** Disclaimer: This is long. And probably self indulgent. You may wonder how on earth you got here. Welcome to the club! 😀 **
I’ve been thinking about writing a blog like this for a while now, and then shelving the thought every time because ‘what about my career?!’ and ‘what if people treat me differently?!’… but then, last weekend, I saw one of my fave musicians and he sang a song I love very much that included the lyrics:
“So one day somebody asks you how you feel and instead of telling the truth you reel off a list of things you think they want to hear, because it’s easier that way, and so they treat you like this completely different person because all they know about you is misinformation and you gradually detach yourself from all your actions…”
I don’t want to be treated like anyone other than who I am, warts and all… so here we are. I have to write about this because what’s the point of not being honest about something that affects so many of us and is still shrouded in this weird, negative stigma? So I’m here to tell you all that for the last 18 months *at least* I have been struggling to get a grip on my mental health.
I’m going to be completely honest, I’ve gone from almost not believing in mental health problems at all (I know, just writing that now makes me cringe) to realising that EVERYONE, every single one of us, whether we realise it or not, probably suffers in one way or another, and the only way to truly deal with it is to acknowledge, accept it and learn how to live with it.
I believe my mental health decline really went into overdrive at the close of Lionhead. Games companies close all the time, I know that. I’ve been through it more than a few times. The difference with Lionhead was that I hadn’t realised just how much of my life played out within those four walls – closest friends, trust of a huge social media community, opportunity to do amazing things, my band – and losing all of that was something I could never have been prepared for. And to be clear – the amount of time and energy I poured into Lionhead was entirely my choice, I was the one who stayed after hours to be with work friends, I was the one who passed up spending time with non-work friends because I was tired from spending too much time at work, I was the one who became utterly enamoured with my new found career and let everything else in my life fall by the wayside.
After we were given the news most people continued to travel into the office every day, just to be there. For me, my finances and my 80 mile round trip to get to Guildford and back, heading into the studio ‘just to be there’ wasn’t an option. So I stayed home. I stayed home alone and a stared out of the window and did everything but think about what was happening. It didn’t hit me at all, I felt nothing. In hindsight, that was the beginning.
***Just as a side note, no I don’t blame Microsoft for what happened. As I said, and as I have said on the podcast before, this is the games industry. This is probably every creative industry. It can be unstable, it moves fast. I have always been able to handle it when it’s happened before, just not this time. And no – just because I’m now at Xbox does not mean I have Stockholm Syndrome. I don’t blame anyone for what happened at LH***
My year seemed to go from bad to worse as I muddled my way through three jobs – one temporarily lost funding but I couldn’t afford to wait for funding to be reinstated, one was only a temporary role, and one was just so awful that I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to comprehend what happened there – but all of them added to the numbness I was feeling. I didn’t make friends, I felt weirdly exposed and awkward and dealing with a constant feeling of not belonging, but more than that… uncomfortable in my own skin, incapable of being me. Feeling like that and being tasked with hosting my first ever live stream was probably one of the worst experiences of my life. Imagine being someone who has been employed for their upbeat persona and love of being in front of a camera… only to get to work and realise that you’re not even a fraction of the person you used to be, that your energy has gone, that you’re suddenly painfully self-aware and self-conscious, oh yeah – and convinced that the whole world hates you. It doesn’t bode well for a happy life.
In addition to being away from the people that made me feel the most capable and confident, the people who could read my mood by just looking at me, my friends and colleagues – Brexit happened, Trump happened. These two events were easily the most divisive things I’ve seen in my lifetime… and instead of being able to have rational, insightful conversation about it with my closest friends as our working lives unfurled around us, I was surrounded by people I didn’t really know and didn’t know how to approach.
I sunk further into my sadness, the daily lack of contact with people I cared about left me feeling like I didn’t know them anymore, their social media posts were so angry and bleak. I didn’t recognise these people, maybe I’d never really known them? I felt truly alone. My entire perception of my friends changed, all because I was reading their facebook posts and tweets rather than reading their facial expressions and tone.
Close friends started telling me that they thought something was wrong when I’d tell them that I was waking up and crying every morning. ‘Lauran, I think you may have depression’ they’d say… ‘Naaaaaaah’ I’d reply ‘I’m a girl, we’re always well emotional. It’s normal’. Some days the first thing I would do would be to wake up, sit in bed and cry, and then just keep crying for hours. Not sobbing, not that feeling of overwhelming sadness or a lump in my throat, just blank staring and crying. Like the tears were endless and I didn’t even have to engage my brain to have them flowing out of me. My god, just thinking about it is enough to set me off again. I nearly gave up on the podcast – I felt miserable and irrelevant – who would want to listen to me? Anyways on I went, ignoring the little black pupper bumbling at my side.
