Wednesday

Warm velvet blackness, sleeping, shut off, absence of thoughts, no awareness of pain. Then ‘ping!’ as the internal generator switches on. I feel warmth, I feel, my body is heavy, plump and full of blood, a conscious, unfurling cloud of self from the nest of spongy mattress and duvet around me. A sudden taste of salt and earth, out breath like sea air, but warm and sticky, thick with pollution, choked with sewage. Disgust. Consciousness is pulled back under comforting black waves of restfulness. Darkness again, still and floaty, drifting back into deep sea sleep. I can hear a voice calling me in the distance but I can’t move toward it or reach it. A sudden ‘woosh!’ of blood rush to the face, pulse beating on ear drums. Eyes are stinging, flinching to remain scrunched shut, closed to the world, but suddenly I am awake, alone, in silence. No voice is calling me. A flash of pain across my brow, scowling, head swirling, rapid thoughts, grieving again. Willing my brain silent, controlled breathing, hoping for stillness and speedy healing. The bravest thing I did today was wake up.

I run myself a bath. I don’t run myself. Not anymore. I am too slothful, a heavy heart makes for lead-like legs. I don’t run myself like a tight ship, I’m more of a loose whale, drifting, bloated, my cries unheard by the average human ear. I run myself into the ground sometimes, crash to a standstill after an excess of people, drink, substances, food, overstimulation, creative projects, shopping, cleaning. Where am I again? Ah yes, my mother’s bathroom.

 I strip naked and find myself unusually uncaring about the state of my body, unable to critique or care what it looks like; the shape, the size, the lumps and bumps. I don’t inspect it for cuts or bruises, dry patches, stretch marks. I don’t feel its soft sensual roundness or check for evidence of bones beneath the warm abundant flesh. Today I only feel the bag of rocks I carry in my stomach, and the drained empty feeling left over from the exhaustion of herding out the flutter and queasiness of an unrestful army of anxious iron butterflies.

 The bath water is pink and bubbly, with nice ‘natural’ products but nothing seems natural about bathing today. The water goes from swirling and burning to still and soothing. I try to hold onto that feeling of relaxation, breathing in the steam, staying present, but the pressing need to stay calm panics me and quickly turns to numbness, and numbness means a loose grasp on everything, and I lose focus and feel myself slipping down a dark spiral like water down a plug hole, until I am certain I have fallen in a grey puddle. I suddenly feel unclean and tarnished, but like the water itself is tainted, perhaps even by me. So here I am, stuck in a dank goo, another dark rut, a sort of beached whale turned island, isolated, alone, as the sides of the bath grow higher and higher like prison walls around me.

 Perhaps depression is like a virus that comes and goes, with little entities eating at the parts of your brain that tell you to be appealing, and attractive, or even just acceptable to others. Instead they encourage you to keep others at bay, repelling them by not washing, to isolate you so much that you become so alone and lonely and disconnected that you can’t function anymore, you can neither help others or be helped, rendering you a useless drain on society. Shunned to your hermit cave you begin to give up entirely and rapidly start to rot. Perhaps it is another part of our creators plan to keep the human population down, a scarily chaotic and random stab at natural selection from which no one is safe. I suddenly realise I am in a bath so I take a flannel and begin to scrub.

 Half an hour later and I am clean, dry, moisturised and dressed, if only in jogging bottoms and a baggy t-shirt. My hair remains unbrushed as do my teeth but there is only so much I can handle in one afternoon and already I am exerting myself.

 I stand by the kitchen sink and pour myself a small glass of full fat, ‘blue top’ milk. I never do this. Milk tends to give me a headache and sore guts, but when I was sickly as a child and it was the most substantial meal I could face it used to give me great comfort. From time to time, as an adult, I have turned to its simple nourishment, perhaps as a way to convince myself that I have fought off sickness before and that I can once more be cured. I rummage through my mother’s freezer to find a silicone tray of ‘x’ shaped ice cubes and I push one out, it plops into the glass and splashes the creamy white milk up the sides of the mottled glass. I lift the heavy glass to take a sip, it feels like a glass of brandy meant to soothe me from shock, and as such it is gone in one large gulp. It is creamier than I expect, sweeter than I remember milk being. I take the ice cube out and hold it between my fingers and suck on it. The diluted milk residue drips onto my chest. I’m wearing a fresh tshirt and this would normally annoy me but in recent days I am more tolerant of imperfection.

 I think about how bad stale milk smells, and the smell of baby sick, and how I am bleeding and don’t have a child of my own. Everytime I have a period I mourn a little. I’ve never been aware of actively seeking pregnancy, of starting a family, but having both miscarried and aborted a pregnancy I know my body knows it has lost out, that it has unfinished business to attend to, the tick tock of my little eggs speeding up as I age. The clock ticks louder on the wall behind me.

