From Humans of New York
From Humans of New York
A must read. For everyone. Mentally ill or not.
One of the most difficult aspects of living in the UK is the bizarre mix of box-ticking politeness with genuine emotional reserve.
In other words, while almost everyone will ask, ‘how are you?’, the only acceptable answer is ‘fine thank you, how are you?’
Perhaps we should just invert the meaning of ‘fine’?
On a black dog day, this presents a problem. Either you break social convention and cause widespread panic:
‘Oh, the usual mix of abject misery and thoughts of self-harm, how about you?‘
Or, you lie.
In the short term, lying seems like the obvious option. For one thing, it creates less paperwork. I once made the mistake of being brutally honest with a colleague about my desires to end my life. Within a few hours I was being invited (that’s the British for ‘ordered’) to have a chat with both human resources and occupational health…
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A couple of weeks ago some rare opportunities came up for me to be involved in. I’ve been declining many invitations for some time now, but because these opportunities were rare, I grabbed life by the horns and took the opportunity to gain some new experiences. I enjoyed every minute of those experiences, but I paid for it quite severely with my energy levels last week.
I was really run down. It was similar to where I was last autumn — completely exhausted, unable to do much of anything other than sleep, but all that sleep was restless and didn’t really help relieve my fatigue. I took some annual leave, and a sick day, in order to get through the week. When I was in work I was told they were concerned about my attendance record. Of course, the remark about my attendance record has left me completely anxious and afraid to call in sick if I need to. Sigh.
I reiterated that I am definitely improving. A lot of people have noticed my increased cognitive abilities and physical energy, but I’m still going to have some off days. I put my hand up and said I had definitely over done it, hence taking additional annual leave (though technically I should’ve taken sick leave) and that I am still learning and adjusting to this new ‘lifestyle’ of having to manage my social life down to the hour.
I’m now feeling like I have to drag myself into work no matter what which will potentially make me even more ill again, requiring more long-term time off. I’d rather not get back to that point. I am enjoying work again, enjoying socialising when I can, being able to read a book without re-reading the same page a dozen times and still not understand what I’ve read. I wish I was one of those lucky people who rarely gets ill and therefore rarely has a day off sick. Unfortunately this has never been me, and I have to get past the guilt that goes with the fact that I am get ill more often than many.
But this morning, well, this morning I woke up with a terrible sore throat and a stuffed up nose. The glands in my throat are visibly swollen, and it hurts to swallow. It was actually a massive relief to wake up with these physical symptoms that anyone can relate to. Everyone has had a sore throat and stuffed up nose. They know those symptoms. They know the pain a bad sore throat may cause. And they can relate to the fatigue this physical illness can cause.
When you tell someone you are unwell with fatigue, and really can’t function because of it, they are likely to think you’re just a bit tired and should just suck it up and get on with it like everyone else. I get it. I totally understand the inability to truly relate to someone who is experiencing something you have no experience with, and the concept of something like fatigue being completely disabling seems impossible unless it’s coupled with a serious illness or plainly visible physical disability.
Some time ago I was suffering very severe migraine headaches. These were so debilitating that on a few occasions I had to be taken to A&E and given morphine injections to help ease some of the discomfort. Obviously in this condition I was unfit to work. At the time I had a line manager who never suffered headaches and could not relate, and didn’t try to. This same line manager often suffered debilitating menstrual cramps, something I never suffered, but had seen members of my family suffer. While I couldn’t relate physically, I could be empathetic to her physical discomfort. Unfortunately she couldn’t do the same to me and told me flat out that she felt I was making up my symptoms as she’d never heard of someone having so many headaches of such an extreme nature.
So this morning, sniffling and having trouble swallowing, I’m actually grateful for my ‘normal’ physical symptoms. People are less likely to think I am faking illness and being lazy. It might also be a partial explanation to the complete fatigue I had last week though I know my hectic (tongue in cheek, there) social life is mostly to blame.
So thank you, immune system, for giving me these physical symptoms and making me feel less guilty about being ill. If only my normal illness were so relatable.
Oops! Went a bit quiet there!
I’d been feeling so great the last couple of weeks that I did that thing where you forget that the reason you were feeling so good was because you were practising new habits to get you back on your feet. I’d been sticking to my sleep regime, using my SAD light, eating big plates of veg, getting exercise… all those things I mentioned in my last post about making changes.
These new habits hadn’t been practised long enough for them to become semi-automated habits, and a small change in my current routine really muddled them up. I also think that in some way, I had stored up a bit of energy, used it, felt OK, so kept using it without remembering to top it up essentially leading to me bankrupting that energy store.
