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More Like Remission Then Recovery?

noun: recovery; plural noun: recoveries
a return to a normal state of health, mind, or strength.
noun: remission
a temporary diminution of the severity of disease or pain.

So, I mentioned the other day that I’m feeling better, and that unlike last time I told you I was better, when I was actually mistaking mania for genuine happiness, I think I can be more confident that it’s real this time. That’s because where before there was euphoria and a whirlwind of activity this time there’s only a decidely unexciting feeling of stability.

Unexciting is good. Unexciting is healthy, realistic. Regular people don’t go through life being overwhelmed with excitement every hour of the day and night. ‘Normal’ life is actually quite boring.

I think I’ve finally arrived at a realistic level of expectation of what this ‘getting better’ process involves and how much I can realistically expect to acheive. I know it’s taken me a while to get here but in my defence I’ve been somewhat handicapped by the fact that I didn’t really have much appreciation of what I was aiming at; having experienced no periods of ‘wellness’ in living memory, only being extremely high or more frequently extremely low.

For the longest time I thought the goal of ‘recovery’ was to hit the highs again, to go back to being filled with boundless energy and enthusiasm and running around like a crazy person. Even after I realised that state was just as unhealthy in its own way as the depression I still found it difficult to let go and accept that if I wanted to be healthy I needed not to feel that way again. I found the idea that mood/mental state is a spectrum pretty much like any other and that all the healthy bits of this particular spectrum are in round about the middle to be incredibly depressing in and of itself.

Having experienced manic ecstacy a humdrum, average stability didn’t seem like a sufficient reward for the Herculean effort of pulling myself out of the pit of my depression.

To move on from this I’ve had to learn a whole different way of looking at my mental illness. I’ve had to come to truly understand that my conditions are just not sick/well type of things. I’m not aiming to get better and then never have to worry about any of this ever again, I’m learning to manage health, mental and physical, and my lifestyle in a way that keeps my depression, anxiety, trauma, and personality disorder in check so that I’m able to carry on with the rest of my life alongside continuing to deal with them.

‘Recovery’ as I’ve always understood it to mean is not an option here. My mental health problems haven’t gone away, they’re just not getting in my way anymore. Continuing to keep them in check will be an ongoing process of monitoring and managing, learning and healing. And it would still be unrealistic to assume that they’re never going to overwhelm me again.

So, I think what I mean when I say that I’m feeling stable is that for the time being my illness is in remission.

A Thing I Wrote To Have Written A Thing

I’ve been saying that I was going to post something here for almost three months now, and then never quite getting round to sitting down and actually writing anything. So, I’ve decided, as I have an unexpected afternoon off, to just post a, well, post, so that I’ve finally done what I said I was going to do, and started the process of getting back into the habit of blogging again.

Then I can worry about writing something coherent and worth reading for my next post.

It’s not that I don’t want to write, I do, I’ve missed it. It just feels a bit awkward to come back to after more than a year’s absence.

I stopped blogging mostly on purpose. I was poorly, and busy, and miserable, and overwhelmed, and something, lots of things, had to give, and one of those things was blogging.

It was a decision made easier because I wasn’t sure exactly what I was trying to say anymore. I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. In addition to all the other things. And took me a long time to process that one.

Being diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and post traumatic stress disorder came as something of a relief to me. It meant that there were things that were wrong with me, things that could presumably be fixed. Until that point I’d spent years believing that I was the thing that was wrong and that this couldn’t be fixed.

Being told that I had borderline personality disorder, a personality disorder, that my personality was disordered, undid a lot of that relief for quite some time. It sounded to me as though if we were blaming my illness on my disordered personality we were back to saying that I was the thing that was wrong.

Which seemed contrary to the people with mental illnesses are just people with illnesses message that I’d started writing to convey. So I wasn’t sure what I had to say anymore, and whether anything I might say could be of any use to anybody else.

I don’t quite feel that way anymore. I’ve had some therapy, read some books (about 157 of them so far this year, mostly about psychology, culture, gender, and sexuality), changed my medication again, and managed to create a bit more stability in my personal circumstances. It’s still a work in progress but I’m feeling a lot better about the idea of my illness.

I’m feeling a lot better generally. Like, actually better, not like last time where I thought I was well and happy when in reality I was just high as a kite. This time better looks more like a boring, routine stability, which, combined with a medication that is finally working, seems to be keeping me off the emotional rollercoaster. At least for now.

I’m also feeling better about my life. I’ve found an amazing flat in a perfect location, I’ve started work on resurrecting my social life, and I’ve fallen in love.

But I will tell you about all of these things individually at other times. The goal for this afternoon was to write something down and then post it.

And now I have.

fighting depression one step at a time

Fighting Depression Is Like The Tortoise And The Hare

“We all have times when we go home at night and pull out our hair and feel misunderstood and lonely and like we’re falling. I think the brain is such that there is always going to be something missing.” ~ Jude Law

Fighting depression is like the tortoise and the hare, where you’re the tortoise and all those other ‘normal’ people are the hares.

Except that the hares are going to beat you.

Over and over again.

So just forget about the hares. Concentrate on your own journey.

Battling depression can often leave you feeling as though you’re adrift in the middle of a choppy sea with nothing to see but crashing waves in every direction. From this vantage point it can be very difficult to have any meaningful perspective on how far you’ve come or how far you have yet to go in terms of your recovery because you’re, understandably, focussing primarily on your current battle to keep your head above water.

You don’t have any landmarks to show you the amount of progress that you’ve made, progress that you’d be really proud of if you were only able to recognise it, because there are no landmarks in the middle of the sea. The sea’s very unhelpful that way.

