On Being Valued

As I said to a friend earlier today, in an email, “I’ve had a very trying weekend.” I couldn’t even really write about it, except in an elliptical way — I used the analogy of escaping my family being like escaping 9/11. Probably, to someone who has escaped 9/11, my comparison would be an affront.

The reason I made my comparison was due to The Examined Life, by Stephen Grosz. Grosz draws on 9/11 as an example of how people resist change. During the bombing of the twin towers, a fire alarm was sounding, but some of the people in their offices carried on like there was no emergency. A bit like we do sometimes if a fire alarm sounds — I know I have. People went into meetings, they died. One woman left, but returned for her baby photos. She died as well.

Anyway, in my own life the emergency has passed. I didn’t die. But now I’m well, so perhaps I’m in a new place and can ‘be there’ for my little brother who, without my knowledge, has been struggling — seriously struggling — with his mental health.

I’ve been in a terrible panic all weekend. I love my little brother inordinately. I missed him in the past year and a half that I blocked him out of my life. He’s a sweetie, and the bad that went down between us, I never blamed him for it. Even though I considered him to be very seriously in the wrong.

I had actually contacted him before all this trouble, to ask how he was, but received no reply. I hadn’t really worried too much over his silence. I didn’t draw any conclusions, least of all that he was in trouble. I’ve always considered him to be someone that was coping and functioning well. I thought he was fine. But on Friday I heard some very troubling news from my late mother’s ex.

Today I got further news — I’m not to worry. I have a Care Co-Ordinator, and she has some information on the situation. Obviously, she couldn’t tell me anything, but she said, “I’ll say the same thing that I told Lucky — no news is good news.” I said, “Oh that’s good to know. I won’t have to worry so much now.” She said, “You don’t have to worry at all.” What a relief that was. Someone who actually knows what she is talking about (Samba is under the care of the community team). I had been feeling so helpless, so shut out and guilty.

It’s very hard for me to write about my family. There’s an element of feeling protective over their private lives, I think. It would feel wrong to publish details about Samba’s situation. (Samba is my step-brother and Lucky is my father in law). But I think it’s more than that; it’s just material I resist. I think that, for someone that has always used writing to cope, this is a little bit strange.

When I was in London, studying novel writing at City Lit, I had a teacher called Stephen Thompson — a black British man. I really enjoyed his classes, far more so than any other class I did there. He structured the teaching very well. I was able to express myself and experiment. He was encouraging, but measured. He said what he thought. He was one of the few, if any, people I ever got on with at that institution. We follow each other on Twitter and pass the time of day occasionally. Not too long ago he got a BAFTA for his first film about his brother’s experiences with the British government — the Windrush scandal. The drama is called Sitting in Limbo.

The reason I am bringing all this up is that Stephen actually told me I should try alternative material to that which I had been pursuing. He said I should write about my family life. Something I had really never considered, except to mention when I was covering other, more important material. Stephen knew that my family was a multi-cultural one. In the years since I met him I have mulled over this suggestion of his. It’s a challenging, unexpected, idea. I don’t think I would know what to say about it.

I’m a Londoner, and I grew up in multi-cultural south London. Recently, watching the Steve McQueen series Small Axe, I realised that the whole thing reminded me of home. Of course, south London is home for me. But it was everything about it; the Black British accents, the clothes, the stories, the music, the landscape: black culture was home. This was especially true of ‘Alex Wheatle’. In fact I had followed Alex Wheatle AKA ‘Brixton Bard’ on Twitter before the film came out. I followed him because I recognised him from when Brixton was my manor.

One of the things I miss about living in London is it’s multi-culture, specifically black British culture. The black British feel like home. Maybe they are, inasmuch as my family, some of them, are black British (or Welsh).

I think this crisis of my brother’s that has been affecting me, hopefully it will turn into and opportunity. An opportunity for him to get support beyond the family and community circle here. It’s one of the things that has helped me the most. People that have nothing to do with my mother and all of her life that has been handed down both to Samba and me. I hope that we can repair our relationship and I can be there for him in future. That he will give me a chance to make amends for not being there for him when I was unwell. I don’t know what will happen, but I would like to be there for him.

One of the things I felt about Sitting in Limbo, Stephen’s story about the horrific ordeal his family had to endure, especially his brother, was that it showed the towering strength of a loving family. That is what had kept his brother from, probably dying. The spectre of structural racism in Britain is truly despicable. It makes me sick to my bones. Being anti racist is something I feel really passionate about. I think that is why Stephen and I got on, he saw that in me. That makes me feel grateful. Like I have something going for myself —I am an anti-racist (a self-diagnosis).

I’m glad that Lucky shared his worries with me. I’m glad I broke the silence I had imposed on Lucky and Samba. I think Lucky understands that I love my brother. I was seen, by Lucky, and I really value that. Isn’t that what we all want? To be and feel valued? To be seen for who we are, needed and appreciated? These things are the true riches.

So now I have written about my family.

Escaping the War Zone?

I’ve been struggling to put pen to paper the past couple of days because I feel so overwhelmed. Of course, like calling a friend when distressed, this is exactly when I should write.

I had the most thrilling time on Friday morning. A friend had a spare ticket for a boat trip around the shores of a local bay. It’s something I had been wanting to do for an age, but had put it off because it’s quite a pricey adventure. We saw seals poking their curious heads out of the water, as our boat turned off its engine amidst some mighty cliff edges. We didn’t see any dolphin’s but it really was a magical experience. We also sat right at the front of the boat, which we had been told would be the most like being on a rollercoaster. It was the most fun I have had in ages.

My friend dropped me off in town, and as I walked home, still in the throes of my endorphin high, I ran into my late mother’s ex. Here is where narrating the story gets tricky. It’s so long-winded, so Labyrinthine. But it’s about as relevant to the subject of my mental health as it’s possible to imagine.

I haven’t spoken with my late mother’s ex in a year and a half. Nor have I spoken to my step brother. A while ago I read a book by a therapist. I can’t for the life of me remember what it was called, but it was brilliant. It was a bestseller. You might have read it.

