What are your hopes for the new year? Do you hope for a better job, a chance to prove yourself in a career that you enjoy and that makes you proud? Do you hope for a partner, someone to come into y…
What are your hopes for the new year?
Do you hope for a better job, a chance to prove yourself in a career that you enjoy and that makes you proud?
Do you hope for a partner, someone to come into your life and provide you with the love and support you have been craving?
Do you hope for political change, for systems of oppression to be broken and for a change in your national discussion?
Do you hope for a different body, one that doesn’t give your embarrassment and humiliation, one that you can try to love?
Or do you hope to just make through alive?
I don’t know what your hopes are, but I do know that the New year is that strange time of year when we allot two weeks or so to reflection on self-improvement. I have always thought it’s a weird time in the seasonal calendar to drop everything and start again. I’ve always believed that this time of self-evaluation should really come in March or April: as the flowers begin to bloom and animals begin to breed seems like the most natural time to turn my thoughts to change. Not in the middle of a cold, grey, British winter when everyone is sluggish from too much food and woolly headed from the obligatory Christmas cold.
But here it is, with still two or three months of grey skies and bare trees ahead. New Year. With nothing new about it, except those new bits and bobs we picked up in the January sales and those resolutions, those damned resolutions we all pick up. January is the time for a new you.
Hope is a wonderful thing. It’s like oxygen or water, we need it to survive and we especially need it to survive the winter. From that perspective, new years resolutions almost make sense. They can be that hopeful kick that pushes you, five pounds heavier and sleep deprived, back to work to survive yet more winter with no Christmas on the horizon. Some people are like that, springing up on January first to start that running schedule to train for that marathon in July. Some people. Other people, people more like me, use new years resolutions as the whip to beat themselves into the ground.
New year, new you. New shoes, new you. New running schedule, new you. New diet, new you. New skill, new you. New haircut, new partner, new job, new baby, new anything and everything… New you.
How many times new years eve’s and subsequent days will I endure before I finally, truly, understand what I know to be true? That whatever you do, the one thing you are always stuck with is you.
In the past, this has been nothing but depressing to me. As someone with depression, I’m not using that word lightly. In the past, the fact that I am always running into my own failings and flaws and mental illness has been a contributing factor to my depression. It has made me isolated and anxious and frankly, suicidal. Wherever I go, there I am. Still depressed. Still mentally ill. Still angry.
But now, I’m embracing it. Something has changed. I don’t want a new me this year. Don’t misunderstand me, if someone presented me with a worrisome drug and said “this will ensure you never ever experience depression again,” I would probably knock it back before they finished the sentence. I wish I was better. I want to be cured. But I don’t want a new me. I no longer yearn for a head to toe transformation that I will hunt for and scurry after with different exercise regimes, classes, and lists of self-improvement. It turns out, I’m not done with the old one yet.
Because two weeks ago a doctor gave me a new diagnosis for an old disease. It has been squatting in my brain like an unwelcome house guest for nearly two decades. I’m happy to get rid of it if I possibly can, and maybe this medication and CBT will make 2017 the year I do get rid of it. But my mind has been changed by my squatter, and rather than wishing I could tear down the whole house and build it anew, just to get rid of that squatter and the pain it brings, I have now begun to think that I might like this house.
This mind that I have previously loathed, detested because I have thought it weak, treachorous, and liable to cause me only more pain and humiliation, this body that I have despised for being the wrong shape and size and uncooperative and damaged, this flesh house of mine that I have often thought of sacking in, this “me” that I have so often wished to trade in for something new. I am not quite done with it yet.
If 2016 has taught me anything it is that our damage is often our witness. The places I am suffering in are also the places where I can be most empathetic. I have never been able to subscribe to the oft-toted idea that I should be grateful for my mental illness because it makes me stronger, but this year I have been reminded that there is hope growing in this broken space. There’s no brain transplant for my condition, there’s no diet or course or dry January that is going to change me, and I don’t need them. I am the child, watching at the window for the first snow drops. Maybe they died under the earth, maybe I could slap some potted plants in there and cut my losses, but then I would never know. I would never know what could have possibly grown out of the dark, unexpected places.
