When sinking into the quicksand that is depression and low (or no) self-esteem, it is virtually impossible to recognise that a problem is afoot. Our barometer of wellness lies, after all, in our minds – when mental illness infiltrates our thought processes and directs our decision-making, how on earth are we to know that all is not well upstairs?
My family, who love me and have always been there for me at the drop of a hat, despaired of me in the not-too-distant past. I can hardly blame them, for, under the strain of a divorce and the associated financial pressures, plus the struggles arising out of being a single parent, I cracked and broke into a thousand shattered pieces of my former self. I leapt from one bad situation to another, listening to the advice of no one, lurching impetuously as I desperately attempted to claw some happiness back from somewhere that always turned out to be the wrong place; an unsuitable relationship, a sudden house move or change of job, and always, always, the constant stream of wine running in the background.
Whenever anyone close to me raised the issue of my state of mind, they would usually be met with a barrage of denial and a rage of angry retorts as I persistently sought to deflect the negative attention. Just as had been the case when I was a child being reprimanded for misbehaviour, I simply would not be told. I honestly had no idea that I was suffering from so many mental health issues, and firmly believed that it was just the way I was.
As the alcohol misuse increased, so did the consequential mood swings, panic attacks and mental blackness. And amidst it all I didn’t realise, nor even consider, that perhaps, just maybe, it might be the booze that was behind my chronic unhappiness and up-and-down emotional state.
Of course it isn’t always the case that alcohol is the root cause of mental health issues – far from it. But where it does play a part, it can be so enormously powerful in its negative effects on a person’s mind. The effect it wields on the central nervous system sparking off jittery and fluctuating moods, the drunken actions it brings about, which are often far-reaching and frequently so out-of-character that they leave the drinker paralysed with shame and guilt the morning after, and the practical impact it leaves behind owing to the constant drain on finances, health and appearance, all combine to worsen the situation considerably. Excessive and regular alcohol consumption invites catastrophic mental health issues, and then conceals them from the drinker in a hazy fog of hangovers and drunkenness leaving the people around them to stand by helplessly as they witness their loved one’s downfall.
Only with sober hindsight does it become clear that the persona someone might once have regarded as being true is actually nothing like their real self at all, but a construct of too much booze and the regrettable actions, depression and low self-confidence that represent the cost of heavy drinking.
When that moment of clarity finally comes, the relief is indescribable.