Friday, 15 April 2011

The Real Me ?

A few weeks ago Twitter started a hash tag to raise awareness of Mental Health Issues. It was neatly listed as #WhatStigma.

What stigma indeed ? The world and his wife know about me, in my own self-indulgent way I have never hidden my problems, if anyone hangs around long enough I will self eviscerate, I have a tendency to over-dramatise, to "show off" as my mother used to say. I delight in making myself "look interesting" by telling tales of my bad behaviour or fragility and I think, when things aren't too grim I do it with some humour. It is a coping mechanism though, most of the time I'm scared, scared of doing something wrong *smile, laugh*, of being rejected *smile, laugh*, of fucking up in some way I don't even understand.

When I was in my teens the simple answer was a cocktail of Librium/Valium/Diazepam et al because if I was quiet I was OK and that seemed to be the accepted method of dealing with mental health issues. By the time I went to Uni I had learnt a bit more about coping with the black pit as it crept towards me, keep drinking, stop thinking and it seemed to work pretty well.

The the real world intervened, I graduated, got a job and despite ending a long term relationship I kept myself together fairly well, there were, of course, ups and downs, but they were manageable. The times that a good night out or a long chat with a friend would sort out, although the fear of "the pit" was always there. Then I met my husband in 1981, a man of infinite patience he worked hard to keep me on an even keel, coped with the ongoing symptoms of bulimia and picked up a lot of the scary credit card bills that my "feel better" shopping trips generated. I knew how lucky I was and how hard it was for him to understand me.
In 1989 I had our first child, I gave up work and became a mum, except I wasn't, I was numb, felt nothing and beat myself up about it. Every day I had to prove I could do everything, not as a competition with anyone else, but with myself. Fail and the doubt kicks in. After months of a bouncy high suddenly all you can do is cry, hide, hibernate. Weight loss, weight gain and self loathing, feeling you have failed everyone. Oh great, let's add post natal depression into the mix. I was beginning to feel like a text book. "Loons for Dummies". Second child, more pretence, more sobbing, more ranting, much, much more medication, the miracle cure all that is Prozac.

This became the norm for the next 15 years, in the end the mask became the real me and only if things became particularly stressed was there a public falling apart. Then I was given a diagnosis of cyclothymia and prescribed Venlafaxine which has been a huge help, my husband no longer wonders if he is coming home to Tigger or Eeyore, but that doesn't change what has happened. Inevitably the temper swings, introspection and self pity take their toll on relationships with friends and family, the risk taking behaviour can destroy trust and hope.

I had meant to publish this post a while ago, while the hash tag was in peoples' memory and with a positive and upbeat conclusion, but unfortunately I have been skirting depression again recently, glancing at it sideways, rolling my eyes like a worried racehorse. I think that I have hidden it reasonably well; in real life I have stayed at home as much as possible, smiling and socialising seems an effort. On Twitter how I feel is protected by constraints of space, it is much easier to be chatty, glib and give nothing away when you only have 140 characters to express yourself. Chat without repercussions, chat, that if you feel fragile you can drift away from without offending anyone. Eeyore is the racehorse's stable companion.

This week was National Depression Awareness Week and I wanted to finish this post, however incoherent, trying to explain what depression can do to me, to any of us, that suffer from this debilitating illness. Please stick with us, believe we can be good friends, partners and parents and please forgive us if the mask slips.

Eeyore stood by himself in a thistly corner of the Forest, his front feet well apart, his head on one side, and thought about things. Sometimes he thought sadly to himself, "Why?" and sometimes he thought, "Wherefore?" and sometimes he thought, "Inasmuch as which?" and sometimes he didn't quite know what he was thinking about.