I miss my dad.

My dad had a camera attached to him for the first 10 years of our lives.  He documented every mundane moment.   He painstakingly developed them, and kept almost every photo he took.  They live in a box in my mum’s house and have been vanishing over the multiples moves she’s undertaken since he died. I have a few of them.  The photos begin to tail off when my baby sister was a toddler.  My dad was too lost to drink then to keep taking photos. I hate that there’s scant evidence of her childhood.

There was a photo of me that he loved so much he had it blown up into A4 in dramatic black and white.  I’m about four, face on, staring fiercely into the lens. I don’t know if I’d just woken up and was grumpy, I don’t remember the photo being taken. But he loved that photo and was proud of it, and proud of the person in it. It was one he showed me often.  Even I could shyly admit I looked beautiful in it, looked, probably for one of the first times, like a child who was becoming their own person.

I tore it up one day, in a fit of teenage pique, when I was learning how to hate myself.  He was hurt. And I regretted it instantly, and I still regret it, to this day.

I think the look was a little like this one.

My dad hurt us a lot with his drinking. But sometimes I’m floored at all the little things I did to hurt him, too.  I remember, always remember, how his eyes looked when he was hurt. When he was drunk, dewy. Sometimes, they were dewy when he was happy, too.  I remember that less.

I miss my dad.  When you think of what a life is- that there is one- it brings me to my knees that his life was so brief and so desperately unhappy.  Despite us, five children. Sometimes, I think, was it because of us? Other deaths and lives don’t have that burden on their children.  People who die of natural causes and not things like alcoholism can have that gift, of a, “life well lived”. To know how cherished and loved they were, and how much they cherished and loved in return.  I don’t have that. Either way, I don’t have that and I regret it utterly. My dad was often infuriating, abusive and hurtful and in rages, I would be the same. Always his reflection, even now.

I didn’t even mention him in my wedding speech. I regret that, too.  It wasn’t a conscious omission. I wore his photo in a locket around my neck. I worried that if I talked about him, I would never stop. I didn’t want to cry, not that day, but cried later anyway, for different reasons. I wish I had let myself cry for those ones. Why, why have I spent the seven years since his death trying not to cry?  I only cry over my dad when I’m drunk. Why did I spend the years of his life trying not to? It is so hard to watch someone you love destroy themselves. Despite pleading with them, begging them, screaming at them.  Doors torn off the hinges and kicked through in premature grief, from all of us. Like I tore up my photo, he tore up the letter I wrote him when he was in a psychiatric hospital. We were asked to tell him what effect his alcoholism was having on us. And for a while, it seemed like we’d gotten somewhere. But they all went to pieces, in spite and because of. Even now I wonder if I had chosen my words too carefully.  From the back of a CD, some pretentious teenage book I was reading. Using it as a writing assignment to hide from the reality of what was happening to him and to us. Of that squalid little hellhole hospital and its yellowing rooms, and his rancid bedsheets and yellowing skin. Too blamefully, too artfully, instead of writing it from me.

The photos help. We were happy, sometimes. He was happy, sometimes. When he stopped picking up his camera, that’s when I started. He left us some money- not a lot at all- when he died. I bought a camera with mine, his last gift to me.

This picture wasn’t taken with that camera, but on his last Christmas with us, in 2005.

He wasn’t a great dad. But he was our dad.

The tattoos me and my siblings have. “Remember to live”.

He was someone who didn’t realise how much he was loved. And if he didn’t realise, then who else doesn’t?

The Recovery Myth

And I fear being mad again, when newlife, largely lonely, is hurtling towards me. Career, kids, marriage (I want them all, I could have them all). Don’t be mad, not again. Even the sniff makes me fear, I blink at the glare, deny everything. From open, to closed.

So now I am recovered from mental illness. Now I can pass for normal to the untrained eye, one that isn’t looking too closely into my own glazed, unfocused ones. I do Recovered Person Things;  I work, I take public transport and people sit next to me, on a good day.

Whoever was doing the PR for tampons was doing them for mental illness
recovery. The same euphoric aerial splits celebrating the joy of
working Coke machine, the same toothy grin over a latte with your
girlfriends, the giant kitchen, with holy glittering worktops awaiting
a weekend of salad preparation for the family- all this will be yours,
if you get better. A life, they call it. A normal life.

