As I cross the threshold into my third week of hospitalisation in a psychiatric ward, I find myself at something of a loose end with respect to my short term arrangements.
On one hand, I face an additional week or so on the ward. The benefits of this are obvious; I remain in a monitored environment and I have access to on-site support to assist with any struggles I may have, emotionally or practically. The flip-side of that is that it’s a chaotic and alien place where anything can happen at any time and sleep can often be hard to achieve.
On the other hand, I face the idea of going home, and then – most likely – back off to seek solace with family shortly thereafter. Much like before, I’d be in a (relatively) monitored environment and I’d still have the support with anything with which I needed it. And while it’s still a more lively environment than I’m used to, it would be like a desert-island compared to the ward.
The negatives about leaving the ward primarily focus around my uncertainty about my immediate future. Job security, fitness to work, mortgage security, and much, much more, are all big worries that play through my mind all the time anyway, but will be exacerbated by being on the outside where they will feel more real and more pressing than when I’m hidden away in here.
And though there are no genuine down-sides to spending yet more time with family, I will create ones, even if not entirely true, because I can’t seem to give myself a break at all and I seem to need reasons to avoid as much as possible as often as possible.
‘I’ll just be in the way.’
‘I’d be a drain on time and resources.’
‘You’ve all got far better things to do with your time than pander to my petty anxieties.’
‘I need to get my shit together at some point, I might as well start now, right?’
And it goes on, and on. I pile on the guilt until I’m absolutely convinced that all those horrid little thoughts I created are absolute fact and nothing will be able to break them down.
In a way, it’s about loss of control. Loss of choice. I will not decide when I’m ready to leave. That’s up to the doctors in charge of my treatment. I will not decide where I stay. I’ll let my family insist upon my spending time with them and go anyway.
‘They’ say that control is an illusion. Well, in some instances, it probably is. But there are times when we ‘can’ control what happens. This is a situation where the choices I make and the moves that I take, will be hugely instrumental in how my progress develops.
And this scares me a bit. I don’t really trust me. Not with myself, anyway. Give me a valuable painting to keep safe, no problem. Priceless Ming vase? I’ve got a nice cosy spot to keep that from harms way. Me? Not a chance. I’ll have torn through any shreds of encouragement or support I’ve been able to hold on to and I’ll then go in all guns blazing to shoot my nerves to buggery.
I’ll be a crying, quivering mess in no time at all.
I’ve lost my ability to self-regulate. I can’t bring myself to a place that makes sense. And people keep asking me what happened in the last couple of months to bring this on. I have to tell them that the tipping point was the breakdown of a relationship that I cherished dearly and still don’t entirely understand how it blew apart in quite the way it did, but also ‘that’ coinciding with the loss of self with the potential autism diagnosis.
And then I pause and say, but that’s just the tipping point. In reality, this has been brewing since my marriage failed in the summer of 2019. Though I seemed to bounce back from that at the time, took life in my stride and did the best out of a rough situation, all of that was a mask that I was wearing to show people that I can be ‘this guy’. I can be independent, I can be responsible. I can handle things.
That mask has become heavier and heavier with each thing I’ve tried to do while wearing it. Jobs have failed, relationships have failed.
I have failed.
I’ve lost the person I thought would be a life partner. I then lost my freedom in the Covid lockdowns that followed shortly after. I lost employment. I lost money. I lost confidence. I lost faith. I lost hope. I lost my dignity. I lost myself. I lost my mind.
Other people have lost so much more. Other people have lost limbs in war. Other people have had entire chunks of their families decimated by the pandemic. Other people sleep out in the cold; homeless and hopeless having lost everything they once had.
Compared to them, I must seem like such a privileged arsehole. Banging about in my hardtop convertible with a two-bed apartment and all my creature-comforts… It’s way more than a lot of people have!
Yet here I am.
Something in me broke when I became single again. I look at everything I achieved before that event and all the success I’d enjoyed. Since then, it has been stumble followed by failure at every opportunity. All of it culminating in the most cataclysmic mental crash I’ve had to date.
Like a dropped lightbulb, my mind is smashed into a multitude of tiny fragments and, while not impossible to find all the pieces and glue them back together, I worry that the lightbulb will never function again. It’ll always be past its peak and no longer useful.
