My many deep flaws

“You’re always asking questions in your mind”.

So says an Italian girl when out on a date with me on a cold February evening.

I laugh. “What do you mean?” Although I know what she means.

“In your head, you’re always thinking about something, you’re never just looking at what’s in front of you.”

Ok, so first of all, how dare this person so instantaneously identify and articulate one of my many deep, deep flaws.

Jokes aside though, she is correct. I’m very easily distracted. I don’t mean to be, I’m working through things in my head a lot of the time, and that makes it hard to concentrate. Real life is hard and real people are difficult to interact with. My brain is much safer.

But this has been an ongoing issue for years now. Even with people who don’t know me well, I have a reputation for being “not all there” “In my own world” etc. I figure this is just part of who I am. It’s inconvenient, but it is what it is.

You know those screenshots of tumblr posts which get shared on Facebook and Twitter and other social media? So happens I’m looking at my phone one day and I see one of those, in which someone is talking about thinking up fantasies about themselves whenever they’re walking somewhere on their own, and they want to know if other people do it. Someone comments saying that what they are describing is called “Maladaptive daydreaming”, and that it’s symptomatic of various mental disorders.

And I’m like “Wait, what?”

I google it. Maladaptive Daydreaming is a term which was coined Eli Sómer, Ph.D., in 2002. (source: http://www.medicaldaily.com/maladaptive-daydreaming-what-it-247629). It’s typically a symptom of a series of mental illnesses, as opposed to an illness of itself. It can be described as an addiction to fantasizing. The symptoms include:

  • difficulty completing everyday tasks
  • difficulty sleeping at night
  • an overwhelming desire to continue daydreaming
  • performing repetitive movements while daydreaming
  • making facial expressions while daydreaming
  • whispering and talking while daydreaming
  • daydreaming for lengthy periods (many minutes to hours)

This  describes my entire existence for the best part of over a decade.

It’s almost wierd how accurate it is. Friends have commented on it. Partners have been driven to extreme frustration by it. I show the list to my flatmate and he says “Wow, that is like, a literal description of you as a human being”.

I can’t emphasise how much this has taken over my life. It makes concentrating on anything immensely difficult. It causes extreme procrastination, and it means that being fully present in conversations is a real struggle. The only time spent not daydreaming has been when in extremely emotionally intense situations, either conflict or romance. When I’m not in those situations, that’s what I tend to dream about. Not only does this cause distraction, but having a steady stream of intense emotions spiking in my brain leads to issues of its own.

But I thought this was normal. I assumed that everyone did this – me maybe slightly more than others, but I assumed that this was just part of having an internal dialogue. I knew it sometimes got in the way of me doing things, but I never realised it was an issue which most people didn’t experience to the same intensity. And because I didn’t realise it wasn’t normal, I never realised how much of an issue it was.

Two years ago, I started looking into the possibility that I could have PTSD. As I researched, I also looked at other trauma disorders such as BPD. Whilst chatting to an ex boyfriend about it, he suddenly got very frustrated with me. “Why do you need a label for this?” he asked. “You know some of your behaviours which are unhelpful, why can’t you change them and without needing to label it?”

At the time I struggled to articulate why the label was important, but I feel like this realisation is a pretty good example of why it’s useful to have labels for our behaviours and experiences. For years and years and years I’ve assumed that I had some form of undiagnosed learning disability, possibly dyspraxia or ADHD, and that my difficulty in concentrating on various tasks was down to these. Finding out that the daydreaming was in and of itself an issue meant that not only could I identify it but I also could work out coping mechanisms to prevent it, which I was unable to do when I didn’t have the label to identify it.

Here are some examples of coping mechanisms which I’ve developed:

  • Making a real effort to listen to what people are saying, especially when hanging out (as opposed to just being in the house). Trying not to use phone during conversations.
  • Giving up drinking. This is relatively new, and I’ve done it for multiple reasons, but one is that I can no longer use alcohol as a way to buffer social anxiety. Which means that I have to connect with what people are actually saying and make the effort to reach out to people. So far it’s -Horrible- but it will be worth it.
  • Writing. I don’t write as much as I should, but I’m trying to get better. A lot of my daydreams revolve around me wanting to say things I can’t say, and this causes what I think of as a word block in my head. Once I write these thoughts down, I immediately feel better because I’ve been able to process them and that means I don’t need to work through them in my head anymore.
  • Just refusing to daydream. Easier said than done at times, but being aware of it as a problem has meant that I can tell myself to stop it when I do notice myself doing it. I’ve also got better at clearing my mind before I go to sleep and avoiding the temptation to dream instead.

