Knowing what to say to someone who’s feeling suicidal can be really difficult but saying something rather than nothing could be the difference between that person being able to seek help or remaining feeling alone and worthless. Here, I talk about what helps, what doesn’t, the difference you could make and the thoughts and feelings that go alongside feeling suicidal because of mental or physical illness.
Unsolicited Advice is something many of us with mental illness and long-term physical illness experience and at best it’s an irritant, at worst, it can be damaging and harmful. As a sufferer of Depression, Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Social Phobia and Agoraphobia, amongst other conditions, I receive a lot of “advice” that’s not asked for, nor wanted, and some of this has been possibly dangerous if I didn’t have the knowledge that I do.
Living with mental illness brings many different types of days, today my depression has really taken over and rather than cover it up and film on a different day, I thought I’d show you, warts and all, what it’s like to live with and how it affects me and so many others.
Hello lovelies, friends and family have been suggesting to me for the last 3.5 years to do Vlogs and I’ve never felt confident enough or had any particular desire to do it so I’ve always stuck to just blogging. However, I’m getting a bit bored currently and really want to branch out and get my voice heard just that little bit more and video posts seemed like the best way of doing this and after a fabulous pep talk on the phone with a Uni friend today, I decided to bite the bullet and record something. It was meant to be 2 minutes of me just saying Hi, but it turned into something a lot longer and a bit more informative. Please do give it a watch and let me know what you think of it. I’m hoping to use these videos to expand more on my blog posts, to reach a wider audience and to help you see the face behind mental illness and invisible conditions. The link to the post about Trichotillomania that I mention in the video can be found here.
I originally wrote this post in October last year (2016) and never got round to posting it, therefore all of the dates and amounts of time are wrong by a year. I haven’t yet written a review of the lightbox that I mention in it but briefly, it definitely helps me, it’s not a cure but it’s significantly better than not using one and it definitely helps with my daytime sleepiness and feeling low and unmotivated, it’s still really tough going but it really takes the edge off and makes things easier.
As winter approaches, a large number of people around the world start to get a sense of dread. The nights start drawing in, it gets colder, darker, cloudier and rainier, and your mood starts to lower. For most people this time of year isn’t a problem, many are looking forward to Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hannukah or Christmas, the changing colours of the leaves, Bonfire Night etc. I look forward to the festivals I celebrate amongst those but mostly, I feel dread and this year it’s been particularly early and particularly pronounced. Most people have heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), most of us have heard of someone we know having it and most of us aren’t exactly sympathetic about it. I’ll freely admit that as a long-term (10 years and counting) sufferer of depression, I didn’t have a lot of sympathy for people who only felt low for 3 months of the year when I got a jolly helping of it all year round. It sounded a bit like an excuse from people who didn’t like getting out of bed on a cold morning and didn’t fancy venturing out during the darker days. Oh how wrong I was! Despite having depression for a decade, I’ve never been particularly affected by the weather. I was always worse at Christmas but I’m as sure as I can be that this was due to family pressure, coursework deadlines and exam dates looming rather than anything to do with the light levels or temperature outside. I know this because come the middle to end of January, my depression would ease up just a little and I’d be back to muddling along as best as I possibly could. I also remember often being worse during any school/college holidays because I had to spend more time with my family and had less distraction and structure so weather and light levels really didn’t seem to be playing a part.
I happily went about thinking that SAD was a bit of a wishy-washy diagnosis for people who were a bit more sleepy in winter until I got ill and became housebound with my anxiety disorders 2.5 years ago. I’m now approaching my 3rd Winter of being predominantly indoors and I can safely say I’m dreading it. While I’m not diagnosed with SAD, it’s obvious to me and anyone around me that I have it now. This year it’s started kicking in earlier than ever, I’m normally safe until early to mid October but I’m already over 3 weeks in to feeling sleepy, drained and generally crap and this is unlikely to let up until February or even March. For those in any doubt, and for my cocky, accidentally judgemental younger self, SAD is not just feeling a bit sleepy. For me, it involves being barely able to wake up in the morning, even with my usual alarm, and usual amount of sleep, it’s being so painfully tired that I literally can’t face getting up and have to go back to sleep for a bit. It’s being cold. All the time. It’s also being awake for under 3 hours and then being so tired that I’m unable to stay awake and ending up falling asleep sat up and no amount of food, drink, or needing to go to the toilet will stave it off for long. It’s also like someone comes along and stuffs a huge bag of cotton wool inside my head that doesn’t shift for at least 3 months. Everything takes longer. It’s harder to think, harder to concentrate, harder to motivate myself to do, well anything! I also crave certain foods which I never crave the rest of the year, I just want to stuff my face with carbs, sugar, and high fat food, probably in the hopes of hibernating or giving myself energy to actually feel properly awake for once. My body just stops producing heat so that it doesn’t matter how many layers I wear or just how close to looking like the Michelin man I get, I’m producing no heat so the layers just keep in the cold. My feet go blue, as do my hands, my joints seize up and I ache. I find sitting up a struggle because I’m so tired but sleeping doesn’t help, I never feel any better so I just lose hours of my day to napping and get nothing done because I feel so groggy. Then the depression kicks you hard. Everything is so much harder and you start wondering what the point of doing any of it is. I know that I’ll be lucky if I get through half of the short list of tasks I’ve set myself each day which means each day I fail. Each day my to-do list gets longer because I’m so unproductive. Nothing helps, not eating, not sleeping, not drinking, not forcing myself to get things done. It’s relentless!
