The problem with suffering from a mental illness is that many people, without first experiencing it, can’t understand it.
It takes a great deal of empathy to understand how someone feels, and that is only if it can first be explained to you, or you take the time to do your homework to understand more about it. Sometimes sympathy isn’t enough. I would say that without experiencing it first, it is impossible to honestly be able to say to someone that you understand how they feel, or that you should pull yourself together, as that’s what they did, or their mother, or someone else they know did when they went through a hard time. I do not doubt that you did pull yourself through bravely, but I would argue the fact that you went through your tough time whilst also suffering from a mental illness. You may have found it hard to deal with your life changing event, I can sympathize with many of them, and have gone through some pretty tough ones myself, and I was strong, and I found a way through, and mentally, I was able to think clearly. There have been other times however, where I have had to deal with situations whilst also suffering from depression and anxiety. Either depression or anxiety alone can be very challenging, coupled with a major event – good or bad; it can play havoc with your ability to deal with it.
At the moment, I am struggling with all of it. It is hard to explain, but my mind is always busy, it seems impossible to slow it down. When people talk to me, if my brain is in a busy state, I can’t take in what they are saying, I can’t cope with any anger, hyper behavior, loud shrill voices, people talking over each other, loud noises or discord, without anxiety building, and my ability to focus on any one point being debilitated, and also my patience seem to teeter on the edge of me screaming for everyone to just stop. Physically, there are also changes that occur. My heart starts to beat fast, my hands start to shake, I feel my jaw start to tense up, I can hear the blood rushing in my ears emphasizing each heartbeat, and my temples start to throb due to the jaw clenching.
All I want when I feel like that, is quiet, no talking, to lie down, to remove myself from the situation and try to calm down by giving myself a good talking to about how it isn’t logical, how everyone is acting normally so losing my temper would be an extreme over reaction and to relax my body to stop the aching.
Thing is, I’m 41, there are certain acceptable limits of manners that I still need to adhere too. I can’t stop someone in their tracks and tell them to ‘shut up’ because they have said the same shrill critical anxiety inducing statements 4 times, rewording it each time to ensure that their opinion has been heard, understood and agreed, without upsetting someone else, causing long term damage to a relationship with someone who clearly doesn’t understand depression, or just doesn’t want too, or worse, embarrass the people that do support me, that put themselves out for me, and do everything they can to understand and speak to me accordingly.
Over the last 10 days of being home, there have been two big birthdays in the house, my brother who reached 40, and my dad who turned 82.
My brother was 40! Yes, my baby brother has reached the ripe old age of 40, and being so loved within the community, the family and the bowls club, lots of people wanted to celebrate. He certainly deserves to have a fuss made of him, so an open house was arranged for friends, family and the neighbors.
There was obviously one omission from the guest list, and that is the neighbor that started this journey. Twat Face, and his wife who he told me knew, but denied knowing to the police, and now, after 2 weeks, still hasn’t turned to her sister for support, and instead has chosen to stay with him, and maintain the secret. They don’t know that everyone on the street already knows though. As we did nothing wrong, and the police had done their job, we decided that sharing the news explained my being home indefinitely, why I was a little down and unsociable, and gave people a chance to chose if they still have contact with him, but also so that my family doesn’t need to hold it in like I did. My mum is angry that he doesn’t know that people know, angry that he is carrying on as normal, hiding away like a coward, blissfully unaware that his reputation is in tatters. She doesn’t feel that he is suffering quite enough for what he did. I agree with her, but don’t see a way around that at the moment, so am trying to make peace with that for the time being, and hoping that in time, it will no longer be a secret at all.
