Climbing Up

This is an account of some of my experiences with depression. As such, it discusses self-injury and other things that can be disconcerting. If you are not in a place where you can handle that, please don’t read on. 

I was formally diagnosed with depression when I was 16 or 17. It was a bit of a let-down. As a diagnosis, it felt incomplete; like telling someone with asthma their problem was that they had trouble breathing. Depression felt like the symptom, not the disease. 

Over the years, I realised that depression has more than one meaning: depression is a symptom of Depression, and Depression was what I suffered. 

I don’t remember when I first started to suffer from depression. I have never been a good sleeper – even as a young child, even before my Mum died, I struggled to sleep properly. And after my Mum died when I was only 5, I started having panic attacks in the middle of the night because I knew one day I would be dead too and that terrified me. Terrifies me.

I remember the first time something happened that could have led to a diagnosis, but I was such a good girl it got hushed up so as not to tarnish my record. I was 12 and my English teacher was my little sister’s form tutor. I can’t remember her name, but she seemed a very kind person and a good teacher. We studied Pygmalion and A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream (or at least the Rude Mechanicals therein) with her.

One day, I had a perverse, destructive bug within me. Uncontrollable, like a possession. I remember a detached feeling as I scraped the wooden desk with my scissors spread-eagled to gouge parallel lines across the desk’s surface. My goodie-two-shoes, teacher’s pet friends laughed nervously at this strange behaviour. They didn’t know how to react. I didn’t.

The next lesson, the teacher made an announcement about the vandalism. It had to be this class because the desk was fine before and her form pupil whose desk it was was very upset. I approached her at the end of the lesson and admitted, shakily, guiltily, that it was me. I was internally surprised she didn’t know; I always sat in that spot, so who else could it have been? But she was surprised. It was not the sort of behaviour anyone would have expected from me. We agreed I would come back at lunchtime and sand out the gouges and it would be our little secret. Agent Echo happened to spot me in there, though, and joined us. I didn’t mind, which I think surprised the teacher, and Echo helped me restore the desk. I think it helped bond us: I don’t think anyone would have been so surprised if it was she who had done the damage.

I am grateful my punishment was lenient. I felt guilty enough about what had been done – I would say what I had done, except it didn’t feel like I was in control doing it. The punishment felt good, gently physical and redemptive: as I scrubbed away the marks, I scrubbed away the transgression. I am grateful my punishment was lenient because if it hadn’t been I think I would have been more likely to reoffend.

I was relieved nothing more would be said about it, but now I wonder whether, if it had been flagged, maybe my distress would have been noticed sooner.

I remember the first time I went upwards. I don’t remember how old I was, maybe 15. I was walking home with Hannah & Becky (who, as I recall, had been present for the desk scratching incident) when I suddenly went light-headed and giggly. I could only think I must have walked through some freak chaos-theory pocket of high alcohol content air: I felt very drunk. I don’t remember how long it lasted, but over the years I became more used to the feeling. I don’t think it was ever true hypomania – it never lasted more than maybe a couple of days and I could usually bring it under control. It was a lot more than just happiness, though.

I don’t remember the first time I hurt myself, but I do remember the first time I seriously thought about it. I’d had a paddy over something and to help me calm down Dad let me eat my dinner in the study by the open fire. I remember sitting there, toying the fork in the flames and wondering what it would feel like when the metal touched my skin. I refrained, but I think I knew one day I would give in.

I used to heat metal and flick it against my skin. I moved on to cutting. Both have left scars, but the cuts are more noticeable. I think most people who see them don’t realise what they are but some are simply too polite to say anything.

My sixth form head of year called me in to his office. He’d had reports that I was depressed, that there was a problem with me. He’d kept an eye on me and not seen anything and that made him nervous – I reminded him of another pupil he’d had in another school and he hadn’t taken the warnings seriously. He didn’t enlighten me further. I’ve often wondered about the other pupil.

He told me he would ask me two questions and I could choose not to answer. 1) Was I starving myself or making myself throw up? I shook my head, vehemently denying the charge – I was a very skinny child and young adult and the question always bothered me. 2) Was I hurting myself? I chose not to answer and he extracted a promise from me that I would take care to always keep wounds clean and if I ever needed to I would go to the hospital. I am grateful to him for taking me seriously so calmly and so non-judgementally. He put my name to the top of the school counselling list.

I’ve seen a few counsellors over the years. The one I saw at school was my favourite. My least favourite was the psychiatrist who was so insistent I’d been sexually abused that I nearly made a story up. I went back to the school counsellor after that disaster and she explained there was only one paper on self-injury and it claimed all self-injurers had been sexually abused, but in her experience very few had been.

Admitting to her that I hurt myself meant I had to tell my Dad. It’s one of only two things I would rather have kept secret.

The first anti-depressant I went on was Effexor/Venlafaxine. The only time I have tried to kill myself was when I was on Venlafaxine. It was an insincere attempt. The GP was reluctant to take me off because I was so clearly depressed but I knew it was making me worse so took all the remaining tablets (possibly it had been a mistake to tell a self-injurer that overdosing on the drug would make you very ill but not kill you) and all the painkillers I could lay my hands on. I then panicked and wrote down what I had taken just in case and had one of the few good night’s sleep I’d had prior to moving in with Husbit. I wasn’t ill until a few weeks later when all the side effects I’d gone through at the start returned.

