This Is Who I Am.

Because We're All A Little Bit Different.

Anonymous #1

There must have been some sort of mistake. I wasn’t the mad one in the family; no, in a family where not having had a nervous breakdown was rare, I was the one who’d dodged the genetic bullet. I was the sensible one, the grounded one, the balanced one, the one who felt secure in my parents’ love, in the knowledge that I had (and have) a vast number of wonderful friends, that I am lucky enough to have met the person I am going to marry. I mean, I had managed to make it through the academic rigours and emotional challenges of a degree at a university famed (among people who go there, at least) for precipitating or exacerbating mental health problems among its students, to the extent that few escaped their undergrad years without some sort of mental scarring; I’d come out with a very good degree and only minor psychic damage. There must have been some sort of mistake.

So why was I sitting at my desk one perfectly ordinary Friday afternoon, unable to see my computer screen through the tears which just would not stopwelling up, no matter how harshly I wiped my eyes?

A wobble. That’s all it was. I’d be fine to go in the next Monday, despite what my mother had to say on the matter. She’d had her own nervous breakdown a few years ago, and hers was way worse than what I was going through (and what was that, anyway?). I was fine. I couldn’t go to the doctor, because I’d never got round to registering with my local GP in the four years I’d been in my flat. I’d be alright.

I wasn’t alright.

It was so unfair.

I asked mum, once, afterwards, what illnesses run in her side of the family. Leading cause of death other than old age for her ancestors is suicide, it turns out. I’d always known that – always known, for example, that I was directly descended from a Victorian woman famous locally for a very public failed suicide attempt – but as I started to think about what that really, really meant, and how I fitted the pattern of ‘academic overachiever who cracks up’, I found a kind of satisfaction in it. An ancestral link.

I was never suicidal, and for that I am incredibly thankful, though it meant I never had any counselling on the NHS. I totally understand and have full sympathy with the concept of triage – that scarce public resources must go to those who truly, desperately need them, rather than non-suicidal people like me, with strong and supportive friends and family, who aren’t that bad, really, in the scheme of things. (I ended up getting counselling via other means a couple of years later, for which I am grateful.)

Pills, though? Anti-depressants? No, I didn’t need those. Except I did. And still do. I went on them, came off them (without my doctor’s supervision; I just started taking pills less frequently than every day, then in smaller doses; the brain-zaps were almost fun, in a vertigo-inducing kind of way). I relapsed, badly. A friend on Twitter who I’ve never ‘met’ told me a lovely phrase: “Recovery is a journey, not a destination.” It helped. I went back on the pills.

The nightmares – of my former job, my former boss, a flawed and chaotic but endearing man, utterly unsuited for managing people, who ended up a bully through bad luck rather than true intent, although the consequences were much the same (intent is not, after all, magic) – still occasionally leave me discombobulated for a day here and there, but they’re far less frequent now. Sleep is once again a relief, not a terror. I’m lucky. I’m lucky.

I made it through, I think, I hope, more or less. Now life has new stresses, but I feel better equipped to deal with them. Less brittle. I’ve cracked up along my internal faultlines once; maybe it’ll happen again, in the same places, or in some new corner of my psyche, but at least I know the warning signs now.

My breakdown changed me irrevocably. Made me more empathetic, more attentive to the needs of others, to my own needs. And I can say honestly that I am – in many ways – glad it happened to me. I got through it thanks largely to my privileges. I’m lucky. I’m lucky. I’m lucky.

All my love to those going through what I did. No clichés, no “it gets better” utopic teleology. But there are people you can talk to. Online, in person, strangers, friends. Talk, talk, talk.

Breakdowns can happen to anyone. Even those who think they’re past the danger zone. You are not “broken”. You are not “damaged goods”. You are wonderful, and I believe in you.

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Mindwalking, by Violetta

How I cope with my depression has changed over the last few years. I used to walk it off, go to the gym, do housework (my flat never looked as squeaky clean as it did when I was depressed or stressed). It worked, it got my blood pumping, got those endorphins going and, to me, was almost a form of meditation. Either that, or I’d hop on a bus and go somewhere peaceful, or even just go on a bus ride, with music in my ears, looking out at the rather beautiful scenery we have here where I live. I’d walk along a beach, settle down and read a book on the sand, or at a beachside cafe, watching people and just try to get away from MYSELF for a while. Because that’s the problem usually, isn’t it? The self. You can’t ever fully get away from that.

