Family

This has been a hard week in so many ways. We have come to the latest milestone in an excrutiating restructuring programme which is eviscerating my team. Already we know who is leaving. Today is the deadline for those applying to stay. A horrible process which – while it was never going to be easy – has certainly not been designed to minimise stress for the participants. It’s been hard work even to do my contributions, when I know I am leaving. The torment for those wanting to stay is just horrible.

I worry for the future. Theirs, mine, the service we have struggled so hard to keep going and do well. But at least we have one. The hardest thing this week has been losing one of our own. We heard on monday that a colleague had passed away the previous week. This was sudden, despite her having been ill for a week or two. We didn’t have any idea it was anything serious. Indeed neither did she. She thought it was stress related, as did the doctor she saw. Because the last few months have been awful, it’s not unlikely that many of us might have been fraying at the seams. But apparently there was something else underneath. We don’t know what yet.

I feel bereft. My team is my little family. I feel motherly towards them all. I do everything I can to try and help them. Worry desperately about trying to ensure everyone rubs along well together, try to help people understand eachother. I am hugely proud of what we acheive together despite little being in our favour most of the time. I try to encourage staff to make the best of themselves, believe in their capabilities and gently encourage them to reach for whatever goal will bring them happiness.  Sheila was relatively new to the team. She’d been with us a couple of years. She came to us having had a rough time in her previous job, and I wanted to make sure we made her feel welcome. It really wasn’t hard. She was so helpful and willing and eager to learn. She had to learn a whole new range of tasks and applications and processes – because information work is quite different from generic administration work, and more complex than people think it is. But she never moaned. She was keen and interested and gave great service to our customers.

Someone shared with us that she had told them she felt really valued and happy and at home in our team. That gives me comfort. We did our job well.

I am angry that there are managers out there who don’t think like that. Who see their staff as sponges who can absorb more and more and more work, or be wrung out until there is nothing left. Who are unsympathetic if people are sick, or need adjustments to help them be able to deliver the best work they can. We spend so much time together, why make it unpleasant? People who think only of themselves. How can I use this individual to in some way improve my own chances. What competition are they to me? What can I do to sabotage them. I hate that in people. People who see work as an excuse to behave in a manner they never would with friends or family.  Seeing “professionalism” as somehow hard and cold and ruthless. These are the kind of people that make work hell, make people ill, and paradoxically, often make their staff less productive, efficient, cost effective etc. And yet they are the ones who end up at the top of the tree because they don’t care who they step on to get there. Don’t mind making the “difficult decisions” that mean people lose their jobs or are pressured into illness. They don’t say no, or offer other ways of doing things, because they only care about pleasing the boss. Regardless if the boss is wrong. Which they sometimes are. And need telling, respectfully, why what they suggest is a really bad idea.

But that’s a tangent. I was talking about family. There are lots of different types of family. The actual relative ones. The blood ones you don’t get to choose. The adoptive ones you dont get to choose but who chose you. The friend ones you probably get on with most. And the work ones. Who if you are lucky are also friend ones. You might not know them as well as some of the others – but whose fault is that? Anyway. They are precious. Look after them. Mine is hurting and I wish I could make it stop.

2013, how did that go?

Happy New Year world! I hope 2013 was kind to you. I had a wonderful year. The first half of it taken over by preparations for the wedding – then in May, the most fabulous weekend of my life, followed by Como, and then the last half of the year – well. If I’m honest it was always going to be a bit of a come down. Work has been hectic. I’ve tried to do some work on the house in time for Christmas, and to give myself credit it’s a huge improvement (downstairs at least). But there was a major mood slip. And at this time of reflection I want to try and learn from the highs of the first half of the year to try and make more of 2014 similar to that than the deep depression of October.

So. Last year’s resolution post – wow. I’m not easy on myself am I! And that was supposed to be an improvement on the years that went before. Still. Did I achieve something in all of them?

1- Get Married.

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Well the ring on my finger says this one went ok 😉 No. More than Ok. I worked my arse off to get everything I needed to do done – and we had such a special day. Indeed two special days. We had a small ceremony at the registry office on the Thursday with just witnesses and parents (and an aunt, who was over from America). Was a bit odd – we had a lovely meal at the Shear’s Inn – then I went home to do more DIY, while my new husband went into town with his best man and my chief bridesmaid to buy belts. (and no doubt more beers). The weather on Friday was appalling, sleet, snow, – all in late May. So I was much relieved when I woke up on Saturday to look out of my window at the White Lion (most amazing Honeymoon suite) – to pink cherry blossom against a cerrulean blue sky. I like to think of the weather on Saturday and Sunday as gifts from my grandmas. Because come monday it was awful again.