Basically the therapist, (I think he’s American and Jewish), tells a number of stories, stories that may be loosely based on clients he has seen, or may not be (I can’t remember), but each story is there to illustrate a psychological, or psychoanalytic truth. Susie Orbach has also written a book in this genre called The Impossibility of Sex. But Orbach’s book wasn’t quite so much of a bestseller as this book I can’t recall the title of, but was brilliant as well. Perhaps not quite a brilliant though (much as I am a fan of Orbach).

Actually, as an aside, a professor I had an affair with this time last year, who is pretty famous himself and friends with Orbach, he told me that both himself and Orbach were rather jealous of this author I’m taking about, and his book. Because it is quite simply so good, and so popular as well. Anyway, I digress.

One of the stories is about what happened to some of the people who found themselves in the devastating position of being in the Twin Towers on 9/11. It was a story about survival, that I never forgot.

The people that survived the demolition of the buildings versus those that did not. Obviously, some of the people were never included in this parable, because they simply had no chance of survival. But there were a lot of people, that had the option (apparently, I have not read anything else about this topic) of leaving the building (maybe they didn’t really realise what was going on) or not leaving the building and of waiting around to see what happened.

Some people looked to see what their colleagues were doing, and not seeing them running for their lives, they too hung about. Maybe they called the fire services. Maybe they waited for fire marshals. I mean, it was an entirely unprecedented situation. They didn’t know what had happen on the floors above — how could they? It was hard to compute watching the horror unfold on the news: what on earth was going on?

Of course, it being that time of year again, one is reminded again of the horror of that day.

So, our mysterious author, said that the survival of the survivable people stuck in that building depended on their ability to recognise that they were faced with a life and death emergency, and had to get out of the burning building fast. The people who didn’t respond with their own instincts, were looking around and copying their colleagues. And they died.

That’s the gist of the parable as I recall it. It was about listening to the emergency warning flashing lights, the invisible ones, as they happen. If something inside you is saying — run. Listen. Run. Even if you are unsure you have it quite right.

This is what happened with me and my family. I realised that if I didn’t run away from them, leave my mother’s house in both the literal and the metaphorical sense, I was going to pay with my life. There was no map in front of me, nor any signpost. — the grim reaper is down there — but I knew. It would have been so easy to rationalise my way out of the corner I found myself in. I had been doing that my whole life. But I didn’t, and I survived.

On Friday afternoon one of the actors in this drama approached me in the street. Someone I haven’t had anything to do with in the year and a half since I escaped the burning building of my family. When I walked away from that conversation, and since, I felt like I had been bombed. My head has been spinning all weekend. It’s been truly terrible.

I could recount the conversation. I could recite the drama of it all; the people being hurt and hurting themselves. But I honestly don’t have the energy. In a way, I wish I hadn’t walked back into the war zone. In another way I see I wasn’t really given too much choice, and I didn’t realise the information that was about to be relayed to me. The story I have been told by my late mother’s ex has thrust me back into the epicentre of the fiery furnace .

It’s amazing what can happen when you let down your guard — even for a few seconds, or minutes. That’s all it can take for a sense of your own world, your own reality, to come crashing down around you.

It makes me wonder how I ever survived my family. How I was lucky enough to escape the burning building others were not, are not, lucky enough to escape. Maybe it’s because I read those psychological books. Searching for a map. Trying to escape.

Exercise

I’ve been getting into Malcolm Gladwell talks on YouTube. I’ve tried reading his books in the past, but always lost interest after the first few pages. He’s got a great mind, displays curiosity and humour and comes across as a nice person. And hasn’t he got lovely eyes!

I think one of the aspects of Gladwell that draws me in is that he’s a sporty thinker. It’s surprises me that I find that interesting, but I do. I’ve never been exactly sporty, but I’ve always been into some kind of exercise: Swimming mainly. But I always felt that exercise wasn’t really cool or interesting. I wasn’t supposed to be into physical stuff. No prizes for guessing that this was due to the environmental influence of my care-givers.

It was when my depression and OCD and alcoholism had really brought me to my knees, when I was nineteen, that I turned to swimming as a form of release. It made me feel better when my self medications had stopped working (booze and cigarettes). But then I got into recovery of various sorts — therapy and AA — and again I heard that exercise was somehow a bit risky. That, for example, one (I) shouldn’t ‘look’ to anything apart from the twelve steps for ‘the solution’. It wouldn’t ‘work’.

Now, I’m not suggesting that this was exactly what was being promoted because at least two of my sponsors recommended exercise. But somehow or other this is what I took on, as an attitude. It’s what I heard. I was thinking today, listening to Malcom Gladwell’s podcast: Revisionist History, that I really regret not taking up some form of exercise as a central feature of my life. Yoga, for example. I think I would have been a lot happier if I had. But I burned with a desire to write or make art, and that didn’t really leave room for other considerations.

Obviously, it’s not too late; I’m not dead, or in a wheelchair, but I don’t think I could muster up a vocation as a yoga teacher at this point. To me, that does seem unrealistic. Then again, maybe I’m just at that time in life where a person is prone, with the important benefit of hindsight (we never have at the time) to regretting the paths not taken.

Noise + A Life Beyond My Wildest Dreams?

I was reading a Bipolar blog on the WordPress site the other day. It had a list of issues to be aware of that can trigger people with Bipolar. Top of the list, I was somewhat surprised to see, was ‘Noise’.

This rang a bell with me. Lately I seem to be more sensitive to the ambient noise of my surroundings and it’s been really driving me nuts. I was trying to work out why this suddenly seems to be an issue. The only thing I could come up with is that I’ve been spending more time in my flat.

It starts in the morning with the woman upstairs getting up to go to work. Every morning I hear loud thudding and banging. It’s horrible being woken up by this sound first thing. It’s not nice to wake up angry every morning. Then, after she’s gone out, the woman in the shop below my flat starts playing cheery ‘Ratpack’ tunes. Sometimes the same songs over and over.

