Depressed people are faking it

Yes, you read the title right.  No, it wasn’t clickbait.  And yes, I mean it.

Depressed people are faking it.  Every.  Fucking.  Day.

I fake it.  Your best friend fakes it.  The guy at the psych office fakes it.  And every single other person with depression is faking it.

And some of us are so fucking good at faking it you’d never be the wiser, no matter how smart you think you are, and no matter how in tune with us you think you are.  We are masters at this game.  You’re maybe just a little confused about what it is, exactly, we’re faking.

Cause it’s not the sadness, or the numbness, or the anger or the paranoia or the self-loathing or the lack of confidence or the lack of joy.  Nah, it’s not the tears or the beating ourselves up.  It’s not waking up and wishing we didn’t.  It’s not the persistently nagging, pessimistic thoughts that have claimed our heads as home.  Nope, unfortunately, all that stuff is pretty real.

Instead, we fake the rest.  The other stuff.  The normal.

Like when you’re stuck in a slump, balled up on the couch feeling sorry for yourself.  It’s hard to find the energy to even say a word to your significant other, and suddenly someone knocks on the door.  The lights are on; they know you’re home.  So you have no choice but to open the door and fake it.  And god damn, do you do it well.  You amaze yourself every time, because who is this person, and why couldn’t I find her five minutes ago?

It’s the same at work.  You sit in your car in the parking lot, taking your last chance to breathe alone.  You don’t want to be here.  You want to be home, in bed, alone, forever.  You almost stayed home today, but you forced yourself to get this far.  So you go.  And when you walk through the doors… you’re different; you’re okay for now.  Why couldn’t I be okay before?

It’s when you go to the grocery store, or order your coffee, or when you have to make a phone call.  You don’t know where it comes from, but somehow there seems to be a living soul inside your normally empty body.  You hear yourself speaking clearly, laughing along and being a social being and you just wish you could be that way all the time.

So why can’t you?  Why is it so easy sometimes and so hard as soon as the circumstances change?   The second your visitor leaves; as soon as you’re finished work; right when you hang up the phone; walk out of the store – you’re back to where you were.  No more faking it.

It’s weird, because in those moments I sometimes almost forget I’m faking it.  I ride the wave as long as I can, but eventually I crash.   And usually once I do,  I am completely depleted.  It’s like going out for a joyride and not noticing you’re running on empty.  And then – BOOM, it’s over.  You’re out of fuel.  You crash and burn and it takes a lot to get you going again.

I fake it a lot.  I do it to get by.  It’s necessary for survival.  I can’t change how I’m feeling, but sometimes shit has to get done.  I can try to muster up the courage on my own – I can try to psych myself up to go out into the world.  Some days it’s no problem at all.  Other days, it’s impossible, and it won’t happen unless it has to happen.  So, I fake it.  I’m really good at it – I’ve fooled a lot of people.  And you know what?  I’m not the only one who does it.  I bet you know someone who’s been fooling you, too.

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Recognizing your ‘normal’

This is something I’ve struggled with for as long as I can remember, and I know I’m not the only one.

It’s not all that surprising – when your mood changes, your thoughts, opinions and feelings are bound to be affected too.  And when that’s something that happens around the clock, without notice, it gets hard to pinpoint who’s the impostor and who’s the real you.

Sometimes I’m a pessimistic, angry, inconsiderate witch who says horrible things to the people I love most.  Other times, I’m the kind of person who makes handmade gifts, sends random messages of encouragement to a friend, or buys coffee for the person behind me at the drive-thru.   There are days I wake up in a loud, smiling, energetic mood.  And then there are the days where I am nothing but a silent blob, breaking code only to cry.

So which one is really me??

Obviously, I’d like to say it’s the generous, happy-go-lucky girl who can do no wrong.  But I have to admit that’s not the case.  It’s hard to pinpoint where (if) Becca ends and depression, mania, schizo-shit, what-have-you, take over.  And it’s easy to say, “this isn’t you,” to someone who is depressed. But is it true?

I know I’ve heard it before and I certainly didn’t believe it when it was said to me.  And even now, in a ‘sounder’ mind, I don’t really agree with it.  Of course it’s me.  Who else was it if it wasn’t me?

Don’t worry, I’m going to elaborate.

I’ll start by saying my overwhelmingly dark days have been drastically reduced.  I’m still on a rollercoaster, but for now, the big loops and turns are behind me.  I haven’t had more than 3 consecutive days of hell in over a year.  Coming from someone who used to get stuck in black holes for months at a time, that’s a serious improvement.

In my personal opinion, I am my depression/mania/schizo-shit, and my depression/mania/schizo-shit is me.  I know this goes against what I’ve said in the past, and it certainly goes against what everyone tells you about your depression not defining you.  But I’m just trying a different approach because the other one simply doesn’t work for me anymore.

Subconsciously, I think being told “this isn’t you,” ate away at me for a long time.  People used to say it to me a lot, especially when I was stuck in a cloud.  I was hurting inside and I didn’t know why.  They wanted to help, so they told me that’s not who I was; this sadness isn’t the bubbly Becca they knew. Eventually, I think it got to the point where I started to believe it, but not how they intended.   It made me feel like I really had lost myself, and that I wasn’t ever coming back.  Becca was gone and depression took her place.  And as much as I didn’t want to believe I had turned into this broken down piece of a person… I had.    I had been beaten down by my own psyche, and I was so afraid at the fact that I didn’t even know myself anymore.  I tried to remember who I was ‘before’, and I couldn’t do it.   I had no idea who I was with or without depression.