But if you were to dig into your reserves of energy to think about it for just a few minutes you’d probably be able to recognise that you’ve actually come a long way since the last time you thought about it, when you’d probably made progress on the time before that. It’s just this damn sea and its unhelpful lack of perspective which is demoralising you into forgetting how well you’re doing and how much progress you’re making.

The thing is you’re used to thinking of illness and recovery in terms of physical health problems like the flu, or a chest infection, or a broken leg. Where you get x, you take y, and in z amount of time everything’s back to normal again.

Tackling mental illness doesn’t work like that.

Like the tortoise you aren’t going to get anywhere quickly. You aren’t going to get better in the next hour, or by tomorrow morning, or by the middle of next week, possibly not even by next year.

But you have to keep slowly plodding forward like the tortoise in the belief that eventually you will make it to where you are headed, back on to dry land.

Not because I can promise you that eventually you will get there.

I can’t do that. I haven’t managed to make it to within sight of the shoreline myself yet.

But because the alternative is that you will stay where you are and then eventually you will drown. And that isn’t an option that I’m willing to accept for either of us.

So as a wise little fishy once told us, we’re both going to just keep swimming, okay?


*I didn’t have any pictures of tortoises or hares, sorry.
depression, anxiety, stigma, mental health

Depression Is No More About Strength Than it Is About Weakness

“Depression isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign that you’ve been strong for too long.” ~ Elizabeth Gilbert

“The strongest people are not those who show strength in front of us but those who win battles we know nothing about.”

“The struggle you’re in today is developing the strength you need for tomorrow. Don’t give up.” ~ Robert Tew

“You’re braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” ~ A. A. Milne

“If you’re always trying to be normal you will never know how amazing you can be.” ~ Maya Angelou

So, as a person with a set of mental health issues I follow a lot of mental health orientated blogs, twitter accounts and Facebook pages. And these blogs, twitter accounts and Facebook pages often post a lot of similar memes.

Now at first I mostly just scrolled passed the memes; for someone who has a commonplace book filled with favourite quotations I’m surprisingly not that fond of memes, but as time’s gone on I’ve began to find them gradually more and more annoying. Until it got to the point that they annoyed me so much that I thought that I should sit down and examine what it was about them that I find so annoying.

And I came up with this.

My pet hate is the one people are forever posting on Facebook about how:

“Depression isn’t a sign of weakness, it’s a sign that you’ve been strong for too long.”

And I’ve decided that the reason it makes me grind my teeth every time I read it is that it just seems so insufferably smug.

Like the person who wrote it, and the people who are continually reposting it onto seemingly every corner of the internet, genuinely believe that they’re somehow braver – and by implication better – as a result of living with their depression than everyone else.

And it’s the same to a greater or lesser extent with all the others.

I appreciate that people are sharing these memes with the aim of supporting people who have depression to stop feeling guilty about it and to educate those who don’t have depression so that they understand that it isn’t about weakness or sufferers not trying hard enough; but it always feels to me like what they’re actually doing is almost romanticising depression. It’s as though they’re trying to make out that people with depression are somehow ‘special’, ‘heroic’ or ‘other’. I don’t think that’s a healthy approach to take to any sort of illness.

It’s the same angle that’s taken in all those cartoon strips floating around that attempt to explain anxiety by portraying suffers as special little snowflakes who just need to be handled with a lot more care than regular people.

I don’t have depression because I’m any more or less strong than anyone else. I don’t have anxiety because I’m any more or less delicate.

I have depression and anxiety due to some combination of a bunch of horrific things happening and my brain never having worked quite the way it should have done to start with.

There’s nothing ‘brave’ about spending two days barricaded in your bedroom with furniture piled in front of the door because the person you live with is away and your crazy brain has convinced you that there are dangerous intruders in the house who are lying in wait for you downstairs.

There’s nothing ‘special’ about a trip to the emergency room to have your arms patched back together because you’ve sliced them up so good that you can’t make them stop spurting with blood and you’re half way convinced that this time you’ve managed to hit a major artery.

And while, as I say, I appreciate that these attempts at destigmatisation are well-meaning, I don’t think it’s particularly helpful to suggest that there is. I think that these memes are creating a new narrative about what a mental illness looks like, and who a person who suffers with their mental health is ,which in its own way is just as unhelpful as the one it’s seeking to replace.

Tell people with depression and anxiety that they’re special and brave and they’re likely to feel even worse about themselves when they can’t manage to function properly; because on top of being able to function properly they’re now also supposed to be special and brave, and they’re almost certainly not going to feel special or brave – they do have depression and anxiety after all so, oh great, there’s something else that everyone else is able to do that they’ve just failed at.

I also don’t think that this romaticisation is helpful to anyone around the patient either – family, friends, coworkers – I’m maybe not just talking about memes here but the entire campaign that the memes spring from. And that’s because it doesn’t begin to convey just how painful, disheartening, and down right ugly it can be to have to take care of someone who suffers from moderate to severe depression and anxiety.

I think that the only way that we’re going to genuinely tackle the stigma surrounding mental illness is if we’re completely honest about the bad times, and just how bad they can be, rather than insisting that we’re just like everyone except that we’re a bit more antisocial and we sometimes find some parts of life a little bit harder.

Stigma in any area of life arises because many people are incredibly easily scared by things that they don’t understand. These memes annoy me because I think that they’re likely to make people more rather than less afraid when a genuine, unsanitised mental illness manifests itself either in their own mind or that of someone close to them.





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