Bad day? Not really. There’s been no tears, or freakouts, and only one minor flashback. There’s been an endless supply of intrusive thoughts and memories, but I think I’d actually feel pretty weirded out if that wasn’t the case. No…all in all, average day.
Then why am I feeling so…wound up? Maybe that’s the wrong description. But I can’t describe it. I’m not upset, I’m not angry. There is nothing wrong and yet…everything is wrong.
I think fundamentally I’ve realised how little the world understands. A friend of mine got shouted at today for saying she was upset. I think the quote from her “friend” was “but you’ve been laughing! Why do you have to put a downer on it all the time!” To which I texted my friend back with one of my favourite quotes which she could use as she pleased: “I will not be silent just so you can be ‘comfortable.'” Then I spent the next hour putting her back together again.
Mental health is a funny thing. It’s like ghosts, or aliens. (Wait, hear me out). Most people won’t believe in something until they’ve seen it. Aliens aren’t real until there’s evidence. Ghosts aren’t real until you’ve been haunted. I’m not saying either way whether they’re real, but I will say this; we are an incredibly close-minded society, to say we’re in the 21st century and inventing god only knows what. Mental health is like that. Often I feel like screaming at people “just because I’m not in a constant state of hysteria huddling in a corner crying so hard I can’t breathe does NOT mean I’m all healthy and okay….just because I’m okay today does not give you permission to be annoyed when I next cry. PTSD doesn’t just STOP overnight, okay?”
Sometimes I feel like wrapping myself up with a million plasters. Whenever someone asks me what’s wrong, I’ll say “I have complex PTSD. It means I hurt all over constantly. Look at the plasters.” And the person may just understand. I have to be physically showing something to be believed, and I know this is a common feeling for a lot of people struggling with mental health.
SO. I’m going to talk a bit about what it’s REALLY like. What goes on behind my smiles and laughter. Just how much extreme energy it takes to keep that smile, and stay in control of the internal emotions too.
Just because I’m not crying 24/7 does not mean I’m happy. I’m actually nearly always feeling very sad, but hopefully with some happiness living at the top to keep me going. What kind of sadness is it? Trust me, tears would be the preferred option…but I’ve not yet learnt how to let the emotions out. I guess I’m also very scared; logic says there should be a lot of tears based on what’s happened…I’m scared that once I start, I just won’t be able to stop.
This sadness is different. Because it’s trapped inside me, it lives inside me. It lives off of me. It strolls around my insides and causes chaos, constantly. It closes up my voicebox so I have cramp if I talk. It attacks my windpipe so suddenly breathing may only happen if I hyperventilate. It visits my stomach, the sadness, and kicks it really hard. Over and over again, until my poor stomach feels so bruised and empty that I’m extremely nauseous, in pain, and unable to contemplate food despite the emptiness.
The sadness leaves me winded, and then visits my heart. My poor heart is already working very hard, beating to keep me alive. A rhythm to keep me alive. But the sadness watches it, stalks it for a while. The heart panics and picks up speed, like when the zebra spots the lion. Sometimes the heart is fast enough and the sadness is forced away. More often than not the sadness wins, however. So my heart races and then there’s sudden white-hot stabbing pains as the sadness bites it. Bites my heart, with its venomous teeth, and injects my blood with heartbreak and agony. So then the sadness is all over; spreading throughout my system, attacking my lungs, muscles, bones. Suddenly my legs tremble, or my hands go cold. The next few hours I grit my teeth through cramps which rip through different areas of my body. My body feels heavy; everything feels like hard work and frankly I just want to curl up in bed and sleep until the venom has left. But no… I’m around friends, and so I must keep smiling…
Up until this point I’m not psychologically feeling sad. My brain has been left alone for a while; I’ve just been in physical pain. The sadness really DOES hurt. But eventually the infected blood reaches my poor brain, and that’s when the real agony starts. First I feel a pressure building in my forehead, and BAM there’s a headache. If I ignore what’s happening, then it soon turns into a migraine…but at least then I can lie down and people can see there’s a problem. But the pain is staggering, and so I have to give in. I have to face the fact the sadness has choked my whole body…for the second or third or ninth time that day. Either my brain realises in time and I can cry; I will go to the toilet for five minutes and cry harder than should be physically possible. I will feel my ribs, which had been so tightly held together by the venom, suddenly relish with their real flexibility as they let me sob. The ribs are the first to loose the venom, and with that they free my lungs…and suddenly I can wail and sob. I’m on the floor, the bottom of the sink being my new best friend, and I’m a mess. My tightly clenched stomach relieves itself from the sadness, and relaxes. I gag, sometimes I am sick, but afterwards the pain has ceased. My legs stop shaking, I can walk again without feeling like shifting lead, and my heart-rate slows back to normal. I gasp, lean against the wall in exhaustion, and wait for the last of the tears. Then I’m okay again.