Something good might happen here if I hold out long enough. I’ll wait and see.
So I am not looking for a new me this year. I’m sticking with old me; battered, bruised, depressed old me. New medication. New therapy. A new year. But I’m still the same. And for once, I’m going to let that be okay.
It’s midnight. The first minute of 2016 has passed and nothing has changed. My old self is still with me, and we seem to be doing okay. Let’s see if we can make it through 2017.
Happy New Year.
Hope. Hope doesn’t have to be impressive, or heralded with shouts of praise. Sometimes hope is just something little, something that is just pressed into your hand. Anyone who has seen Rogue One will know what I mean when I say that. (No spoilers). Hope can be small, tiny, hard won and painful to receive. Sometimes hope is the new prescription you didn’t know you needed, handed to you by a sympathetic psychiatrist.
Not much to say here. Just an updated diagnosis and the chance for hope that I didn’t have before. Because even though it is threatening to hear the words “Severe clinical depression,” and “potential obsessive compulsive disorder”, it is also relieving. Because now there is the possibility, now there is the chance, that life doesn’t have to be like this. Now there is potential for change. Now there is hope.
And suddenly, those many, many, many miles to go do not seem so long.
So last week was a crazy week, right? Crazy! For me, this actually had less to do with a reality TV star being named the leader of the free world and more to do with the fact that last Thursday, I had my first CBT session.
Like most of my friends on Wednesday morning, I woke up, saw the devastating news coming from over the pond, and then went to work. Unlike most of my friends, I spent the day talking to young teenagers about anxiety. I must admit, it felt like a slightly fruitless task in the face of the agonising global anxiety that had descended with the morning news, but I also had a slight out of body experience when telling the students about my mental health status. As I told them that I struggled with anxiety disorder and eating disorder when I was a teenager like them, I also imagined what it would be like to be totally honest with them and say:
“And actually, things have been pretty rough. I’m starting therapy tomorrow and, honestly, I’m not sure what I’ll do if this doesn’t work.”
But I didn’t say that. I told them that I still have to “manage” my disorders and that they have every right to seek treatment or help for everything from exam stress to suicidal thoughts. I know that was the right thing to do. Some students came forward to reveal their own struggles and as I listened to them, I was reminded of the importance of the work I do. I was also reminded of all the conversations I didn’t have when I was their age. All the help I shunned because of my own fears. I wondered how things would have been different if I had spoken up.
Because maybe if I had, I wouldn’t be exhausted by my own anxiety and hoping that this therapy will be the one that makes the difference.
I’m not saying the therapy I have had has been useless. It hasn’t. I know the value of it, I really do. But I also write this from a place of pure fatigue; I am tired from constantly managing my illness with my limited tools. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is designed to give me more tools. That is its purpose. So I signed up and gradually, as I have become more tired, I have acquired more hope in CBT. This will be the thing that flicks the switch. This will be the one that makes it all stop.
“So, your anxiety has sort of a cycle within a cycle.” She’s staring at the paper I have filled out, with a slight frown. “I will need to do some research into some exposure therapies specific to your phobia. It’s all just very… complex.”
Her words fall on my ears like quiet, ringing bells, reverberating in an empty room. I hear the sounds but understand no meaning from it. Since I have walked into my first CBT meeting, I have been biting back my rising resentment that I have to talk about all of this again. I am deliberately having no thoughts. But when she says the word “complex,” I have one, very clear thought.
Just give me a goddamn pill!
All I want is for there to be a cure for this. All I want is for there to be the blue pill from the matrix, that can wing me back to a time before any of this started. All I want is a pill.
Now, I know there is no pill. I mean, I already take pills and they are not magic in any sense. They are keeping me steady and numb, they are giving me perpetual dry mouth and I get ferociously anxious about them when my prescription is low, but they are not magic. They are not the cure. All I want is the cure.
