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’
It’s hard to wake up this morning. I don’t recall the radio alarm going off. I could stay wrapped in this warm nest all day. But, no I can’t. It’s a day care day so if I am going to figure out how to get better, I am going to need to be there! If only recovery could be done via osmosis rather than the slog of therapy. I make my porridge and decide, I can take my time over it, I’ll have a dry shampoo. Thankfully, a recent visit to Boots has replenished my supplies. I’ve gotten through quite a lot of it in the last few months. Ha, who am I kidding, in the last 2 years! Boots have been promoting a new dry shampoo that also contains conditioner, this seems right up my street. Sadly, I’ve fallen for the marketing ploy, it actually makes my hair look even more greasy. I know, I didn’t think that was possible either. So, with not very much time left, I have no choice but to jump into the shower and wash my hair. How very ‘Normal’ of me. I’ll take this as a sign from the universe that I was starting to smell.
In all my wisdom and OCD glory, my calendar is up to date with the timings for my therapy sessions and the location of the hospital. This calendar planning is not needed. It’s my 11th week (yes really, if you are an original reader, this is week 11! I know, right, it feels like only yesterday!) and the therapy timings nor the hospital location have changed. Unsurprisingly. Anyway, planning is still planning and the benefit of having programmed this into my calendar is that the iPhone flashes up that stating there is lots of traffic so the journey is going to take 57 mins. If I want to get there on time, my only choice is taxi. I’m gutted. Honestly gutted. The bus challenge was working and now, I am forced to reverse backwards. Both literally and metaphorically as my road is a dead end and the taxi needs to turn around.
Whilst sat in the back of the taxi, weaving through London, I decide to message my manager. It’s been a whilst since my last message to her and firstly, time is a warped throughout this process so it only felt like yesterday but secondly, I want to ensure she knows that I want to come back. There has been no pressure from work. I’ve been incredibly lucky. The thing is though, how long until my luck runs outs? How long until people get bored of this and forget about me? I need that job and I’m petrified I am going to lose it.
Oh iPhone, your cleverness is annoying. I arrive and I am early. I could have taken the bus. The taxi takes a different route than the bus as the cabbie informs me the other route is ‘slammed’. So maybe this was a sensible decision? I’ll never know now but at least I am here in time for therapy. Patient L3 is considering coming back to group. This will be the first time since the last bank holiday blow up. I’ve sent her a message to get her backside into gear and join us. I’ll even save her a seat in the therapy circle next to me. We really are that cliché here.
We begin check in and there is a new patient, blog readers, meet Patient S2. He seems a great addition to the group. He seems a very genuine guy albeit going through hell at the moment. Mind you, we all are so he should fit right in. I check in feeling confused as my head feels like it’s going at 100 miles per hour and I can’t grab hold of a single thought to work out what the problem is. I also feeling guilty for binging yesterday and finally, please welcome shame. Yes, the emotion of the moment is still hanging around. Shame, is not fun, in fact, it’s pretty shit. Having found the right word for the emotion I’m battling, it now seems blaringly obvious that this is what I’ve been struggling with for years. We talk about my shame and Therapist W has a great analogy for me:
My feelings of shame are like a reaction to seeing a grizzly bear – ‘bear’ with me on this one, I know it’s not an everyday occurrence for most people – when you see one, you should lie dormant and the bear will go away. When it comes to shame though, letting it lie dormant means it will never go away. Instead, it’s a delight and hangs over me. So, how do I get it to bugger off? I need to destigmatise me. Am I meant to do this like a bear too? If so, where can I get the manual from, I am not having much luck on google.
As I sit and ‘process’ this – I know, I really am starting to speak like a therapist – another patient is talking. This patient is starting to frustrate me. They don’t seem to have any clarity to what they are saying and they’ve been saying the same thing for weeks now. I know, I am hardly one to talk. I’m on repeat with my emotions too so why is this bothering me? The therapist in the room would say it’s because I have an emotion about what the patient is saying or feelings about the lack of clarity. Me personally, I think it’s that I am bored of listening to it still but hey, what do I know?
Patient L3 is shifting her weight from hip to hip, I can see she’s getting frustrated with the group. Oh bugger, this is my fault, I made her come. Hold up a minute Patient C, no, this is not your responsibility. Patient L3 is an adult, an ill adult but still an adult. Ultimately, it’s her decision to come or not. So, to tie in nicely with trying to grapple with the guilt, it’s an emotion someone else has brought up so we are going to look at it in detail, oh goodie. The problem with guilt is that it’s all consuming and toxic. Guilt is the consequence and the belief is judgemental thinking. Judgemental thinking confirms my rules, rather than making me challenge them and look at them in a different way. It turns out that ABC of CBT psycho-education was really very important. Maybe I need to get back to attending the psycho-education sessions.
Ultimately, it feels like guilt and shame stick like mud, they are hard to shake off so, yet again, time for more work. My check out for this group? Drained!
Lunch is spinach and mushroom pasta and 2 clementines. I sit with Patient S2, Patient N2 and J3. Patient N2 and J3 leave once finished but Patient S2 and I carry on talking. His situation is difficult, like most of the patients, and this is new to him, also like a lot of patients. I don’t think he thought this would ever happen to me. Oh, Patient S2, me too. Although I’ve had decades of battles with my brain, I still never thought this is what it would get to. I hope our chat helps him settle in, I hope it makes him feel he can trust our group. It’s me, so let’s just put it out there, I am also hoping he thinks I am a good person. The people pleasing doesn’t just turn off that simply. It’s going to take some time and elbow grease.
