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This is an open letter, and probably the most difficult letter I’ve ever written. So why I decided to make it so public, I’m not really sure. But I think it’s important to talk openly and honestly about mental health, or else nothing will ever change and people will always feel like they have to hide things from the people who care about them. So that’s what I’m doing.
If I was feeling brave, I’d address everyone by name, but I’m not. Some of you will recognise the situations I describe in this letter, though, and I hope this helps you understand. Here goes…
When you invited me to that party and I said I already had plans, that was a lie. All I could think about was how many people would be there – people I didn’t know – and I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle it. I wanted to say yes. I wanted to go and have fun and meet new people and make new friends… but I couldn’t. I still wonder whether I would have enjoyed myself if I’d gone.
When we planned that night out and I cancelled at the last minute, because my car wouldn’t start, that was a lie. I was sitting in my car, but I couldn’t bring myself to start it. It was me that wouldn’t start, not the car. I spent that night in my bed, crying and hating myself for missing out on what probably would have been a really good night.
When you invited me round for dinner and I said I suddenly felt unwell and ran to sit in the bathroom while you ate, that was a lie. The truth is that I realised I didn’t like the meal you’d cooked and I could feel the tears pricking behind my eyes, because I didn’t know how to tell you and didn’t want to hurt your feelings or be a burden and ask for something else. I went home hungry and ate cereal while I cried, hating myself for making you feel sorry for me, because of a lie.
When you wanted to try a new restaurant and I said I didn’t fancy Mexican food that day, that was a lie. I just panicked at the thought of walking into a new restaurant and not knowing where the toilets were, or whether I’d be able to find anything I liked on the menu. I was feeling anxious that day and needed to be somewhere familiar, but I was too ashamed to tell you.
When I said I was late because I got stuck in traffic, that was a lie. The truth is that I couldn’t find a parking space near your house and I started to panic. When I finally found a space, it took me 10 minutes to slow my breathing and another 5 to stop looking like I’d been crying. I’m not sure how well I managed that though, because I felt like you were watching me the whole time I was there, like you knew I was lying to you. I spent the next three days going over and over everything we said to each other that night, trying to work out whether I slipped up and said something wrong.
When I said I was staying indoors, for the third day in a row, because I had a migraine, that was a lie. I felt so low, I couldn’t get out of bed and I didn’t want to talk about it, because I didn’t know why I felt that way. I didn’t think you’d understand, if I couldn’t explain it to you, and I didn’t want you to judge me. I thought it would be easier if you thought my illness was physical, rather than mental; if my pain was physical, rather than emotional.
When I said I’d be at your baby shower and then said I couldn’t make it at the last minute, because one of the twins was ill, that was a lie. The truth is that it brought back too many bad memories. Even though I’m a mum now, sometimes I have days where I can’t bear to think about the years I spent thinking I might never have children of my own. I spend those days stuck in my own head, imagining how different my life would be if I’d never had my babies and feeling the loss of everything I have now, as if it were real. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to go to a baby shower without those feelings rushing back, even though I love baby showers, because they remind me of how happy I was when I finally got to have my own, and I would hate it if I wasn’t invited. Confused? Yeah. Me too.
When you called and said you were going out in 10 minutes and asked if I wanted to come, I said I was busy. That was a lie. I thought you were only inviting me because you thought you had to, because you hadn’t invited me sooner. I assumed you didn’t really want me to go. It didn’t occur to me that maybe you’d only just decided to go out and that I was the first person you called. Not until the next day, when you told me you ended up staying at home. I was too embarrassed to tell you that I’d misunderstood.
When you asked if I was coming to your birthday party that weekend and I said I already had plans I couldn’t get out of, that was a lie. I was too embarrassed to tell you that I didn’t know anything about it. I thought you’d invited everyone else we worked with and had forgotten – or didn’t want – to invite me. A week later, I was tidying up my desk and found the invitation under a stack of paperwork I hadn’t got round to filing. I still don’t know how it got there without me ever seeing it. I spent the rest of the day feeling terrible for missing your party and for ever thinking that you wouldn’t have invited me in the first place.
There are countless other times that I let you down because of my mental health. I could sit here and write about them all day and it still wouldn’t be enough time to apologise for them all.
I want you to know that I am sorry. I’m sorry I let you down. I’m not sorry that I did what I felt I needed to do at the time, to look after myself and my mental health, even if I now wish I’d done something different.
Sometimes, “giving in” to how I’m feeling is my only option and that’s OK. It’s OK to protect myself when my depression and/or anxiety get too much for me to deal with in public. I know that now.
I’m sorry that I lied to you. I’m sorry that I didn’t trust you to support me, even though you’ve never given me a reason to doubt that you would. I’m sorry I felt that I couldn’t tell you what was really going on, when I know I’d want you to open up to me, if it was the other way round and you were feeling the way I was.
I can’t promise it won’t happen again, but I can promise that I’m working on it.