Part3 – Living with PTSD
Part 2: Help vs The Enemy Within
I recently lost a friend who was suffering from severe depression. He was well known, well liked, and the shockwaves from his passing were far-reaching. Many people struggled to understand how someone so full of personality, so loved and admired, and with such a wide social network, could have been lost to us. Many people expressed feelings of guilt or regret that they’d not reached out more while he was still with us. I know from having had a near-fatal depressive breakdown that just because people desperately want to help, and would do anything in their power to help, it doesn’t mean it will make a difference.
For people who haven’t ever been seriously unwell with depression, it’s one of the hardest things to understand, and also one of the hardest to explain; when you’re actually in the midst of a depressive episode, it’s almost impossible to understand it yourself, let alone put it into words. While I am well enough to express it, I am going to try. I hope it helps, whether you’re struggling yourself or feel like you’re helplessly watching someone else suffer:
Part 1: Work
Work (which here means “holding down a job which enables me to pay my rent and bills”) is one of the first things that I wrote down on my list of ideas for this blog series, with my Anxiety and depression affecting my work day in myriad ways. The bright lights and constant buzzing noise of my open plan office are irritants on good days, migraine inducing on bad ones. Being surrounded by people – particularly in a country where “how are you?” is a standard greeting, with “fine thanks, how are you” the expected response – is a huge challenge on days when I am a slight breeze away from tears or shouting. You’d be surprised how difficult it is to say “fine thanks” when you’re anything other than fine and replying with “pretty dreadful, I’ve cried three times already today and it’s not even 10am and now I just feel existentially dead and have been having idle fantasies of throwing everyone’s laptops out of the window and setting them on fire using my office chair as kindling. How are you?” is generally frowned upon. Some days I consider surviving the journey to work without having a meltdown is a success; but then I have at least 8 hours of Being A Normal Human In An Office Environment to get through.
Introduction: Living with mental ill-health
I got up today.
Not only did I get up today, but I showered. I got dressed. In clothes, not just pyjamas. I put on shoes. I even put on some makeup. I washed my hair. And then I brushed my hair. I tied it up.
And then I left the house.
Ok, I didn’t go far, just down to the coffee shop on the corner, where this first paragraph is being typed. I probably won’t stay here long, but that’s not the point. I am up. I am out of bed. I even managed to interact with strangers and I think they believed I was a normal human. Well, apart from the Darth Vader Christmas jumper and the pink hair in Princess Leia buns, but, y’know. A normal human for a given value of “normal”. I managed to ask for a coffee and didn’t cry in public so it’s all good.
Of course, ‘tis the season for not getting dressed and forgetting to shower and having to google to find out what day it is. Those sleepy limbo days between Christmas and New Year for those whose workplaces or colleges are shut down, or those on holiday, can be like that for many of us.
Someone I am in an online community came up with this phrase: Creepiness Intensifies. It perfectly expressed a situation that so many of us have experienced in our lives.
It’s when you’re just, you know, going about your normal life and then someone (usually, but I guess not necessarily, a bloke) makes things weird by getting overly personal or unexpectedly sexual.
For example, the last time I ever used Uber:
and then would I give HIM some sugar ho ho only joking I have daughters
and then wanted to know why I was going to my destination, how long I would be there and would I be alone
I lied, saying that there’d be loads of people there, ran out of the car as soon as I got there, uninstalled Uber and never used it again.
I have so many similar stories, where a conversation with a stranger has gone down like this, going from ok to odd to creepy to WHY WOULD YOU SAY THIS WHAT THE FUCK to getting my keys in my fist and my phone ready to call the police in the space of a few sentences. I figured other people would too, so I put the call out to see if my hunch was correct. The very first reply was “how much time do you have?”
Here are some of the stories.
Many thanks to “Ms Andry” for this week’s guest blog! As you may have guessed from the title, this blog contains adult content.
I’m tied so tight that my movements are completely restricted. The more I move, the tighter the ropes gets. I am gagged and blindfolded; my senses are completely focused on sound, smell and touch. I’m red from spanking I’ve been punished (for occasional mistakes, back chatting, and to heighten the pleasure of what is to come). I’ve also been instructed that I’m not allowed to orgasm yet, but the pleasure is intense. I’m completely exhausted. But the feelings I am currently experiencing are exquisite and the orgasm I’m about to have will inevitably be glorious.