I leave my first session with that strange, “complex” illustration of what’s going on inside my head and a penetrating malaise of disappointment. It was not what I wanted it to be. It was a re-hashing of all the ways I am broken. It did not tell me how to get fixed.
But still, I think, as I tuck the piece of paper away inside my journal, maybe this is the cure. Maybe CBT is the thing that will change everything. Maybe this, maybe this is the week that is going to re-order my mind and change the world for me.
Maybe CBT is the pill.
Then, today, a phone call.
“I’ve spoken to my superior and we think you need to work with the primary team, for more high-intensity CBT. Just because of the severity, and because it’s been going on for such a long time, like, your whole life.”
Her voice is light and friendly on the phone. I answer with gentle responses, hiding my fear in neutral “uh huhs.”
“I’ve referred you. The waiting list is about four months.”
Four months, I think bleakly. Four months until I get the cure.
“That’s fine.” My mouth is dry. It’s always dry. “Thanks very much for the call.”
It could have been the week that changed my world, but today the world is just the same as before, and I must trudge through it. For the next four months, at least.
I try to weigh up the good against the bad. I think about how it’s good that I’ve had a swift consultation and referral. I think about how it is good that my issues are being dealt with by the appropriate team. I think about how it is good that they recognize the seriousness of what’s going on with me. Then I think about how long four months is.
Then I have a break down on my partner.
Because I am exhausted of living this way, and the fantasy I have built up about CBT being my cure is starting to crumble at the edges. The Truth is sitting just outside, casually waiting to be confronted. He is in no hurry. He can wait all day, all year, for the rest of my life and for as many therapies and medicines I can drag myself through; he can wait to tell me that there is no cure.
He doesn’t need to. I know it already.
So I find myself in the same place as so many other people in the world this week. Waiting for hope. They might be waiting for the most powerful man in the world to make good on his election promises, or they might be waiting for a movement that carries their voice all the way to Washington again. Or like me, they might be waiting for CBT. It might take four months, four years, it may come tomorrow, but all I know is I am in the middle of woods with so many more miles to go. I cannot keep going alone. So I will wait here. In the absence of any cure, I will wait for hope.
I know I haven’t been around much for the last few weeks. If I’m honest, it’s because I’ve been struggling and I didn’t quite have the words to make sense of it. But I’ve been away from work for a couple of days, got some sleep and read some books, and now I’ve walked my way back to a place where the words are forming, slowly. Sometimes I am not as honest as I want to be about how I am feeling. Sometimes, even after all I have written and all I have learned, I am just as likely as the next person to smile fakely at a good friend and say “I’m fine!” Even though it could be further from the truth.
I have not been fine. I am maybe not really fine right now. But now I feel like I can tell you about it, where I couldn’t before.
So what’s been wrong? I’ll break it down for you.
It got dark.
It doesn’t usually happen this fast. Usually, over the weeks leading up to Christmas, I begin to see the slow decline of the soft evenings, I notice the flicker of the streetlights earlier in the evenings, and that the heating needs to be put on more often. That’s always how it has been for me, my energy slowly sapping, my mood gently lowering without me even noticing, at least at first. This year, it happened overnight.
Autumn had been beautiful for all of September. Golden and dry, I enjoyed wandering throughout south manchester and admiring the changing hues of the trees. Crimson, burgundy, bronze, copper; whorls of leaves blustering after passing cars. It was Autumn like you see it in the movies; so bright it makes you squint and so crunchy it makes you laugh. Then, almost overnight, darkness arrived. About two weeks ago I woke up to the dark grey skies, whipping winds, and drizzling rain that I associate with the British Autumn. Here comes the rain, I thought, my stomach dropping. The next two days I felt myself drooping, wilting like those crisp autumn leaves that were now soaked with cold rain and turning to mush in the gutters. Seasonal Affective Disorder has reared its ugly head.
