T/W: Somewhat graphic description of self-harm / suicidal ideation.
Disclaimer: I use terms that I have created in this such as ‘alter ego’ and ‘new direction’ to describe my experience. I find it useful to construct my narrative like this, but it might not fit your experience, or be how you see yourself.
Hi, my name is Izzy. Nice to see you, it’s been a while. I haven’t been around much lately, my depressed alter ego held the controls over my life. It’s great to be back.
When I heard the whispers of my alter ego (AE) in December, I fought hard. I upped my exercise regime, I watched what I ate, I started seeing a counsellor again, I ensured I was hitting the goals that would theoretically form a strong defence against the lingering pain that had been so destructive to me previously. It wasn’t enough. My AE took hold and both the fortress and the life that I had struggled so hard to build and maintain came tumbling down. Again.
Over Christmas, a time of joy and celebration, I found myself in my room, lying on top of the covers in the dark, fully clothed, unable to focus on anything but the images of the intrusive thoughts that ran through my head in a never-ending a loop. Only when I was on the way to the train station back to London was it that I finally took a deep breath and admitted defeat.
“My head is bad again. I think I need to go to go to the Doctors.”
They were shocked, the silent battle that had been raging on inside my head for weeks a complete surprise to everyone but me.
I rang the doctors at 3:14 on a Tuesday afternoon, from the privacy of my London room, my polite phone voice rehearsed with the exact words I was going to say. A cold calmness ran through me, determined to be matter of fact and honest.
“Hi, I’d really to speak to a Doctor today, could you put me on the call list?”
“Yes, but first can I ask you what this is concerning.”
“Of course, I’ve been having suicidal thoughts and I think I need some help.”
The doctor called at 3:17.
It was decided that since I was theoretically doing all the right things already, restarting antidepressants was the way forward. I was skeptical, having taken myself off of them previously after 18 months because I felt my creativity was crushed, (yes, I’m that cliché, but antidepressants don’t do this to everyone/ it was probably the depression itself that was the cause of the block.) I agreed to the prescription over the phone with no intent of taking them, but with an agreement to go into the surgery next week to discuss the problem. Fast forward through weeks of doctors appointment, mental health nurses, a terrifying psychiatrist and my eventual agreement to give antidepressants another go, I felt hopeless. I was doing everything right but nothing was working. “Time,” is what I needed they said, but as a student in the last term of her final year, the pressure to get better in order to graduate was ever-growing. Time is the one thing I didn’t have.
In a desperate phone call to my mum at the start of February she tried to reassure me that it will pass, that everyone finds the winter hard. I shouted in frustration that “Yes, everyone finds it hard, but not everyone’s head is telling them to kill themselves.” Having experienced severe depressive episodes in the past, I knew that this was not the January blues, this was my AE back to regain control.
After a particularly bad psychiatrists meeting, a packet of veggie dumplings and half a pack of Marlboro Golds (I didn’t even smoke) consumed in my back garden during the rains that preempted the Beast of the East, it was once again time to admit defeat. I realised that I never truly understood the term ‘losing my mind’ until that afternoon and I have never been more frightened, I managed to pick up the phone.
“Dad, I need you to come get me and take me home.”
It became apparent that I needed something more. I started as an outpatient at a psychiatric hospital and completed three days a week of treatment for nine weeks, which is a story for another time. As first, the relief of finally being taken seriously and the hope that this will be the thing that worked buoyed my spirits, but it was short-lived. My AE refused to take the backseat. She was very much in control when I returned from a joyful event with friends, at which I had received a prestigious award for my contribution to the university, and slashed my wrists with a kitchen knife. My team came to the conclusion that things in fact were not working as well as hoped. A new direction was needed.
A new direction was accompanied by a new diagnosis, a new type of therapy, an increase in medication and great hostility from myself. The exhaustion from the struggle was too much, I was on my knees looking for a white flag to wave at my AE whilst begging for some kind of break. I wanted to run away, but you can’t run away from your own head.
I kept trying. My ‘new direction’ therapist asked me when we met to tell her the things that I liked. I was left gravely embarrassed, and ultimately terrified when I tried to answer and couldn’t think of anything other than, “My cat.” I became dissociated and distressed, so she asked me to describe the paintings in the room to bring me back down to earth. I realised then that I had lost myself completely, my AE had inched itself into every synapse of my brain. I mourned for someone that I couldn’t even remember, but became determined to rediscover myself.
A few weeks of the ‘new direction’ pass and she asks me again. I produce an A4 sized spider diagram filled with the plentiful things I love to do. I was excited. I was beginning to remember who I am, what I like, what I value and who I want to be.
The best way I can think to describe when my AE is at the helm, is that my days feel like I am walking through a sea of treacle. Each step laborious, distressing and harder than the one before. I know that I becoming myself again when the treacle starts to melt and slip away, the bounce in my step matched by my desire to move forward. It’s slow at first, small parts of my day that were hard becoming fractionally easier. “Yes’s,” that would have been “No’s.” Smiles that warmed my body. Excitement for the future. Laughter with my friends. Out of tune singing as I prepare food. Leaving the house without a second thought, no anxiety shaking me to my very core. Lying in bed at night content and excited for the morning. Picking up a book and reading it cover to cover, unable to put it down. Looking in the mirror and seeing myself staring back at me again. Hello old friend.
Whether it be the new direction helping, ‘time’ as everyone had originally prescribed, or the golden combination of the two, it is wonderful to reconnect with the person I know best. Myself.
I am using this time as I rediscover who I am to be kind to myself. I owe myself an apology. I’ve been hard on myself. I’ve expected both too much and too little. I’ve hated something that when I examine, I remember that I truly love.
Look out world, this bitch is back in business.
If you are in need of some one to talk to, you can contact the Samaritans at any time, for free, on 116 123.
You can also donate to keep this essential service running by clicking here.