Or, the elephant in the room…or smoke and mirrors…
WARNING – THIS BLOG CONTAINS FRANK DESCRIPTIONS OF MY MENTAL HEALTH THAT SOME MAY FIND TRIGGERING/UPSETTING
With this walk a mile malarkey I’d charged myself with the task of getting people to talk and think more about mental ill health and what it meant to them.
Wether you have a mental malady, you have a friend with one, you are a carer or, one of those very rare creatures, someone who’s never been touched by anything whappy, this is something we all need to think about and, more importantly, talk about.
The facts still remain – at least 1 in 4 of us will be visited by some mental health problem in our lives – and – it is still the biggest killer of men under the age of 35 in the UK.
Every year, over 5 thousand people in the UK will take their own lives.
I have always believed that talking helps.
However…still after all this time, I chose silence.
It had been my goal to reach Caernarfon on this beautifully sunny day.
I think it was a Tuesday – it had been my aim to walk until the weekend – I’d then go back to Ella’s to prepare for my talk with the young eager folk at Sibford school.
I’d walked about a mile when, without getting too technical, I ground to a halt.
I found a bench where I could park and look winsomely into the middle distance. And I stopped.
Everything was leaden.
I sat down and looked out on a slow moving boat, some sea birds bobbing about the place – a heron – they really don’t look like they should be able to fly…
I thought about all I’ve learnt from mindfulness.
Stay in the moment.
Experience the world around me. The sights, smells, feeling the bench through my bum…
The thing is, I felt dead. I had nothing. What would ordinarily fill me with joy and give me a sense of exhilaration contributed nothing to this emptiness.
I watched people walking their dogs – passing the time of day as they wandered by…
I could feel that all too familiar protective bubble growing around me.
I’m fine, no, really, I’m ok, hi, yes, it is a lovely day…did you see that heron…?
I didn’t, couldn’t move for 2 hours…come on, Chris, Caernarfon’s just a couple of miles up the road…I just need to get there…put my tent…
Just experience the world, stay in the moment…
But it had gone – I’d gone – Caernarfon may as well be on the moon…
I just need to keep going for a couple of days.
I looked along the Menai Strait – I looked along to the end of the little park where I was sitting…50 metres or so…even that was too far.
It wasn’t the short distance per se, it was the unknown world after it…sure, I could walk maybe a 100 metres, but what then?
Stay in the moment!!!
Another hour. Feeling cold now.
I phone Ella – it’s brief, necessarily so..
‘Have you dissociated?’
‘Is there somewhere you can go?’
‘I passed a B&B not too far back…’
‘Good, let me know when you get there – I’ll be with you in about 5 hours…’
I booked in – pleasantries with the receptionist – shown to my room – loud TV – phoned Ella – autopilot.
She makes that journey – that same journey she’s made so many times to pick up that automaton Chris – knowing that the next few days, who knows, weeks, will pass emotionless with this strange imposter, this doppelgänger.
We know the script. We bag him up – drive him home – stick him in front of loud TV…
We repeat the mantra – it’ll pass, it always does – but this time there’s a timer on it…I have to be better in time for next Fridays’ talk, for a meeting the following Monday with the Corby Cube folk to begin thinking about next years’ joint ventures…
In my dissociated state, I couldn’t care less.
It passed in good time – I had space to prepare for my talk, welcome Johanna the documentary maker and my very good friend – enjoy the thrill of the talk, of what turned out to be a workshop, I had a great meeting with Spike and Chris and Johanna – things are looking great.
Ella gets Chris back – we laugh, we love, we care, we banter…
I feel great – it’s all good – we start looking at my return to north Wales…
But the swing is too great – there’s too much feeling…
I become a seething mass – it takes all the effort I have just to stay still.
I am worthless – less than worthless, I am poisonous – toxic to everyone who I encounter…
I want to destroy myself. Teeth clenched, muscles tense, I want to die. Not with a murmur – but in an explosion of destruction. I want to cut off my left hand at first – a desire – almost a compulsion – that spreads – I want to obliterate my face – cutting it – stabbing it – so it – I, no longer exist.
I know that this too passes – that small voice of cognitive reason is still there amongst this self destructive rage.
It will pass.
I take my pills – usually they help me sleep – but now it just feels like they scratch the surface of this fucking racket.
Again, Ella has lost me.
At times like this in the past all the knives in the house have mysteriously disappeared – Ella uses all manners of persuasion to prevent this impulse to hurt myself.
