ANXIETY IS FUCKING BORING

I’m not the most exciting person. Most days, the most exciting thing I do is break our geriatric tap in the kitchen. Whoosh, there is goes again. The momentary crisis of grabbing cloths and jumping back and hot geysers, a tiny little flood. That’s about as exciting as life often gets for me. Occasionally, I might say something slightly witty at an advert. Or write a tweet that gets FOUR likes and retweet. Put on the good bra to go to the shops. Pulse quickening.

I get plenty pulse quickening with my anxiety. Constant, worsening anxiety that turns every single thing into the same thing. Heart palpitations, hard to breathe, floaty, distant, shaking anxiety.

It used to just be Some Things. The Big Things. I’ve written at length about my fear of death and the therapy that I uselessly underwent to help it. I still have that but my more constant anxiety has even turned that heart stopping, face clawing, screaming existential terror into a mundane nightly chore, like brushing my teeth (just kidding, I don’t brush my teeth nightly, I’m not the Queen).  I climb to bed (it feels like a climb because I know what’s coming, that huge boulder perched on the precipice ready to flatten me), put on my sleepy sounds (an app that has waves on it), try and read shit on my phone until I can’t stay awake, but then I invariably do because I’m reading shit on my phone, then a word, a thought, death, dead, older, you’re 32 in a month, I wonder what it’s like to be 82 and know with utter utter certainty you’ll die soon, some sort of black jellyfish thing floats into my brain and sting sting stings until I can’t breathe, and want to fling myself out of the window, just to not feel this way anymore. I’m in bed, I’m safe, nothing is happening to me.

Every night. I could set my watch by it, if I had a watch. I don’t, because ticking clocks make me think of death and I can’t be in the same room as one. WHAT A CARD I AM.

How BORING IT IS to not be able to be in the same room as a ticking clock.  I just go through my nightly panic attacks alone. Occasionally I’ll have flung myself across the room. Reader, in previous years, I’ve even wet myself from fear. Really quietly. Try not to wake up Robert. “Why don’t you wake me up?” Because it’s fucking BORING. BORING. BORING. How many times have I talked this out, with you, with him, with a therapist, with this blog and Facebook and all the other things I fling my feelings at when I’m sick of them clinging to my heart like tar. It is BORING. I have reduced the most primal feeling of all men, all, since the beginning of time, to something so FUCKING BORING.  So self obsessed, so insular. Panic or paralysis, that’s about it.

It makes me angry.

It makes me angry it’s just gotten worse and worse. When is it my time to be okay? Over the past year or so my anxiety has changed from something that happened to something that just is. Everywhere, always. It has infested every single aspect of my life and made every single thing in my life bloodless.  The only exception is my son, because he is life and also because he is so attention consuming in his tiny toddlerness and I have to stop him walking into traffic it’s hard to think or feel anything else but hypervigilance.

Twee cartoons, though helpful for many, don’t capture the boredom of anxiety. They convey chaos, a mind racing with possibilities and thoughts and fears.  And that is anxiety, but racing isn’t the right word. It’s tumbling, jumbling, crashing, smashing and smithereening. Over and over, so it’s just a hum.  Just one catastrophic thought after another. From the big. I am going to die. Smash, bang. I am going to die soon. Smash, bang, thump. Then you panic. Smithereen. Rinse, repeat. (I am not going to do this thing at work well.  Now I’ve wasted so much time panicking I have no time to do it well. I am scared if I don’t cross the road at the right time I will get hit by a car. Now I am dissociating at the traffic lights and can’t remember how to cross the road. I think I fucked this thing up. Everyone must know I fucked this thing up.  I am anxiously obsessing over this thing to my friends. Now my friends must be annoyed at me.  I am coming across as a weirdo because I am feeling anxious and spacing out. Blah blah blah).  I am not suicidal in the least but I think about killing myself with alarming regularity just to never have another day of anxiety.

I am just really bloody tired of it. It is really exhausting. I don’t know what to do about it anymore. I have to think everything over a thousand billion times. It doesn’t feel like an exaggeration to say that. I find it hilarious I was once described as “impulsive” when I’m now everything I do is at a glacial pace because I have to investigate every other known option and settle on none of them.  I know in a sense it’s habit. Useless CBT tried to break that habit, it didn’t work. I can’t do mindfulness because so much of my anxiety is wrapped up in mortal things; hearts beating, breathing and all that, so it actively makes me panic more.

I was off work for months due to anxiety.  I had counselling, and was kicked out for missing 2 sessions (one flu, one sister visit). The counsellor was also clearly a bit unsure of me, having expected some sort of 12 session wham bam you’re cured mam and getting someone trying to process trauma and manage a mental illness on top of the day to day stuff (and it is the day to day stuff now really, it takes up such a huge amount of my energy to stay relatively sane while holding down 2 jobs to live and trying to keep everyone in my house not homeless). So I went to a private therapist for an assessment, begged skintness (despite having 2 jobs, I am skint) and will do more therapy, and maybe it’ll help, and maybe it won’t. I can’t take SSRIs because they kick off mania which would be another whole boring pile of shit to contend with. I’ve taken propranolol and it does its business but doesn’t do anything about my head.

Here are some ridiculous things my anxiety has made FUCKING BORING lately.

