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The Interdisciplinary Work of Lyss England

Posts tagged depression

The sky turned grey the day after
To match my head the day after
I lay on the table and
allowed myself to be at the mercy of
doctors and this body
The one that just seems to
Keep failing me
Betraying me
When all I want is to
do this thing I feel called to do
I-
Motherless child
I-
Childless mother
Felt grey the day after
Cervix still open
Another lifeless love
Lifted from my body.

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Content: mental illness, mood disorders, mania, depression, anxiety, smoking, cannabis, xanax, blood, suicide attempt, suicide threat, hospitalization, self harm, parent death, friendship

 

For years before we met, people told me I would love you. So many of our mutual friends used to tell me about how similar we were, with so many mutual interests and mutual mental health issues. And when we finally met, we connected instantly. I remember sitting on the bed in the spare bedroom of my apartment, window wide open, chain-smoking cigarettes and exchanging stories about the fucked up things that had happened to us, fucked up things we had done, and weird shit we experienced. You intermittently popped Xanex, while I packed bong bowl after bong bowl of Indica strains. We had some overlapping clinical diagnoses, and some similar but different ones too. I could see myself in you, like a mirror image. After twenty-something years of feeling isolated and loved by my other friends, but never really seen, you saw me.

We both lived with mood disorders, eating disorders, anxiety disorders. We were tattooed smokers, self-harmers, daughters of long-dead mothers. We both loved sex and the occasional drug binge. We both had wonderful, long-term, committed partners. We both longed to be well while simutanteously accepting that mental illness was a permanent part of our lives that we couldn’t help but romanticize and struggle with and commit to in our own ways.

I remember asking you what to do when you inevitably became manic. We made safety plans. I remember you asking me what to do when I inevitably self-harmed. We made crisis plans. I remember discussing how much we should discuss our weight and our eating habits. We made resource lists.

And then the time came when I looked into your eyes and it wasn’t you, it was this live wire, electric version of you. You started lying to me about things like if you were using or if you were hanging out with people who you knew I knew used. And then you told me about things and acted in ways that weren’t in line with the way I knew you wanted to be and I fought my way in to advocate for you as well as I could while trying to keep you relatively safe.

And then a time came where I was so depressed and had been texting you about it that you broke into my apartment early in the morning, nearly in tears, to find that I was still alive after all.

And then there were all those times I drove you to the hospital, or offered to drive you to the hospital because that was the only way you felt you could be okay.

And then there was the time where I told you about that really bizarre recurring experience I have that 99% of people don’t know I have that only you can even begin to understand. Because you’ve been through it too.

And then there was that time where you told me that you hated me and wanted to kill me. You told me I was faking my mood disorder and that if I saw you on the street, I’d better run, because you were going to kill me. But the moment I looked you in the eye, I knew it wasn’t you. It was that live wire version of you again.

And there were times where we both told each other that we couldn’t be there for each other all the time, that we needed to focus more exclusively on taking care of ourselves.

And then there was that time that your partner called me to tell me I needed to come over because our worst fear had come true and I made it around the corner just in time to watch as the paramedics wheeled your seizing body on a stretcher from your apartment into the ambulance. And I stayed back while your partner spoke to the cops and cleaned up the bloody vomit on the kitchen wall and went with your partner to the hospital where they told us they needed to take you to a bigger hospital. And then, when your stepmom called me at work the next day to tell me to come say goodbye, I raced to the hospital from work to slip my hand in your limp hand and and sang you Bad Religion songs.

“There will be sorrow no more”.

That last thing nearly ruined our friendship. But it didn’t. It took time and space. It took me adjusting my expectations and you forgiving yourself. And I am so beyond grateful that you lived. And even though we both know that we will both continue to struggle from time to time, the history of our own lives and of our friendship proves that no state is permanent. It will always end. There will always be another time for us to sit on the bed, drinking tea, and smoking, and laughing way too loudly. Because we see each other. And we’re learning to navigate what it means to be a mentally ill person with a mentally ill best friend. And that’s a pretty magical kind of friendship.

