There’s three things I want to write about today:
- Tea and chocolate
- Mental Health and the split mind (RANT)
- Finding your field
Firstly then, I bought a most delicious chocolate bar yesterday. It reads like a poem:
Green and Blacks velvet edition
Dark Chocolate SALTED CARAMEL
blended with Yorkshire caramel
infused with delicate flakes
of Anglesy Sea Salt
Having opted out of eating sugar for many months except for the odd spoonful of honey in coffee and sugar in bread and possibly crisps …oh, ok then, the odd cake and wherever else sugar hides, this was a most brave and bold decision and a most delectable treat.
The smooth chocolate, creamy and darkly sweet, melted kindly on my tongue offering me a crumb of comfort from the onslaught of mental hostility which has been inhabiting my body and mind of late and to add to it, the packet sits prettily on my table, nearly as beautiful as a vase of flowers.
Being someone not prone to exercising self care, this act of posh chocolate buying and consuming is a gentle nudge that maybe I have taken a step forward and in choosing to buy myself a bar of nice chocolate, that maybe I am recovering. Not only that, but it reminded me of a kind piece of advice my dear sister gave me many moons ago and before she died. It was quite simple:
When you are feeling sad or blue, have a cup of tea and a piece of chocolate.
I don’t think of this often, but today as I sip on a mug of earl grey and feel the dark sweet chocolate melt on my tongue it somehow soothes the jagged tear stained edges of things.
Mental Health and the split mind
One of the most difficult things of being a mental illness survivor is the split mind that occurs when the You you want to be clashes with the You that is actually Being, in the messy reality of coming to terms with and attempting to navigate the wild and unpredictable terrain of what sometimes feels like a brain disease
-I got a bad disease, but from my brain is where I bleed. Insanity it seems, has got me by my soul to squeeze
Where I go i just don’t know, but I know I got to take it slow
When I find my peace of mind I’m gonna give you some of my good time-
The Red Hot Chilli Peppers Soul to squeeze 1993
That was just a little aside which used to comfort me greatly as a teenager trying to make sense of brain pain except the bit about giving ‘you some of my good time’, that kind of ruined it, I won’t lie.
So if like me, your mental health difficulties and treatments and history are something you’ve kept pretty much to yourself and which spill out by mistake or when the lid falls off or when you genuinely cannot keep it a secret then you’re kind of dealing with a split personality. This blog has been my confessional. I barely tell anyone about it but its my space.
Most of our experiences are linear in that we experience them over the years and just keep going on climbing over the debris and papering over the mishaps and hoping no one will notice that we’re growing weaker, thinner, more wild eyed, less confident, more silent, more fearful and so on. If I’m honest, we may even try and hide these piles of things and haunted eyes even from ourselves, dismissing them when we feel better and perhaps trying to pretend they didn’t happen.
Sometimes the trying to keep up appearances exacerbates the illness; creating a false personality of whom we think we are or should be, to satisfy what we think people want from us or what we expect from ourselves. The pressures of maintaining things when we are collapsing under the weight of anxiety or depression or unstable moods is akin to trying to fan a forest fire with a tea towel; the fire being the illness the tea towel the mask and the pressure the resulting heat of burning failure to truly disguise what’s going on, least of all from ourselves and we’re not really that comforting a friend to ourselves when desperately unwell.
Unfortunately, often the very real stigma associated, either in our own sub conscious or in our communication with others, with mental illness, pervades and affects our ability to deal with it. Especially in this social media frenzied age, the thing is to be On IT; living successfully; even mental illness has been adopted and turned into soundbites and trendy images which are far removed from the reality of having to deal with the actual horrors of acute anxiety; social anxiety; drowning and suffocating depression or severe emotional lability…. Not to mention the utter difficulty in accessing help when you need it; and I don’t mean help that comes from emergency, I mean help when you need it and seek for it when things start to go wrong. Unless you are lucky enough to be loaded and pay for private therapy and naturopaths and so on then you rely on trial and error of the NHS with year-plus long waiting lists for short term therapy sessions often unsuited to your needs which will have changed and got worse while you waited in line or be offered a selection of often scary anti depressants by a doctor you are unlikely to see again.
