askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
 I haven't really had much time or intellectual energy to blog more general/coherent posts recently.  I have, however managed some posts over on my other blog.  Here's a quick summary of the last three posts;

Travelling Whilst Cyclothymic; In response to a comment on the blog, I offer some thoughts on how achievable backpacking is as a person with cyclothymia.  There are, I think, more things to consider - but it's all about planning strategies rather than writing it off entirely as an option.  I ended up recording an experience I don't think I've ever told anyone about which involves suicidal thoughts, 10 years ago, in a hotel room in Uruguay.

Well-being and Wank: All about trying to work through my reluctance to talk about 'well-being' or 'self care' and tracing some of that back to growing up working class and the work-ethic that comes with that.  There's a chip on my shoulder so big it trips me up.

Coming Out: Continuing an earlier idea I'd explored on the blog, about the limits of mental health 'awareness' campaigns and the difference between stigma and lack-of-knowledge (the latter being something that can be corrected, the former being about way more complex issues than just lack of knowledge). In all: I have The Scepticism.

Replies always welcome - here or there - to discuss and develop these ideas.

Ouch.

Mar. 1st, 2015 06:29 pm
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
 Had a fairly dreadful couple of weeks.  I'm still not sure if I was going through a downswing/having depression or had a particularly nasty virus or, most likely, both but today I woke up feeling OK.

Spent most of week of 16th Feb laying on sofa feeling knackered and, on Wednesday, dashing to uni campus for an emergency GP appointment because I couldn't catch my breathe.  Mystified GP concluded it was either weird virus causing breathlessness, or some peculiar presentation of asthma, either way I was prescribed an inhaler and used it frequently for about 4 days before symptoms tailed off.  The nurse who triaged me asked if it could be anxiety and I said I didn't feel anxious and she was happy with that but I really don't know if it was anxiety or not.  It wouldn't be the first time I've had all the symptoms of anxiety without consciously feeling stressed.

That weekend was my best friend, Becky's, hen do.  She's not into the pink wings hoopla, and we travelled up to her home town of Oxford to take over the pub she and her friends used to drink in as teenagers and get squiffy.  I was apprehensive about the entire thing but it turned out to be a lovely weekend and I felt I got to know my fellow bridesmaids which is nice ahead of her wedding in May.  It's a bit of an odd group as with the exception of 3 wives and girlfriends, I am the only outsider to join their friendship group since they were at school.  I went to a wedding of another couple from this group several years ago and was the only person at the wedding who wasn't either a family member of the bride and groom, or had gone to high school with them.  It's quite a compliment, and they are a lovely group, but it can feel a little strange setting foot in a group I've only been connected with for 12 years, when they have known each other for closer to 20 years.

Last week I continued to be utterly, utterly exhausted.  My parents visited on Tues and Weds and due to my teaching schedule at uni I only actually spent one day with them even though they were here for 2 nights.  It was nice and I didn't get aggro as I so often do around them.  

Thursday and Friday I was desperately sad, and slept for hours and hours across those two days and nights.  On Friday morning I realised that my building sadness over the last two weeks was due to a subconscious awareness that it should have been Lu's 30th birthday.  Instead, of course, her sister, mother, and friends, all experienced - to different degrees - that gnawing sense of pointless loss for the day.

It shouldn't have been this way.

And then I learnt that Leonard Nimoy had died and I went through the peculiar distanced grief which comes with the death of a celebrity you've had such a deep, life-long connection with.  Star Trek has shaped my imaginative world since I was god knows how old and watching Star Trek TOS on my brother's knee.  Spock is what Star Trek TOS is all about.  And Nimoy was Spock.  He put so much of himself into that character and raised the entire show above the realm of cheap sci fi into the force for good and hope and dreams I know it as today.  I adored his appearances in the Star Trek reboot-movies and I can't quite accommodate the idea he, and his special aura, are gone from our screens save for re-runs.

Saturday was hard too.  I was still exhausted, still feeling the paranoia and anxiety I associate with a particularly brutal downswing.  Forced myself out of the house to Asda which was very nearly the end of me.  Home again for the evening, sadness, introspection.

And then, this morning, I woke up before my alarm and didn't feel exhausted.  The fog has lifted and my brain can think.  I've been accepted to a conference in Ireland in June which may well make a lovely holiday (if I can get funding from the department to go!) and I cleaned the flat and tidied the detritus of a fortnight of inaction. And then I made dinner, wrote some emails...I came alive again.