I strive never to sit
To create something still
I crave movement
It’s gotta do something ’cause
I’m permanently restless
I’m self-loathing when I
Rest
I’m exhausted though still
Spinning
Depleted and dancing
Short on breath
Restricted airways
From all those times
I’ve skipped through
Agony
Darkness
Lines across my arms
From all those times
I’ve struggled out of the grasp of
December’s long, ragged claws
The ones so
Carefully polished
Wondering if this winter
Will finally bring
The ultimate stillness
Where maybe,
For the first time
Since I can
Remember
I feel held.

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I’ve been making lists of things that feel good. There is literally no qualifier for making the list except that the thing felt good. There are no rules, I don’t post these statuses with any real consistency, they just happen when I feel like I need them. I started posting “things that feel good” statuses when I was about six months into a violent (but, as always, functional) depression because I noticed that my thought patterns focused in on negative things that didn’t feel good at all, and that I was focusing all of my energy on those feelings that didn’t feel good. I was looking for a way to train my brain to notice things that felt good instead, and one day I decided to post a list of things that had felt good that day as a Facebook status.

The response I got kind of blew my mind. A ton of people liked it or otherwise “reacted” to it. People commented that they thought it was a cool concept. People approached me in the street to tell me they had loved that status.

It was just a status on Facebook, and I hadn’t posted it in hope of receiving any type of response as much as to hold myself publicly accountable for this paradigm shift I was attempting to create for myself. It is an easy way to keep a record. That being said, I’m never one to turn down validation, and the reminders every time I would receive a notification to look at that status were helpful in re-training my brain, because I kept re-reading these things that I was intentionally acknowledging as feeling good. It became a mantra, these Things That Felt Good.

I started posting them more often. As my depression lessened, the posts began to feel more celebratory and less like another thing I put myself through the motions of in hope of feeling better. People continued engaging with the concept of them both on and offline, and even began posting their own. Being mindful of things that feel good was a concept that made sense to a lot of people. And I felt as though it really was contributing to a meaningful change for me.

As a person who is fascinated by performance, I have always felt drawn to public displays of self-discovery and change. I think that expressions of authentic processes of self-discovery are the highest form of art, and that it follows naturally for that art form to bleed into the public sphere. With presentation of this wild display of vulnerability comes the opportunity for those witnessing it to reflect, relate, connect with the artist, and with one another. It creates space for discussion. It also creates space for accountability and the continuation of the process of reflection for the artist.

There’s also something to be said for the intentional self-objectification that comes with using the self as a medium for artistic expression. The process of exposing ones self has been, for me, a way of looking at myself from outside of myself. A way of taking space from my body, and then being very much in my body. Objectifying my Self, and my experiences on my terms. Making my Self a display in a way that I consent to, intentionally.

I didn’t intend for Things That Felt Good Today posts to be an art project when I started to do it, but upon reflection, that is a large component of what it is and what has been healing about it. 

Things That Felt Good Today posts are an art form because they are vulnerable displays of mindfulness that is related to the authentic self and are performed publicly. They are full of transformative potential for the artist, and for those who witness them. For those who choose to engage with them, those who create their own, those who think about them.

They are a performance piece that feels good.

Content warning: all the usual stuff, but also specific mentions of self-harm, suicidal ideation, suicide attempts.

 

The stereotype of mad people goes something like this: unable to get out of bed, unable to take care of basic needs (ie. food, hygiene), engaging in impulses, suicide attempts, active self-harming, medicated, attention-seeking, manipulative, engaging with any and all delusions or hallucinations- and the list goes on. Some of these things hold truth for some people (heck, all of these things may hold true for some people!), and that is valid. But those are not things that hold true for me.

I identify as being a mad person for a few reasons:

1. I was diagnosed with Major Depression, Generalized Anxiety, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, and as experiencing occasional quasipsychosis when I was fourteen. I was then treated by a team of psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and my family doctor through various therapeutic practices and also with medication.

It should probably be noted at this point that I feel strongly that if I were to undergo a full psychiatric assessment at this point in my life, eleven years after my initial evaluation, I would be given a pretty different set of diagnoses. It should also probably be noted that, while I believe first and foremost that everyone ought to have the right to treat their madness/illness/body in whatever way they feel may work best for them at the time, I am extremely noncompliant with medication and do not believe that it is helpful for me or conducive to my healing process at this point in my life. I also want to acknowledge that there was a point in my life where I did feel as though medication was helpful.