We don’t want to confess to the people we know that we are crumbling and struggling to cope because we know what people really say about mental illness. I don’t mean the cosy sound bites and celebrity endorsements, I mean real people. I’ve been called loopy, weird, loony, mad… and in truth it fucking hurts/ hurt. I’ve been in rooms where people have discussed others mental illness and the casual dismissiveness of the agonies they’ve faced and the suffering they have endured, is just that, casual and soul destroying..
I also think people drop other people they perceive as a bit odd/ weak/ ill/ plain mad or unwell like rocks. Mental illness is a bit like drug addiction it is dirty and scary to others perhaps.
So it’s no wonder that in the throes of life’s long road you may completely be in denial that you have an illness- or feel comfortable calling it that, and it’s difficult to separate the most used phrase to describe the huge myriad of issues which affect people ‘Mental Illness’ from your actual personality. Where does ILLNESS end and YOU begin?
Sometimes I want to shout from the roof tops- “I have Bipolar” (even though i’m not truly reconciled with that diagnosis, but that’s what a psychiatrist told me anyway and when I’m ill it makes sense, when I’m not ill and I’m ‘functioning’ and ‘well’ its a label I want to shed in my plight to join the ranks of the NORMAL.) Or when depressed it’s so hurtful when it feels as if people recoil from you or perhaps you choose to recoil from them as you feel unlikeable and thoroughly miserable. And you may want to say I’M DEPRESSED I SEE DEAD PEOPLE like in the film. But instead, you say i’m good thanks, and hope you will be soon- pressing down the black dog which you’ve actually now swallowed.
The worst thing can be that you may feel able to talk about it but then can feel totally exposed to whatever comment someone may make- a bit like sharing your pregnancy and having names thrown at you or your tummy invasively massaged by people you barely know. I -imagine snippets of explanation…it’s not that I don’t like you/don’t want to take up your offer/don’t want the job/whatever…. it’s just I can’t make sense of my own brain right now; I’m fighting a battle and my sanity is as hard to hold on to as a soap bar in the bath. But that leaves you in a position of again, being exposed and potentially abandoned….dropped….politely smiled at….?
You could try the truth- I have a diagnosis of such and such….but it’s just not that easy because often we’ve kept it hidden from people we know really well and often we don’t even know what’s going on. We may not even agree with the diagnosis; we may not know where we are or what we are but one thing is, it hurts. Which is why i’m starting to wonder if I need to Come Out so to speak and just perhaps accept this Bipolar diagnosis which may or may not be just that, but which causes intense suffering.
Sometimes, a well meaning friend will shrug off the diagnosis you have tentatively and casually mentioned as a thing you once had, because they don’t see you that way; and that can further split the self; you have confided in someone that you are ill but they don’t see it; you’re not as bad as so and so, so therefore you are fine. So you take that shit of being dismissed, and store it, and push your pain deeper inside and figure out therefore, that there is something intrinsically wrong with you and your personality and that the suffering is not an illness but just normal. Except it’s not. Whatever it is or isn’t, it’s your journey and you are going through it. When you feel strong enough to, then give yourself a massive pat on the back. Me personally am flitting quite cyclically from feeling good to panic stricken and depressed. Being a creative person the ‘good’ could be construed as manic? That’s often where a person with bipolar will struggle with the diagnosis because strong vital and vivid expression and creativity is joyful and the raison d’etre or joie de vivre and like hearing angels and seeing it all in all its glorious truth, but the depression that can follow is like being dragged into the pit of a dank airless cavern of HELL. It is the punishment of a harsh winter smashing the summer into oblivion.
