My own personal Devil’s Snare

So, I’ve been away for a while. It wasn’t necessarily planned, although in the last post I made before the semi-intentional hiatus I did mention that I might not be available whilst our living situation was unsettled.

We left our flat more than a month ago, and it’s been a tough month. We have a cosy spot in my old bedroom at home, but it’s been difficult to adjust – to adjust to less of our own space, to adjust to living with parents again, to adjust to new routines and new rules and lots of new uncertainty, as our stay here was until recently without an end date.

I have never dealt well with this kind of limbo, in any context. I try to be as open as possible about my mental health, and in the last few weeks it has been rocky, as things like uncertainty and change and disruption are not good bedfellows for anxiety disorders and depression. And this, in addition to some other outside factors, has meant that I’ve been having to grapple quite tumultuously with my head almost every day.

It doesn’t necessarily manifest how you might think it should, if you don’t know much about it (‘it’ I suppose here meaning ‘mental ill-health’ or ‘the single entity arranged inside my head comprised of Generalised Anxiety Disorder, moderate clinical depression, and the various lovechildren they spawn when up against adversity’).

I don’t often sleep well, and mental health disorders are by their nature exhausting besides (think for example of how tired you feel at the end of a day of intensely worrying about something), which has an immediate knock-on effect on everything I do. It’s difficult, on a bad day, to do anything at all, but not in a way that’s tangible, which only makes it worse. You’ll hear things like “just get on with it”, and you’ll feel like you should be able to, but it just… won’t happen. A gulf exists between you and the thing or things you want to do, and saying you should “just get on with it” is advising you to cross it without providing the bridge.

Other garbage advice I’ve received or read includes, but is not limited to, the following:

  • “just have fun”. Literally, “just have fun”. Great. Sometimes I don’t have the energy to get out of bed properly for days. Yay! Fun!!
  • “take on responsibilities”. Not likely to be of use given the aforementioned bed situation. Also, the remedy to an anxious mind does not seem to me to be more stress.
  • “avoid activities than involve too many activities”. Okay, to be fair, this one was given regarding eczema, but it’s too good to leave out. Plus, it’s about as irrelevant and nonsensical in this context as in any other.
  • “put a pencil between your teeth and look in the mirror”. Supposedly this simulates smiling, and seeing or feeling yourself smile will help to create a genuine feeling of positivity, despite the smile being false. I have no idea about the credibility of the science behind this one and if you do find that it works then you do you, but for me… no.
  • “do yoga”. I’d challenge any of you to find an individual who’s battled with mental health issues who hasn’t had this thrown their way at one stage or another. I’m sure that it can, and for some people, does work, but like “just get on with it”, it is a chasm missing its bridge. Besides, whenever I’ve had a tentative go at it, I’ve been too wrapped up in worrying about whether or not I’m doing it right and wondering at which point I’ll start not being depressed any more to feel anything other than just plain daft.
  • “go for a walk/jog”. Worse. Again, it most likely does work for some people, and again, it is a ladder presented without its lower rungs.

Well what, you might be asking of me, actually constitutes the bridges and lower-ladder rungs of your inconsistent metaphors?

That, I’m afraid, is not a simple question. Taking “just get on with it” as our example, and assuming that “it” this time is “the day and its myriad monotonous responsibilities”, even in this case, the first step greatly varies. For some, and on some days, the first step is “get out of bed, stretch, and get into the shower”. For some, or perhaps the same people on a different day, the first step is “try not to lie in bed for an hour staring at the walls/your phone before getting up”. It could be “decide not to go back to sleep after waking up for the third time”. And on some days, it could be plain old “go back to sleep and try again tomorrow”.

My point is that advice like “just get on with it” doesn’t work, because you can’t assume that any given person at any given time has the capability to navigate however many steps it may take them to get to getting on with it. And the fact that a “get out of bed, stretch, and get into the shower” day can be immediately followed by a “go back to sleep and try again tomorrow” day makes it even more difficult, because that scenario comes with a side of “but you were fine the day before?” and a dollop of “I must be faking because I Did Some Things yesterday”.

I’ve lapsed into the second person for example’s sake here, but I’ve had all of these first steps and many more in between.

