All Change, Please: Recovery (sort of) and Recovery Stories

Breaking with what seems to have become a tradition of NOT updating my blog, i thought today i might talk about recovery from mental illness.  Perhaps not everyone who does recover actually has a recovery story.  Maybe most people don’t, really.  It’s rarely that simple after all and, if you’re like me, it probably just isn’t an obvious or discrete period in your life.  It just… happens.

Today, i don’t feel like i’m an “ill person”.  In fact my Mum remarked the other day that she doesn’t see me as someone who’s ill, now; and to my initial surprise, i absolutely agreed with her.  I’m not sure i could accurately describe myself as “well” either, but somewhere over the past year, dog knows how or or why or when, i seem to have found myself on the scale of normality.

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Before you or anyone starts on with that “oh, but what IS normal?” bullshit, please save your breath to cool the porridge of your own uncomprehending thoughtlessness.  I am certainly not the only one who can very easily tell you what normal ISN’T: mental distress involves all manner of fun stuff, including (but not limited to) severe eating disorder behaviours; self-injury and self-harm; drinking yourself into a stupor of memory blanks; waking up in a police station in some far-flung part of town you’ve never been to before early on a Monday morning with no recollection of getting there; waking up to a messed-up kitchen covered in empty wrappers every fucking day; feeling completely worthless and hateful all the bastarding time; regularly stepping out into the road in the vague hope you might get hit by a car; shoplifting shit you don’t want or need at least a dozen times a day with no desire to do it and no idea why you’re doing it; feelings of complete lack of control and inability to trust yourself to do or not do ANYTHING; feeling so depressed you physically, bafflingly, can’t move; not being able to leave the house for days or weeks on end; wishing yourself dead but not having the energy or motivation to actually do anything about it and being really fucked off waking up in the morning because you haven’t died in your sleep — these are but a few examples.

Approximately a year ago all this, and worse, was me.  Today i am not like that at all.  Like i said, i don’t think i can actually call myself “well” either, but i DO think i am finally just like most people: a mundane life, full of petty grievances and irresolvable frustrations; i still get pointlessly angry over stupid, unimportant little things about which i can’t do anything; things are not amazing; i’m usually tired, cross and feel generally unwell in some non-specific way; every day is a struggle and i still have seriously shitty days when i binge eat, maybe make myself throw up, drink myself into a stupor or whatever; i still feel like i never have full control over my thoughts/actions and don’t feel able to trust myself; i still catch myself wanting to lose all the weight i’ve gained and i ALWAYS want a drink; i still have anxiety, which is sometimes incapacitating, but not always; etc etc etc.  I’m still lonely and sad and i still tend to isolate myself, because yeah, i’m still eye-rollingly socially awkward — things do not change overnight and these are habits/fears to be broken and gradually overcome, i suppose.  There’s a lot that’s still wrong, or not quite right, but it’s no longer constant, no longer all-day-every-day, no longer overwhelming and all-pervading.

Yeah, there’s still plenty of shit i don’t want, but all this is just called LIFE, innit?  It’s all right.  I don’t mind it really.  I enjoy my job in a FE college even though it’s only temporary and, although i don’t have much of a ‘life’ yet (after the turbulence of the last couple of decades, it’s time to rebuild it) i also don’t have much to worry about.  I’d imagine it’s approximately the same for most people who aren’t actually seriously mentally ill or in some other kind of real trouble, along a sliding scale that doesn’t include the extremes any more.

The other day i went out with someone new (a sort of date?  It was such a nice, ordinary thing to do on a day off work, i could hardly believe it was really happening.  It went all right, thanks.  No idea yet if we’ll see each other again, though it’s been a few days with no word so i suspect not.  But i digress) and my usual thinking for many years upon meeting someone new has been that, uh-oh, i’d better let them know about all this bonkers stuff as it’s only fair to let them know what a bloody nutter i am and what they’re potentially letting themselves in for.  Y’know, put them off ASAP, because it’s not like i’m likeable or worthwhile and they’ll realise this before long, so why prolong anything?  In fact i’m like that with people i already know — like i have a duty to update them or something, because when they say, “Hi, how are you?” that’s what they’re expecting.  Pity The Poor Mental.  Because what else have i got to talk about?

But actually, now, maybe that’s not what i’m all about.  There might be more to me than that!  Maybe i don’t have to justify or even explain myself to anyone and maybe i no longer have to tell new people either, because it’s kind of in the past and i don’t have an obligation to dredge that up now because… well, maybe it’s not really relevant.  Just maybe, when someone asks, i can just say, like everyone else does, “Fine thanks. You?” — and mean it, because that’s the truth today.  Now there’s a strange and unfamiliar concept to get my head around.

