Sunday, 14 February 2010

On Falling Apart

This blog post has had many titles: On Hardening My Heart, On Refusing To Quit, On Defriending And Blocking, etc etc etc. Eventually, however, I have given it the above title, because that is how I feel at the moment.

First of all, please allow me to say a huge thank you to everyone who read my last blog post, and for all the lovely comments and messages I’ve received here, on facebook and on twitter. Thank you also to everyone who is continuing to support me throughout this rather peculiar phase in my internet life (I have become more guarded than usual, and taken actions that I thought I never would in the last few days). I can only say that my real life at the moment is also equally, if not more, peculiar, and I really hope that things get sorted out soon.

I have stayed away from twitter for much longer than I intended, and have not, as I said in my last post that I would, responded to the lady who made the initial tweet. Last Saturday night, I seriously considered giving up my internet life completely, and returning to spending more time staring at the TV instead.

I wrote the above two paragraphs several days ago. I am still struggling desperately with twitter, and with facebook, and particularly with blipfoto. I shall now try to explain why. Forgive me if I don’t do a very good job. I’m not really up to it at the moment, and this blog post will probably be unedited. I owe you all some sort of explanation though.

After I wrote the previous blog post I received a message on facebook from somebody, which, in essence, said the following: my expectations of the twitterverse as a safe place are unrealistic, I have problems, I have blamed her friend (the lady who sent the first tweet/DM) for all my problems, I have referred to myself as the aggrieved party in the incident with the lady who sent the tweet when in fact that lady is mortified, she says she has sympathy with that tweet in that she likes to follow people who make her laugh or are interesting, my “friends” are not doing their best for me by providing sympathy and should instead tell me that I’m being over-demanding and that the world does not revolve around me, real friends would tell me I’m being an idiot, I would provide support for other people too if I were any kind of a friend to anyone (with the implication that I don’t – sorry friends, I apologise for being so crap and useless), being around people who are miserable is no fun and I shouldn’t be surprised if people have run out of patience with me, my blipfoto post for 4th February was “horribly nihilistic” and blipfoto was not an appropriate place to share such things because it is a site about photography, have I ever heard of CBT (something which I find horribly patronizing, given previous blog posts), she suggests I share less on the internet because I wouldn’t expect group therapy in the real world and shouldn’t expect the internet to provide me with any such help, and finally tells me “I hope you get help” and that I shouldn’t blame other people for my distress.

I immediately unfriended and blocked this lady on facebook. I also had to unfriend the original lady – not because I didn’t want to forgive her and become friends again, but because I am afraid that the lady who sent me the above message will get to me through her. I also abandoned my twitter account, set up a new, locked, account to try to keep in touch with a few friends (I’m sorry if I haven’t yet managed to contact you – I’m trying, but so short of energy), and changed my name on blipfoto.

However, none of this has helped. Things are still getting worse. I also fear that in my search for solace from all this I have done irreparable damage to a very precious and treasured friendship with a real life friend who is also very ill and unable to cope with me at the moment.

I cannot answer all the points the lady made in her message to me – I simply don’t have the energy or enough tissues to mop up the tears that writing this post is generating. I would have linked to a blog post by someone else that was made in response to an incident that occurred last week and referred to the support that the internet can be when people are in mental distress, but the person who wrote that post has had to take it down because she has had an overwhelming response to it and simply doesn’t have the time to deal with what it has generated. I try very very hard, when I have the strength, to support anyone who needs it in any way that I can. Sometimes, however, I need people to cut me a bit of slack.

First, of COURSE I have heard of CBT. For goodness sake. I am an intelligent informed woman who has read dozens of books and articles on my condition. I point you towards “On Being Bonkers” from July 2009. It is only by employing CBT techniques that I am able to get out of bed most mornings, that I am able to force breakfast into me although I feel sick, that I am able to steer the car towards work rather than back home, that I am able to keep going at all on a lot of occasions. You wouldn’t suggest to someone with a broken leg that they might like to get it set in plaster – why assume that people with depressive illness are too stupid to have researched their condition? And, for information, CBT is not available on the NHS to me, and my psychiatrist considers that I am already well-enough versed in its techniques that it wouldn’t necessarily be helpful to have more. I can’t afford to pay for it in any case.

As to the real world. Would I go into a pub and have a meltdown? Well, yes, and I have done on many many occasions. I have ended up out in public many times in a terrible state. I have left numerous restaurants and sat on the pavement outside shaking because I struggle to eat out in public when I feel scared. I have broken down in the middle of a big party of several hundred people, halting a barn dance and causing my distressed father and best friend to have to pick me up and take me out and comfort me. I have sat on the floor in Sainsbury’s crying by the Frosties. I have collapsed on the floor of a train, been violently sick, and then screamed and pulled at the (fortunately electric, rather than the old fashioned handle type) doors to try to get off. I have been lost out on the street, unable to see because the lights are too strong and the noises are too loud. I have stood and sobbed in front of a class of 11 year olds because I played a chord wrong on the piano.

