I have never been ashamed of being bipolar, of having a mental health condition of any kind. I’m not responsible for my genes, my childhood, it’s nothing anyone would choose. I am so unashamed that the recent hashtag #imnotashamed caught me be surprised. Why would I need to assert that? How sad it is that anyone would have to assert that.
Yet here I am consumed with so much guilt, so much shame.
I should’ve noticed I was sliding downwards when I sat on a plane bound for Germany, looking out at the clouds below. Rather than excitement or joy, I felt guilt. I was remembering a time when I was 13 and my family took me to southern Spain to experience a very different sort of Christmas. It was fab, as I remember; seafood stew for our festive dinner, the buzz of the Christmas Eve markets under intricate designs of pure white lights. At the exact same point on that flight a girl in the next row, perhaps a couple of years older than me, was clutching breathlessly at her mother’s arm. “Oh, Mum!” she kept saying. “Oh, Mum!”
Blasé having been on an aeroplane all of six times (two of which I was too young to even remember), I felt a lofty superiority towards this air travel novice. Later I shared my patronising scorn with my mother, who quite rightly told me not to be mean.
It’s almost thirty years since this incident occurred. An incident that wasn’t even an incident, a bitchy thought that I never even shared with its object. No harm was ever done to that sweet, naive girl looking down at the clouds. And yet I dwelt on it during the flight. I felt shame.
Since coming out of hospital I have been in (for me) super femme mode, wearing more makeup than usual, taking more care with my outfits, my hair, my nails. It was a reaction to how I knew I’d looked on the ward. It was a source of embarrassment that I’d had close friends who had never seen me without a two-inch band of silver roots, never seen me out of jeans or pyjamas, never seen me with makeup on, never seen me with shaped eyebrows or painted nails. I felt proud that whenever I bumped into a ward buddy on my way to Home Treatment Team they would exclaim over my appearance. Even the receptionists kept saying how well I looked.
During our brief, beautiful break in the Alps this month it became clear to me that the driver behind this concern for my appearance was shame and that a month in the community and a two hour flight across Europe had not been enough to outrun it. Over the five days we were away my sense of disgust about myself swelled. I felt fat. I felt old. I felt unattractive. I felt that the nail polish and the foundation were literally painting over the cracks. We were away for Tom’s Big Birthday treat and I felt that I was a letdown as a companion.
This was compounded by the fact that I had no money. I haven’t worked since January. I claimed ESA (Employment and Support Allowance, the UK’s sickness benefit) in early February but the money didn’t come and it didn’t come as evidence apparently got lost and had to be resent. The money didn’t come through until yesterday, two weeks too late to buy Tom a present. In the the end I made one. I put so much care and love and attention into it but I remained deeply ashamed that this was all I could offer and no matter how much Tom says he loves it, I cringe when I think about it.
By the last couple of the days of the holiday we had been joined by two of Tom’s family members. I find it really, really hard to be away with other people; in fact after a horrendous time in 2012, we’d tried to go away just to the two of us, but it was Tom’s Big Birthday and of course he wanted close family there. I felt guilty that I was afraid of that. On our last night I started to go into meltdown. In the morning we were supposed to be sightseeing, but I couldn’t, I couldn’t be around people, not even close family, and I felt tremendously ashamed of this. I couldn’t even hide as we had to check out, so I had to hang about in the lounge wearing dark glasses and clutching tissues. I was ashamed to be crying on and off on the two hour journey back to the airport and most of the way home on the plane, despite the camp steward’s very best attempts to make me smile (I even feel guilty about my failure to respond).
Since we got back there is is so much more I am ashamed of. I can’t maintain the femme veneer. I’m lucky if I can wash my hair. I am ashamed of my recent detailed suicide plan, of its cold meticulousness. In addition – and I haven’t written about this anywhere else – I recently took a very small, non-accidental overdose. I suppose I didn’t need even to go to A&E but we went anyway just to be safe. I am probably more ashamed of this than anything I have done in years. I actually feel sick writing about it. I put Tom through needless shock and worry, abused just a few few minutes that he left me alone, left him wondering he could cope with me the community and wasted about 6 hours of our time in the ER. Hospital became a very real possibility again. I all but packed my bag.
