I feel exhausted. It seems silly to say now, but I never expected to be ill for this long. My initial estimation was a couple of months of regular therapy and I’d be ‘ready’ to go back to normal. I didn’t expect ‘ready’ to take so long. Like a cowboy builder, I was way out on my first guess. Before I knew it, a couple of months became six months… then six months became nine… and nine became today.
My wife, Frankie, has never pushed me to be ‘ready’. Her priority has always been to make me feel better, no matter what it takes. She never set a date and neither did my GP. A system of continuous and regular assessment was implemented. My line managers have also been fantastic, to the point that I almost feel guilty about it. Everyone just wants to see me get better.
But not everyone understands. You’d be forgiven for thinking, why are you exhausted? You’ve not been physically ill, you’ve not had surgery, what’s the deal? The deal is that I find myself here, a year down the line, completely exhausted by my emotions. Every passing day becomes a self contained hell. It doesn’t matter where I am, or what I’m doing, my brain quite often does what it wants. And what it wants, is to over analyse every single interaction that I have, replaying incidents from my past, making it expressly clear when I fucked it up and letting me know how I should have done better.
It doesn’t feel obliged to stick the to the past, there is plenty of thinking to be done about the future too. Making plans. Double checking them. Triple checking them. Checking to infinity. Nor does it restrict itself to complicated tasks. It worries about the little things, the mundane. Such as… Should I have that cereal bar before I walk the dog? Instantly, that question leads on to… Should I save it for when I get back, because it’s the last one? When I get back, am I going to be hungry for more than a cereal bar? Should I get some food to eat after? As I can’t take the dog into a food shop, should I walk her, bring her back and then get food? Should I go out and get food first? Will she need to pee soon though? Maybe I should just give her a quick walk, then go get food? Will she need a proper walk as she hasn’t had one yet today? Am I going to be really hungry by the time I get back? How long will it be until I eat? What can I get that’s quick to prepare? Where can I go that’s quick and easy? Should I get something healthy? Will I want to eat chicken and salad considering I had that for dinner yesterday? Have I decided to walk the dog and then buy food? And what about this cereal bar? And so on and so forth.
That is not an exaggeration. It’s a whole lot of questions without any answers, and I still don’t know if I’m going to eat the fucking cereal bar! Try to imagine having that train of thought, for every little decision. Beginning to see why I might feel exhausted? I used to feel blessed. I was always two steps ahead of the person who was two steps ahead, able to make a decision and foresee the consequences. I was aware of everything that was going on around me, I was the most aware person in any room that I stepped into. The King of seeing everything, able to explain miscommunications and settle disputes. Those abilities, are now a curse. I ruminate about rumination.
I’m currently at the police rehabilitation centre for a two week stint, taking part in group therapy sessions and one-two-one’s (I’m glad that back when I was able to make a decision, I made the correct one in choosing to pay into the fund that covers this place). The grounds are beautiful, there is a gym, a swimming pool, a bar (which I don’t use) for an evening tipple and a TV room for watching sport. You also get three decent meals a day. Surely I should be recharging my batteries? Unfortunately not.
During a recent group session, my explanation of how my brain works was greeted by a miffed response of “Wow, that’s a lot of thinking” – and that’s by people with similar experiences to myself. The self exploration and confrontation of issues, whilst beneficial, can be exhausting. Just getting dinner is exhausting – you walk into the dining room, desperately searching for a friendly face to sit with. Then you have to think of small talk. And nothing on this earth is more exhausting than small talk.
How then, do I go about preventing this exhaustion? Firstly, I need to retrain my brain to relax. Relaxation, or switching off, is a skill. A skill that I desperately need to learn. Much of what I’ll be practicing is grounded in mindfulness. Simply put, mindfulness is ‘a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment’. I’ve heard many positive stories from people that have practiced mindfulness, and although it’s clearly going to be difficult for me, I’m determined to give it my best shot. It’s time to live in the now.
I’m also looking to implement ‘go-to’ behaviours to utilise when my anxiety starts to build. For example, when the speed of my speech begins to increase, I’ll stop, take a big breath in through my nose, reset my brain and speak in a more considered manner to help prevent myself from stuttering. When my hands start to twitch, it’s very obvious to those around me and I can become embarrassed – which only serves to increase my anxiety. Instead I’ll focus my energy on something a little less obvious, like twisting my wedding ring. If things continue to escalate, I’ll excuse myself from a situation and find somewhere that I feel comfortable, where I shall stand still, close my eyes and listen. I’ll find a sound and bring my attention to it (I’ve chosen to focus on sound because I can choose what my eyes see, but I can’t choose what my ears hear!).
Will this all work? I don’t know, but you can be sure I’m going to try. Because putting in the effort and taming my anxiety, has got to be a lot less exhausting than the year I’ve just had.
*If you haven’t already, please sponsor me via the below link as I’m raising money for Mind, the mental health charity. Thanks!