Recovery

Sometimes it feels as though life speeds up and slows down of its own will. Days themselves flash by, or slowly plod along. I close my eyes and I see those beautiful nights – nights where conversation was full, the air was heavy with the perfume of a candle, Nina Simone spun so softly in the corner on my record player. These are the nights that through glorious openness and unfiltered honesty, we discover ourselves through reflection. Nights broke through to morning and the devastating realisation that life only affords you a handful of moments like these. Time, which seemed to slow to allow you to feel and to learn, must go on. And it does.

It’s hard now perhaps three months on from that dark time to feel a sense of closure. In many ways, it is too raw. Still healing. I find myself perched on the edge of a cliff, edging along with careful precision, all too aware of the danger that awaits…the darkness below, the abyss. There are days where I breathe freely, I stride along and I look back with confused incomprehension of how I ever found myself so lost. And there are days where I slip and find myself precariously gripping the edge, digging my nails in and imploring myself to hold on until the storm passes.

Work, college, friends and family. Unconsciously my mind refocused away from the nihilistic existential crises and the pain of the past into a semi-productive but, at least, functional human. I feel deep. Always have, always will. But our life, time itself, does not allow for the thoughtful meandering that I so often miss. We value lives, today, in success. We measure them by their paycheck, their status, their networks. So we work, we network and we inform anyone who will listen about our adventures, our success, our self-important opinions.

Forgive me for divulging in an unnecessary, albeit enjoyable, ramble about life. The academic writing I am attempting is failing and, therefore, I have turned to this. My sanctuary. I’ve missed my writing. I have given an unnecessarily lengthy excuse for how I’ve been neglecting this, my outlet. Life. Life has gotten in the way.

Forty hours at work, four at college, a list of household tasks, an impending humanitarian aid trip and a to-do list that seems never-ending. I balance on the edge of the cliff, I make demands of myself on a daily basis. I shut down that part of me, sometimes tiny, sometimes huge that tells me that I cannot get out of bed. And most days I do. I work, and I laugh, I watch TV, I read, I walk and I fall back into bed. I am proud of that. I am proud of my recovery. I am proud that I am achieving – even the small achievements. The As that appeared on the assignments this week, the friendships I’ve made in my new work environment, the emails I’ve sent and all those times I’ve ignored the voice telling me I couldn’t.

Time has passed. Life has sped up. I find myself walking the edge of that cliff. And it feels OK. It feels manageable. I have new goals, new aspirations and a new found awareness of self. For that, I am grateful. I am grateful for those long nights, the words that flow so effortlessly and, most of all, for being here.

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A Sleepless Night

5:16:am. The clock is reminding me yet again of my failure to achieve normalcy. A failure to grasp onto the functioning world outside. Approaching 48 hours with less than 4 hours sleep, and that unassuming little clock sitting at the bottom of my screen seems to grow, and flash red, the nostalgia of that little alarm clock that once sat on my bedside table floods me. Or that huge, novelty clock shaped like a watch that amused me as a little girl. Oh, and that Cuckoo clock (an engagement present for my parents) except, instead of soft chirping, it becomes the soft buzzing in the ears. The weary blurriness of my eyes and the aching of my muscles that so desperately long for sleep that I cannot provide.

Coherency seems like a past life. My words seem to have been obliterated as reality – night and day – become so deeply entwined in my thoughts and my emotions. A rollercoaster where the adrenaline fuels toxic fear and where that free-floating thrill of the ups and downs instead results in disorientation and confusion.

I tried, despite my reluctance, the newest of the medications that seem to have so suddenly and unapologetically infested my home. The one which brings the sleep, as I shall call it. However, whether I am a pharmacological anomaly or they’re just not strong enough, they bring me no relief. And so I turn to my other sources of comfort.

The list of available documentaries on Netflix seems to dwindle as I breeze through them with determination for knowledge…or at least a distraction. Most are below average, but considering the persistent insomnia in this ever-raging battle between my mind, my body and my consciousness, it matters not the quality of the movie, but rather its ability to engage my disparaged and disinterested intellect.

Anger seems to be my overwhelming emotion over the past day. That, and sadness. I’m growing increasingly impatient with myself. I feel as though time before I return to work is dwindling, seeping away in a pointless attempt at regaining myself. I flutter frequently between the thoughts of returning, to re-introduce routine, and the fear that I simply may not have the ability. Not a fear, I guess, as much as a reality. And it’s incredibly difficult to come to terms with. Ability is rarely something we question as adults. It’s under-valued, taken for granted, and as the old cliche goes, only missed when it’s gone. I miss it so much.

I try to refocus myself. I’ve reorganised, and scrubbed my apartment (incentivised by the imminent arrival of our landlord). I managed to pick up a new heater to combat these God-awful Dickensian excuses for radiators. I’ve been walking frequently, mostly with my long-suffering yet eternally reliable friend. I’m trying positive reinforcement, surrounding myself with books (that I cannot seem to read), bucketloads of tea and the constant companionship that the twenty first century provides virtually via podcasts and Youtube.

Still, I am failing. I’ve fallen ill with Winter ailments in the common cold and wheezing chest that reminds me festive season approaches. Simple tasks like visiting the library to return a long overdue book escape me. That doctor’s note sits on my windowsill…though it should have been posted five days ago. My friends and my other half continue to remind me to take my time. To acknowledge my achievements. To ignore those niggling mind-numbing tasks that seem insurmountable. I’m trying. I’m fighting. But I fear I’m losing.

Is my medication working? It seems I have regressed once more. Perhaps its the current frailty of my physical self that is impacting subconsciously on the emotions I’ve been struggling to contain. Yes, maybe it is the fact that I am so aware, so constantly aware, of how I’m progressing, or not as the case may be. Have I just conceded? Lost the war?

Either way, I feel as though I’m sinking. In a living nightmare devoid of escape. Where is the Sandman when you need him?

The Serenity Prayer

I often wonder about how differently I might feel or how I might act if I were to believe in a God. For me, atheism has been my way of life for many years. Even as a child, I recall finding masses (and there were many) almost comical – I never found inspiration or guidance in the words of the bible or cleric, but rather viewed it as a bizarre historical ritual that served those who believed. Though I was in theory religious throughout my youth, including alter service and speaking, I never recall having a strong faith or belief.

Now don’t worry. I’m not militant atheist. I don’t believe in the ousting of all religion. In fact, I can see the value it has for many of my friends and family. It acts as a source of comfort in difficult times, promises an everlasting life for those grieving and has contributed to countless charitable acts and organisations. Equally, it has committed atrocious abuses, has threatened peace and sometimes incites great hate. But I’ll leave the philosophical and sociological implications for the likes of Richard Dawkins or Pope Francis as I feel neither equipped academically nor theologically.

I slept for 18 hours in total today (or yesterday, I guess). I woke up disoriented, exhausted and cloudy. I don’t know how or why I slept for as long as I did, but it has left me feeling so drained and so down. I cannot comprehend how I might slip from an amazingly productive and stimulating day into one of broken sleep, nightmares and lacking substance. It angers me greatly – the to do list remains on the bedside table, though my hand itches to pick it up and scrunch it. I feel as though it’s goading me, laughing at the optimism slipping like sand through my fingers, leaving only reminders of all the things I could have achieved.

When days like these happen – the days where all duties are neglected and life itself feels pointless, I always turn to other sources of comfort. There are days when my brain bounds about, with great clarity arriving at all of the solutions for my current problems. Then there are days like these, with sluggish and stagnated thoughts that I can’t quite grasp with anxiety perpetuating a great storm within my body. So, I watch and I read other sources in the hope that they’ll inspire me or anchor me so that I can hold onto some semblance of sanity for long enough until it passes. And it does pass.

