*possible triggers in here, I didn’t intend to get quite this personal so don’t read if you’re easily triggered by talk of mental illness etc*
Because this is a looooong post, I thought I’d pop the TL;DR version right here: Please get help. However frightening it may initially seem to open up to someone and say ‘I can’t cope’ or ‘I’m depressed’ or ‘I feel like I’m falling apart’, it is FAR better than the alternative.
So to the post at hand. Warning: deeply personal shit herein.
There’ve been an awful lot of heartrendingly brave posts about mental health in recent times. I’ve often thought about writing about my own mental health issues and history, but it seemed ridiculous. It’s so much a part of my life, and I’ve been dealing with it by myself for so long, I honestly didn’t see it as a proper illness (only in my own case) and felt reluctant to share. Well, that’s stupid really. Fact is, it is an illness, and sometimes being open and sharing your experiences can help others find the courage to deal with their own. That’s good enough for me. So here I go, sharing.
I’ve been bipolar II (my manias=irritation/revving motor going nowhere), with clinical depression, ADD and various other interesting labels since I was about 9, maybe longer. I had two emotional breakdowns at 11. They happened in school, which was um…yeah. In my teens, after leaving school at 15 (I got caught bunking, it was dumb, but the relief was so vast), I was very ill. Having tried to live away from home, which I needed to, I kinda lost my grip on my head and ended up stuck at home, agoraphobic and suffering chronic psychosis. Those years were when my illness became me, and I’ve never quite managed to begin undoing that until very recently.
This happened because I got no help. I hear tales of how people have hit the last piece of their rope and somehow found a saviour, well I didn’t. I just fell, hit the floor, and shattered, and I’m sure that is a reality for a great deal of people, so I’m sharing in case it happened/is happening to you. You are not alone in it. Don’t give up. Try and get help, don’t give in to suffering alone like I did, it cost me almost two decades of my life. I was 15 when I began to lose my grip on my rope, 16 when I did, and almost 20 when I managed to start going out again, started trying to live again, but it’s only now, in my late 30s, that I’ve been able to begin really living instead of existing. That’s after a year of failed meds (depakote, lofepramine and an anti-psychotic (horrid)) followed by 2 years of psycho-therapy in my early 30s, and a very steep learning curve afterwards, during which I learned how to handle my head on my own (bipolar can be handled without medication, if you are careful and aware – however any full-blown manias really ought to be medicated).
I’ve wanted to talk about my journey on here for a long time, so people can understand if I seem to be out of step, or odd/standoffish/awkward/plain old weird, or think my behaviour means I’m bored/inattentive when I’ve just tapped out, lost the thread, and want to run away screaming. I don’t care what people think of me, how they see me, how they judge me, that’s their problem – I just want to be honest for the benefit of those who might be feeling the same, and feeling alone in it. I care very deeply about others not ending up in the same boat, in the same way. So, I want to talk about letting mental illness of any kind go untreated for any length of time. Basically do not do it. Don’t. As I said, in my case, it was pretty much ‘insane girl, find thy own sanity’. Now that’s not easy when (as I had) you’ve convinced yourself there’s nothing wrong with you and then, when you’ve finally acknowledged a problem (as I did) become afraid there is no sanity left to find. We’re all different, but sometimes we get clues something isn’t right, or have a full blown collapse and know it’s not, yet still do nothing! After that initial recovery at 19/20 it took me over ten years to admit to myself I was still a fucking mess, that it was sorely impeding my life (I had no life outside of my head), and I needed to sort it.
Knowing you’re ill is only the start. In that period of my late teens it took me a long time to acknowledge my illness. I remember going to my family doctor once very early on, because I was so sad and couldn’t stop being sad. He mumbled something about depression, but wouldn’t put a teenager on meds (kinda happy he didn’t, as it would have been an SSRI and um…I’m bipolar and have experience of being on an SSRI – long story short? Not fun) so that was that. His indifference and unwillingness to act (cos hey, if we aren’t going the meds route let’s just pretend this girl is FINE bros!), allowed me to convince myself I’d ended up back home to write my books despite all evidence to the contrary. The few other healthcare pros I saw in those years (two I think, a psychiatrist and an art therapy team, the first sourced by my mum, the second by me) always asked first if my parents beat or abused me. Although my upbringing did not help, my mental collapse was due to a catalogue of things over many, many years, some usual (horrendous bullying at several schools), some rather less than usual. Anyway, my response to that question was inevitably a look of contempt, and silence. Healthcare pros, please don’t assume, and don’t assign boxes or labels willy-nilly. They are damaging.
Left to my own devices then, it gradually occurred in stages over a long period of time that how I was wasn’t normal. No indeed…orating to the walls almost every moment of every day, seeing the carpet undulate like water, and imagining death was standing behind me or coming through my window, were not normal things. Nor was the emotional pain, so intense that when it hit I was literally laid up, holding on to my duvet for dear life, wondering if this time it might kill me. I kid not. Pain like that is frightening, it feels independent from you, and malign. I still suffer from that. I think all of us with bipolar and clinical depression suffer the agony in the cells, so deep you are certain it will never come out, never go away. When it abates, there is no relief. It’s only hiding. You know it won’t be gone for long, but you hope it might wait a little longer before waking this time, so you can try and live just a little. Hope hurts. I have to say right now that, despite decades of suicidal thoughts I rejected that option at 12. It wasn’t bravery or special strength. I had reason. Without that reason I most assuredly would not be here.
