This is going to be a post of a kind I don’t write much any more – about my own, current, mental ill-health. It’s likely to be maudlin, and self-indulgent. So if that doesn’t interest you – and who could blame you? – take this as your cue to go and do something else.
My mood broke last Sunday.
There’s already a temptation to romanticise. To imagine that prior to that day everything had been filled with sunshine and laughter, and afterwards it was all dirty grey washing-up water. But that would be sentimental nonsense.
For a start, a good mood is not, for me, the presence of pleasure, but rather the absence of misery. I know how drama-queenish that sounds – oh, woe is me! – but unfortunately it’s true. I have, quite genuinely and without a hint of exaggeration, forgotten what pleasure feels like. I’m not bipolar, I don’t get the manic yang to counterbalance the depressive yin. I just get yin – hour after day after week after month after year of endless, grinding depression. And, occasionally, precious interludes when the depression briefly abates.
So, when I say that my mood broke last week, I mean that one of those brief interludes came to an end. I mean that I had been, for the first time in almost as long as I can remember, unassaulted by any of the myriad symptoms with which my mind plagues itself.
I do not remember the onset of the good mood. I simply found that, without realising it, I had opened up into a wider existence, like an underground stream that had flowed out into a starlit sea.
And forgive me for my foolishness, but I did not look that gift horse in the mouth. It was so good, after so long, to be out under an open sky that I did not think of the ending that always follows the beginning. I allowed myself to imagine that my ever-spinning mind might finally be stilled. That I might get to sit on a bench in the park, in the golden sunset, breathing the smoke of second hand barbecues and listening to the laughter of others, forever.
But there was already a worm in the bud.
I woke on Sunday morning to the sense of nameless, formless dread that fills so much of my life. That sense of threat, of being watched, of having to watch myself. That sense of being lost in a world that is never quite what it seems to be, always on the edge of understanding the imminent danger which is always lurking, ready to strike at me the moment my attention drifts.
I tried to shake it off, like a cat shivering its fur when a single drop of water strikes its back. I strode out into the late afternoon, revisited the park, sat on the bench trying to summon up the golden sunset by force of will. But it was form without content. And later, as I made my way back home, I felt the familiar clouds closing round me again, and I realised it had not been a single drop, but the start of the rain.
I don’t want to dramatise, but this week has been awful. The contrast between light and dark always makes the dark so much worse. The brief respite has done nothing but make me freshly aware of the utter worthlessness of a life lived in the absence of those things that make life worth living.
I can cope with mental illness itself. It’s normal for me, par for the course. I adjust to it, adapt myself and my mode of life to the limits it imposes. But I admit I struggle when it briefly evaporates, only to surge back as bad as it ever was.
When that happens, it’s like I’ve been granted just enough light to realise how dark it is. It feels like I’m being taunted. I know it’s not a personal thing, that it’s just a biomedical, psychosocial fact of life. But I can’t help it, I experience it as cruel. It fills me with a quiet, raging despair that’s quite different to depression; with a desperate, urgent desire to do something – anything – to make the whole mess just stop.
I won’t act on that desire, of course. I take note of these feelings, jot them down, as a means (the only means I have) of limiting their power over me. Writing this post about the quiet, raging despair I feel is my method of ensuring that I am not overwhelmed by it.
By articulating these feelings, I insist upon the power of my rational, ordered mind to describe and therefore contain the chaotic darkness of my irrational, disordered mind. I will not be overwhelmed by that part of myself. I refuse. No matter how badly I want all this to stop – no matter how desperately I want to fall asleep and never wake up, to drift into merciful oblivion – I will not allow myself to precipitate that moment. I simply refuse.
But it is difficult, I admit. It forces me to recognise painful things – like the fact that, since I gave up long ago on any hope of recovery, I am drawing out my life for no good reason, bar sheer, bloody-minded determination. My life is, literally, pointless: I have to face that, and find a way of dealing with it.
And I admit, too, that I am scared determination will not, in the end, be enough. I have been sicker, this past year, than I have ever been before. All I can see in front of me is a darkening road, and I do not know for how much longer I will have the courage to press on.
Enough. Time to get out of my own head. Time to deploy optimism-by-policy.
I had a good couple of weeks. That’s a good thing. Proof that it’s still possible.
Here’s to the next time.