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.

Day 30: the anticlimax…

Today’s ‘tache is a disappointment, i’m afraid, as i’m away and left my felt-tip pens at home!  This is why i look so cross.

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Pink and red.  Yeah, and?  Who says they don’t go together?

Rest assured, you WILL get an extra, er, bonus ‘tache; and also, you still have a couple of weeks to get your kind donations in before Justgiving gives me the boot.

Don’t forget though.  Hotfoot it over here quick, before all the best seats get taken:

http://www.justgiving.com/minacandy

Published in: on 30/11/2014 at 10:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

Day 29: it’s penultimate ‘tache day

Peace, man. Huh.

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Dude.  We all want peace and freedom.

Of course, when someone has mental health problems, it’s hard to find either.  It’s like having two or more radios turned up in your head, a whole load of anxious thoughts all racing around and jostling for your attention AND then you have to try and listen to other people when they talk to you and attempt to make sense of what they’re saying.  It’s a very frustrating and isolating experience.  Is it any wonder some of us wear a moustache and attend a psychiatric hospital?

Isolating because many people find it hard to maintain relationships of all kinds, to engage in social activities and small talk, find it too knackering to keep hiding the problems from others for fear of being labelled a “nutter” or whatever and thereby ostracised, because staying indoors is so much easier and before you know it, people have stopped inviting you out because they figure you’re just going to say no, or you’re going to say yes or maybe and then not turn up.

Or people might go the other way eventually, once they’ve given up on the secrecy and decided to just tell a few people… but then end up finding it really hard to talk about anything else, which they either do or don’t realise isn’t exactly suitable conversation for down the pub or when meeting new people, but find kind of impossible to stop because, well, what else is there to talk about?  What if you are out of work because of your health, or you don’t really have hobbies because your illness consumes all your time, or you have horrible social anxiety and just don’t know how to chat to people?  How do you make small talk when everything is such a fucking big deal?

(Seriously, i for one would love to know.)

Traditionally — and still, in many social circles and communities, in this and other parts of the world — men have been taught as they’ve grown up that “boys don’t cry” and that a man is the head of the household, the one who provides for the household and gets any feelings of frustration, anger, failure etc out by getting plastered in the pub every night or gambling or getting violent or sleeping around or Other Manly Things.  Certainly not by getting mentally ill, crying a lot or taking to their bed for a year (as in withdrawing from the world), self-harming, eating too much or not enough, or binge-eating and throwing up or — GOD FORBID — talking to someone about how shit they feel and why.

Of course women too, again especially of previous generations and now too, were/are expected to shut up and keep the house and kids and not complain about it.  But i’ll save this for another time because it’s still November!

Actually i’m not sure how true it is, but the perception has been that women internalise while men externalise anger, hence the yelling and punching rather than the eating disorder and self-harm.  Whether that’s ‘true overall’ or not is kind of irrelevant, because it isn’t the case for everyone and is therefore unhelpful, amirite?  It’s preconceptions, traditional expectations and lumping ‘all men’ and ‘all women’ into the same buckets, creating a gender divide that DOESN’T ACTUALLY EXIST and thereby denying or belittling the needs of certain groups of people; it’s these things that are the problem.

Aarghs, how many times have i said this now and how many times will i say it in the future?  Well, stick your ears up your arse if you’re bored of hearing it: we ALL need to Rethink Mental Illness, educate ourselves and (kindly) call other people out on their judgements and mistaken beliefs — and allow others to call us out when we get it wrong too.

Martin Luther King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” and someone else (i’ve no idea who) said, “When others are oppressed, no-one is free” and i would add the Pastor Niemoller quote, too, but it’s a bit long and i’m sure you know it (and if you don’t, www.letmegooglethatforyou.com).

If some people don’t have Peace and Freedom (maaaan), none of us really do.  The Daily Hatemail (and the rest of them) will scream about those horrible, murderous, evil nutters; many people will be afraid that the world is full of psychos and will live with fear and misery, while others will be afraid to admit to anything wrong with their mental health for fear of being labelled a danger to society (OH WON’T SOMEONE PLEASE THINK OF THE CHILDREN?) and live with fear and misery; too many people, dangerous or not but who need help, will not get it, because they feel unable to seek it and because mental health funding continues to be trimmed and topiarised, leaving too many people falling through the cracks and not actually living life but merely getting through each day, many signed off work sick, or unable to work or to keep a job (no, it’s not fun free-time and a life of leisure — in a society where a huge part of your identity is what you do for a living, this is more damaging than some people realise) or, well, giving up and making an exit… and, y’know, tomorrow it might be your dad, or your best mate, or even you.  And if you’ve not spoken out, maybe there’ll be no-one left to speak out for you.

Why shouldn’t people get help and find peace and freedom?  Doesn’t everyone deserve that?

Actually, no, i don’t think i’m being melodramatic, so sod you.  But only after you’ve donated a couple of quid to Rethink, if you wouldn’t mind, pleasethankyou:

http://www.justgiving.com/minacandy

Day 28: up and down

Today’s ‘tache reflects the ups and downs of life:

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Art, innit?

http://www.justgiving.com/minacandy

Published in: on 28/11/2014 at 8:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

Day 27: continuing on the political ‘tache theme…

Today i have a badly-drawn Hammer & Sickle for a ‘tache.