 I wonder what sort of mother I would be. Impatient and inattentive when I got stuck into a project, exciting and fun when my highs took us all to wild and unpredictable places. Soft and gentle and warm at my steadiest, and oh the love someone like me could give. Then I imagine being woken by small sticky hands and grubby faces full of mischief, grouchy for lack of food, as I lie, useless, in a darkened room, head hidden under the covers, when depression takes over. Perhaps He was right, I couldn’t be a mother. I wonder what he’s doing right now.

 A surge of unspoken grief rises as I fight back the tears, but I swallow it down again, push away the bad thoughts. “You won’t always feel like this, you won’t always feel like this. Let it pass, let it go, let him go.

 Funny how my mind wanders so freely some days. I can travel through space and time with my feet firmly stuck to the spot, the cogs of my brain spinning and whirring, projecting tales onto the big screen behind my blank looking eyes, while the rest of my body stands limp, unengaged. But always my thoughts come back to Him.

 Where am I again? Oh the kitchen. By the sink still. I let the tap run into the empty milk glass, and watch the misshapen ice cube dissolve and disappear. I must make myself a sandwich, I never buy bread when I am at home. I spread the butter on thinly, annoyed at how the tub of butter has been dug into it, I prefer to shave the butter evenly off the top in a sweeping motion, like a groundsman proudly tending a pitch.

 Sometimes the emptiness is a blessing, the calm after a storm. This is what I am reduced down to now, my attention drawn from the dramas of the past and the dreams of the future. Instead I am noticing the finer details; the rapid tick of the clock on the wall behind me, the hum of the strip light above me. I slice pale yellow cheddar cheese and some cucumber, and four cherry tomatoes, their seeds spilling onto the plate like guts. I open a tub of mixed olives and take three of each colour, three black, three green, in pleasingly similar shapes and sizes. I slice them vertically and lay them on top of everything else and place the other slice of bread on top of that. As I cut into the sandwich and press the two sides together there is a satisfying squelch as the tomatoes spill the rest of their insides. Life is rich with simple pleasures and it is the highlight of my day.

The Void

The void is winning.

You know that vacant space that lives in your guts,

That feels like a whole spinning universe resides inside you,

if only you could clutch a part of it for long enough to find a purpose or a reason to live in it.

And you can feel it growing in there, like there’s a rodent digging the walls deeper down and you can’t replenish the dug out earth quick enough, so you feel nibbled at, constantly, depleted and defeated.

How can you still feel it churning when you’re so empty inside?!

It sits, heavy like a boulder rolled off of a cliff, it demands of you to keep striving and struggling against the pains of the world, ever pleading, and it is aware of the absurdity of the 9 to 5 and marriage and mortgages and table manners and longs for deeper meaning, but without the superstition and fantastical meanderings of a mind that believes in a deity, it is lost.

So you fill it up with drugs, and tidal waves of alcohol, which dumb you down so that you don’t notice you just created a muddy puddle, in a tiny crater in a void the size of a planet. Maybe that is why we look up at the moon, for answers and belonging, why we romanticise this thing, which is so much bigger than ourselves and hangs over us all, like the awareness of our mortality, it looms, and yet we view it, eyes glazed over at its beauty, we connect the dots between stars pretending that as they do, we might stretch to infinity. We are celestial beings having a human experience indeed. and so the void, it lives inside, a vacancy, a swirling mass of who and what and where am I? A whining child’s cry of ‘are we nearly there yet?’

And still we try to fill it up, with food that keeps us stuffed and distracted, as though feeling something in that remote region will somehow touch the sides of that void, we pretend that digesting kale make us saints and deep fried empty caloried junk makes us sinners, but all any of it makes us is hungry hungry hungry for more, hungry for change, greedy for answers, we fill our minds with new age stories of self-heroism, like sickly smokey heroin, to sedate our masses.

We breathe deeply, grounding ourselves, when the roots of us are unhinged and flailing. We pretend that we are equal beings of this earth and therefore have a place in this existence worth living in. We squirm, cross legged, imagined chakras painted on, coloured dots implying some meaning to these disjointed parts of us, a body map of energy, sticky dots pinpointing the dead bodies on the atlas of our lives, the deceased versions of ourselves that we left behind every time we shed our skin, promising that today we shall be different, today we shall find our new authentic selves, slaughtering and rejecting our former egos in the hope that one day some real and truer version of us will be found.

We breathe in with the longing for stillness, out with the rejection of our discomfort, we weigh up our karma and seek out the magnet of self belief, that one needs to pass the bar to become fluent in the laws of attraction, forgetting that longing admits lacking, and that just because we are not the ones who started the fire, doesn’t mean that it won’t burn and ravage and leave us stripped of everything, as it brings us to our knees as we thank it, grovelling like slaves to chance, for it’s gifts, abundant as we burn like human peat, remind me again, who is fuelling who?