  1. Booking a holiday. Being in the privileged position of being able to take our first family holiday thanks to my mum in law, I decided the most fitting way to celebrate was to faff and worry so much I didn’t book anything for weeks until it was really expensive and we picked somewhere almost at random. Then I worried about that and felt responsible for preemptively ruining everyone’s holiday and terrified of wasting a lot of money we don’t have on not going somewhere utterly perfect and anyway taking a 2.5 year old on holiday is fucking stupid so I’ll have to ask Facebook for opinions and talk about it constantly until I eventually have a panic attack in the street while I’m holding an emergency sausage roll. THANKS BRAIN.
  2. A meteor shower. The splendor of the heavens! Shooting stars! The inky canopy dotted with bright stars, so beautiful and visible at my mum’s up in the mountains of Northern Ireland.  OH HEY BY THE WAY YOU HAVE NO FUCKING IDEA WHY THEY’RE THERE AND YOU’RE GOING TO DIE BEFORE YOU FIND OUT. Time to go back inside.
  3. Watching a beautiful sunset from my bedroom window. Aaaah, isn’t this nice, and it’s light enough still you might not have a panic attack in the dark. Try to go to sleep now. Go on. Sleep like the dead. What are you doing with your tiny finite life YOU COULD BE DOING SO MUCH MORE FOR ALL IT MATTERS ANYWAY. ARRRGGGGH.

NOTHING HELPS. Talking about it doesn’t help because there’s no solutions. That sausage roll might have helped for a few minutes, just like this glass of wine I had might have helped too, but that’s it. No baths, no walks, no runs, no good food, no wanky “self care” helps. Because it, all of it, becomes part of the same stair climbing routine with a panic attack at the end.

I’ve mentioned it before but the insularness of it makes me angry. I wonder sometimes if my anxiety is some sort of pressure release system due to feeling constantly and rightly worried about losing my jobs (therefore I must be perfect at them but then I worry so much I am shit at them) and making my family homeless. It is so internally focused that I have tried to block out the world in case my brain just fucking collapses.  Since I last wrote here a thousand awful things have happened and are still happening so I focus all my anxiety on internal, BORING things, some of which are in my control, and if they aren’t, then I try to wrench them into it. Of course, you can’t control everything, and then you freak out.  And this is the biggest thing in my life I don’t feel I have any control over whatsoever which just frightens me more. And bores me, because I am constantly trying to keep it socially acceptable, and that’s boring.  To just be a stuck record that skips over and over. A voice from a speaker in the distance garbled through air, a static buzz.

I’m bloody fucking sick of it.

 

 

 

 

 

Therapy Tales Part 1- So You’re Terrified of Death?

(If you’re wondering where my previous post went, I have made it private as I’ve found this to be true. Thank you for all your comments and encouragement!)

So, I’m starting therapy for death anxiety (my medical diagnosis that led me to it are generalised anxiety disorder and panic disorder but I prefer to think of them as ARGH).  Expect this series of posts to be even more introspective and self obsessed than usual, and for this blog, that’s saying something.

Two years ago (christ), I wrote a post called, “When Fear Becomes Phobia”. It described my ARGH FUCK panic around death and deadness, and how my world was getting smaller and smaller because of it.  Last year, I went to the doctor and asked for help. She was so sympathetic that she made me cry. Saying what an awful thing to carry around with me for 12 years (14, now) and she referred me to therapy. I found out I was pregnant, had an assessment and things didn’t go any further because I was suffering such crippling morning sickness that the 40 minute bus journey to the appointment was 1 hour 30 minutes because I’d have to jump off twice to vomit. Later on in pregnancy, I dispensed with such courtesies and just huffed up all over my lap, or into a friendly plastic bag.  Pregnancy was also pretty distracting- all my anxieties were focused on that, and I didn’t have the mental reserves to panic about death anymore.

My panic has returned, as it does. It’s not constant and strikes at night when I’m trying to sleep (and flip, I need my sleep!) It doesn’t disturb anyone because I sleep in the spare room (Robert does night feeds due to my medication). It means it’s quiet, private, lonely. It comes and goes, ebbs and flows.  It’s probably unsurprising. I had a baby, then I lost my grandmother, and it was my dad’s anniversary.  Catholicism ritualises death in a way that’s both comforting and horrifying. It makes you look at it, it makes an object of it.  She was in a coffin in the sitting room that my dad’s coffin was in, for days, with the same yellow, unnaturally smooth, chillingly cold skin that you have to touch to say goodbye. Their coffins, and every childhood Christmas. These things bring death bubbling back to the surface of your mind. It’s hard to close it out when you’re trudging up a hill behind it. Robert’s grandmother died the month after, and her funeral was like a trip to Argos. Closed, quiet, scripted, burned. I prefer the visceralness of Catholicism, even if it haunts me. It does at least give death, and life, some gravitas.

So, I’ve been referred back to therapy for it. My psychiatrist initially wanted to increase my medication but I refused. This feels existential, albeit obsessive. I’ve often been able to distract myself and try to be less up my own arse, but distraction is tricky and I’m introspective generally. It doesn’t need to be medicated away- that just makes me feel worse.

