When I saw L on tuesday she asked me to write about what being 'better'/well means to me, and what I would want from life if I didn't have mental health problems etc, ie how I would want my life to be if I recovered from this (she didn't say if - she said when, but to me it is a big if). I am finding it very difficult, I think largely because I find it so completely impossible to imagine. My adult life so far has been completely taken over by my mental health problems, and even before I was diagnosed as having Depression, and given medication etc, things were not right for quite a few years before that. I am not sure if they were ever right, I have a bad memory.
I do remember that even when I was very young, ie primary school age, I didn't fit in, and I was more comfortable in the company of adults than I was with other children. I had one best friend, who lived down the road from me but went to a different school, and I wasn't massively interested in having other friends. I was very jealous when she was spending time with her other friends from school etc - I didn't want to share her, I just wanted her to be my friend. I suppose I did have friends at school, and I did have friends round to play and went to theirs etc, but they weren't really close friends that I can remember. I was teased a lot at school, which turned into bullying when I was older, although only verbal - nothing physical. I am kind of side tracking here, but I suppose what I am trying to say is that there was always an element of not fitting in and of being different, and quite isolated, and then quite a lot happened around the time I was 10/11/12 - nothing really traumatic, but things that were big to me as a child. Within a couple of years my brother moved out, which I remember being very upset by, although I am not quite sure why as he must have been about 23 at the time, and I don't remember spending a lot of time with him prior to that or anything. My granddad died, who I was very close to. And my parents split up. I think it was also around that time that my relationship with my sister started going wrong. She had absolutely doted on me when I was little - she was almost like another mother, and she used to take me out a lot and buy me all sorts of things. Then suddenly (it seemed to me) she just kind of turned on me and started saying how spoilt I was, and just not being very nice to me. I probably was spoilt, but it was her who had been doing the spoiling - my parents didn't spoil me. Even the things I did hobby wise, like dancing, had been on her insistence - she had been desperate for me to do ballet when I was little, so I did. But at some point she seemed to start resenting me a lot - I think partly because of the opportunities I had that she never had, and partly because I obviously had most of my Mum's time etc - she is 17 years older than me. Our relationship has never really been right since then. Sometimes she is fine with me, and seems to want me to spend time with her, but she can be really quite nasty sometimes, particularly when there are other people around, and she isn't at all supportive of my mental health problems. She is quite a difficult person generally - everyone is really careful of what they say around her as she is liable to explode over tiny things - comments she takes the wrong way, or something she perceives as criticism, or really anything at all. So people tiptoe around her. I suppose if I am honest I can see similarities between us behaviourally, but I tend to bottle things up far more than she does I think, and I think I probably direct more of my anger inwards, whereas she gets very angry with other people. Although having said that, I do too sometimes - I can completely explode, generally at my parents, and be really aggressive. I don't know. Maybe we are more similar than I would like to admit. Anyway, this is all digression.
So my pre-teen years were quite difficult. I was particularly affected by my parents splitting up. My dad used to come and see me, and I would be completely distraught when he left, really hysterically crying and screaming and trying to chase the car as he drove away, and laying down in the middle of the road outside the house after he had gone. Then sometimes I would refuse to see or speak to him for months at a time. Then it would be back to him coming over as though nothing had happened. I think I was very confused and upset - my parents had always been the couple that would never split up, and I had no idea he was leaving until the day he left. I was a mess, and my mum was a mess, and so I would try to be ok for her, because I didn't want to make things worse for her. She went for counselling for a while, but I never talked to anybody. We didn't tell anybody he had left. We just pretended he was still living there. Nobody at school knew they had split up. Most of my friends didn't know. This went on for years really. Just keeping up a facade of happy families. He would always come and stay over Christmas, and come on holiday with us. I was always devastated when he left again. For some periods of time he would spend every weekend with us. Then either my mum or I would decide we didn't want to see him, and he would disappear for months, until we let him back. It was all pretty confusing really. I didn't have any friends at school, and over the years I started to grow away from my best friend. I wasn't happy. I used to skip school quite a lot. I did get ill quite a lot as a child, and when I wasn't actually ill I would pretend to be to get time off school. The only time I was happy was when I was rehearsing shows or performing. I felt accepted there. I felt like people liked me. I could pretend to be someone else. I think that was when I first started having a happy face that I would put on, however I felt inside. I was 12, and I had just auditioned for my first big production outside of school (Annie), and then between the auditions and rehearsals starting my dad had left, and I was confused and upset and all over the place, and those rehearsals were a safe place for me. I had the lead part and I didn't feel useless - people thought I was good and all of the cast were nice to me, and it was my escape. It was also around that time that I first remember getting attached to people. Not to the same extent that I did when I was older, but it was definitely there. I idolised the woman playing Grace. My teen years were basically spent avoiding school whenever possible, and going from one show to the next, because rehearsals were the only place that made me happy, and where I felt good about myself. And where the various people I got attached to over the years were. So although I was 17 before I ever spoke to anybody about how I felt - I had really never ever talked about emotions and feelings at all before then with anybody, not even in a general way - and was referred to the CMHT etc, right through my childhood and adolescence things weren't right. I wasn't happy. I wouldn't say I was depressed as I did still enjoy things, or performing anyway, but I wasn't happy either. And I think that is partly why I find it so difficult to think about the future, and what I want, and being happy and living a normal life. Because I don't really have much experience of that - certainly not as an adult, but not really even as a teenager or child. But I did have a clear idea of what I wanted when I was a teenager, and so I will try and write about that. Occasionally I will have moments when I remember why I cared, and why I wanted things, and I try to hold onto those, but they don't last long. I think one of the reasons I am finding this play so frustrating is because I am just not enjoying it at all - I have spent all of the rehearsals wishing I wasn't there, and when performing was my only outlet, and the only thing that I enjoyed for so many years, it is really hard to know that even that doesn't make me happy now. It makes me feel more hopeless.
