A Long December…

‘A long December and there’s reason to believe, maybe this year will be better than the last’ …these lyrics still resonate as strongly now with me as they did twenty years ago. At first glance these words seem reasonably uplifting and a positive projection for the year ahead, but if you’re looking for a dose of optimism as you head into 2018 this is probably not the post for you!

The fact that later in the song these words are chased by the ‘the smell of hospitals in winter and the feeling that it’s all a lot of oysters and no pearls’ might give those unfamiliar with the song more of a flavour of what’s to come…

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It’s no surprise to me that right now a big chunk of my internal soundtrack (and what I downloaded to my phone yesterday) is essentially the same as that of my mid teens: Counting Crows’ albums, ‘Recovering The Satellites’  and  ‘August and Everything After’ (it’s no accident how I titled my archive list); R.E.M’s ‘Automatic For The People’; Coldplay’s, ‘Parachutes’; and Dido’s, ‘No Angel’.

The emotions I am experiencing at the moment first became known to me back in the late nineties. As an adolescent the feeling/s hit in an overwhelming and hugely destructive way. In the last day or so I think I’ve fallen into operating from the Teen state so far as my emotions go and so that’s why my headphones are locked in my ears today as my wife has taken the kids out to give me some space and a bit of a break.

What’s up with me?

I am feeling depressed.

It’s not good.

It’s really not good.

I hate it (but then who enjoys feeling shit?).

Oh. And. I am feeling angry (which is new to me, or at least being in touch with my anger is!)

It’s funny, really, because the words ‘depression’ and ‘anger’ seem to have become so innocuous. We throw them around so freely in society that I sometimes feel like they have lost their meaning:

‘What’s wrong with x – I haven’t heard from her for a while?’

‘She’s depressed’

Oh, right, she gets like that sometimes doesn’t she? I’m sure she’ll be ok.’

And that’s kind of how it feels (to me at least). There are so many campaigns out there about mental health awareness but when it comes down to it, lots of people don’t really get what it feels like to be depressed, or anxious, or suicidal, or struggling and so it gets brushed under the carpet like it’s no big deal…when actually when you’re caught up in it it is huge. It is a BIG BIG deal.

We’re sort of programmed to know how to deal with physical illness:

‘Oh I feel rubbish, I’ve got a stinking cold and a fever and can’t get out of bed’

Oh that sounds rotten, I’ll stay away, then! Feel better soon!’ 

And somehow, it seems like we respond to people in the same way when they express feeling mentally unwell like if you come close by you’ll catch it:

Oh I feel rubbish, I feel so sad and lost and I can’t get out of bed’

Oh that sounds, rotten, I’ll stay away, then. Feel better soon!’

A lot of people don’t know what to do or say when you mention that things are a bit (a lot) shit, and so often just back away, and give you space until you are ready to venture back out into the world in the form that they recognise and can relate to.

Sometimes this is fine and sometimes you need someone to come and sit with you when you are in your PJs wanting to slice your arms open to just talk. I have found this has become even more of an issue when I express any negative feelings about having had cancer and all the treatment a couple of years ago. It’s like it’s a completely out of bounds topic. No one knows what to say.

I have noticed that when I feel depressed I don’t talk, though. I don’t reach out. I don’t share. I shut down. I become secretive and closed off and live in my own self-destructive world. I think part of it is about not wanting to burden people with my difficult feelings and thoughts, and part of it is that I just can’t communicate something that feels utterly overwhelming.

Once I hit a place where I am not eating or self-harming in order to cope with my feelings then the window where I might want/be able to talk has passed. I have disappeared…not that anyone would notice. I am very good at hiding what’s going on inside.

I struggle even to tell my therapist when I am battling with my eating disorder or self-harm. I remember clearly the first session back after Christmas last year sitting almost mute desperately trying to find the words to tell her that I had been self-harming…and it took about 45 minutes to get there…which is not ideal in a 50 minute session! So if I can’t tell someone I trust implicitly and who doesn’t judge me then I have no hope with people in my day-to-day life.

If I do try and change my behaviour, and manage to share even a hint of how I am feeling before I have moved into the realms of self-destruction I often find that people don’t always know what to say anyway, ignore it, or say the wrong things:

You were ok yesterday!’ – (I might have appeared that way, but that was because my filter was intact and I could hide what was inside. Today I have no energy to put on the front)

What’ve you got to be depressed about?’  –(You have no idea, do you?)