Last week I had an absolutely amazing few days of participating in some rare opportunities and social events. I enjoyed every minute I spent doing these things. A couple of them left me with such a natural high that I think I survived on that for a good 48 hours. It made me realise that I need more of these types of events in my life; that natural high was totally addicting*. However, I don’t need three such events in three consecutive days. I am really paying for it now.
I’ve been completely wiped out this week. The fatigue has required me to take additional days off of work that I hadn’t planned to which of course has made me feel a bit stressed out since I’m missing work, work will be piling up, and I’m trying to push myself and not take the easy route.
Creating, and keeping, new habits is incredibly difficult. I guess what’s helping me is that I know that if I get back to the habits I started, I’ll get back to where I was a couple weeks ago and can build up to better levels of energy again. And eventually those habits will not need conscious upkeep, they’ll just be a part of my normal routine and I won’t have to think about it.
* I am not about to take up extreme sports. That’s a different natural high that I’m not particularly interested at my age!
Image from the New York Times article Can You Become a Creature of New Habits?
I think one of the harder things for people on the outside looking into the life of the depressive is the fact that most depressives know they need to make some changes/take action if they’ve any hope of improving. As I touched on in my last post, depression is an illness of contradictions. I know I need to set a regular bed time and wake up time, and to eat healthily, and get some exercise, and socialise. But at the same time, your entire being fights doing these things.
And then one day you find you’re ready to tackle the beast that is depression, and make the changes you need. At least that’s been my experience.
I don’t know any depressive that likes wallowing in their depression, unable to escape their own thoughts, and hiding themselves away from life itself. But depression has these very weird ability to hold you there until you’re physically and mentally ready to move ahead. For those of us who are impatient, and like to be in control of things, it doesn’t help when you can’t make things happen as and when you want them to.
I’ve implemented a lot of small things into my daily routine, and together I think they are helping. I’ve noticed improved mood and energy, and so have friends.
I got my SAD lamp out and use it every single day for several hours a day as I find it works better than the short bursts suggested by the manufacturer.
I go to bed and get up roughly the same time. Every day. Including weekends.
I gave up caffeine for the most part. I wouldn’t say I was ever someone addicted to caffeine, and I actually never felt it made any difference to my alertness, but I drank it via a few cups of tea and coffee every day. And you know, I don’t know if it’s because I’ve never been a caffeine addict, but I’ve not actually had any caffeine withdrawal symptoms. (And I’ve been surprised, and slightly saddened, at how many of my favourite independent cafés don’t actually serve decaffeinated coffee.)
I’ve cut back on alcohol. I’ve never been a big drinker, but I might have a few glasses during the week. I don’t miss it at all. And it makes me a really cheap date.
I spend a lot of time during evenings/weekends doing things for me – hobbies, cooking from scratch, whatever I want really.
There are still a number of areas I need to improve on, but it’s dangerous territory right now. It’s quite easy to overdo it when I’m feeling good so I have to be careful. I want to add in more social activities and exercise for a start, but I need to add these in slowly. I also want to come off of my medications as I think some of the problems I have with fatigue are partially related to medication.
Things are moving forward, and the setbacks are less and less serious when they happen, so I’m pretty pleased with my progress!
Change image from Nana B Gyei.
Depression and anxiety do things to your body and mind you didn’t think possible since it’s not a visible illness. You can’t concentrate, you’re restless and exhausted at the same time, you can’t sleep, but you can’t be awake. It’s an illness full of contradictions. This is my experience — I become physically and mentally fatigued and really struggle to function at all. Absolutely everything in my life suffers for it — work, relationships, hobbies, house keeping, personal hygiene, eating healthily, exercise. Did I miss anything?
My mental health is recovering well. Thoughts are buzzing around my head. And not the ‘Why me? Why am I not good enough? Why can’t I just get on with it? Why do I struggle with life events every single one of us experiences? What makes me so ‘special’?’ No, these are energetic thoughts. Thoughts of what I want to accomplish at home and work.
However, my physical fatigue is slow to lift. One day I’m great. I have the energy to go out and do something casual with friends for hours on end. It all feels fine and manageable while in the moment. However the next day or two, I feel totally fatigued. I often worry that I may actually have ME/CFS. ME/CFS really is a disease I wouldn’t wish on anyone. I see friends and acquaintances with it and the suffering they experience. They lead little to no life at all and I feel for them. And I am frightened that this will be me.