Submission has been discussed much more widely in the last few years since being popularised in erotic novels. These novels have precipitated a new wave of traditionally “vanilla” couples taking spanking and restraints into the bedroom to “spice up their love life”. But submission is prone to a bad reputation – how can letting yourself be completely dominated, allowing another person to tell you what to do, and allowing physical punishment be a feminist act? The question that frequently gets raised is, “How can being submissive align with feminist ideals?”
I haven’t written about alcohol for some time. I think this could probably be viewed as a positive – alcohol has ceased to be of an importance in my life to the point that I even need to write about it. People are generally used to the idea that I don’t drink much. There’s rarely any surprise when I ask for a soda and lime. Some people have even come to me for advice on how to have a dry month, or for tips on staying away from booze, which is pretty awesome.
All I ever wanted was to be able to enjoy A Drink without reference to Being Drunk. I wanted to able to have a good time without needing to be drunk, and to have a drink without wanting to have a hundred more drinks. While the former has been hard work, largely due to social anxiety, I am definitely able to achieve the latter.
My guidelines for drinking are simple:
- If I want a specific drink, I can have one.
- If I need a drink, I can’t have one.
- If I have one and it makes me want another, I can’t have it
- If there’s nothing alcoholic I particularly want to drink, I have a soft drink
- NO SHOTS
- If I start feeling drunk, I stop drinking.
These guidelines have worked brilliantly, for the most part.
There was one occasion on holiday with the new Mr RDPP where everything that could have gone wrong went wrong, and we ended up stuck in the only bar open in a tiny town in Sicily, the two of us against the world, drinking exciting coloured drinks with umbrellas in and shouting animatedly about politics. I felt fine the next day, probably in part because the drinks were mainly fruit and sugar and in part because the most pressing thing we had to do that day was eat ice cream and swim in the sea. I suspect this made me a little too blasé about being as mindful as usual of moderation. The guidelines? Well, maybe they kinda slipped a bit.
A few weeks ago I had a weird FUCK IT moment while at a music festival and decided to Get Drunk. I bought a locally made bottle of wine and went at it in a way that would have made 15 year old me proud – swigging out of the bottle and sharing it around and hiding it in a bush while going into a venue to avoid the bag search. It felt like going on holiday to a past version of myself. It felt seedy and transgressive and fun. Unfortunately the trouble with throwing caution to the wind when you’ve stopped paying attention to the wind direction is that caution can end up blowing right back in your face.
The Hangover started at about 1am. I’d forgotten all about The Hangover. The pounding, stabbing jabbing pain right down though the top of the head straight into the eye socket. The rolling nausea which goes away for just long enough for you to think you’re spared the worst so you do something daring like move or speak and it rushes back in going “HAH”. The way the light burns through your closed eyelids, the way the duvet isn’t even a comfort as it rustles just so damn loudly as you work out whether you’re too hot or too cold, The tiredness, the taste in your mouth like you’ve been licking the floor of a petrol station, the vague sense of dread, the way the inside of your skin feels sort of greasy, and the thin layer of gritty sweat that builds up as you try to go about your day pretending everything is normal.
I used to feel like this all the time. HOW? How did I do it? I have regular migraines, related to hormones, and they have a similar type of headache/nausea combo, and I can’t do anything at all to prevent those, so why on earth did I voluntarily do something which made me feel this why? It was fun, sure, but had it been fun enough? Probably not. I crawled to the nearest painkiller, swallowed as many as were safe and crawled back into bed again, making pitiful mewling sounds and cursing my horrible decision making skills.
It was a good learning experience though – it was my first hangover in 19 months, and I fully intend it to be my last. I’ve already done the hard work of making sure I can happily enjoy myself without drinking, so the only revision I am making to my guidelines is that they are no longer merely guidance – they are rules.
