PROGRESS ISN’T STRAIGHT FORWARD

Progress isn’t always linear. There’s not always a finish line in sight. Things that we labour at in life don’t necessarily work-out mathematically, we can’t time ourselves and set concrete targets for when to hit our next milestones. Some things just have to take as long as they take which is probably why the intangible frustrates the human brain so much.

Neither my anxiety nor my depression can be measured. I can’t draw a pencil line on the wall to set my bench mark and then keep drawing lines until I flourish to the point of blooming five feet above my initial line. Wouldn’t that be quaint? Instead the journey with mental illness often seems a lonely and meandering one in which fog fills-up my mind so frequently that I become disorientated and wonder whether I actually have a final destination to keep moving forwards to. My illnesses aren’t visible, so cannot be judged on their reduction of prominence over time. Instead, they are confusing swathes of thoughts and feelings which ebb and flow in how much they cover and suffocate my mind and body. Sometimes it feels like I take two steps forward then three steps back.

Today the pessimistic route presented itself as the easy one to take. Time has felt like sand slipping through my fingers recently and the hum of everyone moving past me, their progress whistling in my ears, only felt louder the more I pushed towards the positive route. Today and writing this blog post reminded me of the importance of having goals and a picture of where you want to be, not just in one or two year’s time, but tomorrow and the day after that. When the possibility of progress seems to be so distantly set in the faraway future, it is difficult to find the motivation to continue onwards on the right path. So, I set myself short-term goals, literally for the next day, like waking-up and telling myself that it will be a good day, getting to my seminar a couple of minutes early, smiling at whoever I sit next to in class, holding the door open for someone or managing to get myself to say even just a couple of words to whoever will be near me in my lecture hall (this is the most ambitious as my words dry-up in my mouth when I am around people). These things may seem silly and inconsequential but I need the reassurance that work can always be done on some aspect of my mental health and the route which will take me looping backwards to my darkest place isn’t the only one available to me.

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.

MY EXPERIENCE OF CBT…

I had a 12 session course of CBT in 2016 on the NHS when I was 16.

For those who don’t know, CBT stands for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and it aims to change the way you think and behave by talking through situations which you find triggering. Personally, my course of CBT focused on my anxiety because it was thought that if this was tackled and I could gain more independence, such as travelling on my own and such, then this may decrease my experience of depression and OCD because it would give me more freedom and lessen my tendency to worry about everything.

This is a difficult topic to talk about for me because I don’t believe that I got everything I could of out of my therapy experience. Whilst I seemed to make progress during my course of treatment, as soon as the treatment stopped after the 12th session I regressed back to my old ways because there was no-one working with me to maintain my progress, therefore there was nobody for me to disappoint with my inaction and hibernation in my house.

I have always found talking therapies a tricky experience anyway because part of my anxiety centres around talking and explaining myself in front of others. Therefore, it seems ironic that, in order to reduce my anxiety in the long-term, I have to put myself through hours of anxiety provoking treatment and talk about my deepest thoughts and feelings with a complete stranger! My fear of judgement and my embarrassment about my own wild thought patterns meant that I found it really hard to properly open-up to my therapist.

A lot of what my therapist told me was a repetition of the familiar refrain that my thoughts are illogical and not reasonable. When I told her about my feelings of impending danger whenever I left the house, she would reason ‘but there is only a very small likelihood of you coming to any danger by just leaving your house – it’s not rational to think that some crisis is going to descend on you when there are so many other people walking the streets right now who aren’t facing any danger at all’.

Every single session she would bring me back to the fact that my fears and anxieties were irrational, therefore there was no point in focusing on them and letting them rule my life. The problem with this was that I already knew that my thoughts were irrational. I know that my fear of leaving the house is neither plausible nor founded on any factual basis. Everyday I can see people walking outside my window without a care in the world or any threat of doom hanging over them. I wasn’t blind or stupid. The whole reason I wanted therapy was to find out why my life was so dominated by illogical thinking, why I am the way I am, not to just be told that my thoughts don’t make any sense. Instead, my therapist just continued telling me that my thoughts weren’t rational (as if this were a revelation) rather than giving me any practical advice to navigate my way around them.

