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Mekong River

6 Pillars of Mental Stability

“But I knew it was pure masturbation, because down in my gut I wanted nothing more than a clean bed and a bright room and something solid to call my own at least until I got tired of it. There was an awful suspicion in my mind that I’d finally gone over the hump, and the worst thing about it was that I didn’t feel tragic at all, but only weary, and sort of comfortably detached.” ~ Hunter S. Thompson

So, I keep banging on about stability and how great it is; how it’s keeping my mental health problems in remission, or thereabouts. The thing is it’s a bit more complicated than I’ve probably been making it sound. It’s been a long, hard struggle to get here, and a bunch of things have had to align to support it.I should stress that these are things that have worked for me, I’m not suggesting that they would or should work for anybody else. What anyone else needs might differ depending on their personality, circumstances, and/or illness.


I know a lot of people don’t feel comfortable taking medication or find it helpful if they do, and that’s fine, but I really don’t know where I’d be without my pills. If I hadn’t found a drug that works, at least for the time being, to help me put a lid on my anxiety and mood spirals there’s no way I could have made so much progress on all the other things on this list.It’s no exaggeration to say that sertraline and diazepam are key reasons for me being able to sit here and write this today.



Natalie Portman and I moved into our own place last Christmas. And then into another one over summer as the landlord of the first place is a strange, strange, delusional man – a long but amusing story that I will tell you some other time.

So now we have a place that is spacious, and quiet, and right opposite the train station – I get the train to work, it takes seven minutes to get from my front door to my train platform, it’s ace. The property belongs to a nice, normal housing association. We are very, very lucky.

Having space to just sit, and, well….BE has been invaluable. Not feeling trapped or constantly worried about being a burden or imposition on anyone else.

Reducing worries has been key in most of these things I think, the less time and energy I’ve needed to devote to worrying about other things the more I’ve been able to use for working on my mental health. I’m drastically less tired since I’ve had my own space.



It’s not so much the job that helped as the going back to work.

I wasn’t really well enough to start working again but I had too anyway. So I took a job that paid the rent, that my fully functional self could do in her sleep, and that never requires that I bring work home with me. I needed to have plenty of mental energy and personal time left over to concentrate on becoming actually well enough to be in work again.

It’s been really, really hard, and I’ve wanted to give up several times – although financially that was never really an option – but nearly eighteen months later it seems to have paid off.

Having somewhere to be and specific things to do, having a routine and some structure in my life has done me so much…good seems like the wrong word for something that has at times been so harrowing…but nevertheless it has been incredibly valuable.


Self Care

Having a more structured day has made it easier to incorporate a routine of looking after myself properly. There is a lunch break at work for having lunch, I get home from work at a sensible time for having dinner. I have to get up at a certain time in the morning to get ready and get to work on time, which points to a natural time for going to bed every night.

I’m over the guilt about finding these things difficult. Eating regularly and healthily, sleeping enough, cleaning up, these have been difficult routines to get into although once you get going they become easier to keep up. Your body eventually starts getting hungry, tired, or impatient with your surroundings at an approximately appropriate time.

Bizarrely the sertraline kick started me on this, when I first started taking it I completely lost my appetite and as this worsened as my dosage increased. I barely ate a thing besides my Christmas dinner over the whole of Christmas week last year.

Because I could now go for literally days without food without noticing I used the MyFitnessPal app to record what I ate and whether I was hitting my nutrition and calorie goals. It was helpful to have to pay so much attention to what I was eating, if I eat better I feel physically better, which is one less thing to be sapping energy away from managing my mental illness.

I also downloaded the Sleep as Android app to track the duration and quality of my sleep. I wasn’t getting nearly as much as I thought I was. Try it yourself, you might be surprised.

I’ve started showering in the evening after a lifetime of being a morning person because after a few days of having to shower in the evening after being drenched with rain I realised that it has made at least a 24% improvement to my quality of life.

And I now drink lots and lots and lots and lots of water.


Realistic Expectations

As explained earlier, I’ve developed a much more realistic understanding of my condition, of what I can hope to achieve in terms of ‘recovery’, and how long I should expect progress to take.

I’ve stopped pushing myself to get better.

I stopped pushing for everything to happen more quickly.

And eventually that made me feel better. It gave my poorly brain more space to heal in, without having to deal with the additional pressure of my beating it with a metaphorical stick and expecting that to make it recover more quickly.

I’ve also become better at asserting boundaries with other people. There are limits to what I can and can’t do, to what I can and can’t handle. I needed to be able to sit up before I could crawl, before I could walk, before I can run.

Again, pushing aside the weight of the unrealistic expectations of people around me created more space for concentrating on my brain.



Doing things, seeing people, going to places that weren’t my flat or the office. Not being on my own so much of the time. Building up gradually towards having a life again.


Reading and Learning

I have read a lot this year. And I mean really, I have read loads. I lost count somewhere around 160 books.

I started the year with a true crime binge then eventually decided I should probably move on as thinking about death and violence all the time might not be the healthiest thing for a major depressive like myself to be doing.

So I read about wellness, and mental health, and psychology. I decided reading about sex, sexuality, and gender might help me to find a new way of approaching the subject that wasn’t informed by trauma. I’ve mentioned before that I wasn’t the best informed person about feminism, so I decided to correct that. I’ve read every book about the subject that I can get my hands on.

I’ve read healing poetry, insightful memoirs, academic sociology, media commentary, and about history, geography, and the global economy.

I hoped if I could find out enough about everything that I might find me again. What I like, and think, and feel outside of the confines of my trauma, and mood swings, and craziness.

And I’ve learned so many things, come to so many realisations, it’s been far more helpful than I can explain in this post or than I’m even sure I can structure into words. And I’ve become so passionate about the things that I’m learning and that I want to study further that I’m applying to universities for masters/PhDs to start next year.


As I said at the beginning, I don’t think this is the only way, or that it would work for everybody; I’m very worried that someone might point to this as evidence that everyone should just go back to work when it really isn’t; but it is what has worked for me.

This is what I mean when I talk about remission and stability.

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 my 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.

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