I’ve found my anxiety to be more intense since the grey mornings began. Meeting every mornings dark horizon has taken a little more energy than usual, a little more bravery to go out into the world. I have fretted more about my food, about my work, and I have found myself nearly crying with relief when my partner returns home from work because it has brought an end to the crushing anxiety about being alone that I have been fighting off all day by working too hard. Some people might wonder if this is just a symptom of my normal depression, but I know it is not. Two or three days after the darkness arrives, we have a rare, beautiful, shining day of sunshine. I get out of bed easier, I work much more calmly, and at the end of the day, I am happily cooking a meal when my partner comes home. It’s not just me. It’s the darkness. It’s S.A.D.
This means it’s time to start playing defensive with the weather. I can’t rely just on my medication and my normal routine to keep me level. I need to reinforce it, build up the fortresses against the winter. This means bringing back in regular exercise (something I have been woefully inept at keeping up during the summer months), allowing myself to sleep but not sleep too much, (S.A.D. means that, during the height of winter, I could sleep for fourteen hours a day), and hunting the sunshine. I can’t take those rays for granted, now I need to pursue it. When a sunny day comes I need to make the most of it with walks to the park. I’m also thinking of investing in a daylight lamp for my desk at home.
I have to be honest, the rapid attack of the darkness knocked me to the side a bit. I wasn’t ready for things to change overnight. But they have, summer is over, and now it’s time to suit up and embrace the very, very few things I do like about winter. Open fires. Mulled Wine. Curling up with a book. A beautiful combination of sunshine and frost in the morning. Maybe, if I fight it hard enough and embrace these things, they can be stronger than the darkness this year.
I worked hard.
Two weeks ago I ran a mental health project in a secondary school where every day I stood up and told hundreds of teenagers my story about my mental health and how they should speak out about their problems. Many people told me before this week that I would have to watch my own mental health, make sure I care for myself and don’t over-stretch. And I did. I think. I checked I was getting enough sleep, I made sure that I was eating all my meals, I was honest with my mentors about what was going on. But still, by the end of the week, I felt almost teary with the weight of everything. I felt as if I was, at any moment, a couple of seconds from a panic attack.
So what happened? I think, honestly, I became completely overwhelmed by the implications of our project. Every morning I looked out over the sea of young faces and wondered how many of them had suicidal thoughts. Every day I told my story of my struggle whilst I was at school, scanning their faces for any sign of recognition, trying to find those people for whom my words were more than a story, but a reflection of their life. Every day I met young people who had come forward to share their thoughts and feelings and every day I left them, walking out of the school without quite shaking their stories from my mind. Knowing that I would think about them, wonder about them, but maybe never be able to provide more help than what I had given; simply listening. By the end of the week I was exhausted by my hopes for the project, exhausted by my constant worry that we would not get through to someone who desperately needed to hear us. Maybe they were off sick, maybe they were too afraid, maybe I could have taken a slightly different tack with my talk and they would have come forward. The stakes seemed unbearably high. At the end of the week I was pleased with how the project had gone, so elated but also a bit devastated. I had done everything I could do now, the rest is out of my hands.
That inability to control the outcome of the project, my own limitations as a human being who cannot personally protect, shelter, and support every child who I know is struggling with a mental health crisis, is what revved up my anxiety that week and in the weeks that have followed. It’s been a bit of a low for me, and perhaps that was inevitable for the first time we ever did this project. Perhaps getting started on something I have really wanted to do since I was seventeen years old was always going to give me a bit of a dip in my own mental health. Perhaps realizing that, at the end of the day, even my best efforts might not save anyone is the hardest thing of all. Because it is much easier to bear my mental health problems if I can tell myself that perhaps, perhaps, the story of my problems might help someone else with theirs. I guess this week brought me face to face with the possibility that it might not.
The other, more brutal possibility, is that even if my story can help someone else, it might not be the saving balm I have always wanted it to be. Some people posit that if you help others with their problems, it lessens your own. Maybe it doesn’t. Maybe helping others is good and kind and charitable, but it’s not a cure. Maybe, after all these things, I am still the same.