A whole lot of love and support has led me to a different thought process.

All of this is me.  All of these traits are who I am.  And that’s fine.

On my bad days, I am me.
On my good days, I am me.
On my ‘normal days’, I am me.

In short, my depression is me, and I am my depression… but I’m a lot of other things too.

I live, act, feel and love in extremes.  Unfortunately that means sometimes I lose control.  It means that some people can’t handle me.  It means that sometimes I’m hard to understand.  It means that sometimes I hurt people.  But it also means I love with an exploding heart.

I’m done fighting my own image.  I am who I am as I am.
Trying to separate pieces of my identity is tedious and unnecessary.
This is who I am, and I’d rather just deal with it.

Why I haven’t posted in over a month

I haven’t had health insurance since I left to go on my backpacking trip in April of last year.  Before my insurance expired, I refilled all of my prescriptions. Even though I had gradually reduced the amount of medication I was taking – to make the supply last longer – as happens, it eventually ran out in the summer.  I didn’t refill it until this January, when I was at the doctor’s,  paying out of pocket for a completely unrelated reason.  While I was there, I figured I’d ask how much I would have to pay for my prescriptions without insurance. To my utter bewilderment (not to mention pure joy), it costs less than 60 euros for a 3+ month supply. Wow.  I had been expecting a bill of several hundred euro, which is why I had been putting it off for so long.  Naturally I got both prescriptions refilled and began taking them again the very same night. Relief. Remember, I’ve been on the on/off medication train several times.  Sometime last year, I finally accepted – and embraced – my meds, and their power to help me.  I wanted them back.

So why haven’t I posted about this, considering how relative it is to my whole journey?

In mid January, I posted about self harm.  What I failed to mention was the fact that I cut myself the same night I wrote the post. I didn’t want people to know.  I want to give people hope, an example of things getting better. I want them to read my words and imagine moving past this negative stage and back onto happiness.  I don’t want them to read my earlier posts of improvement and good times, only to then see that I’ve failed again. Because naturally, with a depressed mind, seeing me fall means there’s no hope for them either. That’s not the message I want to send.

Anti depressants are not instant fixes.  They will not make you better overnight.  In fact, often times, they’ll make you worse before they help you at all.  But once you get past the initial tough stage, it becomes worth it.  You can feel again.  You can think again.  You can get yourself out of bed again.  You can socialize again – hell, you want to socialize again.

That rough spot began in early January for me, and lasted until about three weeks ago.  I wrote that post, felt like a hypocrite for not telling the real story, and just left the blog alone. A little while later, I got a comment on a post, simply asking me if I was happy.  I couldn’t bring myself to respond. I didnt want to lie.  But I also didnt want to tell him the truth – that no, I wasn’t happy.  At least not right then and there.  So I just ignored the comment. And the blog altogether.

And then, soon after, the rough storm turned into a sunny afternoon with a beautiful rainbow. I felt better.  Again, I had one of those “it’s working” moments.  It’s funny how it sneaks up on you – gradually, you improve, but it happens over time and it’s hard to pinpoint when things got better.  And then, one afternoon, I was sitting on my kitchen floor, listening to Sia and drinking a chai.  And I smiled to myself because at that same time mere weeks before, I had called in sick to work because the thought of leaving my bed left me feeling  crippled.  I noticed how far I had come, and how calm I felt, and I smiled again, happy that I was back.

I haven’t posted because the first couple of weeks were spent feeling sorry for myself, while the remaining ones were spent surrounded by friends, good food and fantastic fun. I was so busy enjoying everything that I never took the time to write.

So, to the person who asked me if I was happy: 

I’m not happy everyday. Sometimes, I go days, weeks, even months, being unhappy.  I have times where I want nothing to do with being alive. I have times when I’m angry at myself, or the world around me. I have times where life seems pointless, and happiness seems fake.

And then, overall, above everything; all of the negative; all of the days I want to die, are the days where I am so, so, so incredibly happy.

After living in a dark, cloudy mind for so long, the sun seems to shine that much brighter once it finally does come out.  I feel the joy a million times over. I revel in it. I spread it. I sing at the top of my lungs in crowded – and empty – bars.  I cook (and also order, let’s be real here) delicious food with friends. I look forward to going to work, and planning fun activities with the toddler I am so lucky to take care of. I smile. I laugh. I make a fool out of myself. I have fun. I am happy.

Of course, sometimes that euphoric feeling is nothing but a manic phase. Sometimes I even have to ask myself, “am I happy or am I manic?” And I can never really know for sure. But it doesn’t really matter. The fact is I feel the joy and that’s enough for me, as long as I keep myself in control.

Any mental illness is a journey.  Every journey takes a different road, or takes a different turn.  Keeping up with yourself is important – checking in with your thoughts, keeping track of your feelings and major events. It helps to understand yourself when you can look back at what you’ve said, done, or felt, and view it with a different part of you. That’s what this blog is to me. I try to be as honest and open as possible, and then I go back and read through things later on.

So. To conclude, this rollercoaster ride is still going.  I’m buckled in tight, and I’m not getting off any time soon. 
I’m going to enjoy the ride as much as I can, when I can.  And I hope you do too.

A week in the psych ward

When my doctor told me I had to stay at the psychiatric hospital, I had to decide what to do about work.  I was working full time at a kindergarten.  Although the German health care system ensures you are paid for any work missed due to documented medical reasons, I wasn’t sure what to tell my employer.  Should I be honest, and risk ridicule or a change in people’s perception of me, or should I lie and say I was home with the flu, and have no one be the wiser?