And deep down a part of me sighs, “Don’t believe the hype”. Recovery can be a more profoundly lonely experience than the illness itself. Years have passed now, like a dream. But if it were a dream, then nobody else would remember. But they do, and better than I. Vignettes of a life I had forgotten before I even finished living it are bold A4s in other peoples’ brains. How jealous I am of my memories being locked in other peoples’ brains! And afraid I am to ask for the key. A part of me does not want to remember.

I had expected that after four years, I would one day fling open the door and see a line, stretching far down the street, snaking around the corner and into the road, the people who I had hurt, bored, confused, frightened and bored again waiting, wreathed in smiles, bedecked in flowers, overflowing with forgiveness, welcoming me back.

Back to… where? Somewhere I have never been, as someone I have never been. In the four years of the regrettably necessary self-obsession required to Recover, I had stopped asking about the lives of my friends, the lives of my family, the lives of people I had loved, or could have loved and who could have loved me. In time, they stopped asking me, too. They had Real Lives. They have promotions at work, fall outs, nights out. I had the stasis of the still-sickening, of an inner-life with no outer life. My most exciting trips were to hospitals, or onto the pavement. If it is dull to me (and it is), it is even more dull to them. And rightly so.

You find this too, when you recover. This is not cancer, not even close. You can’t whip your sleeves up and show your self harm scars as a mark of how far you come. That’s bullshit-speak from social workers trying to salve the pain of you destroying perfectly lovely parts of your body for the rest of your life. No-one is interested in your inspirational tale. In fact to mention it you’d think the earth’s axis has shifted ever so slightly one centimetre as people have the irresistible urge to be drawn backwards. Really far back. I’ve made that mistake before. I thought that now I was stable (but not normal, never normal and untainted) everybody would be happy for me. Bumping into an old school friend, the conversation goes like this,

“Oh, hi, Seaneen! What have you been up to?”
“Oh, hello! Well, I’ve been mad for a couple of years! But I’m fine now! Just off to get a sandwich. What about you?”

With no outer life, or at least, with a less of a socially conventional outer life if your mental illness knocked you into a ditch somewhere, you may have lost social skills. How do you talk to people when you’re not a little high? (Slowly, by the way). How do you have a conversation that doesn’t revolve around what your
psychiatrist said that week? (Bullshit, as usual). It’s okay- practice on strangers. Which you’ll be doing a lot since, as mentioned above, you have lost most of your friends in the period in which you were mad and trying to be less mad.

If you were lucky, you might have made some nice mad friends to keep you company. They’ll be really happy for you when you recover and
start to claw your way back to normality. Which is how it should be. Except, some of them think you’re a traitor. Some of them are genuinely pleased for you, but then you find that aside from talking about your mental problems, you don’t really have that much in common anymore.

Where do you go then? Into a new life, with new people. And what do you tell them? What of the past years? What did you do, where did you come from? What did you do? Where did you come from? The answers make you dumb.

Five Years- Still Alive

This day seven years ago, I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital and thus began my love-hate relationship with the mental health system. I remember- noise, pacing, star jumps, skipping brain, Silence of the Lambs on repeat, Leila, stripey socks, more pacing, telling the nurses I had to be let out because I had an important interview at Scotland Yard (and this was true!), haloperidol, flowers, Connect 4, Lithium, bloods, tight hand grips, tourniquets and smoking.

Almost 5 years ago (in 2 more days), I took an overdose after a year of depression and one very ill-advised prescription of Effexor. I am still alive.

The memories I have of that night are sickened- sweat, vomiting, screaming for my dead dad, having a seizure and knocking myself out on the desk, the paramedics seeing my breasts and still feeling aware enough to be mortified about that, everyone here worrying since I posted while off my skull, feeling angry that the doctor dismissed my overdose as, “over a fight with a boyfriend”, when no such fight had taken place, when I hadn’t even inferred it, he was at the pub, but as a young woman in a scar suit, it must have been why, not the year’s worth of depression, not the hyperactive energy burst of medication, as a young woman, my life revolves around the men in it. 

Wanting a toffee crisp and the kindness of friends. More vomiting. Friends cleaning the flat so we didn’t have to return to it. Rob’s centring calmness when I knew how afraid he was. Me pretending I was alright afterwards, when I really wasn’t, but I felt so silly and ashamed of myself.

Nothing has been simple since.  It’s easy to forget how bad things were, I guess. My life revolved- and still does, to a large extent- around trying to stay sane.  I feel more sane than I ever have, PDSQ questionaires to fill in tonight aside.  (What is an, “upsetting experience”? I wrote down 3, then added in the margins, “Not sure these count”).

