Happy Monday everyone! So dramatic and terrible news…I am afraid that for the first Monday in over a year and a half of Born without marbles, there is no blog today…PLEASE CONTROL YOUR SOBBING AND DEVASTATING SADNESS! The blog post is actually written and the picture is fabulously coloured in…the problem is that on Friday night I was taken in an ambulance to hospital where I have been ever since and I do not have my laptop…hopefully however, I will be discharged sometime later this week at which point I will go home and run straight to my laptop so that I can upload and quench your weekly thirst for my nonsense and ramblings. I really am very sorry to let you all down so please do not hate me! Hate my body for not working properly if anything! Anyway I really hope you are all ok and know I am thinking of all of you. Take care everyone x
Are you interested in LGTBQ issues? Do you like talking about mental health? Enjoy watching videos of weird bespectacled people online? WELL WHAT A TREAT I HAVE FOR YOU TODAY…
Living with depression is incredibly hard, but to people who don’t live with it, so is comprehending what it actually feels like to suffer with an illness that is often brushed off as “just being a bit down in the dumps”. For this reason, to try and help more people understand the condition, I have come up with 6 examples of the way depression feels for me in ways I hope are easily understood or related to by anyone.
1. The “night before dread”: You know when it is the day before something you really do not want to do/are frightened of? Like the first day back at school after the summer holidays or a rectal exam? That feeling of absolute dread when you look forward to the next day’s unpleasant events that you cannot get out of? That dread of the next day is what depression feels like, only you feel it every day, all day for no reason whatsoever. You look to the future and realise that there is no impending rectal exam or reason for you to feel this way at all, which in theory should make you feel better but it doesn’t. It actually feels more frustrating, because unlike when you know what you are dreading and know you will feel better when the looming event is over, when you are dreading nothing in particular, you don’t know how to get that “nothing” out of the way so that you can feel better and move on with your life.
2. The “head in a bucket”: For me, depression often feels like having your head in a very heavy immovable bucket. It is pitch black all around and darkness is all you can see. At the same time people are standing beside you without a bucket on their head, telling you to look at trees, pretty flowers and positive things in life, which would be all well and good if your head wasn’t stuck in a bucket. They tell you to look on the bright side, to look at the sunshine/how lucky you are and you really try. You squint and turn your head for hours desperately trying to see what they see but no matter how hard you try all you see is darkness, not because you aren’t wanting to see the light, but because that damn bucket on your head is blocking it all out.
3. The “Robot driver”: Many days I wake up once in the morning, and then again sometime in the afternoon, having lived part of my day without really realising what was going on. It feels as if my body has gone on autopilot and turned me into a robot carrying out all the daily tasks required of me without really being present or noticing what is going on at all. It is like when you drive yourself home sometimes (not that I can drive but I hear this is a common experience), and then when you get to your front door you don’t remember the drive because you were too distracted thinking about how fantastic penguins are. The difference is that with the depression robot automaton example, you don’t know what you were distracted by, what you were thinking about or whether you were actually conscious or present at all. Your body has just been moving around with no-one inside.
4. The “frozen mute weird coma active mind thing that I cannot think of a good name for”: Imagine someone has super glued your tongue to the roof of your mouth. They have also injected you with some weird substance that means you physically cannot move your limbs or your face and you cant really feel them either. If someone touches your arm you can see it happening but you can’t feel the other person on your skin. Mentally your brain is active and you are thinking things like “I really should get up do something productive right now” or “I have so much to do and I have to get on for goodness sake move”, but still your body is too numb to respond and you can’t even open your mouth or speak to tell anyone what is going on.