I’ve been repeatedly complaining to these two older middle-aged women about the disturbance, and how it’s effecting me. Even threatening to move out if there is no improvement. I figured that these women probably don’t like change; who knows who would move in if I leave. They seemed quite pleased when I moved in, “Ooh, good,” The woman in the shop said. “A woman!” But my strategy does not seem to have paid off. After issuing my complaints the volume lowers for a couple of days, and then they seem to forget, or not worry anymore, and we’re back to the same old blood-curdling tunes and herd of elephants above me. And I’m finding it increasingly difficult to deal with my anger and irritation.

I get angry because having to listen to someone else’s music is really horrible. I feel completely invaded and intruded upon, and then have to deal with the hatred I feel for my neighbour. Sometimes, after she leaves, either for lunch, or at the end of the day, I still have her tunes ringing in my head! I would really like to move out, but just can’t afford all that upheaval at the moment; both financially and emotionally.

FEELING LESS DEPRESSED

I went for a run along the nature reserve yesterday. I keep reading about the mental health benefits of exercise and being in nature. A constant reminder about what I’m failing to do in terms of self care. Yesterday, with the music from downstairs assailing my senses, I decided to get out the house and do a jog/walk.

To say I went “running” would be an exaggeration. I’m definetly a lot less fit than I was. I had to continually slow down to a walk, but by the end of my 30 minute stretch along the river, I was feeling quite pleased with myself. I’ve decided to try and aim for an every other day routine. Get those endorphins whirring round my system.

I try to write about stuff that’s on my mind here in my blog. This is the same principle I used to exercise when I kept a diary. This is another tool that I was reading about in Catherine Day’s The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober. Apparently there is research to support the claim that writing a journal is good for your health. I’ve always experienced this. I do get overwhelmed by my thoughts and feelings, and I find that having a space to air these, gives me a bit of clarity I wouldn’t have if I left my thoughts buzzing inside my head. But I never realised there was scientific research confirming the health benefits of journaling.

There was also a lot about the value of being grateful. But I knew about the studies that show how writing down things you’re grateful for improves mood. This strategy aims to harpoon the tendency I think a lot of people have; that of comparing our lives with people we think have it a lot better than us.

When I woke up today I found myself thinking about my last AA sponsor, over my morning tea. “A” had just the sort of life I wanted for myself: huge house, three kids, successful actor husband, she was a long time sober, my age, lots of friends and sponsee’s. This morning I was thinking about her beautiful life, comparing my lot with hers, and wondering — what went wrong?

I didn’t write a gratitude list, but thought: maybe I should write on it. Maybe I was thinking about her because I went to my weekly AA meeting last night and talked about the last time I went through the twelve steps. A sponsored me through this process. She was a nice woman, could be nice, but she could also be quite unkind and difficult. For example, she didn’t like it if I asked her questions. My feeling was she thought I was challenging her authority for the sake of being difficult. She was incredibly bossy; she was of the view that an AA sponsee should do exactly what their sponsor tells them to do, like hers a sort of adjunct brain. I guess we quite quickly came into conflict about her way of working.

Working through the twelve steps with A wasn’t always a good experience. It was a bit of an ordeal. Afterwards, I swore I would never get another sponsor, or work through the steps again. A promise to myself I’ve kept. I’ve had a lot of experiences my sponsor hadn’t. I never really felt understood by her. The main thing I felt, after completing the steps with her, was profound relief the ordeal was over. Probably she thought I was a pain in the arse; she often hinted that she thought I was “entitled”. But she could also be supportive and kind. I suppose that at the end of the day we were just too different for our relationship to weather the storms. Sometimes I feel sad about that.

I’d asked her for help after one of my cataclysmic Bipolar episodes. My third hospitalisation, which completely floored me and left me very unpopular. I ended up wrestling with a number of police in my flat after someone in AA called the police because the local AA crew had bandied together following my erratic behaviour. I hadn’t drank any booze, but ended up getting this sponsor because I felt so utterly wrecked. In a way, looking back on it, we worked through the steps on my Bipolar, not my alcoholism.

I often wonder if this was a good idea. Pretty soon I stopped taking my meds again — my relapse was obviously (I thought) a case of ‘dry drunkenness’ and I would be fine now that I was doing all the right AA things again. Had I just accepted I am not like other alcoholics because I have this medical diagnosis, I might have saved myself a lot of trouble. A few years later I ended up trying to take my own life, and nearly succeeded. But I just have to accept that I obviously wasn’t ready to accept my Bipolar, to believe I absolutely have to take meds.

When I go to an AA meeting and hear people share that they had this diagnosis, and that diagnosis, and the steps were enough for them, I find myself feeling like maybe I failed in some way. Maybe I just didn’t work the steps hard enough. Were I an obedient alcoholic I would have been okay. I feel conflicted. It’s hard for me to assert my experience as different, and equally valid. I guess I have a bit of an inferiority complex. That means going to an AA meeting is often a bit of an ordeal for me. I don’t particular enjoy it and am relieved when I can go home again and get away from all these grateful alcoholics going on about how the steps have changed their lives. Maybe one day it will get easier, but I’m not holding my breathe. I keep going because there is no way I want to start drinking again, that is definetly not the answer.

I’m not really sure how to round up today’s enquiry into my inner world. Am I still jealous of my ex sponsor? I guess I am if I’m really honest. I’m never going to have a life like hers. But I can be grateful for the things I do enjoy today: reading, writing, exercise, watching TV. That I have a stability now that I never had before, both in AA and because of the support I am lucky to get with my mental health problems. Here in Wales the resources for someone living with my condition are a lot better than in London. The AA community is also a nice group of people, in the main. If I suddenly stopped attending my local meeting I know I would be missed, and I think they do accept me as I am. Maybe everything is now how it should have been all along; I am in recovery finally, after years and years of failed attempts. I think that is something I can feel grateful for even though I don’t have that life beyond my wildest dreams, though working the steps we so often hear about. And I am grateful to be sober and stable.