That Friday night was awful. Not the meal with family or anything – but because it was the first time I didn’t have something to do – and I had to just stop – try and relax. Failed miserably. I was so worried. I was up all night tossing and turning. Eventually gave up and meditated for a couple of hours. Think I maybe slept for two. So it was a good job I had two hours of hair and make-up before the main event. Saturday morning Mark was up at the church cleaning and sprucing while the flowers were done by Claudette from Fleur de Lys. I was up with the lark and off with my A team to the Town Hall to set up.  People said, oh, you’re mad, doing all that on the morning – you should have got someone else to do it, but if the night before was anything to go by, I made the right decision. Keeping busy kept me sane. Plus, I’m too much of a control freak to have been happy letting someone else do it. I twitched that I couldn’t style each and every table exactly as I wanted it. But I am mighty proud of how I planned everything, down to the lanterns, vases and books on the tables, and the timings, to get everything ready just on time. Spreadsheets FTW!
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2. Creativity.

Well. I certainly got everything I wanted to done for the wedding. Made the invites, complete with hand drawn sketches for the illustrations, – hand bound, two different types. Made (with some assistance) a great deal of bunting, both cloth and paper. Made lanterns and lamps, table numbers, a table plan, and made bouquets for myself, the bridesmaids, a basket for the flower girl, hair ornaments, bouttonieres, and roses for the swags at the church.
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Haven’t painted as much as i’d wanted to. Though I have been going to occasional classes at Northlight – helped recently by winning a bursary from the Hebden Bridge WI to do five drawing classes. Done two so far. Plus an oil painting class. I will have to take some more pictures to add to this post as the ones I had I think were lost in the tragic hit and run which killed my phone.

Nor have I done the walking thing. We’ve been terrible this year exercise-wise actually. I’ve put on so much weight. I think since making the decision not to participate in the wedding weightloss madness – because I knew it would inevitably not succeed to the extent I would like given everything else I had going on, and I didn’t want that disappointment to spoil my day. – Totally the right decision, but since June I should have changed my habits and I haven’t. (to be continued…)

Poetry – well a few pieces have spilled out of my brain and onto this blog. But nothing concerted.

3. So the looking after myself one is interesting. Obviously haven’t done it physically. Nor did the veggie / treat day thing last very long. But mentally I think I have made a lot of progress. The beginning of the year I went through some CBT – I wasn’t sure how useful it could be – I had been referred 11 months previously when I was in a much worse place. I wasn’t actually too bad in January. But I know my brain and I knew the peaks would eventually give way to troughs, so it was worth giving a go to learn some techniques. I’m glad I made the effort.  I’ve learnt a great deal about diffusing some of my negative thought patterns, and other ways of soothing my anxieties. I’m exploring mindfulness meditation, and using binaural beats to help me relax and sleep. Sleep in itself is such a vital part of keeping on an even keel. I don’t think I realised how much my poor sleep was a cause of my problems rather than a symptom. Though of course it’s a vicious circle – no sleep = depression & anxiety = no sleep.

So i’ll give myself brownie points on my mental wellbeing this year. Added to which, I am now an accredited MHFA Instructor – and delivering the training regularly gives me a regular reminder of what i need to be doing to help myself win the battle over my wayward mind.  Of course – on the other hand, the physical side – I would probably take those brownie points and eat them, washed down with a pint of stella. Which isn’t good for body or mind. So must try harder for a gold star next time.

4. Rose tinted ribbons.

No. Haven’t put as much effort into this as I should. Any really.  I’ve kept making roses. I did one order for a lady at work. But it needs more energy and a strategy to stick to.
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5. Debt.

Ha ha ha ha haha haha ha ha. ahem.

No.

6. Novel

Hmm. Well. I did make progress. Tried to do NaNoWriMo again in November. Made a good start, but work got busy so I didn’t keep it up. But I’m about 115,000 words or so now. My plan is pretty good, but I will need to go back through and pad out, make certain things make sense. I don’t know how it will read to someone who doesn’t have all the backstory in their head. We’ll see. I also made friends with writing on the ipad – so that means I can pick it up wherever I am.

I’ll give myself a 6.5 out of 10 I think for the year.

“Beating” Depression?

I’ve tried many things over the past 27 years to try and alleviate the symptoms of my illness, or minimise the impact they have on my life and work. I’ve tried different medications, therapy, supplements, self help books, exercise, crystals…. All sorts. I’m open minded and am prepared to give anything a try in finding coping mechanisms. Sometimes I find something that works for a while – and then stops, or I find I’ve forgotten to keep it up and suddenly I’m not well any more.

The bane of my recent years has been sleep. My sleep patterns are all out of whack. It started as a symptom of the depression, but then became accentuated as a side effect of my medication. I have real difficulty getting to sleep at night, and then find it near impossible to wake / get up in the morning. Not just, I’m tired and I can’t be bothered – but sometimes almost sleep paralysis, my eyes are open but there’s nobody home.  I would sleep 13-15 hours solid if undisturbed. Not surprisingly, this caused a few problems at work (still does). More so than my untreated depression – so I came off the meds. But the sleep disturbance, while not as bad, remains.

