icarus

Tags

I want to be able to do everything. I’m ambitious – when I, long-time hater of sport, completed a 5k run a few weeks ago, one of my friends immediately asked ‘So what’s the next challenge?’. Setting and achieving goals gives me a sense of accomplishment and self-worth, however fleeting, and I don’t really get that from anywhere else. Not for lack of trying, either. I’d love to believe the people who say I have intrinsic worth or good qualities, but I just don’t. So it’s down to me to try and fix that, and I have to make the challenges harder every time.

Sometimes just getting through a normal day is a challenge, but that doesn’t count – most people can do that, right, no one’s going to sponsor me for going to work or taking out the bins. I was struck by a friend’s explanation of how their mental health issues can affect their daily life, shared recently on World Mental Health Day  – more than half the time, they said, ‘ I can only do half of what I want – so I can do work but not socialise, or socialise but no cleaning.’. I was struck because it so starkly expressed something I try desperately to hide from everyone, even myself, about my own life. I cannot do everything. I can’t even do most of it.

On an average work day, I get home and spend the whole evening on the sofa. I’m there now. My husband cooks the dinner, he makes me a cup of tea, we watch TV or do crosswords or I read a magazine. I rarely do anything in the way of housework, because the working day (a scant 9-5) and commute (less than 45 minutes each way, half of that if I’m up to cycling) have worn me out. Today I had to make a basic decision about who in my team should do a particular task, and I just sank into panic to the point that my team noticed and had to help me choose. Excellent leadership skills I exhibited there. On weekends I am sometimes productive, but sometimes not. I do the bare minimum of admin for Rainbows and Junior Church (my two voluntary ‘jobs’) and that’s enough. If I socialise one evening, I’m even less likely to be productive the following day.

Because my husband is kind and caring and (for the most part) boundlessly energetic, I can get away with this. Things are less tidy than I would like, but the angst I feel looking at the mess isn’t sufficient to outweigh the enormous weight of listlessness that dogs me once I’ve struggled through the essentials for each day. I wish I could do something different every night of the week and not take most of the subsequent week to recover, but that happened pretty recently and I know I just can’t. And I hate admitting that. If I try to function too much, I crash. I’m not content with staying within my pathetic, weak, mentally-ill capabilities. I don’t want to. And I am extremely stubborn. And maybe a few moments close to the sun are worth the crash afterwards. I don’t know. I’m not sure I care.

nothing left

Tags

I’m exhausted. Everything aches. I’m soaring along thinking maybe I can be an all-round super-awesome capable mature adult person and then I fly into a wall and I’m not that person and I never will be, I can’t do it. I’m doing all the right things – today I upset someone at work but I apologised to them maturely and made amends and they forgave me and I didn’t just collapse in on myself to become a festering ball of self-hatred like before. Exercise is good so I do lots of that, zumba and football and cycling to work and signing up for a 5k for charity even though I always hated running and I still do.

But the trouble with all of these things is they cost extra. Even though writing down the anxieties that are plaguing me at the start of the day helps keep them out of my mind so I can get some work done, the very act of gathering them all together and confining them to paper is draining and I cannot get that energy back. Whatever food and endorphins and caffeine and medication I take are used up, and more, by dealing with the depression-things. There’s nothing left for just living life.

I can’t enjoy my evenings, the only time I get with my husband, because I’m just spent from walking so quickly (because I’m too anxious to waste time) to and from the bus stop and the office in this sticky weather, then consciously not allowing my day to be ruined by joking negative rebuffs from senior colleagues to my attempts at optimism about how work is going when I’m there, being always surrounded by people who might at any moment want to interact with me and needing to have the right thing to say.

I stayed up an hour later than usual last night reading a book and it’s just thrown this day out completely, like having a hangover. Was it worth it for the small bit of escapism? Where do I get more energy from? All the fruit and veg and sun and exercise aren’t cutting it, I’m out of ideas and sleep doesn’t help, I never feel rested when I wake up. I’m spread too thinly, and Facebook is showing me posts like this I wrote two years ago and three years ago and nothing has changed, there’s just a big weight in my chest and my brain is foggy and I don’t want to see anyone or do anything but if I stop doing that the weight and the creeping darkness will be the only things left.

can’t stop

Tags

I found this article the other day written by someone who has depression but also leads a busy life, and it just made so much sense. It’s me. I am high-functioning and depressed; if there was a club for those people I could join it and be among my own kind; not all depressed people spend days or weeks in bed and avoid the company of others. I feel vindicated, like my flavour of illness has a recognisable description and I’m not the only one. Yes, the description says it’s really quite alarming, but let’s gloss over that.