FOMA + BIPOLAR CHAT

It’s a beautiful, hot, sunny day here in west Wales. I’d like to be swimming in the sea today, I must admit. I live about twenty minutes away by bicycle, but don’t fancy a solo swim.

Earlier today I actually had coffee with someone else: my ex. I saw him walking down the street and invited him to join me as I was on my way to the coffee place I go to every morning. Maybe this is an example of the power of prayer, as I was praying for his health wealth and happiness a couple of days ago.

My ex also has Bipolar, and we had a chat, as fellow sufferers. I told him that when we met he was probably further along in his acceptance of the illness. We both agreed that his long spells in hospital had hit him hard. For myself, I never had more than a week in hospital, generally speaking. This made it easier for me to brush myself down and carry on as though nothing much had happened. My ex also lost a marriage. He lived in a small town and so everyone knew what he’d been through. I lived in London without anyone that close, so again it was easier for me to brush the whole thing under the carpet.

My ex has been volunteering for a mental health organisation. It’s led to some paid work giving talks to the emergency services and serving on interview panels for NHS jobs. He encouraged me to do the same — maybe I too have something to offer as someone recovering from this formidable illness.

We both agreed that our first hospitalisations were the hardest to deal with. I was anyway thinking about writing about that topic today, as I was reflecting that it really is time to stop wallowing in the loss over my relationship!

I’ve never found the police all that sympathetic when my illness has caused me to be sectioned by them. The police were involved in four of my five sections. Easily one of the more troubling parts of getting ill. It made me feel like I was a criminal for having Bipolar. I dread to think what this must feel like for people that are in an ethnic minority — truly horrible I would imagine.

It certainly was confusing to end up hospitalised when I had been hypomanic, thinking I was having the time of my life. I did think that, but at the same time my high had been laced with a formidable paranoia. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. I barely spoke to anyone for an entire summer. Eventually I ended up being dragged into a police van stationed outside my block of flats, by four policemen. Because I was pretending to be dead one of them said: “It would be easier if she was dead.”

The psychiatrist was very nice. They visited me at home after I had been discharged and tried to explain that I had had a “manic episode” but I honestly didn’t understand that at all. My mania just continued at a lower level; with the false ideas about spiritual revelation, and finding out about the true nature of the universe. I just couldn’t see or accept that I had been ill. I didn’t understand. It’s taken me many trips to the hospital, as well as a stint working in a psychiatric hospital myself, to get to grips with having manic depression.

I wasn’t actually sectioned the first I landed up in hospital, except by the police for causing a commotion. That means the doctors didn’t make me take meds. I ended up running away from the hospital and getting into all kinds of trouble. I would certainly have been better off if I had been sectioned and forcibly medicated. I lost everything. Relationships, college, a sense of being alright in the world.

Since that first bout of illness, I don’t think I’d ever been released from the hamster wheel of mania + depression, until now. This I is because I have a good balance of meds: anti-depressant + mood stabiliser. It’s pretty horrible when the only relief from depression is mania and vice versa.

The depression I had to contend with after my mania was nothing like the depression I was diagnosed with before my first hypo manic episode, because I had so much shame about the trouble I had caused when I was manic. I couldn’t even blame the booze, as I had always been able to do previously, because I was ‘sober.’ This meant that I could no longer relate to people in AA, as I had always been able to do in the past. Everything felt overwhelmingly confusing and complicated. And I could never really see that I needed medication because I didn’t really understand or accept that I had been ill. Plus, it took quite a bit more mayhem before I was diagnosed with Bipolar type 2. They don’t give out that label as a matter of course. In my experience it takes a lot.

Anyway, I’m happy to report that my days of denial and confusion are behind me. I understand that I am not simply an alcoholic. Therefore the twelve steps are not enough for me to get well. I think this is one of the reasons I have found it so hard to get over my ex — he was one of the first people I could really relate to. And he wasn’t even an alcoholic. This helped me understand what is really wrong.

It’s been a good part of my recovery writing this blog and reading about others with the Bipolar condition on the WordPress site. It’s nice to see people supporting each other and creating community, especially given that the internet has a reputation for being such a divisive and corrupt environment. Long may it continue! My ex says that the volunteer community will also think my blog is a good thing. I had to inwardly small about this, wondering what he would think if he knew I write about him such a lot! Luckily he didn’t seem to want to know the address, as I’m not sure how he would feel if he knew. Anyway, he would probably understand, being a fellow sufferer.

Freedoms

MORE ON LETTING GO

I’m still struggling to get over my ex. I still scan the street for his car whenever I go out the front door. I used to see him all the time on the high street, when he lived in town. These sightings are less frequent now. But not seeing him does make things a bit easier. On Friday, when he got in touch, he told me the village he now lives in is a “Goldfish bowl.” Then again, he used to say that about our town.

On top of the fact that I’m hanging a difficulty letting go, I’m also down on myself about my state of mind. I keep throwing up my hands in despair — not this again. It was bad enough when I was seeing him. Can’t I appreciate the freedom from my stress?

I do appreciate it. But my mind continues to not catch up with reality. I’m haunted, and I don’t believe in ghosts. Memories. Memories. Memories: His ghostly self walking up to the street towards me; trips to the beach, driving about in his black Seat,my phone constantly pinging with his messages, the gifts he bought me. I’ll remember our first coffee; how I couldn’t believe how much we had in common. Even Bipolar disorder.

Today, on the walk to the shop, I was going over the things I could have done differently. It could have worked out: I should have been less clingy, more busy, less jealous; I ought to have been cool; If only I’d caused less drama; tried harder to set boundaries. I was feeling frustrated with myself. Then I thought about the AA take on such situations — God’s will. I tried praying, even though I don’t believe in God: “Dear God, please take away these thoughts about T.”