I’m assured by many that I’ll find a place in the world again. That I’ll discover that I haven’t really changed and that the me I thought I was all along is still right here and just as valid as ever before. But I’m not convinced. I still don’t know how much of this ‘me’ that everybody has got to know is the artificial mask I’ve painted onto myself. How much of it is social conditioning? How much of it is me pretending to be what the social conditioning needs me to be despite it’s not how the core me wants to behave?
So far, while my masks are broken and I am exposed to the world, I’ve become a wreck. Panic attacks, crying, literal paralysis from fear of people or situations. Retreating and hiding from any scenario that seems beyond my control, and I recognise that I can’t control ‘any’ environment I may go into and so I do my utmost to avoid all of them.
I still try to wear the masks at times. I had the pleasure of getting off the ward today to spend time with my mum. Having made the journey all the way from the Kent coastline to come check in with me, she treated me to dinner out, but not before we spent the afternoon getting caught up and going over a few of the things currently troubling me. But even being in a quiet hotel restaurant, required me to have to bear the weight of the mask and to supress the screaming terror that the inner me was trying to release. It held for as long as I needed it to, and it came off once I was back in my private room at the hospital. But it was uncomfortable.
We’ll do it all again tomorrow before she heads back south-east, and I’m both happy and anxious about this. Happy to see close family and do something outside the hospital, but anxious about the small moments where the mask begins to slip off. Not so much for her sake, but for any time where we are out in a public space.
As I sit in my room back on the ward and contemplate existence, I think about the effects I’m having on those around me. Loss of certainty about my well-being, loss of sleep (in at least one instance) due to concern. Loss of routine or time coming to check on me with visits.
I feel a bit responsible for that. Again, guilt-tripping myself into feeling like a burden which just feeds into the turbine of negativity that permanently swirls inside my mind. I know they all have freedom of choice. That people make the effort because they want to. I still struggle with the concept of people ‘wanting’ to do anything for me.
I just don’t get it.
I’m waiting to be found. I’m waiting for someone to help point me out and identify me. To ask the real Rob Roy to step forward so I can take a long look at who he is and understand what his purpose in life is.
I’ve made a promise to a dear friend of mine, who is having mental health difficulties herself, that she and I will support each other through our difficulties and will get better together. Though we don’t live close-by, we’ll stay in contact, we’ll check in on each other and we can be honest about what’s going on because we understand the other’s perspective.
There’s no shame or judgement or guilt about speaking the truth to each other like one can often feel when regurgitating all of the terrible stories of self-harm and self-perpetuating misery inflicted upon oneself to a doctor.
Perhaps helping others is the purpose I’ve been longing to find? Perhaps I need to stop being a desk jockey and search for ways to guide other people who are in need? It would certainly tick the box that says I need to have a reason to be here; to offer validity to my existence and not just be another blip in an endless cycle of blips that come and go without making any notable mark on the world.
I see so many people doing amazing things around me. Shaping young minds by teaching them about things and expanding their understanding of the world. Supporting and treating the sick and infirm. Charitable causes that work tirelessly to create better lives for impaired and disabled people…
I’d like to be a part of that. I want to shake off the shackles of being a faceless, nameless drone amongst thousands of other faceless, nameless drones, tapping away at a keyboard for nine hours a day. I want to lose the inhibitions that make it so hard for me to put myself into the world and to share my knowledge and wisdom. I want to lose the anxiety and the paralysis that holds me back from achieving what I’m capable of.
I want to find life.
I want to find purpose.
I want to find me.
I await to find out what lays in store for me. For now, I’ll have a medication increase after tomorrow, and then I’ll be back in front of the consultants and doctors two days after that. At that point, I find out if I complete my third week in hospital, or if I lose the sanctuary of these walls and am cast out into the frightening and intimidating world beyond.
Very much a ‘six of one, half a dozen of the other’ scenario. Both options scare me, and thus I’m happy to give up the loss of control and to leave the choice in someone else’s hands.
That way, if something goes wrong, I can’t hold myself entirely accountable for it.
Though, of course, I’ll find a way to make it so, regardless.
Depression is a bitch!