I sleep more than the average person: my body’s natural defence mechanism

Today I spent the entire day in bed. I’m sick. But I’m not ill in the sense of a cold. I am mentally ill. Only, how was I supposed to tell my seminar group that? It’s funny, isn’t it? I’m trying so hard to break the stigma surrounding mental health and influence others to be more open about it, but I can’t even admit it half the time. I still find it impossible to tell near strangers that I’m having an episode. So I send my seminar group a message saying I’m sick. No explanation needed, they assume it is some physical ailment. See. Why do we make those assumptions? Why is there some pre-conceived idea that mental illnesses can’t be just as debilitating (and even more so at times) as physical illnesses?

I am angry. I’m angry because I live in fear that I’m going to be told to “get over it” if I admit my brain is keeping me in bed. If I had broken my leg, I wouldn’t be told to just walk it off. So, why are people told to “get over it”. Get over it. What a horrible expression. Essentially that is telling someone to get over their own brain. Now, I can safely speak for every single person ever when I say you can’t just “get over” your brain – there is no escape from your brain, it literally controls you.

So, I stayed in bed today. I fell in and out of deep sleep. People often find it strange how much I nap. But they aren’t just naps. When I sleep during the day, I am sleeping. I am so exhausted by my illness that I need to sleep, as though it is night-time. Sleep is an escape. It is the one time I get respite from this monster. I don’t care how stereotypical I sound by calling it that – it is a monster. And, since coming to university, I am increasingly fighting it alone. I feel more alone than I ever have and, in some ways, I like it because I can just exist – that’s all I can bring myself to want to do at the moment, exist. So, I stayed in bed today, just existing.

People don’t like me. That’s not my anxiety speaking. That’s not my depression speaking. That’s not my eating disorder speaking. That’s me. I could list reasons why people don’t like me, some of which would be my illnesses speaking, like if I say people don’t like me because I’m too fat. So let’s not do that. Let’s just admit it, people don’t like me. I know it is impossible to be liked by everyone. But I am not liked by anyone around me. So, I feel alone. I make myself be alone because that way I don’t have to feel so unwanted in the presence of others. Staying in bed leaves me with just myself, there’s nobody I can disappoint or upset or annoy, just myself. So, I stayed in bed today.

I always text my mum when I get like this, just to tell her. But I never want to speak to her, or anyone. I don’t want to tell everyone what’s going on inside my head because, what if they just tell me to get over it? What then? But there are people, like my parents, who I know won’t tell me to do that. So why don’t I want to talk to them? Because, to be honest, I’m sick of talking about it all. For two years now I have been talking about how I feel and, fundamentally in my core, I still feel the exact same way about myself. I am worth nothing. I am too fat. I am too much hassle. I am horrible. Talking about it only makes it worse. I have to admit that writing helps because I just put it out there and nobody has to listen or pay attention if they don’t want, but as I always say, I will do anything I can to stop others from going through what I go through, so I write about it to try make some sort of a difference. But, for now at least, I am done talking to people. So, I stayed in bed today.

My answer to all of my problems is to go to bed and sleep. When I start to get anxious/depressed it reaches a point where my body begins to shut down – I physically start to fall asleep in a way that is completely out of my control. I have sat in therapy sessions and rolled my head back falling asleep when things get too much, without even realising I am doing it. This is my body’s defence mechanism it has developed over the last couple of years. I am not lazy. I am not sleep-deprived. I am simply in a battle, between my body and my brain, and my body will do whatever it can to protect me from my brain.

So, I stayed in bed today. But not out of choice. I did not have the strength to get up. You may understand that, you may not, but never tell me to “get over it”. Never tell anyone to get over it. Mental illness can be just as bad as physical illness.

desserpeD yllacinilC: A Backwards Brain.

I’ve been awol for a while. I know. Sorry. I’m 75% messy mind half the time so I juggle what I can, and for the past few weeks that’s been focusing on trying to get my YouTube going (if you weren’t aware of it, here ya go: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCXSclcZK1wETQOOruPcF5-A). However, this week I’m taking a break from filming because, to be quite frank, I don’t have the mental capacity to put on a smile for a video and spend the endless hours editing. Again, sorry.

I was, well, incited to write by a book I’m reading. It’s called Shoot the Damn Dog: A Memoir of Depression, written by Sally Brampton and published in 2008 when, I suppose, she was in a period of remission. Perhaps remission sounds strange to you when describing mental illness. But there is a stigma we want to break. “We” being the mentally ill folk. Remission exists in exactly the same way with mental illnesses as with physical ailments, such as cancer. And there is the same fear of relapse (which, funnily enough, is a word commonly used to describe mental illness by many people, yet there is a lack of awareness that pre-relapse a person is in remission…did that make sense? Not too sure.)

