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!


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.

Mentalism and Motherhood

I get emotional over the tree in our tiny garden in Peckham.  Which is silly.

But I watched it bloom into beautiful blossom in the spring…

and drizzle pink flowers every time the breeze blew…

…and, to my surprise, the delicate butterfly-blossoms became apples, which twatted me on the head every time I went to hang the washing up…

Not pictured: me swearing.

Not pictured: me swearing.

…and grew big enough to be picked (or picked up, as in this case) and eaten.

And the apples will disappear, and the tree become bare and anonymous like it was when we moved here last year, then it’ll blossom again and, again, become laden with fruit.  And the cycle will repeat. We didn’t do anything to make it happen. I thought the tree was dead when we moved in. All it’s had is rain and sun, and it lives on.

My friend Ben insisted it was just a useless little crab apple tree, but it wasn’t. (And crab apple trees aren’t useless anyway). 

I want to be part of a cycle.  Of that cycle: of renewal and birth and endlessness.  Even though I have PCOS, I just assume it’ll happen. Granted, those aren’t great reasons to have kids. But recently, I’d been broodier than usual (as has my husband). Awwing at the photos of babies my friends post on Facebook, wanting to be part of that seemingly perfectly imperfect life. My friend, a mother of two, wisely told me, “Having kids is like a bomb going off in your relationship”. But I want to be standing in that wreckage. Not the sometimes-inconsequential feeling neatness of now.

If you follow me on Twitter (I am there as brain_opera), I probably depressed you the other day by posting the heartbreaking Daksha Emson inquiry. Daksha Emson was a psychiatrist who committed suicide, in the violent way horrifyingly typical of women with postpartum psychosis, by stabbing herself and her baby daughter, Freya, then immolating both of them.  Daksha survived for 3 weeks before succumbing to her injuries, and Freya died at the scene. They were both found by her husband, David.

Daksha died in the perfect storm.  A psychiatrist, she worked in a profession with stigmatises their own having mental illness.  Whose illness was downplayed, “doctor to doctor”. Daksha had bipolar disorder, and, although she experienced periods of unwellness where she was hospitalised (and had ECT, on one occasion), she managed to excel in her field. She took medication and didn’t have a relapse in the 8 years she and her husband were married until she became pregnant.

When I was a nursing student, I attended a conference on perinatal psychiatry.  If I’d stayed in nursing, it’s where I’d have liked to specialise. It was a fascinating day.  Firstly, we looked at how infants develop, and how vital those early attachments are.  It’s why mother and baby units, which keep them together and help support the mum and partner, are better than just chucking the mother into a psychiatric ward.

We watched a video of some mothers who were experiencing psychotic and depressive symptoms while caring for their children in a mother and baby unit.  We saw the baby’s increased agitation due to the lack of reaction from the mothers.  The Still Face experiment illustrates this:

Then, we saw the improvements, in both mum and baby, a few months later when the women had recovered.  We learned (or at least, I did), how peri/postnatal mental illness can often strike those who one would least expect; first time, middle class mothers in their thirties. And this in itself is where women like Daksha were let down. How could this high-achieving psychiatrist and mother become mentally ill?  As the inquiry says, isn’t mental illness for, “the great unwashed”? And when the great unwashed do get pregnant, they don’t experience the trauma those professional women do of becoming a mother, the role that’s been created for them since the universe began, which they must now inhabit fully, and which everyone is else is watching you shape yourself into. Surely?

Dr Margaret Oates (who has a mother and baby unit named after her) was there. She spoke acidly of cases where women, clearly unwell, were discharged from services with the label, “personality disorder”. One mother, who was previously diagnosed with bipolar disorder, was deemed to instead have a personality disorder and sent home with antidepressants.  “And what happens to a woman with bipolar when you just give her antidepressants?”, she snapped. She got worse, walked into incoming traffic and died.

Daksha Emson had bipolar disorder.  Postpartum psychosis is so closely linked that it’s sometimes called postpuerpal bipolar disorder. The inquiry into her death states that doctors must assume one will become ill, not the other way around. Therefore, it’s all about that lovely phrase we all know so well as patients and practitioners; risk management.

