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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 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.
I saw my therapist on Friday, which was pretty cool. So I did get to tell her how well things are going. And tomorrow I go back to work.
My last day at work was just before Christmas, so it’s now been a year an eleven months since I worked. And I’m going back to work tomorrow. How do I feel about it? Quite excited, maybe a little nervous, confident that I can handle it, looking forward to being around people and earning money again. I’ll be able to put money away for the future. This time around work isn’t just about keeping myself alive, it’s part of a much larger plan to get exactly what I want out of life. It’s about being able to work and being able to work towards something.
It’s a week of milestones, actually. I finished my regular dental treatment this week (it was fairly minor work so I did it without anaesthetic) and get my wisdom tooth out on Friday. This should be the last of the dental work, (assuming they don’t make a hole in my sinuses; the root is close to them apparently, so if they do, I’ll need another operation to close it up). The dental stuff means a lot to me as well. Before I decided to find a dentist earlier this year it had been maybe a decade since I’d been. And in the last five years I’d had two teeth removed, and the rest of them weren’t in great condition. Depression makes it hard to remember to brush your teeth, or get dental check-ups.
To be at the point where I can just get regular check-ups every six months is awesome. It’s completely smashed one of the patterns of behaviour that my therapist and I spent so long working out. I’d neglect things until they became overwhelming. And then I’d pretend that it wasn’t happening, which would let me avoid dealing with them. Because to seek help for them would be admitting that I couldn’t cope and admitting that would make me feel intensely ashamed. People might even feel sorry for me, which would make me feel horribly vulnerable. And with the teeth, I broke out of that pattern by seeking help (from the dentist) and dealing with the feelings of shame that this caused (by telling myself that I don’t have to feel ashamed for things that I couldn’t control) and it really worked. It’s important for me to note these things so that I can remember for the next time something seems overwhelming.
(Also, dinner tonight was really, really tasty and I want to remember what I put in it. So here it is: 3 potatoes, 1 small onion, half a swede, 2 big carrots, 3 rashers of bacon, 1 pack stewing steak. Chop everything up; add salt, pepper, pinch of cumin, paprika, splash of olive oil, 3/4 pint vegetable gravy, plenty of tomato puree. 5 hours in slow cooker. makes about 3 servings.)
There’s a lot going on at the moment, most of it good. So this is how life is meant to be? I had no idea.
Over the last few weeks I’ve become more involved with my voluntary work. I volunteer in a Victorian cemetery. It’s not actually used as a cemetery now, though we still have lots of graves. We have a huge amount of data regarding the 80,000-ish people who were buried in the cemetery over its century-and-half of active use, so I’m focusing on leveraging this data in interesting ways and making it much more searchable. This isn’t a purely altruistic thing – it’ll look good on my C.V. in a couple of years when I start applying for IT jobs. But mainly I’m doing it because it’s useful and interesting.
The other side of the volunteer work tends to involve a lot of clambering over gravestones in areas of the cemetery not open to the public because of health-and-safety concerns. By the time it was closed, the cemetery wasn’t exactly well-maintained, so many of the graves and tombstones have collapsed. It’s unexpectedly fun, but I need better shoes.
I keep waking up before my alarm goes off.
On Friday I have a follow-up appointment with the therapy service. I’m hoping it’ll be with the therapist I actually worked with, although it could be her supervisor. It’d be nice to be able to tell my therapist that I’ll be going back to work the following Monday and it’s all part of a bigger plan (a sensible, attainable and well-planned plan at that) that gets my life to where I want it to be. My life is so much better than it’s ever been. It’s so different being part of things, having goals, being able to work towards them, being able to connect with people without needing to be on the defensive constantly. So it’d be nice to be able to tell me therapist all this directly. After all, I owe much of it to her. (The medications help as well. Three weeks and the melatonin is still working.)
Life’s busy. In fact I’m suprisingly busy for someone who isn’t actually in paid work yet. The dental stuff should be finished in a couple of weeks. I’ve saved the best for last and my wisdom tooth is coming out in just under two weeks time. A few days after that I get to go and give a sperm sample to check whether I am, in fact, fertile or not. I’m not really worried about the result – I just want to know one way or the other.