Some of us see the formation of kaleidoscopic fruit cores and believe it confirms the existence of a god. One who is very good at geometry, and so maybe that is what we need to become, very good at seeing patterns and shapes and the cycles life takes us in. Perhaps self knowledge and awareness brings us closer to our higher selves, to our creator but then that requires using our minds, the same one that brings us logic and looks for reason and talks us out of our fanciful ideas about god and creation. How can it be working both for and against us? Answer: Because if we are made in ‘his’ imagine, then we are darkness and light, yin and yang, and god is indeed good and evil.

We treat ourselves like robots, we look at the mathematics of the universe and surmise that the right blend of eat sleep and exercise will keep us balanced and focussed and functioning, but nobody knows what to do when the chalkboard runs out of chalk, just who is writing the rules and if no one is around to question the theory then can it ever be proven true or false?

If a tree falls in the forest does it scream precisely because no one is around to hear it? Maybe the universe is hiding itself from us, because we are too small, too minute, too basic, too primal to appreciate it’s full glory. Maybe we would be blinded by the light of angels and deafened by the true word of God and so we listen only to the wisdom that we are able to comprehend, that we have been hand fed like desperate suckling lambs.

We try to fill the void with sex, we fill each orifice with the body parts of another, sometimes it doesn’t matter whose, so empty are we and longing to be filled, we get so hungry and so afraid of being lonely that we don’t care about the biology, it’s as if we can combine all the pieces of you and me then maybe we can make one complete, perfect human being and not some frankenstein monster, the shape of another doomed relationship.

We catch one anothers eye in a blur of chemical haze and lust, we ensnare with some promise of who we want to be, and then we use and abuse and unwittingly bleed each other dry, as we try to plant and nurture a seed of belonging with one another, and when it becomes clear that they do not fulfill our need and greed we cast each other back into the ocean of disconnect, slightly more broken than before, although sometimes more easily restored if the break is cleaner that the last.

Some of us paint and draw and write, we try to rearrange the world , express it in the way that we perceive it, in more colourful  intricate ways. Instead of trying to fill the void, we try to pour it out of us, expend our energy in a flurry of colour and shape and noise, reaching in and tearing it out of us like a tumour. We don’t always see that sometimes we are boatless, trying to empty the sea with a bucket, the water treading on us instead.

Maybe my void is an empty nest, the space where my babies never fully formed, one fell, one pushed, it is a darkness where the guilt lives.

Maybe it is all the moments I said ‘I love you’ and they never said it back, they have a way of being stretched in the waiting, a second feeling like an eternity, each second a drop of poison, that fell to the pit of the void and burnt the edge a little further.

Maybe it is all the times I wished my father had said he was proud of me and instead the silence fell, cutting like scissors, snip snipping at the seams of me.

Maybe it is the gash made by the first dagger I ever thrust into myself with loathing, that romanticised the story of my imagined death and made it a best seller. Maybe it is the loud booming of the words I write, the ones that take this darkness and make it seem beautiful, reverberating around, every time opening the walls of the void ever further.

Maybe it is innocence lost, poked, gouged, taken.

Maybe it is the bitter biles acidic ripples of all the times I’ve ever lied and said ‘I’m fine.’

Maybe it is the pawing of a lion that lives inside that roars ‘THIS IS NOT GETTING ANY EASIER AND I AM NOT GETTING ANY BETTER’, but all that comes out is the squeak of a kitten that induces sympathetic gazes and fawning, as though I am a broken baby bird and not a raging storm.

I am a smashed plate at the bottom of the garden, broken in anger and intended to become part of that rockery that never quite got planted. Pushed to the back of tomorrow’s plans, a day that never comes.

I am lipstick on a coffee cup that sits and catches dust, refusing to be washed, as that last conversation lingers in the air above, playing and replaying, trying to find hope by rearranging her words in a way that didn’t sound like she said she was leaving you.

I am dinner, burnt, because he didn’t come home yet and even though you’re hoping that he isn’t slumped dead, choked on his own vomit in an alleyway, you keep the oven on and the plate full, to show him a visual representation of the way in which you give and provide and serve and how he takes it all for granted, now that love is drying up like over done potatoes, respect is the gravy that will revive this dish, but you have none for yourself and so you sit and weep and wait.

I am the retirement gift of a watch, a reminder of the time you’ve spent conforming and abiding rules that sucked the soul out of you, and a reminder that while you now have all this free time, it’s condensed into the darker days of your life, where you have to live with the pain of a lifetime of loss and struggle and the slow decay of your body and the encroachment of death, tick tocking tales of a life you wish you’d lived eating away at the back of your head.

Purpose, and routine and balance, and calm, something to love, something to live for, these are the bricks that we use to build up a wall, to protect us from the void. If you throw lava at a volcano only one of you is going to get burned. You can’t trick the void, fill the void, empty out emptiness, you can only shut it out and tune out while it churns away regardless. Build up your barriers, and make them ones of hope, and of kindness and fun.