On every single one of these occasions, people have been helpful and sympathetic. Even people I didn’t know. The man on the train, who helped a vile and messy me to get off at Greenwich station and made sure I was OK before he continued his day, the woman in Sainsbury’s who wanted to know if I was alright, even the class of year 7s who coped with their Head of Music disintegrating before their eyes.

As to blipfoto. At the moment I cannot even look at the site, because it makes me feel sick. I tried, when I got home from a trip away on Friday night. I looked at one friend’s blip from the day, and the top comment was from the woman who sent me that message. I logged off straight away and closed the tab on the browser. I’m sorry blip. As for my “horribly nihilistic” post, I was going to say that I was terribly sorry to have spoilt this woman’s fun, to have disturbed her comfy life and ruined her internet experience, but I’m not. What I am sorry about is the two friends who read that post and were seriously worried about me to the extent that they both e-mailed me and left numerous text messages and missed calls on my phone because they were so worried about me. I’m sorry to have put you through that. I’m sorry for my father and stepmother who read the post through my facebook wall (they are both friends of mine on there) and were extremely worried, knowing that I have tried to take my own life in the past and fearing that I’d do it again. I’m also sorry for my poor husband, who was having to cope with all this in the middle of organizing his gig.

What I have finally realised this morning though, is why that message has done me so much damage. It is agreeing with everything the illness is telling me. I have a loud voice in my head telling me that I am a bad friend, a miserable person, an idiot, a plonker, a worthless and wretched apology for a human being. I think often how much better place the world would be if I had never been born. I know that I am a failure, that I am nearly 40 years old and unable to support myself financially, unable to produce any children, unable to hold down anything other than a part-time clerical job (and even that with difficulty, and only with the extreme patience of my colleagues). These views I have of myself are, of course, only partially true and are mainly caused by the illness that pervades my mind. Ironically, these are the very feelings that I have to use CBT techniques to fight against – the “Automatic Negative Thoughts” that follow me everywhere. This woman, who is so keen that I “seriously consider CBT” has reinforced those negative thoughts a hundredfold. I am now fighting them, and trying hard to think of all the lovely things my real friends and supporters have said to me, in order to try and re-establish some sense of self-worth.

So, I have shared even more on the internet. Partly because I owe everyone an explanation, but also because I want people to UNDERSTAND. I don’t crave sympathy, but understanding. I have defriended and blocked for the first time ever, to protect myself. I do refuse to quit in my quest to talk about mental illness and the issues it raises, even if it means exposing myself to criticism. I cannot harden my heart – it’s like a jam without enough pectin, or a custard that hasn’t been heated enough – it will never harden, it just isn’t that sort of heart.

For all the strife that this whole episode has caused me, I am particularly glad of one thing. I received a message on facebook from a person who said how much my Feb 4th blip had helped her, how comforting it was to know that there was someone else who knew what it felt like to feel like that. I was also very touched by a comment I received from someone who said that even though we just looked like little tiny pictures on twitter, behind each one was a person, and those people really care. These things have stuck in my head.

The other thing I’m amazingly grateful for is the Wonderspouse. The week that all this broke he was speaking at a conference on mental illness at the Royal College of Psychiatrists – alongside Alastair Campbell, who was saying how mental health issues should not be brushed under the carpet. He had a massive audit at work. He organized a book reading / gig in London. All this while working full-time, attending my psychiatrists appointments with me, keeping up his own writing and internet work, cooking all our meals, looking after the cats, and getting up in the middle of the night to make me tea and mop up my tears. I really don’t know how he’s still standing – the man is a marvel.

As to the woman who wrote the message, I don’t know whether she will ever read this post. If she does, then I would beg her NEVER to send a message like that to anyone again. If I was giving her the benefit of the doubt, then I might, just, be able to say that she was being “well-meaning”, although the tone of her message suggests otherwise. Yes, the patronizing tone made me angry, but whatever bitterness made her write it could have cost someone who didn’t have a Wonderspouse on hand a lot more than it cost me. I wondered why the lady who sent the original tweet/DM felt the need to say that my tweets were “getting on her tits” and didn’t just unfollow me quietly. I wonder even more why this second woman felt the need to harangue me as she did. She doesn’t have to look at my blips or read my blogs. If you really want to stick to “nice pictures” and “fun” on the internet, then so be it. I cannot, and will not, brush my true self under the carpet and put on an act to entertain people online – it would be untrue to myself and my beliefs.

