Note: I have just read Running like China by Sophie Hardcastle. It's a wonderful and compelling read which beautifully describes the authors experience of Bipolar Disorder type I. In particular, her epilogue has encouraged me to speak publicly about my own struggle with mental illness, in hope of a) providing something solid that may ground me in future times of distress and to b) build awareness of how mental illness does not define you, it's just one of many things that make you who you are and should be spoken about loudly and often in hope of lessening the burden on others who suffer in silence.
So, I'm not clever enough to work out how the statistical analysis of Blogger works, so really I have no idea of who my audience is but I'm guessing that a good portion of you don't really know too much about me. I know that my Mum reads it (thanks Mum) but in the past, whenever I've asked a significant other or a close friend, they tend to fob me off and ask 'what is your blog is called again?' as if to allude that they may, one day, in the far and distant future, google it.
Well anyway, regardless of my audience, those of you who read this semi frequently may have noticed the gloom that is literally reeking out of the screen in front of you. That's because at the moment, I am very depressed. Quite possibly the most depressed I've ever been, if there was a scale that measured such a thing in a relative sort of way. Yes, my boyfriend and I broke up, Yes, university is a huge stress in my life and the fear of not getting a job in a incredibly competitive field is absolutely terrifying but realistically, these things aren't the cause of my unhappiness, they just trigger the darkness within me to emerge and take over.
I've been officially diagnosed as 'depressed' or as having Major Depressive Disorder since mid 2012 but it was a part of my life well and truly before that. It first reared its head when my Dad was diagnosed with cancer, and has taken over my life for chunks at a time since he passed away in 2006. But honestly, despite the objective hardship, I can't remember a time where I have ever truly valued myself independently of how others treated me. Add many years of competitive sport, two university degrees where jobs are scarce and a relationship that survived on the smell of an oily love rag for many years too long and you can start to see why I may have developed my unhealthy mindset. Depression has sent me to hospital on more than one occasion which at the time, to be quite frank, feels like the absolute worst environment to be in, but in hindsight, it helps and ultimately I know that there really isn't anywhere else for me to go when I need constant supervision and a medication review. The horrible food does not help the situation, mind you.
At the moment, I consider myself as hanging on the edge of reality. I know that I'm only one more terrible day away from another stint in care but I'm trying my absolute hardest to avoid it. Despite the feelings mentioned above, it's incredibly hard, if not impossible to complete my degree from within the walls of a psychiatric hospital and to have my pathway deferred as a result of the frustratingly persistent chemical imbalance in my brain would be beyond disappointing, I truly think I'd struggle to pick it up again despite being only a few months from the end. The other reason I want to avoid hospital so much is that it's so isolating. I become even more withdrawn, I feel more anxious and to be honest, for the most part I feel increasingly like life isn't worth living- which generally speaking is the feeling you are trying to avoid (however as above, with hindsight, I can say that it has proven to be helpful). More than that though is an overwhelming desire to survive without it. I have wonderful friends and amazing family who literally hold my head above water. Despite my best efforts, the incredible people around me ensure that I am fed three square meals a day. I take naps in the sun because surprisingly, having terrible thoughts running through your head all day is bloody tiring. I try and exercise because it's a pretty good distraction and helps me sleep. I take my medication on time, day in day out. These are the things I do to survive.
The most frustrating part of my depression is knowing how very differently I function when I am well. I am fortunate to have insight into my condition, partly through my nursing training but primarily through years of lived experience. When I am well the productive part of my brain absorbs information like a sponge, which constantly irritates people around me who think I have some sort of super photogenic memory. When I'm not well, this same part of my brain is overrun with self hate and productivity for any other task slows to a halt. When I'm well I am confident, opinionated and driven. When I'm not well, I am withdrawn, incredibly self conscious and riddled with anxiety. It's the parallels and the contrasts that tear me up inside; knowing what I am capable of but feeling like it's so far out of reach.
In Sophie's final chapter, she talks about writing yourself a letter to read when you are feeling like there is nothing left, and the only answer is to cut and run.
To me: Remember all those times that your friends have said that you make the best brownies in the world? Remember the way your beautiful cats head butt your face when they want you to rub them behind the ears? Remember how close you feel to Dad when you stand on a mountain peak with the sun warming your back? Remember how you can hear the pride in your grandparents voices when they ring to wish you good luck for an important job interview? Remember the way your psychiatrist stopped you as you turned to leave and said 'it'd be a terribly sad thing if I didn't see you next week'. Remember: things like this don't happen to people who won't be missed, to people who aren't valued.
The key of this blog post is to remind myself that there is help out there, and hope. I am very, very fortunate to have a wonderful team of doctors, a great psychologist and an incredibly supportive university. I am even more fortunate to have the most incredible group of friends and family imaginable, who refuse to accept it when I tell them I am not worth their time and effort. They never give up, even when I have.
Thanks for reading. Look after yourself and stay safe.