Weather-proofing

I have heard many wise and wonderful people speak of moods in terms of ‘weather’.

Some describe the human psychological experience as being like life beneath a changeable sky, with conditions that come and go, quite beyond our control. They suggest that the only thing we can usefully do under the circumstances is to cultivate an attitude of acceptance.

I like this way of seeing things and find it helpful. It encourages me to remember that things pass – whether moods or clouds – and it isn’t my job to ‘make’ them; in fact their passing isn’t really my business at all.

It also reminds me that I, and many of those I love, have lived through some pretty fierce personal weather over the years and survived. So if we sit tight when things get rough and wait patiently, probably all will be well.

And, in my life to date, that’s generally how things have played out. Sometimes there’s been damage to be repaired – roof tiles to replace, that kind of thing – but on balance it’s been ok. Each time I’ve emerged alive, hopeful and more or less in one piece. Life has gone on. And each time I’ve been so very glad that it has.

However, when in the midst of the fiercest storms – hailstones big as my fist pounding down relentlessly – I often find those wise and wonderful voices hard to hear. If I’m really honest, I’m not totally convinced that even if they shouted through megaphones from their safe, dry houses across the valley, I’d be able to recognise what they were saying, or believe them if I did. Sometimes it’s suddenly as though we’re not even speaking the same language. Things that once seemed encouraging and wise can now seem completely unintelligible. Worse, they can feel alienating, accusatory, frightening. I find myself flailing about amidst the words, failing to find the comfort I know they’re supposed to contain.

So I find myself wondering about those times when words are just too difficult to hear. Wondering how we could create places of shelter for ourselves and those we love, beyond language? What would they look like, these shelters? How would we find our way to them?

If it were down to me, I’d suggest they contain copious amounts of hot, sweet tea and soft things to hide in. I’d wish them to be free from judgement and full of patient, loving kindness. I’d hope to find interesting distractions, opportunities to contribute (no matter how broken one felt) and reminders that probably none of it really matters in the grand scheme of things.  Not in a desperate, it’s-all-over kind of a way, but in a huge-sigh-of-relief kind of a way.

And I’d want to put up signposts everywhere. Unremarkable, everyday signposts dotted liberally about the landscape. So that these places were easy to find and nobody need think it was a big deal to go and sit in one for a little while.

It seems to me that we all get lost in wild weather sometimes. For some the storms are more extreme and destructive than others, but no matter what we experience or to what extent, I’d suggest that we all need safe places to hide. Just now and again.

Newport sky

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gratitude

Amidst the bleakness of recent days, I am deeply grateful for many things: in particular my friends, near and far, who have loved me throughout.

So to those who:

  • rang me offering simply to come and ‘be’, without needing to talk
  • tackled the huge pile of washing up
  • offered to take my kids wherever they needed to go whilst I wasn’t allowed to drive
  • put up with every attempt I made to burn bridges and stuck by me anyway
  • texted to see if they could help with anything, anytime
  • offered to come to appointments for moral support
  • told me about their day and treated me as normal rather than crazy
  • offered to send round food when they heard I was struggling to eat anything
  • left a gift on the doorstep but didn’t ring the bell in case I was too scared to answer
  • listened to what I was struggling to say, rather than telling me they knew it all already
  • gave me a warm smile or a generous hug
  • asked me to help them understand, when my illness was alien and unfathomable to them
  • reached out in solidarity with stories of their own
  • let me talk, and cry, and talk some more
  • helped to rearrange things and accommodate all manner of practical inconveniences
  • reminded me of what I love most in life
  • found the energy to send love and kindness when they were fighting battles of their own
  • didn’t let my fear, my paranoia, my inconsistency or my anger push them away and instead saw the health in me, even when I couldn’t,

I want to say thank you.
You are precious beyond words.

