A memory like swiss cheese

The last few days haven’t been easy. My mood has been so low at times it’s practically scraping the floor, although it’s encouraging that I haven’t been driven to self-harm. That’s something.

I’ve been re-reading the journals I’ve kept since my mental illness began, and it scares me how much of it I don’t really remember. I think I dissociated a lot more than I realised. I regret that, but at the same time I suppose it probably helped me to keep functioning.

In particular it’s almost heartbreaking to read over old sessions with Dr T. We used to have such deep, meaningful discussions, whereas for the last two years we’ve been skimming the surface – how are you today level stuff compared to ‘Dr T I’ve been thinking about X that we discussed last time and I have a couple of theories we should explore…’. 

What happened?

It’s my fault. After such a difficult period when the depression and anxiety really took hold, I couldn’t help but crave some stability. Stability came to equal numbness. Forced ignorance. And that doesn’t change anything.

I keep realising what a coward I am. I let this happen. Even now, writing this, I’m still struggling to really make myself do something about it. What a waste of a human being.

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‘Despair to Deliverance’ by Sharon DeVinney & Robin Personette

This post is a special one that’s been a couple of years in the making. It’s time to talk about ‘Despair to Deliverance’, a collaboration between Robin and Dr DeVinney. Up until recently this was a series of blog posts released teasingly slowly on Sharon’s website, and now I’ve discovered the book it has become. Discovered, and devoured.

Hey MQ. You read a lot. What’s the big deal over this one?

It had me at the concept. A collaborative work between patient and therapist, describing Robin’s mental health difficulties and the efforts of her therapist to keep her alive, and keep her healthy. Who doesn’t want to know what their therapist is thinking? What motivates them, what lingers with them beyond a session? And at the same time, to read Robin’s take on her experience and her treatment – to actually find an answer to the question of ‘is this normal?’/’is it just my therapy that’s like this…?’

How often are we invited to see inside the therapeutic relationship, from both angles?

The concept had me hooked, and the content kept me there. I could relate to a lot of what Robin describes. Intense depression, anxiety, but then faking normality in front of everyone to try and maintain the life she has at the time. Been there, failed that too. Bipolar symptoms. Impulsive self-destruction. A stubborn refusal to try groups. More medications than you could shake a stick at. Biological depression and psychological depression. I could go on…

I’ve read a fair few first person accounts of mental illness, but not many that I’ve really connected with. I instinctively feel I understand parts of Robin’s journey so well that I trust her to teach me things about the parts that we don’t share – e.g. she makes me question my refusals of ECT. Robin’s descriptions aren’t anything like the scary stories we’re led to believe. In fact, she makes ECT sound less like torture and more like…treatment! I never trusted those assurances coming from my psychiatrist, but I trust it in Robin’s accounts. Her writing comes across as so honest, so thoughtful but still concise…what more can you ask for? On a side note, I think it asked a lot of Robin, and it’s amazing that she’s been able to share her story like this. In consenting to and participating in writing this book, I think it’s fair to say Robin’s inspirational.

As for Dr DeVinney’s part in this…where do I start? I stumbled across Sharon’s blog in the depths of my biological depression, when my issues with Dr T were at their most intense, and I read and re-read Sharon’s posts, desperate for anything that might better help me understand my own situation. Sharon’s writing has reminded me on more than one occasion that Dr T is a person. A revelation, I know! And at times, I can admit that I’ve been jealous of the level of support Sharon gave Robin. I’m getting by at the moment, which is a lot more than I was a couple of years ago so it’s not like there’s a real problem here – more that Sharon really knew Robin; she could join the dots or hear the words going unsaid, she knew what Robin needed, and if she could, she gave it to her. That’s priceless, and I find it comforting to know that it’s possible.

 “Despair to Deliverance” stands out from almost everything I’ve read in another way too – that Robin’s battle with mental illness is messy. She is hospitalised on multiple occasions, sometimes when you were just thinking she was doing better. Her diagnoses change with time. It takes many, many attempts to find the right medications for Robin – and sometimes the mistakes have a dangerous impact on her health. Driven to keep working (and be ‘normal’), she forces herself to take jobs when she isn’t ready, only to crash and burn after a few weeks. This all stands out to me because in other books I’ve read, there seems to be a formula of person gets (correctly) diagnosed, person is given (correct) treatment, person gets better, and I don’t think that’s the typical pathway for a lot of people. The expectation that is it is normal just amps up the pressure. 

This has turned into a bit of an essay, but I think deservedly so. I thoroughly recommend “Despair to Deliverance” for the following:

  • If you suffer from depression and/or anxiety, and might find comfort in reading about someone else’s journey.
  • If you want to read first person accounts of psychiatric hospitalisation, ECT and medication regimes.
  • If you’re curious about psychotherapy from the therapist’s perspective.
  • If you live in the UK and want to rediscover some gratitude for the NHS – financial worries play a huge part in Robin’s account, and that’s one stress I was much less exposed to.

Links to the blog posts and book are at the top of the post.

(And no, this isn’t a sponsored post or anything like that. I think that when we read something that moves us, we should share it in case it can move others.)

  

 

Did it re-write my DNA?

Sometimes I wonder, who would I be without depression and anxiety?

I think the expected answer is that I’d be this amazing confident person, living life to the full, always laughing or smiling. Happy-go-lucky.

In reality though, I have to ask if it all boils down to nothing. Strip out all the meds. The psychotherapy. The time spent every day obsessing about little things, stressing over the smallest parts of the daily routine, internally triaging unstable moods. Take out the illness itself…what’s left?

