Dead Tired

Suicide is painless, apparently. Living with suicidal thoughts, on the other hand, is to live in constant, crippling pain, albeit of the psychological variety.

Image The lack of physical symptoms means that help and support must be sought – it is rarely freely offered. If suicidal tendencies caused a literal black cloud to follow you around, it would be far easier for others to recognise. As it is, you are often suffering alone and in silence. It is quite common for the suicidally depressed individual to shun the company of others, preferring to cut themselves off from social contact. This is not to allow them to sit and brood on their own, but to spare their family and friends the depressing effect of their ‘broken’ personalities.

Social contact is hard, full of pitfalls for the unwary depressive. Small talk is absolutely terrifying: trying to be personable when all you can think of is shutting yourself away and cutting out the pain, or smothering it with pills, creates massive amounts of stress. Even talking to people close to you, who know of your condition, can be incredibly painful. You find yourself trying to reassure them that you’re fine, you’ll be OK, it’s just a bad patch.

Every single day is a bad patch.

You won’t be OK.

You aren’t fine.

Negative thought patterns, constant fear of tomorrow, the absolutely certain knowledge that things will never improve: these are all illogical, irrational, but they are always there and they wear you down. Knowing that the way you feel is irrational doesn’t stop you feeling it. It can make you feel much worse, knowing that you cannot trust what your own brain is telling you makes any decision almost impossible. How can I make an informed decision when I cannot trust the information? How can I do anything knowing that part of me wants to die? How can I trust myself when cutting into my arm with a Stanley knife is the most effective way to make myself feel better?

Image

 

I don’t want to be this person, but I cannot seem to change. I feel the pity and disappointment (real or imagined) from my friends and family and I just want to give up. I want it to stop. 

Or, more accurately, I want out.

Stop the world. I want to get off.

 

The only thing we have to fear…

Have you ever been afraid? Of course you have. It’s a natural and normal part of being a human, part of our genetic make-up.

Have you ever been so scared that you feel you cannot function normally? You know, that kind of fear that creates a terrible, churning void in your belly, that travels down your nerves causing trembling in your hands and knees? That pushes cold sweat through your pores and clouds your thoughts, shutting everything down to a basic ‘fight-or-flight’ choice, robbing you of your free will?

“SPIDER!!”

Dial that feeling back a notch and you have the way I feel every single day. Almost everything fills me with crippling fear. If I’m cooking a meal, I get terrified that the various components won’t be ready at the same time. If I walk down the street I am scared that everyone is looking at me, or that I am about to be attacked. Busy shopping centres reduce me to a quivering wreck, desperate to get out, get away.

But the fear is only the beginning. Fear turns to shame. I am ashamed that I should be getting so scared for no reason. It embarrasses me and makes me feel like a failure, unable to cope with everyday tasks. This makes me angry. So, the fear covers a boiling vat of barely controlled rage, ready to explode at the slightest provocation. Presumably this is an extension of the ‘Fight’ part of the ‘Fight-or-Flight’ response, pumping the body full of adrenaline, although I suppose it would also be helpful for ‘Flight’ too. Either way, it sucks.

I force myself to face it, trying to interact with people on a daily basis, to force the feelings of fear and anger away, but it doesn’t work. I lie in bed at night afraid of what will make me afraid tomorrow, afraid of the mistakes I made yesterday, afraid of the fear eating away at me. I fear the future. I fear the past. I even fear the present.

It never used to be like this. I used to have confidence. I used to be able to talk to just about anyone without being afraid that they would hate me (or, at least, not caring that much). I used to be able to go out and enjoy myself. Now I feel like I’m sucking the joy out of any room I walk in to like a massive life drain.

“Hey! Where did all the happy go?”

I know, in the underused rational part of my brain, that this is a symptom of the depression (at least, I hope it is), and I know that things will get better (at least, I hope they will), but it is getting so hard to live with this constant fear. I’m even scared to talk about it – seriously, the idea of people reading these words is making it unbelievably difficult to write them. You have no idea how many drafts and revisions I’ve had to work through. And that’s for a five- or six-hundred word article that a handful of people will ever see.

How do you think I feel about the rest of my life?