I received an award the other day for which I’d had to complete various different long-term goals and projects within three years of a chosen start date, all picked by myself but meeting specific standards for length, hours spent and so on. I spoke in front of a group of people at the presentation about what I’d done, and they were really amazed that I’d done this in a period of time which also involved getting engaged and married, completing my final university exams, starting my first job, getting a promotion and moving house three times. I just shrugged it off – I don’t give up on things and they all had to be done, so I did them.

Similarly, my boss praised me recently for having completed a task (hiring a new person for my team) quickly, and I explained it away by saying I wanted to get it out of the way before going on holiday. It was incredibly stressful and I literally lost sleep over it at the time, but I just wanted to do it. To a girl who, before the depression, completed four A-levels (including a couple with near-perfect results) whilst also gaining a grade 8 violin qualification, a similar level qualification in tap and modern dance, playing in two orchestras, singing in two choirs, helping weekly at Brownies and Guides and learning to drive, this is as nothing. For want of a better phrase, that’s just how I roll.

And maybe it’s good that the depression hasn’t changed that, but maybe that’s why I’m always so exhausted. But if I keep moving, I don’t have to stop and evaluate how things are going or even if they’re going anywhere I want to go. A friend commented the other day that I do so many things – I used to just go to one zumba class but now it’s two, one of which is run by a crazily enthusiastic lady who makes us sing while we’re dancing, and I’m running a Rainbow unit and being the breadwinner for my household and helping with a lot at church and considering a shift at the local Oxfam shop because they need extra help – and I realised then that I’m scared of the alternative.

I’m alone now, and whilst I love solitude and need to recharge there’s a fine line between a careful measured approach that will do me some good and either of the two extremes of cleaning ALL the things whilst my husband is out of the house or flopping on the sofa to look at pug memes until 2am. Anything to keep my mind occupied. If I stop it’s so easy to get overwhelmed by the exhaustion and emptiness and then so difficult to get going again. I want people to see the sociable, capable, active me and think that’s who I am. If they know I’m different underneath I want to make them forget and not worry. I want to make myself forget and not worry. What I don’t want to do is think about whether or not this attitude is sustainable.

side effects

Tags

This week is mental health awareness week, so I thought I would share some of the bits of my relationship with depression that might not immediately spring to mind when you think about mental illness. The range of treatments available is so broad, and the approach of some doctors so narrow, that before you know it you can be dependent on some addictive drugs that might cause more problems than they solve.

Four years on (about five years after I started needing them and couldn’t admit it to myself for a year) I’m still on a standard dose of the same old drugs whose side effects include literally every single symptom I might be taking them to prevent. How am I supposed to know if they’re helping when I can’t distinguish the effects of the drugs from the effects of my illness? I might be exaggerating; they stop things, usually, from being as extreme as they used to be, and that’s positive because it helps me across a line beyond which I can drag myself out of bed and through life. But I hate being dependent on something that’s known to be addictive; I hate knowing that even if I do one day come off the drugs even that will be a torturous process.

There are more mundane side effects too; I have indigestion a large proportion of the time, which is tedious and uncomfortable and usually accompanied by a nagging feeling of resent towards the medication. This is stressful. Perhaps worst of all, the list of things in which I have no interest has grown to include sex, which causes tension in my marriage and is generally no fun. I’m often anxious, to the point where I panic if my husband takes too long saying goodbye to me in the morning because then I might be late for work and everyone will hate me and I will have to stay really late and my boss will be angry and everything will go wrong. The carefully constructed facade of competence will come crashing down.

In spite of the real effort I make to do a decent amount of exercise, I am often physically very weary. I get achy and tense and spotty, I pull out bits of my eyebrows and pick at my spots and get headaches that last for days. And all of these things make it harder to stay upbeat and give me a constant supply of things to be angry with myself about and keep fuelling the depression. Sometimes I manage not to direct the anger inwards but then it just goes outwards and hurts other people who don’t deserve it. For an illness that’s all in my head it produces a hell of a lot of collateral damage.

persephone

Tags

It’s pouring with rain in the outside world, but in my head it’s more a sort of heavy cloud. Some of the time I’m fine now but when I’m not fine it still feels like I haven’t made any progress at all, extremes of emotion will be forever beyond my reach and acting normal is just too much like hard work. I went out for lunch with a group of colleagues the other day and spent most of it thinking how effortlessly everyone else seemed to excel at being interesting and lively and maybe I was like that once but it’s so long ago I can’t remember. Winter has been long and dark but without making some kind of graph I don’t know whether the weather really has much of an effect on me.