I had a course of CBT once. When the six weeks ended, I was told that was it but then I got a questionnaire asking why I’d chosen to leave counselling. I didn’t particularly like CBT but would have stayed if they’d let me.

I am lucky to have friends with thick skins and forgiving, loving spirits. I would be very alone if I didn’t.

I remember phoning Husbit one night when he was round a friend’s. I needed him to come home to me but I wasn’t able to say and when he came home later I was crying and had plasters on my arm and he wrapped himself around me – arms, legs and soul – and rocked me and told me he needed me. There is powerful magic in being needed.

I was 27 the first time I felt like an adult.

I remember one doctor or counsellor or some such trying to tell me that my mood swings were normal – everyone had mood swings. I went quiet. I was sure my mood swings were more than that – that the depth and strength of feeling was more than what was normal. That the numbness was not normal. I didn’t have the self-confidence to argue. I began to doubt myself.

A few months ago, I realised I had not felt depressed for a while, and even then only for a couple of days. I kept a careful eye on my moods, analysed and watched. This normally is a good way to trigger a downward spiral, because I become alert to the worst. This time it didn’t.

I think I realised I wasn’t Depressed any more the day I could have that thought without worrying that not being Depressed meant I wasn’t special or important.

Now that I am not Depressed I can see how bad it was. Whatever that medical professional may I thought, I was suffering and I survived and I am damn lucky to have done so.

I wear red to funerals.

My Great Aunt Lorna died recently. She was an amazing woman – a real inspiration. It was partly her (and partly channelling Agent Echo) that gave me the strength to jump, to make the decision to change the course of my career. I’d thought I was too old, but reading her life story and speaking to her last summer I realised it’s never too late to make a change like that. I’m excited about my future again and it’s down to her.

Lorna was still so sharp last summer – frail and nearly blind but still more mentally agile than many people my age. It was a real pleasure to see her and I’m very grateful I had that opportunity – I hadn’t otherwise seen her since I was too young to remember. She fell ill a couple of weeks before she died and faded surrounded by people who loved her. After an amazing life, is there anything more you can ask for?

I feel so lucky to have had her in my life and in my family.

It was her funeral today. She was quietly Catholic and this was the first catholic funeral I have been to*.The choral music was something she had requested, and it was beautiful but I have to say the funeral itself felt more like we were standing before a judge trying to justify her route to heaven with our own faith (and many, maybe most, of the people there not being catholic or even christian this seemed an awkward task). It seems odd – if there is a loving God, as my Great Aunt believed, I don’t think they would require our begging, I think Lorna’s life would be enough to sequre her passage, but I’m not catholic so maybe I was misunderstanding the ceremony. There will be a proper memorial later in the year to truly celebrate her and her achievements, one that her friends internationally can attend, and I think that is the sort of event closer to what I am used to in a funeral.

I like to wear red to funerals. Not lots of red, just something. It started at the second funeral I went to, my Grandada’s. I wasn’t sure what to wear, not owning sufficient black, and someone – I remember it as my Dad, but I’m not sure – suggested I wore a red kilt-skirt I owned. Black may be the colour of death, I believe the logic went, but life is red and funerals should celebrate the life as well as the loss. For me, it has become also a reminder that life continues for the rest of us – that life is vital and wonderful and death is just a part of that.

Normally, death terrifies me but something about Lorna’s feels ok. She lived absolutely; lived and died with love.

 

 

*Talking to my Aunt’s husband, an ex-soldier twice my age, he and I have been to the same number of funerals. That was a weird thing to discover. Is 6 a lot when you’re less than 30?

The Cat With No Name

TCWNN is not normally particularly photogenic – she isn’t particularly agreeable to staying still and her dark colouring can make it hard to show off the beauty she has in the flesh, but she was obviously feeling patient the day I took this – there were several photos and most of them didn’t suck!

Leaping

Fear has always held me back – fear of change, fear of the unknown but most of all fear that I’m not good enough.

I look at what my family have achieved – cousins with masters degrees, with artistic and musical talent; Agent Whisky earning a fortune before he’s 25; Agent Echo has been an amazing army nurse, is incredibly fit and has a TEFL qualification despite being severely dyslexic; Agent Tango is managing to raise her children in difficult circumstances but still giving them the best chances she and they are happy and healthy to prove it. I see all that and I fear that I am a failure. I feel like a failure compared to my family, compared to my friends, compared to my potential.

That dichotomy: the fear that I am not good enough but the knowledge that I am more than I currently appear..

