It’s a question I’ve asked myself many times. It’s a question that most people who experience mental health difficulties ask themselves. Especially in the early days. When maybe they don’t realise what’s going on.
It’s not just a mental illness thing. There are so many people living with experiences, symptoms, they don’t understand. That we wish we could have explained and hopefully fixed. That is what we are lead to believe happens. You get sick. You get symptoms. You take your symptoms to a wise doctor. They believe you, investigate, identify and issue a nice little prescription to make it all better.
But of course we know life is seldom like that.
I’ve spent 30 years trying to understand “what is wrong with me” or “why am I the way I am?”. I’ve never got far with doctors, but then so much of what I feel is wrong is hard to explain, express. And seeing as I have been mostly functional, most of the time – it’s no one’s priority. Unless it gets in the way of work, no one seems to care. No matter that you live your life in pain, discomfort or emotional torment. No matter that you have no energy and cannot for the life of you manage to keep things in order for more than two days together, and you battle with self destructive urges every day of the week.
I’m having a bad day. Part of a bad week, bad month – unsurprising having gone through such a momentously rubbish year.
I feel much like I used to feel. Last night was spent alternating between on the one hand lying awake, in pain, feeling tense and sad and trying not to spiral. I can’t use twitter as a benign distraction any more because the world makes me sadder. Or more accurately more frightened. On the other hand when I did sleep I got fitful, terrifying dreams. I can’t remember them now, but I woke with sorrow in my chest. That kind of waking where you open your eyes and feel more tired than you have ever felt. You can’t even move your face. You stare at whatever happens to be in front of you, heavy lidded. You will yourself to move but your body doesn’t listen. Your body feels like it is still asleep. Only a notch up from sleep paralysis. You feel the guilt and self loathing begin to rise.
Not this again. Why can’t I just be normal?
When people say that people with depression can’t get out of bed, I really don’t think some people get it. I mean yes – there are days when I am “only” so down that I don’t want to get out of bed. That it feels pointless, or frightening. That I know I’m going to be no use to myself or anyone so I might as well stay where it is safe and dark and warm. But those are not the worst days for me. The worst is when I want to move, and try to move, wanting to shake it off – but just can’t. It takes hours. Like turning the key in the ignition over and over and over until finally the engine starts. And every action from there on in takes herculean effort.
About three days in every month I am organised. I am a whirlizer of tidying and cleaning, and admin and sorting thing out and getting things done. And then slowly it all falls apart. Washing mounts up, dishes gather either dirty or on the draining board, somehow never making it to the next stage. I just about manage to keep doing what I absolutely have to do. Working. Emails. Feed cats and us. But I see around me everything I am not doing and I feel shame and sadness that I can’t be who I want to be, can’t have the life I want to have.
What is wrong with me? Knowing what I know now, I do at least give myself some slack. Executive dysfunction can be a big part of Depression. We don’t just do things. Same as a rocket doesn’t just launch. We have to put a hundred things in place in the right order to complete any task, either literally – like having a cup of tea:
recognise you are thirsty
decide what you want to drink
remember that to make tea you need
to put water in kettle
to switch kettle on
where the teabags are
to get a teabag from the box
to put the teabag in the cup
to notice when the kettle boils
to pour the boiling water on the teabag in the cup
to wait a while
to remember that you take milk
to remember that the milk is in the fridge
to get the milk from the fridge
to add the milk to the tea
to squeeze and remove the teabag
to stir the tea
to take the tea with you to where you are sitting
to remember to actually drink the tea
to remember to blow on it if it is hot
Or we are doing a bunch of things subconsciously in our bodies and minds to make things happen – like getting up.
People with dementia can have issues with executive functioning because they forget aspects of this. My gran used to have lots of falls and they said it was because while her head knew it wanted to get up and go somewhere, the message wasn’t getting through to her legs sometimes as quickly as it needed to. She could move her legs, she just didn’t, and so top half lurched forward before the bottom half was there to carry it.
People with depression can have issues with this – but there are also other issues which may be going on in the background that we might not know about – issues of neurodiversity for instance, Autism, ADHD, Dyspraxia etc. Far more of us may fall into these categories than some people think. And many people may be struggling with anxiety, depression, OCD, and other issues as a result of living with these issues undiagnosed – causing life and certain situations to be more challenging, not understanding why we don’t find it as easy as other people seem to.
But getting any of this checked out as an adult is not easy. And it’s something I have chosen not to pursue at present. But on days like this, when I used to beat myself up for being a failure, I try to remember that there is more going on that other people can see. For whatever reason, be it hormones, atmospheric pressure, stress or the phases of the mood (who knows) – some days are harder than others. And the first thing that helps is giving myself a break.