(Content Warning: The following post discusses mental health issues, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts and actions, including experiences of such by young children. Please consider your own mental health when deciding whether or not to read on.)
Last time, I summed up death, lies, outrageous lies, and taxes, the great inevitabilities of my life. I even left you with the cheerful promise of the property selling at last, a critical step in my family’s achieving escape velocity. It is hard for me to be excited or happy about this, though. It is hard for me to be much of anything by this stage. While I coped well enough with the news of needing to sell and I weathered the Overlord’s death with a face (and perhaps a heart) of stone, by August, my nervous system has had enough. It decides to go on strike.
Cabin Fever and Other Mental Health Issues
The thing you need to understand is that I have been plagued by mental health issues since childhood. It has been complicated by a series of bad diagnoses that left me without proper help or treatment while I had health care coverage. As an adult, no longer covered under my parents’ insurance, my access to health care has been restricted to the most dire of emergencies. The idea of receiving professional help now, during my most trying time, is lovely and impossible.
As a child, I swung between highs and lows with disturbing frequency and for no clear reason. I was an active child with access to tons of outdoor space, so it was not so strange that I would run until I dropped or take death- and gravity-defying leaps from rocks and trees and horses. Less normal were the nights when I couldn’t sleep and got up to watch videos at three in the morning at age 9. I was a child raised in an all-adult world with no siblings or close neighbors for company, so it was not so strange that I would be a little odd, given to old-fashioned turns of phrase and a chronic inability to relate well with my peers. Less normal were the listless days when I could not bear the thought of getting out of bed or the episodes of selective mutism or the overwhelming sense of loneliness and isolation.
At age 10, I was sent to a specialist for testing. My teacher thought I might have ADD. This was when ADD was first becoming the very popular diagnosis for any child who didn’t fit well in the conventional school system. I was told I had a mild case of it, the supposed cause of my inability to concentrate on school work. My mother refused to have me medicated, however, for which I remain grateful. No one, you see, had bothered to ask me WHY I couldn’t concentrate. I might have told someone about the crushing depression that made it impossible to care about something so trivial as math or history. I might have told them about the fevered mania that made me desperate to work on my own writing and inventing to the exclusion of all else. I was ten, though, and no one asked and I didn’t know this wasn’t what life was supposed to feel like.
Two years later, I made my first suicidal gesture. Three more years after that and I would make my most serious suicide attempt, which involved an unpleasant quantity of pills. The year after that, I would carve up and burn bits of myself as my new and marginally less hazardous coping mechanism. I have had days when I could barely get out of bed and days when I could not stop working even if I wanted to, even if my body ached and my brain buzzed and my hands shook.
Since that specialist in fourth grade, I have never been formally diagnosed with anything. (I suspect, and others agree, that I may have Bipolar II, the less-manic, more-depressed sibling of Bipolar Disorder.) I have never been medicated. I was, briefly, made to see a family councilor. Though talk of suicide had landed me in her office, she was more interested in policing my teenage use of misogynistic slang than discussing why I had lost the will to live. I was terrified I would be institutionalized and refused to open up to anyone but my close friends, who could not fix me. I became an expert at hiding wounds and I learned to wear a jacket even in the California summer to hide the scars.
I tell you all of this only to give context to what I will say next: Before 2013 started, I was doing well and I knew how to manage my symptoms on my own and I thought I had seen what rock bottom was for me.
I was wrong about that last one.
I did pretty okay through July. Hell, I released my first self-published collection in mid-August. Knowing the more vicious tendencies of my brain chemistry, I anticipated a mood crash following the weeks of frenetic work leading up to the release. Considering my high hopes, disappointment seemed inevitable.
What I actually got was about three weeks of being physically incapable of doing anything but lying in my parents’ bed, dozing and reading and sleeping and crying and sleeping some more. My chest felt tight all the time and strange fevers swept over my skin. I lost my appetite and that was a first for me. I could barely leave the house and the idea of leaving the property terrified me. When the first offer on the property came in and the conflict with the Hive Mind got more heated, my symptoms got worse. I woke up short of breath and with chest pain every morning and that wake-up came earlier every day as I became less able to sleep peacefully. My tendency towards nightmares ramped up into terrors.
I started experiencing dry heaving and vomiting every morning. I couldn’t keep food down until noon, at best. Sometimes I did not eat until evening. I could get out of bed at this point, at least, so I helped with packing and storing all our belongings on an empty stomach. I lost ten pounds in two weeks and twenty in a month. None of my clothing fit right any more. I hyperventilated on occasion, particularly when in the midst of processing paperwork into and out of the computer for the Scapegoat or when listening to her phone conversations with lawyers and agents. I would spend whole days unable to speak without stuttering, as anxiety locked up my words, and there were days when I could not speak at all.
In more romanticized ages, this all would have been called a nervous breakdown and, if I came from money, I might have been sent to live at a country estate for a rest cure. I already lived on the country estate, I had no money, and the work never stopped coming. I shook and stuttered and gasped my way though the rest of August, though September, through November. Always, I looked toward the possibility of selling the property and seeing some relief. Always, I found that each step forward brought more paperwork to get into the computer without access to a working scanner, more phone calls I couldn’t bear to hear even one side of, more nasty messages from the Hive Mind.
I moved boxes and I processed paperwork and I kept up the day-to-day chores of running a ranch that did not belong to me. I did it on an empty stomach and I did it when I could not get through a sentence without gagging on my anxiety and, finally, I did it when my body simply ran out of energy for panic or sadness or anger or any other emotion. My new anxiety disorder ran on a cycle and I longed for the days when I had maxed out on panic and could only move robotically through my tasks without the ability to be upset by anything that happened.
I thought by sixteen that I had seen the darkest desperation and the most toxic rage and the emptiest numbness I could reach. I thought I had left contemplation of suicide behind me. I thought I knew what a bad day was. I was wrong about all of it.
I became certain that the crushing weight of my sadness and my physical deterioration would kill me before anything improved. At last, though, in the first week of December, escrow closed. I received the money I was owed on that loan to the Overlord. The Scapegoat received her inherited portion of the sale proceeds. Between the two of us, we had all the money we would be able to spend on buying a new place. (Why yes, that loaned money is going to get spent again. Yes, I will be paying off my own loan for a rather long time. Yes, helping the Overlord out was the most destructive financial deal I have ever entered. No, life has not gotten easier yet.)
Please don’t think that receiving that money means the the process of finding a new home starts (or ends) at this point. Migration started years ago, truth be told, and will carry on into the new year before it is finished. A little thinner and a little shakier and a little more wary, I look to the north.
To Be Continued…
I don’t know that it would have helped at all, but I wish I’d known this hellmess was the reason you weren’t around much on the htts forums – I’d have said a kind word, THEN. I’ll still say it now though I’m guessing you’re doing much better… you must be to be able to even write about it here.
Joyce, I’m so sorry for your suffering and I’m really, really rooting for your survival and success. You’re incredibly plucky and smart and, if I had my say, deserving of a good break and some time to heal and find your joy.
Hang in there.
Thank you so much. The forum upgrade made it very easy for me to drop off the radar (again)! Even so, you and others from the forums have given me a lot of support. I’ve definitely relied on that this past year.
The nice thing about writing this stuff now? It’s the past. I know how the story ends (at least this part of it) and I know it turns okay, a lot better than it started. (Stick around for next week’s installment–it gets much, MUCH better!)
The Year of the Move, Pt. 3 https://t.co/Zm8qFFJIE5 CABIN FEVER AND OTHER MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES #yearofthemove #2013 #mentalhealth
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