I Have a Big Mind, So I Can Keep Dreaming

I have a very big mind. I don’t know if you can quantify the size of a mind seeing as it is abstract. What I mean when I say I have a big mind is that it wanders. I have high ambitions for myself, and sometimes believe in them. I think I’m going to become an award-winning author, a Nobel prize receiving nutritionist (has that ever even happened?). I’m going to run marathons and go on to running ultra’s. I want to play instruments and dance like Darcey Bussell

I don’t just want to do all of this stuff. I strive to do it all. However, one obstacle keeps getting in my way. My mental health. I can be very disabling for me. Sometimes, when I am unwell, I can’t even cook or eat properly. I can’t wash. Going to the toilet feels like a chore. Understanding and depicting between reality and fantasy can be a challenge.

I think a lot. I use mindfulness to tame my thinking – and often my mind may be empty, and still I think a lot. I can switch off, but this doesn’t mean that I don’t want all of these things for myself, along with a fantastic relationship, and friends, and above all – learning to manage my mental health.

One thing I still struggle with a lot is knowing how much I can do. I often feel like I want every waking moment of my days to be achieving something – be that studying, learning, writing, reading, running, climbing, art. Perhaps I expect too much of myself. I’m not sure.

When I’m depressed though, something I always struggle with is my inability to do very much at all – and learning to reign in my ideals of how I want to live my life. Accepting the limitations placed on me by my illnesses is something I have not fully accepted. I have accepted it more than I could a few years ago: it is a process. At the same time, I don’t want to not live my life because of my illnesses. I don’t want to sell myself short. I think most people can relate to wanting to be the best version of themselves, and to wanting to live their life as the best version of themselves.

So accepting that I can only read a paragraph at a time, accepting that I can’t go out or leave the house, accepting that I can’t run 4 times a week because quite simply, I am too unwell is difficult to adapt to each time I get unwell. Unfortunately, for me, getting unwell is still a frequent part of my life and I wonder if ever I will be as well as I hope to be. I expected to be a fully functioning member of society with a brilliant job after being off work for 6 months. That was 6 years ago. Evidently, these hopes and desires didn’t quite pan out.

There are times when I wish I was someone else. There are more than numerous times when I wish I didn’t have my illnesses. In fact, I wish this most days that I’m affected negatively by them. I think that is natural, right? So here, on that point right there I need to do some more acceptance work. By that I don’t mean stop fighting and give in. By that I mean learn when to pull the reigns in and accept that for a period of time I probably can’t do everything I want to do or wish for.

The difficulty of this acceptance I think is compounded by the highs I experience. During these times, life is bloody wonderful and I’m functioning at 200%. I’m productive beyond measure, goal orientated like a world champion athlete chasing after an Olympic Gold. I’m talented. I’m brilliant. I’m capable of anything and everything I set myself to. This is called hypomania – and the part that gets me the most is the comparison.

When I am hypomanic, experiencing myself at 200% and loving it, producing grand plans and ideas of how I’m going to become successful in every sense of the word makes the contrast between this state and being so low I cannot leave my bed a more bitter pill to swallow – and in swallowing my meds, I am to an extent, forfeiting these periods of my best self.

Overall, I know it is worth it because I get severely depressed much more than I get hypomanic – yet the contrast of the, “but I’m so brilliant” during those times is a difficult price to pay for stability. Over the years I have refused medications and not taken my medication. Slowly I have learned that this is in fact the worst thing I can do because 90% I will go down, down, down. I have learned the importance of taking my meds, and the importance of self-care in terms of sleep hygiene, and keeping calm in my overall performance, because what is the use of functioning and being my best self at 200% for a few weeks once a year or so, compared to a functioning level between 60-70% for the majority of the time? It is an equation of better odds in longevity.

But I have a big mind and I despise not being capable. I despise not being independent 100% of the time. I resent the fact that I am resigned to not working full-time, perhaps ever. At times it eats me up inside that I may never reach my full best self due to my illness – and actively accepting that going to the shop for some milk and watching Netflix is as good as it’s going to get for a few weeks is a painful realisation to find yourself in when you have such a big mind.

