Those of you who have been here for a while will know that I struggle (and I use that word advisedly) with depression a lot of the time. I would also use the word suffer here. I suffer, and sometimes the people around me suffer too. I am not an easy person to live with, particularly when the black dog is upon me.
I had a break down when I was seventeen, and have been managing, or not, ever since.
I have never had another breakdown – for which I am profoundly grateful. After the first one, I promised myself I would never, ever allow myself to go there again.
I do not know, upon reflection why I started to use the word ‘allow’. After all, I did not invite it in the first place, but it seems fitting somehow, that after the breakdown I could use a word which gave me a feeling of control over something which I felt took all my control away for a while – a while that felt like an eternity while it was happening.
I feel that sometimes I could allow myself to go back into that place of despair and darkness, but I choose not to.
Creating for myself the feeling that I have a choice is one of the ways in which I cope.
I have, on and off, over the last twenty five years, used lots of coping strategies. I have been in and out of therapy from regular NHS supplied types of therapy to more out there stuff like trying kinesiology,homeopathy, acupuncture, hypnosis, NLP etc. I have tried eating this, or not eating that. I have run away. I have run towards. I have faced fears. I have laughed. I have tried getting drunk. I have tried shopping. I have tried eating. I have never tried not eating. That would be unthinkable to me. I did do compulsive cleaning once. It drove me more mad than the feeling of being mad.
I have put my faith in others and their professed ability to fix me, or my belief that they could fix me – this is the dumbest thing I ever did. I have expected miracle cures (less dumb than expecting others to be the answer to my shit).
I have expected no cures.
Mostly now I put my faith in myself and the limited store of wisdom I have accrued over the years.
I have never chosen to take pills. Someone asked me about my reluctance to do this the other day.
I do not do this because I think pills are wrong. I am sure that pills can be brilliant. I am sure that they help lots of people. I am sure that they can, for some people, turn their lives around. I have taken prescriptions home from the Dr. I have even filled them. Then I have left them sitting in cupboards until their expiry date came and went. Then I threw them in the bin. I choose to look at them as a last resort.
I know I am lucky that I can.
Twice in my life I have taken prescription mood altering drugs. Neither time was for depression, oddly.
The first time was just after I had Tilly. I was very ill when Tilly was born. I was in hospital for two weeks, on and off. The birth was traumatic, the doctors thought I had damaged my heart, my blood pressure was insane, and things were not going well. In the middle of this, my beloved aunt died, and my family needed to go and be with my motherless cousin, and my bereft grandmother, and sort out a funeral I could not attend because I was still in hospital, and too poorly to go anywhere.
I could not sleep. The Dr. gave me valium. He told me it was a mild sleeping pill that would still allow me to wake up for Tilly in the night should I need to. I took the pills for a few days and was grateful for the sleep.
When I got home, I still could not sleep. I could barely do anything except wander around with a new born baby, both of us crying and covered in various bodily fluids.
I went to the Dr. I described these sleeping pills. I asked for some to help me in the short term. He laughed. He told me that no such pills existed and that I had been given valium. He gave me a prescription. He said he had put me on the lightest dose. He said: ‘If one doesn’t work, take two. If two don’t work, take three. If that’s no good, come back and I’ll up the dose.’
I went home in shock.
I could not believe that the Dr in the hospital had bent the truth, when telling me what he was prescribing for me. I felt fairly violated by this. I know they helped at a time when I needed something, but I wanted to be aware of what I was actually taking.
I could not believe that the GP was so offhand about giving me more, and about the dosage recommendation.
I went home and put the pills in a cupboard for a few days. Life did not get any easier. I decided to try taking one of the pills.
It turned me into a zombie for about twelve hours.
I am not saying that this was a bad thing. Nothing hurt, nothing bothered me. Things were pretty easy, but I felt like you feel when you have an anaesthetic to have your tooth out. You feel the tugging sensation of the tooth coming out and you know it should hurt, and it doesn’t, and sometimes that’s pretty weird (although – Hurrah for modern dentistry). It felt pretty weird to me. I didn’t want to feel like that again. Without the drugs life was difficult, but with the drugs, my life was not my own. I needed to feel grief. Someone I loved had died. I didn’t want to turn that off. I just wanted to be able to sleep so that I could take care of my child, even if that child was going to spend a fair amount of time living with a mother who perpetually cried over her.
I flushed the rest of the pills down the toilet. I went back to the Dr. I explained my situation. He set me up with a grief counsellor, who was fantastic. She helped me in lots of ways, including realising that over and above the grief of my recent bereavement, I needed to mourn the perfect birth I didn’t have, and the fact that all my ideas of what kind of a mother I was going to be had gone up in smoke too. She helped me to ask for and get help with parenting, parenting the way I needed to do it. I will be forever grateful to her.
The next time I took prescription drugs to alter my mood was a few years back when I was learning to drive. Those of you who went through the self pitying months of blog hell with me, will know that it was one of the most terrifying things I have ever done. I was absolutely, screamingly phobic of learning. I used to come home from lessons having to strip off my clothes, having sweated through them during my hour behind the wheel. I would throw up in the sink. I would cry. I would have preferred to jab red hot needles in my eyes than ever get back in that car again. It was unbearable – for everyone.