Where was I? Yes. Relapse. Remission. All that jazz.

So, let’s talk about Sally Brampton for a moment. I have been incredibly touched by her writing, relating to what she describes more than I ever thought I could and realising more and more that the way I feel isn’t abnormal when faced with mental illness. Sally passed away early last year, she walked into the sea. Her obituary in The Guardian said this, “Sally will be remembered as the editor who transformed the women’s magazine market and trained a generation of confident, accomplished female journalists. She should also be remembered as the woman whose ferocious honesty about depression saved lives.” ¹ She was a high-powered editor, hugely responsible for the success of the British edition of Elle magazine, and yet she fought the same battle against depression that so many people fight on a daily basis. It’s strange how you can connect with someone from such a different world to you because of a mere chemical imbalance.

As I read Brampton’s book, I find I’m learning more and more things about my illness, which I didn’t think possible after living with it for almost two years now. I don’t know if I’ve ever really clarified what exactly I suffer from. Maybe I have, maybe if you know me you already know this. However, I didn’t actually know what to call it until I sat crying in front of my mum the other day and asked her what was wrong with me. It’s called clinical depression. Nice name, eh? I also suffer from anxiety and disordered eating, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned before. The reason I say it like this is because I’ve had people, namely certain males from a neighbouring school, mock me for telling people about my illnesses. I have been accused of attention-seeking and everything a sufferer of anxiety’s worst nightmares are full of. (Excuse my grammar there I know you’re not supposed to finish sentences with prepositions but I couldn’t figure out a better way to phrase it).

Well, anyway, the purpose of my writing all this babble is because there are two things Sally Brampton has taught me. One, is that remission can have an end AKA you can (and often will) relapse. Sadly, she showed that in the worst way. Although, it feels oddly ironic being suicidal and saying “sadly” someone managed to commit suicide. It’s almost that sort of bitter congratulations you give someone when they beat you in something you really wanted to win. However, being both British and human, I have to put sadly as, despite everything, death is just sad. I am relapsing. This is possibly the one moment I will fully admit it. I can tell I am relapsing because I no longer want help. I don’t want to eat anymore, I don’t want to exist anymore, and I find everything causes me horrible pangs of anxiety. So that’s that. Let’s move on from that hastily please. I mean it when I say I don’t want help, sincerely. The second lesson is that my memory loss from my most ill phases is COMPLETELY normal. This is a very specific lesson but I always found it so confusing that I just can’t remember huge chunks of the first term of my lower sixth year. And I am always left with blanks after I have episodes. I forget whole conversations I have. Sally wrote in her book, “There are parts of my memory of that time that are still missing…There are conversations I have had, or that people have told me I have had, that are quite blank to me and I am apt to grow confused about the chronology of months, or even years” and reading that, I felt this sudden sense of comfort knowing I’m not the only one. I think about it a lot. Often, I ask myself why I have so little memory of my worst moments and I have come to the conclusion that it is my brain protecting me. Just as your body creates a scab to cover an open wound, your brain controls what you remember to protect you. It’s science! Your brain chooses not to record the conscious memories you could have kept, in an attempt to prevent that pain from returning. However, it works the other way too, as Brampton put, “other parts of my memory of that time are still acute enough to mean that I have only to pass certain places of smell certain scents to feel intense pain. It returns at an almost cellular level.” This is the brain maintaining the conscious memory of tiny little details of traumatic experiences, rather than the whole experience itself. Again, not too sure if I’m making any sense but I hope somehow this all pieces together for you to read.

I think now, the last thing I want to do is leave you with some lines from Shoot the Damn Dog that I relate to and have stuck with me. Maybe, if your brain is sometimes silly (always silly, Loveday, be accurate) like mine, it will help you feel less isolated. Perhaps you’ll just understand more what sufferers of mental illness go through, and you’ll be able to help someone close to you by showing your understanding. Who knows? But here you go:

“Nor is it, truly, a desire to die so much as a fervent wish not to go on living.” (on being suicidal) Honestly, I have never read anything which sums up my thoughts on suicide more.

“Depression is a paralysis of hope.” You just feel hopeless. All. The. Time.

“Religion is for people who don’t want to go to hell. Spirituality is for people who’ve been there.” When I read this, I thought a lot about it. I wouldn’t call myself spiritual at all but I know, having been in the darkest of places that (for me, it may be different for others) religion is not something I can see any hope in to save myself.

“These days I believe that it wasn’t myself that I hated, so much as the self I became during depression. I wanted it dead.” If any depressive doesn’t think this, I’m very jealous. We all want the bloody thing to go away.

“Imagine saying to someone that you have a life-threatening illness, such as cancer, and being told to pull yourself together or get over it.” Let’s break this stigma please. YOU CANNOT JUST GET OVER DEPRESSION. Or any other serious mental health problems for that matter.

