Reason to go on: Bloody-mindedness
Wanting to be back teaching but without the relentless pressures I’d had in my last post, I applied for positions with little responsibility outside my classroom. Even so, I only managed 12 months. In my second post the bullying by senior colleagues, over just one term, pushed me to the brink.
Another breakdown, and a return to hospital.
Same old scenarios to play out. Look out for younger, newer members of the system that I’d been in and out of for the best part of 30 years. I did get jaundiced by being told by these newbies that there was not much wrong with me, that I shouldn’t be there, that their problems were so much worse than mine. So be it. Like an old prison lag, for whom knowing the ropes and getting through each day does not mean you’re not a criminal, I’d still be there for them. And the next time I was admitted I’d keep an eye out for the newbies, and be told afresh that I shouldn’t really be there.
Outside hospital there were also people who had issues with people like me: we weren’t ill enough. One woman would harangue me ‘You’re not as ill as I am. You shouldn’t be here. You’re not suffering like I am. You have a husband.’ That’s how she saw it. Her husband had left her, out of the blue, for a ‘younger model’. Unkindly I used to think, ‘I’m not surprised he left you, ‘cause you can be a nasty piece of work.’ She’d dominate the therapy group oblivious to the needs of others, like the two women with paranoid schizophrenia who had very little chance of coping outside the system. Within months she was working part-time, before landing a high-profile job helping to set up a research group within the NHS.
While it hurt, I tried to rationalise that experiencing acute reactive depression – striking out of the blue after sudden trauma – must be overwhelming and frightening, I did wish that the situation for those of us with recurrent illnesses was explained. I had recurrent psychotic depression that was sometimes moderate, sometimes severe, but I knew by that stage it wasn’t miraculously going to disappear. The people I’d known over decades, also diagnosed with the ‘serious and enduring mental health illnesses’ that kept us in the system’s revolving door, seemed to cope but the possibility of a return to life in the real world was remote.
Mental illness is a very cruel mistress: taunting, snatching away, glimpses of a meaningful life on the outside. Eventually I did find part-time, supported employment with people who understood mental health issues.
Why the need to be Bloody-minded? Simply because there are too many ready and able to drag you down and I’m not prepared to go that way. So I pick myself up, dust myself off …
I also had about seven more hospital admissions and was re-diagnosed with Bipolar Affective Disorder 1, adding mood stabilisers to my anti-depressants and anti-psychotics. I was also referred to a Social Skills Group, Self-esteem Groups, Bi-polar Group, Creative Group; the list went on.
Reason for going on: Survival
Blessed retirement came in 2011 and with it the chance to buy a caravan, to travel and holiday away from throngs of people. In 2013 my husband and I moved to North Wales, to a remote property surrounded by sheep and mountains, our nearest neighbour half a mile away. The perfect life.
Having left the mental health system soon after moving to this glorious isolation, bullying from two Englishwomen at a Welsh language class had me back in the system, demonstrating once and for all that interacting with people on a regular basis is never going to work for me. That’s fine.
I check caller display before answering the phone; I rarely email, and to my disgrace, I rarely reply to them. In my Inbox there’s two that’re 7 months old and two of 4 months, all from people I like. But the thought of making contact, with the possibility of arrangements to meet up, is way too daunting and I often don’t have the energy to spare for interaction.
If a meeting does come about then I’ll don a mask, act out whatever persona that person would recognise as me, and walk onto stage. Maybe arty and creative, possibly a quiet confidante, then again an intellectual, or a compliant listener, but always reliable and assured. I rarely assert my true feelings, and I try not to be downright rude.
As anyone else who lives like this will attest – it is exhausting. It is this that leads to social overload, to the tears and the need to withdraw to a place of safety. And after the tears and rest we emerge from our chrysalis, social butterflies once more, our newly formed wings concealing the shreds of tattered dreams spreading beneath us.
Why do I now want to Survive? To be a Survivor. After fifty years of wanting to destroy myself (sometimes in thought, often in deed), I have found a place that I can be myself, for most of the time. Thoughts of harming myself are often too close to the surface, but I no longer want to die. In fact a diagnosis of autism at 68 left me angry beyond words as I considered those decades of lost potential. But I don’t have that many decades ahead of me and I’d be an idiot to squander them on bitterness and more missed opportunities.
In order to move on, you must keep going. It’s not rocket science.
I hope you’ve found this post interesting, useful, and thought-provoking. I deal with the other four reasons for going on in my previous two Blogs.
Please check them out. I’d love to hear of your experience and take on this.