And I remember why I get up in the morning and why I speak to other human beings and why life keeps on turning.

It's been an awful couple of weeks.  I want to weep for my past self, because I feel bruised from the sadness which has been following me around.  It hurts.  And it scares me every time it comes back, and every time it won't leave.
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
 Decided as a lot of my blogging energy is going into my other blog right now, I'd do a round up of the posts in the last few weeks

Waking Up on the Wrong Side of Bed - how it feels when I know a down swing is coming
Accentuating the Positive - having cyclothymia isn't always all bad news
Irresistible Draw of Madness - why do I always want to watch stuff about people losing their mind?
Love Me, Love My Cyclothymia - where does my personality end and cyclothymia begin?
Wearing My Heart on My Sleeve - on living with self harm scars and getting angry with strangers
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
 I worked out the other day I was overdue a particularly severe low.  I took action; finally pulled my finger out after a year and registered with university Student Support as having a classifiable disability which could hamper my ability to work.  And then I crossed my fingers, and put it out of my mind.

But here it is.  Like a late running train - always on its way, always just around the corner, and finally, this weekend, rounding the last bend into the station.

Posted on twitter I felt like I was at the top of a rollercoaster, looking down the drop, teetering on the edge, inevitably going to drop.  It happened.  Down I fell.

Down I fall.

Go to bed each night hoping tomorrow is the day I wake up feeling fine.  Have a few glorious moments between sleep and waking thinking 'this is it, today is the day! I feel better' but then it crushes down on me.

Found a taste for booze having not touched a drop or craved a sip for weeks.  Get home, drink until I can fall asleep, wake from nightmares all night long, get up exhausted, drag myself to my desk to work, cry into the keyboard. Repeat.

I went in to uni for the first time in 5 days today as I had a course to attend.  Met some friends for lunch.  Had to excuse myself quickly when I nearly began crying when one of them expressed sympathy and sadness at how tired - exhausted - I looked.  When people can see something is wrong by looking at me then it's a particularly bad low.

Manics providing comfort, solstice, a place to run.  Second half of Know Your Enemy and This is My Truth the go to places today.  Comfort comes.
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
 So I wrote a thing and then the place that I wrote the thing for published the thing!

There's Nothing Mild About Cyclothymia over at Mind's blog.

Despite the content and thrust of my article, I was bemused to see that the 'info box' at the bottom of the blog on 'cyclothymic disorder' also includes the word.....mild!


I've said it before, I'll say it again; depression is not mild if it results in suicidal feeling, impulses, or, suicide.  And guess what? Cyclothymia results in those feelings. So saying it is, is bullshit.

askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)

Some time ago, in response to a '30 days' prompt written by a LiveJournal friend, I wrote about the misconception many people have that Cyclothymia is a 'mild' mood disorder.  Since then I have been consistently surprised by the depth of feeling and appreciation expressed by those who have replied to the entry, or sent me a private message.  With this in mind, I wondered if, nearly 2 years on, I might not have more to share on this topic.

When I first wrote on cyclothymia the diagnosis was still ringing fresh in my ears.  I had followed the advice of the psychiatrist - along with heeding his dire warnings of the inevitiability of developing 'full blown' bipolar - and dutifully begun a lengthy course of anti-psychotics and ant-depressants.  They hit my body hard - I put on about 2 stone and tottered on the edge of being clinically overweight.  I slept 12 hours a day and when I missed a dose I felt like I had bugs crawling around in my skull.  After about a year battling through such fog, fatigue and feelings of 'fugliness' I decided to come off the meds and give self management a crack.  I approached my GP for assistance with this. but he refused to assist as I - foolishly - admitted I still had all the same mood symptoms which had prompted the psychiatrist to prescribe them.  So I did it alone, cold turkey.

I sometimes wonder, 2 years on, what damage I did to my brain chemistry in coming off meds like I did - I certainly wouldn't recommend anyone else end their usage in that way and I think the 'bounce back' effect such a sudden removal of chemicals had on my brain, caused the 6 months or so following that decision to be extremely difficult.  It really underlines the need for better patient advocacy and support for mental health patients.  Nonetheless, here I am.