The assessment happened pretty quickly. A chat over the phone, which gave me a sense of pride that I didn’t have to list a litany of other issues. I haven’t self harmed in six years, my bipolar disorder (if I ever had it) is pretty well controlled. I wasn’t depressed, wasn’t struggling otherwise. I’ve come quite a long way. I knew what they’d recommend- CBT (*spits*) but I’m willing to give it a chance.

The therapist is called Sean, which means the assessment didn’t entail the usual 45 minutes of tuition in how to pronounce my name. It’s high intensity IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies), so the sessions aren’t at the mental health team (thank bollocks, I used to work at my local one), but in an unassuming house with comfy sofas, pot plants and James Frey books that I had to stop myself openly guffawing at perched proudly on the Ikea shelves.

He asked me what I wanted help with so I explained. I forgot to bring the questionaire they sent me so went through some of it there. My depression score was low, as I knew it would be. People tend to assume I must be suffering from depression if I’m having panic attacks and anxiety.

Au contraire.

Depression is both a mortal enemy and an enemy of mortality. For me, it is ageless, timeless emptiness. It tries to kill me, and it kills the thing inside me that makes me afraid of it doing so. I want to die when I’m depressed.

So when I’m not depressed, I’m scared of that. It’s like being held under water and a peaceful acceptance of what it happening envelopes you, until the final second, and you kick, you convulse in order to be free, to be alive, to throw off the aggressor and then relive over and over at how close you came to drowning.

I do sometimes feel depressed because of the panic. I feel frustrated and angry with myself that I have panic attacks. I feel frightened and distressed by some of the intrusive thoughts I have (like when I’m speaking to someone and suddenly an image of them dead flashes into my brain, with hallucinatory vividness) and sometimes they make me feel like I’m going mad. But depression and this panic don’t come together, and that’s a big massive pain in the hole. The panic tends to be the worst during the happier periods of my life. I’m happy, hurrah, and then my mind goes, “This will end it, all of it, everything, and because it will end, this is meaningless, you won’t be here one day, any day, none of them will” and that’s just BLOODY FUCKING GREAT isn’t it. I don’t want to die, ever, because I enjoy my life. I’m essentially a happy person who wants to see what’s going to happen.  I want to be standing at the end of the universe with Robert and Oisín watching supernovas and planets and the sun.

(Rest your head)
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(Close to my heart)

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(Never to part).

Maybe it is partly a coping mechanism, the fear. Like pinching yourself.

He asked me if I had other anxiety- I do, social anxiety, but I’m dealing with that in my own way so I didn’t want any help which he accepted (and I think it’s tied up in this anyway).

Two things were said during the assessment that made me willing to continue. One was something stunningly obvious but that I had genuinely never considered. The therapist said that my kind of anxiety is, “idiosyncratic”. It’s not a common reason people come to therapy. That floored me. “Doesn’t EVERYONE feel this way?” I said. No, apparently not. At least, not to the degree they end up in therapy. So, is it that this is such an ordinary fear we live with it and are in denial, or am I the odd one for being periodically consumed by it?

Another was asking me where I think it came from. Nobody has ever asked me that before, and it’s not something I’ve thought about. The worst of my panic began when I was 15. That’s when it started flinging me screaming across the room. “Is that when your friend committed suicide?” Yes, it was- but the panic attacks started before then. Robert (who I first went out with when I was 14), remembers my panic on the phone, but it was more contained, and I was easier to comfort and distract.

It started well before then, when I was about 7 (?). Both my parents had mental maladies. I felt like they were going to die and I was terrified of it. I became aware they wouldn’t be there one day and I feared all the time it was the day. I used to pad into their room at night to check they were still breathing, then pad back and lie awake in the moon (just like I do now with the baby!). I realised I was going to die too, and sometimes would wake up screaming.  Death felt close, ever present, non abstract. I could only perceive it in my childish way, but I never felt safe, and I never have since.

Of course, that’s just a bit of it- I might be wrong, but I had never connected the two things before. I had a massive resurgence after my dad died, too, which is natural. But it wasn’t so much his death as knowing that he feared it. That kills me, still. I hate that he was afraid. If I could do one thing in my life, one magical thing, it would be to take that fear from him before he died.

He asked me what I wanted to get out of therapy. I don’t know really. Not to have panic attacks anymore. To be able to watch/read/listen to anything again. Not to have to ring in late to work because I’ve disintegrated at a funeral procession. To fall asleep. To be able to think about Oisín’s future. At the moment, I’m too scared to talk about it, think beyond tomorrow, in case he’s not here for it, or that I’m not. I’m petrified of something happening to him, and feel superstitious about it. It’s a loss I know I would never, ever recover from, be able to go on living beyond.  Pregnancy should have taught me the futility of this- when it seemed like there was bad news at the 20 week scan, my anxiety didn’t protect me. It didn’t cushion it, it didn’t make anything easier.  I want to be able to talk to Robert about him riding a bike, or going to school, or falling in love. I want to be here and present in the moment without thinking how it’s going to end. That it is. I want to be able to sleep without hours of panic beforehand. I want to be able to not feel regret about not living if I do die tomorrow. When I’m going through anxious periods I always feel mildly dissociated, not here. I don’t want to feel that way anymore. I don’t want horrible flashes in my brain anymore. I don’t want my coping mechanism for the feelings of helplessness and inevitability to be nihilism, as it means I make unhealthy choices (like smoking, which will actively shorten my life, and thus leads to more panic attacks). I want to be present for myself, for my child. Life is so brief. And it is all.

