RECOVERY

QUESTION: is the idea of ‘recovery’ helpful?

I have mixed feelings about recovery. Whether it is a help or a hindrance when so many people present it as an ideal which feels distant and unattainable to people who are in the midst of any type of illness. Sometimes when people reference recovery or being recovered, it just makes me feel more lost and hopeless than I was before. However, other times it can inspire me and give me the courage to keep moving forward with the comfort that others have weathered similar storms.

What is probably most frustrating to me about the idea of recovery is that it is so vague by virtue that it is subjective and hard to pin down in what it means to each of us individually. There is no specific route or journey that will lead you straight to recovery, the same steps and challenges do not work for anyone. Recovery does not look the same for everyone either, leaving me in the strange position of never being entirely certain of what I am aiming or working towards, meaning that my motivation begins to dwindle behind my uncertain mind.

Whenever counsellors or therapists have mentioned recovery to me I have felt myself recoil into my seat. Even the word seems so intimidating and far off in the distance. Also, I find the use of the term frustrating because who has the right or the knowledge to determine exactly what recovery is, what it looks like and what the time period for recovery should be? However much I want there to be a finish line I also do not know who I am without mental illness because I have let my mental health define me for so long. How do I separate myself from the characteristics of my illnesses and how will I know when this process is complete and I have recovered?

This post is a mess of rhetorical questions and abstract thoughts but what I have learnt from it is that I need to narrow down the specifics of what I am striving towards and what progress I will be satisfied with so that I could call myself recovered. Abstract and vague goals only lead to more frustration and motivation leaving me like a deflated balloon.

“I wanted to tell her that I was getting better, because that was supposed to be the narrative of illness: It was a hurdle you jumped over, or a battle you won. Illness is a story told in the past tense.” – ‘Turtles All The Way Down’ by John Green

5 TIPS FOR THE SLEEP DEPRIVED…

I am one of those people who really struggle with getting enough sleep. Every night, I lay in bed for hours waiting to fall asleep, I wake-up multiple times, toss and turn and then I wake-up in the morning feeling the opposite of refreshed. As with lots of people, this problem becomes a lot worse when high levels of stress are thrown into the mix as I cannot stop my mind from buzzing during the night and jumping from problem to problem which I feel like I have to fix right there and then, even if the situation is out of my control. My University exams are quickly approaching and I approach this period with a sense of dread that I will be a walking zombie throughout it because I will only manage to grab a few hours of sleep here and there. So here are five tips which I have been given along the way during my trials and tribulations with poor sleep which I have found really help if I actively discipline myself to act upon them rather than reverting to my own bad habits…

1) Do not go to bed earlier than you usually would

This may seem counter-intuitive because your mind tells you that if you are going through a period in which you are not sleeping well then you should go to bed an hour or two early to counteract your lost sleep. However, often your body-clock will not agree. Your body gets used to the time that you usually go to bed and settle down for the night and so even if you feel that you are tired enough to go to sleep your body may well resist you. Then you might start a snowballing feeling of frustration as you toss and turn in bed for longer than necessary and get yourself annoyed rather than relaxed which is obviously what you need to drop-off during the night.

2) Read for a bit

When you get into bed, don’t instantly try to fall asleep, give your body and mind time to relax and switch-off instead. Personally, I find reading very therapeutic especially if I am reading from a physical book rather than a device like a kindle. You do not have to work your way through masses of pages or delve into a heavy-going classical literary masterpiece, this shouldn’t feel like school homework or a burden in your evening. Instead, pick a book you find genuinely interesting and hopefully you will find yourself getting so lost in the words of the book that anything weighing your mind down will disappear.

3) Jot down a list of your worries

If stress is what is restricting your sleep then roughly jot down a list of bullet points about whatever is occupying your mind. Any thoughts that occur to you, just scribble them down and do not worry about writing in flowing prose or making grammatical sense, this is purely an exercise to relieve your mind of the issues which are bouncing around inside it, demanding your immediate attention and distracting you from falling asleep. Once you have written them down make a conscious decision to leave the issues until the morning and give your brain the chance to refuel and recharge during the night so that you can tackle them the next day.