I read about something called “Delayed Sleep Phase Disorder” – not saying that’s what I have, as it’s not consistent – but it seems to describe some of what is going on with me when my sleep is disrupted.  Essentially, a “normal” sleep phase might see you getting tired about 10pm, falling asleep,  and waking about 6am. However in some people this is delayed, and they can’t get to sleep until 2 in the morning, and might naturally wake at 10am. If their alarm clock tries to wake them at 6am, like a “normal” sleep phase person, then it is pulling them from the deepest phase of their sleep and their brain is not prepared. It hasn’t gone through the necessary processes, changes of wave patterns, release of chemicals, whatever – to bring us to an alert and refreshed state.

I got interested in the idea of brain waves – a very basic (and possibly incorrect) take on it being that Delta waves are produced in sleep / relaxation, Alpha waves help you wake up. I needed Alpha waves.  I’d read about something called Binaural beats, which professed to “entrain” your brain by playing sound pulses which produced a particular frequency, which supposedly would encourage your brain to follow suit.  I don’t know if there’s scientific evidence to back it up – I’d love to see it, but know there’s little interest out there in funding research which might give a free cure for illness.

Either way – I am prepared to try something for nothing, to see if it works for me, regardless of knowing why. And these days there seem to be plenty of options to try this for free.

So, I hopped over to YouTube and had a look what was there. My initial desire was for those wakey wakey alpha waves. I thought – if I can find something to listen to when I wake up feeling like a not very well re-animated corpse, perhaps it will kick start me, and make me ready and fit for the day. I found this – a ten minute taster thing aimed at “alpha wave restoration and concentration”. I stuck my headphones in, and gave it a listen.  Took a little getting used to, but I actually felt myself start to feel more alert after a couple of minutes. Well, what do you know, I thought.

I tried it a couple more times, and at times during the day when I felt I was flagging. And it did seem to make me feel better.

However it wasn’t doing anything to solve my problems at the other end of the day. So – having now read a little more about the supposed properties of different frequencies, I thought I’d try something to help me sleep / relax.  A perfect opportunity arose when staying at my parents preparing for my training course last week. I was full of anxiety, irritability, self-loathing and general distress. I knew the chances of me being able to get a decent night’s sleep were pretty low, and that added to my performance anxiety for the next day.

So, I took myself off, and tried this Delta wave session:

It’s an hour long, a bit like listening to someone play a really low note on the cello over and over and over. My mind tried its usual tricks of negative racing thoughts, but the pulsing drone helped me push them away. I managed to relax and enjoy the sensations that flooded my mind and body. And when the recording stopped, I rolled over and went to sleep. Just like that.

And even more amazingly, the next day, at 5.30am, I woke up. Just like that. I woke up, got out of bed, had a shower. Got dressed, went to work. Like a normal person. Didn’t need any alpha wave restoration at all.

I’ve done this most days this week. The day I didn’t listen to it at night, I slept till 9am.  Some times I’ve fallen asleep in the middle of it. Sometimes it’s not been as easy to relax due to my other half rolling about or turning lights on. But it’s been a damn sight better than a usual week.

You could say it’s simply relaxing for an hour. But if I go to bed without it, I can’t chase those thoughts and feelings away and can spiral into a total blubbering mess by midnight. My biggest problem this week has been waking up too early and then ruining the good work by going back to sleep. Just need to force myself to get up even if it is 4.30. Do some housework!

Maybe my brainwaves are responding. Maybe it’s hypnosis. Who cares. It’s working. I hope it continues, as if it does it could change my life.

Not better off dead – world suicide prevention day

Ok so I had made a little pledge not to be too depressing on here, but this is important.
Today is World Suicide Prevention / awareness day. What do you know about suicide? About the numbers of people who take their own lives, about who they are, why they do it, how they do it, who they leave behind? Do you know anyone who has killed themself, tried, thought about it? Probably. Even if you don’t know it.

Sometimes, in conversations about mental health issues, I get the impression that people think they’re not really that serious. That it’s not so bad as a diagnosis of physical condition. You know, one that might kill you. People dont seem to get the connection with mental health problems and suicide. That it might be a planned or spontaneous event at your own hand, but it’s the illness you have suffered with for years that actually kills you. Some people will be helped by medication, or therapy, or exercise, but sometimes nothing works, or it stops working, or the person never gets help, and the illness wins.

I have suffered from depression since puberty. And since i was an early bloomer, that means 9 years old. I attempted suicide something like five times between the ages of 11 and 15. Looking back, I can say some of it was attention seeking, definitely a cry for help, (though a quite one as I barely told anyone),but it did also come from being so profoundly unhappy that I didnt really care about living. I wanted not to do it any more. It is only a matter of chance that I didn’t succeed. I know enough about it now to know I could easily have done. That I took the right dosage. That one time I probably nearly did, but just escaped. I hate thinking that. About what would have happened if I had. My poor parents would have been wrecked. I left no note, told no one. I just wouldn’t have woken up. And then they’d find out about the overdose, and the unanswerable questions would have begun, and never ended.

