Things were going well. Better than I could have ever expected. Life seemed so easy so full of joy and anything seemed possible. I was riding one of the best highs of my life and it seemed like it would never end.
I was busy and life was full. Working more, doing more when I wasn’t working and frantically trying to finish off my second pair of knitted trousers so I could wear then on Christmas jumper day at work, the one day of the year I was allowed to turn up in full knit.
I finished the trousers at midnight on Thursday, 12 hours before I needed them. On Friday morning full of joy and feeling like I was floating on clouds I got up early to source some bells that I could stitch to myself to complete the outfit for the day.
For all of Friday, I bounced, jumping up and down to jingle whenever anyone else in bells walked past, I don’t even like Christmas normally but for that day everything seemed good. I finished work at 9pm jokily asking if I could sleep on the benches as I would be in again at 9 the following morning. The run-up to Christmas when you work in a shop is long. Maybe too long.
I woke on Saturday morning not wanting to get up, it felt wrong, we needed to be in an hour early and that felt strange. I got to work not in the mood to boot fit. Normally for me once I am there I feel like working, it doesn’t normally take me long to slot my head into work mode pull on a smile and for the most part, enjoy what I’m doing.
I made it through the first fit but in my head, things weren’t right, I ignored it and pushed on. The second fit felt the same and despite the fact I was trying so hard to feel like me I couldn’t seem to find the girl I had been the day before.
I got a break from customers, I was at snapping point all my self-control was gone and so when I was told I could go for lunch I fled. I knew I needed to get out. Everything was too much and I couldn’t hold things in anymore. I practically ran out the shop rain quickly started to soak through my down jacket but I didn’t care. I bought food and then wandered around for a while trying to bring back control. I had snapped at people in the staff room and knew there was a high chance someone would ask questions, it was so unlike me but I had needed to get out and didn’t want to break down in front of everyone. The closer it got to the end of my lunch hour the tighter the knot of anxiety became. I knew I had to go back but the thought made me want to curl up into the smallest ball I could become and cry until I could cry no more.
I made it back to the staff room without crying but just being in there was too much. I sought refuge in the workshop, planning to finish my coffee and try to pull myself back together enough to work. But once I was safely hidden sitting in a nest of dust I could hold things back no longer. The tears came and with them great sobs. I tried to control it. I didn’t want to be heard but it doesn’t take long in a busy shop to be found. Lenka came to drop off some skis and found me crying. She sat with me a little while to try to help but I could hardly put into words how I felt. This wasn’t just stress or burn out from work.
I folded myself into a small bundle of misery and cried some more. A few minutes later I sensed someone sitting down in front of me and hands on my back. Feeling another human being help, I sat up, Florrie smiled at me. I cried some more. She didn’t try to get me to stop. I was so full of feelings, it felt like was suffocating and exploding all at once. I needed to get them out, all of them out and I only know two ways of doing that, the first I used most as a child inflict pain on myself. The second is to scream, to push everything out in loud and desperate wails. Neither is good. One is quite but not recommended the other loud and hard to hide from people.
But when I flapping my hands about doesn’t work and I needed to get it all out and Florrie gets up and shuts the door and tells me I can scream now. Normally I have hidden this side of me from other people. I try to only fall apart when I am alone, but I feel nothing but compassion as I curl up and force the feelings out of me in long bars of high pitched noise.
Florrie sits with me while I start to calm down again. I’m grateful, people don’t have to care or help. But seeing them care makes me feel less alone and less like a nuisance.
It is clear I am unable to get back to work, even once I have calmed down when I am asked how I am I start to cry again. I am told I can leave early, we are not busy but I don’t want to go home, Florrie suggests Hampstead heath, at first I am not sure, it’s dark and while I have been there before it was a long time ago and I don’t know how to get there, but I need to get out of the confines of the city and so after dithering I decide to go.
I get lost when I go the wrong way out of Kentish town tube station but do find the heath. The rain pours down and in the dark, there are few people out. I walk and feel things getting better inside me, with no one around and the cold and the wet on my face I feel like I can breathe again. I walk and walk no idea where I’m going unable to see much but steadily feeling better I start to run then jump in puddles laughing and shouting into the dark. I feel like me again.
