatively calm/ peaceful manner. (In my job as a journalist I've attended enough inquests to know a thing or two about death - things that don't leave you. Things that add to the horror in your head.)
Each time I went on medication I told myself I would take them until i felt better and that because medication = bad, I would stop. My entire focus was on getting off the tablets as quickly as I could. Being fixed. Being better.
It wasn't about learning how to manage my illness. How to live with it. How to accept it was a part of me that didn't want to go away,
Because for the most part my depression has not been down to my circumstances. I have a good life. A career. Relative success. A husband. A house. A car. A supportive family. Good friends. I am lucky. The rational part of me knows that.
I'm one of those folks who just suffers from a chemical imbalance which gives me a predisposition to dark moods. I think a lot. I over think a WHOLE lot. I am an empathetic person - but sometimes I think I take onboard other people's feelings too much. If I see someone in pain - I feel their pain. I am a person who wants to fix things. To make things right. I am a creative who has to put herself in some very dark places to write stories that will resonate with people who have been in very dark places.
I have seen and heard a lot of things in the course of my journalism career that had deeply affected me - people whose stories I have carried with me every day. Grieving mothers sobbing over their children who aren't coming home, women shaking with fear recounting how they were beaten to within an inch of their lives, abuse victims recalling the horror they endured, injustice, illness, accidents - all things that were part of my job but which coloured my thoughts.
Of course, bad things have happened to me - and I have had to allow myself to feel those emotions to heal from the experiences but overall, I need a little help. I need some medication.
I've tried a lot of self care - supplements, exercise, complementary therapies, mindfulness, CBT etc - but the one thing that keeps me on a relatively even keel are the two tablets I pop each evening before bed.
They allow me to appreciate life. They allow me to find the strength to get out of bed when I want to hide under the duvet. They allow me to want to walk along a beach, or a country path and enjoy it - feel it, breathe it, live it.
They allow me to want to live.
But this Meme - it plays on all that. Most of all it plays on the feelings people with invisible illness have that they might just be going mad. They are weak. They are making things up. They are malingerers. They should just pull themselves together. They are broken in some way because they need help to deal with each day,.
It makes people feel ashamed to live with a condition they have little or no control over.
This morning it made me feel ashamed.
It made me feel wrong.
It made me feel not good enough.
So I had to write this blog - to put my feelings down to allow me to cope with how I was feeling. To rationalise it. To remind myself the reason I'm still here today is because I took my medication AND I took care of myself.
The two can work beautifully, miraculously together.
Stop shaming people into thinking they don't.
Why Skirting the Issue?
For 14 years I wrote my Skirting the Issue column for the Derry Journal each Friday - I may have moved on, but I still have opinions!