#ThingsACrazyPersonWouldSay

This was a trending hashtag I spotted on Twitter late Saturday night while innocently minding my own business drinking tea and lurking to see what was going on in the world. I was expecting to see the X Factor finalists or something equally innocuous. But no.

OH HI CAS, YOU CRAZY, REMEMBER THAT, K? THIS IS HOW SOCIETY VIEWS YOU.

That’s how my head works. That’s how I read what I saw, accompanied by a friendly little hashtag in a vain attempt to make it less painful and insulting and more LOLZ.

I tried to find the catalyst, curious as to why the notion entered someone’s brain that this might be a responsible, appropriate thing to aim at vulnerable, struggling and very unwell people. However, after some research, Twitter don’t / won’t allow you to find the origin of a hashtag. I can see it’s reached over 800,000 users. I can see there has been 703 tweets using the hashtag at the time of writing this. After scrolling through over 700 tweets that have used the hashtag as a piggy-back for far-right political views, kids publicly humiliating their peers and pretty much every form of bigotry you can imagine – I gave up, imploring STOP, I WANNA GET OFF NOW PLEASE to no one in particular.

#ThingsACrazyPersonWouldSay plastered over social media, right there, impossible to miss.

Ya know social media, right? That lifesaving tool that helps millions of us cray cray folk interact with the world, to help us feel less alone, where we can have a voice, where we are listened to and valued for a small portion of our day. While in the real world, crisis teams tell us to have a nice cup of tea, a hot bath and “Oh, awkward, soz, our waiting lists are 18 months long btw”.

Where we’re pushed out the doors of our GP surgeries and A&E departments as we’re not “bad enough”. Where our families, friends and society turn their backs on us because “What, you’re still ill?” and “You have nothing to be depressed about!” or “You seemed OK the last time I saw you.” in an accusing tone.

The real world where we’re alienated, dehumanised and the punchline to easy jokes.

Words such as crazy, mad, mental, nuts, loon, dotty, bonkers and all their derivatives and synonyms have stubbornly woven themselves into our language like an ugly stain that seemingly refuses to budge. To the point where it’s apparently totally OK to title children’s films “The Nut Job” (I honestly couldn’t give a furry rodent’s arse that it’s about squirrels – we all know what a nutjob / nutcase is FFS). It’s all risque and humorous for a dubbed baby to call another baby “a psycho,” in an advert. Then there’s the even more dangerous and misguided trivialisation of severe mental illnesses. The weather is not bipolar. I highly doubt your friend did in fact “go” schizo. And I’m pretty sure your dad / neighbour / MIL / ex isn’t a psycho.

This ain’t a case of political correctness gone into overdrive. It’s about not being a cunt.

It’s about not deeming one human being lesser than you or lower down the food chain because they are ill. Because their bodies and minds and thoughts and feelings and behaviours are not those of a healthy, functioning person.

It’s about having a modicum of consideration and compassion for those who are unwell with illnesses we cannot see.

Mental illness isn’t a cheap gag. We are not jokes. We don’t wear bloodstained strait jackets or Asda “mental patient” costumes. We don’t write melancholy poetry in the dark with our own blood. The vast majority of us don’t scream nonsensically for no apparent reason. We are not insignificant “things” to laugh and point at and to help you feel better about yourselves.

Crazy doesn’t exist. Crazy isn’t a diagnosis or a medically recognised condition. We have a hard enough time as it is getting the little help we do receive with actual moderate to severe illnesses and disorders.

So, #ThingsACrazyPersonWouldSay?

Exactly the same things a non-crazy person would say tbh.

The most dangerous thing we can say?

Nothing.

The Quiet Ones Have the Loudest Minds

Generally when I meet people for the first time I’m all awkward and completely forget how to behave when I’m around actual human beings. I start to panic that when they look me in the eye they’ll be able to see all my secrets, steal my superpowers and notice that worst of all, I only managed to get mascara on one eye this morning before leaving the house in a whirlwind of book bags, permission slips and tangled hair. My voice shuts down completely, it’ll get stuck halfway up my throat and surface as a shaky whisper. I’ve started to think it makes me sound profound or mysterious, but truly, I just sound like a have an epic bout of tonsillitis.