A combination of life events and going completely med-free for the first time in many, many years, caused a number of physical symptoms and illnesses to arise and I now suffer from a small number of physical problems relating to anxiety and stress which were diagnosed after rounds of physical investigation and tests.  Management of aforementioned physical ills can be done through drugs or through lifestyle changes and self management.  After experimenting, as I did with psychaitric drugs, I found a more hollistic route to managing my phsycial ailments. 

What would I tell someone else looking for advice on how to live with cyclothymia based on my several years accumulated knowledge?  A few things;
  • As ever, remember - tell yourself, your family, your friends, your doctor - this is not a mild condition, it is a milder form of a very serious condition.  It destroys lives and rips apart relationships. Do not let anyone, or yourself, underestimate it.  But don't fear it.
  • Cyclothymia kills - when you wake up depressed you lose all sense of perspective, you believe you've felt this way for days, weeks, months, not hours.  You can only remember any other state as being terrifying, free wheeling mania and, because you are depressed, all you feel is anxiety and guilt over the times you were manic.  People with cyclothymia - as with other psychiatric, depressive conditions - make stupid, short-sighted, snap deicisions.  And some of those decisions you don't - can't - come back from.  Never let being told you have a 'mild' condition stop you from picking up a phone/walking into A&E/screaming for help.  Do not become a victim of cyclothymia.
  • You probably won't get better from cyclothymia or 'get over it'.  But you will, very likely, find a way to manage it.  Sometimes the highs and the lows will be worse than others, sometimes they will be better.  Cyclothymia is a living thing - it waxes and wanes, grows and shrinks.  If you can work - alone, with friends, in therapy, with a CBT workbook, anything, to find a way to identify what causes periods of acute depression or unending mania then do it - in the long run it will help you tremendously.
  • You will not definitely get 'full blown' bipolar.  Psychiatrists do not have crystal balls, they have not met every person with cyclothymia and followed them for the whole of their lives, they cannot know how your mental health will unfold over the next 10, 20, 50 years.  Do not let them bully you into decisions because they are telling you to be afraid.   Ask for an advocate - such as from the charity Mind - to be present at your meetings.  If you have sympathetic family and friends, ask them what they think about you taking meds; my friends helped me decide it was the right choice for me when the psychiatrist told me I needed to take anti-psychotics and anti-depressants, my friends also confirmed what I suspected when I felt I was ready and able to live med free.
  • Don't believe that living 'med free' means living 'medical help free'.  Sometimes I get to a point where I haven't slept for a week, or I haven't sat down for 48 hours, or I can't stop cleaning the kitchen because the little anxious ticks have blindsided me and I'm useless.  When that happens I seek out the help I need - sometimes that is sleeping tablets or anti-anxiety medication (although I recognise I abuse meds and alcohol, so I choose the least addictive, least easy to abuse option) and sometimes it is a talking therapy session.  I am lucky in that I am currently enrolled at a university so I can use their counselling services for free and at short notice.  If you have a good GP and/or CPN you should be able to quickly access short term talking or counselling therapy on the NHS.  If you have money, you can always go private.
  • You haven't failed: sometimes I go months without acute mood swings - I recognise they are there and I feel the ebb and flow of the ups and downs but they don't inhibit my movement or life - sometimes I get the very worst of the ups and the downs for a few months in succession.  Whilst I am not able to recognise it in the midst of the black - and most likely you won't be able to either - I try and reflect back on those times afterwards, see if I can identify what contributed to such a bad period, or what I might be able to do differently, but I also do something nice for myself - buy a new cd, have a long bath, take a day to myself watching my favourite movies - you don't fail when cyclothymia symptoms become pronounced, you succeed when they fuck off again.
  • You are in control; ultimately, how you handle the ups and downs, how you respond to other people/how you treat them (it might be an explanation, but it's not an excuse for being rude/evasive), and how angry you feel about cyclothymia 'picking' you, is up to you.  Let it consume you and it will.  Focus on it and you will see nothing else in your life.  Kick it in the arse whenever you can, forge strong and meaningful relationships and friendships with as much or as little explanation as you want, make plans to help yourself - I give myself permission to nap after work when I am particularly low, I set a '2 day' limit on time off work without a doctor's note for when I am so anxious or unhappy I can't face myself in the mirror.  Yes it is hard, and yes sometimes it does feel like a unending battle, but it is all I know and sometimes, albeit only sometimes, I'm pretty sure I'm a step and a half ahead of where I was a year ago.
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
 There was a show on channel 4 tonight and I have more thoughts about it than I expected - particularly as I'd resolved not to watch based on the adverts - and certainly more than fit on twitter.

My main objection is to the basic premise of the show; disclosing a mental health problem to colleagues.  I'm not a big believer of mixing home life with work life.  I think they *do* mix, but you shouldn't push it to.  The biggest question is why; why open up a private matter to the scrutiny of colleagues - people who are frequently not people you would be friends with or even come into contact with outside of work.

The stated aim of the show is to breakdown stigma by asking people to do this.  I disagree that this is the way to break stigma.  I'm not sure the natural response to receiving this information is to go "oh, huh, now I will revise my views about what having a mental health problem means" it is to say "how should I relate to this person from now on?" and, later, it will result in the actions of the discloser being judged through the lens of the symptoms of the condition they've disclosed.  

I know what it means to have a disorder on the bipolar spectrum but if a colleague told me they were bipolar - by way of an announcement to all and sundry and not in confidence/as a friend - I guarantee I would begin to privately interpret their behaviour in relation to my knowledge of bipolar symptoms.  I know that at certain times of my mood cycle it's possible to really clearly identify something is 'off' about me but I would much rather people think I'm being annoying/loud or a 'moody cow' and treat me as such for two reasons. 1) trying to hide it and being forced to deal with negativity from colleagues pushes me to do everything I can to behave 'normally' which helps me keep myself together.  2) Sympathy smiles/understanding/sickly sweet fake responses to me being an arse is patronising and harms relations between colleagues - nobody enjoys making special allowances for people.

By way of comparison of what we're talking about here; there are many invisible illnesses which affect people's day-to-day lives.  Do we need to know about them? Is it relevant to know that your colleague has IBS? It may affect how they behave (time away from desk) and cause higher than normal levels of abseentism. A friend of mine has childhood onset diabetes, she tells me she gets a lot of crap from people who think they know better than her what she can and can't eat/feel it is within their rights to lecture her on what she eats and when. That's diabetes, something that is relevant to share with colleagues in case of medical emergencies.

This is what it comes down to; take away the stigma and you're left with arrogance.  One piece of personal information leads so many people believe they not only know *everything* about your illness or disability, but that they can and should tell you how to deal with it and inform you of how you are going wrong.

I think the show left me mostly feeling a bit judged; "you want stigma to end? Tell your colleagues your medical history, or shut up complaining".  Well actually, hai, I want my personal life to be personal in all the places I choose.  I don't want knowing nods and patronising smiles just because I, like everyone else does, am having a grumpy Monday.
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (askygoneonfire)
 Today at work I was asked to help fill a gap in staffing and help invigilate an A Level exam, which I duly did.  Turns out standing about in a stiflingly hot room for 75 mins is really dull - who knew right? Luckily, the exam was in a classroom which meant that - excepting the noticeboards whose displays were hidden under plain paper lest their contents unfairly influence the exam outcome - there was stuff to read on the walls as I paced the aisles.

This particular classroom is used to teach sociology and psychology in.  A recent homework was, evidently, for students to produce paintings which they might have painted if they had schizophrenia and were in Art therapy.  Yes.  Really.  Aside from the fact that such a task is blindingly stupid, does nothing to advance their understanding of psychology and psycho therapy, and 'paint a picture' isn't really an A Level-level piece of work the content of the work put on the wall disturbed me.

The students almost universally divided the piece of paper in half and labelled one side 'sane' and one side 'insane'.  Universally the 'insane' side was imprecisely painted and distorted in some way.  Most of the students made some sort of reference - either in subject or colour - to the now famous 'Schizophrenic Cat' pictures

The thing that distresses me most is that this is social psychology and not clinical psychology they are studying and they are being taught there is a definitive line between 'sane' and 'insane'.  It's simply stupid to suggest it it anything like that clear cut.  And here, in a popular A Level course, is the opportunity to teach a whole load of people that 'sane' and 'crazy' don't make two sets of people, one of whom should be disadvantaged and marginalised by virtue of an imprecise medical label.

There is also a disturbing lack of critical perception in the use of 'altered perception' art to illustrate the impact of schizophrenia on the way someone sees the world.  All art is, after all, a distortion of reality.  Take any visual art - even photo realism painting - and what you have is not the thing, but a representation of the thing, a mirror to the world.  That one artist over the course of his career produced paintings of the same subject which bore less rigorous resemblance to the physical reality of the subject is not definitive evidence of the impact of schizophrenia on perception for all people who have schizophrenia.  Conversely, must we conclude that all art which abstracts its subject is evidence of chemical imbalance? Patently not.

