Pain

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It slowly devours your insides. It might be based in your brain, but the effect runs through every sinew of you until you just have to hold your hands up and surrender. Karl Marx once said that, “The only antidote to mental suffering is physical pain.” I’ve never ventured down that path but I really need an outlet right about now.

The self-loathing begins to turn outwards and you become angry and frustrated at the world in which you live. Every minuscule error is magnified under your microscopic senses making you the worst superhero ever. You can feel the rage bubbling away in you and after you’ve attacked everything inside you – thoughts, feelings, attitudes – the external world is next.

The saddest thing about this is that you begin to push those closest to you away with your fiery temper and accusatory ways. Those around you only want you to be happy and do everything in their power to make it that way and your response is to “attack” them. It’s a nasty and unjustified reaction to love, but common sense is a distant friend who occasionally checks in with you by postcard from far and aways.

And even though I’m aware it is happening I still finish sentences that hurt others; raise my voice unnecessarily to the kids; let the small things annoy me. It’s as if you are outside your own mind spectating  on a scene you feel uncomfortable watching – the human car crash that you just can’t drag your eyes away from.

That hurts the most. You know you are hurting the ones you love most. The ones you would protect with every drop of blood in you. The biggest pain of depression is physical because it breaks your heart on a daily basis. The tears, shaking, tightness in your stomach, headaches are all physical manifestations of the illness. Your body is your outlet for a chemical imbalance you cannot control completely – regardless what people think.

Marx may have been right in that the rest of your body takes it’s share of the pain your mind can’t handle to help it. However far through it I am at this point I don’t know, but as Churchill put it: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

“Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow”.

JD

Happy (and sad) Bi-Polar day!

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Yes Happy – and by happy I mean scream, cry and hide in your bed – Bi-Polar day!

Yes there’s a day for every ailment now, but today is the day when you can learn a little bit more about those of us who have huge mood swings and can’t blame being a woman. (Disclaimer: women are actually more likely to suffer from bipolar than men – who knew…) So as they say, “Everyday’s a school day” so let’s begin a day in the life of a bipolar sufferer.

Alarm goes off at 7.20, you automatically hit snooze on repeat until your other half yells at you just like your mum did when you were 14. You finally drag your carcass out of the warm, safe and comfy place you’d rather be. 

Trudge to the shower to wake you up, only you deliberately have the water a little too warm so it reminds you of your bed – at this point you somehow manage to sleep standing up. Again there’s a shout from your other half who you now realise is treating you as an additional child in the house – to be fair you deserve it. 

You through all your pills down your throat washed own with a small pot of something that might be good for you, but you don’t really care. Grab a cereal bar (one of the kid’s ones, they’re much tastier and full of sugar) and head for the car. 

Finally with a bit of space to think and music to sing to you start to wake up on your journey to work – autopilot has taken you most of the way there and you do wonder if you did just kill some pedestrians or go through any red lights. The car park is the usual battle for spaces so you go the wrong way round it because the rules were not made for you. The first swing of the day kicks in and you go from depressed to either hyper or pretending to be up for your colleagues so they don’t ask you awkward questions.

And from then on you are not sure what is happening as you try to cover the illness up – that’s when the problems start. You say things you either don’t mean to say (offensive, near the knuckle or just rude) and the guilt hits you immediately or worse the reality of your words kick in a couple of hours later when you get suddenly sweaty about your brow and realise you’ve just been a total dick. 

Your work will be done in fits and starts as the little energy you have is bolstered by a sugary treat and you can churn out a weeks work in a couple of hours. Then your brain stops and just needs mundane tasks so you turn to Facebook or a 2048 game because that’s all you can handle at that point. To find an employer who understands all this is difficult. Yes HR and others may have been on courses but they don’t always understand the day-to-day reality. 

You will always get the work done, but you have to get used to the way that your head works and learn to time things correctly so the energy is used well because too much can cause a huge drop in your mood. Push yourself too much and you crash. You can feel the tears welling up for no other reason than you want the ground to swallow you up. 

The countdown until “hometime” sends you back to adolescence again as you clock watch for the bell that let’s you escape. You’ve done all you can and now you just need to get home and hide away from everyone for an hour or so. Later on you will have a clearer head to deal with everyone in the house and you will chat and interact with them like a “normal” person. 

For the rest of the evening you just want to sit comfortably and escape in a good TV show or film – something to allow you to switch off. Your monosyllabic responses to your other half are annoying but if they are supportive they’ll understand and leave you alone. 

Finally it’s time for bed – but moving is difficult. You are comfortable and going to bed means tomorrow is closer again. I don’t want to see tomorrow; can’t we just stay here in today, right now. Those tears begin to well up again as the depression is in full force. The hyper moments of the day have meant you don’t have the energy to pick yourself up again. 

You’ll do this for five days a week, weeks at a time. Wishing your life away for a holiday or a long weekend where you can truly switch off. 

People say they understand mental illness – but they don’t. If they did we wouldn’t need days like today. Awareness raising is fine as are courses but what people actually need is examples from those who live with it just to get the smallest glimpse of the pain, energy and moods it takes just to get up in the morning and try to be normal. What ever that is.