5. The classic “Wading through treacle” but with weights tied to your ankles: This example pretty much says it all in the title, but basically just imagine trying to walk across a football pitch which is filled up to your chin with treacle (an unfortunate consequence of an explosion and resulting flood at the local treacle factory. Thankfully I can assure you all that nobody was harmed in the explosion but a hell of a lot of treacle has been wasted by spreading itself across this football pitch). You also have heavy weights strapped to every limb so every step is a huge effort, yet still you try as hard as you can and use all your strength to get to the other side of the pitch. In reality though, that struggle merely corresponds to the task of cleaning your teeth, so to get through the entire day there are still hundreds more pitches of treacle in front of you that you must pass through before you can just give up and go back to sleep again.
6. The “Deserted Wasteland”: Sometimes depression feels like you are standing out in the middle of a deserted wasteland (you wouldn’t have guessed this from the title of this one but just go with me and don’t feel too surprised), where all around you there is just barren empty land. There is no grass, no trees, no sign of life anywhere around as far as your eyes can see. You can have a hundred members of your family and friends in the real world trying to look after you and supporting you through it, so you shouldn’t feel so isolated but no matter what is going on in the “real world”, mentally, in the desert, you are always completely alone.
Now I will admit that this is not the jolliest list of examples ever to exist, but to be fair depression isn’t the jolliest thing in the world, so I guess you could say I have done a pretty good job…Anyway, I hope this list helps someone supporting a friend or family member with depression to understand what they may be feeling. Also if you are a fellow sufferer/bucket wearer, I hope you find some solace in the fact that you are not the only person that feels like this and that there are people out there who understand, even if they only exist on the internet.
Every time my parents pick me up from a psychiatric appointment, they ask me the same questions:
- “So what did they do to you today?”
- “What are they doing about the anorexia/OCD/depression?”
They are only trying to be nice and just want to understand more about what is going on with the crazy person living in their house, but I often wonder what exactly my parents expect me to answer when they ask me these kind of questions.
What did they do to me? Well first I was strapped to a table and then they hit me on the head with a mallet to smash the crazy out. What are they doing about the anorexia/OCD/depression? They are cornering it with a sleuth of angry bears (that is actually what a group of bears is called, “a sleuth”, trust me I looked it up on google), so that it runs off of a cliff into a flange of angry baboons (I may or may not have just discovered a website that tells you what the collective names for various kinds of animals hence the uses of ‘sleuth’ and ‘flange” in this post).
The truth is, the psychologists and psychiatrists and support workers I see don’t “do” anything, but at the same time that does not mean they don’t do anything. Sometimes I may do pieces of “work” or try courses of various therapies, discuss changing my medication or upping the dose, but on the whole the majority of my appointments are taken up by simply talking about things. If I say that to my parents, they worry that because nothing is being “done”, I am not receiving any treatment, but what many people don’t realise is that simply talking as a treatment, is seriously underrated.
By telling someone how you feel, you can release some of the emotions you are bottling up; by explaining a problem you are having to someone who doesn’t understand, you may understand things that even you didn’t know you were feeling; and by sharing a secret or a burden/pain, you share the weight of it and are allowed a little brain space to breathe. Like they say, “a problem shared is a problem halved”, not that I know who they are but they seem pretty smart to me. I know it all sounds very wishy washy, which is probably why the idea of “just talking” is sometimes not viewed as “treatment”, but mental health issues are far more complex and confusing than people can really comprehend, and you only learn about them through exploring. I have been in treatment for over a decade yet still I often realise things about my illnesses and my relationship to them that I didn’t know before, just by talking things through.
I suppose the message I want to get across in this post is that when it comes to recovery from mental health problems, it isn’t straight forward, there isn’t a set thing to “do” or fixed course you follow. As cheesy as it sounds, recovery really is a journey of self exploration, and everyone/everyone’s journey is different. People are individual and unique, so their experiences of their illnesses are individual and unique, different and relative to them alone, so “just” talking about things is really important. Only when you really understand what is going on with you and how your life is affected personally, can you really tackle the problem. If you are just starting to receive therapy or are supporting a loved one in therapy and are worried that nothing is really “happening”, please do not feel despair. It may not feel like it, but things really are being “done” and you are working towards recovery even if you don’t realise it right now. Words are power. Use them.
Just going to end this post here by letting you know that a group of is caterpillars is called an army. How hilarious is that? The answer is very. Caterpillars are literally the most non-threatening looking animals in the history of the world, yet still if a lot of them came into your house you would have to say that you had been invaded by an army. Now if you don’t mind, I am off to gather my own caterpillar army to help in my quest to destroy mental health stigma. Cheers.
Standing on lego is annoying. Missing a bus by 30 seconds and seeing it drive around a corner without you on it is annoying. Oranges are annoying (don’t even get me started on oranges…little segmented bastards), but if there is one thing that annoys me more than any of those things, it is hearing the phrase “I’m a little bit OCD”. Seriously I would rather fight an army of oranges than hear that phrase in daily conversation and I REALLY hate oranges.
More times than I can count I have heard people use that immortal phrase that strikes rage into my very core to describe a quirk or preference someone has, from
“I like organising paper work, I am so OCD” to “The colour of my shirt always matches my socks, God I am so OCD!”. I realise that just because I am someone with OCD, I do not have the right to control and police the use of the word describing my condition, but still, hearing it used in such ways is not simply one of the many things that annoys me, but is actually a dangerous offhand turn of phrase that often contributes to the misinformed ideas and belief’s people have about OCD, a condition that is hard enough for people to understand in the first place.
Due to my OCD, a lot of things, if not everything in my life, is a certain way. The structure of every day is exactly the same and my routines and rituals could not be more rigid if they tried. Everything I do each day is exactly the same as I did it the day before but that is not in any sense because that is the way in which I like them. I do not wash for hours on end because I like to be clean, I do not take ages changing how I sit in a chair because I like to be comfy and I do not count things all day every day because I love numbers or have a passion for mathematics. The reason I do all of these things as well as the infinite other number of things I do in terms of OCD, is because I HAVE to do them in the way that I do. Ok I may be physically capable of being strapped to a chair away from soap or water so the feeling of “having to” do so many things is arguably “what my illness tells me” rather than fixed reality, but in terms of how I feel, everything I do is compulsory and I do not choose any of it or get any pleasure from the way things are whatsoever. THAT is the key difference between having OCD make you have things a certain way, or someone preferring to have things in a way that is most pleasing to them, despite the fact that to some it may seem odd or illogical. My Dad likes to fold towels over the bathroom rail in a way my mum and I think is ridiculous (seriously they don’t dry the way he hangs them, it is like he is on a mission to keep us in a prison of soggy towels. I guess in terms of what real prisons are like, soggy towel prison isn’t all that bad, still it isn’t ideal), but that isn’t because he has OCD and cannot handle the towels in any other way. It doesn’t bother him when my mum and I change the way the towels are folded back to the sensible way they dry more easily, he just sees that as our weird preference, just as weird as we see his.
Allow me to give a better example using fictional characters Sam (who is allergic to peanuts) and Pam (who is not allergic to peanuts. Pam is however a passionate ice skater and she has a degree in marine biology, but these details are not relevant to this particular story.)
Imagine Sam and Pam go into a bakery to peruse the selection of cakes on offer that day. They then ask the baker (a jolly fellow with a moustache – again, irrelevant detail but it sets the scene quite nicely) for recommendations and both say “nothing with peanuts”. Both Sam and Pam are physically capable of eating peanuts but Sam chooses not to because his illness would cause him extreme distress to do so (his heart races all over the place and his head puffs up like a balloon), and Pam chooses not to because she prefers things without peanuts and has a particular fondness for gingerbread men. This example obviously isn’t fool proof as I realise I am not physically allergic to breaking the rules set by my OCD, but the distress it would cause because of anxiety and panic (like Sam with the puffy head because of his illness), is a similar comparison when then viewed alongside Pam who also avoids certain situations/has rigid/peculiar fixed ideas for different reasons (not that gingerbread men are peculiar. I am actually like Pam in that respect and have a fondness for those smiley spiced little chaps).
