Hmm. So it would seem that I haven’t updated my blog since January. It is now the 1st of May, and I can only apologise for my absence. In my defence, I did forewarn any potential readers that my ability to keep up with any blog or diary has always been dismal at best. Also in my defence, a surprising amount has happened in the time between this blog post and the last. Some of it good, some of it bad, some of it in-between, I guess. But I have missed you, and writing here, very much. I’m looking forward to finally filling you in. So as I’ve got quite a bit to get through, I’m going to write two posts. If I tried to combine the two, you may well have fallen asleep. This first one’s pretty lengthy as it is. But, if anyone does take the time to read it, thank you. It means a lot. As you may know, I’ve had my dealings with mental illness in the past. Up until last year, my experience with it was limited solely to depression. As of January, however, I can now add anxiety to the list. Anxiety is nothing to be sniffed at, by the way. Since my last blog post, I’ve been through an array of different treatments. There was Citalopram. The ‘Why Didn’t I Learn My Lesson The First Time I Tried This’ drug. Let’s just say I stopped taking them for depression before because they made me ill. This time around, I was on it for a month and went through a quite a few blood tests, visits to the doctors, and all-day-long nausea before I finally made the link between my symptoms and the drug. Bye bye, Citalopram. I was put on Sertraline next, which seemed like a miracle cure for a couple of weeks, until it made me even more anxious than before, which was impressive, I suppose. After a month, I came off of that, too. Then there was Fluoxetine. I lasted about two weeks with those, until, after yet another water-soaked pyjama top, I had to lament that I just wasn’t getting used to taking capsules. It was a pill too big for me to swallow, literally. Large pills + anxious person with a history of tablet-struggling = not a happy match. Oh well. It’s okay though. I wanted to start weaning myself off of them anyway. Ideally, I don’t want to be entirely dependant on a pill. Unless I really do find one that is safe, and works consistent wonders for me and my moods. Besides, I’ve recently started seeing a counsellor, and she’s every bit as kind, lovely, funny and genuinely caring as I could have ever hoped for. Surprisingly, it really does help sometimes to talk about the problem, and to have someone listen. Anyway, having now experienced both anxiety and depression, I can’t help but find it strange that the two are often paired together when, for me at least, they couldn’t have felt more different. I’m not claiming to be the voice of mental health (or mental illness, however you want to see it). I don’t speak on behalf of everyone out there who’s ever suffered with any form of it, and I don’t pretend to understand what some other people have had, or are still having, to fight through. But for my own part, though it’s hard to summarise briefly, I would say the word ‘numbness’ would come pretty close. As such, it would always kind of annoy me when people, even my CBT counsellor at the time, would ask me how I was feeling. I wasn’t feeling. That was the problem. My body was numb and the world was empty. Depression wasn’t a feeling that came and went. It was a void of feeling, of emotion, of colour, and sound, except for a little voice deep inside that said – this is it. It won’t get any better. Your life will never make sense. Then, earlier this year as I mentioned before, I got a nice face-full of anxiety. Right in the kisser. I say ‘earlier this year’ as if it’s in the past now, when, in truth, I was taking anxiety pills up until four nights ago when, after getting another T-shirt soaked in water before bed, I said enough was enough. So I’m four-days-tablet-free. Anywho, to briefly summarise my experience with anxiety, though the word itself does justice to the feeling pretty darn well, I’d probably say ‘mania’. Having finally built up the courage to talk to my friends about what’s been going on in my head, I recently tried explaining what anxiety feels like to them. The closest I could get to an explanation was by getting them to imagine the feeling before you go into an exam. You know the one. You’re worried about what’s to come, what’s going to be on the page, whether they’re going to be the questions you’ve studied for, whether you’re going to remember anything that you revised. You’re worried about what’s past and whether you’ve studied enough, whether you should have gone to bed earlier, whether you should have read another book on the subject before now. You’re worried about the present, checking yourself repeatedly to make sure you have all the right equipment, that your phone’s turned off, maybe even repeating things that you’ve memorised aloud again and again and again. Now imagine having that feeling, that all encompassing feeling which takes over your ability to think calmly, to breathe naturally, to behave