JD

“He had mental illness”

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That’s the whole thing solved then. The pilot was mentally ill. Everyone can go home now and the family and friends of the deceased passengers and crew can put a tin hat on it. Thank goodness for the media and their full understanding of the pilot’s motives.

There may have been a hint of sarcasm in my voice in that last paragraph.

Why is the solution always boiled down to those four words? Can we honestly say that this is the whole explanation? On this occasion with the discovery of ripped up sick notes and a hidden history of depression then it could be a contributing factor to this tragic event that took the lives of so many innocent people. But there are still a lot of questions to be asked and we can’t just draw a line under things because of a poorly grasped understanding of a complex issue.

Even if the pilot, Andreas Lubitz, had been open with his employers about his clinical depression there is nothing to say that he was suicidal or that he would have taken all those people with him. Ordinarily feelings of depression are about self-loathing and your own mortality – not about killing others. While he maybe shouldn’t have been flying when he was suffering a really low spot, only he would have known where his mind was.

This is by no means an apology on his behalf – anything but – but you have to realise that we can’t just tie bows on tragedies using those four words. Yes “He had mental illness” – but he brought the UK together and help to win the Second World War – Winston Churchill. “He had mental illness” but is treasured in this country as an actor, comedian, presenter and writer – Stephen Fry. “She had mental illness” but she has won Oscars for acting and writing – Emma Thomson.

Buzz Aldrin, JK Rowling, Princess Diana, Winona Ryder, Michaelangelo, Vincent Van Gogh, Charles Dickens, Carrie Fisher, Sheryl Crow, Billy Joel, Ashley Judd, Catherine Zeta Jones, Abraham Lincoln, Alastair Campbell, Jim Carrey, Beethoven, John Nash and Me all have different Mental Illnesses and we’re not all the same. Every case of Mental illness must be seen as an individual one – not a one size suits the media approach. You can’t use the phrase “X had mental Illness” and assume that is the answer.

It is a dangerous and irresponsible way of discussing the issue. Look at today’s UK newspaper headlines and tell me they are justified:

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Is “Madman” even the right superlative for depression? “Killer” assumes he knew exactly what he was doing – I can almost guarantee he didn’t. “Why on earth was he allowed to fly” – do you know how many pilots, bus drivers, other car drivers, lorry drivers, policemen and women, train drivers all have mental illness but how often does that stop you using the roads or trains?

Until all the facts are known about this specific incident perhaps we should use the phrase “150 people died in a horrific tragedy and we are all thinking about their families.”

JD

Make just one person happy

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Even when the dark clouds are overhead and nothing seems right a hug from your kids makes it better. I never underestimate the difference Jill and the kids have on my life and how I live with mental illness. Today I put Jenna’s Frozen stickers up in her room, nailed a couple of pictures to the wall and put Elsa, Olaf and Anna on her bed. Her reaction reminded me just how lucky I am.

Living with Bi-polar disorder is not easy. When you’re down you wonder if you will ever make it back up to “normal” and when you’re hyper you never want to come down because then you’ll have to deal with the stupid things you might say or do. People don’t seem to understand the illness properly – the depression is easier to grasp because we all suffer from dips in our mood, but the highs are tough too.

It sounds great that you are full of energy and ideas and you feel like there are no obstacles in your way, but what usually happens is you are unaware of the consequences of your words and actions at the time. It’s like being on a very drunken night out for a week or two at a time then once you “sober up” everyone wants to tell you all the stupid things you have done. The stories are told but you have no memory of most of these things happening. That’s a scary thing to live with no matter how “fun” it sounds. I was once treated by a doctor who lived with depression and she said she envied my “ups” – I told her she shouldn’t.

The smiles, hugs and love you get from your family is the thing that keeps you strong when life is kicking your chemicals around in your head. I genuinely don’t know – or want to think about – where I would be right now without Jill, Jake and Jenna (and JD.5 due in just nine weeks time!). I know I wouldn’t have the strength to get out of bed in the morning. That security system of family and friends keeps you going. Never underestimate a kind word or text or message you write because it’s a wee slap that reminds you how lucky you are in many ways.

This blog was always meant as an outlet for my thoughts and feelings – to get things off my chest and free myself of some of the more difficult ideas that I live with. Sometimes they are very dark, some are angry and others are just nonsense about something in the news, but all allow me to function – and if you take anything from them then that’s a bonus.

To those who send me messages, thank you. To those who read and take comfort that they aren’t alone in their own illnesses, I’m thinking of you. To Jill, Jake, Jenna & JD.5 thank you for constantly reminding me there is something to get up for in the morning. I love you.

JD

Lost

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They say that if you just keep going left you’ll always find your way out of a maze – seems an appropriate analogy for me at the moment because I can’t make a right move at all.

You think you’ve made a breakthrough only for life to give you a quick kick and point out your optimism is misplaced. You’re a puppet whose strings are being pulled by others invisible to you. The truth is that no-one should expect an easy ride in life, or think that happy endings are a reality. We all just wander through trying to make sense of things and hope we do it without hurting others.

