Tuesday, 30 August 2016

A spoonful of apology and gratitude

It's been weeks since I have slept properly, possibly even months. I don't know any more; I lose track of time in the familiar cycle - extreme tiredness, almost tearful desperation for sleep, followed by a short bout of deep sleep (this, if I'm lucky, happens occasionally), then the constant wakings of the children or noises around me and then that inevitable catching of my mind on the sharp hook of a negative, circular thought. From then on, it spirals and escalates until hours later, the initial thought has become a nauseating anxiety, elaborately decorated on all sides with appellant worries and regrets, all underlined by a burning heat behind my eyes and the area between the skin on my forehead and the bone underneath it.

At some point, very late at night or very early in the morning - that night/day distinction melts in the mire of my mind - I do fall asleep, exhausted, simply because my body gives up, not because my mind is stilled. And I wake up too soon, drained, to the unrelenting rhythm of family life. From that point on, I focus my energies stubbornly on doing the things I need to do to get through that day. 

There are always too many things to do each day, with the children so young. Then there are the things I need to do which may seem unnecessary to a concerned observer: making the beds everyday, folding the laundry away carefully, stacking things away on shelves. I need to do these things because these are the mechanisms with which I get through the day in measured units through depression, especially when my defences are down due to exhaustion and insomnia. The rhythms of life, a notion of normalcy and order gives me deep comfort. It's like the quiet humming of a generator in the background that I know will power me through the episodic depression. The reliable nature of these activities and the predictable results from them reassure me that this episode too will pass, like it always does, and the next day, maybe the day after that, or later, the fog will lift and everything will be easier, lighter, quicker. Meanwhile, as much as it seems like a distorted slow motion sequence in a film, I just need to keep doing these things.

I read about an interesting strategy: measuring the capacity for a day's activities in spoonfuls of energy. Each activity should be assigned a number of spoonfuls of energy it requires of me, physical and emotional, and I must know the number of spoonfuls I have to offer in a day. Once I exceed my quota of spoonfuls, I have nothing more to give. I like this analogy and find it very helpful. It helps me quantify and manage what I need to do. The challenge here is quantifying the human and relational interactions in a day, the number of spoonfuls of emotional energy it takes to talk to people, communicate, maintain relationships. I find this is the bit that tips my carefully balanced spoonfuls over most regularly.

Perceived isolation and paranoia, and the thought process to acknowledge and combat them, takes up quite a few spoonfuls.  I'm often in the company of good people but feel like the diseased, damaged one. I can't help thinking that something unhealthy seeps out of my body, like from an over pressurised container. Then to be chirpy and sociable to the people around me, overriding this and overcoming disassociation, requires those precious extra spoonfuls. There are days when I simply don't have those extra spoonfuls, or am conserving them for the kids' bedtime or something else. How this translates externally is that I look, sound and behave like a grumpy, ungrateful, moody cow. (I get around this when I can by communicating freely and clearly via email/text.) I realise this is very difficult to put up with. I'm sorry. I hope you can forgive me and put up with me anyway, because I truly am grateful for the love and company of my family and friends and want to be around you. I also recognise the saint-like forbearance of my husband, with whom I can always dispense with all efforts to explain or justify. He always knows and accepts and accommodates.

Anxiety and depression are not rational. It's difficult to explain how some things make me feel lighter and others make me want to curl up in a foetal position in a dark soundless room and scream. I realise how difficult it is for the people around me who love me and try to make me happy. They are effectively shooting in the dark! Some shots hit the mark and I may make your world light up with effusive affection and gratitude and joy. Other shots will be met with that bovine countenance I described earlier. Again, I'm sorry. It's not that I'm ungrateful. I'm out of spoonfuls or some electrical impulse has fired unexpectedly in my brain.

I sometimes hesitate to reconnect with old friends from school or uni, because I just don't even know how or where to begin to explain why I'm where I am and how I might be encountering a bad day when I speak to them next. I remember this smart, ambitious girl I met at uni and liked instantly. She seemed to think I was smart and going places too. We ran into each other a few times and chatted about books and culture and politics in passing. One day we made plans to get some dinner together and hang out. The day came, I turned up at her dorm room and I was a mess, my spoonfuls had run out early in the morning and by evening, I felt like a zombie. I was so confused I could barely work out how to use my bank card in a cash machine. She was baffled; I couldn't or didn't want to explain, she recoiled, we cancelled and I never heard from her again. I still remember the shame I felt after that. 

I often feel dizzy or nauseous before opening a conversation, because the confusion, unpleasant recollections and even shame seize my consciousness completely. I have to fight the urge to hide from people constantly, to stop myself from asking my husband to have a conversation on my behalf. Fortunately, my husband is blessed with poor recollection of facts and even poorer grasp of non verbal cues, so I learnt early that I could not rely on him to speak for me accurately.

So that's what it looks like, when it's been weeks since I have slept properly, possibly even months. It's a dip, but I have plans and strategies, which I have gradually managed to piece together over the past weeks and I'll slowly work at them, at my own pace. And I have faith, a lot of faith, the type that I believe can move mountains.

My husband, who sees me with kinder eyes than I do myself, encouraged me to write this out candidly. I felt the urge to write and apologise, generally, to all the loyal souls who stand by me, who I realise may be frustrated and worried. Thank you for being there for me.

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