Today, I was thinking about the serenity prayer. For those of you not familiar it reads:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Omnipotent beings aside, it is a beautiful sentiment and one of great value for me. As a person experiencing anxiety, for a very long time, it is a powerful tool. Sometimes the most challenging and exhausting triggers for anxiety are ones which we are powerless to aid. In youth, I recall being incredibly weighed down about world events. Climate change caused me so much concern, as did terrorism (9/11 occurring when I was just 8), economics or natural disaster. One of my greatest fears when I was a child was tsunami waves, and it took about 6 years before I realised that Ireland was highly unlikely to experience such an event. I wasted so much time concerned about the world around me. Of course, it allowed me to be a conscientious and outspoken young person but it also fed many anxieties that cause me difficult to this day. Terror, unfortunately, is still such a huge concern internationally and, though I remain a distance away, it triggers a helplessness and fear in me that is insatiable.

This is I think why the serenity prayer, long after I lost my faith, still carries worth for me. In many ways I feel it could be a philosophy. While I pull many valuable ideas from many religions like Humanism, Buddhism and indeed Christianity and Islam, I don’t feel the need to commit to or order or a faith to succeed in life. Rather, the key is constant development, learning and evolving. Constant challenging of my own biases or prejudices and those of the world around me. Valuing human life, equality and human rights. I guess I have more of an affinity for the charter of human rights than any gospel in existence!

So, I’ve been thinking today about adopting my own version of a serenity prayer, that encompasses secularism rather than a deity. It begs the question, who replaces God? There is only one person who possibly could, and that is me. Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference. The actions of others be it world leaders or Islamic extremists are out of my control. As are environmental or economic legislators. So, too, are those who cannot accept me or my life choices. As is my mental illness.

However, that does not render me powerless. I can be an advocate for those issues I feel strongly for. I can vote for those in power. I can voice my outrage or anger at poor decisions for the future of this planet and its health. I can choose how those who negatively impact my life feature. I can work towards recovery. I can use whatever courage may remain and fight, even on the dark days and nights. Even when I feel I have nothing left to fight for.

Wisdom is not for the young or infallible. Wisdom is only granted to great warriors or great survivors. Wisdom comes with age and experience. Wisdom will come…it will come.

The Power of Words

In sharing this blog with my closest friends and family, I’ve felt a sense of relief. The weight of persistent doubt, confusion and worry around explaining how I’m feeling is slowly lifting as I share, in writing, what are undoubtedly intimates thoughts and experiences. It’s encouraging to know they are comprehending on some level what I’m going through. One of the bleakest and most damaging feelings when you’re feeling so hopeless is isolation. For some reason, you assume others cannot or will not empathise. Those who you consider trusted friends or family are somehow vilified. As arrogant as it sounds, you assume they couldn’t possibly understand how your feeling. Recently, I feel completely solitary even when surrounded by a group of people. It sounds irrational, and it is.

The carefree, light and happy me that I try to project in my daily life feels so fraudulent. I feel like there is a spotlight, a neon sign above my head reading DEPRESSION or ANXIETY. I feel like an imposter everytime someone asks me how I am, even just in passing. As I plaster on the wide smile and mumble “Fine” I worry that my eyes are revealing the truth, betraying me. Sometimes, when I’m feeling particularly angry or frustrated, I think about spitting honesty at someone. “I struggled to get out of bed this morning again. I became anxious on the bus because it took a moment to locate the fare, and felt like the driver was becoming angry. I hid by the lockers during my break because I couldn’t face the stares that might follow me when I entered the canteen. I tripped over my words when speaking with a supervisor and can’t stop thinking about it. I’m exhausted from the continuing racing heart, the numbness in my extremities and I really just want to go hide away from the world and surrender myself to the void within.” But I don’t. I smile, I meekly answer and I pray in my mind that they don’t question any further, lest any cracks appear.

