Monthly Archives: June 2017

Showing the Upside Down.

I am not good at being mentally unwell, and I’m totally rubbish at letting people see how I feel. 

I’ve spent so long honing my together persona that I don’t know how to stop. I’ve been getting up to create clean, swishy hair and careful eyeliner. I think carefully about what I wear and I’m definitely over dressed for this ward. 

I watch myself and wonder what the hell I’m doing.  

Who am I trying to convince? Why am I trying to persuade the world I’m absolutely fine when we all know I’m here because I had a detailed plan to die?

I’ve always thought it served no purpose to sit motionless up a corner with my back to the wall. I do do that, but only when I’m alone and I just can’t keep the mask in place anymore. The walls hold me. And I can always see what’s coming. I feel a tiny bit safer. 

Everything in my upbringing has taught me that weeping and wailing achieves nothing. In fact, it brings harsh and negative consequences. Smiley faces get rewarded; visibly negative emotions get punished. 

And when I do fight that conditioning and share my true feelings, it’s in the knowledge that no one can really help. I am alone with this. I’m on the nightmare side of the Upside Down and no one can reach me to pull me through to life. Trying to communicate how I feel is frustrating and exhausting and it eats energy that I just don’t have to spare. And, deep down, I don’t believe anything can help. 

So I seem together. I’m a bit thin, and people wonder (and comment) about that. But I’m careful about my body language. I make eye contact. I smile. I’m so conscious that I’m trying to be a good patient. Not cause any trouble or inconvenience. And when I finally get up, I’m often mistaken for a member of staff. All I need is a lanyard weighed down with keys, and I’d be good to go. I was thinking my Legoland driving licence and a collection of clanky teaspoons should do it. 

When I first arrived here I wept for pretty much a solid night and day. And when I thought I was hallucinating the ants I was terrified and couldn’t control the hysterical tears. Plus, any suggestion of getting on the scales, as well as every time they bring the fortisips out I get incredibly scared and jittery. And I do lose my grip on the rational.

But, apart from that, I’ve done more than a week of quietly getting on with it. Twitter has been a lifeline and I’ve watched a lot of TV. Tried colouring in. Given origami a go. Painted my nails. Tried to read a book. 

I’ve done everything I can to convince the staff I’m okay to go home. That this was a blip and that I don’t belong here. I even painted a pebble to show willing, ffs. 

Then some things happened and I hit a wall. I stopped. I stayed in my pyjamas and looked like a vacant, desiccated body with a seriously bad fringe. This ghost that looks like me varies leaking tears with quiet sobbing. It sits in a blanket, hugging a cushion that smells of home, staring at the TV. Sometimes it droops and dozes. I watch it happening from above. 

It’s not me. But it is me. 

A nurse with excellent taste in boots asked me how I felt, and I was too tired not to tell her. I betrayed myself. And now no one thinks going home is a good idea. 

I’m in the Upside Down and I can’t see a way out. 


When it all goes right.

This is a story about a lady who does her job well, and makes a difference. It’s a happy story, a tiny bit of sparkle I can remember in amongst the haze. 

The lady is called Greta. She’s an Approved Mental Health Professional – an AMHP, which always reminds me of electricity – and I met her on The Friday. 

I remember an Irish accent, geometric beads, some sort of yellow cardigan and a sense that she really knew what she was doing. She was smiley and she emanated a calm, kind sense of efficiency. She was unhurried, and I felt she was talking to me as an individual, not as someone on a (no doubt) lengthy list of people to see. 

Her name was familiar. She works in the same team as my care coordinator and, a while ago, I’d been given her name as someone to ask for while my care coordinator was on holiday. He’d suggested a few people, and I’d asked what they were like. I get on best with people who are direct. In fact, people with a fluffy approach make me want to hit my head against a wall and those frustrating conversations do more harm than good. Anyway, we settled on Greta because he described her as “kick ass” and that really appealed to me, because sometimes that’s exactly what I need. 