Hypegiaphobia

As many of you will be aware, I am engaged to be married to the lovely Lauren, and while I am enthusiastically looking forward to August next year (the date of the wedding), there are a few things I am not so keen on facing. Firstly, will I be able to cope with the responsibilities of being a husband? I hope so, and I will certainly do my best. Secondly, and more worryingly, Lauren is adamant that she wants children and, while I would also like to be a father, I am terrified about the levels of responsibility required for that role. I’ll be honest, when I was living on my own I would happily go a couple of days without eating, just because I’d forget. I would only eat crap, because cooking a proper meal for one person is far more effort than it’s worth. I would go without sleep (partly because I suffer from insomnia and partly because sleeping alone is depressing) for long stretches. I would spend days playing video games because I could. Unlike now, when the opportunity rarely presents itself.

I won’t be able to do any of that when I become a father (except for the sleep part). It isn’t that I want to do any of that, really, it’s just that the option will have been removed from me. I’ve never been very good with being told not to do something. It has always triggered that retarded slice of my brain labelled ‘rebel‘ and I have to force myself not to immediately go and do the thing I’ve been told not to. Stupid, I know, but that’s what my brain does. I blame James Dean and Marlon Brando.

“Hey, Jon! What are you rebelling against?”
“Whaddya got?”

So Lauren wants kids, and I am certainly not going to tell her that I don’t, because I do. Really, I do want children. I am just terrified that I won’t be able to cope with the pressures of fatherhood. I look at those friends of mine who have kids and marvel at the way they manage (and even flourish) in what seems to be a non-stop cavalcade of bizarre conversations, shitty nappies, sleepless nights, stress, fear and pain. Kids cost a fortune as well, and stop you doing the things that you may want to do. It amazes me that anyone would ever have kids by choice.

And yet…

Yes, I still do want kids. And I want Lauren to be the mother of those kids. Ideally, I want a son, and I want to be able to bring him up to be a good person, but I’m terrified of that responsibility. Once you have a child, there is no way of walking away from that. You become a parent and, regardless of anything else that happens, you will always be a parent. The only choice is to be a good parent or a bad one.

I hope I can be a good dad. My dad is someone who I look up to tremendously, a true role model. He and my mum instilled in me a sense of morality that, while difficult to live up to sometimes, is an excellent guide to social existence. I don’t think I can be as good a father as my dad is to me, but I can try to meet his standards. I won’t succeed, but even if I only get halfway there I’ll consider myself a good father.

The fear is still there, but it’s the fear of something that is at least two years away. We aren’t going to be trying for a baby until after we are married, so I have some time to get used to the idea. It doesn’t stop the creeping dread. What if I have another nervous breakdown? What if I simply cannot cope with the demands of parenthood and it triggers a serious depressive reaction? What if the strain is too much for our relationship and Lauren leaves me? What if..? What if..? What if..?

Of course, it might be wonderful. It might be all soft-focus lenses and the smell of babies heads. It might be a nappy commercial from start to finish. But that’s not how my brain works. It obviously homes in on the negative and rolls that around my brain until my stomach is a tight, twisted ball of anxiety and my head is pounding.

And this fear is for something that hasn’t even happened yet! Imagine how I feel about going back to work!

I hate my brain…

Did you miss me?

I’ve not been posting much over the last couple of weeks. This is due to a combination of things. Firstly, I picked up a copy of Sid Meier’s Civilization III for a couple of quid, and that has eaten huge chunks of my life like a greedy cannibal. Secondly, I borrowed the first two series of Castle from a friend and have been enjoying that. And thirdly, and most importantly, my depression has flared up (or down) again.

I’ve been feeling very confused. My mood swings rapidly from manic to depressed, which hasn’t really happened before, and I have no idea how I’ll feel in an hour’s time. This makes it difficult to settle to anything. I have also been feeling very scared and I’m not sure why. I keep panicking and have to force myself to calm down. Crowds are affecting me more than usual as well (I’m not good with crowds at the best of times), causing rapid heart rate, shaking and sweating. I get scared and upset, which in my mind gets converted into anger and I curse and swear. This is obviously unpleasant behaviour for anyone to deal with, and Lauren (my fiance) has to cope with it, which is unfair.

I started smoking again. Only a couple a day, but it still makes me feel disgusted with myself. I’m quitting again as of today, so hopefully I’ll be off them for good this time.

I’m still waiting to get back to work. Occupational Health should be getting in touch with me, but they’re dragging their feet a bit which isn’t helping my nerves. I don’t know if I’ll be able to cope with getting back into the classroom and teaching, but I have to try. At least that way I’ll know for sure. The thought still terrifies me, but I’m not backing down from this challenge. Not yet, anyway.