A friend today so lovingly responded to my blog with a quote from Robin Williams, “No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.” Anyone familiar with me knows that words are a weakness of mine, though I’m sure that’s become apparent in the lengthy verbosity of my blog. Reading has been a passion, feeding my soul for as long as I can remember. My Dad used to joke that I swallow books whole. Before the days of my beloved Kindle, I read my way through the entire local children’s library before staring longingly into the adults section, awaiting the day I might finally own the adult card. How naive I was! I loved diving head first into those worlds I’d never experienced and adventuring freely into the author’s world and the realm of my imagination. Speeches, though, always reserved a fondness never found in any of those books. One timeless quote from one icon rendered me, ironically, speechless. Martin Luther King Jr., John F Kennedy, Winston Churchill. All of these people are not simply remembered for their actions. They are remembered for capturing volatile world events in a single phrase. The weight of the words, at least for me, played equal significance in the actions that followed. They inspired, they motivated, they empowered entire states and entire generations. Isn’t that incredible?

No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world. The quote represents more than just the power of words. It was the first quote that hung on the blackboard in my first apartment on my first night of true independence. It evoked all the emotions that came with that first shot at genuine freedom and responsibility. It recalled the strength and resilience in breaking free of the shackles associated with my troubled home life to pursue a happier and safer place to lay my head. Of a time when I chose not to give in to circumstance, but to fight back with a drive to succeed and accomplish. And though part of me was saddened in reflecting how far I’ve fallen since then, equally it stressed that I am stronger than I feel. The ambition and optimism I felt then has not gone away – it’s being confined by the illness, but is demanding release. My focus has, for far too long, been on the negativity that defines me at present. Perhaps, I should be focusing on summoning the attributes I’d forgotten had defined me before.

Above all the quote reminds me that, in staying silent about my struggles, all my thoughts remain powerless, as do I. Even if a single person, just one person, finds the thoughts I’ve been guarding so vehemently of significance, I could change someone’s perspective, and in doing so could change the world. Words, ideas, thoughts and feelings need not necessarily leave you broken and tormented, but they may serve a purpose if you only dare to share. And yes, you can quote me on that.

Mental Healthcare in Ireland: My Experience (Part 3)

I stepped into the small interview room with trepidation. It was so bright, white and permeated with that sharp distinctive smell so unique to hospitals. I shook hands with the doctor, and sat down, preparing for the inevitable probing of my mind that would follow. I felt defensive, exposed, worried. He, without hesitation, delved straight into my history, my diagnoses, family history of mental illness. As usual, I fumbled and scraped for words to describe my emotions and my actions. He seem unperturbed by even my more dramatic descriptions. And while I knew that this was his job, and that he encountered this daily, it hardly quietened the part of me wanting to scream at him. To remind him that I, the person sitting in the chair, was scared and feeling out of control. I needed help. In all, I sat there for forty minutes during which time he asked me invasive questions followed by the mandatory “Are you feeling suicidal or homicidal”. I hesitated. I was, and had been feeling suicidal for a very long time. In recognising that, he reworded “Do you have any plans to harm yourself or others”. You see, that is the significant thing for the psychiatrist. Whether I wanted to hurt myself or die was irrelevant to him. He wanted to ensure that I wasn’t going to do that imminently. I know, and I understand the need for this question, but it still felt like an assault. No, I wasn’t imminently going to hurt myself or others. No, of course you don’t need to urgently help me. No, of course a 22 year old, terrified young person without a previous history of mental illness is not in need of psychiatric care. He recommended Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, a meeting at some point with a psychiatrist, gave me a list of helplines and sent me on my way. I wish I would have been less trusting, that I would’ve told him that my instincts were telling me that this was out of the ordinary. Instead, I went home, climbed into bed and fell into a restless sleep.

The next day I found myself once more feeling edgy, anxious, stressed on top of exhaustion that seemed to swallow me up. I tried to rest, not to worry, to distract myself but I felt worse than ever. I lay down at around 9pm to get more sleep and once again lost control. In between entirely blacking out, I recall fearing that my other half was going to murder me, hallucinating that I was in a psychiatric hospital, seeing high-rise buildings outside of my windows, having flashbacks to my youth and convinced that there was going to be a fire. I thought there were multiple people in my room. I thought someone was going to hurt me. I thought I was going to hurt someone. I was laughing hysterically at the situation then descending into floods of tears. I genuinely thought I’d finally reached insanity. I called two friends who came to my aid and after discussions, it was decided to call an ambulance. By this point, I’d started to feel tired, like I was returning to normal, but nobody was willing to allow me to sleep it off. I recall stepping into an ambulance, seeing my heart at about 130 and arriving into the dimmed corridors of A&E once more.

