It’s been more than a year since my last post. And things are mostly good with me. But I have to write this and the place it needs to go is here.
I’m still well. Things are going incredibly well at work. I’ve moved into a nicer flat. I’m going back to university later this year, hopefully. My social circle has expanded slightly. Every so often I’m amazed by the way that I cope with the shit that does come my way. It amazes me because I’m not really used to finding myself using healthy coping strategies. But I find myself doing it automatically.
I’ve taken risks with my feelings in the knowledge that I can deal with the fallout when things go wrong.
And this is a way of dealing with the fallout now that things have gone wrong. My first important relationship since my recovery has ended and now my heart feels like it’s been shredded into a thousand little shards.
I got together with her last year after meeting her while working at our other site, about 5 hours away from home. It was good. For various reasons, mostly to do with her being where I was emotionally a couple of years ago and the distance, we broke up in January. It was kind of mutual. It sucked. I asked her if she wanted to move here, but she declined. So yesterday, while I was back at the other site through another work thing, I went to see her.
We talked for a couple of hours. Mostly about her. She’s getting therapy and looks far more hopeful than I’ve ever seen her. She also has a new boyfriend. But apart from that, the things that make the relationship impossible haven’t gone anywhere. It’s nobody’s fault really. But it seems so unfair and it hurts like a motherfucker. I got a taxi back to the hotel, then wept harder and longer than I can remember ever doing. I cried at my last break-up, too, but I was doing the breaking-up and I was crying because I hated hurting someone I still cared about. Then, after I stopped crying, I went to sleep. And when I woke up I cried again.
I’ve never been able to deal with these kinds of feelings before, so this is a first for me. Before, either the feelings were so intense they were impossible to cope with, a swirling vortex of pain that seemed more a force of nature than something human and tractable. Or the feelings weren’t there and there was nothing an emptiness that persisted for years. It’s weird. Feeling hurt like this is a good thing for me. Without experiencing the pain, you never actually deal with it. And if you can’t deal with the pain then you never move on from it. This is not the end of the world: It just feels like it. And even now, slowly, it gets easier.
Last night, when I was talking to her, I told her how I wished that I couldn’t deal with it, how I wished that it wouldn’t be OK. I don’t think I explained it very well at the time, but what I meant was this: It’s far easier in the short term to succumb to the swirling votex of pain or the empty void of feelinglessness, it’s simple and requires no effort at all. This right here requires a whole lot of effort. After I stopped crying in the morning, I showered and dressed and put the feelings away in a box in my head while I had to concentrate on work. And now I’m back home, I can take the feelings out again. I’ll be OK. I wish I didn’t have to be. But I’ll be OK. And there’ll be a next time, which will be a bit easier because I’ll know the territory.
Another milestone. I went swimming today. That probably doesn’t sound like much, but it was a huge step forward for me in a number of ways.
Firstly, there’s the scars. I’m used to wearing short-sleeves now, but my worst scars are on my upper arms and shoulders and tend to be hidden by a t-shirt. So going swimming involved being OK about having those visible. That was a little step – one that I’ve prepared myself well for over the last six months or so.
The big step was the fact that I willingly put myself in a new situation that would have pushed a number of my panic buttons before. Growing up as the fat kid and still being a bit overweight now, I’ve never really liked being less than fully clothed. I’ve used clothes as something to hide behind. That started to change last year when I started wearing bright colours sometimes, but obviously there’s a big difference between wearing bright colours and wearing just swimming trunks.
Because I always sucked at sports and fitness activities, they’ve been something I’ve mostly avoided, especially where people can see. People laughed at me when I was growing up when I tried to do this kind of stuff, so it was easier not to try. And being in that situation, on my own, is scary.
But I want to be fit and active. I’ve started working towards getting fitter and swimming is one of the ways I want to use to get there. I always liked swimming when I was a kid and it’s the only form of exercise I’ve ever really found fun. And these reasons I had for avoiding it all seem a bit silly. The feelings they cause are real, but the reasons themselves are just remnants of the problems I’ve had.
It surprised me how hard it was. I kept trying to talk myself out of going, overthinking it way too much. But I kept myself calm. The way I figured it, the worst that could happen is that I could look dumb, unfit and scarred in front of some people who don’t know me who I’ll probably never see again. And the first time you do anything is always the hardest, so if I did go, it’d be much easier the next time. In fact, trying other things would be easier, too. There were good reasons to try and only bad reasons not to.
One of the rules I’ve made that’s worked so well for many thing is this: I don’t have to feel bad about any failing or fault that I’m actively trying to fix. This worked with getting my teeth sorted out (I don’t have to feel bad about my teeth being in awful condition when I’m fixing it by going to the dentist). And it’s worked now (I don’t have to feel bad about being unfit, when I’m trying to get fitter).