That’s what stops me. Because I can’t say I haven’t been suicidal since I was 15. In fact I have even to much deeper, crueller depths than I had back then. But I have better tools to cope with them than the younger me did, while she rode the waves of crazy teenage hormones. But perhaps also, I’m not so selfish. I don’t think at that age I ever really thought with great depth about my parents as emotional beings. About my role in their life. I didn’t think they liked me very much, certainly knew they didn’t approve of me, thought maybe they’d be better off without me. I don’t know. I was an only child. Prone to crushes and infatuations that were invariably unrequited. Or when they were requited, turned into deep and destructive love affairs. Too much too young as they say, but it was what it was and I am who I am because of it. Perhaps the (temporary) break up of my parents’ marriage started to show me them more as people than I’d understood before. Perhaps I started to see possibilities in life that I hadn’t before. Perhaps my hormones cooled down. But my depression didn’t disappear. It went into remission perhaps, the first up swing of many. And in later years, I did return to the brink.

But while I still experience “suicidal ideation” as they call it, I don’t think it’s a real risk. My depression disables me. I lie awake, terrified of death but not wanting to live, but thinking, if it were all just over… But it’s like window shopping for expensive shoes. I stare at them again and again, but I can’t have them. But equally, even if I could have them, could afford them, I wouldn’t buy them because I don’t agree with spending obscene amours of money on frivolous things. So I can look, as long as I like, because the shoes don’t really exist to me. I can’t thoil (good Yorkshire word) the cost of suicide. To others. I don’t deserve it. To put others through all that pain just to put me out of my misery? Nah. Plus, most importantly, I know things can and often do get better. I have been up and down like a whore’s knickers. It’s not much help, in the darkest days, but it is some help to know if I just grit my teeth and hold my breath, the sun will shine again.

But this is about prevention isn’t it? What would have prevented me from making those attempts, back in the day? Of course, I can’t ever know for sure. But I think – I needed more people to talk to. More close, intimate friends. I needed a closer relationship with my parents. I was too much a child to them for them to realise that just as my body developed early, so did my emotional life, and I needed help to understand that. I think there is too much of a tendency to dismiss depression in young people as them being “sulky teenagers”. Of course, that’s a part of life. But there will be some of those young people whose sulking is a bit more than that, and may be an early sign of a problem that will follow them through life. Other things would have helped, more interests to distract me, exercise to keep me fit, less homophobic attitudes at home and school. Most of all better self esteem. I felt like shit, but I felt like that’s all I deserved. I let the most absurd situations develop, because I had convinced myself that I didn’t deserve better. And I really did.we all do.

We need to be less British, and talk to each other. Be open. Tell people your troubles and secrets. Put your arms around a friend who is feeling down and just help them ride it out. Ask them how they’re feeling. Try to help if you can, or just be there if you can’t. We all of us have fascinating stories somewhere in us, take an interest, listen and share. The more people hear of other people’s hardships, they realise they are not alone, and of others can get through to the other side, then so might they. Love one another, be strong.

When the world tilts

Not sure what to do with myself today. Feel shell shocked and scared. I had a row with OH last night. Well, not a row as such. But it wasn’t fun, whatever it was.

I know it isn’t easy to be with someone like me. Whose moods are up and down like the proverbial yo-yo. But it’s not new to him. A two week downward jag and I guess his patience has worn thin. But while I know it is waring to be around one so bleak and joyless, I think the thing which caused the row is that if things go on like this, we have lost something. Someone. That person I guess he fell in love with. Because it is becoming increasingly apparent to me that I can’t drink. Or shouldn’t. And our lifestyle is so wrapped up in drink, and pubs, and my personality too – that when it turns on you, and no longer brings you release, or hinders more than it helps, I’m not sure what I can do.

He hates it. He likes a drink, feels he needs it for the release it does give him from his demons. He likes me when I’m drunk and happy, likes the confidence it gives me, the humour. He seems to doubt the necessity of my getting away from it somehow, and yet has seen the effect it has in me. Is it denial? It is unfair, I know. The trouble being that I’m really not strong enough right now to do it on my own. I need his help, and keep asking for it. And sometimes he wants to give it. Every time I collapse and am crying and desperate, he promises we will get on top of it. But in the fresh light of day, when we’re out and about, neither of us is as strong as we need to be.

