Monday, 30 May 2011

The sea, the whisper and the promise. Bedlam and stigma

That long silence, think of it like the noise a body might make when it fell off the edge. That's all it was. A gentle whoosh, mouth in a silent 0, mind racing knowing that the landing wouldn't be soft. And no, it wasn't. It was horrible. An abyss so deep it took nearly two years to fall to the bottom and crawl out again.

That's the strange thing about mental health. Bedlam and stigma. I feel sure that if that had been a physical illness visually represented by say, bleeding from every orifice (eyes, ears and nose particularly) and total paralysis, the NHS might well have invested a little time and energy in me. As it was, those around me who know me as someone else, were bewildered and frightened. My family watched me both physically shrink and mentally shrink away from them. I lost the ability to have proper conversations. I lost things I had never even owned and spent days anxiously searching for them, wringing my sweaty hands together and muttering. I suspected innocent people of having the worst possible motives. All bodily processes disgusted me, including eating. I would find myself driving down the motorway with my fists clenched around the steering wheel, certain that something appalling was about to happen. And as for car park tickets and lost telephone hunts, they were a real problem. My pulse would race and I would sweat, knowing that they were both lost, lost forever, and that the consequences would be dire and unbearably complicated at best. At night I would sweat buckets and wake at 3am with a thudding heart and a million and one reasons why I had failed to be as good as I should be. And then by day I would do my very best to keep it all together. And fail. And yearn to run away, or sleep forever. And the only place I felt safe was on Facebook, where no one could touch me, and I could exaggerate the funny side of it. And then I'd get carried away and say too much and leap out of bed in the mornings to do some hurried housekeeping and editing and deleting. I still do, when the Wine and Cheese Appreciation Society meetings (Membs. 1) I hold in the kitchen late at night get a bit rowdy.

So, there. That was what it was like down at the bottom of the cliff, being dragged out to sea, swept in and pummelled on the sharp rocks for two years. Finally when I felt utterly smashed up, torn to shreds and broken, the sun came out, the sea calmed, I pulled myself up onto the rocks, caught my breath, looked up and started the climb.

I can't tell you how I survived. I'd love to, but a super injunction of sorts means I can't. I was blessed with a whisper in my ear, daily, and made to promise something that was very hard for me. Thanks alone to the whisper and the promise, I am still here.

I didn't opt for drug therapy. I was offered that, and counselling by my GP, but I was too ill for either of those options to be viable. I couldn't be bothered. I wouldn't take either. What should have happened was that I should have been hospitalized. I would have agreed to it, and one day I very nearly drove to my nearest A&E and surrendered myself as a broken doll. I don't know why I didn't really. Fear of the drugs making me fat, lumpen, compliant I suspect. And the truth is that even at my maddest I could see the funny side, the absurdity of it all.

And now I am better. The sun came out. I don't know if the Psychotherapy has made that happen or if this is just an illness that comes and goes, as it pleases, like an annoying and smelly cat. And no, knowing that bloody Winston sodding Churchill and Stephen effing Fry are both members of the club doesn't help one bit. Nothing does. And strangely, while it is lovely to be 'back in the room', I rather miss the madness, the hurly burly and the adrenalin, but not the terrible fear. The motorbike riding classes seem to be filling that gap neatly. And I can see the funny side of that too. An old Biddy in leathers humming 'Born to be Wild'. Special, in all the wrong ways.


  1. Beautifully written, as always x

  2. Hurray - so glad to have you back and, as Clare says, a beautiful piece of writing. Well done, superb. Keep it up!

  3. Is naaaiiice (Borat).

  4. Brilliantly written Lucy xo

  5. Beautifully written, and a fine summary of a prolonged bout of depression with added paranoia. I've heard it described (now) by many people, but rarely so neatly, perceptively and succinctly.

    A smelly old cat is a nice literary analogy, but perhaps a better practical one would be a family of rats. Nobody wants them, nobody minds how meanly you get rid of them, and there are various wise things you can do to discourage their arrival (like closing openings) and stupid things you can do to bring them scurrying (like leaving food out and not closing bins). Or, in human terms, drinking too much, losing control of one's life, and committing oneself on good days to life choices that are going to seem like too much on bad days.

    You may feel it doesn't matter that other people have lived wildly successful lives while being prone to depression, but I feel it does. Depression seems (speaking as someone who has never had it) to be a manageable physical illness, unless it is combined with other factors, such as drink and common or garden "Oh look, fuck this!" type depression, whereupon it spirals out of control. Or so I have observed.

    We're all very glad you came out the other side.

    It is unsurprising that it is hard to stop people suffering from this sort of illness to use drink as an anti depressant. It is available without prescription, socially acceptable (just) and extremely effective. Briefly. Because it shuts down the worry centres. But then it shuts down the rest of the head too, and creates exactly the sort of ineffectiveness, feelings of inadequacy and paranoia that one has taken it to try and escape in the first place. And the result is that one feels ones needs a bloody drink. Thus begins a downward spiral. Assuming one survives, at the end one has a drink habit, which has to be firmly broken, because depression, sadly, seems to be cyclical, it will come back sooner or later, and to go INTO depression with a bad drink habit is, um, not good at all.

    I'm sorry if I sound patronising, I was just thing those one person wine and cheese parties sound like a seriously rubbish idea. At the risk of sounding like a puritan, I feel that alcohol is a wonderful way of breaking down barriers between people socially, and a positively disastrous way of cheering oneself up solo. Feel free to delete the comment if you think it unduly personal.

    Again, congratulations on a superbly written post.

  6. Fairy nuff. However.... No... Ok. But I hope you haven't got the idea I'm the sort of person who looks at their watch at 11.15am and thinks, hmmmm shall I have a small brandy with this coffee. Because I'm not. I do know someone who does, and it's not me. I do, however, like a drink after 6pm, and yes, that is every day and yes, sometimes it gets a bit fuzzy round the edges and the stitching comes loose.

    But I take your point Alex, thank you.