In my limited experience creating art I can state categorically that at different parts of day, in different moods, in different times the work I produce varies wildly.  I could present two self portraits I did within months of each other which differ in almost every way and whilst a proponent of "mental illness can be seen in artistic output" theory may point to my own mood disorder as an explanation of the difference I would and will only describe it as part of the creative process.  Moreover, art seeks to see the world in new ways - artists seek to find new way to express themselves and convey information about what they see - or want you, the viewer, to see. In short, if an artist's lifetime portfolio didn't develop and change I would argue they had failed in their artistic pursuit.

In summary? Teaching students that 'insanity' is about crossing a clear line is stupid.  Attempting to prove the existence of this crazy/sane line using art is idiotic.

askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
As readers of my Tumblr will have worked out, I have been reading The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh. I bought the book after I watched the stunning BBC drama Painted with Words. I read it on and off for a few months but in the last fortnight I've really committed to it and flown through the remaining 250 pages.

Throughout the letters, spanning 17 years, I found the most beautiful and honest descriptions of depression and mania I think I have ever read.  And I was moved by the sameness - the oneness - of human experience in this respect.  Vincent himself acknowledges, whilst in the asylum, that seeing others illnesses helps him understand his own and allows his fear of it to be calmed.  In this respect, and many others, I felt a deep affinity and emotional connection to him.  

I particularly enjoyed looking up paintings as he spoke about them to Theo and examining them through his eyes, instead of my own.  In particular I found the contrast between Entrance to a Quarry and The Reaper to be extraordinary; they were painted within a few weeks of each other and either side of, as VIncent terms it, 'an attack'.

The clarity of expression is astonishing and, appropriately enough, Vincent even provides a description for how I feel about reading his letters some 122 years later, when describing his reading of Shakespeare he says the following;

I read without wondering if the ideas of the people of those times were different from our own, or what would become of them if you set them over against republican and socialist beliefs and so on. But what touches me...is that the voices of these people, which in Shakespeare's case reach us from a distance of several centuries, do not seem unfamiliar to us. It is so much alive that you know them and see the thing.

As I turned each page ever quicker as Vincent's quiet desperation and hopelessness begin to overwhelm him in the last 30 or so pages, I suddenly became aware what I was speeding towards; his end. It was at this point I began to cry. And then, as I read his last letter to his mother, wishing her 'happy days' with his brother Theo, Theo's wife Jo and their son, Vincent and speaking of his 'calmness' I cried more. Finally I read his business like final letter to Theo (to whom almost all the letters in this collection are addressed) which thanks him once again for some money sent and states that which he hints at in many letters - that Theo is also the creator of the paintings he has to his name and should also call himself an artist - I began to sob.

The postscript very nearly broke my heart as it stated what I knew of the circumstances of his death and told me something of Theo - whom I had come to 'know' through Vincent's warmth and love for him;

On 27th July 1890, Vincent went into the cornfields close by the chateau and shot himself with a revolver. Severely wounded he struggled back to the inn. At first it looked as though he might rally, although he was in dreadful pain. Theo was summoned from Paris. No attempt was made to remove the bullet. Vincent lay suffering for two days and finally fell into a coma and died in his brother's arms on 29th July.
Not long afterwards, Theo, in poor health and 'broken by grief', began to have hallucinations and violent headaches. He resigned from his job and had a complete breakdown. He died only six months after Vincent on 25th January 1891

The love between Vincent and Theo is absolutely beautiful - that Theo died so soon after Vincent is both terrible and inevitable.  At the end of the collection I feel his loss as keenly as I feel the loss of Vincent.



Postscript.

The other day I was reading the letters in the conservatory in the late afternoon sunshine.  Without meaning to, I drifted off to sleep for about an hour and a half.  The last thing I had read was a particularly vivid description of the colours in the landscape around Vincent's house and for that hour and a half I slept lightly, dreaming not in words or sounds or solid objects, but in colours.

askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (November the 8th)
I really feel I've lost my way with blogging of late. Since I received paid time on here as a gift (thank you again!) I resolved to post more, a measly privacy locked one post followed and that was it.