Now, that has had to change. Kind of. I have a physical illness which doesn’t allow me to walk for miles, to hop onto a bus and escape whenever I feel like it. So, as such, there is not much of an outlet for my frustration. But my mind won’t let it go that easily. My best way of meditating isn’t to lie back with a relaxing voice telling me to imagine I’m riding on a friendly dolphin, etc. (though I do love guided meditations also). It’s mindless action.

I almost feel as though there’s no choice for me but to be physically active. Without thinking, usually at night, because I’m a night person, I will suddenly decide that NOW is the time to paint those closet doors, the ones I’ve been putting off for months because they’re so bloody awkward and it makes my arms ache. And so I’ll do it. For hours, because I’m not the kind of person to do half a job. And this mindless action will allow my mind to wander where it will, somehow better than if I were in bed focussing on what was troubling me. There have been studies to show that doing things in this way actually help you with puzzle-solving, so maybe that’s why I do it. Sometimes you can’t see for looking, as my parents used to say, only this is looking inside yourself, instead of for the lost keys you put down somewhere.

And so yes, that helps. But I now know there’s a payback for it, physically. I will be in bed for at least two days after a little stunt like that, and then it’s up to me to figure out if it was worth it or not. It usually is, if it gives me the headspace I needed at that time. Everything is a compromise, physically or mentally, at the moment.

In the meantime, I’m trying to teach myself ways of doing that whilst keeping still. Reading is the best, though I can manage this only for a certain amount of time. It’s always been a way for me to escape into another world. Another way is computer games, which I’ll sometimes become slightly obsessed with and dream about, but at least it’s a change from thinking/dreaming about whichever emotional web your mind has you trapped in this time. Tried and tested games like solitaire are pretty good, ones where you don’t have to think too hard.

I suppose what all this leads to is, I DISTRACT myself from it. It’s never gone, never, but I can ignore it in certain ways, which then allow another part of my mind the freedom to wander away from it, even for a while. Mindwalking seems like a good name for it. I mindwalk. And that name just sprang up as I was concentrating on how to end this piece of writing. See what I mean?

Violetta tweets at @VioletNights.

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Reading While Depressed, by Dacey

When I’m particularly depressed, the reading I do is a special type of reading. For now, I’ll call it “reading while depressed.” Technically speaking, you could make the point that it’s the only type I know: I am always depressed to some degree. However, it’s distressing when I can no longer read in the way I usually can. I’m going to try to set out some of the differences here.

Usually, fiction and nonfiction can take you to experience new things and, sometimes, entire new worlds. Even when a book doesn’t have that impact a reader can still take from it new ideas or inspiration to look at a subject from a different point of view.

Inspiration. It’s a loaded word. It’s one I occasionally find painful to think about because it brings to mind vivid memories of what being inspired felt like before I became as mentally ill as I am now. The ability to be inspired is definitely an incredibly helpful part of finding joy in reading. The thing is that depression sometimes doesn’t let me feel that joy. It turns it into an impossible and distant goal instead. I can’t say for sure why this happens but it does feel like it’s connected to a lack of emotional energy.

Sometimes, I lack the emotional energy to do much of anything at all. Whatever routine activity comes to your mind when you think about that, I can say with certainty that, yes, I struggle even with that. It’s not easy. Some of the effects these low points of depression have are devastating – and this is the category the loss of reading ability is in, at least for me. Even though it’s a temporary loss, it hurts a lot. It closes down the hidden paths that can lead me to new places.

This post is by Coffee Zombie (Dacey), who blogs here. You can find the original post here.

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Try to imagine being in paradise, your conscious carried, dominated by elation as the moments of pure happiness capture you. Yet all the while the negativity stabs at the back of your mind as deep down you know too well where all the joy leads. Prolonging your stay in paradise only procrastinates your descent into the darker depths of despair, and the awareness of what is to come amplifies further. Even the happiness is overshadowed, but you try to keep going and fuck everything.

You’re savouring those moments when it comes, a sharp shock as it all fades, you try to grasp it back but it’s gone now. You’ve no control, you’re on your own, the pain pursued swiftly by guilt, loathing, anger, all the clichés. They’re not clichés anymore. You’d rather not be with yourself but you’d sooner be alone with the self-pity than drag another helplessly into your hell. You can’t be with anyone, you can’t let anyone into this, as you hide from all those around you. They mustn’t see, they mustn’t know.

Recovery comes. And you’re free. Are you free? You’re fleetingly free when that pain goes. It’s…it’s relief, complete relief and it’s complete release. For those all too short, sweet moments when your mind allows yourself to forget what’s to come again.

That’s it. From one extreme to the other.

They can only see one. You can’t help but see both.

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