5 Minutes

Sixteen years ago I saw a psychiatrist for the first time. He wore a canary yellow jumper and scraped a gold tipped fountain pen across his notepad until the scratching of the nib rose from the paper and stopped somewhere in the middle of my chest.

Sixteen years on and psychiatrists tend to write with Biros now.

I’ve spoken to a lot of them, and to therapists and councillors and volunteers and GPs and nurses and any poor bastard that would listen. The adolescent mental health treatment centre, a red brick building that was always, always too hot. Charity run, volunteer led counselling sessions that I paid £10 an hour for. Private sessions that cost anything from £45 for an hour to £350 an hour. Endless, endless doctors and NHS nurses and A&E doctors and teachers and tutors and family and friends and boyfriends and people…

I’ve talked.

For hours. Seriously.

I’ve been hungry to talk. Desperate.  I’ve written fucking letters, pages and pages of my smudged handwriting that the doctor has to read so nothing can be missed out or overlooked. I’ve begged and I’ve cried, shown scars and hidden scars and gone back week after week, month after month in the hope of something.

Fuck your five minutes, I’ve done sixteen years of talking and…

Yeah.

Mental illness is something that people, ill or otherwise, should feel confident to talk about. And if not confident, able. At the very least.

The real problem though is what comes after the talking. With doctors it’s one thing; it’s the faux concerned head tilt while the printer whirs into life and spits out a prescription for antidepressants. The usual patter about waiting lists and potentially helpful YouTube videos and books available in all good libraries and bookshops. Are my family supportive and did I know that having a bath is a good way to distract from the searing urge to cut my arms to ribbons on a particularly bad day?

And then I take the drugs and wait on the waiting lists and do as I’m told until the next thing propels me back ad infinitum.

Friends and family and humans tend not to know what to say. Why the fuck should anyone know what to say? It’s emotive and scary and it’s hard and ultimately all anyone needs to do is listen but that’s hard too andandand…I often don’t know what to say to someone who is having a really shitty time and I bloody live it.

I’m perhaps more open now than I ever have been and I put that partly down to my growing comprehension of my own illness and the desensitisation that comes from years and years of learning to be open with total strangers. There are times when I wish people weren’t so uncomfortable or were more receptive but it’s often not an easy thing to talk about. I am selective with it in the way that I am selective who and when and where I tell about a particularly horrific spot that exploded in triumphant goriness. Not everyone needs to know.

I’m dubious of Time To Talk. I’m a bit fucking frustrated that all the mental illness posters and flyers and advice guides are Time To Talk. That is the mantra that is brandished at all of us all of the time; Talk, go on. Talk about it and you’ll get better you just have to talk. We can’t help you if you don’t talk.

We can all talk until the words run out but care doesn’t exist and when it does its patronising as fuck. I couldn’t give a shit what people think of me, what I care about is access to support that isn’t drugs based because it’s easy. I’m lucky to be able to say that. I’m lucky to have pulled my defences up so high that there’s only a few people on this planet whose opinions I care about.

There’s a place for standing against stigma towards mental illness, just as there is for sexuality or culture or religion or fucking hair colour. No one should be victimised or marginalised or berated because of something that is intrinsic to them.

I’m just not sure I really understand what anti stigma campaigns are supposed to do.

Do we all crawl out en masse, like a horde of moaning zombies dragging our heavy limbs through the streets because LOOK HOW MANY OF US THERE ARE WE’RE JUST LIKE YOU ONE DAY YOU COULD BE LIKE ONE OF US.

Does “let’s stop the stigma” make anyone drop their cutlery onto the dinner plate with a clatter mid mouthful because OMG I DO THAT I MUST IMMEDIATELY STOP CALLING THAT GIRL AT WORK A LUNATIC BECAUSE IT IS NOT RIGHT.

Do the campaigns actually have a message? A real one? A raw and honest and accessible and personable; when all that really needs to be said is “if you don’t know what to say, don’t say anything. Go and Google. Read WebMD or Wikipedia and fact search. Or just acknowledge the word ‘illness’ and fuck off with your opinions because you wouldn’t dream of telling someone with a physical illness that it’s all a load of bullshit. Love and care and hug. That’s it”.

