Survival

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I can’t believe it has almost been a year since I first found out about my mum’s cancer. I couldn’t even bring myself to say the word out loud then because it’s so threatening to even think about. Over the last year she has been through so much, we found out that it was stage 3 and she would need chemotherapy, then surgery and more chemotherapy afterwards. I don’t want to go into all the details because it’s not my place to tell all about her private life, but I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been to endure everything that she has had to. It feels selfish to even discuss my own feelings about things but it was so hard to see what it did to her, physically and mentally. She was still working right up until she got sick and never seemed to be “old” for want of a better term. The illness was so hard on her though and she ended up losing so much weight, her arms were so thin it was difficult to see her in such a state. After the surgery she could hardly walk and had to use a frame to get around, it was painful to see how much it takes out of a person. She had other medical complications too which took a long time to deal with, she almost died from an infection and we had to rush her into hospital for that. All this delayed her surgery, and that didn’t happen until June. Because she was so weak, the follow up chemotherapy had to wait because her body couldn’t tolerate it and so it has taken all the way up until a couple of weeks ago for the final session to be done.

She is so much better now, she’s gained enough weight back to be in a healthy range and after months of not being able to eat properly is practically back to normal. Aside from waiting for her hair to grow back again, she tells me that she feels almost back to normal again and it’s such a relief to say that after thinking how bad things were over this past year.

I remember thinking that I wouldn’t be able to cope trying to do things all by myself, but I did try my best to keep things running while she was ill and just about managed it. I don’t want to complain about things too much because it’s nothing compared to what going through cancer is like.

There is one thing that has been on my mind lately that I can’t really talk to anyone about. It’s a kind of guilt that comes from seeing someone so desperate to try and stay alive, battling every day just to get the most basic things done, often times not able to eat or sleep but so determined to make it. It’s like that complete opposite to my own mentality where more and more I am slipping back into feeling as though there is simply no reason for me to be alive, and I’m just marking time until I don’t have anything holding me back. Literally the only reason for me to be alive is because I don’t want to upset my family, but as I’ve said over and over I don’t know how long that can last. I know there’s nothing good to come to me in life, everything from here on will be a downward slope and I never had any life to speak of before that was worthwhile or fun to look back on. I have no real friends, massive debts, no prospect of a decent job, just wasted time. It’s hard to square that feeling with how desperate most people are to preserve their own life.

I constantly feel guilty for being such a useless son, even though my parents never say or make me feel that way, I know it to be true myself. I’ve tried to find meaning in things, but I know that I will always be alone, there’s nothing to like about me and I have nothing to offer anyone.

I went back into therapy for a while but you only get about 8 sessions and that is barely enough time for me to scratch the surface of explaining my situation. I think it helped a little at the time, but I have gone back to where I started again, if not even further back since it ended.

I don’t know how to stop hating myself because I feel fully justified in doing so and I can’t lie to myself because it makes no sense. It’ll be 12 years soon since I first came to terms with the fact that I had a mental illness and the fact that I am still here, still in this same physical location, unable to escape drains me of any possible hope.

All that really holds me back from trying to end things is that I don’t want to upset my mum after all she has been through. I could never really explain what it’s like to despise myself that much and tell her and the rest of my family that they were wrong to care about me. The honest truth is that nobody who doesn’t have some kind of obligation to care even gives me a second thought. There are only so many years you can go through a joyless life like that, with only guilt anchoring you on this earth.

End of an era

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Wow I’ve been out of the loop for a long time. I guess I haven’t been in much of a writing mood for the past couple of months, perhaps because of all the work I had to do on my dissertation kind of burned me out.

Finishing university was a big event for me. It’s taken me much longer than most people, after my first attempt ended in failure it was probably the start of my mental health beginning it’s lasting impact on my life. That was a very difficult time for me, I was pretty much still in the same place mentally as when I was at school/sixth form. Most of the same people were still around me and I didn’t feel like I could express my true self without being open to further ridicule and I felt trapped being around those people. I’ve written about this at length before so I’ll spare you the details.

