Just less than a year ago I wrote that there were bright spells in my life and that I was slowly beginning to function more reliably again. That progress has continued. Here’s where we are today.
Most of all I am glad now that I am alive.
Stop there. Let’s say that again. I am glad that I am alive.
(Early on my therapist said his job was ‘to keep you alive until you can make the decision to do that yourself’. By that criterion his job is well done.)
But there is more: I also want to be happy. That’s a feeling that is entirely new to me; since my teens all I’ve wanted is to be numb or full of adrenalin. Now I want a calm, contented happiness.
It’s even been a while since my head told me that I wanted to die. Yes, I learned to stop listening to that voice a long time ago; that’s a necessity if you’re to survive the worst of depression. So I wasn’t listening, but until recently it carried on insisting, and that’s not a great voice to live with every day. Now it’s gone.
And there are other things.
I no longer wake every day with a sense of dread; instead I wake, see daylight, and feel mostly at peace. That doesn’t necessarily last; I still find myself scanning for what I’ve done wrong/screwed up/failed at so far that day. That usually comes as I leave the house for work. But, again, I am most days able to tell myself that I’m merely on my way to work, roughly on time, that I haven’t done anything (yet) I need to feel guilty about.
I actively want to see and spend time with people. My capacity to love those closest to me has swollen to a state of joy – periodically, at least. I’m interested in what makes friends, colleagues, passers-by tick. I’m more tolerant as well.
There are also things I want to do, that I look forward to. My writing time at the weekends. Walks through the park on my way home from work. Yoga classes. Being in mountains. Even running.
I feel warmth in the sun and I am drawn to that warmth. I relax into it. I hide away less, open myself up more.
Occasionally I buy myself flowers.
And most days I do a decent job of work; not as good as I’d like, but I’m beginning to see that my standards are (have always been) unrealistically high. I’ve had the confidence to change roles to something more interesting and more demanding. The collapsed/manic cycle of brain activity that was causing me so much pain a year ago is now softened. It arrives still, more frequently than I would like, and then I have periods of an hour or two when I am not productive and I panic that I will never be able to function again. But even that is easier than it was.
There’s a lot I have to do to keep this trajectory going up.
First, sleep. I need ten hours at night if I am to have a good day. Believe me, I’ve resisted that over and over – often enough that even I have had to admit defeat. Ten hours. I still fight it. That never has a good outcome.
Then, food. I have to eat every 2.5 hours, keep caffeine to one a day, avoid sugar almost entirely. I’ve fought each of those boundaries as well; what happens is I feel wonderful for thirty minutes, in which I tick at my to do list with gay abandon, harbour dreams of running for Prime Minister while training for Everest – those thirty minutes are by far the best of my day. But the crash that inevitably comes afterwards wipes that out and more and the rest of the day is gone. I can’t afford to lose days to that type of crash, and so I forgo the highs and eat like clockwork.
I have to spend time with people, most of all when I don’t want to. Being alone with my head is how the terrors begin. And when the downward spiral starts I have to call someone and ask for help, for comfort, for an injection of common sense. Have you eaten? they ask. Can you get an early night? Can you go for a gentle walk? Go count everything you see that is red and then call me back and tell me what the number is. (Yes, that has happened. More than once.)
I feel I shouldn’t need all that help, those crutches. Time and time again, I have proved that for the moment I do.
It’s not a fool-proof system. Even when I follow the rules some days can still be very hard.
The days of wonderful physical energy in which I go for a run just for pleasure can just as easily be days on which for a time I cannot move my limbs and have to lie under a blanket desperately willing my brain to shut off so I don’t have to feel the pain anymore.
I still have the occasional day when I cannot work, and then the guilt floods in, my head tells me I am lazy, disaster scenarios accrue.
There is, it seems, no way of predicting which days will come when.
I am getting a little better at accepting that unpredictability. But it is getting better. Most of the time I’m just fine.
And a word on medication. I’m still on it. Less than quarter of the dose I was on at the start; but a hefty slug still nonetheless. I don’t like that; but I accept it. There’s nothing to be ashamed of there.