I walk until my head tells me my blood sugars are getting low. It’s annoying right now I would love to be free of the constraints that diabetes brings, but I find my way to a road and jump on the first bus I find. I have no idea where I am. Being lost oddly feels good, I ask the couple sitting behind me where I am and where the nearest northern line tube station is. Luckily the bus will take me there and I sit and eat to bring my sugars back up again.
I decide to go back to work, it feels too early to go home and there I will be able to dry off a little. I also don’t want to leave it till Monday to go back, I know that would only make things worse.
I get back to the shop and grab some ski pants that we have to lend out when customers don’t have the right clothes on and some socks from the basket and change. I warm up and dry off and am able to have a chat with my managers all of which helps.
I had hoped that the outpouring of emotions would be enough, I thought that exercise would do the trick but when after spending the Sunday on my bike in Richmond park I didn’t feel any better I knew this wasn’t just a meltdown. My whole body feels heavy, everything someone asks me if I’m ok I start to cry. The lightness and joy I had been feeling have gone and everything feels hard. I know these feelings I have felt them all before. I know what they mean, my depression is rearing is ghastly head again.
These feeling are hardly new to me, I have been fighting with them for over half my life. I know how far I can sink and how fucking hard it is to get back again. But I also know that at this stage there are two ways to go. I can sink down and reach a point where I don’t even want to fight it where things feel almost impossible and just getting out of bed and getting dressed is like climbing a mountain. Or I can react while I still have control and take myself back to where I want to be.
Thankfully I can recognize things quickly enough now to do the later. A few years ago I would lose control but I know I won’t this time. I have fought too hard for too long to let myself slip again. I have fought my whole life against my autistic brain, bullies, depression, diabetes, chronic fatigue syndrome and to pressure and constraints of society and I will not lose that fight now.
I have taken antidepressants for a few years now, this summer I was able to reduce the dose but now I know I need more again. I am able to phone the mother of one of my best friends who is a doctor on Sunday night to make sure that it is safe to do so and that night I go back up again.
On Monday morning on my way to work, I am able to make an appointment with a Doctor, my GP from the last 4 years has just left the surgery and so I will have to start afresh, it’s not good timing but I will cope.
We are busy on Monday morning, it helps when I don’t have time to think. I don’t feel myself but I do feel better for working. From 10 I work through to half 4 before I’m able to take a break. I go for lunch but once I have eaten I feel wrong inside, not I am no longer doing things the feelings I have put aside come clawing back in. I have stuff to do so I go back to work.
Things get too much again but I am able to talk it out and pull myself back together. I know it will take a little while for things to get back under control and until then emotions will be taking over every now and again.
At times like this, I wish other people could feel what it is like to be autistic, to know what it feels like when your headspace is simply wrong and how such small things can cause problems. I have learned to successfully hide most of my autistic traits but it doesn’t mean they aren’t there. When I am in control I am able to rationalize things to myself to help keep the peace in my mind but when I am struggling I need structure and order more. I need plans and predictability, without that I struggle to regain control.
On Monday night I tell my mum what is going on. It feels good not to have to try to hide it like I always did before.
But despite it feeling like the light has gone out I still feel lucky. There are a lot of people around me who care and want to help. And the kindness of others makes it so much easier to carry on. I have been here before and I’m sure I will find myself here again but for now, I can take comfort because even though I am not myself this shadow girl will leave and the one I truly am will come back again and while I wait for her to return I have people around me willing her back too.
Sometimes I write because there is something I want to share and sometimes it’s because I need to get feeling on to a page to make them seem less overwhelming. By writing this I am helping myself but I am sharing it because I believe it’s important to talk about mental health especially when things start to fall. I hope that for those that don’t know what it is like this gives a bit of an idea and for anyone who knows these feelings as well as I do it reminds you you’re not alone.
Please feel free to share this if you want to,
The girl with the braid in her hair xxx