I don’t know how, so it’s unfair of me to expect him to have the magic key to making it all better. I have no guarantee that even if I’m sober for six months that the depression will get better. I was a screaming manic depressive as a thirteen year old girl with no drink involved, so why I should be any different at thirty-five I don’t know. And if I’m depressed and off the booze I doubt I’ll be much fun to be around. In need to build a new sense of who I am. Find a new way to be confident, funny, interesting. But will he love that person? He said, we want different things. What am I supposed to take from that? We’re meant to be getting married, surely we need to know that we want mostly the same things out of life?

He said he wasn’t saying he wanted to break up. The thought fills me with blind panic. I feel utterly banjaxed. Is it just, I want to drink, you don’t? Which isn’t entirely true. I want to drink. If I didn’t want to drink there’d be no problem. I’m just scared that if I carry on drinking I’ll be dead sooner rather than later. Either imminently through my own hand, or in a couple of decades through disease. Some things aren’t good for you,even if you like them. You have to make a cost benefit analysis. Does the benefit I get from drinking outweigh the risks? The depression isn’t an abstract risk which may or may not occur some time in the future, it is a probable cost right here and now. About eight out of ten times I will get very depressed. But how many of the would I still have had even if I hadn’t drunk? I don’t know. It’s not like I’m always happy when sober. Maybe when I’m drunk I am more prone to hysteria – everything is exaggerated, just like the good times, and so it feels / looks worse. Maybe it is worse.

I know someone whose husband divorced her on her fiftieth birthday – essentially he’d had enough. Had been dealing with her mental health problems for so long he couldnt take it any more. Bastardly timing, but if the cost benefit equation no longer weighs up, I can’t blame him. If you don’t see someone getting better and they make your life miserable too, you have a right to say “no more” and try and find happiness elsewhere with someone well.

My OH comes with his own cost benefit equation. We all have baggage I guess. I love him, he has been an enormous support to me. He makes me laugh and he makes me feel safe and loved. I know that life might be different with him than on own or with someone else. Not always better. But the scales tip in his favour for me right now. But I can see why they might not for him.

Edit– I think I should add, it’s not like either of us are raging alcoholics. We’re probably your common or garden English binge drinkers. A couple of days a week we drink more than we should, but not in the bottles of spirits or cheap cider kind of way. Pints or wine in the pub. maybe wine at home. More a social addiction than a chemical one.

Degrees of darkness

My mum called last night. I was not in a good state of mind to speak to her. She could tell by my tone I wasn’t well – asked why I hadn’t gone to work. I never know what to say. We’ve had the discussion a hundred times before. Sometimes she seems to understand. At least now she kind of takes my word for how bad it feels. And at least she understands the benefits of the medication when I’m on it.

I’m not on it at the moment. Came off completely and it was going ok – but I was never so naive as to think I would get back to zero and find that, hurrah, the depression has gone.  So there are bad days. And this last couple have been bad days.  She said – do you think you need to go back to the doctors. It means a lot that she says that. There was a time when she had the usual knee jerk reaction to anti-depressants common of so many that seem to think of them as “uppers”, or addictive.  My anti-depressants, perhaps with the exception of the first period when I go on an increased dose and need to get used to it, do absolutely nothing fun for me. They strip the fun out of life to a great extent, and give me a big fat bunch of side effects which cause as much trouble as my depression does. Part of the reason I came off them was that they were causing me to miss work too much, or be late too much. But lo, here I am un medicated, still not able to get there.

Why? It’s a curious thing – trying to explain how debilitating depression can be to someone who looks at you and sees someone who looks fit and well. If I can type this, why can’t I be in work typing? Perhaps if typing was all I did I might be ok. Yesterday, I couldn’t have typed. That I am stringing a sentence together in a reasonably coherent manner is a sign that I’m feeling better today than I did then.

These shades, degrees of darkness. It’s not black and white. Nor even black and white with shades of grey. There are several colours in my spectrum of mental ill-health. All of these affecting my ability to live a normal life (whatever that is) to some extent or another.

The worst times. The deepest, darkest, coldest blue. Usually at night. Maybe between midnight and the time I should be waking. But I am already awake. More awake than any other time. Eyes wide and staring, usually gripping the blanket between my arms, hugging it to me tightly. My body taut. Every muscle tensed. I couldn’t talk if I tried. My mouth feels wired shut, it is difficult to breathe. In my mind, an abject fear of death, and more than that, of life. I am paralysed.  Sometimes, waves of awareness will wash over me. I need to sleep – I have to go to work in the morning, if I don’t sleep I won’t be any good at work. Or I’ll be in no state to go – oh god oh god I can’t miss more work I’m going to get in bother what happens if they put me on a warning and then I am ill again what then? Or I have to go to work in the morning – oh god I can’t face it it’s driving me out of my mind they hate me they hate us they want rid of us they don’t understand what we do they don’t want to understand they don’t care they see us as an expensive joke. No matter all that promise all that effort – I passed my masters top of the class a distinction – won a prize don’t you know. So much enthusiasm so much to offer and yet here I am in a place that won’t even let me make a decision to pay a fucking bill, let alone choose how we wish to market our services or help our customers. But the money pays the bills the bills – the stupid debt that climbs ever higher it seems no matter what they do. Thanks for that tories. I can’t blame you for it all but I can blame you for it starting. And then my lovely brain that switches off its common sense mode every so often and when I wake I find myself with a thousand more pounds worth of things I don’t need, or even want anymore. Do you think it’s all part of the plan? Get the students in so much debt that they have to cling on to any job they get no matter what the circumstances – no striking for better pay or pensions just bow and scrape and grovel, thank you ever so kindly sir for deigning to let me spend my every waking moment toiling for your profit, what’s that? You’d like to kick me, why of course sir as is your right you are my lord and master after all.  I digress. But that’s what my brain will do in those moments, jump from dark place to dark place, faster than a squirrel, never stopping one moment. Only as time goes on you know you will not sleep and you will not feel better in the morning and you will not be able to do anything much for quite a while.

