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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Small Things Make A Life Worth Living

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When despair has consumed every molecule of hope that ever burned alight within you, when your entire energy sources have been drained and sucked absolutely of life, and when really, all you want is to throw yourself on the floor and spontaneously combust, dissipate or be engulfed by the world then keeping going can seem like the most hideous of tasks. It is at this point that even breathing is a chore. Sometimes you might cry upon waking up because, oh fucking hell, you’re still alive and breathing. That respite of 14 hours oversleeping wasn’t enough and you have to endure wakefulness for at least 6-8 hours is a moment where, quite literally, the whole world feels like it is crashing down on you, heavy, and hard.

Sometimes you’re numb, you’re switched off and the closest thing to “the living dead” that is humanely possible: a walking zombie, a corpse with circulation. For some, this is hard to bear and many feel like they may as well die because there is no quality of life in being half-dead: for me however, this is preferable and a manageable existence. Your eyes are empty, your face expressionless and anything that does pierce through the protective bubble of numbness is always a subdued experience, happiness included.

Then there are the times when the bubble is not so efficient at holding the world on a barge pole, held out at arms length, emotionally speaking. It is at these times that the world is an overwhelming invention of cruelty, an entire atmosphere of pure evil and potentially a sadist plot within which we are simulated by bigger forces. These are the times within which the, “If all you do today is just keep breathing, then you are still strong for making it through” mentality is a lifesaver.

When the mind is plagued with suicidal ideation and pervasive intrusions of images about death, suicide and homicide the notion of, “building a life worth living” can seem an impossible feat. Especially as, everything and anything you ever wanted from life has been another failed attempt at an achievement upon which you pinned so many values of hope, happiness and personal prosperity. For myself though, I did play a major role in setting myself up for failure. To a certain extent I was ‘doing it to myself’.

I wanted a fantastic career as a journalist in an impossible industry. I wanted to earn a good wage in an industry notorious for abusing internships for free labour. I needed to be not only good, but amongst the best: internationally recognised and respected. I needed to be the next Alexandra Shulman, the next Christa D’Souza, or at the very least, a Features Editor for an internationally respected publication in addition to an author of a successful book in academia and fiction as well. I needed to be amongst the best in my class, and amongst the best within my contacts. I needed the perfect relationships with the perfect children, in the perfect house. I had been told I could be anything I wanted to be. For me, being the literalist that I am took this whole-heartedly. I didn’t mind working hard to get there. I didn’t mind waiting tables to pay the bills, as long as I was on my way there. I would do anything, just to get myself there.

Then I got ill. Not only that, but even if I hadn’t become unwell, my expectations were somewhat unrealistic. I didn’t want fame, I needed my own personal success – and in doing so, ironically I failed, miserably.

The disappointment I can tell you hurt more than learning the true extent to my parents’ behaviours of deceit, lying and manipulation: and that hurt. The realisation that I would never be special for what I do made me question the point of living. You see, it sounds socially vain but this was everything. My career had been everything that had kept me alive and fighting through my teen years. The desperation to take control of my own life entirely had been the motivation to “keep breathing” through the heaves of vomit, the tears of exasperation and the loneliest hours of isolation and social inadequacies. It was in this false world and plans that I set myself up to fail – and the reality of what life is stole everything from me, including the will to live.

I had never had strong “family values” coming from a family with distant and weak bonds. I had seldom experienced friends who made life worth living in the long run. I had never had the security and happiness within myself that my home was a comfort and place within which existing was an enjoyable existence. I lacked all mindfulness, all insight into the present moment of living and true enjoyment in life in anything other than using my abilities to prove everyone who doubted me wrong and relish in the, fuck yeah I made it smugness. I am aware that this is no life. This was not a life worth living, yet when my already life not worth living was snatched away from my by the harsh realities of the world, I really and quite definitely had nothing to live for.

Throw in a dose of depression, an emotionally labile temperament and some very challenging mental illness’ to tackle – I had nothing left. Eventually though, I realised that building a life worth living wasn’t a shit hot job, being someone I’m not or being spectacular. Instead, when I was dragged to rock bottom kicking and screaming I had to find something more worth living for, something small, minute even. The tiniest things that keep people going, perhaps they could keep me going too.

It hit me when I was reading a book. I was half way through it. I really enjoyed the story for as emotionally involved as an emotionally cut off person can get. I wanted, no, I needed to know what happened in the end. Who was the real criminal in this crime thriller? Who had duped me? How was this romance going to end, happily ever after? How did they get there? What was the journey like? Not only did I need to finish my book, but also I have a list of 10 more I need to read before I die. I NEED to read them because I know they will bring me the enjoyment of literature, stories, and peeking into the lives of other’s in order to explore worlds I will never experience. It was then that I realised, reading could be something to live for. Reading could become a vital part of my “life worth living”. What about playing music? Learning something? The goals and enjoyment of learning new song son my saxophone became something I needed to stay alive for. What about running 10k? Yes, that is another thing I need to do. How about all those stupid moments with my significant other where we are running around the house being silly and laughing our heads off? That is part of my life worth living. What about that community project I became a part of? Helping people became another thing to live for, another part of my life worth living.

Do you see a difference? All of these fulfilments are profoundly personal. No one else sees, hears or necessarily knows about the books I’ve read, the songs I’ve learned or the dinner I helped to cook in the community project. Life remains complicated. That pit of despair still looms around me, a swirling whirlpool ready to suck me under and bash me amongst the waves of upheaval, morbidity and hopelessness. It still happens, but since my shift in focus it has been slightly easier to avoid any close calls with death. I am not living for anyone else. No-one else’s expectations of me are of as much importance as my own expectations of myself, which have been brought down to the ground.

So even though I may not be internationally magnificent, in the career I dreamt of as a 16 year old desperate to escape to a fantasy future worth living, or heading the features of any international publications I am, in my own way, carving a life worth living especially for me. That is what it means to build a life worth living for me in my journey: it was about focusing on the most miniature details of appreciation, satisfaction and personal successes. Even if for weeks on end, I “just breath”: when I can concentrate on my book again I will already be living a life worth living within that act alone. The possibility that one day I may lose my battle remains, however, the important point of focus is that as a result of the small things becoming the big things, I am more resilient than I once was – and that is a few gigantic steps towards winning. There is also the possibility that I will one day be an absolute winner as well.

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