He said that this will involve some unpleasant feelings, but that it usually helps. He says when it doesn’t, “work”, it’s often because people haven’t done the things long enough (bit of, “blame the patient” here, but I understand what he means as my last assessment person gave me a workbook I barely glanced at). I’m pretty frightened of what this is going to entail, and how hard it’s going to be. I’m aware it might mean it gets worse before it gets better, and I’m feeling pretty apprehensive about that. Shit scared, to be honest.

But I’m doing it. So let’s see where this goes. I’ll keep you updated!

When Fear Becomes Phobia

The doctors call it panic disorder.  I’m trying to medicate away an existential crisis.

It’s not working.

I work all day, and get half drunk at night.

Waking to soundless dark, I stare.

In time, the curtain edges will grow light,

Until I see what’s always there.

There’s been a programme on Channel 4 recently called, “Les Revenents”.  In English, “The Returned”.  The Returned are those returned from death to life.  My husband was an avid fan.  I couldn’t watch it.  It wasn’t just because they were dead.  It was because they were dead and returned to life, their death a mistake, a mishap, reversible. Something that will never happen. Not to me, and not to you. And that’s why I couldn’t watch it.

There’s a difference between knowledge and belief.  Up until recently, I’ve always known I was going to die.  The fear would grip me and squeeze my heart from my chest to my mouth. A scream caught in the throat, my body, convulsing with the pressure and the pain, flung across the room. When I was two, I had an asthma attack that almost killed me.  And on first waking, I threw my doll into the face of the doctor.  And twenty five years later, I’m still that doll.

Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.

But my heart would return to my chest.  It was needed.  Life was happening. It had to be lived.  The small victories and failures of every day would bring me back to clockwork human, walking, talking and being alive in the world. Arguments to be had, worries to worry over. Futures to think of, anniversaries to drink of, dishes to be done and cats to be fed.   A car almost hitting me would quicken the pace. I’d pull back from the road and swear and shake my fist and then carry on my way.  I smoked cigarettes and watched TV and visited cemeteries and went to funerals and took flights and slept.

A week ago, I was crossing the road to work and a hearse passed by. My legs turned to jelly, I felt myself dissociating, leaving my own body. (Maybe this is why there’s a belief in the spirit, the out of body experience.  Sheer, cold fear forcing the ghost from the host).  It’s not the first time that’s happened lately.  Do you know what else elicited such a response? Father Ted.  I turned it on at 3am to help me sleep after another night of panic attacks had rendered me a shivering wreck and had to switch it off again because Dermot Morgan is dead and I will be too.

So now I can’t watch Father Ted. Or Monty Python. Or Not the Nine O’Clock News (because Mel Smith just died).  And I was late to work because I had to sit down before I collapsed, the kaleidoscope world sucking in and out of my vision.  People were just drinking their coffees, hurrying by, and I wanted to scream, “DON’T YOU REALISE WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN?” But I lit a cigarette instead (bland irony; they’ll kill me) and gathered myself together to stand on my fawn legs and walk.

The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse
—The good not done, the love not given, time
Torn off unused—nor wretchedly because
An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;
But at the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.

I’m scared to call my granny, because I know she is going to die soon. I’m scared to talk to her then remember the voice in the afterwards, and I’m scared because I know I’m going to be too scared for her funeral. I’m scared to get a plane, sometimes, too scared to get the train. Too scared to talk, and scared of my bed. Scared to leave the house sometimes, as walking home with a pint of milk is so gloriously ordinary and unpermanant that I can’t bear it and fire flushes through me once more, and I find myself running, running. Without embarrassment as my screaming bursts through the door. My world is getting smaller and smaller and yet, I can’t do anything about it.

I’ve always known, but never believed.  It seemed so far off and distant, surreal and unformed. It doesn’t feel that way anymore. Now I know it and I believe it. It’s going to happen.  When I am lying in bed desperately trying to sleep and I feel my veins jumping beneath my skin, my heart-mouth almost chokes me with the terror that I’m going to stroke out- it’s happening, now, now, now, it’s happening. And I also know that it’s my own terror causing this, that my heart is beating so rapidly my veins can’t keep up, and the weight on my chest is another panic attack coming to smother another hour out of my finite hours. I know this, and yet it doesn’t help. It’s the same way I know that my fear of dying won’t stop it happening (it will hasten it), but I can’t help it.  Once you know, really know, you can’t unknow.  Once you believe, you can’t unbelieve. What should be freeing traps you. Every single twinge feels like a mortal threat. And the medication I’m taking to cope with this reality is making me feel sick and tired.

This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says No rational being
Can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing
That this is what we fear—no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anaesthetic from which none come round.

I’ve prayed. I’ve vainfully resurrected my old Catholic self.  Not believing in god, but in prayer. How calm it used to make me. To feel as though I was doing something. To slow the frantic pulse of my veins. But it doesn’t do anything- it doesn’t change. Nothing does or will. 

