Time

Enough time has passed by now that it might seem as though I had abandoned this. I assure you, that is not the case. I hadn’t planned to spend so long away from it, but then I hadn’t planned for many things. There are so many cliches about time we like to spew, as if it gave us any more control of it, but they still comfort in a way. We say time can ‘get away from you’, and for me it feels as if it has these past few months. We say that time ‘runs out’, and for someone very dear to me it did. We also say that time ‘heals all’, and I am holding tight to that idea as it gets easier, not always, as the days pass.

Right now I’m at my parents’ house, and have taken to spending a short while every visit going through old papers, trinkets and whatnot, just to clear some of it out. Often it is boring; a flurry of outdated bank statements, junk mail and dried up felt-tip pins. Sometimes it is interesting; short stories never finished, correspondence long-forgotten, small tokens of affection. Today I found a photograph of two teenage girls, laughing, posing for the camera half-entwined. Small text in the corner reads ‘FEV 96’, making me think it might be French. My parents do not recognise them, nor do I. In 1996 I was 7 years old and we were living in Helsinki. Why and how I have this photo, its significance, seems to be lost to history, the answers swallowed up by time.

On the day I got the news of my friend’s death, I went over to his flat. I had his spare keys, and had been told the family would be coming soon to clear it. I thought that I went round to say goodbye, to see a place where I’d spent time with him for one last time as I remembered it. At first that’s kind of what I did, but soon I found myself investigating. Old photographs are history even when the people in them are alive, but they look different when you know the person’s truly gone and not just different now. There are no photos of my friend taken during the time I knew him, only ones of who he’d been before. I didn’t know that man, and from things that came out once he’d died, I’m not wholly sure I knew the man I thought I had the past two years, which complicated the grief somewhat. Two years is a relatively short time to know someone, but when those two years are someone’s last two years, they feel stretched out beyond all reason. It is the papers and the pictures and the knickknacks that condense it; condense vast portions of your life (or when you’re gone, the whole of it) into a bunch of stuff and memories. Perhaps that makes it easier to deal with. I’m not sure. I know I worry about what might be found if I die suddenly. I guess I should prepare for that, in case.

Medication

I have been on Aripiprazole for a few weeks now. I’m not sure if it helps or not. It breaks my sleep up and exhausts me and makes me restless and I feel quite mentally slowed down much of the time. Is it worth it? I can’t tell yet, but I know that it’s a good thing that I started taking it even if it turns out not to be for me.

My first foray into medication was about 9 years ago. I was 18, saw my first psychiatrist and was prescribed Citalopram and Zopiclone, for Recurrent Depressive Disorder and Generalised Anxiety Disorder, and insomnia, respectively. I took them dutifully for what I guess was about 6 months, during which time I went to University, my now long-distance relationship suffered badly and I realised if I OD’d, my parents would not be the ones to have to find me. I OD’d on Zopiclone a few times that year, and was no longer prescribed it. I think I stopped taking the Citalopram at some point around then too. I remember that the boyfriend left me when he found out about the first OD, then was subsequently prescribed exactly the same meds to deal with the break-up. How strange.

I was on and off Citalopram for years from then, minus a very brief go at Sertraline which I didn’t really give a chance to, even after I was re-diagnosed with BPD/EUPD at 19. I OD’d on them once, in a sort of unintentional robotic fashion, when I was 22, and then never took them again. I saw a psychiatrist a couple of years later who told me I should never have been prescribed them with my condition. This was not exactly what I wanted to hear, and nor was that he wanted to put me on Olanzapine.

I think that scared me off for a long while. I was pretty anti-meds already by that point, for myself in any case. It was bad enough to feel out of control concerning my own mind, but to have to ‘admit defeat’ on that camp and give up control of my body as a result…that was more than I could bear to do. Sometimes I don’t think doctors realise you have to live day to day with a new medication, the side effects, the worries, the adjustments. We all know that it’s ‘trial and error’, but the ‘error’ could be more than some of us can live with. Hell, look at the horror-story leaflets they enclose. The ‘error’ could make your life unlivable, or it could make you cease to live.

Adamant I wouldn’t take Olanzapine, afraid of side effects and feeling like it was irresponsible for him to be prescribing anything that might affect my eating, knowing what a circus that whole thing can be, or that listed diabetes under potential side effects when I have a relative with it (but…honestly, the eating thing….), he suggested Aripiprazole. I took the leaflet, carefully considered it and, no, I’d already been scared off. No meds for me, I just need to try harder. After all, there’s nothing really wrong with me. I don’t need antipsychotics. While it’s always been my choice, I feel like they’ve considered me resistant to treatment for refusing to take them for so many years. Now I’ve chosen to take them yet they probably still think the same.