I know that I need to tame my mind. I may not be able to be brilliant all the time, much to my disappointment – but I can be above good for most of the time when I’m well? Is that a fair price to pay for being 5% of myself, and totally disabled by my mental illness? No. I don’t think so. Is it reality though? Is that just how mental illness goes? Yes. I suppose it is. Do I want to accept that? Not at all. Do I need to accept that? Most definitely.

Many brilliant minds in the public eye are tortured by mental illness, yet they manage to be really quite remarkable. Stephen Fry. Ruby Wax. Catherine Zeta Jones. Demi Lovato. When I see how successful they are, I find myself thinking, why not me? There is an element of self belief required, but the truth is, these people are exceptions. Exceptional minds and personalities with mental illness. They do not represent the majority of people with mental illness. I think society forgets that and that help me to also forget that.

I see a lot of people where I live, and amongst the services and hospitals I’ve been to who experience severe mental illness, and for them, just living in supported accommodation or volunteering 4 hours a week is as good as it’s going to get. Yet I don’t see myself amongst that population. I don’t see myself as higher or better, but I see my mind as bigger. I don’t identify with the people in my living complex who spend all day every day staring into space smoking and drinking – I see myself in the Stephen Fry’s and the Demi Lovato’s: but I just can’t sustain my abilities at a high enough level – and that is something I suppose I need to learn to accept. That is something I need to learn to live with, without thinking I may as well kill myself at the same time. That is something I am sure many of us struggle with, mental illness or not.

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I just wish I could be my 200% for 100% of the time. I can dream. We all can. If I keep dreaming, and keep trying, it might become reality – until then, I need to reign in my expectations of myself again – and the heart wrenching reality of my illness hits me hard in the gut, in my soul, at my very core of what I consider to be my being. This is why I don’t work. This is why many people with mental illness don’t work and that’s OK – I just wish every person understood that without judgement. Maybe one day I too will work full-time, maybe I won’t.  Like I said though, I can dream right?

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Coming Out of Hospital After 4 Weeks In

From the end of April to late May I spent 4 weeks in a psychiatric hospital, hence my absence. It was a difficult admission and still now I am struggling to quite get my head around what happened, what’s happening, and what I went through. I am also struggling to get back to every day life. Having spent 4 weeks in an NHS institution with nothing to do but sit and talk crap with other patients, sleep and eat I have struggled with going out, with my desire to leave my room, with socialising, with public transport and with getting up in the morning amongst other things.

I am still, after almost 2 weeks out, trying to pick myself up and get going with my life again. It’s been a hard ol’ slog. At the moment I am focusing on getting up and dressed in the a.m and trying to spend my days doing more than staring at the TV until I’m sleepy again. I haven’t managed to start exercising again yet – for some reason I’m really scared to go for a run, or get on my bike. I think this is going to be a long process that seems to be moving at a glacial pace.

I am however, trying to implement skills and tactics in order to get going again, and in order to cope with my new found freedom, in addition to coping in healthier ways than those I employed prior to my admission which landed me in hospital for 4 weeks. My journey from public place, to police van, to 136 suite and then to hospital was quite a surreal one. I did write a lot whilst I was in hospital about what I was going through, some of which I plan to share over the coming days in order to explore my experience. It kind of illustrates my journey with my experience.

After 4 weeks of doing very little, and becoming accustomed to sleeping the days away in order to pass time and be perceived ad the “good quiet” patient, I am slowly getting used to getting up and dressed, as I barely dressed or washed whilst I was in hospital. In fact, every time I have showered since coming out (2-3 times) I have lost the knack of keeping soap out of my eyes and mouth in the shower – this is also something I am currently grappling to re-learn.

So what am I doing to get myself back on track?