Shame

So, down in the pit, there’s been a bit of sleep. A few hours of respite from nauseating terror. And whatever it is that’s been wandering around my head shouting abuse all week seems to have had its mouth sellotaped over, for now at least. I suspect it’ll need re-taping every few hours, but all in all, things are looking promising.

This means that I can start climbing back up and out again.

I’ve read so many self-help books I should be able to do this stuff in my sleep. Take charge, be brave, act, accept responsibility…. I know the drill, so let’s do this thing.

I’m putting one foot in front of the other.

  • Clothes on. Check.
  • Cup of tea made. Check.
  • Little bit of thoughtfulness. Check.
  • Washing in machine. Check.
  • Whole sentence completed. Check.

Yes. It’s going well. I’m on the ladder and I’m climbing. At this rate, I’ll be back to normal in no time. I’ll be doing all the things I need to do, being sociable, able to work…

That’s when I remember.

I remember that, whilst ill, I got angry. I was impulsive. I said things that weren’t helpful. I did things, when I should have sat on my hands and waited. I believed the contents of my head, not realising that pre-sellotape-guy had been whispering toxic nothings in my ear for weeks without me noticing. The bastard.

With the remembering comes shame. Suffocating, paralysing shame, cascading down the ladder towards me as I climb. It floods my eyes until I can see nothing else. Each rung becomes treacherous and slippery with it.

I’m holding on tight. Telling myself: I’m not a bad person, I’m not a bad person, I’m not a bad person. But it takes every ounce of everything I have not to fall.

If it were anyone else feeling ashamed I would cheer them on as they clung, offer to help winch them up, climb down the ladder and hold them tight till the danger had passed. But somehow, since it’s me, I don’t know what to do to make it ok.

So I just keep hanging on and hanging on and hoping.

Because it will pass. I have to believe it will pass.

Sleepwalking

Woah. Diazepam fog.

So far, today has involved:

  • forgetting words and having to ask my kids to tell me what I’m trying to say;
  • finding it surprisingly hard to slice a carrot;
  • needing help to cross the road, because I can’t judge the speed of approaching cars accurately;
  • losing all sense of what it is I’m trying to say part-way through sentences (even short ones);
  • looking at the clean plates in the dishwasher and knowing I should do something with them, but lacking the energy to remember what that might be.

So maybe time to ease off a little. Except I’m starting to feel edgy and worried about all the things I’m not doing, which I’m too drowsy and confused to do.

But it’s ok.

I can always deal with the anxiety by taking a bit more…Diazepam?

 

A fix

I want to find a fix.

People often suggest possible fixes to me. Little sprigs of hope, offered up: “Have you tried…?”  Kindly meant, almost always.

I appreciate these gestures. I am grateful that people care about me.

More often than not, I do try them, each time hoping that this will be the thing, the cure, the answer.

Over the years I have also done more than my fair share of offering fixes to others. I have distributed them liberally – sometimes with humility, sometimes with absolute certainty that I knew something. I forget what, exactly, now, but I remember that it was clear to me then, whatever it was. So I understand that it feels good. It certainly feels better than watching someone suffer and being powerless to help.

Yet increasingly, I realise that it isn’t always easy to be on the receiving end of fixes, no matter how well-meaning they may be. Because they can, all so easily, trigger the insidious little voice that says: “If you just tried harder, you’d be well.”

For the record, in a lifetime of attempting to use ‘try harder’ as a strategy for overcoming mental illness, it has never worked. Not once. If there’s one thing I’m pretty sure I don’t need, it’s to try harder.

I don’t live the life I do because I’m lazy or I can’t be bothered. It’s neither a failure of will, nor a character defect – though I have plenty of those and I wouldn’t pretend otherwise.

If there were something I could do or not do, something I could believe in, something I could purge, through any kind of process whatsoever, I think I would be fixed by now. Really, I do.

I know that to some it must probably seem obvious: just one more little change and then – all better. And I would really love it to be that simple. I can’t even begin to tell you how much I would love that. There isn’t a big enough word for the how-muchness.

