The first time I knew something was wrong with me, something strange and concrete and unavoidable, I was eleven years old and school had just broken up for the Christmas holidays. It all started with an uncomfortable physical feeling in the pit of my stomach that I couldn't place. It wasn't just an ache - there was something else that existed alongside it, something that would hit me quickly like a shiver and make me feel physically awful. I don't know how else to describe it - my stomach would start to feel weird and then this feeling would come over me and it was like nothing I had ever experienced before. For the brief few seconds that it lasted, it made me feel as though nothing was quite right and that the world was at a strange slant - it made me feel nauseous and hateful and completely ashamed of myself. It was so at odds with how I felt during the rest of the time that it was as though my brain was experiencing a glitch and giving me a quick glance at a stranger, sadder world than the one I currently lived in.A couple of months after this I stopped sleeping at night, but it wasn't the usual kind of insomnia. I was certain that if I fell asleep during 'normal' hours then I would die or someone I loved would die, so it made sense for me to stay awake as a weird form of protection. I would bargain with people that didn't exist and make certain rules in my head - for example, if my eyes got tired I could close them for 30 seconds to rest them, but I couldn't open them before those 30 seconds were up because that would be breaking the rules. I started setting alarms to wake me up periodically during the night, in the event that I did fall asleep. I was eleven years old - this alarm clock habit stayed with me until I left University at the age of 21. My doctor said it was puberty, a normal stage for soon to be teenagers - insomnia brought on by girlish fears, anxiety driven by starting a new school, meeting new friends. Maybe those things were the catalyst, I don't know - all I do know is that puberty doesn't make you develop rituals, or scratch your skin open, or become terrified of things that aren't there. It doesn't make you fear death and also crave it. And that's something that always seemed so contradictory to me, a kind of sick joke - how I'm a major depressive with a paralysing fear of death.
So maybe that was the turning point - or maybe there was no turning point. Maybe those are just the first instances where I remember that this other world became real to me. Is there ever really a turning point? When I was 18, an appointment was made with a hypnotherapist and I spoke to her on the phone prior to what would've been our first meeting. "So you remember feeling like this when you were eleven", she said. "What on earth happened to you back then? What happened to you to traumatise you like this?" I hung up the phone and missed the meeting, never returned her calls either. There is no doubt that life events can traumatise an individual and set in motion mental illnesses, and it's ignorant to deny that this can be the case. Similarly, it's also ignorant to assume that it is the only cause for mental illness, that genetics and chemical imbalances cannot be just as responsible.
I think this is why I've never responded to therapy, and why I have to stop myself from side-eyeing people who proclaim it to be the only cure for mental illness. I am just unlucky. Mental illness is extremely prevalent in my family. If I went back and tried to think of an event that could have caused it, then I would never stop. And to me, that's important - where do we stop? Where do we draw the line between cause and effect? A lot of my childhood issues were the result of my mental illness, not the potential cause of it. I can't stress how important this is to me - that some people are just born like this and it doesn't make their illness any more or less valid than someone who can pinpoint an exact moment and say, "there, that's where it happened".
As humans it seems as though we're always looking for a reason, for some sort of logic that can be applied - and more than that, we're also looking for a lesson that can be learned. A fucked up kind of Aesop's fable. Don't do X and your child won't be Y. Because if we can ascribe a lesson to something terrible, then we can also justify its existence. However, if we accept that some people are mentally ill and live miserably due to nothing more than a chemical imbalance, then what does this say to us about the world? That life is unfair and cruel and that "everything happens for a reason" is bullshit because sometimes there just isn't a reason. It makes us question purpose and desire and meaning, and we don't like that. Ugh, the philosophy graduate in me is coming out to play, and for that I sincerely apologise.
Basically, there is no one-size-fits-all approach that can explain the existence of mental illness. It might offer us some kind of strange comfort to blame an individual's difficult childhood or experience of trauma, because it's something changeable and it's something we can learn from. It's something that offers us the possibility of redemption and recovery and change. It reduces the illness to something more simple - something temporary, something that can be cured.
And this is one thing that mentally healthy people do not seem to realise - this has never, ever felt temporary. It has never felt fleeting. I have never woken up in the morning or gone to sleep at night and thought, "this is okay because one day I will not feel like this". Even when I am stable and taking my medication (which, thankfully, is now the majority of the time) and living what I consider to be a good life defined by my own terms, I can still feel it. And it's a strange mix of feelings, happiness and fatalism - it almost feels like a kind of resignation, one that I am now very adept at handling. It has always felt - and I know that this is going to sound insulting, and potentially trivialising - terminal. But then, why should that be insulting? Why shouldn't I refer to my mental illness - to any mental illness - as terminal? I know far more people who have lived wasted and ruined lives and died young due to mental illness than any kind of physical terminal illness. It's all neatly tied up in our concept of shame, isn't it? Society's concept of shame. Mental illnesses aren't allowed to be considered terminal illnesses because the vast majority of society still views them as a personality flaw, as something that the sufferer could overcome if only they bothered to try hard enough. So many people believe that, unlike physical terminal illnesses such as cancer, mental illness is somehow under the control of the individual and can be 'cured' - if only they wish to cure it, that is. If they are unable to do so, there is always an excuse. He or she chose not to take their medication, he or she chose not to seek help - therefore, he or she chose to die. This is the other type of shame that you are tied to when you're mentally ill - when someone dies of a long illness, they are considered brave and having fought a good battle (ugh, but don't even get me started on heroic warlike terms when it comes to illnesses). With a mental illness, you have just 'given up'.
This concept of choice that is placed on those who are mentally ill refuses to acknowledge the reality of living with such an illness - that is, that it takes over your entire life. It takes over your brain, your body, it makes every day feel endless and slow, and it makes you feel disgusting and bitter, like you're rotting from the inside. Imagine waking up like that. Imagine feeling ashamed and weak and disgusted with yourself and then imagine knowing that this is only one morning, one that is going to be followed by another morning, and another, and another - and there's no guarantee that you will ever feel any different. Even if there was, you wouldn't believe it. A mental illness encompasses and controls every single moment of your life. You wake up in the morning and before even five minutes have passed you're exhausted already. Every moment you're awake, you're distracted by feelings of self-hatred. Imagine not even being able to get out of bed, say hello to your mother, cook some breakfast, even sit and watch television, because all that you can focus on is the constant pain inside of your head. The loathing and hatred that you feel. Imagine waking up one day at eleven years old and somehow just knowing that this is it - this is how you're going to feel, every minute of every day, for the rest of your life. Now, tell me that this isn't terminal.
Post 2 of probably 1000000000, first part here