rationally. Except now, you don’t have something sensible to worry about. You’re not worrying about anything in particular. You’re worrying about everything. I remember depression as being a ‘nothing’, an emptiness. Anxiety, conversely, was like everything all at once. While depression left things bare, anxiety made everything too loud, too fast, too close. Too much. It’s funny. I’ve often heard it said that attitude or ‘state of mind’ can be the difference between surviving an illness, and not. That a positive mind can sometimes be the best armour a patient can have in the fight to stay alive. But what do you do when the illness is in your mind? What do you do when your mind isn’t supporting you, but is the thing that’s making you ill? When it isn’t working with you, but against you? What do you do when your mind is telling you to be afraid of leaving the house? Or that something terrible, unspeakable will happen if you don’t repeat exactly what you just said, or did, but this time, do it the right way, or think the right thought as you do it? If you’re thinking that you wouldn’t let it get this far, that you’d be able to control your mind enough for it not to wander down a million paths of crazy – stop. Your mind is the thing that is working against you here, not your body. You no longer have the luxury of reasoning with yourself. Rationality is out of the window. It’s funny, really, because if at any point I had genuinely tried to calm myself down enough to stop and ask exactly why I was getting so worked up, what exactly I was so afraid of, I’d probably have realised that I didn’t have a logical answer. Maybe then I’d have realised how well the mind can warp your perceptions of decisions, of life, of the world. And I think what often scares me most about it is that, more often than not, there’s no rhyme or reason to it. No cause and effect. No ‘you twisted your leg this way, and your bone snapped as a result’. There’s no beginning to it, no reason why it started, rarely anything that brought it on at all. You simply have it. You have it, and you have to deal with the fact that, while it may improve considerably, it may always remain with you. The elephant in the room that will never be noticed by anyone but you. The unreliable tenant in your mind who can never be evicted, only placated, until one day when perhaps you ask too much of them. Maybe to keep the noise down, or for the rent in advance. And the tenant you had all but forgotten about becomes the caged animal again, and you remember just how loudly it can roar. I’d have remembered just how scary it is that the mind can turn on itself so easily. I can, however, think of one thing both anxiety and depression had in common for me – if one more person told me to ‘just think positive’, I would have had some really positive thoughts about smashing my head against the nearest wall. Would you tell a person with a broken leg to walk on it? Would you tell someone with any other illness to cure themselves? It’s very hard to explain what having any form of mental illness is like to a person who’s never had it. But, I suppose it would be hard to explain any illness, body or mind, to a person who has never had it. I will say that the general attitude towards any other illness seems to differ greatly from the general attitude towards mental illness. There seems to be such a negative stigma surrounding mental illness. If someone was to say that a friend of theirs is in hospital or having treatment to recover from an illness, people would ask about the illness, say they must be having such a hard time. They show sympathy. Now change ‘hospital’ to ‘mental clinic’, and the word ‘treatment’ to ‘therapy’. I’ve witnessed a few reactions to the changes, myself. There’s usually a few shocked facial expressions, a few ‘oh dear’s’, and ‘oh really’s?’. Words like ‘bonkers’ get thrown around a lot. ‘Crackers’. ‘Cuckoo’. ‘Finally cracked’. ‘Lost their marbles’. ‘Crazy’. It seems to be almost imbedded in us to think that way, for that to be our first response. Often we forget that someone with a mental illness is fighting, too, and trying to win their own, often invisible, battle. It’s still an illness. They are still suffering. They still need to fight, recover, and rebuild. I know they’re not ‘the same’. It would be hard to ever fit feeling compelled to redo daily activities on the same scale as physical pain. Nor am I saying that everyone reacts in the same, judgemental way. I have seen firsthand how truly wonderful, and incredibly kind, people can be when they hear about whatever it is that you’re going through. I also know that there are a great many people out there who wouldn’t even think of separating mental illness from any other. Maybe everyone’s a lunatic in somebody’s eyes. Everyone’s a little crazy. And, in the words of one of my favourite quotes – ‘Everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.’ Well, it’s gone midnight now. But I started this post on the 1st of May. So I’m posting it as the 1st of May. Until next time. Thanks for listening.