Furthermore, I do believe that the internet is, like real life, a place full of lovely supportive people who are generous, loving and helpful. I don’t think it’s unrealistic of me to hope that people who I do regard as friends will bear with me through the rough patches. I gladly do the same for them, helping wherever I can.

I said in “On Being a bit Bonkers” last July that I didn’t wish to make this blog about mental health issues. I still don’t, but have had to write this post by way of explanation, and maybe to work through issues that are still outstanding from the whole incident. I’m also going to take some time off the internet. Feel free to comment on this blog post if you like, although the Wonderspouse is insisting on monitoring comments before I read them. He cannot take the risk that the work being done by my GP, psychologist, psychiatrist, and himself can be further undone by anything that might hurt me. I am simply too fragile at the moment. I shall probably take at least a week off twitter and facebook, although, by the time you read this I shall have left details of how I can be contacted in both places for people who do want to get in touch and don’t have any other means. The “Ears” blog is on hold for now, although I shall continue to keep a record of what I’m listening to (not very much at the moment – I’m having to sleep a lot, and am staring at the TV quite a bit too). I’m not even thinking about blipfoto for now. It’s simply too painful.

My mind feels rather like it needs renovating at the moment, a bit like this:

I’ll be back when it’s sorted and strong enough to cope with whatever gets thrown at me and when I’ve got the rest of my life together. I just need some time and I hope that you’ll understand, and forgive me this rather frank blog post. If I had any choice in the matter I most certainly wouldn’t elect to be miserable, to feel sorry for myself, or to have such a black day as inspired my February 4th blip. To choose such a life really would be madness!

Saturday, 6 February 2010

On Not Tweeting

I tried to go back to twitter last night. Tried to tweet to let everyone know I was OK, to thank them for their support, to say I’d be back soon. But I couldn’t. Simply couldn’t. My fingers just refused to type, like there’s some sort of block.

It all started with an incident on Wednesday night, where I read a tweet about me that was sent as an @reply rather than a DM by mistake. I won’t quote the tweet for you here, but let’s just say that it wasn’t flattering.

I @replied the lady concerned (I couldn’t send her a DM since she’d unfollowed me), saying that I was sorry she didn’t like my tweets, and goodbye, and the whole thing should really have ended there, except that it didn’t.

First of all, this lady was not just a “random tweep”. I’m also friends with her on facebook, I subscribe to her blipfoto journal, and I thought we were friends. Second, I suddenly became worried – were lots of other people sending unflattering DMs about me and this lady was simply unlucky in that she accidentally sent the message publicly and I just happened to be logged on and looking at the screen as it arrived?

My logical brain knows I’m extrapolating unfairly here, but at the time I felt very threatened. This was partly because I am struggling to overcome a fairly major depressive episode at the moment, trying to get settled onto suitable medication, trying to sort my life out, and trying to get back to work where my colleagues are currently having to cover for me. I’ve also been desperately worried recently about a real-life friend, who is struggling to cope with his own ill health and current circumstances, and I feel powerless to help. Furthermore, for some reason the whole thing triggered memories of being bullied at school and college, which brought back a whole lot of hurt and pain that I couldn’t handle.

The result was that within a few moments of reading that tweet I was sitting at my desk in floods of tears. I sent three tweets of frustration, and then logged straight off and closed down the computer very soon afterwards.

A tearful restless night was followed by one of the blackest days I have experienced in recent times. I posted a blipfoto and bared my soul even more than I usually do. I sent several bitter and horribly unfair e-mails to my real-life friend, only adding to his pressures, for which I am sorry. I remembered crying on the steps of a mobile classroom when I was 4, being thumped on my first day at a new school when I was 5, having my hat and scarf pulled off me and thrown in a puddle when I was 11, being held down at age 14 by a gang of girls at school who rubbed muddy paper towels all over my face and then took my bag with its precious books in and ran off to play football with it on the school field. Even into the sixth form and at college people whispered about me, and laughed at me because I preferred to go to the library rather than the college bar.

Of course, this was all a long time ago. I’m grown up now and I’ve largely got over most of it. I look back at my young self and realise that maybe, as a teenager in a northern comprehensive school, I should have learnt to act better. I should have pretended that my favourite music was Duran Duran and not Schubert.

However, that’s not me. I’m an open person who wears my heart on my sleeve. It’s just the way I’m made. My Dad is the same – he has eye problems and carries pictures of retinal scans around in his wallet – he’ll show them to anyone who’ll listen: in the pub, on the street. I’ve inherited his candour, and, some would say, we also share a certain naivety and general belief in the goodness of people.