Other nights (still, usually nights) – blackish red. This is when I sob and I scream and I cannot feel anything but as though my brain were trying to escape by squeezing itself out of my body through every pore. I am tense again, but in a different way – jagged, cannot keep still. These times he tries to calm me by holding me – I fight against but eventually collapse, and cry for hours – or so it seems. Until my eyes are swollen like tennis balls and my body aches from the racking of the sobs. Sometimes, if he is not there, I break the tension with pain. I don’t self-harm much any more – and when I do it is nothing much. The razor scratch equivalent of slapping a hysteric across the face. It lets me focus on the physical sensation, instead of the mess in my head.

A more common malaise is the simple black. It is sadness, a deep despair. Melancholia – by whatever name, it sits on me like a low lying cloud and removes all motivation. I have no desire – not to eat, move, breath. I am not sad “about” anything. I have no opinion on anything. I simply am – but cannot do anything much. Left alone I will sit and stare. If I manage to make myself a cup of tea, I will stare at the steam until it goes cold – barely remembering that I was meant to drink it.  This is the state of mind I was in at university (about 14 years ago) when my friends got worried and made me go to the doctors for the first time. I’d picked up the exam paper in the morning, thrown in on the bed, then sat on the floor – back against the wall. My neighbour came in later to find me in the same place – I had no concept that seven or eight hours had passed in between. If someone is there – they can guide me to do things like a child. Take me places, set me going. But like a stupid robot, if you didn’t tell me to turn, I’d keep going straight, right infront of a truck. My mind is elsewhere. Nothing to do with me somehow. Not even observing.

From there it lifts. Or gets more strange.

Today I would say is a dark grey day. Similar to the above, but I am more aware, and my mind is back in action – getting stronger all the while. But today my biggest issue is my body. To say this is a “mental illness” – so much physical pain, or distress.  Imagine. You have an interview in a short while. You are sitting outside in the waiting room, sick with nerves. That’s all mental, but does it feel it? Your palms sweaty or deathly cold, your stomach churning, your abdomen tense, your shoulders aching. Later – your head will probably ache when the stress is released. Add to this a feeling of fear and grief and dread – as though a loved one were in hospital and you are strangely convinced you will hear bad news.  And then – feel stupid about it all. Because you don’t have an interview. Your loved ones are fit and well and happy. Your life is good. But you can’t seem to enjoy it. You feel a failure and a fool. And guilty that you can’t be your best (whatever that is) in any capacity. You let down your partner, your friends, your family, your employer, your colleagues, yourself.

If you come up against people, you think your failure or stupidity is writ large across your face, and they will all stare and laugh. Mental reasoning – is it there? My mind is full of itself. It’s an arrogant illness. It makes you think that there is nothing else in the world but the mess in your head. (though when you start to come out of it and see what is going on in the world, it sometimes pushes you back to blackish red…) Try and do anything practical or positive, it throws all manner of excuses why that’s not a good idea and why it won’t work and it’s best not to even bother. Working where I do, to be honest it sometimes seem to have a point. I’d acheive as much lying in bed as at my desk.

But there’s nothing wrong with you – my imaginary observer might say.

Ok – lets try to go to work. How many obstacles in my way. Some days – it’s not the work I can’t do – it’s the getting there.  Helpfully, I can work from home on those days.  Otherwise. Firstly, I have to get out of bed.

Some mornings, this is no easy thing to do. This was the problem which my anti-depressants made worse. Maybe I haven’t slept. Or maybe I have slept so deeply that waking feels beyond my capability. My eyes will not open. In severe cases, it’s like sleep paralysis. I can feel myself, my mind, awake, and trying to get my body to move, my eyelids to lift – but they won’t respond. Like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill.  When I finally manage – hours can have passed. Then I am made of lead. Every movement hurts.  Then we find out what mood my head has woken up in. It might be that isn’t too bad. Then I will slowly get up, and do the necessary.  Ideally I’d get up at six or before, get the early bus and be at work for half eight. That doesn’t happen much. Generally, I aim for the 7.50 bus and get to work at 9.30 ish, making use of the flexitime I am fortunate to have. I tend to make up a lot of time at home.