As you can imagine, I’m very keen to discover anything that might help with alleviating any or all of the symptoms. Sadly, most of the treatments for SAD are the same as for depression and are therefore things that I’ve already tried and that either haven’t worked, or have made me significantly worse so it’s not looking overly hopeful for my feeling better any time soon. The NHS website recommends being outside as much as possible (not particularly possible for me), sitting near windows (I do this as much as possible), regular exercise (again, not especially easy for me) and trying to avoid stress (yeah right!). More medical treatments include medication which I react very badly to, therapy that I’ve previously had and that there are months long waiting lists for and light therapy which has mixed evidence regarding its effectiveness so there aren’t any ideal options!
I hope my description of how it affects me will help other disbelievers to realise how debilitating it can be and that it’s a condition that has a long list of symptoms that are really difficult to deal with, I’ve certainly had my eyes opened after suffering from it for the past 2 years and entering my third! Various members of my family now also suffer badly in the Winter and while none of us are diagnosed, again, it’s very clear that they have SAD too. My mum very kindly bought me a light box which is recommended for the treatment (not cure) of SAD and I’m now using it, as is my boyfriend, and two other family members have them too. I’m tentatively optimistic about it as it definitely seems to be helping me and I will write a full review in a few weeks’ time once we’ve all had a longer chance to use it and decide if it’s the light or external factors that may be helping us. All 4 of us have very different symptoms, diagnoses and lives, as well as being different ages and genders so we should be a pretty good cross-section of people to test it. I’ll report back soon. If anyone is interested in reading more or testing out a lightbox themselves then below is a link to the one we’re all trying out as it’s one that’s cheaper than most while still being approved as effective and having great reviews. I have no affiliation with the company and will be (as always) providing a full and totally honest review, the link below is an affiliate link which means that a small percentage of any sales made through it will be paid to me and help towards the running of my blog, I never promote items that I don’t believe in and would never give false hope to sufferers of what I know, from my own lived experience, to be hugely debilitating conditions. If you get one then please do let me know how you get on with it and whether it helps you!
Amazon UK – Lightbox 10,000 Lux
It’s so hard to write this post, I’ve been trying to for over 2 years but I’ve always stopped part-way through because I worry that others will view my thoughts as judgements about the decisions they may make and I want to categorically state now that this isn’t the case. The thoughts and decisions I have about this are my own, about my own life, experiences and conditions, even if someone else were a carbon copy of me, I wouldn’t advise the same so please read this as my own decisions based on my own experience.
So, when are you having kids? This is a question I’ve been asked a number of times over the years, I’m sure almost every female of my age has, it comes with the territory of being 26 and in a long-term relationship. It’s amazing how little a person needs to know you to feel comfortable enough to ask you such a personal question and sadly, answering it is very personal indeed. So, when am I going to have kids? Well, the short answer is never. In fact though, there’s no short answer and no matter the answer I’ve given to people I’m usually told I’m wrong or that I’ll change my mind.
You see, planning a family isn’t so easy when you’re mentally ill. I’ve never been very maternal or had a strong desire to have children and for that I will always be very grateful. Many people when I state this look at me as if I’ve said that I hate children and all who bear them, or that I’m selfish, or I don’t have what it takes to be a mother, to put another human being first. The truth is, I’m all too familiar with doing that, in fact, I worry a lot that if I ever had a child, I’d struggle to be left with any identity at all because I’m so giving of myself to others and I can’t even imagine how much that would be amplified by that person being my own child. Anyone who knows me would describe me as caring, someone who goes above and beyond and who gives too much of themselves, this isn’t something I’m bragging about, or even something I’m proud of, it causes me a huge amount of problems because I’m so often taken for granted or taken advantage of. Imagine how I’d cope with a child when my self-esteem is such that I believe I should always come second to everyone around me?! Deciding not to have children is not a choice I’ve made for myself, it’s not for selfish reasons, in fact the vast majority of my reasons are for that child, rather than for me.
I’ve been mentally ill for 10 years, since just before I turned 16. Luckily, I hadn’t thought a great deal before that about wanting a family and I didn’t get into a serious, long-term relationship until I was nearly 21, by then, I’d decided that I wasn’t cut out to bring children into the world and therefore made this very clear to the boyfriends I had. Sadly, this isn’t a choice that many people accept as final, I’m told I’ll change my mind, that I’ll get broody, that I’ll get over my fears. Thankfully, this hasn’t happened yet and what the people saying these things don’t realise is that I have to fight quite hard to stay firm in my beliefs. I regularly waver, I consider having a family, being pregnant, having a mini me, I want to see what I’d be like as a mum, see my boyfriend be a dad, see my parents be grandparents and so much more. But I can’t allow those thoughts to take over because for me, the idea of being a mum to my own biological children is not a sensible one. There are so many reasons for this choice, one of the biggest being that I don’t want to pass on my genes as there is a large genetic component to all of the conditions I’m diagnosed with. Another, is that I’m untreatable with medication and due to having long-term depression and severe anxiety, my likelihood of getting post-natal anxiety or depression is very high and I’m yet to find a treatment that works that would therefore get this under control. I also have a lot of very severe fears that verge on phobias including needles, vomiting, hospitals, and pain. Each of these would be difficult to deal with on their own but combined they feel impossible to tackle and I therefore do everything in my power to avoid them, including getting pregnant. Mental illness is often exacerbated or even triggered by environment and therefore possibly giving my child a genetic predisposition and then having them live in a mentally ill environment is going to make them more likely to become ill themselves, something that I’m personally not willing to risk.
