Resume

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‘Girl Interrupted at her Music’ by Johannes Vermeer. 1658-1661

Resume (v.) to begin again, or continue after a pause or interruption.

I am aware that I was meant to return in due course with either pugs, or a psychological analysis on the overwhelming feeling of chronic emptiness. I regret to inform you that I have returned with neither of these things, but I am hoping you will forgive me.

It has been a particularly difficult week for an assortment of reasons. In addition to this, I feel as though my thinly-constructed safety net is being pulled out from underneath my feet. All manner of healthy coping mechanisms that I’ve learned over the last few weeks seem to have flown out of the window into an oncoming truck. The pile of papers given to me on breathing techniques and other mindfulness tripe have vanished into thin air. And my mind draws a blank when trying to remind myself of the alternatives to bringing oneself to harm as a way of managing desperate, unflinching emotion. Which is all very upsetting, of course, as I am not proud of the mechanisms I have utilised. My life at the moment reminds me of a film I last watched a few years ago called Girl, Interrupted (1999) which tells the story of an 18-year-old who finds herself at a renowned mental institution for troubled young women. It touches on the reality of feeling a sense of community and comfort among the world of people who are said to ‘belong’ on the inside, in comparison to the often difficult world of reality on the outside. The film was loosely based on the 1993 memoir of the same name by Susanna Kaysen, which in turn took its name from the painting above, Girl Interrupted at her Music, by the Dutch artist Johannes Vermeer.

I do not feel particularly good at the moment, that much I am sure. I am so very, very tired of trying. No matter how much I attempt to distract myself that reality doesn’t seem to change. But I do plan on writing up that psychological analysis eventually, as I enjoy researching for the most part and think reading through my old university notes and lectures might be quite comforting. Promises are easily broken, so instead of choosing a date I likely won’t stick too, I will just say that I will try to come back sometime soon.

For now I will leave you with a poem by American poet and short story writer Dorothy Parker, which was also quoted by a character in the film. Irrespective of its sharp-witted tone, I believe its darker, underlying message is a fairly adequate summary of my current thought process.

Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren’t lawful;
Nooses give;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.
– ‘Resume’ by Dorothy Parker. 1926.

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I Don’t Understand What Is Happening

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I Am A Burrito of Sadness by Jillian Fleck

Hi there. As you may be able to tell from the title, this isn’t going to be a particularly positive post. I’m not usually one for trigger warnings but I completely understand and respect why some people feel they’re important. Therefore if you are someone who might be distressed by talk of suicide or self-harm, I would probably skip this post. But please do come back – here is a website of funny pug pictures to make up for the inconvenience.

Now, my current predicament is that I am unable to place how I feel. I’m sad. I’m low. I feel empty. But I’m numb at the same time. Let it be known that I do not like this feeling. Just a moment ago, as I threw my paintbrush at the wall in frustration, I contemplated the idea of my own death. I closed my eyes and put my forehead to the table, and when I looked up again I found myself searching the room for anything that I could use or that could inflict pain. I know now that doing things like this is part of self-harming, but until recently I never considered myself in that category.

‘Sure, I’m depressed and have suicidal tendencies from time to time, who doesn’t! I mean at least I don’t cut my wrists and all that wild stuff so it’s all fine right?… guys?’

Little did I know that acts such as digging my nails into my skin, or stabbing myself in the thigh with pens (a personal favourite) were all types of self-harm. Funnily enough – well, it wasn’t very amusing at the time – I eventually did end up using cutting as a coping mechanism and it’s something I’m still struggling with now. What changed is I basically think I reached such a low point with myself that suddenly it all made so much sense. I didn’t acknowledge the other acts as self harm but in no uncertain terms I knew that this was. But it didn’t matter anymore, because I needed it. I needed it to cope with all the negative thoughts and emotions I was experiencing.