The university where I completed my degree (starting 4 years after I left the first one) was in a different city and I made a clean break from the poisonous people who previously made me feel terrible. I won’t lie, it has been a difficult process. Moving away from home was a big deal for me and although I struggled, I am very glad that I did it. The entire process of studying was made even more difficult by my anxiety and depression. It’s hard to explain or expect other people to empathise with how hard it can be to deal with even basic things like making sure you have food to eat. There were many occasions when I would go without meals or sneak out and buy a sandwich or something because I daren’t go into the kitchen when other people were around or I was afraid other people might be there.

I constantly felt like I was swimming against the tide to try and stay on top of the workload especially in my final year where I had to keep regular attendance for certain workshop sessions that involved robotics equipment that I couldn’t do at home (which was my usual standby for missing workshops. I didn’t like the demonstrators or anyone nearby to see my work). This was my second attempt at the final year, remember. I already had a very lucky reprieve after I completely messed up in 2010/11 when I should have finished. There was real pressure to get things right this time and fortunately my depression, which was probably my biggest obstacle in previous years, was not as bad this time and I managed to cope reasonably well.

The problem I gave into so many times before was worrying about a workshop session (in the computer labs) and barely sleeping all night, then waking up and finding it easy to justify missing the class to myself. I’m sure this feeling will be familiar to some of you. I fell into the trap so frequently at college that I ended up only attending 2 classes all semester for one particular module as things began to snowball and my poor attendance weighed on my mind. “He’ll want to know why I wasn’t here the past 2/3/4 weeks” I would think and then rationalise missing the class again. Thankfully I managed to keep this largely in check this year and I only missed one robotics workshop and a small number of other sessions. Overall this year was probably my best attendance.

I feel very lucky that I managed to pull this off when it mattered most really. If you aren’t familiar with the British university system, a bachelor’s degree typically takes 3 years, the first year doesn’t count towards your final degree classification and it’s usually all based on how well you do in your final year by using everything you’ve learned to write a dissertation or create a project (this is a very general description). Everything pretty much rode on how well I could do this year. My second year grades were lacklustre, I scraped a lower second (2:2) so I needed to improve this time.

My final grade was an upper second (2:1) which is the 2nd highest you can get, and although it’s not spectacular I was very pleased that I managed to get here at last after all the troubles I’ve had. It’s been a challenging journey and my anxiety & depression has literally threatened my life at times. The period I spent in hospital, or rather the time recovering from what happened – I don’t remember much of when I was actually there which is quite disconcerting, was a constant struggle and mentally exhausting in itself. I worried that I had done irreparable damage not only to my brain but also to my relationship with my family. I still have issues with the latter but it is a relief that I have not destroyed my mind.

So, good news on the academic front. I hope you’ll allow me a long entry as it has been so long, but quite a lot of things have been going through my head since I last updated.

I had barely finished my last exam when I discovered that my dad had been admitted to hospital for heart problems. My mum had known a couple of days earlier but didn’t want to panic me before my exams which I am thankful for now but I was annoyed at the time. It came as a big shock to me because unlike me, my dad has always been very active and still cycled to work and back 6 miles each way into his sixties and he’s not overweight. He ended up needing an angioplasty to widen the arteries but he has recovered very well since. I went to see him in hospital the day I got back from moving all my stuff home and it was quite difficult to see him like that. He is not an emotional man, though he’s not cold either, he just doesn’t give much away but when my sister and I arrived he had tears in his eyes.

Even though it wasn’t life threatening, it is impossible not to think about death when it comes to hearts. Dealing with the realities of mortality is hard to cope with. Being back at the hospital, the smell and suffocating heat, brought back the vague memories I have of being in there, and the trips we took each day made me think about how difficult it must have been for my family to make similar trips to see me. I was hardly coherent for weeks and I dread to think what must have gone through their heads seeing me like that. It was very hard to see my dad in a vulnerable state and this was compounded by the guilt of what I put everyone through with my own actions.

Things have been relatively quiet since he got to go home (he’s been out a while now, I just didn’t want to write about it before I knew he was better) but recently I have started to feel like some of the old depressive feelings are creeping back. If anyone has been reading this blog for a long time, you’ll remember that my sense of purposelessness was one of the main catalysts for my depression back in the days before and just after my diagnosis with clinical depression and social anxiety.

