“Life is uncharted territory. It reveals its story one moment at a time.”
When I was first dealing with mental illness, I found myself in a world where people wanted to know about my feelings. Feelings? I thought myself an intelligent person, but feelings were something I knew nothing about. Actually, I knew so little that I thought I was being asked what I thought.
I don’t remember ever talking about feelings in my family while I was growing up. Actually, I’m pretty sure that we simply didn’t talk about how we felt. Even into my adult years, my parents would never talk about how they felt, so I think it’s pretty safe to say that feelings were simply not an issue for discussion.
When I found myself in the offices of doctors, therapists, and psychiatrists, they all wanted to know how I felt. And I had no idea. How I felt simply did not register with me.
In time I found myself able to explain what was happening for me using imagery. I could paint a word picture, and if the health professional had the time to listen, I was able to arrive, through the imagery, at what I was feeling.
I was depressed (apparently). I simply knew there was something very wrong. Even now, after many years of therapy to unearth my feelings, perhaps my first sense, when my mental health is on a downward spiral, is that there is something very wrong. I’m just not that sure what it is.
Using imagery I would eventually arrive at fear. Yes, I was terribly afraid. I felt like I had fallen off a very high cliff face. I had no idea where I was. And as I fell, I wondered where I would land. It was uncharted territory.
In my mind, this cliff face was in the Waitakere ranges, west of Auckland. I lived in Auckland for a time during my childhood and later as my mental illness was revealing itself. I had childhood memories of walking in the Waitakere’s with my father and brothers. I always felt very safe with them, even on days when we might end up a little bit lost. I don’t remember there being any great rock faces from which I might fall, but my mind’s image was clearly here.
The problem when you fall, you often can’t see where you are or what is above or below. You don’t know whether you have landed at the bottom and so can’t fall any further, or whether you have landed on a ledge. And you don’t know whether the ledge you might be on, might give way and you fall further.
With depression, I found myself falling often. I would think it was rock bottom, and it couldn’t get any worse. But then, worse would come and I would be falling again. I thought I couldn’t possibly feel any worse. I couldn’t feel any more despair. But I did. Over and over.
That’s why Penny Redshaw’s (of Motivating Giraffe fame) drawing hit a note with me. It was my experience of living with depression.
Thankfully, I’m not at the bottom of a very big cliff called Depression right now. But I do feel like I’m being dangled over the top of a cliff, and I am
very scared terrified of what might happen next. At the moment my doctor (who doesn’t know me very well) and a psychiatrist (who doesn’t know me at all but has somehow ‘assessed’me without me being present!) have decided between them that I should come off lithium, a medication I had previously been told I would need to be on for my lifetime. The doctor has asked what I think but basically ignored my both my thoughts and my fears. It’s happening anyway.
So back to word imagery, I feel like I am being dangled over this very big cliff by these two doctors. There has been a fence (its’ name was lithium) which protected me from a fall but that’s gone and my toes are over the edge. I am currently clinging onto the few bits of greenery, the odd tree also clinging to the edge. I hope they will have strong enough roots to hold me safe (think skills I learnt in the years of therapy which might, if I am lucky, hold me fast to my well-being). Will it all be enough?
I don’t know. And if I fall, I don’t know whether it will be a ledge on which I land or the bottom. I don’t know how hard I will land.
As I said, I just don’t know. We never know. With a physical illness, there is often some sort of chart, maybe just a pamphlet or maybe a book, to tell us what to expect.Sometimes it’s called a prognosis. That’s not the case with mental illness. We never know what will come next. That’s just one of the reasons why we need our friends who are on a similar journey. They ‘get’ that uncharted territory can be a scary place to go.
Stay tuned. Hopefully, I’ll be able to grab a passing tree root to stop the fall.
Thanks for reading