Where have you gone, dude? We have to content ourselves with your wonderful archives.
This is a programme idea I discussed with the BBC, so I’m putting it out here for anyone who might like to take part! I know it’s a bit silly to say it but it is a little bit different in the sense that it will be (I think) entirely narrated by the actual people taking part.
Do contact Hannah if you are interested!
Hi everybody, I work at the BBC and am looking for people to contribute to an exciting new documentary for BBC Three on mental health. We hope to shed a light on the daily experiences of young people with mental illnesses. To do this we will be asking several young people to document their thought processes and feelings as they go through both everyday experiences as well as events important to them. By doing this we hope to lift some of the stigma associated with mental illness. We are going to be using new and different filming techniques – it will be a very creative process which will really involve you and your opinions. If you think that it sounds like something that you would be interested in then please get in touch. If you’d like to just talk it through and then decide whether you do or don’t want to be involved then that is fine as well. We would like to hear from anyone between the ages of 16 and 26 who has any kind of mental illness – you might get panic attacks or have anxiety, or you might be diagnosed with bipolar disorder or depression. And any conversations at this stage will be completely confidential. Please get in touch using this email address: firstname.lastname@example.org . It would be fantastic to hear from you.
This is a brilliant (and old) video from Liz Spikol about coming off Seroquel.
And man, I hear her. I’ve taken myself down to 50mg now and I can’t sleep properly unless I take more. So that’s not working out too well. And it has been the drug that has worked so well for me, but I can no longer tolerate the side effects. I am really well at the moment, I have been for a long time. But the sedation, the fog, the lack of feelings are now too much of a compromise to live with. I’m missing university lectures often enough that I could be booted out of university if I didn’t have these mitigating circumstances and I come out in a cold sweat thinking of how much the shifts on my next placement are going to mess with my sleep. I am not sure I am cut out for this, as things stand.
So, I’m seeing the doctor on the 2nd and categorically asking to be taken off this medication. Not reducing the dose (it does nothing but make it take longer to knock me out, and if I NEED TO SLEEP I have to take more anyway, and I still get the daytime drowsiness) in the long term, but in the short term, then off it.
I can’t properly articulate the way I feel on medication. On one hand, a part of me thinks I should shut up and get on with it. And I worry, “Is this as good as it gets?” And it’s pretty good. It’s very far away from where I used to be. It took me a long time to get here and it’s only really been in the past year that I have.
But I am so tired, all the time. I sleep easily for 12 hours and the rest of the time I’m in a fog. Recently, I have realised (not so much realised as admitted to) that my feelings have become very flat. Some friends have queried it as depression, but it feels different than that. It is a not-caring, a can’t-caring, a way of experiencing the world while feeling separate from it. I don’t feel extremes of emotion anymore- not happiness, nor sadness, either. I am fairly certain that this is the medication as it is so against my nature to be this way. If there’s one thing I think most people could agree on about me, it was that I have a somewhat mercurial nature. Not anymore. My feelings go away when I am very depressed, but again, it’s not that. I can’t explain why, but I can tell you that it isn’t.
I wonder what my life could be like otherwise. I know, in a way, I made a pact with myself that, to be well, I had this space:
to live between. It isn’t enough. I feel trapped and squashed.
This reminds of me a blog post that should all read this blog entry by Zoe Smith: Mental for Five Minutes, on a topic that often frustrates and angers me- “celebrity” mental health. On one hand, I think, “Oh, fair play to them for coming out with that”. On the other, the way these stories are told (they are almost always totally recovered, and the spells of mental health problems are short) glamourise and trivialise the lived experience of mental health for the rest of us. (Although Zoe mentions Rethink, who I personally have a lot of time for, and I do actually think anti-stigma campaigns are a good thing. It’s the celebrity stuff I take issue with).
It’s things like what I’m going through now- as a person who considers themselves to be functioning at a high level- that make me realise how far the celebrity articles are from reality. For a start, mental health issues aren’t as stigmatised in artistic professions as they are in day to day life. A person with depression as a singer as a cache that a person with depression as an office admin doesn’t. What also gets me is that there is, “The End”. All done now! Hooray! When for so many people, that isn’t the reality. Including me. (Or the lovely Narky, who wrote a great blog on this today).
I’m pretty cool and stable but it comes with a price- namely, medication and on a more visceral for me level, my self-conception. As a person who considers themselves passionate and creative but who in practice these days is dull and husk-like in the brain, And always, always tired.