All the campaigns advertise is “this thing is misunderstood. Try to understand it.” I just…what is that helping? Who is that helping? Stigma is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Call me stupid enough times and I’ll start to believe it. Say “let’s stop the stigma” enough times and I’ll start to believe there is one. There is, but hang on…

Time To Talk are a government funded organisation who exist seemingly solely to normalise mental illness a bit. But…that isn’t the issue. We don’t need to talk about it, we need to treat it. The real issue are GPs who lack basic training, a lack of specialist staff, of resources and of beds and of respect. I have encountered more stigma from GPs (and that one therapist who accused me of attention seeking because I deliberately cut my own face. I was fifteen) and that screams that it is the root of the problem, basic care needs to improve and specialist care needs to fucking exist and to be accessible and safe and empathetic.

These campaigns promise a lot but there is nothing. These campaigns speak of how common a disease depression can be but don’t speak of any of the other just as shitty illnesses that all spin-off from the same messy jumping off point. There is no targeted awareness of many, many illnesses or transparent steps to care or real support or change. There hasn’t been in the last sixteen years. There won’t be without a massive injection of cash and a commitment to quality care.

So I’ll talk and I’ll take the drugs and I’ll wait until I work out what it is I’m supposed to be waiting for.

 

And Zen

More often than not, my internal monologue is a tepid mess of contradiction. Depersonalisation and skewed reality aside, I’ve somehow found myself in this place where I have to question everything. Every. Single. Thing.

It’s like a swirling, psychedelic world of pattern and twists and turns up in there, only it’s in greyscale and most definitely not hedonistic.

In this strange and contrary place I have to think all the time. I’m supposed to learn about my own mind but the only resources I have are Google or anything from Amazons mental health section. And, let’s face it, Amazon has many more interesting departments that lead to distract…ooh, nail polish.

I think a lot. Almost every process requires deliberation and the ones that don’t, the ones I can do on relative autopilot like making a cup of tea, end up passing me by because I’m thinking about everything else and so I end up with a syrupy mug of tea with six sugars in that I can’t even remember making. My head is a noisy place, come on down.

If find myself feeling miserable or despairing or terrified that’s when my mental check list pops up in my peripheral like the Microsoft Word smug, jerkily animated paper clip. “It looks like you’re trying to over-think everything again, would you like help with that?” Piss off paper clip.

Step One: Analyse feeling and put in corresponding feelings box.

Step Two: Consider all extenuating factors that could have been contributory; am I overtired or coming down with something, about to have the mother of all periods, ovulating, hungry, stressed, worried, too busy, not busy enough? Is it Monday morning or Friday afternoon, is the wind blowing from a south-easterly direction? Every potential external stressor needs picking through.

Step Three: The ‘I dunno’ stage. Because, simply: eh? Couldn’t tell you even if I wanted to. Can I just go to bed and sleep until I wake up and it’s all gone?

Step Four: Seriously, can’t I just sleep?

Step Five: Survive until it ends.

I’m supposed to know these things, I need to know these things. I need to get to a place of divine wisdom where I can recognise with swift precision at the first inkling of an inkling, stopping it before it starts. Bipolar zen innit.

Is there a book called Bipolar Zen? *searches Amazon* Ooh, nail polish…

There’s more to me than…nah

I bore myself with my repetitive life of repetition. Ups and downs and not really sures and doctors appointments and days in bed and days bouncing about on hypomanic energy.

It’s tedious living it; it’s hard to stop it creeping over me like a sultry void, draining every other aspect of my being. Because I do have other personality traits, I promise. It’s just that the abnormal ones tend to be more prevalent in, well, in all of life really.

I went to see a doctor last week. A normal GP doctor because the ‘special’ mental doctors treat me like a dickhead boyfriend I just can’t let go and never return my calls. I wanted to up the dose of my medication because, although I feel better on it than I ever have on anything, it’s not quite hitting the spot yet.

More please.

So off I trot, competent human exterior cleverly concealing the fact that I find doctors appointments triggering as fuck and I can’t breathe and keeling over and dying feels an overwhelming possibility.