2. Sometimes, I feel mad. I feel crazy. I feel out of control. Sometimes, I am so depressed I want to die for no reason at all. Sometimes, I am so anxious, leaving my apartment takes hours because I have to check and re-check that i’ve unplugged everything in my apartment. Sometimes, I hear, and see, and feel things that other people don’t hear, or see, or feel. More often than not, I wake up throughout the night, either already breathless from sobbing in my sleep or completely paralyzed, as though there’s an alien laying on top of me. 
3. Other people (sometimes) identify me as mad. When I’m having a panic attack, or when I disclose to a close friend that I am feeling “low-key suicidal” as I call it (meaning I am experiencing suicidal ideation but don’t plan to carry anything out/am safe overall), they identify me as mad.When I disclose things to doctors, they also identify me as mad. When my family has to put up with me unplugging everything constantly and panicking about it as I drive away from home, or my partner wakes up to me crying again, they identify me as mad too.
Whether I want it to be or not, madness is a big part of my life, and, given the day, I’ve been known to argue both sides. However, the stereotype of mad folks doesn’t fit for me. No matter how unstable I am feeling, I will always get up, force myself to eat, force myself to drink water, force myself to get dressed, force myself to go to work, force myself to prepare meals beforehand, force myself to maintain relationships, force myself to take time to rest and recharge, force myself to have boundaries, force myself to care for the people in my life. I haven’t attempted suicide in eight and a half years, I haven’t self-harmed in five years, and in that time, I have graduated with an undergraduate degree (with honours), maintained a long-term romantic relationship, improved my family relationships, maintained several long-term friendships, started my career, and found stable housing (finally). I am what people call high-functioning.
I work, I volunteer, I take care of myself, I maintain relationships and extra-curricular interests. People who aren’t close to me generally don’t even realize I’m mad, and in a way, that is a privilege. However, like with any invisible, chronic condition, there is something to be said for experiences being erased by what fits more easily: physical and visible manifestation of symptoms.

The fact that I am high-functioning does not negate my experiences or the validity of my healing process.

Sometimes, I feel guilty for taking up space in therapeutic settings or online support groups for mad people. Sometimes, I feel guilty because I feel as though I’m appropriating language around mental health to describe my experiences. But the reality of the situation is: just because I don’t kill myself, doesn’t make my nearly constant suicidal ideation any less significant to my lived experience. Obviously, that’s the most extreme example I could give, but you get the idea (and I do love the dramatic…).

A lot of the issue comes down to the nature of psychiatry. Lists of symptoms fit the criteria of a mental illness, as defined by the  DSM V, so people are diagnosed and received the treatment that is supposed to alleviate those symptoms. Although this process has been life-saving in many different ways for many different people, there are tons of problems with this way of identifying and treating madness.That is an essay within itself….
The one problem with this that I want to draw attention to within this particular essay is that there exists this binary of “well”/“not well” or “sane”/“mad” or “functioning according to capitalist standards”/“not functioning according to capitalist standards”. While I’m all for resisting capitalism and not defining wellness or worth according to levels of productivity, I also happen to be a person who copes (and literally survives) by functioning. That is my way of resisting feeling like shit. This doesn’t mean that I think I’m better than (or more well than or healed than) people who are not high-functioning, simply that my way of working towards wellness and healing happens to look pretty high-functioning.

This also does not negate my experiences or the validity of my healing process.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been able to access many years worth different kinds of therapies. Maybe it’s because I was medicated for a few years. Maybe it’s because I have some wonderfully supportive, stable people in my life. Maybe it’s because my number one priority is my healing process (even when it may not seem like it). Maybe it’s because I’m a capricorn. Maybe it’s because it’s just the way I am. Maybe it’s because I was brought up in a WASPy, upper middle class, white family, and not being high functioning simply was not an option. It’s probably because of all of these things that I am a high functioning mad person.

Regardless, my experiences and my healing process are valid, even as a high-functioning mad person.