At this stage, I was worried about that sort of thing.  I didn’t want anyone to see me as weak – I mean, after all, I was missing work for being ‘sad,’ wasn’t I?  Of course there is much more to it than that – but depressives don’t always give themselves enough credit.  And, let’s face it: unfortunately there is still a strong stigma, and not everyone is empathetic or understanding.

After much consideration, I ultimately decided to tell only one person at work the truth, and I told the rest I had bronchitis – that was believable because it happened to be going around the school at the time.  Apart from one colleague, everyone at work was left in the dark.  I preferred it that way.  They didn’t need to know.  My opinion on this matter – believe it or not – has not really changed.

So, along came that dreaded, long-awaited Monday morning.  Nick and I woke up, I threw some clothes and basic essentials in a bag, and we set off.  The hospital was only two subway stations away – I was about to be locked up a mere five minutes away from my comfort zone.  Somehow, that made everything worse – so close to home, yet so far from normalcy.  As we were sitting in the waiting room, organizing paperwork, I contemplated getting up and leaving – going back home to bed, pretending like nothing had happened.

We were sent upstairs, greeted by a nurse upon arrival.  I immediately didn’t like the place.  It was so cold and sterile.  There was no life in that building.  All doors were locked; a nurse and a key required for everything.  I was shown to my bed and Nick and I said our goodbyes. I knew I was going to see him later that night – he had promised to visit me – but despite that knowledge, I felt lonely and abandoned when he left. Everything was so foreign to me (in every possible way) and the thought of facing it all alone was not a happy one.

I was introduced to Evie – one of my three roommates, who happened to be ten times crazier than I was.  She was a very nice woman. I feel bad saying she’s a big part of why I felt so uncomfortable.

Just a reminder: I am Canadian, but I live in Germany.  I do speak German, however it is not my native language and therefore not my language of comfort. Handling such a sensitive situation would have been difficult already, and I had given myself the added stress of facing it in a foreign language.

Soon after my arrival, one of the nurses came to sit down with me.  She had a stack of papers, a whack of questionnaires to fill out together.  We sat and spoke for about twenty minutes.

Why are you here? – My doctor insisted.
You’re not German, I see.  Where are you from? – All the way from Canada to a German psych ward.
What sort of symptoms have you had?  – What symptoms haven’t I had?
Are you suicidal?  – Isn’t everyone?
(I was very cynical.)

I was told all about the daily routine:  7:00am wake up.  Check the schedule upon waking up – if your name is on the list, go for blood work before breakfast.  8:00am breakfast.  Medication rounds.  Meetings with doctors/therapy sessions.  Lunch at 11:30am.  Medication rounds, where required. Visiting hours.  Dinner at 5:00pm.  Medication rounds, where required. More visiting hours.  Quiet time after 8:00pm.  9:00pm: final medication round.  Lights out at 10:00pm.  Try to sleep through the noise of disturbed people all around you.

The schedule didn’t sound so bad (apart from the 7am wakeup, of course). I was happy to hear that I had lots of time for visits, and even happier to find out that I was allowed to leave the building during those hours.  The nurse was sure to remind me that – at least until they got to know my patterns and behaviours – I would not be permitted to leave without supervision.

After the nurse told me all she set out to tell me, I found myself alone in my room, desperately wanting to go home.  I knew there was a common room where I could entertain myself with board games, cards and fellow crazy people, but I wasn’t particularly interested in any of it. 

As I was lying in my new bed crying, Evie came in and started talking my ear off.  She spoke incredibly fast, and it was sometimes difficult to understand her.  She’d ask me all kinds of questions, but she never gave me enough time to answer before she moved on to the next one.  She was very friendly, and wanted to introduce me to everyone else in the ward.  I didn’t want to make friends.

That hospital had been home to Evie for over six months by the time I met her, and she had no idea when she would be allowed to leave.  Unlike me, Evie wasn’t there voluntarily.  Even more unlike me, she was more than happy to stay.

My first meeting with the doctor was pretty uneventful.  He asked me the same questions the nurse already had, and set up some appointments for the upcoming days – blood work, electrocardiography and an MRI.  He also gave me a few questionnaires to fill out, to help with coming to a diagnosis.

In the afternoons and evenings, I was lucky enough to have friends come and visit me.  I don’t think I spent a single afternoon alone.  That helped keep me sane, but also reminded me of how much I knew I didn’t want to stay there anymore.

At the end of the day, I just felt like the hospital was not the place for me to get better.  Being surrounded by so many people whose mental afflictions were much more severe than mine just reminded me of where I might end up one day.  I didn’t like that constant reminder.  For me, it was easier to imagine myself living a normal, happy life if I was surrounded by normal, happy people.  I felt like the hospital brought me further into my illness instead of bringing me to a point where I believed I could combat it.

This is not the same for everyone, as I learned from Evie.   She improved there.  She actually got the help she needed there, because it was the best, most comfortable option for her, and she wanted it.  She needed the stability.  She needed to be woken up every day.  She needed to meet with doctors.  She needed to have her meals prepared and placed in front of her three times day.  She needed routine created for her, because if left to her own devices, she’d never have it.  I didn’t feel that was true for me.

