Quiet people always know more than they seem. Although very normal, their inner world is by default fronted mysterious and therefore assumed weird. Never underestimate the social awareness and sense of reality in a quiet person; they are some of the most observant, absorbent persons of allCriss Jami, Healology
Today is Remembrance Day (or Veteran’s Day). November 11, 2019 – a day set aside to remember. For most, it’s a few moments to consider the horrors of war that the vast majority of the population only knows thanks to Hollywood’s version of war. And to be honest, I’m not sure I really want to think about what those soldiers saw and experienced – in combat, on peacekeeping missions, and especially when returning home to “normal” life. If one can return to normal after those experiences… Don’t get me wrong, I’m very thankful for the freedoms I have because of their sacrifices, but I have trouble wrapping my head around it.
Yet for me, this year, I’m also remembering much more recent history – at least in comparison. One year ago, I was in a very bad place mentally. I wasn’t sleeping much. 3-4 hours of sleep was normal. 6 hours (which is actually pretty close to my normal sleep intake) was like heaven. More than 6 hours would make me irritable, groggy, and slightly ill. I was drinking far more than was the norm for me – normal being one (or less) per day – sometimes days or weeks without a sip of booze. Instead, I’d have a good stiff rum & Coke when I got home from work (mid afternoon). Another with supper. And another after supper. Some days I’d also have another one before supper too. And some days I’d have yet another one just before bed (in addition to the previous ones). For those keeping track – that’s 3-5 stiff drinks per day. A drink was almost 2 oz rum in a can of Coke (or Pepsi). If not rum, than whiskey. And having 3 to 5 of those (so 6 to 10 oz) daily. That was when I was home, where I was ‘safe’. Not out in the real world, not at work, not dealing with customers, not dealing with sensory overload. Not dealing with hallucinations. I knew it was a crappy way to deal with life, but it helped numb me to the intrusive thoughts, the exhaustion, the nagging questions in the back of my mind. (And in hindsight, it’s not hard to see I was a short leap to becoming an alcoholic).
Hallucinations? Yeah. Nothing drastic – and at first I thought it was just because I wasn’t sleeping well – which I’m sure was definitely a part of it, but not entirely, because the hallucinations would usually happen only at work or other situation where I felt extremely stressed or under any sort of pressure.
If it was a visual hallucination, it was a shadowy humanoid form. Dark clothing, possibly a black trench coat or ‘duster’, dark flat-top hat. Dark skin. Possibly a gold tooth or teeth, but I can’t say for certain. Possibly stubble beard, but usually his face was in shadow from his hat. And always just in the corner of my vision – it happened enough I knew “he” was there, but I also knew if I turned to look he/it would vanish. But I stopped doubting it was my imagination – I knew I was seeing things, and that was something I hadn’t experienced before.
If it was auditory, it was voices. Again, at first I dismissed it as my imagination or being overtired. But again, I noticed it would rarely happen at home, most often at work or anywhere there was a humming or droning noise in the background. (Think of a convenience store, and the coolers running, or the slushy machines, for example). Combine that with any sort of stress or sensory overload and I’d hear voices. I was no longer wondering if I was hearing voices. I knew I was – I was just wishing at that point that they’d speak up and stop mumbling, so I could understand what they were trying to say, because it was getting annoying and exhausting trying to listen to them if I couldn’t quite hear what they were talking about.
Emotionally and mentally I was far from stable. The one word that comes to mind is whiplash. Those familiar with Bipolar Disorder are familiar with both the manic and the depressive episodes – there can be days, but usually weeks before the cycle reverses – and then after several weeks it flips again. That’s what I was experiencing, only instead of days or weeks, it was hours. I’d flip flop between high energy to lethargic. Happy and hyper to lethargic and depressed. Mentally on point to having the mental focus of a squirrel on caffeine, combined with the memory of a goldfish with a concussion.
