One of the most predictable triggers for my depression is my period. Typically it showed up in time for Valentine’s Day and I spent most of the morning on an emotional rollercoaster. I woke up feeling lethargic but was perked up by breakfast. Then I did the washing up and sat down to do some writing and lost all momentum again. I had to leave for a meeting in town in the mid-afternoon which was adding a layer of anxiety on top of my low, hormone-laden spirits.
I walked the dog which again elevated my mood and tried to focus on the smaller things, that the sun was shining, that the crocuses had started to bloom heralding the next phase in Spring’s arrival. I take great solace from my dog enjoying her walks, running around the park or local woods, chasing her ball, her tail flying high. This high can be infectious, as long as I keep focusing on the dog and the small details of my surroundings.
I returned home more motivated and ready to start all sorts of home renovation projects but my mood kept dipping. My thoughts wouldn’t focus on the task in hand and instead entered into the downward spirals that sufferers of mental illness are all too familiar with.
For instance, when I was assessing which tasks I had checked off my daily list and which I should do next, my initial thought was ‘Great, I’ve done the dishes, walked the dog and cleaned the bathroom, on to the next household chore!’ But my mind focused in minutely on the dishes, pointing out that yes I had done the dishes, but there was still a huge pile of laundry waiting upstairs.
My brain started to get anxious.
Was there enough space to hang up the next load of washing?
Was the last load dry enough to be put away to make space?
Did it even matter anyway as the laundry upstairs would take at least three loads to clear as there were whites, darks and lots of bulky items like bedclothes and towels?
How had the laundry caught up with us so quickly?
I must have failed to keep up with the laundry.
As I was clearly such a failure at a simple task such as laundry how could I ever hope to do anything more complex?
If I can’t complete simple tasks then I must be useless.
If I am useless then what is the point of my existence, I’m just taking up valuable room that could be being used by someone else far more effectively.
Maybe everyone would be better off without me…
This is a very typical spiral for me, and from my experience volunteering with mental health and wellbeing organisations, for many others as well. I also know from people around me, that these thought spirals that can start to interfere with daily tasks, personal hygiene and physical health, are one of the hardest aspects of mental illness to understand.
When I started blogging a month ago, I was aware of the benefits that it could hold for me, but not those that it could provide for those closest to me. Of course that this personal writing project has instilled a renewed sense of purpose, is something that I enjoy doing and has elevated my emotional baseline to somewhere nearer to where it was before two years ago, is a great relief to my husband and family. But I have learnt that my posts can also assist those who are trying to better understand mental illness.
About a week ago my mother asked if she could read my blog. It’s on the internet so of course doesn’t contain anything that I have concerns about sharing, but my family are no well adapted to sharing feelings. I have never even hugged my grandmother, so it was daunting to consciously expose my mother to the more intimate aspects of my mental illness. In honest truth we have had very few productive conversations about it in the past. There was also a lot about what happened two years ago that I hadn’t made her fully aware of, the events were in the past, there was nothing to be done about it, and until very recently I have not been inclined to open up about them. The #metoo campaign gave me the nudge I needed to express what had happened to me personally and feel that it was ok to talk about it, even though there are others who have endured more traumatic and dangerous experiences. For me it was a lesson in being able to own my story, rather than giving the memories of the event itself the power and control over me.
Blogging has helped me own my story, gain back the control I lost though someone else’s brutal actions, and at the same time, share those experiences. I mentioned before about hoping to create an atmosphere of empathy and solidarity and in the case of my mother that has led to her beginning to share some of her own experiences as well as gain a better understanding of mine and the ways it affected me personally. I have fortunately always been very close with my mum, but our relationship was put under strain when I slid into severe depression two years ago. For the first time I went for weeks without calling to her, I started lying to her and I didn’t even tell her I had met Samuel. My blog has reopened the channels of communication for us and in the words of my mother: ‘reading and digesting [the blog posts]… means I can quietly contemplate what you have experienced and what you feel now… without feeling I need to support with wisdom I don’t have’. I wasn’t sure exactly what my aim was when I started blogging, but I don’t think I could have hoped for a better outcome.