I decided one week was enough.  I was checking myself out.  The doctors and nurses tried their best to convince me to stay.  They reiterated again and again that constant observation and supervision was the best way to diagnose me.  I agreed.  However, I protested and stood my ground.  I was leaving.  I didn’t want to risk coming to a graver diagnosis, and I felt that was the only possible outcome if I stayed at the hospital.  With reluctance, they wrote a synopsis of my stay and passed all necessary information onto my psychiatrist.

I left with a diagnosis of “suspected bipolar disorder, type 2”. Several months later, I finally made a follow-up appointment with my psychiatrist.  Several months after that, I was diagnosed again.  This time, with schizo-affective disorder.  And thus began my “recovery.”

The medication works

For a while, I was convinced my doctor was giving me placebos.  I was certain he thought I was making everything up; that I was simply imagining my symptoms.  I thought there was absolutely no way he would prescribe me with real medication.  Even after researching the pills I had been prescribed, and getting them from the pharmacy with a complete list of ingredients, I thought they were fake.

I was positive that my doctor was just waiting for me to say I felt better.  And I thought that when I finally did, he’d say, “I told you so.”

I never thought the medication worked, until I found myself in the middle of a genuine, heart-felt laugh. 

I remember exactly where I was.  I was sitting on a train in Berlin, with my friend Charlynn.  I don’t remember why I was laughing, I just remember that I was – and it felt like the first time in my life that I ever had.

It wasn’t a laugh concealing a frown this time.  It wasn’t a laugh to trick people into thinking I was fine.  It wasn’t a laugh with a hidden agenda.  It was simply a real, happy, spontaneous laugh.

I caught myself in that laugh and I realized that I was finally okay again.  I knew I still had a long way to go, but for once I felt like I could actually get there.  Finally something was helping.

At this point, I had been taking my medication as directed for about two months – it took that long to notice any sort of change. I had thrown the pills in the garbage on more than one occasion before deciding to just stick with it.  Had I stuck with it from the beginning, that laugh probably would have happened a lot sooner.  But it didn’t, and that’s fine.

My relationship with my medication didn’t change right then and there.  While I realized I hadn’t been taking placebos after all, I still didn’t like the fact that I needed to be medicated in the first place.  I thought it was embarrassing that I had to ingest these little things every day just to be normal.  I hated my pills.  I resented my pills.  I saw my pills as a weakness.  I saw my medication as a problem in itself, even though I was fully aware it was meant to be part of a solution to a different problem.

Eventually I realized that it’s just a pill – that’s all it is!

It’s not a sign of a weakness, and it’s not a bad thing.  It’s a pill; a medication to help me get better.  Everyone needs a little bit of help with something – I happen to need a little bit of help balancing my mind.  And that is perfectly okay!

The medication works, and I am so thankful that it does.  Because for a long time, I was certain nothing would.

Here’s why you should talk about suicide

Suicide is the loss of a life at the hands of the very person living it.  It is raw, and it is scary.

Suicide is a sensitive subject – one that not everyone is comfortable with. People often shy away from talking about suicide because it’s not something they want to accept as relevant – they’d rather ignore it and hope it goes away.

Unfortunately this creates a vicious cycle, as it instills a fear in the suicidal – they are afraid that they will be judged and ridiculed for acknowledging their demons, and so they choose to suffer silently.  If people don’t openly talk about suicide, those suffering from its hold will not feel comfortable in coming forward to ask for help. They will be much more likely to succumb to their dark thoughts if they aren’t confident someone can help in fighting them off.

The depressive suicidal don’t believe in getting better – they don’t believe it’s possible.  They feel like they are stuck.  Hope is a foreign concept.  They don’t know what hope means anymore because they’ve forgotten what they’re being hopeful for.  They’ve forgotten what it feels like to be happy, and so they feel like happiness just doesn’t exist for them.  They aren’t hopeful they’ll get better because they can’t imagine a different life for themselves; they don’t remember life before depression took over.

Although society is headed in the right direction, there is still a strong stigma attached to mental health disorders and suicide.  We can’t fight that stigma with silence, and so we need to get people talking.

We need to open up.  We need to share our stories.  Because by sharing our stories, we can open eyes.

We can save lives.

Many of those we speak to will have never experienced this sort of thing for themselves.  Some might have a friend, a sibling, a parent or a child, who has.  We might be speaking to some people who have never ever knowingly been touched by suicide.

However, I can guarantee that we will also be speaking to people who have.  We might even unknowingly speak to someone who already has a plan.

We can be the reminder to that person that there is another way, even if they can’t see it right now.

We can be the reminder that they’re not alone, even if it feels like they are.

We can be the reminder that it’s okay to talk about it – and that they should talk about it.

We can be the reminder that they can get help; that things can change – that things can get better.

We can be the reminder that suicide doesn’t always win.

Music and Writing

Music is the world’s favourite form of expression, and a solace for many.  No matter the emotion you’re feeling, there is a song that relates.

My favourite artist alive today would have to be Sia.  Despite her music being everywhere, Sia stays in the background, where she likes to be.  She doesn’t want her face plastered on magazines, she doesn’t want to star in make up ads – she wants people to listen to her, and not focus on how she looks.  She happens to have a lot to say.

Apart from being extremely vocally talented, Sia seems to write directly from her soul.

I wrote this poem by rearranging lyrics from various Sia songs.  I feel like it shows just how much she really understands the afflictions many of us deal with in some form or another.  I hope you enjoy!


I wake up with a blind headache,
feels a bit like I might explode.
Electricity floods my brain,
and I can’t hide the pain.

