Waking up

The last few days have felt horrendous, but they’ve been worth it. I forced myself to keep reading my old journals, and cringing aside, something stirred inside me. I know who I am. Where my head is. I know I’ve been sleep walking through the last two years, hiding from anything that might cause anxiety. I chose blissful ignorance, the easy life, avoiding problems by not actually doing anything. 

Today I wrote a new journal entry, and it felt like clasping hands with an old friend. 

I told Dr T that I can’t coast through the six months of therapy we have left to work with. I’ve been going to him for five years now and I STILL struggle to be open with him despite the trust we’ve built – I don’t think I’ll ever have that level of trust again, so if I don’t somehow beat my depression now I’m really scared I never will. And he listened. Asked the things I wished he wouldn’t. It’s hard, harder than running 5k, but it’s right. Now the low mood has a twist of hope, and that makes it bearable.

Therapy isn’t the only arena of change – I’ve decided it’s time to lose the lithium. I’m not bipolar – I’m on lithium to boost the fluoxetine – so I don’t think it’s a dangerous move. For now I’ve gone from 700mg to 600 – I don’t know if I have the patience to go this slowly. Surely the withdrawals if I go cold turkey can’t be worse than they were for venlafaxine? 

If anyone reading this has come off lithium, I’d be very interested to hear your experience.

‘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.)

  

 

The ghosts of words unsaid

Oh boy, therapy was difficult. I pride myself on being an emotionless robot, but my body betrays me. I took paperclips to fiddle with (I like to untangle them when I’m anxious), but I had to keep putting them down so I wouldn’t throw them. They wouldn’t have done any damage, but I might have died of embarrassment.

It was the first session since Dr T announced he’s leaving at the end of the year, and I could barely look at him. It was awful. All I could do was say that I was fine, when it was obvious I wasn’t. A personal plea more than anything else. There was this massive elephant in the room that his announcement had managed to upset me, but each time Dr T tried to talk about it I had such a strong mentally-allergic reaction that I shut it right down.

I did manage to tell him about the auditory hallucinations though, which was good because he re-assured me that it wasn’t as big a deal as I’d thought. I think I just need to be vigilant – if it happens again it may need a medication adjustment (*groan*).

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go bury my head in the sand.

 

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…

You can’t see me!

I can’t stand that all it takes is one moment to destroy my head. I was doing relatively well, and then I saw someone in the street, who saw me too, and that was it. (If you’re curious, that someone was Dr T. He smiled at me, and I couldn’t take it so I did the grown up thing and hid behind a bench and wondered if I’d ever be able to go back to therapy again).

Not an overreaction, no.

It was so awful I can’t even describe it. And yet it was just a moment – a few seconds – and an innocent interaction (diverted by my adverse reaction!).

I’m just left angry with myself. I can’t be normal. I can’t smile and say hello – I have to freak out. If you wanted a weapon against me, I’d direct you to a list of names; all you have to do is mention one of them, and it’s like you’ve punched me. Why is it so hard to have a normal relationship with someone?

I say that, but I get on with people at work, and I have retained my childhood friends. I just struggle to deal with relationships that don’t fall in those categories. Most of the people on the list are people I latched onto with misdirected attachment hopes, often with very bad results. Once you’re on the list, you don’t seem to come off it. I pretend you don’t exist, but I know you do, somewhere.

Dr T hasn’t made it onto the list (yet); he’s in a kind of grey area, which I’m maintaining with great effort. When/if he goes on the list I won’t be able to be anywhere near him ever again. For now, he just doesn’t exist outside the clinic. So if I see him in the street, like today, it’s like WOAH DANGER and I have to hide (I am embarrassed by this, because he saw me hide, but I couldn’t do anything different!)

Ugh.

Vanilla

I recently described my life to someone as very plain – vanilla. I was proud of this, whereas their reaction was ‘god that sounds boring’. But boring is safe, and comforting. Boring is reliable. Peaceful.

The same routine, day in day out. The same tasks waiting for you at work. The same people in your life on a day to day basis, and the same superficial conversations whenever you bump into someone while you’re making coffee. I love being British, it’s just too easy: “Oooh isn’t it cold outside!” “Oooh have you been out? It’s beautiful” “Cor it’s raining again, so much for *insert season*”. No aspirations or goals, other than to keep time moving. I don’t have strong dreams anymore, and I don’t often daydream. No creative activities.

Vanilla.

I like it. And I feel guilty about liking it because it doesn’t ‘help’ me much (I’m mainly thinking of therapy which is stifled by this lack of…stimuli).

MQ actually found her nerve

Well, the secret-sharing was anti-climatic, and I’m grateful. The words didn’t sound as awful as I had feared they would, and actually the secret was shown to be something that doesn’t really have to be a secret at all.

Pre-session I was ill with anxiety. It was almost funny watching each symptom appear in predictable order; needing to puke, shaking, feeling lightheaded, and then on the walk to centre, my legs turning to lead, slowing me to a laboured trudge. I imagine my muscles loyally insisting that they’re going to ‘save’ me by bringing me to a halt.

With a lot of effort, I made it there. In session, I hesitated and dithered for ages, before I finally found the courage to share. Think of it as sharing an unusual interest. Dr T was surprised, but not in a bad way, and I increasingly realised I wasn’t really saying anything bad or controversial. I just hadn’t said it aloud before. At an early age I learned my interest was ‘different’, and locked it away in the back of my brain, never to be spoken of. I suppose that allowed the sense of danger to build over time.

So there we are. I don’t know how this will affect therapy going forward, but there isn’t going to be a climatic shift. I wonder if that means we haven’t really hit a core issue, in which case, what else am I hiding??