I’ve hidden a great deal of posts from when I started this blog, cowed and blushing over my quite dogmatic nature then. I was only 21. I should reinstate them, even if they’re embarrassing. I’ve seen other people do the same as me- when diagnosed with someone, deny to begin with, then grab at it like a rope to a drowning man.  It took me a couple of years to realise I was more than my illness.  And a couple more to realise it would always be there, humming in the background like a twatty passenger on a bus. But it wasn’t as bad as I thought and I’m not afraid anymore.

October is my bad month. I have crashed almost every year for 10. I’m still here. Fuck you October. In your face.

The Mentalist’s guide to… putting on your make up

Back in the day, I wrote a tongue in cheek series of posts called, “The Insane Guide to…”.  They covered topics like looking like shit at a psychiatric appointment, mixed episodes and medication.

Over the past day on Facebook, a few mentally interesting folks have been making makeup tutorials, actual, useful ones like the Youtube ones, which I can’t link here as they’re on Facebook.  Did you know you can put liquid foundation on with a brush? Because I didn’t.

This is my response.  It features wine, Wagner and a lot of strong language.

(Should go without saying this is a joke and I am not a sweary alcoholic).

We’ve been talking about making more of these. Like, “How to Unmat Your Hair After 5 Days Without Brushing or Washing It” (a personal one for me since my hair naturally dreads after a day).  And some more practical ones like leg waxing, which I’ve never done, so it would be ten minutes of screaming.

Anyway, it was silly fun making this so if you have any suggestions for videos you’d like to see, let me know!

Trauma

So, it’s a day for speaking out. (PS: I still haven’t stopped smoking) One of those blogs that says nothing and something.

Some people who have known me for a long time are surprised I am still alive. In a nice way, but they are. One friend in particular, who has known me for a decade but who I see very infrequently, is flabbergasted that, generally speaking, I’m an optimist.  I believe things will work out.  More than being an optimist, I believe I have been lucky. That’s what caused him to drop his fork and go guppy-mouthed for a minute.

This isn’t a cheery, “Why, aren’t I brilliant” entry where I list just how my Positive Mental Attitude has helped me overcome. It hasn’t.  The uncomfortable truth is that I’ve been through so much traumatising bullshit that I think I exist in a permanent state of being dazed. I overcome because nothing affects me so deeply anymore that it feels world-ending. I overcome because I have built a wall over my heart so thick that the plonky arrows tipped in flame and shit just bounce right off now.  I have killed a part inside me so that I can continue living.  Some call that strength. Sometimes, when I let myself feel and am curled up in a corner (rarely, so very rarely), I would call it sacrifice.

The childhood traumas which we have gone through, and which I don’t discuss here but which I bought up with a therapist who chuckled, thinking I was exaggerating, then went silent when it became clear I wasn’t, have affected me and my siblings in different ways. I have always downplayed the effect trauma had on me developing a mental illness- I wanted to believe it was all biology, all chemicals. Then I could mute and numb and realign my neurons and be normal.  It didn’t work that way- no matter what you hear, it never does. My mum very likely has bipolar disorder, and my dad was yer classic alcoholic depressive, so there’s probably something amiss in my genetics. The wick was there and trauma lit the fuse. Or, the kindling effect. 

Trauma continued into my adulthood- my dad’s death, my own illness wrecking havoc on my life, some losses, some recent stuff I do not wish to discuss but what my GP thinks turned my panic attacks into full-blown panic disorder- but I never really talk about it. I’m more comfortable with moods, with the sterile language psychiatry gave me.  More comfortable with saying I have avoidant personality disorder than I am messed up due to trauma. There are times when I realise-acutely- that I am the walking wounded. Some things remain.  A complete shutting down if someone shouts at me. The panic and despair I feel if I can smell alcohol, anywhere, when I wake up (if we have been drinking, I put everything in the bin before bed). Always preferring to drink bottles instead of cans because the “ttssst” makes me foetal, and being hyper-aware that I am honest, always honest, exposingly and stupidly and nakedly and anxiously honest, because I was a teenager that lied and don’t I don’t want to become a mother that lies.  I panic when something I’ve said turns out to be wrong or false in case it looks like I lied. Terrified to make friends in case they all turn on me again. A general feeling that nothing and nowhere is safe, a horrible gaping need for someone to be proud of me.