Ultimately, I took them this time because I hit a crisis and I needed a way out. I needed hope, above all else. I needed the road not taken, knowing that the others I had traveled took me nowhere. And medication was that road, even though I knew it was a scary one, and might not lead anywhere either. I had to try, and so I’m trying, and it’s hard, but at least I’ll know. If this isn’t the road for me, it’s another one to cross off the map. I do need a Plan B, and I always have because I pin my hopes on one thing far too often and am destroyed when it falls through. I’m not sure what my Plan B is yet, but it’s going to be okay. Sometimes I think that I’m all out of roads to go down, but there’s more there than I can see. And it’s not going to fix me, I know that. Nothing is. But if it helps, it helps, and I’ll be grateful. If it doesn’t, then I’ve learned, and known I had the guts to try, even if it took a while.

Death

I got into a bad place again just over a week ago. I had not long rejoined the outside worlds, and I pretty much retreated back to hiding right away. It was too bright, too loud, too much, and I, for sure, could not be trusted in it. So once again, it wasn’t safe to leave the flat, and I had nothing to write about because there wasn’t anything that helped. Of course, what I mean is that nothing at the time felt like it helped, or ever was going to help again. That’s a scary place to be, but whether it’s the benefit of hindsight or just trying to put a positive spin on things to make myself feel better, there are things to see in that place too, no matter how devoid of light it is.

I don’t remember when I started fearing death, or even thinking about it properly. No one I knew died when I was young apart from the odd elderly relative, who I didn’t see enough to miss. I remember stories as a teen though; all the Columbines, Andrea Yateses, Bridge End suicides, and Billy Metzgers, how I started googling the details, and wondering what people felt in those moments. Call it morbid curiosity, I used to comb the TV guide and set the video recorder for any late-night film that mentioned ‘suicide’ in the synopsis. I wasn’t suicidal (yet), but I was fascinated.

Sometimes even now I think I brought it on myself; that a simple fascination at an impressionable age with some things sad and dark and twisted has conspired to make my life sad in return. ‘You like tragedy so much, here’s yours’. It’s quite easy to blame the self for the self appearing faulty. Fearing death is part of that as well, the idea that I’ll die and it’ll be my fault. It will be something that I did too much of, not enough of, or some stupid danger that I put myself in without thinking of the consequences. I won’t care then of course, I won’t even be conscious, but while I am I still feel guilty, strangely, for this future failing, the fuck-up from which I really can’t recover.

The uncertainty gets me the most though. While my emotional side may dream of suicide as a means of ending pain, my logic often tells me that it’s still a good idea because it puts me in control of when it happens. During my most recent ‘blip’, I did feel suicidal, and lacking in control. And along with that, still deeply fearful I might die. I have never wanted death so much as I have wanted non-existence, but knowing that to be impossible death is a big compromise. Suicide is also a big compromise when you’d much rather be euthanised. The problem is that life is bigger than a compromise, it’s the exact opposite of non-existence. We all know you can’t always get what you want, so do you settle for a compromise, or try to start wanting what you have instead? These three prospects stop me mostly:

  1. It will hurt.
  2. I’ll be alone.
  3. Nobody will forgive me.

My friend’s younger sister died a couple weeks ago. She was in her 40s, had two children, one a teenager and the other with a child of her own. He wasn’t all that close to her, but he’d known her his whole life and definitely loved her. The funeral was this weekend and I went with him for support. It’s strange to see the funeral of somebody you never met, and yet I still grieved to see their sense of loss, their pain. It makes you feel ridiculous for thinking about it. It made me think I never want my brother to have to bury me before we’re old. It made me want to do better and try harder, and not waste this life I’ve got when others more deserving lose theirs out of the blue. I’d like to be deserving, if I can. I’d like to want to live.

Letting Go

Sometimes I view life as a puzzle ball. It is has many pieces that are meant to fit together perfectly to make a sphere, but mine seems to have some pieces missing. If it had all the pieces it was meant to (I was not mentally ill) or I had some sort of glue to keep all the other pieces stuck (I had some level of integrity/self-discipline) then it would stay together fine. As it is, I have to grasp it in my hands so tightly just to keep what’s there intact that either it falls apart under the pressure, or my hands begin to cramp and I have to end up dropping it. Often to prevent this, I feel like maybe I should just let go a little, loosen my grip slightly and hope it stays intact. Unfortunately, though this is my intention, what transpires is more akin to me just opening my fingers wide and watching it all fall apart. When the pieces are finally all found and scooped back up and fit together in that same incomplete sphere, I use that experience as evidence that I should hold it all the more tightly this time, and not loosen my grip at all.