I’m trying to find my limits with regards to energy. It’s not the physical exertion of exercise as it is maintaining a constant level of being ‘with it’ at work or out with friends. I have to quit thinking ‘well, I feel OK actually, so yeah, let’s go for another drink’ or ‘Yeah, I’ll stay on at work another hour then do errands afterwards’. It just isn’t working for me right now to push myself that little bit further. I pay for it the next day or two. I miss out on opportunities that I actually really wanted to take part in because I pushed myself that little bit too much the day before.
It’s not really any way to live by missing out on the things I want to do any more than it is to be completely held hostage by depression and anxiety.
Recovery image from ??? – found via Pinterest, but link back to original.
I love the internet. I have a love/hate relationship with it. And the hate side of it comes from exactly this type of thing. I have to remind myself often that what people post online, or show in real life, is only one small piece of their life, and because I don’t have the house, dog and kid, doesn’t mean that I’ve failed.
From Humans of New York.
This week has been a funny one. It’s not quite over yet but I’ve had some emotions that have made it feel like one of those kiddie roller coasters where there are a lot of little humps to go over; you never really dip down too low, nor do you get to high. That almost makes it sound like it’s normal, but it’s the frequency of those little humps that’s the problem; you never really get settled before the next one tosses you in another direction. Don’t get me wrong, it is far better than the high highs and low lows of the scarier variety of roller coaster.
I’ve been honest with my employers about the state of my fatigue. It’s hard to be that honest when you feel your job might be on the line. In reality I know it’s not really on the line, but there’s always the bit of fear that it might be. I’ve tried to be clear that it’s not what’s on my plate at work that’s the struggle, nor is it my abilities to utilise my brain usefully, but physical exertion. They do understand, and are very supportive. I’m very lucky to have this piece of mind.
Today I forced myself out of bed shortly after my alarm went off. (Even before the first snooze went off!) I managed to do the normal things you’d expect to do on a morning — eat, shower, get dressed. I’ve even managed to put shoes on instead of slippers. This is progress! From the outside it probably seems ridiculous that these small things are progress, but they are.
And I hope tomorrow, and the next day, and the one after that, are easier than this morning. I want to enjoy the little ups and downs in life, and be prepared for them.
Roller coaster image from Coaster Gallery
In case it wasn’t clear, I decided to take up blogging about my depression and anxiety to help in my recovery as I realised that this is something I used to do a lot of back in the days of LiveJournal, and while it didn’t stop me from having relapses, it definitely helped me recover faster and gain a better perspective on things.
I’m also blogging in the hopes that people, whether fellow sufferers or not, will learn about the daily, weekly, and monthly struggles someone like me goes through, and how much we wish we didn’t have to go through these struggles.
When I made this spur of the moment decision I hadn’t realised there was a community doing the same thing. So, I’m joining that community as much for the community as myself. It would be great if more people who support friends/family with mental health would share their challenges and struggles. Care to join us and share your story?
“I pledge my commitment to the Blog for Mental Health 2014 Project. I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others. By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health. I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.”
Yesterday I had felt enough was enough. I felt like I was constantly taking the easy route and not pushing myself to take up new (yet not new) habits.
I wanted this morning to be one where I woke up feeling refreshed and functional, where I could manage the basics of having a shower, getting dressed and fed, and getting to work. All things I used to manage in the not too distant past. (Well the feeling refreshed thing has often been a struggle truth be told.) Yesterday I planned my evening so I could do what needed doing, essentially eating and packing my bag for work, so I could get a good rest and start back on this road to energy recovery. I checked my alarms, read for a few minutes then put out the light.
Unfortunately sleep only came in restless fits. My alarm went off and I couldn’t believe it was time to get up already. I got up, stumbled around and just felt flat. I was so frustrated that all my efforts to get a good rest failed.
I tried to do some work, but only became more and more frustrated with the exhaustion. As I said yesterday, the frustration is down to the depressive mood lifting and the brain beginning to function almost normally, but having no energy. Once I’ve done the basics in the morning — bathing, getting dressed, and eating — I feel like I’ve used up most of the energy I had regained over night. My head is swarming with ideas and activities that I want to implement personally and professionally but the lack of energy is not allowing it to happen.
Today that frustration reared its ugly head in the form of tears. I actually began crying at work out of frustration. I don’t cry at work! I don’t do much crying, even when crying is called for. This was so out of the ordinary that it startled me. It has also woken me up to the fact that I am still recovering, and these changes can’t happen overnight despite how desperately I want them to.
The challenge with this is even though I recognise it, and some friends/colleagues are sympathetic, I worry about The Others. The Others being those who don’t know my mental health status, or care, and their opinion of me personally and professionally.
Two steps forward, one step back…