So I went today after work. I haven’t been swimming in ten years. Apparently, I’m rather less bouyant than I was back then, but I soon got over the “OH MY GOD I’M GOING TO DROWN” feeling and moved on to the “OH MY GOD I’M SO OUT OF BREATH” feeling after each length. In the end I only managed six or eight 25m lengths before I got out the pool, with quite long rests in between each of them. And I felt absolutely exhausted afterwards. But I did it, and I’m going to do it again. I’ll be able to do more lengths next time, too.
I’m coming to realise that my mother is just as broken a person, in her own way, as my father. She has a wheat allergy and fibromyalgia, but really I think that avoiding wheat-containing foods is the only way she can find to experience any feeling of control over her life, and the fibromyalgia is the only way she can find to demand attention.
I was doing OK over Christmas until the Saturday. I went to my sister’s house that afternoon. There were lots of people there. My sister and her husband and their two children. And there was my sister’s father. And also her husband’s parents and his sister and his sister’s husband. It was kind of overwhelming, especially after the quietness of my parent’s house. But everyone was talking and laughing and enjoying themselves, playing with the kids and so on. It was nice. It was relaxed.
So it was difficult to go back to my parents’ house, where life is slowly dessicated away. My sister’s house isn’t what you’d call tidy, but it’s full of things that she and her family do and have done, all the stuff that defines their lives. My parents house is much tidier and far, far cleaner. But the purpose of the things in their house is to look nice and be kept nice, not to be used and enjoyed. My father collects china birds that sit on the shelves, gazing down with beady eyes. Nobody knows why he collects them, least of all him. Some meals we ate in the kitchen around their small kitchen table. Every time, my father would go to the garage to get an extra chair and after every meal he would put it away in the garage again.
After I came back from my sister’s house, all this felt very, very oppressive. It was the contrast more than anything else. My parents are older, of course, and you wouldn’t expect them to live the same kind of lives as my sister. But they like their lives to be empty and meaningless and the kind of pleasure that my sister’s family take in being around each other is utterly alien to them. My mother and father think that’s the way life should be lived and that everyone else who lives differently is odd.
I was feeling kind of irritible and subdued afterwards, thinking about this. But I managed to not get angry when my father asked if I hadn’t taken my medication that day. What I find kind of annoying is the thought that my father takes my recovery as some kind of get-out-of-jail-free card. He probably thinks that because I’m on medication and feeling better my problems had nothing to do with him. But it’s not like he acted any differently when he had ample reason to believe that he’d been a lousy father and his behaviour was at the root of much of the misery in my life. So it’s probably not worth worrying about all that much.
Maybe my parents have been miserable for so long that they’ve mistaken it for contentment.
And likably daffy though my mother is, she was as much to blame for my awful childhood as my father. It was my father who did the shouting, but it was my mother who put me in the utterly impossible position of trying to reason with the most unreasonable adult in the world, who made me responsible for dealing with his moods and unpredictability. And it was my mother who denied all responsibility by pretending to be just as much of a victim and just as powerless as I was.
All in all, I did OK. I took my guitar with me and got in lots of practice. I took some books and read quite a bit. I didn’t let my father get to me. Having actual sleeping patterns helped. And I was able to escape a couple of times. It was nice to see my mother, regardless of her flaws. And it was nice to see my sister and my niece and nephew. But it’s really good to be home.
I went to the andrology lab to produce a semen sample today. I walked there after work, so I was still dressed in office clothes, which just made the whole thing even more surreal. The andrology lab is one of those services without a proper reception – so you just buzz the intercom and wait until they call you in. So that’s what I did.
I wasn’t really embarrassed about it, but the experience is definitely quite odd. I went through some medical details with the woman who let me in. She didn’t say “masturbate” or “ejaculate” or “semen” or anything like that – it was always just “produce a sample”. She gave me a plastic specimin jar and a bag to put it in after I’d produced my specimin, then she showed me to the room where the specimin production would take place.
It wasn’t an unpleasant room, but it was extraordinarily drab. It was fairly small and painted a hideous grey. There was a chair (upholstered in wipe-clean vinyl), a sink, a rubbish bin, a cabinet, a mirror and a shelf. There was also a notice, which told me to wash my hands and my penis with soap and water for the purposes of hygeine. There were three pornographic magazines in the cupboard.
So I followed the hygeine procedures and produced my sample, for science! It’s an awkward situation, but I’d followed their instructions and hadn’t engaged in any other kinds of sample-producing behaviour in the four days before, which helped. Then I followed the hygeine procedures again, wrote the time of production on the specimin jar’s label, put it in the bag and was pretty much done.
And then I went Christmas shopping.
In three weeks time the andrology lab will send the results to my GP. So I should find out whether I’m producing no, some or normal amounts or sperm in January.
In a week’s time I’ll have been writing this blog for two years. When I started, I’d reached the point where all my efforts to fix myself had failed and I simply couldn’t cope any more. So I cut myself, went to hospital, and then I started writing about it. It’s been a big part of my recovery. This blog became the place where I could put all the thoughts in my head. And with them written down I could start to make sense of them. I didn’t really expect anyone would want to read about me being depressed, but I was wrong and there’s been lots of people who’ve been kind enough to share their opinions on the things I’ve written and offer their support when I was going through bad times. Even when I felt like I was all alone, I wasn’t completely alone, and that helped, too.
