Bare truths

The weirdness continues – the low mood that seems to follow me around like a shadow, but doesn’t quite touch me. The symptoms are adding up; in addition to the things I mentioned yesterday, I’m strongly drawn to non-cheerful TV programmes (I’m currently alternating between The Walking Dead and House), sad songs stick in my head, and my self-harm urges are building. Big time. My sleep is broken by unpleasant dreams, so waking early is almost a relief. Sometimes I feel sick, and sometimes I have no appetite at all.

I got a letter today informing me that I have an appointment to see my psychiatrist on Christmas Eve…I think this is a good thing. I find the Christmas period really hard to get through, but if I know I have to go to the hospital on the 24th I can pretend Christmas isn’t even here until the day itself.

It occurred to me earlier to try an exercise – to write a list of truths, about things relevant to what I share in this blog. Bare truths, with minimal thinking. Whatever comes to mind…

  1. I am mentally ill. The specific label is always in flux (based around ‘depression’), but that clinical term will never quite capture the details of this illness. I’ve fallen out of sync with the ‘normal’ world, but I haven’t fallen so far that no one can see me – the WordPress community has taught me that.
  2. For me, the future does not exist beyond the next month. While I’ve lost the worst of the suicide ideation, I’ve believed for a while that my life span probably doesn’t stretch all that far ahead of me.
  3. I am alone, but not lonely. I have friends and I have family, but my social life has shrunk dramatically, and that suits me now that I hold everyone away at a distance…
  4. ...because I lie a lot. They aren’t malicious lies so I don’t feel guilty about it; they’re lies to stop people worrying. I’d feel guilty if I didn’t do this.
  5. I’m terrified of dependency on anyone, to the point that I damage my relationships with people to ‘protect’ myself.
  6. I don’t hate myself. I don’t love myself either, but I don’t hate myself. I’m fine with who I am, I don’t have huge regrets, and I wouldn’t change the things I’ve done in the past – they make me who I am.

Six straight truths, two secrets, and one confession. I think this list really sums me up at the moment.

There might actually be a future out there

Something I’ve written many times across this blog and in my private journal is that I stopped believing in the future. I just couldn’t see an acceptable course of events; mental illness seemed to cloud over everything, so I figured I’d eventually be putting an end to it myself.

Except today, the future seems like a real, touchable concept. It’s very strange, and I’m still trying to get used to it.

I’m currently finishing my third and final year of my undergraduate degree, and I have a MPhil lined up for October, conditional on me getting 67% in Finals. I haven’t believed I’ll make the 67% for a long time, not with a likely max of three weeks revision.

But today in therapy I dared to voice a thought that’s been floating around in the ‘cloud of denial’ somewhere in my brain – I’m not sure I want to do this MPhil, at least not now. Sure, it would be interesting, and it’s at one of the top two universities in the UK/world, but those are the only pros. Given how I’ve struggled over the last two years, I’m not sure I should be ploughing straight into another year of tough academia. People might say I should try, but if it turns out that I’m right to be concerned, that would be a huge financial (and probably mental-health) mistake. And I realised, I can do an MPhil later if I want. There’s no age cap. And if I do it later, I could potentially pay for it without incurring any more debt.

The alternative means finding a job to prevent me having to move home, and that was evoking a whole field of it’s own anxieties, until I had another realisation – I do actually know what I want to do career-wise. I want to be a fiction writer. And that takes the pressure out of a job search; I don’t have to find the ‘perfect career’, because all I need is something to support me financially so I can write. I’ve calculated how much I’d need to earn in a month to get by, and it isn’t actually a huge amount.

So the future is suddenly real, imaginable, and I’m not scared of it anymore. And while it’s still true that my mental health issues may stretch out a long way ahead of me, if I’m still based in my current city and earning a steady wage, I can continue with therapy and accessing all the same local support services.

And it gets better – if I’m not worrying about meeting my MPhil requirements, and I know I want to be a writer, the pressure is off for exams. I will do the best I can because I want to do myself justice for how hard I’ve tried over the last four years, but it won’t be a catastrophe if I don’t get a First, or a 2:1. It’s true on top-form I’d be capable of a First, but I’m not on top form (which is not my fault), and even if I was, I wouldn’t have the time to revise well enough for a First (again, not my fault). I don’t expect to have any regrets.

I’m still struggling to get used to the idea of actually existing into the future, but I’ll tell you one thing – I’ve managed quite a lot of work today.

Shadows

What if I just ‘did it‘? Set a date, say in a couple of weeks’ time, got what I needed, and…just did it?

My brain is firing off in all directions at the moment, none of them productive or useful. I feel like I don’t add up to very much. I used to. I used to be this intelligent person who soared up through the education system, organised events, volunteered, made a difference. Differences. Something happened to that person, and I haven’t seen her in a couple of years. Instead I live as a shadow. Everyone says to wait and the picture will be restored…but who actually knows that for sure??

What if she isn’t coming back – what if she died? What if her time is done? My time? I don’t know that that’s such a terrible thing. She had a good run.