(Oh and wonky glasses… i’ve only just noticed that.)

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What the commie fuck?

I realise it looks a bit like a pair of scissors, but hey, i’m not doing this to show off my artistic skills.

I also appreciate that this blog isn’t really about telling you all about political ideologies, but hey, donate to Rethink and the more you give, the more i’ll shut up, heh heh.

http://www.justgiving.com/minacandy

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Day 26: anarcho-tache

Today i committed that cardinal faux-pas of bringing politics into polite company:

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What the ffflag…?

Oh, that and the asparagus farts.

But i digress.  The point is: please donate to Rethink Mental Illness!

http://www.justgiving.com/minacandy

Day 25: ginger

While we’re fighting stigma, i thought i’d also stand up for gingers.  Personally, i’m baffled as to how anyone could possibly think ginger is anything other than AWESOME.  Such prejudice is just WEIRD and WRONG.

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Ginger Rules

Stigma sucks, doesn’t it?  Those shits will judge you on anything they can — looks, background, social standing, profession and salary, blah blah blah — and even more than that, too many people are also only too ready to judge others on their state of mind.  If someone had a broken leg, the average person wouldn’t seriously say, “Oh, get over yourself and just go for a run!” — and yet, somehow, it’s still socially acceptable to say, “Oh stop whingeing — what have you got to be depressed about?”

Such people’s insistence on ending a sentence with a preposition (i listen to Radio 4 too much, don’t i?) drives me batshit, BUT THAT ASIDE, the assumption that you must be depressed about something is really frustrating.  It can be situational of course, it can be made worse by expectations (not only, but including, gender roles) or, like a broken limb or cancer or whatever, it can be a condition, an illness.  What’s so bloody hard to grasp about that concept, please?  We’ve all had colds or the measles haven’t we?  Girls as well as boys?  People can also get mental health illnesses — boys and men too.

(And no, unlike colds and the measles, they are not catching.  Get over yourself.)

Stigma and assumption have got to be the biggest hurdle when it comes to mental health difficulties, to seeking treatment and learning to manage your condition, whatever it may be.  I’ve mentioned in previous posts how difficult it can be for anyone to admit to themselves or to anyone else that they’ve got such problems and the fear of the reactions they might get.  Friends of mine have admitted they avoid social situations because of that inevitable question, “So what do you do?”

Personally i’ve always been only too delighted to say, “I sit around in my pants with cake on my face, all day, staring into the middle distance, locked in a secure unit with a bunch of my fellow mentals” — hey, ask a silly question, for fuck’s sake — but maybe it’s my sense of humour that needs medicating rather than my mental health, eh?

We can all speculate vainly till the cows come home on why it is men are less likely to accept, label and, thereby, enable others to help them, or help them to seek outside/professional help for what are essentially recognised conditions with established treatments — and therefore do not have to be forever borne like some kind of eternal curse.  The tragedy is of course that far too many sufferers do indeed see it as a secret shame and that others will ridicule, blame, be aghast and cast them out if they ever discover The Secret.

It’s a very real and justified fear.  Look at the public perception (and i don’t just mean the tabloid press either) of mental illness: the violent schizophrenic, the dangerous psycho, the man who hears voices telling him to kill children, blah bloody etc.  Charities like Rethink challenge stereotypes and assumptions, because whether it relates to your own or to someone else’s mental health, ignorance is far more frequent a killer than Mr Hyde.

What is it about this ignorance, i wonder, that makes so many people so absolutely convinced of their own perfect normality, that they feel they’re in a position to judge anyone else?  Surely that’s a dead giveaway — i vehemently deny, therefore i am — right?

My Mum used to work with someone who was quite open about past health issues, having been in a psychiatric hospital for years and, upon encountering the inevitable shifty looks and shitty comments, had this wise retort:

“I now have a piece of paper to certify that i’m sane.  How about you?”

Help fight stigma by donating to Rethink (and by telling everyone you know):

http://www.justgiving.com/minacandy

Day 24 (only 5 minutes left of it)

Quick, quick, here’s today’s ‘tache:

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What, that wild-eyed stare?  No, of course i haven’t been at the entire confectionery aisle of the pound shop…

Mo ‘tache tomorrow.  Share the love, yo!

http://www.justgiving.com/minacandy

Published in: on 24/11/2014 at 11:55 pm  Leave a Comment  

Day 23: feeling sinister

Not quite sure what today’s aim was… i think i was after a sort of sinister-scientist look, but it’s slightly ruined by the stripey cardigan.  Still, gun-metal green and shiny ‘tache – what’s not to love?

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Help stop Our Boys from turning into sinister scientists by donating to Rethink right here:

http://www.justgiving.com/minacandy

Published in: on 23/11/2014 at 5:04 pm  Leave a Comment  

Days 20, 21 & 22

Bah, i’ve been unusually busy and even more knackered than usual — possibly coming down with something deadly — so although I have been Doing The ‘Tache and taking the necessary selfies, i have failed to post them up on here.  My apologies.

So, much like London buses, here are three all at once:

Day 20:
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Day 21:
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Day 22:
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There, that’s us all up-to-date, innit.  I hope to be back tomorrow With Added Punctuality.

In the meantime you can donate to Rethink here (i shall return with more information relating to why you might really like to do so, in case yr not yet convinced):

http://www.justgiving.com/minacandy