Yesterday was hard. I did my best to keep my head above water, but found myself drowning in tears at bedtime. Anxiety had done a number on me from early in the day and I found the rest of the hours till bed moved in slow motion. Everything took longer. I couldn’t be interrupted without feeling completely adrift. The effort it took me to do mundane, simple tasks was equal in difficulty to climbing a snowy mountain. We’re talking very simple tasks: grating cheese, answering a harmless email, changing from normal to studio work clothes. Today, I have a mental illness hangover. I’m slow, timid, and trying to get on track. I’m exhausted.
I wish I could give people answers when asked, “what triggered the anxiety? Why are you depressed?” but the truth is, I don’t know. If you experience these things yourself, you know too, we don’t know. This doesn’t make the feelings imaginary or less powerful, quite the opposite. They are monsters with blood on their teeth or cold, dark boxes you can’t escape. They are the walls of the world pressing in on you, or the panic that the phone rings and you can’t face answering it. In mental illness, helplessness is a common feeling. So is worthlessness, fear, bottomless sadness. If we could stop it, we would.
I took a photo of myself wearing my hood up, my eyes hidden. I didn’t explain it, but I wanted to stay in there all day, to disappear, to shut away the sight of the world’s demands in my periphery. In truth, I didn’t stay in there long. I tied my hair back tightly, took an unreasonably long time changing into my studio work clothes, and sat still a lot. My housemate was out, so I was alone and under no pressure to answer questions, do his well-intentioned suggestions for activity, or keep up appearances. I needed that slow time. I eventually made it to the studio. [For clarity, Pete never pressures me, but when you’re in the midst of a mental crisis, everything feels like pressure.]
Pete came back just as I had sat down to answer an email. I was very close, I told him, to texting him that ‘I can’t be who you want me to be today’ and he was so very supportive. We – slowly – made a simple dinner together. I had a can of strong cider. He had another appointment to attend and so I assured him I’d be ok and he left for the evening. I put a large sheet of paper onto my easel and a favourite album on my iPod. It was Jane’s Addiction – Nothing’s Shocking, which always takes me right back to Richmond, Indiana, late 80s, and so I let memories guide scrawls of line.
I churned out four, large drawings within one and a half plays of the album. It helped. I went somewhere else – somewhere awkward but familiar – for awhile and translated biographical moments in time into art. They helped me escape the anxiety of the day. I am grateful. My housemate came home, I walked him through my drawings, and then I sat and played Borderlands 2 on my Playstation for a bit while he finished some computer tasks.
I escaped the evening without self-harm or getting drunk.
Bedtime was hard. There’s something about the dark, quiet end of a day that puts my anxieties and depression into overdrive. I’m not sure how many hours I cried, how long my housemate held me, or when I finished a cup of sleep-enhancing tea, but I remember the low volume of radio (Late Junction programme on BBC 3) went quiet at midnight. I did sleep. After three or more days of insomnia, and despite my sinuses swollen from tearful despair, I slept hard.
That brings us to today. The sun is shining, but I’m hiding. The mental illness hangover is keeping me careful, and I’ve borrowed Jasper (the dog I share with Neil) to keep me company. Pete is out on appointments. I have a fire going in the studio fireplace and a coffee. It’s after noon already, and I’m feeling a slow build of strength. With any luck, I’ll return a phone call I missed earlier (read: could not answer because I just couldn’t) and get a nice chunk of work done. I’m not pressuring myself, and I can take the time and work into the evening.
Mostly, I’m going to try to do better than yesterday, however small others might judge my progress. We have a saying in this house, one I think I adopted from a book called Things the Grandchildren Should Know, and that is “Tomorrow is new.” That’s what I focus on when the walls cave in on me; tomorrow is new.