Which should come first, the chicken or the egg?

Summary

My lost week

I should be out and about somewhere in London with Penny and friends because it’s her birthday drinking session. But like the lemon I am, it completely slipped my mind as I woke up at some ridiculous time of the afternoon after two nights of #Sleepfail. So a night putting up with zombie-cat, ITV’s finest and an early night instead.

The past seven days have felt like a lost seven days as everything caught up following three intensive weeks putting together the digital videos for workshops I ran earlier this month.

Mental exhaustion

One of the things that happened after my mental health crisis of a year ago was the sensation of a permanent state of tiredness. As I mentioned in my review of 2012, when you lose a key aspect of your health – physical, mental or otherwise, everything in terms of your outlook changes. Stuff that you took for granted you no longer can. In days gone by I’d be able to fill quite a bit into a full day – including full time work and volunteering in the evening. Stable, predictable but (for the latter at least), a lot of fun.

The thing is, how do you explain the impact of this feeling of permanent exhaustion to people that you meet on a one-off basis? Should you? (Or rather, should I?) With mental health illnesses quite often the impact is not immediately visible. Enough medication and caffeine can normally see me through the day, before needing to take a zombie pill that knocks me out for the next two. Normally for such things this terror that I won’t wake up in time to deliver whatever workshop it is I’m lined up for remains an ongoing nightmare.  Sometimes it feels like putting up with a sleepless night is worth it rather than taking something that might knock me out till the afternoon the following morning.

But I’m not the only one with sleep problems – and nor is it confined to The West – as recent research shows. Yet in my case, exhaustion and sleeplessness are symptoms of being a wider mess healthwise. In that sense, I almost feel I’m back where I started in January 2012 – wanting to sort it out. Only this time, the half hour walk to the swimming pool in itself is exhausting rather than a pleasant addition to going swimming or doing circuits that I started that year (and was getting a lot out of too.)

So…how do you recover from something like this?

Again, one of the things with mental illnesses is that you can’t take a two week course of medication and be up and running again. You can’t put on a plaster cast for a month and have everything healed. It’s a lot more complicated than that. The problem I – and many others have is that state-funded services for mental health are very limited. As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been on medication since 2006 (on-off since 2002) but haven’t had any counselling for quite some time. On Twitter I have quite a large number of friends and followers who are struggling/have struggled with mental health problems. Their experiences tell of similar problems with mental health services too.

I’m not going to pretend I know the answers to their problems. The one really big issue I have is that there doesn’t seem to be anyone who can advise on ‘taking a long term overview’ of how to overcome these things. (10 minutes with a GP is not nearly enough). I first had a look at what it might mean for me back in September 2011 – Going beyond a pill.

One of the things that crushes me still is the impact of inertia – the major negative side effect of moving back in with my parents. A culture shock after spending 10 years in my own places whether in Cambridge, Brighton or London. But when you’re not in a position to work full-time, what other alternatives are there? Part of that issue is trying to be in control of my own destiny. In one sense, I’ve taken some control – just not in the way that mainstream culture expects. I figured that out before writing the blogpost I’d like to teach the world to sing. I’m not going to be able to afford my own place, my own car and be healthy enough to hold down a full time job in the near future. Thus best to focus on something else instead.

Which should come first? Chicken or egg?

In this, I mean going beyond treading water that I seem to have done for far too long as far as mental health is concerned. This comes back to the point about having someone with a professional overview of helping people recover. In what order is it best to do things, and how realistic are chances of ‘recovery’? Also, while some things I can do on my own, others are dependent on other people and other factors – eg money and available local facilities and services.

Connected

Several of us were discussing this over Twitter not so long ago – that of meaningful connections. One of the things that social media has allowed me to do that has been completely lacking elsewhere is to find and get to know people with whom I have multiple shared interests. The barrier? They all seem to live ages away! One of my Twitter friends (who I won’t name) said that her problem is that while she knows a fair number of people, she’s not in their ‘primary group of friends.’ ie When you want to meet up to go out for an evening in a small group, she’s not part of it. If she is, then the effort to organise is primarily made by her. Over time, being what feels like the only organiser can become exhausting. A feeling I can empathise with. Hence when someone else is the organiser of something, it feels like much more fun because you’re not responsible for anything. But such things can feel few and far between when you don’t have that ‘primary group’ mentioned earlier.

Shared group experiences

One of the things that the digital video projects have taught me is the positive impact of shared group experiences, and bringing people from different backgrounds who are likely to have similar interests together for a specific and defined purpose. Despite blowing big holes in my wallet, for me they have been more than worth organising on group impact alone – not mentioning how useful the final products have been. I wish I could do more of them, hence pondering looking for charitable grants to make some in the future. Spending time working with others on defined tasks broadens and deepens friendships that are predominantly online for too many of us at the moment. On my side too it takes away attention from my out-of-control thought-processes and internal dialogues – which are exhausting as they are. (By ‘out of control’ I mean ‘the noise of thoughts – and music – in my mind’. It’s as if there’s no off switch).

Personal outlook

In this sense it’s a “I’m no longer in my 20s and I’m not getting younger” sort of thing. On one side, there’s the liberation of an inner feeling that I have nothing to prove to anyone career-wise (which is a marked difference from years gone by). On the other side, there’s my internal body clock which says I should be looking at settling down with someone, despite being single for a few years now. When I was living in my own place & was in full-time work, the idea of things like speed dating and internet dating were fine for me simply because life was so busy with everything else. The pace of life in London is like nothing else I have seen or experienced in any other place I’ve stayed in or lived in. But with being where I am now? I feel uncomfortable. Which perhaps is why I found the articles here and here about dating and mental health interesting. Some of you may have also seen the series The Undatables on Channel 4 which follows those with challenging living conditions – including both physical and mental health disabilities and their experience with dating and relationships.

Looking at things from a housing perspective, getting to the ‘having my own place’ again as I’ve mentioned is something that I’ve said to myself I’m not even going to depress myself with entertaining. As a society, I think we cannot pretend that house and rent prices are not having an impact on when couples choose to settle. Given that the average age of a first time buyer has risen from 28 to 35 in ten years…exactly. Interestingly, you’ll find the internet full of various articles about why women are choosing to have children later. I’d be interested to know to what extent housing as well as educational attainment are factors.

No really, which will come first – chicken or egg?

Can I get back to you on that?

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