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.
I was over on Elefriends and someone posted asking what your perfect day would be. I wanted to be able to go back to my answer and thought I’d share it here:
I would wake up next to my husband without the dark clouds. The sun would be shining outside and my cats would be in the room. I’d get up shower and dress without hating my body. I’d have breakfast and I would clean the house. I’d go into the garden and mow the lawn, weed the veg patches, harvest fruit and veg and plant things. I’d do laundry and see it hanging out. I’d make some lunch for my husband and I. I would do some knitting and some reading, maybe bake something as well. I would go horse riding then come home and cook a fully home made dinner with food we have grown and raised. I’d curl up with homebrew and my husband and watch TV or a movie. Then we will go to bed. I’d feel happy, relaxed and loved. And all through the day there will have been no tears or uncontrolled emotions or intrusive thoughts. I would fall asleep easily and happily.
I’m not overweight, I’m obese. My thighs rub together, my armpits have flappy bits and I carry a lot of weight on my abdomen. For years I have struggled with my body image, not just the weight but even down to the skin colour and texture, the hair on my body. I have numerous scars from picking at things and plucking hairs in an effort to be ‘perfect’. I may well have body dismorphic disorder but I tend not to share this information with therapists and doctors.
In the last 5 or so years I’ve started to embrace my body. When looking for a new swimsuit for a holiday my now husband said I looked better in the bikini than the tankini. I doubted him but trusted him, I bought it and felt horribly self concious in it but I wore it. That was my first milestone.
Then I was at a pagan camp which had a spiritual sweatlodge. We were to go in naked and it was pitch black (it’s a clothing optional camp). I very quickly shucked my towel and dove into the darkness. When we came out some time later I was hot and sweaty, I was given the complimentary bucket of cold water over my head. I was handed my towel but was so hot I had no desire to wrap it around me. I’ve always felt more comfortable in loose clothing and sleep nude but was always too concious of my body to go without clothes at this camp. I went to the fire and dried off and didn’t put clothes on again until the night air was too cold. The next day I was approached by people at the camp telling my how beautiful I was and how they wished they had the confidence to do what I had done. I wished I could tell them the shame I felt over my body, how it had led me to harm my body, but I was too ashamed of that. I shrugged it off and decided that these people were crazy to think that. But the comments kept coming. I went without clothes at times at the camps that followed over the years. Partially because I feel better without clothes, partially because it felt spiritually right at that moment in time and partially for those other women at camp who felt about their bodies how I often feel about my own. To show them that they didn’t have to feel ashamed of their bodies.
I got married last year and went on honeymoon early this year. I dieted for the wedding and tried to lose weight but damn I love my food. Come the honeymoon I did not have the ‘beach body’ I had hoped I would have and again felt terribly self-concious. The first day on the beach in my bikini I headed straight for the water despite being a nervous swimmer, at least that would hide some of me. Building on those steps of wearing my bikini before and going naked at the camp I started to feel more confident in myself. My husband thought I was beautiful and sexy, other people hadn’t thrown up at the sight of me. These were encouraging points. Towards the end of the honeymoon we found ourselves on a beach eating lunch whilst taking a break from snorkling. I was in my bikini and snorkling boots and my lovely husband wanted a photo of me. I duly posed and started dancing around which he wanted to video so I did an encore. I did a ‘belly dance’ of my own making. I really felt happy in my body and it was a moment I had meant to post about but hadn’t got around to. I’ve shared the video on my facebook and made it public (I’ve still not worked out how to embed a video into these posts, if someone can tell me how I’d appreciate it). I still cringe slightly watching it. I see all the faults, but then I look at my smile and feel better about it. I wasn’t going to share any pictures of myself on here, but I feel that this is a just cause to break this rule. I hope by sharing it maybe it’ll help other’s feel less self concious. Even if it’s due to them thinking ‘I don’t look as bad as that belly slapping crazy lady’.
A couple weeks ago my house mate and I were looking through a Bravissimo catalogue and she commented on the slight muffin top one of the models had, saying it was reassuring to see that they got that too. We then flipped to the swimsuits and she mentioned something about tankinis not looking right on her because of the midriff gap. I’ll mention here this girl has a belly, waist line and hips that I long to have, and was one the first things I remember noticing about her and being insanely jealous of. I told her we can either hide away all our lives or we can dance on the beach slapping our bellies.
Today an article went around on facebook about a lady who had done a tremendous job losing weight but did not have a perfect beach body, as such photos of her ‘after’ in a bikini were refused by a magazine that had wanted to publish her story. It reminded me again how much society says to be beautiful we have to be skinny and flat bellied. Now I like looking at a ‘hot’ beach body in a bikini as much as most girls, well probably more than most girls, but it’s the photos we don’t share that are harming other women. We are only showing one side of the picture to young girls and letting more and more grow up with the idea that skinny = beautiful when the truth is that so many things make up beautiful.
Now I’m not saying I don’t need to lose weight. For health reasons I do, I want to live a long life, I want to have children and see them grow and then hopefully see their children grow. To do that I need to be healthy. But I don’t need to lose weight to be beautiful, to be sexy or to be accepted. No-one does.
I’ll leave you with a sentiment of another post that has been doing the rounds lately: