Monthly Archives: January 2012

Batman – by Keir Liddle

A new contribution from Keir Liddle who is founder and blogger over at The Twentyfirst Floor.

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 Batman has a special place in the mythology of my mental illness.

Batman also has a special place in the ire of some psychiatrists and mental health professionals for depicting an unrealistic vision of mental illness. They raise concerns about the sometimes overtly psychoanalytic and heightened depictions of mental health problems like psychosis and the way therapy and prison intertwine into a gothic whole in the twisted vision of Arkham. Part asylum, part penitentiary, all nightmarish vision of insanity and the worst excesses of an imagined US prison system.

I don’t wish to add to the criticism that has gone before. Nor do I intend to defend the cartoonish and exaggerated world of Gotham against such allegations. Except to say that I find these concerns less pressing than my own concerns about how mental health is represented in more mainstream media such as TV drama, film and in particular soap operas. Where typically you find that a character with mental health issues has been sketched around a writers reading of the DSM criteria and is more often than not only ever on a journey from blood spilt crisis to crisis: Either perpetrating acts of violence against others or themselves or providing a misplaced foil for some ill conceived comic relief.

Batman is special to me in many ways. I could never therefore give a fair and objective account of whether these comics do harm and stigmatize the mentally ill.

I can tell you about my relationship with Batman though.

My mother was/is schizophrenic. The qualification is required as I haven’t spoken to her or even seen her in the last fifteen years – I am now 30. In my defence this is not for want of trying to build burnt bridges though to my shame in recent years I’ve abandoned the long sessions standing at her door knocking endlessly and never being let in.

Central to one of my mothers delusions was a board game we were gifted by a family friend specifically the Batman the Movie board game. It randomly became a focus for her and her obsession culminated when she took me and my brother driving in the middle of the night to try and find the Dark Knight. We were ordered to turn our faces to the open windows of the car in the back seat as she believed it was filling with poison gas (no doubt placed there by her enemies at the Scottish Qualifications Authority) and we had to answer her incessant questions about the location of Batman. She eventually abandoned the search turning quickly into a frozen field and we drove silently home in the dark.

A lifetime’s obsession was born.

Now I look at Batman and I can see an allegory for my own self loathing and mental health issues.

You could consider that many of Batman’s foes represent a twisted reflection of at least an aspect of the Dark Knights personality or psychological makeup:

  • The Joker as what Batman could have become driven mad with grief
  • Two-Face as representing the struggle between Batman and Bruce Wayne as the duality at the heart of batman’s existence
  • The Penguin and Black Mask as versions of Bruce Wayne who turned to crime instead of vigilantism
  • And Mr Freeze as an older Bruce Wayne loosing his wife instead of his parents.

When Batman looks in the mirror he might see, in his darker moments, his foes reflected back at him or at the least the “madness” that drives them.

This is something I can relate to when I look at myself in the mirror when I am in the sinkhole of depression. For it isn’t always me that looks back, it isn’t always me that stands in front of my critical and hateful gaze. It is a twisted reflection an amalgamation of failures, faux pas and slights both imagined and real. It is a twisted corpulent mess of scars and self loathing.

When I look into the mirror I don’t see the Joker, Two Face or the Penguin. I see all my weaknesses, all my faults and flaws reflected back like an exaggerated comic book villain but all too real. Etched into my reflection is every ounce of self doubt that I inflict upon myself, every inch of self loathing and hate. Every bit of guilt and shame I feel (deserving and undeserving) looking back at me taunting me and telling me I am worthless, useless and obsolete.

If you stare into the abyss sometimes you become the abyss.

Not only that but when the mirror presents such a twisted self image I, like Wayne, adopt my secret identity and put on my mask. Stick on the smile and get on with it and pretend nothing is as bad as it is or hide under the duvet refusing to leave the Batcave. You rarely see a depressive at their worst – which must make it difficult for most to believe the bad days exist but they most certainly do.

Though unlike Batman when I put on my armour and head out to face the world my battle isn’t with supervillans on the streets of Gotham but it is a battle with myself in my own head.

Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.

My Story – by “L”

In secondary school I went through a difficult time with bullying, I came down with abdominal pains which prevented me from going to school and made it difficult to eat. I saw several doctors and the pains always subsided for a while when I was reassured there wasn’t anything obviously wrong with me. I was told I most likely had Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and that anxiety could be a factor. I got some medication and the symptoms went away quite quickly. This was definitely not the last time I would have IBS. When I was at an open day at a university my friends and I were keen to attend, I recall becoming overwhelmed by panic and had to sit outside in the fresh air while my friends talked to the lecturers, finding out information about their courses. This panic, mostly about the idea for moving away from home, away from my parents for the first time was the main reason I changed my plans and went to a more local university so I could remain at home even though they did not have my preferred course.

I was referred to see a counsellor who specialised in young people. I was given Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to learn to prevent the panic taking hold of my body, but I don’t feel that it worked. It never felt right for me. I was referred to see another counsellor for adults after a while when I became older. This counsellor talked to the psychologist and formally diagnosed me with anxiety and suggested I may have depression too. I was prescribed a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) to treat the anxiety and depression, and talking to the counselling continued for a while.