I was reflecting tonight on what holds me back now and I struck upon my failure to finish the 30 days meme which I embarked upon earlier in the year; in the end I was just bored with my own opinions.  Even the audience participation segments (such as 'tell me what you want to see a picture of and then I'll take it') failed to ignite the spark - I can only imagine disappointment on the part of the requesting party when they see the scene they specified.  

So where can I lay the blame for the shift in my own relationship to waxing lyrical about me? Getting older, I think, for one.  I know what I'm going to say, I know the conclusions I will reach when I pose philosophical questions, I have already said or thought it all before. One of the biggest reasons I want to return, again and again, to academia is to push myself to think in new ways and encounter different pieces of information in a structured way which will force me to make new conclusions about old questions.

The 'new' question of course rears its head at this point - what will I do with myself if I don't win the funding (a strong possibility which no amount of daydreaming about quitting my job will alter) next month? The easy answer is bide my time and apply to multiple sources for funding next year.  An easy answer because it's a short term fix - how many rounds of funding will I apply for before I admit defeat/start seriously relying on a lottery win to get me there? The difficult answer is so hard that I can't even begin to frame its components into clauses.

The nagging uncertainty seems to grow more acute year on year as the number of my peers still fumbling through their working life dwindles to just a handful and I feel a growing sense of anxiety - both at missing out on the certainty my friends exude as they embark on their careers, and at simply being adrift.

I know only one thing, and that is that I must, before the year is out, have a plan in process - or fully executed - which returns me to independent living and out of the family home with its inherent claustrophobias and clashes.

Right now my mind feels like a deserted meadow, all bright colours, gentle breezes and intoxicating scents. But there is a tug all around me, threatening to drag me under and suffocate me with dirt....Trying not to break into a run - not least of all because I know sprinting now will only cause me to trip over my own feet and end up face down in the soil all the sooner.....I keep trying to express the confusion, uncertainty, self doubt and claustrophobia which characterise my every thought but it comes out a jumbled mess.

I've only been sleeping fitfully for 2 weeks now - I think it all ties in to the inability to produce the blog posts I want to (many posts concerning queer theory, feminism and Life all swimming around my mind but slip away like eels the moment I try to catch them in this new-post-window) - I simply lack the necessary mental energy to pin thoughts together.  Nothing is running in straight lines.
askygoneonfire: Cartoon character lying terrified and awake in bed (insomnia)
Thanks to the unspeakable, inexplicable, wondrous generosity of [personal profile] forthwritten I have some paid time, I thought it was only right to celebrate with a post.

The other night, much like tonight really, I drank a heroic amount of vodka, and finished reading Albert Camus' The Fall. The book I finished a day before that was Martin Power's Nailed to History: the story of Manic Street Preachers. Being a massive CoR, I cried as much as I laughed at the story of the Valley boys and found myself obsessed/intrigued with Richey all over again. In that sense, The Fall couldn't have been a better 'next read' - the protagonist's words and Richey's lyrics are a marriage made in heaven/plagiarism made in hell.

The combination of the tail end of mania, vodka and Camus resulted in me being able to 'understand' some of the lyrics on The Holy Bible in what I felt was a new way. Before I passed out into a semi-paralytic sleep, I recorded my thoughts on Open Office on my phone. I record them below for 'posterity' (aka 'what the fuck?).

Much needed explanations can be found for some of this in '[]' brackets.

Dead eyed...fish? )

It's a lot like when I watched The Man Who Fell to Earth when I was drunk on rum to the point I couldn't remember my own name, but for the first time that film made sense.  Or when I go really stoned and understood 'Motown Junk' in a way no person ever had before and insisted everyone I knew listen to it *right now*.  A week of fucked up sleeping habits and a night of heavy drinking with a bit of mania thrown in for good measure makes for some entertaining reading.

I hope to contribute something intelligent to Dreamwidth in the next two weeks. although don't hold your breath as I'm currently reading 1984 and the last 249839 times I read that it gave me paranoia-based nightmares....
askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
Cyclothymia is not a gift.  It is not a tool that allows me to see the world as it 'really' is.  It is not something that should be nurtured or cultivated.  

Years back, when I was tentatively living with a diagnosis of depression I met a girl who told me we were special - that we saw the world more clearly, lived more honestly and thought more deeply.  I was 17, she was 19, and I believed her.  We sat, watched our classmates and we pitied their naivety.  A year on from this, I was on my third anti-depressant at a much higher dose than either of the first two, I'd taken my first overdose and I was merrily cutting my arms to ribbons every night.  She was voluntarily in psychiatric hospital for an indefinite stay.  Our classmates? They were happily, 'naively' getting on with their lives.  

