Three or four years ago I went to a therapy session wearing patterned trousers that were largely navy and black with occasional small orange crescents. My therapist glanced at them, looked pleased with himself, turned back to me, and said:
‘That’s what it will be like. That’s when you’ll know you’re getting well. Very briefly at some point the sun will come out and you’ll see it, like those tiny crescents, and then it will go again. But it will be back, and over time those bursts of sunshine will each one last slightly longer than the last.’
He’s a poetic chap, my therapist. And he was also right: that has been happening for over a year now.
Initially it really was two minutes at a time that the desperation, terror and gloom seemed infinitesimally to lift. That was not a benefit; it was brutally hard. I hated the brief partings of the clouds because when the clouds closed up again the pain came back with more force.
But over time the partings came more frequently, and eventually they lasted for longer, and with them came some comfort. Slowly I became able to notice, name and remember not only the fact of the brightness, but also the emotions and sensations that began to show up. By a year or so ago I was up to a day or two a week that was mostly pretty good. In the last few months I’ve been averaging four to five days. And then yesterday I got to the end of the week and realised it had been pretty good throughout, and that that was a miracle.
So this is what a good week has been like. For me, with my particular complexities of nervous system and brain. At this stage of my recovery. In my life as it is.
First of all, my energy levels have been fairly consistent. Usually they lurch from manic to utterly collapsed. Sometimes back and fro several times within an hour, certainly repeatedly throughout a day.
Collapsed means no walking, no ability to think, no energy to lift my eyes and look around. Manic means overwhelming excitement and optimism at all I could be doing, but with thoughts going too fast for me to clutch onto any one thing. Both, as you can imagine, are crippling. Both prevent me from getting anything done. Appointments get rescheduled, and then they build up and I panic. I miss things, and I’m ashamed, and then the depression hits and fuels my exhaustion and I go to bed and the day is gone and then I can’t sleep at night. It all varies in its intensity, but those lurches happen all the time.
This week hasn’t really been like that. Every day I’ve had patches of both the ups and the downs, but generally they’ve lasted only twenty or thirty minutes at a time. I’ve let them come and go as I have learned to do. And in between I’ve got lots of things done. You can see how that stability has helped.
Secondly, my mood was largely good. And, more importantly, it was never really bad. I have been nervous this last week but not irrationally terrified. I have been sad, but not foreseeing catastrophe. I have occasionally felt antisocial, but my brain has never switched itself off from a relationship with the world. I have been irritated, angry, frustrated and impatient. All normal non-positive emotions. All immensely positive for me in that sheer normality.
And on the other side I’ve also been relieved. I’ve been pleased, joyful, excited, touched, relaxed, calm. All of those are merely within the range of healthy adult experience. All of those are unavailable to me when things are bad.
Thirdly, I’ve got over a couple of blocks. I travelled for work in a way I haven’t done since before I was ill. I asked for help and emotional support to get me over my nerves. I swam my first full length of front crawl.
As I say, it was a miracle.
The question is what enabled this wonder-week. And, honestly, the answer’s not clear. A lot of helpful practices have built up over a long period of time. Coincidentally I avoided some of the less helpful circumstances in my life. But there were some practical things I did right as well. Here, for what it’s worth, is what I understand that they were:
I got enough sleep. I didn’t try to get by on less than enough. I need ten hours a night. I got it. It helped.
I had enough and not too much exercise. Two yoga classes. Lots of walking around. No running, as it happens, though sometimes that does help.
I ate regularly and healthily. Protein, slow-release carbohydrate, and vegetables or fruit three times a day in sufficient quantity. Plus healthy snacks, lots of water, very little caffeine, no alcohol. I need to eat every two-and-a-half hours at the moment. If I push it an hour beyond that I’m in trouble in energy and mood, and the knock-on effects can last for a day.
I talked to new people with rich experiences of life. I talked to people I already know, who hugged me and supported me, frustrated me, bored me and made me laugh.
I took the medication I’m prescribed as I always do. I listened in my therapy session. I went away and tried to practise what I learned.
That seemed to be it. Nothing special. Nothing dramatic. Nothing expensive. Nothing woo-woo. Merely pragmatic techniques and approaches that over time are stabilising my nervous system and brain.
Does it matter? Not in the outside world.
I did not save orphans or work towards world peace. I didn’t find time and energy to work on my new novel. I didn’t get fitter, or slimmer, or earn a promotion.
So it was normal. That was all. But such normality has been out of my brain and body’s reach now for a considerable period of time. So being fine for a week, being healthy: actually that will do.
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