Posts Tagged ‘mental-health’

792ff0efca4a02382678eb238ac650adJust over a year ago I was standing on the far platform of a railway station, with crusted blood on my arm from self-inflicted wounds and trying to muster the courage to throw myself in front of a train. I nearly did it too. Standing so close to the edge of the platform that the side of one of the trains brushed and almost clipped the tip of my nose.

I couldn’t quite do it though. Not quite. Ended up going back home with my tail between my legs and trying to salvage the pieces of my broken brain.

I was in a very severe depressive slump anyway and then was kicked while I was down by life. One friend died and another, dear, friend turned out to be in a rather harsh home situation. I couldn’t help either of them in any meaningful way and was left feeling thoroughly impotent, even more useless than usual and selfish for feeling terrible. I was unable to ask for support and help when I felt other people needed it more.

Eventually, of course, people found out and were amazingly and wonderfully supportive, as they always are (depression lies to you about that) and while a dead friend can’t be brought back, at least the other friend now has an escape plan that I can – hopefully – help with.

My beautiful and lovely friend, and one-time unofficial, virtual housemate, Katie sent me a care package not long after my bout of suicidal ideation, and while some of the contents were an arcane mystery (a face pack? wtf?) amongst the goodies was The Book of You, a little diary/workbook of sorts with daily micro-actions for a whole year (there’s also an app). I just finished working through it (it was actually useful and not the hippy crap it might look like at first glance) and one of the things it tells you to do is to ‘report back’.

So, what’s there to report back?

I’ve made it 12 months without a relapse. No self harm in that time. No new suicide attempts. Only – relatively – mild bouts of depression and panic. I’m out of therapy but back on the drugs, on what seems to be a semi-permanent basis, constantly trying to anticipate and balance the dose. Summer is the worst time of year for my mental health, the heat I think – and the lack of sleep. I also tend to feel out of place at this time of year, it’s not really my ‘cup of tea’ and there are extra, physical chores that need doing.

I’ve been working hard to try and get back to the self-sufficiency I was at before the last few years’ heavy bouts of depression, but it’s tough. I’ve even been looking for supplementary part-time work but with the depression as it is I just don’t think I’m reliable enough for anyone to hire. This presents its own problems in terms of both self-esteem and finances, wanting to regain that full independence and being – seemingly – unable to. There’s not a lot of options to remedy that either. Seeking assistance or benefits is massively impactful to self esteem if you don’t feel you really need them and austerity has cut funding for such things to the bone anyway. An ‘invisible illness’ would be a tough sell to any assessor or board, especially the kinds that judge terminal cancer cases ‘fit for work’.

There’s no real prospect of ever ‘getting better’ at this point. Just varying degrees of coping. That puts a lot of stress on friendships and relationships, as does the aforementioned lack of independence. There’s things I’m good at, even very good at, but imposter syndrome is a bitch and even having talent isn’t enough in a very tough gig economy with a trashed reputation, caused by sticking up for what you know is right – no matter what. No matter the lies and aspersions. Even when some of the people you were sticking up for end up turning on you.

I’ve accomplished a lot, in spite of being sick. In spite of there being no prospect of ever getting better. These are things I should be proud of, but anhedonia – one of the symptoms of depression, look it up – makes it all but impossible to truly acknowledge and take it to heart even when you do something amazing and against the odds.

I’m still here, but the Reverse SAD is pretty bad, panic attacks are pretty frequent. The abuse and suspicion I’m used to by this point, and when you have severe depression nobody can hate you as much as you hate yourself anyway, so it barely registers.

All of that sounds really bad, but here’s the thing. It isn’t.

It’s just an acknowledgement of status. I’m coping. I’m plodding on. I’m working away on things – bit by bit. I’ve re-organised my work schedule and am much more productive. I have a large body of work on Youtube now. I’m at least looking for ways out of my problem situations and there’s slow but steady progress on every front.

That’s all much better than it sounds.