I move in mental health circles, with fellow mentalists and fellow people employed in mental health, and retain a unique respect for people who talk about trauma, who talk about PTSD. I’ve been completely inspired and awed by some people I’ve met recently.  And I have a certain jealousy, as I wish I had the bravery to be someone who could talk, and, because they could talk, get help, get comfort, and love and hugs and understanding which I cannot get, because I cannot talk. Because I can’t talk, I can’t open up, because I can’t open up, I can’t belong, because I can’t belong, I have no-one to talk to anyway.  I am wary of putting everything on my husband. It backfires, and it is too much.  When I do talk, it’s inappropriately, to the wrong people, at the wrong time, so I don’t want to talk anymore. It squeaks out sometimes. Usually when someone is telling a story and I get rushed by a memory. But I despise people pitying me and want to be judged on my merits and not as a some sort of sad sack who needs to be coddled, so I usually follow everything up with a joke or a laugh.  Because I don’t want to be pitied, I can’t spend more than a minute feeling an emotion that would instill pity, therefore, the kind of, “That was shit, have a hug” validation that I probably need will never come. I can’t ask for what I need because I can’t bear to be pitied because I am self pitying enough as it is and don’t want excuses to be more so. Sometimes, I ridiculously feel I am not pretty and delicate enough for a hug, or to receive sympathy, or pity, or anything else.

Don’t get me wrong- I know how hard it is to talk. That’s why I am awed.

But I am lucky. You can have a shit past and be traumatised and still be lucky. I feel lucky. Things do generally work for me. Jumping off my nursing course, with no safety net, I jumped into jobs I loved. I was lucky. I am still alive, and I am lucky. My trauma isn’t as bad as so many other people I know, and I am lucky.

On the last point, people close to me say, well, it is pretty bad.  And unless you begin to feel that it’s pretty bad, you’ll always be traumatised. But what if I have? What if I have just accepted it’s awful and shit and I’m okay now?  Is this okay? Am I kidding myself I’m okay or am I kidding myself I’ve constructed a defence mechanism? Maybe it is nothing so elaborate than just being over it. Maybe, when I find myself ducking and shaking on a train, or staring at my scar suit, it is not.

Quitting smoking- anyone want to join me?

Fnar fnar. I am six.

Fnar. I specialise in making mildly amusing images.

So I’m starting, once again, Allen Carr’s Easyway to Stop Smoking (which you can download for free as a PDF here). I’ve read it before and it was the closest I’ve come to being smoke-free. Then a very stressful few months hit and I started again. Then I enrolled in an NHS stop smoking group, took Champix, descended into terrifying suicidality within a week, and started smoking again because I figured it was better to smoke than to kill myself.

But I spend a fair whack of my waking hours thinking of how my 20 a day habit is going to kill me,  then paradoxically reach for the cigarettes to calm me down. I know this is bullshit- I know the cigarette is relieving the craving, that the simple, present and solvable anxiety of a lack of cigarette moves into to try to swallow the darker, irresolvable, unfixable and eternal anxiety about mortality.But then feeds it, and so on.

I want to stop. To be free of at least one anxiety.  I’m also ashamed of the fact that my husband started smoking when we first got together having never been more than a social smoker. I would never, ever forgive myself if he got sick because of his smoking. I want us to be around for each other as long as possible. Forever (that it can’t, it slays me). Yes, he’s a free person, but it is hard not to smoke when someone you’re close is constantly puffing away- when waking, after dinner, after breakfast, in the street, for celebration, for commiseration.

And that’s a fallacy, too.  I do something catch myself on the logic and go, “What the feck am I doing? Smoking a killing cigarette to celebrate this (anything)?” I feel like a total dick when I do, but then, I’m already smoking, so may as well just carry on.  It’s the same when I see people huddling under some awning in the rain (where I am, too) and just befuddle at our collective madness. And the stench of a heavy smoker in a lift and the realisation that this might be what I smell like (but I can smell bugger all anyway, thanks to cigarettes).

So does anyone want to join me? I know smoking and mental health stuff is a bit complex (which I wrote a lot about in March. MARCH?! How was that March?! It was yesterday! What the hell has happened to this year, it’s flipping terrifying). But I’d be happy to sticky this post or make it a page and we can chat and support each other, or if you’re on Facebook, I have a page for this blog or could make a group (Mentalists against Menthols?). And have a Twitter circle when we’re feeling cravey.