When it’s been a while since my last blog I never quite know how to start. Just start writing, and ignore that it’s been months, and hope no one notices; or if they do perhaps they are far too polite to say so? Or say up front straight and honest I haven’t written a blog in ages? The latter of course means I feel obliged to say why.
There’s two reasons I haven’t written much. One is because I have been struggling on and off with feminist fatigue. It got to the point when I couldn’t even finish reading any news article, let avoid the comments. I started a few blogs and abandoned them because I couldn’t get my thoughts in order. The world seemed to be going mad. Sexism everywhere. Xenophobia, racism, austerity. Politics in the UK appeared to be on fire and burning down, but everyone was acting as normal. At one point, I left England to go to Sicily for a few days, and when I left we had a male prime minister and when I came back we had a female one. Only the second female prime minister in our history. And I kept having to say “no relation”. It got to the point that I just had too many ideas to write at all. The longer I don’t write the more things want to be written until they all become a massive shouty blur of ideas and I can’t pick out a single one to get out on a page. In short, the longer I go without writing, the harder it is to start writing again.
My reason for going to Sicily for a few days is also reason number two for not writing very frequently. I went on holiday – on a whim – with a rather wonderful man.
I wasn’t expecting to meet a wonderful man this year, or at all. After writing about my new found singleness a few years ago I did indeed do a lot of reflection on what I wanted out of life, what made me happy, what fulfilled me, what made me tick. I was single, sober and with higher self-esteem than I’d ever had in my life and I had some fun. In that time I realised that I like being single. Not only that, but am good at being single. In fact, I am better at being single than I am at being in a relationship.
Well, I didn’t exactly “realise” that. It was more of a process of confirmation of what I’ve come to realise over many of my previous relationships. I am just not very good at being in relationships, and really not very good at being in love. A lifetime of relationships has to mean something; if you don’t learn from them, you’re doomed to forever repeat the same destructive patterns in subsequent relationships.
So what have I learned? Well, that I am argumentative, and get so frustrated with communication breakdowns that sometimes I just cry for no reason other than the other person has misunderstood me. I am terrible at negotiation, being rather selfish despite my natural kind-heartedness. I am so, so very forgetful. Half the time I think about having a conversation with someone and then think I’ve actually had it, which is very confusing for the other person. I forget dates, times, events, conversations that have happened a few minutes before. I am terrible at making firm plans, but get upset when plans change. I need a lot of physical and emotional space of my own which can make the other person feel rejected. And I often think I am right. I am so sure that I am right that I refuse to entertain the idea that I am wrong, which makes it so much harder to admit (on the obviously very rare occasions) when I am actually wrong.
I also came to realise, the older I got, that pretty much all the dating advice I ever read in magazines as a teenager is complete and utter rubbish. One piece of advice that stuck with me through far too many relationships was that you should pretend you have an interest in the hobbies of the object of your crush, and oh my, I internalised this advice so hard. For almost every relationship I’ve been in I dropped my own interests and hobbies, one by one, in favour of theirs. Trust me, this is a horrible idea. Do not do this. Do not pretend you like football if you don’t. Do not pretend you’ve read books you haven’t. Do not say you like jigsaws if you actually find them less fun than a migraine. (Seriously. Don’t.) If the other person likes you, they won’t care whether you like football or not, or if you’ve read their favourite books, or if you’d rather gouge your eyes out with an ice cream scoop than do a jigsaw. The most fulfilling relationships I have had have been where I’ve kept my interests, they’ve kept theirs and neither of us has pushed them onto the other. This ends up with something much more joyful – it gives your crush the opportunity to introduce yourself to something they love, and vice versa. Before, on hearing someone make a reference to an author or a band I didn’t know, I would nod and pretend I knew what they were saying. Now, I will just say “I haven’t read it” or “I don’t know that band”. It seems so simple, doesn’t it? And it means I have a pile of new books to read and bands to listen to.
If I could rip up one piece of advice and burn it forever so that it never gets given to anyone else ever, it would be that.
Do not pretend you like what they like, or know about what they know about. Do not pretend you’re feeling things you aren’t feeling. Do not pretend you are not feeling things you are feeling.
