Mayday, Mayday

Five Day Forecast 1991 by Lorna Simpson born 1960
Five Day Forecast by Lorna Simpson. 1991

Despite being a blog focused on psychology, art and mental health, I haven’t been doing much posting recently about psychology, art or mental health. Though this could be attributed to a number of different things, the most notable reason is that I’m currently in an odd place internally. Truthfully, I’m unsure of what’s really going on with me, but my mind feels all over the place. I’m having strange dreams and most mornings I wake up with anxiety I can’t pinpoint the root of. And although I have my days where I feel more capable of things, others leave me feeling totally disconnected and saddened by everything around me – most critically of myself.

Self-loathing is something I’ve struggled with for much of my life, but I feel as though it has reached new levels over the past year. At the moment I’m struggling quite a bit to leave my home, despite encouragement and love from my wonderful friends. But I’m also eating a lot healthier (read: actual fruits and vegetables) so that’s something at least.

Nonetheless, in my absence from actual writing and posting a bunch of songs that make me sad instead, I have made it to quite a few interesting events, exhibitions and workshops. In the coming weeks, I plan to share my thoughts and experience of one of these – an exhibition I attended last year at the Wellcome Collection. So, if you’re in the mood for me rambling about consciousness and disorders of memory, I’ll see you in due time.

Something I have learned with regards to this blog and my ability to share, is that I am unable to promise consistency. But what I can promise are my thoughts and emotions – good, bad and all those in between – as and when I feel able to do so. I’d like to think that can be enough for now.

(PS. I got a distinction in one of the core modules for my course! This is significant because I’ve spent most of the academic year feeling like an imposter at the institution I attend. So how I managed that while still being moderately depressed I don’t think I’ll ever know. But more on that another time.)

febbraio

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Blind Contour Drawing by Lucas Garcia. 2013

It’s been so long since my last post. There isn’t much reason for this other than to say I’ve been very tired lately; I’ve been tired and my head hurts. An interesting observation of this tiredness however, is in seeing just how much the world continues to turn even when I no longer feel a part of it. Every morning, every evening. Every sleepless night, every weary day – the world outside my window continues to buzz and spin regardless.

I have been trying, or rather failing, to put into words what I believe my current mental state to be. Despite reflecting on the various thoughts and emotions in my mind, nothing seems to sit quite right with me. Initially I couldn’t decide if this was a good or a bad thing. However, my increasingly troubled dreams and unsettled mood suggest to me it’s likely the latter.

That being said, on a more positive note I’ve been listening to a lot of Beach House recently – a band I first discovered, oddly enough, in the changing rooms of a clothing store. I’ve had one of their songs on repeat for the last day or so, although quite a few have already made their way on to my everyday playlist. I feel as though their songs have been getting me through the days this past month, which I’m very thankful for at least.

Anyway – extremely late I know, but happy 2017. Let’s continue to exist.

And when they ask us
Are we happy inside
We’re a rollercoaster
And yeah, we’re a fire in the night

What can you say
All your yeahs
It’s your life
Do you right
Give them love
And give them away

_______________

Chapter Ten

Helen Pynor - Untitled (heart lungs)(2007)
Untitled (Heart Lungs) by Helen Pynor. 2007

While walking along a nearby canal about a month ago – something I like to do when I’m feeling particularly overwhelmed – I couldn’t help but think to myself: these bad things, this violence – it seems to follow me wherever I go. Year after year I somehow end up in the same cycle.

Maybe I should stop moving.

Lundi

Copyright Glasgow Museums / Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
‘The Death of Albine’ by John Collier. Based on the novel ‘La Faute de l’Abbé Mouret’. 1895

A young girl fills her bed until the mattress overflows on all sides, with streams of roses, violets, heliotropes and lilies trailing to the floor. Only once she has sealed her tomb, does she arrange herself on her bed to suffocate – dying with the flowers.

Ruth’s Disjointed Alphabet Series: U is for University

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‘Blowing Bubbles’ by digital artist Cyril Rolando. 2009

My current mood has shifted in the last few months from overwhelming sadness, to long periods of numbness followed by a sporadic burst of emotion. Initially, I saw this as an improvement – however I quickly realised that this wasn’t the case. You see, feeling overwhelmingly sad is never pleasant. But in most cases it means you lack the energy and desire for other things, whether that’s eating or an activity requiring some level of motivation. Therefore my only possible response is to sleep as much as I can while the days move past me. In my current numbness however, I am by most estimates fairly functional. I’m still depressed and I still struggle with anxiety, but I’m able to move some of my more intrusive thoughts aside and continue with my day which leads me to wonder if I’m really sad at all. The answer of course is yes, you fool, because the numbness only seems to serve as a countdown to an inevitable outburst of distress – in some cases resulting in self-harming behaviour when I can’t cope with the sudden onset. As an example: the other day after another numb period I was out and about, and upon realising I couldn’t find an address I was looking for I immediately broke down in tears in the middle of the road, cursing myself for being such a useless human being.

