Something different today. I may have mentioned in passing that I do battle with mental health issues, including occasional but regular extreme mood swings and bouts of depression. Today is a mental and physical “down” day and I decided to share what it feels like with my friends and family via my Facebook account. I think perhaps it might serve some purpose to post it here too. I may touch upon these issues from time to time. Parenting a child with special needs is challenging at times and having one’s own “issues” to deal with adds an extra dimension to it. Some days I react more harshly to Thomas than I would on a clearer day. Some days I don’t achieve the things I expect or want to, because my mind or my body won’t play ball. Some days I force myself to do things because there’s a deadline or my attendance is expected and the resultant mental pressure causes me great stress and anxiety, leaving me exhausted and unable to achieve anything useful the next day, which then leads to frustration and guilt and exacerbates the low mood. And so it goes on, a mini cycle of stress, exhaustion, failure, depression and mental and physical ill health, until the fog lifts and “normal” service is resumed. Sometimes the cycle is very brief, sometimes it lasts a few weeks. Sometimes the “normal” is a mere interlude between the fog and panic, sometimes “normal” is the status quo. Recently, normal has been the norm and I think the “strange” will pass quickly this time round. But while it’s here, having its way with me, I might as well use it for good and share it for educational purposes. People are often reluctant to talk about their mental health troubles because it’s seen as weakness or an employment liability. As a parent, there is an added worry that one may be seen as not fit to parent one’s own child, that Social Services may get involved, that every action and thought may be brought into question. Yet hiding it creates its own pressure, the pressure to conform, to create a false picture, a pretence of normality and bliss. In recent years I have decided to post about my struggles because my fluctuating mental function has affected every aspect of my life: friendships, family relations, work, parenting, decision making, physical fitness, everything. If I were physically ill and couldn’t do things, people would understand. It’s a lot harder to explain why you can’t face doing homework with your child, why you’re late posting a card out for someone’s birthday, why you can’t face going to a party, why you gave up on your exercise regime, why you don’t feel able to go to work or stick at a job when the problem lies inside your mind. To those who don’t experience fluctuating levels of coping or clear thinking, this may seem like weakness but the truth is it takes a great deal of determination and willpower to function when your mind is dancing elsewhere, or your brain and body are screaming to leave the building, or you are afraid of losing control of your emotions, and all the time you continue to nod and smile and wait in line patiently whilst the most bizarre and extreme thoughts run rampant through your mind. It takes great inner strength to get out of bed when your body feels like lead and you can barely keep your eyes open and your mind is numb but you know if you don’t do the laundry and wash the dishes and tidy the house that it will get worse with each day that passes. Even though once you do it, it will only need doing again. And again. And again. And again. Every day, forever, the same actions over and over until you forget why it even matters and you feel like screaming with the futility of it all……
Perhaps it’s impossible to truly understand unless you experience it. But just in case it helps, here is my brain today:
“Scary day today. Everything is too loud, the stray hairs tickling my face are making me hysterical with irritation, my head is fuzzy and my thinking clouded. Can’t move quickly, limbs feel weighted down and I feel dizzy. I feel as if I can’t speak. My mouth doesn’t feel able to form words. This is known as selective mutism. Depressed and tempted to self harm. Hungry but have stomach pains and feel nauseous. I feel tearful and panicky and conversely numb and dull at the same time.
Yesterday, I was hyper. My mind was racing and my emotions were out of control, I had to exert great restraint not to post every random thought and I decided to focus my energies on writing a piece for my blog. By evening my sensory sensitivities and mental energy were so high I couldn’t settle to sleep and I was beside myself like an overtired toddler, battling for mental control as my rational brain tried to reason with my furious and exhausted emotions.
This is all very familiar. I know today is the downturn, a physical reaction to yesterday’s peak. Is it hormones, chemicals? Is it neurology? Is it bipolar? I don’t know. All I know is that I’ve been like this since at least my early twenties. It’s part of a monthly cycle. I will ride it out and it will fade.
I can’t see myself on the exercise bike today. It doesn’t feel real to me. It literally feels like I am in a separate space to the things in my house, looking through a mirror. Leaving the house doesn’t feel real. The outside world doesn’t feel real. Even you, my friends and family, don’t feel real. When my brain gets this fuzzy, nothing seems real and I feel like I’m suffocating. When I used to work I used to have to go to work like this and all day I would feel as if I were balancing on a knife edge. The smallest thing would have me literally sweating, heart racing, mind churning, stomach in knots. The seething panic and need to escape simmered just under the surface all day. Battling for control was exhausting and I had no energy to do anything when I got home.
Two days ago I was normal, fine. Tomorrow I’ll probably be fine again as the chemicals fade from my system and normal neural function is restored. It’s a curious thing to live with this. I thought perhaps you’d find it illuminating, if you don’t have such extreme mood swings, to know how it feels.
All is well. It’s just my body and brain lying to me. I will be fine. This too shall pass.”
Featured image by SoundTrackUniverse via Pixabay.com