Maybe I have gone too off topic here as to be honest now all I can think about is gingerbread men and peanuts, but I guess the point I am trying to make is that saying you have OCD or “are so OCD” because you like things to be in particular quirky ways is not actually anything to do with OCD at all and it misrepresents/creates confusion around an already misunderstood condition. Having OCD force you to have things a certain way, is not about choice or preference or about liking things to be “just so”, OCD is being compelled to live a certain way and perform tasks whether you like them or not, and often they create a lot more distress than they alleviate.
That said I am off to chat to Pam about Marine biology. And maybe get a gingerbread man.
I’m going to be honest with you. I may have lied in the title of this post…BUT WAIT! Before you explode in rage and click the little red cross on this window, overwhelmed by the fury that someone on the internet has had the nerve to lie to you and use the promise of your very own waddling flightless bird to catch your attention, please hear me out. If you do I will give you a cookie (this may or may not be another lie.)
The most difficult thing about starting a blog is the uncertainty as to whether or not anyone is actually going to read it and this concern has held me back for a long time. However, this year I have made a resolution to go for it anyway as I think I have a lot to say on certain issues and the sure fire way to make sure nobody reads my words is to not write them down at all.
For the past few years mental health issues have been on the rise and with 1 in 4 of the UK population suffering with a mental health problem each year, it is now a big issue in our society. True, there are a lot of voices discussing the issue, from health care professionals and charities to newspapers raising awareness and generating scare stories of the much feared “mentally ill” (deranged humans so frightening that it is now common place to see at least one person dressed as a “mental patient” at Halloween or to watch a horror film where the villain is clinically insane). However, I personally don’t think that there aren’t enough voices from the mentally ill people that the horror films, headlines and statistics are about. It is to these voices that I would like to add, and, rest assured, I’m really not that scary.
With three mental illness diagnoses under my belt, the survival rate of some of which is lower than your chances with certain types of cancer, (hence the importance of speaking about mental health), I have been in treatment for well over a decade having first got ill around age 11. People often refer to the process of “going mad” as “losing one’s marbles”, but to be honest I don’t feel I have lost any marbles, rather I was born without them, as I showed signs of various mental health conditions shortly after my exit from the womb. Maybe my connection to “sanity” was cut at the same time as my umbilical cord, but, rather than mourn my lack of balls (unfortunate phrasing but I can assure you that we are still talking about the metaphorical glass balls of the marble variety), I’ve decided to use my marbleless brain to try and help people who are also struggling in their search for mental stability amongst the giant haystack that is everyday life.
A very wise and wonderful nurse once told me that “there is nothing wrong with you that what’s right with you can’t fix”, so, as an aspiring writer, I am therefore going to use my love of writing to find my way in this “crazy” world and hopefully help my fellow mental health warriors along the way. I know that by writing a blog I am not going to “fix” or “cure” anybody, but still I am going to do my best to do what I can. Picture this blog as a hug to a broken leg if you will, it won’t heal the bone inside but it might provide a bit of comfort, even if just for a little bit.
This whole grand plan may very well go down in flames and have no readers other than my mother (hi mum), but this year I am going to get off my ass give it a go anyway rather than continuing to put my hopes of helping people “someday” off even longer and finding myself still sitting at this computer screen in fifty years’ time, crying into a tin of baked beans and asking where all the time went and what happened to my dreams. Don’t get me wrong, I love baked beans, but that image of the future just isn’t part of my plan.
So yes, I will admit that I may have lied to you in the title of this post in the hopes of piquing your interest, but I hope you will forgive me and continue listening to my voice in this crazy life of a mentally ill person trying to find their way whilst attempting to support, educate and maybe even help someone else struggling out there. As for the promised pet penguin and proposed cookie for all readers, I promise I will be working on it.