Coping with overwhelm

When things get too much and it feels like there’s no way out….

My mind and soul took a tumble last week and I found myself in a deep pit of despair. Having held it together for so long throughout what has been (and continues to be) a challenging year with my mental health, I reached a point of total overwhelm.

There are so many things that contributed to this; Past trauma, a history of depression, a burn out at work last year which led to quitting my job and being diagnosed with PTSD. Then earlier this year our eldest son was diagnosed with autism and related mental health conditions. He hasn’t left the house for seven months now, and refuses to accept help from us or medical professionals.

It is for all these reasons, and many more emotional spin offs; guilt, shame, anger, frustration, that I felt I had no choice but to run away from it all. I couldn’t spend another second longer in this situation. If I did I would either go insane, or say/do something I would regret, neither of which I wanted to happen. So, leaving the kids with my husband to hold the fort, with no plan other than to drive through the tears until I was either all cried out, or too tired, or both. I went. I believed I had no choice.

The first 24 hours are a black blur. I had no inner compass, I drove aimlessly, with no clear direction in mind. All that was in my mind was despair, hopelessness and a heavy sadness that felt like a huge elephant was sat on top of me. The riot of thoughts running round my head were ganging up on me and bullying me, I felt useless, a failure as a human being, a wife, a mum…

My heart heaved with grief. The loss of hope for the future of our family. The loss of how things used to be, when we were all functioning better as a family. That we were doomed, that this mess was just too big and could never be cleared up. And that in amongst all of this, my poor mental health made me a crap parent, crap at relationships and that my despair was all my own doing. Life feels pretty pointless when despite there being times when I can cope, it’s only temporary, like it will always come back…. That dark, heavy depression that eventually catches up with me, dragging me and everyone around me down with it.

There is also this huge, overwhelming concept I feel; that life on earth is hard for every single living thing and this will always be the way of life. That no resilience can ever come without adversity. Nothing can evolve without competition. Nothing will ever be easy.

And with this, my heart finally broke.

I ended up on the Pembrokeshire coast path. I still don’t know how I made it there. I don’t remember making any kind of decision, but this is where I landed. Arriving broken and bewildered, this wild and remote place was to hold me for a while.

I cried salt tears and swam in the salt waves. Stripped of any kind of luxury I slept wild and woke wild. I fell apart under the stars, beneath the moon, before the sun rising and setting. It would have been beautiful had I not felt so bloody hurt by it all. But this raw experience will stay with me for a long time. NOT because I had a wonderful time, but because I learned the hard way that wherever you go, your thoughts will follow.

The only comfort to me at the time was that I was able to fall apart in private, with only Mother Nature as my witness.

Yet somehow, although I am still feeling broken, the invisible cracks feel like they are held together by that wild place. That my “broken-ness” is a little more acceptable to me now.

And with this acceptance I feel able to reach out to others, and ask for help, to allow myself to be vulnerable, as if Mother Nature has silently encouraged me to do so, and whispered that it is “ok to not to be ok”.

Why do I find it SO hard to be honest about depression? I still feel like it somehow makes me a weaker person, or that other people will see me as a failure. I have so many wonderful people in my life, including my children, but I struggle to show them my “dark” side, worried they will think it repulsive and ugly, scary even. That they will only think the worst of me from now onwards. I put so much pressure on myself to only be the version of me that I “think” people want to see and know. To hide my vulnerability from the world and those close to me. It’s something I’m trying hard to change. If only so my children can grow up being aware of mental health, and knowing it’s ok to talk about it. Yet, even writing this post now I am wondering if I should…. Perhaps I will regret it? Perhaps it will put you off me when you hear my truth?

And after all this, I am home. My situation hasn’t changed. There is no quick fix. There is no clear path or light at the end of the tunnel… there is no escape. On a practical note, because I know I can’t do this through mere willpower alone, my GP has increased my medication, and I am starting therapy sessions, again. All I can do is take each hour, each day as it comes and not think too much about the bigger picture. To be mindful of how overwhelm can begin to grow if I feed it. How depression will thrive on it.

But in the meantime, I know I can go into the wild and just “be” and that here is where I can unfold, unravel and fall apart if needed. Here is where there is no guilt, no shame, no judgement. And when I return I can speak of it, I can try again. And those who have waited for, and missed me, who welcome me with open arms, who listen to me, these are my true kin. Those to love and to cherish and be incredibly thankful for. For they are the reason I need to do this, they are the ones I must find strength for.

Monday morning with a girl gone wild

This morning began with an early walk with the dog. With the sun shining and a heavy dew it was a magical walk along the river. Spiderwebs and seedheads were kissed with sparkling drops of dew and, in the bright sunshine they were illuminated like miniature sculptures draped in silver. Inspired by what I saw I composed a Haiku in my head as we walked;

“Autumn morning dew

Sparkles in the bright sunshine

Like silver treasure”

A little further along the river, the dog stopped and stared at something in the tree. Assuming it was a squirrel I chuckled knowing how they tease him with their chatter while safely out of reach. But as I drew closer I realised it was in fact an Egret. It perched on a branch, looking quite elegant with it’s long legs and pure white feathers. We stood a while; dog, bird and I, until it gracefully launched itself into the air and flew across the meadow. The dog bounded along beneath it, excitedly trying to keep up.

The Egret silently sits on a branch on the opposite side of the river

With the walk coming to an end, and the sun feeling quite warm now my thoughts turn to the sea. “Perhaps I should make the most of this glorious weather?” October sea swims are like a bridge between the warmer temperatures of September and the transition into winter swimming. When the sun is shining and winds are low at this time of year, it is the ideal time to swim, and begin acclimatising the body to the colder water.

So within half an hour I am in the sea. The sun on my face, body immersed in cold water, I swim out towards the mast off shore where the cormorants like to gather. A boat is slowly making it’s way along the shore, closer than usual. As it nears I call to the crew who reveal they are doing a seabed survey. I swim back to shore to avoid getting in their way.

With a flask of coffee, I join the local sea swimmers at our regular spot by the pier. The sea is beautifully calm, and the cliffs look golden in the sunlight. I notice a huge piece of driftwood has been washed up beneath the pier, a few yards from where I sit. I briefly consider it’s size and whether I would be able to get it home with me. Driftwood is a gift from the sea and is my preferred material for my pyrography creations.

I mention to my fellow swimmers my idea and before I know it, I have volunteers to help me carry it up the beach! I would never have been able to carry it on my own, and yet again I feel lucky to be part of such a supportive sea swimming community. Using a Silky saw that I happen to have with me I take off some of the branches in order for it to fit into the back of the truck. But it still hangs out the back, meaning it will be a slow, careful journey home!

The driftwood now lies in the yard outside the workshop. I love knowing that by using this wood, it won’t go to waste. All that time it took to grow will not be without purpose. Despite it’s unfortunate uprooting due to coastal corrosion, and the aimless drifting at sea, it has landed as a gift on the shore. I will use this wood to create; to bring a new purpose to it’s form and in this process it not only reminds me that not all endings are final, but that gifts can be found in the simplest of things