Those who may have been following my blog may have noticed I’ve been depressed recently. This has been exacerbated by losing the affection of someone I am in love with. Though, this post is about diagnoses, of which I am a proponent of despite a lack of practical personal application.
It may surprise, or make you consider me a hypocrite, to know I’ve never received any diagnosis for my perceived mental anguish. Many years ago, in the early-noughties, I suffered a prolonged and sustained psychosis. My family, being from complex large families that experienced bad times with little emotional support, just reactive measures, knew I was going through a rough time, but the medicine that they grew up with was ‘pull yourself together’ and ‘just get on with it’, which probably explains the prevalence of alcoholism within the family. This is more notable among the men, as the women in my family seem to be more resilient, but perhaps the reasons behind that need more exploration. Needless to say, I grew up in a matriarchal family structure, which probably explains my implicit bias towards women, but I digress.
Just like those in my family, and many families who shared the same culture and time, who self medicated with alcohol. I also self medicated, though not primarily with alcohol. I was negating the peril, or rather I was prolonging an inevitable crash. In the end it took one of my pals to tell me that I was a mess. This friend’s opinion was particularly poignant because up until that point he had always been a nonchalant and chaotic individual who was contrary for the sake of being provocative, took the fall-out with a pinch of salt, and would fuck a brick wall if it had a hole in it. On the particular day, this friend had sat listening to me ramble on vitriolically, he saw the black curtain that was blinding, and he told me that I had frightened him that day. I’m not a violent individual and he’s not easily scared, but I frightened him.
That shock was enough for me to decide to seek help. I made an emergency appointment with the doctor for the next day. That doctor was in no doubt that I was having a psychotic episode. This is where I think my biggest mistake happened. I do not regret going to the doctor. I think anyone who is experiencing mental illness and turmoil should seek advice from a doctor. But, this doctor gave me options. He said if he were to make a diagnosis he would be obligated to section me under the Mental Health Act 1983. He said because he was a locum doctor this scenario would probably be detrimental to us both. His reasoning was based apparently on me losing my liberty and the subsequent (then-)stigma of mental illness, and that him having to make such a drastic call would jeopardise his employability in the area’s practices.
Always being of a conscientious nature, even during psychosis, I acquiesced to his reasoning. This, and what happened next, continues to baffle me. He gave me some tranquillisers, told me to take them right then, and gave me a cup of water. He then phoned someone about psychiatric assessment, he gave me an address, wrote me a prescription for more tranquillisers, and told me not to use my local chemist. At the time, I was all over the place and was actually just overjoyed, in a warped sense of the word, that someone was acknowledging my mental detachment and attempting to help. I questioned nothing, though in retrospect the whole process seems really fucking shady, subjective and unethical. Anyway, the locum told me to go to the address that afternoon and not to miss it.
I didn’t miss the appointment. Despite having collected the prescription and dosing myself up beyond its direction. I was determined to get help. I turned up at a relatively new building made of sandy yellow brick that sat in the footprint of what was probably an old bomb site. It was quite well fortified in a pleasant politically correct and benign kind of way; though there was no hiding the tall cast iron fencing, the intercom system, and burly warden with a massive loop of keys. I was escorted to a room with a piano and told to wait. Once alone, I was impulsed towards the piano. I lifted the lid and began playing Pink Floyd’s ‘Comfortably Numb’. I don’t know if it was the noise of my naive triad-driven style of playing or just coincidence, but I never got to get another verse in after the chorus finished.
A small man came in. He smiled and acknowledged he’d recognised the tune. I suppose it was this acknowledgement, mixed with the uncanny resemblance he had to my first mathematics teacher from Comprehensive School, that negated the frustration I had felt at cutting the song short. With hindsight, regardless of its dreamlike quality, I now think he was waiting outside the door for me to finish the chorus and actually waited for me resolve to the first chord of the verse. The psychiatrist introduced himself, but I can’t recall his name; I just see my old maths teacher. He told me he was involved in developing a new approach to mental health that was being tested in the area and asked if I had any problems with that. I didn’t… I didn’t care. He asked me about my physical health; I said I was alright. He asked me about my drug use; I told him the truth. He asked me if I felt suicidal; I didn’t. Then he asked me if I held any fundamentalist beliefs.
