Something decidedly strange is going on. I’m feeling – whisper it – almost happy.
Not all the time – that would be too much to hope for – but I am getting periods of several hours together when I’m feeling content, and relaxed, and quiet in my own skull. It’s amazing. I’d pretty much forgotten what it feels like. This is the first time in forever that I’m having a good interlude in between “help, my brain is melting” anxiety (or ‘anxiety’) and “oh, woe is me” depression. (Actually I’m not sure it is an interlude – I’m really hoping it’s longer term than that – but I’m trying not to build up unreasonable expectations.) I’ve been trying to work out why I’m feeling like this, and this is what I’ve come up with so far.
First of all, I made it through christmas, and that’s a time of year I really dread. I don’t really want to go into detail about the reasons for that right now, but it’s a combination of the fact that I’ve had some not entirely pleasant experiences at christmases past, that it’s the “crunch point” of the year – everything spirals down towards the end of the year and then begins to spiral upwards once we’ve got past the new year – and, finally, that it’s the time of year when “seasonal illnesses” are at their height, and that doesn’t go well with my fear of infection, and my concern that everything outside my flat is contaminated. Somewhere in the mix, as well, is the fact that it’s a fixed event that I can’t get away from, and that tends to cause an I’ve-got-to-escape-but-I-can’t-escape-but-I’ve-got-to-but-I-can’t mental “loop”, and those kinds of loop are always pretty destructive.
Against all that backdrop, christmas 2008 really wasn’t that bad. I found it incredibly tiring, and I threw a bit of a wobbler (read: panic attack) on christmas day itself, and had to be driven back home by my brother after dinner, but before presents (we usually do our presents after dinner). I was, frankly, pretty impressed with myself that I made it through that much. I’d had to deal with two of my biggest ‘issues’ – being a distance away from home, and not able to travel back for myself (no trains running, of course, therefore got-to-escape-but-can’t-escape), and eating and drinking outside my flat (contamination/ infection).
So, I think probably a big part of my lift in mood is just relief – I survived, and I don’t have to survive again for a whole year (slightly ominously, I’m already aware of a background tension building towards next year – but that’s months away yet…). But part of it, as well, is that I am, genuinely, quite impressed with myself, and what I’ve managed to achieve.
Obviously, there’s the getting myself through christmas thing that I’ve already mentioned. My fear of infection/ contamination (although still a fairly big problem – my hands are currently cracked and bleeding from the amount of washing/ disinfecting I’ve been doing) has also been a lot better this year. That’s obviously good in its own right, but it’s also something I feel good about because I’ve ‘worked’ on it, in a vaguely CBT-ish kind of way, through the year, and pretty much entirely on my own. (The fear itself was mentioned in my therapy appointments, but it didn’t get to the point of talking about coping strategies – we had bigger fish to fry.)
The fact that I’ve succeeded in ‘managing’ a big aspect of my anxiety, as well as (hopefully) pulling myself out of a pretty severe depression, without any professional help, and without taking meds, is something I feel really proud of myself for. I possibly shouldn’t feel proud of it – it was probably really stupid of me not to take the pills I was offered – but it is something I’ve achieved on my own, and I don’t think I should totally beat myself up for feeling pleased.
Something else that’s been bolstering my sense of achievement is that, in the gap between christmas and new year, I also managed to spend some time with some of my friends, who I hadn’t seen for about 18 months prior to that. I didn’t do a lot – just went round to someone’s flat, watched an unintentionally hilarious DVD, and came home again – but this is also something else I’m giving myself a big tick for. Partly just because I did it in the first place, but also because it proves that I haven’t completely lost my ability to interact with people.
It was fairly obvious from people’s reactions that I was being a bit weird – saying things that didn’t exactly connect to what was being talked about, and so on – but given the state of abject panic I was in at the time, the fact that I managed to talk at all was a major achievement, frankly. And, of course, given that everyone in the room knew that I’d had a mental meltdown, they were no doubt expecting me to be weird, which didn’t help. Anyway, I managed to make people laugh, which is a good sign, and hopefully means I’m pegged as a ‘harmless loony’ rather than a ‘scary loony.’
One thing rather upset me – my closest pal (who has had mild MH difficulties of his own, in the past) was there, and said that he had completely stopped going out to a club we used to go to regularly. He didn’t say why that was, but it was fairly obvious that it was because, without having me to go with, he didn’t really enjoy it anymore. It brought home to me that my abrupt disappearance from my social circle – which I had to do in the interests of self-preservation – nonetheless had negative effects on other people, and that was sad.