Life during those years between 16 and 19/20 was madness, words, hurt and water. I barely slept, wrote 23 hours a day, and was not sane, and I cried so much that when I stopped at the age of 19/20, I stopped altogether, and forgot how to cry until my late twenties, because crying felt like a lie, as if I was pretending to be human. In many ways, I was. It’s only in my mid to late thirties that I’ve rediscovered my emotions for real. I cry at everything now. Too much. Sometimes I worry that it’s my internal walls, my security against the dark, breaking down again, brick by brick. I have to remind myself constantly that for almost 16 years I was a robot and that it’s THAT state which was not normal. It’s normal to cry when you hurt or feel sad, or when you see something beautiful or moving. But that’s the trick you forget when you exit stage left from life. How to be human.
Thing is, when you separate from the world as long as I did, you forget how it is to be in the world. People, work, play, everything, it mystifies you, coming as you do from your oh so restricted little prison, that cage of the mind you locked yourself into and almost, so very nearly, threw away the key. For me, I wasn’t good with people to begin with, and I felt like a foreigner in a strange land when I emerged at 19, completely clueless and lost. I didn’t know how I might fit, or even if I could, and I suffered from horrible social and general anxiety (spoilers, I still do). I tried to fit in in various ways, various guises, but everyone around me seemed to guess I was wrong…or else I was paranoid and no one thought anything of me at all. That’s the thing, not knowing what people are thinking, you tend to let your imagination run wild, and it’s learnt to be cruel. That’s part of what depression is, the mind’s cruelty towards itself. And of course, although out of my room at last, and not psychotic, I was and am still bipolar, still suffering from depression, and therefore vulnerable to the cruelties of my mind. I will never recover, and will always be vulnerable to that in some way, but it doesn’t matter so much anymore. I have learned that I can live despite it.
It’s only in my 30s, deciding that I don’t need to fit, that I’ve come to any understanding about being part of humanity and reached that conclusion. It still gets me though. Depression is clever, and capricious, it waits for those moments when it can take you off guard and put you into coventry from the world. Gleefully then, it throws you outside the glass and you stand there despairing, staring in at the world, convinced you’ll never be allowed back in. More cruelty, because it isn’t true, unless you allow it. So much of the outcome of depression is in consenting to the illness, to the lies it tells (which is very easy, it is VERY convincing). It had me fooled for a LONG time and sometimes still fools me, but I am, at 37, starting to believe I am worthy of a life.
As I’ve hopefully made clear, one of the main reasons my recovery has taken so long is the lack of help I received as child/teen. I didn’t see the doctor for either of my early breakdowns, and I didn’t get the right help when I desperately needed it as a vulnerable, hurting teenager. So here’s the thing. If you are there, in that black, hopeless place, your mind sticking pins into you; your heart, your very cells aching from some indefinable and unbearable agony. Don’t wait. Go get help. The initial step is terrifying (I know), but wellness is a journey, and you need to begin it to have any hope of reaching your destination. If you find it hard to get the right help, use an advocacy service (I did in my early 30s, they are AMAZING), make sure someone is willing to listen and guide you to the best solution for you, and if you experience any of the professional/general apathy I did in my teens for yourself or your child go to different healthcare professionals until you find one willing to help. Parents, if you see your child slipping down, slipping away, for god’s sake reach out to them. Don’t let them fall. They might not stop. Or if they do, it might end them. It is hard to say ‘I need help’, and it can be just as hard to say ‘you need help and you’re having it’, but if you don’t the consequences can last a lifetime, or they can end a life. Simple as.
Life is precious, guys. Minds are precious. Protect them, and whatever you do, if you know someone is ill, do not be a dick. Don’t tell them to ‘buck up’ or ‘get over it’. It’s nowhere near that simple. Like cancer, mental illness is a chronic condition you cannot see that might very well be killing the sufferer from within. Reach out. Help. And if you can’t, or they can’t take it. Be there. Let them know they are not alone. Let them know that, when they feel they can ask, you are there, waiting to help them. Trust me, that will mean a lot. Most of all, most important of all, please, please never give up on someone in mental pain. It is the most devastating, frightening thing to suddenly find yourself alone with your pain, with your hateful head.
Ugh well…I feel I’ve rambled excessively here, and not been half as beautifully articulate as some of the posts on depression and mental health issues I’ve read recently, the ones that inspired me to finally sit the hell down and write this. But whatever. If this helps one person, then it’s enough. Also, none of this is meant to be prescriptive. I’m saying get help right away not to be a dick but because I know how long it can take to recover if you don’t, how much life you can lose. I want to help others avoid that outcome.
Oh and for the life-long, died-in-the-wool asshats who view mental illness as a whimsical indulgence: no, I’m not starving, I’m not in a war-torn country, I’m not living in a subway tunnel, but that does not mean I have not and am not suffering, nor does it diminish what I have suffered. As the old saying so pertinently puts it: Walk a mile in my shoes, arsehole. (disclaimer: sayings may be altered in this post).
If anyone relates to any of this and needs to talk, or needs advice about advocacy or anything, please feel free to email me: ren warom 1 at gmail dot com. I’m totally happy to listen and help. I’ve been there alone and it’s hell, so if you think I can help or need an ear, do not hesitate to email (it’s totally less painful than a phone call and I know people in advocacy I can connect you with).
A little NB about Monday Musings: Congratulations if you got this far! Monday musings will not always occur, but when they do they will often be of a rambly/personal/ranty/emotive nature. If’n ya don’t like that but you do subscribe to m’blog, then all I can say is, delete your reminder without reading. Then again, maybe don’t, as there’s a tiny chance that something I say might be of use to you. Ta for reading, you’ve been terrific. ♥