Thank you everyone who looks after me when I need it, stays friends through tough differences of opinion, doesn’t treat me like some fragile thing all the time and forgives me my failings while valuing my strengths.

Here’s where I was last year, for comparison…

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It’s about me, or whatever poor sod is contemplating it at the time.

Ian O’Doherty though, wants to sideline the victim of suicide though and wants to make it about the people left behind.

Yet even if we accept we are now living in a culture where suicide is more prevalent than ever before, we are queasy and reluctant to apportion blame to the perpetrator. And someone who kills themselves should be seen as exactly that – the perpetrator, not some innocent bystander.

Now, it is true that the people you would leave behind and understanding that they would be hurt, upset, confounded can pull you back from the brink. Even pets can do that as you wonder who would look after them when and if you’re gone. There are many reasons for suicide as well, dishonour, being exposed or shamed for a crime or behaviour, financial ruin, physical incapacity and then there’s mental illness.

In each and every case I suspect there is the feeling of being trapped, of being unable to escape and in that last moment with the pills in your hand, the cold steel against your wrist or the taste of gun oil swirling in your mouth it’s about you and only you.

O’Doherty is right that people would be hurt by your passing and that it is a horrible thing to do to people but it’s also an indescribable pain that goes right down to the very core of who and what you are. In your mind the world, all those friends, all those people, even those animals would be better off if you didn’t exist. You’d do them a favour by checking out. You’re trapped, there’s no way anything is going to get better again and you’re just going to drag people down with you.

The idea that your death could be a bad thing seems ridiculous and more than anything else, you just want the pain and hurt to STOP and surely anyone who cared for you would want the same thing, no?

Is there any more clear cut case of blaming the victim than doing it to a victim of suicide?

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dexhedSo, the village I live in is flooding and I’m not having too much of a good time either. This bout of depression/insomnia is a real arse-kicker. The insomnia’s been going on nearly a month now, the pit of depression at a ‘can’t cope any more’ level for about two weeks. The flood actually makes a good metaphor for the depression as day by day, inch by inch your defences get worn down and the water rises higher, threatening to drown you.

I already do everything I can do to mitigate this FUCKING BRAIN DISORDER I’ve been saddled with. I take the pills. I see a therapist every week (what am I, Californian?) I try to intellectualise, process and distance the emotions that are hurting me, to remove the factors that make it worse, to understand where it comes from and what sets it off.

And it’s no good. The fact of the matter is that there’s something physically wrong with my brain and all the psychobabble and barely-understood psychiatric drugs can do is cushion me a little and stretch out the patches where I’m a functional human being.

I know, like I tell others with this problem, that this will pass and I’ll feel OK again – and I will.

But ‘OK’ isn’t enough. I want to feel happy. I can’t actually remember the last time I felt happy. I can remember happy patches in the distant past but otherwise, no. I can feel angry, authentically sad, awed, full of wonder, many other emotions but not actually happy. Momentarily content seems to be the best I can hope to accomplish.

I lie to you all, constantly, about how I feel. Put on a happy face, a joke, a laugh, a witticism but it’s all a terrible struggle and physically and mentally exhausting to pretend to be a normal human being day in, day out. I am absolutely terrified of going into the red in everyone’s sympathy bank. This black pit of despair wears me out, it must be boring, strenuous and difficult for people unfortunate enough to be my friends.

How can I expect my business partners to put up with this if I’m out of action – effectively – for many weeks in a year and barely functional for others? How can I keep deadlines, take the strain, help out or otherwise be anything than a liability?

How can I expect my wife to put up with this and stay with me? To patiently cope and take up the slack when I can’t, when she already works very hard and deals with life’s little disruptions for the both of us.

I want a child. Is it fair to bring a child into the world with a mentally ill parent and a good chance of inheriting the disorder, or is it selfish narcissism?

I don’t want to lose my friends, my family, because they don’t understand or they lose patience with me. I don’t want to admit when I feel bad not only for fear of losing people but because I care about them so much I want to spare them the pain I know they feel, that I feel, when someone they care about is in pain.