It’s been a weird couple of years. Probably the most important two years of my life. In a way this blog’s the story of how I took back my life. Everything that comes after this is only possible because I went through all this. In one of my final therapy sessions my therapist asked me if I’d have my scars removed if there was some easy, cheap and safe treatment that would just get rid of them. I surprised myself by saying no. I’d been sure that they didn’t matter, that I didn’t feel proud or ashamed about them, but my scars are more important to me than I thought. So I don’t think I’d give up these two years either. They might not have been all that pretty to look at, but they’re a big part of who I am.
If you think I’m talking like I’m finishing up the blog, then you’re pretty much right. My mood is stable, my sleep patterns are normal and I’m working my way towards the kind of life I want to live, which means I’m working again. But it’s kind of obvious that I don’t have much more to say about living with bipolar disorder and recovering from mental illness. The things I want to write about now just don’t fit and I don’t need to be anywhere near as anonymous for them.
I’m not abandoning this place. It’s important to me. So nothing much is going to change, except that there won’t be regular posts any more. I might need to be anonymous again, and when I do I’ll be back for as long as I need to be. This isn’t going to happen right away – there’s some things to wrap up before I go – the infertility stuff and how well I cope with staying with my parents at Christmas, for example.
It’s kind of sad, but it feels like the right time to move on. I’ll be starting a new blog and I don’t have any problem with any of my regular readers following me (although I’d appreciate it if you could avoid mentioning this blog there and vice versa). You might be able to find it – if not send me an email.
Thank you so much, everyone.
My wisdom tooth is gone. The process was incredibly painless. Seriously, the most painful bit was the injection(s) of anaesthetic. And they weren’t much more than a pinch. In between the injection and the extraction, my oral surgeon and I chatted about bipolar disorder – her brother is also bipolar. So that was kind of interesting. The extraction itself took all of twenty seconds. I walked home, ate some food, and waited for the pain to hit as the numbness wore off. But it’s definitely not numb now and, other than some mild discomfort, it seems fine.
So my dental stuff is finished for the moment. From now on it’ll just be regular check-ups.
I have to go and produce a sperm sample next week. I get the feeling it’s going to be fairly surreal, but when the results are back (probably before Christmas) I’ll know whether I’m fertile, infertile or somewhere in between. Apparently you’re not supposed to, uh, deplete the stocks in the four days before. It’s really weird to look at your calendar to see a note that says “No ejaculation until sperm sample!”
Everything else is going well. I have to fill out various forms relating to benefits, which is kind of annoying. But everything else is going well. Obviously I had the day off work today, but I’m still enjoying it and will be back on Monday. I’m still doing my charity stuff, which is fun.
So that was my first week back at work. It went well. In fact it went by without any real incident, so it’s difficult to talk about in any detail. I have to go through training again, which is being handled via patchy one-to-one coaching with an old colleague. Today, being Friday, was a dress-down day, which meant that I was wearing a t-shirt. I was very slightly nervous about it, but it’s actually kind of difficult to remember that my scars might have any impression on other people, so once I was there I didn’t really think about it much.
I think they’re being gentle with me, which is nice but kind of boring. But I guess it’s a kind of mutual re-establishment of trust. The truth is, I’m much more able to deal with work now than I ever was before. I’m not dangerously tired and I’m not having to deal with my life falling to pieces around me. It’s the first time I’ve ever been in a job where I’m not constantly exhausted. Just being able to deal with mornings is astoundingly nice. I get up and have time for a leisurely coffee or two, do all the usual morning stuff and have a reasonable amount of flexibility built into my journey into work, so it doesn’t really matter if my bus is late. When I was working before I’d be so tired that I’d hit snooze until I eventually dragged myself out of bed in time to pull some clothes on, maybe brush my teeth and lurch out the door.
Breaks last a lot longer when you don’t have to rush outside for a cigarette. In fact it’s a year ago today that I gave up smoking (my last cigarette was actually sometime around Christmas, but I made the decision to quit on November 28th 2007). It might not have been the perfect time to quit, but it was so worthwhile in the end.
Looking back, I think the best preparation for going back to work was the volunteering. It let me get used to being around people again in a work-like environment. I’m continuing to volunteer there now, which seems to work out well. With the sleep being pretty much sorted out now (and hopefully for the future too), I don’t have to worry about being awake for things. I enjoy it, and the really good thing is: I’m actually developing skills and experience for my future career. I kind of like my job – it’s fairly easy, but engaging enough that it’s not mind-crushingly boring – but even with 16 hours logged so far, I know it’s not something I want to do for too long. It’s scary to see so many people around who are in pretty much the same roles they were in when I left.
In short, everything’s working out pretty damn well. It’s really good to be back at work and 16 hours seems to be well within my tolerances at the moment.