Tomorrow is the last of my summer holidays. I managed to get more than I expected. I promised myself I’ll do a solid week, but I got a few more days off. I was desperate for this holiday especially, not because it is proper tropical hot (as it should be), but because I was really tired. I have bad knees, and I felt like I needed to let them rest for a good few days. But, that wasn’t what I had really planned. Who plans for anything as drab and sensible as that? It’s the summer, we need to have the big, commercial, kitschy, television advert version of it! We need to be doused in coloured ice, go off in any old place as long as it is a place you don’t call ‘home’ and do all manner of happy things. What I did was, eh, nothing.
I don’t talk a lot about mental health these days here, mainly because I don’t have anything interesting to say. It’s like an old marriage, me and my mind. We have separate bedrooms, but we awkwardly bump into each other all day long, bicker over the tiniest things, and he naughtily hammers at my wall or puts on lounge music too loud at night as I’m trying to sleep. The only respite I have from him is when I don’t think about him.
But, because all my plans and enthusiasm for these few days of freedom fell flat, we got to see more of each other. I didn’t know it was possible to doze off several times a day, even when you have huge headphones on, blasting contemporary dance music that makes you want to pull your eyelashes out. I know what I’ll do in a life-threatening situation. Escape into some nightmare that validates Freud all over again. Who needs real danger when your unconscious has a haunted castle full of them?
You’d think I’d get some work done, and I have a lot lined up, since I can’t do fun. But, I did even less of that. Apart from clenching my teeth while having round-the-clock nightmares, I don’t know what I did. I could have had fun. I could have called up people, had a day or two out even if I didn’t get to go away properly. But, it’s always been all or nothing for me. I’ve had days like these, in every shape and form, forever. Days when I just switch off from civilization. When I don’t even want to acknowledge my own humanity. Days that are defined by anxious, pessimistic thoughts of the future, densely tangled regrets of the past and confirmatory self-disgust during the present. I don’t know how Alexander Selkirk, real-life inspiration for Robinson Crusoe and the Tom Hanks movie Cast Away, survived for so long by himself. I can’t do a day in my own flat.
But, it’s not as easy as picking up a phone or dropping by somebody’s place or making some effort at communication. You can’t always that. I’m more fueled by unpleasant interactions than harmless ones. Friction is the very stuff of life, and sometimes, my personality is all the stimulus I can take. I don’t feel prepared for the unpredictability of another, even if, or especially if, they are a loved one.
And if there are people out there reading this who think it’s all in my head (which, technically, it is) and that having a mood disorder isn’t real, let me share with you just one physical ramification of this. A few years ago, I was working from home and couldn’t muster the energy to go out during the day. Not even pull the curtains, because the sunlight might give me the strength to go out, but the moment I’m on the street, I’ll know it to be a bad idea. I’d only get enough energy to go out at night (cue the vampire jokes), and by and by, I developed severe Vitamin D deficiency. I struggled with it on and off, until I developed certain conditions which haven’t been cured even when I’m supplemented. All the chronic pain makes me want to not go out even more, and Vitamin D deficiency causes a further lowness of spirits.
Even if your mood swings to a more positive side, the very nature of the mechanism makes you swing back again. I really want to make some major changes in my life this year, which is very challenging for me, because I find change very hard. I’ll adjust to anything after a while, and then it is difficult to let go. When I’m more upbeat, I get further with my plans, only to dismantle them when I’m low. I’ve realised that while I’m not inoculated to any criticism I receive, it generally pales in comparison to the self-loathing I so actively practise. And I really want these changes, at least for a while. I think they will be good for me, just to see how I can refurbish my life and myself.
And that was what I primarily wanted for this summer. It’s very hard to do when your mind is in auto-pilot, either involved in things work-related which are bigger than you, as well as when you have to take care of other people (which I don’t really have to do, as I don’t have kids). You can’t actively do these things for yourself. Even if those things are complicated and important, they might even be an escape from having to deal with yourself.
How do you deal with mood swings?