I’ve had a big year; done those, “once in a lifetime” things, like getting married, having a hen night, those milestones in life that are supposed to mean so much. I’ve had a difficult couple of months.  Some people close to me wonder if I have PTSD. Maybe. It has certainly gotten worse since those events.  The realisation that I can’t go back. That things are what they are.  What has happened to me has happened forever. All of it.  Pain I have caused others have been done forever, and I can’t undo it. Crying doesn’t resurrect a father. He’s just bones now. When you have a child, you are condemning someone to death. You have a date of birth and on the stone will be the date you died.  That will be an event to other people, but not to you. I can’t read about space, or science, because I won’t be there to see any of it pass. How can it be that I can’t change it? Any of it? When egotism and insignificance clash.

And so it stays just on the edge of vision,
A small unfocused blur, a standing chill
That slows each impulse down to indecision.
Most things may never happen: this one will,
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace-fear when we are caught without
People or drink. Courage is no good:
It means not scaring others. Being brave
Lets no one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.

My husband holds me and says, “Don’t think about it”. He tells me he loves me and I want that to matter, but it doesn’t. What is love? What is meaning? What is anything? Shouldn’t I just fuck off and read existentialist philosophy? Except I can’t. Now Camus is on a par with Father Ted. Finally! And when he sleeps, I panic. I can’t take that still face. He is alive! Alive and should be alive forever. I can’t bear it. And I take my antipsychotics and wait for the world to swim away.

Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape.
It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know,
Have always known, know that we can’t escape,
Yet can’t accept. One side will have to go.
Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring
In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring
Intricate rented world begins to rouse.
The sky is white as clay, with no sun.
Work has to be done.
Postmen like doctors go from house to house.

But the only good thing to come out of all of this is realising that all you have, in the end, and if you’re really lucky, are your memories.  I love my husband, and it matters because this is his life, too.  He’s going to remember the love.  I am more careful in how I speak to and treat people now.  I don’t want to contribute to bad memories. I don’t want to be a negative force. I want to spread kindness and love because it’s all we have to give, and the only worthwhile things to give. When I am feeling unkind, I think about the body. The body is the life, and the scars are the bad memories. I don’t want to be a scar. I don’t want to add to the multitude of scars we live with and which will be there forever. Before I start to shout, or to say something in anger that might be scarring, I think instead, “Do I want to add to this?” And I never do. It doesn’t mean suppressing anger. It just means realising that it doesn’t matter, in the scheme of things.  Nothing does, of course.  But other peoples’ happiness matters, to me. I want people to be happy, and to be loved, and to remember that they are. And I am a particularly friendless type of person. Isolative, and often happier that way. I do want to change that. I don’t want to look back and have only vignettes of myself, alone, as always.  I don’t have a, “best friend”, you won’t find many photos of me doing stuff with other people at things I was invited to, and I don’t have close friends. I feel like it’s another fundamental of human experience I am missing out on. The speeding car flattens me to the wall.

And so, here I am, with another inevitability. That I must go to bed, and go to sleep, and wake up tomorrow, then go to work (which I enjoy and find value in because it involves helping other people, possibly the one thing I find meaning in) then have a weekend.  Medication to take, dishes to do.  I’m going to Paris for my birthday and trying not to remember my last birthday, one big scar.  Not to pick it. Not to open it. To not make a new scar. To not panic at the ticking up of the years. To hold a hand. Return a kiss. To walk in a street and try to be present. To be there. It’s all we have. It’s all any of us have.

It Pours

I had a post to write, but it’s been kind of blown out of the water by the news that my granny Kane has just died.  No, not even this granny, Granny Molloy, who is hanging on.  The other one, which was somewhat unexpected to me as I didn’t know the extent of how ill she was in hospital.

I wasn’t close to her, but I didn’t dislike her.  I was far closer to my Granda Kane, her husband, who died last year.   And aside from my uncle Brian, I despise everybody in my mum’s family because they are poisonous, manipulative, loathsome human beings.

I’m still saddened by her death because it feels like my family is being wiped out.  And so last Christmas was, well, the last, and will end a tradition of a lifetime.

Mostly, however, I’m just worried about my mum.  She’s not really well (mentally) and has been looking after my granny almost since my dad died.   I worry that this might be a catalyst for madness, and I don’t want to lose her.  On the other hand, I’m hoping it gets her away from her ridiculous siblings and she begins, maybe, to live her own life. 

I’m not going to be able to attend the funeral due to my current benefits-what? situation, and also that one of my best friend’s weddings is on Saturday and I have already shelled out for train tickets, so I’m too broke.  I feel guilty about it (she deserves to have her grandchildren there, and I want to be there for my mum), but also slightly relieved, as I’m exhausted by funerals, exhausted by death.  I have watched too many people go into the ground in the past few years.  It isn’t how I want to remember them.

My granny wanted to go, though, and did so in her sleep.  She has been heartbroken since granda died.  They really loved each other.  So I am happy, in one sense, that she’s no longer in pain.

There goes the plateau of calm and peace I had reached today, anyway. Ah, what a sodding mess my life is right now.  Alas.

My Friend, Brendan Hollywood.

I was asked to write something about my friend Brendan for Cook’d and Bomb’d, a prominent comedy forum on which he was a poster, and the stamping ground where we met, over two years ago. It was a kind of textual variation of, “Our eyes met across the room…” From his introductory post there, I knew he was amazing and that we would be friends. Now I walk past cafés and smile, remembering us in the window. It’s only been three weeks. Only one week since his funeral. It feels like a thousand years ago. Like it happened in a different world, to a different person.

I had to tell the forum of his death. It shocked people- he was incredibly well-liked, for his wit, his eloquence, his humanity and his intelligence.

I have never seen such a reaction on a forum. The internet is cursed and blessed for its facelessness and anonymity. We can walk as tall as supermodels if we desire; can be men or women, can be geniuses or fools. From anywhere, to anywhere. It is hard to miss people online; threads of communication can be abruptly stopped, for so many reasons, an identity, wiped, to be started again. And Brendan was utterly himself and he will be genuinely missed there.

Brendan was an extraordinary writer. He never wasted a word, he was gloriously gifted. His book, “I Am A Modern Monster”, about the life of Alex Tower, is a fantastic piece of work. You can read the first chapter here and you can download the whole book here. Please, if you know any literary types who may be interested in publishing it, pass it on. It truly is a work of splendour and it deserves to be read. Download it and you’ll see.

So, I wrote something about Brendan. It was difficult. His death has brought back a lot of memories about my dad’s death. Two people with similar problems that I loved and I couldn’t save, in the end. I close my eyes and see my dad’s deathbed and my dad, and I try to think of something else. At least London’s streets did not have our footsteps upon them; but they have mine and Brendan’s. Our routes, our cold arses shivering on plastic seats in an empty train station, I remember them all.

Above all else, I want him to be remembered. The pain of remembering is not like the pain of being forgotten. He will be remembered. Not just by me, and those that loved him, those that he loved, like his family, even those who only knew him by his words on a forum. I want him to be remembered by you, and everybody who reads this. Like I do with my dad, who I write about all the time, to keep him here, to let people know, he was here, this incredibly important person to me and to others, cannot be lost. Will not be lost.

I am posting it here you can understand who he was, to me at least. A tribute to my friend. I don’t think anything I say, do or write can do justice to the wonderful person that he was, and how much he is loved by me and so many others. But I tried.

Brendan Hollywood.

Neil has asked me to write a bit about Brendan. I’ve sat here for a good hour trying to put into words what kind of person he was. I can’t tell you who he was to the others that loved him; to you, to his family, to his other friends, to his lovers and companions over the years, because I can’t speak for anybody else. I can only tell you who he was to me.

If he’d been writing this himself, it would have been done and dusted fifty five minutes ago. Although there would probably be as many cigarette butts withering in the ashtray. The last time I saw him, we were wheeling a massive table up the Blackstock Road. It was about five minutes from my house but we took turns smoking the whole way there. We wheezed and puffed our way up three flights of stairs. Our hands- mine, short and stubby, his, long, slim and stained yellow at the fingertips- were shaking in the winter windchill as it blew our laughter into the afternoon traffic. Physical labour wasn’t something he was fond of- he could be incredibly lazy- but I needed his help, and he would never refuse someone in need. It’s weird to be sitting at the desk now, looking to my door, the last time I saw him, the last time I put my arms around him. He seemed out of sorts that day and hugging him goodbye after he drank the coffee I made him (I don’t drink coffee, but I always kept a jar in my flat for him when he came round, since he was absolutely hooked on it), I thought, I’ll see him again soon. I didn’t, I never saw him again, although we spoke many times. I was supposed to see him shortly before his death, and I missed him because I was asleep. He had always been there for me; and I regret deeply that in that last week, I wasn’t there for him.

If Brendan was writing this, every sentence would be filled with something self-deprecating. He could be a harsh critic of himself. In snatches of clarity, he could sometimes see himself how we saw him; how violently funny he was, how intelligent, how full of potential and talent. Every single post he made here sparkles with his customary wit. He was an extraordinary writer, but his confidence failed him often. He had already written two books, the latter, “I Am A Modern Monster”, constantly edited, sent to various people, seeking approval and reassurance that he was worth it, that he was a great writer. We could tell him til we were blue in the face; and one thing this forum offered him, amongst so many others, was the confirmation of his talent. He was instantly likeable. His friends I’ve met, and his family, all uniformly love and adore him, and believed in him, his talent, and his gifts. He glittered.

My friendship with Brendan actually started here. He was this funny bloke called john self. I was, then, Banana Woofwoof (“you can’t greet me with “Woof!” anymore- you have to say, “Hello! Here is my raincoat!” now…”) I thought he was fantastic, from the first introduction post that he made. It was clear from the offset that this was someone incredibly special. He sent me various PMs thanking him for being so friendly to him. I then convinced him to come to a meet I organised- which was, by most accounts, a failure. But I met him. I have never so immediately clicked with somebody. He was obviously incredibly nervous so I thought I’d say, “Shut up, newbie”, to him which for some reason made him laugh and we warmed to each other totally. We dispensed with the usual polite pleasantries and spent most of our time huddled together giggling. He made me laugh so much. There was a man at the bar- “the chinless wonder”, as we called him, we had created a whole life for. We renamed the area, “Smug Rapist’s Alley”- don’t ask.

From there, the complicated, wonderful Brendan Hollywood became a part of my life.

