I received a call from a withheld number last week, not an entirely unusual incident I know, but I always get a pang of anxiety when 'Unknown Caller' flashes on my phone. It's silly really, as a self-employed PR, my contact details are available online so I should be used to, nay expecting, unexpected calls.
But today's call wasn't work related, far from it in fact; today's caller introduced herself as Fiona, a psychiatric nurse from the Waltham Forest Mental Health Team. I wasn't expecting Fiona's call; the last time I spoke to my GP - pleading for more help with my worsening psychological symptoms - was nearly two months ago so I presumed they'd either forgotten about me or lost my case notes (not an entirely unusual occurrence in the NHS). At the time I'd been putting things together for client meetings that afternoon and the call took me by surprise, I could feel the protective façade I'd built up - one of competence, astuteness, and stability -chipping away with each invasive question.
As well as securing me one of the elusive few appointments with an NHS psychologist, the call served to highlight how paradoxical my two worlds are; my 'work' world where I display confidence and rationality, and my personal (perhaps more actual) world where I struggle daily against countless inner demons. It's approaching six months since I decided to work freelance now, six months since I left the relentless routine of nine to five working. I left because I couldn't cope. I haven't admitted that to many people so this is the final frontier I suppose, I'm coming clean. I told people I left because I don't like being managed and wanted to work for myself, none of which is a lie, but there was definitely a lot more to the decision. Managing constant insecurity fed by my on going struggle with depression, borderline personality disorder and bulimia, and pretending to be something and someone else every day was destroying me.
Receiving a call where someone casually puts forth questions such as "when did you last self harm?" and "have you any suicidal ideation at present?" has become somewhat of a norm for me; I've been receiving (debatably efficient) help for my mental health problems for so many years now I'm completely jaded to the severity of tone and topic. But after that call last week I began thinking about it; being asked those questions does of course makes me feel uncomfortable, I'm not devoid of emotion and bringing up that which I painstakingly try to repress on a daily basis drags some difficult feelings to the surface. But what amazes me is the ease with which I'm able to move on after hanging up the phone. I close that box of and carry on with my day, because I have to. If I don't I tumble further down the hole and everything falls apart; everything I've so carefully constructed, every barrier, every veil and every strained smile.
The truth is - and I'm being dangerously honest here - my work just isn't compatible with my mental health, in fact it's quite the opposite; the two are entirely disparate. The highs and lows that come with working in the media devastate me, so in order to survive (or at least pretend to) I'm forced to build a facade of normality and feign that everything is 'fine' - whatever that means - which further perpetuates the myth that mental illnesses are fearful conditions to be ashamed of and hidden. I hide mine for as long as I can - throughout the day usually - then get home weak and exhausted and physically unable of fighting it. Its influence takes over my frail, lifeless body, which becomes a vessel; a mere carrier for it. How can two such contrasting personalities exist within the same 24 hours? The double life I lead takes away my essence, strips my identity and makes it impossible to hold sight of who I actually am.
But I persist, keep riding the highs when I get them and utilising them to effectively put myself out there in the professional sphere. Because I know as soon as they pass I'm once again rendered useless, a mass of futile self-deprecation that leads to nowhere (positive). Realistically I'm not sure how much longer I can cope, but for now that familiar lipsticked smile works wonders of deceit, so I wear it once again.