Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Messed up

'Stress is only dangerous over a long period of time and only if there is no chance to recover.' I sit in a free community mental health workshop designed to help participants deal with stress, all the time feeling like my insides are being ripped apart. I can't help but feel it's too late for stress, I went past stress years ago. I can't imagine anyone could possibly feel as terrible or as backed into a corner as I do right now but looking around I see everyone is backed into their own particular corner and it's probable that a few others here can't imagine anyone else feeling as bad as them either. Emotion is more powerful than rationale.

The worst thing about mental illness is it often renders the sufferer completely and utterly alone, it's not possible to convey the feeling or why things affect you the way they do. I want so badly to be able to communicate this feeling to someone else but I can't. I wish I could infect those around me with this if only for a split second so they too could experience the internal crumbling, not out of malice or bitterness, but just because language really fails me in this realm and I can't bear the fact that I'm really alone.

The workshop leader goes over the fight or flight response and what that does to the body and even though this has been explained to me countless times it still freaks me out. 'What happens,' he begins, 'when you drive your car in second gear at 65 miles per hour for a long period of time?' And then he illustrates for us on his screen a picture of a smoked-out car engine, the driver, some bougie blonde woman, standing over the bonnet in despair. Think you've got problems arsehole? You'll just pick up your insurance and get another one! Everyone I tell about this analogy seems to find it ridiculous but it actually strikes terror into my beta-blocked heart because it's so painfully accurate. I don't even drive. I didn't even know you weren't supposed to drive fast in a low gear, but it looks really bad. Things build, sometimes for years.

He asks us when was the last time we had a really good sleep and I feel exhausted.

Three months ago -before things went from gnawing anxiety to completely overwhelming- I was fortunate enough to go to Iceland. My friend and I hired a car and drove along the ring road to a lake called Jökulsárlón. Well, she drove, obviously. It snowed so heavily on that trip you couldn't tell where the sky ended and the ground began. Jökulsárlón was full of blue glaciers, an amazing sight, and I remember closing my eyes to go to sleep that night and seeing only blue. The ice and the lake had flooded my mind's vision so much it felt like if you cut my brain open all you would find there would be blue ice. When I got back to England my brain soon reverted back to feeling like it was about to explode and it's hard to believe anything else could ever have been in there.

My salvation in London is in the park. The park and the medication I took grudgingly at first but I guess is the cheap gaffa tape holding me together, gradually making me functional, temporarily at least. Before that I stayed in bed and scrolled down Twitter on my phone, obsessively checked my emails for the email that would save my life, even though my phone tells me when I get an email so the checking was pointless. Consoled myself with the fact that it's exactly the same thing everyone who isn't having a breakdown is doing, it's just they're not in bed.

When things start to improve I go outside more. Last time things got this bad, about five years ago, I was living in Peckham and I used to go to Burgess Park and watch crows obsessively, if I could engross myself sufficiently in what they were doing I could hold myself, at least for a little while. Now it's Victoria Park where I lie on my front on my hoodie in the sun, press the side of my head against the grass and watch flowers classed as weeds go on and on and on, put my head down lower so it all looks more vast. Read a dystopian Margaret Attwood novel whilst intermittently carrying on the endless Twitter/Facebook scroll, hearing update after update of the real-life dystopia unveiling in the UK and wonder how to put it all together.

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