Of course, I’m not the same. I know I’m not, and I am now in that place where I can see that for myself, rather than hear it from my friends and family and doubt whether it is actually real. Even if I am still depressed, even if I am still anxious, even if it feels like nothing is improving, even if helping others is not enough to cure a person, I am not the same. But I’ve been in that place for the last couple of weeks, that place where I can only see the things that aren’t changing, not the things that are. The drudgery of recovery seems endless and broken, and a tired road to walk. But I’m not the same, I’m not. It is something I have to keep telling myself over and over, especially when I’m working with young people who are struggling with mental health.
Sometimes I worry that they are believing a lie about me; that I am fully recovered and fine and my problems are behind me. When I tell them my story, I worry that I am inadvertently selling them a lie about mental health; that you can one hundred percent move on from mental health problems. I’m not convinced you can. As a young person, I feel like I was sold some lies about mental health. That once I decided to move on from them, then they were done with. (A lot of this was offered to me within the parameters of religious language) I fear that I might offer them some kind of false hope. But I also need to balance this with the fact that whilst I’m not “cured”, I am not the same, I am not. The example of change that I give is not, is not, is not a lie. I am better. I can hold down this job that enables me to talk to young people about my mental health journey. Yes, it is a journey still, not a destination, but I can talk about it with them. Maybe that is the most important thing.
And that’s what I am doing here, too. Talking about the journey, when I can.
I’m sorry I’ve been disappeared for a while, tangled up in work and the autumn darkness and the drudgery of recovery, disappeared into the journey of my mental health, but I am still here. Still walking through it. Still working it out. Still hoping that those of you who read are hearing me. Still hoping you are standing there, witnessing my journey. If the young people I work with are those who hear the tale of my journey, then you all are those who have witnessed it. There are many more miles to go, but I count on you to keep me moving forwards. From here, on this strange platform where I work out my next steps and try to understand how I got here, you are all my witnesses to my journey. Thank you for being here.
I get in my car. I drive to my meeting, my eyes fixed on the dark road ahead. I try to clear my mind after the anxiety of the day. The ups and downs. The pain that is slowly building in my stomach. Last I didn’t sleep well. I was thinking about this meeting. Before I get out of the car I tell myself over and over: Just be brave, just be brave. I attend the meeting. I am quiet, withdrawn. My stomach ache is getting worse, and with it, my panic. I don’t want these people to see my anxiety, my fear of being ill in a strangers house. I say a curt goodbye at the end of the meeting and try to smile, but I am still the worst one to leave. I get in my car, wondering if I can honestly drive home like this. My stomach is so sore and my heart rate is so high, I am struggling to keep control of my breathing. It is only when I have put the car in gear and pulled away from the drive, only when the dark of the night and the motorway consumes me, that I can let the tears fall. I know I’ve done well enough. I attended the meeting. I was brave. But I don’t feel it. Not at all. Instead, I feel like a failure.
I’ve been working on a project for mental health week called “Don’t keep it a Secret.” In my job, I am privileged to be able to go into school and influence young people positively, and this is a great opportunity. Given my history, this is something I am really passionate about. I’m putting together a video to show the students, which will hopefully feature a lot of people holding signs up with their “truth,” their “diagnosis,” on it, with the hashtag #notasecret. I’ve been plugging it on social media, trying to get volunteers, and basically shouting it from the rooftops. I’m going to be in the video too. Holding a sign saying “Eating and anxiety disorder. #notasecret.” I don’t have any problem doing this. After all, I know that this is who I am, and sharing this with people is what I care about.
What worries me is that people might get the wrong impression from me doing this stuff. Sometimes, being outspoken about a cause can give the impression that you are no longer one of the people affected by the cause. I sense a slight shift when I talk about projects to do with mental health that I am promoting or creating. I sense that people start to believe I have overcome my challenges and are now encouraging others to do the same. I am aware of the resistance within myself at this idea, this idea that I believe is built on a lie from our society: that a person cannot be struggling and helping at the same time. As a culture, we like winners. We like those who can say, “that happened to me, but it’s not me anymore.” The prisoner who becomes the CEO, the drug addict who founds a charity, we love a good transformation story. But we are unforgiving, and often very black and white in our understanding of exactly how that transformation should play out. You are only a winner if you transform in the right way. It’s just so clear from the attitude we have to those who have recovered, versus those who relapse. We see these things as two, clear, definitive states rather than both of them as the ever-winding journey of recovery. Someone who had an eating disorder and has overcome it can be a role model. Someone starving themselves cannot be.
