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  • For a long time, we may cope well enough. We make it to work e very morning, we give

  • pleasant summaries of our lives to friends, we smile over dinner. We aren't totally

  • balanced, but there's little way of knowing how difficult things might be for other people,

  • and what we have a right to expect in terms of contentment and peace of mind. We probably

  • tell ourselves to stop being self-indulgent and redouble our efforts to feel worthy through

  • achievement. We are probably world experts in not feeling sorry for ourselves.

  • Decades may pass. It's not uncommon for the most serious mental conditions to remain

  • undiagnosed for half a lifetime. We simply don't notice that we are, beneath the surface,

  • chronically anxious, filled with self-loathing and close to overwhelming despair and rage.

  • This too simply ends up feeling normal.

  • Until one day, finally, something triggers a collapse. It might be a crisis at work,

  • a reversal in our career plans or a mistake we've made over a task. It might be a romantic

  • failure, someone leaving us or a realisation that we are profoundly unhappy with a partner

  • we had thought might be our long-term future. Alternatively, we feel mysteriously exhausted

  • and sad, to the extent that we can't face anything any more, even a family meal or a

  • conversation with a friend. Or we are struck by unmanageable anxiety around everyday challenges,

  • like addressing our colleagues or going into a shop. We're swamped by a sense of doom

  • and imminent catastrophe. We sob uncontrollably.

  • We are in a mental crisis and, if we are lucky, we will know to put up the white flag at once.

  • There is nothing shameful or rare in our condition; we have fallen ill, as so many before us have.

  • We need not compound our sickness with a sense of embarrassment. This is what happens when

  • one is a delicate human facing the hurtful, alarming and always uncertain conditions of

  • existence. Recovery can start the moment one admits one no longer has a clue how to cope.

  • The roots of the crisis almost certainly go a long way back. Things will not have been

  • right in certain areas for an age, possibly forever. There will have been grave inadequacies

  • in the early days, things that were said and done to us that should never have occurred

  • and bits of reassurance and care that were ominously missed out on. On top of this, adult

  • life will have layered on difficulties which we were not well equipped to know how to endure.

  • It will have applied pressure along our most tender, invisible faultlines.

  • Our illness is trying to draw attention to our problems, but it can only do so inarticulately,

  • by throwing up coarse and vague symptoms. It knows how to declare that we are worried

  • and sad, but it can't tell us what about and why. That will be the work of patient

  • investigation, over months and years, probably in the company of experts. The illness contains

  • the cure, but it has to be teased out and its original inarticulacy interpreted. Something

  • from the past is crying out to be recognised - and will not leave us alone until we have

  • given it its due.

  • It may seem - at points - like a death sentence but we are, beneath the crisis, being given

  • an opportunity to restart our lives on a more generous, kind and realistic footing. There

  • is an art to being ill - and to daring, at last, to listen to what our pain is trying

  • to tell us.

For a long time, we may cope well enough. We make it to work e very morning, we give

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