There is no secret to see, there is no truth to discover, there is just living your life and you get to do that the hard way or the easy way - your choice.

There can be advantages to living with cyclothymia - highs which breed productivity, confidence and inspiration are certainly enviable.  But given that thousands - nay, millions - of people get through their lives without such chemically unbalanced highs and still manage to create works of great beauty I suspect that I could live without them.  Indeed, those same millions feel quite satisfied with a life which does not include manic highs - a relatively small proportion of them seek out artificial means to create those moments of pure ecstasy and confidence; cocaine is popular, but it's not every-single-person-in-the-world-popular.

I am accepting of my brain chemistry - it is counter productive to be anything else - so I make allowances in my life to cope with mood swings which I choose not to control with medication.  I am not being sold a lie by the psychiatric profession - you probably aren't either - I know this to be true primarily because I got a diagnosis and a suggested treatment regimen after I sought out help for the unbearable mental unease I found myself experiencing.  Unless you were forcibly hospitalised and medicated by court order it is unlikely that you fall into the camp of the maliciously medicalised outsider - indeed even if you were forcibly hospitalised and medicated, that is still no guarantee that going without medical intervention at that point in your life would have resulted in brilliance, creativity and continued existence.  In fact, it tends to result in death. 

Increasingly I believe that mental illness is less delineated than the discourses of medicine and society would have us believe - we are all born with a genetic code which will determine our brain chemistry and whilst substances can alter that chemistry both temporarily and permanently there is a degree of pre determination.  Life experiences and situations leave two people with the same brain chemical balances in different positions - one might work in an office and take anti depressants and be in and out of hospital whilst the other lives a life which permits great periods of inactivity without loss of earnings - as a writer or musician perhaps - or lives in a close and well developed social group where a style of communication as open and honest as therapy is typical can help them through bad periods without turning to outside agencies.  The second hypothetical person here may never come into contact with a mental health professional - is their depression any less real than the first person? No.  Is the decision of the first person not to dedicate their life to 'cultivating' their depression in order to avoid reliance on pharmaceuticals and allow for a realisation of the true potential of their misery the wrong one? I'd say categorically not, but apparently that is not a universal view.  Moreover, whilst I'd say this example merely shows that 'madness' is a sliding scale applicable to all of society which is only labelled when it becomes a problem, certain factions would prefer to believe that yes, there is a clear line be 'mad' and 'sane' but that, contrary to what modern medicine says, the 'mad' should not be cured but raised up as desirable and enviable.

There are, undoubtedly, thousands of people walking around with thought processes who engage in activities which could see them easily diagnosed with mental health problems - I've met them. But the existence of unmedicated cyclothymics/depressives/whatever does not mean that those diagnosed have been sold a lie/tricked into selling their magic beans for an incontinent cow.  Primarily, this is because they didn't have magic beans to start with - they just had erratic moods which impacted on their ability to live life in the way they wanted to, unlike the undiagnosed cyclothymic on the street, whose moods have not infringed on the fulfilment of their lifestyle.  Organisations and individuals who point to the increase of diagnosis rates of mental illness as support for the argument the medical establishment have gone power MAD and are attempting to homogenize the world are equally mistaken.  The reports which suggest there have been a 43% rise in the prescribing of anti-depressants in the last 5 years seem to me to merely suggest that the de-stigmatising of mental health difficulties, as a result of the hard work of organisations such as Mind, has been successful and people are now daring to approach their GP with problems they previously thought would see them laughed out of the doctors office.

I have shared that infamous habit of many mental health patients of concluding I WAS NEVER ILL when medication and therapy get me to a point I feel 'normal' and subsequently rejecting all the methods employed to normalise my brain chemistry.  Funnily enough, I got ill again.  A lot of people would argue that sort of hypothesis-test-proof loop was enough to support the psychiatrist who made the original diagnosis.  Few people would argue that my returning to a state I call 'ill' is merely the internalisation of an oppressive narrative when in fact I was 'realising the mad gift' the universe has given me.  Fewer still would go further set up an online community propagating this opinion as a valid medical alternative.  