Back in 2007 I was unemployed and had no real prospects. I didn’t have good enough qualifications to do anything in the computing field that wasn’t helpdesk oriented and after my utterly disastrous time doing that at my first job I had no intention of going back to that. It was the absolute worst time of my entire life, I actually felt worse then than I did when I attempted suicide strange as it may seem. Going back to university gave me a goal and arguably more important to either the pressure I put on myself or I mistakenly ascribed to my mum (I haven’t decided which it is, but it’s probably a combination) it meant I wasn’t “unemployed”. I mean, yes technically I was only working in the holidays but the rest of the time I was doing something useful. This is over now of course and I am back to the same situation.

I’m getting quite tired now, it’s gone 3.30am but I will finish this train of thought tomorrow, I promise. Thank you to anyone that’s still reading and thanks for your comments.

Online Social Networking Harms Health

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From The BBC:

People’s health could be harmed by social networking sites because they reduce levels of face-to-face contact, an expert claims.

…He also says that evidence suggests that a lack of face-to-face networking could alter the way genes work, upset immune responses, hormone levels, the function of arteries, and influence mental performance.

This, he claims, could increase the risk of health problems as serious as cancer, strokes, heart disease, and dementia.

Wonderful. Websites are the only place where I get any kind of “social interaction” with people at all. Since I got back to university on Monday, I’ve said hello to two of my flatmates and asked how they are… and that’s it. Those are the only words I’ve spoken to people this week. If I was planning on being alive long enough for it to affect me, I’d be pretty worried about my physical health if this article has any truth behind it.

I’m not sure how relevant it is for the rest of the population, certainly people who I know of who use things like Facebook don’t seem to have any trouble socialising face-to-face with people. It hasn’t replaced them going out or anything.

I often worry about the mental effects of such long term isolation that I have partly enforced on myself. I can’t really find any relevant information on the internet, but I’m sure it’s unhealthy to be detached from society for so long. I don’t think I will ever feel a part of it even if I lived to be 100. I’ve never felt accepted as part of a group or even considered an “equal” to people who I’m around since I was a child. I’m working on another post about school and how my SA developed at the moment but can’t seem to concentrate very well.

Getting “help”

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I’ve all but given up on making this blog useful, apologies if you came here expecting something helpful.

I had another psychiatrist appointment last week. I faced the dilemma that many people with mental illness have to deal with; whether to say the right things, jump through their metaphorical hoops and and take the easy way out, or whether to face up to the hard task of telling it how it is and facing the consequences of that. Last time I took the first approach, she seemed quite pleased with the progress I was making. In the days leading up to my latest appointment though, I’ve been feeling extremely hopeless and suicidal again. It often seems to disappear as soon as I get the chance to talk to someone about it and I feel like I’m being overly dramatic by bringing it up but this time I was determined to speak the truth about it.

I haven’t been feeling the desperation that I did before, I don’t feel the need to go out there this minute and do it, it’s more of a realisation what my life is going to be like. The horrible truth hangs over me every day, reinforced more and more with every failed social interaction, every rejection, every person staring and laughing. I feel crushing jealousy as I see people with friends, even glancing at groups studying together brings out a great sadness in me. I am totally alone here, and everywhere except in my home. I can no longer see how I’m going to get past the fact that I am hopelessly socially retarded, my appearance scares people and I am incredibly boring. There’s too much to overcome before anyone would even be remotely interested in knowing me, never mind the fact that I’ve already established myself as the weirdo loner here. It could be worse, at least I know a couple of people’s names, but I never dare interrupt their groups to talk to them, even if I could think of something to say.

I managed to tell the psychiatrist that I have been having the thoughts again and then of course I had to talk to the terrifying consultant. He’s incredibly intense, always staring and picks apart everything you say. I already over analyse the way I say every single thing to make sure it’s no misinterpreted but he sends me into overdrive. It can take me 30 seconds to answer a simple question, I get scared he’s going to get angry at what I say, especially after he smashed his fist on the table after I deigned to ask about anti-anxiety medication. The end result of it all was that he didn’t seem to think I was serious about it and just upped my venlafaxine to 225mg and said I’d benefit from one to one psychotherapy. I was referred a couple of months ago but still haven’t heard anything.