Thing is, this doctor presumably forgot Patient Care 101 and gave me a resolute hellz no. This serves to emphasise why cross sector care is so important, without a constant dialogue, everything gets fucked. Although I suppose in his defence, there has been zero dialogue since November leaving him with less than not much to go on. And it was the end of a presumably long day of doctoring. And he was a massive shitweasel.

His failure to ask me why I felt I wanted to increase the dose that I am on led to my failure to divulge that actually mate, I’m feeling pretty enamoured with a bit of the old suicide today, any chance of something to maybe stop me before I start or…?

The omission of that from proceedings meant that he had ample time to pass on nuggets of information like “you’re going to have good days and bad days, that’s bipolar for you” (jazz hands at the end there would have really added something special. He didn’t do jazz hands) and “the thing is, you’re not taking the advice you’ve been given…”

Yeah…that’s when I flounced out.

I’ve never flounced on a doctor before, it felt strangely good. A nice, brisk cathartic exit when I felt like if I stayed any longer my head would explode.

I stood outside the surgery and angrily smoked a fag while thinking of all the brilliant things I should have said.

“I’ve done nothing but take advice since I was fifteen and you assholes have screwed up every element of my diagnosis and care since then and now things are really fucked and that’s half my life dude, y’know? Please I just need someone. Please?

…is what I didn’t say.

*flicks repeat switch*

 

Self Indulgent Twaddle

It’s Monday morning and it’s cold and early and I should be somewhere amazing doing something amazing right now; looking and behaving like a normal person, surrounded by normal people, a shining beacon of normality in a sea of sane. If I put my hair up and wear my glasses I’d pass for intelligent and approachable and someone who deserves to be listened to.

But…*glances down at pyjamas*…yeah.

I got invited to a thing, but I had to turn it down. I almost went, almost gave into the bit of me that likes to throw caution to the wind with its fuck it all attitude that inevitably ends in tears. Admittedly, with the right encouragement and someone resplendent with the strength and wit to see me through the day, I’d have gone.

This is one of the many facets of the daily struggle of being; the ability to know when I need to say no, to accept that I can’t do everything and sometimes I can’t even do anything and I need to Know My Limits because I Am Not Well.

I hate it, I hate being bound to something like that. Physically, unless I’m in the throes of a particularly delicious panic attack, I’m fine. I can walk in heels and hold my own and I have the mental capacity and experience to negotiate the tubes like a pro. I can smile and nod in all of the right places and construct valid arguments and litter them with wry humour and and and…I feel like so much of myself is just fucking wasted when I can’t do so many of the things I want to.

It’s just, my mind; It would implode. I’d end up a crumpled wreck, either on the 8:52 from Oxford Circus or at 20:52 in my bed once it was all over. It likes to keep me guessing.

In a lot of (what my mind decides are) high stress situations, I tend not to be emotionally present anyway; sitting tense and highly alert, wringing sweaty palms and breathing in for five and out for seven and praying for it all to be over.

One…two…three…four…

So, on occasions like this, I sit in My Little Pony pyjama trousers and I drink tea and silently hate this aspect of myself and whichever misfiring brain receptor leads me here.

It’s not just the big stuff either, the seemingly smaller stuff gets stuffed up too; the times when I have to reluctantly bow out of a day or an evening or ten minutes out because I’m not well enough to handle anything more than my bed or the sofa or the pages of a book or the bottom of a mug of tea.

I fucking hate being restricted like this.

I hate letting people down, it is so at odds with the rest of my personality. Honest, I care about people and places and stuff and things. I hate looking like a flake, the simmering undercurrent of fear that I’m going to lose people I care about because I have to say, again, that I just can’t. I hate the embarrassment and shame and general self loathing.

One day I’ll wear my fuck off heels, flick my hair and dazzle with my intellect and change this shitty world. Maybe. Until then, if you need me, I’ll be on the sofa with my legs curled underneath me and my glasses balanced on my head, tweeting and absent mindedly chewing on the end of a pencil.