I started taking the SSRI, half dosage at first for a week, then up to full dosage, when I was on the full dosage I started feeling sick. I spoke with my GP who suggested I go back on the half-dose and try increasing it more gradually. I tried this but continued feeling sick. I got fed up and stopped taking the SSRI abruptly, although the instructions advise against sudden discontinuation. Then, I spent years suffering from mysterious feeling known as SSRI Discontinuation Syndrome. SSRIs are not addictive and don’t leave you feeling any dependence on them, but if stopped abruptly they can in some cased leave patients with a non-painful but disturbing, electric-shock-like sensation in the head, sometimes referred to as “brain-zaps”, which for me happened every time I moved my eyes (probably hundreds of times a day, I once tried counting but lost track quickly). My GP did not think that this was associated with the SSRI as he had not heard of it before. I had to take along my own Internet research to show that others report the same thing with the same drug. I tried going back on a half-dose of the SSRI for a long time (which put away the brain-zaps) then coming down slowly over months (which brought them back). After trying this several times over a few years I eventually just put up with them until they went away (hopefully for good) after at least 3 months of brain-zaps, although I still get a slight tingle or discomfort in my scalp for a while occasionally which may or may not be related.

In more recent years my depression took over more than the anxiety. I went back in to counselling; this time at my university’s counselling services (when I was doing my masters degree). I had a job that I hated and spent most of my time talking about that even though I had other issues. I really wanted to also speak about my loneliness, now that I have moved out of my parents’ house and I so desperately was to start dating and find love, but have never been able to. I also felt too embarrassed to seek advice about this so only spoke about my work. My time with the counselling ran out. I lost my job due to recession (and being worthless, most of what I did at work was sit around feeling anxious) and spent a lot of time half-heartedly job seeking as a finished my masters.

Last year I had an anxiety attack and was referred by my GP to another counsellor. By the time the counselling started, my depression had taken over from my anxiety again. I never get a moments peace as they take turns on me. I have been seeing my counsellor for 3 months and haven’t gotten back around to what was making me panic. I’ve been more open and honest this time and talked about my feelings and relationships with friends, family, colleagues in a way that I did not in past counselling and feel I’ve benefited a bit from this. I could be proud of my ability to open up, but really it was killing me to the point I had to. Additionally, I often feel I’m wasting my counsellor’s time as I feel like a lost cause. Lately, I haven’t been able to do very much, even study (I’m now doing a PhD) without the anxiety or depression taking over. The IBS is still with me today and I’ve missed days and been late because of it. It can torture me alongside the anxiety all day long.

Usually I will spend Christmas at my parents’ house. I spent Christmas 2011 alone after falling out with my parents over trivial matters. I hate the holiday season. I’m just in my 20s, but I feel too old to enjoy it. I don’t get big presents anymore and I never get invited to parties (everyone who knows me either doesn’t think to invite me or know I’m too much of a misery to bother, I’d bring the mood down). It gets cold making the heating annoyingly expensive, and the distraction that is work or study stops, taking me away from people I can chat to, leaving me alone with my thoughts. New Year comes along with thoughts of planning the year ahead, and worrying about money, and of course the silly American tradition where you’re expected to kiss someone on New Year. I’ve never even had a date, so that won’t happen. The funny thing is I didn’t have too bad a time on Christmas Day. I made a deal with myself that although I was alone in my flat I’d keep smiling through Christmas Day and lying to myself, saying I’m happy, and in exchange I’d let myself be as miserable as I want on Boxing Day.

Now it’s 2012. As a skeptic, I doubt the end-of-the-world prophecies are right, but I’m not really looking forward to the future anyway. I’m back to my PhD, the anxiety and IBS is killing me again, I’m still alone, I have more expensive dental work soon, and I’ve recently lost two of my friends in separate fallings-out. I look at problems other people are having which seem objectively much worse, and they can cope just fine. I don’t understand how, and it doesn’t make me feel any better. I speak to friends who are sympathetic but after I time I feel they are probably dreading the next miserable, whiney, depressing email, text, or Facebook message from me, so I stop and hold it in, or talk to Samaritans instead.

As this is a skeptic blog, I feel like adding one final thought I may otherwise not bother with. People with mental health (MH) issues are told to remember that they are not their MH issues, they are more than that as a person, the MH issue just suppresses who they are to the world. This led me to some odd pointless philosophical ponderings. As skeptics, atheists, materialists, or whatever we tend to believe as Prof. Bruce Hood put it “you are your brain”. So how can there be more to me than this? I don’t have some kind of magical soul that’s healthy under here. I am damaged. My core personality has grown up and gained life-experience over the last 10 years at the same time I’ve had anxiety and depression. So how can they ever be disentangled? If my anxiety and depression went away tomorrow, what would my personality be like? Would I be me anymore? Low mood is a standard baseline feeling for me, if I feel happy, or content, it’s an exception, brought on by exceptional circumstances. When I act a certain way and screw up, can I blame it on the MH issues, or was that just my personality flaws? Where do I end and the MH issues begin? I don’t even know anymore or if the distinction even matters to anyone. I’m a miserable person, that’s part of my identity for anyone who’s known me for any length of time. I know I’m being overly melodramatic, but sometimes I feel like I am my depression.