While I do have very sensible, logical, and robust arguments against having my own children, as I mentioned before, this doesn’t stop me from wishing it were different or regularly contemplating the idea. You can probably imagine that when people then ask me when I’ll be having children or why I don’t already have them, it’s a difficult topic to talk about. You all know that I’m very open and honest and I’m happy to have difficult conversations but most people aren’t prepared for this when they ask these seemingly innocuous questions, they don’t think about the people who can’t have children, those who are trying but not having success, those who’ve lost children, or those like me, who would love for life to be different but have made the difficult choice to not have children. Most people around me don’t understand this, most people who want kids say they wouldn’t let anything get in the way, that having kids is everything to them and even in my situation they’d still have them but you can’t possibly say this because you’re not me, you haven’t lived my life, you’ve not walked in my shoes and you don’t think about the world in the way that I do. So many people think I’m wrong for making this choice, that I’m selfish, but I’m making the right choice for me because I believe it would be selfish to allow my desire for children and to be a mother to take over the fact that I’m pretty sure that I would be bringing a disadvantaged child into the world, that I would be giving them a very difficult start in life based on mine and my boyfriend’s genetics and that I don’t want to risk that or risk feeling guilty or responsible for the rest of my life. I don’t want to make my child or children suffer and I can’t put myself through the fear or worry of knowing that it might, let alone try and get through the ordeal of pregnancy or giving birth that I’m so not cut out for. Living life with anxiety is extremely difficult, I can’t even imagine trying to do that whilst looking after a child, I’d just obsess over everything, worry over every cough or sniffle, and probably never let them out of my sight; we all know how much new parents worry, add an anxiety disorder on top of that and I’m not sure I’d do anything other than worry and panic.
However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that I won’t be a mother. I do believe that I have a lot to give, as I said before, I’m extremely caring and I would love to look after and nurture a child, but I don’t want to be biologically related to them. I really hope that one day my boyfriend and I might be able to foster children and possibly even adopt if our circumstances change and become more stable, it’s certainly something we’re working towards. I think we’d make great parents, even with my health problems, because I’ve learnt so much compassion, understanding and awareness. I’ve learnt to read people, to understand emotions and feelings and the issues that can arise if we go through adversity in our childhood and more importantly, I’ve learnt a huge amount of skills and techniques to identify those issues and change or improve them. It’s these things that make me think I could be a great mum, an understanding foster carer who could help guide a struggling child, to help them find themselves and become who they want to be and to get them back on the path to a better, happier life. I think I could love and care for a child whom I have no genetic or chemical bond with because I want to help, I want to offer a safe and stable place for them to call home, I want to be a person in their life who will never leave or knowingly let them down. There are so many children in the world who are crying out for homes, for parents, for love, and I feel that I could offer that, I just can’t for my own biological children, the world doesn’t need a mini me, it doesn’t need an extra child or two of mine, but it does need people to help those already here who are struggling and that’s where I think my place is. If I believed in God, or a higher power then I guess I’d describe it as my calling though it’s not half as dramatic or profound as that, more a realisation over the years that while I can’t face creating and bringing up a biological child, I have far too much love and care in me to never be a parent. I don’t feel that I was born to be a foster carer of an adoptive parent, not like I do about working in mental health and making a stand about that, but I do feel drawn towards it, towards helping those who’ve not been given a great start in life and to try and make that better with them. I don’t know if it’ll ever happen, I don’t know when or if I’ll ever be stable enough health-wise or financially to be able to even consider fostering, but the hope is there.
As you can see, it’s not a simple question, and it certainly doesn’t have a simple answer, it’s one of the most personal questions you can ask a person and yet so often it’s asked by strangers, in an offhand way, catching you off guard and giving you no chance to fully explain what you want the people around you to know and understand. I’ve always told people that I don’t want children, it’s easier that way, it means that I get the comments about changing my mind or being selfish but it’s easier than having to listen to people try to persuade me into having children that I don’t want, and it’s certainly easier than trying to explain that I have to work very hard to stay this strongly against having biological kids because I wholeheartedly believe that it’s in my, and theoretically their, best interests, that giving up the idea of having children is as far from selfish as I could possibly be and is actually me trying to be selfless and put them first, ahead of me. I’m not religious and therefore I don’t believe that any of this is God’s plan or destiny or anything pre-determined like that, I don’t believe that it’s God’s will for me to have children or that I’m deviating from the path set out for me, I’m using my free will to decide that procreation isn’t for everyone, we’re already in a pretty sorry state thanks to the sheer number of people populating the planet and I don’t want to contribute to that, I don’t want to add to that burden, or make myself ill, for the sake of carrying on my genes. I don’t need to be related to my children in order to be a parent or a mother, I don’t need to give birth to them in order to love them and protect them. I know that if I become a foster carer or adoptive parent, I might be in the firing line for judgement from those who might believe that I can’t possibly love my children quite as much as those who’ve birthed them, that it’s not the same if they don’t look or act like you, that you don’t have the same bond if you’ve not parented them since birth, but I simply don’t believe those things to be true and as with all of the other things I’ve received judgement about in my 26 years, I’ll fight the stigma, I’ll fight to be understood, because I may not be a mother yet, but I’ll fiercely fight as if I am one.
Today is World Mental Health Day and I’ve been umming and ahhing for days about whether I was going to post anything. The theme this year is mental health at work so I kind of opted myself out of writing anything because I don’t exactly have much to say on the matter having been out of work for 3.5 years specifically because of my mental illnesses. But, it seems like a wasted opportunity if I don’t write anything. I’ve been very good at opting out of writing things recently, I’m never quite sure what to say and then my anxiety takes over and decides that anything I might say isn’t worth saying and that no one will read it and if they do they’ll be bored or judge me or even unsubscribe from my blog and so the urge to write quickly dissipates and I go back to my reviews, watching tv or feeling a bit lost and unproductive.