My drugs are up (150mg Sertraline now) and a short course of sleeping pills to try and get my sleep pattern back on track. While I was at the doctor though, I caught sight of some private letters relating to my diagnosis and treatment from my old CBT counsellor and psychiatrist, before I left the CMH’s remit (Community Mental Health). It didn’t make pleasant reading (I read very quickly). Anxiety, severe depression and dependency was the headline. The detail was a bit too personal, even though I try to share in the hopes it helps people understand and helps others with the same problems, but let’s just say it wasn’t very flattering at all. It is almost certain that I will be coping with and managing this stupid fuckbrain of mine for the rest of my life.

That is not a nice prospect.

Put yourself in my shoes for a moment. You are sad, desperately sad, for long periods of time. The power and grief of losing a parent, sibling or friend in intensity but for no explicable reason. You’re just sad. Nothing you do makes any impact on this sadness while you’re feeling it and you’re so desperate NOT to feel sad (or anything) that self harm, drink, spending as much time as possible asleep, all these things become palatable just to have to not feel soul-crushingly tired any more. At these points even suicide starts to seem like an option, even for someone as intellectually dead set against the idea as I am.

I do everything I can to drown out that little naysayer in my head. Keep my mind engaged from the moment I get up until the moment I go to sleep. I play games, I write, I argue – endlessly – in part from my conscience but also just to keep busy. I deal with my own pain by trying to ignore it and to help others. I raise money, spread the word when people are in need, try to reassure and support people that need it, try to be a good person – even if I don’t feel like one. Even this feels inauthentic though. Am I helping people for good reason or just to make myself feel better? Even this… talking about it, being open about it – which people think is brave or helping – why am I really doing it?

This is depression’s ‘superpower’, overanalysing and doubting every motive for everything you do.

Now I know that the professionals think I’m going to be dealing with this all my life and that it will likely get worse and harder to manage.

Imagine that.

Knowing that you’re going to be feeling this same, spirit-crushing grief for the rest of your life and may never feel happy again. Just imagine that. Think how it feels. Think what lengths you might go to to dull the pain or block it out.

Then there’s the shame. Mental health issues do not feel like real issues. Like being poor, disabled or unemployed in modern Britain being mentally ill is seen as ‘shirking’. Even if you don’t really believe it yourself you feel somehow ‘inauthentic’. Every time I manage to force a smile on my face or make a joke a little voice inside my head tells me that I’m not really depressed, because if I were I wouldn’t be able to do that. Wouldn’t be able to perform, or joke. In a perverse turn of events I am gut-churningly jealous, jealous, of people with physical disorders whose authenticity is more rarely challenged. People I admire and care about like Mandy, Alex, Jamie and more whose coping ability is legendary but who have crutches, or wheelchairs, or braces that SHOW that they’re ill.

There’s shame too in that this is all a horrible stereotype. The locked away writer with depression, the ageing goth getting by on pills and spite.

I’m a living cliché.

I don’t know what more to do or how to cope. I’ll probably be a lot better off after a couple of proper nights of rest but I’m low as hell and terrified my friends and loved ones are going to get bored of dealing with me being like this, tired of futilely trying to prop me up or make me accept a compliment. I’m scared of losing my job, my wife, my friends and my life to this horrible, fucking, disease in my brain.

dexter-labI’m utterly exhausted. My body hurts from feeling sad. Every joint and sinew, every muscle.

You’ll be tempted to write platitudes to me on Facebook and Twitter or in the comments and it’s not going to help, at least not right now. Later, when I come out of this it might but, if you’re going to say anything I want you to really think about it. Not just say something quick and reassuring. Really think about what I’ve said here. I’m lucid, if tired and depressed, and I’m trying to explain and show what this is like.

This is the long haul. I’ve got to adjust my thinking and anyone who calls me their friend is going to have to do the same.

I’m sorry I’m a burden, and don’t tell me I’m not.

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arsefaceAs a cisgendered, melanin-lacking, imperfect female I’m often considered to have privilege and thus not to be worth listening to on any topic you care to mention. Apparently, and without irony, because society is designed to cater to my every whim – not that it feels that way. However, there is at least one arena in which I can be considered an oppressed minority and that’s the arena of mental health. I’m not neurotypical.

OK, I prefer to speak straightforwardly and I can’t keep that up for much longer, so let’s cut to the chase.

I am mentally ill, if functional, in that I suffer from moderate to severe depression. Having inadvertently seen my doctor’s notes I know that I’m on record as being much more at the severe end. This doesn’t mean I’m cuckoo for cocoa puffs, just that my brain is broken in such a way that I have an incredibly low self image (resistant to outside reinforcement and support), have trouble experiencing joy and happiness, have a naturally quite pessimistic outlook and am frequently indescribably miserable and unmotivated for no reason that makes sense to someone who hasn’t had a bout of depression. I have been depressed to the point of being suicidal a handful of times in my 37 years, though I’ve only been diagnosed and treated for a handful of years now.

Enter the controversy du jour in nerd circles. The Harley Quinn sexy-suicide competition.

Suddenly it’s not my whiteness, maleness, age, first-world geography or regrettable lack of obvious gender/sexuality minority status that’s important. It’s my broken brain and the fact I’ve been a victim of my own desperation (or rather, a ‘survivor’).

This is a fucking weird experience.

I’ve written about my depression but not so much from a position of authority but one of empathy and understanding. I’ve been there. I know what it feels like. This’ll pass, you just have to hold on. Tea and sympathy for other people feeling the same way. I’ve also written scenes of desperation and self-loathing in my stories, especially in the book that’s still in editing. In fiction, my experiences can lend writing about that sort of scene an authenticity and reality that improves the writing and draws the reader in. I’m not a huge believer in only writing what you know, but it can help.

The temptation is to thrust my mental illness into people’s faces while they’re talking about this, in a sort of vengeful ‘HAH! You have to listen to me now! I’m the victim! My opinion is the only one that counts!’ It’s also a rush to be in this position of… well, unlike claims of privilege made for being white/male/cis this genuinely does feel like privilege.

I’ve made a few comments here and there but I’ve also felt held back a bit. After all, my personal and deeply subjective experience creates bias in me and despite suffering from bouts of depression and having come to the point of suicide several times, that doesn’t actually make me an expert on the issue. I’m also uncomfortable with the way swinging the fact of my issues around like a club reduces me to that issue, rather than a whole person.

Personally I feel that I would rather have discussions and depictions of mental health issues out there in public, even poorly done, even comedic, even flippant. Anything to familiarise people with the issues, reduce the stigma and stop people feeling so isolated. In the few comments on this I have made people seem to have leant weight to my opinion simply because I’m a sufferer, not because I have made any particularly cogent argument.

So I stopped myself, took a deep breath and a step back and did a bit of research.

Turns out that the question of whether media depictions of suicide are helpful or harmful is still a bit up in the air. In factual media there is an effect, called the Werther effect, where information about methods of suicide or high profile cases (such as celebrities) lead to copycat suicides. With fictional media the effect is not so easy to discern and it’s unclear whether it has a genuine effect or not. It’s further unclear as to the effectiveness of media on de-stigmatising, provoking people to seek help, or directly helping them cope and find the resources to survive.

My opinion is now a bit better qualified due to reading up on genuine scientific research in the field and isn’t that much changed from what it was before. Still, I take a few lessons from this:

  • It’s dangerous to lend too much weight to someone’s opinion because of their victim status.
  • Victim status can be a more powerful and effective privilege than many others.
  • Having this privilege is an addictive rush and it’s tempting to use it aggressively to shut people down.
  • Having victim status can make people afraid to argue, even when you’re wrong or ill-informed.
  • Knowledge trumps emotion.

For the record, I don’t see the problem with the Harley suicide competition thing, other than that it seems an odd and difficult topic to run a competition around.

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I have a dream.

In which I have a hammer.

I use the hammer upon my hand.

So that I have a valid excuse not to write this.

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