I’m crying out – I’m breaking down.
I’m a mess; a fool; an empty space.
I am one single grain of sand,
going down the drain.

But I’m holding on for dear life.
I’m trying not to fall apart.

And while it’s a heavy load,
carrying those tears around,
death by crying doesn’t exist.
The tears on my pillow will dry,
and I will learn.

The pain may fill me,
but this is only right now.
There is hope for me.
The pain will not kill me.

I stand tall.
I know that I can survive.
I am strong.
Yesterday is gone and I will be okay;
I am a blank page waiting for life to start.

My Two Closest Friends

Depression never used to knock before coming in.  Depression would just show up, uninvited, and stay as long as she pleased.  She’d hang out with me wherever I was.  She’s quite lazy though, and usually convinced me to stay in bed all day.  We wouldn’t do anything!  Even if we watched a movie, I could never pay attention because she was so distracting – always rambling to me, talking about god-knows-what.  It’s really hard to focus on one thing when someone is talking in your ear about something else.  Basically, whenever she came over, I was stuck doing whatever she wanted to do (and that doesn’t consist of much).

Sometimes, when I had friends over, she’d leave me alone for a bit.  She’d hang back, I’d hang out, she’d wait for them to leave, and then she’d come out as soon as the door shut behind them.  Usually, though, she’d demand all the attention: my friends would come over to hang out with me, but they’d end up hanging out with Depression.  I’d kind of just be there in the background… somewhere.

One day, Depression and I were hanging out.  She left soon after she came though – which was a very rare occurrence! – so I decided to go out.  I ended up meeting Mania that night.

Mania and I instantly hit it off.  We went out together with a group of my friends and had a fantastic night out.  We spent a bit too much money and drank a bit more than we maybe should have, but I didn’t care!  It was too fun to care.  After that night, Mania and I hung out nonstop for about two weeks.  We had become inseparable!

I guess Depression heard that Mania and I had been spending a lot of time together, and she wanted to be a part of it.  But for some reason, our schedules never allowed for us to spend time as a trio.  Depression kept asking me to hang out more and more frequently.  Every time she’d heard that Mania had been over, she’d insist on coming by the next day.  She was even more selfish during these visits, if that were even possible.

Everything had to revolve around her.  If she didn’t feel like eating, we wouldn’t eat.  Oh, but if she did want to eat, we’d eat an unnecessarily large amount of food.  If she didn’t feel like talking, we’d sit in silence.  But, of course, if she did want to talk, we’d talk nonstop about whatever she wanted to discuss.  I say ‘discuss’, but really it was more of a lecture: I just listened to her talk; I never had a say in anything.

Eventually, I couldn’t even have friends over anymore while she was in town.  She would literally take the phone out of my hand and write up some excuse.  She even forbade me from going to work.  She’d call in, pretend to be me, and say she was sick with the flu, or food poisoning, or whatever else came to mind.

I don’t know why I never stopped her.  I just never really felt like I could.  Peer pressure, maybe?

Anyway, I started to strongly resent Depression.  Hate her, really.  Looking back, I realize that Depression had sort of become a little jealous of Mania.  But at the time, I just wanted to hang out with Mania and forget about Depression entirely.

Mania and I always had so much fun together.  She managed to make me forget about Depression, even though we’d been so close for so long.  I always thought Depression and I would be in each other’s lives forever, but Mania made me second-guess that notion.  She pointed out how terrible Depression treated me.  I honestly never realized it until then, but it was a very abusive relationship.

It was a good thing that Mania and Depression were never in the same room.  I feel like Depression would have definitely taken away all the fun.

Those days, I hung out with Mania as much as I could.  Depression would still come by every once in a while, but she didn’t stay as long as she used to.  Mania was my new best friend.

The early days of my friendship with Mania were great!  We would always be on the go, doing something, going somewhere.  We would spend our free days making things, writing stories together or planning a trip.  I would go to work and she would entertain herself – that was another thing I greatly appreciated, because Depression couldn’t handle me leaving her alone while I went to work.  We went out on the weekends and the occasional – albeit rare – week night.  We had a great social life and my friends absolutely loved her.

After a while though, she started to go a little wild.  And, well, I saw how much fun she was having and couldn’t resist joining in.

We started to go out a lot.  We spent money on things we didn’t need.  We drank. We did drugs. We had a very unhealthy sleep schedule.  We would go days without sleeping properly, and then crash for 20 or more consecutive hours.  Usually, I’d wake up to an empty bed and the doorbell ringing: Mania was gone, and Depression was back.

It was exhausting, keeping up with those two!  If I wasn’t with one, I was with the other.  I had very few days to myself.

Depression came over after Mania and I had had another binge.  I wanted her to go the second she walked in, but I didn’t want to be rude, and I had a hard time flat-out asking her to leave.  After all, she did just want my company.

She eventually opened up and told me she was upset – she felt like Mania had taken over and that I didn’t like her anymore.  She told me she missed me, and just wanted to spend more time with me.  She asked me if we could just stay in bed all day and pretend to watch movies while she distracted me, like old times.  The fact that this all made me feel guilty didn’t even matter: I was so exhausted after my binge with Mania that it actually sounded like a great idea.

So, we stayed in that bed for almost an entire week straight.  We slept most of the time.  We ate occasionally.  We would start a movie and I’d turn it off after a few minutes of her rambling.  I would wake up in the morning and see that she was still asleep, and I’d resolve to stay in bed so as not to leave her. It always upset her to wake up alone.  Sleep, sleep, sleep, repeat.

