[TW: suicidal thoughts]
As Christmas approached I was cautiously optimistic. I’d been doing so much better since starting lamotrigine, feeling like myself for the first time in who knows when. I saw no reason why that shouldn’t continue. Of course I was a bit concerned that the “festive season” might somewhat destabilise me as it has sometimes done in the past, but that was OK. I had strategies in place, strategies so sensible and helpful that I saw fit to share in them in an article for the BBC.
That article was read by thousands. Countless readers contacting me by tweet, blog comment or the “contact Charlotte” tab, people who wanted me to know that they also struggled at Christmas, who wanted to tell me that what I had written had made them feel less alone, that it had validated the choices they had made about how they would look after their own mental health over the “festive season”.
This left me feeling like a fraud and a hypocrite when Christmas proved harder than I could have imagined. Every day over the past week I have felt myself grow more and more unwell and every day I have had to try harder and harder to hide it. I did not want my children to know how awful I was feeling, so I put on a mask. I began to hate myself for becoming unwell again as Tom is dealing with the fact that his mother is in hospital some distance away, and worrying about the lack of clear information as to whether she in fact has a brain tumour. I have not wanted to be another worry for him. I hate the thought a burden.
But try as I might to hold it back, my mood has dipping and my anxiety rising. This was not helped by receiving a very much unwanted Christmas card from a relative with whom I have made it clear I want absolutely no contact. I spent about a third of Christmas Day crying and trying to disguise it (I cut an awful lot of onions that day). Boxing Day things eased a little, but by the 27th of December I was in such a state of desperation that I was distracting wildly. I feared that if I let myself experience the full level of my despair I would start screaming, just screaming out loud, and not be able to stop. Much as I adore my children the strain of trying not to seem increasingly, screamingly mental was immense. While I cooked or played a board game or watched a Christmas film all the time I was thinking, “How can I do this? How can I possibly do this? This is Hell, how can I carry on living in hell?” When the children left yesterday I told myself that I only had to wear the mask for one more day. One more little day, just so I could accompany Tom and his daughters on the six-hour round trip to see my poor dear mother-in-law.
I got up on time this morning. I ate breakfast. I washed and dressed. I did my hair and indulged in a quick spritz of perfume. And then I realised I could not cope for even one more day. I could not put that mask on again, and if I did it would be liable to crack long before we reached the hospital. And I still have some semblance of pride. I could not stand to become that screaming, howling thing I feared, could not bear to feel less than human in front of my stepdaughters. Tom was anxious about my decision to stay at home, maybe even angry. He did not feel it was safe to leave me alone; I did not feel it was safe to leave (it would hardly have been possible for me to return on my own if I couldn’t cope).
This afternoon I rang Home Treatment Team and bawled down the phone for 20 minutes. I had so much to cry about. How very disappointed I was to be so unwell again when I had felt that I was on an upward trajectory. How disappointed I was at my inability to enjoy most of Christmas. My shame at my inability to just be well, to be normal and supportive, to be the kind of steadfast partner Tom needs and deserves with his mum so unwell. The fear I feel noticing that every day thoughts of suicide creep a little closer. The plan I had before was so detailed, so careful that I find myself easily resurrecting it. I am aware of wondering how I can get hold of medication without anyone noticing, how I can stockpile cash. As I sobbed to the HTT nurse – who was, I have to say, amazingly kind – I don’t want this. I don’t want to be back in that horrendous, lonely place where I am all by myself, cut off from the rest of humanity, out in the cold. The though terrifies me.
I know that it is early days as far as the treatment plan goes. I am only taking a quarter of what the doctors consider a therapeutic dose of lamotrigine and I do understand why the titration has to be slow and careful. But I don’t know how to do the here the and now, let alone move into 2015. Staying at home today was the right choice today, but it’s brought huge guilt. And I don’t know how to stop the encroaching thoughts of it being better if I weren’t here; that I am a useless burden to Tom and the children; that I just cannot live with my bipolar into 2015 and beyond.