In the beginning, when you first begin to experience the sapling of your mental illness taking growth it's inexplicable and indefinable, it's incorporeal and intangible. Imagine being attacked by something you can't see, something no one can see, you don't know when it will strike or what form it will take. You're not sure what is going on so you are not even sure that there is something wrong; everyone grows and changes every day, perhaps this is normal, a part of your growth. It begins with small things. You start to see things differently than you did before, your grasp on your own sense of self becomes tenuous and you start to doubt; you start to doubt everything, who you are, what you are doing with your life, what you love, what you enjoy, if, in fact, you enjoy anything anymore because how can you? You start to see yourself from the outside; who is this person that has taken over your life, filled it with dread, uncertainty, confusion and emptiness? In the beginning, you can still step back into yourself, laugh, respond to the world around you, recite the lines, sometimes the laughter is even real. Sometimes you can forget that there is something not right, something growing in darkness inside of you. Sometimes you enjoy things the way you used to, sometimes you remember who you were before this all started. Perhaps for some people, this is as far as it goes and they are able to seek help or even find the order in their minds by themselves. For a some of us, it only gets worse. It's hard to tell when exactly it happened, but you realise that this invisible attacker now has more power than you do, it is not only attacking but assimilating. The world looks different, you don't recognise yourself and the old you hovers in your consciousness like a hologram, no matter how much you try to grab onto her she is intangible and surreal; you can't quite recognise her anymore. Your attacker takes control of you fully, one sense, one like or dislike, one thought at a time. You can't love or laugh, the world around you is warped to the point of being terror inducing, there are too many thoughts, all coming too fast, and you have no idea if they are your own or just another assault from the invisible unknown. For me, this is when the panic attacks and OCD began. In the mess of my mind, to formulate a plan was a taxing and exhausting task- if anything were to happen to alter this plan it would trigger a panic attack. Either my mind emptied or became too full, I can't tell which. They seem so different, but for me, the line between them is almost non-existent. My mind shuts down, my body shuts down, I lose time and when I come around I am exhausted and consumed by deep, deep shame. What was wrong with me? Ah. There is something wrong with me. That was when I knew, far later than may have been obvious to other people, far later than those around me realised. I wasn't ok; I wasn't Clodagh anymore, I didn't know who or what I was but I was not normal. Other people were afraid of my actions and the change in the girl they used to know. Everything was overwhelming; crowds, loud noises, periods of empty time, periods of time when I was expected to do things, being around people and being alone. In the beginning I would force myself to go for drinks with friends, to pretend to laugh, my cheeks aching from my false smile and when I went to the bathroom I would hyperventilate, cry, smack myself in the face and head until the tears stopped, splash water in my face, go back out and start all over again. My thoughts became dark, so dark they folded around me like a weighted blanket, forming a barrier between me and the rest of the world. I became more comfortable with the darkness than the light. Bright, happy, smiling people confused and upset me; they left me exhausted and feeling profoundly unreal. The whole world became that way for me, I was no longer a part of it, it was something I watched as if on TV, I was a character I watched as though from above, one I didn't particularly like or care very much about.
My journey from there and my first time seeking help to where I am now has been a journey of seven years, seven thousand steps, seven million falls, seven billion tears and seven trillion times I thought I was not made for this world.
Now, I can say that I have worked hard on my mental health and that I have an understanding of what is good for me and what is bad for me, what lifts me up and what brings me down, that thoughts are just thoughts and I don't have to act on them. I am on medication and after a turbulent relationship with that at the start, I now take my pills with religious commitment. I have an awareness of my own state of mind and have learned skills through the years to deal with life and all the normal things we need to do, even on days when I am not feeling well. By doing things that lift me, even if I don't feel like it at the time, I generally feel better for having done them and my overall sense of wellbeing increases. I have a certain sense of control now, even given the turbulence of my inner mind.
I haven't been able to write for a while. While I can maintain my own wellness to a good degree now, sometimes life throws a curveball and no amount of routine, pleasant activities or positive thinking can help.
I wrote in a previous blog about Paula, a beautiful soul, and friend that committed suicide. That was over a month ago now, unbelievably.
Two weeks ago, one of my closest friends lost her battle with mental illness and took her own life. I knew she was going to do it, a mutual friend told me she had approached him looking for help in ending her life and that I wasn't to know. Thankfully, he told her he could not help her and contacted me. Unfortunately, I could not help her either. I tried to get her to meet me for coffee, for lunch, for a walk, but she was so far away, she gently rebuffed my efforts and told me that 'perhaps next week.' I don't know how, but I knew next week would never come. I last spoke to her on a Monday and she committed suicide on the Tuesday. She was just in too much pain. She could not see any hope at all for a better life or brighter future. She was sick for so long, years and years. She had tried to end her life before but I was so hopeful that this time would be different. She was so beautiful. She would write me letters telling me that everything was going to be ok, she would send me cards with inspiring quotes from the Dalai Llama, Thich Nhat Hahn, the Buddha and the Sutras, amongst others. We used to meditate together, she was a person whose energy was deeply still and it was a joy to sit in silent meditation with her. It's something I have not experienced with anyone else and I miss it with a physical pain when I think about it. It is a small comfort to know that her soul is now free, unencumbered by the agony of her human form.