Back to the birthday… It was a busy day, and all day people were turning up, bringing gifts and cards, stopping for a drink and some nibbles, and talking. At one point there were 18 people squashed in to the living room, all talking, drinking and trying to be funny. It was unbearable in my head. I couldn’t focus on any conversation at all. The only way that I could get through this without looking rude was to switch off, and busy myself with something else. So, I brought drinks in, I made pineapple and cheese on sticks, prepared food, took people to look at the beautiful garden, found the quietest calmest people that weren’t fighting for attention, accolade, recognition or anything else, and spoke to those. They were there just for Bro, to offer their best wishes and to share the day with him. They talk quietly, directly to me, and not over me, and not to a group. This made it easier as I could block out what was going on around, focus on one calm voice, and when it got a little difficult to maintain, go out on to drink duty. My parents were great; there was no nagging me to be more sociable, no dragging me in to speak to people, and most importantly, my mum would frequently come and give me a reassuring look, hold my arm, check I was ok, and tell me how well I was doing. She hasn’t ever suffered from any mental illness as far I know, but she has had her fair share of difficulties. She has behaved impeccably with dealing with me, enough support, but not smothering me, enough space, but not enough for me to get lonely, and sometimes, just sitting in the room with me reading, not speaking, but just being there. Sometimes, that is all I want. I can’t talk, don’t want too, am not able to focus, but don’t want to be alone. She seems to know when I need either one. Maybe its mothers instinct, but no way can anyone question her parenting abilities or say that they could do or have done a better job. I made it through the day, I don’t remember who came, what was said, or how long it went on, but I know Bro enjoyed it immensely, and I felt proud of me and the whole family.
It wasn’t over there though. The following day was a family meal. Not just the 4 of us, but extended to aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews and the family who are my brothers God Parents. There were 16 people, all being treated by my father to a meal at a pub with an amazing menu. Everyone pre ordered their starters and main courses to avoid any confusion on the night, but that didn’t stop the noise. Bro sat centre stage, right where he belonged, and I was strategically placed near the end with the god parents and the honorary uncle. I was near the quiet end, with people that are gentle, kind and most importantly, can have a conversation without speaking over each other. They stop speaking not just to think of their next line, they stop to really listen. I can cope with that. With their help, with the distraction away from the chaos of the party going on down the other end of the table, I made it through another event that was chaotic in my mind, causing total exhaustion in my body.
The next birthday was my father’s 82nd. He doesn’t look a day older than 73, and everyone seems genuinely surprised when they find out how old he actually is. This does make me feel proud of him. He has had many health issues over the years, from a serious heart attack, to cancer of the prostate, but he has smiled, laughed and joked through all of it. The attitude he has to life is what keeps him young. That, and the fact that my mum, who is a spring chicken at only 69, refuses to be married to an ‘old man’, so she won’t let him wallow.
Saturday night was the start of the celebrations. Each month, the bowls club has an event. There is dancing, and an entertainer. There is bingo and a tote, and the event is usually sold out on the day they go on sale. They bought our tickets 3 weeks ago, and after a very tough day, I could have easily stayed in and hidden away. They knew I wasn’t feeling great, and had I chosen to stay behind, they wouldn’t have made me feel bad about it. Without the pressure, it was enough for me to make the effort, put on my glad rags, put on my makeup, and smile. The group they sit with are lovely, they are all pensioners, which make them happy go lucky, funny, yet kind and gentle, and very well mannered. Everyone sang Happy Birthday to my father, who beamed with happiness to be surrounded with his family. I danced with my father, one of the only men in my world that can make me feel like I can dance. I had a good night, but it wasn’t long before the noise became too much. I was very happy that they all chose to leave early; I was getting much too tired to keep going.
Sunday was the birthday, and it was lovely. No open house, no visitors in and out, and a beautiful meal, back at the same pub, but just the 4 of us. It was quiet, it was fun, it was a happy occasion that I felt that I could engage in, and it was an afternoon meal, meaning that after, I could rest. Things have been catching up.
I have had a wonderful time celebrating with them, I have missed so many of their birthdays living away, and being reluctant to come home, so this was a special time for us all. Mentally it has wiped me out. The physical effects have caught up with me. My body hurts, my concentration is less than it was, and the side effects of the drugs are starting to become more apparent as my strength is depleted.
My head isn’t a physical pain, but the torso, the knees and the toes most certainly are. I’ll write more about that in another post.
If you are ever faced with dealing with a loved one or a friend with depression and anxiety, remember that it is a physical thing, it isn’t ‘all’ in the head, but what is in the head is a lot to deal with. If you need any help – ask my mum and dad, they seem to be doing a great job. If it’s a friend, I have a multitude of people that could point you in the right direction, all of which have gotten me to this point. Not recovered, not even close, but certainly on the right path.