‘Try and think positive thoughts’  – (Fuck off! Do you really think I am deliberately feeling this way and a bit of positive thinking will shut this off?)

Your treatment was a success. You should be happy.’ (thank god I don’t have a knife to hand).

And it basically doesn’t help at all and so I end up taking it out on myself which actually just makes it worse. Far better to suffer alone then reach out and be shamed for it.

I saw this on Pinterest a while back and thought it was great:

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Anyway, I don’t need to explain depression here do I?!

Don’t get me wrong, I am all about doing things to try and help myself (#selfcare) but sometimes when things feel really bad like they did when I woke up this morning it takes a herculean amount of effort to even get my teeth brushed, let alone feed myself, take a shower, or practise a bit of mindfulness.

I’m not kidding when I say that it has taken me five hours just to get to this point writing this post. I keep wandering off in my head and sleeping.

About an hour ago I kicked myself up the arse and went and made a coffee, ate a croissant, and had a shower….but that’s where the momentum ground to a halt. It’s 1:30 in the afternoon and I am now back under the duvet with curtains (still) drawn and the lights out. I just can’t do it today. I feel so tired and ugh that I just don’t want to be awake.

I keep lamenting the fact that I have a horrible headache… but have not managed to go and get any painkillers, and since I forgot to get any when I was actually downstairs, I’ll probably just lie here groaning to myself for the rest of the afternoon now. I need to go to the loo but I can’t face getting out of the warmth of the bed.

Honestly it is just piss poor here today!

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There are loads of things I need to do but I feel incapable of doing any of it. I am trying not to beat myself up for being unproductive but of course when I feel crap, I attack myself about it.

I know that my mood today is not helped by the fact that I am still really ill with a virus that seems to keep mutating and hitting me over and over and over again. I have been ill since the beginning of September and it is really getting me down now. I wrote a while back about how illness always goes hand in hand with a mental health crash and I think this is especially relevant right now.

I just want to feel physically well and it isn’t happening. I know this is as a result of the fact that my blood levels haven’t recovered since having chemo and so I am more susceptible to picking up bugs and that in itself makes me feel rubbish. I feel like I am emotionally and physically running on empty.

I am usually a busy person. I keep myself busy because, I guess, in part, I am always on the run from these feelings. I totally understand that I probably end up here, face down in the mud, barely functioning, because I overdo it, don’t take time out for myself, don’t attend to my needs, yadda yadda and so end up burning out every now and then. I get it. I don’t need it explaining to me…but what’s the alternative? Sit with these difficult feelings and let them wash over me? I keep trying that in various ways but eventually the feeling of overwhelm overwhelms me!

Music has always functioned as an escape for me and that’s where I am seeking solace right now. I spent a huge chunk of my late teens driving around in my car, listening to my stereo, and trying to escape from whatever was going on at home and simultaneously trying to run away from what was going on in my head/heart. It was all a massive nightmare really: perpetually feeling unloved and like I wasn’t good enough.

And here I am, again, running away from those feelings and retreating into my inner world and music.

There is a part of me that feels that it is absolutely tragic that I am heading towards 35 years old and yet I still struggle massively with feeling unloved and like I am not good enough – ugh! It seems almost nonsensical that these feelings are still able to floor me after all these years.

I have been with my wife for twelve years and have two lovely kids and yet, even despite knowing that they love me and cherish me, something deep in my core can’t really absorb it. The bucket I try and store love in has a great big hole in the bottom and until I fix it the good stuff will keep spilling out and onto the floor.

I wonder what has happened to make all this flare up so significantly again?

Any guesses?

The therapy break you say? Ah, maybe you could be right! It’s getting a bit boring my going on about therapy breaks and my inability to cope with them isn’t it?!

Where am I at with it all? 9 days down, 9 to go…I think. Halfway point. (How how how can I only be halfway through?!)

I spent the first bit of the therapy break alternating between my adult and child states. I had Christmas to contend with which meant the adult needed to be online a lot of the time but I was also really aware of the little ones really missing my therapist when it got to the evening and I had bit of quiet reflective time.