Struggling on – by “Anonymous”

Today’s article is a short piece from Anonymous. 

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I am an atheist suffering from depression and a host of side issues to a varying degree. I feel insignificant to people and only invited as a ‘friend of a friend’. But then I also feel worthless so why would they want me? The most destructive is my paranoia and jealousy – how am I to know when I am being paranoid or when I might actually be right for once? My skill in judgement is gone and my automatic approach is to assume I’m correct and bunker down to protect myself. Jealousy tears apart everything I hold dear. I don’t want to take away from any deserving person. I just want or need the same thing but if I see it in front of me I lose all control of normal sense of decency and strike out.

Give me any dilemma that I can apply rational scientific thinking to and I’ll look for the rational scientific answer. Ill think about it as a+b=c and I’ll give you an answer. But ask me to think about people and life and it all goes out of the window. Sometimes a+b still does equal c. Sometimes it is conditional. Sometimes it can be d and z at the same time. And sometimes despite evidence it is c I still can’t tell my brain that. I can’t do rational when it comes to my own life. You can tell me you mean something in a particular way but it doesn’t mean it will feel like that to me. No one sees this.

Sometimes I think it would be lovely to believe in a god. Someone looking after me, there to talk to and with a religion to guide me. Someone with a plan putting me through this for a reason. And maybe even someone to blame. But I can’t do it. There’s enough other lies without ruling my life by one.

So I just have to struggle on. There’s help out there but no guarantees. I can lose weight and build my confidence but it still doesn’t mean anyone will notice and respond. Until they do I’m just a person not a woman. People tell you to build your self esteem but as a rational person, how do you support a theory with no evidence to support it?

Post Natal – by Tania Browne

Todays article is from Tania Browne,  who can be followed at @CherryMakes on Twitter and at her new blog endless-curiosity.com, where she write about sex, feminist issues and “science stuff “.  She is a mature student studying for a BSc, and has become interested in Humanism and skeptic issues in the last couple of years.

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I think depression frightens people who’ve never suffered from it. There are no obvious outward signs, The Depressed are among us and they could be anybody. Even for those of us with depressive tendencies, it can hit us at odd moments in our life. It can strike even at times we’re told should be the most wonderful and fulfilling. My post-natal depression was like that. It was mentioned in the pregnancy and baby book I eagerly lapped up, but tucked away, a few sentences somewhere between reusable nappies and whether your new born darling was really smiling or simply had wind. It was almost unacknowledged. Not Normal.

It’s expected that parents, mothers in particular, will love their children the moment they pop out as plump, tiny bundles of joy. It’s almost as if nobody can countenance that it just might not happen that way. I certainly thought it would be hard work, but fulfilling. I’d suffered from mild depressive episodes since puberty, but things had improved when I met my long term partner, my self-esteem was higher, I was in a job I liked, and we were about to have a child after 6 years together. What could possibly go wrong? I was exhilarated. I was about to become a Mother, that hallowed state in which all women supposedly flourish.

I had a wonderful pregnancy, followed by a relatively quick and easy birth. The problems started soon after. Wrapped in a glow of endorphins, I seemed unable to comprehend that my daughter needed feeding. The midwives were busy, and by the time it occurred to anyone to help me with that vital first breastfeed, my baby was too frantic and angry to latch on. The situation got worse and there were blood sugar tests as she refused the breast again and again. I ended up bottle feeding my child, in tears, in a hospital side room filled to bursting with posters about how breast was best. I felt like a failure before I’d been a mother for 48 hours.

Things were no better when I got home after a few days. This was meant to be a joyous time, but all I seemed to feel was rage and resentment. In pregnancy all the attention had been on me, and suddenly I was a sideshow to this wailing… thing in a crib. I was tired, tetchy and resentful. I had a massive sense of foreboding that I was going to fail. My daughter, once hoped for, had rapidly become a ball and chain wrapped around my neck. The full implication that This Was It, my freedom was over, hit me.

I kept hoping that what I was feeling was the well-documented “baby blues”, that it was all simply my hormones re-adjusting and that I’d be fine within the week. But things only got worse. My daughter developed colic, and for around 5 hours each evening she would scream. Literally, scream until her face was a mix of red and purple rage and there was nothing we could do to stop her – no amount of pacing, tummy rubbing, soothing words could stop this tiny demanding creature.