There is a pointlessness and poignancy to every interaction, every person offers a lesson. We are equally nothing and everything, all at the same time, it just depends which channel you tune in to. Sometimes I’ve lost a button and its stuck on the depression channel loud, and the white noise is screaming, full of panic and fear. And singing fairy tales of hope and wellness over the top only sounds sinister, like a child laughing hauntingly in a horror movie. Other times I dip my toe among the stars and dance in the sky, oblivious to the trappings of the world, invincible and rootless, a chemical betrayal tricking me into reaching above my abilities, before crashing down to this place we agreed to call reality, disappointed and depleted.

It overpowers me to the point where I realise that maybe I AM the void. And everything else solid about me isn’t real. It is not trapped inside of me, I am trapped inside of it. Together we curse at each other, hurtling through this space and time like comets dancing, trapped in each others coat tails. Mid sentence I am suspended, caught in a side glance, the universe witnessing itself, maybe I am the universe experiencing what it is to be Me, and not the other way round, only one of us sentient, consciously unconscious.

Never Trust a Facebook Smile

I was away on holiday last month, for almost two weeks, with my sister, at a music festival in Budapest, then a weekend festival in Croatia, followed swiftly by a house move and then another cheeky music festival to round off the season, life has been hectic to say the least!

I found the first part of the holiday tough, because nine days of camping in the heat at a festival with 450,000 people and constant over stimulation will tire anyone out, let alone someone who needs a lot of peace and struggles with crowds and claustrophobia. I had to rely on sleeping tablets every night so I could sleep at all, and they take their toll on my energy too, plus I had my usual ups and downs to cope with, without all my home comforts to nurture me, but I managed to get some enjoyment out of it with many moments of happiness and contentment strewn in. In all, it was a good experience and of course I am grateful for it.

From there we stayed in a posh hotel in Budapest for one night, and I found myself handwashing my festival clothes in the bathroom sink and drying on the heated floor, because I can afford a 5* offer, but not the 5* lifestyle haha. We went out for a lovely meal, and had a stroll across one of Budapest’s famous bridges, and had a glorious sleep in an actual bed, and despite us both being a little tired and snappy, it was bliss.

The next day we travelled to Croatia (Via Vienna, due to ridiculous lack of direct flights) and although both our flights were delayed, I managed my stress levels well, we made it there in once piece, all set for another weekend of festivalling, only this time on a beach setting, with boat parties and many friends from home. It all started to go downhill when the guy I’ve been seeing for the last few months, who I rather stupidly fell madly in love with, decided to tell me that he didn’t think we should see each other any more. So rather than the romantic and preferably naked reunion I was hoping for I got heartbroken.

I don’t know how to describe how it feels when you’ve been feeling exhausted and unstable and looking forward to feeling a bit ‘normal’ and comforted and loved and instead you’re met with rejection. It’s like the respite you were hoping for has been pulled from underneath you, and all the familiar feelings of self loathing that you’ve been fighting off are suddenly totally validated and amplified, and you have literally no reason to be fighting them off anymore. All those negative imps you’ve been sparring with, they were right, life is fucking shit, you weren’t missed at all, and you are completely worthless and unloveable. Happy Holiday!!!

So I tried my best to enjoy myself, I remember that it’s a beautiful world, and there is fun to be had and there are some wonderful people I know here and many more to meet. And I dance and I chat and I laugh and I read and try to relax and enjoy the sunshine.

And all the time I am fighting the tears, and the sadness, and the feeling that nothing will ever be right again, that I will never be happy, or even feel anything other than this latest fucking pain and heartbreak.

The following night I talk a little more to the guy who has just finished with me and he tells me that it’s final this time, that we will never be more than friends. And it just finishes me. Like I just cant handle anymore. I am completely done in. I can’t win this war against my mental health, I can’t even go on holiday and enjoy myself like normal people, and I can’t have an emotionally healthy intimate relationship. No matter his reasons for it ending all I hear is that I am unloveable, unattractive, worthless and completely disposable. Every internal weapon that is ever used against my happiness is out in force, I don’t deserve anything else but this inevitable suffering.

I am wearing this beautiful dress, that sat in my wardrobe for ten years never being worn because I never felt confident enough to wear it, and before I left I finally thought, ‘fuck it, it’s getting worn’ and I had high hopes that I’d be feeling and looking like a million bucks by this stage in my holiday and proud at how much I am winning at life, and instead I’m stood in the middle of this club crying my eyes out, looking like some daft fat girl whose had too much to drink. I’m being held by the person whose just broke my heart and being told that I’m going to be fine, and I have never felt so fucking un-fine in my whole life. I am completely fucking broken.

I am comforted by friends, old and new, who offer their support and hugs and sterling advice. But internally the walls are caving in on me, I have no glue left to hold the pieces of me together. I end up back at my apartment with the guy, I am upset and harsh words are spoken, I throw myself at him in desperation which only drives him further away, he leaves when my sister returns, and I lose it completely. I self harm by cutting my arms with a metal hairband.  I punch the walls, kick the bed, knock things over, I’m hysterical. I take a sleeping tablet because I know that I can’t go anywhere safe from here and I don’t want to face the police or mental health services (or lack of) in a strange and foreign land so I lie down and cry myself to sleep, while my sister tidies up around me, reassuring me that it is okay to feel this but that it will not last forever.