“Frankly, I’d happily shoot the damn dog and be done with it; but I’ve come to accept that it is both unkillable and, in some sense, unknowable. Certainly, it often takes me by surprise.” In case people aren’t aware, “the damn dog” refers to Churchill’s labelling of depression as “the black dog”. This sort of ties in with the above quote, it’s not something you can just remove, nor is it a reasonable illness.

“Depression…depresses every single cognitive process. Concentration, memory, logic, reason, even the interpretation of facts and actual events are all interrupted.” This is so important for non-sufferers to understand. Everything, everything, is affected by depression and we can’t help it.

“I am, in all these ways, blessed. I am also a depressive. It doesn’t quite fit, does it?” I often think like this. How am I depressed when I have such an amazing life. But unfortunately, depression (and other mental illnesses) doesn’t discriminate.

“I am a case. I am a trial. I am an error.” Sometimes this is just how I feel, going back and forth to appointments, trying medication, frankly trying everything.

“I don’t want sleep. I want oblivion.” Sleep is my saviour. Always.

“Depression is the great thief.” I guess I take from this that she is saying depression steals your life. For example, for me it has stolen my sixth form. A time in my life I should have been learning how to grow up, not how to deal with clinical depression. It steals your entire body and all your attention. Yeah, it’s selfish like that.

“I used to be somebody. I am still somebody.” This perfectly sums up the contrasting feelings between my good brain and my bad brain, AKA depression vs. me.

“I want to die. I want, so badly, to die.” Pretty self-explanatory.

“Today I can’t honour it by calling it an illness. Today it is just a thing that neither of us knows or understands.” Some days I wake up so sick of fighting this bloody thing. I can’t stand it and want to spit in its face.

“I am terrified she will give up on me, that this thing will drive her away. Every depressive has that fear. Why would anyone want us? We don’t even want ourselves.” I think this one comes under anxiety more than depression. There is a constant fear that everyone is going to leave me because I’m a downer and have 0 personality half the time and I am just a pretty nasty person when in the intense grip of my depression.

“Telling somebody in the grip of severe depression that they are being selfish and self-pitying is like telling somebody with asthma that they have breathing difficulties. It is meaningless except as a statement of fact…They are lost in a place without boundaries or borders, where the concept of self has no meaning. They have lost their very self.” We all know we’re selfish. You don’t need to tell us. But as selfish as we are half the time, we are also so very concerned for others the rest of the time, for fear of them ending up in the state we are in. Make sense? It’s human nature.

3 important things to understand about being in a relationship with mental health problems

If you’ve read my other posts you’ll be aware I suffer from mental health problems. If not, hi. Yes, I do have depression, anxiety and an eating disorder. WOO. I am also in a relationship, have been for around a year and a half. I know that people don’t tend to like it when others post about their relationships online so I’m going to try not to be too annoying.

I was first told I had depression in October 2015, so I was ill before I went into my relationship which was a hurdle I very much had to overcome with him in the beginning. So, how did I tell him I had these problems? To be quite honest, I’m not the master of subtlety so I just told him whenever I took mental health days from school at first – a tell tale sign of mental health problems, isn’t it? I think that kind of introduced him to the idea that I wasn’t completely stable. I told myself that I needed to be honest, because if I kept something as big as my depression from him it would become more difficult to be honest with him about it if the relationship did go anywhere.

Which it did, obviously, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this. And the most amazing thing happened, the relationship helped my recovery so much. I don’t really know if you can say you go into “remission” when you have depression, and I think it was a combination of therapy, medication and having that positive element in my life that really helped me become happier for a while. So for the first few months I don’t think he faced the true darkness of my illness, because really by the time he showed up I had it far more under control and I didn’t really have any episodes (he may of course correct me on that, because I may be forgetting something).

I don’t know when he first witnessed an episode of mine, but over the past couple of months things have become harder for me again, I have to admit that. And he has definitely seen me in my darkest moments now. One huge difficulty I have is my brain switches off when I’m in an episode, I don’t remember a huge amount of what I say or do. So a couple of months ago, after a meaningless spat, I went into a horrible place and he had to physically hold me down to stop me from hurting myself. I can’t even remember most of what I said other than repetitively telling him “I can’t do this. I want to die”. Imagine that, hearing your girlfriend/boyfriend say those things. They say in relationships you see the best and worst of each other; this is definitely true of our relationship. It is something that we have had to face to make it work, because my worst moments are inevitable and worse than you can imagine unless you suffer from mental health problems yourself. So, the first thing about being in a relationship with mental health problems is that you show your weakest points and lean on your other half to keep you alive sometimes.