I remember one particular night, alone in her room while she was in a colic-induced rage, deciding that I should kill her. It made perfect sense to me, I felt cold and logical. If an animal were in this much pain and there was nothing you could do to ease it, you’d put it down. It would be the kindest thing to do. Didn’t it make sense that I should do the “kind” thing for this tiny human? Luckily the “logic” passed almost as soon as it had arrived, and I realised I couldn’t do such a thing. Instead, I decided that I was such a terrible person for thinking these thoughts that I should save her by killing myself instead. I started to plan an overdose and hoard tablets. This was calculated, not an impulse that was gone by the next morning.

It may seem odd to you that while all this was going on, not a single person seemed to notice. I had home visits every few days from a Midwife, then a Health Visitor. Did they not notice anything? The only answer I can give is, you become incredibly good at hiding these feelings because you know that they’re “not natural”. You’re wrong; you’re sick and bad for feeling this way. I did my best to hide it because while I resented her, I was also, conversely, terrified of my daughter being taken away from me. They’d take her away because I was a shit mother, I’d never see her again. That was incentive enough to pretend everything was fine.

Thankfully, my partner found my hidden stash of pain-killers one afternoon, and confronted me about it. Tears and admissions poured out of me. For me, this was the turning point, the offer of help that I’d been too proud and too afraid to ask for. An emergency meeting with the Health Visitor was set up, and from there I was hastily dispatched to my GP and prescribed Fluoxetine, which I’d found helpful in a previous bout of mild depression. I’ll never know whether the drug had an effect, or if I was improving as part of a natural cycle but by the time my daughter was 9 months old I was much better and ready to return to work.

It seems odd to me when I look back at this time. My daughter is now a vibrant happy 9 year old and she has a 6 year old brother. I suffered from post natal depression with my son also, but somehow, although the feelings were more acute it was easier to handle because I had read up on the topic. I knew it would probably happen and was better prepared. I knew I didn’t have to face it alone.

I think it would be wrong to medicalise every woman who has ambivalent feelings or doubts about new motherhood. On the contrary, we should acknowledge it openly, discuss it. Motherhood is in many ways a joy but also a bind. A loss of identity and individuality is to be expected in those first demanding years, and it can be frustrating. But there are also cases, like mine, where there are far deeper mental problems. If only the baby books I read at the time had prepared me more.

The Conversation – by Zoe

“So you just feel a bit sorry for yourself.”

The woman sitting opposite me, a recruiter at a job agency, purses her lips at the end of her pronouncement.  That’s what it is of course, not a question.  I sigh inwardly, knowing what will come next – and I’m right.

“You just need to get over it and get on with things.”

I look up, wondering if I can have this conversation again without going completely spare.  I chance it.

“It’s not that simple.  It’s a chemical imbalance making me ill.  You may as well ask a person in a wheelchair to just get up and walk around.”

She glances at me sharply.

“There’s no need to be rude,” she snaps.

I drop my gaze.  I’ve done it again.  In attempting to explain my patchy job history and the loss of my last job to depressive illness, I have made myself look worse.  That’s one of the problems, you see, with depression.  It makes it harder to think straight, and consequences of actions are almost impossible to predict.

I could easily write 10,000 words about the attitudes of people towards depression that I have encountered, but (ha!) I don’t want to depress you.  You would no doubt be horrified to hear that when I came back from sickness leave after a particularly bad transition between different antidepressants, my boss asked in front of everyone, “You’re not going to go mad and kill us all, are you?”.  You would probably gasp if I explained the time my new doctor smirked at me and asked, “What have you got to be depressed about?”.

Unfortunately, that is society’s view in general – that depression is a weakness, something a “better” person would “just get over”.  Depression has its roots in a hormonal imbalance – so does, just as an example, diabetes.  I wonder if those same people would attack diabetes sufferers?  Do diabetics get told to “get over it”?  Are they told, “I had diabetes once, but I had to work so hard at my job I didn’t notice!”? Are diabetics asked why they became diabetic?  Are they accused of “attention-seeking”?

I wonder if a lack of education is the reason.  A friend of mine had to teach some teenagers about the dangers of illegal drugs, the side effect of many is depression.  One of them frowned.

“What is depression?  Is that where you just feel sad, or where you hear voices?”

My friend smiled.  This was a good group – bright, intelligent and eager.  She decided to tell them the truth.

“Imagine you’ve had a rotten day.  Your girlfriend broke up with you.  You forgot your homework and got shouted at by your teacher.  Your best friend has decided he hates you, and won’t say why – but he has somehow turned all your mates against you so they hate you too.  When you get home, your mum has a go at you because your room is a mess.  Your games console fizzes and dies.  You left your homework assignment at school, so you won’t be able to do it – your teacher will go mad tomorrow.  How do you feel?”

The teen blinked.  “Pretty bad,” he said, smiling slightly.

“Yup.  Pretty bad.  Depression’s like that.  Except, you don’t just feel like it for a few hours.  Or a day.  Or a week.  You feel like it for months.  Years.  Decades.”

The teen’s eyes widened.  “Woah.”

“Oh yes.  Do you want to know what the best part is?   While you feel like this, society tells you to ‘get over it’, to ‘stop feeling sorry for yourself’ and to ‘stop being an attention seeker’.  THAT is what depression is.”

I beat my depression.  It’s still there, in the background.  I don’t think it will ever go away – but for now I am on top of it.  I am passionate about spreading awareness of depression, because so many of us will suffer from it (1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 or 8 men, according to “I Had A Black Dog”).  I couldn’t stand up for myself back then, but now I can – and I can stand up for others too.

I am not lazy.

I am not feeling sorry for myself.

I am not seeking attention.

Read the above description of depression again.  Imagine it happening to you.  I dare anyone to describe me or any other depressive as “weak”.  We are strong – because we have survived depths others couldn’t even contemplate.

Changing the way I think… by Ash Pryce

I wanted to talk about my paranoia.  As I mentioned previously, it was the least expected element of my illness.  A post from a friend on Facebook has got me reassessing how I deal with it and how I deal with other people.

One thing I find is if someone doesn’t respond to me on say Facebook or Twitter, and it’s something I would consider requires a response, or if I announce something and certain people don’t comment I instantly slip into a mindset of “oh my god, they hate me, what have I done?  Why would they ignore me?  I must have done something to upset or offend them.”

Most times I actually haven’t done anything wrong.  Most of the time they’ve simply not noticed the post or the comment or the message.  Facebook especially is a bugger for losing messages and posts.  Allowing them to disappear into the ether of the internet.  Recently my hamster died.  She was a lovely wee thing.  Bert her name was, because when we got her we were told she was a he.  During the days when my former partner/ current housemate (it’s complicated!) was out at work Bert was the only companion I had so her loss was really felt.

The night we buried her I had several people send me condolences, but there were several people that I would have expected to comment that didn’t.  Instantly I thought they were ignoring me, I thought they were pissed off at me.  Clearly I had done something wrong.  I even posted a pretty ranty comment about how I’d lost respect for someone.  I hadn’t.  My own sense of paranoia and assumption they were intentionally ignoring me overwhelmed me.

One of the people I felt angry with is one of my oldest friends.  They aren’t active online.  Another is a woman I respect and care about deeply.  Another is a friend I speak to regularly.  None of these people were ignoring me, in fact I received several messages from some of them over the following days.

I hadn’t done anything to offend them and they weren’t ignoring me.  They simply hadn’t seen my single post on Bert’s death which would have appeared amongst hundreds of others.  Many times I will click on someone’s page and see a post that I hadn’t seen appear in the actual news feed.

But this is something about depression that scares me the most.  Will my paranoia topple over, will it cause me to react in a way that will forever damage a friendship and in doing so genuinely give the person a reason to dislike me.

Some of the people I think are ignoring me also have mental health issues.  They are upset at accusations of ignorance- quite rightly.  It’s a vicious cycle.  And it’s one that ultimately I have to break because it’s ME that is feeling this way, I can’t allow my own mental health issues to impact on others.  I risk damaging important friendships and alienating friends I care about.

From now on I shall endeavour to be a little more cautious.  To accept that people aren’t necessarily ignoring me.  That I haven’t done something to upset them or anger them.

To those I have upset or accused of ignorance I am truly sorry.  And one person in particular, if she’s reading this, H, I’m sorry if I ever threw accusations at you, genuinely and wholeheartedly.  You’re someone I respect deeply (even if we disagree at times) and care about.  Your posts and comments recently have spurred me on to write this and to readdress my own way of dealing with the paranoia part of my depression.  And for that I am truly thankful.  And to all those i may have let my health affect.  I am sorry.

So, um, is it all in my head, then? – by Charlotte Ross

Our latest contribution comes from Charlotte Ross who blogs at charlotteeross.wordpress.com

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Recently, I have had a lot of big questions swimming round my brain. They have got in the way of other thoughts and bounced off the inside of my head. Like rubber balls.  And they have made it difficult to think about anything else – work or home or family or love or opening letters or phoning the bank. And all of these circling questions orbit an even bigger one, that is lurking darkly: just who the heck am I now?

About six weeks ago, I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. I shouldn’t have been surprised, I’d asked for the referral myself from my GP. I had been noticing increasingly marked patterns in my mood swings and periods of depression over the last few years, wondering if perhaps they amounted to more than momentary lows and highs. I had been finding out about the illness, talking to others with it, trying to see if the diagnosis fitted me. And I was pretty sure it did. So I really shouldn’t have felt the shock that I felt when the Consultant Psychiatrist said, “yes, after reviewing your history,  I think you do fit the diagnostic criteria for Bipolar II.”

I really thought I would be relieved to know that, to find out the reason why I felt the way I did. Be able to find a few answers. But you know what? I really didn’t. No, I left the clinic feeling pole-axed. And it has taken me, is still taking me time to come to terms with that. I feel quite silly about it. I feel I am making too much fuss. After all, I am the same person who walked into the clinic as walked out. Nothing has really changed except for words. Except it has.

All those bouts of depression that I suffered, I felt I’d “beaten”. I was proud of getting over every single one, but each time I fell into another, I got cross with myself for the perceived weakness that meant I had allowed myself to get ill and depressed again. I wanted to see my life as a happy life, just peppered with occasional moments of depression: I have always hated being referred to as “depressive”. For god’s sake! I’m the cheeriest person you’ll meet! I am a cock-eyed, ridiculous optimist. I am annoyingly sunny and I love life. I am silly, I laugh a LOT. I did not want to think that my life could be summed up like that: “depressive”. No. Not me.

But worse than my changed view on depression were my new views on the mania, I realised. Because I have always lived my life up and down with very little in the middle. I am not severely bipolar, and when I’m high, I am not at all antisocial. I just do everything faster and faster, sleep less and less, have more of  a ‘devil may care’ attitude and ridiculous amounts of enthusiasm for practically any venture you’d care to throw at me. My fuse is shorter then too, and I am inclined to be rather impatient. I’m probably exhausting to be around at that point. But the thing is – I quite like me like that. I feel good. I can do things. I can write things. I have energy and a buzz. I make stuff and my kids think I’m fun to be around.

So the bit of this ‘coming to terms’ malarkey that I’m really struggling with is looking at this part of me, which I really like, and wondering if it is really just down to mental illness. Is it me, who knits scarves into the early hours and comes up with plots for novels, and invents cakes or is it illness? Is it creativity or mania? Is the illness an extraneous part of me, or am I the illness? And do I have to treat it? Can’t I just keep that whizzy bit? Find a way to get some sleep, but keep the crazy thrill of doing everything at super fast speeds? There’s got to be some bloody upside to it all.

But that thrill doesn’t stay. That’s the problem. The faster I go, the quicker I get to the top of the summit and then the faster I plummet to earth. Crash and burn. I’m a mum to three children, on my own, and I can’t be crashing and burning and looking after them. And I go to work. I teach. I can’t be falling apart in class, I need to find a balance of stability within myself and my life. I don’t want to lose parts of me, but perhaps in the short term, it’s a risk I have to take in order to manage the responsibilities I have. The flighty part of me doesn’t want mood stabilisers. The grown-up part knows it’s probably what I have to do. I’m frightened I’m going to find I’m not who I think I am when I start taking them. I don’t want to be cured of the bits of me I really like. I really like riding the rollercoaster you see.

Perhaps unsurprisingly,  the best advice and the kindest words I’ve had, have been from my children. We have talked about my illness and talked about what Bipolar means. My children had questions of their own, of course, especially the boys, who in their lives have also come to terms with lifelong diagnoses of their own. They asked, “Can you get better and be cured?” (sadly,no); “Is it like Dementia, that it gets worse until you die of it?” (thankfully, no); “If you take the medicine will you feel better?” (probably). “Will you always have it?”. Well, yes I will.

But my eldest son said to me, “Mum, it’s just a diagnosis. You will get used to it.” He should know.He has got used to his. As has his younger brother. And of course, all three children were right: I’m the same mum, I’m the same me. I just have a new label, a new signpost.

“You will get the right help now, Mum, that’s all it means”, said Boy 1, “What’s for dinner?”

And as I cooked the supper and the kids bickered over the tv remote, I realised why  I was upset in the clinic. I had wanted the doctor to tell me I was mistaken, that it was all in my head, that I just had mood swings and the odd bout of depression. But of course, that is exactly what the consultant told me: really, it is all in my head.

Not Giving Up… by Alice

Our newest submission is from Alice. 

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So. My name is Alice, and I have depression. And anxiety. And ‘panic disorder’, apparently, though I’m still not entirely sure what the difference between that and anxiety is. I don’t know if you’ll want to use this for your blog, because nobody’s heard of me, and I’d rather you didn’t use my surname, so even if they had they wouldn’t know who I was. But I’m an atheist, and a scientist, and I have depression.

I was diagnosed four years ago, when I was seventeen. Over the period of a few months my self-esteem (always fragile) had finally given up the ghost and left me. I was crying at everything, I was sure I would fail my college courses and I felt utterly alone. One day things finally got too much, and I called my dad to come pick me up. I cried the whole way home, and told him I needed to go to the doctor, because I didn’t like the person I was becoming. Of course, back then, I had no idea of just how bad things would get. I could not possibly imagine the person my illness would force me to become.

Over the course of my illness I have become a different person. I became a complete recluse. I would lie curled up on my bed facing the wall and sobbing silently while I waited for my friends to go away because I could not face the idea of telling them I was having a bad day. Again. I had my first panic attack in public, and was utterly convinced I would die. Worse, I wasn’t sure that was the worst thing that could happen to me. I spent countless hours in toilet stalls, waiting to be able to breathe properly and not cry so I could rejoin the world. My life has changed irrevocably, and I can never go back to how I was before.

