Musings and Snoozes

“And how does that make you feel?”

Amongst my collection of general medical people, I have two different types of Psych doctors; a Psychiatrist and a Psychologist. My Psychiatrist is my favourite – he’s funny, clearly slightly fascinated by my life choices, and I enjoy our discussions on why Bisexuality and Borderline Personality Disorder seem to be intrinsically linked. I also like him because we discuss concrete, controllable things like my medication, their side-effects, and what we can do about them.

And then on the other side we have my Psychologist. Despite her never actually having uttered the phrase in four months, I insist on calling her my “And how does that make you feel?” doctor, complete with soft, patronising voice. She’s neither of these things, but her whole purpose is to get me to talk about my feelings, which in stark comparison to dosage and medicinal components, is incredibly bloody difficult. Thus she is not my favourite doctor.

She is however, incredibly good at her job. She lets my sentences linger, rather than jumping in or guessing what I might be about to say. She has absolutely no problem with an awkward silence, knowing full well that I’ll fill it by continuing to talk and that when I do, that will be the most important part of the conversation, not whatever I was rambling on about previously. Today she asked me a question that resulted initially in an “I don’t know” response. It was genuine, I really didn’t have an answer for her, despite desperately trying to find one. Five minutes later I’ve said something else, probably to justify the aforementioned “I don’t know” and hey presto, we’ve just found not only the problem, but the solution, or at least the coping method. Witch, I tell you….

So while she can’t cure me, and she can’t make the problems disappear or fix my slightly wonky brain, she does have an incredible knack for giving me renewed confidence and a sense that I can have control over what feels like the uncontrollable. It’s not always an easy control, there’s still a considerable amount of “but I don’t want to, this is easier”, but it inevitably reminds me that there very much is a light, if not at the end of, then *in* the tunnel, if I’d only bloody take it.

So here’s this week’s light. Number one is telling people what I need. Not how I feel, or what I want, or an apology for not feeling great, but what I actually need, with a view to helping all of us! I categorically cannot make a decision right now, not even the simplest of ones (level A decisions as we called them) and that’s partly what’s fuelling the anxiety and the resulting depression. Every day I wake up and know I have things to do (we’re literally talking shower, get dressed, brush teeth here) and the overwhelmingness of even deciding what to wear or if I should wash my hair that day or not is stopping me from doing anything else, including getting out of bed some days. So given that I’m struggling to make those basic decisions, it’s no wonder I can’t get my mind to focus on what I should pack first or what I need to go through, and consequently I’m giving up, not doing it, and going back to hide under my blanket! So where I can, I need to communicate that I need someone to narrow the decision down for me, to make it an Option A or Option B type decision, rather than a pick a letter out of the sky type of decision.

Secondly I need to set limits/make baby steps. I’ve done a lot of either cancelling plans completely or being uncomfortable longer than I’d like recently and I need to find a middle ground. Making plans is positively terrifying at the moment, and this one’s tricky because the problem isn’t that I don’t want to see people or spend time with them, I absolutely do, the problem is my mind being too scared to be away from my so called Safe Space for too long. So if I know I’m going out somewhere for several hours, be it dinner, over to a friend’s place, out for a drink etc, that’s too long for my mind to cope with, so it just panics and I give up and cancel completely. What I need to do is find a compromise – go out and see people for a set amount of time instead, maybe just a couple of hours at a time, and then tell my mind it can come back to its Safe Space after that. If I’m doing ok and I want to stay longer, then that’s ok too, but it gives my mind a time frame to focus on, which along with the Hour by Hour way of coping, really helps. I used this (without really realising it) a couple of months back when I worked reduced hours for a bit – just starting my day knowing there was an “escape” time made each day a little more manageable. Some days I stayed past my alloted time because I was doing ok, but it was about having that fixed time in my head at the beginning of the day.

It’s crazy, quite literally mental, but the mind is a funny thing and there sure as hell isn’t any rationale to how it works, so I’ve just got to work with it! The first person I ever spoke to about my anxiety told me I should name it, to picture it as a person or a creature, and this feels similar, only in this case my mind is a crying toddler who doesn’t want to be without its blankie. All I can hope is that if I can learn to tame and pacify my mind, then the long term goal of what would be a toddler in a few years time should be a piece of cake, right……right?!

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One hell of a paradox

Things are a little tricksy at the moment, to put it mildly. The meds are even-ing themselves out, and thankfully the utter numbness has passed now, but I’m still left with the euphoric highs and crippling lows. Sadly, the last week or so has been more of the latter than the former.

I am exhausted. A different kind of exhaustion to the fatigue I’m used to from the physical illnesses. This is pure and utter mental exhaustion that stops me from doing even the smallest things. I’ve spent days just hiding at home, lying on the sofa, getting worried about all the things I should be doing – work, packing for the house move, organising all the bits and pieces that go with house moving, seeing friends and family. And then by not doing them, of course I feel guilty. I know all the theory. Take things one step at a time, give myself one task to do a day etc etc, but honestly, even doing that one thing is proving more than a challenge right now!

It’s frustrating. Things in my life are pretty damn good right now and I’d hoped the long weekend for Easter would be a great chance to have fun and also to really make a start on the house moving stuff, so to be fighting this right now is making me so mad. Plans are utterly terrifying me at the moment – just having to be somewhere at a certain time is enough to make me want to run right back to bed and sleep until it’s all gone away (which is exactly what I’ve done a couple of times!). Totally irrational, I am well aware of that, but none of my usual tricks or coping methods are even coming close to working.

