First Things First

There are 113 books on the shelves in my bedroom, I counted them in time with the beating of my heart;
1
da-dum
2
da-dum
3
da-dum

110
da-dum
111
da-dum
112
da-dum
113
da-dum

and breathe.

113 books and one vinyl LP (Debbie Harry, bought because I loved the sleeve) and assorted detritus accumulated I don’t know when.

24 hours in a day and 365 days in a year and 5 tablets swallowed in the morning and 3 at night and the endless crawl of seconds in between.

Restless legs and racing thoughts and battered hardbacks of nursery rhymes from my childhood; yellowing pages with torn edges and rhyming couplets bring propped up by a pile of CDs that have been undisturbed for years. Green Day and Little Miss Muffet, cradling between them a whole world, a whole life.

None of these words mean anything by the way, because there’s nothing to say at 5:32am. It’s when the birds get their turn to fill the air with their chatter and song and life before we all wake up and take over and drown them out. Poor buggers.

I’ve got Things To Do today so my as yet relatively undisturbed hiatus to my bed has got to come to an end. Hair to wash and brush and one foot to place in front of the other until I can turn around and back to my little nest of sanctuary.

Except it isn’t, not really. But it’ll do.

I feel strangely exposed leaving words here again. I think I’d be more comfortable sellotaping up a risqué photo because it would feel a far less fucking revealing.

I don’t like these depressive bits. I’m ready for this one to be over now.

Witness As The Last Of My Sanity Melts Away

I’m sipping Dreamtime tea. That is a legitimate thing that really does exist and I, stalwart eschew-er of anything that isn’t proper tea with milk and sugar even at 2am, am sipping it. It’s so sweet it’s like being pelted in the face by ten thousand penny sweets with every mouthful.

So intense is my love for sugar I have been known to sneak half a teaspoon straight from the jar onto my tongue because it’s 4pm and I need something to get me through until bedtime. It’s like my secret lover, a bit dirty and sordid but ohmygodsogoodmoremoremore. This tea is possibly the sweetest thing I’ve ever tasted, even sweeter than the moment I relent to the sexy siren song of the sugar jar and scoop spoonfuls into my mouth with a wild and rabid lust.

Tonight, once the final light is switched off and I pull the duvet around my ears to wait for sleep not only will I be running through all of my life’s regrets and memories and unanswerable questions, I will also be weighing up the merits of different substances to act as an anti-sweetener. Salt? Lemon? Marmite? The tears that spill from a kittens eyes when you explain the pointlessnes of existence? Something needs to be done. Nothing this sickly saccharine should exist.

But, I need to switch off. And I know that pretend tea is not the answer but it’s far more sane than smacking myself over the head with the tub it came in until I fall to the floor and into a fitful, concussed sleep.

Hahahahahaha, sane!

I keep getting these crashing waves of pain. Blinding, searing pain that beats the emotional shit out of me and then subsides as if it never happened. The fucker. Like a psychogenic labour it comes in wave after wave after wave of white hot agony. Every part of me wants to tense against it, to push away and try to resist but that only makes it worse and I know it after almost two days so I don’t tense anymore. I feel it rise and swell and I hold my breath and feel the preliminary needles of fear before forcing myself to exhale because it’s going to happen anyway.

It doesn’t so much wash over me as crash into me with bone shattering force. I’ve never felt emotional pain with the intensity to physically stop me in my tracks like I’ve been punched. I’ve never had to reach out to steady myself against the wall or the table or an unsuspecting arm because I’ve been smacked right in the solar plexus by anything so unseen.

I feel perversely short changed that after so long I don’t even have experience of all shades of sadness. But whatever. Surprise! This shit swoops in and it pins me down in a way that is so far from metaphorical it’s terrifying. And then the claws loosen and as if I can’t be grounded without it, I float up out of myself and hover above my own life while somehow this weird autonomous me is peeling herself from under the duvet and moving about as if she isn’t full of rapidly setting concrete.

Oh yeah, I live here!

Oh wow, these are my stairs right here that I’m climbing right now!

Oh shit, that’s my kid!

Oh, I forgot, I exist!

I get reminded of things out of the blue like its the most surreal and most natural thing woven together in some crazy memorandum tapestry of madness. Your life is here! You are now! Look at all the things!

It’s really, really weird.

If a crazy person feels like they’re going crazy and there’s no one around to hear, do they make a sound?

Dawn chorus

Good days and bad days and fucking endless nights of I don’t even know what.

I’m the original flake; up and down and lost in the middle, scratching my head and wondering and wandering.

Yes and no and I’d love to I can’t make it lets do this again another time never.

Is this real or is it going to end?

Which bits are the real bits and how many more times will I have to read this chapter before I actually read it rather than just let my eyes flit across the pages like my mind flits across thoughts?

Feeling like its all my fault and it’s all me me me and then hating myself for being so selfish. Feeling like I felt when I was five and on the receiving end of “I’m not angry I’m just very, very disappointed in you”.

Too scared to let go.

The want to open the door onto the street and pull my coat around my face and walk and walk until I find something to replace everything. Another life or a gateway to another way or another place to be.

Sitting in bed at 3am while the whole house is dark and quiet and wanting, wanting so, so much just to feel.

Staying awake because I’m so wired that I have no choice and because if I do then maybe I can stop the morning from coming.

Breathing though panic or nothing or hurt or thoughts, waiting to see if it will end or if this is actually the time where it all explodes in my face.

Waiting, waiting, waiting.

I can’t move forward so there’s only backwards left to go. Backwards or sideways or here forever and ever until I’m eighty something and shrinking back into the nothingness that I came from, asking myself what the fuck I was playing at for all those wasted years.

So many words that I want to say but that I can’t because I care more about upsetting other people than I do about the slow burn of pain inside my gut from keeping it all in.

The fucked up wish that there was something wrong that could be cut out or cut off or drugged to death so that it would all be gone and I would be okay.

Wondering who I would be if I could push a button and have it all taken away. I am not it and it is not me and left is right and right is left.

Waiting for the moment that my bones and my muscles and my being melt into an embrace that will make everything even just a little bit okay. Just for a while.

Writing bollocks and drinking tea and staring into the darkness of the almost dawn, trying to find answers that I know aren’t there.

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…