ILLNESS MORE THAN PAIN
ALONE IN THE DARK
Helpless. Hopeless. That is how constantly being ill makes me feel. Just… like I’m nothing much at all. Like I’m empty, pointless. I am so tired, drained – like I have nothing left.
There is the problem that these times of illness trigger the chaos in my head that depression causes. Not only do you then have to suffer the physical illness – this time, it’s pneumonia – you then become susceptible to the voice of the “Demon” in your head, who sees you’re vulnerable and weak, and cheerfully heads straight in to make everything much, much worse.
I’m an IT contractor: when I don’t work, I don’t get paid. It’s one thing to be ill normally, and not get enough money in (at least you can live off your savings) – but it’s another matter when you’re also forced to use up all those savings to pay for a new flat to live in, as well as having to move into it within the space of just over a week. With no money after putting down an extortionate amount of it for a new flat, and no more coming in either, it’s a nightmare. You’re ill, exhausted, the demon has come to chatter hell into your ears, and then you can’t afford to to live because you’ve just put every penny you have into a roof over your head, and unable to go out to earn any more.
I do not understand this society’s attitude to illness – particularly mental health illnesses. As if being ill with “normal” things (i.e. Ones that are recognised by your average person and doctor) isn’t bad enough – and you’re lucky in this cold and selfish day and age to get any response for having them – those of us who also suffer depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders (etc, etc, etc) have to also deal with these illnesses. But then on top of that, our mental health illnesses become even more magnified – because with a weakened body you have no ability or strength left to struggle with these things that take over your mind.
But nobody seems to care. As if it doesn’t matter. As if you don’t matter. Letters come through the door demanding money you don’t have (so they go in the recycling, unopened). Phone calls come in from people on the other end, paid barely minimum wage and calling just to upset you, to threaten you for money you don’t have (so the phone gets ignored/ turned off/ unplugged). You hope there will be no knock at the door from others demanding more money (so you hide in a corner with the lights out and curtains closed). You freeze or cry or panic because there is nothing you can do, and you just cannot cope with it… And nobody cares. The humanity is gone from this world – the god of money replacing basic kindness, understanding and sympathy. There seems to be nothing that will help the pain and fear inside you.
I manage my depression every day – amazingly I manage this fairly well without medication, too. Every day it is a struggle and constant battle, but it is one I generally win overall, despite the metaphorical and emotional scrapes and bruises I end up with at the end of each day. But when I am ill, this battle is lost before it’s begun. My world becomes distorted because I am so tired, drained and in pain – then the demon comes to feed off it and make it a hundred times worse. Soon, I live not just in fear, but in terror. Paranoia grips me, helplessness suffocates, and chaos breaks loose in my mind – bringing a maddening cacophony of noise and nasty, malicious words that I cannot think through. It fills my head, like an auditorium filled with very loud people, all trying to be be heard over each other, until my head feels like it’s about to explode. The words I make out are usually awful ones, telling me how pointless and hopeless I am. Sometimes they are other ones that make me panic and flounder just as much. What I don’t get in any of this is any semblance of sense or tranquility – nothing but painful voices that hurt my very soul.
I cannot hold a thought longer than a moment before it flies off towards another. I can’t think, I can’t focus, I can’t do anything… It disorientates me, frightens me, and emotionally cripples me. And through it all I’m still suffering the physical pain and distress of the pneumonia too. I don’t know where to turn, and there is no peace to be had anywhere.
Soon enough, I feel it all become much to much, and the same compulsions come to mind again. Starvation, self-harming, inhaling up the codeine pills like they’re going out of style, eating nothing but junk food… I could do all of them, if I gave in, just like I used to. But I don’t. I still have that much power left inside me. But it really does take all the willpower I’ve got – and even when I’m in pain I stay clear of the codeine pills and suffer the pain, because I know the slippery slope I will end up on if I take them.
AN OASIS IN HELL
My distraction comes in the one salvation I’ve had over the last few years that has had me turn my back to these compulsions – my games. Playing the stories of RPG protagonists who are strong, wilful, clear-minded, helpful… even saviours – battling enemies that cripple – even kill – weaker and lesser characters in the game. They are real heroes – the ones who run into the fight when everyone else is running away.
They inspire me to do the same to my own demons. They fight dragons, demons, evil dead things, and other monsters (or aliens) whose sole goal in their existence is to annihilate the world the general population of characters inhabit. They slay the evil that threatens to destroy everything in that world, lead others into the battle, and don’t back down until those things are gone – no matter how impossible the battle or war may seem. These are things I am reminded to do with my own evil that lives inside my own head. Instead of running and cowering, I should take it head on and lead the battle into my own hell to ensure I defeat it. The heroes of these stories might be afraid, they might be excited for the fight – but either way, into the fray they go.
Once again, they have helped me immensely. At its worse, they quietened the cacophony enough to have at least some peace from it, some semblance of space in my mind to breathe, think my own thoughts. They require almost no physical effort – important when you are struggling to breathe and find it difficult to walk even a few steps. They require the mind to be clear, to strategise, to focus on winning, not being beaten. Instead of taking sharp knives or breaking glass to cut my arms, taking about twice the daily recommended dose of co-codramol, starving, or bing-eating, I am slaying dragons, battling evil dead things, or fighting aliens. Being inspired to be strong enough to fight my own.
No matter how impossible the battle or war may seem.