1.Set an alarm for 8:30 and 9am to try and get  up and out of bed in a decent time.
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2. I decided from today to not watch TV before 3pm, otherwise I will sit there and watch it all day at the moment. This isn’t usually something I struggle with but it has cropped up since I have come home.
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3. Making plans on sites like Meet Up to go out with people, socialise and become slightly active again.
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4. Making daily To Do lists to try and do something productive with my day and to get chores done.
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5. Trying to go out and acclimatise to using public transport again.
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6. Planning fun things to look forward to.
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7. Keeping a functioning and mood reflective diary.
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A Depressive Episode

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Letters: The Caring Nurse

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M.J.Neely
DearDarlingSanity.com
London, UK

The Caring Nurse,
Private Hospital,
London, UK

Dear Nurse,

Please forgive me, I do not know your name. I must have forgotten as soon as you introduced yourself; when you cared for me, I was unwell. That is why our paths crossed in the first place. What I do remember though is you. I remember beyond your name, job title or image. I remember your kindness. I remember you caring words when you were on 1-1 with me. I remember your encouraging words in the morning, and I remember how you gave me a hug when that was really what I needed. Please forgive me, I do not know your name.

I was on the floor when we crossed at our most poignant meeting. My depressive episode had been ongoing from an episode into a state of being. It had been difficult to manage for a long time. For years when I met you had I been wanting to die, and making attempts on my life. I understand it can be difficult to relate to that level of despair and hopelessness, but that was all my life had amounted to at that time: every despairing moment, every breath taken felt a waste. A waste of space, life and energy that could be better used elsewhere, or so I thought. I was a failure deserving of no support for getting myself into such a mess, or so I thought. I definitely didn’t deserve to be in a private hospital on public funds, or so I thought, but you took the time to sit with me. You took the time to talk with me, listen, care, and give me the kick up the arse to get out of bed each day that I needed. Please forgive me, I do not know your name.

You gave me the hand I needed to hold in order to wash, dress, and to come out from under my protective duvet shell. I remember those mornings, and for as disgruntled as I was, what I remember most of all if your kind, empathetic and caring form of tough love. Some of your colleagues would just sit in that chair at my door, like a sleeping guard from a cartoon, entirely disconnected from me as a patient, a human, and the whole full person, albeit shattered, that I was and currently am. For that time and effort I can only thank you. I know you were perhaps “just doing your job” but it felt like it meant more than that to you. I really felt your care.

I remember the time you found me on the floor in the corner of my room, crying to myself in shamed silence. I don’t think you quite realise the light that came from you and shone through my own dark clouds. I remember being relieved when you were my assigned nurse, and developing my only form of hope I could muster at the time: the hope that you were working that day. I remember your smile, and the cracks of a smile you managed to encourage from my sullen face. A little joke here, a little joke there.

My depression at that time was almost traumatising within itself. I remember once I got home crying upon each waking morning. Not another day, please no, please don’t make me endure another day of this life. I had gone so far as to no longer understand happiness. What could people be happy about when the world is so cruel? What did people have to be happy about, when life is full of higher than high hurdles, one, after another, after another? How on earth could people be happy when there is so much corruption and little justice? Or so it seemed.

Staring at walls for days on end, time ticking by, another wasted youth. My never-ending rollie hanging out my mouth, and perhaps filling in a Sudoku here and there, doing nothing, but never being bored. There was nothing to be bored from: no lust for life, no energy, no hope, just nothing.  This wasn’t why I was depressed, but the result of trying to endure what felt like an eternity of despair. You got that, and for that I remember you. Please forgive me, I do not know your name.

You understood what I was going through, and where I was within myself, my life and my mental health. You took the time and effort to really understand what I needed in that moment – and that is what you gave to me. So although I forgot your name, I will never forget the kindness you showed to me in empathy for me, and helping to pull me out of the rut I had been festering in for such a long time already.

You really made a difference, and I expect from hearsay that that is partially the reason for which you do mental health nursing, but please do forgive me, I do not know your name. Perhaps though, in this instance, your name is almost irrelevant: although it would be nice to know. I remember you instead as the person you showed to me. The nurse who cared, who really cared. The nurse who got it, and the person who reached her hand out to me when I was in need. For that I can only thank you, and be content in the knowledge that your warm heart and compassion is touching others when they most need it.

M.J.Neely


About this series: ‘Letters: Everything I Couldn’t See