But that’s complex in itself. A woman who becomes unwell in pregnancy, or who was already taking medication for a pre-existing mental health problem, might be limited in her choice of treatment.  Then they may have to- or want to- stop taking medication so they can breastfeed their child. They can become unwell astonishingly quickly.  There’s also the shame factor. The shame factor that permeates all mental ill health, but especially mental ill health when it’s supposed to be the happiest, most wonderful, shiny, Mothercare advert time of your life.  Where do you even start with that? We’re shamed anyway for having mental health problems, then further shamed for being women- how much shame and guilt must a new mother feel?

Then the father of the child, if he’s employed and you’re with him, might have to go back to work after two weeks.  It becomes easier to hide how bad things have become. In the shadows, they disintegrate. And the stress of looking after a new life, utterly dependent on you, would take its toll on anyone- lack of sleep, worry about the infant, recovering from childbirth, financial implications, everything.

Afterwards, I asked to spend the day with the perinatal psychiatry team at a local hospital.  The nurse explained who was referred to their team.  I felt the blood rush to my head as I read:

Referrals are essential for women with:

  • Bipolar Affective Disorder
  • Schizophrenia / Schizoaffective disorder
  • Previous Postpartum Psychosis
  • Severe Depression
  • Other psychotic illness
  • Family History of Postpartum Psychosis

I have (or probably have, I haven’t had a hypo/manic episode for 2 years and my recent psychiatrist who has only seen me well and heard me speak with a very, “I’m okay” now spin on things) bipolar disorder and my mum had 2 episodes of postpartum psychosis. It was strange to see it in black and white.  Here is your future.  This is what your pregnancy is going to look like.  Someone asking you questions.  Somewhere, you’re going to be a file and they’re going to be watching you. Someone’s going to come and visit you and someone is going to know more about you that you’re comfortable telling them. They might take your baby away. They might take your baby away. They might take your baby away.

I should have felt relieved.  Isn’t for the best that I’d be referred if I was pregnant?  Isn’t it good I’d be looked after and had some support? But it still scares me because it feels like an intrusion- another intrusion in a lifetime of intrusions- by mental health services into my life.  Resenting bitterly that mental illness may steal another part of my life, that mental health services may be the ones who define it at all.

When I was initially diagnosed, I was advised to think twice before even becoming pregnant. I did, briefly, a few years ago and I did become unwell, first with depression, then with hypomania, but that could have been the circumstances of the pregnancy rather than any sort of organic reason. What would happen now?  No matter what has gone before, I have imagined myself pregnant and beaming with a wanted child. Well, happy, blooming then fruitful.  I blot out the fact that pregnancy and having children is one of the most stressful things a couple can do and that a quite shocking amount of partners have affairs during these periods.  And that my husband isn’t great at coping with me when I’m not very well (but he’s getting better, and I know he’d be an amazing dad).  And that I live in a tiny flat and I’d have no money and wouldn’t be able to cover the rent on SMP. And that I take antipsychotic and antidepressant and mood stabilising medication and have tried to kill myself. And suicide is the leading cause of maternal death.

Oh, that.

But then I wish someone had been there when my mum was suffering when she had my brother and sister. I can’t remember what happened (particularly when my sister was born, because I was still a far-off idea at the time), but I do remember she thought there were rats in the bath, blood, that my brother was some sort of god and that she was mad for years after- still is, really- and that my dad’s drinking got worse and worse until it killed him.  I try to tell myself that just because it happened to her, it doesn’t mean it will happen to me.  I’m not married to my father, and my father was an alcoholic, and I’m not. I’m not living her life, in her circumstances. I’m not her. I’m not her.

And even if I was, how badly did having two parents with a mental illness affect me?  On a good day, I’d say, “Ach, hardly at all”. On a bad, I’d be flung back into a cobwebby corner of my memory where I’m hiding behind a door with my hands over my ears listening to my parents scream at each other, and the years that followed where I spun in my mother’s confused untruths, not sure what was true, not sure what wasn’t and remember my joyful time in CAMHS.

I have my brother and sister, though. I have them.

