Talking Mental Health

This post has been started and left unfinished so many times. Talking about mental health is something that I do often, and am pretty passionate about. But, even as someone who is happy to allude to their own experiences, I still talk about it in fairly abstract terms. I think I constantly make the assumption that, in some way, my history (and current battles) are somehow obvious, or that because of my research and career interests, people should make some kind of natural connection and go, ‘ah, she cares because it’s personal’. But people aren’t always like that, and also, for someone who wants so badly to preach and advocate, I am shockingly private about my own mental health except for with maybe two or three girl friends.

Looking even at this blog, which is meant to be a pinnacle of transparency, you’re going to hear an awful lot more about smelling good and bathbombs than you are my actual, real-life experiences. Even when I pat myself on the back for being vaguely open by sharing creative writing or poetry, that’s still mental health talk in the abstract. I’ve written and shared pieces of creative work that seems to look at how other people have peeled me off the floor. Those were old pieces that I shared, and I shared them as if they were still relevant.

A couple weeks ago I had a conversation with someone about working hard. They had a talent, and I said that I didn’t; at least not one that I had to really work for. This is so telling. I thought straight of academia. I coast along, I don’t work hard. I thought about skills; I decided I didn’t really have any. And I left it at that. That I had not worked hard at all, at anything, not ever. It took about five hours for it dawn on me that that was such a fucking lie. I have worked so hard, and constantly have to work so hard, to stay even vaguely afloat. Especially, especially, especially at the moment. To tell that voice in my head to go fuck itself. To eat and sometimes to stop eating; to wash, and sometimes to stop ‘exfoliating’ in the shower by scratching; to not weigh myself; that no, the world would not be better off if I were no longer in it; and that no, physically hurting myself is not ever a good idea. It is exhausting. I am exhausted. I have spent months worth of hours in doctors offices, in therapy. It takes energy to be put together, to be dressed and to be funny, to make quick jokes and laugh loudly, to have my eyebrows penciled in. Sometimes it isn’t hard at all, but most the time it feels hard to do anything at all.

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How to Manage When You Just Can’t

Keeping on keeping on gets hard. Sometimes everything can feel like an uphill slog. Sometimes the hill has the angle of a rock climbing wall, and sometimes you’re wearing roller skates. At the moment, I feel like I am trying to climb a rock climbing wall (without the harness and someone below me with a belay), with roller skates on (not easy for rock climbing), and probably something awful happening to my hands. Maybe blindfolded too, just for good measure. So. Falling, that’s how I feel. Fall off said wall, back first, no clue what I’ve got to land on. This post is as much for me as it may be for you. Here are five tips on how to try and keep it together.

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Keloids

This is a very old piece of prose. Written around the end of 2012, and all very much in reference to real life events. There’s a hefty trigger warning on this, for fairly graphic descriptions. There’s something utterly compelling and masochistic about writing about and reflecting on my experiences of self harm, much in the same way there is when partaking in self harm, I find.

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Two years, and Counting

here in this waiting room, in my
summer blue dress and they
in their black
with their jackets wrapped
tight around
the bird bones that I
used to have too.
I will float above and watch them.
Listen to their delicate
chirps of conversation,
their little smiles on
the pale doll mouths,
and me,
elephant in the room,
distanced from their world
of rigidity,
alien to their structure
and routine
and power, too.
They’re there, across from me,
the black hole in the
room and it’s all I can
do to not stand and
run to them, to beg them
to suck me in,
to siphon off the blubber
that crept on
when I was busy trying to
find reasons,
scraping the bottom of the barrel for reasons,
scraping the bottom of a 2l carton of light vanilla
trying to find reasons.

silly little girls with dangerous addictions and smart phones

Ah ED communities on social media. I am too old for this and too old for hashtagging nicknames of disorders that kill people. But I’ll do it anyway, because that’s how you find the similar ones, so you can all lump together and pretend to be supportive, where every like on a photo says: yes you deserve to recover! yes stay strong and make it through your fast! yes keep taking those laxatives!

It’s a sick place, but also a safe place, where we can all be sick together. A little instagram world where everyone’s told that they’re beautiful, and even if you’re bigger there’s a waif saying “I wish I looked like you, #goals!!”, and dangerous behaviours are rationalised and supported. Then the odd outsider swooping in to tell you you’re “not fat, you’re stupid” or that they’re praying for you (yes, thank you very much, such good it’s doing me).

Sometimes I play with the idea of making a proper little tumblr again. Not as bloggy as daypatience was (the tumblr I kept whilst going through the day patient hospital program), more like schlank or tinywrists (tumblrs I had in 2010-2011, when I dropped down to my lowest weight). Ribs and protruding bits that you didn’t know existed. Pictures of watercolour deer. Don’t need that anymore – I went and got one painted on my damn body. Fondly remembering getting hundreds of notes on my ‘before and after’ picture, and times when my progress shots were stolen and used to make ‘motivational’ posts.

There’s something inherently childish about this whole thing. It’s a “look mom what I can do!” and the pestering and whinging, the repeating mistakes because it hasn’t really sunk in that you’re doing something that’s going to hurt worse this time. The selfishness, too. And, more literally, the strops and tantrums, crying and silent screams and balled fists, the hiding under the duvet.

Regression is strong with me today.

Tonight.

I literally just slammed my palm into my forehead and said “what’s wrong with me” outloud. It’s gone midnight, I’ve been tucked into bed since 9.30. Sitting on my bed since before 9. Probably with a glazed expression and down turned lips. I don’t know.