Being an atheist throughout this has not been easy. Sometimes I wish that I did believe in some kind of higher power. I’ve been told that God only sends people as much pain as they can take. I wish I had any belief in God because that would mean believing that I can take this pain. But I don’t. Sometimes that’s been incredibly isolating. Without a God, the only person I can have faith in is me. And all too often I doubt my own ability to survive my brain’s assault. Whenever I’ve found myself in a church over the past few years, I have begged God to take my illness the hell away. When I was suicidal, the thought of an afterlife was attractive, although ultimately I chose not to face it. And now I’m getting better, I find my atheism increasingly comforting. I chose to live. I believe more in my own strength, my own desire to fight and my own sheer bloody-minded stubbornness, even in the face of my brain trying its level best to kill me.

I don’t know if I’m through the worst yet, although I believe (and I desperately hope) I am. The fight has been long, and it has been hard, and it is not over yet. I have a lot to learn about being healthy. I am, however, learning. I will continue to fight. And, above all, I want anyone who reads this, while fighting their own fight, to know that I’m right beside them, and I’m not giving up yet.

Gnawing at the leash – by Keir Liddle

Our newest contribution comes from Keir Liddle (@endless_psych) who writes for the Twentyfirst Floor – http://www.thetwentyfirstfloor.com

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Running away from the past is a foolish endeavour when you’re tied to your history like a black dog tied to a fence post.

You circle the same ground over and over again. Snapping at the future but never escaping the length of the leash. Condemned to run over the same events, feelings and problems time and again. Holding you back, dragging you under and keeping the future just out of reach.

You think you should be able to just pull against the leash and snap it. That then you could run free. But no matter how hard you pull it snaps you back. Like a choke chain it robs you of the oxygen of hope.

So what do you do?

If you’re like me you take some analgesics that make you forget the leash sores around your neck.  You start to smoke, start to drink. You do these to excess. They mask the pain temporarily and make you think the leash doesn’t exist. But it snaps you back ever more violently than before and it hurts even more.

So you try prescription drugs and medical intervention and miraculously the leash seems to vanish. But slowly as your body grows accustomed to their ministrations you realise that the leash hasn’t disappeared it’s just got that little bit longer.

It will snap back if you don’t do something with the slack you’ve been awarded.

So what do you do?

Me I’m trying a mix of self administered CBT and counselling now. I’m starting to take more physical exercise by running to address my body and confidence issues.  It helps that I am addicted, in a sense, to endorphins. But that’s also been a curse in a way as it has encouraged and enabled my self harm over the years. Self harm that is most pernicious because my body means little to me. A collection of scars are not the horror to me that they seem to be to others. More worryingly fresh and healing scars look to me somewhat beautiful in their own twisted way. But I digress. Running may be more effort than taking a knife or a razor to my arm to superficially scar it but it’s certainly more socially acceptable and probably more healthy in the long run.

The CBT is an odd one. It’s self directed so depends upon my motivation to follow it thorough. I won’t lie it’s essentially beneficent brain washing. It’s very difficult for me to brain wash myself.

I don’t do it when I feel up, as what’s the point? I don’t need it then and exploring these issues, emotions and thought might only result in extinguishing the small light of hypo mania by making the leash tug harder and choking me with sadness.

But I can’t do it when I’m down. Because… Well shit… Because I can’t do anything when I’m down. The malignant sadness holds me down and smoothers me. It’s too much effort to fight to stay alive and just “exist” to be able to critically examine my thought spirals and get them under control.

But I persevere. As despite the rather negative paragraphs above it does help. It’s loosening off the grip of the leash, it’s an analgesic for the sores and scars and slowly but surely I can feel it loosen around my neck bit by bit.

It isn’t a magic bullet. But hell, neither are the drugs.

The most recent endeavour is counselling and after just one session it has me starting to gnaw at the leash. It’s hard going and it’s painful to remember and vocalise the events that have moulded and shaped me into the depressed mess you see before you.

But it seems to help and it carries the promise that with hard work and honesty I can either gnaw through that leash or pull that fence post from the ground and run free.

So I guess this is where I talk about how I feel right now… by Ash Pryce

I’m what you’d call a Clinical Depressive, or a major depressive, or just depressed.  I fall into the “Moderate Severe” category as far as the NHS is concerned.  Not sure how you can be moderate AND severe but there we go.

I didn’t used to be like this.  I didn’t used to turn the phone to silent, make sure the door buzzer is set to privacy and make sure my mobile was off.  I didn’t used to be worried about leaving the flat, going from bedroom to computer as a daily routine so common and normal that the idea of getting up, dressed, and leaving the flat seems not only daunting but a strange new concept as well.  I haven’t been gainfully employed for 3 years, first I was desperately looking for work, and then the issues came along which resulted in me being removed from the active job seeking role and onto the statistic list of mental health patients.

Now, when I say my daily routine is simply from bed to computer I’m not exaggerating, though sometimes I’m lucky if I am able to leave the safety of the bedroom before mid afternoon, no matter what time I get up.  I don’t have a regular sleep pattern.  For several weeks I will be a night owl, waking at 7pm and staying awake until 10am.  Other times it will be the reverse.  Days bleed into night and nights into day.  I would say I feel more comfortable at night.  People don’t phone you at night.