I hate myself for it. I don’t even know why I did it. I am terrified that it must have looked like attention-seeking behaviour (although thankfully no one at A&E said so) or an attempt to manipulate my husband. It wasn’t. I don’t know what it was. I know I was dissociated; part of me was watching myself from a corner of the ceiling, wondering why I didn’t just… stop. My skin crawls with the shame of it. I am particularly ashamed because we had a tight management plan in place involving Home Treatment nurses and doctors, my own consultant and my new psychologist. There was absolutely no need. Tom didn’t want me to tweet about it but the shame and the self-hatred has been eating away at me every day and I can’t contain it and I need to let it out.
One of the HTT nurses who knows me very well has noticed how much I am self-blaming. “It’s us,” she said, “not you. It’s us that have left you under-medicated without enough support, and here you are on less than half your normal meds, so it’s not surprising at all than you’ve become unwell again.”
Despite her kind words I once again loathe myself for being incapable of adulting. I stopped ESA three weeks ago but in the past seven days I have been too sick to undertake the only work I’ve had in months, several things I’d been particularly looking forward to. And they would have paid, so of course I’m back to zero income and will have to go through the rigmarole of claiming again. I didn’t see my daughter last weekend as planned because I was too ill which pushed all my Bad Mummy buttons. I am ashamed that I have basically stopped going to yoga, usually my lifeline, or indeed doing any exercise.
Yesterday was my birthday. I felt that I really should at least try and do something other than see Home Treatment Team, so I made a plan that I would go to a nice art house cinema and watch a well-reviewd Japanese film (because, yes, I am THAT middle class) then Tom and I would go for cocktails and be joined in a meal by close friend Miss J. I left HTT and stood outside the hospital gates, looking up and down the road. Catch the bus going left and I’d get to the overground and the cinema. Right, and I’d catch the bus to the tube home. I went right.
In the evening I couldn’t go out. I didn’t have it in me. Tom went to the Co-op and bought a ready meal and garlic bread and tiramisu. Miss J had already, very thoughtfully, placed a bottle of prosecco in the fridge. Did I enjoy myself? Not really (although the tiramisu was very good and we mixed the fizz with some elderflower gin my mum gave us and that was actually pretty awesome). And so I felt ashamed, like I had squandered what was supposed to be special day.
I wanted to hide forever.
Tomorrow I see Dr HTT. I hope. I really fucking sincerely hope because sometimes he gets called away on emergencies. And I also really fucking sincerely hope that I will start the new med like, tomorrow. Neither Tom nor I feel that it can wait. Neither of us can cope with me as I’ve been and frankly if it doesn’t happen I’m probably going to end up back in hospital. Something needs to stop these spirals of shame and guilt and suicidality, because I am taking more and more of it on myself in a kind of horrible feedback loop, blaming myself for every single thing that’s happened since 1987.
Why wouldn’t I start it? Well, because I have been down this road before. Every time someone in my Trust switches team, they come under the consultant for that team. So if you have a community consultant, they relinquish responsibility for you to the consultant of the Home Treatment Team while you under their care. Move to a ward, and you come under the ward consultant.
And so I have a plan devised by a ward consultant which was not recorded or communicated to Home Treatment Team. The HTT then felt that I was well enough to be discharged back to my own consultant who reviewed the plan with me (and Tom, and a HTT nurse) on Monday. He seems to be saying that the plan is sound but he will, of course, have to defer to Dr HTT’s view in the matter because he’s handed me back to them. It’s a system of flaws and cracks and holes and I don’t want to fall through them any more. I’m so scared that there will be a delay. In which case I might as well pack my hospital bag again.