When I decided to write about my experience with mental illness I didn’t really have in mind how much or how often I would share my thoughts. It was a case of have a go and see where it led. What I definitely hadn’t given consideration to was what, and if, to write when I am not feeling so great.
Part of the exercise was about being honest about the experience, and it goes without saying that a big part of most mental illness is not feeling too good about yourself. So it figures that when things are a bit of a shitshow that I should still write about it, otherwise I am not really expressing the full gamut of what it’s like.
This leaves me with a dilemma – on the one hand I do want to be honest about the experience, on the other I don’t want to come across as complaining or self-pitying. Bad times are just the way it goes, and I have to find a way to talk about that.
The other aspect is that shame is one of the things you commonly find in the big party bag that is mental illness, and as anyone who has dealt with the aformentioned will know, when shame is rearing its head the last thing you want is the attention of other people.
I’m not there yet but I hope that over time I can find a way to write about the uncomfortable stuff in a way that I am as comfortable with as I can be. If that makes sense…
Session three of my CBT course this week. I was recommended for what they call High Intensity CBT and intense it most certainly is. For someone who’s sleep is not the best, this is one way to get a solid night’s rest. When I received confirmation of the course, I knew it would be demanding, and I also knew that I didn’t really know just how demanding. I just hope I have the wherewithal to see it to its conclusion and come away with some tools to help improve my mental health.
On the topic of mental health, or more specifically, social anxiety disorder, I read about the tragic death of Errol Graham, who had severe social anxiety and starved to death after his benefits were stopped by the DWP. This is so sad, an appalling failure on the part of the DWP and really shouldn’t happen in our society.
I had never heard of the condition until this year but it is one of the most common anxiety disorders. I have struggled with depressive episodes and anxiety since my teens but have never been able to quite put a finger on what the problem was. I have had a persistent sense that I could not function in the world in a ‘normal’ way – ordinary day to day activities could be anything from a strain to so stressful they were to be avoided. I put it down to ‘that’s just the way I am’.
During the last year or so I found I was becoming increasingly irritable, angry and withdrawn from my family. Suicidal ideation was starting to creep into my thinking. I asked myself why, when I am in my mid-forties, am I not getting any better at this ‘life’ game?
Back in the spring, while wrestling with this question, I had what I refer to as my Oh Shit Moment. I came across an article about Social Anxiety Disorder. I couldn’t quite believe it – here was a description of what I experienced in a nutshell. The anxious and negative thoughts, cognitive impairment and physical symptoms associated with the illness are only too familiar to me. In turn all of this leads to the previously mentioned depressive episodes. I was both devastated and relieved in equal measure. At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, it enabled me to make sense of my life.
It took some weeks to start to get my head around this knowledge and then pluck up the courage to go and see my doctor. A useful discussion with him and later, a lengthy assessment with a therapist confirmed the diagnosis.
It has taken months to start to come to some sort of acceptance. I know recovery will likely be a slow process. But I am glad I know what’s going on in my head. The symptoms are all still there, but viewed through the lens of the diagnosis their impact is diminished. Right now I am taking medication, not long enough to decide if it is making a difference. My doctor tells me I also have Generalised Anxiety Disorder. I am on a waiting list for a CBT course. My family are being very supportive. I am reading around the subject of mental health as much as I can.
This post only scratches the surface – there has been so much to learn, take in and think about. The nature of identity, labels, the mental health/illness continuum, stigma. I think writing will help and I hope to further explore some of these thoughts.