If you take medications, it’s so easy for people with no concept of what mental illness feels like, to suggest you don’t need it or that there’s something detrimental about it. Yes maybe damn so, maybe not, the point is, it may not be the perfect frigging answer, i mean who likes pissing themselves cause they develop bladder weakness, or getting massive brain zaps when they move suddenly; or getting higher highs and darker lows or insomnia or just that flat feeling…? but, it can be a lifeline out of a sinking swamp of pain and suffering and those labile glib unthought out comments can stop someone reaching for help when they utterly need it or it can make them beat themselves up all night long when searching for solutions, for being such a waster who can’t be like other people. Yet will those friends be there to help you when you are spending days and days in a state of anxiety or depression or unable to stop crying or obsessing unhealthily about death or trying to battle bully inner monsters or deflect intrusive thoughts or be too afraid to go out because you’ve lost confidence and become a nervous wreckage?
No, they won’t. Mind you, when you are depressed, advice to take the darn things is equally repugnant, so your long suffering friends and family, trying to offer you the best advice according to them, can’t really get it right at all. Just saying!
So as I lurch in and out of my cyclothymic existence, trying desperately to get help and get better and not showing up to interviews I made on good days or avoiding stuff because I’ve grown thin and pallid and gaunt…. and not wanting to talk to people I know in case they ask what I’m doing right now? I wonder how best to deal with it. Do I let them do the guess work and put bits of the puzzle together, or do I come out and give them a frigging copy of my medical history and nightmare of experience or do I just offer them a teaser to whet their nosy taste buds and they can devise whatever nickname suits me best? Sorry, my suspicious cynical opinion ….but fact is, everyone has an opinion and while it’s good to be open and honest, I’m learning the hard way that also not everyone has your best interests at heart. I know really, that wise and sage advice would perhaps be that your true friends will never make you feel stupid, as if you are making it up, as if you’re not really ill (if you think you are) and so on, but on this road of life, we don’t always know who our true friends are especially when we are on our own personal roller coaster.
So, I’ve gone on a rant and its really just to say that struggling with a mental illness is hard and on the whole, people don’t give themselves credit for what they’ve had to endure. The system is not designed to help you either; more so it’s designed to persecute you and most of us know having a mental illness can floor you and yet to get true assistance and God Forbid, any financial support/work support to help you through is not encouraged and is like playing ‘are you a witch? if you float you are so we’ll burn you, if you sink you’re not but you’ll be dead anyway.’
And having just read through this and seeing its like a wild bush that needs much editing which I can’t do, I also realise as a voice of someone I know might say, they don’t really care they’re to busy with their own shit. And it kind of pulls the rug out from under my argument/ rant because really the only person we have to be honest with is ourselves. Doesn’t take away though from the fact that we communicate with others and a simple how are you? is a very loaded question and that when we can’t fulfil demands of others we may have committed to, trying to explain why is difficult.
Finding a field
Finally, today I had a therapy session. She said she thinks I need more help than she can give. However said she’d try help me get good support (I didn’t have the strength to ask if that would involve another 18 month waiting list) and also, she did a beautiful session which kind of drowned me in sorrow and then brought me out gasping for breath. Whatever was unearthed felt like a huge ball of pain being removed from my gut. And I have come round to entering a ‘feeling better’ period. Long may it last.
And to get to the field.
It relates to my sister again. She said to me once to try find a space, like a beautiful field in my mind to retreat to. I never could and I’ve been desperately dreaming of finding a fantastical field to escape to either real or imagined, ever since.
I’m so glad she had a field.
The therapist today asked me to close my eyes and even though it totally didn’t work today because I can’t visualise very well, she tried to get me to create a safe and beautiful place. Then to bring there a compassionate, kind unthreatening person or being to comfort or hold or talk to me…whatever…
The point is, even though it didn’t work today and my mind could not form this garden of beauty with a rippling stream and beautiful wildflowers and oak trees and unscratchy grass and of no fear and of peace and kindness and even though I could not grasp in my mind this kindly person who came to me in unconditional and undemanding love and told me I will heal and I am loved and that it will ALL be ok. Even though I couldn’t properly see this place or see this person, the seed of my field was born.
So Find your field.