“When I was a kid, I used to try to avoid situations that made me shake. I didn’t know why I’d shake other than I was aware that at least part of me felt really scared of … something. I’d try lots of different routines to stop it. Types of breathing, differing ways to relax my muscles, trying to transfer the energy to a limb that was less noticable, wearing clothes to hide it. I didn’t know anything about these as practices except they seemed like they’d make me feel better. Well, better in that they made the anxiety less visible. Less embarrassing.

In reality it made it worse and as I later found out, it probably had a detrimental impact on my long term health. The shaking is actually the bodies way of getting rid of the stress hormones. Not doing so can, in the short term, make the anxiety worse. In the long term there’s all the usual suspects heart desease, stroke, cancer … . But at the time, it was more important that I wasn’t seen to be shaking. It wasn’t something I talked about. It was something wrong with me that I had to fix.

And that embarassment and sense of my being broken filtered down into so many things.

I remember a friend of mine telling me I had a huge bum and it stuck out. Bare in mind we’d just started Sixth Form and had joined with a girls school. After he said that I made a conscious effort to push out my lower back to reduce the amount my bum apparently stuck out. I couldn’t cope with the thought of other people judging me on something else. I’ve had lower back problems ever since.

Another friend told me he hated it when I tried to be funny as I just came across as obnoxious and no-one really thought I was funny. That was a time when I was feeling extremely anxious and out of it but trying too hard to fit in and be sociable. I’ve found socializing extremely difficult ever since and for a long time avoided it.

Yet another friend complained that I got too out of breath when running and that I should slow my breathing down so I didn’t look so stupid. So I did. And still do out of habit. A decade or so ago I ended up in the Cardio-Thoracic hospital in Sheffield undergoing tests after blacking out, one of which was a treadmill. By the end of it I was in agony with my feet, knees and hips (I’ve got flat feet) and was exhausted. But the nurse remarked about how fit I must be as I was barely out of breath.

I remember sitting on the back of the bus with a school friend, listening to people talk, making mental notes about what they were saying, trying to work out how to talk to people, figuring out what you’re meant to say in a conversation. I still have to be mentally prepared for conversations becasue otherwise I freeze.

So I seem to internalise these things very quickly and eventually forget I’m doing it. The masking and avoidance just became who I am.

These issues were all compounded by ( or perhaps resulted in ) my being an introvert. Of course I didn’t know I was an introvert. All I knew was that I wasn’t as good as my friends at nearly everything that mattered (to a kid/teenager), that I needed to spend time on my own and that there was just that something wrong with me. ( Oddly enough the only thing I knew was right, was my musical tastes! Arrogant or what! I didn’t know anyone who liked the same stuff and was soundly mocked. Odd that my taste in music was a foundation on which I built so much more )

So the above was the abandoned start of a first draft from maybe 2010. For most of my life I thought I was different to everyone else, but I percieved that as being less than. Inferior. That there was something wrong with me that I, as I said several times, had to fix.

But since my early 40’s I started to question that. To look into the possibility that I wasn’t just one big character flaw but might have, or am, something with a name. I don’t like labelling but if it gives you an explanation and understanding then thats surely a good thing? Closure in a way. At this time I didn’t realise what anxiety was and didn’t think I had depression but Google became my new best friend.

Introvert? Yes, and that was enough for many years. But eventually I realised that didn’t cover everything.

Autistic? No. Nothing I was going through seemed that difficult.

High functioning Autistic? Closer but again I didn’t struggle that much.

Asbergers? ( A controversial and unused title now but I’m not sure what the offical name is). Again close and paper tests always suggested I was borderline but again it didn’t sit right.

ADHD? Now so much of this made sense and the described experience matched most of mine. Except I’m hardly a bundle of physical energy, so can’t be that.

Inattentive ADHD? (formerly ADD)  Hmm. OK so this feels very familiar. But what about the intense depressive episodes? They didn’t match clinical depression as defined by the NHS.

Fast forward to June 2022 and I’m deep into burnout. My ability to work has crashed and I’ve fallen apart. Lying to myself, lying to my family and to work. Most days I could barely get out of bed. I couldn’t get dressed, washed or simply function like a normal human let alone be productive. I couldn’t even cry.

Everything was pointless. Which seems like such a simple, weightless sentence, but god is it bleak.

Compared to the world I grew up in, times have changed a lot and acknowledging mental illness is no longer the taboo it was. The embarassment and shame is still there though and is as deeply ingrained as the depression, having witnessed several others go through their own version of hell, I believe its important to be at least a little open about it.

Jump forward to July 2023 and I asked for and started to get help. I’m now writing this in February 2024.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy has given me hope and it turns out my original tentative post was almost right. Anxiety since a child. Depression since the early 90s. Then more than two decades worth of one unresolved trauma after another put me in ( I think ) ‘survival mode’ until June 2022 when I simply burned out or maybe dropped out of it ( the cause and process are all a little fuzzy ). The symptoms were both mental, physical and totally debilitating. I’ve managed to get a handle on some of it and have tools and techniques to get me out of some depressive loops but theres still many, many years of work to do. I’m not back to the way I could work previously, probably only 25% atm. But then the way I worked previously wasn’t doing me any good.

My wife and her friends have pursuaded me to take up dancing ( he who has two flat, left feet, walks into door frames and avoids dancing everytime someone suggests its a rational and normal thing to do at a party ) which, as anxiety inducing as it is, does me good. Maybe its the pint before hand but I always come out feeling better.

There’s still the outside possibility of Inattentive ADHD which would make sense of a whole slew of experiences and when left undiagnosed can itself lead to trauma and depression. There is a marked cross over of symptoms and without a proper diagnosis I’ll never know but at 56, who’s going to consider that a worthwhile investment? Certainly not the underfunded, sytematically neglected NHS.

So, look after your mental health. Its easy, in the chaos and constant change that life can present, to categorise events or experiences as just life. Just one of those things, and to tell yourself to just get on with it because you haven’t the luxury or time to do anything else. So it gets buried, deep, never going away, until eventually it comes back to bite you. Get some form of help as soon as you can. It there for a reason.

Its not a sign of weakness and it can sneak up on any of us. No matter how strong we’ve been.

(  a quick note regarding the word ‘trauma’.

In much the same way that a scientific ‘theory’ has a very different meaning to the lay-mans ‘theory’, trauma does not only mean being blown up in a warzone. Yes that’s horrendously traumatic and I’m in no way minimizing it. Trauma from a mental health perspective is simply the result of your bodies response to what ever it considers a threat. And in the moment, your brain doesn’t distinguish between different levels of threat. Big T Trauma or little t trauma, your bodies reaction can vary but it considers all threats in the same core way.

So internally, being told your wife and son are about to die, losing your job and then home, or dealing with micro-aggressions because you don’t quite fit in, are all filed away in the same box as being blown up. Again I’m not saying there’s an equivalence in the outside world, or in ho your body and mind tries to protect you, but internally, when your animal brain is processing them, they are all simply threats. And crucially, our body doesn’t deal with them singly. That is, they compound. One unresolved trauma builds on the previous unresolved trauma, so lots of ‘little’ ones can eventually add up to something much bigger and all it takes is one more, one tiny wafer, for the dam to burst.

That straw that broke the camels back.

The death by a thousand cuts.)