It seems that the majority of mums (and dads, obvs, we’re all equal here guv) take to the whole socialising with their children thing like a fish to the proverbial expanse of the wet stuff. You sometimes catch a glimpse of us awkward ones, slinking around the parameter of the playground or baby & toddler group, pretending to be really into what our kids are up to (or the next imaginative way they’re trying to maim themselves or others). We’ll be looking anywhere but directly at the other people. Anywhere. Oh, hang on, I must now look really intently at my phone for the next few minutes, brow furrowed, swiping that finger with purpose, I tell you. You are reading business emails, those deadlines keep whooshing in and dammit the FTSE has just dropped 100 points.

What? They don’t need to know that you’re simply trying to annihilate level 540 on Candy Crush and that you have no idea how to work your 4G.

Don’t forget the dramatic sigh for added effect.

Thing is though, you might see us awkward folk, desperately trying to go unnoticed. Some of us performing the school drop offs and pick ups with the expertise of a ninja, speaking to no one, avoiding even the Glam Mums, straight in and out, and in a puff of smoke – they disappear. Some being less fortunate and run in with the school PA (ya know the one, the mum who makes it her personal business to run everything yet isn’t actually on the payroll), with a homemade cake in her hand, “Excuse me, the rules do state that the children aren’t supposed to ride their scooters or bikes within the school grounds. Just so you know.”

We may be quiet. We may be awkward. We might say the wrong thing or laugh at an inopportune moment. Hell, we might even have leftover tear stains behind the bug-eyed sunglasses or hiding our quivering hands within our pockets. We could have an occasional tick and our hearts stop momentarily as a child screams, a baby cries or once we realise that we really can’t deal with crowds.

You might think we’re mental. You might even say it out loud or via a loaded glance to one another.

And do you know what?

We probably are.

Postnatal depression affects one in eight mothers. Not to mention causes a tidal wave of destruction for their partners, families and friends. Mental illness affects one in four people in the UK.

My name’s Cas, I’m a mum to a nerve jangling five year old. I write a blog. And I’m a bit mental. Various acronyms have been thrown around in my presence – PND, OCD, PPD, PTSD, plus the good old depression, major depression and neurotic depression, bipolar disorder and anxiety disorders.

To be honest, I haven’t got a clue what’s going on in my head and most of the time I’m floating on a rollercoaster of antidepressants.

The quiet ones are all coping, somehow, hanging on by our fingernails. We’re battling stuff we could never say out loud, even if we were able to put it into words coherently.

 

NB: Previously published in the Southend Echo.

The One Where I Can’t Wait For School to Start Again

Maybe that’s not the cool thing to say.

And while I type this, I hear the lady shopkeeper down the road rolling her eyeballs like marbles in a cup as she says once again, her tone more urgent as time wears on, serving another cheery mum, scanning her celebratory caramel digestives which she can now enjoy with a cup of tea which will now be the in “vaguely warm” category. “Why have children if you don’t want to see them?”

Looking forward to school isn’t about doing a somersault in the car park after drop off at the thought of not seeing your kids, with an added “BOOM!” for dramatic effect, it’s about space.

That’s all.

Every single day I drop Bean off to school, the second his fingertips leave mine, the moment my tiny shadow breaks apart from me to whirlwind around the playground with his friends, or worse, to head into the classroom for another six hours, I feel bereft. I feel lost. I miss him the nanosecond he’s gone from our safe little world together into his big bright exciting world of his classroom.

I have all the admiration in the world for people who can regiment their families in the summer holidays, can get the house cleaned, jobs done, themselves and their kids dressed and out the door for some fabulous adventure by 9am – but I can’t do that. Depression doesn’t work very well with free and easy and “Well let’s just see where today takes us.” Free and easy translates to “Can I go back to bed yet, please?” It generally doesn’t take too well to getting dressed even if I’m not planning on leaving the house today, thank you very much Mr Postman as you eye my Ninja Turtle pyjamas with glaring disdain.

Let’s be blunt, depression doesn’t really work with anything, apart from I MUST be at THIS location tomorrow at THIS time and if I’m not I’ll have to explain why I wasn’t and deal with it, which will highly likely involve talking on the phone. (Depression hates talking on the phone and will do almost anything to avoid such grave consequences).

