I don’t often write about my mental state because…well, because it’s pretty depressing to write about depression. Depression would take over my whole ‘life’ if I let it, and so I do have a habit of trying to distract myself rather than wallow. Also, I tend to imagine what it’s like reading what I write here, and whenever I do any MH stuff I always imagine readers scrolling impatiently down the page saying ‘For god’s sake, stop whingeing, man.’ I know, I know, I pay far too much attention to my inner critic. (Or not enough, depending on your point of view.)
Anyway, there have been some developments in the whole area of my MH, and I’m going to write about them, partly because, well, that’s what this blog was supposed to be about, and also so there’s a dated record of them. I have found it helpful looking back over past entries and thinking ‘oh, yes, I’d forgotten that’, and I do have a tendency of just not being inclined to believe what my mental state has actually been once it’s shifted. So, if you don’t want to read this kind of post, you should go away and read something else. If you’re short of inspiration, I can recommend any and all of the blogs that appear in the list over to the right – you’ll be bound to find something you like at any of them.
About a week ago I was in a good mood. A really good mood. I put it down to the spring, and the fact that I had made it through the winter intact. That sounds over-dramatic, I think, but that’s how it feels – I dodged the bullet this time. I’m coming to realise that I really do hate the winter. I’m already dreading the next one, in fact. I tend to joke about this, but actually it really isn’t funny, and I don’t know what to about it, or how to fix it. (Some of you may be thinking ‘lightbox’ about now. I agree, it’s probably worth a try.)
Anyway, to get back to last week, I was in a good mood. It’s a hoary old cliche, but I really did feel like a weight had been lifted, but not off my shoulders, off my mind. I felt lighter.
I started to get – ahem – seriously horny. I don’t wish to be indelicate, but, well, I haven’t masturbated so much since my age had a ‘1’ in the first column, and the experience of wanking changed, too. It went from being a necessary but functional activity – the satisfying of a basic physical need – to something that was acutely pleasurable. I’ve read so many accounts of depression that list ‘loss of, or reduction in, ability to experience pleasure’ as a symptom that it came as something of a shock to realise that I was feeling the opposite – a whacking great increase in my ability to experience it.
I realised, as well, that a lot of other things had resolved themselves, or at least got a lot better. I read (and commented on) a post Life of Chuckles made about government surveillance, which maybe doesn’t sound like a big deal, but ideas like this are usually a major trigger for my paranoia. In fact, having commented, I realised that I really wasn’t feeling paranoid at all. It was a strange experience, like prodding at a tooth with your tongue and expecting the old toothache to flare up any moment, only for it not to. I wasn’t worried about people on the TV spying on me, I wasn’t concerned that everyone who even glanced in my direction was part of a surveillance project. I wasn’t always scanning my peripheral vision for shapes or creatures or people who might be moving there. I’ve put a lot of effort into coping with these feelings over the last year-and-a-bit, to the extent that I’m not always fully aware when I mentally ‘talk myself down’ from them, but to have them just disappear was amazing. I think that was where a lot of the feeling of mental lightness came from – the fact that I wasn’t having to try and hold two separate strands of thought in my head simultaneously, that I wasn’t continuously, on some level, arguing with myself.
All of this was great, of course, but me being me, I started to worry about it. The thing is, it had happened fast. Normally when my mood lifts it does it gradually, like a boat that’s stuck on the sand at low tide starts to gradually bob free as the tide flows back. This wasn’t like that, it was as though you were holding a helium balloon on a string, and you suddenly let go, and it just soared up into the sky. I felt like I was waiting for the other shoe to drop, as the expression has it.
And once I started to think about it, I realised that I seemed to have swapped one kind of mental weirdness for another. For a start, my memory was shot to buggery, which is usually a sign that I’m getting fairly depressed – but I wasn’t depressed. I also found, not that I couldn’t concentrate exactly, but that I couldn’t make my thoughts go in certain directions. This is why I didn’t post for a week, actually – I just couldn’t make myself think the right way. This is very difficult to describe, but it felt like a physical sensation. It felt as though every time I tried to think in a particular direction, my mind was literally steered away from it, as though my consciousness was a ball, and it hit a ramp it couldn’t get over and was steered off in some other direction.