The opposition to pro-ana and pro-mia sites is well established - I'm scared by how little opposition there is to pro-psychosis websites.  I feel as though the mental health lobbies have been so busy (quite rightly) fighting stigma in wider society they have been completely blind-sided by those who want to share faulty thinking - who want to rubbish a system which helps more people than it hurts.  How much more good work could they do as patient advocates working within the system as it stands? How much more good work could they do by having a dialogue with the medical profession about not becoming a factory and treating mental health patients like a simple machine to be inspected, repaired and pushed back out into the world all shiny and new?  Yes there are problems in healthcare as it stands but it is still a whole lot better than nurturing mental instability into bigger and more monstrous things.  I think the NHS could save itself money by offering stricter guidance on how GPs respond to first presentation of mild depression and anxiety in patients, I think they should offer more training to their senior employees - consultants for example - on alternative lifestyle so they can recognise the difference between 'alternative', 'abnormal' and 'problematic' so that they only offer corrective steps for the latter.  I think money should go back into health promotion campaigns and I think we need more patient advocates and advisers - such as those provided by Mind - to ensure the medical establishment doesn't lose sight of the individual in favour of 'cured' statistics linked directly to pharmaceuticals.  

I am all for self determination in mental health care - I practice it; I worked out a way to get off medication and live without too much unpleasantness a year ago.  But I'm also for informed choices - telling people you are an advocacy and advice organisation aiming to end stigma and help people overcome the alienating effects of mental health labels is all well and good, but when, in reality, you are pushing a non negotiable model for living without medical intervention you are deceiving and misleading those you claim you aim to protect.  On the face of it, the Icarus Project sounds great - offering hope of 'normality' through inaction rather than the world of hit and miss drug therapy offered by the medical profession for example - in reality they are pushing an unproven, potentially dangerous anti-cure on vulnerable and often desperate people whose judgement is impaired by mental instability.  This is the blind leading the blind.

Also, just a final thought - Icarus crashed to earth after ignoring advice not to fly so close to the sun, and died.  For the shining moment he was soaring up to the sun he certainly was glorious, but his ignorance and arrogance killed him.  Did The Icarus Project chose him as their namesake with an awareness of that irony or did they stop reading after bit when his ambition took him up into the sky?

askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
I was 15 the first time I experienced a bout of depression.  In its course, it cost me my friends and my confidence.  Every bout since has, one way or another, cost me something too.

I 'realised' when I was 15 there was no point in anything, so I stopped talking and doing much of anything.  It all just felt....pointless.  My friends begged to know what was wrong, then they bargained with me to reveal my secret, then they got angry at me.  When I 'came out' of it, as it were, they asked again.  'Nothing to tell', I said - I felt like my realisation was too awful to share, too absolutely true (like in the Radiohead video!) so I kept it to myself.   This made my friends more angry.  And then, one day, they cornered me, all 4 of them.  And they yelled at me; said I was paranoid and selfish and annoying and worthless and demanded I apologised to them for being those things and upsetting them.  I refused, cried, shook and just asked for them to accept the absent answer.  But they couldn't, or wouldn't accept that, so they stopped being my friends and for a while I had no friends at all.  And that was kind of crap. 

I feel like every conflict which has ever arisen between me and those around me as a result of my lurching in and out of depressive periods in the 11 years since then has merely been a more subtle, refined version of that argument.  In essence, it's always about the same things; my inability to answer, my being awful to be around during those times, their frustration, and our mutual miscommunication.


These days manic periods provide me with the feeling I am managing to make connections, build bridges and improve my lot.  Frequently, in the cold light of day/non-mania, I realise I am just as socially ineffective during these periods and surely more annoying as I dominate conversations and babble away, laughing at my own jokes and interrupting everyone who tries to make a comment.  Predictably, this recognition of who I have been over the past few days/weeks brings with it renewed despair and depression.


This Sunday gone I felt it all falling away from me again, just like it did that very first lonely, disorientating time when I was 15, and in fear and panic I deleted my livejournal (for the first time in it's 7 year history, I might add) and my facebook account.  It may not have been the best way forward - socially - and these may not be permanent changes, but in the frantic anxiety of the moment it was, and remains, the right decision.  A couple of people have passed on messages that some people were worried about my sudden disappearance which, thoughtlessly, I didn't consider or anticipate and for causing that concern I apologise.  Right now, I need to run a little.

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askygoneonfire: Red and orange sunset over Hove (Default)
a sky gone on fire

May 2017

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