So, for me, CBT didn’t offer me a route of a solution to my problems, if anything it just left me feeling more lost than beforehand. I felt like a failure for not leaving my course of therapy having been ‘cured’ and transformed into a carefree individual. The disappointment of my therapist who told me that I wasn’t making enough progress was, and still is, a heavy presence in my mind, telling me that my struggles are my own fault and that I am a lost cause.

I have no doubt that CBT works for lots and lots of people and it was definitely something worth trying because at least now I can say that I have tried it and I can cross it off my list of possibilities. It’s just a shame that it didn’t have the effect on me that I was hoping it would.

 

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.

WINDOWS…

It’s not so much windows as the view that they allow me which frightens me so much.

In my mind, windows are a scary liminal space between the protection that I am afforded inside my home and the volatile and unpredictable world that lays just beyond the sheets of glass. The glances I sneak through the window seem to tease me, knowing that I will inevitably be scared of what I will see. The carefree people drifting past my driveway, listening to music or chatting to friends seem so alien to me. Who are they? What kind of people are they? My mind channels these thoughts into a bottomless pool of fear as I ruminate on the fact that these people are walking just feet away from me and the only thing which separates us is a couple of sheets of dangerously fragile glass.

I know that I am irrational and overly paranoid; that is me. Whenever, I hear the closing of a car door or the slowing down of a vehicles tires, my heart goes into overdrive as I worry that will be someone with a delivery for the house. Such an idea feels like a wholesome threat to me. A delivery would mean opening the door, literally giving someone power over the threshold of my house, allowing them to see inside the protective fortress I have built for myself for the sole purpose of keeping others out. Deliveries mean having to sign my name when my sweaty hands will not function properly and handling a pen that goodness knows how many other people have touched before. Windows cheat me out of a way of avoiding such situations. Before I have time to gather myself and hide from view, the deliveryman has already sauntered half way down my drive and spotted me like a deer caught in the headlights through the window.

Windows remind me of the world that I will inevitably have to step back into when my next seminar or lecture comes or when hunger’s necessity to have food will drive me out of the house to the corner shop.

THIS MORNING

This morning I lay in bed feeling that my body was too weighed down to heave out of bed. The rational part of me was telling myself that I needed to get out of bed and get on with my day, I am already behind on Uni work. But the rest of me just wanted to stay cocooned inside my duvet for the rest of the day. I didn’t want the responsibility of sustaining myself, having to feed myself, having to hydrate myself. I wanted to pretend that the night could last all day – no new dramas, no challenges, just being suspended in that feeling of comfort all day.

I had an initial appointment for on-campus counselling yesterday. I have counselling and therapy before and each time I have to spill my guts to a new stranger so that I can get referred to another stranger to talk things through, I feel more drained and hopeless. I move from person to person and begin to think ‘what is the point?’. I fall into this black hole of thinking that I cannot be helped and that I can never verbalise my feelings properly anyway, so how can I ever get a counsellor or therapist to understand me?

I know that I am in a privileged position to even be close to get counselling, there are so many people across the world who are denied the treatment they need for a multitude of reasons. So, I’m sorry for moaning about it.

A MANNEQUIN

In class it feels like I cannot move.

The seminar starts and I am welded to my chair, too brain dead to find the way to pick-up a pen and carve some nonsensical words onto a page. It is like someone pressed pause on my TV programme but pressed fast forward on everyone else’s. Their brains seem to whir incessantly, new ideas forming by the minute as they hungrily devour each new word on the page.

Whereas, I am a mannequin. I show all the outward signs of life, superficially I am there with them but behind the layers of clothing and the appearance of humanity, I am simply a faceless, brainless figure.

I am held in time, unable to function in the classroom I am trapped in. I want to scream in frustration and run away in fear but instead I just stare blankly into space. The professor may catch my eye but quickly he looks away, disturbed by the eerily empty gaze he has happened upon.

I am Isobel. I am a mannequin. I’m not very well.