‘Job interview tomorrow? Well, I know I’ve been thinking about killing myself, but if I do then I’ll miss the interview and everyone will think I’m an inconsiderate bum and my family and friends will hate me. No, I should stay. But instead I’ll do something else to create a new pain and distract myself. Yes, that makes sense. *searches for coat to go and buy bad things from tesco*’

It’s strange and almost humorous typing that out, because like most things in my head it seems like a perfectly logical thought process until I’m forced to look at it more objectively. But I can’t stress how much being in the moment it all makes sense. And when you’re fighting against the urge to take your own life, suddenly a ‘smaller’ act like cutting yourself becomes the coping mechanism you desperately need right now. Nonetheless, part of me wondered if my numb feeling was some sort of side effect of Mirtazapine. After all, while taking Sertraline I was thinking and feeling all sorts of crazy things. So I had a glance over a little leaflet thingy on Mirtazapine given to me by a Psychiatrist. I would like to point out that I strongly suspect this is a biased information sheet because in some parts it almost makes taking antidepressants sound fun. But after further research I doubt this mood has much to do with the medication. Which makes me more sad, because that would have been more straightforward at least.

Therefore in an attempt to keep distracting myself where art has failed, I’m going to look up psychological theories around this and see what I come up with. Be right back – hopefully with more pugs.

How Not To Paint: A Guide

Recently, while navigating my way through my current mental health crisis, I decided to take up art again. Like many people art was one of the few subjects I actively looked forward to while in secondary school, so much so that I chose it as a GCSE. Due to my complete unwillingness to follow the rules, I ended up not choosing the theme recommended by my art teacher. In theory this meant the freedom to explore art in all of its greatest forms, focusing on a theme I was truly passionate about. In reality however it meant that while everyone else in my class was peacefully painting fruits and plants, I was aggressively painting an idea I had while also thinking of another idea I had that didn’t really fit the first one but heck I’ll paint it anyway. Combined with my tendency to leave things uncompleted, I ended up with a projectbook full of pretty good, but completely dissociated, paintings and drawings. Luckily my good pieces were enough to ensure I actually passed because it was a bit touch and go there for a while. But the experience was enough to steer me away from art, at least for the time being.

That was until a few weeks ago when I discovered the world of art therapy and remembered how therapeutic painting can be. Art therapy is a form of psychotherapy that uses art media as its primary mode of expression and communication. Typically, you’re encouraged to draw or paint whatever first comes to mind or feels natural. It can be daunting at first, but it’s always interesting to hear interpretations of what I’ve created as well as think about the ways my art may relate to my state of mind. Due to the seven-year hiatus since I last picked up a paintbrush, I decided to start off gradually with some watercolours. I found a really cool postcard book called Secret Garden by Johanna Basford, which I liked because it reminded me of a colouring book I was given close to a year ago. I initially intended to give the postcard back as a gift, but as of late I’ve decided against that. While filling in the postcard I’ve learned not to paint while I’m particularly anxious, as I’ll feel uneasy and consequently lack the patience often needed with small or intricate areas. Such as what’s just happened now, which is why I’m writing this instead. Nonetheless, here it is in all of its messy, unfinished glory.

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Featuring Barry, my paintbrush

Another thing I’ve learned is the importance of singling out sections and completing them first before moving on to the next. Due to the sporadic times I even feel well enough to paint, I would often end up creating a bloody great colour, partly using it, abandoning my work soon after, then returning and having utterly no idea how I mixed the colours together to achieve the great combination in the first place. The result is usually a section that was nice but now looks poo because the colours are all off. More often than not you’ll end up wishing you just painted that section all at once rather than coming back to it later. Still, I’m enjoying my slow retreat back to painting. Yesterday I took the plunge and even purchased my own set of professional acrylic paints – my preferred medium. Returning to art is a process, and there’s still a lot for me to learn. But I’m hoping it is something I’ll be sticking with this time around – partly because I think it would tie in quite well with the blog. For those of you who like me are rediscovering their world of art after a long break, here are some other sort-of-useful-but-not-really tips I’ve learned recently:

  1. Stop comparing your work to the professional work of others – you will feel very sad and become convinced that your work is akin to that of a 4 year old.
  2. If using watercolours, wait for your work to dry completely before painting over it as it will prevent the colours from blending in together too much. If you can’t wait, at least focus on a different section for a while to give it some time to settle. If you still can’t do that, stand in the corner until you learn some patience.
  3. Coating your paintbrush in black paint and adding it to red for example will not make a slightly darker red – it will make black.
  4. If you have a favourite paintbrush you’re comfortable with, use it for as much of your art as you can. Don’t listen to anyone (else) on the internet who tells you to use a variety: it’s all a lie and a conspiracy. They just want you to fail by using brushes you don’t understand that don’t paint the way they look like they should.
  5. Relax. If you’re anything like me, painting helps to provide some peace in an otherwise overwhelmed brain. Try not to worry so much about whether everything is going to plan or not. Instead, concentrate on enjoying and taking pride in your work – the whole thing will feel much better if you do.