4) Do yoga or stretch of an evening

Especially if you spend your days huddled over a desk or scrunched up around your laptop screen, your body develops a lot of tension during the day which can be another thing which weighs your mind down as well as making you feel uncomfortable. So, of an evening try to do a few stretches or, if you’re into yoga, roll out your mat and get to doing a quick twenty minutes of yoga to relieve your muscles of their tightness. Whilst you are doing this, focus on your breathing so that you give your mind a break from being occupied by stressful thoughts. This is also beneficial because it will boost your sense of accomplishment of what you have managed to do during your day if you can incorporate an exercise such as stretching or yoga which are both good for your wellbeing.

5) Do not clock check

I am awful at taking my own advice on this one! When I am lying bed waiting to fall asleep, my head pops up every ten minutes or so to check the time and I mentally calculate how much sleep I am losing and how long it is until I have to get-up in the morning. It is blatantly obvious that this is unhelpful. Constantly looking around at your clock is only going to build a sense of frustration and annoyance in you, as well as anxiety about the sleep you’re missing out on. In the end, checking the clock only makes you ruminate harder on your sleep problems which has the adverse effect of making them worse.

SCARS ON MY BRAIN…

Who am I?
The mirage I see in the mirror
Or the crayon drawing of an oversized child?
A twisted, morbid, relic
The mask of chaotic innocence.

Should I be ashamed, afraid,
Confused, depressed or scared?
Love is not written on my arms,
Assurance is not absorbed in my veins
And my heart doesn’t pump,
Not like I remember it used to.

WAVES OF INSOMNIA

It’s so strange how insomnia dives in and out of my life in waves.

I will go through long periods of time in which I will be starved of sleep. I will lie resolutely awake at night in my bed and stare desperately into the darkness, willing the night to take me in and invite me to share in it’s peace. During these months where I experience insomnia consistently, sleep is dangled in front of me like a carrot as the tiredness which dominates my brain seems to overcome me and it appears inevitable that as soon as my head hits the pillow, I will instantly fall into a satisfyingly deep sleep. However, after settling into bed, my brain comes alive and the fiery frenzy of my imagination is unleashed on my brain, stopping me from gaining any rest and being able to switch-off my anxieties.

Although, I do go through periods when I think I am cured and that I will be able to sleep restfully at will. Some days, I can sleep for 12 hours and not have to pull myself out of bed in the morning with sore, bleary eyes and the knowledge that I will have to face the day with even less energy than the day before. This seems to me like insomnia’s cruellest trick. It lets you experience a normal, restful sleep pattern and settle into a functioning nightly routine only to plunge itself back into your life again with it’s full brutal force and deprive you of the comfort you have since become accustomed to.

When a wave of insomnia overwhelms me, it twists and tortures me under its weight. My whole personality undergoes a process of poisoning as I begin to regularly snap at people for the smallest, most insignificant things. My patience for other people is slashed as a constant feeling of resentment pushes at the forefront of my brain, reminding me that these people aren’t having to stave off aggressive waves of exhaustion whilst dragging themselves through days where they are plagued with anxiety and depression as I am. Then, when I lie awake at night, I have to confront the guilt which these patterns of thought produce as I recognise that I have no idea what the people I meet during the day are going through in their personal lives and I should never turn my distress into a silent competition to be played against other people.

Ultimately, I have accepted that insomnia is going to be a fluctuating presence in my life for the foreseeable future and that, when waves of it pour into my life, I will just have to remind myself that I have endured the frustration of sleepless nights and the nagging hurt of exhausting days before and I can do it again.

TIRED.

No matter how much sleep I get at night, I always feel so tired.

Tiredness follows me around all day and hangs like a weight from my chest which drags me down. It weighs on my mind and makes me slow to make decisions. My eyelids droop all day and tempt me to give in to my exhaustion; close my eyes and sink into a world of oblivious darkness.

I pour coffee down my throat in large amounts to try and make me feel more awake and aware. The only result of this is that I feel jittery, anxious and paranoid for the next few hours but at least this means that I am able to feel something that makes sense to me.

I schedule my day around my tiredness, knowing that I will inevitably not be able to do any work in the early afternoon because my concentration will have gone out of the window. Then, for some reason I will feel more energised after 10pm, meaning that I cannot get to sleep however much I know that I need to. Then I am forced to lie awake listening to the parties going on around me on campus and hear people’s genuine rings of laughter and uninhibited shouts of joy which makes me feel even more isolated.

INSOMNIA – TAKE TWO

Watching wakefully as the hours stretch before me,
My mind navigates morosely
Through the miles of empty time.

My bed – once my friend
Pokes fun at my discomfort,
Jostles me as we wind through the night;
Together, yet alone.

We crawl past mental topic after mental topic,
Pausing sometimes for an indulgent pit-stop,
But ultimately forced to carry on
Rolling heavily through the undulating night.

Angry words pass between night and me;
Jibes that cannot be drowned-out,
Not even an untuned radio can save me from spite.
So I turn my back on night’s dark figure
And hope it choses a smoother path once more.
 

INSOMNIA

These walls are paper thin. Every couple minutes I hear another frustrating slam of a door or ear-splitting giggle of a group of girls or aggravating roar of a drunk boy showing off.

I roll and writhe in this, still, unfamiliar bed. My body contorts into the most intricate positions but none of these bring about sleep. My mind alights with anger and annoyance; I am so tired, so why can’t I just sleep?

All day I have felt like I could fall asleep at any moment – standing-up cooking, sitting down writing, strolling around campus – but now that it comes to the time when I am in bed, sleep seems the farthest away from me that it has been all day. Sleep taunts me, I know how good it would feel to peacefully slip into a deep slumber and wake-up the next day refreshed and energised but every night I am robbed of this possibility. Instead, I spend fitful nights awake, thinking profound and anxious thoughts about the days to come and growing more and more infuriated with myself for not being able to perform this basic human function; sleep.

A mental clock in my head periodically calculates the amount of time I have left before I will have to get up for classes. I know that I will have yet another day tomorrow when I will drag myself blearily from task to task, never being able to give my full concentration as my head will loll lazily to one side, longing for my pillow.

TEARS HAVE BEEN SHED…

My mum came to visit me on Saturday.

As the day started drawing to a close and a blanket of deep blue was being pulled across the sky, I longed for that time not to end. I wanted to draw each second into eternity and ride in her car forever, spending my lifetime suspended in a never-ending state of sub-reality.

Coasting through the undulating countryside, I could see from the peaks of hills into the dollhouses in the valleys down below. In those little paper houses were people acting their lives; telling their children that it was their bedtime, parents easing open bottles of wine and families lying lazily in front of the TV. Moving along above them seemed so simple. My life was no longer entangled with theirs because I was not one of them. I no longer had to be a doll, play a part.

As we got more and more lost in the winding, ethereal countryside, my heart found more and more solace. I love to be lost. If no-one can find me and I can’t find myself then I will hang forever in that state. I will be a memory to everyone and devoid of any connections except to those I have with myself.

I began to imagine those films which are spun from classic books where girls wander in desperation through the desolate countryside, barefoot and bewildered. The only purpose they have to run away from whatever they came from, rather than running to any signpost or mark in the sand.

However, my mum doesn’t like to be lost so much. She wound the car through the intricate bends which have carved themselves through the sweeping carpets of grass and brought us back into the clearing. Then, the pouring rain matched the motion on my own face. Tears fell silently and absent-mindedly from my drooping eyes as I yet again began to detach myself from reality. She led me back down the dreary halls of my residence and I dragged my feet along the rough carpet. I shoved my key roughly in the door, distantly aware of the thumping music coming from somewhere in the background of this nightmare.