I find this difficult because of the story at the beginning of this blog post. That was from this week. At that meeting, I spoke about the mental health week project. I will be going into schools and encouraging young people not to hide the secret of their mental health. I will tell them about my eating disorder and depression throughout my own school days. I will hold up a sign that declares my mental health status. But the real secret, I guess, is that I am still a person who is struggling. If anyone is looking for a winner, they won’t find her here. I care desperately about the young people I am working with, and I urgently do not want them to feel what I have felt in the past. I do not want them to know the humiliation of your teacher telling you that you’ve been “very naughty” for self-harming. I do not want them to know the embarrassment of calling a helpline late at night and hearing the bored, uninterested tone of a person who doesn’t take them seriously. I do not want them to fear the judgement of their peers, to have no space in their school to talk about their issues, and have no education about what mental health even means. I so badly want to help them. But if it means I have to have it all together, then I guess I will have to sit out.
Because at the beginning of this week, I had a panic attack. I’m not over my anxiety disorder. Because I am on the waiting list for CBT therapy. I’m not over my depression. Because every day I struggle to eat what is healthy for my body and mind. I’m not over my eating disorder. But I am living with it. Brutally, angrily, every day, I am living with it, and I am talking about it and getting help. If I wait until I have beaten all of these things, until I am a real winner and clearly on the side of the recovered, then I might never be ready to do it. And I can do something good now. So I’m doing it.
I guess this is my way of saying that you don’t need to have it together, you don’t need to have put everything behind you, in order to affect the change you want to see in the world. You don’t even need to be having a majority of good days. This week has had some truly bad days, and yet, the mental health project still advances. Because I don’t need to be fixed. I just need to be brave. I don’t even need to feel brave. I just need to be it. Stumbling blindly forward, even if it’s just on my knees.
So, in honour of that, this is me, holding up my real sign. Because I’ve been many things, and my diagnosis and my mental health state will still be shown in that video. I will hold up a sign saying “Eating and Anxiety Disorder, #notasecret.” I will still share the truth of who I am with those young people, but I also wanted to share with you this part of my truth, just in case it is your truth too: I am not perfectly recovered. I am not constantly relapsing. I am something else, something messier.
I am Recovering.
I am watching Elementary. It is an excellent show. I am interested in nearly every artistic incarnation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s infamous character, but Elementary is maybe my favourite so far. That has a lot to do with Johnny Lee Miller, the introduction of prominent, powerful female characters, and a script that more than passes the Bechdel test, but one of my favourite features of the show is their engagement with Sherlock’s addiction problem. The show imagines a modern-day Sherlock Holmes, self-exiled to New York City after a transformative stint in rehab after a life implosion brought on by heroin addiction. Consequently, Sherlock’s sobriety is the constant background music to the show, hovering like a spectre over his relationships and his work. I like it. I like the mental hopscotch that has been done to take the very victorian characteristic of occasional recreational drug use to escape from “the dull routine of existence” to its inevitable consequence. It might not be to everyone’s tastes, I know some people might struggle just to haul themselves over the mental hurdle of a female Watson, but I enjoy seeing the life of Sherlock cast through a redemptive lens.
It also affords me a great opportunity for quote mining. The writers of this show love to throw in the classic Conan Doyle quote, and I do like to play a sort of bingo with it, but the other day I was caught off guard by the writing for other reasons. Speaking about his sobriety in the episode “The eternity injection,” Sherlock says the following:
“If you must know, Watson, I’ve been feeling a little bit down of late. It’s the process of maintaining my sobriety. It’s repetitive. It’s relentless. And above all, it’s tedious. When I left rehab, I… I accepted your influence, I committed to my recovery. And now, two years in, I find myself asking, ‘is this it?’ My sobriety is simply a grind. It’s just this leaky faucet that requires constant maintenance, and in return offers only not to drip .”
