My Mental Illness Story

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My Mental Illness Story

 

I thought it was probably time to give my blog readers a bit more of an introduction to my mental illness and were it comes from. When I began this blog, I intended it to be a platform for my writing. I do share my poems and stories, but I’ve gravitated toward writing about mental health. I guess this is my passion. I wasn’t sure what it would be when I started out, but mental health (and women’s rights and safety) has come to the front. So. Here is my introduction. (There are parts I’ve left out for reasons I don’t really want to go into right now. Maybe later.)

I’m rubbish at introductions. I either clam up, or speak incessantly about nothing and freak the other person right out. At least, I get to write this one down.

Where to start? I guess my main mental illness is depression. That’s the one that’s suffocated me since I was a child. Although, today, PTSD is the beast that slashes at my heels. Anxiety became a huge problem after my Dad died in 2007. He had cancer, and I was with him for every appointment, and at the end. When he died, fear took over every aspect of my world. My long-standing, fluctuating OCD kicked in, and I saw germs in everything. I almost drove myself out of my mind with this fear. I still have problems and germs today.

There are lots of things from my childhood that contributed to my mental health issues. I was abused by my grandfather and a couple of other men. My relationship with my parents was complicated. That’s not to say it was all bad. I had some happy times with Mum and Dad and my friends. But the overwhelming sense that I would never be happy just kind of strangled everything else. 

I’ve been hospitalised a couple of times on a psych ward. The last time, they persuaded me to have ECT. I didn’t want to, but they (doctors, nurses, NAs) told me I was so ill, it was the only thing that could bring me back from the edge (or some other such nonsense!). I had two sessions that went okay. Just a headache and a little loss of memory afterwards. The third time, the anaesthetic didn’t work properly. I awoke in the middle of it. I couldn’t move because of the muscle relaxant they gave me. There was something in my mouth and nudging my throat, so it felt like I couldn’t breathe. I was terrified! Somehow, I managed to move my little finger on my right hand and one of the NAs noticed and they put me further under. After this, I refused to have any more ECT. But they all worked on me (doctors, nurses, NAs) saying it had never happened before, and it wouldn’t happen again. I gave in. It happened again. After this, I flat out refused to have any more. The result was that I was kicked out of hospital as I clearly didn’t want to get better. The psychiatrist said, “There is nothing more hospital can do for you.” His exact words. I did wonder why keeping me safe from myself wasn’t important, but I was just glad to get away from that terrible place. I swore, as I exited the main doors, I will die before I go back there again. 

Dad was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer in June 2005. It devastated Dad, Mum, and me. My Mum was disabled since before I was born. I spent most of my childhood looking after her in one way or another. When Dad was ill, I found myself caring for both of them, taking him to all his appointments, and holding down a full time job. I burned myself out. So when Dad died, I crashed. 

This is when I met a man online. Sounds dodgy, no? He lived in Tucson, AZ. I lived in South West England. But we clicked. Instantly. After a few months of emailing and speaking on the phone, then Skyping, he flew over here so we could meet. This year, we will have been married eight years. He is the most wonderful man, and he’s made a big difference to everything. He loves me, you know? Just, loves me. I’ve never had that before.

I thought I would be “all cured” when I met him. That my past would be erased and the darkness brightened. But it would appear that aint gonna happen. My mental illness is part of me. I have to live with it, rather than keep fighting it. Easy to say . . .

Where I’m at right now is dependent upon the day. PTSD, depression, anxiety, agoraphobia. They all stick to me whatever I do. Somedays (rare days), I can shake them off a little and take the dog out on my own. Not far, but on my own, nonetheless. Other days—or weeks—I can’t leave the house at all. Writing helps. But, when I’m ill, I can’t concentrate enough. 

The main thing I struggle with is PTSD. I have the voice of my grandfather in my head all the time. He mocks me, shouts at me, instructs me to do things. On good days, I can dial him down so that he’s background noise. Bad days, it’s not possible. I also have a lot of issues with sleep. Going to bed scares me. I have horrible nightmares every single night, and when I wake, sometimes I don’t know whether I’m awake or not. The dreams are real, and he’s in my room. It’s not just in my sleep that I remember. Flashbacks plague me, especially when I’m not so well. It’s like my childhood is stuck on a loop in my head. I don’t know how to make it disappear. I don’t think it will. 

All of this affects me physically as well as mentally. My body acts like it’s constantly on alert for some kind of incoming danger. It’s ready to help me to survive the attack, which I know will come. At least, my body knows it will. I know—rationally—that’s not going to happen. Just as I know my grandfather isn’t really in my head or in my bedroom. It doesn’t stop the fear, though. 

I think I’ll leave it there for today. I just really wanted to talk about this a little. I wanted to talk about PTSD a little. 

Evil C

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Evil C

Poisonous cells
dividing, multiplying,
the equation of
loss
trampling our hearts.
This sum of
devastation
crawles over and under
our skin,
leaving numbers seared in memory
(one in three, one hundred per cent sure)
facts and false hopes,
tears and prayers,
strength tested and
broken,
life taken and tossed aside.

No matter how many times I do the maths,
the answer always lies in minus you,
with the addition of
heartbreak
thrown in for free.
Will the outcome ever change?
Will my bones ever stop
aching for you?
I think not.

 

  • For my Dad. 13/05/1935 ~ 21/09/2007.

Going To A Town

Going To A Town by Rufus Wainwright

 

This is my second song choice for the Soundtrack of my Life activity.

I’m skipping forward a few years today. This song was released in 2007, and it just happens to be my favourite song of all time. That said, I was a little unsure about including it because it’s very political and has some slightly unsavoury religious undertones. But, it is also incredibly relevant to the political climate of today. Seriously, it could have been written about the current administration in the US. But it wasn’t. Rufus Wainwright wrote it at the end of the last Bush government. When asked what it is about, he says he was sick of the current government administration, and he felt America had lost a huge part of its soul.

The “town that has already been burned down,” to which he refers throughout the song, is Berlin. He actually went to Berlin to stay some time while he wrote the album from which this song is taken (‘Release The Stars.’) His theory was that places that have already experienced great loss—such as Berlin—reach a point where a single spark of change kicks off the rebuilding of a greater future. Let’s hope he’s right about that.

But, enough of the politics. That’s not the reason I love this song. I love it because it takes me back to a precious moment between my Dad and me. From the first, lonesome piano note, I am in a car, driving Dad to the hospital. He has cancer, and we know it’s rapidly catching up with him. I took him to every appointment he had. I was there for the highs and lows, and although they break my heart constantly, they are also times I cherish because I was there to share everything with him. Mum is disabled and stayed at home for most of his appointments (it was pretty hard trying to push two people in wheelchairs at once!).

So, this song. One day, on our way to the hospital, this song came on the radio (I even remember the exact piece of road). First the piano sounded, then the bass drum kicked in as Rufus started to sing, and Dad and I both reached for the volume button at exactly the same time. We didn’t speak for the duration of the song. When it finished, I stole a quick glance at him, but we were both speechless. It touched us both.

The way this song makes me feel now is nostalgic, sad, hollow, but connected to Dad. It is my favourite song. I love how it builds and builds, and the final crescendo at the end is mind-blowing. Even without the emotional connection, I would still adore it. It’s cleverly arranged (by Rufus), and the string section is brilliant. I love every part of it.

Broken Heart

This is another poem I wrote in response to a prompt. This time, it was to write about the sad moments in life. Needless to say, I could relate to this one.

Broken Heart

It doesn’t matter how long you’re waiting for

the inevitable to crash through your life,

when it does, you aren’t prepared—

how can you be?—

how can anyone steady their resolve enough

to be ready to lose their loved one’s love

forever?

The thing nobody ever admits is

when parents say they will always be there for you,

they lie,

one day (maybe not so far away)

they will die and you

will crumple and watch—helpless—as

parts of you break off and float away,

and you won’t know how to put yourself

together again,

and you question if you even want to.

The world—always scary—

becomes a place in which you inhabit the periphery,

perching as far away from others as possible,

waiting to fall into the depths,

from where there is no going back.

But who cares?

The well-meaning people

(who have so much wisdom you want to

scream at them to

stop!)

tell you time heals,

and to remember the good times,

but don’t they know it’s the good times that are killing you?

Without the laughter and love and memories of

that video your Dad searched everywhere to find

when you were ill and he just wanted you to smile,

getting over it would be so much easier.

I’m not sure about the “loved and lost” theory,

I never could figure why pain is better than

nothing.

Still, I love,

and with all my heart.

How fracked up is that?

Who Wants To Live Forever?

I chose this song for my second prompt because it’s a beautiful one. Although a lot of people believe it was written about Freddie’s battle with AIDS, it was actually written for the film ‘Highlander.’ Although, I’m sure Freddie’s illness must have had some influence, at least, on how it was performed, if not the lyrics themselves. In addition, Brian May wrote most of it, and he had lost his father not long ago. So,  I don’t think it was written about one single thing.

WHO WANTS TO LIVE FOREVER?

Forty years felt like no time at all. Maggie watched her husband’s chest rise and fall. The movement barely nudged the fresh purple sheets she had placed on the bed that morning. Not for the first time, she wondered whether their trip would be a good idea.