After a couple of weeks, Depression left, and I was by myself for the first time in over a month.  I was able to reflect on things, and I realized that maybe Depression wasn’t as evil as Mania made her out to be.  She was just lonely.  I felt bad for her more than I felt hurt by her.

Mania wasn’t perfect, anyway – was she?  Sure, we had loads of fun together, but I always spent way too much money while she was around, and it took me days to recover from our sleepless, drug and alcohol induced binges.

It was hard to talk to my other friends about Depression and Mania though, because they didn’t know either of them like I did; they could never really understand our relationship.

Sure, Depression held me back sometimes, but she also held me closer than any other friend ever had.  I could feel how much she wanted me around.  No one can argue the fact that it feels nice to be wanted. And yes, Mania would encourage me to do things that might not have been the best idea, but in the moment, it was always so fun and exhilarating.  We spent money I didn’t have, but we created amazing memories.

Mania was much better at winning me, as well as everyone else, over. She would show up, just like Depression always did, and instead of coming in to hang out, she’d insist we go out and do something.

She wasn’t always in her wild, party mode: sometimes she’d revert back to her original form, and we’d be incredibly productive.  She’d come over and help me clean my house (this was especially nice when she came after Depression had been over, because there was always an accumulated mess), or we’d cook a delicious dinner, or we’d paint something or draw something or rearrange my apartment.

I started to resent Depression.  Again.  This time, more intensely.  And it stuck.

She’d come over and my spirit would sink away to nothingness.  I knew that the moment she walked in the door, there was no more fun to be had.  So I got fed up.  I told Depression that she couldn’t just keep coming over without at least telling me first.  She needed to give me a warning before she came, so I could prepare.  I could never get anything done while she was around.  What if I needed to do laundry?  What if I had someone visiting and actually wanted to spend some quality time with them?  Reluctantly, she agreed that she’d let me know she was coming when possible, but couldn’t always be sure how long she’d stay.  Fair enough, I thought.

As with many things, I was wrong.

These days, Depression sometimes lets me know she’s coming.  I know she’ll be here in a few days.  I can prepare myself as much as possible, but I can never really prepare.  I don’t know how long she’s going to be here.  I know I’m going to be stuck with her, and I know I can’t tell her to leave, but I don’t know when she’ll be gone.  Trying to plan my life around her uncertainties is even worse than being utterly uninformed of her arrival.

Mania never tells me when she’s coming.  I’ve asked her to, but she refuses.  She says she wants it to be a surprise.   I’d rather be surprised by Depression than by Mania.  I want to know when Mania is coming because I want to be able to look forward to the fun.  I want to be surprised by Depression because I want to be oblivious that I’ll be in pain until the pain has already begun.

Unfortunately though, that’s not how it is.  Depression’s compromise was a warning.  She won’t leave me alone, but she’ll let me know when she’s coming.  Mania’s ‘compromise’ is surprise.  She won’t leave me alone, she certainly won’t inform me of her plans, but we’ll have a blast when she gets here.  I cannot rely on her.

This is how it is.  These are my two friends, Depression and Mania, and they’re going to visit me until they tire of me.  They’re going to stick around as long as they please, without my permission, my consent or even my affection.  It’s not certain how often they’ll come, or how long they’ll stay.  It’s not even certain that they’ll ever leave.

All that’s certain is me.   I am certain that I cannot, and will not, ignore them. I am certain that I will accept them.  But most of all: I am certain that they will be my friends, and not my keepers.  I will run the show; they’ll just be my co-stars.

What the f#$% is schizo-affective disorder?

Schizo-affective disorder and I have gotten to know each other pretty well in the recent years, but not many other people know what it is.

I remember when I first heard of it. My GP and I were sat in his office. We were discussing my downfall, and finally working on a referral to a psychiatrist. He needed to give them a preliminary diagnosis. He heard me out – he listened to my symptoms, looked back on notes from previous visits. He told me not to flinch at the words, and then he said them: “Sounds like schizo-affective disorder. I can’t diagnose and treat you for it, so we need to scare the psychiatrist into seeing you as soon as possible.”

Apparently schizo-affective disorder was enough to push me to the front of the line. I had an appointment within two days.

It sounded so intimidating. The ‘schizo’ part just screams out ‘you’re crazy!’ I didn’t know what to think of it. Mainly because I didn’t really know what it was. There isn’t exactly a way to describe it clearly. In fact, it’s not very well understood at all – not even by the doctors – which is why it took so long for me to be properly diagnosed.

Schizo-affective disorder, at the end of the day, is a mix-match of schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder. It’s a hybrid of two very well-known mental illnesses, but it means something different for everyone with the diagnosis.

Some people with schizo-affective disorder may only have very mild schizophrenic symptoms. Some may have very severe ones. Some may have seemingly none at all.

Schizo-affective disorder can disguise itself unintentionally. Since it embodies characteristics of other better-known, more common disorders, it can be extremely difficult to recognize.

So difficult, in fact, that it took over a year for my doctors to finally agree that I might indeed have the disorder.

The problem with diagnosing a mental illness is that there is usually nothing physical to examine. Doctors rely greatly on a patient’s own description of their symptoms. The problem with this is that many people suffering from mental illness are unable to articulate what’s happening in their mind, and therefore can’t always provide the information the psychiatrist needs. I was no different.

My doctor asked me if I had any close friends who would volunteer their time to speak with him.

About me.

