What do we do when our brains stop working? What happens when we can no longer process information that used to take us seconds to understand? What happens when your whole identity, your career, depends on emotional resilience, a resilience you can no longer offer?
A little under three months ago, my brain seemed to stop functioning. I could no longer hold the hundreds, thousands of thoughts and memories and complex bits of information in my mind. My emotions seemed to go haywire. I felt like I was constantly exhausted, my body aching just as much as my mind.
One cold Thursday evening last November, my brain at melting point after a draining day at work, I took myself to my GP’s office. There I sat, tearful and breathless, trying to explain to the kind and understanding doctor why I felt I couldn’t carry on anymore. She listened, offered me the tissues that perched precariously on the edge of her desk, and smiled. This, she said, was the right decision. Asking for help, recognising this was not my usual character, that some dark and malevolent force – whether chemical or otherwise – was overshadowing my mind; that was the most important step.
This shadow was growing ever larger, I explained, relieved that here was someone, a professional, who could see the effect this was having. It obscures everything; clarity of thinking, the energy to get out of bed in the morning (let alone to go for a run or walk the dog, simple tasks I would previously look forward to). And especially, my emotions.
Previously happy relationships, with friends, family and my partner, had felt like some kind of punishment. Only, it was me punishing them. I told myself that I was a burden on these people, these people who loved me. They love me so much, I convinced myself, that they can’t see how much better their lives would be without me. I had started to make plans, dark, dramatic plans. I would look up train times to some far-flung place, somewhere they wouldn’t be able to track me down. I’d book an anonymous, cheap hotel room (with cash, of course, so they – I never really thought about who ’they’ were – wouldn’t be able to trace me through my debit card). Stay there for a few days, writing and reflecting, and then, take the action I so desperately wanted to take.
I didn’t tell the doctor all of this, of course. I told her, rather euphemistically, that I had made ‘plans’, and she inferred enough from that.
She signed me off work for a week, put me back on the antidepressants I had gradually come off only six months before, and told me to take the time to myself. Get some sleep. Eat well. Exercise. And I did. A good friend sent me links to YouTube yoga practices, and I forced myself to do them every day, even if only for twenty minutes at a time. A new and increasingly close friend accompanied me for walks and the occasional run.
My partner, as always, remained the solid foundation of my sanity. If I wanted to sob and wail, he would let me, holding on to my shaking shoulders, making me cups of tea on those mornings when I just couldn’t bear to peer my head above the covers.
I ended up taking a fortnight off work (my employers, I must say, were very understanding throughout this time). Over that time, I gradually got closer towards something resembling a functioning brain. I set myself a goal of walking 13,000 steps every day, finding exercise to be the biggest lift. I spent time with my dog, my gentlest, closest companion. I reconnected to my body through yoga, rediscovering the love I had for stretching, building strength and flexibility. It all seemed to be falling back into place perfectly.
Except, here I am again. I visited my GP again last Thursday (what is it with me and Thursdays?), burnt out after weeks of intensive work meetings, conferences, and travel. I didn’t understand it, I told her. I thought I was doing so much better, but now I feel lower than ever. I’ve been signed off for two weeks this time; she is convinced that I will need longer, but I am acutely aware of the impact this is having on my career and finances.
I am still exercising, every day. I’m writing, I’m reaching out to friends and family. My partner is as understanding and patient as ever. What I know is that I need to address this, whatever ‘this’ is. It is not me, it does not define me, but my writing about it, by providing some explanation to those around me that this is why I have become what I have become, perhaps that will go some way towards building that resilience again.
And if any of this resonates with you, talk to someone. There are so many out there who really do care. I am one of them. I won’t give up, and neither should you.