This is a story, with updates as they happen in real-time (ish) of how I was signed off work with mental health problems, and what happened from my perspective.
I don’t know yet who I hope for it to help.
Except for me, or course. This is my therapy.
Welcome to my mind.
Diary of a Mental Breakdown: Day 1
He looked at me as though over the top of a pair of invisible spectacles.
Or maybe he didn’t.
I couldn’t meet his eyes, stared at the floor but felt it, that gaze, ever so keenly, all the same.
‘I don’t like the look of you, today. I think I’ll give you something to calm you down, and maybe something to sleep’.
Under the bed in the corner there is a roll of paper that keeps on coming just as the patients keep on coming. It is pulled over, ripped off and it keeps everything clean. No cross-contamination. No mixing of people with other people with other patients. But aren’t we all the same, really? Am I really that different to the next person who comes in?
‘Where are your family, again?’
‘Up North’, I croak, and wonder if I could make eye contact again but as soon as I do, the needle touches the record playing in my mind.
Voices bubble, like that moment of glorious anticipation, you know the one. You’re standing in a marvellously decadent hallway and it’s night-time and you’re approaching the sound of something wonderful, you’re about to step just close enough to the gilded doors that the footman silently moves to open and the sound wall breaks and the flurry of the crowds stream towards you because you have arrived.
Except the sound is different – people are whispering.
Cocked heads – she’s different. We look at her and we don’t see the glamour we’re supposed to. There are just so many cracks in the facade of this building, it’s like painting on an arid desert and really she’s not much at all, she’s crumbling.
‘Sara? Have you been speaking to your family?’
There are people in the crowd and they look more concerned than morbidly fascinated, but maybe that’s wishful thinking.
‘Um, yes. Yes I did speak to them. They are going to come down on the weekend and maybe take me home. I live with my sister but sometimes I’m not
… at taking care of myself’.
How pathetic is that?
Being a grown woman who can’t figure out how to pick clothes for the day because frankly I might die. How on earth does someone select the clothes they want to die in?
Do I choose something comfortable? Does comfort matter if you’re dying? Should I wear red in case it’s a violent affair? A little dramatic, a little perfect? The perfect death? There is a novella by Muriel Spark called The Driver’s Seat and at the time I agreed with the others, it made little sense, this odd woman who wanted to plan her death and execute it perfectly but really perhaps I am the odd woman.
God, you’re so attention-seeking.
‘Will you come back tomorrow for an appointment and let me know you’re okay?’
I worried him. I am the worst. I see him going home and his wife asks him a question right after dinner but he’s not there. He’s seeing me curled on the train tracks, shivering on a bridge and blaming himself and really this is why you shouldn’t talk about it. It. It. Scary clown, and it is behind you right now, I dare you not to look. It’s outside the window, you can’t leave, it’s going to get you.
I thought that was what you wanted anyway. An end. Any end.
Maybe I’m writing this and someone will read it and decide to terrorise me with the things I wrote like one of those awful metafictional tales that is clever just for the sake of its own existence because it is a play within a play and that tells you so much without saying a single thing.
Messed up person out there, I see you. I see you.
I nod and thank him for his time, and my time, and anything else, and silently apologise for realising that he actually said earlier, touch wood, I haven’t lost anyone yet.
I’m not lost, yet. That’s what that means.
But I can’t remember if either of us tapped the desk, or not.
Diary of a Mental Breakdown: Day 2
There is a methodology in psychology for mood and nervous disorders called CBT, cyber brain travel.
Sorry, that was a lie.
It stands for cognitive behavioural therapy. And it is a way of isolating repeating patterns in your thinking, and putting them into a new perspective so that you can break a cycle of unhelpful behaviour.
In CBT for low self-esteem, we all have a bottom line which is the worst thing, the thing we taunt ourselves with.
It might be your partner leaving you.
It could be failing a test.
It could be upsetting a stranger.
Recently for me, it has been losing my job.
I’m going to be fired I’m going to be fired I’m going to be fired I’m going to be fired I’m going to be fired.
I actually typed those words out, you know.
