I’ve been thinking about this for a few days now. Maybe a few weeks. It’s been niggling at the back of my mind since I got out of hospital – when am I meant to be better? When am I expected to be well again?
I think anyone who suffers from mental illness may be able to understand what I mean. Sometimes I feel the world views my illness like a cold – it bothers you for a few days, you deal, and then you’re better. Healed. Ready to get back to normal. I made that mistake when I got out of hospital. Tried to eagerly jump back into normal proceedings as soon as I was out. My doctor’s letter only covered me until the end of November. No one actually expected me to be ‘well’ by then, but it felt like a distant pressure gently pushing itself onto my shoulders as the days trickled past. I was having good days. On those good days, I was doubting that I was ever sick. I still feel guilty when I have a good day, as though I am supposed to ‘act’ sick – sit around at home in bed and be the stereotyped picture of a person with a mental illness. I am in recovery, but I am still sick – my sickness wasn’t, until just before I went to hospital, to lie in bed staring dejectedly at the ceiling. I still tried my best to do things. That’s why depression is such a hidden illness for so many people. As long as they can still function, they’re not actually seen as sick.
I hate doubting myself. One of the best nurses I have ever encountered – she was honestly amazing – told me that if she had a euro for every patient that told her they thought they were making up their illness, she wouldn’t be working in a hospital anymore. What is it about illness that makes people doubt themselves? Is it the illness itself, or is it that we firmly believe that because we don’t act in the ways the media popularly portray various illnesses, that we are not suffering or are not perceived to be suffering? Its a rhetorical question I cannot actively answer. I am still trying to figure it out myself. I don’t know why I doubt myself on the good days. Maybe its simply because there is distance between me and the sadness, so I start to feel as though it was never there.
Between my doctor and I , we decided I was unfit for work until January at the earliest. I want to go back to work. I want to go back to normal, have a normal life, and stop feeling guilty about doing things that aren’t going to work. I am required, as part of my treatment, to gradually expose myself to things that scare me, that I am made anxious by, in an effort to dissolve the schema that creates the fear response in my body. I am required to use the skills I was taught to cope in different situations, as practice. I keep thinking, ‘as practice for when I’m not sick anymore’. The reality is, I will always be sick. I will always have the disorder I have. It may improve over time, but there will always be days, and situations, that put me right back to the point where I feel I can’t go on.
Those points come at random. This evening marked the end of a great day. I managed to traverse town with just an episode of intense cold sweating and a few heart palpitations, no biggie, I managed it better than I did the last time I was in town, and the time before that again. I wrapped some Christmas presents
(Ugh I know, already, too early), wrote an article, and flicked through Twitter to see
- a shit storm brewing yet again over gun laws because YET ANOTHER shooting has happened (my opinions on which can be read about here http://www.headstuff.org/2015/10/we-need-to-talk-about-gun-laws/ in a piece I constructed in the wake of the LAST fucking shit storm over the LAST shooting that happened in the US)
the threat of the UK going ahead and bombing Syria (but it’s okay, they’re not killing innocent Syrians, they’re getting ISIS – An actual tweet that an actual non-troll tweeted was that ‘new technology’ enables bombs to hit ‘only ISIS’ and not anyone else. Because that’s a thing.) is so real that it terrifies me.
I have no idea what sort of effect this kind of news has on someone who is mentally well. I really don’t. I have no concept on what ‘normal’ feels like. All I know is, I fight so hard every single day to put distance between me as I am now and the me that went into hospital, completely disillusioned by life and my purpose on this earth. Right now, I’m feeling as though I just wasted time writing an article on the Not-So-Permanently Offended Youth (all will be revealed in due time). I”m feeling as though I have no purpose in life because humanity is so disposable, so wasted, that we can shoot each other and bomb each other because the right to kill other people is more important to the Western world than the right to fucking finish life out to expected life spans. As a kid I read a poem that included the line ‘When I am an old woman I shall wear purple’, which I used to think was a nice poem about growing old and not caring about what the world thinks. In a way, it is. To grow to an age that one can be considered ‘old’ would be beautiful. The poem is about shirking the responsibilities of youth and doing everything a person can only do when they have the luxury of reaching old age. While ageism is alive and well, there is something absolutely stunning about the concept of getting to embrace old age. It’s stunning, because it seems almost impossible. Every day I fear my loved ones dying. Every time my boyfriend walks out my front door I am terrified he won’t come back. Every time my family leaves the house, I try ensure I say bye, just in case it’s the last time I ever see them. When we are faced with realities such as what happened tonight, we are faced with the prospects of never growing old. We can be shot. We can be killed, because puffed-up, overpaid, grandiose morons (aka, politicians) sit in a little room and decide who’s bombing where, who gets to keep their rights to kill another person. Who gets to go and actively take another person’s life, and call it a war. I cannot handle this reality. I can barely face a reality where these issues are hidden, where I can forget about them. I cannot stand the world today.
Through all of this though, I am afraid that my illness has a sell-by date. As soon as I return to work in January, I am afraid that that’s it. I am back to normal. I am not sick anymore. I will be expected to conduct life as normal, as though I had been in recovery from a particularly aggressive cold, or flu, and that I am medically considered decidedly un-sick. I have no idea if anyone else does actually consider mental illness to have a sell-by date. I guess in a way, it’s akin to when one was a kid in school and someone broke a limb. For the first week and a bit, everyone rushes to help the person carry their bag or move from class to class. By the end of the second week, half the eager helpers have dropped off. Into the third week, maybe a couple of stragglers remain. The last few weeks, the person with the broken arm may have to ask for help and remind others that their arm or leg is broken. People may be mildly irritated that they now have to go out of their way to help the poor kid. The broken limb is still there, yet other people stopped seeing it. I guess that’s what I’m afraid of. I’m afraid I’ll have to keep reminding people that I’m still ill, that I’ll always be ill.
I’m also afraid of having to do that in the first place. I’m afraid of standing up and saying ‘I have _____’. The fact I can’t even bring myself to publicly talk about what it is I suffer from is testament to that. I feel so guilty for not speaking out about it publicly. The reality is, I am afraid. If anyone was curious as to what it is I suffer from, be not afraid to ask. I can talk to people one on one about it. But publicly, I guess I fear judgement. I do not have a ‘socially acceptable’ disorder. Half of you may have never even heard of it. Most of all, I’m afraid of not telling anyone about something that I’m supposed to be ‘better’ from in a couple of weeks time. The reality is, I will never be better. I will be better than I was before hospital most of the time, but I will never have the pleasure of being well. I will always be ‘okay’. And I’m okay with ‘okay’. Okay to me is good – but, as my best friend said earlier, paraphrased from what her boyfriend said to her, ‘okay for you is what people who aren’t ill may consider to be one of the worst days of their lives’. It’s possibly the most insightful, succinct explanation of what mental illness feels like. I have learned to be okay with okay. I have learned to not be okay with okay. I have learned how to just be. And I have learned, in a round about way, that there is no such thing as an illness sell-by date. My illness is part of me. And it always will be.