This time, fortunately, I avoided the waiting time and met almost immediately with another psychiatrist. He was friendly, reviewed what had happened the night before and listened patiently as I tried to describe the horrors of the two hours previous. He asked me whether I still believed what I had believed during the brief psychosis. When I told him I didn’t, he asked again whether I was a danger to myself or others. Again, I reiterated that I didn’t feel that way but I was distressed with how I seemed to be losing my grip on reality multiple times over the past number of days. The recommendations were the same aside from some additional Xanax to calm me until I saw a psychiatrist in a couple of days for further evaluation. I felt like I wasn’t being listened to…that I was in crisis but it was falling on deaf ears. It seemed that in order to gain comprehensive and speedy psychiatric care in Ireland, I must be willing to forfeit all dignity and self-respect and lie to the psychiatrists. No, I was not a danger now, but had you met me an hour ago, I could’ve been. Can’t you hear that? But I left, got a McFlurry and once again headed to bed.

Psychiatric evaluation seems almost a laughable term now that I’ve attended the appointment. It was five days after admission to the A&E, in a day-hospital outside the city. The doctor called me by the wrong name, had clearly not reviewed the files in completely misunderstanding the main reason for my presentation and my symptoms, then chose to increase the dosage of my anti-depressant significantly, while advising me someone will be in contact in due course about follow-up appointments. I left after fifteen minutes and cried out of sheer frustration and anger. Did they not believe me, or did they just not care? I cannot understand how or why I am being consistently and wholly dismissed on the basis of lack of urgency when my life is so significantly being impaired by my health.

I lasted a single day in work before deciding, after discussions with a manager, to take sick leave. The stress of work, as much as I love it, is too much. As is college, socialising, shopping, reading or any activity requiring focus. I feel like I’m in purgatory – an existence without any chance at fulfillment. Requiring psychiatric care, just not quite now.

As I anticipate yet another doctor’s appointment on Monday and, for the first time ever, a visit to the Social Welfare office, I’m dreading the barrage of further questions. I feel let down by healthcare professionals, the healthcare system and society itself. But I’ve got to keep trying, don’t I?

Mental Healthcare in Ireland: My Experience (Part Two)

If any of you have ever experienced psychosis, then I’m sure I don’t need to tell you it is the most terrifying experience. It was just last weekend and yet it feels like so long ago. The memories are fuzzy, and reality in my mind is still skewed but having pieced together based on my own experience, and that of those which witnessed what happened, it’s pretty clear that it was a highly volatile situation for me and those around me. I, my friends and family, and my doctors are still struggling to understand how it exactly happened. Theories included medication, extreme anxiety/stress and sleepiness. For me, none of the above can help to comprehend such a fearful event and I honestly don’t even know how to come to terms with it. I feel like I’ve been walking on egg shells since – fearing that any stress, any form of anxiety, bad news, poor experience might tip me over the edge once more, and along with the fear of what happened previously is another terrifying thought; What if this time I don’t come out of it?

I knew that my depression and anxiety were consuming me. The once optimistic, light, cheery me had faded into obscurity to be replaced by a darker version of myself. Truthfully, that is still the case. I’m still suffering, still fighting, still trying everyday to pull myself out of the dank, suffocating murky halls of my brain, a prisoner of my own mind, to quote a great cliche. I’m hurting, but I’m tryin, piece by piece to summon the broken parts of me and will them together. That’s the sole reason why I’m writing this blog. To give the “old” me an opportunity to resurface – the one who loved to write, to read, to learn. The one who loved nothing more than a cup of tea and book in bed on a rainy day. The one who cherished the moments of introverted serenity without fear of the monsters in her own thoughts. I miss her, I ache for her. My friends jokingly remarked in the events last week that it was me who they would’ve called. I was helpful and supportive in times of need. Reliable, loyal, resourceful. Where has that person gone? Is she gone for good? Perhaps that’s not worth pondering for now.