I wanted to write something today because even though today is the one day of the year where the mentally ill are most celebrated, most accepted and most listened to, our mental illnesses still work their hardest to crush our spirits, silence us, and even make us feel like we’re not part of the accepted mentally ill group. That’s certainly been my experience today and has been for any awareness days or special events for at least the last year. I fall very nicely in the box of mentally ill and therefore you’d really think that today is the day I get to stand proud, shout from the rooftops and use my blog to do what I set it up for 3 years ago, to raise awareness, increase understanding, and reduce stigma. But instead, all day, I’ve felt a bit rubbish, quite low and I’ve been spectacularly unproductive. It’s 10.30 at night and I’ve not even showered or got dressed, I can’t even remember the last time I shaved my legs (it’s literally been weeks) and I’m surrounded by used mugs, bowls, plates and an empty crisp packet. You’re probably now either judging me or feeling sorry for me and wondering if I’m getting worse again, the truth is, that I’m not. I’m fairly stable currently and about the best I’ve been in the last 3.5 years but this is often my reality, I’m not tidy, I don’t have the capacity to be, I don’t keep on top of all the things I should and I’m a truly terrible housewife. Mental illness doesn’t switch off for our awareness days, we don’t suddenly become capable, functioning human beings if that isn’t our current norm, in fact today, for me, has been worse than any other days in the last few weeks, I’ve been doing a great job of showering every day, of clearing used crockery out of the lounge and getting at least a few bits done for reviewing but that really hasn’t happened today and I’ve only just realised that it’s probably because it’s WMHD and I’ve not known what to write about.
I’m afraid this post doesn’t really have a point, I don’t have a message to get across today, nothing huge to blow your mind or make you think differently. I just very much feel that I should write something and so this is it, rambly, messy, confused, very much like the inner workings of my mind. I can’t even keep my email inbox tidy, I currently have 82 unread emails, many dating back months! I’ve read all of them but I mark them as unread when I can’t deal with them immediately so that I don’t forget to deal with them later only I then get overwhelmed by how many there are, feel guilty that I’ve taken so long to respond to people or worried that I’ll offend people if I don’t want to review their books or can’t because I get so swamped. It’s such fun being an anxious person! On Thursday last week I was interviewed by BBC Radio 4 for You and Yours and the interview was aired yesterday. I told almost no one that I was doing this because I was so nervous about how it would sound. I was told by those I did tell that I should be announcing it on my blog, on my Facebook pages, emailing family, but I just couldn’t. To me, that seems big-headed, and I was terrified that I would sound awful and people would judge me and I didn’t want that so I said nothing. When I was listening to the programme I was sat colouring trying to keep myself calm and remembering to breathe. It was actually pretty good in the end and I’m really pleased with the reaction I’ve had from people since so it was most certainly worth doing but it’s a shame I had to feel so bad ahead of time. I don’t remember much of yesterday after the interview because I was still so wired and keyed up that my brain was all mushy and I couldn’t concentrate on anything I was doing well enough to actually commit it to memory, this is the story of my life, it’s why I was so worried about the interview itself because when I’m anxious I don’t know what I’m saying, my filter goes and I don’t remember things well so I could have said anything and I wouldn’t have known!
I don’t even cope well with good news most of the time, my body just gets flooded with adrenaline and I don’t know what to do with it. I end up pacing around and flapping my hands a lot, I can’t sit still and will keep getting up and sitting down, wiggling my feet, making weird noises, rocking, anything that gets some of the nervous energy out. My partner got offered a new job last week that we’ve been desperately hoping he’d get for months. I was so excited when he phoned to tell me, it was better than Christmas (and I really love Christmas!) but within an hour I was worrying that it would fall through or that he’d fail his medical for some unknown reason or that they’d just rescind the offer. He’s got his medical tomorrow and we should know very soon after that if it’s all going ahead and then he’ll finally be able to sign contracts, I’m hoping that will calm me down and my condition will stop making me think the absolute worst. I don’t even believe those things will happen but my conditions really do and so I’m forced to sit and think about the possibilities and how we’ll deal with them and what we’ll do if he hands in his notice and then ends up jobless. It’s exhausting and relentless! Anxiety doesn’t let you just be happy. This is the best news we’ve had in months, possibly years, I should be on top of the world, but instead the anxiety creeps in and takes over my thoughts. It’s really no fun.
However, in happier news, my “anxious eyes” (previous readers of my blogs will know that this is how I describe my visual hypervigilance) meant that when I went for a walk with my mum at the weekend, I was able to find some fly agaric mushrooms that we’ve both wanted to see our whole lives, hiding in some brambles that we were able to photograph. I even found a discarded horseshoe, almost entirely buried in mud which I’ve “rescued” and brought home to wash and clean up and add to my “collection” of objects from walks, it currently joins a deer antler that I found a couple of months back. I did have a panic attack whilst out because I found a spider crawling on my hand and then another on my cardigan later on but apart from that I managed well and had lots of lovely chats with my mum. Being outside is so good for me when I’m in natural places, it’s just so difficult trying to keep the anxiety at bay, I jump at every noise, I get stressed out by insects or animals getting too close to me, I hate coming across dogs which I’m terrified of, it’s a really difficult juggling act of being desperate to be outside the four walls of my flat and trying to do deal with all of the ridiculous things that being outside makes me anxious about. The photography definitely helps but it can also be frustrating because I don’t have a good attention span when I’m anxious and therefore I can get bored or move on from a subject too quickly before getting decent shots; I nearly threw things in frustration when I couldn’t get my camera to focus on most of the mushrooms we found and just ended up giving up and trudging about a bit.
So there you go, I’m not quite sure what this post has turned into, it’s kind of an update, kind of an explanation and a bit of awareness raising too. I’ll leave you with the link to my radio interview and some pictures of the mushrooms I found with my mum. A snippet of me speaking can be found at 00.43 and the actual interview can be found at 09.19 minutes in. Do let me know what you think of it!
