So therapy didn’t work and medication didn’t work.
Next stop: meditation. It didn’t work. There’s a pattern emerging here. I just can’t seem to focus my mind and stop it racing and trying to calm it and not succeeding is worse than accepting it. I tried sitting and trying to empty my mind but quickly realised that it was naïve to think I could manage this with no guidance, by sheer willpower alone. And when there are no distractions, the worst of the thoughts come at in full force, screaming for attention, no matter how much you try to focus on the breath going in and out of your lungs. Plus I got uncomfortable sitting and started fidgeting and then all I could think of was the fact that I was fidgeting and then my foot started itching and my head and all I could think of was scratching. And then I was aware my posture was atrocious, that it was a bit stuffy in my room, that the dog was whining in the room next door which meant she’d seen my flatmate’s moped pull up 8 floors below… So I searched for some guided meditation. But the voice on the first one (in fact all of them) grated and my mind kept wandering off to the critical place where it just kept prodding me with reminders of how irritating the drone was. And then the instructions didn’t help. Notice the feel of your feet on the floor. I notice. I become aware how uncomfortable the feeling is, the soles pressing into the stone or onto the mattress when I’m lying down and then all I can think about is this. Notice the contact your body has with the chair. And then my whole body is uncomfortable and slightly painful, pressure everywhere. The sounds of waves on the shore, wind through the trees, waterfalls over rocks don’t serve to focus my mind but send darts into my brain, soft innocuous darts, but darts nonetheless. They jab away ineffectually but persistently and are impossible to ignore.
Next. I tried walking. I like walking. Long walks, city walks, coastal walks and most of all walks along countryside footpaths and through woods, past streams and rocks and little waterfalls. A bit of mud, the need for sturdy shoes but not for ropes and risk of injury. But now walking just means more time for the thoughts to invade and I don’t even appreciate my surroundings anymore – unless I remind myself that I should and remind myself to snap a photo or stop and take a look. Without these reminders, I tramp along, head down, the mantra of paranoia and self-loathing and longing for the end going round and round in my rotten head.
Next. I tried meeting up with people, going out, but I don’t have many people to meet and I’m so boring now, just a lump of apathy. I used to be fun. You would have liked me, I’m sure. Now at best I’m a bit glazed over, a bit slow on the uptake, lacking in humour. At worse, I’m a total wreck. Once I’ve let this wreck out in front of people a few times and burdened them with it, I decide I have to hide myself away.
I can’t join the gym because I’m ashamed of my body and its scars and embarrassed in advance of all the faux pas I’ll make – pressing the wrong button on the treadmill, tripping over equipment, not being able to work the lockers properly. Plus, having to actually walk in and speak to someone and sign up.
I can’t join groups any more than I could grow another limb. I signed up for a language exchange thinking I could maybe manage one person at a time when the purpose is clear but as soon as I start to get replies, I lose my nerve and leave the website, close down my account.
I get little pleasure from playing my guitar, haven’t picked up the ukulele I’m meant to be learning in months, the books that I’m usually buried in don’t hold my thoughts anymore and I get halfway through before I realise that I don’t know what’s happened and who the characters are and I close the book and start another one. Work is a slog, cooking and eating simply an exercise in staying alive, alcohol does nothing when you’re already numb. Sleep doesn’t come.
But there are some things that have helped a little bit. The rare occasions when I have a good honest chat with someone. It doesn’t have to be about me and my problems, just a nice chat – friends catching up, enjoying each other’s company. I miss this. I miss seeing people and talking to people – in person and across invisible wavelengths – I miss connecting with life outside my head.
Writing also helps. I write about my situation, its origins, its effects, a perception of the future. I write this. I write on online support groups and try to help others and use them to call upon when I hit rock bottom and can no longer burden the few friends who are left. I also write stories and find some comfort in this.
Learning: I become slightly obsessed with mental health and with depression, anxiety, PTSD. I read books – Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig, Sane New World by Ruby Wax – and online articles and medical definitions. I also sign up for courses – The Science of Happiness on edx, free mindfulness, online CBT (it doesn’t work online either) – and non-mental ones like creative writing ones, language courses, astronomy, sociology, psychology, music, film-making. I rarely finish but at least I keep starting, keep trying. It’s enough for now.
Keep trying to find something that works.