CN suicide, eating disorders (specifically mentioning purging - but just a mention)
It has been almost two years since I've written a post on this blog.
Tonight a status from a Facebook friend on university, isolation, loneliness and mental health made me think I should try and find some words to talk about what's going on with me right now.
I'm supposed to be finishing my master's degree in August. I moved to London for this. I uprooted my life and got on a plane to go and do a degree. But I had to defer every assignment last year. I haven't even started an essay that was due last week. I wanted to finish on time, but I don't know if I'll make it. At this point, I just want it over with. Depression sucks every little bit of joy from the things in life you care about. I don't want to write about feminism, and I don't want to write papers and go to classes and have debates and think about Life After University, again. Like with my undergraduate, I have few friends in university. The false sense of security and hope I began to accumulate last year has broken into pieces now. I feel like an outsider on my own campus.
I am on a steady diet of painkillers, anti-depressants, mood stabilisers and benzodiazepines. I make myself get out of bed, at least three or four days a week, before 10am. I eat meals regularly, for the most part. I spend most of my time alone. I tell the voice in my head that there are no such things as safe foods and unsafe foods, that all bodies are good bodies, and that I will not put my fingers down the back of my throat even though it's all I can think of doing. I don't eat a varied diet, but at least I'm eating. Most of my meals are cereal or pasta and pesto. I spend too much money on food out.
The doctors tell me I am Coping Very Well. That there is nothing they could tell me to do that I don't do already. I take my medication, I eat, I sleep, I get out of bed, I shower, though not as much as I should. I see friends. I have a partner. I am close to my family. I have interests outside of my degree and I am about to start long-term individual psychotherapy. They are uncomfortable when I talk about the impact that being poor has on my mental health. My DLA plus my housing benefit does not even cover my rent. Over two thirds of my income goes on my rent. They do not like talking about money and they know very little about benefits.
I continue to burst into tears at inappropriate moments. I've cried too many times to count in London Bridge station, when staff have been rude and dismissive and I'm in such agony that I can barely walk, never mind take the stairs. I've had panic attacks in bars full of people enjoying their Friday night, I've left events early because I'm suicidal and I've cursed the Jubilee line for being safe and having tube barriers at every platform.
I am exhausted and I am anxious. I am in need of a higher dose of my sedative, but need to wait to see a psychiatrist. I keep committing to things, and then hiding in my room for a few days instead. I have started to avoid looking at my emails. I always have twenty tabs open, always have a list of things to do.
I need people to be patient with me. I'm forever needing people to be patient with me, but I really mean it this time. Living with depression and anxiety is an experience common to many. But living with complex and severe mental illness, combined with a chronic pain and fatigue disorder, is different.
My world has been grey for quite some time, and I don't know when the colour is going to come back into it. The cliched phrase 'you never know what someone is going through behind closed doors' comes to mind.
I am still trying to choose life, but it's hard. I cannot see the end of the week, never mind the end of the year. When I turned 23 a few weeks ago, I sat awake in bed at midnight in disbelief. When I was 17 and returning to my A Levels after several months off, I told myself I would be dead by my own hand before 20. I simply did not want to be alive for much longer than that. And while I'm still trying to keep myself alive, I cannot express in words how difficult a task that is.
Someone I follow on Twitter posted a graphic a few weeks ago, with the caption 'I imagine that this is what people who experience anxiety & depression must feel like'. I don't know this person, but they're a good few years older than me, at least. And I could not get my head around the fact that they had made it to that point in their life without experiencing any kind of depression. I cannot imagine a life like that. I daren't, because if I had lived a life without anxiety and depression, I cannot even begin to imagine the different place I would be in.
Rather than ending, as so many posts like this do, by telling people who feel horrific what they should be doing, I'll give a few suggestions of what you could do to better support your chronically ill and depressed friends.
- Mental illness and ableism is part of a wider system of structural oppression in society. Do not forget this. Do not divorce this from your understanding of mental illness, stigma and treatment. There is a reason more black men are given medication rather than therapy, are sectioned at a much higher rate, and often given incorrect diagnoses of schizophrenia. White supremacy, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia play a massive part in why those who are unwell are prevented from getting better. The world is not built for people who are mentally ill, and it is doubly not built for those who are mentally ill and queer, mentally ill and black, etc.
- Make it a regular part of your routine to tell the people in your life who you love that you love them. Normalise it.
- Check in regularly with your depressed and disabled friends, and cut them some slack when they snap at you, or turn down your invitation out for the tenth time. Leaving the house is difficult.
- Ask what you can do in general to help someone. For instance, I rarely forget to take medication. But many people find taking medication difficult to remember to do, and so a daily text to remind someone to take their pills can be a massive help.
- Be kinder to one another. So much recent unnecessary cruelty directed my way has had a much huger impact on my mental health than those responsible would imagine it would have. Next time you go to write that passive aggressive tweet, or that insulting Facebook comment, ask yourself if it's really necessary.
- People with severe mental illness do not expect you to be able to make it better. Nor are you expected to understand. Personally, what I would like, is when I tell someone I'm incredibly anxious, that they do not leave me to it because they are scared of getting it wrong. Tell the person that you are there if they need anything, ask what you can do to help. You'll build up trust, slowly. If you're scared of trying to cope, imagine what they feel like.