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.
A feeling of emptiness rules my life.
After going back to Uni, I’ve let the long train journeys that pass me back and forth as I switch between the careful gaze of my parents and the complete anonymity of University life, pass me slowly by. As these two hour long journeys drag painfully across my vision, they serve as a reminder that I am never heading towards where I want to be. Regardless of my destination, I never feel at home, I never feel satisfied. I trawl through life with a dissatisfied scowl on my face, bitter and resentful at how I have ended-up in this trap, resembling a pendulum swinging from one end of the country to the other. Yet, I have no idea how to resolve the situation…what is the cure, the solution that I am waiting for?
When I sit staring at the four walls of my room, I simply feel a gaping hollowness inside. This sounds dramatic and cliched but I have never felt anything so desperate and crushing before. It feels like my chest is constantly in danger of ripping open and the guttural scream that I suppress inside of me will finally unleash it’s wild frustration. The problem is, I don’t know how I will ever put myself back together if I let these emotions tear out of me.
I’m back at Uni and it feels like a completely alien space to me. After a six week break for Christmas and the exam period, it started to feel like that first semester had just been a bad dream, something that I had now woken-up from. I let myself fantasise about a different life, one where I didn’t feel trapped in a course which I mistakenly chose on a whim when I was mentally unwell. I thought about the possibilities of feeling ‘normal’, not like the outcast I have made myself at Uni. My creativity began to flow through my veins again and the unexpected pleasure of poetry popped back into my life again after years of absence.
Yet, I then found myself in my dad’s freezing cold car making the journey back to that dreaded place. Back to my room in halls where I had holed myself up a couple of months previously and torn my body apart. The walls of my room hold the memories of depression naps in the middle of the day in which I fell into impossibly deep sleeps because I felt so exhausted with the effort of getting up, washing myself and eating. Now, I have to face these memories again, shrink myself back down to the size I was when I was drained and hopeless wishing for a way out of education finally and desperate for a way to feel adequate again – not the sum of my grades and tutors’ comments.
Onwards I go into this new semester, scared of what is lurking around the corner for me and hoping that one day the sunlight will filter into my room and rather than feel ashamed of it’s touch, I will feel hopeful instead.
Sometimes it feels like sinking,
Like life is too heavy –
Denser than what the world can bear.
The tears that well-up in my eyes
Catch the back of my throat;
I can’t breathe.
I am enveloped in a cold embrace,
Eroded by salt, adding insult
To the injury of being torn apart
By waves that hit me from all sides.
If I screamed
Would you even hear?
I may waste the air,
Lying restlessly in my lungs,
On you, pleading,
With every word
Scraped from my mouth,
Falling on deaf ears
That do not want to listen.
If I rearrange the words,
Form them into a pleasant landscape,
Then you will have to take notice.
Surely you cannot ignore
What is battering at your head
Insistently, for days on end?
If I take pains
To explain it perfectly,
Will you then turn your head,
Look into my eyes
Or will you tilt your head to the ceiling,
Bold and brash in your ignorance,
And hope you will never understand
The despair that I am feeling?
Thousands of characters
Rushing around my head,
All bouncing and waving-
A little too much for me to take.
They punctuate those rare moments,
Where silence fills the spaces
In the vacant seconds of a day.
They pinch and prod me,
Appearing more real than reality.
They need me so that they can live,
So they can breathe,
So they can stretch and feel.
Without me, my characters have no life,
They wander and stumble in the dark
Frantic like a lost toddler;
They die in the dark,
So sleep is not an option.
They need the colour
Require vivid imagination,
Must have the control of my body
Down to my fingertips
Where I reach for a pen.
I watch them restlessly,
I’m worried, waiting for the day
When they wander off
Sick of not being fulfilled,
Tired that their fiction isn’t tangible,
Exasperated at my failure to listen.
My characters wander around,
Always around the perimeters,
Threatening my overspilling head.
I need them to survive.
They are my lifeline, my escape.
My only fact is my fiction.
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.
Over the years, I have become a pro at avoidance.
Counsellors and therapists have been left exasperated with me because of the way I weave myself out of situations and wriggle out of any obligations which I know will make me feel anxious. At school, I used to make a concerted effort to avoid any teacher who took an interest in me, anyone who wanted to explore what lay behind my silent, passive exterior. For the most part, I have made my life an extensive game of hide and seek as I have consciously guarded myself against anything which could have the potential to brings things out of me that I would rather conceal. My sealed mouth and over-active mind act as an armour between me and the world, allowing me to pass through life with a minimum amount of confrontation.
Through time this has expanded to the way I dress and present myself. I make an active decision everyday to dress myself in a way that will act as the best disguise and which will reduce any individualism someone could associate with me. Essentially, I try my best to make myself invisible. I wear baggy black hoodies and jogging bottoms which cannot show my figure and cover as much skin as possible. That way I feel safe, for some reason. Protected.
The result of living my life behind a silent barrier is that I have left myself alone and without any interests that could draw me away from the confines of my room. My lifestyle is, by my own design, incredibly isolating. University was supposed to be a new start for me, a chance to re-create myself afresh but as I write this I have not been into any of my classes for the past three days because every time I think about entering a seminar room or a lecture hall I feel physically sick.
By trying to navigate through life as simply as possibly, I have made everything as far away from straight forward as I could have done. Many of the skills people have learnt during their time growing-up and experiencing new things, I have made sure that I have missed out on. I have made dead certain that I would always be on the outside looking in because I have always seen this as the safest place to be, looking at all situations from a distance in order to ascertain any ‘dangers’. Now I am finding nearly impossible to find my way back to a point where I can live without putting extreme restrictions in place between me and everyone else.
I have been told an obscene amount of times that I will ‘grow out of’ my mental health problems.
I find this one of the most annoying common phrases that counsellors, relatives and family friends tend to say to me when they find out about my mental health issues. They try to convince me that as I get older I will leave my depression, anxiety and OCD behind because to them it is obvious that no mature adult could still struggle with such immature issues.
Note to people who say this: you are being incredibly patronising. You are telling someone whose life is consumed by their struggles with mental health that their problems are childish and once they have seen more of the world and gotten older they will simply forget about their immature issues. However much you want to, you cannot dismiss someone else’s valid feelings out of hand because of your own ignorance and lack of understanding, telling someone that what they are going through is essentially just a phrase is extremely demeaning.
Other people have told me “Oh, when I was your age I was shy too but I soon grew out of it”. I appreciate that people who have said this to me were trying to show that they could empathise with me and give me a sense of comfort but it is so frustrating when people think that being shy is the same as suffering from anxiety (social anxiety and generalised anxiety in my case). Equating these two issues and taking them to mean the same thing means that you are dismissing the experience of panic and anxiety attacks, the daily struggle of leaving the house and the constant worry anxious people have to battle about what others think about them, as well as the isolating effect of having trouble travelling on public transport. People who say that having anxiety is essentially just being shy are telling people that they do not believe all of the serious effect which this mental illness can have as well as the incredibly varied experiences people with anxiety have, as it should be remembered that we cannot be all lumped together and told that the way we see and live life is exactly the same.
In essence, I wish people would take anxiety more seriously rather than just dismissing it as a phase to grow out of. How do you think that makes people who are older than my own 18 years of age feel about their own experiences with anxiety? Be sensitive to the overall effects that anxiety can have on our lives rather than just shrinking people who suffer with it to the image of your own slightly quiet self when you started secondary school; it is not the same thing.
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.