BrainDump: Sick or weak?
Updated: Jun 3, 2019
What’s on my mind today: Will I ever feel I am (good) enough? Will I ever be healthy and well?
We’ve just come through another school half term holiday, probably the most straightforward to date. We made it through two birthday parties, sports camp, a cinema visit, and even made some jam tarts along the way. And all this with both H and me feeling under the weather and me making progress on my MAPP assignments, so all in all a good week.
But last night, after a good weekend and amazing early Sunday dinner cooked by my husband I found myself again fearful and anxious of the week ahead. How was I going to manage this week? Back to school for H means more time for me, to study, to get things done…but also more time on my hands to think, or try not to.
My husband pointed out that we had just ‘nailed’ half term and that I could focus on having accomplished that. I am doing very well at the things I need to. Surely this gives me the strength and evidence that I can manage things, even when I am not feeling ‘well’?
Unfortunately my brain doesn’t work like that, and despite some quite sophisticated training courtesy of a decade psychological therapy (albeit the first eight years being on balance a zero-sum game between me and a particularly patriarchal shrink) my mind seems to be resisting efforts to fundamentally change the way it wants (and has learned) to process things, good and bad.
‘Good’ events it files under “Filename: fluke” or “Filename: pointless ” or just “Archive: to be deleted” and forgotten.
Also when good events (as they tend to these days) tend to read something like this:
-Did not have meltdown in public, but waited til alone at home,
-Only rang husband once crying today
-Didn’t fall out with a friend today
-Managed to avoid uncontrollable rage at child/dog or Lost it but resolved the situation without making it all about my limitations (they are genuinely maddening sometimes like all 5 year old boys and Labrador puppies) so put off breakdown until out of sight
-Pulled myself together to make dinner despite crippling guilt over needing and wanting to be alone, but also knowing how lonely I will then feel
it is hard to see the bright side or the myriad of small things I get accomplished each day that I don’t when I am really unwell (brushing my teeth, eating properly, speaking to friends, planning things, basic chores at home, reading, meeting the needs of my child, doing my share). I also feel unbearable guilt over those I people and experiences for which I should more grateful. I have tried to notice the positive and now having some knowledge of the way my brain works has definitely enabled me to observe my thoughts but the meaning I attach to things means that this is not mindfulness, I am far too judgy.
When I try (as advised by well-meaning friends and family) to pull my socks up/think of people worse than me/stop thinking about myself through sheer force of will this doesn’t work. It purely makes me feel worse for feeling worse. I suspect this is the same for others suffering from depression.
Then when bad events happen, and it doesn’t matter how big or small, my brain has quite a long adjustment time which can give a misleading impression that I am fine. I am really good at pretending I am fine sometimes. But, invariably, my inherent doubt in my ability and resources to cope sabotage most of my ability and resources to cope and I need a lot of support. This has ranged from changes and increases in medication, day hospital admission, emergency appointments and review for inpatient care due to self-harming attempts.
I hope that doesn’t shock you, or that you think me trying to get attention for being this way. I would not wish this type of illness on anyone. If indeed I have an 'illness' am not just, as I still debate with myself daily (thanks OCD), weak.
So if I think about the past week, and the reasons I can’t count it as evidence I am managing well are that I spent quite limited time with my son. It feels wrong to be writing about this (especially as one day he may read this) but I hope it helps with some understanding of my mental health and that of people like me and enables me to get better at being a person, and mum as a result of sharing it and ordering my thoughts and feelings about it all.
My mum came over 4 times within a week, the first because I was close to breakdown and feeling very low and panicked (this happens cyclically it seems, around once every couple of months, maybe less frequently but it always feels like it’s inevitable). The subsequent times she came over to help with my son as managing his needs is often too much for me. The other two days H was in sports camp all day, something he enjoys doing with his friends – but again for me, not the reason we send him.
Because I am studying I was able to focus my energy on that whilst relieved of him and this was the reason discussed with her, although she is fully aware of the situation and also my reasons for deciding to study again it is hard to ask for help from anyone (except my husband) just because I need it, i.e. without there being a reason. H and grandma spent a couple of hours each day together, giving me that much needed space to get the work done (despite how much I love it, it seems secondary to needing head space from being a mum all the time). Whilst this might be a common pattern in some larger families for exhausted mums with multiple different children, jobs etc. and indeed a great opportunity for grandma and grandson to spend time together, the fact that I needed this help to manage my role at mum makes me feel all sorts of familiar guilt that has never really left me.
From the age of 1, H was in nursery whilst I worked part time, I worked part time not for financial reasons but I couldn’t spend all my time with him and stay well. Perhaps I've never truly feel qualified to be his main carer; I panicked about every time he was ill, lack of sleep, lack of a life outside being his mum. I think a bad start to parenting due to a bad pregnancy (physical and mental bad health) was major factor in this but I also think that I was primed for a post-natal depression type experience that may have been manifested even without the pregnancy experience I had. Although I will never know I guess.
Not sure I am making much sense today; my head feels all over the place. What I think I am trying to say is I am pre-occupied with trying to understand why I am the way I am, whether everyone deals with the levels of anxiety, repetitive thoughts and doubts and low mood and depression like me and is just better at either hiding it or managing it. And if people feel this level of guilt about being themselves, how do they manage it?
I feel ill yes, but is this illness or just feeling too much? Do I have too much time on my hands, too much existential angst? Should I shut up now? Probably Probably yes. But I won’t for long as I somehow can’t give up and will be writing again soon no doubt.