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.

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.

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.