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Sunday, 28 June 2015

Thirty Five Candles. Celebrating, Not My Life, But Being Alive

Yes, THAT many candles

A year ago to the day I decided it might be a good idea for me to go into hospital for a while, because of my depression. I realised that my ability to cope with the day-to-day had become severely impaired, and that I had been more stressed than ecstatic to have my friends over to ‘celebrate’ my birthday (which is today, by the way.)

Me last year

The worst symptoms of my depression and anxiety were in full flow: I was trying to do everything possible to make everyone at my party have a good time. It had been a miserable failure of a plan, since the bouncy castle I’d organised for the fun of it and trip to the park with friends and their children all had to be called off on account of rain (just like most sports days I remember) and I was rushing around our flat instead, frantically getting drinks, food, conversations going and feeling my heart beat quicken and quicken in my chest.

Enough. Time to talk. Time to act. Time for the truth.

The final straw was when I had a wobbly moment with a good friend I thought I had offended. To a people pleaser like me, to please is the goal (a short term goal, because I believe I’m only as good as my next act of goodwill towards others) and to displease is catastrophe, causing internal combustion.

Ugh. Hate displeasing people. 

So, the next day, sitting on the sofa and tidying after the night of many drinks, laughter, conversation and lovely people, I quietly called the hospital where I see my psychiatrist and enquired about in patient care for the first time. I wasn’t a suicide risk, and I knew from past experience that my mental illness was not (is not, has never been) bad enough for me to be admitted under the NHS. I learned that there are usually beds available at the hospital. I learned I needed to speak to my insurer. I
learned that I could arrange the whole thing with relative ease. (Thank goodness. I was not well enough to do anything difficult.)

It was the first step towards admitting to myself that my depression (and anxiety, which I hadn’t even realised I had, despite running around like a headless chicken and running (literally) myself into a skinny nervous wreck of a person) had become so debilitating that work was becoming impossible, and social gatherings also a major challenge.

It’s pretty bad when you see your best friends around you and you feel utterly disconnected from them, and from the world you’re living in. Yes, I was smiling and laughing and passing around drinks, making conversations happen and passing the canap├ęs, but all at top speed, almost as if to slow down and drink in how I genuinely felt would be as calamitous as a car smashing into me at top speed, obliterating my whole being into the mess of blood and cells and harmful thoughts that I was subconsciously aware were what made up ‘me’ at the time.

I didn’t know anyone who had ever been in hospital for mental illness, except a distant cousin’s mother of my mother, years ago, when that sort of condition meant a long term stay in the type of institution that can rarely be found anymore. I made that phone call to hospital because, practical as always, I wanted to know what my options were. I realised I couldn’t go on. It’s not ‘just the way life is’ to cry at spilled milk, spilled anything in fact, all the time, or at a lost book, a broken pencil, at the thought of getting off the sofa and walking to Marks and Spencer just across the road. It’s not normal, i.e. healthy, to dread going to work and to cry every morning about it because of the untouchable contractors who are ignoring you or bullying you with snide comments and belittling at every opportunity (well, it would be normal to dread going to work, but I would certainly say to anyone, don’t put up with it if it’s happening). I am a planner, I am practical, I am resourceful even in the face of damnable, draining and dreadful depression, and I suddenly realised that perhaps there was an option not to feel so terrible every day; not to wake up and wish that I had actually not woken up at all.
The steps on from there have been mostly documented in my posts over the last nine months or so. I have morphed into someone who not only accepts her depression as something acute and (currently) looking like it may be with me forever, despite best efforts to relieve the symptoms through medication, rest and cognitive behavioural therapy. I have also, in the last year, spoken out about it, and with every conversation (and I don’t have that many, I’m not one of those people who, when asked “How are you?” gives you a twenty minute account of the minutiae of having depression) I have felt a little more self-accepting, which is the biggie. Everyone else has been lovely. I have been hard on myself, as I always am. Do better. Do more. Do everything. Do it now.

Okay, okay, depression, I'll do it, I'll do it. Now please sod off out of here.

I’m still that person who wants to do it all, now, to perfection. I have my manic phases where my brain goes into overdrive trying to predict every possible outcome from every upcoming conversation or exchange to ensure that I have planned my behaviour to be ‘correct’ (and, really, what the hell does that mean?). If I am on a non-sedative night my legs will shake and shuffle around with restless leg syndrome that stops me from sleeping and my brain will kick in to that mode of restlessness, endless opening and closing its many filing cabinets to pull out all the items on my various to-do lists, work to be completed, meetings to be held, weight to lose, events to organise, friends to see. It’s exhausting. It’s impossible to maintain.

Take that, Depression (and, naturally, David Bowie)

That ‘me’ can’t last, so I’ve allowed some other characteristics to enter my personality: the ability to relax (okay only sometimes, but sometimes is a lot better than never); the ability to be honest about how I’m feeling, even at the risk (in my mind) that people will judge me for it and that I may never get promoted at work because I have an acute problem complicated by a catalogue of physical injuries.

You said it Cher.

But it’s worth accepting those risks, those potential, may never happen but possibly might risks, because I can’t live without changing into the ‘me’ that is sitting here, typing this on her thirty fifth birthday. I don’t know that I’d be typing anything, doing anything, if I hadn’t taken that risk and started being honest to myself and others about the fact that I do not have an unbreakable exterior shell. In fact I’m all eggshell, to be broken again and again and again.

Just because it's an awesome song. Nothing's gonna stop us!

When I blow out my candles today (and yes, of course there will be candles, because I do love birthdays even though celebrating the fact that I’m alive seems like a bad idea to me (sometimes) because I (sometimes) wish I were not) I will sit and acknowledge the past year. I’ve said ‘Here I am’ and then jumped off a cliff into the rocky seas of honest living. It’s terrifying and tricky and hard to stay afloat, and I will keep being bashed around by depression a while longer. But I made it, and if that doesn’t deserve a hot dog with all the trimmings, Champagne and a day where I celebrate being still here at all, then I don’t know what does. Happy birthday to me. Jessica, you made it. One foot in front of the other and maybe you’ll make it to 36. 

Me this year. Well, not quite, but time to dance!


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  2. Very nicely written Jessica.
    I wish you every success and happiness in the world.

    1. Thank you very much! I appreciate your reading and hope you will read more and keep in touch. Ps, not sure where you're from but I actually got ID'd in Marks and Spencer yesterday: I ❤️ British supermarkets, making us thirty somethings feel 'less than', in a good way, everywhere! X