This is a blog about depression. If you are easily offended or take offence to my very sarcastic humour, please do not read any further. Mental illness is not a joke; it is not something to point fun at and I fully understand that. BUT…when the going gets tough, sarcasm and humour is my defence and so I will be parading it around all over this blog.
If you need help, please get it. Whilst I hope this has a happy ending, I don’t know yet and given I’ve not been able to fix myself, I really don’t want others using this as a ‘How To Be Happy for Beginners v2.0’
Roll up, roll up, it’s another day inside. In the outside world, I’d be putting on my casuals and heading to the office. I love dress down Friday. On the inside world, I am going to do the opposite, I am going to put on my jeans rather than my tracksuit. In a way, that’s me dressing up for the hospital. Let’s see if I have the confidence to ask for an omelette today… oh, nope, still no luck. Come on, I can do this! Tomorrow, yes, that sounds sensible, I’ll do it tomorrow. Good news though, I am officially less of a risk to myself and now on 30 minute obs! That’s a whole 29 minutes and 59 seconds before a nurse next comes into my room. I don’t know what I am going to do with the extra 15 minutes of privacy back in my life.
As it is Friday, it also means my mum isn’t working today, which means it’s time for me to call her and tell her the (half) truth. I don’t think she’ll handle the full truth, neither does my sister. I’m nervous, anxious and scared, all rolled up into one.
ME: ‘Hi mum…’
MUM: ‘Hi darling, you ok? You’ve gone quiet on me this week’
ME: ‘I’ve got something to tell you, I’ve checked into a clinic’ – Clinic, a must softer word than psychiatric hospital don’t you think?
MUM: ‘Oh, ok, I thought you’d gone to ground. Everything ok?’
ME: ‘Yes, just need some time, all good and only a few days. It’s like Champneys but without the massages. Lots of mindfulness and yoga’ – It’s not like Champneys, it’s not for a few days and whilst there is lots of mindfulness and yoga, there is also lots of nurses, meds and obs.
MUM: ‘Ok darling. Does work know? You can’t let work know’
ME: ‘My insurance is covering it and I’ve taken some time off’ – The first part is true, the second is not. I am signed off work and my manager does know.
ME: ‘It’s nothing to worry about, promise. I love you’ – I add the last 3 words to soften the blow a bit. I can picture my mum stood in the kitchen and now biting the skin next to her nails
MUM: ‘Ok darling, that’s good. Sounds good. You’ll be out on Sunday yes? You’ll call me? And this is holiday yes?’
ME: ‘Yes mum’ – No mum
MUM: ‘Ok darling, I love you’
ME: ‘Love you mum’ – and sorry I am hurting you
My sister and I both agreed telling mum on Friday morning would be for the best. She lives alone and she worries, a lot. If I told her on Thursday evening, when the absurdity of this situation hit me, she’d have opened a bottle of wine, had one too many and then spent all night worrying. She wouldn’t have slept. This way, she has all day to process it and hopefully she’ll get some sleep. I still have the minor problem of the fact she thinks I am going home on Sunday. I don’t know when I am going home. It’s unlikely to be Sunday.
I can’t sit and worry too much as it’s time for more psychoeducation – someone should tell the hospital that this isn’t a great term to use. Distress tolerance is on the curriculum today. It’s a session open to everyone so who knows, Patient R may just make an appearance. I’ve heard a ward rumour that Patient N has been discharged, here’s hoping.
Jackpot! Patient R doesn’t show and it’s true, Patient N has been released back into the big bad world.
Nothing we are being taught is ground breaking. It’s not like there is a difficult equation to unpick with only one possible answer. It’s sensible stuff yet myself, and every other patient in this room, hasn’t been able to do it. I suppose I thought years of therapy would produce a magic pill or that doing the time means I can be freed from this hell. That’s not how it works and I need to start learning things that I already knew but have somehow failed to apply to myself.
We start calling out feelings that are distressing: anger; failure; loneliness; fear; sadness; love
I’ve added the last word; I find being loved hard. I push people away to prevent them getting too close. I pre-empt the hurt but in doing so, inevitably end up hurt anyway. I once said to a friend, if I were a dog, I’d have been put down by now. It’s true, I’d be that yappy dog that growls when you come to close but cries when you walk away. Plus, given the way depression impacts me, I’d also have smelly breath and in need of a wash! No one loves a stinky dog. That reminds me, I’ve washed my face and brushed my teeth yet again. Gold star for me please. I was going to have a shower and wash my hair this morning but that was one step too far. Let’s not run before I can walk.
The reason for calling out the feelings is to highlight that distressing feelings can be positive too, we should let our anger out sometimes. It’s also to see how we normally handle them. I don’t handle them. I push distressing feelings away/ down/ out as hard and fast as I can. I move onto anything that can distract me, whether that’s a good coping mechanism or not. My eating disorder was a coping mechanism, as was the bulldog clip pinching phase (don’t ask!), hiding in my flat and lying to myself and others to hide my depression. The point is, these are effective in the short term and can provide some relief but it doesn’t allow us to face up to things. There are consequences to all negative coping mechanisms.
Enter the quicksand analogy. What would you do it you find yourself suddenly stuck in quicksand? I’d say answers on a post card but that’ll take too long so just play along at home
- Panic, struggle and fight to get yourself free
- Stay calm and slowly lie down in the quicksand
- Don’t leave the flat in the first place and therefore avoid this situation altogether
If you answered B you are correct and there is no need to read further, you are evidently a very well rounded, stable individual who correctly confronts their emotions. Bravo (and I am not the teensiest bit jealous…)
If you answered A or C, stick with me and let’s see if we can get through this together.
The therapist states that lying down in the quicksand is the same tactic for our emotions, we should sit and be with them. Acknowledge them and let them pass. This is an interesting concept however I am pretty sure I didn’t leave the flat all weekend because I was sitting with my feelings. In fact, I can proudly say, I did less that 100 steps over the whole 2 days! Thanks, step tracker for pointing this out to me. That’s a lot of sitting. A LOT. Apparently though, this is not sitting with my feelings, so yet another thing I have been doing wrong. Apparently, that was a distraction technique. I beg to differ as I really did sit on the sofa that whole time but I’ll conform for now to see where this goes.
Next up we take a sweet. Excellent, classes with food are automatically upgraded in terms of enjoyment. It’s called Warhead… I have a feeling my initial delight is about to be turned upside down. I am right. It’s sour. In fact, it tastes a bit like stomach acid. There is a point to this though, the more we suck the better it gets and soon I reach the sweet apple centre. Had I not persevered, I would not have experienced the sweet core. Nothing stays the same. We think it will but an experience always changes. Out comes the stress toys and aroma therapy oils. This therapist is going for the gold star award for best session clearly! It’s explained that essential oils and stress toys can help when we find things too hard. They can help ground and help us be present. Fine by me, I am just keen to play with them.
Next up is Group CBT and learning about our core beliefs. Apparently, I should respect my own feelings and not be so judgemental on myself. That is easier said than done. To help though, we are asked to imagine our younger self is sat in front of us. Knowing what we know she’s about to go through in life, what would we do? For me, it’s a 7 year old me with bright blonde hair in pigtails. If she were in front of me right now, I’d hug her so tightly that she’d never question my love for her. I’d tell her she’s beautiful and that she’s strong and loving and kind. She is enough as she is. That was easy, I can do that. Now I need to apply it to me. This is less easy. Looks like I have homework to do, this therapist does not win the best session award.
Walking back to the ward to dump my still shiny new blue folder, Patient L starts talking to me. Me. Talking. To another patient. Voluntarily. She wants to get lunch with me, OMG, I think I’ve made a friend!!! I can officially unplug the neon ‘NEWBIE’ sign. Look at me, totally nailing adulting. Lunch options are veggie sausage, grilled fish or battered fish all served with steamed veg, again. I want the veggie sausage but Patient L wants the grilled fish and what if she doesn’t like me if I pick the veggie sausage? What if she changes her mind and won’t sit with me anymore? I’ll need to get the plug back out for the ‘NEWBIE’ sign and I’ve only just put it away. And so, my head starts interfering and tells me not to risk it, get the grilled fish. I get the grilled fish. Seriously, this is genuinely what goes on in my head. After lunch, Patient L has to go pack, she’s earned home leave. Lucky her. Although upgraded to 30 minutes obs now, I am still not allowed out the front door. I’ve considered finding a loophole to the rule and exiting via the windows but the hospital has already thought of that and I can’t even get my head through the gap. I know this because I tried, and it hurt. I’ve not been outside since Tuesday lunch time.
On the way to and from group, which is on the basement level, we have to pass a fire door with frosted glass and 5 small circles that allow you to see the outside world. The outside is just on the other side of that door yet it feels a million miles away. I am stood only a few centimetres from the bustling London street but I am in here, in a perfect little bubble. It’s surreal.
Group session 2 of the day and, I speak. I open my mouth and tell the group something that I am feeling. It’s taken nearly ½ the session to work up to this point but I’ve done it. Then I realise I am crying. Not that sweet singular tear crying you see in films, full on snotty nose, gasping for breath crying. Well, this is great isn’t it. I explain that I am worried I don’t know who I am or what I like. I then explain the lunch situation. Saying it out loud makes it real. It also makes it sound incredibly stupid that a 30 year old woman is making decisions purely based on other people. I need to start thinking about what I like, who I am and what I want.
Final session of the day is yoga. That’s a perfect 4/4 again today and it counts this time as I spoke too. I’ve not done yoga in a while so let’s give it a shot. This is open to all patients and just as I think I can relax, in walks Patient R. Really? Did you have to? The yoga teacher follows, dripping from the rain and says how lucky we are to not have to go out there. 7 pairs of eyes then look up as it dawns on her what she says. ‘Oh yes, sorry, forgot where I was for a minute’. Yes, thanks for that, how lucky we are to be locked in here. Patient R pushes the boundaries again and today he is not only Lord Budha but also a Lizard King before deciding this is a bit too much like hard work and he wants a cigarette. Detox Blonde comments how crazy he is, just before she’s reminded, we are all in the same psychiatric hospital love, none of us are any better. It’s great though, we all start laughing and it’s the first time I’ve done that in a while.
Like most Londoners, Friday night is fun time night. A drink or 5, dinner with friends etc. etc. Not tonight. Tonight I am eating alone again, 3 bean casserole with…STEAMED VEG. The restaurant shuts at 1900 so it’s not even like I can ‘stay up late’. I retreat back to questionable stained carpet room to wait for my nightly meds and 30 minutes obs, all through the night, still. I wash my face and brush my teeth, I am at risk of being Normal again!