The next morning I wake up feeling awful and remorseful and ashamed, I apologise to my long suffering sister and I suggest we go down to the beach and go swimming, so we head down to the shore. It’s the last day of the holiday and I know that I have three options:

1 is to cry and be angry in public.

2 is to cry and be angry in private, and lock myself in the apartment all day, I would probably sedate myself with a sleeping tablet just to get through it.

3 is to join in with everyone else and get drunk.

And so that’s what I do. I get drunk. I sit with the idea for a couple of hours first, it takes another couple of hours to convince my sister to let me have my money. And I have my first drink in 6.5 years, a double vodka, on the rocks. I swim in the sea, and have another vodka. I sunbathe and dance and laugh and take photos. I have another drink, I have dinner at the restaurant.

I dance by myself to ‘Trouble’ by Amy Winehouse, the guy who just broke my heart comes and dances with me to ‘No Woman, No Cry’, and it is beautiful and tragic and poetic and I love him and I hate him and then love him again.

Later on we all get a bit wild and there is skinny dipping and three way snogs and finally the guy puts us both to bed so we aren’t dying on the journey home tomorrow. I wake up very early, still drunk, and I hold him for the last time and I cry and I remember how bad hangovers are. A couple of hours later we get up and ready to leave for the airport, I am sat with him and my sister on the plane home and he looks after me, lets me sleep under his arm in the car ride home while I sleep. And then it is over, the journey, the holiday, the dream of Us. Reality kicks in.

I stay at my mother’s house that night for company and support, and I spend the next few days moving house, packing, unpacking, cleaning, organising a life that I don’t even care about anymore. I get lots done and manage to stay focussed and sober but then there’s a festival that weekend and I decided that as I’ve blown my sober stint I might as well have one last blast, just absolutely smash it before I go back to building that bridge. And so I do. I go wild with substances and have a bloody good time, I don’t end up destructive or out of control, I don’t piss anyone off, or end up fighting or fucking. But the addict in me is strong, I feel myself chasing the high all weekend, never wanting to come down, and I crack again on Tuesday, the itch is too strong and I get drunk, alone, in a place that doesn’t yet feel like home. I drink in the bath, I drink in bed, and I cry and cry and cry. I am pretty much under supervision for a few days, between my family and friends, who are doing uncoordinated shifts making sure I am sober and not hurting myself.  I am grateful, yet I don’t care.

I throw myself into building this new place into a home, unpacking, tidying, cleaning, decorating. I’m putting up pictures in places that future me might approve of. I hope that one day I will appreciate this effort and feel cosy here. I can’t stop working, because everytime I stop I start to feel and think and I can’t handle it, so I just keep going, it keeps me in a daze. I cry a lot. I reach a place of sadness and grief and I feel so overwhelmed by it that I blank out, in a dissociative state where I am dazed and can’t feel a thing, I disappear for hours in that, unaware of what it is I am doing, it’s like being an avatar. I just don’t care anymore.

I’ve been looking at my holiday photographs, my sister has been putting some online, and they are joyous and beautiful, but to me they are just all so tainted, because I know how unhappy I was for much of it. There was moments of pure bliss, lost in the sunshine and music, where I danced my way to happiness, to freedom from myself, but for the most part I was hurting and struggling and feeling broken. And I don’t know how to get beyond this.

It wasn’t all bad by any means. The difficulty is that I’ve had to take myself with me. I’ve seen and experienced some incredible things on this adventure, some moving, some frivolous and bizarre. Not only that but I’ve been met with unbelievable kindness and found myself comforted and accepted by strangers and friends alike, and I’m proud that I achieved what I did, I’ve come a long way. In the long run I’ve been saved from a relationship that probably wasn’t right for me, it can be just as painful looking back at happy holiday snaps of someone who is no longer in your life. I still have love and respect for this person, even if their timing fucking sucks.

I thought this holiday would help me to push myself, make me realise how capable I was, boost my confidence, give me memories to be pleased and proud about. I certainly won’t forget it in a hurry, but I am not yet ready to reminisce and smile about it. It was difficult and exhausting and the trip of a lifetime.. but not necessarily for all the right reasons.

“Looks like you had a great time away!”

They’re right, it does doesn’t it? It all looks so bloody perfect.

And that’s why you should never trust a Facebook Smile.

Relapse- The Blog I didn’t want to write

I’m just back from holiday, I’m experiencing my first hangover in 6.5 years and I have cuts on my arms from self harming this weekend, something which I haven’t done for about 4 years.

I’m feeling everything from disbelief to shock to remorse, and a little bit gleeful for the naughtiness of it all, because self sabotaging is so familiar and warm sometimes.

I’m wondering whether to consider it a ‘relapse’, or just another bump in the road, because I still think that it was the right thing for me to do.

