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Home sick

I want to talk about mental health. It is a topic that is on lots of people’s mind at the moment. This is complicated topic that will be navigated in so many different ways over the coming months. 

Today I am not coping well at all. I want to fix it, but I can’t, and it frustrates me. 

It all fell apart when I went out to buy food.

I’ve had two incidents in my life that I guess can only be described as break downs. The first was as a teenager, and I think was pretty complete, the second was in my late 20s and I was able to understand that I was right at the precipice and therefore got help. How and why I got to these points doesn’t really matter, at least not to me now – shit is always going to hit the fan, learning how to cope is more important to me than why it went a bit wonk in the first place.

What these incidents did was make me very aware of my mental health, understand triggers and ways for me to cope with difficult situations. For this I feel pretty lucky.

I am an extravert (and a Leo!) that chose to do a PhD and be a freelancer writer, both of which are pretty isolating – in your head – practices, so I have had to learn to cope with my choices and being alone. The thing with extraverts though, is that they derive energy from the outside (people, places, talking, watching, seeing) but then to process these they need a lot of their own space. A retreat. And, both my phd and my writing career, which is predominantly journalism, focuses on interviewing; so, I am constantly talking and exchanging conversation – on email, or literal conversations. Therefore, these choices all make sense to me.

When I was a teenager, I lost six months of my life, I know I went to school, continued an A average, participated in sports and all the usual things. But, when I came out of it all I couldn’t remember anything from that time period – I still don’t, I have some photos, but my mind is pretty much blank. I do remember my mother finding me in my wardrobe, I don’t know when, or how I got in there. I do know that that space felt safe, I could control how much light I was able to let in, how my clothes hang and therefore the physical space around me. I also remember seeing a flower outside my bedroom window that I had noticed before and thinking ‘fuck this, I want to be happy again’.

Space has always been the thing that is important to me, controlling my space. I have certain sides of the road I walk down; I have very specific places my phone is allowed to rest in the house. I am ok if a space is not mine, but my space, the routines I go through to cross space – super important. I get obsessed with public transport routes, for example.

In my 20s I went to see a psychiatrist, on recommendation from the GP before they gave me sleeping tablets – in case I needed other drugs, and / or a recommendation of what therapy I would need. He concluded that I was probably manic, but highly functioning and also able to ask for help when needed, and therefore he felt it unnecessary to formally go through the testing process, because that would probably lead to a diagnosis and medication – which I was not keen on (but something to be aware of, keep an eye on). Instead I had CBT, which I loved. Lots of coping mechanisms and the knowledge that every now and again I need pretty intense sleeping tablets, to give me strength to activate those mechanisms. Those mechanisms were based on structure, and productivity.

I hate surprises, I struggle when people move my stuff; I like to be prepared, I like to plan what I am wearing to a situation, I need to envisage spaces before I get to them, I want to segment my days. By building parameters and boundaries, I can then easily adjust when something goes wrong – or, I am in the mood for partying, going a little wild. I think this is very much linked to my dyslexia too. I am ultimately a workaholic, or rather, someone who is constantly thinking, planning, busy. But, when things are overwhelming, I know I need a re-set, a good sleep a pause to see what is wrong and to fix.

The issue with right now is that I am sharing my space, which is really a very lucky thing because I don’t think I would cope well with loneliness. But, I am not in control of everything, I have another person who has a way they want to organise time and space. For me, living with someone who works in the hospitality industry is perfect – I get to have the space and time in the flat, at my leisure; our shared space is limited. This is no longer the case. And I can’t get mad, that is not fair. But I can’t seem to be able to express myself either.

Right now, the outside space is also a very difficult place to navigate. The constant crossing of roads to avoid people, the sudden movements of people in a store or around a corner – provoke deep, visceral reactions from me. The rule is 2 metres, they are not sticking to that. Nor am I, when faced with these surprises. The rules are being broken, with no escape for me. (I do like to break rules, but that is a decision with known consequences and a reason that will bring joy – these rules, do not bring joy when broken.)

These are all the things I do to cope:
-       Work – the thinking, the planning, the doing. I get lost in work. This has all but dried up, and it is very hard to be motivated to do the last few pieces I have on (one piece I am super excited about, but its quite creative and I can’t work out how to find my way through).

-       Dancing – the physical movement, the closeness to people. Which, obviously, is not an option in any way shape or form.

-       Copious amounts of drugs – this has not been an option for almost a decade. And, was only something I would do to blow stem every once and awhile, but fuck me it was good, and fun.

-       Reading crime / spy novels, high adrenaline, full of action – but I have read all the books in the Jack Ryan universe, all the Jericho Quinn (my fave) and Jack Reacher. And I just can’t emotionally engage with a whole set of new people (characters).

-       Home – going home to Malaysia. Where I can sleep, not talk to anyone, read, write, swim every day and eat. But, no travel is allowed of course.

-       Travel on my own – City breaks are my favourite, eating dinner in restaurants are my favourite. Actually, right now I think I could combine the feeling of going home and solo travelling, and escape to some remote log cabin in the woods… But – as above.

I know that at the moment a lot of people are cooking. I don’t find cooking relaxing; I get too anxious about getting it wrong. I used to enjoy baking, the preciseness of it – but what would I do with all the baked goods? I couldn’t eat it all. I also think I have far too much deep seeded diet guilt in me that would hate myself for eating that much cake, which is a bad feminist thing, but it is what it is, we are a product of our time (I don’t have a huge sweet tooth either). I also find cooking takes up so much time, and my mind wanders… and things burn.

Today I was very tired, I feel like I have a cold. Today I had to go out to the shops to get supplies. Both these things are/were ultimately terrifying.

I no longer have a wardrobe, but I do have a little office space that I work from. Which is now my haven. For this I am eternally grateful. And it has taken me a good six hours hiding in it to feel a sense of calm return.

I also write this from an awareness that things like social distancing, and isolation is a privilege that a lot of people do not have. Not to mention a workspace to hide in.

We find comfort and security from a life, a home, that we build; but how to we do that when that home no longer exists, in the way that we built them?

 I am so desperately homesick; for family, for friends, for London. And I can’t fix this.


  1. Really touched reading your post, Anna. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences and reflections, and in such an open honest way too. It's such a tough time at the moment, on so many levels. Funnily enough, my own last post reflected on balancing introvert/extrovert sides, as well as on loneliness and togetherness - but that all now seems from a different era, such as how the world has changed so dramatically! Your thoughts on the space around us very much resonated with me, and it's such a tangible concept right now. Really hope you get to feel more settled, and wishing you all the best. Thanks again! (Aaron @1dish4the4road)


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