Because i am fine, thanks for asking.  I’m not awesome, i’m not deliriously happy; who the hell is?   For the record, treatment didn’t help me in the slightest.  All those so-called professionals and their patronising pity and/or their patient-blaming, all those friends/acquaintances telling me what a terrible/weak person i am, all that self-disgust and abject rage that i just can’t seem to control my own actions and my inner of cries of, “FOR FUCK’S SAKE, how hard can it be?”, and all the rest of it, all that stuff neither spurred me on nor did it break me.  I don’t love myself or my body or my life or whatever we Empowered Survivors are supposed to do.  I’ve long been utterly indifferent to myself and to my appearance, because i’m a fucking normal middle aged woman, not some fictitious, leaping image of youth trying to sell you tampons.  I do accept myself though, most of the time.  And as i said right at the beginning, i don’t have a recovery story to share with sufferers, much as i wish i had.  No, there was no miraculous emergence from my cocoon, no spreading of beautiful butterfly wings: my life has not transformed into something exemplary.  I’m merely fine, like everyone else.  I’m ordinary.  Which, in its own, really grey, very unexciting kind of way, is pretty extraordinary.  It’ll take some getting used to, but perhaps this is Early Recovery and the next chapter in my life — and actually, that IS awesome, if you think about it.

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Street Harrassment

Now, in case anyone’s in any doubt, it is not a compliment when a stranger comments or catcalls.  Even if it’s meant as one, it’s not: it’s insulting, rude and downright intimidating and women do not need the approval of strange men to walk down a public highway.

Thank god it’s not as bad over here in the U.K. as it is for our sisters over the pond, but it ain’t perfect here neither.

Of course, i’m sure anyone actually reading this already knows better and in a way i’m preaching to the choir.  But maybe you could challenge a mate’s behaviour if he acts in such a disrespectful, degrading, stupid manner or tells you about a time when he did.

Yeah, all right, some women get drunk and lairy and shout at men too.  It’s far less common and, frankly, not the same sort of threatening; but nonetheless, that doesn’t make it all right.  I’m sure it’s pretty horrible for the men concerned when that happens.  From/towards any gender, harrassment is harrassment (or however you spell it), so i say “shut the fuck up” because frankly, who asked you and what makes you think your opinion is so very important that you’re entitled to shout it across the street?  And really, what response do you expect??

“But some women do find it flattering!”

Do they really?  Or are they just smiling and acting like they do, in order to avoid confrontation?  Or do they think they ought to enjoy the attention, because that’s what society expects of men and women?  Are they of a basically insecure disposition whereby they feel they do need the approval of complete strangers with little sense of what is and isn’t socially acceptable to validate them?  Or have they been brought up to believe that men’s approval is all that really matters?  And  Isn’t that perhaps the sign of a fucking sick society?

What do you think about this?

One of the (very few) advantages of being anorexic and very underweight was that i became invisible to men – if you can call these childish little arseholes men – and  all the bloody comments stopped.  Maybe i looked like a boy myself.  Who knows.  Who cares.  It shouldn’t happen to anyone, regardless of shape, attire, location, time of day or night, anything.

And now the old anger i used to feel about this topic is seeping back into me.  It’s something i’m not used to feeling and i know that going off and doing that thing i do with food will follow shortly.  I’m still not sure i “do” bulimia as a reaction to things on a day-to-day basis – but maybe it is to pre-empt them, because i used to get so angry about so many things i could barely cope.  I often forget how angry and how intensely i used to feel things.  I’ve lost relationships and huge swathes of my life to anger.  This is an interesting and relatively (sort of) new concept to me: that maybe my ‘triggers’ occur, not daily, but stretch far back and act almost (but not quite) like PTSD – without flashbacks because they’re blocked out with these all-consuming ‘behaviours’.  Does that make sense?  Am i wrong to compare it with PTSD?

One of the ladies (from that telly programme) and i, had a few chats about this sort of thing whilst waiting around on filming days.  She certainly hated the fact that boys had gone after her because of her figure, the way she looked.  I wonder how many people do become anorexic, bulimic, turn to bingeing or compulsive eating, in part as a way to disappear (become “too” thin or fat to attract unwanted attention) and lose their strong emotions, like anger, which you just don’t feel when you’re so ill.

In my case, it was (and is), of course, a lot more than purely getting a bit of unwanted attention and disrespectful comments – and i’m sure it is just one of many factors for anyone affected.  But i have often said, half-jokingly, “well, i’m a very angry person”, with this big grin on my face, making out like it’s all a big joke, or “oh, i don’t have feelings – i’m British”.  Hahahahaha, eh what?  And yeah, i used to be a very angry person, both outwardly (vocally) and inwardly (self harm), but then i retreated into the dubious ‘comfort’ of first anorexia then bulimia and, well, it all went away, sort of, y’know?

But you know what?  It’s no better.  Every time i’m there, crouching over the lavvy with my stomach so full i worry i might rupture the bastard, forcing that crap that passes for food back up again, i tell myself: “remember this.  Remember how much it hurts, physically and mentally.”  And yet it seems i forget every time and go right back to it, hours, even minutes later, like an abusive relationship.

And it’s the longest relationship i’ve ever been in.