I don’t feel like I have to explain myself to anyone as such but I think it’s important to be honest, and as so many will have seen me getting in a nick I wanted to be clear about why and look at how I can stop it from happening again, and accept or even embrace my choices without letting them make me feel worse about myself.

The simple answer as to why it happened was that I hit crisis point and just ran out of ways to cope and I resorted to old methods.

Had I been at home I might have been able to pull together enough resources to not to resort to that, I may have called upon the mental health crisis team, or gone to my mums or spent time with friends in a quiet environment. As it was I was at a festival abroad, and so full of sadness and anger and woe that my options seemed to be: burst into tears on and off all day (publically or in private), hiding in my apartment, or knock myself out with sleeping tablets and lose the last day of my holiday. I knew that the only way I could get through it and enjoy it was to find a way to relax myself and go with the spirit of the event and join in with the festivities, instead of feeling like an outsider or isolating myself and slipping into a deeper depression.

So it happened. I had my first booze related relapse.

And it was fun, and I didn’t do anything too wild or destructive that I can’t live with it. Of course I suffered for it the next day (hangovers and long journeys are not a great combination), but I am glad that it happened away from home, as it’s not something that I can repeat any time soon and I don’t want to feel as though I can just pick up drink and put it down just for fun any time soon. Because I still can’t.

I’m in the middle of moving house and I’m tired, stressed and heartbroken and I’d love to numb and relax myself with a drink, I’ve already considered going to the off license or sneaking off to the pub, as my addict brain is very much alive, and I know that it would feel like a huge step back if I went down that path. So I am glad that this happened away from home.

I’m accepting this as just another twist in the road. Aside from being fun and relaxing this holiday was supposed to boost my confidence and help me prove to myself that I can do so much more than I used to be able to, but it’s taught me so much more.

I’m going to earn my sober sesh crown back and my self respect, and stay more vigilant. I finally have access to the psychology department again at the end of this month and I’m gonna do my best to get and stay well. I took a detour for a while there but I need to focus on myself again and put myself first.

I have scars for souvenirs and plenty of good memories to be grateful for. But the last couple of weeks have been a rollercoaster and I have a lot of healing to do.

Taking your depression on holiday

It’s a terrible thing, when you go on holiday, only to find that you’ve taken yourself- including your mental illness, with you. All you bad habits, and destructive thought patterns, all your self loathing and woes and anxiety, all firmly strapped to your luggage, just like at a home but in a significantly warmer climate. All of your coping mechanisms are pushed to the absolute limit, squeezed like a lemon slice, into your holiday cocktail.

On this delicious holiday menu:

For starters a panic attack on the plane brought on by the fact that turbulence when experienced in a budget flight tin can will make anyone feel a bit edgy and claustrophobic but especially when you’ve not flown in years and have a very user friendly panic button built into your head. I put my headphones in, my music on and held my sisters hand for most of the flight. I actually love flying and enjoyed it until then, I try to convince myself that it is excitement rather than fear but I’m fighting it off for about an hour and a half which is exhausting. I try mindfulness and deep breathing and distraction techniques, because I will not let this ruin my trip.

The next day I have a lie in, my sister brings us breakfast and has attended to some practical matters regarding our camping and finances, really I am spoilt, but I am tired and grumpy as I had to take a sleeping tablet the night before and I’m feeling the bad bile gather in my brain. I think of home, of who I am missing, I worry about who is missing me, or more specifically who might not be. Why would they? I am nothing and nobody. Ah good, the self loathing has found its way out of my rucksack!

But that’s just the aperitif! Today’s main course is a solid helping of body dysmorphia!

Whoever the confident, slim bitch who made me pack all these bikini tops and short shorts is, she is in hiding, perhaps inside my massive belly, because I can’t feel comfortable in anything and I look like absolute shit. I change approximately 40 times (in a sweaty tent none the less) and have crying fits, like a toddler at a beauty pageant, and end up wearing a dress I had planned to travel in because it covers me up. I don’t know if it’s seeing all these young, beautiful European women in their bikinis or if its just how I am feeling today, but I am not the body confident, ‘learning to love myself’ body positive blogger I was just a few days ago. I fucking hate myself. I am so gross and fat and repulsive. I may have lost 4.5 stone in the last year but it’s not enough, I am still unacceptable and hideous and I just want to hide but it’s too hot to wear too many layers.

I end up paying £24, a big part of my frivolous holiday spending money, on a top that will cover me up enough to convince me that I am not an ogre. It’s a nice top but I know that one day I will resent it and what it represents! But it’s just one of many ways in which I will have to adapt and sacrifice in order to survive this holiday. I try to reason with myself, recite positive affirmations, remind myself not to compare myself to others and that literally no one gives a shit what I’m wearing or what I look like, that they are not here for me, and that I have every right to be here in whatever attire I feel like wearing. I try to list all the ways in which I am grateful, I know how lucky I am to be here, to be alive and privileged enough to experience such things, but it takes me nowhere, the toxic grip of this black shadow is just too strong.