I head to the reception area to wait for 1400 therapy. Since the move room, the room is kept locked until exactly 13:59:59. I am not sure why but sat here writing, I think it may be because of the door handle. Yes, really, if a person wants to kill themselves, it’s possible with string and a door handle. This is a nugget of information I only learnt going through this process.
Group kicks off and its Therapist M2. I’ve only just learnt his proper name which is a bit embarrassing to admit. I talk about my worries of imposter syndrome – when will people find out the ‘real’ me. When will people see that I am stupid, and a bad person? We ‘explore’ this and I get 2 key flashbacks to my school years. One is during my GCSEs when I got a B on my mock so brought down the class average and had to say sorry. Firstly, it was a mock, secondly, why the hell am I ashamed of my GCSE grades at the ripe old age of 31 and thirdly, why the hell am I ashamed of a B! We were a small class so really; the average wasn’t a huge population. I ended up ‘only’ getting a B in that subject in the real exams. I learnt at uni that I respond well to positive feedback, I learnt at school that I shut down completely to negative feedback. It was a private all girls school and some girls responded well to being put down. Not all the teachers did it either but wow, I did not enjoy my 11 years (7-years-old to 18-years-old). The second flashback was during my UCAS interview with the then headmistress. She looked at my choice of universities and then leant across the table and said, “Don’t worry, Teenager C, the school will help you get through clearing”. Clearing in the UK is a system to get into uni if you either haven’t received an offer or your grades drop in the real exams. I was one of the first girls to get all 6 offers and I never felt prouder. No, it wasn’t Oxbridge as the school would have loved we all went to but, little did I know at that time, uni was going to be the best experience I’d ever had. I have lifelong best friends from uni.
So, the next revelation is that I took the job at my currently employer because I’ve always carried the shame of my grades with me, I want to prove the critics wrong. I want to prove I am clever. I don’t want to be ‘that girl’ in people’s year at school who no one liked and they all thought was a bit thick. When I got the job at a big corporation, that’s what was driving me. You could argue that the way I reacted to my feelings of shame have spurred me on and made me who I am. I agree, but let’s just all remember that at the moment, the person who I am is a psychiatric patient. The other thing to point out is that it was not these two incidents alone that made me feel shame. Lots of things contributed to the self-loathing but they were recent flashbacks that I’d buried deep inside myself.
All this sums up to a feeling that I’ve never been good enough. I’m waiting for someone to tap me on the shoulder and say ‘sorry, we’ve made a mistake, we’ve just seen the light and it told us how utterly stupid you are’. Every single day I worry that’s going to happen. I have spent my career waiting for it. I was made redundant at one point and I took it so personally. Even though there were mass redundancies, I thought it validated my fears. It’s why I put my managers and team members on a pedal stool. They MUST all be right and know a deep secret, I am the idiot.
You can probably guess that this led to me breaking down into tears. 10 points for anyone still counting. I’ll try to keep the positive feedback coming given I’ve just stated that it’s how I do best. Therapist M2 points out my body language has reverted to that of a child. I am staring at the floor – this room’s carpet isn’t that questionable – and I’m hunched over trying to fold my body up. It’s true, he’s right, that’s exactly how I feel at the moment. Like a little girl who’s hurting. When topics get difficult, off come the glasses, down go the eyes and shut down goes the brain. Therapist M2 asks me to try over the rest of the group to look up and make eye contact. I try. I spend the rest of the group writing down that maybe, just maybe, I am not stupid. Maybe, just maybe, my friends like me because I am nice, not bad? Maybe.
As the session wraps up, I recall something important. Something that I should maybe bring to another group. When the anorexia kicked off at 11-years-old, I started a scrap book. This book documented all the horrible things other students and teachers has said to me, ever. It also included other ways to mentally torture myself. What this amounts to is a textbook that should be called “A Guide On How To Hate Yourself, For Patient C, by Patient C”. I memorised those pages and added to them regularly. During 1:1 therapy for my bulimia a couple of years ago, I promised I’d get rid of it. I lied. It’s in my study. I know exactly where it is. I feel a bit sick at the realisation I taught myself to hate myself.
After the session, I am drained. I am meant to be walking home. This is the same ‘meant to be’ that was meant to happen as soon as I transitioned to day care. That was a month ago. So, yes, this is going to happen. At least to the ½ way. I reach just past the halfway point and my feet are killing me. I’ve got blisters working their painful magic on my heels. Blisters WHY? Why do I ALWAYS get blisters? I give up given I am currently walking like I have a serious ailment. I get the bus the rest of the way home but that’s 6000 steps more than usual. A literal step in the right direction.
As soon as I walk in the door, the shoes come off and the PJs and dressing gown come on. I grab a snack and hit the study. Can I face write ups? I’m not sure, I feel a bit like crying right now. I feel lonely today and being at home with two fur balls, whilst adored, aren’t always the best company. I start to fixate my worry on something. I am not sure where my fountain pen is so I’m really worrying it’s lost. I don’t use it often, who does these days, but it’s mine and I want to find it. My panic is disproportionate but it’s panic nonetheless.
I am so tired on the sofa. I’m struggling to keep my eyes open. Fighting this bloody illness is like wading through treacle. I am feeling like my body and mind are crumbling.
I head to bed, with brushed teeth, and continue reading Matt Haig’s ‘Reasons to stay alive’. Matt, you’re a genius. You’ve fantastically captured what life fighting this beast is like. I keep reading, later than I should. Oh well, at least I’m managing to absorb a bit of it, I think.