(quick doodle with limited pencils on the ward!)
You can’t weight bear for at least 3 weeks” the nurse tells my Dad. The x-ray shows it’s got a little bit worse since he visited A&E a few days ago; strangely, my Dad thought it had started feeling better.
You see what is so valuable in all this, is those two radiograph images. The evidence. Evidence that there’s something damaged, when to look at, his right leg is the perfect symmetry of his left. He even joked when he had the accident the other day, that he thought he noticed the shape look a bit wangy… until he realised that’s just how both legs were. The funny buggar.
For me, this is where I start fantasizing; if only mental health could work the same. It would take so many less internal wars, a lot less distress for sufferers and all their families, if cold hard evidence could be seen and then acted on. Photographed thoughts of the brain, slapped onto a bit of paper for all to see. No arguments – let’s see how we move forward.
If my Dad were to take off his chunky, ugly (sorry Dad) leg support, no-one would suspect a crack in his ankle. One that can be aggravated if too much pressure is applied. And that’s where our injuries are similar. My brain and his ankle.
Similarly, if I was to have a shower (which I’m struggling to do just lately), do my hair and put on a face of make-up, I’d look like a perfectly functioning human being too. If you took a picture of us both together we’d look like we’d aced our health MOT. Like family models for a cheesy Christmas advert.
In mental health there isn’t a consistent correlation between thoughts and behaviours. Or progress. At least not for me. You don’t necessarily feel like you’ve entered a rough bad patch, red flags swaying, before feeling the need to act on distressing thoughts. And before you know it, you’re back on a mental health ward, as I am right now. But I can also feel very distressed, have a bad night and then by morning be able to bounce out of bed, determined with bundles of creative energy. I can feel relentless not long after feeling suicidal.
With mental health, I often feel a fraud when I’m asked questions about the state of my mind. Whether that’s ones close to me or the professionals. How can you count on them believing you? There’s things I’m screaming to cry out to them, how I was feeling when I did X, Y or Z and how I feel right now, but sometimes when asked, that freezes over and I feel frustrated of how I am to explain myself. And I think the stigma about being attention-seeking still worries me. To lay your thoughts on the line, the world you carry about with just you from the moment you’re born until the day you die, is a hell of a scary thing.
The most exhausting bit I find about being treated for my mental health, is communication. Having to repeat yourself to nurse to doctor, to support worker, to another nurse, by the time you’re saying it for the fifth or sixth time you don’t feel connected to your emotions. I almost feel disconnected from the way feeling that caused the crisis or the relapse. And then I start getting paranoid that I’d just been kidding myself, that it wasn’t true, or it wasn’t as serious. And I convince myself maybe I’m better now, and I’m ready to be back in the real world and taking part in real life. The struggle of the juggle of life.
But when I leave a mental health unit, feeling like I may finally have got it together, I’m not before long made aware of the ‘crack in my ankle’. The one people can’t see but now and then my emotions throb and I don’t know how to manage them, so I act in some way to hurt myself. I’m told my binging and purging is a form of self-harm, just as Anorexia was to me, but that is hard to get my head around. Not in any way does that enter my conscious thought process, binging and purging to self-harm. Of course I know it can harm you in many ways, short-term and long-term if you’re not careful, but that’s not why I do it. I can’t explain; except it gives me a sense of escapism from my emotions when I feel utterly overwhelmed, and this humongous craving to feel full and then empty. So the cycle repeats itself.
I’m not in hospital for that though, as inpatient programmes for Bulimia are so rare, which in my opinion is so wrong. For some people, all it could take is 2 weeks – 2 months of respite in a supportive 24/7 environment, to get back on track in order to break the destructive habit. To get the momentum rolling. A bit like rehab. Bulimia is like a cocaine addiction – I remember watching ‘A Streetcat Named Bob’ at the cinema, and feeling the strangest but strongest bond with the main character’s experience. In the film, he goes ‘cold turkey’ and is suffering from really bad withdrawal symptoms – his mental distress is physically obvious. Never have I been able to relate as much to what fighting the urge to binge and purge feels like, when I’m in the depths of it.
When I can give myself some oomph to get up and on with my day after a bad night, by the time three hours has passed, it’s like the behaviour never happened. And quite often I convince myself that today’s the day. That ‘lightbulb’ moment. I naively feel relentless, when really the crack in my mind is still there. I’ve just distracted from the pain, from the problem and I’ve dressed it up really well, like my Dad’s leg support. I walk down the street and people see me as a normal pedestrian. If there was a video clip hovering above my head, showing me stuffing my face and being sick numerous times, sometimes in a bucket so not to disturb the flat downstairs in the bathroom. And doing it all over again.
Like there isn’t a two-dimensional x-ray problems, I too get confused about what’s wrong with me. Do I start feeling suicidal because of my Bulimia? Or is it also detached from that?
Even though I utterly despite my body right now, I’m some how finding hope in things detached from my body. I try to feed my passions, even if it’s just a trickle of water each day when I’m struggling. It seems to be enough to stop the soil drying up.
I’ve been here 6 nights, and I had felt myself just wanting to sleep the time away. But it doesn’t make me feel very worthy and I’m realising it’s just making me feel worse, like I’m waiting around to die; so I’ve forced myself to do the odd bit of doodling, started reading something off the ward bookshelf even though it’s not my normal kind of read, and really tried to screw my head back into my writing.
When I’m writing I feel like salt and pepper, rhubarb and custard, Bill and Ben. Something clicks, and I feel right again.