kafj: headshot of KAFJ looking over right shoulder (Default)
Depression: still grim. I've been reminding myself that knowing of its existence is still a very real achievement, and have been trying to persuade it to be a shadow (attached to me, but not discommoding me) rather than a blanket (it's trying to help me, trying to ensure that I get the rest that I need, but it's just pinned my arms by my side in so doing).

I'm trying to remember that it is an actual honest to God illness, and treat it as such. Today, therefore, I took as a sick day, and spent wrapped up in a blanket drinking hot chocolate.

It's not too bad. It's a lot better today, for example, than it was on Saturday night. (Saturday morning was fine, but I crashed, hard.) I have been socialising a little bit more, feeling that it's going to get better.

This time of year, I live between dates. The next one is Advent Sunday. My new year observance runs through Advent and Christmas to the, well, new year. In the middle of it comes the solstice (when things start actually, measurably, getting better) and Christmas, and a week off work to put serious work into sleeping and getting my head in order.

Getting there. Getting there.
kafj: headshot of KAFJ looking over right shoulder (Default)
There is a hell of a row kicking off on Twitter about the Samaritans’ new app, Samaritans Radar. This device sweeps Twitter and searches for words and phrases that suggest that someone might be suicidal. It then notifies followers of that person, who can act accordingly.

There are obvious issues – first among them being the fact that not all followers are motivated by kindness or concern for the person they’re following. As has been noted extensively elsewhere, this is open season for stalkers and unscrupulous Human Resources departments. There are the usual accusations and counter-accusations of who does and doesn't know how Twitter works. It's all got very depressing.

Myself, I do not much like this idea. As can be seen from, ooh, my last post, I am very open about my mental health, netside. This is deliberate. People know exactly as much as I tell them. You could tell more about my mental health by the quantity of my tweets than by their content. The worse I feel, the quieter I get.

I have people I trust. I know who they are and how to get in touch with them. I may or may not do this via Twitter. If I tweet something that expresses a negative change in my mental health, I do not want or expect some stranger to interpret it as a call to action. It would be embarrassing for all of us. A request for help will be explicit, even if it’s just ‘feeling down, pls send hugs’. I don’t know what the Samaritans Radar might pick up from my Twitter feed, but I don’t think it would be much use, because (ha!) this is not the way I use Twitter.

I read. I think. I think. I read. I think. I write. I delete. I write. I post. I link on Twitter. By the time I’ve done all that I’m already feeling better, because I find writing very cathartic. My Twitter cross-posts to my Facebook and reaches friends and family who are infinitely better qualified to help me.

I know that I am in a position of relative privilege, both in having been able to disentangle my mental health issues from their effects on my self-esteem and communicativeness to the extent that I feel able to make contact and ask for help, and in having the tools and experience to communicate intentionally and clearly, this sentence aside. But do you know what, it’s bloody patronising to assume that everyone else doesn’t, that the whole of the rest of Twitter knows better than them what they need.

This thing could be useful if it were opt in. As it is, people are opting out of Twitter so that they can’t show up on the radar, and that alone ought to be telling the Samaritans something. I want to opt out of it. I can, apparently, do this by Direct Messaging @samaritans – which I actually can’t do because they don’t follow me. I hope they will cop on to this problem shortly. I still think it should be opt in. I am sure that there are people for whom this service would be useful. I’m really, really not one of them. It’s not useful for me – and while it does no more to me than make me feel vaguely intruded upon, it is demonstrably and actively harmful for some others.
kafj: headshot of KAFJ looking over right shoulder (Default)
Depression is being rubbish at the moment. It’s a combination of lack of daylight, fatigue, and running up against a succession of brick walls.

Yesterday I rode my bike into town. I went to a café and bought myself a jacket potato with prawn mayonnaise, a piece of lemon and chocolate shortbread, and a cup of coffee.

It was difficult. I walked past several other places on the way there, passed them by because they were too expensive. Or I would have to find somewhere to sit. Or I would have to talk to people. And I don’t belong here. Cambridge pushes all my not for the likes of us buttons if I’m not careful, and that goes all the way down to places where you can eat things. Possibly ‘eating out’ is a not for the likes of us.

Had I been with someone else, I could have – probably would have – kept walking until I was so hungry and tired that I would have just folded up and let the other person drag me into the nearest fast food outlet and feed me chips. But I was alone, and I had to do the dragging myself.

And I managed it, and I ate something reasonably nutritious, something that was tasty and not just the cheapest thing on the menu, and I got to sit down somewhere warm, and read a little bit, and begin writing this post in my head.

Once I can start writing I know I’m on the way out of it. Once I can get some words around the thing it stops being an overwhelming mass of lead jelly, and I can begin to see past it.

I forget what it’s like, being in the place where buying lunch is a massive achievement. Reminding myself that I’m allowed to spend a tenner on lunch is an achievement. Knowing that I will feel better once I’ve eaten, and acting upon the knowledge, is an achievement. After lunch I bought some trousers, and that was an achievement, too. I even tried them on in the shop. I get better and better at dealing with this, but it never becomes less horrible.

It does ridiculous things to my logic and to my self-esteem. I jump to conclusions – stupid conclusions. On Saturday I met somebody I knew just as the TUC march was about to set off. She said, ‘Keep in touch, and we’ll go for a pint.’ Half an hour after the end of the march I was convinced that the reason that she hadn’t replied to my text was that she’d (uncharacteristically and unprecedentedly) changed her mind and was hoping I’d get the hint – rather than the far more likely, and true, explanation: my texts hadn’t got through to her.

I am having to approach all sorts of social situations with logic and relentless self-questioning. Quite apart from the whole rigmarole of buying a jacket potato (it is highly unlikely that a perfectly ordinary café will be reluctant to sell me a jacket potato, but you try telling my brain that) I am having problems with questions like, should I go to this thing or that? Do people want me there? What constitutes an invitation? And is it even a good idea for me to go?

I am looking for the spaces in between depression, the chances to stop and remember that it isn’t the truth. There are cracks in it. I keep writing. I keep thinking. I bought a daylight lamp. I have given myself permission to not work on anything I think I should be working on. And a practice that I have found phenomenally useful is the #100happydays meme. I am on day 17 of my second round, and it really does help. It makes me look out for things that are good. It makes me notice things that are good. It is an expression of trust that tomorrow there will be something worth getting up for, however tiny it might be. Tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after that – well. It’s a long way until day 100. It’ll take me into the new year.

And, to my delight and surprise, my friends are enjoying my doing it. I’d thought my daily happy post would be neutral at best and probably mildly irritating. Two or three people, however, have said to me that they look out for it, that it cheers them up too, that they were happy when I started it up again. I am more touched by this than I can say, that I can share joy with this little discipline that is getting me through the winter one day at a time.
kafj: headshot of KAFJ looking over right shoulder (Default)
... or round my neck. Same difference.

Over the past year I have become a fan, to the tune of a necklace and four pairs of earrings, of [livejournal.com profile] elisem's jewellery. It's absolutely beautiful, but I half-think the best part of it is the names. When I wear Miss Prometheus Jones, I presume, for example, there is the thrill of OMG I am wearing a shooting star, but there is also the resonance of the myth, the glamour of the have you met Miss Jones echo, and so on, and putting them on reminds me of all that and makes the day better before it's even started. I bought myself Lipstick Mermaids as a reward for finishing a particularly tricky phase of the mermaid project, and have been wearing it more or less constantly (probably at least twice a week) ever since.

It hadn't really occurred to me before I came across EliseM that one could name jewellery. I used to do quite a lot of beading, but I'd never named anything. The first piece I did name was Snow in April - my first adventure with crimps, and I was quite pleased with the floaty effect, but it didn't turn out quite how I'd meant it.

I got my bead box out the other day. I'd been invited to a hen night and all the guests were asked to dress in blue. I had a blue necklace, but no earrings that would go with it. Earrings are, thank goodness, pretty quick to make. Because of the evening's blue theme and its location in Southampton, these became Amphitrite's Night on the Tiles.

Amphitrite's Night on the Tiles

My next piece was a present that I've completely failed to post as yet, so I won't talk about it. It has a name, though.

Now we get to the interesting part. The other site that has been particularly useful to me recently is Havi Brooks' The Fluent Self, which is full to bursting with helpful concepts and beautiful ideas. These include, every Friday, a salve. A couple of weeks ago, the salve was this:

Here is a Reusable Hug Box.

