Some days you get the bear…

While stuck in a quagmire of depression and anxiety – and all the trimmings that come with them – I find myself feeling as though my life is just one massive failure. That I’ve let myself down in addition everyone I know, or knew, and that I will likely never amount to anything worthwhile.

I’m not an idiot. I have a very rational side to my personality that knows that none of that is true. My rational side is always super-logical. Rational-Rob can see things with such startling clarity that it leaves little room for interpretation. Things just simply ‘are’.

However, there is another side to my personality; Emotional-Rob. Emotional-Rob is a bloody nutcase! He is convinced that everyone has some sort of agenda against me. Wherever he looks, he sees disaster, and suffering and anguish. He lives in world of smouldering craters, buildings falling over and things exploding for no reason. It’s chaos unleashed. And because Emotional-Rob lives in this place, he’s always stressed out, always on edge, and always screaming about something.

These two extreme sides of my personality spend every moment of every day, arguing with each other. They are at constant war. Rational-Rob (RR) is always trying to talk Emotional-Rob (ER) down to a safe level. ER is always trying to make RR see that there is nothing to be calm about. I feel as though I’m an entity caught between the two opposing sides. I can’t do anything or decide anything without the go-ahead from one or both of them.

So, every decision, every choice, every encounter, is farmed out for consideration by these two sides of my psyche. And battle commences. All I can do is sit in the middle and wait for one of them to come back to me with an answer.

Most of the time, an answer never comes because this battle is never going to be won by either side. This forces me to react either indecisively or to choose an answer that is poorly considered and often has no substance.

My indecisiveness has been a major sticking point at many times over the years. I know for a fact that it used to cause much consternation in my marriage, and it has done so again in more recent relationships. I don’t like being indecisive, but it is a consequence of the difficult history I had in my youth where, so often, no matter what I chose, or what I did, I was made to feel that it was the wrong thing.

RR says that my life can’t be one enormous failure because there have been so many successes along the way; friendships, a marriage, holding down and succeeding at various jobs, learning to drive, getting an A-level in Film Studies, supporting and maintaining a household, managing finances, acquiring and maintaining a really great car that I adore… The list goes on and on.

ER has a different take on it. He says, “Marriage? Pah! That didn’t last, did it? A-level in Film Studies, what a waste of time that was! Who cares? Just about anyone can learn to drive, you can’t call that a success. You’re not in those jobs any more, are you? Yeah, what a bloody mistake giving those up turned out to be!”

And when ER has finished turning every little victory in to something to be ashamed or guilty about, he starts on the insults. “What a fucking waste of time and effort you’ve turned out to be. What’s the point of carrying on? It’s got this bad this quickly, there’s no salvaging this, it’s going to only get progressively worse from here. We might as well just call it a day and let the world carry on without us because we’re just wasting resources being here!”

And then I get so overwhelmed by the rushing tornado of thoughts that ER has kicked up, I ended up shrivelling away from the world and all I can do is cry and wail about how much I want things to stop. Sometimes, I try to smash the thoughts out of my head, like causing myself physical pain might somehow dull the noise of the storm inside my mind.

It never does.

All it does is add physical pain to the emotional pain. This method of self-harm is also triggered by frustration and anger. Anything I can’t make sense of initiates a stress reaction. Stress sets off my anxiety and my feelings of failure. Anxiety and failure lead to fear and anger, and anger leads to needing to lash out.

I can’t and won’t hurt anyone or anything else. I don’t have it in me to cause intentional suffering on any other living creature. Knowing that I could break something I’d likely not be able to afford to replace flashes into my mind and that leaves me with just one viable target; myself.

It often happens without me realising it. One moment, the emotions are boiling up, the next thing I know is that I am holding my head in pain, tears are flowing and it hurts so much that I drop to the floor, curl up and sob for hours.

It fills me with shame to admit this. It fills me with shame when it happens. I have the guilt and the shame of being a self-harmer, but one who will not do anything visible to others to warn them I’m a danger to myself.