As open as I am, I hate admitting to not being okay, to being worse at any point. I always put it off and tell as few people as possible in the vain hope that it might just go away if I don’t think or talk about it. This is a ridiculous way of thinking and behaving and yet, it’s what I do every single time. It’s not working though, it never works, and it means I have to struggle and deal with it all on my own rather than with help or understanding from those around me. So here I am, again, sadly having to say that I’m worse, that I’m not okay. You might be wondering why so many of my posts seem to be about deterioration and why so few are about me getting a bit better, I wonder this sometimes too, I think it’s because the better bits are still so challenging that it doesn’t often feel like an improvement, just a bit less bad (I know that sounds pessimistic but that’s how it feels, owing just £1000 instead of £1050 still means that you’re in debt!). I think it’s also because I’m busier and happier when I’m not as ill and I don’t immediately think to blog about that stuff, I just make the most of the things I’m finding a bit easier or become able to do because I’ve very much learnt the lesson that it may not last and that it may get taken away again.
So yes, I’m currently not okay. I deteriorated at the beginning of May and didn’t get back on track after that and then last week I got a lot worse again and am now struggling with any type of commitment or decision-making, even deciding what or when to eat is really hard now. I feel on edge almost constantly and just feel like I can’t cope. With what? I don’t know. There’s just an overwhelming feeling of not being able to cope. My IBS has also got a lot worse recently. I’ve mentioned before that it got worse at New Year, specifically the morning of any visits or trips I was making, this then got loads better for over 2 months and now it’s back with a vengeance! I’m in pain every day, whether I eat, don’t eat, or have something small, I’m in a lot of pain, suffering from terrible bloating, getting random attacks and severe toilet urgency. This then makes my anxiety worse because I worry about getting attacks, about being unable to do things and about having attacks outside my home. For those of you who don’t have IBS, you might not understand why this would be an issue but with toilet urgency I’ll have no idea I need the loo and then suddenly have a very urgent need to go and if I don’t get to a toilet within a few minutes then I’ll likely have an accident so when I’m feeling like this I’m very limited in where I can go out to and even panic about people using my shower for too long as we only have one toilet in our flat.
Unfortunately, this deterioration has also caused a bit of a confidence crisis in me. I get these every now and again and they’re really difficult to deal with, especially when the anxiety is bad because they feed each other. This deterioration has happened so suddenly and so out of the blue that it’s really had me questioning what the cause is and how and if I’ll ever get better. I’m very good at coping day to day, I plan short term and I focus on getting through today and tomorrow and this week or fortnight if I’m well enough to think that far ahead. But when the rug is pulled out from under you and you’ve got no idea why, or when it might be given back, it’s difficult not to start panicking about the future and wondering if you’ll ever be free from this. The randomness of these episodes is a constant reminder that I’m not in control, not of my condition, or of my life, that I’m at the mercy of my anxiety and the environment around me and that’s a really scary thing because if I can’t control this then who’s to say it’ll go away? Who’s to say that I’ll ever get better, ever be free of this, ever be “normal”? I mostly get through each day because I “know” that I’ll get better, I “know” that one day this won’t be my whole life, anxiousness won’t be my first thought, but during times like this I’m left wondering if that’s just denial or wishful thinking, if it’s all just my imagination and actually this is the best I can hope for. This is why I keep so busy all the time, why I’ve always got multiple activities on the go and I don’t stop, it’s why I always have the TV on, multiple social media accounts open, my phone next to me and heaps of colouring books started, because I have to move from one activity to another, to another, because otherwise my thoughts catch up with me and I just can’t let them. I can’t keep wondering if this is it because it leads me to really dark places, really quickly. If this is it then I can tell you now, I’m not ok with that, I don’t want to live like this long-term. I keep trying to kid myself that 3 years is temporary, it’s not forever, it won’t be like this always, I steer clear of listening to the voice inside my head that whispers each time “but what if it is?” because I don’t have a solution. I felt suicidal for 3 years in my teens and spent every day thinking up all sorts of horrible ways to end it all, I’ve realised since that I don’t have it in me to act on it. Many of you will think this is a good thing, I know my family are hugely relieved when I tell them this, but it’s very hard having that option taken away. Most people I know who are mentally ill have thought at some time that if it ever got bad enough, if it got just that little bit worse and even less bearable, that they’d end it all. Can you imagine what it feels like to know that you couldn’t do that? That you don’t have a way out? That you’re at the mercy of whatever happens to you because you can’t take that ultimate step to take control and take yourself out of the situation? For religious people they almost have a safety net, they believe that God will never give them more than they can handle, that they’ll never be alone, but for those of us who aren’t religious, who don’t have faith in a higher power, you can’t feel more isolated or scared than when you realise that you can’t and won’t end your own life. Those who say it’s the coward’s way out or that it’s easy couldn’t be more wrong, if it were easy I’d have done it, years ago, I wouldn’t have kept going and gone through all the things I’ve had to. I’m glad I haven’t, I’m glad I’m still here, but I’m not glad that my way out has been taken away, that I’m at the mercy of my conditions and that no matter what they throw at me, I’ll have to keep living through it.
Trying to get through each day currently is a real challenge. I don’t even want to get out of bed because it means I have to face things I don’t want to or feel able to face. I don’t want to have to see people or make phonecalls, I don’t want to deal with messages or emails. Decisions are an absolute nightmare, from when to shower, what to eat, which book to review next, to whether I should phone the doctor, go out, or visit family. My head feels so full, like it’s about to explode. I’ve had vivid, bad dreams every night for at least three weeks, I go to bed too late every night because I’m scared of shutting my eyes because I don’t want to have to live through these horrible dreams for another night. I stay up watching TV on my own, trying to tire myself out, trying to distract myself enough that maybe tonight will be different and I won’t dream that my boyfriend’s left me or that my brother’s been in an accident or that I’ve been in multiple arguments with people. I’m so terrified of failing, of letting people down, that I’m now managing to actually do those things, the anxiety is so bad that I’m unable to do things I’ve signed up to do, I’m having to cancel last minute because I’m feeling so close to vomiting or I’m rooted to the spot because I feel like I’ll collapse. I can’t cope with any pressure or demands because it just reminds me that I “have” to do things and the voice in my head screams that I can’t, that I can’t cope and then makes damn sure that I won’t be well enough to even try. It’s getting so bad that I’m considering multiple times a day just cancelling everything, refusing any more books to review, saying no to all visits or trips, and logging out of all methods of communication so that I’m not feeling bombarded by demands. But I know I can’t.
