Would you press the ‘fast-forward’ button?

I have a question for those of you struggling with depression (or similar problems): if I presented you with a ‘fast-forward’ button that would instantly take you forward to a time when you are no longer ‘ill’, would you press it?

On Friday I found myself wishing I had a ‘make-better’ button with that kind of function; to bring me to a time when I’m no longer struggling with mental illness. Something allowing me to skip all the lows, all the therapy, all the experimenting with pills. But I almost immediately realised that if I had that button, I wouldn’t press it.

I’ve known for a while that I wouldn’t want to go back in time to a depression-free age; younger me was certainly happier, but that is only because she was willfully naive. She ignored the problems around her, buried her fears and frustrations, and channeled everything into things like protecting her younger brother, and exams. It wasn’t sustainable, and I don’t approve of those coping mechanisms anymore.

So, if I don’t aspire to be ‘like I was before depression’, a healthy me is a new person. I don’t yet know who she is, although I can guess a few things about her; she understands the difference between being independent and hiding, she can handle strong emotions, and she doesn’t find it so hard to trust people. But I can’t tell you how she does all those things. And I don’t yet know what else will be different about her.

This is why I wouldn’t press the ‘fast-forward’ button: I don’t know who a ‘healthy me’ is, but she will be the product of everything that I would skip past. The product of all the things I would miss, including those horrible soul-destroying lows, the painful therapy, the unreliable meds. I couldn’t fast-forward building the foundations to what might be considered a new life. That process will be my story. And that story will be me.

Would you press the button?

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Ignorance

Today’s trigger of sadness is remembering the so-called ‘close friend’ of mine who recently accused me of fabricating/exaggerating my depression, because it doesn’t resemble her experience with anorexia.

Let me explain: a month before the end of my final year at uni I was advised by numerous docs to take some time out, as I was self-harming/overdosing/suicidal etc, so I agreed with uni that I would drop out for a few months and rejoin this January to repeat the last part of the year. Once I had left uni, my GP and tutors then encouraged me to take on some flexible academic work to distract me from my depression and keep my brain ticking, and about a month later I became a research assistant with a very casual three month contract. I still can’t believe how lucky I was with that – I could pick my hours, and it didn’t matter at all if I did nothing for days on end.

This good friend of mine, ‘Jane’, had been very supportive of me right up until this point, when we lost contact for a while. I assumed she was busy and didn’t want to bother her, but a couple of months later a mutual friend expressed surprise when I asked how Jane was doing. He said he was surprised I cared because Jane had told him we’d had a falling out, which was news to me. I had a really bad feeling about this, and with some encouragement from my therapist I sent her a message asking if we were okay.

I was stunned to receive the following in reply (edited for anonymity):

Hi…I don’t really see how you can drop out for medical reasons, and then do paid work. If you’re too ill to study, then you are too ill to work. As someone who has had to take time out myself for mental illness, I have a dim view of the concept that you get out of your exams, then be working and getting paid for it a few months later. When I was ill there was no way I was fit to work.

I don’t understand how you dropping out, and then doing a paid job in the time gap, fit together. It’s partly the university’s fault for allowing this to happen, and you are entitled to do what you like, but I don’t really want anything to do with it when there are people like X, who was seriously ill last year and still did her exams, and people like Y, who genuinely needed to drop out for serious reasons. Whilst you might come back at me stating that you are seriously ill, this cannot be true if you are working and being paid for it. 

Excuse me? This message hurt me in so, so many ways. I’ve underlined the worst offenders for the bits of that message that upset me, but to be honest I could underline the whole thing. It had me crying more than I’d cried in months, and has left me in a situation now where I can’t stand the idea of going into university in case I see her. I have a feeling she has shared her thoughts with the people around her, and the paranoid part of my brain has me avoiding everyone I know who is connected to her. I don’t even feel comfortable going to see tutors in case I bump into Jane.

