Monday, 13 April 2015
Writing it out loud
The last month of 2014 and the first two of 2015 have bought me to my knees.
I am a heart on my sleeve kind of person, melancholy and introspective and, like a lot of people, I always find Januarys and Februarys tough. They are tough.
I don't talk about my experience of anxiety and depression here because I am a control freak. I like to keep things in their little boxes. This blog is for art and joy and looking forwards. But I want to be whole and in order to be whole the bad must be embraced along with the good. And the bad very often moves us forwards and allows us to grow in ways we never would have anticipated and I'm afraid that if I don't talk about this my voice will continue to fade.
So this is a post dedicated to the blip, the bit-of-a-wobble, the feeling-a-bit-down, the black dog and the blues. And here are some things about me and my experiences of late...
I am incredibly sensitive but recently I feel like everyone else got handed armour to see them through life and that, not only did I not get that armour, I am missing a layer of skin as well. I am a bundle of exposed nerve endings. I cry, like, a lot. Over anything. Something on the news, a line in a book, it doesn't take much to set me off. I cry when I am angry, I cry when I am tired. I cry when I am stressed. I cry when I feel vulnerable and unsafe and also when I am joyful and moved. Sometimes it feels like a superpower, to be so in tune with everything around me. Sometimes I would just like to be able to get through an episode of Paul O'Grady's For The Love Of Dogs.
I suffer from anxiety. I think I always have. Over the last few years it has got quite bad. This is because of big, good life shifts. And some other not so nice stuff too. My brain has wired itself a certain way. Actually- I have wired it a certain way, and now I am trying to unwire it. CBT, mindfulness, meditation. I'm chucking everything at it. Some of it is actually sticking.
Sometimes I can convince myself that not only will everyone I love die horribly but that it's happening right this second. I can get to the weekend and have grieved my loved ones several times over. I will have written countless mental eulogies. It's exhausting. I call them panic attacks but really they are more like grief attacks. Terminology aside, it's pretty much the same thing that's happening- cortisol and adrenaline flood my system and then my body struggles to right itself.
The results of this are long weeks when all I want to do is sleep. I can't seem to finish the page of a book. That's usually when I begin to realise that something is very wrong. Not when I am sat in bath crying and hyperventilating but when I lose the ability to read. When I get in from work I put on my pyjamas and get in to bed. I get around 10 hours sleep a night.
My body has lots of strange reactions to the hormones flooding my system. I get a horrible rash on my legs. I have psoriasis behind my left ear. Despite teenage levels of bed rest, put quite simply, I look like hell. I self isolate. Friends email or text me are you okay? I haven't heard from you in a while...
So yeah. January was a lot of fun this year. But some things have helped and continue to help...
I rewrite the internal monologue that berates me for being in this place again simply because it's not the same place. Or rather, it is but the view is slightly different. I feel that each twist into darkness brings with it the possibility of finding out something new and valuable, then my moods begin to drift upwards and the sun shines again only this time I know something deeply important about myself. Some new layer has been revealed. I worry that I romanticise these journeys into the shadow self because I make it sound indulgent because it's not all golden and we don't all have a flowery vocabulary to hang on this experience and God, some people are really struggling out there and don't have access to my Neals' Yard sponsored therapy centre with its aromatherapy diffusers and Buddha cards. Who the fuck am I to talk about anxiety, I don't even know what it's like to have real problems. Sometimes my internal monologue adopts the tone of a right wing Daily Mail reader. All this aside, these days there is a lot less self judgement and more self noticing. A little more kindness and a lot more humour because, frankly, the shit my brain comes up with? It's so absurd it has to be funny.
I take a long look at my eating habits. Sugar, caffeine and alcohol all exacerbate my symptoms and I am quick to abuse them when I'm feeling delicate. I try to be gentle with myself. I notice that the times I reach for the sugar correspond with the times happily coupled up folks would usually be getting a hug. Coming home from work, in bed on Saturday and Sunday mornings. I am replacing physical affection with food. My instinct is to berate myself for this but instead I try talking to myself as I would a friend, Rach, you have been single for years. Of course you want some affection. If chocolate helps, have the fucking chocolate. But maybe get the really good quality dark stuff so you're not sending your blood sugar levels loopy.
I reach out if I can. And if I can't reach I shuffle closer to the people I need to be around until I can eventually tap their arm. My mum. My doctor. Sometimes reaching isn't a grand gesture but a series of tiny movements. Last year I tried anti depressants for the first time having been offered them six times before. I don't know what to say other than that they worked. Very quickly in fact. I remember lying in bed one morning and thinking I might plant a herb garden and then I actually got up and planted a herb garden. I didn't agonise over where to by soil from, how I was going to get it home, whether I would accidentally kill everything, what I would wear to the garden centre etc etc. I had parsley and thyme and rosemary all summer. Taking anti depressants is a very personal choice for people and, for many many reasons, I didn't stay on them too long. I am very high functioning and I say this without any pride at all because I struggle on even when it injures me further to do so. But I do feel that as long as I am getting out of bed and still finding joy I will be okay. And I know that if I need them there is a doctor on hand to walk me through it.
I want to end this long ramble by saying that I am really okay. During the last month I have felt my heart swell a bit with each new day and this weekend I feel good, actually really good. I am reading proper books again. Big ones with weighty themes. I bake cakes, last weekend I even made hot cross buns. I feel lighter than I have in months. Also, I've just seen the trailer for Pitch Perfect 2. So really, things are looking up.