NB: I wrote this post a few weeks back (it’s now almost July), and am happy to say I am feeling much better than I did here! That’s not to say I’ll never be there again, but right now I’m grateful to be on the up 🙂
Yep. I’m here again. I shouldn’t be surprised to find that I have entered yet another phase of depression considering I have bipolar disorder, and type II at that, but let me tell you – my heart falls through the fucking floor each and every time it becomes so debilitating that I can’t function properly, like it is now. The first time I realised I was depressed this time around was when I started bursting into tears at work over the smallest things. I had been looking forward to seeing my therapist for ages but my financial situation just would not allow it, and sad as it is, I’ve lost all faith in the belief that I will get the care I need on the NHS (hours spent in A&E in 2011 because of active suicidal feelings, only to be dismissed, patronised and discharged with the promise of help in 8 weeks’ time took good care of that). So I tried to remain aware that for a couple of months I’d be using all the tools in my now extensive armoury to stay safe and well. Mindfulness meditation, affirmations, walking, working out, crying, writing, talking, reading, revisiting the notes from all my previous therapy sessions – all this I used to fight the urges to drink too much, eat shit food and withdraw so completely that I didn’t want to leave my room, never mind the house. I was boasting that I was so good at taking care of myself that you could call me a ninja of mindfulness! But there was one thing I hadn’t accepted despite all my efforts to remain self aware – I needed help and I needed to ask for it.
One thing I’ve learned about myself over the years is that I am a very proud person, and it hurts me deeply to ask for help, especially since those times in the past when I have asked – in fact begged – for help and found myself utterly alone in my struggle. Being able to stand on my own two feet and not have to rely on anyone sadly became a great achievement for me. But in the midst of crisis, you have no say in your vulnerability. Bipolar blogger Charlotte puts it perfectly:
“I have seen mental health crisis described as the point where you are no longer able to take care of yourself, where you fear that without immediate support your mind is in danger of snapping. For me, there is an additional element to a crisis, that of being stripped of all pride. Because it’s the point where I can no longer pretend, no longer put up a front or wear a mask of normality. It’s the point at which I no longer have a choice about who gets to see my suffering, and where. It’s all out there, in public, whether I like it or not.”
When I couldn’t control my tearfulness at work, and when I saw the look of pity from my well-meaning colleagues, I felt humiliated. The next phase of my crisis was beginning, and involved a complete and comprehensive loss of self-esteem. A stream of negative thoughts coursed through my mind, compounding my pain: ‘I’m not good enough at my job, it’s my fault for not having seen this coming, I should just be able to think my way out of this, I’m a burden on everyone else…’ These thoughts soon turned into, ‘here I am again, having to take time off work. Will I have to leave? How will I support myself? My life is going nowhere. I’m such a fuck up. Really, what’s the use? No ambition that I apply myself to will ever be fulfilled because at some point, always, I will lose it like this. I do not want to be here. I want to die.’ I felt, as Stephen Fry puts it so well in his documentary about bipolar disorder, like ‘everything that happens is because [I am] a cunt.’ Worry, guilt and shame amplified beyond toleration the pain I was already feeling – I was feeling bad about feeling bad. And before I knew it I was fantasizing about how best to go about the process of doing away with me.
But this time, I noticed something different. This time, I had caught myself in enough time to give myself the proverbial kick up the arse I needed to sit down with my boss and properly, clearly, ask for help. Because my mantra had become that famous line from the movie The Shawshank Redemption, “Get busy living, or get busy dying.” I had been through this enough times now to know that if I did not do whatever it took to get the support I needed, I could look forward to deepening depression, public panic attacks involving hyperventilation and heart palpitations and strong urges to harm myself. I would reach the point where all my coping strategies and therapeutic techniques would fail until it was too late, because my behaviour would have led to irreversible damage to the life I’d rebuilt for myself yet again, for what feels like the dozenth time. And I would have no choice but to start the cycle all over again – or else.
The turning point was not only my newfound ability to ask for help, but the invaluable and unconditional support from a few special people around me. My boss told me that she was not helping me out because I work for her, but because I have people around me who care about me and who want to see me get better. She told me that I am a strong, capable, confident young woman with steadfast ambition who is fantastic at her job and I should not be allowed to waste that. Then she gave me the practical support I needed so I could get to my therapist, and told me with a smile to fuck off out of the office until I felt better. In the space of about fifteen minutes, she took away my reasons for feeling guilty, worried, ashamed and incapable for being in crisis. And I have been home now for just a few days, which I have spent focusing fully on the issues that I know have contributed to this particular phase of depression. I know it won’t be long until I get back to my usual routine.
But you see, I’m one of the lucky ones. I am taking no medication, am able to hold down a job with the right support and manage my own care without having to deal with the added pain of others making important decisions about my treatment. I realise that with each time I’m made to accept a another low phase, I do so with just a little bit more experience and knowledge of how best to see it coming and to work through it. The first time I was here, at the age of thirteen, I tried to kill myself by overdosing on paracetamol and ended up in hospital for a week. Throughout the years I have walked out of jobs, racked up a shitload of debt, fucked up my personal relationships, succumbed to self-imprisonment that held me in my bed for days on end and panic attacks so severe that they made me think I was going to die. But through all of that, bit by tiny little bit I began learning. I began practicing. I worked my arse off in therapy, facing scary shit I really did not want to deal with. I’m pretty sure I’ll be back to my usual trouble-making self in a matter of days, and for that I will be proud, and deeply grateful to those who have helped me pull through.