That didn’t work, just as I suspected. Then I got a different idea, and started to pray to I don’t know what, but for him: “Dear Higher Self, please make sure T is happy today. Give him fulfilling work, help him to enjoy being a father. Help him to set boundaries with his horrible family. Let home create a nice home for himself. Allow him to feel at peace. Give him the strength to take regular exercise.”

Remarkably my mood changed. I felt free of my obsession. I was able to do something. I didn’t feel stuck. The one track record in my brain altered course. Next I imagined ‘sharing’ at my local meeting tomorrow night: “Praying works!” I’d announce. Then I remembered that in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous it does specify that we should not pray for ourselves only. That we should pray for “Knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry it out.” Well, I didn’t pray for that, but in praying for T, I managed to side-step my self-centredness and actually feel like I was doing something for him. I used to enjoy doing things for him. Having someone to care about.

BIPOLAR SPENDING SPREES

A couple of days ago I was writing about spending and trying to resist getting myself some expensive sunglasses. Today I had a brainwave and went into the local pharmacy and bought myself some £20 aviator sunglasses. They look OK, and don’t constantly slip done my nose. Also, I realised I don’t like wearing expensive sunglasses. They make me feel stupid, like a poseur, because I’m poor. If I were rich, fine, wear Chanel sunglasses. Otherwise, just don’t. Guilt is not a nice feeling and should be avoided where possible.

Money in the Bank

I got a text from my ex yesterday. It’s the first time he’s texted, or contacted me, in a while. Usually, I do the reaching out: asking him how he is, does he want to go to the beach, fancy a coffee, etc. But then I got tired of that. Especially since he ejected me from our last al fresco cuppa. Especially since he said the make of his new phone was a private matter. I also came off Facebook, after watching The Social Dilemma, on Netfix. So the contact between us was zilch.

I was wondering if he would notice that I’d ‘gone’, and whether he’d miss me. So when I did get that text yesterday, late afternoon, I must admit, I got quite a rush. I seem to be incapable of being indifferent to him. It’s the first time I’ve ever remained friends with an ex, and our relationship was my first in a long time. Before him, I’d never managed to land someone I really wanted to be with.

I waited a couple of hours before returning his message. This is not how I usually do things. Eventually I did respond and kept things light and chatty. He rounded off our chit chat with, “Glad you are OK.” No request to see him. Nothing further. Still, his reaching out, asking me how I am for once, ignited some latent hope that our relationship does mean something to him after all.

Trying to get off to sleep last night I was practically hallucinating giving him a goodnight cuddle. Nonetheless I had managed our interaction well. I didn’t give him any opportunity to reject me again, which seems to be something he likes to do, or at least tends to do. I didn’t ask to meet up, I didn’t try and extend our natter. I kept it cool — very unlike me.

I’ve felt a bit high today, more buoyant than usual. I drank my coffee, walked up to the shop, got my daily bread. The sun was shining. Strangers were smiling and being friendly. I noted that I’ve lost a few pounds, post anti-psychotic/lockdown spread. My depression felt on the wane. And that was when I started to think about spending money.

It was my sunglasses that set me off. They kept slipping down my nose and obscuring the view. “You need some new sunnies,” I told myself. I started to imagine blasting a hundred pounds on a new pair of Ray Bans, or the like. “If you’re going to spend that much,” I intoned, “You better buy that green cord skirt in Toast instead.” So it went on.

I’ve been feeling really good about myself because for the first time ever I’ve managed to put some money by. Not having male to worry about has certainly helped with the saving money project. It’s not even going out with someone that makes me buy clothes I can’t afford. Just the prospect of an occasion to wear a dress, say, will trigger a spending spree. I’ve wasted so much money on clothes over the years it honestly doesn’t bear thinking about. I couldn’t help but notice that this compulsion had reared it’s ugly head after this short unexpected interaction with T yesterday. But why?

Do I now feel some kind of lack? Is there some emptiness I need to fill? Thinking it over, writing about it today, it’s more likely that it’s this feeling of being a bit higher than I have been feeling. Feeling high = spending. A bit of mania. But spending money is guaranteed to bring me down. Perhaps that is the point? It’s an unconscious impulse to mess things up a bit. To crank up the adrenalin by feeling out of control; trying to exert some control (paradoxically). Make myself return to that familiar feeling of being in need of support. Of emptiness.

I’ve been like this all my life. Or certainly since my mania began in my twenties, when I had access to funds to blow on designer clothes. I am one of those Bipolar types that really spends on ridiculous stuff. Stuff that is way out of my league.

The fact of the matter is that if I blow my meagre savings I am going to feel very bad about myself. Being on state benefits means that my income can be removed at any time. I don’t have people in my life who can help me out if I suddenly have to move and scrape together money for a deposit for a new place. When they stop disability benefits people often find themselves without funds for at least two months. How would I pay the rent? I can forget popping into my local coffee shop for a drink of a morning. I’ll be visiting the food bank. Do I really want to put myself under the stress of all that? Do I want to live in a constant state of anxiety?

Actually the worry is the worst aspect of living on benefits and not being able to pay my way. Constantly waiting for the letter reappraising my entitlement. The gruesome business of having to fill in all those forms again and rehash my mental health problems to a complete stranger, and someone suspicious, who isn’t on my side. It’s a horrible feeling.

I don’t want to live in a state of emergency any more. I think my medication, accepting I need it, is helping me to act more responsibly. Hence the actual money in my bank. But somewhere deep down I’m like that gambler who isn’t content unless they’re losing. Money burns a hole in my pocket. Well, it always did in the past. That is almost certainly why I have almost nothing material to speak of. Just a whole heap of books. I don’t even have that many clothes, which never really makes sense to me.

This too shall pass. Everything passes. This is one of the positive aspects of ageing. The certain knowledge that however difficult any given day may seem, it always passes. This is especially useful when someone has upset me, and I feel mortally wounded, as I am inclined to. Feeling stung will always diminish in a day or two. I guess I’m also able to console myself a bit more.