I start to feel guilty, because I know there’s people back home with families and jobs who can’t afford such a holiday, either because of time or money or both, I’m stressing about ‘first world problems’ like a big baby, and I go on a shame spiral, I don’t deserve to be here. I mean I saved bloody hard for ages to afford this, I sold my stuff on ebay, went without a lot for a long time, and it’s my first holiday abroad in years, but still.. I do mental maths and weigh up how worthy I am and how justifiable it is for someone on welfare to be allowed a holiday.

I do an hour of vinyasa flow yoga, then a dance therapy workshop based on exploration of colour which finishes with some abstract group painting. My feedback is that I ‘found comfort outside my comfort zone’- I lied of course, I found it impossible today and felt horribly self conscious and insecure. We rest, we eat, we wander. Later I watch stunningly gorgeous empowered belly dancers and I am admiring their costumes and taking photos, in awe of the skill and beauty all around me, I am people watching and even step into the Danube river for a paddle. And I feel like I want to die.

And that lingering thought, feeling, is today’s dessert.

Here I am with this opportunity to freely enjoy and relax and participate or rest and I just can’t exist comfortably in any of it. Like I just can’t experience this life anymore being me as I am, inside myself. There is so much beauty and colour and opportunity here and for all my external reaching for fulfilment, there is nothing that can convince me that I will ever feel anything different inside. I know that I am easily overstimulated and tired and maybe I am just drained and need some peace and quiet but I do my best to slow down and rest and find quiet spots, luckily my sister understands and is in no rush to push herself in this heat either. I just need to get through this day and hope that tomorrow feels better. I have burst into tears so many times today, I can’t really hide it, apart from the sunglasses covering my eyes, and I have a few breakdowns. My sister comforts me , we give each other massages, we eat ice cream, I write, express how I feel, doodle, meditate, breathe, dance. Soon I will go for an early night and pray to the universe that my future self can handle this shit, that this mood will pass and I will start to feel better and enjoy myself more.

It hasn’t been a bad day in all, in that I tried my very best. Fun things were apparent, exercise was done , adequate nutrition was had, I had a big sleep, we saw some wonders of the world, I took deep breaths, I didn’t panic, I saw my sadness for what it was- a temporary madness- and said ‘this too will pass’. But I hope to god it passes overnight. Because soon I will be well again and craving the sun and fun and festival madness. And instead I will be at home, skint, moving house and back to questioning what the fuck I’m doing with my one precious life. In that state I would be able to fully appreciate all of this. Why can’t I time my mania and depression to suit life events?

There is a famous travelling art installation here that you can contribute to called ‘before I die I want to….’ and you fill in the blanks on a chalkboard. I’ve been thinking about what to write, what my contribution might be. All I really want to do is live. Just not like this anymore.

Cave Dweller Me needs love too

There’s a bit in my head, a bit that won’t leave, firmly nestled in there pulling on my energy and attention in between the pulsing goo and sinew. It’s the bit that feels loneliness the deepest, that is so sad she can make me cry on a sunny day, the one that makes me feel alone in a room full of loved ones, sometimes she has the loudest voice in there. And I know it’s Me, at least it sounds a lot like Me.

I call her Cave Dweller, not only because it matches my initials CD, but because she is hiding in darkness, wild and gloomy and hermit like. She keeps me away from the positive, grateful me, she steals my inner joy, smears the windows so that I can’t see the horizon when I am lost in a stormy sea.

She tells me dark dirty untruths about myself, but so convincing is she that sometimes her stories are the only ones that I can recall.

She hates me. She tells me that I am worthless, reminds me that I am undeserving of love, that I am alone and unloved. And she is gleeful in it sometimes, the bitch. But I have to befriend her, and show her that she will not burn in the light, that not everyone will hurt us, that trusting others is a risk worth taking, that I will look after her and together we can step away from the shadows and breathe clean air and get through anything together. If I punish her it only serves to break internal relations down further.

She is bitter and mutters away and I try to drown her out with a clear crisp voice but it doesn’t always work. Last night she told me that I was alone and abandoned, and I found myself lying in the dark listing everyone that I knew for sure loved me, my mum and dad and sisters (beyond that I swing between surety and uncertainty), but she spoke far louder and quicker than I could. My voice came out small and shaky and unconvinced. I can feel it, this deep familiar knowing, it is not a thought but a sense of self, that I am no good and wrong. And she speaks to me in sharp daggers while I repeat the mantras I love myself, I love myself, I love myself, and I am good enough, I am good enough, I am good enough, over and over again, before my body finally gives in to sleep.

Today I start the day anew and instead of two warring sides, I let myself sit empty and sad, because it is close enough to calm. I try to fill in with music and dancing and thoughts of all good things. But good ‘things’ are only temporary, and I know the greatest healing is done from within.

