Today my friend Golden Ink, who has supported me so much in recent months, shares her fears about her mental health and the conclusions emerging as 2013 nears its end.
It’s coming up to Christmas and I’d like to ask Santa for answers and clarity. The year has flown by with both great achievements and crushing defeats. You may ask who I am and why I am guest posting anonymously on Charlotte’s blog. Firstly, thank you Charlotte for giving me this space to write openly. I write for a ‘living’ already and have not walked the line successfully between openness and fear of stigma halting my career prospects in an already highly competitive field. Those of you that know me or follow me on Twitter will join the dots as I’ve never hidden mental ill health as it’s not something I’m ashamed of as such. I just want to write for sharing, telling the truth as it painfully is without worrying about word counts, deadlines or good language. Perhaps in time I will blog elsewhere too but running the work one with social media is pretty taxing at times and I need to tie this to another person to feel a sense of responsibility for those days where I can’t drum up the will for myself alone.
I’m frightened as my mental health has edged into the unfamiliar this year beyond the usual severe clinical depression and anxiety which I’ve had to cope with since I was a child. My mind started playing tricks on me, I’d listen to the radio whilst working from home and I was convinced that the lyrics from another song was playing within a song and morphing into another song and would get confused when it then sounded different.
After a psychology assessment, I went out in the sun and decided to go to a park by myself to try and be with nature and get myself closer to stability. Wondered out of the tube into a busy park, planted myself on the grass and lay on my back. A soft breeze picked up around me negating the warm sun, I could hear the hum of conversations and traffic and mobile phones trilling. The sounds started to mash together, the sky felt like it was going to fall in on me and the talking, the cars and phones started sounding like sheet metal scraping together. Trying to keep myself contained, I walked fast and got back onto the safety of the tube where I didn’t feel overwhelmed and over stimulated by alien sounds, finally, got home and cried great big sobs under the duvet until I fell asleep.
I talked about achievements, this year I completed a post graduate course related to my profession, finished it and did very well despite my mental health fluctuations leading to burn out a few times. I’ve had my work published in national media even though I only started writing professionally in February. Had a few prestigious internships, all unpaid of course and led a whirlwind of a life working ridiculously hard.
However, these things do come at a cost. I saw the #spoonies a few times on Twitter and read this tonight, I won’t spoil it but it’s a wonderful way to look at long term disabilities and illnesses. The realisation has crept up on me that despite feeling this unrelenting drive to ‘do’, I simply can’t as my physical and mental resources are finite.
So great were the successes that I had an interview for my dream job this year, most likely the ultimate job for many in my industry as the post attracted about a thousand applicants, I was interning there at the same time and enjoying the buzz of working under lots of pressure which I thrive on.
What I didn’t recognise is that I was unravelling little by little. OK, I suspect I have bipolar disorder – I assume as you read Charlotte’s blog that you know what this means but I’ll spell it out for you in case you don’t, bipolar is where moods fluctuate from highs to lows. At the top end of the spectrum you can become manic and psychotic and crash into severe depressions when the mood dips. It varies and there are subsets of the diagnosis which I won’t go into. I had concerns for a few years, that feeling when the sun is out and you feel invincible and beautiful and like everything’s possible but it was fleeting and there were the impulsive shopping sprees too. My concerns when I raised this with health professionals were brushed aside as just anxiety and I was told to not worry about it.
I noticed earlier in the year before this big placement that even when I was meeting all my deadlines and working optimally at another place, I got into this zone of working on adrenaline and became super focused, prolific and it felt creative and positive, so I just wanted to keep going. I slept less, had boundless energy and was just on the go, non stop, it feels like effervescing myself into nothingness. It’s wonderfully glittery and warm and so ecstatic but surrounding me whilst I tingle into particles is a thick, dark black nothingness that I’m disappearing into.
It took until I had exhausted myself and had a many other pressures in several areas of life for me to crash out but I felt shame in giving up and wanted to drive myself forward a bit more but couldn’t. Incapacitated in bed through exhaustion, I still had this sense of drive, of wanting to keep pushing, feeling at odds with everything. I describe it as an internal wheel with hundreds of hyperactive hamsters turning relentlessly, this instinct to push myself into oblivion. It’s at this stage, I should mention I am a morbid high achiever.
Bringing it back to the important internship, I was extremely confident, felt a sense of overwhelming wellbeing which just sat on me like a special golden cloak that I didn’t want to give up. Fearless wonderment saturated every pore, I was coming up with lots of ideas and producing good work that was read and shared widely. I worry that I came across as an arrogant, unpleasant individual. This glimmering productivity has a seductive appeal, I become focused and feel the brilliance reflecting all around and within me and it never borders into something psychotic with me, so I am convinced it’s normal and all good. Working on adrenaline to deadlines fuelled this hungry monster and the hamsters sped up like they were on steroids, tipping things into an unhealthy verge but I was obliviously happy for the ride still.
Had my interview in the middle of this suspected hypomania and at the time thought it went amazingly well but with hindsight I realise I didn’t talk about the things I needed to mention professionally and went off on weird little avenues that felt relevant at the time but should never be talked about at interview. I wish I could blot it from my memory but that’s not how life works. You can guess I didn’t get the job, made final interviews, messed it up like a jabbering wreck and unfortunately jettisoned one of the biggest opportunities I’ve had so far.
It took the rejection from this to send me into a spiral deeply downwards as I kept bumping up higher and higher and felt pure conviction that I’d landed the job as the application process by its nature had taken a few months.
Only in the last few weeks have I’ve really started to piece this year together and come to the conclusion that looking into a diagnosis is a good and necessary thing, the severe depression has really affected my ability to work and function right now. I’m a sharp brain trapped with vegetable tendencies in the depths of black. When moments of dysphoric irritability poke through with super narrow focus, this is what tells me that I’m not dealing with straight depression. There have been shopping sprees where I get caught on an idea like needing a jar for the kitchen and I return with ten jars. My history of ineffective antidepressants also adds another tick to the box.
I’m waiting for a referral to a community mental health team or something similar in my area to tackle this and reluctantly if I need mood stabilising medication, I may need to take it. I just hope it doesn’t dull or sacrifice my creativity or sedate me heavily.
Wrote this today as I am scared, I don’t know what all this means, I don’t know if I am good at what I do or if it’s a symptom of illness. I had a phone interview for a gateway hospital service and the weight and seriousness of it hit me hard. When you think you understand your mind after years of therapy and psychological work, it’s having the carpet pulled from under you and starting again with an all black slate when you want it to be shimmery gold. Considering, I once described therapy as taking a hammer to yourself and piecing it back together again slowly, when the shards don’t fit, I thought I’d made progress but this is another journey. I hope to share it with you, to dispel my fear, write honestly to get it out there and so that we’re less alone in all of this.
So with the festivities coming close, the bells tingling along and tinsel adorning every surface, I’m aiming for beige not gold and hopefully presents of balance and mind.
Thank you for reading.