On balance, though, I think my experiences have had a positive impact on my personality rather than a negative one. I grew up to be compassionate, to want to help people, to be independent since we largely had to look after ourselves, to value creativity as a way to express myself when I lived with people who could be wordless, and to be someone who stands up for themselves and for others. On the downside, I’m one of those people who struggles to make close relationships (and this scares me about having kids- who would help me? Who could I ask?), who runs away when people try to get close to her, who is super-sensitive, who seeks validation too often, who feels overburdened with a sense of responsibility and guilt for things I can’t control, and who shuts down if someone shouts at me as it throws me back into the centrifugal force of my parents rage. (And yes, I’m aware that my traumatic upbringing and subsequent traumas have probably contributed a fair bit to me being mentally interesting. But I certainly don’t blame my parents for that. They’re people, first). But those things don’t hold me back to any huge degree and the slightly reclusive part of my personality is one I’d miss having, too.

And they weren’t always like that. Sometimes, my parents were wonderful.  It was something I was wildly jealous of when my dad died- other peoples’ memories of their parents. I had friends who lost their parents to cancer at similarly young ages to when I lost my dad.  But their parent, “battled”, was, “brave”. Was proud, was strong, had friends, were blissfully and memorably ordinary. They had coffee with their parents and bought them places, to events that didn’t end with them screaming at them to stop, slumping into sobs.  I was so jealous that, then, all I had left of my dad were horrible memories.  They were the ones that floated to my mind when I thought of him. Memories that drenched me in shame and regret, regret of such a short, wasted life, and shame that we weren’t enough for him to want to live for.

But as time has passed, I remember more good about him.

I understand he couldn’t, “just” stop drinking. I thank him for the good influence he had on me. To be silly, to be strong, to read. I mourn that my children won’t have him as a grandad, to be bounced on his leg like he used to do me.  Now whenever I talk to my somewhat transformed mum on the phone, I ask her to think about getting herself a wee fella.  I hate the thought of another life not being lived, being wasted without love, without someone, even a good friend, to share with.

And on the plus side of me not really being close to many people, I have a lot of love.  Tons of it, pouring out of me, for anyone to have if they want it.  So that’s something.

But my parents were never really helped for their problems.  No-one really supported them when they needed it, when we needed it. How different things might have been if someone had recognised they needed help. These somewhat self-regarding entries are a protection.  A way of acknowledging what could happen.  Save yourself by being self-aware in case there comes a time when you can’t be.  So it doesn’t come.

So I think I need to give up any expectations I have of pregnancy or motherhood, both good and bad. I may not suddenly have a giant gleaming kitchen and long, russet hair (it’s purple right now, but for some reason, when I think of my hair when pregnant, it’s long and not falling out like it does during pregnancy and russet and smells of apples, the latter being a probability considering we are currently buried in them) and have that kind of flattering slimness that accentuates my bountiful bump (I’m newly obese again, so that’s not going to happen anyway).  I may not have a husband who’s endlessly patient with me and who listens to my stomach like a shell for the sea and sings to me (I fucking hope not- he’s the most effortfully bad singer I’ve ever heard) and keeps everything clean and is never bad tempered and never misses sex or the nights out with his previously young wife and the nights in with his previously girlfriend. He won’t become depressed himself and will continue to bring me coffee and breakfast and call me beautiful.

Likewise, I may not go mad and may not end up struggling to bond with my baby, and may not be like my mother, and may not spend every waking minute thinking I’m a shit mother and a shit person and shit feminist, and may not have to come off my medication and if I do, I may be fine, and it may, may be, just a gloriously ordinary time of my life, like it is in the lives of lots of women, like it is for lots of women with mental health problems, too. Apart from panic attacks, I’m fine now. I may continue to be fine. And even if I wasn’t, it’ll all be worth it in the end.

I hope so.

P.S: I’m not pregnant, don’t worry.

P.P.S: Daksha Emson is an exceptional case, hence the inquiry.  Although women can be so unwell they commit suicide and take their children with them, it’s incredibly rare.  And what has changed since they inquiry?  Not much.

P.P.P.S: If I’ve depressed the shite out of you with this entry, here’s some Eddie Izzard:

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