After the decision to section me, Greta was in charge. There seemed to be a lot of paperwork and phone calls to find a bed, but she kept coming back to sit next to me and explain what was going on. And she made time to do normal chat, too. I’ve no idea what about. But I remember that normality. Now, looking back, I think it was finding out important stuff about my circumstances and who would be looking after my girls, but she made it natural, and it was easier to focus on giving answers that way. 

She made me feel safe enough to voluntarily give her the pot of pills I had clenched in my hand in my pocket, and she hugged me while I cried for the lost opportunity. 

Greta did everything she could to make the whole process of going into hospital as easy as possible. I feel she went with her instincts, and decided I wasn’t going to fight it. I felt defeated, and I think she understood that. 

She let me drive her back to my house, so that my car wouldn’t be left in the car park to be clamped. And she set up camp at my dining room table to fill out her paperwork while I packed and sorted out my house and broke the news to my girls. With great tact and gentleness, she explained what was going on to my eldest daughter, my official next of kin. She let it all unfold around her and even reminded me to water the plants. 

The transport was taking ages to sort out and my youngest daughter was getting increasingly upset. So I texted her dad to come and get her, to get the parting over and done with. 

When he arrived he marched into my house and, without asking, walked straight past me into the dining room to see Greta. He demanded contact names and phone numbers and, calmly, Greta gave him my care coordinator’s first name and the office phone number. I then gave the girls a last hug and he shepherded them out of the house. 

I cried again and then asked Greta why she’d given him that information, and her reply warmed what was left of my heart. “Oh that type always want to know things”, she said with a shrug. “No one will tell him anything; he has no right to any information, but it got rid of him.” I was astounded at how quickly she had summed up the situation and made exactly the right call. 

When it turned out that the promised transport wasn’t going to materialise for hours, Greta got permission to take me to hospital herself. After a taxi ride back to her car, we went off on a bizarre road trip that involved swearing at traffic and Greta explaining to me how she’d learnt the hard way to recognise a bully – and how to deal with them. We got a bit lost and there was a bizarre irony in the fact that I was the one who spotted the signs and navigated us to the right part of the hospital. 

Her job was done once I was safely delivered and signed over to the ward. She wished me all the best, and I know she meant it. 

It might seem weird that I’m grateful to her. But throughout that day she did more than her job; she was primarily one human being helping another. 

And I’ll never forget that. 

Reclaiming responsibility.

A while ago I was worried that my GP was taking on burdens that belonged to me. It went round and round in my head and, in the end, I decided to put it down on paper so she’d have something to look back on and absorb. 

It occurred to me today that this might have played a part in her decisions on The Friday. That in trying to give her perspective, I also revealed my own. 

Anyway, you can decide for yourself. Here’s what I wrote:

“Firstly, you need to know that this is not a suicide letter. But I was worried about the sense of responsibility you seem to bear for your patients like me, and I felt there were things to be said. 

If I die, it will have nothing to do with you. It won’t be as a result of anything you’ve done or not done. It will have been my decision, because I will have decided that I have tried everything I can and will have given myself permission to give up. 

In fact, you need to turn this around, and see that without your help I wouldn’t have managed to carry on this long. You’ve been an anchor point for me. A calm voice against the noise in my head. Time after time, offering facts and reason to counteract my fears. Often repeating yourself, because the fears don’t change: they just ebb and flow. Patiently suggesting practical steps that could make things just a little bit better. And I have never once felt judged. Even though there is a lot to judge. 

Some people are not fixable. Some people are broken early in life and no amount of care can make them anything other than shadows of what might have been. Which means you’re fighting a losing battle. But the fight matters. And the way you fight matters. And the fact that someone is fighting for you matters, even if the fight is not going to end well. 

If I believed in absolution, I’d offer it. If I could lighten that sense of responsibility, I would. 

I am my own responsibility, you see. I take that from you and I will do with it what I see fit. I will manage the best I can until I’m all managed out. That is down to me, and no one else. 

I hope this helps.

And thank you so very much for being on my side.”

And she was at my side as they decided I wasn’t fit to make my own decisions. 

Even so, I still feel she’s on my side.

The end of the list.

IMG_8796On Friday, I ticked that last box.

16 had her last exam and my window of opportunity opened, beckoning furtively and enticingly with a sweet smell of freedom.

It had been there for so long, that window, but out of reach. Out of bounds because it had strict time rules. Even so, its presence was comforting and, somehow, kept me twirling on the head of that pin.

I was so calm when I woke up on Friday. Serene, even. And I revelled in it. It was a new and intriguing feeling, and it was definitely good. All the spikey guilt and shame had somehow been soothed into submission, and were sleeping soundly, curled into a ball somewhere deep deep inside. And the despair had gone oddly quiet.

I did all the things I would normally do on a Friday, including keeping a GP appointment first thing to pick up some blood results. The plan was to get in and out, grab a coffee and get to work by ten, tops.

It didn’t go to plan.

Here’s what I remember.

Not being able to say what I was going to do that weekend because I had nothing left on my list.

Looking really closely at the canvas on the consulting room wall and finding the lack of perspective irritating.

Being asked to wait in a little side room with a receptionist popping in and out while my GP made a phone call.

Getting bored of waiting and walking out to go and get a Costa, and getting a cheerfully panicky phone call asking me to come back.

Emailing work to say sorry about the delay, and making a joke of it.

Sitting in with my GP and thinking she should have been doing surgery, and finding it strange when she said it was all taken care of. She looked sad.

Walking down a corridor to a conference room to talk to some people with her arm around me. And how that arm tightened when I wanted to head left for the exit.

Answering questions from really far away about someone else with my name.

People using my name a lot while I wondered why.

Really wanting to put my head on the table.

My GP holding my hand when they said they’d decided I had to go into hospital.

And the draught as the window of my opportunity slammed shut.

Say hello, wave goodbye.

I feel I should explain. My sense of the absurd has gone; it sort of dribbled out the corner one day and never came back. I pick up things that might deserve comment – and then put them back down, really really gently because, when it comes to it, I have nothing to say. I give them a soft stroke, a sad pat, and tip-toe away.

I live time-fully, according to what’s in my phone diary or written on the post-its that follow me around on every surface. I write the day of the week on my hand. I let the conversation flow until someone says something that I can run with. I spend a lot of time watching myself from above. 

Anyway, I had two things left to do on my list: give 14 a good birthday, and see 16 through her exams. And then I was done. Nothing planned. No goals. No reason to make the effort to live. I’ve done the birthday – which was a riot – and the exams are ongoing. Not long now. 

On another plane, in a dimension that doesn’t make any sense to me, anorexia is eating me up. Its job is to manage the depression that makes me question why I’m still here.And yet it causes problems that I twitch away from and dismiss as insoluble and, therefore, don’t have any reality.

 I pick up my phone to say something on Twitter and I realise it’s always about the tiny, careful life I lead. Whether it’s a day when I can manage fluids, or not. What happens when you can’t swallow drugs and how unwitting cold-turkey feels. Or the way you want to shoot yourself when you try to crush a tablet and it pings around the room like a ricochet. Perhaps my head is exploding with the numbers on the scales. Maybe I can’t leave the house because the lure of lying down in the road or sitting on a high place may just be too much. Or maybe I just want to say I can’t stand up without the room spinning. That I feel deathly tired, and that I am likely to strangle anyone who complains that they got less than six hours of sleep last night. That, no, you can’t make me a cup of tea because I don’t know what you might put in it. And then there’s the elephant that sits on my chest making it hard to breathe. My heart fights so hard to escape the pressure, playing dead one minute with slow, thumpy beats, and running so fast the next to try to get away. 

I understand all the arguments about why it feels like this. But the reality is, for all the theories, it does feel like this. And understanding doesn’t make it go away. This is how I live. And this is how I’ll die. 

It’s not something you can say out loud. But I am almost at the point where I don’t give enough of a shit. Where I’m just going to tie up my lose ends and go. 

And summer is supposed to be my good time of year. Now that’s a bummer.