Motherhood, mental illness and beyond

Posts tagged ‘medication’

Peering through the black cloud

Today is the worst day I’ve had in a long time. There’s no reason why it should be; it’s no different to yesterday or any of the days before. But for some reason today is a black day.

I woke this morning and spent 45 minutes trying to find the energy to move. I don’t just mean that I was physically tired, although I am. I just wanted to sleep, to hide under my covers and shut out the world; I couldn’t find the mental strength to force myself out of bed. Luckily my wonderful husband is more than capable of looking after the children and by the time I eventually made it out of bed DD was almost ready for school. I explained to her that I wasn’t feeling well (how else do you explain a trough like this to a 4 year old?) and she gave me lots of hugs and kisses before cheerfully heading off to school with DH.

It’s now mid-morning and I’m curled up on the sofa in my pyjamas and dressing gown. I don’t want to eat, or watch tv. I’m struggling to play with my chirpy, bouncy toddler – I just can’t muster the enthusiasm. I can do kisses and cuddles, and luckily he’s happy with those, but for all the use I am today he may as well be playing on his own.

It’s hard to explain this kind of mood to someone who’s never experienced it. I’m sure there are people who’ll read this and think I’m just being lazy or wallowing, that I just need to pull myself together and get on with things. But days like this are unbelievably hard. It’s like wading through treacle; everything just takes so much effort, I have to spend ages gathering the energy to do the slightest thing. I feel as though I’m wrapped in a black cloud, only catching the occasional glimpse of normality.

On days like this I’m incredibly grateful for my smartphone and social media. I don’t feel so disconnected when I can dip in and out of conversations on Twitter and Mumsnet, even though leaving the house and talking to people is beyond me. I can sit huddled under my blanket and chat with strangers, acquaintances and good friends I’ve never met. This connection is vital to me, keeping my mind active and penetrating the miasma of lethargy and apathy.

In the past there were occasions when I would be bedridden for days at a time by this kind of misery, the depression weighing me down. I’m fortunate that thanks to a combination of my caring and uncomplaining husband, my cheerful children, medication and online chat, this cloud should pass fairly quickly, hopefully in a day or so.

An analogy that I often use to explain my depression is that it’s like the beginning of the Wizard of Oz film; everything is drab, shades of black and white and grey. It’s only when life bursts into glorious technicolour that I realise quite how gloomy things were. Today I view the world in black and white but at least I know that the technicolour bit is ahead.

Advertisements

Relative normality

I’ve had mental health problems all my life. As a child I self-harmed and binged; I’ve had depression since my early teens. My current diagnoses are cyclothymia with underlying depression,and generalised anxiety disorder (GAD).

Cyclothymia is a mild form of bipolar disorder. Where most people’s mood averages out as a straight line with occasional fluctuations up or down, this is what my unmedicated moods look like:

image

The psychiatrist who diagnosed me explained that cyclothymia usually requires treatment with mood stabilisers as the hypomania (the highs) can be pretty disruptive. But because I have the peculiar combination of cyclothymia and depression, my base line is lower than most people’s. For example, at the moment I am a bit hypomanic. But instead of displaying the usual symptoms of hypomania I am what most people would consider to be normal. I’m enjoying playing with my children. I’m getting the housework done, I’m singing along to the radio and I’m able to talk to other parents in the school playground. I still find it hard to sit still without fiddling and my thoughts race. But for the most part I am “normal”.

Of course unfortunately this means that my low moods are lower than the average. When I’m in a trough I struggle to get out of bed, I struggle to interact with anyone and playing with the children is an almost unbearable ordeal. But this is also a kind of normal for me; this is what I’m like when I’m unmedicated and the depression strikes.

So which is the real normal? My unmedicated, depressed pit of despair? My hypomanic and twitchy productivity? Or the same normal that most people meet so effortlessly, with minor ups and downs but generally trundling along the same level path? I don’t know. To he honest, these days even I don’t know what’s normal for me.
But I don’t think it really matters all that much. What we perceive as normality is just the top of the bell curve, the result of statistical homogeneity. For something (or someone) to be considered normal they just have to be in the majority, no matter how slight the margin may be. No two people are exactly alike – and that’s normal.

Lost: me, myself and I

Last night I told DH that if I could have 3 wishes the first would be to get rid of my mental health problems (or “lose the crazy” as I actually put it). DH shook his head and said “But then you wouldn’t be you!” and this has got me thinking. In a way he’s right, my mental health issues are a part of who I am. I’m gradually stumbling along the path to accepting that this is nothing to be ashamed of, that I am not weak but just not as healthy mentally as the majority. I have already accepted that it’s likely I will need some kind of medication for the rest of my life and that’s ok.

