Before I begin, I'd just like to say sorry that this is so long - I'm known to be a bit verbose when I put pen to paper. Thank you in advance for anyone who takes the time to read this.
I don't really know where to start, but I think a year and a half ago would be as good a place as any. Up until then I had been in a good relationship for 5 years (since I was 18) and I had just started my final year of university - an undertaking that I had pretty much sailed through, with good results.
A year and a half ago that all changed, though. My girlfriend at the time moved away to pursue a masters degree elsewhere before the fee hike, and we found it difficult to keep our relationship afloat over long distance. Meanwhile, my mother was diagnosed with potentially deadly cancer (thankfully she came out healthy, with no traces in her body today), and all but two of my friends moved away as they had all started university 1 or 2 years before me. In short, I was alone, worried about my mother, and inundated with work. I started suffering from what I would define as quite severe panic attacks - for two months I would frequently find myself balled up on my sofa, trying to scream but often unable, literally crying like a baby, my whole body tensed up and there was nothing I could do.
If I tried to take control of myself - an undertaking which required considerable effort and time - I could just about bring myself out, but 9 times out of 10 it was only temporarily. During these two months this happened with undulating frequency - some weeks I'd have it every day, others only once or twice. Similarly, some days I would have only one, others would half-day affairs with recurring panic fits.
At the end of these two months, around Christmas (which I spent back with family, which helped) I found a new strength and when I went back to university I became obsessed with work and results. I ended up working 7 days a week, from 8 in the morning until bedtime. I felt creative, intelligent, and highly motivated, but utterly emotionally disconnected. I was still with my girlfriend, but she commented that I had grown cold, disinterested - and she was right.
Come summer I graduated, my mother was diagnosed as cancer-free, and I was under the belief that my girlfriend and I would be reunited. I had no panic attacks and generally felt extremely good about myself and life in general. As such, I put the above down to a bout of quite understandable depression, caused by the sudden influx of rather negative events in my life.
However, in August this year my girlfriend left me (which wasn't at all surprising, despite the fact that during the summer we'd communicated much better, despite her still being at university in the other end of the country). I cried for a week, then had my first drink in about 6 months (when I entered my hard-working phase, I stopped drinking caffeine and alcohol). From that first drink it was as though I'd greased my cheeks and hopped on a slide headed inevitably and unstoppably into alcoholism. I started drinking every day, usually in the early afternoon and I'd carry on until bedtime. After a while (perhaps a months, maybe a bit longer) I found myself with a craving for alcohol when I woke up, and on a few occasions I gave in and started my day with a "wee dram" (probably about 75-100 ml) of whisky before I even had breakfast.
This went on for about 3-3½ months, and you might think that those around me would have reacted. Fact is, they all thought I seemed incredibly happy, chatty, and interesting to talk to. The odd thing was that people didn't realise I was drunk, even though before seeing Anyone, I would, without fail, have at least a bottle of wine and a whisky or two within the span of perhaps an hour, sometimes two. When I revealed the extent to which I had been drinking to one of my flatmates, who is also one of my closer friends, he was shocked and commented that he'd had no idea. Being a devout non-drinker, drunk people often annoy him, yet he'd found me intellectually stimulating and very coherent. This, however, is perhaps besides the point.
When I decided to stop drinking I had virtually un-ending panic attacks for 2 weeks. My whole body craved alcohol and life felt utterly without value; everything I'd been repressing (not least the break-up) hit me with full force. For 5-6 weeks following those initial 2 I continued to have seemingly random panic attacks for no reason, and strangely found myself completely unable to feel anything for anyone. I didn't feel anything towards my ex, nor to any girl who showed interest; I felt nothing towards my friends, nothing towards my family. I felt empty, unable to love or even care, completely without empathy. In many ways this period was similar to what I experienced - and my ex had commented on - during my last term of university. Then one day I fell head over heels for another girl - my girlfriend now, in fact - and was shocked by all the emotions that showered over me. This lasted for about 3 months, when suddenly I found myself, for about 10 days, unable to feel anything again. Not towards her, not towards anyone. I no longer cared, and I think she could tell, but never said anything. Life seemed bleak, everything unimportant, I felt useless, unintelligent, and once again found the bottle (I would drink a bottle of whine and 2 litres of cider before facing the world; my girlfriend had no idea, and still doesn't), and found myself contemplating suicide during short but intense panic attacks that struck me for no particular reason.
With the exception of once again having emotions, which I realise is a phrasing that comes across as rather dramatic, I am still in this situation. I know I have a great life - I have a fantastic and beautiful new girl who loves me more than anything; I'm doing a fully-funded PhD in a subject area that I find very interesting; I have great career prospects; I have enough money to eat and drink well, as well as save away to go travelling when the mood strikes me. Yet I keep getting these anxiety attacks, these feelings of life being utter rubbish and me being a fraud. Despite graduating at the top of my year as an undergraduate, I feel like I tricked everyone, like I'm far too stupid to be doing what I'm doing. Rationally I know this not to be true, and I know that if I just went for it and worked 8 hours a day, I would do well, but the mere thought of working makes my heart race, my throat close up, I find it hart to breathe, equally, every second doing anything But work has the same effect. I know that it's common for PhD students to think that they're not good enough, to panic at the amount of work to be done, but I know that it's not an issue. I can do it, and a small part of me keeps telling me that even as I'm lying on the sofa unable to breathe properly.
In addition to my emotions being very hot/cold, so is my confidence and view of the world. I'll spend a few days thinking I'm literally the bee's knees - an unstoppable intellectual force that will reinvent my area of academia, and a social god that makes everyone in the room laugh and smile, my girlfriend as happy as can be. While I'm by no means unintelligent, the first in that list is of course not true, but when I'm in that mood I really do carry a room socially, and meeting all of my new girlfriends friends, they've all found me very fun and interesting to be around. On other days, however, I'll wake up feeling utterly useless, unintelligent, boring, unable to muster conversation with anyone. Today I woke up and found myself close to tears for absolutely no reason (it's my day off, the girl I love was next to me holding my hand in her sleep, and the sun was shining), and just now I had a short but intense panic attack caused by, well, who knows?
One final thing I want to add is that I tend to be either extremely passionate or utterly dispassionate about things. This is something my ex pointed out, and some of my closest friends have commented (worryingly) at behaviour associated with this. Once I get into something - whether it's a TV show, book, writing, exercise, love, work, beer, even life itself - I get Really into it. I can obsess over it non-stop, 24-hours a day, for up to a month. Then as quickly as I started my obsession, it will end. These obsessions tend to go in circles, so I'll commonly have one for about 2 weeks and then leave it - feel really down for a few days - and find something new or re-discover something old, and the process repeats. The moment I'm not passionately obsessed with something - anything - I feel very, very down.
Sorry this turned into such an essay. Brevity has never been my strong suit..