It is this very same mood I was in many mornings ago during a meeting with one of my support workers. Somewhere amongst the more general questions of how I was feeling, I had an emotional outburst and broke down talking about how I felt like I wasn’t making any progress with my depression (a frequent fear of mine). In this I also revealed how I was not being entirely truthful about my thoughts and behaviours when asked if I had been having suicidal inclinations. The reason for the lies were fairly simple in my mind: I didn’t want to feel like I was failing others by not improving as quickly as I thought I should be, and I was holding on to the fear that they’ll give up on me if I told them the truth. This of course just results in keeping thoughts to yourself that you would probably feel better with sharing instead. But it’s a scary step in itself to recognise that you yourself are disappointed when you wake up every morning, not to mention sharing that thought with someone else. Something I noticed though was that this ‘hiding’ is something I’ve done countless times in the past, and here I was doing it again with my mental health. When you can see that someone cares about your wellbeing, you no longer want to share with them the whole picture of how you view yourself or the trauma you’ve been through, because you don’t want to either a) hurt them, or b) have them become frustrated with you or even put off, which in many cases hurts more. But in admitting all of this out loud I did start to see some of the faulty mechanisms involved that would ultimately prevent me from feeling better.

So instead, we spoke about my real mood and the coping mechanisms I’ve perhaps erroneously developed for myself. And in discussing the things I’d been through both as a child and more recently, as well as the importance of being easy on myself, she mentioned something that stuck out to me – leaving university is both a very big life event and a very big change for many people. This was comforting to hear, as in the months since I’ve graduated from university I’ve been feeling very negative about myself, which has undoubtedly contributed to the state I’m in now. I had finished my second year with a first (the highest possible grade in UK universities) in nearly all of my modules while simultaneously balancing a part-time job and a place on the executive team of a student social enterprise. I even worked full time for the entire duration of the following summer. But for some reason, as soon as my third year began I couldn’t cope any more. Everything was different – I felt different – and I was burned out. I saw this as me just falling back into my depression from previous years, but even when I dropped my other activities and commitments in the hopes it would help me cope better, something in the back of my mind had me on edge. And as I reflect on it more I feel I’m beginning to understand part of what that was – I was anxious about soon was losing part of who I was. For a very long time, I’ve always defined myself as Ruth the Student. Seventeen years of my life have been spent in school or higher education institutions. It was all I knew, it was all I felt good at. Even when I worked during summer holidays or completed internships I always knew that I was a student, and that I would be going back. Additionally although I didn’t realise it at the time, university had become a safe place I could go to when other things around me such as my home life became too chaotic or disorientating. It was a place to run away and feel safe again, and upon graduating and returning to London I realised I no longer had a safe place to go. But still I tried to adjust to my post-university world because I didn’t want everyone to think I had given up, even though I knew mentally I was slowly deteriorating. I sometimes struggle to get my words out, and I definitely didn’t have the words to describe it all as I do now. But I do think I tried my best to explain to others what I thought was happening. Nonetheless, it’s heartbreaking when the people most important to you who you thought loved and cared about you, don’t seem to even want to understand and instead think you’ve just stopped trying for yourself.

Many people find it difficult to cope with university. I’ve met many people, especially more recently, whose attempts at university have driven them to either contemplate or attempt suicide on several occasions. There can be a lot of pressure depending on many things, such as where you attend and the course you study, as well as how much individual pressure you place on yourself. I for one know I certainly came close a few times to not making it to my graduation alive. But I feel that in addition to how stressful university can be, something that people often overlook is how stressful the transition out of that system can be for some people. And it saddens me that if I had just been struggling with the former, some people may have been more understanding. There are, of course, other educational steps a person can take after their initial degree if they choose to do so. But these paths aren’t hard-wired into us from a young age like GCSEs, A-Levels and undergraduate degrees are. Besides that, no one can be a student forever. And even if you’re working towards a Master’s or a PhD, if you are someone who has defined themselves as someone who is good at being a student, sooner or later you’ll have to come to terms with this new world you don’t recognise yourself in any more.

A Post About Nothing

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By yours truly. Don’t worry, I take cheques too.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about progress, and what it means to be moving forward. When I’m in a particularly low mood I have a habit of believing I haven’t made any progress at all, which saddens me deeply. However, I see some of my close friends and they all tell me I have, as do the mental health team I work with. They tell me they can see the change in me, as if my wellbeing was a dim light they suddenly noticed trying to break through again. But this leads me to wonder: how is it then that I’m congratulated for all the great progress I’ve apparently made, when I still feel quite low most of the time? I keep being told of how strong I am, when in reality I don’t feel very strong at all. I recently watched Frances Ha (2012), a film that follows the story of a 27 year-old in New York. Despite many pressures, the title character, Frances, doesn’t really ‘do’ anything, often leading to judgements from those around her. Instead, she seems to focus her efforts on taking her time to figure things out and ensuring she’s enjoying herself along the way, which I really appreciated. Since graduating, I’ve often felt like I’m in a weird young-adult-meets-mental-health limbo. It’s been suggested that I’m not really stable enough to enter work just yet, but with no exams to prepare for anymore, where is my purpose in the world? Well, quite frankly, the answer is probably nowhere – and I’m OK with being there.