But let’s pretend it does, in which case if I’ve been getting better through the winter (maybe?) I should get even better through the summer. I’ve got a plan, I’m going to exercise lots and avoid the crushing disappointment of being just quite good at my job by working super hard and being amazing, and that’s going to give me loads of energy so I can socialise and be fun and interesting and then everything will be great. Because shoving my inability to deal with crises (for ‘crises’ reading ‘my imperfections’) under the carpet and just not having any crises is definitely a long term solution. Must be worth a go.

Because, for all my progress, there’s still no middle ground. Either I am well or I’m not; everything is awesome or it’s the worst day ever; I’m the best or I’m nothing. I’m very adept at acting like this isn’t the case for 90% of the time now, and maybe that is progress too, but for the remaining 10% I wish I didn’t exist. I hate myself, I get so sad I sometimes have to fight back tears at my desk on a normal day at work. I go home and I’m not interested in anything. Anything. So, at least my time in the underworld doesn’t take up half my life like it did for the real Persephone, but the time it does take makes itself felt long after I’m back in the sun. So who knows if the summer will make any difference?

Tags

It appears that maybe you do have to suffer to write, because at the moment I’m sort of okay and there’s nothing to say. I’ve been putting off writing because articulating it might draw attention to the fact and then I might stop being okay again pretty fast. I don’t really know why I’m okay, but I highly suspect that it’s just that outside circumstances are good so there’s nothing too heinous for me to deal with. Work is okay, I’m sleeping well, I’ve not had a cold for a while, the weather is good.

It can’t be that I’ve got better at dealing with things, because that might imply I’m getting better and the counselling helped and maybe I could think about actually actually coming off the drugs like I’ve wanted to since I started taking them four years ago. Four years. Who gets better after four years? It must be settled for life now. I can’t picture a middle ground.

I’ve been reading another self-help book recently, and it seems to be fairly sensible so far except for one sentence that made my blood run cold. It was a throwaway comment (though not that throwaway since it made it into his published work) about how depression and other mental illnesses are ‘just a symptom of the problems of society’, not a legitimate thing but just people being selfish or trying to base their lives on the wrong thing and suffering the consequences.

Because people keep telling me I’m not rubbish, etc, and I keep telling me I don’t have any good qualities, depression is one of the only things that I’m certain is me. I am a person with depression, a depressed person. I’ve been that for so long now that I don’t know what I’d be without it. It’s simultaneously horrible and comforting. I can’t escape from the sadness and emptiness and hatred, but it’s not a weakness if I get overwhelmed by it sometimes because it’s a real malady. When people with degrees who sound like they know what they’re talking about brush it off as an issue of willpower or personality it makes me feel physically sick.

What if they’re right and I just am lazy and weak, using this label as an excuse for every neglected friendship and undone task? I don’t want them to be right. But what if they’re wrong, and it is a real illness, but I’m learning to manage it better even if it isn’t actually going away and it might not be such a big part of my life, at least for now? What if I can’t hide behind it any more? As if continuously smashing up my own soul with a mallet for years hasn’t been painful enough, now I might have to start putting it back together.

new year

Tags

I’m still tired. My muscles are achy, I can’t stop yawning and I find loud persistent noises, like lots of people talking or music playing, scary and alarming, because I don’t have the energy to process them properly. And I’m always tired. I’ve been tired for months now, if not years. When I sleep enough or relax more I get less tired, but it never completely goes away. I can’t remember the last time I didn’t feel tired at all.

Just existing is an effort. If depression was a pool, I’d be using all my energy just to stay afloat rather than making progress towards the edge so I could get out. If I was a microwave, all my settings would be variations on ‘sad’, ‘weary’ and ‘lifeless’. I wish I had flu or some kind of physically obvious condition so there was a justification for all of this, instead of having an invisible illness that lots of people think they understand but don’t. Being misunderstood is frustrating, and frustration is tiring.

I’m having counselling at the moment (specifically psychotherapy – I’ve been told of for trying to refer to it variously as ‘anger management’ or ‘therapy for psychos’) and my counsellor pointed out in our last session that I *shouldn’t* be tired all the time. I am an otherwise healthy young woman who exercises and eats vegetables and gets (almost) enough sleep. The problem, she claims, is that stress and anxiety and frustration use up a huge amount of energy. This makes sense but doesn’t fix the problem; maybe that will happen next session.

In the new year people are supposed to make sweeping resolutions to change their life for the better, get into good habits and out of bad ones and have a new start. I know from experience that I can’t do this. Big goals are not for the depressed; I don’t have enough self belief to focus on anything big and distant, and neither do I have the inclination to make a list of little steps that build up to something. If I started trying to get better I’d have to stop trying to just cope and then things would be worse than they are now. I can still get small amounts of joy from things like a nice cup of tea though, so maybe that will have to do for this year.

retrospective

Tags

It’s been a bad week. I hit a new low, crying not only in the office but in front of my boss, and I did quite a few things wrong individually as well as missing several other people’s mistakes (noticing mistakes is my job). By the end of the week, with an overrunning project, stressed colleagues and the daunting task of making a plan to ensure this doesn’t all happen again, I had just had enough.