I struggle when he can’t understand my brain. I don’t expect him to, because to be honest I don’t even understand it myself! However, it can be hard when something small triggers a huge response from my “bad brain” and he doesn’t really understand how even the tiniest things can turn my entire world upside down. When you’re ill like this, you turn into an eggshell, one little tap and you crack. It makes us both angry, and inevitably we argue and things get worse and even then he doesn’t understand why I got so upset in the first place, or how we got to the point of screaming at each other. The difficulty is that, when I get into these states, I find it impossible to explain my thoughts and rationalise them, which makes me very frustrated with myself and I often end up shaking and hitting myself, in these sort of spasms, which only makes the situation worse, but I can’t help it and I need his help to calm down. He has to figure out how to handle me in the exact moment, what to say, what not to say. It is not easy as my mind isn’t the most consistent, it definitely puts a strain on our relationship because one day one response might be perfect and the next it might ruin everything and that’s something with which we both have to cope.  But I have to make allowances for when he gets it wrong, because he’s only human and he can’t carry all my weight on his shoulders and predict how every little thing will impact me. All you can ask your partner to do is be there for you and take care of you when they do crack your shell accidentally.

It has taken him time to understand my illness as much as he does now, and with every down I have he learns more how to handle it. He’s not perfect at all, and sometimes I get so angry because I expect the world from him in those moments, when really he can only cope with so much at a time. So, I suppose that the second thing about being in a relationship when you suffer from mental health problems is a lot of give and take, much more so than in any normal relationship. You have to be understanding that your other half can’t always fix everything, and be grateful for whatever they try to fix anyway.

When you’re in a relationship and also have mental health problems your mind constantly tells you horrible, untrue things and claims that’s what your partner thinks. So, mine tells me that I’m not good enough for him, that he’d far rather be with a skinny girl, that he’s going to break up with me any minute. There’s not much to say about that other than you have to look to your other half for reassurance; I constantly beg him to remind me he likes me just the way I am, to tell me that it’s just my stupid brain speaking. And sometimes I don’t believe him, sometimes I let my brain win because it’s just easier, but I am always honest with him about how I feel. There. That’s the third thing. You have to face horrible, bullying thoughts and ask your partner to help you knock them away. Punch them right in the face. The thoughts that is…not your partner.

So, there you go. Three things about being in a relationship with mental health problems; I’m sure there are so many more but those are the three main things I wanted to talk about. It’s normal if you’re suffering from mental health problems and these are some difficulties you face in your relationship. That’s what I’m trying to do, remember, make sure you know that your illness doesn’t make you weird and point out the normal effects it can have on your daily life.

Until next time, World. Remember, you’re not weird because you’re ill, you’re wonderfully imbalanced.

 

PSA: I’m not OK.

I’m writing this from a dark place. I have to confess from the start; this isn’t going to be positive. I don’t think. I haven’t planned it. But I’m making myself vulnerable, thinking that possibly this might help someone. Of course, that someone may only be me.

Answer me this, how do you tell the people closest to you everything you’re feeling, all the screams from within your head which are starting to hurt you physically, without seeming to be seeking attention? I think it’s impossible. Opening up guilt-free and innocently is a myth. Bloody hell, I’m exploding from within. I have to show you.

So, here it is,


a segment of my whiteboard in my room (which I put up because I wrote this sort of stuff on my wall before – baby steps to improving behaviours). Here are tonight’s feelings: one serving of self-loathing with a side of guilt for being so selfish, garnished with temptations of temporary relief strategies. Why am I sharing this? Why have I posted this for all the world to see if they wish? Because I’m sick of being scared to admit how I feel.

I want to make this clear to everyone. Mental illnesses are constant, as I’ve said before, some days are easier than others but it’s continuous endurance. Every single day I am under attack from my own brain and it hurts me relentlessly. How do you explain that pain to someone else though? You can’t. That is the most terrifying part; no matter how you try to get it across, nobody else can understand the suffering inside your head. Not even those who suffer themselves. And I have to admit it, there’s not a magic “but” coming next, no sweet phrase of reassurance. Suffering from mental illness is frankly s-h-i-t-e: So Hard It Takes Everything. Always. It takes everything to will yourself to get up in the morning. It takes everything to try to want to keep fighting. It takes everything to hold back when your brain tells you to hurt yourself. It takes everything to remind yourself to keep breathing. (obviously you do that naturally but you get my metaphor, yes?)

I can’t pretend to be fine all the time. I need to admit that I’m struggling. That doesn’t mean I’m giving up (there’s your reassurance I suppose), it means I’m fighting harder than usual. And it’s tough.

But there’s my public service announcement, admitting I’m not very strong at all sometimes, admitting that for the time being I’m not A-OK, and confessing to those who care that I’m struggling. And I suppose the reason I’m sharing this with everyone is, as I said at the start, in the hopes that it might help just one person in any microscopic way.