It begins.

It begins with a sensation. A feeling so tiny it is debatable whether it was ever a feeling at all. It wanders through my subconscious aimlessly, serenely, muttering softly to itself about nothing in particular, evading detection in its benign state. But it doesn’t have a destination, and therefore it continues to wander until it becomes worn out. As it drifts so delicately it awakens dormant nerves and senses, which are angered by the intruder and begin to grumble. Each awakens its neighbours to complain about the disturbance, and each of those is relayed a half-told story biased with anger and distress about the mystery sensation.

The chatter spreads. The story becomes more specific, yet more varied in this rapidly progressing game of Chinese whispers. Conflict is initiated. Every nerve is so sure of the facts and fights their case; there was an intruder and this is definitely why.

The stories interfere with normal processes. There might just as well be a murderer on the loose and so everyone is vigilant and distracted. More and more flags are waved from all directions, more and more calls for help or a second opinion, and not enough attention to go around so everyone panics and stops work while they wait for the boss to tell them the murderer has been caught.

The tricky bit here is that the nerves are the ones who are meant to tell the boss what’s happening. The nerves have told the boss so many stories from so many viewpoints that no part of it makes sense anymore and the body remains in panic until everyone is worn out and everyone goes back to sleep. By the time they awaken they have forgotten. It is like the mystery intruder was never there.

The new day begins with peace.

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Just.

I would like to start an imaginary petition to eradicate the word “just” from general vocabulary. This word is a major fuel of the stigma associated with mental health; by starting a sentence with “just”, you are telling someone that what you are asking them to do is the easiest thing in the world – you are telling them that they should be able to do it without a thought, and you are telling them that their illness isn’t a valid excuse. If a friend of yours had a broken leg and they were having trouble getting out of bed in the morning, you would give them all the time they needed and you would ask if there was anything you could do to help. You would not tell them to “just get up” or “just ignore the broken leg”, because you would be aware that it simply doesn’t work that way.

If however your friend was experiencing a prolonged bout of severe depression and was having trouble getting out of bed in the morning, you would probably be tempted to immediately resort to “just get out of bed”. You would probably be aware – at least on some level – that this is a pointless and completely unhelpful statement, yet that would be your first port of call before asking if there were anything you could do to making getting out of bed easier for them.

This doesn’t only apply to the friends and families of people with mental health complications though, “just” is a word very common to my own vocabulary and it interferes in all sorts of places it shouldn’t be. The word “just” belittles the challenges that I face every day, and this is very well illustrated in this post, and judging by the number of notes this has received in a day would suggest that I’m not the only one. The restrictions imposed upon us by mental health are just as real and just as frustrating as those that result from having a broken leg: you are unable to do things that people all around you are doing; your ability to carry out mundane household tasks like feeding yourself and showering is impaired; your ability to work may be impaired; your social life may be affected, and it is all due to something completely beyond your control and that is frustrating.

The major difference between having depression or other mental illness and having a broken leg is that response to difficulty getting out of bed in the morning. Just get up. Just get dressed. Just walk down the stairs. Just ignore it. The “just” attitude towards mental health is so deeply ingrained in our brains that we do not consider the possibility that adding “just” onto the beginning of a sentence does not actually make it any easier to perform that task, and although you probably do not mean to, by using these statements you are telling someone that their illness is their own fault and it is something they can snap out of whenever they please. Mental illness is still illness.

There are so many people who have addressed this very same point, but mental illness and physical illness are still treated so very differently.

Someone’s got it right though. Take a lesson from Piglet!

Happy not-christmas-anymore!

I hope you all had a very happy Christmas!

Mine was lovely, with good company, good food, and thoughtful gifts. We went for a walk in the early afternoon whilst the large dead thing was roasting in the oven and let the dog run wild and free in a sheep field for a bit. The festive meal was very successful thanks to my lovely chef, and the evening was filled by naps and card games.

Boxing day was fine to start with but fell rapidly off a cliff when my brain decided it was not having this “happy” business and left me vacant for all daylight hours. There has however been a sweet reprieve this evening, and I’ve finally emerged from my fortress of fluffy hair and enormous hoods and back into the real world of lovely people and hazelnut brownies and crackly fires.

And now it is wine time, because a wise person once told me that I am not grumpy, I am just wine-deprived.

Three happies for today:
1. The unfathomable patience of my wonderful partner in life
2. Tiny dots of sheep in the distance
3. Sympathy from somehow understanding canines

Eating ham is the bravest thing in the world.

Food terrifies me. What goes in has the potential to make a sudden re-appearance, and for that reason I do try to avoid eating.

I have just embarked on my Christmas holiday to the Lake District (land of a thousand rain clouds, and not metaphorical ones for a change) with my partner and my mum’s furball that we are dogsitting. We brought with us a magnificent ham courtesy of the boyfriend’s mum, and I trust it about as much as I would trust a dog poo with “I’m a ham” written on it. The boyfriend therefore has to be eating ham pretty much constantly to confirm to the little melodramatic fool in my head that it is safe. A terrible task, isn’t it? I am fully aware that it’s a total joy for him, but whenever he eats a piece of ham I am filled with an immense feeling of gratitude that he would take that kind of risk for me.

I get really cautious at this time of year. I tend to lose a lot of weight and people tell me off and I get rather grumpy and cry a lot. Last year I got so frustrated with my own eating habits that on Christmas day I downed my class of wine, said “oh f#@k it” and ate everything in the world. And surprisingly enough, I survived. The bit that makes it so tricky to get around is that I have the useless, irritating ability to feel my own digestion happening. I associate this sensation with feeling sick, and therefore I avoid eating just to avoid the aftermath of worry. A course of CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) last year helped me to distinguish between the two, but I still subconsciously interrogate every counter-argument I can think of to the point that it seems completely unconvincing.