My job is not stimulating me. It took a while to accept that the training and progression I was lead to anticipate was not going to appear, and by then apathy had bitten deep. The spur to action has come from a realisation that my low job satisfaction is largely the cause of my constant tiredness and my lack of interest in life beyond work. It has also come from reading somewhere that Iain Dickhead Smith, the work and pensions secretary, has claimed that the benefit cuts will encourage people back into work “we need to build a society where people are defined by their jobs”. I have no desire to be defined by my job. If I were defined by my job, I might as well give up now – end game and restart. And I thought, is that so crazy? I can’t end the game, but it’s not too late to restart, not really. I’m heading for 30 and still childless so I feel like it is, but I’m childless because we can’t afford to move somewhere big enough to raise a child, and we can’t afford that because we don’t earn enough and part of restarting is to earn more. I should have restarted before, when it felt like I couldn’t.

So here goes. I’ve tried being a teacher and found I couldn’t, but a desk job does not suit me: I need to have a job that makes a difference to people, a job that I feel matters. When at uni, I toyed with the idea of becoming a midwife, but felt it should wait until after I’ve had a baby so I could understand what I was asking of the women in my care. But the more I’ve thought about it over the last few months, the more it’s appealed and the more I’ve realised that maybe having my own baby first isn’t necessary – if I find birth as easy as my broad hips, hypermobility and chronic period pains suggest, I won’t be as sympathetic to women with less forgiving bodies as I’ll need to be – so maybe I should just do it.

I thought it’d be a simple course, maybe 6 months. When you think about it, that’s crazy. It’s a 3 year uni course and that should have been obvious to me, but there you go. To study at my local uni requires a further qualification I don’t have – biology or human biology A level. I didn’t bother with biology A level because the GCSE was too easy and I thought I’d be bored. I can substitute this with an OU module that I think may require a different module as a prerequisite because I don’t have the A level – I’ve emailed them to ask.

I’m leaping feet first. I’m taking this risk. It will take time and it will take money (the midwifery course is paid for by the NHS, but I won’t be earning a wage for the duration), but I truly think that this is the person I not only can be, but want to be. And Husbit is offering his support the whole way.

I’m leaping.

Granma

“You can outlive longevity” My Dad told me that once about my Granma. Many years ago. 10 years before that, she’d told him she’d lived her life; she was ready for it to be over.

I visited my Granma today. I don’t go very often. I don’t like it. She’s normally still in bed and she can’t hear me and doesn’t always know who I am. Agent Echo’s fine – she breezes in and smiles and talks cheerfully and does Granma’s nails but I… I freeze up and notice her paper-thin skin and think of death.

Today, Daddy was just leaving when I arrived. She seemed shocked – who is this strange woman touching me? – and didn’t – wouldn’t – look at me. Dad told her who I was and held my hand over her bed, but I don’t think she heard him. He handed me a notepad so I could write to her and left.

“Hi Grandma, it’s Fern – hope you like the cyclamen.” She read the note, laid the pad on her bed and carried on looking away from me. She wouldn’t even look at the flowers. No chair, so I dithered on my feet by the bed, feeling lost and lonely and afraid. I took the pad back gently. Did I imgaine the slight frown on her face? “I can’t stay long, but it was really nice to see you. Loads of love. X” I handed it back. She took more time to read it and smiled. I explained I had to go shopping and left. She waved good bye.

The door needs a code to let you out (to stop the old people escaping? can’t have them loose in society). The nurse saw I didn’t know how to get out and joked I’d have to stay with Granma. More guilt that I rarely come and never stay long. More fear.

I told Granma I would come and see her again. I wasn’t sure if I was telling the truth.

 

Little Things

I’ve been feeling down lately. Not just for the obvious reason, but also generally apathetic. It’s not an unusual state of affairs for me, but I think it’s time I changed things.

To this end, I’ve decided to set myself challenges – things to do to break up the monotony of the routine I’ve fallen into. This post is part of that. Tuesday evenings are normally when I have jitsu and my routine would be to think of an excuse not to go, and then either go and feel better or not go and follow the same pattern I would on other nights: watch crappy tv that I don’t care about whilst playing games on my phone. It’s a ridiculous existance. Anyway, the jitsu club has broken for the summer so I need to find something else.

Challenges:

Today: blog post

Tomorrow: nothing (people coming over)

Thursday: like most people who read voraciously, I’d love to write a book. Thursday’s challenge is to write a proper chapter.

Friday: weather-dependent – swimming, ideally, but if there’s lightning or high winds it’s probably not safe so a bike ride if the wind’s low or either a walk or a drive if the wind’s high.

Saturday: Crumbowl. I play Blood Bowl and this is a tournament a friend runs. A one day event designed to encourage new players. A lot of fun and a forced break from routine ;-)

Sunday: this is traditionally housework day, so it’s harder to break the routine especially when the chores can’t be done on the Saturday. It’s also roleplay week, which means the guys are over in the evening. I think, though, that I will try to fit in a cycle ride for the fresh air and exercise.

Small steps. Little things. But breaking things up, making changes, should help encourage me to do more and actually feel like I’m living, achieving and making progress in life.

Bereavement

Image

Husbit’s brother died back in May. It’s kept me quiet because my way of dealing with something like this is to talk and talk about it and his (and his family’s) is to stay quiet and private. I find that difficult, but this is really his grief so I have elected to stay quiet and respect his privacy.

I’m finally at a point where I’m able to talk about other things, so will try to get this blog running properly soon.