Monday, 31 July 2017

The Recovery Letters

Last year I was privileged to be asked to contribute to The Recovery Letters book. The Recovery Letters started as an online website - with a series of letters written by people recovering from depression, addressed to those currently affected by or experiencing a mental health condition.

Now a book edited by James Withey, the letters can be bought, cherished and read wherever you are.

Addressed to 'Dear You', the letters provide hope and support as a testament that recovery is possible.

'This book will save lives, which can't be said of many. Writing or reading a letter strikes at the sense of isolation which is at the root of despair. Read this book, buy it for others, it's rare and powerful medication.' - Gwyneth Lewis, author of Sunbathing in the Rain: A Cheerful Book about Depression

Writing my letter, I struggled with the notion of recovery. I've never defined myself as having 'recovered' from depression. It's something I've always struggled with, and written about these struggles on this blog. But writing my letter helped me find peace with the notion of 'recovery'.  I realised that I wasn't the person I used to be. I wasn't lost, alone or hopeless. I have made progress. I was in recovery. And here I was, sharing my story for others so that they too know there is hope.
My recovery letter

You can buy the book online here.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Calling suicide cowardly is missing the point

*Trigger Warning: Suicide*

I get how suicide can be perceived as cowardly and selfish from the outside, or if you’re affected by the death of someone you know by suicide. But I’ve had suicidal thoughts inside my own head. And my mental illness rationalised them, and made them feel like the least selfish and bravest thing I could do.

By now I’m sure you’ve heard that the lead singer of an obscure nu-metal band died by suicide last week. Chester Bennington, who has always been public about his battles with trauma from his past and drug addiction, took his own life.

It’s a hard one for me to process. In the same way Chester had turned to writing and music to deal with his trauma, I had turned to Linkin Park when I was 13. I took comfort from the voice of someone who had felt like I was feeling. Chester screamed so that I wouldn’t have to.

But this post isn’t about that. It’s about a comment from another musician. A guy named Brian Welch from an equally famous band called Korn.
Brian wrote a Facebook post where he said Chester was sending the wrong message to his fans.
I’m sick of this suicide shit! I’ve battled depression/mental illness, and I’m trying to be sympathetic, but it’s hard when you’re pissed! Enough is enough! Giving up on your kids, fans, and life is the cowardly way out!!!
I get that Brian was grieving; having a tough time processing and clearly thinking about those most affected who would be left behind. One of the first stages of grief is anger.

I’m sure people have criticised Brian and written eloquently about while what he said may be his honest take at a time of mourning and loss, it is not acceptable.

But I’ve found myself consumed by his words lately, and I needed to express my frustration at this misunderstanding of suicide. Not every depression or mental illness manifests into suicidal ideation, so maybe Brian just couldn’t place himself in Chester’s shoes.

I wasn’t so lucky. From the age of 14 I fantasised about dying. Usually at the hand of an accident, rarely by my own hand, but I wanted to die. I had barely lived in the world and yet I wanted out. I didn’t like what I had seen, or how it had made me feel. At 14 I wanted to die for me. So yes, perhaps this wish was selfish. But it never felt cowardly. I thought of it as brave to choose death.

By 18 my thoughts of death turned to suicidal ideation. I was scoring high for severe depression on every depressive scale out there, but I didn’t know that at the time.

Mental illness blocks your peripheral vision. It filters how you see the world, those around you and yourself. It feeds you a version of reality. A tunnel vision perception of who you are.

My version of reality was that I was a burden. I was a waste of space. Useless. Unloved. Unlikeable. A failure. It warped everything I knew about myself, everything I could see. It told me that death would fix everything. My death.

Sure, it would be hard for my family if I died. But I rationalised my decision. Or should I say, my mental illness rationalised my decision? Honestly, wasn’t now the best time? My sister was at an age where she might not remember me. If I waited any longer and she grew older, it would affect her worse than if I did it now.

You see, I know that suicide doesn’t feel selfish. Sometimes it feels like the most selfless thing you could do. That by no longer ‘being’ you wouldn’t be a burden anymore. The pain would end, not just for you, but for everyone around you too.

Like Brian, I’m angry at Chester’s suicide. I’m angry that he couldn’t get the help to convince him his mind was lying to him. I’m angry that he wasn’t convinced life was worth living, even when it’s hard.

Calling suicide cowardly is missing the point. Mental illness can twist and distort. It can rationalise that which can never be rationalised; the loss of a human life.

It’s a truly horrific battle to be in with your own mind. It’s hard to convince yourself that your mind is lying.

But believe me, it lies. Suicide can feel like the answer, but it never is.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Everyone hates me.

I’m crying. I’m crying really hard and really loud because I think everyone hates me.

In fact, I know they must hate me. My family, my housemates, my work colleagues. Everyone.
And why do they hate me? Because there’s something wrong with. I’m wrong. I don’t fit in. I don’t have many friends because people don’t like me. I’m too argumentative, too passionate about my world views. And when I show that side, people want to leave. When I’m not arguing, I’m too quiet. I’m shy and reserved. People don’t like that. I force awkward silences on them. I don’t have anything to say so I keep my mouth shut. I don’t like sharing.

Want to know how my holiday was?

‘Good. Fine. Only a few showers. Mostly dry. Went swimming’.
You’re not getting anything else out of me.

That’s not normal. I’m not normal. What’s wrong with me?

On Saturday night I sat up for hours crying. A never-ending stream of thoughts filled my head. Examples of social rejection, fights with siblings, throwaway comments made years ago all came back to me as evidence that I am hated. After everything I've done, I hate to be. I jumped from conclusion to conclusion. I was trapped. I couldn’t get out of my mind, I couldn’t make it stop. Everything that I was ever self-conscious of, any past event that ever could make me feel self-conscious flooded my brain.

But then it occurred to me.

Hurt yourself to make the thoughts stop. You know it works. You’ve done it before.

Pathetic, I thought. Seriously mental illness? You think you can trick me that easily? I am not going to do that.

I cried until I was numb. I cried until half of me felt already dead, and the other half wanted to die.

"You're getting yourself worked up over nothing".
 But it doesn't feel like nothing. It feels real.

I don’t know what Saturday night was. A breakdown? An episode of depression? A relapse?

All I know is that it will take a while to shake off and fully get over. I still feel emotionally and physically drained. I still feel like a lesser, emptier me. And I still feel like people don’t like me. However, I’m being more realistic about it. Everyone doesn’t hate me, because not everyone in the world has met me. But, everyone may possible hate me if they ever do meet me. I’m challenging these destructive thoughts one step at a time. 

I still feel an overwhelming sense of sadness. I still feel too preoccupied with the stream of negative thoughts only I can hear to really pay heed to anything going on around me. 
I stepped out in front of a car this morning. Not intentionally. I was just so withdrawn and so consumed by my mind that I didn't think to look. I was lucky I didn't get hurt. 

This was the worst low I can remember in the past two years. But it differs from how I used to feel in a time before medication and support. It differs because despite what my mind told me, I didn't want to die. I didn't want to hurt myself to make the feelings stop. Hell, it was hard ignoring those thoughts, convincing myself not to act on them. But I did it. 

Despite Saturday night, I'm still winning the battle against my mental illness.