If that wasn’t enough, the suicidal ideation that comes and goes was back with a vengeance – my mind started making halfhearted plans and the desire to actually do it was starting to grow. Now, normally, suicidal ideation for me is annoying but that’s about it. The best analogy I can use is how your nose constantly drips when you’ve got a cold. Even if your sinuses are plugged up beyond help, your nose still drips. Hardly dangerous, annoying at worst, and you know it’s just one of the symptoms of the common cold. Usually that’s what suicidal ideation is like for me. Frustrating and annoying, but I’ve learned to just let the thoughts go, not give them too much attention, because they’re just a symptom and the desire to follow through with those thoughts is for the most part minimal to non-existent. Usually. This time, I couldn’t dismiss them as a symptom – they were incessant. Unrelenting. Powerful. Yes, I began to consider maybe there was an alternative to living like this – and that was to just to not live.
I remember explaining to my roommate that I didn’t just want to die – I did, but I wished I could delete every trace of my existence. Every memory, every document, every photograph, every trace – digital, physical, or otherwise, would vanish along with my life. Why? So no one would know I was gone. There would be no memory of me, and nothing to trigger a memory of me. So then I wouldn’t have to worry about how much my life (and suicide) would emotionally tear my friends and family apart. I think the fact that I couldn’t – the fact that I have a good idea how hard that would hit my family and friends – is part of the reason I couldn’t let myself go through with it, or even let those thoughts develop a more concrete plan.
I battled this for a while. Several weeks, as I slowly spiraled downward. The last 2 or 3 weeks I was struggling with what to do. I knew I was in a bad spot. I hadn’t experienced that many symptoms at once for many many years – since before I had a concrete diagnosis and would just “tough it out” and hope I didn’t wreak my marriage or friendships in the meantime. And I hadn’t experienced that level of severity of symptoms… ever.
After agonizing over it for a couple of weeks, I made a choice. At the time it was the scariest thing I had done in my entire life, without exaggerating. In retrospect, it was also the bravest thing I’ve ever done.
You see, one year ago (it was November 12, 2018) I made up my mind while I was at work. After my shift, I went up to the GM’s office and asked that they cover my shift the next day – I would be making an appointment to see my doctor, that life was getting overwhelming. In hindsight, there were a couple of things, minor hindrances or situations that would have normally made me change my mind and forget about seeking help. I was too desperate, too focused, too scared to back off… and again, in retrospect, I’m amazed I stuck to my plan – amazed because normally I would have just reverted to “grind through and hope the darkness lifts soon”. Normally I wouldn’t have been that set on seeking help. Normally I’d be too worried about how work would do without me, or what people would think, or a billion other things that would sway my course… but I didn’t. I stuck with it. And I’m glad I did. If you want to read my blog from one year ago, follow this link: https://riseabovetheashes.blog/2018/11/15/fragile/
So if that was a year ago, how am I doing now? Well, as much as I wish I could say “I’m doing amazing” without lying – I’m not doing amazing. But I’m not experiencing severe symptoms. I have stress in my life but I think I’m coping fairly well. I have some goals and plans I’m working on. I have some stuff that I’m hoping will work out in my favor, and it’s exciting (and scary). I’ve got my own place again – it’s taken a long time to get settled in, and I’m STILL not settled in, but it’s getting there.
It’s been a crazy ride through the previous 365 days. If I could go back and visit me then I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t believe me if I told myself all the stuff that would happen in a year, both good and bad.
And if this time next year I’m back in another pit, and considering taking stress leave (again) – I hope I’ll read back through my blog, and flip through my pictures, and remind myself that life can be hard – but it can be good, it can be thrilling, and unexpected, and surprising, and fulfilling too.
Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after the other
Parting Thoughts: Perseverance. I think those of us who battle a mental illness (or more than one) know what perseverance is. It’s one thing to fight through difficult times and challenging circumstances. It’s quite another to do so while also battling against your own mind. No wonder why when we say “I’m tired” – it’s not simply a lack of rest, it’s a complete exhaustion that knows no limits. But in that perseverance is also incredible strength and profound compassion.
Carry on, Warriors. You got this – and if you don’t, we’ll help you until you can find your feet again.
(The featured image for this post is of my own creation – the words are mine, and the background image for it was from the app I used to make it. Possibly Canva, although I believe it was another one that I’ve forgotten the name of)