My life consists of waking up, getting a cup of tea and migrating to the spare bedroom, switching on the computer and that’s it for the day.  Not because I’m lazy, not because I can’t be bothered to go out, not because this is something I can just “snap out of and pull myself together”- but because I can’t go out.  It takes a lot of effort for me to leave this flat.  I need to plan it in advance.  I leave the flat maybe once a week and that is usually to go to the shops, on other occasions I may go to a friend’s home- its safe there.  Maybe once every couple of months I might be able to make it to a pub to see other friends, but this is such a rarity I don’t even consider it part of any routine.

During August 2011 I went out several days in a row, then I had a breakdown.  Too many issues came along at once, too many days of being out of my safety zone.  And I snapped.  I ran away 300 miles to friends and family because I couldn’t stay here.  Shaking and rocking back and forth.  Petrified.  Anxious.  Scared.  A dozen problems had descended on me (admittedly some of my own making) and conspired to force me to snap.

I consider it a good day if I can get dressed instead of just into my dressing gown.  A very good day if I can get a shower AND get dressed and a soaring high if I can get a shower, get dressed AND go to the shop.  More than that usually leads to more fear and paranoia.  And that’s something I didn’t expect- paranoia.  I genuinely believe most people dislike me, putting up with me only out of some misguided sense of forced compassion.

I drink, a lot of the time to escape, I self medicate with it.  I don’t drink often, maybe twice a week but I’ve certainly noticed myself using it as a crutch at times.  Not a pleasant thought, though fortunately I don’t have cravings or addictive tendencies related to it- I just self medicate with it.  But not at the moment, I’m taking some time off as it has serious effects on my mental health.  For several days after drinking the paranoia and anxiety is at an all time high and I just want to hide away.  And hide away I have done frequently.

I self harm.  Not recently, but I would be lying to myself if I promised never to do it again.  All I can say is I hope I never do it again.  Luckily none of my scars are deep and in the right light not particularly noticeable.  In fact all but one seems to be disappearing over time.  Great, I can’t even self harm properly.

My day to day life is difficult.  Sometimes impossible and certainly debilitating.  I don’t know how I’m going to feel from one day to the next so working isn’t a realistic option.  I doubt many would be willing to take on someone whose ability to leave the flat can change in a second.  Because sometimes I am ok.  Sometimes I do feel that I could go out, but then I do and it isn’t always easy.   It’s scary out there.  I don’t go for walks any more, if I get to a stage where I need to be back into my safety zone then I need, right that minute, to be back there.  If I’ve just been for a 1 hour walk then I’m one hour away from my safety zone and I can’t do that.

I’m more socially awkward then I used to be.  Sometimes I just don’t want to talk to anyone at all even good friends.  People irritate me more than they should and it isn’t their fault.  If I’m in the wrong mood I can’t take other people.

Sometimes I do feel sad.  I do feel worthless and I do feel a failure.  I am a failure.  Tried to start a business 3 years ago and that went no where.  Don’t act any more.  Don’t write or direct any more.  I can’t, and the more I can’t the more of a failure I become in my mind.

I enjoy magic.  I enjoy directing.  I enjoy working in photoshop.  I’m guess I’m what you’d call a creative individual.  But there are people out there better than me at magic.  At photoshop.  At directing.  So why should I bother?  I don’t see the point.  Anything I do is going to be pointless and a waste of what precious energy I have at times when someone better than me is out there.  I never used to feel like that.  And it’s stupid.

It’s part of the whole “I’m worthless” package many people with depression get.

As is paranoia.  As is anxiety.  As is fear of going outside.  As is fear of failure and oddly fear of success. How could I possibly commit to a lifestyle that involved success?  Having to be relied upon?  Having to continue and do more and more work.  The idea of succeeding at something actually scares me about as much as the fear associated with the failure.

As is low self esteem.  As is easy frustration.  Emotional ups and downs.  I’m not bi-polar but certainly I have moments of being rather energetic and buzzing, however most of the time I long for the achievement of getting dressed in the morning (or night) as I’m in such a black mood.

I go through strong emotional phases.  Becoming attracted to women but then having it die and disappear when I become convinced they hate me, or I find something about them that seems far worse than it probably is, a little personality trait.  Or maybe I get the sense they  are ignoring me when they aren’t.  Again, the paranoia.  I never used to feel like that before all of this started.  This illness, and it is an illness, has destroyed who I was.  But not who I will be again, with any hope.

Now I am a mixed up bag of feelings and emotions, almost as if I were a jigsaw that some child has decided to hammer and bang together mismatched pieces of to make an abstract image, instead of the neatly slotted together correct version.

This is my life.  This is how I feel at the moment.  This is how I nearly always feel.  When I have good moments, when I have good days I cherish them.  Because they are so few and far between.

Depression can affect people in so many ways and I use this as an example of some of the ways (yes there are more) it effects me.  As someone with depression, I’m not just “a little sad”.  My life is a mess and my brain hates me.