I don’t know what to do with myself now. I wish it was possible to transfer a confident person into my situation (of course no normal person would be in this position in the first place) and see what they’d do. I simply have no idea. I could carry on going to lectures, sitting alone and speaking to no-one for practically the entire week. I’m scared of the people my flatmates bring around here, I’ve missed several meals because I’ve been too afraid to leave my room and go into the loud, social atmosphere of the kitchen.

I’m so screwed up, laughter scares me now. If I here a group of people (especially men) laughing it just triggers a fear response inside me. I suppose it’s some kind of Pavlovian response after all the years of mocking and torment but I wish I didn’t feel like it. I don’t have a clue how I’m ever going to be normal*.

* Now I know the usual response to this is that “nobody is normal” or normal people aren’t interesting, but that’s not what I mean. I think most people would agree it is pretty normal to have at least one friend. It’s reasonably normal to be capable of going out somewhere without being crippled by fear of being laughed at and humiliated. I’d love to have someone to talk to, who I didn’t feel like I had to put on a show just to seem like less of a freak to.

I was asked some difficult questions by the consultant; “Have you ever had any close friends?” Not since I was a young child. He asked about when I was about 15; “Lads have mates who they go out and do ‘lad’ things with” he said. Not me. I had people I hung around with in school because I was too scared to leave them (they bullied me as much or worse than the other people) but I never had the slightest desire to spend any more time than absolutely necessary with them. I never saw them outside of school. I’ve been a loner for the vast majority of my life, but that isn’t how I want to be. I’d say the problem is probably made worse by two enormous problems. First, I am not the kind of person people like. I’m no fun to be around, I’m far too quiet and I don’t like drunkenness and parties, I look hideous, I’m probably too arrogant and élitist in my own introverted way. Second, I lack the basic skills that seem to come naturally to other people, probably through trial and error when they were younger and social faux-pas weren’t as heavily punished. I find it incredibly hard to explain just how little I know about how to interact with people, a lot of people think they are “shy” or whatever, but I’ve not come across many as socially maladjusted as me. I know nothing about what people do, I know they don’t spend every waking hour reading or on the computer like me but all I have for reference is what I see on TV and in movies (which I do realise aren’t realistic, by the way). I feel completely out of place as a human adult.

Leaving Home Part 2

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Well I’m sorry it has taken so long to get around to writing this up, as you can imagine I have been extremely busy for the past week and I’m quite drained, both physically and especially mentally. First of all there was the extremely difficult process of moving all my stuff out and the anticipation of what my new home and room mates would be like. Will they like me? What if they make fun of me? Will I be able to manage without my mum?

Saying goodbye was very hard, my mum ended up crying like I expected. I didn’t want her to hang around too long because I know she was going to be upset. Some people’s parents seemed to stay for almost the entire day. After I’d unpacked my stuff, I decided to venture out into the kitchen/common area to meet my other room mates (I’d said hello to a couple of them while unloading the car). It took me a while to psych myself up enough to go in there but I made it. There were loads of people in there, more than the amount who would be in our apartment so I was a bit confused at first since I wasn’t sure who was staying and who wasn’t. I managed to introduce myself and talk a little bit to some of them. I later found out that most people already had friends here, that they had either worked with, known from college or were already friends with. This made me feel a bit sad because I had tried to console myself with the fact that we’d all be in the same boat, i.e. everyone would be on their own and not already have a social group, but this wasn’t the case. Already I was a loner and everyone had got a group of friends.

We all went out together on the first night. It was the first time I’d ever done anything like this, we went to a couple of pubs first which I didn’t mind too much and I managed to chat to them for a little while. Later on when we went to the club though, I just couldn’t stand it. There were too many drunk people and it was so packed, I felt trapped. I stayed for about an hour but when they all went to dance, I couldn’t handle it any more and I had to leave early. I felt so bad for running out on them like that but there was no way I could handle it any more and I didn’t fancy standing about on my own at the side all night long. I ended up leaving them a note explaining that I get panicked in situations like that and why I can’t drink etc. Maybe it was a bad idea, but I didn’t know what else to do.

The next day, no-one was mean to me about it so I guess they understood or at least didn’t hold it against me. They asked me to come to dinner with them which I did and had a good time, felt much better after that. I didn’t go to town with them afterwards though, I think they realise that I am not into clubs and stuff now.