So these were some of the things racing round my head on Thursday. To add to the general grimness of the day, we had run out of heating oil so had no heat or hot water. I spent much of the day hiding under a blanket on the sofa, getting what warmth I could from a small fan heater.

Sometime in the afternoon, 3 things happened. The first was that I decided I would blip. The link to that blip is on my twitterstream and facebook page if you haven’t already seen it. I’m not quite up to sorting links on here at the moment. The main reason I blipped was that I have “completion” issues. I knew I’d regret it terribly if I didn’t. The Wonderspouse had given me a programme for his Year Zero Writers gig and I browsed through it and found the quote by Daisy Anne Gree, which I blipped. It struck such a chord with me.

The second was that the man arrived with the oil delivery. Once I’d signed for it, looked at the bill and wondered where I was going to find that kind of money, I set about the task of getting the air bubbles from the system so we could get hot water and heat again. The practical work was actually a bit good for me.

The third was that I decided I must go to the Wonderspouse’s gig. This was his big “do”. He’d been planning it and working on it for months. He’s unswervingly devoted to me in every way he possibly can be. To let him down would be unthinkable. I had to go. So I put a coat and hat over my filthy slobby clothes, got in the car (I didn’t even turn the TV off, we discovered when we got home that night) and went.

I lasted most of the evening fairly well, although cracked at the end. Fortunately Daisy, the writer of the quote on my blip, was there, knew exactly how I was feeling, and looked after me splendidly. Thank you Daisy.

And so the climb back out of the dark hole had begun.

Most of yesterday was spent asleep. I did log on to facebook a couple of times and started on the mountain of messages that are there for me. I logged in to twitter and read the many supportive DMs and @replies I’ve received. I also e-mailed my real-life friend a bit more and tried to understand his difficulties rather than my own. I hope he’s forgiven me for the terrible behaviour over the last few days.

So what now?

I am tentatively making my way back onto the internet. I’m managing to go onto facebook from time to time. I’m still blipping. I’m still checking my e-mails. I need to update the “Ears” blog, which is a few days behind.

The lady who sent me the tweet that started all this has not unfriended me on facebook, as she said in her tweet that she would. She has sent me a long and apologetic message, to which I will reply as soon as I am able. It has been suggested that I unfollow her, block her, defriend her, etc. but that is not my way. Maybe she has good reason for saying what she did. Who knows. The Wondserspouse alerted me to the fact that she had changed her twitter avatar to a road sign – she knows I like road signs after a comment I made on blipfoto. She sent me a jolly picture of a road sign on facebook – I wasn’t up to coping with messages at the time and have not yet thanked her for that. I shall, but all this will take a little time.

A second lady, the lady to whom she sent the @reply, has been caught in the crossfire. I’m sorry about that. I have not unfollowed or defriended anybody as a result of all this. I have never blocked any real person on twitter, only bots with unseemly images.

And I shall return to tweeting as soon as I am able. I think one of the things that shocked me most was that I’ve always found the twitterverse to be a place full of fun, support and loveliness. Maybe I’ve been lucky. I’ve always regarded it as somewhere “safe” in the same way that my home is (last August I received some difficult work mail at home on a Saturday morning and the shock of having to deal with something for which I was unprepared led to a day of tears and torment). Perhaps I should be a little more guarded, but being so uses up so much energy that I then don’t have enough left to function or enjoy life.

My reasons for being on twitter are very simple – just to make friends and talk to people who share my interests. I am not famous, or especially interesting. I have nothing to sell or promote. I simply enjoy the opportunities to meet others who like music, maths, animals, books, cups of tea, the arts, science, and all the other interesting things that people do. I try to steer clear of religion and politics where I can, and I don’t swear on the internet (I do in real life, although not especially much, but I’m not the slightest bit offended by it) since I know there are people who don’t like it. I really just like the friendship that twitter offers.

I am deeply grateful for all the supportive messages that I’ve received. Thank you. I shall reply to you all in time. In general, I’ve found everyone I’ve met on twitter to be absolutely lovely. I’ve also started to meet people from twitter in real life and, without exception, they’ve all been fantastic. I’ve been stunned by the generosity of one person in particular, who I now count among my firm friends, and I’ve also got back into the music world through twitter and am looking forward to future playing opportunities that have arisen.

The Wonderspouse said to me when I started twitter that if he thought it was bad for me then he’d ban me from doing it. The fact that he hasn’t done so over the last few days shows that he recognizes the positive effects it has had on my life.

I never thought I’d ever write a blog post called “On Not Tweeting”. Extraordinary!

I’ll be back when I can. It’ll just take a day or so.