Turn the damn tap off

Has anyone ever found a good way of describing the pain of grief/sadness/anger etc? I’m the only person in my family to have suffered mental health issues, and as much as people want to understand what depression is like, I really struggle to tell them.

I’ve been a bit up and down recently, but at the moment I’m in real pain. Not a physical illness, but a heaviness on my chest and shoulders, pulling me down. A knot where my heart is, straining to undo itself but never really shifting. I cried on Friday, because I really needed a hug, and couldn’t have one (ever). Not the right kind of hug, anyway. I’m drawn to sad, haunting music, and even though it’s probably not helping the situation something compels me to seek it out, to tap into some pool of grief or anger or whatever the hell this is, and try to release it.

Emotions are so basic. They don’t come with words or explanations included. It seems like they completely defy the rules of logic and reason.

I think I preferred being numb.


If you’re happy and you know it…good for you.

I’m coming to the conclusion that mental illness is going to be with me for the rest of my life, however long that is. It’s like someone has flicked a switch or my brain has blown a fuse and I can’t reset. I think it’s now eight long years of depression and anxiety. Each a potent flavour of pain that really drains you.

I’m not happy. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not drowning in sorrow, or burning with anger, but I’m not joyous either. I’m just…flat. Not in a content way. It’s more of an emptiness. When I was a kid I used to really look forward to things, or get a nice twinge in my stomach anticipating something really exciting. Nowadays, my anticipation is only ever nervousness or dread. I’ve got that big meeting on Tuesday – will I be able to get through it? Can I handle the driving I need to do at the weekend? I function, and that’s about it. It’s kind of embarrassing. My anxiety has crippled me to the point that I have to congratulate myself on managing small tasks that most people wouldn’t give a second thought to.

If this sounds like whining, trust me, I don’t feel sorry for myself. I don’t ‘deserve better’. Why would I? The world doesn’t work like that. Some people have a great time, and others don’t.

I’m having to work quite hard to stay safe at the moment. I told my therapist that I don’t expect to make it to thirty.

Stuck in the mud

Do you ever get the feeling that times are changing around you, but you’re not? Do you worry about being left behind?

I feel like elements of my life are changing, but my anxiety holds constant. There was some improvement with the Lyrica, but ultimately I still find it really hard to leave the house. It’s just a bit less vomit-inspiring if I do make it out.

Our team is restructuring at work, putting me in more of a managerial position. This is really good for me, and will glow on my CV, but I feel sad to be taking a step away from the day-to-day. There’s something very reassuring about a role where you come in, keep your head down, and get on with your work. Managing is so much more stress inducing, having to deal with other people. If my health was different, I would be a lot more enthusiastic about this change. It’s a step forward, and I can’t let my anxiety and depressive tendencies hold me back.

My team leader emailed out on Friday to say that we should all go on a social sometime soon, listing various options like dinner out or a bowling trip. They’ve been great fun in the past, and I like spending time with these guys, but…I just can’t do it right now. It’s not about the socialising, it’s about having to go somewhere. I’m going to be the ‘bad guy’ for not attending, but I don’t feel like I have a choice. I did talk to my time leader about my anxiety issues a couple of weeks back, but either he’s forgotten or he thinks I’m better now. So now I need to have that chat again, and come up with some excuse for everyone else. Sad times.

In December, when the worst of the anxiety descended, I made plans for January, because of course I’d be better by then. And in January I was making plans for February, that same assumption again. Now it’s April, and I don’t know when the hell I’m going to reach the end of this tunnel. It’s like the depression, that felt like it would never end. I want to say that I know somewhere deep down that it will end, but I have my doubts about that.

I’m not sure which is worse; depression or anxiety. I certainly know which has been more crippling for me.

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.

‘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…