Up and dressed and out of the house, the next problem is people. I’m not very good with people at the best of times. I like them, but i’m quite shy. I have no conviction of having any right to exist, or be of interest to anyone. So I don’t often know what to say.  But on bad days – I hate people. Every one is a threat. I am terrified of them, of speaking. And they are noisy.

At first, I thought it was just me imagining things, or being a freak – but I did read somewhere, that in certain cases of depression, bipolar illness or similar – perceptions become enhanced. Colours can seem more vibrant, your sense of smell improves, and noises seem louder. Crowds can be unbearable. Perversely at exactly the same point of mood that sometimes makes me want to go out to gigs or parties, I become almost incapable of coping with them. I think it’s the proper definition of agoraphobia. Fear of the marketplace.  A crowded train can be torture. I hear everything, it wheedles into my brain and amplifies.  I have been known, when in the company and protection of my partner, to sit with my hands over my ears, rocking, to cope with a train journey. I am the mad lady on the bus.

Each step like this has the potential to knock my state of mind back a stage or two. I have had to go to the toilet and cry, on escaping from a train.  But – then what. The walk across Leeds. More people, more noise. And the smell – ugh. You don’t notice it so much when you live in a city, but the air tastes foul. The streets are dirty, people sometimes rude and frightening. (Worse when coming home from work actually – walking past crowds of drunks standing smoking outside pubs. God forbid you look scared or upset, it’s like an invitation for them to talk to you)  Piles of vomit from last nights revels. (My stomach, since taking prozac years ago is very weak. I often vomit at the sight or smell of something disgusting.)  The smell of rotting veg around the market. It’s like those scenes of someone on drugs in a neon lit city, everything looming at you, terrifying and distorting. But sometimes you run the gauntlet, and you get to the home strait.

My workplace is the equivalent of a big boss at the end of a level on a computer game. It sits at the other side of town, huge, monolithic atop a hill. An enormous building with a spire on the top. You have to walk up hill in its shadow, and feed yourself into it’s mouth. If you are in anyway unhappy about going there, it conspires to make it more difficult for you. There are many days when there’s someone else sat outside, composing themselves, before they go in. I think it’s cruel – to build edifices like that. It’s like a temple – sacrifice yourself to the modern gods, work and money.

And yet – when you beat that boss, it’s just another level inside. Another set of challenges and fights. And you never quite know what is to come.  Get into the office and there is the gauntlet of shame. Walking past colleagues, feeling guilty at your sick leave, your “lateness” (though you know you are allowed, and make up the time, you still feel a fraud somehow). You feel ashamed and annoyed at yourself for not being the best that you could be – and you project the disappointment and hatred onto your collegues. If I hate myself they must hate me too.

Sit down. The desk is a mess. You’re such a waste of space Sarah you can’t even tidy your desk, and your house is a shit tip too why do you even bother….

Switch on the computer. It takes forever. Impatience rises. Some days you are wound tight as a spring and can’t operate well. You jump at every stimulus, over react, take everything personally.  Finally you are in. You try and get on with your day. A good day, will leave you feeling better. You will have done something, helped someone, made something better. There will be a small point to your existance. And if you can capitalise upon that and do other good things, enjoy yourself, be good to yourself – you may have a good week.  A bad day, will feel like the seventh circle of hell – where you can do nothing you need to do, you feel insulted and hurt at every turn, you are reminded of your wasted efforts and abilities, and you don’t even feel like anyone is grateful that you even try.  You have to deal with petty rivalries and jealousies, help other people who are feeling just as bad as you, and yet there is nothing you can say or do to make it right.

That will be me tomorrow I guess. That’s by no means the whole story. There’s a whole nother spectrum when I start to go the other way. And the above readily mix and match.  I wish I weren’t like this. I wish I were well. But so far I haven’t found a way out. I try to make up for my bad days when I have good days.  So far, it seems to work. But I live in fear. My brain isn’t very suited to the environment I find myself in. I have got steadily worse since I started working there. Maybe I would have anyway – but I can’t afford to get much worse than I am.

Madness

I’m listening to a radio programme on addiction to prescribed medicines, such as benzodiazapenes.  Very sad state of affairs – and difficult to resolve.

My experience of GPs and mental health has been vastly varied. Some excellence, some absolutely appaling practice.  I am not convinced that even the best GP is well suited to provide the best care for mental health issues.  Even mild ones, which I suppose mine are, most of the time.

What concerns me most, is the impossibility of getting help for people who are too far gone to know, or be able to effectively express, that they need help and why – but who haven’t yet gone so far as to cause damage to themselves or others, or to behave so wildly unacceptably in public that they come to the attention of the police.

