I’ve been trying to write this post in bits and pieces over the past six months, in part because quite a number of people have asked me to write more about my brain, and in part because it is my story and it is in want of the telling.
I’ve tried to begin it by writing down words like ‘depression’ and ‘anxiety disorder’, and each time get caught in a mire of doubts about the value and validity of pathologising my ordinary. Caught by my dawning understanding that these are not exactly diseases in the way that influenza is a disease, and that they might be more accurately understood as the language and expression of suffering that is prevalent in my culture. (And yet, the irony – we’ve fought so hard for them to be spoken of in the manner of physical ill-health. Out of Bedlam and into the medicine cabinet and all that.)
I’m caught by my awareness that, in any case, the vast majority of research in this field has been performed on populations at the far end of the bell curve. Attempting to write about mental health, to untangle the known, the unknown, the physical, the psychological and the interface between is difficult. Attempting to do the same and apply it to myself, seems barely possible at all.
And so, instead of talking about this in terms of disease and disability, this is my ordinary.
Five mornings out of seven, I get up and go to work. Except I set the alarm early, very early because I never know which of those mornings will be one where my brain feels scattered and it will take me two hours to work out what I need to do to be ready and leave the house. Now that I have a list on my fridge, this works a little better. Get dressed. Brush hair. Brush teeth. Feed pets. Take meds. And so forth.
Seven nights out of seven I go to bed to sleep. Except sometimes I wake up at night in the middle of a raging panic and can’t remember what I need to be well again, and a hour later I’ll make it to the list on my fridge and realise that some water and medication will break the loop of panic.
Sometimes I shop for groceries. There are a number of ways to do this. Going to a supermarket after work is the most flexible and affordable, but is almost guaranteed to trigger a brain failure and knock me out for the rest of the night. Going to a little boutique-ish food market is expensive, but somewhat less likely to be a problem. Ordering groceries online is my favourite, but has a knock-on anxiety effect in terms of time-management since I have to be home. I am often very, very unreasonably anxious about time.
Each weekday, I work. And the foggy depression and the tightly-wound anxiety come and go, and some days it feels almost overwhelming to keep working, to speak to people or in front of people, to eat, to read, to breathe. And other days, I walk in and sit down and work, and everything is fine and I’m mystified as to why it is often so difficult. And yet on other days I experience massive concentration failure, and come home exhausted because even completing a small amount of work feels like it has used up all of my resources. And then again on other days I am sparkly and productive and everything flows.
Today, I had my first consultation with a psychiatrist in twelve years.
He says the medication I am on may be causing my attention problems. And that I’ve worked hard with the self-awareness and the CBT and the Happiness Project stuff, and that I’m not doing anything wrong. (Oh, the validation. I am needy for validation.) That the medication I’d first been prescribed (it was Aurorix) was not really appropriate. That the medication I’m now on may be hurting as much as it is helping. That Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder might be something I actually have, and not just something pharmaceutical companies invented to sell more Prozac. (This contradicts everything I think I know about PMDD.) And that that, if I am willing, it might be wise to take a fresh look at my big, co-morbid bundle of depression, anxiety and OCD symptoms, and try something new. I am willing. And so, this month the brain and I get off the Venlafaxine and the Clonazepam and see what happens.
Maybe this will not always be my ordinary, but if it is, then so it goes. Maybe ordinary will become a different, stable medication, or no medication at all. We will live on regardless, brain and I. We do well with what we have.