But even not eating has its problems; lack of food means that adrenaline is released to free up more sugar for the brain to use, and so anxiety is increased to an uncomfortable level whether I eat or not. Refusing my body food is worse I think, I become scared of eating because the resultant anxiety from adrenaline release generally results in paranoia and heightens my fear of food, and it becomes a horrible feedback effect.

There’s a lot more to this anxiety thing than people think. It creeps into anywhere it will fit.

Anyway, good things about today:
1. Christmas decorations are finally up and they look very pretty
2.Gooey Christmas brownies with lots of yummy things in
3. My dog is just impossibly lovely!

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Slaying the green-eyed monster

I spend an embarrassing amount of my time looking through the online portrayal of the lives of people I used to know. I spend a lot of my days envying the adventures of others and the paths their lives have forged, and comparing their current lives to my current life. I very rarely even consider that I have jammed a lot of living into my two short decades on this Earth, and I very rarely consider the possibility of many more years to fill with adventures of my own.

I envy their travel. I envy the fact that so many people have been to Asia and Africa. I know this will sound very close-minded but honestly I have minimal interest in either of those continents, yet somehow I still envy people for having experienced them. I temporarily forget that I too have had my adventures; I have pursued alternative lives in the USA and in Spain, and I have done more than my fair share of relocation.

I envy their friends and social lives. I forget that I have had the honour of getting to know some truly wonderful humans – particularly in the last four years – and that I have had the privilege of calling many of them my friends. I may not be constantly photographed smiling in a bar, surrounded by people with similar well-rehearsed expressions of happiness, but there are a great many people with whom I could talk and laugh if I were just to say ‘hello’.

I envy their credentials and jobs. I forget that I have a degree myself, and I forget that there are most likely a lot of years ahead of me for working exciting jobs and exploiting my talents.

I envy their adventure. I forget that I have jumped out of planes, and driven motorcycles, and scaled rock faces, and had conversations in other languages, and seen the sun rise and set and rise again, and gazed into the Grand Canyon, and seen countries from miles above, and felt the sea beneath my feet, and sang and danced and laughed and loved….

I envy people pointlessly without looking first to my own life. A life that has been host to many moments of joy for every moment of sadness. A life which has succumbed to a setback, which serves only to strengthen me and to encourage me to tread a new path of my very own.

“Normality is a paved road: It’s comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow on it”. – Vincent Van Gough

And now for my three happys of the day:
1. FAIRY LIGHTS.
2. My dog’s ears (see below)
3. Realising I was able to write this post.

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I only cried in public once, today.

I was in the shopping centre in town with my mother. My mind has blurred the events leading up a little…we were walking by some benches in the aisle between shops and I caught sight of someone I used to know a long time ago – not a particularly pleasant individual, so I shall say no more than that. There was a defined smell of cleaning products in the air and my mind was wandering in an attempt to determine a cause for such an aroma other than to remove an undesirable puddle, but I was brought sharply back to reality by a fox-like screech from behind me as a father attempted to startle his inattentive child upon exiting one of the shops. 

I ran, for just the briefest of moments, my mind blank but for the cries of profanity emanating from the little man in my head whose pondering had been interrupted so unpleasantly. I felt my heart racing, I felt my mouth dry, I felt my pupils widen as the world became horrifically bright and loud and fast. I looked to my mum who was making some sort of passing comment on the noise and the next thing I knew I was lost in a frantic torrent of people knocking my shoulders and arms as they passed, a choir singing something indistinguishable, and the relentless chatter in all directions. 

I turned back, desperately seeking my safety and so very thankful to see her only a few paces behind. She took my arm in hers and I looked to the ceiling in an attempt to keep the tears that now filled my eyes contained in their proper location, but this effort proved fruitless as we walked briskly out of the crowd and into our destination. People stared. I felt somehow unclean and uncomfortably warm. A quiet corner filled with socks and fluffy distractions restored my composure, and our day was resumed.

…this has been my first attempt to adhere to the “Weekly Writing Challenge“. Hope it was tolerable!

And as for my personal challenge, three good things about today:
1. Encountering James Blunt’s twitter – many ungraceful attempts at stifled laughter were exhibited
2. Fairy lights, and lots of them
3. The Christmas centipede making its annual appearance at my grandparents house

Beyond enough.

In my determination to remain un-medicated, I am going to try some daft things with questionable efficacy – and you’ll see if they actually work because I will stop posting about how ill I am and start talking about having a life. Mental health stuff is a way of life, and I am about to start breaking the rules my brain has created in its vastly excessive attempts to keep me safe, so this is going to be rather tricky and I am going to need all the support I can get. Typing this out to post to a public place feels like a tremendous commitment and that’s why I am doing so, because I need people to know that I really, really want rid of these rules that suffocate me like a hundred particularly itchy scarves worn simultaneously.

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As a little starting step, for as long as I remember to do so (realistically don’t expect more than a week or two) I am going to end every blog post with three things I am grateful for or things that made me happy that day. I need to be nicer to myself and stop being angry at myself for being ill. It is not – and has never been – my fault.

So a few things that made me happy today:
1. My dog falling asleep on my feet
2. The sound of my mum clattering around the house making odd noises
3. Waking up to see a cluster of damp, windswept chickens waddling about the garden doing chicken things

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