I felt something when I heard that. I heard in it the complex nuance of recovering from something; the brutality monotony of the hard work that goes into just being…. normal. It sometimes feels like endless work just to interact with food at the same level that other people interact with it. To eat three meals a day, to like food, to stop myself slipping into bad habits, sometimes it is just a grind. Because the promise of good habits is not extraordinary living. It isn’t guaranteed happiness. It’s just… not the other things. It’s not sadness. It’s not addiction. It’s not depression. It’s not a hospital. It’s not death. It’s the promise of not being something.
And of course, that is an amazing thing. It is! To not be exhibiting anorexic behaviours, to be eating regularly and not terrified, it is amazing! It’s amazing in perspective to where I was and where I have been. But through the long lens of the future, the lens that Sherlock is looking through as he contemplates a life dedicated to sobriety, a life where it might never get easier, it seems less amazing. It seems like downright drudgery. In the episode, Watson responds to Sherlock in the manner that any good friend might in a situation where someone shows that they are tired of doing the things they need to do to stay healthy:
Watson: You have your work, you have me. You’re alive.
Sherlock: I’ve told myself that many times. So many times it has become unmoored from all meaning.
Watson’s response is right and good of any friend: it is that recognition of the path veered away from. It is my own partner’s response when I become morose about my progress with regards to my mental health. When I get upset or discouraged by my continued panic attacks or bouts of anxiety, he is prone to reminding me of how bad it has been in the past. When I get angry about where I am with my eating, the constant maintenance it takes to stay healthy, he reminds me how bad “unhealthy” really was. Most of the time it helps. It grounds me, and takes me out of my head. Because that is the truth. The truth is it’s not as bad as it has been. But then there are other times when his words don’t do that, when they can’t pierce the fierce frustration I am experiencing, for the same reasons Sherlock expresses. Sometimes the problem isn’t that it’s been worse before. Sometimes the aching, horrible question inside is: Is this really as good as it’s going to get?
That can be a draining feeling, and the sensation of a life lived constantly fighting against the part of yourself that leads you to be unhealthy is exhausting. We often talk about recovery as a fight that you are going to win. The reality often feels more like a fight where you have reached the point where you can fight back, and maybe for a long time, but it doesn’t really look like there’s a win on the horizon. Does recovery feel like winning? No. Oftentimes, I feel like I should feel happier by now. I should feel better. I should be further along. Then I start to realise I might never be happier, or better, or further along. With this type of thinking, you start to become unmoored from all meaning, and from your own reality. The prospect of the future becomes more depressing and more important than the past that has been overcome.Weirdly, having enough distance from the despairing times doesn’t always make you happier. Sneakily, brutally, your perspective gets twisted the further into recovery that you progress. So instead of constantly thinking, “Thank God I don’t have to live that way anymore!” one starts to think, “Do I really have to live this way forever?”
These are not nice thoughts. These are not even right thoughts or good thoughts, because like I said and my partner constantly reminds me, being in recovery from something is amazing. It’s beautiful, and scary, and relieving, and transformative. And perhaps there is better coming. Perhaps there is total recovery, a complete win, a moment where you stand on your mental mountain and know that the one ring is gone and you are free. But I’m inclined to think there is more of Frodo and more of Sherlock in recovery than there are promises of complete wellbeing. But maybe. Hope is not a crutch. It’s an act of faith. And I still have some, even though it has been seventeen years.
These are not nice thoughts, but they are true. Because it is hard and monotonous, but that’s the reality. And we keep on going. That is what drew me so powerfully to the quote from Elementary, and what continues to draw me to the narrative I find in the show. The narrative that maybe life will never be great, but it’s better. It may not be nice, it may not always be encouraging, but it is something else. It is true.