But I don’t think there is a fix. And worse than that, every time I allow myself to hope that there might be one, I am gambling with the wellbeing I have. “Look how it’s working…..it’s amazing!” Until, it isn’t. Until, after the thousandth time of daring to hope, it’s all just a bit hard to bear.

So I should give up wanting to find a fix – but I can’t quite. It’s addictive and I fall in love with the idea over and over again.

….

Strangely, the only thing that has come close to being a fix has been the acceptance that there isn’t one.

sigh

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The transition

So after all that being awake and thinking and running and not eating, I suppose it’s not really surprising that what generally happens next is exhaustion.

Today I’m exhausted.

When I got up this morning I thought I was fine, all fixed and ready to return to normal. It had been an intense few days, but I felt that I’d negotiated the challenges pretty well, learned some lessons and made it through intact. When asked how I was, I was able to honestly say I felt “really good”. However, within a couple of hours I’d stumbled off the cliff and begun the process of falling. I haven’t hit the ground yet.

Yet again I was hoping to work today, and yet again – though for completely different reasons – I didn’t manage it. Partly because I kept falling asleep for 10 minutes at a time, before realising that it was daytime and startling myself out of it. Partly because I couldn’t seem to concentrate on anything for long enough to get from one end of a task to another. It could take a long time for the washing to get put away today.

Anyway, I thought maybe I’d try and write about the transition between the hypomanic state and what comes next, because it felt helpful to write about being high, so maybe it would feel helpful to write about this too… But to be honest, I can’t quite be bothered. I’m so tired that my head hurts constantly, no matter how much paracetamol I take (and it’s one of those days when the idea of taking lots appeals more than usual). I feel sick, everything hurts, I couldn’t run anywhere if you paid me (which quite frankly would have been handy, given that I’m unlikely to earn much any other way this month) and I keep crying.

I’ve signed myself off work, tried to resist the urge to resign from absolutely everything I’m supposed to be doing (at least for the time being) and just about avoided getting into a fight with anyone. And I’ve reminded myself that this will pass, because it always does. I think.

I have reassured my children (when they’ve wandered in to find me in tears) that there’s nothing wrong – I’m just a bit ill. In turn, they’ve responded by baking scones and hugging me lots and forgetting that I feel rubbish and instead telling me about interesting things like ball pythons and back handsprings.

So amidst the not-alrightness, it’s still alright. It just hurts, physically and psychologically, a lot.

I’m not going to write any more than this because the urge I had to create and explain and share just a day or two ago, doesn’t seem to exist anymore. Then, silence was boring. Now, words are. All I want now is to go to ground, disappear, whatever it takes to be quiet, invisible and elsewhere.

 

On hypomania

I notice the sleeplessness first.

I often wake at 4am, no matter what’s going on, but at times like this, it’s different. I wake and am instantly wired. Not as worried as usual, more just awake and buzzing and wanting something to happen….now. Whatever it is, I’d really like it to happen now.

Life can feel very frustrating during hypomanic phases because it’s almost impossible to remember why other people aren’t up and available to talk or hang out at 4am. I want to be sociable when I’m high, for all sorts of reasons. It comes with a longing for connection of whatever kind.

This hasn’t always been such a great idea. So these days I try to keep my head down and spare others the rollercoaster until it passes, because involving other people is unhelpful and unfair – but it’s hard because I never want to do it on my own. There are too many interesting things to notice and talk about and make connections between and… and… and…

Actually, for me, the essence of hypomania is that extraordinary sense that the usual walls have come down. That there is no distance between anything or anyone and that time is behaving in a really strange way. So it’s hard not to want to share it with other people, because it’s cool. And it might look like madness, but I don’t honestly know that it is. I think it might just be more sane than the rather buttoned-up vision of what our culture tells us sanity should look like. But that’s a subject for another day.