We saw each other often- he would rob the Silverlink of their paltry fares from his home to mine. We sat in many cafés, chainsmoking, then eventually going outside to smoke. We visited each others’ flats. He was the only friend I ever had who travelled across London at 5am just because I needed him. We met in familiar areas- Finchley Road, Finsbury Park, Crouch End, to sit in empty afternoon pubs, cokes in hand, talking about our days, our lives. He’d roll endless cigarettes, talk quickly, listen, laugh that uninhibited, wonderful laugh that he had, always dressed smartly, with ever-changing haircuts and ties. When we weren’t together in person, we spoke on all ends of the internet, on here, on MSN, on other websites we both frequented, on the phone, by text, smoke signals, Morse Code. I have chat logs, texts, e-mails, messages that at the moment I still can’t really bring myself to read through. We rarely ran out of things to talk about. Brendan, no matter what mood he was in, was always interesting.

Brendan had been through it. He had an alcohol problem that had landed him in rehab and hospital and had dogged him throughout his life. He also suffered from depression that he struggled with until his death. He could be, as well as hilarious and open, sad and withdrawn. Our friendship, when he was drinking, was fraught. I lost my father to alcoholism and I couldn’t bear to lose Brendan, too. In the end, it got to the point where I told him that I wouldn’t see him when he was drinking. I would talk to him, of course, and be there for him to talk to, but I could not see him when he was drunk. It was a bit of a rubbish incentive that worked up until a point. He would send long messages saying how he wanted my love of him to be “present tense”- “if it had been in the present tense, would have been a beautiful, wonderful, utterly-reciprocated delight. Sounds pathetic, doesn’t it? Anyway, I want that back; I want that present tense back”.

It was always present tense, though- I loved Brendan almost as soon as the first time we shyly met up, and did throughout our friendship, and will, forever.

I had been through it, too, suffering from manic depression, as I do, and landing myself in hospital. We actually bonded over that experience. He was a fantastic friend to me, and we were close. Brendan was one person who was understanding, someone who was patient, someone who listened to me, helped me, cared for me, loved me and most importantly, someone who made me laugh when the world seemed unfriendly and grey. No-one could get me out of a bad mood like Brendan. There was a time he came to visit and I was flipping out over something unimportant. The first thing he said as he walked through the door made me crack up laughing, and my anger was forgotten. With everything he had been through, he had time for other people, and he was someone to swap, “Fun in the mental hospital” stories with, although other people sometimes looked at us weirdly when we would laugh our heads off at tales of our outrageous behaviour, stories that are painful until shared with someone who had been there, too. I could tell Brendan anything. He was there for me through what were two of the most difficult years of my life. We confided in each other, sharing secrets, stories and cigarettes. We had fun, singing along to our favourites (Bowie, Morrissey, both whom he idolised), pulling ever more ridiculous faces while singing to make each other laugh. Sometimes, as you know, recording the awful results.

Brendan discussed his problems with alcohol and depression both in real life and here with a disarming candour that no doubt many people had found incredibly helpful. He was aware of his problems and he was strong, much stronger than he gave himself credit for. When he slipped, he would pick himself up again and again. His outlook on life, although sometimes tempered by depression, was almost unwaveringly hopeful. He talked about the things he loved passionately. The passion was contagious. His love was strong: for his family, for his friends, for writing, for comedy and music, for art, for untempered silliness and laughter.

So, I think I’ve gone on enough. To my extraordinary, complex, wonderful, hilarious, intelligent, witty, loving, fun, fantastic, courageous, giving, passionate, immensely talented chancer of a friend, I will give you the advice you gave me for the day I made my ascent: whatever you do, don’t kick god.

You are so loved. And you will be missed more than I can put into words.

The story of alcoholic liver failure

My dad’s death changed my life.

I had learned to live with his depression and alcoholism, but I am still struggling to learn to live without him. The memory I am clinging onto right now is Christmas 2005, the last time I really spent time with him, and the last Christmas my family shared with him. He didn’t drink the whole time, and it was wonderful. The last memory I have of him alive and well is sharing a taxi as I went to the airport to return to London. He could only go so long without drinking, and got out to go to the off-licence, paid for my taxi, and kissed me goodbye. I didn’t see him again until the last hours of his life.

He could be aggressive, angry, amazingly self pitying, violent, abusive, embarrassing, hilarious, political, sensitive, proud, loving, mad, silly. He was a deeply flawed, wonderful person.

I’m reading over old journal entries, starting from when my dad was admitted to hospital and ending the week after he died. That whole period lasted just over a month.
Masochistic, yes. But oddly comforting because he was still there, and for a while, I had dreadful hope. Sometimes I wonder how we actually got through that time as it was the most heartbreaking situation I’ve ever experienced, and I’m certain it was the same for my family. It is also reminding me how great my friends were when he was in hospital and of how brilliantly my family dealt with it. It was the one time my mum cut out her bullshit, and my big sister Paula, who was in hospital with him the most, was amazingly strong. Even my dad dealt with it with his customary cantankerous humour.

I found some photos I took on my camera phone on the day of his funeral.  In the PD (a pub) afterwards.  Actually having an alright time.  They put on a spread for us, for free, like they did when my granda died a few months before.

This is me- I had been plastered in make up that morning, and cried it all off.

