By Jody Elford
I haven’t posted on my blog in ages and ages. I felt I didn’t need to. But I’ve been seeming well, not feeling well.
Truth be told, I forgot all about it, until this morning when Facebook group One in Four (here) posted an invitation for people to share their experiences with mental illness in writing. I wasn’t even sure of my log-in information. But I guessed, and – bam – logged in and read all my old posts.
When I created this little corner of the internet, I’d been in the grips of debilitating grief following the death of my Nana. It sent me cock-for-a-loop and brought about a pretty bad relapse in my mental health. Illness. Mental illness. That’s a new thing I’ve got going on…it’s not “mental health issues”, it’s my mental illness. Let’s be real about this.
To be honest, I don’t expect anybody to read my blog. It’s mainly just a space for me to do what I call my cosmic filing. To put shit out into the universe. If you did take it upon yourself, however, to mosey along and take a look at some of my posts from last year, you would take a look at my current position and laugh.
Well. Maybe not laugh. But you would understand why I’ve just spent half an hour re-reading my old posts shaking my head ruefully, and realising I was harping on whilst at no point actually taking any of my own advice.
Things were going okay
While functioning okay, I made big progressions at work (still veterinary nursing, except now I’m an actual proper student nurse!), and it’s truthfully been going really well. I joined a gym, I’ve enjoyed my studies and I’ve tried a pole fit class. I went on interesting trips and made some new friends. I’ve had some amazing nights out, and bought a new mobile phone. Game of Thrones is my new addiction, and I’ve read some good books. Months passed, the grief slowly softened and I felt it relinquish is icy grasp on me. Things were going okay. And then, all at once, they weren’t.
Retrospectively, I can see how I was making vast, sweeping circles of the plughole for quite a while. It’s when you’re in it, though – you just don’t see it. For example, I didn’t acknowledge that I had developed a checking-rechecking-rechecking routine that I compulsively followed before leaving the house. I thought I was simply being thorough about security and safety. I even made myself late for work a couple of times because I got halfway there and felt sure I’d left my flat irons on, or left the back door wide open letting the housecats out, despite having checked everything numerous times.
Failing to notice
When I had a relatively small mishap with the car, I failed to notice the extremity of my reaction. You would have thought I’d mowed down the walking bus from a local primary school, by the severity of my panic and distress. I swerved and clipped a parked car, writing off my own. Nothing serious. No injuries. Still, I needed to finish the last of my diazepam and lay in a dark room for a while until the sobbing and trembling stopped.
I didn’t really examine myself or take time to question the fact that I spent vast amounts of time on autopilot, not really able to remember how I got somewhere or unable to recall how I undertook tasks at work. The difficult mornings began creeping in ever so softly, so gently and so slowly that I didn’t even notice that breakfast had simply become too much effort again.
I didn’t notice the silencer I’d had to place on my thoughts when they became too gruesome or invasive, failing to realise that actually these thoughts were symptoms and should have been causing me more concern. Just unpleasant images, unsettling thoughts that had begun filling the space around my consciousness, that I could push aside, restrain in nets, close the lid on like a box of festering fishing bait. It simply didn’t occur to me that abruptly stopping my anti-depressants without supervision from my doctor was a bad decision.
Insomnia and anxiety
Even when I had to take some time off work with acute gastritis that left me doubled-up in pain and unable to stomach proper food for a few days, I didn’t really take much time to examine why I had developed it. I realised I had been taking painkillers more, not just because I was having headaches almost daily and taking ibuprofen, but also taking co-codamol when I couldn’t sleep or felt anxious. However, I took no time to question why I was having the headaches, or what might account for the insomnia and the anxiety.
I was dishonest with everyone about my time off – even myself. I told everyone it was simply gastritis and the worst part is that I thought I lied well. In reality I think only I believed me. The truth was, aside from the stomach problems, I had to detox and had caffeine headaches so bad I would have taken literally anything to put me out of it. The opioids, although just over-the-counter strength, had become a daily indulgence that now left me trembling and nauseous with pills off the menu and a bland diet for my poorly stomach.
I didn’t even think it was of concern that during that time I began cutting again. I blithely carried on, and when my gastritis resolved and I was doing a bit better, I returned to work. Then I started student life and thought nothing more of it.
I ended up having an almighty relapse
It’s so unsurprising to me, looking back over the last few months, that I ended up having the almighty relapse that has brought me back to this blog. I harped on in previous posts about developing mindfulness and prioritising self-care. What I was actually doing was regurgitating CBT buzzwords. My smiling mouth flapped on about healthy coping mechanisms and challenging unhelpful thoughts. Meanwhile my brain ran amok with its festering, diseased rhetoric.
I spent months maintaining the same smiley, clownish disposition that had pushed me through bad times before and invested a massive amount of energy in seeming fine, because appearing to be fine is the most important thing – it isn’t – whilst actually being fine isn’t important – it is. It has taken me all this time, almost two decades, to realise that this is what I do.
I lie. I’ve been a liar ever since puberty. Not the sort that tells insidious lies that hurt people or for self-gain, but the sort of liar that has become unnervingly adept at burying the mental illness that I have normalised, and rationalising symptoms that should have been cause for concern years ago.
I disappoint myself.
I wish I had just talked to the people who love me
If only I had just opened my mouth and talked to the people that love me about the nightmares, the obsessions and compulsions, the mood swings, the crazy ideas that didn’t even feel like my own, the suicidal thoughts, the self-hatred, the paranoia, the intrusive images, the anxiety and panic, the sleepless nights, the self-harm. If I had just given my parents a single clue about the nightmarish internal world I remember always, always having… maybe I would have coped so much better. I might have received the kind of medical help I am only getting now, years later. I’d have been more robust to deal with the life events that have sent me repeatedly into a spiral and struggling to keep my head over water.
Seeming well, not feeling well
I feel like I’ve wasted so much precious time not admitting that I was seeming well, not feeling well. I’ve dealt with these episodes of utter darkness and despair almost alone. I have put so much strain on my partner. He has both literally and figuratively tended to my wounds all by himself. He didn’t really know what to do or what was wrong. I kept him under oath that he tell nobody and keep my insidious secrets.
So it’s hardly surprising that two weeks ago I jumped off my hinges, yet again, but worse than ever before. It’s an experience best saved for another entry as this one is already overlong. However, during this most recent relapse I’ve taken a deep breath. I’ve pried the lid off that box of rotting, disgusting things, and taken a long, hard look.
Moving towards the light
I am forced to accept my “episodes of low mood” and “periods of difficulty” for what they are. They have actually been chinks in my otherwise shiny, smiley armour. All this time, even during the numerous happy times, there has been a permanent darkness brooding away. It’s like an ill-tempered relative at a reunion. It just waits for the best time to reach a gnarled hand into my life and claw at me. I’ve had to tell everyone in my life – my employers, my college, my colleagues, my parents, my friends, my partner – just how bad it can be, and has been, and is. That yes, this is a fully-fledged mental illness. That I’ve seeming well, not feeling well. I’ve been in a revolving door and I want off.
And do you know what? It’s been terrifying and nausea-inducing. It’s been the biggest reality check of my life. But it is good. For the first time in ages, I am tentatively hopeful that I am moving towards some sort of light. It’s dim and I can barely see it, some days I can’t at all, but at least it’s there.
Reproduced with permission, originally published here