I don’t think she has any idea how serious my condition was when I left – my doctors were scared. For all I know, they saved my life by having me drop out. Medical professionals advised me to leave university, and then advised me to get a job. Jane doesn’t know how flexible my work was, and she never asked. I would like to be able to forgive her ignorance, but I can’t because I am outraged by what she has said. My therapist said it’s essentially slander. Anyway,at the end of the day I know that she’s wrong and full of bullsh*t, but what still hurts me is that this attack came from a friend. Like I said, I thought Jane was a good friend of mine. I can’t believe she didn’t trust me to the point that she could accuse me of effectively fabricating illness to cheat my way out of exams. I still don’t know where that came from. The upshot is that I feel pain almost like someone has died – I’m mourning the loss of a friend.

I was advised not to reply to Jane’s message, but I felt I had to; otherwise she might take my silence as some kind of admission that she was right. Plus I needed to send some anger her way. This is what I sent her:

I have to say, I’m really surprised at what you’ve written here as you’ve been very judgemental with very little idea of what has happened to me. I’m not going to go into details; quite honestly if you were even half the friend I thought you were I shouldn’t have to. And then to imply that my situation isn’t genuine by making improper comparisons with other people is frankly horrible. But thank you for clearing up where we stand.

We haven’t communicated since. Unfortunately what I sent her didn’t give me closure, as I’m still carrying about an awful lot of anger about this. What I can say now though is that I’m learning a new lesson about ignorance: when it comes to mental health, people with personal experience of mental illness can be just as ignorant as those without that experience. Maybe that shouldn’t be surprising, I suppose depression or EDs etc don’t guarantee a better understanding of illnesses, or an open mind. Either way, it’s a sad truth to learn.

Check in: Nearly time to drop the act

Tomorrow is my last full day at home before I head back to my uni city. This means my illness-related time off uni is now over, and at dinner tonight my friends asked if I was looking forward to going back. I instantly said yes, but one of them raised an eyebrow with a knowing look. I think I’m dying to go back so I can act how I feel (at home my audience wants to believe I’m fine), but beyond that I’m terrified. Here’s why:

  • Being as agitated/unstable as I am at the moment I’m not sure how not having to act for extended periods of time is going to work out.
  • I know my doctors are going to be unimpressed that I took myself off my meds and will want me on something new asap, but I don’t know if I’m okay with that. I don’t believe they’re curative, and you can pay a high price in terms of side effects for minimal improvements.
  • I can’t even think about seeing my therapist on Wednesday. I have to go because I need to pay him a cheque, but I might just hand it over and then disappear.
  • I don’t want to talk to any of my tutors, because they’ll ask about my health and since I’m still in a mess I don’t want to explain it. Yes, the obvious solution is to admit that to them and move on, but that doesn’t work for me. Misunderstandings hurt me like bullets, so telling part of a story is just outright dangerous right now.
  • Some of the few people I know at uni think I’ve invented my mental illness. Unfortunately, knowing they’re full of **** doesn’t make it any easier to walk around town/uni knowing I might bump into them.

Okay, even writing that list makes me feel a bit sick, so lets move on. When I get back I’m seriously considering building a blanket fort and hiding inside (I’ll have the house to myself until next Thursday), or I might just live on the sofa and marathon my Breaking Bad box-sets. I realize both of these little plans aren’t exactly positive-mental-health-promoting, but after a fortnight of performing at home I keep telling myself I deserve some time to do whatever I want. Plus the exercise bike I wanted for my birthday will be delivered on Monday so from then on I aim to resume daily work outs.

Time to sleep. Night night world

If med-free me = ‘real’ me, I’m not smiling

I’ve been off psych meds for over a week now, and given the disappearance of withdrawals/what I know about their clearance times, I’d like to think I’m back to my natural state. I can think of a few people in my life who’d throw a celebratory party if they knew (side note: does anyone else find the strong mistrust of psych meds out there by some people without mental illness or experience of these meds interesting?), but I’d have reservations about lighting the candles on the cake.