Jack squeezed her hand as she climbed into bed next to him. “Have you been stood there, watching me sleep, again?” He turned to look at her, smiling, and said, “I’m not going anywhere just yet, you know.”

“Don’t joke about it, Jack. It’s not funny.” She snatched her hand away and pulled the covers over her. Facing away from him, she swallowed an army of sobs.

The touch of his hand on the small of her back sent familiar shockwaves reverberating through her body, and she rolled over to face him. His pale blue eyes had become yellowed over the last few months, giving them the look of old, ink-dotted parchment paper. She wondered if he saw in sepia as well.

“Sorry. I know it’s your way of dealing with this—” Her voice trailed off as she tried to collect her thoughts. “I mean, humour’s a good thing, right? That’s what they say. Only, I’m failing to see the funny side of . . . of, oh, shit. I can’t even say it.”

His hands engulfed hers. She had always loved the way their hands fit perfectly into each other’s; as though they were designed to be joined together.

“Cancer, Maggie. That’s the word.” He pulled his thin, cracked lips into a smile, and a flash of light animated his face. “But it is just a word.”

Tears slipped over her cheeks, and she wiped them away with the back of her hand. “But it’s not just a word, is it? It’s a . . . ” She gazed into his face, committing every line to memory. The words death sentence hovered just inside her mouth.

Throwing back the covers, she jumped out of bed. “I need a hot, milky drink. Do you want one?”

When he smiled, it didn’t quite reach his eyes. “Okay. Hot chocolate would be good. I’ll come with you.”

“No, you don’t need to. You stay he—”

“I’m not dead yet. Help me stand.”

Lifting his legs from the bed, she grabbed his tartan slippers from the floor and slipped them onto his feet. The weight with which he rested on her when he first stood seemed to be greater every day. Once upright, he shooed her in front of him. “Enough of your fussing. I can do this on my own.”

She walked slowly across the landing. The ‘Wings of Love’ painting Jack had bought ten years ago and hung—despite all of her protestations—at the top of the stairs caught her eye. In that second, she envied the young lovers and hated the painting all the more because of it. Even so, she knew she would leave it hanging always, even after . . .

The stair lift chugged its way to the bottom step, delivering her precious cargo at the bottom. Jack managed to stand on his own this time, and her heart tripped over itself with hope. This had become her daily life. One moment, she was filled with despair, waiting for Jack to be taken without suffering too much pain and humiliation. The next moment, he seemed stronger. Little signs—like rising from the stair lift on his own—gave her hope. Maybe he would be the one who received a miraculous cure at the last minute. Of course, she knew deep down that miracles didn’t happen.

In the kitchen, she glanced at the wall clock: nine-fifteen. They were in their early sixties, and yet bedtime was nine o’clock. People they went to school with were travelling and enjoying life without their children. That was how their lives should have been. They saved their wages; never bought anything they didn’t need. This should have been their time to explore the world. She balled her hand into a fist and slammed it on the counter top.

“Hey, it’s okay.” Jack wrapped his arms around her waist, and she felt herself melt. He spun her around and kissed the top of her head. “Come over here and sit down. Come on.” Taking her hands, he guided her to a chair at the pinewood dining table.

“It’s not okay, Jack. There’s no time for us. It’s not fair. What is this thing that builds our dreams, yet slips away from us? What is it? I mean, is it all decided for us, right from the moment we are born? Or do we get penalised for wrong turns we take along the way? I don’t understand. It doesn’t make sense.” She stopped speaking, so she could took several deep breaths.

“Oh, my love. I don’t think there is a reason. Bad things just happen to good people, and all that jazz.”

A laugh escaped her mouth before she could stop it. “Maybe you’re right,” she agreed.

He didn’t speak for the longest time; just stared at her, like if he waited to speak, time would do the same. Finally, after tracing his tongue around the outline of his lips, he said, “Who wants to live forever, eh? I don’t think it’s all it’s cracked up to be.” Averting his eyes, he rubbed at a spot on the table. For the first time since they married, Maggie saw uncertainty in her husband. A spiral of fear twisted in her stomach.

“What I mean is, we have our trip to the coast next week. Who’s to say that trip won’t be forever? Forever will be our today. We can live a thousand days in that trip, or in today or tomorrow. Do you see? We have forever because we have now and we have each other.”

Maggie watched her husband’s eyebrows dance as he spoke. Memories of excited pitches for publishing accounts and enthusiastic chatter about promising, new writers flooded her mind. And in that moment, she realised he was still there. This physically frail man who was wasting away before her still was Jack. The weight she had been carrying on her shoulders lifted.

“You’re right. As always.” She wrapped her arms around him and squeezed. “From now on, we make the most of every moment. Who lives forever, anyway?”