I have the double-bind feeling of still being unsure of my own diagnosis so not sure how to articulate what I’ve recovered from. I think, officially (it’s on my documentation and letters from the GP), it’s bipolar disorder, but it could also be borderline personality disorder. The latter I have no symptoms of at all these days (and I never received any treatment for it such as therapy, so did I ever have it to begin with, or did I just have the teenager traits?), but I do struggle with my moods and energy, and that’s what I pour my strength into managing. But because I’m not sure, because I hate entering into the discussions about it with doctors, it means I try to avoid them altogether. Which has been what was keeping me away from talking about my medication with them, unless forced to, as I am now. It has also given me pause for my own language, and means I find it hard to find the words to even discuss my experiences.
And the benefits. I know not everyone with mental health problems is on them. But I live in terror of losing my DLA. I need it to live- it keeps me out of not having to work part time, too, which would send me over the edge of my carefully managed stress levels. It helps me get taxis at times I just too sedated and spaced out to navigate the world without crashing into a bus. There’s not much of that out there, in the big celebrity world. There is a bigger stigma than one against mental illness, and it’s the stigma of being someone with mental illness who’s also on benefits.
The NHS. The CPN appointments in little beige rooms. The long sleeps. The psychiatrists you didn’t pay.
And how about how you ruined your life? Or your relationships? Your bank account? Your career? This doesn’t happen in celebrity world. They always come out stronger, and better. And yes, so can we. But often the strength comes from the grief of loss- the loss of your identity, the loss of your job, the loss of your relationships, the lose of your independence, the loss, the loss, the loss that comes from having a mental illness. Celebrities seem to live in this consequence free bubble as far as their mental health goes. How I wish I did. I am better now but the stuff I have gone through has fractured parts of myself I didn’t even know existed. My bravery! I was brave. I was ballsy. Even my bravery in making new friends or contacting old (pissed off at me) ones. I didn’t realise what I had lost until I lost it. I used to talk to anyone. People used to tell me they had a hard time imagining me as someone small (I’m 4ft 11″). I did, too. And now I am small. I think of myself as a small little person. I shrank.
I was fun. I’m not fun now.
These campaigns do not touch it. Not even close.
I can’t think of how to end this post so here’s a photo from Die Tote Stadt.
There are lots of things a bride-to-be has to consider. What will I wear? Are people going to fight? How on earth will I be able to wee in a giant dress? Is it acceptable to be drunk at your own wedding?
But with our wedding day speeding towards us, there are things I have to consider which, quite frankly, I wish I didn’t have to. Mentalism. Butt out! Can’t you just go one day without bothering me?
The first big piece of advice I got about wedding planning was, “Make sure the excitement and stress doesn’t make you ill!” Well meaning, of course, but it’s not what you want to hear. Of course, weddings are stressful (I had no idea how much until I got engaged, if anything, it’s the politique that is the most stressful, especially when you do not want a big wedding and are doing it on a shoestring but a lot of cultural expectations dictate this and that) and you hear about people turning into, “Bridezillas” and having a breakdown before the day, being carried down the aisle with a limp arm resting on their minivan-size dress.
The sad thing is, though, I knew they were right. I have spent nights up frantically clicking on photos of dresses and poof! A night’s sleep is gone, just like that and the next day I am a bit, OOH. Worse, though, is the happiness side of it, the excitement which can tip someone over the edge, but it’s okay, my deadening, zombifying medication takes care of that. I’m allowed to be stressed, but not excited.
We are having our wedding at 3.30pm on a Friday afternoon, not because we particularly wanted a late afternoon wedding, but because there is the very real possibility that if I take my stupid medication I will either sleep in or be so drugged I will slur, “I do” and panic my soon-to-be-husband’s family that he is marrying an alcoholic. Or worse, be so drugged I haze through it, unfeeling and unthinking, as I do a large proportion of my life. I am genuinely afraid I am going to be absent on my own wedding day.
There’s the other consideration, “Oh shit! My arms!” Besides what I wrote in my last post, I really don’t want to have my arms out, I would just be too uncomfortable. They look frigging awful in photos, too. So I am less thinking, “I’m going to get a pretty dress” and more thinking, “In what way can I cover my arms and not bake in August?”
