One of the definitions of the word 'recover' is 'to regain consciousness'. (Etymonline - Recover). It strikes me that the minute I left the hospital that is what I was doing. Noticing, for the first time again, that it was autumn and wet, rust-coloured leaves matting the roads and squelching slightly underfoot. Becoming aware, again, of people in cars going to places, (to where?) traffic which had to be considered and negotiated on the path home.
And at home, there were the physical elements of regaining consciousness. I may have complained about my pants being carelessly ripped off in a previous post: now I had to consider how on earth with a fractured spine and cast-bound elbow I was going to get them out of their drawer and get them on myself. (Tip: imagining myself to be David Beckham - in his footballer role, obviously, rather than in every other advert / shot of him, pectorals glistening in the light - I used my right foot to nudge the pants or other item of clothing to a wall or the bottom edge of the drawers and then lift them up to where my functioning right hand picks them up. This works well with clothing, less well with cutlery...let's not talk about plates.)
Now in my fourth week at home, things are much different. Gradually the pills I'm taking for the various physical ailments are ebbing away, and I find myself looking with curious doubt at the small collection of medicinal treats that are lined up for my consumption. Surely there should be more? There were more yesterday, I think, no?
Continuing in the background to all this, and something I haven't mentioned for a few weeks, I realise, is my mental health. It has to be said that a fall which rendered me nearly paralysed / dead and unable to function, except as a stand-in for those charming silver fellows who frequent our tourist sites for a good few months, did a great (albeit extreme) job of distracting me from feelings of depression etc. When I cried that Monday, alone and at home, I was grieving for a life - my life - nearly lost. It wasn't depression as such, and the day-to-day administration role of caring for myself (even with all the help from my wonderful husband) distracted me from my inner feelings and allowed me to 'avoid' my depression altogether. I do love that verb: one which elicits delicious suckings-in-of-breath and eyebrow-knitting from therapists.
There are many other elements, but this fog is a constant when I am ill. However, as I mentioned, I've taken no time off for depression before this year. I feel the fog and do it anyway. Out of bed. Shower. Wash hair. Dry self. Brush teeth, Moisturise. (Okay, maybe I don't always moisturise, that's a little too much.) Dress, Apply makeup. Have breakfast. Check bag for essentials. Put on shoes and coat. Leave the house with bag. Travel to work (train, bus, crush...). Work. Talk to colleagues. Attend / organise meetings. Produce work outputs. Leave work. Travel from work - (repeat train, bus, crush.) Walk home. Crash,
Liz Obert - an artist who herself suffers from bipolar disorder (previously called manic depression) has created a series of portraits of fellow sufferers. She presents their polarised selves - those which are out in the world performing their jobs or engaging with people; those which are deliberately staying away from the world and truly experiencing their illnesses in full force. Here (above and below) are some examples from her work (below). You can also read the full article here.
At the moment, I am regularly sleeping or resting to heal my physical wounds, so the most evasive symptom of depression is not my unwillingness to be outside in the world, but my surprise that I exist in it at all. Apparently, I am part of the world, too. I can go into a shop and buy a packet of crisps or bottle of water and no one shouts "Look at her, she is clearly mad!" or "Cheer up" or "Pull yourself together."
My friends have also been marvellous, suddenly faced with a friend who is - quite frankly - a proper mess of physical and mental wounds. I am constantly amazed, delighted and grateful for the love and support from the people around me - especially as I find it difficult to accept that people truly do like and care for me. The efforts to visit and spend time with me (and the biscuits and cake, I have to mention) have been a fantastic boost to my recovery, and test me to stay with the world and take part in it - even from home.
Added to this, no one can see my physical injuries either, except at the end of a walk where I'm visibly limping or wincing at times, tired out by the exertion. No one apart from my husband is treated to the depression 'show', though (even, mostly, the professional therapists and doctors I work with). I rarely show any signs of depression at work or at critical times. Perhaps I've just become too skilled at hiding it. I get up and on with it, and only days later suddenly notice that I am exhausted because of the pretence of being fine I have acted out, convincing even myself of its veracity.
At other times, though, in the company of strangers, I feel the vulnerability and cannot stifle it. I once frightened the life out of my poor dental hygienist by bursting into tears when she advised me to use an electric rather than normal toothbrush. I also once cried at Richard and Judy, but that seems more rational, somehow.
In homage to Obert, here are three photographs of me: