I feel that the experience of mental illness can be a journey. That’s how I see it anyhow, though I totally understand those who feel that it’s a static unending affliction they’d rather shake free of…. For me it’s a journey, and can be a learning and growing experience. (Though perhaps it’s just so painful for me that I need to find some meaning in it all – who knows?)
I realise that wasn’t a very certain start for a blog post. But I think about the journey a lot. As difficult as I find being in my head I have this strong drive to keep making progress; keep taking small steps forwards. Even if you’re in the dark you can still take a step forwards.
I’ve had two dreams recently where I was forced to squeeze and crawl through tiny spaces. In the dream last night I ended up underground in the dark. There was space to raise my shoulders and crawl forwards on my belly, but no room to go backwards. I was fighting rising waves of panic that I wasn’t ever going to be able to escape into the light. This is a representation in a dream of what it feels like to be dealing with the demon voice. I’m exhausted, and it’s taking conscious effort to keeping putting one foot out there in front of the other.
I suggest that when we experience some form of psychiatric ‘episode’ or illness that there is a kind of drawing in of consciousness while we divert our energies towards dealing with the mind. Our external world becomes restricted while we deal with the internal one. I guess that ultimately the external world is so diminished that we’d call the situation psychosis. My exhaustion is because I’m currently dealing with the demon voice while still – at the same time – honouring all my commitments in the external world. And it’s pure physical exhaustion – not a vague mental tiredness. My CPN (community psychiatric nurse) really seems to get this, and encouraged me last week to take care of the basics and look after my body – food, warmth, sleep. She understood that my world was narrowing in around me while I deal with the demon, and she understood that this has a tremendous energy cost.
I’ll write more about my sense of the journey down the line. It’s hard to string my thoughts together at the moment. But for now I’ll express my thoughts about just how draining it is dealing with the internal world. For those who don’t experience mental illness I’m sure it can be frustrating to wonder at times why someone with a mental illness doesn’t work, for example. Equally, for those who have a mental illness I’m pretty sure we give ourselves a hard time for not doing more, or for our seeming inability to do as much as ‘other people’. It comes down to the energy equation – where we’re having to spend our energies. The internal world is confusing, disorientating, often frightening and difficult to manipulate and deal with. And no-one gives us instruction in how to do it. If we have to spend our energies there for periods of time it’s a struggle to maintain our commitments in the external world.
Because of bipolar illness my sleep pattern has varied widely across time, and I never used to care from one month to the next how much sleep I was getting. This part of the journey along with the demon has me convinced just how important good sleep is.