So, that’s where I am at the moment. Hopefully, there will be more ranting and contentious opinions, mixed with pseudo-intellectual analyses and commentary, for your delight/interest/anger [delete as required] soon.

Thanks for your patience.

Sink or Swim

I have been thinking again about my depression, and since I have been on the tablets for a couple of months and have been attending counselling sessions, I seem to be able to think about it in a more rational way. I have therefore decided to try to examine the way that my depression has affected me.

I have always been prone to depression, although I referred to it a ‘cynicism’ and was terribly proud of it. You see, a cynic (as far as I am concerned) is someone who rejects blind optimism and reacts to the world in a more realistic manner. He (or she, obviously) recognises that the world is in a bad way, and that any change is likely to be for the worse, rather than for the better. I would call my cynicism ‘realism’ and quote the old cliché that ‘a cynic is what an optimist calls a realist’. This mindset served me well – or so I thought – from my mid teen years until my early thirties.

This current cycle of depression probably started about two years ago. I was trying to get work as a supply teacher but I was being messed around by a couple of agencies and not getting any work. I was therefore not getting paid. I was struggling to get my Jobseeker’s Allowance and Housing Benefit sorted (the main reason that I tend to side with benefit fraudsters – if they can get money from that system, they deserve it!) and as a result I was very short of money. Fortunately, I was flat-sharing with a very good friend who was willing to loan me the money to survive. Unfortunately, that situation played host to a horde of other issues that weighed heavily on my mind and caused me to slip further into the depressive cycle. My mood swings – usually from depressed to angry to self-obsessed to manic – were, understandably, placing a heavy burden on my friendships.

When I eventually got a new job (and a new girlfriend – the lovely Lauren who is now my fiancée), my mood began to improve, but it wasn’t long before the depression started impacting on my work life. I have always been terrified of failure, so much so that it often prevents me from trying. My cynicism rises to the fore and tells me that I am so likely to fail, there is no use even attempting things because the feeling of failure will be terrible. It tells me that there is nothing worse than failure, that one failure eradicates the total number of previous successes in my life. If I fail once, I fail completely. Of course, logically I know that this is utter bullshit. I know that failure is part of being human. We all fail occasionally, just like we all need help occasionally, but in my depression I cannot see that. I refuse to ask for help, or admit I need help, or even admit I find something difficult, because that is an admission of failure and I would rather be accused of laziness than incompetence. Even though I got a decent degree (a 2:1 in English and Education) I still feel like a fraud. I feel like I’m waiting for someone to burst into the classroom and denounce me as a fake, an imposter. I feel like I don’t belong, like a kid playing at being a teacher. My subject knowledge is good (it’s the one thing I feel confident in), but I don’t believe I am able to pass that knowledge on to the children in my care. I don’t feel that I deserve to be there. That obviously has an effect on me. When I am observed by a member of management, I automatically assume I’m going to fail, so the standard of my teaching drops. I know that my teaching is far better when there is no observation happening, but obviously that is a subjective view, and therefore useless. Without observation, it cannot be proved.

This turned out to be too much for my mind to cope with. I collapsed at home a couple of times, had panic attacks, constant dizziness and weakness, was exhausted all the time. My joints ached, I had chronic headaches and felt nauseated. I spent several nights sitting in the dark, in tears, holding a knife to my wrists, desperately trying to think of reasons not to end it all. After a whole bunch of tests it was decided that I had suffered what the medical profession no longer refers to as a nervous breakdown (apparently it’s a ‘medically unhelpful’ term). They tend to use the terms ‘stress-related disorders’ or ‘neurasthenia’. So that was it. I was ‘stressed’. My depression had finally broken me.

I was a failure.

Well, not quite. I finally realised that my depression was a thing. It was an illness that I could recognise and accept. It wasn’t just cynicism, or ‘feeling down’, or ‘being a miserable sod’. When I accepted that I had depression, it was a turning point for me. It was surprisingly liberating. I’m still depressed, but I can acknowledge that the depressive thought processes are a symptom, rather than an accurate portrayal of the world and my place in it. However, I still – for the moment – see myself in the black and white terms of ‘success’ and ‘failure’.