I try to coax her out, to soothe her, but she lives on fear and controls the guts of me. So for now I sit and observe her, one hand always outstretched, lest she decides to join me in living.

What do you do?

It’s the question all unemployed people with an invisible illness dread, “And what do you do?

It’s the verbal equivalent to ‘The Big Boss’ coming through your workplace and even though you’re working bloody hard, the concentration brow deepens, your moves become more exaggerated as you panic to ‘Look Busy!’ and indisposable.
The stomach flips, the heart sinks, I’m about to be judged for not paying taxes, my social status is about to drop to somewhere between Jeremy Kyle contestant and pasty thieving seagull, plus I’m at risk of revealing some very personal details about the contents of my health records. Do I lie? Exaggerate the truth? Avoid the question? Whip out a mood chart and give a full history of my health?
So how do you answer such a personal, loaded question without making yourself feel too vulnerable?

Really it depends on the scenario. If someone is genuinely trying to get to know you, a potential love interest for example, then you might want be honest from the start, your health and finances are inevitably going to affect things. But if it’s at a distant cousin’s wedding it’s all in the name of polite chitchat so you don’t need to give much away at all.

The single best answer to that question that I’ve ever been encouraged to use:
I do wonders.
It deflects the question, shows wit and confidence, retains an air of mystery and let’s people know that you’re not ready to give that information away or not playing into that game. It throws the other person off and makes it harder for them to persist with that type of questioning. If they do persist then they’re possibly a bit rude and judgemental and you probably don’t really need that kind of person in your life, it tells you a lot about them and their values. But fear not, there’s other ways to dodge the question.
Humour: “Not much in the kitchen but I’m great in bed” (best not to use that for the future in laws)
Vagueness: “I wouldn’t want to bore you with it.”                           Partial Honesty: ‘I’m in between jobs at the moment’ (omitting the fact that it’s been 2 years since your last job and you’re not currently looking).
In the past I’ve replied ‘I don’t work full time at the moment due to my health but I used to work in retail management’ this gives people a (false) sense of your social class, education, ambition and also gives them enough that they’ll choose not to pry further. You’ve been quite honest with them and they’ll be pushing their luck and common decency if they require more than that.
The downside is that some people will then inevitably ask ‘So what do you do with your time?‘. Again vagueness can be useful ‘I use it sparingly/wisely’ might suffice.

The number one golden rule is: You don’t have to explain yourself to anyone.

In fact I have one friend who flat out refuses to answer that kind of question, they simply say ‘Do you mean what do I do for money? I don’t talk about that.’
People often ask questions that they want to be asked so be quick to ask them lots of questions in return. It’s sidestepping the question but in some cases people aren’t really that interested in your answer anyway.
You can start out by saying ‘Well in my spare time I..’ and insert your really interesting hobby, people are much more likely to latch into that and ask more about it and they’re still getting to know more about the real you and moving the conversation along to safer territory.

You can refer to your most recent job, or tell them about any volunteering you do, I’ve been known to pad out my ‘verbal cv’ by telling them lots at once- they don’t need to know my work is sporadic and non paid, and I’ve listed literally every volunteering event I’ve done in the last 5 years.

If you’re a parent ‘I’m a full time mother to two children‘ is a good response, and you can then talk about the children instead of yourself. Even after they grow up this can be used as a ‘get out clause’ although why ‘women’s work’ isn’t valued as much as paid work I will never know (duh patriarchy). But that’s a whole other blog post.

I have another friend who retired some years ago, who has since become a ‘semi retired poet’. This seems to please enough people as it gives them an idea of their stage in life and also a tasty titbit about one of their hobbies/passions, one that they’re happy to talk about and something that people find interesting.

Most people don’t care what you actually do they are just trying to get to know you and find common ground.

I have friends who are chefs, tradesmen, solicitors, work in I.T, childcare, none of these are the reasons why they’re interesting and good company. None of these jobs make me feel like I’m in respectable company, or like they’re better people because of what they do, although I do admire anyone with a good work ethic who finds a good work/life balance because I’ve found that balance hard to find. The truth is I love and respect them as people because they’re funny, they’re good djs, they’re good conversationalists, they’re good dads, they’re kindhearted and generous and complex, imperfect, beautiful human beings.

The deep, loving connections we are all searching for are cultivated and nurtured over time, until then we bond over music, dancing, food, pop culture (or hatred of), books, movies, all of the superficial components of daily life that we can all relate to. These are the icebreakers which can warm us up to a person, or give us a sense of where people’s true passions lie. The common ground is a playing field after all!
Above all remember that just as you are more than your illness, you are so much more than what you do for a living or how much money you make (or don’t). For every one flaw or failing you can find in yourself, even with a C.V littered with potholes of sick days and a long history of dropping out, your true friends can find 5 reasons why they love and value you in an instant. This applies to everyone so please allow others the same kindness when you find out what they do for a living (even if they work in advertising).
This blog is dedicated to Andy who passed away recently. He did wonders. 

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