All in all, I think I have been very lucky to be put with this group, they all seem to be nice and even though they are all very confident and outgoing, I have managed to talk to them a little bit and I think we get on alright. I find it much easier to speak to people individually rather than in a group, it’s so intimidating being with a bunch of such loud people.

I think that overall I am coping ok so far. The course starts properly on Monday which I’m looking forward too, the introductory lectures I’ve had so far have been interesting and the course sounds really good. The lecturers are very enthusiastic and involved which is a refreshing change from college where they didn’t bother to turn up a lot of the time.

I wanted to let people know how I’m getting on so far. I’m actually at home for the weekend at the moment so I am a bit more relaxed and should hopefully be able to write a bit more later on. Thanks everyone for all the encouragement and support 🙂

Changes

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I have a very vivid memory about a lot of aspects of my life, maybe because I have so few life experiences. When I think back, every major change has led to me becoming more unhappy and some other emotion I can’t quite describe. A lot of people hate school or their job but most seem to settle into it; I never have and I always feel an intense desire to be away from those kind of situations. I don’t know if it’s a fear of being trapped or something…

From the first time I went to preschool, when I started school and high school and finally university (the first time I tried..) and work I have always feared the change and always had those fears become “justified”. I can’t help but feel the same thing will happen to me again when I go to uni tomorrow. Reading comments between 2 of my future flatmates has already made me feel uneasy since they seem so alike and I can tell they will more than likely get on well. They are exactly as I had pictured everyone that I will meet at university, there is no way they will like me or want anything to do with me. I think I can handle that but if they dislike me so much that they start to make horrible comments and jokes about me then I don’t thank I will be able to cope.

My mum wanted to spend the evening with me today (she usually goes to her boyfriends house on Saturday nights) I don’t know whether it was wholly to spend some time with me before I go or whether a part of her wanted to check up on me and make sure I didn’t do anything “stupid”. Those fears will not have been unfounded though, I have thoughts of running out and jumping off that bridge going around my head. I’ve managed to get myself into an impossible situation; if I tell anyone, then I won’t be able to go to university and they’ll keep me here. I can’t live with that either so it leaves me with 2 choices: try to bury the fears and suicidal ideas and go to uni pretending everything is fine or sneak out and do it without telling anyone.  If I can’t sleep tonight, I hope for my family’s sake that I can keep these urges under control.

How I got on

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The appointment was surprisingly short, I spent most of the time there sitting around in a tiny waiting room trying to avoid catching peoples eye. The first doctor I saw was a junior psychiatrist, she asked me the usual questions that I’ve been asked many times before about my anxiety symptoms etc. I asked about diazepam but nothing came of it unfortunately. After talking about my suicidal feelings, she decided to discuss with the consultant and then asked me to come and talk to him. He was very intimidating, I felt like I was being interrogated. This just made me anxiety worse, I stumbled over words and my mind went blank several times but I think I managed to get my point across. There was a particularly painful moment when he asked if I had any close friends or girlfriend, to which I answered truthfully; no, and then he asked “Why not?”. My mind was overcome with all the hatred I have for myself and if I wasn’t so tongue tied with anxiety, I could probably have spent half an hour listing the many reasons why not. Eventually though I had to settle with “probably because I am so weird” which led to further questioning about why I think that, and of course why I think that I look weird which I couldn’t answer because I felt tears coming to my eyes. Thankfully he stopped the interrogation at that point and asked me to wait outside while he talked to the original doctor.

I went back to see her and apparently they are concerned about me, maybe it was the way I answered their questions because I was not feeling actively suicidal like I was the last time I saw my MHP who just sent me on my merry way. The outcome of it all is that I have got to have someone from the crisis team visit me at home today, which I didn’t really want but I couldn’t bring myself to argue with them about that. They also changed my medication to venlafaxine, an SNRI so hopefully that might make a slight difference though I am not expecting miracles.

I had hoped that I could relax slightly after the appointment was done but now I have to worry about this person coming round. Of course I had to tell my mum, but I didn’t say why they were coming exactly because I don’t want her to know how close I was to killing myself. She’s now gone on a mad cleaning spree that usually happens whenever we are expecting visitors. I just hope that she will give me some privacy because I don’t want her listening to me talk about such personal and potential hurtful things.