Paula and her friend Adeline who came after the funeral:

Another of my sisters, Michelle:

I’m going to put the entries here, unedited, for the benefit of people who have been in that similar, not knowing what to believe or think situation. I’m also going to put normal entries here, that don’t mention him much, because that Life Goes On. I also want to put this here for my own bizarre reasons in that I like stamping my dad all over the world, no matter which way. It will be a very long entry.

If any of you manage to read this whole entry I will give you a prize.

What surprises me, but also doesn’t, is that a lot of the entries I wrote in that time were happy and hopeful because it was generally a nice time in my life, before it all kicked off. I liked my job, had a beautiful boyfriend and things, usual brain weirdness aside, were good. It wasn’t until the very end that I began to really believe I was going to lose my dad. The further down I read, the more I remember what that time felt like.

People ask me why I am so explicit and forthcoming with things like this. I don’t want my dad to be forgotten. And I blog like this because I want the stuff we went through to mean something, even if it’s just one person in the world who felt the same.

Anyway, click below.

Continue reading

Mental Illness and Mortality

Last night when my brain was car-crashing, I was reading about 10 articles per five minutes. One them was this about serious mental illness and mortality.

That was the article that triggered my panic attack. Here’s another:


 

Clinical & Research News

Death Data Have Researchers Searching for Answers Eve Bender

People with serious mental illness are dying at higher rates and at earlier ages than people in the general population who don’t have mental illness.

Metabolic dysfunction caused by some medications may play a role. People with serious mental illness in one sample of psychiatric inpatients had more than three times the rate of death of those in the general population without mental illness and died an average of 32 years earlier.

The leading causes of death among people in the sample, most of whom were diagnosed with a psychotic disorder, were heart disease, suicide, accidents, and cancer.

The findings call for increased screening and monitoring of patients with serious mental illness for medical comorbidities, according to the authors of the study, published in the October Psychiatric Services.

Researchers collected medical information on 20,018 patients hospitalized on at least one occasion at one of nine hospital sites associated with five behavioral health care organizations in Ohio’s public mental health system between 1998 and 2002.

They matched patients’ hospital records with death records from the Ohio Department of Health and identified 608 patients who died during the four-year period (hospital deaths were included in the sample).

The patients who died had been diagnosed with a number of mental disorders, including schizophrenia (134), schizoaffective disorder (128), alcohol abuse (101), bipolar disorder (87), alcohol dependence (85), major depressive disorder (80), cannibis abuse (59), other mixed or unspecified drug abuse (56), and cocaine abuse (35). The majority of patients in the sample died from heart disease (126), suicides (108), accidents (83), or cancer (44).

Researchers also measured years per life lost for those who died, which is a measure of premature death based on the current mean survival age for a cohort matched by age and gender in the general population. Patients with serious mental illness died an average of 32 years earlier than patients in the general population, according to the findings.

The average age of death for the people in the sample was 47.7 years. When researchers calculated the standard mortality ratio for patients in the sample who died, they found 3.2 times the rate of death as that of the general U.S. population.

The most prevalent comorbid medical conditions for patients in the sample who died included obesity (144), hypertension (136), diabetes (70), chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (62), and injuries (39). Among the 126 patients who died of heart disease, leading comorbidities included hypertension, obesity, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and disorders of lipid metabolism.

Previous research has yielded similar results. For example, a report released by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in April said that patients with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder lose as much as 20 years off their average life expectancy compared withsimilar individuals in the general population without seriousmental illness and had elevated rates of heart disease (Psychiatric News, July 7).

At a 2004 meeting convened by the American Diabetes Association and attended by several APA members, the organization issued a consensus statement confirming the risk of metabolic changes associated with second-generation anti-psychotics and calling for careful monitoring of patients on these medications.

In the study of hospitalized patients with serious mental illness in Ohio, researchers could not draw conclusions about cause of death. They speculated, however, that underlying factors may have included medication-induced weight gain, poor personal hygiene, reduced physical activity, increased prevalence of smoking and substance use, and inadequate social support, according to C. Bayard Paschall III, Ph.D., chief of the Ohio Department of Mental Health’s Office of Performance Improvement.

“The question is how we tease some of these characteristics away” from others to be able to associate them with cause of death for patients with serious mental illness, Paschall told Psychiatric News.

Study findings indicate a need for closer collaboration between psychiatry and primary care, according to lead author Brian Miller, M.D., M.P.H., a PGY-2 psychiatry resident at the Medical College of Georgia. In ideal circumstances, patients with serious mental illness could walk from their psychiatrist’s office to an office across the hall to see a primary care physician “who might screen them for some of the comorbid medical conditions we observed in our study,” he said.

In addition, he suggested that psychiatrists and other physicians treating patients who take second-generation antipsychotics carefully monitor these patients for side effects associated with metabolic dysfunction and also write orders for tests of fasting blood glucose, lipid profiles, and liver and thyroid function. Miller and Paschall are conducting further research on some of the factors that may be contributing to excess death rates among people with serious mental illness.

 


 

I’m not sure what to draw from that as they don’t mention if the alcohol/drug abuse is co-morbid with mental illnesses. Still, it is sobering and frightening. Especially given just how low on the agenda mental illness is in Britain.

My dad died right on the money- aged 47.11 years.

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