As I said in my last post, not all extremists could be said to have mental health problems. Whether Anders Breivik turns out to or not remains to be seen. However – sometimes, people with emerging mental health issues, can be very impressionable, paranoid, and easily converted to extremist viewpoints because they are losing the power to rationally analyse arguments and consider consequences which makes most of us reject the more extreme aspects of whatever ideology it is we may follow – and certainly violent, or terrorist means of furthering our interests.

Had Mr Breivik confided to a friend, about his plans – or even just about his views – I am sure that he has at some point had heated discussions about his feelings about the changes in society, with someone who tried to debate the issues with him.  At what point, does that friend take this man seriously? At what point to they move from thinking it’s all hot air, to seeing that there’s something amiss.  And what can they do then?

Raoul Moat – who went on a shooting spree in the North-East, and was eventually killed by the police. He knew he had a problem. He had sought help.  But he did not get taken as seriously as he should have been.

How many people who are converted at a young age to radical Islam, perhaps to be encouraged into martyrdom operations – how many come from troubled backgrounds, or have emotional difficulties?  How many of the people picking up rocks and increasingly guns again in Northern Ireland, are teenagers, having their opinions and values moulded at a time when their hormones are going haywire?  I digress.

The traditional argument, is that if someone is a danger to themselves or others, they will be sectioned.  Their liberty will be removed, for their own good and the safety of others, so they can be psychiatrically observed, and treated.  Do you know how difficult it is, to get someone sectioned?

My very left-wing friend, that I also mentioned in a previous post – came to me in a time of crisis. Suicidal, in despair.  In trying to get him to see a doctor – I wanted to take him somewhere other than my own GP, who I knew was rubbish when it came to these things, and had the bedside manner of a drunken tramp.  But wherever I called, even when I tried to call people with a stated special interest in mental health, I was told he could not be seen. (He was not in his own city) – I should take him to my own GP.  So, reluctantly, I made an appointment at my own practice, with a Locum.

The locum was better than either of the other doctors I had seen there, but he was still not very good.  My friend was almost unable to speak, he was so depressed. But he managed to express himself a little, and was prescribed anti-depressants, and sleeping pills, as he was suffering severe insomnia.  However, it was also established, that my friend drank.  And the response was simply – well, stop it.

My friend is an alcoholic.  He has tried many times to “stop it” – but never, to this point at least, succeeded for very long. Especially when his mental health problems deteriorate, his first response is to self-medicate with drink.

Meanwhile, he seemed to pick up a bit, slept better, mood improved.

But then one night, he had some kind of psychotic episode – perhaps a bad interaction of drink, whichever drug – probably, having since read up on other adverse reactions, the zopiclone.  He filled my house with gas (by accident), passed out, and when we tried to rouse him, attacked us, in an almost sleeping state. He tried to kill my ex, and made sexual threats towards me. He smacked his head in the struggle.

In the morning, he couldn’t remember a thing.

We went back to the doctor, who pretty much dismissed what we said had happened.  It was just because he was drunk and agressive.  My friend, in reality would never harm a fly. In health, he would have been utterly mortified by his actions. He was taken off the zopiclone, and sent back with me.  Me- living alone with him.  I told him I would do whatever I could to help him, whatever it took – but that the first step had to be stopping drinking. I was prepared to help him as best I could. But he wasn’t ready for that, and he ran away again.

During the whole process, we thought – he needs to be sectioned, at some point this will come to that.  I think it did, much later – but if you aren’t family – it’s almost impossible.  But then, when he wasn’t drinking, his illness presented pretty much as severe depression. It was only with drink in the mix that it would spiral, and paranoid delusions, mania and delusions of grandeur come to the fore.  Fine, you say – don’t drink. But if it were that easy…  Dual Diagnosis, the concurrent problems of substance or alcohol misuse and mental illness, is something which is only going to become more prevalent in our society as many people develop mental illness as a result of substance abuse – or respond to mental illness by abusing substances to make themselves feel better.  There are very few places where this is handled well in the country.

A lot of these people are adrift from the nice, cosy, familial support unit which is supposed to be the one to spot their distress, and have them sectioned. The rules don’t fit their world.  How do concerned friends get help for them? How do employers access help for employees in distress?  Especially if they become non-compliant, and refuse to see anything wrong?

Anders Breivik’s father said he would have nothing more to do with him – but didn’t I read somewhere that he hadn’t seen him since 1995? Even if it was 2005, that doesn’t suggest that this man was under the watchful eye of a caring family. Did he have friends? Or had he always been a loner – wallowing in an online world of hatred.

It troubles me.  If we don’t find a better and easier way of getting help to people when they need it, indeed, when they ask for it- then there will be more tragedies – be they the small personal ones, or the grand disasters.