A Day in the Life of lifeinabind

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Friday 7 November 2014 started 2.25 hours earlier than I would have liked, when I heard my children playing on the landing at 4.45am.

It’s difficult, if you have a mental health condition, to ascertain what is a ‘symptom’, and what is not. Sometimes the exercise can be helpful as it can show us why we do certain things. At other times it can be futile and even counter-productive, particularly if it encourages others to dismiss our responses by ‘labelling’ them, rather than trying to understand what lies behind them.

I’m fairly sure that my Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) are significant in explaining my reactions to early-morning wake-ups. My emotions can change extremely rapidly and can take a long time to return to baseline. I am very sensitive to not feeling listened to, and to feeling helpless and not in control. This means that things which don’t go as planned can feel difficult and intensely frustrating, and even a chance event can feel either like a failure on my part, or an ‘attack’ on me.

When I heard those little voices outside the bedroom, instantly my insides felt forcefully twisted, and I felt ready to explode with frustration and helplessness. I seethed with resentment, and not a little anger (which my upbringing has taught me to bury and internalise). And so once I came back to bed after sending my children back to theirs, I lay there unable to turn off my thoughts or diffuse the tension in my body. I felt attacked by my children’s behaviour. I berated myself for going to bed late the previous night. I started to catastrophize, and one small event turned into the thing that would ruin not just that day, but every day for weeks thereafter.

The catastrophies didn’t happen. I enjoyed being with my children, although as usual, I found it hard to be present in the moment. I dwell in the past or the future. I become immersed in a kind of daydream which I have to drag myself out of.  Despite wanting desperately to remember every second I spend with my children, I battle a frequent desire to escape. Sometimes, this takes the form of suicidal ideation. Most frequently, it means a longing to withdraw from reality and to live inside my head.

But I was present in at least some moments, and the day ended well. I saw friends in the evening, and didn’t feel out of place. So often I feel I’m extraneous to any crowd – that people ‘put up with me’ rather than want or choose me. But not that night.

In the run-up to 7 November, knowing I would be writing this, I worried I might have an ‘ordinary day’- that I would have no crisis to report. But I realised that having an ‘ordinary day’ might be a good way of challenging assumptions about living with a mental health condition, and reducing stigma.

Having a mental health condition doesn’t mean that every day is defined by that condition. I have good and great days, as well as bad and unimaginably bad days. But the ‘good days’ don’t mean I’m ‘better’ or that the ‘bad days’ are behind me. Neither do the good days invalidate the bad – they don’t mean there was never anything wrong, or that I was ‘over-reacting’. And it’s not just those without mental health conditions who sometimes think that way – I do it to myself.

Those with mental illness can have ‘ordinary days’, but we can also lead ordinary-looking lives while being greatly distressed on the inside. Keeping up that appearance is part of what keeps me alive. We must fight the myth of the ‘mentally ill’ as dangerous, straight-jacketed and institutionalised, not just because it is stigmatising, but because we may miss those who are suffering, but hiding in plain sight. And so I hope my ‘ordinary day’ can be a revelation of sorts, so that one day the bind of my pseudonym will no longer be necessary to my life, and I will no longer need to hide.