Dealing with the aftermath of a breakdown and the summer holidays at the same time makes me feel like a terrible parent. Too much yellow food, no routine, pyjama days that turn into weeks, a daily showing of The Return of the Jedi and a very sad summer holiday scrapbook that consists of one, somewhat desperate entry of “Erm… We went to the ZOO?!” You can give me 100 Fun Free Things To Do in the Holidays and I’ll do ‘em all day long, but it’s just not the same.

School makes me feel like a kind of, passably better mum.

I get up before noon, I get myself and Bean dressed, I shove something vaguely healthy in his face for breakfast and with his obligatory book bag, lunchbag, PE bag and suchlike – we walk to school (casually or breaking a sweat, losing-all-dignity-jogging depending on timings).

And while I see his untameable blond mane disappearing in a sea Frozen rucksacks and red sweatshirts, I feel sad, but also I feel I have done A Good Thing. Something positive. Something positive for my family. Something that works. A routine that sticks and isn’t inspired by a Pinterest board in a 3am binge of madness.

So, it might not be cool to say I’m looking forward to school starting again.

But I totally am.

Secrets

From a very, very young age, I’ve learnt that mental health is something we do not talk about. Ever. Unless it’s in a small, quiet room with someone whose name starts with Dr or you’re paying someone by the hour, just so you unbottle all the junk messing up your grey matter until the next appointment comes around.

It’s been hidden away.

Sordid and shameful.

Secret.

I was never allowed friends over to play or have tea with or make dens with when I was little. In case they saw something. My mum’s bottles, scattered over the carpet, empty and silent. Or her hoarded, collected mess. They’d know, and that simply wasn’t allowed.

As I got older, and I began my own epic journey through the NHS and assessments and therapy and “Tell me Cassie, have you any traumatic memories from your childhood?” My mum would take me, keen to coach me on what to say, what not to say and “Don’t tell them about my drinking.” Before the door was even closed behind me and the counsellor and I’d located all the exits in my mind and where they kept the ever-present box of tissues, without realising it, I was already keeping secrets. Don’t mention this, don’t tell them about that and never ever mention the gin problem.

Although I write openly (possibly too openly) about the state of my head on here, I still struggle very much in real life. It’s wrong. We don’t go there. No one needs to know. Keep it schtum. And on and on and on. I’ve lied to taxi drivers when they’ve asked, taking me to strange buildings in the late evening, instead of just saying, “Oh yeah, I’m going to therapy.” I’ve come out with preposterous lies, “I’m going to a yoga class.” Or “I’m having acupuncture.” Like, seriously, FFS.

But.

Something’s shifting.

The pills I’m currently taking, the ones that make it impossible to function in the mornings, the ones that leave me 20 minutes in the morning to wake up as a grumbling, growling mess once Noah’s sat on my head and said rather urgently “Mummy… The clock says eight, two, zero…” and get my shit together and deposit him to school, avec lunch bag, book bag, suncream applied and teeth brushed. Yeah? Yeah, those ones. They’ve shat all over my “must never be late, must never be late” mantra. They’ve flung my at least sort-of-pretending -to-be-holding-everything-together out of the nearest window.

They’ve left me pretty naked. No amount of Bobbi Brown Under Eye Concealer can save me. And a “Whoops! Woke up late!” said in the jolliest tone you can manage while your mates pass you in the opposite direction, somewhat bemused – just doesn’t have the same effect four fourteen days running.

I did the unthinkable the other day. Seeing the usual gaggle of mums gathered around the school gate, having already dropped their children off, I almost fell to the ground into an army crab crawl to the nearest bit of shrubbery until they left. I tried. But Noah didn’t join in. Instead, I was forced to hope my literal bed hair was mistaken for stylishly dishevelled and camouflaged any coffee stains upon my clothes rather artfully with my scarf.

Once I’d done the mock hurrying into the playground / eye roll and “Come on, darling, quick quick!” and saw the kid into his classroom, I made my way back to the gate and all eyes fell on me. “Everything OK?” and then there was silence.

Before I knew it, my censorship button still asleep, I said it.

“Oh, just the new antidepressants I’m taking. They’re making so drowsy, I can’t wake up.”

Just like that.

Twenty six years of secrets, of keeping the truth hidden away. Of smoke and mirrors and biting my tongue.

Gone.

The silence that followed felt like an eternity.