I didn’t even copy + paste them. That’s how you know they’re true.
Anyway, I’m not saying that activation of the bottom line = mental breakdown. I’m not saying that actually losing my job was the trigger to my mental breakdown.
I’m saying that recently, my fragile mental health was turned from a problem, to a REAL problem.
I have been signed off work for four weeks. 40320 minutes.
Gosh aren’t you lucky having all this time?
With myself, are you kidding? I function through over-drive and distraction. I am supposed to be an over-performer, the good one who once got perfect marks on a university exam answer and cried with disappointment when she got a 2/1 what a disgusting person, who even does that, some people can’t ever get to university and here you are upset at yourself for not making the most of your time there the problem is all you.
A friend once referred to me as a unicorn because I had a job lined up after graduation.
And I lost it.
I am in debt.
I can’t pay my bills.
You wanted this to happen all along so you had an excuse to go home and do nothing. It’s not fair on the other people who actually work hard, I spit and hiss angrily at myself and there’s another me curled up in the corner of my brain and god brains don’t have corners you are so stupid and selfish and useless and
Do you see?
All this bile inside of me.
I don’t look sick.
But I am.
Day 3 – Things I Learned from My Dog
First things first – rename.
‘Fear of a name increases fear of a thing itself’ (Albus Dumbledore)
I’m calling this ‘Diary of a Mental Health Recovery’, now.
And this chapter in particular, is called ‘Things I Learned From My Dog’.
I awoke in my childhood bedroom and was going to go for a lovely jog to clear my head, and all that.
And then I peeked outside.
It had been quiet, you see.
And not the usual countryside farmhouse quiet of birds and strange yet comforting creaks and sheep and ghosts.
It was really too quiet.
Outside was slowly turning white, which explained a lot. Sometimes things happen outside of ourselves which make it harder to fit into the life we had imagined internally.
I panicked about the change of plan for about five minutes.
Then, I swapped leggings for thermals, sports socks for knee-highs and trainers for wellies.
My dog was over the moon to see me.
‘Ah told ye there wid be a surprise visitor’, Granny smiled.
We waved goodbye and headed out to the stubby fields shorn recently, tractor mud tracks frozen solid.
I had brought the ball, and Lola wouldn’t take her eyes off of it.
‘What is it that really makes you happy, Lola?’, I enquired.
I waited a little until it couldn’t be clearer that the answer was, of course, the ball.
Not just handed to her, though.
She wanted to chase it, and she wanted me to throw it, and she wanted to always bring it back and feel rewarded for doing so.
Therefore, the rules of four-legged happiness go something like this:
- Have somewhere warm to sleep, but also go outside and recognise the change in comfort.
- Have a ball to chase, but also have people around who can be trusted to throw it and help when it goes wrong.
- Have enough food. Not too much, not too little.
- Have enough exercise. Not too much, not too little.
- Have the confidence to poop outside.
- Love humans unconditionally.
- Clean up for humans after dinner, but stay away from the hoover.
- Feel as though the cat isn’t really in charge and you’re just letting it think it’s in charge because you’re the bigger person. Know that I am worthy of human love even when I get told to go away (and especially even when the puppy-dog eyes don’t work and I still get sent to bed).
‘Wow, Lola’, I say, as I throw the ball again.
‘How long did it take you to work all this out?’.
I don’t really know what her response was because she was quite busy eating her ball, but it had certainly given me food for thought.
I’m not sure yet how relevant the complete list is to human needs, but I think some of them could work for me.
Here is the list of guidelines that I have decided to work with, going forwards.
- Eat and drink every 4 hours during the day. Set actual reminders on phone because otherwise it’s too tempting sometimes to not bother.
- Some form of exercise in the morning and evening.
- Love others and myself unconditionally.
- Accept that the cats in my life are completely in charge.
- Spend time with people who help me chase my … goals. Balls just doesn’t work in this example, it unfortunately lowers the tone too much.
I’ll let you know how I get on, and if anyone has any questions requiring Lola’s wisdom, please do message me or leave them in the comments x