After just two weeks, these are the situations where I’ve seen the most improvement:

  • When out with friends, particularly close friends.
  • When I have something to concentrate on.
  • Before sleep.

Meanwhile, these are the situations which I’m still struggling with:

  • When I’m on my own
  • When carrying out menial tasks (cooking, cleaning, etc).
  • Situations which create social anxiety

Even accounting for those times which are still difficult, this has already seen a huge improvement. I’m finding myself more enthusiastic and productive in forcing myself to do things. I’m less inclined to avoid even boring tasks. I’m actually engaging with the world around me and not constantly thinking about where I would rather be, inside my own head in situations which will never come to pass.

So that was a story about me working on my mental health and being successful. Here’s a song:

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Endless cups of tea

TW: Depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation, suicidalness

 

Depression can be feeling slightly sticky all the time even though you showered and put on clean clothes because somehow everything is effort and your skin seems to want to sweat constantly.

Depression can be passing out fully clothed at midnight and waking up at 8AM and sleeping all night long and still being to exhausted to move.

Depression can be drinking endless cups of tea to try and assuage how exhausted you feel from all the crying you did today.

Depression can be speaking out loud when there’s no one around to work through the conversations you’re trying to have in your head and one minute being calm and collected and the next being a crying, screaming, self harming mess on the floor.

Depression is the catch 22 of new relationships, where you’re scared of them losing interest because you’re mentally ill, but also if you had reassurance from them that this wouldn’t happen then that would assuage some anxiety and therefore make you less stressed about being mentally ill.

Depression can be feeling desperately that you just need someone – anyone – to kiss you, to breathe the life back into you. Like longing and drowning and gasping for air and feeling like you’re sinking all the time. But in reality, what you’re searching for is the short term serotonin hit and even after you latch on to that high, the low is still waiting for you.

Depression can be wondering if you should tell people you’re sad, but knowing you won’t even know how to follow up questions about you being sad, and knowing that people probably won’t be able to help so the whole thing is useless anyway and there’s no point.

Depression can be your whole being and your whole self and it can be a small part of you. It can be a scratch or a hole in an otherwise healthy brain, that just refuses to stop talking, to stop poisoning you.

But you can be happy and have depression. You can be laughing with friends and socialising. You can be upbeat. You can feel upbeat. And also deeply sad and isolated and lonely. You can be both at once because being happy is not the same as not being sad.

A friend once told me that depression was like having all of your thoughts flying at you at once and not knowing which one to listen to first.

Another once said it was like being lost in a fog, knowing that there are things you need to be doing, like getting up, getting dressed, getting washed, but not being able to remember how to do these these in any order.

Most friends just tell me it feels like being a useless waste of space.

Depression, for me, can be a tiny, tiny part of my brain, behind and slightly below my left eye, that feels like a stone or a knot, and all it does is secrete sadness. And it feels like really needing to throw up, but in your brain, except minus the feeling of relief when you do throw up because you can’t throw up depression and you can’t even cry it out it just comes more and more and more. And sometimes sadness is all it gives you, and sometimes there’s words like “You can’t do anything” and “No one wants you” and “Everyone hurts you so reject them before they reject you”.

And sometimes just “everything is pointless and you should kill yourself”

And it’s the reality, and it’s the reality that suicidalness is complicated and more than that, it can be passive. Your brain can tell you to kill yourself, but you’re not going to, because killing yourself requires a plan, and requires action, and the reality of death is still terrifying even though it might be your brain’s answer to the pointless sinking of life.

And depression is really fucking boring. So boring I can’t even be bothered romanticising depression anymore. I can’t make it into poetry and weave pretty words around it or turn it into an inspirational story or a soundbite. It’s just there, making you feel shit.

And sometimes depression is being held by a friend whilst they kiss your forehead and repeat the words “I love you, I love you” over and over again and you crying so, so hard because you can’t comprehend how anyone loves you because you know you’re not lovable, you haven’t been for a long time.