Sometimes it’s other things, things even you yourself might not recognise for what they are. In one bad patch, I found myself totally and crushingly unable to make decisions, however small. It was surreal, as to me, the only conceivable answer to the question or choice with which I was faced was for both or all options to simultaneously happen and not happen. Anything short of that was simply not possible to comprehend. It only lasted maybe a month, but it was incredible, in a very unpleasant way. Particularly as it applied even to things like “do you want a glass of milk” – the answer to which, usually, is a resounding yes.

This time around, I have become much more forgetful than I ever have been before. I’ve left my purse behind at home twice, and left it at work overnight twice, all within the last two months. In the previous hundreds of months of my life up to that point, I believe I had done this maybe once. I forget to take my medication all the time, where before, it never even crossed my mind that I might. I’m late to things more often than I ever was, too, because I’ve always been in the ‘punctual to the point of decidedly early’ camp; very much an “it takes twenty minutes to walk there, so I’ll leave myself half an hour” kind of girl. In my mind, I still do that, and yet, my punctuality is definitely declining.

Sometimes I’m angry or irritable for seemingly no reason. Things that shouldn’t bother me cause unbridled rage. Sometimes I don’t really want to eat, despite being hungry, or I only want to eat a very specific thing but I don’t actually know what it is, so I don’t eat. I’ve managed to get my anxiety nausea mostly under control by carrying mints with me everywhere, which has worked very well, but as soon as I don’t have access to them I will begin to sweat. My anxiety tends not to stray into the social side of my life, and in fact I usually find an evening with friends or family will lift my mood enormously, but sometimes the sound of voices and general activity make my skin vibrate and I need to be alone. I don’t really get “sad” the way people think depressed people do.

It steals your hobbies, as well, in exactly the way all the online symptom-checkers say it does. You love drawing? Really? Why is that? What’s the point of it? Are you going to make a career out of it? Are you really enjoying it, though? What are you going to do with that drawing once it’s finished? I’m not sure you’re really, really enjoying it. What exactly is it about it that you enjoy? It’s just pencil to paper, lines, colour maybe. Why does it matter? Repeat ad infinitum. About everything you like.

I try to bat away those thoughts when they come, but it’s not always possible. You’re always fighting with your brain, and sometimes, it wins. When it does, it’s not rational. Your brain’s an asshole. It doesn’t care that you have a home, a family who loves you, a partner who adores you. It doesn’t care that other people have it worse – if anything, it reminds you of that from time to time, just so you can feel worse about how bad you feel. It loves to nudge you and ask if you’ve considered the fact that you’re making everything up, that you’re just lazy, that you’re ridiculous for not being able to cope with Life when everyone else around you is keeping up just fine. Yes, you say.

You have.

Oh, hey, but there are physical symptoms too! Nausea, tiredness, insomnia, muscle twitches, heart palpitations that you might think are indicative of a heart attack and to which the only remedy is ‘relax’ calling up pleasant memories of that scene in The Philosopher’s Stone where they’re being strangled by the Devil’s Snare; menstrual changes, skin problems of various kinds, even “unexplained aches and pains” (honestly), and these are just the ones I’ve personally experienced. Will that convince you, though, that you’re not faking? Nope. Thinking you must be faking is another symptom! Yay!! Just have fun!

It’s even better (read: worse) when you’re what you might call high-functioning, when you can do your job, and do it well; when you can seem to exist in daily life as a relatively neurotypical person except for the fact that you can’t remember the last time your back muscles untensed, when you can socialise and laugh and be outgoing and seemingly breezy, and then go home to Not Sleep and try to ignore how loud and fast your brain is being.

When I started this blog, I was quite new to being excited by make-up. I’ve always been bookish, and though of course the two are not mutually exclusive, until age sixteen or so I misguidedly thought they were, and from then on I just took a long time to get interested. I was excited to be excited about something, and although the initial novelty has faded a little and I do sometimes get those “why do you like this?” thoughts, I try to just yell “because I do!!!” and keep going.

I haven’t been keeping up with anything to the level I’d like to lately, because of everything I’ve detailed above, but I’m trying to get things straightened up again. We’ll hopefully, finally, be in our flat by the end of the week. That should help me get my head in order a bit, and once I feel more stable, I should be able to work on the rest, including posting more regularly, and a bit more diversely.

I’m not 100% sure what the point of this post was except to try and map out what’s been going on with me, and I suppose a little to share what it’s like to have a mental illness with people who might not know, but if you read this far, then thank you. I hope I’ll be back properly soon.

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