So I’m going to try the hour by hour method again, because as was pointed out to me, that worked through the numbness. Just taking each hour as it comes, not thinking about the next, in the hope that that at least stops me feeling quite so overwhelmed all of the time. So this hour is nothing more than blogging, pictures of cute tigers, and nice conversations. Tomorrow can be packing and productivity, but I’ll worry about that when the time comes.

Wish me luck!

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​“Write about the stuff you’d rather not write about”

 

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Some thoughts are practically bursting to escape my head. Others are so well hidden that I barely admit that they’re there, let alone want to write about them. But maybe I should. I acknowledge them maybe once a day, sometimes a little more when things are spiraling out of my control, but mostly I put a little lid on the box and tell myself it’ll go away one day. It’s been nearly 15 years though and it hasn’t yet, so maybe it’s time to rethink. 

Social stigma around mental health is fading slowly, and I’m hopeful that one day someone will be able to say “I have depression” in the same was as they can say “I have diabetes”. I follow the mental health charity Mind as well as the campaign Time to Change – each of which been instrumental in changing the perception of depression, anxiety and many other conditions, but both sites posted something this week which very much struck a chord with me and gave me cause to think. First the quote below from Mind :

“Lots of people with mental health problems struggle with self-harm, yet it’s still something that many family, friends, and even professionals find hard to understand.”

And secondly, Time to Change shared a link to a lovely blog post by Grace Believed who said this:

“As someone who advocates talking and raising awareness of mental health it’s still something that I wouldn’t have even dreamed about discussing.”

The first is factual, the second is more personal. I will happily talk about all my physical health conditions – evidently since I have this blog – and I’m even happy to admit (at least to friends and family) when I’m falling into a period of depression or when my anxiety is getting on top of me – after all, they’re fairly well understood topics – but the one thing I never ever talk about is my struggle with self harm. And so as a huge advocate in sharing experiences, reducing stigma, and maybe helping others, I now want to play my part.

I should however start with a couple of disclaimers –

Firstly, I’m ok. This is just a part of me like everything else. You’ll see in my story below that it’s not something I act on a lot these days, it’s just there and I cope in much healthier ways.

Secondly, there’s a big reason I don’t talk about this – I don’t want to hurt anyone. Ironic I realise given the subject matter. But I’m so damn scared of upsetting anyone with my feelings that I find it easier to say nothing at all. So I’m telling myself and I’m telling you, that it’s ok that I’m sharing this. It’s less hurtful to share than to bottle it all up.

So all good stories start with music and this is no different. As I sit here indulging in my love for Ryan Adams, I can go straight back to being 14 years old, 18…..21….. 25…… in a heartbeat. I love the way music can do that and while you may not think that’s a positive thing given the subject matter, I can tell you there have been hundreds of nights that by simply plugging in my headphones and losing myself in the music, I’ve been able to feel and cry and sleep and be ok.

And that’s what this all comes down to – how to feel, how to cope with feeling, and how to control it all . I’ve learned a huge amount of coping methods and strategies in the last ten years or so, and it’s why I’m able to sit here and talk about this in the (mostly) past tense, but I cannot pretend that self harm won’t always be an option, even if it’s quickly pushed away. I feel intensely, far too intensely for my head and my heart to cope with. Or I feel nothing. A complete blank, an emptiness that can neither be explained nor rationalised. Honestly, I don’t know which is worse, but they both result in a desperate need for control – and for a long time, self harm was the only way I knew to manage that need. It’s taken me an extremely long time to work that out, and only with the support of friends, family, and network groups have I been able to finally put it into words. 

The stigma that surrounds self harm is that it’s a cry for help, that the person is suicidal, that they hate themselves, that it’s a form of punishment. And for many people that’s true, but it never was for me. It’s only in the last few years as other people have started opening up and sharing their stories, that I’ve begun to understand that that wasn’t what drove me to it, and more importantly that I’m by no means alone. 

And that’s my aim of this. Or one of them. I said before that I have discovered a plethora of coping strategies now – well one of them is writing. It literally keeps me sane on a day by day basis. This post has been floating around my head for weeks, if not months – or rather the thoughts behind it have – and this is how I can take those thoughts and turn them into something positive. Think of it like the pensieve in Harry Potter – each thought, be it good or bad, can be picked out one by one and examined in front of you. Self harm used to serve that purpose in the past, now writing brings the same relief. 

But just as importantly, this subject needs talking about. I see the amazing progress we’ve made around talking about mental health over the last ten years, and yet this is something that is still only whispered about. I spent too long not asking for help, being ashamed, embarrassed, and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. So I’m not saying shout it from the rooftops, but I am saying you’re not alone. Find someone you can trust, who you can open up to, don’t be scared to ask for help. When I finally spoke to a professional about how I was feeling, I was so shocked to not only be faced with understanding, but also the sheer fact that they took me seriously and didn’t judge. If there’s one thing I’m still learning (as last night’s anxiety filled post proved), it’s that it’ll never be as bad as you think. 

So that’s my story. It’s not over yet, because I choose for it not to be over. All I ask of you is to think about being that person, the one that someone can come to. You might not be able to do anything other than listen and that’s ok. Sharing our stories is how we’ll fight this and everyone has an important part to play. 

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