This is essentially the whole basis of my depression. I would love to be a writer, but my depression tells me I will fail, that I will be judged harshly, that I don’t deserve to be a writer. Because of this, I never seem able to complete a piece of writing. Whenever I read over what I have written, it fails to live up to my own standards, and therefore it cannot live up to anyone else’s standards either, so it gets buried on my hard drive with every other piece of writing. I am desperately trying to break this vicious cycle, to get writing and keep writing, but I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to show anyone else. I hope I can get over this hurdle. I enjoy writing and exercising my imagination, and I would love for my writing to bring pleasure to others. We’ll see what happens.

Well, that’s quite enough whining for now!

Toodle-pip!

What happened?

I’VE BEEN LOOKING AT SOME CHILDHOOD PHOTOGRAPHS OF ME, AND I CAN’T HELP BUT WONDER: WHAT HAPPENED TO THAT LITTLE BOY?

That photo is me. Yes, I know. My only excuse is that it was the seventies and my parents dressed me. Just ignore the hair.

I look at that little boy and see so much potential. Even I have to admit that I was quite a cute child. Wasn’t I? Blond curly hair and big blue eyes are generally considered markers of cuteness in children, insomuch as I understand these things. The point is that he could have been anything. The world was his oyster. A vast ocean of untapped potential lay before him.
And what did I do with it?
Well, I got through school without too much trouble and went to a sixth-form college. Unfortunately, I found out about drink, drugs and women, so my A-levels were pretty much a wash-out. It took another decade of mind-numbing and sanity-destroying jobs before I cracked and went back to college in order to get the qualifications to get into university. I succeeded and managed to leave university with a 2:1 in English and Education and Qualified Teacher Status.
I became a teacher and it has led to a nervous breakdown within five years. I have also managed to turn that cute little blond-haired boy into this:
Not so sweet now!
In Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity the main character feels the need to apologise to his childhood self for turning into who he has turned into, and I can understand why. Childhood is a time of joy, or at least it seems that way with the benefit of hindsight. That sense of joy, that innocent enjoyment of life, really shows through in old photographs and, to the right (or possibly wrong) sort of mind, this can create a feeling of intense melancholy. I once dressed up to take part in the carnival in my village (and won first prize) and thoroughly enjoyed myself as I walked around the village dressed like this:
No, I’m dressed as an Edwardian barrow boy. Not what you were thinking.
I simply cannot believe that I did that. I look back and I am completely unable to explain how I overcame the profound embarrassment of that experience enough to actively enjoy it! Look at me! I look like a twat! And I’m smiling! That’s a genuine smile of happiness! Dear God…
Anyway, I do want to aologise to myself. I feel ashamed of the way that my life has turned out. But also proud. Why? Well, I’m still alive for a start. That’s a good thing. I’m engaged to a woman that I love very much. I am getting the help I need to sort my depression out and I am actively chasing my dream to be a writer. I may get there, I may not. The point is that I am trying. I’m writing because I love it.

The way my mind works…

I’ve just been given a new prescription. Setraline Hydrochloride, often known by its trade name Zoloft. Having previously been prescribed a short (2 1/2 month) course of Fluoxetine (Prozac), and not getting a great deal of benefit from it, I am uncertain how I feel about a new drug. I have always been resistant to the idea of taking antidepressants, believing that I should be able to control my emotions without the aid of pharmaceuticals, that those who couldn’t were clearly deficient in some way, that I would become addicted to them.

Sweets for my sweet...

First of all, I would like to apologise to everyone who has ever taken antidepressants for my prejudicial attitude. I may never have met you but I have judged you, and for that I apologise unreservedly (however self-serving that apology may seem).

Right. Now that is out of the way, I would like to try and explain why I have made the decision to take the chemical option. It really is quite simple: Lauren, my fiancee. When I was single, I didn’t really accept that my depression was that much of an issue. Sure, I got ‘down’ occasionally, but so what? Blame it on the stress of work, or that bastard taxi drver that cut you up on the way home, or too much/not enough alcohol/nicotine/[insert drug of choice here].

But that has all changed now that I am with Lauren.She does not deserve to live with the kind of arsehole I can be when the depression descends. My moods can swing violently and I can become very angry and bitter. I would like to make it absolutely clear that I have never threatened her or physically harmed her in any way and I never would – but psychological damage is just as bad, and I am certainly guilty of that. This guilt builds up and makes me more depressed.

This vicious circle has to be broken and I am willing to do anything to make sure it is.

I am embarking on counselling in the next few weeks to learn how to live with and minimise these episodes. I want Lauren to be happy, and she won’t be if I am not.

I hope I can get there.

I have to.