If you’re interested in trying art therapy, often mental health services in your local area will offer sessions that are completely free.  For example you may be able to access an arts therapist on the NHS. By getting in touch with your GP, they should be able to tell you what’s available in your area and make a referral. Mental health charities such as Mind may also offer art therapy groups. Alternatively, you can find an art therapist by going here.

Ruth’s Disjointed Alphabet Series: O is for Overwhelmed

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‘Overwhelmed’ by Carolyn LeGrand

01:12am

There is too much in my head and I can’t think straight it’s weighing me down it’s too much too much in my head I can’t concentrate on just one without something else taking its place it’s too much too many thoughts too many worries too many fears too many negatives too many tears too many intrusive thoughts I wish there was a way to make them stop make it all stop I can’t see anymore it’s too much at one time I jus-

Ruth’s Disjointed Alphabet Series: M is for Mirtazapine

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Illustration by Olaf Hajek

Due to a series of unpleasant, negative and fairly painful thoughts that don’t seem to want to leave me alone, I have done what any other normal individual would do who can’t properly concentrate during their attempted watch of 21 Jump Street – I have created a wordpress blog.

I’ve decided to kick things off with the first of what I hope will be an alphabet series centered on mental health matters. Only we’re going to start with M first because leave me alone.

As it stands now it is currently 12.04am and I am sitting in bed waiting for the supposed drowsiness effects of Mirtazapine to kick in. For those who aren’t aware, Mirtazapine is an antidepressant. For those who may not have connected the dots, that means I have depression. A fairly new antidepressant, I thought it might be interesting to compare it to another antidepressant I have experience of: Sertraline. I first took Sertraline during my third year at university, in part due to the added symptom of depersonalisation to my usual depression. Depersonalisation is something I intend to talk about separately in the future – given that we have a considerable history together – but to summarise it is the overwhelming feeling of you and/or the world not being real. Despite being a disturbing experience, it is a fairly common occurrence that can be seen with anything from borderline personality disorder to the use of psychedelic drugs. In my case I tend to experience it during periods of extreme anxiety or depression, and it usually serves as a self-indicator that I’m likely losing my mind and should do something. Therefore given what seems to be the NHS’ eagerness to administer pharmaceutical drugs for any and everything, after speaking with my university GP I was given a choice between Sertraline and another antidepressant, Citalopram. It didn’t occur to me at the time but I probably should have questioned why the medically-trained professional was asking me to randomly pick an antidepressant rather than deciding which was best for me based on, you know, knowledge or something – but I digress. In the end I think I chose Sertraline because I liked the name more; it sounded like it could be an energy drink or something equally exciting. After coughing up my own money for drugs I didn’t particularly want to take in the first place, I began treatment. I had done enough research on antidepressants both personally and as part of my psychology course to know that side effects are quite common. But interestingly enough Mirtazapine and Sertraline seemed to be quite different.

Sertraline vs Mirtazapine: Death Match 

Personally Mirtazapine immediately has the advantage for me, because as someone who has felt body tremors with Sertraline (along with suicidal thoughts, insomnia and nausea)  they are, in no uncertain terms, a can of nope that I refuse to deal with again. Of course everyone is different, and I’m sure Sertraline has been great for at least someone out there. Additionally from what I’ve gathered from various internet forums, the most prevalent negatives cited for Mirtazapine seem to be either the inability to sleep for anything less than 12 hours, or the gaining of 20 stone in a week. I have yet to experience any of this, so I am either fortunate in that respect or someone with mutated genes. Regardless these aren’t things that would bother me too much anyway, especially the weight gain considering I have lost quite a bit in my current crisis.

Therefore as it stands I am quite happy with the bond me and Mirtazapine seem to be building together. However that being said I may just be experiencing some delayed effects. If so I will likely provide an update in a few weeks time to share my new side effect of inverted nipples or something else only I would be unlucky enough to develop.