I have had panic attacks in the past, fortunately they have been rare. Until now. Has a perfect storm of circumstance conspired to create this sudden anxiety, or is it something more than that? Although I haven’t experiencd a drawn-out and heart-crushing low for some length of time, nor a wildly excitable high, I have noticed that my mood changes more rapidly and more often than it used to. My symptoms are more chronic than acute. You would think this would be more manageable, but in some ways I had learned to live with those longer, rarer episodes. I knew what to expect. Now I am spinning out between moments of existential despair and lively chipper-ness. I’m finding it hard to deal with. I think this is partly the source of my anxiety – will tomorrow be one of those inexplicable on-the-verge-of-tears days? Will I be bouncing around like tigger? Or will I have one of those delightful, peaceful ordinary days where everything is just-so? The big question is – does this mean my symptoms are getting worse? Am I more bipolar than I used to be, or is it just that some unhappy events have given me a bit of a shake-up? What I should do is think about it less and do the job in front of me, whatever that might be of a day, but characteristically I have let this become a great big worry when only time will truly tell what the deal is. And I’ve become a bore about it, I talk about it because I am trying to think through it, find a solution but what I am actually doing is saying the same things over and over. *Yawn* The trouble with panic attacks though, is you start to fret that you’ll have another until you have an attack simply because you’re worried about having one. Meh. I don’t do a job where I can take myself off and breathe into a paperbag. That’s a worry. There is a lot of pressure right now to be at my best, and I’m not, which I hate. I’m worried that I’ll reach that point where I throw everything up into the air and damn the consequences. That would be really, really stupid. But I have been known to do this. I wonder if I even have an illness, whether I am not simply irresponsible, or selfish, or a bit-of-a-washout. Or all of the above. Maybe I am focusing on my mood swings because they are proof that I am struggling against something beyond my control, rather than just being a flake. Wow. So many thoughts, no wonder I’m in a panic. The terrible thing is, life is good in the main and all this anxiety and dread could ruin it. Again. Maybe writing this will help get my thoughts straight…nope, never mind. Perhaps I should try acupuncture…
I’ve had the good fortune to stumble across a number of great blogs about books and reading recently, and they have inspired this post…
As a kid I read by the light that flitered through the crack in the door- I insisted that I was afraid of the dark so that the landing light would always be left on. Once I had read all of my own books I moved on to my parents bookshelves. I didn’t entirely understand Jayne Eyre and Wuthering Heights, nor Spike Milligan’s War Diaries (and Wilbur Smith was rather stomach-churning for me at eleven) but I persevered.
As an adult I have invested more time in books than almost anything else. Whilst studying for a Literature degree and wading through as sea of classical novels, I sought solace in my daughter’s books. Thus I am proud to say I have read almost the entire body of work by Jaqueline Wilson. Now my daughter favours Caitlin Moran and Dorothy Koomson so I have to find my own ‘children’s’ books. But that’s easy; Patrick Ness, Philip Pullman, Malorie Blackman, Neill Gaimon and of course Roald Dahl are but a few wonderful authors whose books can be found in the childrens’ or teens’ section but whose writing is absolutely universal.
See, I’ve read Bulgakov and Pratchett with equal delight. I’ve read books that have been lauded and never lived up to their promise. I’ve read books that have blown all my expectations away. I have even read terrible books with the same pleasure I derive from a film that’s ‘so bad it’s good’ because a book is a form of entertainment. It can be so, so much more than that of course; The Life of Pi slayed me, The Road, Alias Grace, His Dark Materials and hundreds of others have left me wandering in a daze of reflection, temporarily disconnected with the ‘real’ world.
I have analysed the life out of The Hunger Games trilogy and Harry Potter as well as The Master and Margarita and Pamela and Madame Bovary.
In fact, that brings me to the title of this post. When my brain was all burned out and I needed to retreat for a while, it was Harry Potter that saved my life. I needed distraction, and there it was. I needed to care about what happened next, and I did. Harry Potter got me through a few dark hours by allowing me to escape.
Taste in books is as personal as taste in music and I love reading too much to be snobbish about books and authors. If you tell me it’s good, I’ll read it. And if I think it’s good, I’ll pass it on.