Sometimes, however, I can’t cry…or I’m not in a situation where I can cry. But equally, I have recognised I’m in PAIN because of the tremendous sadness which is taking over me. So what should I do? The tempting thing to do is to grab a knife and just slash myself, over and over, countering the poison with my own pain. But it’s only temporary and the sadness still wins. More often, I’ll actually make myself sick. That seems to work, but the shame that follows is difficult to manage.
Mostly, I can’t get the sadness out. I just have to wait for the poison to make its way out of my system. And my God do I keep smiling, but a few of my close friends may well have noticed the expression in my eyes have changed. The smile isn’t genuine, but it’s not simply that I’m feeling a bit down.
I am in pain. I am hurting all over. I am internally in absolute agony and I don’t know what to do. The sadness is overwhelming every cell in my body, and I’m not coping. THAT is what’s going on when I’m smiling but my eyes are saying “sad.” If I’m at the crying stage then that is good – I have managed to get to the healthiest solution and I’m working my way through the pain. Just hug me, and soothe me…and the pain will be gone sooner. My tears aren’t something to be alarmed at… it’s if I can’t cry that there’s a problem. Because that’s when I’m in the most pain.
Sometimes I have days where I think “Nope. That’s it. I really honestly cannot do this anymore. This sadness is the worst type of pain and it’s constant, and it keeps attacking me. I give up.” But then I realise that I’m alive…so therefore my track record for making it through bad days is 100%. And I think that’s pretty good. So then I keep going.
I think people believe sadness is only true when there’s tears. And of course, tears is a symptom of sadness…just as a runny nose is a symptom of the flu. I’m quite deliberately not referring to my sadness as “depression” because there’s a few people that would have stopped reading. I’m saying sadness because everyone gets sad…and for a few it leads to this kind of pain. But you’ve all been at the starting point, and if you can recognise that some people suffer even more, then maybe you could reach out and grab them back.
Sadness is far more than tears. But tears are the easiest way for an outside person to understand. Tears are the simplest form of communicating sadness – IF YOU CAN CRY. If the sadness has paralysed your tear ducts, because it’s poison and has a paralysing quality, then what? If a person is paralysed waist down, does that mean they no longer have feet?
Look at a person’s eyes. They’re the next best method of communication and act as a window. The sadness can’t attack the eyes – if they do, the person just can’t make eye contact and this by itself should be a warning sign. But if a person can look through the window and see the sadness slowly attacking, then please understand they need you to take their hand, or to put your arms around them, and protect them from the poison.
Flashbacks. They break your heart, just half a second after you’ve repaired it again. They are not simply bits of a jigsaw puzzle to solve the mystery of the “past.” They are real, they are immensely powerful, and they are “present” when they happen. You imagine watching your baby die, and the heartbreak that would cause. The heartbreak is no different in the flashback, even if the tears can’t come.