And sometimes depression is being told that people like you and making a dumb, deprecating joke about it and making things awkward but really you just don’t know how to comprehend that you could be respected and wanted by other people.

And sometimes it’s being surprised by how understanding people can be. It’s being held by people you never expected to be held by and it’s not having to explain why you can’t move as anything other than “I’m sad”.

Depression is something I used to feel all the time and now I only feel for a few days, every few months. And it’s hard to remember that it will go away but it does go away. And sometimes depression is just my brain’s way of telling me that the situation I’m in is a bad one and I need to change it. And sometimes by “Kill yourself” what my brain means is “Get out of here”, and there are other ways of doing that, me and my brain just need to work together. Because neither of us wants to die, really.

I don’t know why I wrote this. Here’s a song:

 

Marlow

-Are you ok?

In the kitchen, gasping for breathing space.

-Feeling pretty weird.

I think of all the men he reminds me of. Men with blue-green-grey eyes who understood my language.

Except here, when I try to speak, my words turn strange in my mouth, come out clumsy, jarred and wrong, and he’s looking at me in that way that makes me feel like I shouldn’t be here at all, and I wonder when I lost myself.

I’m not sure if I’ve ever been found.

I tell him:

-I know my flaws.

He responds:

-No one can know all of their flaws.

I wonder who the fuck he thinks he is to tell me what I can and can’t know about my own mind.

I wonder how he is able to make me feel so boring.

-I’m sorry.

-You have nothing to apologise for.

He’s looking at me the way men do when they want you to know that you deserve what happens to you.

I have died so many times.

I don’t know how to stop.

I want to leave now.

But the subway closed two hours ago, and I could go to another friend’s house but I don’t want to be dramatic.

The first time they starved me.

My bones jutted from my skin,

face sunken and gaunt.

I want to cry but I don’t want to cause a scene.

The second one tore through my entrails

Taking my right lung and most of my lower abdomen

But thankfully leaving my heart

Intact

He tells me that his favourite book is by Lady Lazarus. I try not to laugh at the irony.

The third held me just below the surface

Drowning for two years

Until I woke up near dry land

Begging for someone to breathe the life back into me.

I’m doing an excellent impression of unrequited love, so good it’s fooling myself, but the reality is sicker than that, and anyway, I can’t love, I’m not even breathing.

So what’s it going to be this time?

Sentinel. He is stall worthy and kind, and I am a complete fucking mess.

And I wonder if he knows that I’m not real. That the woman he’s speaking to has been stuck in the mind of an 11 year old for 12 years now.

But people don’t tend to question these things.

Don’t come near me, don’t touch me.

I will break you without meaning to.

Sugar

He asks why I am angry and I cannot respond.

There is heat in this carpet. I curl up in a patch of sunlight, begging for warmth.

I am so cold all the time.

-thanks for coming, it’s lovely to meet you

-thanks, you too

-this is Jordan’s girlfriend

-lovely, thanks for coming

-thanks for inviting me

I am in a room of strangers sitting in circles around white tables, skirts and alcohol and bits of food.

He holds my hand beneath the tablecloth. I catch his eye and smile because I know how to smile.

But I haven’t learned yet how to talk, how to be. How to exist and burst out of myself in a room full of strangers dressed in white.

In the bathroom other women smile at me and tell me how beautiful I look.

I have gotten good at being beautiful.

I am also good at remembering facts. Quotes from the plays and the books I have to read. Statistics. Voting systems. Franzosisch y l’allemange. Billions of words and sentences, different languages.

But before all that, nutrition. Vitamin B1, B12, calcium, selenium, whole proteins. Low carb, smart carb. 8 Glasses of water a day.

This is just a small body. There’s not room for much between my skin and my bone.

At the table there is cake. I eat the icing.

-don’t tell me you don’t like cake

-I just like the icing.

I tricked him, though I didn’t mean to. I painted a picture on myself of a warm woman full of passions and ideas and he fell in love with her. But I cannot explain to him why I am so angry and sad for no reason, or why I shiver all the time. Or why I’m doing so well in school and not much else. And how I don’t know how to talk to his family.

And now he starts to realise that I’m not a woman, not even a human at all.

We do not stay at the hotel.

The next day I take a train home and continue writing a script for a film I’m making.

He makes his excuses. I never see him again.