Things I tell myself…

This sunrise will not be the last.
See its dragon-breath set afire
the horizon and morning sky.
Pull back the curtains. Don’t leave
this room in endless shade, lacking air.
Swallow the coffee. Feel its slow burn
bring you back to life. Don’t let this
be the last thing you remember.
Feel the dog’s satin-soft ear
against your cheek, his gentle
breath of sleep reminding you
to inhale inhale inhale
for one more day.

~The H Word~

Depression Interrupted

For days I’ve felt your presence    lurking
just out of sight    hidden in shadows
growing in strength as my mood darkens

tentacles of torment twitch    aching
to touch    a low hiss escapes cruel slit
of a mouth    back arches    skin stretches

shivering with need   ready to pounce    any
minute    now    my melancholy state
the nourishment you crave    and for a moment

I’m not sure I’ve got what it takes    lungs
freeze    inflated    space between us    closes
nothing I can do to stop this    until  

you’re interrupted    a hopeful sound somewhere
in the house    seems to travel through time
to where we are now    is it music or laughter

or both    who can tell    you flail on the floor
lips curl back in pain    there is joy in this home
you cannot control    like a slug bathed in salt

you fold in on yourself    this will not be the night
your misery prevails    the shadows devour
what remains of you now    I go to the source

of that magical sound    who has managed to save
my life once again    without knowing how close
their mum came to the end.

~The H Word~

#NaPoWriMo

2020: My Best Worst Year Ever!

Times are weird, right? In fact, I think we need a new word to describe just how weird things are. No words can capture the magnitude of horror that 2020 has been so far. But, for me, in this bizarre dystopian nightmare that gets worse every day, I see March 2020 as one of the best worst months of my life. Are you crazy? To that I say maybe, but hear me out, there’s a story to tell.

In September 2018, aged 44, I started University. Not only fulfilling a lifelong ambition of pursuing higher education, but studying Creative Writing. A dream come true. I threw myself into learning and found joy in deadlines, essays, word-counts, assessments. It was everything I ever thought it would be. I was in love.

I was (am) also a mother of two and a wife. I may* (*definitely) have been selfish and put my own needs and wants way ahead of those of my family. I feel no shame. This was something I had to do or spend the rest of my life wallowing in regret-filled pools of sadness. I regret nothing.

By the end of 2018, however, I was struggling. My moods were erratic and even the simplest of things would push me into full-blown rage followed by soul-crushing remorse. I went to my doctor to request a hormone test as I was (still am) convinced I was perimenopausal. Whilst they were understanding they thought stabilising my mood was preferable to any hormone-replacement therapy, and they gave me anti-depressants. Was it a co-incidence that reports were highlighting a shortage of HRT medicine, that they were running out? Who knows, but I was so desperate to suppress this Mr Hyde part of me I took them.

We spent the next few months trying to find the right dose. I started low, then went up a little, then a little more, then a little more. Each time I felt some blessed relief only for it to change, leaving me defeated. I should have, in hindsight, stopped there. I should have said they were not working for me and came off them. I think I would have too, if I didn’t then suffer a prolonged period of chronic back pain. It was this episode that almost broke me, and I mean broke.

By the summer of 2019, I was an empty shell of who I used to be. I was running on a potent concoction of opiate-based pain relief and anti-depressants. On one hand, I was still doing my course work, albeit wailing the entire time that I wasn’t good enough and that I couldn’t do it, but I did it. God knows how. But I was in constant pain. My back went into spasms that affected my balance and my right leg would often lose sensation and give way. I attended a friend’s wedding and fell twice. The next day, I fell again, busting my already rubbish knees and crushing my confidence into such a fine powder that it blew away on a sigh, leaving me in the deepest, darkest depression.

I didn’t know I was depressed. That might sound silly to some. Yes, I was on anti-depressants but that was just a mood stabiliser; I wasn’t diagnosed as depressed. Yes, I had a history of mental health issues, but anxiety and panic attacks, not depression. I wasn’t depressed. I was in pain. My medication was increased to 150mg and when that did nothing to lift my mood my doctor conceded they were not working. Only, if I wanted to try something different, I had to come off the medication completely. That scared the absolute shit out of me.

I was afraid and I couldn’t do it. My thoughts were in a dark place and my emotions were raw and exposed. When you’re dealing with chronic pain that is not visible to others it’s all too easy for them to think you are overreacting. That you should just get some exercise, and everything will be okay. Even if that exercise is crippling, not only physically but mentally, because it’s another reminder of how useless and shit you are. Adding depression into the mix, meant I ended up on a path of crushing darkness lasting several months. I knew where it was headed, but I wasn’t strong enough to turn back.

In March this year, I hit rock bottom. I knew if I kept walking this dangerous path, there was no return. I managed to complete my second year of university but in every other way, I was failing. Then, I got a phone call from the mental health department of my local hospital, following up on a previous request for CBT through my doctor. My first reaction was surprise as I couldn’t even remember asking for it. Therapy has always terrified me. Too much to uncover and deal with, but it was like someone offering a hand to show me the way out. I grabbed it with my sweaty, clammy one and didn’t let go.

After I received the call, I decided it was time to reduce my medication. It felt right, and at least I had a weekly therapist appointment (albeit telephone because, worldwide pandemic!) to help me if things got difficult. For the first time, I took things slow. I didn’t rush in and cut back in my usual all-or-nothing way. I spent three weeks reducing and as I did; I emerged from the dense fog that infiltrated my mind, body, my life! As corny as it sounds, I was reborn.