Over the years this has taken the form of punching myself in the face – such is the power of Ella’s persuasion, I feel that when I hurt me, I’m hurting her.
It’s a beast we know, I can’t sustain this level of anger for very long – not more than a day or two at the most – and this dissipates gradually into a period of quiet self loathing.
I’m aware, all the time, of what is going on – of this long arduous process.
So what do I do? I pretend. I tell people about the symptoms that have passed – not this more low level nagging – this voice that tells me how unworthy I am – how ugly I am…
It’s like I have the mental ill health version of the Babel fish – Douglas Adam’s translator fish from the Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy – so when I hear simple phrases like, ‘Ella’s lovely,’ or ‘Ella’s great,’ I hear, ‘She’s too good for you…’, and, ‘Why don’t you get a proper job so you can contribute properly to your lives?’
But I continue to pretend – to chat along in a chipper way – protecting others from my nonsense – protecting me from having to talk about it…
This passes. It always passes.
Occasionally my dissociation takes an unusual turn – new symptoms – new, usually unwelcome experiences.
Often, I’m unsure what triggers it all – usually it doesn’t matter…
No, I’m being flippant. There are relationship type things that can twang me off into my crazy world of symptoms – normal stuff that most folk get on with.
Sure, they’re challenging, but most folk don’t feel the need to mentally vanish to deal with them.
Also – I can experience a whole bunch of mental stuff after positive events – a happy, banterous chat with a friend, fun and frolics with the lovely Ella, successful presentations…
Things that give me a happy buzz.
But it’s not an exact science.
Which brings me to weird dissociation.
Ella was on the phone to her sister – I was watching TV. All pretty normal stuff.
Suddenly I was aware that I’d sunk back into my head. I had no perception of touch, of smell, of sight, of taste, I could hear nothing…
I just had a sense of being.
It felt like I was in some kind of maze. But I couldn’t see the edges, or the walls – I was lost.
I was looking for a way out – occasionally I got flashes of the outside world – of Ella’s voice – of light from the TV.
I felt desperate – I became aware of my breath – of my heart pounding – I was panicking – there was no way out.
Suddenly it felt like I was in the TV – enjoying lunch with the other characters – just for a few seconds – and then I was out again, back on the sofa.
Watching the TV.
As far as I’m aware, the whole episode lasted about 15 minutes.
But Lordy, that was weird.
The reason I’m talking about it is not because I want people to understand.
I don’t understand. I experience it all and I can only grasp at understanding.
It has taken me 30 odd years to get to the point that I’m aware of these weird turns my mind takes – of how I must appear different, inconsistent, to the people who know me.
I remember growing up thinking, ‘Why are people so changeable? How can they be so erratic?’
When, looking back, it was me – so often they were reacting to my changes…
I guess it’s useful for people to know what goes on – so, perhaps, they, you, don’t take my changes personally.
We work at it, Ella and I. She sees the changes – and she joins me in the mantra of, ‘This will pass.’
Loud TV really helps.
These are symptoms that attract the diagnosis of ‘Borderline Personality Disorder’. Like so many mental maladies, it differs greatly from one person to the next.
It’s easy to look at it as a shopping list of symptoms on some diagnostic manual – the International Classification of Diseases – The ICD-10; or The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – The DSM 5 –
but to see it in full flight, like so many other mental maladies, it’s difficult to fathom.
I often say it’s probably down to a mixture of crazy life experiences and faulty brain wiring…
The thing is, I don’t really know.
I do know I can describe the symptoms – I know I still feel shame and embarrassment at it all – I know, occasionally, I can still dip into the world of, ‘Pull yourself together, Chris.’
Weave into this a multitude of avoidant behaviours that I developed over years just to prevent me from experiencing any of that nonsense, we’re left with something very complicated.
And that’s just me.
It would be so easy for Ella and a few other friends to take my outward behaviour personally.
As I was growing up with the condition – it was easy for me to make it personal – I’m feeling furious – you’re the person in front of me, therefore you must have made me furious…
And so on.
In the past few years I’ve pretty much learnt to say – it happens – here it is again – it will pass.
I don’t avoid situations that I think may set it off – my life would be so much poorer for that – but I take more care now to ensure I’m safe – and I allow myself to be cared for.
Ok, sometimes I’ll keep it to myself…but I try not to.
So, in short, I haven’t been fine, but I’m feeling pretty good now and I’m looking forward to Christmas with my lovely Ella
Walk a mile