It was because of this admission to the mental health workers that they wanted to hospitalise me for my safety. And this brings me to a failure of pretty spectacular proportions.

Before I discuss this, I want to make it abundantly clear that I ‘do’ have the utmost respect for, and belief in the NHS. There are countless people working very long hours in adverse environments and they keep going back to do it again and again. For the most part, they adopt a selfless and supportive attitude, and they serve as a force of good.

But despite each and every one of us giving up a little bit of our salaries every month to support the NHS, it is still an institution that is creaking under the strain of the pressure being placed upon it by limited resources and shortages of money. And that was before there was a global pandemic that swept into Britain and hammered the poor NHS silly.

The mental health crisis team have been a bit of a mixed bag. Most of the people I’ve seen have been absolutely fine, a couple have been great. But there’s a small handful who have left me questioning why they do the job that they do.

People who make poor decisions after being told the details of the case. People who either don’t bother to take notes, or don’t read any notes on my file before coming and speaking to me which results in repetitive and unnecessary regurgitation of fact, and that leads into frustration for me.

People who, by the nature of their tone and manner, come across as forceful and brusque. They don’t converse, they don’t talk to you, they talk ‘at’ you; a constant barrage of words, repetitive words, repetitive statements, never stopping, never pausing, never letting up for a moment, just words, and words, and words, and words, and more words, and even more words, until I have to put my hands to my ears and plead with them to stop talking.

People who seem to completely misunderstand what mental health, anxiety, autism, ADHD and sensory hypersensitivity means and after a lengthy and distressing diatribe, proceeds to place you in a hospital where it is permanently noisy (day and night) with loud conversations amongst staff, patients playing music, patients watching noisy videos on their phones, clearing their throats loudly and pacing while filling the air with that god-awful vaping shit! Doors beeping when being opened. Doors slamming closed firmly. Footsteps echoing around corridors. Keys jangling on people’s belts as they walk… It was excruciating.

I got no sleep at all on my first night in that hospital. I was so stressed, so wound up, so tired and frustrated, I probably hurt myself more in the one night than I had done in the days leading up to it. And as daylight began to seep into my room and the horror of realisation that it must have been about 8am and that any further chances of rest were now at least fourteen or fifteen hours away from me, led me to have a bit of a meltdown.

Only then, did someone come to ask what was going on? All my pleas in the small hours of the morning for something to help me sleep, all my begging for something to help me, all ignored. Nobody came to tell me anything or ask me how I was. The best I could hope for was that every forty-five minutes or so, someone would take a cursory glance through my window while on their rounds to see that nothing terrible was happening.

As it turns out, nothing terrible was happening on any of those fraction-of-a-second glances I was given, but so many times, I had been pounding my fists into my head, hurting myself, trying to beat myself unconscious, trying to bash my skull in until all the noise went away… That was missed.

Later in the morning I tried to tell people I wasn’t safe there. That it was doing more harm than good. That as a voluntary patient – as opposed to one who has been sectioned and has no choice but to remain at the doctor’s mercy – I had the choice to discharge myself so long as a doctor agreed it was for the best.

But I had been given some sort of tranquiliser pill to slow me down a bit. I was groggy from lack of sleep and I was fighting the agitation and anxiety from being so out of sorts and being in such an unfamiliar place.

I think that when I was presented to the doctor for her assessment, I came across as edgy, difficult and vague and it was a hard sell to be discharged. The second night was only fractionally better but with only a few, very short, hours of sleep, I was still dog-tired and aggressive and made several attempts to smash my way out of my room.

Again, all of these were missed by the cursory glances. And it wasn’t even as though I was timing anything I was doing to avoid detection… they just failed to see what was going on. When I assured them that my sister had kindly made arrangements for me to go straight to the south coast where she lives to spend time around family, they softened a little and advised I could go just as soon as that had been confirmed.

That took a number of hours as the hospital had attempted to phone my sister who just happened to be in a poor-signal area of a supermarket. Attempts were made to restore that connection and after a little more waiting I was assured it had all been sorted and I was on my way home.