The day, as they always say, started out like any other. A long day’s work, dinner, excessive amounts of television, social media and internet usage, and eventual retirement to bed. A harmless discussion with my other half spawned an argument, and before I knew it and without good reason, I was consumed by rage. I lost control. I began punching walls, hitting my head, scratching and biting myself. I had no control over my own body or thoughts. I begged for space in order to get myself under control and eventually broke down into inconsolable sobs. I wish I could write in further details, but the embarrassment that surrounds the entire night is still raw. It’s still hard to comprehend how I quickly went from feeling slightly on edge to slipping into a haze of all-consuming anger. Regardless, it was clear that it was erratic, out-of-character behaviour and it scared me, and my loved one to the core. I begged for help, for them to fix me, to make me better. Even now as I’m writing, I can feel the same way I felt then. So scared, so helpless, so vulnerable…a certainty that something was wrong. It hit me like a tonne of bricks when the word was first spoken: HOSPITAL. Even with my bizarre and harmful behaviour, my lack of clarity, I still dreaded the thought. I wasn’t that unwell, was I? I didn’t need to be hospitalised, did I? A part of me knew that I needed help, that this wasn’t right and yet my own insecurities and misconceptions crashed on top of me. What if someone saw me? What would the healthcare professionals think? How would this affect my medical records/my job/my relationships with family and friends. Once more, I was willing to forsake my own mental health out of fear for others opinions of me. With a lot of convincing, some tearshed and armed with an overnight bag, I stepped into A&E full of fear and reservation.

I’d love to say that my experience was overwhelmingly positive. It was not. In the interest of full disclosure, it’s worth bearing in mind that I was more than likely hyper-sensitive but the first nurse I encountered seemed cold, judging and homophobic. Despite having introduced my girlfriend and mentioning her several times throughout our discussion, she continued to use the word “friend” throughout. She took no time to remind me that my medication my not have yet reached full efficacy and dismissed the disturbing dreams by letting me know that she sometimes had nightmares too. I advised her that these vivid and alarming dreams were not only affecting my sleep but often rendering me confused and disoriented for long periods after I woke up. I was not bringing it up to advise her I was having hard time – I was letting her know of something I thought medically relevant.

After a four hour wait in the freezing waiting room under the watchful eye of a wary security guard and mind-numbing midnight television ads, I finally saw a doctor. He performed an ECG, did a neurological examination, listened to my heart, my lungs, my eyes and ears and then came to the conclusion that I needed to see a psychiatrist. With those words came both a dread and a relief – finally someone who might help me. Who might “fix” me.

Mental Healthcare in Ireland: My Experience (Part One)

Nausea, trembling, headache, anxiety. I sat in my doctor’s office after an exhausting anxiety attack, and now here I was. The one place I had been avoiding for far too long. I’d spent so long convincing myself that I was fine, that the counselling was working, that I’ve always been anxious. The reality was that depression and anxiety had succeeded in bringing me to my knees. I was faltering, stumbling, suffering and it would only be a matter of time before I would be pushed too far. I was not getting better, and without intervention I would not. My denial, even in those minutes before I stepped into face my doctor, ferociously fought…that nagging reminder of my worthlessness. I felt I was a waste of resources for those in need, those “genuinely” sick, why was I sitting amongst these sickly children and the pallid elderly? Even now, I feel a sense of shame as I sit in the dim waiting room. I feel eyes on me and I question whether I should be there.