But my mental health is far worse now than when DH and I met 11 years ago. Back then I was already anxious and had suffered from bouts of depression for almost a decade, but I was confident. I was good at socialising, I had a wide circle of friends and a bright future ahead of me. I even went to live in a city where I didn’t know a single person in order to study for my Masters degree.

But now? I only have a small circle of friends and have withdrawn from most people from my old life because we have nothing in common these days. They’re successful, confident people while I’m an impoverished failure. I rarely socialise and if I do it’s via the children, taking them to friends’ houses to play. I am not confident in how I look, I care far more deeply about what people think of me than I ever used to and to be honest I barely recognise myself.

I don’t know who I am any more but I’m certainly not the same person that DH fell in love with 11 years ago. I feel like a shadow of that woman, a pale imitation. I’m good at putting on my mask and seeming confident, I’m good at forcing myself to chat to people I don’t know well – but inside I’m curled in a ball, trembling, counting down the moments until I can escape and get home to safety.

11 years ago I knew who I was; today I’m not so sure. I am a mother and a wife, a daughter and a sister, but I have lost my central identity. I exist on the periphery, orbiting my family’s lives like a lonely hydrogen electron. There is nothing in my current life that is interesting or sets me apart from the masses; there is nothing that I can point to and say “Look, this is who I am, what I do, this is what is important about me”.

In fact the only place where I feel even remotely like my former self is online. There I can hide behind a pseudonym, safe in the knowledge that no-one can actually see me and confident because I don’t have to speak to anyone face-to-face. I can chat to anyone about anything and I can be utterly honest in a way that I shrink from in everyday life. Talking to strangers online I begin to hear echoes of my former self. It’s like gazing into a fairground mirror – the reflection may be distorted but it’s still just about recognisable.

An open letter to my friends

There are few questions that make me quake as much as a simple “How are you?”. My automatic response is to say that I’m fine, I’m ok, I’m doing well, whether I am or not. It’s like a Pavlovian response and it’s the same no matter who’s asking. I consider myself to be a fairly articulate woman; I have 2 degrees, worked as a forensic scientist and as an analyst for part of the Foreign Office. My blog posts seem to be quite well-received. And yet there are days when I really struggle to communicate with people on even the most basic level.

A dear friend may send me a lovely chatty message via Facebook and I want to reply – but can’t summon the mental energy. The words won’t come out. Another friend may call for a chat and I find myself racking my brains for something to say. Face-to-face encounters can be awkward as I try to maintain a semblance of normality but can constantly feel the panic rising in the back of my mind.

Social media has been a godsend. Facebook helps me keep in touch with friends who live far away, while Twitter and Mumsnet both have very supportive communities. Weirdly I can spend ages on Twitter or Mumsnet, talking with virtual strangers and dipping in and out of conversations. Facebook is a bit trickier as it houses people who know the real me instead of my more confident online persona. Sometimes I can chat to friends for ages on Facebook but sometimes I freeze up for days at a time.

The other question that strikes fear into my heart is “Do you want to meet up?”. Don’t get me wrong, I’m actually a pretty sociable person and I’m fortunate to have some wonderful friends. But no matter how optimistic I am when arranging a social visit, the closer it gets the more nervous I become. Some days I can force myself to just get on with it and go, and I’ll generally have a good time. But some days I just cannot make myself go. It’s so stupid. I can chat superficially with the other preschool parents while we wait to collect our children, but I struggle to meet a friend for coffee.

I need to get this under control so here’s my plan. There are a few playgroups in the area that I can take DS to, it’ll be good for him to socialise with children his own age. Even though the thought of it makes me about as comfortable as jabbing pins in my eyes, I need to screw up my courage and do it. So that’s next week’s task. This week’s is to take DD to a friend’s house after preschool on Friday. She really wants to go and her friend’s mum is a good friend of mine. Yet already I can feel the unease roaming about in the back of my mind, no matter how much I try to squash it.

If you’re a friend who gets exasperated with the constant stalling and excuses as to why I can’t meet up, I’m sorry. I will try harder. But please understand how hard it is for me at the moment; the medication is controlling my cyclothymia but as yet my anxiety remains untreated and at times it is overwhelming. So don’t take it personally if I drop off the radar for a while or cancel on you. As the saying goes: it’s not you it’s me.

Tag Cloud