That made me feel uneasy. One of my main concerns was people talking about me. It’s the last thing I wanted. At first I refused. I used the excuse that no one knew what was in my mind anyway, so they’d be useless. He assured me my behavior was just as important as my thoughts.

Nick came with me to my next appointment.

We sat there all together, the three of us. I remember feeling really nervous. I never knew what to say at these appointments. What was I supposed to tell the doctor? He’d ask me how I felt, I’d say I felt bad. He’d ask me why, I’d say I didn’t know. Isn’t that why I was there in the first place? Because I didn’t know? Surely, if I knew why I felt so horrible, I would do something about it that didn’t involve sitting in an uncomfortable office.

I started to cry. He asked me why I was crying. I didn’t really know why – I just felt overwhelmed. He told me to relax, Nick told me to relax; everything was fine. They started to talk about my moods, my behaviour, my sleeping patterns. I don’t remember any specifics. I was in the room but I was in another zone.

He talked with Nick for a while, then he talked with me for a while, and then Nick and I went home… with another few surveys to fill out.

Eventually, many appointments and surveys later, my psychiatrist came up with a final diagnosis: schizo-affective disorder. Surprise, surprise, my GP had been right all along!

In order to decide which medications to use, we had to really discuss my symptoms in depth. As with any mental illness, schizo-affective disorder needs to be treated differently depending on how it is manifesting itself in the patient. There is no magic medicine designed specifically to fix up a person suffering from the disorder.

For example: schizophrenic symptoms come in many forms. Auditory hallucinations, visual hallucinations, paranoia, delusions, disorganised thought and speech. The list goes on.

The affective (mood) symptoms also vary greatly. Some patients might suffer only slightly – others, nearly exclusively – from mania. One person’s manic symptoms may differ from another person’s. Some people may experience depressive episodes more strongly. Some, like me, may have a nice mix of the two.

For me, the ‘affective’ aspect of the disorder was always quite clear. That’s probably why I was misdiagnosed as having bipolar disorder. I had week- or month-long episodes of depression, followed by episodes of mania lasting a similar amount of time. This had already been going on for years.

My schizophrenic symptoms, however, were harder to pinpoint.

I had hallucinations, but I was always able to recognise that they were simply that: hallucinations. Typically, they’d be visual (but I did have auditory ones as well): I’d see a person out of the corner of my eye. If I kept them in my peripheral vision, they were very much there, but as soon as I’d turn to them, they’d disappear. This is how I was able to distinguish between real people and fabrications of my mind. Since I was aware I was hallucinating in the moment, my psychiatrist figured it didn’t really count, and more or less dismissed the hallucinations entirely.

One symptom he definitely focused on was my delusional thinking; I would create wild stories in my mind and believe them. I was convinced everyone in the subway was staring at me and talking about me. I thought people were watching me all the time. At one point, I genuinely believed Nick was an alien. He has a vein in his forehead that sometimes buldges out, and my mind came up with an explanation for it: he’s an alien, obviously.

Despite having these crazy thoughts on a regular basis, I would also have spouts of clarity where I realised how ridiculous I was being. Did I really think that Nick was from another planet? At some moments, yes; at others, no, of course not. I was always sane enough to hold back from sharing my ideas with people, because I didn’t want them to get the wrong impression and think I was a whack job. I definitely did have some crazy thoughts, but the crazy never took over my mind for too long.

I always snapped out of it.

But the reality of the situation was that, although I wasn’t suffering 100% of the time, I was still suffering. I was still delusional and paranoid. Although I could distinguish between hallucinations and reality, the hallucinations were still very distracting. These things were having a big impact on my every day life, and something needed to be done about it.

So, we started to experiment. We stuck with the quetiapine, a drug I had been on for months to help me sleep, and tried a few different medications before we reached a cocktail that was suitable. Finally the tunnel was getting a little brighter.

My treatment doesn’t rid me completely of the effects of my disorder; I still suffer from all things listed above – just on a much, much milder level. I can live like a regular person 75% of the time, but I still have days where I can’t get out of bed.

Schizo-affective disorder is probably going to affect me for the rest of my life but, it isn’t going to dictate my life. That’s my job. I’m still in charge here.

The beginning of schizo-affective disorder

Looking back, I realise I was 21 when schizo-affective disorder decided to make itself known. This is around the time it strikes most of its victims – I was no different. I wasn’t familiar with the disorder back then, but we’ve become pretty well-acquainted over the last couple of years.

I didn’t just wake up one day and recognize it – I think I always knew I was a little off. But, I guess things just gradually got more and more ‘off’. Eventually there was no denying that my mind was no longer stable.

I’d been on anti-depressants regularly since I was 19. I had never seen a psychiatrist; I never felt like I needed one. My GP and I decided together that my condition wasn’t severe enough to warrant the long wait it would take to get me into a specialist. He prescribed me some Sertraline and sent me on my way.

It helped. Until it didn’t.

After being on varying doses of Sertraline for over a year, my symptoms started to worsen. It went from bad to ugly. Quick. I later found out that while Sertraline can help depression, it can actually have negative effects on those with schizo-affective disorder.

First, it started with the sadness. That overwhelming feeling of worthlessness. That stereotypical depression everyone talks about. I felt useless. I felt alone. I felt tired. I cried. All. The. Time.
It didn’t matter where I was, or who I was with. Those feelings were constantly nagging at me, and I couldn’t silence them no matter how hard I tried.