I feel as though we’re often made to feel like we constantly must be doing something, usually working or studying (or both). Therefore when you’re not doing either of these things, it can be difficult to explain why without going into too many personal or upsetting details. Conversely, even if you were to explain you may worry that they’ll suddenly start feeling sorry for you, which in some cases may just feel worse. But even still – why do we need to justify it in the first place? In the spirit of Frances, I want to feel like I can take pride in just being alive in the first place. Don’t ask me what I do. I do nothing. I’ve been through a terrible time recently so I’m having me-time and I’m doing nothing. In fact, the next time somebody asks me what I do I’m going to say nothing and throw confetti at them as I smile and run away.

Quite frustratingly though, people often assume that if you’re technically doing nothing, then you have nothing to occupy your days. I can confirm that this is categorically false, as I have many things I like to do that fill my day. I like exhibitions and board games and walks and discovering new places that I can hide away in and/or declare as part of my kingdom. I like to ride bikes and sometimes I do this with giant bows in my hair. I like to spend my evenings watching movies or scribbling while I have my dinner. On many occasions, this dinner is replaced with cake and pringles. Sometimes I like to read books. A lot of the time I do not, because I’m too easily distracted. But I enjoy articles and probably read too many of them on any given day. I like to paint and sometimes I don’t like to paint. Some days I feel better about myself and many days I don’t want to wake up at all. But whatever I’m doing I’m still trying. I’m always still trying.

The other weekend, after an unfortunate overdose, I had to speak with a psychiatrist about my current mental state. I told him I didn’t feel as though I’d made any progress with my mood, and he explained to me that progress, much like recovery in general, is never a straight line. Infact, it looks a lot more like the picture I’ve drawn at the beginning of this post (minus the wailing). I’m sure many people may have heard progress described to them in such a way before. But for me, it was a very welcome first.

I don’t know exactly what I am or who I am or what I want to be or what I want to do. And I do not care that I don’t know. This is my current philosophy. It may change within the next few days or the next few weeks or right now or not ever but it’s mine and I’m sticking to it. That is all.

A Memento: It’s Not Your Fault

the-pain-by-seema chaubey (painting by isha trivedi) (1)
‘The Pain’ by Seema Chauby, painting by Isha Trivedi

A reminder for anyone who needed to hear it today.

I feel as though I’ve been carrying the burden of all of the anger, blame, guilt, violence and bullying directed towards me in recent months. After all, it’s difficult enough trying to navigate yourself through a mental health relapse without someone actively blaming you for all of their own shortcomings. In an absurd example, it was even suggested I was now damaged and consequently no good anymore – all a result of the experiences they’d put me through, mind you. Abuse such as this can be particularly devastating if, for example, you’re someone like me who tends to gravitate towards (often erroneous) self-blaming ideations when you aren’t feeling your best. Sadly, it can be hard to see this all in the moment it’s happening. Worse still, it can be even harder to unlearn those bad judgments and rid yourself of the negativity you unwillingly absorbed.

I’ve found myself asking a lot of existential questions recently. Most notably, I’ve questioned the workings of the universe and why it always seems to go out of its way – outside the realms of chance and statistics – to create scenarios and experiences in our lives that we would otherwise be much better off without. Though highly irrational, when in very low moods the world to me seems to exist only as a field of obstacles and hardships placed in my way so that regardless of whatever progress I may have made, eventually I’m pulled back into the suffocating abyss of depressive thoughts and unhealthy coping mechanisms.

I find it very hard to wrap my head around the whys, whats and hows. Why did this have to happen, what did I do to deserve it, how is everyone else seemingly OK. When a key figure in your life goes from treating you very badly, to seemingly not acknowledging that you and your experiences ever existed in the first place, it can be very invalidating. In fact, when I cross over to this train of thinking, I often find myself questioning if I’m even real at all.

“Did this actually happen, or did I imagine it all in my head? Does anyone else remember? Do my memories still exist if the person I shared them with behaves as if they didn’t?”

Usually, such thinking results in more negative thoughts and feelings of low self-worth. In some cases however, I’ve found it actually increases my sense of depersonalisation. Which, as you may recall from a previous post, can be very distressing. All in all, I often feel as though the entire world is conspiring against me. I am very much aware, of course, that this is unlikely. But if you’d had any of the experiences I’ve had in recent months, or any negative experiences for that matter, suddenly it becomes a very easy concept to understand and accept.

Nevertheless, I do try to remind myself that I’m not at fault – although this is a lot easier said than done. Even with the input from therapists, mental health workers and friends actively telling you that someone’s negative behaviour is a reflection of their own guilt and bad character, and not a reflection of you personally, it can be a difficult notion to come to terms with. Especially if the person, in their craven attempts of shifting the blame away from themselves, went out of their way to construct an image of you in their minds that enabled them to treat you in such a nasty manner in the first place.

Regardless, whatever the situation or issues you may be trying to recover from, please try to remind yourself daily, several times daily if you need to – it’s not your fault.

(Unless it actually is your fault, in that you’re one of the horrible, blame-shifters as described above. In which case: screw you).

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.