It is a tiny box with a heart on it and inside is a beautiful piece of paper that says HUG.

It is a message wrapped like a gift. It is a moment of remembering that you are loved, still loved, more loved, as if all the love from all the different sources, no matter how forgotten, can suddenly land. In pure form, without expectations, rules or desires, just love.


And this, combined with the wonderful store of Future Hugs and the new idea of wearing the jewellery with the qualities in it, became The Box of Future Hugs:
The Box of Future Hugs

Many of the beads have hidden meanings. All the love, from all the different sources, indeed. The smiley faces, for example, are for my little brother, and also for how I am smilier than I think I am, and the people who told me so. The medal of the BVM was given to me by a French pilgrim in St-Jean-Pied-de-Port, very near the beginning of my pilgrimage to Santiago. There's one with a marking that looks a bit like a pineapple, to remind me of Mike. There are little seed beads there left over from making my wedding dress. The box really does say HUG in it, though you can't really see it:

The Box of Future Hugs (detail)

The other thing that is really incredibly significant to me is Havi's wish for I See the Secret Holiness of Everything. That, and this, is what this necklace is about:

The Secret Holiness of Everything

It's very hard to wrap a heart. I feel as if that ought to mean something.

I notice, too, how very satisfying it was to make these, and how it didn't seem to matter that my mind is playing up and I'm not feeling very loved or remotely mystical. Working with physical objects, getting away from words for the moment, was very helpful. No matter that my brain is telling me that everybody hates me (or, when I pointed to evidence that actually they didn't, 'well, they might not now, but they will do when you unleash a plague of rabid mermaids on the world'), deep down inside I know that I am loved, and in the choosing and twisting and snipping I sneak past the voices that tell me I'm not. And reality doesn't cease to be holy just because I can't see that at the moment. Wrapping a fragment of broken red plastic in gold wire reminds me of that. The day will come when I just have to stop and look at it, because it will be so wonderful.

The Secret Holiness of Everything (detail)
kafj: headshot of KAFJ looking over right shoulder (Default)
It’s a funny thing about depression. I get better and better about noticing when I have it, and every time I do I feel stupid for not having realised before.

In 2008, I had no idea what was going on, and I lay on the bathroom floor and howled about the general wrongness of everything, but couldn’t tell anybody why I was crying, because I didn’t know.

Some months later, I was telling Tony that we should split up because he shouldn’t have to deal with me, and I knew something was seriously wrong.

At some point in the next couple of years it occurred to me to question my long-standing perception that I had no friends and was a massive social failure. I realised that this was a reflection of my state of mind, not reality.

The time after that, I caught it at ‘nobody likes me’.

This time, I noticed that ‘I am feeling like nobody likes me’ and recognised that this was false, and a warning.

I also realised that this is probably linked to my (depression-induced) reluctance to talk to anybody any more than I have to. If I am not interested in other people, my brain says, why should they be interested in me? And from that it’s a very small step to ‘nobody likes me’. I don’t want to interact much when my small talk engine is out of action, but when people don’t interact with me I become convinced that they hate me.

It is frighteningly easy to believe these things about myself. I get so used to their being in my head that they seep into my self-perception. It took me about three years to get my head around the idea that the people in my last office liked me not just because I was quite good at proofreading and fixing the photocopier, but because I was a person that they liked. (The mindworm informs me that if I post this all these people will cease to like me. It is not true, mindworm.)

The other thing that I have realised is that not everything needs to be present – or, if you like, absent – for me to be depressed. The reason I didn’t pick it up immediately this time round is because I am very excited about various other things and so I’m free of the listless don’t-know-what-to-do-with-myself feeling. Now I am getting up at 5.45 am it’s difficult to work out whether the fact that I don’t want to get out of bed is because my brain is broken or because I’m just plain knackered. And in the background the dullness sinks in and everything silently becomes a struggle.

When I catch it, I can start to take it to pieces (this post being a case in point) and reality breaks through the gaps. I’m getting better at catching it. That doesn’t stop me feeling a little bit foolish every time I do. Foolish, and regretful, because, without my noticing, it will have stolen a year, or a month, or a week of my life. Every time the gap gets shorter. That helps.

The sun is out today; that helps, too.

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Kathleen Jowitt

April 2015

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