Hiding My Real Self

This afternoon I read a very real piece from Sista over at Phoenix Fights about anger. She writes very well about hiding her internal anger from her (annoyingly chirpy) therapy group and pretty much all of her friends, resigning herself to the fact that a recent outburst has probably led to the end of one such friendship. It was a post that really made me stop and think today.

How much time do we spend convincing others (and maybe also ourselves?) that we are experiencing socially acceptable emotions? How many “how are you’s” do we answer dishonestly with “oh great” or “much better thanks”. We may go as far as a little “getting there” or even a “one day at a time” but even these will be followed with a cheery smile. And then there’s the shoulder shrug or head bob that always follows such a statement, designed to relieve the other person of any awkward duty to reply, implying that it’s fine to leave it at that.

Why do I not admit that I’m not always okay? Why do I not answer a “how are you” with “not great actually, see that corner over there…well I’d really like to lie down in it, curled up in a ball, for about 14 straight hours”. Who I am I lying to? Who am I lying for? I’m not sure any more. Am I trying to protect my partner from the reality that I’m always going to be a little bit not-okay? Am I trying to pretend due to some unconscious fear that he would leave me if he suspected this was me, forever? Am I trying to convince myself that this slightly-less-than-okay existence is enough for me?

I’m not really sure why I do it, but today I realised that I’m not the only one who does. And I’m guessing Sista and I aren’t the only two! Which makes me wonder…what would happen if we all told the truth?

Hiding My Real Self

You and your carrots can FUCK RIGHT OFF!

I take antidepressants. Two of them actually. Every day. Morning and night. Do you want to know why? They get me out of bed and they get me into life. They are my flashlight and my high-vis jacket, my survival tools in my ongoing battle against the dense, grey fog that surrounds my brain. I use them to break free from the confusion and stride towards the road ahead, flagging a little from the exertion perhaps, but seeing the way forward and powering on without fear. 

So tell me I’m the pharmaceutical industry’s bitch. Tell me I’m weak. Tell me your story about how you cured yourself using only glo-sticks and cucumbers. Go on….I dare you! 

It seems to me that there is a counter-productive and dangerous trend emerging. A trend towards distancing oneself from the “weak ones”, i.e. those brainwashed by the pharma industry and too feeble-minded to even know it. Those who seek to medicate. Those who gladly hand over their hard-earned cash for the sweet relief of psychopharmaceutical intervention.

Depression survival has emerged from the shameful shadows of it’s past, to a time when it’s acceptable for it to be worn like a badge of honour. Honour being defined as having overcome “that nasty episode” by channeling your inner strength. And vegetables. And vitamin shakes. And jogging. And hypnosis. And whatever other bullshit you want to peddle as long as it doesn’t come in pill form. Or have to be dispensed by a person in a white coat.

It seems pretty clear to me that none of the following are acceptable responses to an article where somebody has BRAVELY publicly declared their mental health difficulties:

  • The pharma industry makes a trillion bazillion dollars every year from people dependent on anti-depressants and it’s all a big ruse and you are just part of it you sad bastard
  • My mother’s cousin’s sister had depression and then she went jogging every day and now she is fine and owns a ferrari
  • I thought I was depressed but then I realised it was my lifestyle, so I cut out all gluten, sugar, alcohol and liquids and now, living on sunflower seeds alone, my life has never been better

And yet every day I read these inane comments. The discussion turns away from the bravery of the author, the stigma meaning we even need to label the author as such and the ways in which “normal” people can better understand and help those of us in difficulty. Instead, we turn in on ourselves and we ostracize those who medicate and we criticise their choices, with each person trying to outdo the other to tell the anecdote that *proves* the non-medicinal way is best. And we need to STOP. We need to stop right now. How can we expect the world to stop judging us when we can’t even stop judging ourselves?

You and your carrots can FUCK RIGHT OFF!

Do I Need CBT – Part 2

I don’t think anybody else would consent to discussing their mental health on the street, surrounded by strangers. Sometimes I wonder how I get myself into these situations. I doubt “I apologise but I’m out shopping, could you possibly call me again later” would be the rudest, most awful thing my NHS mental health liason person could hear on the phone. And yet instead of those words, I found myself standing at the bus stop, agreeing to carry out an assessment, surrounded by both strangers and the strange!

It all started when I visited the GP office for a meds refill. My long term GP wasn’t listed on the surgery’s online booking system, so in true technological-age style, I booked in with a random GP rather than make a phone call to an actual human. For some reason this new GP was obsessed with decreasing my meds, with a view to their eventual cessation. Now, as any of you who rely on your meds to function in the real world will know, this is a terrifying prospect and it immediately brought me out in a cold sweat. I agreed with her, nodding and umm-ing in all the right places, while in my mind resolving not to see her again. I figured I would return to my own GP, who seems less inclined to withhold my shiny, sanity-inducing sweeties. During all of this agreeing though, I somehow found myself referred to the NHS mental health service. I walked out wondering what mind games this woman was trained in!

A couple of days later I received a phone call from a blocked number while walking down the aforementioned street. The gods are definitely in league with this GP against me, because in a very out-of-character move I answered the unknown caller. It was the mental health service: did I have time for a quick chat? Which is the story of I found myself standing beside a woman who I’m pretty sure was a man in a dress, spilling my emotional guts into my phone.