And if not, that’s fine, too, but I’m writing this statement of intent anyway, because it means I can have my arse kicked if I don’t. Hooray!

EDIT: Made a Facebook group here called the Secret Life Smoking is Rubbish Rabble.  Feel free to join in! It’s a closed group so I’ll approve membership and we can talk in super-secretness. And if not, then me and my sister will have our own cool group.

Remember Forever

Have a few things I want to blog about, including Lethal Discrimination:

For years we have been shouting about how people with severe mental illness are at risk of dying up to 20 years before the general population, often from preventable physical health problems.

Today we’ve published a new report to demand that the Government takes immediate action to stop Lethal Discrimination against people with mental illness. But we need your help – will you write and ask what is being done to turn the tide?

Which I’ll get round to and which you should go and read.

LOL at annual health check. I’ve been on antipsychotics since 2007- still waiting.

But I’m feeling quite low and have been all this week. I’ve been off work with the physical ills, so it’s probably a lot to do with that. Got so much I want to say and no energy to say it. Having that feeling of shyness when you’re up on a podium and you’ve forgotten your notes.

I just feel quite low and I hope it’s just a little thing, but I can’t help but glance at the calendar and sigh.  I went to see my GP on Wednesday and she had some interesting things to say. The CMHT didn’t do my CBT referral, but had sent a letter questioning whether I needed straightforward CBT or something more complex.  Just straightforward CBT, so she did the referral.  I hadn’t really explained things properly to the psychiatrist when I saw them (about actual moods- June last year, when I was fine) because I was in a good place. I forgot my entire history. Crisis teams, hospitals, being so depressed I dropped out of university.

“You have to forget”, she says. “If you remembered all the time, how could you carry on living?” And a discussion about how

you can’t feel pain once it’s been felt. It only existed in those moments of feeling. You can remember the pain but never re-experience it.  I remember, vividly, the pain of riding my dad’s bike with him. It was a bloke’s bike, so had a crossbar. It went, “thump” down a kerb and impaled me onto it with such force, I stiffened and fell onto the ground and my dad had to hold me while I wailed. I can remember that pain, but I can’t relive it. I have almost 40 stitches in my leg and arse. Half torn apart by Lassie’s teeth (and it was, hilariously, Lassie.  A long-snouted collie). It hurt. I remember that it hurt. But I don’t remember how it hurt.

“If you could relive mania once it was over, then nobody would ever get the crushing lows that follow. If you could just will it, then you’d live there forever”.

Which is true if hypomania didn’t become the tearing destructive force of wandering the streets with a bottle of wine and talking endlessly and banging the walls screaming in rage and willing the vicious energy into the brick on your third day awake. And the same goes for depression. Once it’s passed, you can’t remember, not really, how it felt. At least for me.  A murky Other person. (Hypo)mania is remembered never by me, but by others. It’s probably the bullet loading the gun. The shame of not remembering, and of being remembered when you don’t. Of having a part of you not in your own possession. That doesn’t belong to you. Not again.

So she’s doing the referral, and we had a happy little conversation about death.  About the, “essence” of people.  I’ve never felt it. I wish I did. While she was talking, watching her face melt into beatific peace, I wondered if I’m just failing to feel the essence. Surrounded by little ghosts. Maybe there is part of me that still hasn’t come to terms with my dad’s death. And Brendan only a year later. And Vicky when I was 15, and it was my introduction to violent death, to what suicide really is, and now what I can’t forget.

I kept a grin and willed myself not to have a panic attack on the blue (always blue) chair. And dug my nails in. It’s an interesting intellectual conversation. Keep talking about you- not me.

And physical stuff.  A disbelief I’ve gained another stone. Sticking me on the scales (I wish doctors would just take my word) and measuring my height (I am 28- I have not grown). An acknowledgement it’s probably my medication (I have had to increase the dose of Seroquel). An investigation- mostly for my sake, I think. Not for my health, but for my vanity. Surely if I was really in control I wouldn’t now be 81kg? (And I’m 4ft 11″).  The medication is definitely a part of it. I ate a whole trifle in my sleep.  I woke up to its remains. I was quite impressed by that.

More blood tests. I’m an old pro with needles now.  And it’s not so horrible visiting the nurses with my arms as improved as they are. Four years! And yet, people still ask, as irrelevant as asking what your four year broken toe means. It means nothing now. It’s healed. The bone is back in its cradle.

Let me be.

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