A few days later, my Auntie died. She was actually my great-aunt, my Granny's oldest sister. My Granny died when I was 7, and my beautiful auntie, her big sister, so like her in some ways and the absolute polar opposite in others, always held a special place in my heart. The cupboard under her stairs was made into a larder and my brother and my cousins and I used to play shop there, completely ruining any sense of order that she had arranged, of course! She never cared, she was happy to come to the shop to buy some beans, tinned peaches and a packet of chocolate biscuits, slipping us a biscuit each by way of payment. She was a strong woman, as my Mammy tells me, all the Downey women are. She always tells me that I am strong and stubborn like my Granny was, and now like my Auntie was. In her latter years, she was sick. She suffered and soldiered as hard as anyone could, but it was time for her to rest. I am glad that she is not suffering anymore. I am glad that she is with my Granny. I shudder to think of the plotting that will be going on up there, that my poor Grandad will have to endure!
A few days after this, my Uncle's cat died. Now. There is no good way to say this, but my first thought was that that was very sad for my uncle, and my very close second thought was that that's great, these things come in threes, at least it was a cat! I know, awful, but it's what I thought! (Sorry, sorry, sorry, Milo!) Very poor form from a Buddhist but at least it wasn't a person, I hadn't had time to process the previous two deaths and mourn their passing yet. But I will say, Milo, you will be missed. You were a very odd cat. You loved Chinese food and my uncle's dodgy taste in music. You walked him the last leg home when he was returning from the pub. You were a good cat. I'm sure you are rolling in chicken balls in cat-heaven.
It turns out that animals do not count in this rule of threes. A few days later again, I received the devastating news that a client of mine who had become a very dear friend had died. He suffered from MS and was quadriplegic. After doing mindfulness with him for over a year we became good friends. He was a sarcastic jackass and would rather swallow a worm than admit that he put any kind of value on mindfulness whatsoever. He was hilarious, witty and facetious. My kind of humour. I always said that I got more out of the time I spent with him than he did. I was on the phone to the nursing home he was in on the Friday and told them to pass on the message that I was coming to kick his ass on Tuesday, having not seen him in a while. On Tuesday I found out that he had become very sick, very suddenly over the weekend and died on Monday. He was only in his fifties. He was not a man meant to be trapped in his own body, confined to a chair, dependent on others for everything. He was a man of such vitality, it made his illness seem even more cruel. There was time for his family to say goodbye to him. That makes me happy. We would do an exercise where we visualised a space that was one of safety and comfort to us, somewhere that we could let go of all our worries and just breathe, feel the vitality of our breath and the blood pumping through our veins. He described this place to me one day, he said it was his favourite place in the world. Out across one of his fields, on top of a hill was a big tree with a bench underneath it. He could look around and enjoy the silence, away from the road and any noise barring the sounds of nature around him. He could look at the beautiful land stretching out around him, especially beautiful at sunset, he told me. I like to think that that is where he is now, somewhere beautiful like that special place. If anyone deserves peace, tranquility, freedom to move, to walk, run, climb, sit, stand up, sit down again, it is that cranky, deeply loveable man.
And now, here I am, breathing, heart pumping, walking, talking, eating, drinking, being alive. I haven't grieved yet at all, really. I'm not sure I know how. I have learned to distract myself when unpleasant feelings come up, to occupy myself with anything else instead. This pain is a very different pain to the pain of a mental illness. I can't seem to work out how to seperate the two. These three deaths in two weeks, (sorry, Milo, four) seem just too surreal. How does that happen? And what do you do to grieve three losses at once, and all of them so different? Over the last few days I've lain in silence and put my hand on my heart, waiting to feel it beating, and, of course, it is, always. I'm still here. But they are gone and they are not coming back. They. are. not. coming. back. Life has changed, irrevocably. This reality is a new reality. Perhaps it's about grieving the old reality? I don't know how to allow myself to mourn because I have spent many years convincing myself that my suffering is all needless and unfounded in any situational reason. Now, I have a situational reason to be sad and I can't, but I can feel it like a shadow behind me somewhere, waiting to consume me. I know you aren't supposed to repress these things, I've seen enough Dr. Phil to know that much, but how do you just not repress something?
So that is why I haven't written in so long. My mind has felt too messy. Then, I figured, maybe it's ok to write when my mind is messy, maybe other people will understand. Maybe other people feel this way, especially the people who know any of the darlings mentioned above. Maybe it's ok for me to be messy and for this entry to be confused, for me to be asking more questions than I am answering. I hope this entry will be helpful for someone. If anyone has any advice for me, that would be very much appreciated. It might only sound like a small suggestion to you, but you never know what little nugget is going to resonate with somebody. Thank you, my Yogilateral Warriors, for listening, for loving and for being you.
I love you all,