Anxiety dreams and being a Real Grown-Up (TM)

Español: Ejemplo de encuadre vertical

I just woke up from this dream. It was that kind of painfully-familiar thing where you wake up and wish your anxieties would be a little less boring and predictable when they emerge from your subconscious. Even though I can’t remember ever having had this one before, I have a feeling that it’s going to become a staple.

This one? Oh, this one. I was at some sort of event that was half Rocky Horror show and half actually fending off an alien invasion, but that was just background. As I strapped on my roller skates to go kick some alien ass, my mother appeared. Not, by the way, a person who bears any resemblance to my actual mother. My actual mother is lovely, and I’m not just saying that ’cause she reads this blog. No, this was a Your Mother archetype from my subconscious. The kind that tells you precisely what you’ve been doing wrong, what a disappointment you are, and why.

It’s all about Yer Ma

So as I’m lacing up my boots, MyMa shows up and tells me that I’ve been Doing Adulthood Wrong. Seriously wrong. Everything that I’ve been doing since I became an adult. Wrong. I’ve been refusing to act or dress like an adult and, damnit, I need to start doing that now. Right now. Time to take off the boots, start dressing like a proper grown-up and go get a job in something respectable. Oh, and start a pension fund and get a mortgage and probably have a couple of kids. Then there were a few bits where I opened up my email to find oodles of job rejection letters. That bit, of course, is somewhat more realistic than my brain’s depiction of my mother. Unfortunately, dreams don’t come with sensible voices talking about the current economic climate and how getting a decent job is bloody hard these days. Which is a pity because, well, you probably know how the rest of the dream feels. You know when you’re having an anxiety dream and you’re desperately trying to get someone to listen to you? You’re screaming and crying at everyone you can, trying to explain things and they’re just standing there stony-faced. Yuck.

Of course, I know exactly why I dreamed that, even though I have no idea why my subconscious decided to pick my mother as the person to tell me I need to grow the hell up. My real-life mother has never been one for arbitrary ideas of being a grown-up. She’s pretty damn awesome.

But of course I know why I dreamed that. I’ve only a few weeks until I hit 30! I’m unemployed, living in my friend’s spare room, and I haven’t a bloody clue when I’ll get out of it. This is not what I thought I’d be doing at this age. The fact that I’m more content than I’ve been in years is irrelevant to my feverishly anxious subconscious. What matters to it is that I’m absolutely nothing like its image of a 30-year-old, and that gives it ample material to mess with me while I’m sleepily vulnerable.

suits [uniform and uniformity]

The quarter third-life crisis.

But guess what? I think this is brilliant. I haven’t had an anxiety dream about being sent back to school and made to re-do exams that I haven’t studied for in ages! This has been added to my impressive portfolio of things to worry about along with all my teeth falling out, suddenly finding out I’m extremely pregnant, and the all-time classic of watching people I love die horribly and having no way to help them. I figure that worrying about being good at being an adult means that I’m thinking about what that means to me. And there’s nothing that says nearly-30 quite like having a bit of a crisis about what on earth responsibility and happiness are for me, and how to dispense with childishness while holding on to every delicate bit of childlikeness that I can. Sorting through received ideas of what it means to be responsible, deciding which to keep and which to throw away, and working out how to be okay with that in a world that has one path it wants us all to follow to the letter. Although I’d like to have a way of doing that that didn’t involve unhappy dreams, I’m cool with that. I think that it’s a damn good way to spend my time.

5625 / 50000
Anxiety dreams and being a Real Grown-Up (TM)

On World Mental Health Day, what it means to me.

Just a note, before you read on: Writing this was easy. Posting it is not. This is the first time I’ve been open about this in a space as public as this. It’s a scary thing to do, especially when surveys suggest that almost 2/3 of people have trouble accepting people with mental illness as close friends, and over 40% think that getting treatment is a sign of personal failure. It’s difficult when it’s seen as making a fuss and drawing attention to yourself. So just for this one, please do go gentle on me. After all, it is my first time. Okay?

If you met me, you’d say I’m a pretty damn cheerful person. You’d be right. I’m incredibly lucky in so many ways. I get to spend my time doing things I enjoy. I get to see the benefits of lots of the things I do. I get to be creative and playful in my everyday life. And I get to share my life with some of the most inspiring, genuine and generous people I’ve ever met. I’ve got it good. And every night before I go to bed I take a tiny little pill. That little pill lets all of it happen.

The thing about having depression is that people expect you to be, well, depressed. Same for anxiety. It seems logical, doesn’t it? Depressed people are depressed. People with anxiety are anxious. And so on.

I have depression, and I’m happy.

What’s so wrong with crutches?

When people talk about antidepressants or other mental health medications, they often disparagingly refer to them as a ‘crutch’. It’s funny, because that’s exactly the way I think of my medication. Only I don’t disparage it.

Before I started to take my meds, there were times when I found it extremely difficult to get out of bed. To do anything more than was absolutely necessary to keep going. I was lucky- I always managed to get to work, if little else. A lot of people aren’t so lucky. But even so, the sheer effort of doing nothing but getting myself to work and back and keeping myself fed took all of my energy. When I was depressed, I’d sleep or watch TV most of the rest of the time. When I was suffering with anxiety, I would pace and toss and turn and lie awake and barely be able to eat. You say that medication is a crutch. It absolutely is.

People say that people with depression just need to get better exercise, get out and about, do things we enjoy and get out of that depressive spiral. That people with anxiety need to get a bit of perspective, start to look at the bigger picture, quit being such perfectionists and go easier on ourselves. Maybe go to therapy. Do the work of sorting ourselves out.

I couldn’t agree more.

Which is why I need that crutch.

Depression? Is depressing.

The thing about depression and anxiety- I can’t speak personally for any other mental illnesses- is that they are self-perpetuating. Being depressed is depressing. There’s nothing quite like anxiety to ramp up my fight-or-flight responses. Although you know logically what needs to be done to get out of them, you can’t.

And meds help. For some people. They help me, at least. They don’t change who I am or make me into some kind of automaton. They just give me that tiny little boost I need to start helping myself. They’re like the footstool I keep in the kitchen to reach the highest shelves. I know exactly where I keep the glasses, but no amount of knowing can make me grow a foot taller to reach them. I need the stool, and I always will. I need meds right now. I don’t know if I always will. I hope I won’t. But if I do, I’m incredibly glad that they’re there. Meds give me the spoons I need to help myself.

I have depression, and I’m happy. Being happy when you’re depressed can be hard work. For some people it’s a hell of a lot harder than for others. I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m happy.

It’s not about overcoming anything

Being happy doesn’t mean I don’t have depression. I know it’s there. Searching within myself I can feel that yawning, horrible, strangely comforting pit so close. I have bad days. Bad weeks, even. Sometimes bad months, although that’s a lot less common than it used to be. Depression is a thing that I live with. It’s a part of my brain that might very well always be there, even as I try to trick it out of existence with medication, therapy, exercise, love, and all the joy I can fit into my days. And there is joy.

I don’t have a pithy little ending for this, probably because there isn’t one. We talk so much in this society about overcoming mental illnesses. Actually, that’s the narrative we have for most kinds of chronic illness and disability. We want our happy endings. But when it comes to mental illnesses, often our happy endings are more subtle. More like a compromise or an uneasy peace. We don’t overcome these things. We learn ways of living alongside them, because at the end of the day they are part of us. Depression and anxiety may be illnesses I live with, but they are also parts of who I am. They are things that my brain does, and I am my brain. There is no happy ever after. There’s just the work of learning to live with each other. With ourselves. With myself.

For Irish news on Mental Health Day, you might want to check out Mental Health Reform’s Don’t Drop The Ball campaign,‘s article which includes reports on government ministers as well as some signs of depression, and, of course, the wonderful Mad Pride Ireland, who’ve recently called for the resignation of Irish Health Minister Reilly, and who do incredible work towards the destigmatisation of people with mental illnesses. They rock!

And if you’re more inclined towards blogs (yay for bloggers!), Rewriting the Rules have a wonderful post on mental health and relationships. Because crazy people get to be in love and have healthy relationships too. Not Alone In There is fantastic reading as well. Their post on Asking for Help is a great place to start. 

On World Mental Health Day, what it means to me.

On side-effects.

Before I say anything: this isn’t directed at any particular person. It’s a pattern I’ve noticed over the last while- there isn’t any single incident that led to this.

Recently, I’ve been in the interestingly prosaic position of dealing with an incredibly irritating, but also harmless, eminently (and cheaply!) treatable, and not in the least bit icky, sort of condition. A bit of an inner-ear thing, I gather, which is a very lovely and simple (and did I mention treatable?) explanation for the last six months of strange hearing, balance and general oddness issues that had been worrying me quite unduly*.

So for the next couple of months I’m on a cocktail of cheap and easily-available OTC meds. Grand, so. I’m sure that many of you pop these things on a regular basis without a care in the world. In fact, I’ve been hearing all about it, pretty much any time I mention anything to do with this.

And you know something? I don’t want to know. I really, really don’t want to know. I don’t want to know that you can take these things that I have to take every day for the next couple of months without side-effects. When I’m trying to find a balance between the pills that will make me sleep for twelve hours straight and wake up exhausted, or the ones which leave me anxious, jittery, flying off the handle at a moments notice and in a constant low-level state of panic? I don’t want to know that you can pop either of them and barely notice a thing. It doesn’t help.

What would help? If you’ve been in a similar situation, tell me about how you dealt with it. If not, then just agree with me that it sucks, and listen when I tell you that yes, I really do need you to talk more quietly. I’m not saying it to be annoying, I’m saying it because certain sounds make my head feel like it’s going to explode.

But you know something? I have it lucky. I have a temporary condition which I expect, with any luck, to be sorted by Christmas. I can easily afford any meds I need, and I don’t need any gatekeepers to give me access to them. Dealing with affordability issues and gatekeepers as well as balancing effects and side-effects? Owch. That must suck.

*Yes, I went to the doctor expecting a diagnosis of Advanced Imminent Painful Death, or at the very least Untreatable Condition, Just Live With It. Don’t we all, though? ……Don’t we?

On side-effects.