THE NEW NORMAL #19 – CAN’T GET YOU OUT OF MY HEAD

Guess who’s back? Back again? That’s right, I thought I’d pop my head up and say hello. Not because anything significant has happened on the physical health front but because some time has elapsed, I’m still breathing and, whether you like it or not, this writing lark helps me. So, I’ve had some more prodding and poking, some scanning in the giant polo and nothing adverse has been found thus far so that’s a thumbs up. I’ve also been dropped down to once a year on the ol’ leg measuring as the people at St Luke’s Hospice think my leg has shrunk enough to have the kind of relationship that you might have with a former colleague that you can’t quite shake off*.

In amongst all of this, I also had the delight of a day trip to Poole to be examined by Psychiatrist/Psychologist to check on the internal workings of my head. It turns out that not only should I have taken more time to fully come to terms with my diagnosis and subsequent treatment but I am, apparently, suffering with something called an Adjustment Disorder. These disorders normally crop up in the six months immediately following a trauma but it’s not unusual for them to bubble up later if, like me, you’re terribly English and just keep ‘getting on with things’ whilst ignoring thoughts, feelings and urges. On top of this, I am living in ‘twin realities’; one where I go to work, go home, eat, sleep, wash and repeat until the pension kicks in or I die (whichever comes first) and one where I should already be dead based on my initial diagnosis so I feel guilty for not living life to the fullest every day. But, y’know, mortgage and bills.

Now, the guy giving this assessment was wearing socks AND sandals (on his feet at the same time) so I’m a little sceptical but it does feel good to stick a label on this ball of confusion I’ve been carrying around for the last few months. I’ve mentioned before the feeling of utter pointlessness around certain tasks involved in the living of normal life when you think life has started its Countdown clock on your ass but then when you get the short to mid-term all clear, that dissipates. Except it doesn’t. Over the summer, I wafted with intense futility at the swarms of flies that invade our home from the nearby beach and, for a while, I thought I’d won. It’s only when you turn around to cheer, Rocky style, that you realise they’ve regrouped in to the same smug formation smack bang in the middle of your room. Well, that’s essentially what happens with these feelings of futility and guilt – work, a good night out, the weekly shop, a flat tyre, and a short break in Amsterdam all swatted those pesky flies away but sure enough they regroup when you’re not looking. Buzzing around without any viciousness but a sense of irritating omnipotence that, after a while, drives you to distraction, past distraction and then off the cliff. Like Starbucks. Or Heart FM***.

The advice I’ve been given is to get 20-30 sessions of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy under my belt to help work through these problems and sessions are, and you’ll like this “available locally for as little as £150 per session”. So that’s potentially £4500 to kill off the flies, their families and the already dead rodents they’ve been feeding off (this metaphor has got out of control, hasn’t it?). This would be bad enough to begin with but when your pay has been cut and the world just gets more and more expensive then you’re faced with either starting a crowd funding campaign or having a particularly strange Christmas list (‘Dear Santa, please can you help me get some therapy so I can stop wanting to shout at people in Primark?’).

I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea, I am in no way trying to make light of mental health and I am not taking my own needs lightly but if you can recognise the ridiculousness of these situations sometimes it can give you a bit of a chuckle to replace the sighs. And I need to laugh because otherwise I’ll drag down those around me and lord knows they don’t need that. I think one of the big difficulties with mental health struggles is communicating how you’re feeling to someone who has never felt that way. Imagine telling someone who has lived in the driest desert imaginable their entire life how you spent the day at a theme park in the rain and got soaked through to the skin from the water slides and the rain. How do you explain the feeling of wet socks rubbing against your shoes, the sensation of rain water running down the back of your neck or the smell of slowly steaming denim as the car heater starts the unwinnable battle of trying to dry the car out on the way home? Similarly, how do you explain to an otherwise sunny soul that you feel like you’re treading water with ever decreasing effectiveness when you should be surging in full muscular flow through what remains of your life? It’s not an easy process.

This has all been going on for a while now and I haven’t mentioned it because, strangely, although I have been more than happy to discuss my various physical ailments, embarrassing moments and instances of bleakness, the inside of my head has always felt much more personal and private. Also, and I know how ridiculous this is going to sound but I’m going to type it anyway, I know that some of you reading this will be friends, family or colleagues and I have been genuinely worried that you might think less of me if you think I’m not powering through and generally giving life the run-around. I’m not after an outpouring of friendship or love but I felt that if I was walking around looking at the world through grey tinted spectacles then others might be too and you might know them and they might need some love. There’s a lot of information out there about mental health at the moment but that doesn’t always mean that someone who is struggling has someone they think they can talk or who will understand. If you’re lucky enough to feel good about the world at the moment then a) I want some of what you’re on and b) look up and look around, someone you know could be silently screaming out for some help and understanding.

So, for now, my plan is to throw myself in to distracting projects and hope that something clicks or changes for the better. One such distraction that you may be interested in is that I’ve been convinced by friends and family to have a go at turning this blog in to a proper book with the idea of reaching a wider audience and raising a little money for a good cause (as well as for me and my family, not gonna lie). I’ve always wanted to write a book and I’ve got others that I’ve started but this feels like a story that’s coming to a natural conclusion so maybe it’s worth writing down now and if anything goes wrong in the future then there’s always room for a sequel, right? The only decision left to make is who will play me in the movie version of the book – I always wanted Philip Seymour Hoffman but he went and died on me so I guess I’ll go for Nick Frost or John Goodman**.

*Not referring to anyone here so don’t go getting all paranoid on me.

**Fun fact, I had to Google ‘Fat Actors’ after Nick Frost as I couldn’t think of any. First time I’ve done that in my life!

***Or bloody Bake Off….

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