I compare myself a lot to other people. People I went to school or college with. Who now have virtually all moved away from home and been to university, and are now working. A few didn't go to university but have been working. Nobody else seems to have done absolutely nothing. One girl from my class at school is a Doctor now. Another is doing a Masters degree. One guy is in a band that have had Mercury Prize nominated album and toured all over the world. I feel completely humiliated when I see people I haven't seen for a long time and they ask what I am doing, because I am not doing anything, and I haven't done anything since A levels. And it frustrates me because I know that I was as clever as everyone I was at school with. I don’t mean to sound arrogant when I say that, but I was. Even though my attendance at school was relatively poor, and I didn’t work terribly hard, I always still did well. Not as well as I could have done, but better than most people. I got the best GCSE results in my year, and I didn’t do any revision. Admittedly my year group wasn’t the brightest (both girls I have mentioned had moved schools before GCSEs), but even so, I should have done something. I feel like I have been left behind. Not just academically either. In life generally. Some people I was at school or college with are engaged or married. I even feel useless when I compare myself to friends I have who also have mental health problems. Even compared to them I seem to have achieved less. Some of them have also been to university and got degrees. Some haven't managed to get their degrees, but at least managed to do a year or 2 before leaving. Some have worked. Some have travelled. Nearly everyone I know apart from me seems to have a driving license. There is just an endless list of things that I haven't done that other people I know have. And that makes me feel really useless.
To me, being well would mean;
- Feeling ok about my life. Not wanting to kill myself. Not happy all of the time, because I know that isn't realistic, and that people aren't happy all of the time, but happy some of the time. And ok most of the time. Everyone has bad days, but every day shouldn't be a bad day.
- Feeling well enough to do things, like the summer course in America for example.
- Enjoying things. Having things that make me happy. I am completely lacking this at the moment, and it is probably one of the hardest things to deal with.
- Being able to go into busy places, like bars or something, without getting such overwhelming anxiety that I have to leave.
- Having friends, and wanting to spend time with them and go out with them. I don't really have many friends who don't have mental health problems themselves, and whilst I do have some really good friends, I would like to be able to have friends who aren't caught up in the whole mental health world. I know why I tend to stick to people who have MH problems - it is because they understand when I am having a bad day and just can't stop crying, or when I can't cope with leaving the house, or I can't have a proper conversation because all I can think about is suicide. And because I have been hurt by other friends I have had who haven't been able to deal with that, because they just don't understand. Or because they get bored of me never wanting to go out with them. Or because they have been scared off by seeing me or talking to me when I have been bad. But it has all lead to me feeling abandoned, and so now I am scared of making friends with 'normal' people. If I was well that wouldn't happen. I would want to go out and see them, because I wouldn't be anxious about being around people, or feel like I had to put on a happy mask all of the time, or be too pre-occupied with suicide to hold a normal conversation.
- Having relationships. Wanting to see someone. Falling in love. Not feeling like I don't deserve it, or like I shouldn't be with someone because it wouldn't be fair on them to have to put up with me.
- Accepting my body and weight. Not neccessarily being happy with it all of the time, because again that isn't realistic, but just having the type of relationship with my body and food that other people do. Not desperately wanting to purge when I eat 'bad' foods. Being able to eat healthily without going into restriction mode, and being able to eat some junk food without beating myself up about it, and then letting myself just eat as much crap as I want because I have ruined the day anyway. Finding a balance between eating whatever I like (mostly rubbish) and restricting. Not letting the scales determine whether it will be a good or a bad day. Not constantly thinking about calories and weight whenever I eat.
- Having my own place. Not supported accommodation, but actually my own flat, or flatshare. Just like other people do.
- Being able to go to drama school. This is probably the biggest thing, as it would mean being able to do most of the above, plus be in college 40 - 60 hours a week, as well as all the work outside of college - vocal work, body conditioning, learning songs and scripts, writing essays etc etc
- Not being reliant on benefits for money. Working like everyone else - ideally in acting, but doing the typical out of work actor jobs like temping and telesales when there is no acting work.
- Being out of the mental health system. Not needing therapy or medication, or support in that way. Just dealing with bad days however other people do.
- Not wanting to turn to some form of self neglect or self harm all of the time, and not seeing suicide as the way out when things get overwhelming.
- Being able to think in a more balanced way, rather than just in black and white.
- Wanting to live. Seeing life as a positive thing, rather than something that I want to be over as soon as possible.
I am writing all of this but it feels like something that is a complete impossibility. I can’t imagine any of it ever happening. I find thinking about the future so overwhelming, because the things I always wanted seem too far out of reach, and I don’t even know if they are what I want, because I don’t want anything at the moment, except to die. Thinking about the future goes against every instinct I have – I find it difficult to even think a day ahead, let alone years into the future, and I find it very anxiety provoking and just scary I suppose. Because I can’t imagine any of this ever happening. Because all I can see is years of feeling like this stretching out in front of me, and I can’t cope with that.