One of the last things I did at work today was attend a retrospective meeting. This is where all of the people involved in a completed piece of work discuss its good and bad points systematically and find solutions for the problems and ways to perpetuate the positive things. Usually I love doing this because it’s so beautiful and logical, and every problem gets its own fix, but today I heard every negative comment as a veiled accusation of incompetence on my part.

I spend a lot of time applying the retrospective approach to my life – I note things I did, whether they were good or bad, why they happened… and that’s it. The good things were coincidences so I can only pray for them to happen again, and the bad things are because I’m rubbish (I literally stood in a bin today rather than moving it out of the way, because the image of myself as something worth crumpling up, stomping on and throwing away is so compelling) and that can’t be fixed. So I just get stuck in the process and never reach the end.

This in itself isn’t stressful like financial worries or a seriously ill friend (both of which I have), but it is utterly exhausting. I really want to curl up under my desk and hide, with no more words from others that I have to interpret or tasks that I can fail to do correctly. I’m so used to the despair that instead of wanting it to end so I can get on with my life, I want the social interactions and projects to end so I can let the despair take hold. Beating it down is so tiring, and until the depression ends I can’t have a retrospective to work out whether beating it down is worth it or not.

 

not going out

Tags

According to this Guardian article, I’m attending a Hallowe’en party tonight in the most scientifically accurate ‘person with depression’ costume possible: I’m not going. I was invited, and I’m not otherwise occupied, but I don’t want to go.

Some people find this hard to understand. This comic gives a partial explanation – as an introvert, sometimes I allow myself to be pressured into going out and I just don’t enjoy it. I did actually love clubbing in my first year of university, but now I don’t also see my friends all the time during the day so when I do see them I prefer to be somewhere I can hear what they’re saying. I am shy and not good with people I don’t know, particularly in high concentrations (like at parties) and where everyone is loud and excited (like at parties). Sometimes, though, I still go to parties and I enjoy them.

But for me it’s a big thing. One late night is something it will take me days to mentally recover from. A night of interacting with lots of strangers (because even my closest friends don’t want me attached to them all night) genuinely takes up a huge amount of energy; if I borrow extra energy with alcohol, I’m even more exhausted the next day. A party is a commitment that I have to be pretty sure will be worth sacrificing the next day for (with weariness if not a hangover from all two of the drinks my low alcohol tolerance could deal with), and this party doesn’t tip the balance.

It’s not that I eschew fun, or that I’m scared of the people or can’t be bothered to dress up. I am capable of going, and probably of enjoying it for a while, but when I run out of energy it happens pretty fast and even if I leave as soon as I start getting tired the journey back will be a torturous, drawn-out assault on my senses when all they want to do is shut down. I don’t want that; it is literally bad for my health. So please don’t laugh at me for staying in with a film tonight – I was almost at a stage where I could feel good about looking after myself.

enough

Tags

Tired. I have been round this loop plenty of times before. I know how to make things better, theoretically, but it’s so *hard*. I don’t want to have to put in effort while everything hurts and I’m exhausted, why can’t everything else go away so I don’t have to function and don’t need to be better?

By some combination of nature and nurture, I have a conscience. It’s tenacious. Once I’ve started something I have to finish it, and properly, even if I’m bored and it’s a drag; if I have a responsibility I can’t drop it for a moment or hand it over to someone else, I have to go to work or Rainbows or answer emails or buy the supplies for Junior Church even if I don’t want to because I’d rather stop and just leave everything. Somehow the terror of becoming a failure by admitting any weakness is still big enough to overcome the fact that I’ve had enough and I just wish I could stop.

I could just flop on the sofa, where I am now, and never get up. Stop keeping in touch with friends I don’t see all the time. Not get up anymore, not go to work, not call my mother. I’m so tired. Pretending to be okay, going through the motions, even having feelings (I’m back on a lower dosage of the happy pills again so they’re back with a vengeance) is tiring. I have lists and lists of little ‘easy’ things to do that will bring me back to reality and take my mind off, well, everything – but they’re hard too. I don’t want to have to work just to stop hurting. I don’t want my wellbeing to be a chore, a set of deliberate actions to keep repeating. I want to be better. I’m really sad.

I won’t stop, though. Even if the washing up has to sit mouldering for a week, I’ll do it eventually. I might take one day off work but I won’t take two. I’ll still eat. But all these things feel like petty distractions and I wish they’d go away. I could just be sad, in a ball under a duvet somewhere, and that would be everything, and everything else could just carry on without me. I wish.