 

Christmas Presence

Being present is something that I struggle with. Very rarely am I right there in the moment that is happening right at that exact second. To some extent I’ve always been that way, my mind taking off on flights of fancy, on the back of daydreams, when I should have been listening to my maths teacher talk about…hmmmm? Ooh, rainbow snowflakes!

That flighty mind of mine is pretty amazing when I can sit anywhere in the world and drift away on lovely thoughts of lovely things. But, in line with the sentence that every therapist I have ever seen likes to throw in my face like a snowball of icy lies and stereotypes “Ooh, you’re creative. It’s always the creative ones. I bet you’ve got a great imagination…”

As much as I hate to fit so neatly into a box, I have. I can watch people from my bedroom window, wandering up and down the street, and imagine whole lives and families and hopes and fears for them. I can imagine skipping through sunlit meadows with kittens mewing at my heels. I can imagine being slowly, deliciously fucked by someone I really fancy. I can imagine living in my dream house down to the tiniest detail (vintage switch plates and coving laced with the odd spiders web please). I can imagine it all so well I can taste it and smell it and feel it.

Thing is…I can also quite vividly imagine twenty car pile ups involving everyone I’ve ever loved and massive natural disasters and leaping from a high window and sailing through the air before hitting the ground with a thud. I can imagine being alone and helpless and I can imagine letting people down and fucking people up and all of the terrible things that could ever happen, both in and outside of the realms of reality.

Swings and roundabouts innit.

Anyway, being present is pretty important sometimes. As a blanket rule, it’s better to never, ever drift off with the bad things. Even down the frozen food aisle in Tesco at 11am.

I’m not good at stopping my bad thoughts from running away with themselves, from creeping in through even the tiniest mental cranny and enveloping my brain with sticky darkness. They like to make me catastrophise and to worry until I’m nothing but a puddle of fear in the corner of the room.

And this is why Christmas is a total son of a bitch. ‘It’s just a day’ can fuck right off because no, no it isn’t. It’s a day that is shoved down our throats as soon as the clock chimes in November. It’s a day that requires at least seven years of solid planning to achieve anything close to fairy lit perfection.

It’s a day where, more than ever, I need to be present.

And that in itself is one huge boulder of pressure to carry on my brittle little shoulders.

The presents are done. They were done ages ago. They’re mostly wrapped. Father Christmas will leave them piled invitingly under the tree, they will be turned into mountains of wrapping paper and exclamations of “how does this work?” “Can I eat this now?” “Put the batteries in Mummy”. So that’s all fine. We’re good. Presents are done. Food will be done because it sort of always is. We’ve got to eat, one of life’s basics really innit.

All of that is admittedly stressful but it’s practical and I can make lists and cross items off lists and know exactly where I am with everything. Sorted.

But the thing that I should find the easiest of all; getting out of bed and being dragged downstairs to be bombarded with excitement and packaging shrapnel and squeals of delight…all of that. That’s what’s hard.

Firstly, there’s the all consuming, soul crushing guilt. Because it should be easy. I should be relaxed and happy and excited and full of festive whatever. And then there’s the fear that I won’t be and the sadness at that. The worrying about exactly how I will feel when I open my eyes, up or down or somewhere in the no mans land of The Middle

If I’m a bit hypo, and believe me, I’m doing all I can to send myself that way (which is desperately unhealthy so don’t try it at home, kids) then I’ll be fine because when I’m like that everything is FINE FINE FINE YAY!

If I’m not then…well, then it’s going to be shit. It is. I’m not projecting or being melancholy or dooming myself to the worst day of my existence, I’m just being realistic. Existing as an empty husk of a human, a barely flickering grey silhouette of despair really, really fucking sucks when you can see everyone around you living in this dazzling technicolor word of feelings and happiness and joy.

That’s what’s horrible. The knowledge that it genuinely could be like that for me. That from the second I’m awake on Christmas morning, if I feel shit, I will have to put on my It’s All Okay face and fake my way through the day, feeling dead and guilty and sad and knowing that, come tomorrow, I won’t remember a single second.

So yeah, the presents don’t really matter and the food and the endless money and organisation that needs pouring into Just One Day.

It’s all about the presence (badum tish).