I think the caller expected a quick “tick-the-box” appointment scheduling call as she asked me why I needed CBT and why I would benefit from their service. Instead, she got every one of her questions right back at her. (Serves her right for the “private number” caller ID trick if you ask me!)
Caller: Why do you need CBT?
Me: I don’t know, do I need CBT?
Caller: Do you think CBT or counselling would be more beneficial to you?
Me: I don’t know, do you think CBT or counselling would be more beneficial to me?

You get the idea!

And so, I find myself with a screening call scheduled this month, the day after my holidays in fact, to discuss my options & figure out the answer to the question that’s been on my mind for several months now: do I need CBT?

Do I Need CBT – Part 2

I Love Myself

After reading a great post on Serendipity this morning I’ve been pondering the questions posed at the end of it:

So … how much have you changed from the person you were in your late teens? What, if anything, do you do completely differently? Do you like the person you’ve become? Are you trying to change? Do you fit in? If you met the young you, what would you tell yourself?

I love being 30. That was my very first thought on reading the questions. It’s funny, I can’t truly explain the shift in my thinking but there has been a significant change in Mina since I entered this new age bracket. Or perhaps it’s down to a combination of things other than age; the death of a parent, a lost love, friendships re-evaluated, travelling the world, finding “the one”, moving to London. Who knows. I think I’m very much still evolving into the person I am destined to be but I think it’s fair to say that I’ve been on quite a journey thus far.

These days I find I am comfortable in myself for the first time in my life. On a “high” level I know that I am a good person. Friends and lovers have come and gone: I can attribute this to the changing tides of life. I don’t find a common ground in a group of strangers: I find it to be disappointing but nothing more than a tiring evening. I find myself in a politically-oriented discussion with nothing to contribute: I chuckle to myself that if the conversation turned to Austen I would be the one holding court. I no longer attribute these occurrences to some defect in my self. I’ve learned to give myself a break. 

On a “lower” note, I wear yoga pants that may or may not in fact be pyjamas, when I run out for my morning coffee. I just ordered a pair of bright red wellies for the winter rain and last week I finally went all the way and got the pixie cut I’ve been lusting after for some time now. These are all quite superficial things but in this case, the outside has come to reflect the inside. These days my outside reflects an internal self that is far less bothered by the opinion of strangers and far more self-loving than ever before. I have even come so far as to realise that, in my own way, I am beautiful

And so, to the questions:

Do I like the person I have become? Yes, yes I do. I’m not there yet of course, I doubt any of us every truly stop evolving, but I can stand before you today and say that I am happy with the progress I have made so far. Mina: she’s okay! 

Am I trying to change? Of course! I want to continue this evolution, I want to continue to fight my dysthymia and I want to be ready for whatever challenges the world throws at me next. But if this is it, if this is “me” then that’s okay too. I reckon that I can get on quite well for the next 50 years or so with this person.

What would I tell my young self? This is a tough one. When I was younger, I figured the day would come when I would love myself because I would be different…a “better” me. Today, I love myself because I am not different. I am essentially the same me that I was when I was 12 years old, lost and alone, struggling to find my place in the world. Except now, I’ve learned to love that me, to value her uniqueness and to accept her flaws. I would tell my younger self: don’t wish to be different, learn to love yourself for who you are, because one day I promise that you will realise you are already a person worthy of your own love. Of course, if I told that to my 12 year old self she would roll her eyes, turn up her East 17 tape, and go back to dreaming about the future blonde, skinny, genetically re-engineered Mina!

I Love Myself

Stop dissing the office!

Across the internet you can find a multitude of posts about living your life to the fullest and giving the finger to the humdrum of the 9-to-5 lifestyle. Barely a day goes by when I don’t see a Facebook update or a blog post about how to escape the office and start a life of fun, excitement and adventure. And I wonder: when did 9-to-5 office jobs become the poster child for a wasted life?

Of course there are less-than-fulfilling office jobs out there that involve a lot of filing, coffee-making and mail-merging. But there are also incredibly rewarding office jobs, that make the people doing them quite happy. No, I’m not teaching students to surf on a beach in Spain and I’m not serving canapes on a yacht in the South Pacific. In fact I’m usually sitting in my home office in London and the highlight of my day is often my trip out for my afternoon coffee. And yet I wouldn’t swap it for any of the “exciting” jobs these blog posts and Facebook updates dangle in front of me.

Why not, you may ask? The truth is that I enjoy a job that would make others want to tear their hair out. I get to spend 8 hours a day with the love of my life – technology – and I get to do some of the things I love most: rip apart processes, analyse systems for issues & solve real life problems (yes, activity satisfaction is intricately linked to my OCD tendencies). I switch off my computer most evenings with a sense of satisfaction.

Part of my job involves showing people how to use software. Often I encounter technophobes or older people who are clearly nervous and take great pains to point out their IT weaknesses before we begin. The joy I feel in explaining a concept to them and seeing things finally click into place is immense. Not only have I achieved my business objective for the day but I have made a small but positive change to that person’s life. I have challenged their notion of themselves as a “non-techie” person and who knows, maybe now they’ll give that smartphone they got for Christmas another go when they get home.

Just because I get up and sit at a desk every day doesn’t make my life any less interesting than those who spend their days on a beach, in a classroom or on a boat: it just makes it different. And for many us sitting there, just as exciting.

Stop dissing the office!