Generally, in the absence of anything much happening, I listen to music, loud and on headphones (because it is 4am after all and I still have some measure of insight). It’s great – I find something that taps into the intensity I’m feeling and then I listen to it again and again and again. Time seems to completely disappear in the process. I can suddenly realise it’s 7am and all I’ve been doing in the meantime is obsessively listening to just one song. This time around it’s gospel – because there’s nothing quite like hanging out with a bunch of euphoric people singing together to feel better. Except after three hours I don’t exactly feel better, just a bit exhausted. The compulsion doesn’t go away – I don’t seem able to wear it out. It wears me out instead.

At times like these, my experience of the world is intensified. Anything I might usually feel is bigger, faster, more expansive. So whereas I would usually really like walking, now I could just run. I never normally run. I hate running. But now, I could just start and not stop.

I could have a conversation with someone that went on for three days and covered everything we know and everything we don’t know and lots of other things in between. I’m not sure how much they’d get a chance to talk, because I’d be filling the gaps and jumping from thought to thought and speaking fast. And if I noticed what was going on, I’d probably despise myself for my lack of consideration (because the other me is still present and cringing during all this, just tied up and thrown in the back of the car whilst it drives around, inadvisably fast).

Lots of things that I’m usually ok at, like cooking or doing all those important little jobs that need doing every day in order to stop life from falling apart – they suddenly become inconceivably difficult. Not burning dinner? That’s a bit of a big ask. Because how can I possibly be expected to watch over whatever it is I’m making when I could be over there, metaphorically chasing squirrels. Or actually chasing squirrels.

It doesn’t matter to me personally if I am temporarily unable to make food, because I stop being hungry. Eating is boring. And anyway I feel so constantly, insatiably hungry for stimulus, information, collaboration, meaning, whatever it might be, that actual physical hunger for food is a very small and insignificant feeling indeed.

Being hypomanic is a lot like falling in love. Or at least that’s how it feels to me. Except the intensity of feeling and longing isn’t generally focused on one person, but instead on everyone and everything. Sometimes I’ve felt so connected to… I don’t know, the universe?… that I’ve thought I understood what clouds meant. Not in an “it’s going to rain soon” kind of a way, but in an “I’ve unlocked the meaning of life” kind of a way.

I’ve never thought I was Joan of Arc or anything like that, but I have walked into a room and thought that I knew what people were thinking. And it’s entirely possible, in my mind at least, that I did. Funny really, because when my mood plummets, I can’t read anybody at all. Not even a little bit. That’s probably the most terrifying feeling I know – that appalling loss of insight.

So, after getting up, already feeling tired, I might try to do a bit of work – but it’s almost impossible. As soon as I start doing something, I decide it’s far too boring and wander off to play the piano or daydream or save the world. For example, today, when what I was supposed to be doing was invoicing someone, I decided that what I should actually be doing was setting up a Tumblr account. A space to share writing and pictures and music and video and anything I might ever feel like making. That sounded perfect. But I couldn’t quite justify spending time creating things when I was supposed to be writing my invoice, so I didn’t allow myself to make anything and felt a bit cross instead.

That’s the time when things can start to go wrong. When I notice myself feeling irritable because I can’t do what I want to do right now. Or because the world is turning a bit too slowly. Or because someone interrupts me when I’m really trying to figure out that thing with the clouds. Because if I get irritable with anyone else, I know – from the muffled complaints coming from the back seat – that it’s really nothing to do with them and everything to do with me. But it doesn’t generally stop me from doing or saying things I later really wish I hadn’t. Maybe not really awful things. Maybe no worse than other people might do on an off-day. But once I notice and I remember that I’m doing them because I’m actually a bit mad and they’re not and they really don’t deserve it, then something changes.

Being hypomanic is a bit like being an over-excited kid. It’s great until someone comes out with the line about ‘tears before bedtime’ and then you remember, and start welling up because they’re probably right – even though it could just be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Either way, tears suddenly seem likely.

From there, it’s a very small step to the other side.