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FIRST PERSON: Kittens and Anxiety

My experience with depression and anxiety has always baffled me. It was about two and a half years into my first ‘proper’ long-term relationship. After being single for a long time, I wasn’t very confident so took to internet dating. I met someone and we launched into a relationship fairly swiftly. We had our ups, downs and brief momentary splits, but eventually endured. She even started working at the same place as me. We had recently moved into a second, more affordable property, after a year of living together in the first flat. Although I’d been having occasional doubts for about 12 months, I didn’t really entertain these much because I was in a comfortable relationship of routine and familiarity.

A few weeks after we had moved, we decided to get a kitten. A colleague at work had one to give away so, after buying the requisite supplies, I picked up the kitten and brought it home. My family came to see the new arrival, and we spent the day watching the kitten dash back and forth across the living room. We decided on shutting her out in the kitchen/hallway overnight. Thus followed two hours of the kitten crying, so we opened the door and let her roam around the house before deciding that shutting her out again was the best option. I did not sleep at all during this night due to concern for the kitten and her crying.

The next morning I felt sick and anxious. I veered between wanting to stay in bed or go outside gasping for fresh air. I spent ages hunched over the toilet, dry-retching. After a discussion with Mum and the other half, none of us could really fathom what was going on. My brain had started saying ‘get rid of the kitten, return things to their normal state’. There was a real ping-pong in my mind between supposed rejection of the kitten, and thinking ‘it’s fine, I’ll be ok in a minute’. I took the next day off work, still feeling sick and brain still pogoing between the two states. Later that day, the girlfriend and I had a long, emotional discussion that ended in our separation.

I drove to my parents’ house, quite frankly in a bit of a state. They were leaving to go on holiday the next day, so my sisters arranged to spend a few days with me until whatever it was passed. The next day, I made an appointment to see the doctor and tried to go to work despite the fact that the ex would be there. I spent most of the day going into a private office and crying, and eventually went home, picking up my eldest sister from the station on the way. She talked about dinner but I had no appetite, feeling sick after starting to eat anything. We grabbed some of my stuff and stayed at my parents’ house because I just couldn’t face being in my own house, full of reminders of the broken relationship.

The doctor seemed to find the description of this turn of events rather odd (as did I). He quickly diagnosed the problem as stress, and prescribed Citalopram. There was no further insight into what had caused this. The first week of taking the drugs caused vomiting, and I couldn’t keep food down. I remained on the sofa for most of this time, watching television that didn’t make me feel anxious. Odd as it may seem, some programmes triggered feelings of anxiety. In the second week, my other sister visited. The drugs had entered the system, I started to eat more, and the anxiety lifted slightly. After a few weeks, I felt much better and stopped taking the drugs. But the events of the night we had the kitten still baffled me, for months afterwards.

I’ve since explored the issue with a counsellor (who I saw recently regarding a separate incidence of anxiety), and we concluded that I had subconsciously been wanting to end the faltering relationship for some time, but complacency and a fear of conflict had stopped me. The kitten rejection was effectively the manifestation of this desire. I still find it difficult to fully rationalise what happened. I do, however, appreciate that the mind often lacks rhyme or reason.

There are others out there with similar problems. They’re perhaps uncomfortable with the idea of depression and anxiety; their family, friends or colleagues might belittle the concept; some doctors might appear dismissive, prescribing pills without even considering counselling. Before my experience, I previously suffered from anxiety which I had never addressed. Had I sought help sooner, I may have avoided the subsequent breakdown described above. And I would implore anyone who feels that something might be wrong to seek help, no matter how insignificant they feel their problem might be, or how strange it might seem to them.

You can follow Joe on twitter: @joetele

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