And, of course, the expectation that a bride must be A BEAUTIFUL FUCKING PRINCESS and, for someone with body dysmorphia and a past eating disorder, it’s unsurprising that some of my latent anxious behaviours have kicked right back in. On this count, at least, I have finally admitted some uncomfortable truths to Robert, which is the first step in me taking back control. But I saw myself on video a few days ago and went into a mad tailspin of being unbelieving I looked like that, and suddenly could not bear the thought of people looking at me, and they will be. Unless I staple a veil to my face. And body. I find social interaction incredibly nervewracking too so what the hell am I going to do?
I also worry that I will wake up two weeks beforehand and be nailed against the wall by depression. Robert knows how swiftly, how severely it can hit me, out of nowhere, like the big stupid wanker it is, and says it’s fine if we need to cancel the wedding because of it, knowing the day will not cut through the fugue (because absolutely nothing does). But that is kind of my worst nightmare.
All this said, though, I am delighted to be getting married to the love of my life. Urgh! I hear you boke, but he really is. He is my messy, silly other half, my first love, and my last. He is wonderful and he makes me extremely happy. I am excited about getting up in front of my family (alas, Granny Molloy-less, she is too frail to come, and minus my dad) and friends and saying, “THIS ONE HERE, I LIKE THIS ONE THE BEST”. I’m excited about having our first dance, eating cake, buggering off back to our hotel and then frigging off on honeymoon for a week.
(We are going to Rome. We have a honeymoon register as we don’t need household stuff here: http://www.honeyfund.com/wedding/robertandseaneen which apparently you are supposed to post on your wedding website? Who has one of those? All this stuff is an etiquette minefield. But I’ll be 27 while I’m in Rome! I lived to 27! Jesus!).
And most of all, of course, I am delighted and excited to be marrying Robert, and to be spending my life with him. He is pretty cool.
But this all brings uneasy questions to the fore. Uneasy in their, “This should be easy” and it’s not. Children, for example. I do really want to have children. I have had “those” discussions with doctors that have ranged from, “NO” to, “Be careful”. And we will be careful.
But can we handle children? We are intelligent, mature and loving people, but one of us has the tendency to go a little mad. I spent some days in perinatel psychiatry lately. And it was terrifying to be confronted with my possible future. It was another imagining- like my wedding- were mental health makes an unwelcome intrusion. If you have a history of manic depression (technically, I’m not sure I do, but it is probably that, let’s face it) or if your mother has had postnatal psychosis (mine has), you get an automatic referral to their services.
“Services”. I spent such a long time worming my way out of them, and I may worm my way back in. I am glad these places exist, I think perinatal and postnatal illness is something that should be given more attention. But to exist within them? It is not how I imagined my pregnancy. I thought it would just be me, the dad and our big lovely belly.
I have been pregnant once before. And the circumstances were very different, so it probably affected my mental health with them being as they were. But hormonally and physically, within a very short period of time, I was a mess. I was crying constantly. I found what was happening to my body utterly distressing. I lost my shit and it took a very long time to recover it. But again- could have been the circumstances.
But I have also seen my mum when she was ill and it was extremely frightening. And with lack of sleep being der rigeur in new mums, I wonder if I will go the same way as her. It scares the shit out of me.
And then as a mother. I know lots of mums with mental health problems who are great mums, but there is a chance I won’t be. I had a shitstorm of a childhood which has given me a fuckload of issues. I don’t want to repeat those things, I don’t want to give my issues to my children (for a start, I will REALLY need to sort out my body image). Then again, every one has that worry, it’s not just people with mental health problems. Who may be viewed by others as an incapable mum.
Well, balls to them. We’ll be great. We have love! Creativity! And very sweet cats.
And if I do go psychotic and mad (and it’s quite rare so what’s to say it could happen?), at least there’s the Mother and Baby Unit at the Bethlem. I’m lucky to live here. Couldn’t go mad in a better place, really. Bright side, eh?
It does, though, bring things into sharp and happy relief. I never imagined my life would be where it’s at now. Or that I would feel capable of having children, or even committing to another person, one who doesn’t worry about me topping myself. Or that me topping myself is now a remote possibility, and not a concrete immovable object on the horizon. To be sane enough to even organise the damn thing, to be sane enough to do it while going to university. There is the trade off-medication, and I am going to need to have a serious discussion about it because the compromise is becoming too great- but all in all, I’m alright. To be planning a future, even a rather scary one, is more than I ever expected.
(Although he is quite dangerous, judging by this video)