When mental illness descends on Janine Rudin, she knows deep feelings of worthlessness aren’t far away. But she also knows they won’t last and that there is “greatness beyond the fear.”
Mental health is a unique thing – thinking, processing, remembering with something that doesn’t always work well is a hard thing to hold on to.
I have experienced stress, trauma and depression and I know my brain struggles sometimes to think clearly, to have perspective and to keep going beyond my basic needs. My brain can sometimes cause me to be confused, anxious, tired and depressed. But I am also very fortunate, because it also enables me to function very well for work and for my family; it just means I also have to look after myself and to rest when I need to.
Not many people understand it. Despite depression, anxiety and mental health being so common, it still has such a stigma attached to it. Many people can’t be open about it and I try as much as I can, although I am also wary that some people might think it also means I am volatile or unhinged, which I am not.
I know myself very well, and I am now able to identify when I am starting to become unwell – mainly I get stressed and irritable, I don’t sleep well and I feel like I am trudging through treacle – but I am able to work through it now to better understand what is hurting me and to better look after myself.
When my brain is struggling to function, I am tired because it needs to work harder to make sense of day to day life and because I need to break everything down into doable chunks. This is my coping mechanism to work well and to be a good mum to my children.
When my brain is tired from coping or from too much stress, my default is a feeling of worthlessness, when everything I do feels like a failure – from work, to being a mum, to housework and to my weight.
I don’t really know where it comes from but most probably the complicated relationship with my parents, which seemed to always come with conditions.
It seems like a pity party when I talk about it, and maybe it is, but as a young adult I was never thin enough, I was criticised a lot, I struggled at school and I struggled for approval. I’ve never been someone to blame my parents but, now that I am a parent to young adults I see how potentially damaging it was to have parents who didn’t have my back, who just seemed to criticise.
Throughout my life my self-esteem has been really poor and I have struggled to believe in myself. Even when I first became ill with depression, I felt criticised: what on earth have I got to be depressed about?
“Some days are really fucking bleak, when worthlessness grips me, but I also know it will pass and that coping strategies are not about recovery, they are about living with it better.”
Due to this worthlessness, I fear rejection – it can stop me from doing things because I don’t want to fail or because I don’t feel I am worthy or good enough. My mother eventually rejected me, my dad is not very present in my life and I fear being rejected by my husband and my children. To a rational person this probably sounds insane but to someone whose default is worthlessness, the fear is real.
I am a sensitive, emotional soul; an overthinker. Now in my mid-40s, with several periods of depression and anxiety under my belt, I have coping mechanisms that often work when I need them.
The way my head works (or sometimes doesn’t) has made me who I am and I am very lucky; I have amazing friends, great husband and kids and my own small business, I have a lovely little life. My experiences have also made me very good at my job.
I understand and empathise with people, I can listen and support with compassion because I understand something of living with anxiety, worry, fear, doubt, lack of confidence and self-esteem, along with a need for coping strategies and a desire for calm.
I am also lucky to be blessed with some feisty bloody-mindedness and determination to look after others and to make a difference. It is this that makes me achieve and try for different things, that keeps me going, that helps me find solutions and to look after myself, that finds the greatness beyond the fear.
Sometimes I wish my head would give me some peace, to allow me to enjoy my life a little more. I would love to try on someone else’s head for a day, just to see if it worked differently.
But I love life, I love laughter and seeing happiness; I love the human spirit, human connection and nature as well as seeing different places. I love the simple things in life and my life is built around that.
Some days are really fucking bleak, when worthlessness grips me, but I also know it will pass and that coping strategies are not about recovery, they are about living with it better.
I try not to be a victim of my head – I have let go of a lot of negative thinking, I write a lot to focus my head and I try to focus on all the positive things around me, no matter how small. It doesn’t always work but it’s great when it does.
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Antenatal teacher, postnatal group leader, birth & baby specialist, writer, mother, wife, friend, me. My time is spent with my family, working with parents and trying not to eat all the biscuits. @BirthandBabyCo