I have spent several hours each night lying in bed not crying but really wanting to. I don’t know how I would explain it to my wife, though, and so I just lie there in the dark feeling like an abandoned child until I fall asleep and dream about her and all the anxieties I am feeling about the therapeutic relationship.

Those little parts of me were fully awakened after having such a connecting last session heading into the break last week. This connected feeling should be a good thing, after all, it’s what I seek every therapy session isn’t it? And yes, that feeling is amazing but it is also incredibly addictive. Initially I felt soothed, held and contained by what had happened in therapy but as is all too often the case, the positive feelings didn’t last and the sense of being on my own, abandoned, and like my therapist had disappeared off the face of the earth took root.

I know that these feelings mirror what happened with my mum when I was small (only without the positive connecting part!) and so it just feels like I am replaying that pain of abandonment over and over again every time I am away from the new attachment figure (therapist).

The knowledge about where these feelings come from doesn’t make them any less painful or any less real in the here and now. It’s agonising. I so desperately wanted to reach out to my therapist and somehow try and get the horrible sense of feeling unworthy and being unlovable to go away.

I stayed with those feelings for a while, you know, the feeling like you’ve been kicked in the gut and are simultaneously feeling scared of everything… but I know from experience that I can’t stay with this pain indefinitely – it hurts too much. And I can’t reach out for my therapist either -she deserves a break and won’t reply to me even if I do contact her which only fuels the awful sense of being left. So at the moment the way I cope with it, I’ve noticed, is by going through this emotional cycle:

The therapy break starts and within a day or two the young child parts come online and sit alongside the adult; three days into the break the child parts are inconsolable and screaming in attachment pain hell. The adult tries to listen and honour these feelings for what they are but there is no soothing to be done, the child parts don’t want me, and the noise inside escalates.

Before long the feelings of loss and abandonment become so overwhelming that the Teen part steps up to try protect the little ones seeing as no one else seems capable of it and shut it all down for them. She is angry and hurt and despondent. She really doesn’t want to go to therapy again, ‘fuck this shit – I don’t care anymore’. She doesn’t see the point in it (although part of her secretly really likes therapist). All it does is hurt all the most vulnerable parts and she can’t understand why I (adult) would spend time and money doing something which feels a lot like self-harm (and she is very good at self-harm).

I can go round in this loop for a few days: adult, child part, teen and then before long the big bastard comes online. I can see it now and it is set to smother me. It is the Inner Critic. That voice is not embodied in a traditional sense. I have mentioned before that it feels a lot like one of the Dementors in ‘Harry Potter’ and I guess this is, in part, the depressive state as well as all the internalised anger that I have repressed over the years. It is the embodiment of all the rage that I had no way of expressing at the time and instead learned to turn in on myself. It is ENORMOUS.

Right now it is leaning in and telling me that my therapist doesn’t care just like my mother didn’t, that I am worthless and unlovable, and a complete loser for having the feelings I do about someone who can never reciprocate them. It tells me that cutting myself, or burning myself will make the feelings go. It tells me that my body is disgusting and that I should stop eating.

Part of me is terrified and feels like the only option is to give in to that voice and there’s another part of me that is hanging on for dear life and shaking a great big stick at it and telling it to leave me alone. I don’t know how resilient that part of me is but I am digging in deep today.

I know that I need to find a way to make that Dementor shape shift. I need to find a way of making friends with it and acknowledging it as a part of myself. I know that it has served as a protector of sorts (even if it is hard to see that anorexia and self-harm have been survival /protective mechanisms) and therefore in some ways I should be grateful that it got me through some emotionally horrendous periods.

I have been thinking today. What I am going to do is try and re-imagine this entity as an angry black dog that has been mistreated and caged for a really long time. I know that the black dog is a well-used metaphor for depression but in my actual real life I have four lovely black dogs whom I love, they are super bonkers beasties. What I hope is that over time and with a bit of training I might get the critic under control just like my delinquent hounds.

I am hoping that if I can change the image in my head from all-encompassing terror-inducer to an angry dog that needs taking for a walk sometimes, then perhaps that’ll settle it down a bit and I will be less frightened by it.

Maybe I need to work out what the needs of the Inner Critic are rather than being so terrified of it that all I do is run from it.

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Anyway, that’s where I am today, there’s more I could say but I know I am making no sense so instead, here is the song that sums up how it feels! I’ll be glad to see the back of this year for sure!