“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.
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.
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.
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.