And I’m not sure how much I want her back anyway. Sure, she was a ‘success’, but it wasn’t the pure, happy, all-rounder success you see in the movies. Her success was achieved through distraction; a way of hiding from a sorry picture at home. She shut it out and buried herself in books, and in doing anything and everything to help the community around her, to make up for not being able to help her parents with their addictions and their broken relationships.

Plus she was never really the socialite. Throughout primary school education, one by one her ‘best friends’ turned their backs with no explanation. The lesson was learnt: don’t trust that people will be there forever – they won’t. You mustn’t need anyone, unless you want to be hurt. Her secondary school friendship group was golden, but she made herself the glue and poured her energy into entertaining and supporting others rather than accept care; that was new, and dangerous. Unreliable.

The academic success couldn’t last. She saw the warning signs at sixth form college, and now in her (repeated) final year of uni she seems to have burned out. The genetic disposition to depression finally made the light. It took a year to accept her mental illness, and unable to understand it herself let alone share it with others, she shut the rest of the world out, and effectively weakened or severed all her remaining friendships.

The shadow treads water. Breathing. Moving. Sometimes she tries to make it back overground, with a handful of pills, or hours of therapy, but the light burns. If she tries to stay up there for long she finds herself frustrated by how difficult she finds life compared to those around her. Self-blame brings blades. Trying not to self-blame brings more frustration and blades. Or burns. Or overdoses.

I don’t see a guarantee this is going to improve. And maybe that’s depression talking, taking the colour out of any picture of the future. But what if it isn’t? Or what if it’s right to leech that colour out? Condemning this shadow to another twenty, thirty, forty years of life, perhaps a lot more…how can I do that?

I realise this is a bit of a random word-vomit post, but I feel a need to express something of what’s going on in my head at the moment.

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?

What am I waiting for? Life or death?

My mood is headed south, and this time there’s no trigger, just a question that has plagued me since my depression began: what am I waiting for? 

As much as I risk sounding like an impatient toddler, as time has passed I’ve become absolutely sick of being told ‘things will get better, you just have to wait’, and listening to condescending psychiatrists ‘remind’ me that there’s no quick fix to mental illness. I know this; since I don’t personally believe psychiatric medicines are curative I know there’s no magic pill that can make me better, and I know therapy takes time.

What I don’t know for sure is whether or not I’m actually going to get better (ever). I’ve been in therapy for 18 months with the best clinical psychologist I know, and there have certainly been improvements in terms of self-understanding, but at the end of the day I still feel like an absolute mess (albeit a more self-aware mess). I’ve tried more medications than I can list from memory, struggled with the resulting dizziness/weight gain/sickness/sedation etc, with little benefit. I’ve tried to fix or solve as many of my problems as I can, but no matter how hard you try you end up having to admit that some things can’t be fixed. So, put that all together, add in all the time that has passed since my mental illness first came to light, and I find myself asking what I’m waiting for if I’m not expecting to get better.

This is the train of thought that gives rise to my suicide ideation, because I see it in the same way that we think about animals that are in chronic pain – ‘the kind thing to do’ is to put them out of their misery, right? In other words, to kill them. It’s sad, but it’s socially accepted that this is the best thing for the animal in pain. So why shouldn’t this kind of logic apply to me, and anyone else who finds themselves in this position? I have sworn to myself that I’m not going to live a life plagued with mental illness – if my depression is lifelong, this life will not be long. I’m not going to put myself through that.

I’m not about to run off and kill myself, I’m just voicing my thoughts here. Suicide is a huge issue, and I want to post about it separately – about why it isn’t necessarily all that selfish, about how difficult it can be, and about some of the other controversies surrounding it.

For now, what am I waiting for?

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: Finally on the up

I saw my therapist this afternoon. It took some persuasion to get me to sit down/not leave immediately after handing over the cheque, but I’m so glad I stayed. We didn’t talk about much (it literally took about 20 mins for me to say anything other than ‘I can’t do this’), but tentatively being reminded that my therapist wants to help me if I can let him is a relief. The truth is that as much as I tell myself I don’t need anything from anyone else, I really do if I want to stay sane more than a week or two. 

Today I’ve eaten properly, and I’ve been a bit more sensible with exercise since I started feeling some knee-pain yesterday. My mood has certainly improved, although I’m slightly concerned that it’s swinging too far the other way – my mood chart is starting to show some scores on the mania questionnaire, but I’m not going to worry about that now. I haven’t done any more gambling since I last posted about that, despite feeling temptation a couple of times a day.

So, I think I’m finally on the up, and now I’m back in therapy I’m hopeful that I won’t crash too low in the next few weeks. I need to thank my therapist for reaching down into the hole I was hiding in, and I need to thank the people reading this blog too. Every time someone likes a post or comments on it it feels great, and the warmth I’ve found here has enabled me to blog about things I can’t talk about anywhere else – the contents of my last few posts would stun my doctors. The people around me agree that I need to be more open, and you’ve all helped facilitate that. 

Thank you, you wonderful people ❤