Inauguration weekend found me having a full on meltdown in my kitchen whilst my parents were visiting. In the midst of it, my lovely mama tried to suggest that maybe I should seek someone to talk to about how I was feeling, and I remember saying something stupid about how I was already aware of my millennial status and surely getting help would only secure the truth that I was incapable of dealing with the things that life threw at me. I’m sure my tone adequately gave away my disdain for the idea. But it must have planted a seed, albeit it a seed that took months to grow.
After losing that last role of 2016, and the pain and confusion it caused me due to asking for help that never came, I decided to take the rest of the year off. I had been instructed to ‘leave my emotion at the door’ in that job, now I didn’t have to worry about how I was feeling all the time. It was November, and since March I had had 4 jobs. I was beyond burnt out. I was a husk. I really didn’t feel like there was anything left of me and I seriously considered whether I should just throw in my games industry towel. The shell shocked chick who walked away from Lionhead at least had some ambition, the sad looking woman in the mirror with the bags under her eyes had nothing to offer anyone. Of course having time off work didn’t do anything to make me feel better – I was alone all day, again, and now had a rapidly depleting bank account. What a winning combination. I started withdrawing from most of my friendships. I didn’t want to go out and party. I started removing people that I’d known and loved for years from my social media pages because I figured they probably didn’t like me anymore. I didn’t like me, why would anyone else?
By February, somehow – considering the way I was feeling – I had secured a job at Xbox HQ. Initially being back in such familiar surroundings with people I already kind of knew was such a relief, however slowly but surely those old feelings crept back in. Several times I’ve had to get up from my desk and run to the loo because I’d just start crying. The smallest thing would set me off. If I came back to my desk to find the rest of my team gone I’d assume they were all holed up in a room talking about how horrible and useless I was, and then I’d cry. Lion friends started posting on social media about their 1 year anniversaries in their new jobs and how happy they were with their new colleagues, and though I was pleased for them – it made me so sad. They were all settled, most of the pain of loss was behind them… yet here I was starting again. For the fourth time.
One day in March, after thinking that maybe the worst was behind me, I took a sick day because I woke up and just couldn’t stop crying. I realised I had to do something, I had to get a fucking grip on this and fix myself. So I booked an appointment with a therapist. Me – The most confident, arrogant, dismissive of mental health issues, Little Miss ‘I’m my own freaking woman and no one can stop me’ employed the help of a therapist. I wanted to talk to someone immediately, that very day… but apparently it doesn’t work that way so I waited 2 weeks for my first appointment and started my road to recovery.
I’m still on that road, it takes a long time and I’m still not 100%. I’ve found that as I slowly let friends know what’s been going on with me, the better I’ve been feeling. The best encouragement I’ve had is to hear friends tell me how they view me – things like ‘It must be so hard for someone as positive as you!’. It’s good to know that’s how people see me because it’s certainly not how I’ve been seeing myself, and it gives me something to aspire to. I told my boss today too, despite my daft fears of being ousted for not being well. The relief, the support, the general warm feeling that I have in my tummy is one I’ve not had in the workplace for such a long time, it’s enough to make me cry again 😉 I’ve definitely – finally – landed on my feet after what was quite literally the worst year of my life.
So yes, I fear there’s a way to go yet but I am getting better. Certainly writing this has been therapeutic. The other big parts have been to reassess friendships and relationships, knowing what to pour my energy into, meditating, learning what’s truly important, what my triggers are, when my brain is playing tricks on me by adding a horrible tone to other people’s correspondence, when to step away from *personal* social media. I still get tearful on at least a weekly basis. This morning stepping into the lift at work made me tear up. No idea why.
Anyways, I wanted to write this in case there are any other proud and stubborn people out there who are feeling the same, feeling hopeless and alone and defeated. If that’s you, do something. Don’t wait another minute. Do something right now. I had some pretty dark thoughts back there, and now I look back, even after a short time of sorting my head out, and can’t comprehend them. You deserve to have that hindsight, that clarity, too.
I’m happy to write more about how I’m getting myself out of this mess (kinda) if y’all want to read it. Just let me know <3