Last night I realised that I will always have those memories of loving T. I have that in the bank. The bank that matters in this life. The love that I always wanted to accrue, even if, like everything else in this life, it eventually passed leaving me feeling bereft.

Thoughts of a Literary Superstar

I’m rather taken with the idea of a literary superstar writing an undercover blog. A thought I had yesterday after reading the Guardian interview with Sally Rooney, of Conversations With Friends and Normal People fame.

As reported, Rooney suffers the afflictions of literary superstardom, and doesn’t like them, for various reasons: trolls, the expectations of other’s, unwarranted criticism, etc. For myself, I’d be happy to suffer in return for the readers, talent and spare cash. Think of all the clothes I could buy, and she does look well dressed. I’d certainly welcome the adulation, in return for the social stigma of being a middle-aged women on benefits, with multiple sections under the mental health act under her belt. But I won’t emulate her because I’m no good at novels, and it’s too late, as well as impossible, to be young again.

Apparently, she had no intention of writing a novel, it just ‘happened’. I think this is probably the best way in life. I now believe that trying to hard can in fact preclude a success. I read this in Geoff Dyer yesterday too: “It was touch and go [a game of ping pong] but I lost because I wanted to win so badly I was destined to loose.” This is from his literary travelogue: Yoga For People Who Can’t Be bothered To Do It, which is a good read.

Yes, I think I would relish being a literary superstar, who wrote an undercover blog just to see what happened. Would my talent shine through? Would I have a line of editors requesting column’s in the dailies? Readers galore? Or is success more of a case of luck, of being in the right place at the right time? Are there many people, unpublished, with all the talent of Rooney but none of her luck? I don’t know the answer obviously, but I quite like today’s blog post title as a new heading. And it’s the only one I thought up myself, rather than appropriating from some other context — I Am A Cloud is borrowed from Alan Watts. Thinking of oneself as a cloud is meant to signify the idea that life is just being — like a cloud. That there are no mistakes. A hard thought to get ones head around, I know, but appealing nonetheless.

This notion — that one can try too hard and thus ensure failure works for me in terms of my lifelong quest to find my soul mate. I was reflecting earlier on today that had I not been looking for my soul mate — that one person to make me complete — I might actually have found a suitable partner. I might have a family of my own now, something I really wanted and feel sad that I don’t have. But I just wanted it so much that every time I felt like I had found them, it didn’t work. I went with an idea in my head instead of noticing reality! Usually, they liked me as a friend, but that was all.

The other wrong thing with my quest was that it was a bit of a cliche. This was printed out to me in a writing class when I tried to write stories about my misadventures. Life is actually, in and of itself, a whole lot more interesting than this stupid fixation I was possessed with. Real life with real people.

I think that a large part of the reason I was convinced that finding my soul mate was the answer was because I didn’t have love or a family life as a child. I wasn’t held, mirrored or allowed to flourish. That meant that I had no real sense of self and what I might enjoy or be good at. With that gaping hole inside me I felt this need of an other to give me a sense of purpose and identity. To have an idealised family unit, at last. Well, now I realise the whole thing was just a dysfunctional fiction, at least I am free of it. My freedom has also arrived at a time in my life when my Bipolar disorder is under control for the first time — with medication and sobriety. Because of this, I am apt to think that my mission was a symptom of my illness. A delusion. I could say a lot more about the negative consequences of my delusion, which were extreme and awful, but I can’t really be bothered. Suffice it to say that every potential soul mate discovery heralded a catastrophe of quite monstrous proportions. And I made a lot of enemies into the bargain. How much better off I would have been to have had a quest to be a novelist all my life. But that was part of the problem the soul mate fantasy fixed — it gave me purpose.

Anyway. I still wrote a lot because all those soul mates were usually writers of one sort or another. Or talented storytellers. Thus mirroring my true objective.

In other news, after reading Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now, by Jaron Lanier (a very compelling speaker), after watching The Social Dilemma on Netfix, I have in fact done what he advised. I have deleted my social media apps and refrained from reinstalling them in a fit of desperation. The net result of this action is that I have been reading properly again. My attention span has widened, and I feel a bit less miserable.

Speaking of feeling a bit less miserable, I’m sure that returning to therapy has definetly improved things on the mood front. I am longer feeling haunted by the all-pervading feeling that my life is over. As a result of our conversation I have also taken up this daily walk we had thought, together, might improve my mood. It probably has. I guess I also, it sounds a bit corny, but I feel more supported. I feel less burdened and alone.

Speaking further of feeling less miserable, the waves of grief I was being knocked about by in relation to my ex (my final soul mate hope) are finally subsiding and the sea has calmed. As a strategy I am opting for neutrality. Whilst I am not going to send him an “F off” message, (slightly pointless as it was he who ended it), I’m also not going to keep trying to keep our friendship afloat. I don’t know why I didn’t think of this before! I suppose it’s because I am a person of extremes. The middle way, that of moderation, does not come naturally to me.

That said, I think poet Joseph Brodsky’s insight that “one is changed by what one loves”, holds true in this instance. It’s true because T (my ex) has Bipolar disorder. In accepting, even admiring, him, Bipolar and all; with all the failures, heartaches and problems, a history of the Bipolar illness brings, it’s allowed me to imagine the possibility of viewing myself similarly. That would mean that I would consider my experiences, not through the eyes of someone judgemental and disapproving, instead, I would see myself as a person worthy of admiration and respect. As someone desirable, which in truth, was another factor in the soul mate fantasy: a desire to be valued for who I am.

So, in some sense, finding ‘soul mate’ T, did provide me, or has the potential to provide, what I hoped for. And then, if I manage this magical twist of self-approval, I wouldn’t need to be a literary superstar to have a bit of self esteem. Being me would, at last, be enough.

Back In Therapy

It was good to see my therapist, H, again. She literally works at the top of my street. It’s got to be the shortest journey for therapy I’ve ever made. One of the benefits of living in a small town. It’s a nice place as well. A big old building, with various therapies on offer, a solicitor and picture framer on the ground floor.