It was the nature of my psychosis that I never wanted to harm myself permanently. I had in the past ameliorated my frustration and mental pain by destroying my knuckles by punching walls. This would now be coined self-harm, though that term wasn’t part of the common lexicon at that time. I didn’t want to hurt any of my friends or family either. But, there were people that I disliked for varying reasons, and it was them that I was directing all my aggression, frustration, vitriol, and darkness towards. This is what had scared my friend. He knew this was totally detached from anything I had been, or what he had known. My deranged cognitive dissonance was allowing me to consider using what I regard as anathema as a solution to what I regarded as anathema. It was at that moment of being asked about fundamentalist beliefs that I recognised the dissonance, and the total lack of logic. I subjectively and impulsively identified the anathema as part of a fundamentalist belief. I thought admitting this would jeopardise my suitability for treatment. So, I lied; I said no.
I had a few more meetings with him over the following weeks. He was mainly interested in me reducing my use of drugs. I hadn’t taken any more of the tranquillisers I had been prescribed after that first binge. In fact as a response to lying to him, and the revelation of lying to myself, I had gone Cold Turkey University. I stopped all the drugs I had been taking; I even stopped drinking Coca-Cola, which previous to this had been something of a mini religion to me (another blog post I think). That one day I refrained from it all; I only continued smoking tobacco, which I later stopped in 2005. After a follow up appointment with another doctor, I never saw the locum again, I was told I had a stomach ulcer. I was prescribed a heavy dose of antibiotics. Then a nutritionist put me on an enriched cancer patient’s diet to gain weight; as they regarded me as dangerously underweight. The psychiatrist thought I was making leaps and bounds, and because I held no fundamentalist beliefs, recommended that I might be a prime candidate for group therapy, which he thought might help reconcile any underlying issues.
Well, the group therapy helped. It wasn’t so much talking about myself as it was listening to other people. Some had been through really horrific traumas. The act of thinking about my thinking, and being aware of the minds and lives of others were the best medicine. I allowed empathy to exchange with the vitriol, and was back to how I had once been. I was clean and the treatment for my malnourishment and stomach ulcer were working. They did work. I stayed in group therapy through Spring and Summer. It was only when I was feeling brand new and relaxed that I nonchalantly admitted the lie I had told to get treatment. This signified the end of my treatment. The group members reacted positively to my admission, though the group manager’s reaction was in stark contrast.
Despite the apparent success of my treatment, he suggested afterwards that I had abused the trust of the group, had put the other members treatment at risk, and that it would be better if I did not return. This was a bitter blow, but it cut the strings. I met one of the other group members in the local market about a month later. According to her, the group manager had antagonised many in the group to the point that there were only a handful left, he was no longer turning up, and those remaining were basically running the group themselves. I don’t know how long this initiative survived. It was a really good outlet.
Anyway, it’s only now, all these years later that I have had a relapse into mental illness. Though, this depression is distinctly different from my psychosis. My psychosis never affected my self esteem; this depression has. I never felt suicidal with the psychosis; though I have with the depression. The black curtain is different. I am not detached with this depression; I am absorbed. The delusions of my psychosis gave a clear misguided clarity to my thought; whereas with this depression everything is conflated with everything. Depression lacks edges. This depression has felt like more of personal danger. I still haven’t sought help though, and I still haven’t sought a diagnosis. I feel fine today and I felt fine yesterday, I write this now as a remedial action for when I don’t feel fine. I’m hoping I can use my clarity now to make some positive steps towards cure.
