And so we come to the end of another year, the third year in which I have struggled with severe depression and anxiety. 2014 was a bad year (see here), and I hoped that 2015 would be less cruel to me. Looking back now, it’s been a year of mixed fortunes, deep lows and some relative highs, but thankfully without the drama of the job loss and relationship break-up of 2014.
The year started as 2014 had ended, with me in the deepest, darkest place of my life. Plans were already underway for me to be admitted in January to the local mental health in-patient unit for electro-convulsive therapy (ECT). I found out much later in the year that if I hadn’t agreed to a spell in hospital, I was going to be brought in anyway because of increasing concerns about my functioning and my ability to care for myself and my daughter. Eight weeks and fourteen ECT treatments later, I emerged from hospital and I have to confess that I can’t say much about my time in hospital or the period just before because my memory has been significantly affected by either how ill I was or by the ECT itself. I have some ‘memories’ that are like still-images, and I ‘remember’ some things that I have been told by others. I still have flashback memories of the ward itself or the staff, but they are very strange, incomplete memories that I struggle to understand because the actual memories are not there for me to re-live. I wrote a lot while I was in, much of it very repetitive and incoherent, and all it tells me is how ill and how distressed I was.
After I came out of hospital, my mood went up and down a lot. I had an initial high for a few weeks, reflecting how glad I was to be home and with my little girl again, but then there were inevitable downs. There have been more battles with medication – I was eventually told that it was unlikely that any antidepressants would work for me and so no more were prescribed. I managed to get back to helping out in the local primary school a couple of hours a week, to some minimal socialising in safe places with safe people. and even went to a wedding in the summer. We got a puppy, adding to the chaos in the house, but with the idea that she would get me out and about more. I took my daughter on two summer camping holidays in Scotland, and while away took the chance to meet up with a friend from my college days who I hadn’t seen for 18 years. To observers I was making good progress: not a steady linear improvement, but on balance, probably more good than bad.
And then in September, things took another turn for the worse. I had been waiting 6 months for an assessment by clinical psychology, but the assessment itself involved me bringing up and reflecting on the most difficult relationships and events in my life, and I took a massive downturn in mood, severe enough to warrant referral to the Crisis Team. I became acutely suicidal again for the first time in months, and I also self-harmed. I took a small overdose requiring a visit to A&E and the Crisis Team decided that even though my daughter was not with me that weekend, protocol dictated that social services needed to assess whether or not she was safe with me. The insensitive way this was handled made me even more vulnerable and distressed than I was already, exacerbating all my worst fears about being a bad mother. I was very fortunate that my CPN was able to divert the referral before it was processed, but the complex feelings triggered by this and by the psychology assessment remained, and my extremely low mood did not shift.
So here we are at the end of 2015. Psychological therapy starts for real at the beginning of 2016: compassion-focused therapy to help me learn to treat myself with compassion and kindness. My mood is still low, but my CPN reminds me I’m nowhere near the state I was in before I went into hospital. Getting through each day, looking after my daughter and taking her to all the places she needs to be, attending my own appointments, helping out at the school and walking the dog, all feels like wading through thick mud. The pretence of putting on a face for the world and making sure my daughter does not pick up on how I’m feeling is hard, hard work. I hate the inevitable impact that my ongoing illness and her role as unofficial carer must be having on her. Yes, I have good days, even occasional days I don’t feel I need to pretend, but I always end up back down again, and I struggle to see any hope for a more positive future. I still have a belief that if I don’t manage to get back to the life I had before I became ill, I will have failed yet again. So any attempts I make at recognising my achievements or being grateful for what I have are darkly coloured by my overwhelming sense that these are not real achievements and that I can’t accept my life as it is because it’s not what it should be. In my heart I am still a speech and language therapist, and I cannot yet cope with facing a future in which I am no longer able to do a job that I still see as my vocation, my life’s work.
Still, life goes on, so onwards and upwards… 2016 will be the year I will have the psychological therapy I so badly need, and I will try to find and hold on to a little bit of hope that this will be a turning point for me. I am also planning a photography project, to take photographs every day and post online the best one from each day. I want to challenge myself with different picture types and styles, perhaps even be a bit creative, and to step outside my comfort zone as often as I can. I would like this to be a way that I can grow in confidence and see physical evidence of what I have achieved each day as the project grows.
I want 2016 to be the year I discover hope: hope that I can begin my recovery, and hope that life can get better for me and for my daughter.