This is a tricky cycle, and to be honest, I spend far more time in the pieces-on-the-floor phase than I do in the holding-pieces-tightly phase. The latter is exhausting and the former’s kind of freeing, for a while. It often feels like my whole life is a series of chaotic periods, each of which inevitably overwhelms me, and makes me feel as if I must exercise strict control over all aspects of my life to prevent it. The control then feels claustrophobic, my life feels dull yet fear-filled, and so I try to live…a little. Drunk on re-discovered freedom (and often drunk on booze), I throw caution to the wind, say ‘fuck you’ to a stifled life, and the cycle carries on.

So, acknowledging that this is what I know of ‘letting go’, why is it a ‘thing that helps’? Obviously, veering from one extreme to another is not a healthy balance. The ‘letting go’ that I’m referring to is something else. The feeling that I’m missing out on life when attempting a controlled existence stems from many things. Like I said, it is no fun to feel constantly afraid of slipping up at any moment, and it is no fun to have no spontaneity or new experiences. Most of all, though, it is a solitary life. Other people are a threat to it, they cannot be controlled. Therefore, loosening my grip is as much an act of ‘letting in’ as ‘letting go’.

Sadly, I’m not good at healthy friendships, I credit the few I have enirely to the conduct of the other person. I’m far more skilled at cultivating, and desperately clinging onto, the kind where you’re not sure it’s doing either of you any good, but you’re both emotionally invested and aren’t about to walk away. Some of those friendships are with people who have mental and/or physical illnesses themselves, and often one of us will find ourselves in a difficult position. What do you do, neck-deep in your own struggles, when somebody you care about is struggling?

I am trying to let go. There are people in my life I care about that I have needed, tried and/or wanted to take of. The pressure not to let those people down is the same that I apply to my sphere-pieces, and sadly with the same result. Where I may not quite be able to keep the whole puzzle stuck together, it is worth remembering that I cannot stick together theirs. I’m writing this today because of one such friend, who I so badly want to ‘fix’ because I feel responsible for breaking him, and because he has tried so hard to ‘fix’ me, without success. You can care so much that it hurts both of you, and it is easy to then think caring about others isn’t worth the pain it costs. You can veer between those extremes as well, though the other person may not stick around is so.

‘Letting go’, for me, today, is trying not to worry, and knowing that I’m not responsible for someone else’s health or their decisions. ‘Letting go’ is trying not to feel guilty about things I can’t do anything about, and remembering that anything I can do should never be at the expense of my own wellbeing. ‘Letting go’ is trying not to feel selfish or like I don’t care about a friend because I’m not trying to ‘fix’ them. ‘Letting go’ is difficult, but it’s my mission for today.

Obligatory introduction

I spent the days leading up to my 27th birthday in a hole. A figurative hole, naturally, but one just as dark and deep and trapping, and one far too many of us frequent far too often. On this particular occasion I had found myself unable to speak aloud or leave the flat, unsure if I’d be able to return to my unskilled part-time job, and whether or not that was a good thing, deeply afraid of interacting with my friends again, believing the relationships to be unhealthy and damaging, and mostly ‘coping’ through spending my days in a haze of TV, half-sleep and wildly out-of-control eating-disordered behaviour.

This is not a game of who has what the worst. This ‘episode’ was worse than some, not half as bad others, within my own life and in others’. I have some level of support, where others may have none or more. When talking about mental health it is so tricky to tread the line between ‘it’s okay, you’re not alone’ and ‘your experience is not unique so suck it up’. It can be a relief to be first diagnosed, a sense of ‘I’m not terrible or failing, there is legitimately something wrong with me and a valid reason why it’s so hard to manage this or that”. However, after years of living with the label it can start to feel like it is who you are, maybe even all you are.

Increasingly, you see online lists of ’20 things all people with X relate to’, or ‘10 things you shouldn’t say to somebody with Y’. There are numerous books written about how to deal with somebody with A or B. And yes, by definition there must be some common ground between people with a common diagnosis, so many of us go through the same awful things. And no, we’re not alone, nor are we all special snowflakes incapable of being understood by anyone besides ourselves. In the end, I can just speak for myself, and you can only speak for you, and neither of us might have anything new or original to say. That is not to say we should say nothing.

I had my birthday yesterday, and I knew I had to make some changes. That was not some great epiphany. I have known I need to make changes for a long time, and have intended to do so every birthday, New Year, Monday morning, morning-after and so-on for just as long. Often I am out of hope that things can change, often I do not have confidence in my ability to make it happen. I also kid myself that there will be some easy fix, if I just do ‘this’ then everything will suddenly be better. ‘This’ is what a lot of people sell; read ‘this’, take ‘this’, practice ‘this’, eat ‘this’ and you’ll feel better. Don’t feel better? You’re obviously not doing ‘this’ enough, or the right way. Sadly, I don’t think ‘this’ will fix anything alone, no matter how positive or powerful the ‘this’ might be.

Some things help some of the time. Where mental illness is concerned, there is no definite, no rule. Just that some things help some of the time. This is me exploring them.