Most of all I struggle with handing over emotional control of those feelings. I have spent many years working on learning how to regulate my emotions, as someone who suffers from an anxiety disorder and depression, and tend to try to keep a tight grip on my emotional highs and lows. When I start falling for someone, it means someone else has the power to make me feel things over which I have no control. It means that I worry that when someone else makes me happy, that means they also have the power to make me sad. This is really hard for me – and for the person who falls in love with me. It can mean that I suddenly start to slam up emotional walls when I feel myself getting too upset or too happy, shutting them out. If I don’t do this I can have a bit of an emotional meltdown; essentially I either appear completely uncaring and cold, or a raging torrent of emotion.
If I could give one single piece of dating advice to someone else, based on my experiences thus far, it would be this:
Be honest about who you are, what you like, what you want out of life. I think in this relationship it’s the first time I’ve been truly open and honest and totally myself right from the start. Perhaps it’s being older, perhaps it’s just me finally putting everything I’ve learned into practice. It’s early days, sure, but it felt right when he said “come to Sicily with me” to say “yes”. Well actually, the conversation went more like “I was thinking and you can say no if you want and it’s probably too soon but I would be lovely if maybe you’d like to, you know if you can afford it, maybe you would like to come to Sicily with me?” and my reply was more like “it feels like it ought to be too soon but it doesn’t actually feel too soon and I have some money I was going to spend on something else, not very much, but I probably can just about afford it if we spend most of our time swimming and doing cheap things and yes I really would love to come to Sicily with you.” which is what being honest looks like.
Being honest is lot harder than it looks. But being yourself right at the beginning of the relationship means that when you fall in love, you’re falling in love with each other as you really are – mood swings, selfishness, weird snoring noises, bad smelling IBS farts, strange hobbies and all.
What has this got to do with me not writing very often? Well, I’ve been spending time with him. We’ve been having a wonderful time, and when you’re having a wonderful time it’s very hard to sit down and think about something to write about, especially when what you usually write about is whatever has made you angry the week before.
In the spirit of being honest, I am not going to say I am going to be writing every week from now on without fail. I am not very good at being reliable. Although I am definitely going to try to write more, if only to get some of the blasted ideas out of my head. In the meantime, I am going to try to enjoy just being happy. I am not very good at that either, but I am learning. And it’s rather wonderful.
A while back one of my fellow humourless killjoy feminist friends came up with the idea of a list of “Things we wished people spoke more openly about”.
The conversation that ensued lead to several revelations amongst the group and numerous exclamations of “I am SO glad we’re talking about this” and “OMG I thought this was just me” and “why don’t we talk about this stuff? This is GREAT.”
So this is part three of my ongoing but irregular series – “Things we wish were talked about more openly.”
Just like last time, I am going to add a lengthy content warning, mainly for the benefit of my family who might not want to read about my intimate shizzle.
This blog, and indeed probably the whole series, will feature talk of things like sexual acts, body parts, bodily functions and fluids and other things that often make people (right across the gender spectrum) feel uncomfortable. It’s almost certainly going to make my family feel uncomfortable, so if you’re related to me, you might want to stop right here.
I am going to say, straight up, that a lot of the things that are likely to come up are things that I personally find really difficult to talk about. I spent a lot of time hating my body and not really wanting to look at it, feeling awkward and anxious about sexual acts, being ashamed and scared of things my body did and generally feeling unable to talk about it. So just as you might be leaving your comfort zone to read this, I am going out of my comfort zone to write it. So we’re on this journey together.
I wish we spoke more openly about…Sexual Health
Like many others in the last few weeks I have been unable to get the Brock Turner/Stanford rape case out of my mind.
There is so much to say about this case, and much of it has been said in the media and across the internet – which is notable in of itself. For a rape case to be discussed so widely in the media, with the widespread and dominant opinion being that the sentence was too short and that the attacker has got away too lightly, heralds a huge shift in public thinking about rape, sexual assault and victim blaming.
As “Tea Consent” goes viral again, with its clear message of “unconscious people cannot consent”, and as a former heavy drinker who started writing a blog specifically to deal with my attempt to give up drinking, and as someone who passed out drunk and woke up to discover someone performing a sexual act on me, I have a few things to say about this case myself.