2018, wiped

When I told my best friend of 13+ years that I had anxiety, he exclaimed: “But Adam, you’re the most confident person I know!”

This is not criticism of him, just a reflection on how others thought of me. I might have been confident at school, at sixth-form college, but a lot of that was put on, and it certainly has been put on for the past couple of years.

When I went home at Easter, and tried to talk to my parents about whatever was going on in my head, I broke down in tears in Pizza Express (the one in Oxford Street, Southampton, if you’re wondering — my Mum insisted on booking early, so we were the only ones in the restaurant at 12pm, on the dot. The waiter didn’t know where to look. RIP Peter Boizot.)

When I decided not to go to my ex’s birthday party, on the advice of my friends, I was still so anxious about it that I threw up. I didn’t even go.

Every time a doctor, a counsellor, or a therapist asks me “are you in danger? Have you made plans to harm yourself?” I tell them no, but I have often thought about how much easier everything would be if I didn’t exist.

2018 was one of the best years of my life, but it was also definitely the worst. It was the year that I came to terms with my mental health, and it was the year that I broke up with my girlfriend. It was also the year that I made lots of new friends, graduated from my MA, and got to know the Archbishop of Canterbury.

I’m anxious now, as I write this. I’m on edge, I can feel my heartbeat, I want to go on a run just to use up the excess adrenaline. I take 20mg of Citalopram every day, and this keeps me stable, more on a level, but I still get very low. I have a great therapist, called Nimmi, who knows and appreciates me, despite my foibles and my reluctance to help myself; CBT requires a quotient of helpfulness from the patient, which is not something I always give her.

I might be low tonight, I could be low tomorrow. This means hating myself and not wanting to do anything. I’ll sit at home, watching some rubbish, regretting every decision I’ve made. I’ll be self-critical for the decision to do nothing, to eat rubbish, to be myself. I have to live with this every day. Adam Becket, who’d want to be him?

August was the worst month of my life. I turned 23, I had a wonderful time with my friends for my birthday, but later that night I burst into tears at the pub in front of my ex. I couldn’t focus, I couldn’t escape my head, I couldn’t enunciate my worries.

Worry — I’m very good at being worried about everything, from “what am I having for dinner tonight” to “I’m a bad person”. I stand at the side of the room at events I go to, wondering if it would offend anyone if I went up to speak to them. Obviously, 90% of the time, it is absolutely fine; I wonder how often social anxiety has prevented me from speaking to someone great, from throwing myself into something, from doing my job.

All of this is just so people can understand what this year has been to go through, and to understand how mental health has gone from something that happened to other people to something that has deeply affected me.

I read Normal People, by Sally Rooney, in November, the best book I have read this year. Here’s a quote about Connell, the protagonist, which resonated with me:

“Things happened to him, like the crying fits, the panic attacks, but they seemed to descend on him from the outside, rather than emanating from somewhere inside himself. Internally he felt nothing. He was like a freezer item that had thawed too quickly on the outside and was melting everywhere, while the inside was still frozen solid. Somehow he was expressing more emotion than at any time in his life before, while simultaneously feeling less, feeling nothing.”

I deeply worry that nothing ever good will happen to me, that I have reached my quota of success for my life. My politics has suffered defeat after defeat, and I don’t know when it will win. Southampton might stay up! Hampshire won the one day cup! Tom Dumoulin came 2nd at both the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France! But all of these feel insignificant next to the ever growing problem of climate change. C’est la vie.

I try to find FLOW in the things I do — where skill meets challenge — like the bike rides I go on, the things I read, in cooking. I hope to get back to playing my euphonium in a band at some point in the future, so I can do something creative. Almost all of the medical professionals I’ve seen about my mental health have been brilliant, and I wish everyone had the level of support I’ve had. Thank you, all of you, and thank you all of my incredibly supportive friends, even the ones who have fallen by the wayside.

2018 was good in some ways. Here are some ways in which it was good: I listened to Neutral Milk Hotel for the first time; I watched Ladybird; I went to Field Day and was introduced to a whole new way of music; I moved into a new house with three wonderful people; I ate some great things, with many thanks to Jordan; I met some of the *best* people, and got to know others better; I read some great books in Normal People, Conversations with Friends, Why I’m No Longer Speaking to White People about Race, and Vivid Faces: The Revolutionary Generation in Ireland 1890–1923; I became a subscriber to the new Tribune magazine; I went to some really nice pubs for the first time, including The Salisbury in Green Lanes, the Jerusalem Tavern in Farringdon, and the Crown and Anchor in Brixton.

England got to the World Cup semi-finals!! That was exciting. However, I spent much of the tournament anxious about my then relationship, and the future. What could have been magical wasn’t.

The whole point of this piece is to highlight how my mental health has suddenly shifted in a year, and how it can change the “confident” guy, the one who seemed like he was always positive. Take some time to check in on all your friends, even the ones who seem great: in my experience it’s the people who seem to be flying that really aren’t underneath it.

It seems like everyone cares about mental health more now, but do they? Is it just saying “self-care” and taking a day off work? Or is it actually caring for people and thinking about how your actions will impact them? I’m not sure.

More than anything else, I spent more time this year working out who I was, what I was, and what I want. I still don’t know, and I still intensely dislike parts/all of myself. 2019 will be better, though, probably. Vive la révolution to you all.

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