It’s all too easy to forget how far we’ve come. We understandably push the worst memories of our mental health crises to the back of our mind, but in doing so we also lose sight of the progress we’ve made.
'Breathing was the problem - I was breathing and I didn't want to be'
Occasionally we get a reminder of how bad things were. Last week, I hit an unexplainable low patch and for a few days struggled to get out of bed. My feelings were undoubtedly made worse by a visceral terror at where this might be leading. At times I was paralysed by the fear that a major depressive episode, like last year’s, again lay ahead. Fortunately, it seems not.
Today I encountered another reminder of how bad things were for a period in 2016, although this one was far less threatening. Rather than fear, it made me feel sad.
I stumbled upon a passage I’d written on this day in 2016. I was recounting an incident that had happened some months earlier, perhaps in May. Even with this account as a prompt, I can now barely remember the evening. I think I recall odd parts of it, but I could be thinking of another time. I was hysterical a lot at that point.
Finding this recollection a year later has encouraged me to pause and feel grateful for how much has changed since then – how much I’ve changed since then. All the work with group therapy and practising dialectical behaviour therapy skills feels completely worth it in this context.
When we’re battling with our mental health, our vision becomes myopic. We struggle to see beyond the next moment. It feels like our situation has always been like this and always will be. It is difficult to see the long view. In a safe space, opportunities to look back at what’s changed can help to challenge this black and white thinking and encourage a more nuanced perspective on our own journey.
'She just needs to breathe.' These were the words that the duty nurse on the Crisis Team kept repeating over and over to my partner. It was the early days of our encounters with mental health services, only 72 hours after I'd end up chugging down Diazpem in A&E at 1.30am. I was still suicidal, but at this point I'd become hysterical suicidal rather than the usual melancholic suicidal. I must have been a terrifying sight to behold; from what I remember, it certainly felt terrifying. I was raging and out of control, determined that there was only one way forward and it didn't involve being conscious for a nanosecond longer than necessary. I wanted oblivion and I wanted it fast.
So my partner called the Crisis Team. They'd already visited that day but talking through my journey to where I was that Saturday afternoon only dragged me down further. By the evening, ringing them again was all we could think to do. We - well maybe not him, but definitely me - wanted an answer, a quick one, a solution that would at least quell the rage if not every thought and feeling coursing through my veins.
'I blew myself out'
You won't be surprised to learn that we didn't get an answer of that ilk. Instead we got a brusque sounding nurse who continually repeated 'She just needs to breathe.' If I wasn't angry enough already, I was when I heard that. Of course I was breathing! Breathing was the problem - I was breathing and I didn't want to be. I wanted to stop breathing, stop being, stop existing.
I raged further and further. I don't actually remember what happened after. I probably just blew myself out, exhausted.
The next day a holistic social worker showed up at the door to show me a breathing exercise which, combined with a few basic movements, would supposedly help me to remain calm when about to lose my head. I was cynical of course. Resistant even. But recognising I could no longer go on the way I was, I gave it a go. I breathed and breathed and breathed and breathed.
I did the same the next day. And the one after. And the one after that. It still somewhat pains me to admit, but that nurse was right. I just needed to breathe.