Something else I’m pleased about is that, although I’ve spent quite a lot of time convinced that all the people who were there have been bad-mouthing me ever since, I didn’t go into a complete “everybody hates me” meltdown, or immediately email them asking for reassurance. In some ways, I’m probably more impressed with that than I am with actually getting there in the first place. The fact that I’ve been able to ‘manage’ a part of my paranoia (which is probably the single thing I find hardest to deal with) suggests that my coping skills are at quite a high ebb at the moment, and that’s a nice feeling.
I’ve got a real sense that I’m experiencing a virtuous circle at the moment. My mood has improved a little, and I’ve been able to capitalise on that, and force myself to do things I was worried I wasn’t capable of, and then the sense of achievement I’ve got from doing those things has boosted my mood – and so on. Over the last couple of years, I’ve had seemingly endless experience of vicious circles – feeling crap, so doing less, so feeling more crap – and it makes for an incredibly nice change.
There’s no doubt in my mind that the improvement in my mood came first, though, and that the continuing upward trend is also not only because I’ve been doing stuff. The fact is, I seem to be in a mental state where I can take pleasure in what I’ve achieved, as opposed to thinking “yes, but look what I haven’t achieved”, and that doesn’t seem to be something I have any control or influence over.
I’m afraid I always find myself getting wound up by those patronising lists you sometimes see telling you how to improve your mental health. I know they’re incredibly well-intentioned, but they still make me want to bang my head against the wall. You know the kind of thing they say: “Take up a hobby – why not grow vegetables? That’ll give you something to do, you’ll get lots of healthy outdoor exercise – and plenty of fresh veg for your new healthy diet, too!” Whenever I read things like that, I always find myself muttering away about stupid, patronising idiots who wouldn’t notice the difference between a symptom and a cause if you stood up and whacked them round the head with a sledgehammer while you explained it to them. But, as I say, they’re well-intentioned, and, more importantly, they have a point – if you fell you can do things, then you should, because doing them will make you feel better.
Anyway, for the most part I’ve just been trying to relax and enjoy the feeling. I do have some concerns – part of me is permanently on tenterhooks, wondering when all the old, familiar negative stuff will come crashing back, and how I’ll cope with it, now that I’ve had this brief interlude of happiness. I’m experiencing a kind of fluctuation in my mood as well, and that’s a little disturbing. Normally my moods are fairly static, but at the moment I’ll find I’m very anxious, but only for an hour or two, or that I feel very low, but then start to feel better within half an hour or so. At the moment, I’m putting that down to the fact that, basically, my mood is recovering, and my brain is just trying to remember how normal emotions work. (Come to think of it, maybe this is what normal emotions are like, and I just don’t recognise it, because I’ve got to used to the great slabs of feeling that come with not being well.)
The one thing that is bothering me a little more than the others is that I do seem to have a lot of energy. I’m finding it hard to get to sleep before about 4am, but not needing to force myself to get up in the mornings. It’s strange – I know I’m actually tired, and in a way I feel tired to, but not in a way that seems to affect how much energy I have. Of course, this might again be perfectly normal, and it’s just that I’ve forgotten that’s there a difference between feeling tired and feeling utterly exhausted. But I’m also finding that I feel an urgent need to get up and do something quite a lot of the time, even if it’s just to run the three or four steps of the hallway in my flat a few times (actually I’ve had to do that five or six times while I’ve been writing this). And there are also times when those feelings are kind of tipping over into a sort of itchy irritability when I just can’t make myself sit still, or concentrate, or do anything, really.
Still, I think it’s most likely that I’m wondering about all this unnecessarily. I’m pretty sure that all that’s happening is that my moods are trying to sort themselves out into their normal patterns. And, even if that’s not what’s happening, whatever is happening is a whole lot better than what I’ve been used to over the last little while, so I’m really not complaining. And that, I’m sure you’ll all agree, really does make a nice change.
P.S. – This post includes the phrase ‘high ebb’. I’ve been tying myself up in knots over it, because I’m pretty sure that the high state of the tide is actually called the ‘flow’ (as in ‘ebb and flow’). But the thing is, if I’d written about my coping skills being at a ‘high flow’, you wouldn’t have had the faintest clue what I was wittering on about, and I’d’ve looked like a complete fool. Except now, of course, I’ve made myself look like a pedantic fool by making such a big deal out of it all. Ah well, I wouldn’t be me if I wasn’t obsessing over something…