I’m no angel. I’ve made many mistakes but I’ve also done a lot of things right – we have an obsession with karmic idea of us being rewarded for the good things and being punished for the bad. The cold hard fact is that’s just not true or realistic. That’s where people who have religion in their lives can explain everything away – bad things are God testing you – for the non-believers like me the reality is that sometimes life sucks.

No matter how nice you are, or thoughtful, or caring, or selfless there are no guarantees that good things will happen. And we all know people who are complete arseholes who seem to succeed in life despite their arseholery. I’m suffering from a real run of bad luck of late – some I’m sure would say it was deserved – but I’m lost at the moment and can’t get out of the bit at all.

Life is stagnating and I need something to get it all going again rather than living in this immovable state. An opportunity, something new and different to top me falling into the same ditch time and again, a chance. Maybe I have to be more proactive and make that change happen but it’s tough to do that when you are spiralling down into yourself because of the wrong turns you have made.

You come to a junction and you have two choices, but I don’t feel I can trust either route at the moment – or rely on my instincts to make the decision either. Self doubt inevitably leads to self loathing and the depression takes hold once more. A vicious circle that is not only you fighting with yourself but also with those pulling the invisible strings on you too.

I know that life shouldn’t be easy, but I didn’t think it could be this hard either.

JD

 

Falling

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It feels like the ground is miles below my feet – pulled away by circumstance. So many things I need to shout, people to condemn and anger to vent – but I can’t.

Darkness below and swirling mist through which anything could lie. I find myself a slave to gravity and the laws of physics – the laws of sod would be a more appropriate epithet at this point. Where I’m heading and what comes next is a mystery on this anything but magical tour of life.

I thought by my mid thirties I’d have found some answers, instead each episode of my life provides more questions – many rhetorical unfortunately: Great effect, sham about the lack of answer. Every time a new obstacle gets thrown in my way I have to learn a new coping strategy, but I’m slowly running out of ideas. Eventually I’ll just have to stop and accept the road stops here.

Then the issue isn’t me – not entirely – as others have decided that they have to influence my travels through time. They pull away the ground and switch off the lights at random points before walking away and ignoring the consequences they leave in their wake. Why get involved at all? Malice or ignorance the result is the same.

One day in my head. That’s all I wish on them to cure the blinkered vision they suffer with. To transpose the feelings of anger, fear, anxiety, confusion, hysteria, depression, darkness, helplessness, uncertainty, loss and emptiness into their minds for twenty-four hours. The doubt that you live with every waking hour because you can’t trust yourself to be the person you think you are. Just one day and then maybe they’d understand the pain I live with.

There’s that feeling in your stomach as the downward force takes hold; the whistling of the air in your ears as you pass through it; and the reaching out of limbs to try to halt the descent. To no avail. I’m still falling and I can’t see or feel the bottom in sight.

Ahead there is only the dark.

JD

Fear

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Beyond the downs of depression there is another world that exists, and that is fear. You doubt yourself, your actions, your words – there’s a fear that everything will come crashing down around you and that there is no way out of it.

Even amongst those who know about the illness there is a fear of being spotted – almost as if that knowledge will be used against you. That has been true in the past with some people taking advantage of the situation and making you feel small and paranoid. I’m in a fortunate position that I don’t have to worry about that at the moment because I have supportive people all around me. But it doesn’t mean the feeling leaves you.

For me the biggest fear I live with is the lack and loss of control. You live in a bubble – separated from the rest of the world and the ability to have any influence over it. That’s a scary place to be, to almost experience your life second-hand. It goes back to the point I made yesterday about being on autopilot – you’re not in control at points through the day and that scares me. Not knowing where your mind is from one day to the next leaves you with doubt and fear.

The fear of being found out, of failure, of being someone you don’t like to be is worrying. That life is just out of your reach and you never feel fully in control when a huge dip like the one I’m in at the moment. It would be like you getting in behind the wheel of your car putting it in gear and pressing the accelerator without using the steering wheel – there will inevitably be a crash. That’s what it feels like in my head right now; moving forward but I don’t have the ability to guide my direction.

The fact that my illness goes in cycles means I know it will pass – but at the same time it will come back again. This doesn’t make it easier because you can’t see beyond the end of your nose when you are this far into the darkness. A “black dog” of this size is reasonably rare these days because I’m on a good balance of meds, but they still do happen. I could go back and get more tablets and if the downs are prolonged or as difficult again then maybe that’s the way to get that steering wheel back.

It’s such a difficult thing to explain to people. Those that are aware mean well but there’s nothing to be done – it just is. Asking how I am is fine, just don’t try to read too much into my answers because I’m lying to you if I say anything other than “shite”. I feel helpless at times and that scares me – but I’d hate to be around me when I’m like this. Not only is there a lack of control as an observer, but you have no sense of what’s going on in their head and that is real fear.

It’s almost better to be the sufferer than the sufferer’s support.

JD