“I am done.” A line that goes through my head a lot, especially recently. Obsessing over that Saturday, watching me work myself into complete and utter hysteria, mania; screaming, sobbing, puking, hyperventilating, throwing. And then that mindless, terrifying takeover. Baby voices and singsong, dead eyes. Methodical, the switch of the sickening autopilot flipped.

I don’t recognise the Saturday child with her red face and pill chasing, but I don’t recognise the thinner face in the front phone camera either. One void closes, perhaps another has opened. I am so needy, desperate for love, attention, constantly needing to be held onto.

Attention. It’s the word that brings exasperation to the mental health community, and it’s a word I’m struggling with horribly. Sickness did bring attention, it’s true, it did. It brought many things, and many types of attention: worry, anger, whispers, teachers pulling me aside, emails reaching out, strangers reaching out. It brought me into the world of psychology and then later psychiatry. Labels that are ‘real’, no guesswork now. Mother’s word is made official. I have been seen by professionals, psychologists and counsellors, since I was 13. I was 17 when I was brought back before them and deemed not sick enough. 18 brought me my first psychiatrist, whom I ate like air.

I’ve met some atrocious professionals in my time. “You’re obviously not underweight, so there’s not much I can do for you” and “oh, the way she made it sound on the phone, I expected someone emaciated”. Lines that are haunting.

My favourite was my psychiatrist in Melbourne. He was fatherly – read into that what you will. He was also a friend. I walked in and declared, with passion, that I thought his profession was a waste of time and money and that I didn’t think he’d help me one bit ( – like I needed help anyway! – ). He told me he appreciated my honesty, and I went on to have the most subtle and brilliant counselling experience of my life. I adored him and he liked me, he told me I was a good person. A professional who tells you this, who does remind you of a father and who makes it clear they care about you, is wonderful – but also a problem. It meant a couple things. There were a few topics I could not comfortably talk about with him, sex namely. Which was bad because it was something that did need to be talked about. I also felt a great deal responsible, I was accountable to him, and I was terrified of disappointing him. I found it difficult to talk about Beau. I still can’t really, properly, talk about Beau because a lot of it I’m still trying to figure out, and if I can’t make sense of it in my own head, how can someone else?

I miss my old psychiatrist, and I think of him often.

I am so tired.

Last Wednesday

Last Wednesday I was the cellophane man, dressed for an interview. And I interviewed well. I was labelled: resourceful, reflective, independent, methodical, rational, self sufficient. A shame it wasn’t a real interview. It was a mental health assessment. I have never felt more fraudulent as I did at hearing that “less is more” with my treatment, that any programs may only bring back memories of past treatment, that maybe if I lose anymore weight I should come back in but for now, I’ll be just fine.

Perhaps what struck me most, after the internal dialogue of did I not communicate myself well enough? Did I not explain how frightening I find myself, how horrified I am by myself, how little I recognise myself, how psychotically I behaved on Saturday?, was how everything kind of rang true.

He deemed the severity of my history as undeniable. It put right now into a harsh perspective. I realised what I looked like: a desperado. Falling, ever so easily, back into a routine so associated with university. Things not going well? Body’s fault. People don’t seem to like you, not a high enough grade, relationship rocky? Body’s fault. When you put so much weight on sex, on the physical, on number and sizes and measurements, then it seems like the logical scapegoat. Logical is a poor choice of phrase. Nothing about this is legitimately, ever logical. It’s a twisted and sick logic, currently being manned by someone who is perhaps twisted but is really no longer sick.

I realise now that I have not been properly sick for a long time. I am no longer bulimic, really in any way, but that is still something that I heavily associate with myself. I haven’t binged as badly as I did in Melbourne since pre-program, and whilst I was bingeing last year I wasn’t throwing up. I’ve thrown up maybe four times in the last six months. I haven’t touched laxatives in almost a year.

So what is right now? What am I. How do I factor myself into all of this. I’m not really eating, I’m exercising and running on a calorie deficit. But I don’t count anymore. I don’t count calories, I deleted fitness pal. Sure, I avoid looking, won’t eat at a place that publishes the calories on the menu. I’m far closer to my lowest weight than my highest. You know, I’m not even EDNOS: I’m socially acceptable.

Anxiety and depression is real. But the one thing I utterly clung to, that I associated myself with and identified so strongly with is gone. I’ll tease myself with the idea of throwing up, of taking the laxatives that I have hoarded: and there is no appeal. This frightens me more than I can describe. Something that was a compulsion, that absolutely and utterly controlled me and my life and my relationships, has gone. And I don’t explicitly know why. Because I don’t need it anymore? Maybe. That void that the food was meant to fill, the purity that purging was meant to bring: maybe that particular void has been filled, and that cleanliness of self and soul has been attained. Am I … recovered? 

That word sends me into panic mode. No, no I can’t be recovered! It took me an hour to eat most of my salad and I haven’t eaten anything else even though I got an hour at the gym in. Why this need to prove sickenss, why is being worse better? In part, historically at least, it means you’re taken seriously. Maybe that’s the void that’s been filled: I am being taken seriously here. I have a class and professors and lecturers that respect my opinion and value my intellect. I have a boyfriend who loves me and respects and values me full stop. I have made wonderful friends. My family is at the right distance, right level of trust and support. 

Unhealthy behaviours that have become social acceptable, health professionals limited to diagnostic criteria, comparison and reduced funding, and the goddamn DSM are my current issues with my world. I’m struggling in general, struggling with depression (chemical) and some of the worst anxiety I’ve ever experienced (mental, with physiological effects), and struggling with the diagnostic labels we’re taught to frame ourselves in. I am frightened. By the changes I made so naturally – as naturally as they started. By myself and the dark and dangerous places of my mind. By my own damn heartbeat, by my own existence, and by my own sudden will to be alive.