Many people I encounter will tell me I am opinionated, often argumentative and, the all-time favourite, that I’d make a great politician someday. I never shy away from talking about hot-topics, current affairs or voicing whatever emotion may be pushed to the surface in every facet of my daily life. I am desperately ashamed, therefore, to admit that I skim over those discussing mental health issues. I cringe inwardly when I see a friend on social media discussing mental health, I avoid sharing “those” articles during awareness months and when (as so often occurs in this country) a tragic suicide occurs, I stay uncharacteristically silent. Despite my supposed open mindedness and liberal views, I felt bound to hide forever my own struggles out of fear of stigma and discrimination – no, not even that. Out of fear that people might see me, that outspoken, stubborn, fearless person as weak and “crazy”. As dictated my the anonymity of this blog (which I do aspire to share someday), this is a struggle that is ongoing. I guess I’m just trying to put in the context my own fears in approaching another individual, outside of my close circle and letting them know that I was not well.

Counselling felt like a massive step when I first started. Walking in that first day, I felt like I’d really achieved something, that I was finally heading in the right direction. In many ways, it was helpful. I found myself more at ease talking about issues that had been plaguing me for a long time. The secrecy which I held for my youth and the bad experiences within was unearthed. I was, for the first time, really taking a look at me as a person; who I am, who I want to bed and how I became the person I am today. It was difficult. I doubt this is a unique experience, but despite my decent communication skills, when it comes to speaking about emotions, I become almost infantile. It’s as though my vocabulary is reduced to that of a young child as I fumble with words like “fine”, “OK”, “good”. It’s frustrating and tiresome for someone who rarely has issues speaking their mind. Eventually, through circumstances of everyday life, I ended up giving up counselling. Did I feel better? Absolutely not. Was it valuable? Definitely. I was deteriorating mentally from the moment I walked in there, and yet I continued to ignore mental illness, ignoring its importance and value, something which I undoubtedly wouldn’t have done if it were my physical health at risk.

So, here I was, facing the doctor and yet again struggling to find the right words to describe the merciless destruction depression and anxiety were doing to my mind, and my body. We spoke for twenty minutes, a new record for my GP who’s office more often feels like a supermarket checkout. I emerged, feeling deflated, vulnerable but optimistic holding that small piece of paper that I’d been fearing all year. A prescription.

I had, of course, looked at anti-depressants in the mind-numbing, insomniac searches of every internet forum in the hopes of comfort and solidarity from my own mind. I was reluctant. Why would I unnecessarily alter the chemicals in my brain? I’d read endless horrifying reviews, countless lists of side-effects ranging from nausea to death. The denial crept in with assurances that I would certainly not require medical intervention. It’s all a state of mind. I could get myself better. All the while, my daily life was being severely impaired by crippling anxiety and depression. There was no longer a divide between my intelligent, rational brain and the illness which was causing me such great anguish. In the end, I went into the pharmacy with a naiive hope; That little piece of paper – Sertraline 50mg – might hold the key to happiness.

The first week was hell. I could barely eat, I was jittery, I was not sleeping, I couldn’t concentrate. I argued incessantly with myself and my other half about whether I should continue to take them. And pretty soon the effects started to wear off. I was lucky to have incredible support at home, and in work. I felt like I was making progress. I stopped crying daily, the fear and dread that pervaded all sense of self started to ease. Pharmaceuticals became less of an enemy and more of a friend. I thought we were finally on the path to recovery.

Where it started to go downhill, I can’t quite pinpoint. There weren’t many additional stressors, I had been taking my medication as required, I was doing well in work and in college. Yet, I was feeling myself start to slip. Worse than that, it almost felt like I was free falling into that black pit. I was clawing on for dear life, but I couldn’t keep a grip. There was an imminent threat, but I couldn’t quite put a finger on it. And then, I lost it.

An Introduction, I guess…

To me, or whomever I choose to share this with,

It’s intimidating to start writing. To start sharing how I feel. I’m uncertain whether I’ll be able to even complete this post, but I know that I need to start writing down, to start recording how I’m feeling. On some level, I want it as a reminder to me – so that someday in the future I can reflect on how I was feeling right now and aspire to never feeling this way again. A smaller part fears that this is it for me, that I’ll never be as whole as I am right now. In the confused turmoil of my brain, as I transition between great sadness, anger, elation, confusion and sheer dejection, I hope that I can at least articulate in ways that I struggle to say aloud the emotions that have been driving me to the brink over the past weeks and months.

It’s difficult to blur the lines, at the moment, between the past and present. I feel like I’m simultaneously living in both, while experiencing neither to the fullest. Does that make sense? I doubt it. I guess, what I’m saying is I don’t know where to start. So, I guess we’ll just begin with today.

My sleeping has been poor over the past few weeks. I’m sure, if you know me, that you’ll know I rely on my eight hour minimum. Work nights equate to a 10pm bedtime for a 7am rise. Right now, day and night are blending seamlessly into one another. Perhaps its the lack of routine, or maybe just my head playing tricks but 3pm and 3am feel the same way. I woke up this afternoon – 12pm full of the same conflict which has been waging war on my mind and body for far too long. My anxiety was screaming at me, reminding me that I needed to get up, assignments needed to be completed, the house needed to be cleaned, I needed to get out of bed. Depression, as ever, paralysed me – it filled me with doubt and with lethargy and reminded me consistently of my inadequacy.

I took a Xanax before bed because I was restless, anxious and really manic. Watching the news from Paris live triggered, as ridiculous as it sounds, a genuine fear and anxiety for the world around me. What if a terrorist attack happened here? What if someone I knew was hurt? What if this causes a war? Most people can function under those concerns, but I as fragile as I am I crumbled into a cycle of anxiety feeding anxiety. My body grew tired from the adrenaline that pulsated through me – propelling me from my seat so I could pace directionless around the room.

The day after anxiety often feels similar to a hangover – tiredness, headache, confusion. I drifted off to sleep in an erratic, drug-fueled state only to be awoken to yet another endless day. As I found the anxiety driving me out of bed, I only made it as far as the couch. In fact, I’ve spent the entire day shuffling between the two. My hair is a mess, assignments were neglected as was the house, I haven’t showered, I’m still in yesterday’s clothes. They are pressing concerns but I simply cannot face getting up. There was a glorious fifteen minutes in which I thought I could conquer the world. I hopped up, filled with ambition and energy for the day. Then came those intrusive, gnawing, insane thoughts. Wouldn’t it be great to just hop on a bus and go somewhere? I bet it would be fun to jump off of something really high. I need to call everyone, we need to go out. My rational brain decided to jump ship to be replaced by this speed-of-light, frantic and desperate substitute. With a lack of all filters, I spilled everything to my other half.

There is little more that hurts me than seeing in someone’s eyes concern and sadness at what you’ve become. I knew, as the verbal onslaught continued, that what I was saying was not normal. That I was scaring them. That for whatever reason – medication, poor sleep, general instability – I was not in a sensible frame of mind. That brilliant elation, that short burst of pure happiness quickly faded and despondence returned with a vengeance. I knew that what they were saying was right – but I still felt anger. What do you mean I can’t go out? I’m perfectly fine. The battle inside waged on, with rationale finally succeeding.

Independence is perhaps the biggest loss, so far, in this struggle with mental health. I stubbornly refuse to concede power and control even when I know I’m not well. For me, that independence was hard fought, well earned and deserved. Coming to terms with sharing control with another, even one who loves me dearly and only wants me to be well, has been so difficult. Today, I feel trapped. I feel as though the walls are folding in, the roof crashing. I ache to be out of this house, to be sharing an ordinary night out or a simple amble through the city. The reality is that I am not in full control of my thoughts or actions, and it would be irresponsible therefore to not stay in, within the protection of love and support I have been so fortunately afforded. Yet, even as the wind howls around the apartment, even with the blackness of that outside the window, there is an invite to the outside world that my own mind is imprisoning me from. If that’s not insanity, I don’t know what is.

To conclude, a copy of my favourite poem and that which inspires my username. To the future me: I hope you are happy, well and laughing at my classic attempt to capture every thought in written form. To everyone else…well, I guess the same thing.

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