It later transpired that they never did successfully call my sister to confirm a care plan was in place. For all they knew, it could have been a total lie. But they let me go anyway and that was all I wanted so I didn’t really care.

As it happened, a care plan ‘was’ actually arranged and then next morning, I was picked up and driven down to their house by the sea.

The hospital, I’m sure, does lots of good work for those suffering from mental health difficulties. But a person with my struggles and sensitivities, I would think, would be an obvious candidate for being kept away from such a place. Now, if the hospital had unlimited resources and money, perhaps they could have an enormous campus with dozens and dozens of wings where each of the different types of mentally ill patient could be kept in a safe place with other people going through something similar. And there’d be enough staff and technology to ensure that safety is maintained throughout.

But that can’t happen with real-world resources. Instead, we’re all lumped in with the crazies, the paranoid, the scared, the depressed and the hyper. And what this means is that they failed me by putting me in there, they failed everyone by not mandating any sense of structure to the patients, they failed the NHS as a place to cause no harm to patients…

It was an unmitigated disaster. It took hours and hours of crying to decompress from that awful experience once I finally stepped back into my apartment. Now, when the anger boils over into a moment of self-harm, I go back to that time on the ward, how by being a risk to myself at home put me back there. And it amplifies the already inevitable guilt and shame and dread that I’m either going to have to lie to people about how bad things still are or risk being taken back to that place.

I’m saying it here, so there is no doubt, no equivocation! If they put me back in that ward. I will put my fist or my head through a pane of glass! Or I’ll kill myself trying to do so!

With a statement like that closing down that section of the discussion, it can be safely said that the hospital was a definitive failure. There was a brief glimmer of hope from their patient outreach programme but even that seemed to dry up pretty quickly and without warning.

If I were to take a step back and let RR do some talking, he might say something like this…

“Life has been generally good, but some bad has come of it lately. Not a soul out there has constant good or constant bad. It’s the rollercoaster effect, sometimes it’s fast, sometimes it’s slow, sometimes it’s boring, others it’s exhilarating, sometimes you’re climbing to great height, and others you’re crashing downwards at an alarming rate.

“But as with any rollercoaster, eventually you get off, appreciate the ride and go get a doughnut to try and calm yourself down from it.”

Perhaps the secret to success in life is going for a doughnut to celebrate it? Perhaps that’s something to test once I’m down to target-weight and calorie counting is less important.

I’ve had an exceptionally difficult few days recently. These are the ‘other days’ when ‘the bear gets you.’

It has been a challenge to do anything other than cry for many of them. Though I’m assured I’m welcome to go back and be with family while I phase back into everyday living, I can’t help but feel like I need to avoid being a nuisance. The more rational argument for staying at home is that makes accessing my local treatment teams easier.

Maybe once I know what my treatment/appointment schedule will look like and whether it’s home based, hospital office, or phone/video call, I can see about seeking solace in the company of others again.

But I’ve had to reach out to local support services a couple of times already. Simply because I’m desperate for their help to understand why GP’s are so shockingly short sighted in their actions; why they feel the need to prescribe medications I’ve explicitly stated were not having a favoured effect and needed changing. Yet, without consulting me at all, they just reissue the same old prescrip’ leaving me bewildered and upset.

I was given a task to do by one of the kind peeps at my local walk-in crisis centre; “Make a list of all the successes in your life right now.”

And I was going to. RR was ready to take the controls and make a list about things like incredible weight loss, keeping the mortgage paid, having wonderful friends and family who keep offering their support, having a T5 Volvo that’s wonderful fun, and a collection of Lego sets that would be the envy of just about any geek out there.

But RR isn’t the only one trying to get his hands on the keyboard. ER is there as well and when both of them are at the controls simultaneously, essays like this happen.

And as is so inevitable in any power struggle between these two entities, ER is currently beating me back into submission and RR is being drowned out. Maybe in time, both those voices can be muzzled and the real me who has chosen to stay so hidden all my life can begin to emerge.

And when he does, he’ll want a doughnut!

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