But do you know what? Nothing happened. No one screamed or ran away, or gathered their pre-schoolers into their petticoats, shielding them from the mental case. Nothing happened at all.

It was OK.

The secrets were dispelled, the mystery revealed and somehow, the world didn’t end.

The Intruders

*unexpected, sudden noise*

What the shitting hell was that? I think to myself while I shove my face through the curtains in a fashion I think is completely stealthy and surreptitious. Once I’m satisfied that there’s no one lurking behind the rubbish bags on the street, I go through the house and do the same at the back door, taking particular interest in the pop-up tent and trampoline. There could be a cackling maniac on the loose, hell-bent on invading people’s gardens at night to frolic on their play equipment while the owners sleep, totally unaware.

But nope.

Nothing.

Oh God, what if they’re in the house?

I close the curtains again, lock the doors and creep upstairs, my back flat against the wall, because ya know, that’s what they do in films, right? The cat joins me, squirming around my ankles, she knows some shit’s going down too and spurs me on.

I bypass my own bedroom, the constant low (yet somehow deafening) snore emanating from within would surely put them off hiding in there and head straight to Bean’s room to prize the door open.

I’m met with nothing more than snuffly grunts while Bean writhes around his bed, sweaty and fast asleep.

Checking under the bed only to find the usual devastation of an entire castle scene, Playmobil men decapitated and bodies strewn everywhere, like Game of Thrones for fucking five year olds, I admit defeat and head back downstairs, making sure everything’s locked and arm myself with a toy light sabre for protection. I sit on the sofa and somewhat shaken, resume what I was doing when I was startled by the unexpected noise.

I press play on the TV.

And THWACK – it hits me, straight between the eyes. (I mean this figuratively, obvs, the flashback of the sound, not the axe belonging to my imagined intruder.)

I was laughing.

Out loud.

A sound I didn’t recognise. A sound I’ve not heard properly for over a year. A sound I’ve tried to fake and force unsuccessfully a gazillion times, when really, it’s the easiest sound to make naturally.

Something completely innocuous on TV actually managed to wheedle through the barriers and caused a good reaction in me, rather than making me feel worse or causing me to think about how things should be, how I should be.

The pills, it’s the pills. Is this me or is it the pills making a beta 2.0 version of me? The guilt of all those times when I should have been able to react normally, and smile and nod and laugh at the funny bits when Bean’s talking to me about school and ninjas and poo.

For a brief moment, I consider grabbing the small white box stuffed with blister packs of the little intruders and flushing them down the toilet. Hating them a little bit for giving me something in just three weeks that I haven’t managed alone in over a year.

I pause the TV again, another sound, my mouth gaping open to listen better for a moment, and I realise it’s Bean, giggling in his sleep, muffled into his pillow, dreaming.

And that’s the moment I know I couldn’t. That I couldn’t deprive my home of another second of laughter and silliness, of my son never being able to remember his mum laughing, only the same stretched smile with dead eyes.

That’s when I let the intruders stay and put down the fucking light sabre that was still gripped in my hand.

I (Don’t) Wanna be Sedated

Morning. Bedroom. Waking up.

Rationality: Oh. It’s 8.20. Shit.

Irrationality: FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK FUCK. We’re doomed. DOOMED.

R: It’s OK. It’s cool. Erm. Yeah. Let’s just get dressed, grab some biscuits and run out the door.

I: NO! It’s all fucked. I’m fucked. I’m going to have to go to the school office and see the judgey receptionist AGAIN and they’re going to give me that LOOK. They KNOW. They KNOW I’m fucked up. They’re going to start asking questions and they’ll see that I didn’t brush his hair properly or iron his uniform and they’ll remember that time I forgot to bring in his reading diary and I REFUSE to give him a bag of crisps on the way to school for breakfast.

R: No, no they won’t. We can get there in twenty minutes. It’s fine. And they’re breakfast biscuits innit. Totally allowed. It’s fine.

I: It’s not fine. Nothing’s fine. He’s going to be THAT kid. The one everyone gives the side eye and feel sorry for him for having a shit mum.

R: Oh shut up, no they won’t.

I: LOOK! LOOK AT HIS HAIR! It looks like I’ve backcombed it, not brushed it.

R: Come on. Let’s go.

I: Er…

R: What is it? What now?

