This week is mental health awareness week, and I’ve been reading a lot of articles and blogs and stories about people’s struggles with mental health issues of all kinds. (Particularly, this brave as fuck blog from a fucking awesome friend of mine, check it out https://40ontheoutside.wordpress.com/2017/05/11/143/ ) and I want to talk about my life long battle with my Own Brain, too.
As long as I can remember, I’ve had ‘Issues’ as we call them today, back in the 80’s, in Wales, I was just a weird kid. I was a very bright kid, I taught myself to read as a toddler ( My dad just LOVES to tell people how he’d find me sitting on the bog reading the obituaries in my local paper, thanks dad..), I could read at GCSE level at age 7 and obviously this was great, right? Well, not really, because as well as being bright, I was also super perfectionistic and hard on myself, I remember a spectacular meltdown in primary school when I *only* got 9/10 on my maths test. I was distraught like my world was ending. The other kids must have thought I was a right fucking prick, but to me it was Not Good Enough. I pushed myself to be the best at everything and as any sane person will tell you, that’s not humanly possibly. So, when I wasn’t the best, I was clearly shit and useless and awful at everything. That nature coupled with being the class fat kid meant I was picked on a fair bit and made for some pretty miserable times as a child. I first remember feeling what I now know to be depression when I was 8 or 9. That feeling of just not wanting to get out bed, i’d forget things and lie awake at night worrying about not being able to sleep (oh yeah, the insomnia thing started young in this one..), worrying about forgetting a show or concert I was meant to be in, stressing about tests, stressing about…well, everything. I went on my first diet when I was 8. I was a pro at picking out the next mad fad from my mothers magazines by 10, and in my second year of secondary school, i grew about 6 inches, and discovered that if i just drank diet coke all day and threw my dinner away when I got home when no one was looking, that I could also be thinner. I lost shit loads of weight. Of course, I gained banging headaches, a shit metabolism and a life-long crappy relationship with food, but swings and roundabouts, right??
By my mid-teens, I had good friends, but I also had shit self-esteem, so never really felt good enough, pretty enough, thin enough. Then came the self-harm, the bad choices, the self-destruction. My first major bout with depression hit when I was 17. I had a pretty awful experience I won’t go into just now, but I spent 3 months barely getting out of bed, crying every day, and generally just wanting to not be here anymore. I was given anti-depressants and CBT counselling which I genuinely believe saved my life at that time. I got better, life went on.
Then, THEN, I had kids….and what no one tells you is when you are a perfectionist with a propensity for depression, having kids is like throwing yourself into a pit with a starving lion and expecting it not to eat you. Of COURSE I got post-natal depression, because I was never going to be able to live up to my own expectations of myself as a parent, and boy did I fucking fail* spectacularly. I couldn’t give birth without drugs, I couldn’t breastfeed, I couldn’t not give her a dummy, I couldn’t be the earth mother floating about with joy I expected I should be. Nope, instead I sat on the kitchen floor howling because I’d dropped the steriliser and it had smashed into a million pieces. Instead, I barely brushed my hair for a month and it was a fucking achievement if I’d got dressed by tea time.
(*This is only failure in the messed up head of me. In the real world, they call this, surviving having a baby.)
And because I am me, and my reason for doing 99% of the things I do is ‘it seemed like a good idea at the time’, I then had another baby less than 18 months later, and another a couple of years after that. Because the way to beat PND? Keep doing the thing that gives you PND! They were some dark years. I’ve never been much good at a) admitting I need help or b) asking for help or c) accepting help when it is offered. So, I muddled on through, meds helped take the edge off, but it was rough. I wanted to love being a mother, but the truth is for the first few years, I didn’t really love it. I just did it because there wasn’t any other choice. I loved my kids, but the mind-numbing boredom of spending all your time with people who can’t talk and shit themselves a million times a day was not great. And my natural anti-socialism combined with depression made it near impossible to find any other way out. Thank the lord for the internet and my amazing online friends I made then, in a very real sense, they saved me in those days.
And now? Well, i’m still me, so the depression/anxiety/eating disorder/self esteem issues still exist. Some days they threaten to take over me, but for the most part I’m ok. Not jumping for joy some of the time, but I’m even and calm and for people like me, I think thats the best way to be. Highs are always followed by inevitable lows that aren’t always worth it. I don’t have a diagnosis of bipolar disorder or anything like that, but it does run in my immediate family and I definitely have experienced episodes of ‘mania’ where I think I can take on the world.
The biggest issue for me right now is insomnia. I just don’t sleep normally. There is no such thing as a typical night for me. I can sleep for 15 hours and then not sleep again for 3 days. I can have periods where I sleep for an hour, and that’s me done for the night. I wake at the slightest sound, lights disturb me, my own fucking breathing wakes me up sometimes for fucks sake. It. Is. Hell. I live in a constant state of tiredness. Have you seen Fight Club? for me the most memorable moment was not Meatloaf’s bitch tits, but when the narrator talks about never being fully awake, or fully asleep. I feel that shit. And of course, that has a knock on effect on so many other things, it makes the potential for depression worse: it makes meal times erratic which doesn’t help my issues with food; It certainly doesn’t help my brain function at it’s best and hinders my ability to be SuperEmily who can be The Best.
However, I think the difference now is that I accept myself more. Ok, I have Issues. But so do lots of people, and I’m not alone in feeling the way I do. I have AMAZING friends, who also accept me as I am. I was always afraid when I was younger that if i showed the ‘real me’, people wouldn’t like me, so the idea of sharing my depression or self harm with people was unthinkable then. Now….well, I know my friends love me for me, and showing a little bit of myself isn’t going to send them screaming in the other direction.
Also, there are GOOD things about being me and having my somewhat less than normal brain:
Some of the best friends I have, have been discovered through a shared mental health issue. Finding the people who understand your crazy and understand it is awesome.
I might be ridiculously harsh on myself, but it makes me a more empathetic person who forgives and understands that people are human and fuck up and thats ok. (yeah, the irony of that doesn’t escape me, don’t worry…)
I feel like I am a better mother for it. Those dark years of PND mean I appreciate them so much more now.
I don’t take life for granted, because I know how fragile it is.
My brain is weird, but its also creative and expressive and I am thankful for it. Every day.
#mentalhealthawarenessweek is about sharing and talking. Be Kind.