Here’s a few books I would pass on to you (were they not a terrible dog-eared state from being well loved…)
anything by Nick Harkaway (brilliant brainfry)
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting – Milan Kundera
The Little Stranger – Susan Waters
Men At Arms / The Night Watch-Terry Pratchett
L’Assommoir / Germinal -Zola
The Master and Margarita/ Heart of a Dog – Bulgakov
Monsters Walking Trilogy – Patrick Ness
His Dark Materials Trilogy – Philip Pullman
The Graveyard Book – Neill Gaimon
The Colour Purple – Alice Walker
The Things Around your Neck/ Half a Yellow Sun – Chimmamanda Ngozi Adiche
The Road – Cormac McCarthy
Survivor/ Invisible Monsters/Fight Club – Chuck Palahniuk
Burying The Typewriter – Carmen Bugan
The Life of Pi- Yann Martel
The Tiger’s Wife – Tia Obreht
And a few I’d just pass on (if you dislike my other list these might be for you)
War and Peace- Tolstoy (sacrilege I know)
Far From the Madding Crowd – Hardy (cant get past chapter 1)
On Chesil Beach- Ian McEwan (I know, more sacrilege)
Can’t face the gauntlet of applying for ESA on the grounds of mental ill-health? Fear not, there are plenty of suitable job opportunites available…
*reads ESA application forms and Work Capability Assessment guidelines, weeps and hopes never to need it*
And there’s a simple solution to the Bedroom Tax too…If you can get your hands on a wrecking ball or large hammer (Miley Cyrus might have a spare)
A very public meltdown ‘outed’ me. I was on long-term medication for depression but desperately trying to get some additional support during a particularly horrible epsiode. Wired but exhausted, exhausted but unable to sleep I called the local IAPT helpline and was advised to double my anti-depressant dose. Bad move. The dose I was taking was the maximum ‘safe’ dose. I knew this at the time. But oh, I would have tried anything. Whether or not this was the final straw I don’t know, but the outcome of going into work on a particularly twitchy day was that I had a panic attack (only the second one ever-woah those things are nasty) freaked out, spent two hours crying and thoroughly bewildered my colleagues. Now long-term this meant that I had little choice but to be frank about my mental health. OH already knew that I had a history of depression, but nobody else was aware. I was big on ‘fake it til you make it’ and it had carried me through since my teens. Or so I convinced myself. In actual fact, the impact of mental illness has cost me several jobs, and who knows how many opportunities, relationships and moments of joy.
Anyway, that big old meltdown was the catalyst for a lot of change, and it led to me finally accessing proper mental healthcare. Although the continuity of that is kind of hit and miss. Having long suspected that depression wasn’t my only problem, I saw a psychiatrist (well, several) who advised me that I have a mood disorder. Symptomatic of Bipolar II – although the severity of my depressive episodes doesn’t make it an exact fit. Hearing that at least gave me some information to work with. Somewhere to start in trying to find a way to function as successfully as possible. Although the problem of coming to terms with long-term mental illness is a theme for another day.
Being outed was actually a positive thing for me. Although it could have gone the other way. My employers were incredible, although I continue to live in daily fear that I don’t bring enough to the table to justify some of their accomodations. Some days I just can’t quite be the creature I am when I am well. That’s frustrating. But in some ways life is easier.
However, work is only one area of my life and I still face the age-old problem of how open to be. Which led to me to thinking about how other people tackle the problem of what to reveal, to whom and when.
Are you out?
Well, the internet got me good this week. In a moment of rash curiosity I clicked on a link to an article and ended up on the website of a particularly unpleasant national newspaper. I wouldn’t do this intentionally. I deliberately avert my gaze in the Newsagents to avoid seeing this paper’s headlines because they tend to bring me out in pointless rage. Anyway, the article was posted on what is usually a very helpful website, and I like a good old-fashioned debate so I clicked…’Celebrities are making careers from mental health problems…’ Had I read the small print and checked the source I would have resisted. Honest.
Now there are several things that are obvious to me. If you’re tripping out on anxiety, sitting at home in the cold or dark because you’ve had to choose between heating and light, if you’re depressed and on the verge of eviction because you’re are barely surviving on benefits, if you are struggling with your medication and terrified that mental illness has made, or is going to make you, unemployable…(yes, I speak from experience) well, you’re not going to feel better because Ruby Wax knows what depression is like, or because Stephen Fry has spoken out about feeling suicidal . Having said that, the book Depression and how to Survive it co-written by Spike Miligan and Antony Clare probably saved my life. (And I do have a nerd-crush on Stephen Fry, but that’s beside the point I promise)
The idea that public figures should shut-up about mental illness now is ridiculous and dangerous. I want people to talk about mental health until everyone is sick of it. Until you could, should you so wish, reveal your schizophrenia in the same way you might mention your arthritis or any other debilitating condition and people will simply nod and ask you what you take for it and can you recommend a good specialist…
Who knows how many lives the embarrassed silence around mental illness has claimed? To what extent the myths and misconceptions have damaged and destroyed people? You’d have to go back to the beginning of civilisation to find out.
Yes there are pitfalls when it comes to celebrities speaking out, people speculate about their motives and even the validity, or existence, of their diagnoses. In fact some in the the media suggest it’s now ‘cool’ to be mentally ill (depending, it seems, on which illness you happen to have ) as if celebrities are advertising and endorsing mental illness rather than bringing it into the public domain.
Personally I don’t care if someone makes a mint from their illness. I don’t care if they somehow get more work or greater exposure because of it. Who does that hurt exactly? What hurts people is silence and stigma. And you can talk about whether people are good or bad role models, you can discuss the wisdom of this or that person speaking out. You can roll your eyes at rehab-celebrities and the negative press some might generate – but let’s face it, it would be hard to make the stigma of mental illness worse wouldn’t it?