I got some help from a hypnotherapist, which worked very well to a point, to the point of actually passing my theory test and booking my driving test. I knew though, that the last hurdle would be impossible without something to take the edge off.
Sadly, gin was out of the question.
I went to the Dr. He gave me Beta Blockers.
They worked. I trialled them a couple of times before the test, and found that all my jitters had gone and that although I wasn’t exactly comfortable behind the wheel, I wasn’t skidding my hands across the steering wheel and chewing the inside of my cheeks just to get through the lessons. I was also stupendously calm about the thought of impending death, which were the thoughts most occupying my mind when I was allowed to be in charge of a car.
I passed my test first time.
I remember coming home from the test and avoiding the congratulatory phone calls. I cried and cried because I knew that if I wanted to get over the fear of driving I would have to get in my car and drive every day until I wasn’t scared any more. I could have used the pills to help with this. Instead I threw the rest of the pills in the bin, and sobbed my way through the first months of driving until I could do it with only gritted teeth, or clenched hands, and eventually I could get in the car feeling relatively sanguine instead of feeling relatively nauseous.
The Beta Blockers did, to a lesser extent, what the valium had done before. It made something hard to do, easier to do. The price I paid for that was numbness in all other areas of my life.
I don’t want to be comfortably numb.
I confess that the thought of feeling nothing frightens me more than the phases where I feel like I am feeling everything.
I also confess to being frightened of the pills.
I once took ecstasy, and it was a bad pill that had been cut with an hallucinogen that made me see tiny pea headed people marching out from under the sofa for about twelve hours (I also saw rainbows coming out of my finger ends. I liked those though. I was sad when they disappeared). As with many things you are in the middle of and cannot get out of or control, those twelve hours seemed like about a week (think about the boredom/terror of giving birth if you have no drug analogy to call on). It was not frightening in itself, but it was boring and incapacitating and I couldn’t do anything about it until the effect of the drugs wore off.
Anti depressants are not badly cut ecstasy bought in a club from a man with a dodgy hair cut. I know that, but I do not want to medicate with things that I have to wean off of, or feel worse before I feel better with. I do not want to be stuck in my own head like a fly in amber because I have no other choice left to me right now until the mind altering chemicals leave my system.
I might, if I am lucky, hit on the anti depressant for me from the word go. Or I might not. My experience of being around other people who have had them is that it is generally not, sometimes for a fair few months. I do not want to be an experiment for a few months. Some days I can barely function as it is. If I felt worse, how would I live? How would I be there for my children? I might not be Tinkerbell lots of the time, but I am present in my own life, and the lives of my children, and I do what needs to be done.
I know that with the ecstasy analogy I am comparing an illegally made and bought drug with a manufactured drug the Dr. says is good for you, but I have known people have anti depressants that have made them iller than they were before they started. The scary thing there is, you know, when you take badly cut ecstasy, that the small, pea headed people are your own fault and that it is just something you ate. When you are taking something that is ‘good for you’ and the Dr. has prescribed to help you with your already fragile mental state, and you start to see pea headed people, you just assume that it is because you are actually more mad than you first anticipated, and that probably more pills will be the answer. Sometimes Drs think this too, and I have seen this lead to a situation where you are given more of what is making you mad, which only makes you madder.
I do not need to be madder.
This ability to choose not to take pills is a good thing. It means that I am coping with the depression I have. I know I am coping because I get up, and get dressed, and wash myself, and look after my kids, and juggle my busy life.
I know that there are others out there who are not so fortunate. I have been in that situation.
When I had my breakdown I was unable to do anything much but cry and rely on others to look after me. In those days I could do that. I had a loving family who took the burden of responsibility from my shoulders and let me just exist until I could start living again. If I got to that stage again, I would have to take pills. I could not abandon the family I have now the way I abandoned the family then. They had the patience and love to wait for me, but they weren’t relying on me, I was relying on them. I will always need to be there for my children, and if that means taking pills for a while I hope I’ll be sane enough to say yes to them, just like right now I feel sane enough to say no to them.
Now, instead of pills I try to negotiate the emotional tightrope of my headspace with as much dignity as possible. I try to think about what is important. I try to see what is unimportant and dismiss it. I try to write or talk out the negative stuff. I try to write the positive stuff, particularly on the days when my head tells me there have been no positives. I try to make good decisions based on what I know works, rather than what I feel emotionally. I try to eat well, sleep well(ish), and learn to pick my battles. I try to be more in the moments of my life, and if that isn’t working for me, I try to choose ways to step away from it that don’t damage me or my loved ones. I try to surround myself with good people. I try not to care what others think and be kinder to myself than I think I deserve.
I try to look for happiness in everything.
Some days go better than others.
And if all else fails, there are pills, and maybe I’m missing out. Maybe if I took pills regularly I would find that life is nicer, kinder, happier, shinier than before. But my fear is that it will be duller, greyer, flatter and that although things will scare me less, things will delight me less, and there are days on this earth, in this body that delight me to the point of tears, and I wouldn’t miss that for the world.
I am not saying that my way is the right way. I am not saying that what works for me will work for you. Everyone has their own demons to battle and path to walk. This is mine. If you’re going down a different path, I wish you happy.