The last appointment I had with my psychiatrist has stuck so firmly with me, he said that avoidance was the worst thing I could do and would only make me worse. I know this. I know that on paper this is true, I know that avoiding just reinforces that I “can’t” do these things and will then make me question even smaller tasks but I also know that the things I’m told about how to get better just aren’t working for me. I was told that going out would get easier, it randomly does, and then for no reason it gets harder again with no pattern to it at all. I was told that after doing something once it gets easier, I can’t think of a single time this has happened. I was told that if I tell myself I can do it and that if I have positive experiences that I’ll regain functioning in that area. From day 1, I’ve pushed myself to go out, I’ve forced myself out of my ever-decreasing comfort zone, I make myself see people, make phonecalls, send scary emails, I can honestly say that almost none of it gets consistently easier. There is so little that I can do now that I couldn’t do 3 years ago. Even the photography isn’t helping as much as it was, though I’m very hopeful that once I’m a bit calmer and better able to focus I’ll be right back into it again, but even the thought of all the things I could photograph didn’t stop me being paralysed by fear this weekend and having to cancel plans for my boyfriend and mum’s birthdays. I know that part of why I’m worse is because I’ve put so much pressure on myself to be ok, to not affect other people’s plans and to be able to participate because I’m sick of things being altered for me but this time I pushed myself way too hard and didn’t manage to do any of it. I’m trying to give myself a break, to not give in to the screaming thoughts that I failed, that I ruined their birthdays (I know they’ll be furious that I’m even suggesting thinking that way), that I should have been able to do it and should have just tried a bit harder. I know that the truth is that I couldn’t have tried any harder, I’m burnt out, I feel completely crushed inside, I don’t have any energy left to fight any harder at the moment and almost all of that energy is going into just keeping swimming, keeping my head above the surface and not falling into the abyss, not giving in to the incessant worry and anxiety, not giving up altogether and just cancelling everything because I know I’ll just feel even worse, even more of a failure if I do.
You can probably see why I don’t tell people about this stuff often, because it’s scary and it’s depressing. It’s not just one deterioration, it’s not got a proper reason, it doesn’t have a time limit, and my worries aren’t limited to just this period of being worse, they drastically expand so that I’m then worrying about the future, about the rest of my life, about whether my boyfriend or indeed I can possibly cope with this for whatever length it lasts. It probably sounds like I’m feeling really sorry for myself and having a pity party and in many ways I am but I’m not seeking sympathy, I don’t want people to feel sorry for me, I just want to stop feeling scared, to stop deteriorating for no reason, and to be able to cope with normal, everyday things without wanting to just scream at everyone to leave me alone and stop putting pressure on me. I feel like a child at the moment, I’m scared of everything, unsure of myself and feel unable to commit to anything or deal with any stress or pressure. I’m trying to take pressure off myself, not give myself deadlines, have a break and get more sleep, I’ve gone back to taking my beta-blockers regularly instead of as and when I need them, I’m trying to up my fluid intake and am now taking a multi-vitamin in the hopes it might help me as I’m almost certainly deficient in things with my digestion being so poor at the moment. I’m even considering starting Yoga or Pilates videos in the hopes that it might help calm me down, get out some of my nervous energy and maybe even help my sleep. I’m doing everything I can think of to help myself, but right now I’m scared because this might go away tomorrow and I might be back to my “usual” level of functioning, or it might take weeks or even months for me to get better again, I could even get worse. I’m doing my best to stay positive, to stay busy and not to think too deeply or often about this, I’m trying to talk about it so that people around me know what’s going on and what will and won’t help but even when this deterioration passes and I go back to my “usual” level of functioning, I don’t get to just make the most of that, I’ll still be anxious every day, I’ll still struggle to go outside, to do anything remotely normal, and I’ll still have the threat of deterioration hanging over me every day because I’ve still not worked out what causes or triggers these dips and therefore still have no idea how to ward them off or even see them coming.
I feel so utterly overwhelmed, so consumed with fear and worry. I wonder when I’ll ever be okay. I wonder if I’ll ever be okay. Most of the time I can’t even explain all of this, or any of the other stuff swirling around my head, I can’t explain what or why, what the reasons are that I don’t feel able to cope, why today is different from other days and I’m rooted to the spot when I normally fight my way through. I can’t express how tired I am, how much my body aches, how uncomfortable it is to be able to feel your intestines wrenching in every direction, how it feels to be in my head and feel like your thoughts have been hijacked, like you’re no longer in control or have any say over your life. I don’t want to express how tired I am of fighting, how angry I am that every day is a struggle, that I can’t change the world like I want to or make the difference I feel I was born to make. I just hate having to face up to the fact that I’m worse, that this has happened again and that three little words are so capable of instilling fear and feelings of failure in me – I’m Not Okay.
You all know by now that I’m one for anniversaries. It’s not deliberate, I just have a really good memory for dates, plus this one is etched onto my brain because I’ve had to fill out so many forms declaring how long I’ve been ill and off work for that I’m not sure this date will ever leave my head. March the 24th 2014, the day I stopped coping with life. Dramatic isn’t it?! But that’s pretty much what it is. I don’t want to focus on that today though. My way of dealing with things, my way of looking at this condition, at my life, at the challenges and adversity I face each day has really changed, I can’t pinpoint when, why, or even particularly how, but it has changed and I’m going to take this post in a different direction from the one I’d have expected last year. I re-read my post One Year On – One Year of Fear, a few days ago and it was fairly depressing. Not what I wrote, though it certainly wasn’t cheery content, but it was depressing to read how I was then and what I hoped would be the case for today, one more year on. It was disheartening to realise that I’m actually worse than I was then in many ways. I can do even less, I go out even less, my social circle is even less. I thought I’d have improved by now, I thought I’d be getting my life back on track and for a while I did make some small improvements, I was able to go out a lot more regularly, I was pushing myself so hard to do more and more things that scared me, it wasn’t difficult to find things, almost everything scares me. Then I deteriorated in October after being put under too much pressure and my condition decided to fight back hard and I was the most housebound I’ve been, completely unable to take the rubbish downstairs, fearing anyone buzzing our door, having panic attacks before phonecalls and only being able to visit my grandparents once a fortnight (a place I’ve known my whole life with people who were at my birth) and suffering severe anxiety ahead of time. I was utterly trapped, not only physically by my condition and within the walls of my flat, but now almost entirely mentally too because for months I’ve had nightmares that include anxiety, I worry about anything and everything and even get anxiety for no reason where I’ll just feel anxious and have anxious thoughts about nothing.
Despite all of that though, despite all of the trapped-ness, the pain, the worry, the wondering, I’ve been doing something that has challenged me, that has forced me to face my anxiety head on and that has scared, overwhelmed and taken over my life more than I thought it ever would. Blogging was never something I wanted to do, I never thought I had something to offer or even write about, for those of you that don’t know, the only reason I started was to satisfy some particularly persistent and vocal (in a good way) relatives and friends who weren’t taking no, or my lack of assurance in the idea as an answer. So I eventually gave in. I will never be able to thank them enough for pushing me in this direction. The course of my illness, the course of my recovery has changed all because of them believing in me and believing I had something to say. Blogging has been an absolute lifeline for me. I have very little going on in my life in the real world, I don’t have an awful lot to look forward to, my progress in terms of recovery is almost non-existent, but online all of these possibilities have opened up. I can help make a difference, I can have a voice, I have a cause, I can do what I was put on this earth to do and help people, all with the aid of my laptop and an internet connection. It’s given me a purpose, a reason to get up in the morning and probably best of all after the opportunity to help people, it’s given me more friends. I’ve met so many amazing people who follow my blog, who share their colouring with me, share their stories with me, who comment on posts when I’m feeling rough or post pictures to cheer me up, I have a whole community of people who want to help each other and it’s wonderful to be part of that. I’ve also made 3 amazing friends who I hope to be able to call friends for life now. Two of them are reviewers and though we’ve never met, we have so much in common and their support, conversation, humour and friendship have been absolute lifesavers through the countless times I’ve considered giving up blogging and throwing the towel in. They’re probably sick of me thanking them and it’s probably lost all meaning but I truly can’t thank them enough for everything they’ve done for me, they won’t even realise the extent they’ve helped but my family and friends do and we all thank you. I’ve also made friends with a fellow colourer who sends me a photo almost every day, we’ve never met but when I’m better we’re going to colour together, go button shopping and eat ice cream. Those sound like simple things but to me those things are the world because they’re currently so far out of my reach. Blogging has helped me connect with people who understand, who help pull me through and who give me things to look forward to in the future.
Two years on, two years of being predominantly indoors and I’m pretty used to it. It doesn’t upset me every day, I don’t pine for the life I had so much anymore because it now feels so far away, so distant, that I no longer remember what it felt like. I’m so used to being housebound, to being anxious and scared that I can no longer imagine living a ‘normal’ life because I have no idea how I did that in the first place. Despite living through it, I don’t know how I got from that functioning girl who was going to change the world, who grinned from ear to ear walking across the stage at her graduation, who worked in a high-stress job that most people wouldn’t even attempt doing, to this. This anxious creature whose first thought is to worry and wonder ‘what if?’, who fears almost everything and who can only just cope with everyday tasks and still can’t manage basic things like planning meals or working to a schedule.
Despite all of those things, all of those difficulties (most of which I’ve never even mentioned because I’m too embarrassed to admit them), I try to push through, to keep myself motivated, working towards something and being useful in some way. In the last year I’ve learnt so many things, talked to so many lovely people and realised just how widespread mental illness is. Despite having very little self-belief, I’m gradually starting to realise that I do have the ability to write and that this is something I can offer whilst I can do little else of use indoors. I’m starting to feel like I’m not wasting my time and I’m incredibly determined to have something to show for myself at the end of this period of extremely limited functioning, however long it may be. I will not become another unemployed statistic who can’t get a job because they were too ill to work for a time, I will not fit the hugely stigmatising stereotype people have of the mentally ill that we’re lazy and work-shy and don’t try hard enough to ‘snap ourselves out of it’, I try all day, every day and some days the amount of effort and determination it takes me to go for a walk or visit my family on rare occasions is the same amount of effort I have to muster to get myself out of bed and not just cry or contemplate suicide. None of this is easy. It doesn’t get easier over time. In some ways I’m used to this, I’ve adapted to it, but it’s still painful every day. Every day I have to fight with my own mind to not label myself as a failure, to not give up even though I’m running out of answers to the incessant question in my head “What’s the point?”. I make myself have a goal, I try to help people in whatever way I can and every time I get an email or a comment from someone saying they enjoyed my review, or the book they bought on my recommendation is their new favourite, I feel that little bit more hopeful and it becomes a little easier to get out of bed that day, to keep going, to keep doing, to keep living this groundhog day of repetitive worry and anxiety and lack of progress because if nothing else, at least I’ve made a difference in someone else’s life.