I got a whole fifty minutes to talk to another person all about my current difficulties without feeling guilty about going on about myself too much. One of my anxieties had been that I wasn’t going to present with “an issue” to work on; one thing, in particular. But it was OK. Over the course of my hour it became more than obvious that I was someone that would benefit from the support of therapy.

I started out by saying I was depressed. That I was still grieving my ex, which I reported was obviously a bit silly given how long it’s been since we broke up. I told her about the meds I was on, how they are making me feel a bit flat, although I felt that it was a good idea to be taking them as I couldn’t deal with another manic episode. My therapist agreed that I was one of those people that experience has shown needs meds. I said that I have known people, in the past, with Bipolar that seem to manage OK without meds, but I had noticed that they do not seem to have to grapple with regular trips to the hospital.

Personally I prefer Manic Depression as a description of the condition I suffer from. I think it sounds weightier, and so more accurately reflects the gravitas of this disorder. But as no one else uses Manic Depression any more neither do I.

I reported that I thought some more exercise would probably help my low mood, but I was out of ideas for how to achieve it. The pool’s still not open and I don’t enjoy yoga and running anymore. I didn’t seem to include my walk to Aldi, as legitimate, but my therapist pointed out it was actually quite a good stroll up there. I agreed, and said perhaps if I walked there daily that would take care of my need for extra movement. So I did that today, after my morning coffee in the cafe on the high street, and it is quite a good amount of exercise; not too much, nor too little.

I was thinking quite a bit about Sally Rooney on my stroll. As you may be aware she has a new book about to be published, and so is generating quite a bit of media attention, again. I have read both of her books, and I enjoyed them. They seem so effortlessly written. I was wondering that if I could write like Rooney, would I attract a lot of readers here? Would people notice? Could I become a star like Rooney?

I do actually know a reputable literary agent in London. She was beginning her doctorate when I was doing my masters degree. I told her about my blog a few days ago. She had suggested Huffington Post, which I looked up and decided against. They have quite strict guidelines, and moderate their blogs. They also don’t like journal style blogs apparently. But I like to write a blog that is like a journal. I told L that I thought Huff Post was a bit “too professional” for me.

Actually the whole reason I started writing, and thought about writing as a career option for me, back in 2006, was because I enjoyed writing a journal so much. But novel writing, which I felt was the way to go, is not at all like writing a journal. I chose novel writing because at the time Paul Auster was my favourite author. I loved the way he wrote about the lives of artists and writers, and made ordinary life seem meaningful. But I never managed to write like Paul Auster, nor did I really enjoy attempting to write fiction. It was very hard to write in a form that I, you, one, doesn’t enjoy working in. Really, I should have been writing memoir, or creative non fiction, but for some unknown reason, I didn’t think this was the way to go. God knows why.

Writing a journal was my safe place. I could say whatever I wanted, which isn’t a possibility for me in real life. I find it difficult to express myself in reality. I can always find multiple reasons to keep my thoughts to myself. I think this stems from growing up with a mother who always seemed to be taking offence when I expressed myself, when she would actually talk to me, which was never a given. I have spent an awful lot of my life in silence, I’m sad to report. Therapy is another place I feel able to express myself.

I told H (my therapist) that I feel like I have wasted my life and am full of a generalised feeling of regret. Maybe, I said, I should have embarked on doing something useful, instead of art: helping with the refugee crises, fighting racism or the climate emergency. H said that writing was useful; after all a lot of people read. I also said that looking for my soul mate, a project that had “driven” me all my life, had been a total waste of time. “Now I know I don’t have a soul mate, and that God doesn’t exist, I’m like: what now?” It felt good to be heard on that score. There is at least one place that what I think actually matters in some way.

I didn’t really come up with a new project however. Although we both agreed that having a bit more to do would be a good idea. More volunteering. It’s a shame they don’t have more shifts available at the bookshop, as I do enjoy my time there. I like to be around books, and talk to people about them. I used to work as a bookseller in London, and have devoted much of my life to books and reading. I still have a couple of friends from those days; four actually. But I don’t really chat with them very often.

My therapist felt that she could “support” me in some sort of self-compassion practice. “Well, what’s that then?”, I said, after agreeing that it sounded a worthwhile project. She reported that it was an area she was currently exploring and wold get back to me about it. I told her that I had, in fact, been reading about “self-compassion” in the Guardian earlier that day, and had thought it sounded good. We both agreed that I am pretty negative, and that attempting to alleviate that could be helpful.

I told H about my recent experiences with my ex and how majorly pissed off with him I am. Whilst relaying these experiences to her, I became quite animated and jokey. “That’s the first time I’ve seen you look happy since you sat down,” she reflected. “I know”, I said. “I find him funny because his behaviour is so ridiculous, and he always makes me feel so happy when I see him.” Which, I admitted was slightly ridiculous, in itself. “He drives me mad, but he makes me happy,” I said. “In a way, I wish he’d meet someone else.” H wanted to know why. “Because then he could drive someone else nuts and wouldn’t be able to blame me for everything. But this doesn’t appear to be happening.”

It’s true that, for this reason, I do find myself wishing he would meet someone new. But realistically, I think my reaction might be a bit more complicated. I don’t know though. I honestly don’t know how anyone could deal with his irrational behaviour as long as I did, nor do it with such good humour, as I also did. A fact that was never appreciated by him at all. I just want him to appreciate me still, but I don’t think he ever thinks about me, so it’s not likely to occur.

It really isn’t fair, I think, that I am assailed by thoughts and feelings about him on a daily basis, yet he never takes me into account at all. He can say, without any trouble, “I can’t meet you for coffee at the moment, because I am depressed.” Or, “Don’t ask me what brand my new phone is; it’s a private matter.” Or, halfway though a perfectly pleasant cup of tea in a cafe, “please leave me alone now.”