Sometimes you come across statements along the lines of ‘when I’m taking antidepressants / mood stabilisers / antipsychotics / insert category here, I’m not me. The real me is the person without the pills’. Well, if being pill free means I’m back to being ‘real me‘, I’m not sure I like it because ‘real me’ is a mess. She’s usually angry or upset about something, and if she’s perfectly honest the depth of her anger tends to be an overreaction, but she can’t admit that to anyone because then what does she do to let this anger out? She knows she has to return to the real world of uni soon, alongside the world of psych hospital appointments etc, but she stubbornly tells herself it’s okay to pretend they don’t exist if she’s feeling this bad. Oh, you emailed me? You phoned me? You repeatedly told me you wanted me to come and talk to  you? I guess my phone must be broken…

Yeah I have enough problems – the real world can get in line.

– ‘Real me’ finds this questionable logic perfectly acceptable

I’m not sure where I’m going with this post – I don’t have a solution here. I guess I’m just venting a little; I was on meds for months, and at times it was really annoying to hear friends/family going on and on about how meds are evil and change you etc etc. Well folks, here I am, med free, and guess what…maybe ‘real me’ isn’t any better than ‘medicated me’.

Check in: Scraping the bottom

I hit another low point tonight, and as predicted the DSH tools came out. I’ve felt like crying a lot today which is a bit unusual for me – I rarely cry. I don’t have anything against crying itself, but when I feel myself tearing up I immediately tell myself to hold it together and try and stop. I’ve realised with time that while I don’t judge other people for crying, I judge myself to be weak if I do it. I accept now that that’s wrong, but I don’t think the new attitude has quite penetrated my core.

I’m not sure why I’m so low. I know I’m angry because I keep finding myself hitting/kicking things like walls/pillars etc, but off the top of my head I can’t tell you who/what I’m angry at. I have therapy tomorrow so maybe I’ll find some answers there.

Should the patient put the therapy book(s) away?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been interested in psychology. I have to confess that until I was about 16 this interest manifested itself as a bit of an obsession with the works of Derren Brown (to be fair, he is awesome), and then when I started sixth form college I studied psychology formally at AS/A level. Funnily enough, my favourite topic was psychopathology.

When I started psychotherapy I found myself occasionally zoning out of what my therapist was asking me to do/think about, and observing what he was doing. What techniques was he using? Was he being careful about his choice of words? Where were his questions leading? He is best described as an integrative psychological therapist, and sometimes I would try and figure out which branches of psychotherapy he was dipping into. I think over time I’ve probably taken a mental step back and analysed everything down to his body language at one point or another (e.g. ‘Is he changing position to encourage me to do the same, hoping I’ll pick something more open?’ ). I don’t know if he’s aware of this – if he is I suspect this makes me one of his more annoying patients – but the reason I’m writing all this is because I think my curiosity has been harmful to my progress.

Anyone needing help at my uni can get in touch with the university counselling service and request a consultation with one of the counsellors. During this 60 minute consultation you’re assessed, and then either referred to a more appropriate service or granted more 1-1 counselling sessions, up to a limit of 4 after which you reapply. The focus is on short term therapy, but somehow I ended up going there weekly/fortnightly for a year, and then switched to seeing my therapist privately when I had to take some time out from uni. I’ve now been in therapy for a year and a half.

This isn’t what I expected at all when I started out, and while it’s mostly because my issues are more complex/numerous than I initially realised, I think at least some of the blame lies with my tendency to stop learning about myself in favour of learning about psychology. I doubt my mental health benefits from evaluating CBT, or second guessing my therapist etc. And now I wonder if I’ve taken it too far; I’ve bought a book about integrative therapy (written for therapists), and what I’m reading fascinates me, but I can’t help but ask if the sensible thing would be to put that book away.

If the answer to the title of this post is ‘yes’, I’ll have a hard time acting on it. This book is so interesting!