[Excerpt from the Not-so-Secret Diary of a certain patent attorney]
22nd April 2016, 11pm
You, better than anyone, know how I struggle with the ups and downs. The bright whites and the dark gulleys. The high contrast, super-saturated, amazing technicolour dream world and the flat monochrome wash that sometimes rolls in.
You know there are good days, creative and buzzing, when I set up task forces and draft proposals, times when I genuinely believe I could rule the world if given the opportunity, or at least a small chartered institute. And then the bad days, miserable and anxious and so, so tired, when my brain goes over and over the things I’ve been doing and those I haven’t been doing but should have, and denounces them all as hideous failures. Days when the CIPA stationery cupboard seems an attractive place to spend the rest of my life, with the door locked, hoping nobody finds me ever again. You know that on the bad days, Imposter Syndrome doesn’t even start to describe the self-doubt, the conviction that people see me for the weak, incompetent and generally unpleasant person I am.
Dear Diary, you’ve been there the nights I couldn’t sleep, battling the mist, certain I wasn’t coping. And the mornings when the alarm hauled me like a zombie onto the station platform; when opening the inbox reduced me to tears; when my body developed life-threatening aches and pains one after the other, as though to heighten the misery of the Zummerzet-to-London commute. You’ve heard me cry myself to sleep in hotel rooms, and drag myself awake in the winter dark.
Today has been a low day. Today I have been a rubbish CIPA Pee for the entire twelve months. And I absolutely agree with the folk who denounce me as naïve and delusional, as a lightweight and a discredit to the Institute. Probably by next week I will be the best – or at least the most entertaining – thing to have happened to CIPA Council since it shut up shop in the 1940s to fight a war. But that’s next week; today I have stared at my emails and been unable to think of a single sensible response. Tonight I am worried that I still have all those emails to deal with over the weekend. The fact that other people have been enjoying an Andrea-free Friday weighs heavily on my conscience. My brain won’t stop thinking, but the thoughts are rubbish, unhelpful thoughts that make me feel worse. They keep me awake but they don’t solve any of the problems.
Mental illness is little discussed and it is certainly not supposed to incapacitate the CIPA Pee at irregular intervals. But it does. And I have some pretty little pills to take at bedtime to make me happy and not-anxious, and they are very good little pills and I have taken them for a lot of my adult life, so heaven knows what I would be like without them. But even with them, I still fall into life’s waiting potholes remarkably often. A couple of early starts, some bad journeys and the trauma of living out of a suitcase are all it takes to throw me into despair. One bad-tempered meeting and I am teetering on the edge.
It is possible that my CIPA colleagues have already sussed this but been too polite to say. It is also possible that they have absolutely no idea why I set up so many task forces and then get so grumpy about them afterwards. When they find out, they might well say: Ah, that explains a lot then. But equally, I might be denounced as a fraudulent Pee, and The Gold Leaf Man told not to bother writing my name on the Board of Past Presidents after all. Because there is an insanity clause in the Bye-laws, I’m sure of it. And in the days when the Bye-laws were written, Not Being Cheerful and Not Keeping A Stiff Upper Lip were regarded as key symptoms of insanity.
Still, in the interests of diversity and inclusivity, dear Diary, I thought it best we came clean.
It’s Mental Health Awareness Week from 8th to 14th May 2017. The more aware we are, the more we can help ourselves and each other. Depression isn’t a failure, any more than an injury on the pitch is a failure. It takes time and care to put right. But you can get through it.