|Chidiock Tichborne 1158-1586|
And now I live and now my life is done."
When poor Chidiock Tichborne wrote those lines in 1586 his life was indeed, effectively "done". The following day he was hanged, drawn and quartered for his part in the Babington Plot to assassinate Elizabeth I of England. Hopefully my own life is a good bit away from done, but I was thinking it might be helpful to think of parts of it as "done". As in done and dusted, finished and completed, even if they were done clumsily and selfishly and in ignorance of all that matters.
"My Youth is Spent and Yet I Am Not Old"
If I were to die today, I'd be young. Thirty-eight is young to die but I'm not young, not really. In work I'm no longer one of "the young ones". My youth is gone, it's done.
It's done and I should let it go. but I don't want to. I have a desire to go back do it right this time. To do this right and that right. But in trying to hang on to my youth, I'm reliving my darkest days.
There was no good reason for them to be dark, they just were. I sometimes think of how people are able to recover from serious physical illness and go on and "lead full lives" while my time as a psychiatric patient follows me like a stench. Part of that comes from acceptance, from accepting that they were ill, of everyone else accepting it, and of accepting recovery and all that comes with it. That is why so many people who know me, who see me as fully recovered, would be surprised to see me writing this and be surprised how much it still weighs on my mind.
I can't use words like "illness" and "recovery" to describe my twenties. I spent much of that time in hospital or hanging around the house between appointments, so it must follow then that I was sick. Now and then I used to get very thin, now and then I'd cut myself, and now and then I'd take too many of my pills at one time. I even made a couple of dashes for the exit door of life.
She must have had a mental illness, I can almost hear you conclude. But was my illness an illness? The proof against, I think, is that when I walked away from it all, from the doctors and the hospital and the drugs, life began to improve. Further proof is that the thing that helped me most initially was following the programme set out in Marsha Linehan's "Skills Training Manual". (This my be taken as proof in the opposite direction, as the full title of the book is "Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder". BPD was one of my many diagnoses). This programme doesn't include drugs, it discourages hospitalisation and it doesn't involve cognitive retraining. There is no mention of negative thoughts. Instead it is practical things that can be done every day to improve life.
The Radical becomes Mainstream
I found Dr. Linehan's book myself in the library. I read it in my own time. I did find a DBT therapist in Ireland but she worked too far away from where I was living. So I worked through the book on my own, and also bought the books of Thich Nat Han and Jon Kabat-Zinn. I had to order Kabat-Zinn's "Full Catastrophe Living"
but I saw one the other day in the newsagents next to my local supermarket. What was once an esoteric medical therapy, is now completely mainstream. The shelves of Easons are laden with books on mindfulness. Half the country is meditating.
I keep mentioning the "The Happiness Project", a book that is almost as mainstream as Rachel Allen's "Food for Living". Part of the project is filling out daily resolution charts which are remarkable similar to the homework cards of DBT. These homework cards document efforts made to live in the moment, refrain from judging ( but don't judge your judging!), do something nice for yourself every day and remembering to exercise.
My conclusion is that if what was wrong with me could be cured by such simple things, it can't have been an illness. I remember the day my consultant in the private hospital came in to see me. I'd been there five days.
"There's nothing wrong with you. You don't have any psychiatric illness that we can diagnose. You're not depressed. You're just emotionally immature."
How, if that was the case, had I managed to spend more than five years in and out of my local hospital? And done a spell in this consultant's own hospital, under a different doctor? How indeed? Should I believe this one doctor, or the scores I'd seen up until then? I made my choice and I think I made the right one.
My Life is Done, or At Least Part of It Is.
So if acceptance is necessary in order to get on with the business of being alive, where does that leave me? I don't have to accept that I was ill. But that leaves me with something different to accept; that those years were taken from me. Not deliberately, but through incompetence.
Whatever the truth of it, my youth is gone. It's done. No-one is going to set up a tribunal on my behalf. And I'm alive. I've escaped now and I'm on the outside. I bought a notebook the other day, to jot ideas for writing down. I was at lunch weeks and weeks back with a woman who, when a pen and paper were suddenly needed, whipped hers out with the words "I always have a notebook. I'm a writer."
I bought the notebook because it's a step towards the mountain. I'll have to start using it now.