“I should have more compassion for him,” I told H. “I know that he struggles.” This is true. T also has Bipolar disorder. It’s messed up his life in exactly the same way it’s messed up mine. There was such an extraordinary freedom and sense of relief to connect with someone who had been through everything I had, but as I have reported before, he did not experience the same sense of homecoming that I did. I think he was more invested in being a ‘success’. He had been married to a woman who was not Bipolar, she had a good job as an engineer, and he really valorised her achievements. When he ended our relationship he said he still wasn’t “over” his marriage. Even after six years. I was too unconventional for T, even though he was an artist. He didn’t really rate anything I had done with my life, even though I did have two degrees and had held down various jobs. T hadn’t gone to university. His early development as a young person had been truncated by hospitalisation and depression. Mine had been as well, but not to the extent he had been. He’d also faced more stigma, being from a small place, where everyone knew everyone else’s story.

After my session yesterday the whole question of my ever present feeling for T really came back to haunt me. My conversation with H had brought the whole thing so much more alive. I lay in bed, unable to sleep, rehashing everything I had lately felt and thought, over and over in my mind. I kept thinking about everything I wanted to say to him to express all my angry feelings. Things like: “As you don’t seem to like, respect or trust me I think you should go off and be friends with people you do like respect and trust. Bye”. But by the time I woke up I realised that I didn’t really want to say those things as that would be the end of our friendship. And whilst our friendship may well be over anyway, because of him, not me, it isn’t what I really want. I still care about him and I don’t really want to slam the door in his face.

It’s been good to get all of these thoughts out of my brain and onto the blank page today, just as it was good to express myself to H yesterday. After yesterday’s session I noticed that I was able to breathe properly again; ordinarily I struggle with being able to breathe properly. Like a constant panic attack. It’s like relieving a pressure cooker, like I said to H yesterday. “What I want from therapy is to be able to express myself. To be able to let off steam.” It doesn’t make great literature perhaps, like a novel by Sally Rooney, but I’ll take it. A small consolation in the life of a Bipolar addict.

Mid Life Malaise

It occurs to me today that I have never been in this position before; of being a forty-nine year old woman. A gloomy one. Gloomy I think, in part, because of my age. At forty-nine there is a lot less possibility and a much greater opportunity to ruminate on my failures.

It’s funny because from about twenty years onwards, I really lived my life in a manner of trying to give things a go. I stopped drinking, went to AA, college, got jobs. I made friends with sober people. I got AA sponsors, I saw therapists to overcome my past and I worked the twelve steps. I tried to pursue the life of an artist. I went to adult ed classes when it seemed University had not quite provided me with the skills I thought I wanted. I tried to write novels. I handed my life over to God. I went to tons of AA meetings and meetings in other twelve step fellowships. I did everything I could do to have a good life, and yet I don’t have one. Instead I have regrets, or a feeling of regret that haunts me. I should have done better, I should have achieved more than this, is how I feel.

I lived my life with a sense of possibility in the future, a future that has not arrived. Now that I’m nearing my fiftieth year, I don’t think it will arrive either, and that’s new. In the past I always had hopes. Hopes and dreams. So I’ve never been in this position before. I wonder how I’d been feeling if fate had gone my way.

I should be able to comfort myself that at least I tried. Who knows how I’d be feeling if I’d never done the things I did and had drank myself into a regular stupor instead. Who knows if I’d even be alive, probably not. But none of my big plans came to fruition and every day a cloud hangs over me of, perhaps it’s more a cloud of disappointment than of regret. But it feels like regrets that are haunting me.

During my last relationship (it ended 1 and 3/4 years ago) I didn’t really have time to think about the past or feel regret. I never thought about the past, which was a blessing. Maybe this is just a phase I’m going through; a depression. I do feel depressed: I ruminate, have little energy and don’t want to exercise, which might help. I feel guilt and a sense of having balls my life up: it’s my fault. I don’t like my appearance. I can’t see a way out of this mood, if it is a mood.

I’ve got therapy today. My first appointment for a while. Maybe it will help, I don’t know. I can’t say I’m exactly looking forward to it.

There are a few things I enjoy: reading the Guardian, my morning coffee in the local cafe, occasional bursts of friendship, amgood friends dogs. I would say TV, but I’m getting a bit fed up with TV. Writing this provides a distraction, for a while.

When I cast my mind back I can’t really think what I could have done differently. There was a guy I allowed myself to be infatuated with for far too long (eight years). I used to go to this big AA meeting in central London, in part to see him, which I usually did. I think I wasted a lot of time there, precious time. I put so much energy into trying to get him to notice me; that creativity would have been better served doing something else. If I had had the right medication for my Bipolar, and been able to accept having it, that might have helped me as well. If I hadn’t wasted so much time chasing after a whole cast of men who didn’t want a relationship with me, and put all that into proper work of some description (rather than art) I would probably have been a lot better off. I might have felt useful. If I’d been able to extricate myself from my relationship with my mother, which continually dragged me down, that would have been good too. But I always thought, and this really is ironic, that if I didn’t try to make it work with mum, or get A, B, and C to notice me, then one day I would regret it: I might have stood a chance.

Whereas, in fact, had I been able to see into the future I would have known that in fact all those relationships I tried to make work were never going to (there were scores of them, and not only romantic hopes). The regret I feel is that I tried so hard, rather than that I did not. So there is the paradox and the irony. I was always trying to change things I had no power over and not giving in when they failed to provide what I wanted from them. I didn’t want to fail, but I failed anyway.

I feel like I should have known all this at twenty, and then my life may have had a chance. But I didn’t. I have to work my way up into some kind of acceptance. Maybe acceptance is my task at the moment. Acceptance of my past. I did make mistakes. I chased unworthy goals. Futile things. I would have been better off fighting for a cause: the refugee crisis, racism or climate emergency. Instead I prioritised finding my soul mate, and this really was a waste of time. It cost everything and left me high and dry.

At the end of all that I find myself living somewhere there are few opportunities to give to society that I can see. Now I know that I don’t have a soul mate and that God doesn’t exist, I have to find something else to do. But I’m not hopeful. Not at all.