I’m not going to put myself through thinking about the year ahead, it’s too difficult to focus on the all-too-real prospect that I may get to year 3 and still be blogging about lack of progress. I’m also learning from my mistakes and I’m not going to put down hopes either, even small ones like I thought I’d done last year because even those I haven’t actually managed to achieve and that just sets me up for failure. I’ll leave you with my plan instead because I only make plans that I think I can realistically achieve. I plan to continue blogging, to continue trying to learn new skills so that I have a whole new section to add to my CV when I can eventually, hopefully, start applying for jobs again. My biggest plan is to continue trying to help people, to reach out to other people like me, who are struggling with their lot in life, and often with their very existence, and let them know that they’re not alone, that there are countless other people out there who are struggling too and that together we can help each other through until the days are a little brighter. I don’t know what the year ahead will involve, or what it will bring, the idea of another year, even another day of feeling like this scares me to the pit of my stomach, but one thing I can assure you of is that I will be trying. Trying all day, every day, striving forwards, pushing to succeed and taking each day, hour and even minute as it comes in order to get through to the next one in the best shape I can. Two Years On – Two Years of Trying.
If you’d like to keep up with my blog posts then click follow at the top or bottom of the page to receive an email each time I post. You can also follow this blog on Facebook here, or my Colouring blog on Facebook here. If you’d like to read more about how I got into blogging, what I’ve learned and how it’s helped me, you can read my post here. If you’d like to read more about my experience with mental health problems and my thoughts and feelings on the matter, all of my posts are arranged into date order here.
Today I’m relieved … I think. To be honest, I’m actually numb, but I should be relieved and I think I will be when everything sinks in. I’m truly exhausted after under 6 hours’ sleep a night for the last week due to anxiety about today and only getting 3.5 hours last night and then being done in with drilling and hammering in our stairwell almost all day. To my friends and family who I haven’t told/reminded that I had a psychiatrist appointment today, I’m sorry, I only reminded my boyfriend, it’s nothing personal, I also didn’t phone any of you and I’m sorry about that too, I’m just burnt out and couldn’t deal with phoning anyone or answering questions, or anything really.
I didn’t attend my appointment today. I’ve been asking them since July to stop making me attend appointments that have been making me so unwell, I’ve written letters, had my Support Worker tell them, told them in appointments and until now, they’ve not got the message and keep telling me I have to attend one more to discuss it. I’m not allowed phone appointments, they don’t offer the treatment I’ve been requesting (previous posts explain this in detail but long story short I was lied to about it being offered, then categorically told it wasn’t, and then finally found out it is offered but not in our area and I can’t travel so it’s not currently suitable) which ironically I’m now way too ill to even contemplate, and the only treatment option they offered was going to groups, not group therapy, just groups of other mentally ill people talking about coping strategies we each have and doing arts and crafts – clearly ideal for a virtually housebound agoraphobic who suffers from panic, severe social anxiety and Generalised Anxiety Disorder. I digress…. essentially they’ve continually offered the same unsuitable treatment for 18 months that I cannot attend, I’ve been practically pleading with them to stop making me go to appointments and threatening me with discharge if I can’t attend 3 (I’ve now missed 4 and postponed 3 – I’ve always given as much notice as I can, I’ve never just not turned up) back to a GP who told me to “try harder” on the meds she incorrectly put me on.
Today was a meeting between my psychiatrist, my Support Worker and the therapist I’m yet to be assessed by because I was too ill to attend the appointment in December or January. I was invited too but since deteriorating in October, after the last appointment with them, I’ve only been able to go out on a handful of occasions to places that I’m very familiar with so there was no way I could attend. I was fully expecting to be discharged today after being told so many times that I would be but I finally got some good news. They’re actually doing what I’ve asked and allowing me to be in charge of the care I receive and they’re going to leave me alone until I’m well enough to engage with the services they can offer. I’m still waiting for confirmation of this by letter so I’m not getting my hopes up too high until I have it in writing and have all of the ins and outs explained but it looks like I’m going to still be part of their patient list and everything they’ve offered is on the table for me to reinitiate when I’m well enough and I can contact them to do this when I’m ready. This will hopefully mean no more dates, no more appointments, no more pressure or stress from them to be well enough to attend and then not believed about how ill I am, and I can finally get back to focusing on what I’ve been meant to be focusing on – getting better.
Dates are horrid for me (more on this later in the week) because I can’t forget them because I have such a good memory so even when appointment dates are two months in advance like this one was, I still worry about it and obsess over it for that whole period of time. I’m also asked each time how I’m doing since last time and have to try and keep a mental diary of what I can and can’t do, in comparison to various different dates and periods of time to be able to relay back at any given moment. This is soul-destroying for someone who’s so achievement focused. I try so hard every day to do something useful, to achieve something, to improve, to get better, and the constant reminder that I’m essentially failing has been one of the things that I feel has kept me worse and definitely the thing that triggered my deterioration almost 6 months ago. I’m not getting my hopes up that this decision will suddenly cause some miraculous spontaneous recovery, but I am hopeful that without time pressures from doctors who barely know me, and left to finally listen to my own body and mind and do what I think is right instead of constantly being told that’s wrong, will at least give me the best chance of getting better.
I can’t think of anything else to say, I hope I’ve explained everything clearly and updated all those of you who wanted to know what’s going on and especially those of you who I should have phoned – sorry for the lack of contact. I’m spending the rest of my evening colouring, watching easy tv and hoping to maybe actually sleep through the night tonight, I’m exhausted and desperately need some sleep soon because I’ve been a shaking, nervous-wreck this past week. I’m not relieved yet, but I will be, I hope!