Now, almost four months anti-depressant free, we’ve completed over 12 weeks of CBT and I’m continuing to make progress. There are still mood swings (because hello, perimenopause!) but for every low swing I have, I get to experience the absolute joy of feeling every emotion again. Not just the same monotonous, grey-black, muted version that I was before. Please understand, I am a firm believer that anti-depressants save lives. I know they do. And finding the right one for you is life changing. Should I still have needed them, after coming off, I would have tried a different one. I still would if things change, but, for now, I don’t have to.

There’s still back pain, but it’s a dull-ache, annoying rather than chronic and debilitating. I understand myself better, and thanks to CBT, I treat myself with the same kindness I extend to others. It’s a process, but it’s working. When I think back to last year, it’s like standing at the edge of a massive, dark crater, staring down into its depths. I wonder how far it is to the bottom and how the hell did I crawl my way back up? It’s because I had help. I had someone reaching down and pulling me up. Sure, I still had to do the hard work of putting one foot in front of the other, however; the fact there was someone who understood and would help me if I stumbled, was everything.

So, now you understand why 2020 has been my best worst year ever. Even with the fear, uncertainty, and desperation of worrying about those close to me while a raging virus sweeps the world, and my heart aches for those who’ve lost loved ones, it gifted me my life back. I must see the positive in an otherwise desperate situation. In years to come (hopefully) when we have conversations about this year, everyone will shake their heads, expressing how awful it was. That it’s the year they would rather forget. I’ll nod, share their pain and agree the atrocities of 2020 are best left in the past along with racism, bigots and elite governments willing to sacrifice the many to protect the few. I will also think I can never forget, not for one moment.

~The H Word~

About last night …

My finger spins the wheel
on the rodent’s back.
Squeak, squeak, squeak,
it does not
and I’m glad
but no less concerned.
This incessant scrolling
is boiling my brain.
Just stop.
Aye, okay, in a minute.
Many minutes later
the rodent’s back.
I haven’t moved
but I’ve aged.
Mindless distraction
seems harmless,
it’s interaction
is it not?
No, it’s not.
Right, shut it down.

Relief, back creaks
as I straighten
to stand. Headrush –
a little sway
this way and that
and I’m moving,
determined
to head straight
to bed to get my
head straight.
It’s a viscous circle.
I can’t seem
to get off.

Darkness. Breath.
Pillow cradling head.
I can do this.
I know you can.
Right, I’m doing it.
Well, go on then.
Pep talk
small talk
all talk.
Meditation commencing
in 3, 2, 1 …
and for a while
I forget it all.
I empty and grow
feeling present at last
in the space in-between
then and when
but it doesn’t last,
it never lasts.

There’s a knock
and a cough,
a shuffling of feet.
I pretend not to hear,
pretend I’m asleep.
They know I’m not,
of course they do.
So I sigh, get up
to let them both in,
they tumble inside
they’ve been waiting
this whole time.

Depression settles
quickly, snuggled up to
my heart. Two seconds
and she’s asleep.
Why can’t I be like that?
Anxiety is stretching
doing lunges, of sorts,
he’s preparing
for the long haul.
He takes a pile of papers
from his bag
shuffles them pretentiously –
arsehole.
How many pages
are there?
A few, now
lets gets started.

And so it begins
the quick-fire questions
the bonus round
the 8-point answer
that I always get wrong.
He runs through
every moment
every detail
every night
just to remind me
he’s paying attention,
taking notes
of everything.

We eventually finish.
I hear the birds
announcing the sun’s
coming up,
and he chuckles
under his breath.
Is that the time?
We should get to bed.
No shit sherlock.
Fucking dick.

#NaPoWriMo2020 #Day22

Killing Time

What doesn’t kill you
makes you stronger.
A new superpower
government-gifted
to the sacrificed herd.
Or, better still
call them heroes, instead—
our essential front-line
left unprotected and blind
to get on with it all.
No-ones asking
for heroes
or super-fucking-powers.
Just a fighting chance,
enough ventilators
(and masks).
Society’s clutching
its last strand of sanity,
ripped out at the roots
in frustrated rage.
Reality? Should have
its license revoked,
along with the jokers
calling the shots.
I’ve seen horror movies
offer more hope.
Humanity reveals
its tainted underside
reckless protesters
assemble to give
ignorance a chance.
Vague regulations
social distance resistance
encourages the selfish
who couldn’t care less
about the widows they make
for freedom’s sake.
Pandemonium weakens
to washed-out dismay.
Astonishment fades
to shady complacency.
Take a bite of the news,
try and swallow the bile
acerbic indigestion
a bitter reward
for your time.
Truth’s an alien concept
to the trusted elected.
High-born sociopaths
(or game-show hosts)
play with thousands
of lives, the stakes
have never been higher.
It’s no witty affair
when empathy’s scarce.
So, take yourself for a walk
your once-a-day jaunt.
Mind, set a brisk pace
keep depression
at bay, for a while.
It’s killing time.
#NaPoWriMo2020 #Day19

Self-Indulgent Haiku

Moon shine down on me,
bathed in light help me to feel
like I might be real.

***

Darkness within and
darkness without. How can I
find the light in me?

***

Low feels like low looks;
sky too high to see the stars,
eyes cast down, searching.

***

Hope, like a lover
who has been gone for too long;
jilted acceptance.

***

Cheer up! Chin up! Snap
out of it, smile more. You could
be worse off, you know.

***

#NaPoWriMo2020 #Day15

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