I had been returned to my cell. My room. My cell.

AN EVENING ALONE WITH A BROKEN BRAIN

CURRENTLY MY HEART IS THUMPING LIKE MAD, MY HANDS ARE SHAKING AND MY LUNGS HURT. TODAY I HAVE HAD WORK MEN IN AND OUT OF MY ROOM, A PORTER HAS SNAPPED AT ME AND I HAVE HAD A DEEPLY UNCOMFORTABLE SEMINAR IN WHICH I HAD TO SPEAK IN FRONT OF A GROUP OF STRANGERS.

HERE IS HOW I COPE WITH A BROKEN BRAIN ALONE, THIS EVENING:

1. I will make myself a mug of blueberry and apple tea

I am aware that this is a very British cliche but, honestly, the feeling of a hot sweet tea coursing down my throat is so comforting. It is a pleasant sensation that I can focus on rather than the other uncomfortable feelings occurring in my body right now.

2. I will listen to my favourite band

I adore Paramore and I know exactly what songs of theirs’ to listen to when I am feeling particular emotions. I know the lyrics to their songs so it is not hard listening, I can just let the familiar words wash over me and their comforting sounds surround me. Listening to music which I know inside-out gives me a cosy feeling inside which I really tap into when my situation feels anything but cosy and calm.

3. I will close my curtains

As I live on the ground floor of a large block of flats I have to contend with all the people walking past, many of whom enjoy staring straight into my room as they stroll past my window, looking at exactly what I am doing. For so many reasons I find this jarring throughout the day, so as soon as I can justifiably claim that it is the evening I will take advantage of this and close my curtains. It is easier to cope with being lonely and not having any friends when you don’t have to watch groups of mates giggle and have fun together on a Friday evening right outside your window.

4. I will watch videos

Watching my favourite youtubers is like catching up with a friend in someways. These videos give me some lighthearted entertainment which can temporarily distract me from what is happening in the moment as I can immerse in somebody else’s life which is edited and glossy and not distressing.

5. I will wrap myself in a duvet cocoon

When I am anxious, I very often do not feel safe. For whatever reason I feel vulnerable and on edge and being wrapped securely in my duvet really helps me to quash those fears and reassure myself. Being warm in my bed and snuggling in my most comfy pyjamas feels like such a luxury to me, as a lot of the time I usually spend in bed is when I am frustrated with myself for being unable to sleep.

 

TIREDNESS

Tiredness is something which touches everyone’s lives at some point but every time it’s pressure reaches past a certain point, it convinces us that this weight is too much to bear. Tiredness has the ability to crush you slowly whilst using the guise of an everyday ailment which people tell you to ‘get over’ because it is a normal facet of everyone’s life.

Whilst fatigue cumulates and gains more form and substance, it seeps into more areas of your body and life. By the time it builds to become the figure of exhaustion, it takes the appearance of your body and replaces the ‘usual’ you. It gains control of your brain, growing small uncharacteristic errors in basic tasks to large oversights in life and work. It sucks the colour away from your skin like a parasite and gives you back in return lurid blue smudges under your eyes; the mark of the haunted. Your speech loses it’s once distinct character which is replaced with a hollow, unfeeling monotone whose small and lifeless outline barely reaches the ears of others.

Tiredness learns to live vicariously through you whilst also moulding you to it’s shrivelled and decrepit self.

Once it has enforced it’s own impression on your body, it tactically repulses or frightens people away. Short, snappy language begins to seep, like your own life force, out of your mouth and becomes an ugly couple with the ungainly appearance of a disinterested frown which takes residence upon your face.

Tiredness drives you to a place where it caNo Amount of Sleep...n have you for itself; doors and windows securely shut and exempt from the reaches of concern and worry.