Once I had realised this, it was a fairly unpleasant experience. If I’m honest, I always do have a certain reticence about blogging here – it’s some sort of weird combination of shyness and paranoia, I think – but I’m also used to it being something I can overcome with enough effort and metaphorical self-arm-twisting. This was different to that, in that it wasn’t a limit on what I wanted to do, but a limit on what I could do. I’m not sure how clearly I’m getting the difference between the two across, but all I can really say is that from the inside they feel absolutely different.
As a result of all this, last week felt decidedly odd. Some of the oddness, to be honest, may well have just come from the fact that I wasn’t feeling depressed – I am very familiar with depression, and with the best will in the world, to have that taken so suddenly away is bound to be unsettling. But these new feelings were also very unsettling on their own and, if I’m honest, fairly frightening – I really don’t like the idea of being out of control of what goes on inside my skull. Yet, on the other hand, this was combined with the fact that I really wasn’t feeling depressed.
If you’ve never had depression, I think it can be quite hard to understand what it’s like. Depression (well, for me – I can’t speak to anyone else’s experiences) isn’t about feeling sad, and it isn’t about having a stream of negative thoughts about myself, or the world, or my place in the world. Sometimes I really do wish it was that simple, because then I could see that there would be ways of tackling it. For me, depression is like living in the same world, but with the colour turned all the way down, so that it’s an endlessly shifting array of shades of grey. When I’m trying to describe what it’s like those are the sorts of words I reach for – grey, tepid, mediocre, stale, futile, nondescript. For me, anyway, being depressed isn’t a question of living in the presence of unrelenting woe-is-me misery, it’s a matter of living in the absence of anything and everything that makes living worthwhile.
So, to have that all taken away really was wonderful. It’s not as though my life was suddenly transformed. I didn’t rush out and start dancing through the streets, I wasn’t rushing up to complete strangers and engaging them in spontaneous witty banter, but I was able to take pleasure in my quiet, unassuming, ordinary life. If you’ve never had depression, the idea of ordinary life being pleasurable probably seems rather bizarre. Ordinary life is about the dull routines, or the daily commute, or whatever, but actually, whether you realise it or not, through all those experiences you are alive to the possibility of pleasure, and you experience it in ways you don’t even realise.
Well, as you may have gathered by now, my experience of it didn’t last. My mood started to drift gradually downwards from about Wednesday on. My shopping trip on Saturday was really a last-ditch effort to try and cling on with desperate fingers to the last vestiges of the feeling that I could go anywhere and do anything. Last night, as I sat on the sofa at 12-30 at night, staring at a blank TV I had just turned off, and couldn’t move, or think, and for 20 minutes or more just sat there blankly staring, I knew my depression was back, same as it ever was.
What’s worse, today I’ve felt the other stuff creeping back too. I spent most of this morning listening to a church bell toll, even though I know there’s no church bell within earshot that sounds anything like it. Writing this post I’ve had to keep checking that the TV is properly turned off, and not on standby, because if it’s on standby they might be using it to spy on me. Of course, they aren’t, and of course I’ve started up on the whole persuading my self that it’s not true thing, but it was nice for those few days when I didn’t have to do that.
If you looked at my life from the outside, you’d probably be hard pressed to spot what’s changed. I’d maybe seem to be spending a bit more time sitting still staring at things that aren’t doing anything. This is the thing I’ve spent years working on, after all – the ability to cope, to keep functioning, even through all the shit my mind keeps throwing at me. But from the inside everything’s changed. Everything I do – from brushing my teeth to going for a walk to eating a meal – is a chore to be dragged through. Every thought I have has to be monitored to see if it fits in the ‘normal’ or ‘weird’ category, and has to be dealt with accordingly. I’m constantly aware of scanning my peripheral vision for the people or creatures or shapes that might be there. The weight that I felt had lifted is back.
In some ways you might think, so what? I had a few days of feeling better, and that’s a good thing, right? Well, yes, it was a good thing, and you’re right that’s absolutely the way I should try to see it. But it is so hard to go back to the same old same-old after a brief reminder of the alternative. And it’s so hard to keep an intellectual hope going – well, someday you’ll feel better, so just put your head down and get through this one day, and then you’ll be one day nearer the day you feel better – when experience keeps showing me that any recovery is only temporary, and only exists to point-up to me everything I usually don’t have.
A man who has never seen the light could live quite happily in the dark, but a man who has seen the light and then had it taken away from him, a man who sees brief flashes of light every now and again, but the rest of the time has to live in the dark – well, that’s no kind of a life, is it?