I think what I’m really wondering is this – have I been ‘mentally ill’ for so long now that it defines me? Maybe it isn’t even a question of time. I don’t know the statistics, but it can’t be too great an assumption to say that my six years is nothing compared to the majority of sufferers. I’m looking at it from an age point of view. I was 19 when I was first diagnosed. I’m 25 now. I haven’t been an ‘adult’ without mental illness. When I was a kid I was generally pretty happy, kind of popular, and sure of my myself. I don’t know that it would translate. Are the ingredients still there? It could have been luck.

Given the current circumstances, perhaps this is all irrelevant. But surely I’m not the only person who sometimes thinks about jacking in all the meds? Or the support? To see what’s left underneath it all.

Here’s a scary proposition. Maybe my life has been about mental illness for long enough now that I have become my illness. And THAT is why I can’t shake it off. It follows that I’m unlikely to do so in future.

Up to speed

“So MQ, tell me how the hell you ended up back here again…?”

I don’t know. Actually, I’ll tell you a secret – the truth is that I’m terrified I DO know why my brain is exploding.

Dr T is leaving.

He told me last week. Oh how we laughed at the prospect of pastures new. It’s not immediate – he’s here til Christmas. Hey look, there’s a bird outside! Just look at those feathers!

I’m fine with it. It doesn’t bother me at all. I knew this would come sooner or later, so no big surprise. It’s cool.

I’m not fine with it. I’m actually increasingly angry and anxious. I told myself from day 1 Dr T would disappear, and somehow I’m still hurt by it. Wtf. My therapist-shaped-safety-net of 5/6 years wants to do something different, and it feels like someone’s whipped out a crash mat from under me to reveal a gaping hole.

This can’t be the reason I’m in meltdown. I refuse. I am a robot, and I am not affected by the actions of other people. I don’t get attached to people who aren’t family because I know their presence in my life is likely temporary.

Someone remind me where my off-switch is. Oh yeah, it’s the slot that says ‘Insert sleeping tablet here’.

(I’m not ODing. I don’t need to. My med combo knocks me out no problem.)

At the risk of sounding whine-y, LIFE SUCKS SOMETIMES. Maybe if I yell it loud enough I won’t feel the need to keep saying it…

Shreds

I’d forgotten how this feels. I guess I was doing much better than I thought. This low mood feels almost unbearable, to the point that I’m completely restless and agitated, but there’s a quiet voice in the back of my head saying ‘it’s no big deal. You used to feel like this everyday.’

Misery. Anger at the misery – how is this fair? What did I do?! The uncomfortable feeling that you’re dealing with the equivalent of a car accident, and yet for the rest of the world it’s business as usual. That said, I don’t want people to know. Far from it. But I’d like the sky to change colour. Or for all the cars in the world to suddenly stop. That would do it.

Days become trials. Time passes too slowly, and I stare at spreadsheets with glazed eyes, unreasonably incredulous that I have to do work. I’m falling apart in here!


Off into the sunset

Guess who’s back.

I’m back because I’m not okay. My journey isn’t over – if I ever thought that, it was wishful thinking.

Last night I dreamt that I committed suicide. I dodged various people around me on a beach, ran into the sea, and swam away, fast enough and far enough that I wouldn’t have the energy to make it back.

I don’t think that’s normal.

What’s changed? Physically, nothing. Medically, nothing. I haven’t done anything *stupid*, but I notice I’m thinking about it more. My mood is volatile – it takes only the smallest of negative triggers for me to feel like throwing something.

I’m not a physical kind of person. To anyone else, I look fine. Sitting at my desk, doing my job, same old same old. Inside, it’s like I’m fizzing. I can’t really talk to anyone about it – if I try, I can’t find the words, and then I’m so overwhelmed that I stop trying out of frustration.

I guess that’s why I’m back. This blog always helped me find the words.

Death to the inner creative

Depression’s a bitch.

I was going to write a post focusing on how creative writing has helped me cope with some of those its-just-so-horrible-I-think-I-might-implode moments, and then I remembered; the idea had occurred to me before, in the depths of depression. I just couldn’t use it; during those two or three nightmare years, I couldn’t write a thing (except my blog posts).

I don’t know why depression muted my creativity. It wasn’t a lack of feeling; those gut-wrenching lows are useful to me now. The fuel was there. I just couldn’t put it on paper. I wonder if I was so wrapped up in my own head that I couldn’t communicate with others in anything but fact. I don’t think it was a confidence thing, although I can imagine that might be one of the biggest obstacles for many people.

Today, I go to work, I do whatever I need to do to tick the boxes, please as many people as I can, and when the reality of my own unhappiness tries to pull me under I write another scene for my novel. My main character screams. She screams with such force that she injures herself, regularly. She ODs on sleep meds to knock herself out. I write it down, and then I feel like something has been released. I go back to ticking boxes.

A year ago, I went to work, ticked most of the boxes I needed to tick in daily life, and occasionally dissolved into a mess of anger, sadness and anxiety. I fantasised about hurting myself almost all the time. Therapy was bi-weekly, keeping me on the straight and narrow when I wanted to start throwing things or cut ties with people. The meds were insane. That’s not to say the cocktail today isn’t substantial now, but hey, ketamine. Enough said.

Two years ago, I was unemployed, self-destructive, and unstable. Inpatient. Outpatient. Day patient. Stuck exploring dark, dark roads.

I wonder how much of a difference it would have made if I could have turned to creative writing in the early days.