When the madness kicks in and you’re about to fall off life’s little raft again, it’s a seriously lonely place to be. In fact, when you get to that point you’re no longer paddling, you’re fiercely bobbing under the waves, gasping for breath and swallowing a shit load of toxic water.
Anxiety is a bitch.
I’ve never been shy about it, but I have felt ashamed of it. It confuses reality with fear. Fear of what could become reality. You doubt your mind, your ability, your reality. And you start to wonder if the one thing you should fear is actually yourself.
Combining anxiety with real life problems is more than a bitch. It’s an evil wailing banshee with medusa’s hairstyle and Cruella de Vil’s painted talons scraping loudly down a blackboard.
The noise and commotion becomes so much that you can’t separate the two.
Until, that is, somebody pulls you back onto your life raft, points you away from the storm and gives you the chance to look at the horizon with a clearer perspective.
For me, that somebody was Tom. I had great support at home, my family are amazing. But when the combination of a stressful work environment and mental illness creates a hurricane of terror you need someone to have your back in the office.
I’m not talking chair wars here. Tom sat at the desk behind me. We were not supposed to sit together because we were thick as thieves and bickered like an old married couple. So we sat back to back on swivel chairs which I soon regretted after Tom came up with the ridiculous idea of declaring ‘chair wars!’ at random points in the day, subsequently crashing his chair into the back of mine on numerous occasions.
But I can forgive that. I can forgive the abuse I got from my incredibly posh friend with a double-barrelled name and a hairstyle reminiscent of Thatcher’s 80s bouffant. He often insulted my latest charity shop bargain (‘which poor 90 year old have you prized that monstrosity of a cardy from?’) or provided a running critique about my hair (‘What’s with the Croydon facelift darling? Did you wake up in 1992 today?’). But then his designer socks and intense admiration of old school celebrity cook Fanny Craddock were an easy target for me.
But he was in no way fazed when he heard about my anxiety. And when he saw me struggling at work, he was there for me. He coached me through my troubles and demanded I join him in the John Lewis bistro after work for a prosecco (his choice, not mine – I’d have chosen a pint of beer at the Stand Comedy Club).
But when it came to the crunch, when I needed someone to stand their ground and have my back about something that was actually happening and making my anxiety worse – Tom stepped up.
This was a good few years ago now. I remember thinking I was completely alone. Yes, my colleagues cared, yes, I had good friends at work, but who would really step up and speak out about something that could cause controversy. About something relating to my treatment at work?
And was there really anything to complain about? Was it me? Was it my illness? Was I just a neurotic pain in the backside imagining all of this?
I cried my alcohol soaked heart out one night. Feeling mentally chaotic, completely hopeless and totally ridiculous. I was alone. In the home, I was kicking against the amazing support I had from my husband and stepson because I was so consumed with the stress in the office.
I got the bus into work the morning after, drained, hungover and exhausted. Tom had always described me as a spaniel. ‘You’re one full fat Coke away from licking someone’ he would say of my excitability. But with anxiety, that excitability can rapidly turn into adrenaline fuelled panic and burn you out to a crash. And god, had I crashed.
But I wasn’t alone. Without my knowing, my husband, my family and my wonderful friend Tom had been talking. And that day, Tom marched me over to see HR and spoke out about my troubles. I heard it from someone else’s point of view. Not just my crazy, skewed, mashed up mind.
He backed up all of my concerns. He was in my corner. I wasn’t fighting this fight alone.
I went home that night a different person. No, it hadn’t immediately solved the problem. No, I wasn’t immediately in recovery. But I wasn’t shouldering the burden alone. He was there for me. My husband and my mum noticed a huge difference in me. Something had lifted. I went to work feeling stronger.
Regardless of his support, I still think Tom has a ridiculous dress sense and an over bearing obsession with Hyacinth Bucket (‘it’s Frizelle!’ he demands when I pronounce his surname Frizzle). But we work well. And I will never forget his kindness. Even to this day, if I’m feeling a little angsty, he’s there at my front door with a tin of home-baked fat rascals.
My only regret is that I ever doubted him. How could I ever think that such a good friend wouldn’t fight my corner?
If you can trust your friends with your drunken secrets and Breaking Bad DVD collection, then you can trust them with your mental health.
I just wish I could do the same for him. I still have no idea where I put his Fear of Fanny cookery DVD.
Sorry Tom. But I’ve done you a favour. It’s time to focus on Nigella instead. Oh. And thank you. X
Written in support of Time to Change campaign #InYourCorner. Be there for someone. It makes a huge difference.
If you enjoyed this, please follow me on Twitter (@lucy_nichol78) for more mental health articles.