You know the thing I hate most about my mental health? The irrationality. When you’re sitting and crying and someone is asking you to help them understand but you just can’t, because you don’t understand it yourself.
It’s my birthday today. It’s the one day of the year that I can pretty much guarantee year on year that I will be depressed. I’ve tried to understand this birthday related depression over the years, I really really have, but I just don’t.
I will sit and cry. I will sob. I will be filled with urges to self harm and/or thoughts of suicidal idealisation. I’ll go off my food. I will happily stay in bed all day. I will get irrationally angry when people wish me happy birthday. Yet I don’t have a good reason why.
I know when I was younger, not sure how much younger but long before my first suicide attempt, possibly before my self harm started, I would try to comfort myself when the depression was bad. My choice of comfort was the knowledge that it would all end in death. I could take control of that in my life, decide when I die and free myself from it all. I could make things better. I know the old argument of ‘death isn’t better, it is nothing’, but to me nothing was a whole lot more attractive than the hell I was living and that I believed I had been living for oh so long. At some point, probably a birthday when I had seen another year pass by, I told myself that I wouldn’t live to my 16th birthday. I would kill myself before then I promised myself. When it got bad I would comfort myself with that promise, that it would all be over soon and the end was in sight.
My 16th came and went and I lived on. I think it was then that I stepped up plans. Four or five months after my 16th, on a day when I didn’t feel depressed, actually felt quite happy, I had my first suicide attempt. People don’t seem to believe that I wasn’t depressed that day but I honestly wasn’t. When you’ve been depressed for so long and you know that even good days are short lived, you can make that kind of decision on a good day and that is what I chose to do. I wanted to leave this world happy rather than depressed. Suffice to say I stayed in this world, although I am told it was very close, my closest to success to date. I was devastated and started planning my next attempt. Things did not get better for me for a long long while. Years of self-harm and two more suicide attempts that required a trip to A&E followed, along with so many antidepressants that I forget now which ones I have tried.
I’m 14 years on from that suicide attempt now, 19 years on from when I first knew that I was depressed. Life has changed a lot in those years. I haven’t self harmed in 7 months, at least not in terms of cutting, I’m currently unmedicated, I have completed a BSc, MSc and written my PhD thesis, I am a wife in a relationship that is 11 years old, I am a homeowner and I am 23 weeks pregnant with my first child. I really am in a good place in life right now. I have learnt so much more about my mental health and how to cope with it. My anger is in check most of the time and I look after myself as well as others.
So why is it, on my birthday, even though things are going well I am suddenly swamped with thoughts that I would be better off dead, lovely images in my head of all the ways I can achieve that death and urges to self harm that are so strong I have to physically stop what I am doing, grit my teeth and move myself away from whatever I am near? Crying all day, too scared to see people and petrified of my husband going to the shops because I do not feel safe being left alone?
When life is going well why does my birthday still trigger these feelings? The only thing I can think is that it is at least partly due to the aspect of a birthday in that ‘another year has gone by’. When I remember that another year has gone I remember that so many have gone already, I have survived through so many, and although not all of those years were dominated by mental illness they have all been tainted by it. Every year I struggle. Every year there are instances where I watch as my mental health wears me down, scares me and makes me think that this is the year I will lose to it. Every year there are times where I watch as my mental health causes me to lash out and hurt those around me. Every year there is another event that I will forever remember because I am so ashamed of my own actions.
Yes every year I get through all of those things. Every year is a year where I have survived my mental health, where I have tried to rebuild the bridges that my mental health caused me to damage, where I have achieved things I am so proud of. And maybe if that was it I would be ok. Maybe I could look at all the bad that has gone, weigh it against the good, hold my head up high saying ‘I’m a survivor’ and celebrate my success at being where I am. But it’s not.
I think I get the depressed feelings and urge to self harm and thoughts of suicide on my birthday now for the same reason I did when I made that stupid promise to myself. I feel like I have been living hell for oh so long. I didn’t know how long it could last then, I had only been ill for a few years and already it seemed like it was too much to cope with. Now, well now I have lived with my mental illness for so much longer. Nearly two decades. I really do think if that was it I could be ok with today though. But that isn’t all there is.
Back then, when I made that promise to myself, there was an out. There was a way to end it all. I haven’t had a suicide attempt in nearly 8 years and I’m not sure I will ever again have a pre-meditated one (I can’t speak for what happens in a impulsive moment – that will forever remain a danger for me). I really seem to have moved to the point where I no longer see planning to end my life as an option. ‘Hurrah!’ I hear you say, that is great progress right? But on days like today it is deeply depressing. I know that an imminent death is not an option, but I also know that medication is not an option (been told so by my psychiatrist), I also know (through having done enough of it) that CBT and other talk therapy is also not something that will make me better. This is it, this is me. I will continue year on year to fight my mental health, I will hurt those around me, I will be ashamed by my own actions, this is the rest of my life. There will be good things too, amazing things, but I will not stop having urges to self harm, I will not shake the self hate and disgust I so often feel, I will not stop having intrusive thoughts of suicide. And that thought, it is exhausting, it is depressing, it is soul crushing.
Fighting for so many years already and knowing I won’t stop for the rest of my life is just too much to think about and yet birthdays remind me of this.
The real kicker is that yesterday I was ok. Tomorrow I will be ok. It is just today. It is only day that I stop and see the long road behind and the even longer (hopefully) road ahead and just cannot walk any further. As quickly as it came these feelings came this morning they will be gone tomorrow. It’s so irrational. How do you explain that what has you sobbing and scared today won’t affect you tomorrow? My husband wanted so much to do fun things on my birthday to make me feel better but all of it is wasted on this day. Celebrations on other days can be appreciated but nothing seems to be able to penetrate my mind today. If I wasn’t pregnant I would have spent today in bed, taking my diazepam and not eating, ignoring the world until tomorrow. It really is like a 24 hour mind bug and that is surprisingly hard to explain to people.