PTSD: My life has been this: fighting like HELL to not only stay alive, but to stay sane enough to escape. That level of fighting doesn’t come for free: there is a cost. A lot of that is mental energy – things affect me now that once didn’t, because I’m not in such a dissociative state but also because I’m running low on reserves. 20 years of 24/7 fighting is a long time to keep going without stopping for fuel. If you think of me like a big lorry, and the lorry kept getting filled up and driving at full speed down a motorway, but was refused the right to fill up on petrol. It suddenly had to make sure it drove economically, to make sure every ml of petrol was used in the most efficient manner. That takes a lot of mental energy to work out, and doesn’t make the fuel endless. Soon the lorry will be juddering but fighting to keep going. I was there a few months ago, and now I’m in the fuel station stocking up. But 20 years of re-charge is gonna take a while, so forgive me if I seem a bit exhausted in the meantime. Also forgive me if I’m jumpy, and forgive me if I get scared easily. You only need to look down the barrel of a gun once, and suddenly a person’s fast hand movement towards their pocket can mean anything. I am not paranoid. I am extremely alert and vigilant, and if I wasn’t…I’d be dead. Take your pick – jumpy Jade but alive… or calm Jade but dead.
I can’t plan my mental health. It’s all very well thinking “I can’t afford to crash tomorrow or Wednesday because I have this this and this to do.” But the sadness venom frankly doesn’t give a shit, and the PTSD doesn’t have a “pause” button. I cannot help it if suddenly I’m a wreck in a corner. If you think “I don’t have time for this” then please just walk away; I don’t need that guilt. If you think I’ve specially made time for it, then think again. It impacts on my life too.
Never ever tell me I don’t have a reason to cry. You are not in my shoes. You have not lived my life and don’t have the same reflection in your rear view mirror as me. I am delicately hanging in limbo, one tug in the wrong direction and I’ll be lost…or I can cry for a bit and relieve the pressure. That’s my right.
Just because you can’t see my scars doesn’t mean there aren’t any. If you don’t see a woman with stretch marks, but can see she has a child…do you go – THAT CHILD CAN’T BE YOURS? Of course not. If a person has an accident and cuts their arm severely, but there is no long-term scar…does that mean it never aches in the cold? I don’t care about the physical trauma I went through, or what scars that left. The most damaging and difficult scars to cope with are the psychological ones. They hurt, they hurt to touch, to prod, to breathe on. They hurt when it’s too cold, too hot… they hurt. You can’t see them, and dya know what? Neither can I. And that makes them very scary, and even more difficult to keep control of.
I feel like I’m drowning sometimes, but nobody can see. I have a pain in my chest like someone’s punching me; my lungs screaming for oxygen. I’m breathing in and out and yet my lungs are still screaming. I try kicking my legs but I can’t. I’m sitting with people I know and I want to scream HELP ME I’M DROWNING. Then I realise I’m not in water, and the drowning is my emotions. Suddenly I can surface – just. My nose is above water. That is it. That is what being trapped in a mental illness does.
There are many people who spend extensive amounts of energy just to make them appear normal. Can you imagine that? Every second of the day spent consciously working on keeping the mask on. Is it any wonder they are tired? Is it any wonder they are hurt when people snap at them when the mask slips? Sometimes it does slip, and frankly it’d be better if it stayed down for longer…but if get scolded each time you cry, then how can you trust anyone with your most vulnerable and fragile parts?
Just because you can’t see pain doesn’t mean its non-existent, and each time you deny their pain…you simply make it horrendously worse. Try something: be open to the idea that people can be hurting even when their smiling. Every so often just reassuringly pat their shoulder, or give them a hug, or make them laugh, or make them a cup of tea. Make it obvious that you are there for them, and then you can be a hero. I don’t believe people like making people’s pain worse, so accept that it exists and that there IS something you can do to help, if you want to…simply by acknowledging their silent struggles.
If a person stands in a room full of people and screams, would you turn and see what’s wrong?
Just because you don’t hear our screams doesn’t mean they’re not there. They’re in our eyes, and if you simply notice…that is enough to help us be heard.