In spite of my science degree, I don’t even know if you can cure depression. In spite of my scientific study, I still do not seek professional help. I still feel a guilt, and downright cheek, for even having the audacity of assuming an acknowledgment of illness. Others who suffer from depression seem far more legitimate. I can’t even ring The Samaritans because I feel like a fraud. It’s these days when I feel fine that perpetuate that. I know there is a real possibility that something relatively innocuous could just send me hurtling into a bottomless pit of blackness and despair, but right now I think I’m getting better. I feel good. This post has been cathartic. It’s the optimism of the now that apparently invalidates the depression’s pessimism.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking bipolar disorder has ups that are as much of a problem as the downs. I only discount bipolar because I have been good for many years. It hasn’t been something I’ve had to deal with. During my light intermittencies I have no elation; just relief. I’m even finding it hard to say I’m unipolar because I still write, I still read, and I still get up everyday and jog with the dog. I know I write to communicate as I have no one tangible to talk to most of the time. I am isolated for long periods. I read to distract myself from pessimistic thoughts, creation of fantasy, and to find answers. And the dog jogging has become an almost automaton task, where my mind is blank. Dog jogging is a distraction, where I am essentially only moving legs, listening to the sound of breathing, and acting as a barometer to the weather.
I may be getting better though. I’ve been bad for about 6 months now. It may be longer, I lose track of time. I read in a study today that those who suffer psychosis are usually between 20 and 30 years old, which I was, and that those people often have a later peak in mental illness between the ages of 30 and 40 years old, which I am now. It doesn’t go on to say what happens after that peak, but it got me thinking about that locum doctor’s coercion and reluctance to section me, and how I’ve lived my life since. It’s possible I would have benefitted from it. I have lived a life comparatively removed from that of the rest of society. I have had no lasting relationships. I have shunned being employed for the relative impoverishment of being a sole trader. I often reject what’s popular; not out of dislike, but out of becoming part of it. I am antipop because the herd mentality scares me. I do not want to be popular, and this really seems to grate with what’s expected… I don’t want the swag.
I wonder if that early acquiescence in the doctor’s office put me on a course for lovelessness and childlessness. I remember falling over in Primary School. The headmaster conducted a standardised broken bone test, which entailed me pulling his arm. So, I pulled his arm and was subsequently deemed in good health because of my achievement. I completed the rest of day of school in pain. I ended up in casualty with a broken collarbone. Again, in Secondary School I fell off the climbing apparatus during a physical exercise lesson, and hurt my leg. The teacher performed the same test, this time involving walking about, and jumping up and down. Again, I passed the test and continued the rest of the day in pain. And again, I ended up in casualty with a broken fibula. No one asked if these tests had hurt. I did them because they asked me to. They never asked if I was in pain.
I know my analogy is wearing thin, but I wonder if some of my eccentric behaviour is a long drawn out equivalent to those painful days at school with broken bones, and that this apparently correlating mental illness peak is an equally abstract equivalent to me needing casualty. Who knows? I am just desperate to remain where I am right now. I’m not in blackness. I am not hopeless. I am not helpless. I am not in despair. And most importantly, I am not suicidal. I just wonder if I had cried out in pain earlier, let people really know how much pain I was in, I would have got treatment sooner. I just don’t like the thought of others going through a mental illness and then living with a seemingly benign consequence that would deny them love, support, and biological fitness.
I think I’ve lost my way a little with this post. It has drifted somewhat from what I originally anticipated. Regardless of its incoherence, I’d just like to let you know that although there are things I regret doing/not doing, during my ‘seemingly benign consequence’, I have been content through most of it and I am proud of who I have become. It’s a strange life, and I make no claims as to what constitutes mental illness or a life well-lived. This is purely my anecdote and my cathartic exercise. I feel it only remains out of some sense of duty, due to the subject matter, for me, a perhaps-overly-dramatic-perhaps-hypochondriacal hypocrite, to suggest that you seek professional help as soon as possible if you think you are ill, or in trouble. At best, help could save your life; at worst… well, let’s say it could prevent you typing out wayyyyy too much ignorant postulation a decade down the road.