Then came the madness. I went berserk. I would flip out over nothing. I was incredibly jealous. I was constantly angry – irrationally angry. I created these ideas in my mind – these scenarios where people were secretly plotting against me. Everyone was an enemy. Everyone hated me – I knew it. No one actually cared about me. They didn’t want me around.

That would loop around again, and after a few weeks of being angry all the time, I’d snap back to reality. For a minute. I’d realise how insane I had been – I’d look back at all the things I had said to people, the thoughts I had had about people, and I’d hate myself for it. I’d be embarrassed by it. And then, I’d get depressed again. I’d tumble back down the sadness tunnel and I wouldn’t have the energy – or the desire – to climb back out.

One day in particular stands out to me.

I finished my day at work, and walked outside. It was always like this: an almost immediate change in my state of mind. At work, I could pretend. Because I had to. Outside of work, the break was over.

I knew I didn’t trust myself that day. I knew that if I was left alone, I was going to do something. So I called Nick. I asked him if he would hang out with me when he got home from work. It was a Friday night, and he had plans. Obviously. Expected. It’s Friday. People go out on Friday. It’s the end of the work week. We live in the beer capital of the world: Friday is beer day!

But it wasn’t okay for me, and I knew it. But, I cared more about what people thought of me than I cared about my actual self. I didn’t want to be the ‘nagging girlfriend’ I already feared his friends thought me to be. So I pretended it was fine.

“Okay, so I’ll be alone tonight.” I thought about it, and all I could do was cry. It was one night. One night I was going to be alone. Just one night, and I couldn’t handle it. I can’t begin to explain what was happening in my mind, because I’ll never understand it. It isn’t me. I just knew I couldn’t be left alone.

So I sent him a picture of the train tracks, and then I turned off my phone.

Why did I send him a picture of the train tracks? A number of reasons, I’m sure.

I think the number one reason though, is because at this time, I still struggled with actually asking for help. I hadn’t admitted to myself out loud yet that I needed it.

I took the first step by calling him and asking him to stay with me. He said no, but only because he had other plans. And because I never told him I needed help. I was really struggling. But how was he supposed to know that? Having him reject my well-disguised offer to save my life left me feeling even more hopeless.

But I still didn’t want to give up just yet. So I sent him those train tracks. Then, I turned off my phone, and I went home. I ran a bath. I had a few drinks. I got in the tub.

Unbeknownst to me, Nick is in a panic. He probably realized, thanks to those train tracks, what that phone call really meant. He probably remembered my unsteady voice on the phone, and pieced it together. After trying and failing to phone me, he left work early and rushed home. He got there just as I was falling asleep in the bathtub.

This was only the first of several near-suicide attempts. Thankfully, I never even came close to accomplishing what my confused mind was telling me to do.

After that day, Nick never even hesitated about staying home. I’d get angry at him for it. I’d blame him for his friends hating me. After all, they ‘hated me’ because I was the ‘nagging girlfriend’, right? What do nagging girlfriends do? They prevent their boyfriends from going out and having fun. Ultimately, yes, I was preventing him from going out and having fun. But I wasn’t doing it on purpose, and he was never resentful to me. It was always his decision to stay home. That’s all that should have mattered to me (but of course I didn’t see it that way then).

This was only the beginning of what turned into over a year of serious struggle. Not only for me, but for everyone around me.

My doctor decided it would be best to get me into a clinic to diagnose me properly. I agreed to go for two weeks.

While I was in the psychiatric hospital, I had to fill out a number of surveys. I had regular meetings with psychiatrists. I had brain scans. I went in for electrocardiography. I had to have blood and urine tests done. They encouraged me to attend group therapy sessions, but I never went. I left the hospital after one week, with a diagnosis of bi-polar disorder type 2.

After my experience in the hospital, I didn’t want to see any doctors for a long time. I avoided my psychiatrist like the plague. I didn’t go to my appointments, and I never called to reschedule them. I took the medicine they gave me at the hospital until it ran out. Then I didn’t take anything at all. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that I started to fall back down the tunnel within a few days.

Even then I was still stubborn. It had been so long by this point that I was embarrassed to go back. I thought about getting a new doctor altogether, just to avoid telling mine why I disappeared. Then one day, something took over me. I was in town, and almost on auto-pilot, I walked to my psychiatrist’s building, went up the four flights of stairs to his office, went straight in, and asked for an appointment ASAP.

They hadn’t seen me in months. I never checked in after leaving the hospital – somewhere my psychiatrist had actually sent me himself. They weren’t bothered at all. They were just glad to see me again, and booked me in for the following week. Breathe. Relax. Relief.

When I finally went in for my long-awaited appointment, my doctor wasn’t happy with the diagnosis I had been given at the hospital. He wasn’t happy with the medication I had been on, and he wasn’t happy with the fact that I only stayed for one week.

He wanted me to go back. I refused. He said it was for the best – that way I could be constantly observed during all courses of whatever illness I was suffering. I could get a proper diagnosis and treatment could start right away. I still refused. He couldn’t admit me against my will, so he had to accept my choice and treat me outside of the hospital.

He gave me more surveys to fill out, and started me out slowly on some new medication. The first problem he wanted to tackle was my sleeping patterns. Or, lack thereof. He figured if I could get some well-needed sleep, my head would be more stable overall, and it would be easier to diagnose me. He was right. He prescribed Quetiapine, a god-sent. It’s an anti-psychotic which can be used to treat insomnia in low doses. Perfect for me. It worked, and it still works to this day. But it only fixes half the problem.

We still didn’t know what the other half of the problem was at this point.