I: I can’t move. The new pills. OMG, OMG, OMG. Something’s happened. My body’s made of lead. Has someone filled my veins up with sand when I was asleep?  I’m stuck like Neo in the Matrix when he goes all slo-mo ninja.

R: Oh FFS.

I: I TOLD YOU WE’RE FUCKED!

8.46am. Outside. Walking.

R: Can you go any faster?

I: I AM walking fast. Look. Look at me go.

R: You’re staggering a bit, dude.

I: DON’T TELL ME THAT.

R: OK. Don’t worry, we’re nearly there.

I: We’ve been walking for EVER – OH SHIT, WHERE’S HIS LUNCH BAG?

R: Oh Christ.

I: Oh no. I can’t make him have school dinners, he won’t eat them, I can’t take the guilt. And I’m not sure I can talk without slurring to the receptionist so I can explain. Why won’t my body just work?! This is like walking through concrete. Can you see a dart anywhere on me? Have I been tranquilised?

R: We’ll sort it, honestly.

I: Oh shit, look. Parents. Fucking loads of them. WALKING IN THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION. They KNOW, they totally KNOW.

9.03am. Outside school gates.

I: Dude. That was way too hard.

R: You’ve done it now. We just need to get you home somehow and do it again in a few hours.

I: Oh sweet Jesus, no. No. No. No. I’m staying here.

R: What? You can’t stay here for six hours.

I: It’s going to take me six hours to walk home. I’m totally staying here.

R: Well could you look less… Drunk? And weird? And not sit in a bush?

I: I’m just going to take a little nap.

R: What..? NO! We’re going to get arrested! We’re outside a SCHOOL. You can’t just sleep in a hedge outside a school.

I: Aha, will the police take me home though?

R: *says nothing*.

I: *snores*.

R: Fuck.

Cul-de-sac

I feel I’ve got stuck in some almighty, emotionally fuelled dead end. Last week when I was all “Yeah, I’m fucking blogging again!” I really, truly believed it was there but it appears my bravado fizzled out as soon as I stabbed my finger on Publish and sent my post raged by Costa caramel latte out into the ether.

Stuff that’s been going on recently has made me realise I need to pay proper attention to real life rather than uttering a half-arsed “Just a minute…” with my face buried in my phone or laptop when I’m actually more concerned by the fact that my Klout score has gone down by a point or I haven’t replied to an email immediately.

Blogging ain’t as effortless as it may appear. Unfortunately words don’t just simply fall off your fingers and materialise on a screen, perfectly formatted into snappy paragraphs, just bursting with mind-blowing content that will stick to reader’s brains like glue.

Nor do good photos just happen, even sort of alright, passable photos don’t just happen. They rarely, if ever, fall into your lap while you’re sat at your desk, in three day old leggings, furiously just trying to finish this one last post.

And inspiration soon dries up once the caffeine rollercoaster ends, the sugar rush fades and your confidence evaporates along with it. Poof goes the heady, inflated inspiration. In comes the self doubt, the self loathing, the mental self-flagellation. Staring at screens. Typing. Deleting. Typing. Deleting again.

Once you’ve skimmed the surface for subject matter, you soon realise there’s not an awful lot left to choose from underneath. And yeah, you can still write stuff if you force it, but it’s not what you wanna write or what you feel good writing. I could write about taking Noah to the woods at the weekend or the scary psychiatrist at the private hospital – but really, who the fuck cares? If I don’t, how can I expect anyone else to?

While I’m lost in this cul-de-sac, all I’ve got is the same thing following me around. Depression and doubt. I’m completely bored with how I feel so I think it’s fair to say I’ve come up with all the inventive ways there are to say that I feel like shit, that I’m struggling and I’d quite happily not wake up tomorrow. Cos that’s all there is, on constant repeat in my head, again and again like the fucking Tetris theme tune only more soul destroying. Everything I do manage to sort of feel or half-think seems like deja vu.

I’ve been wondering if it’s all worth it for the end result, whether I’m getting what I used to out of it, and the answer is I honestly don’t know. All I do know is that all the medication coursing through my veins has changed something in me, all the drama has changed what’s important and I don’t know when the balance will return.

The thing with having a “break” is, when you think you think you should be all energised and full of stuff to say after a week or two, you kind of realise you enjoy the peace. That no one’s really noticed you’ve gone anyway and the pressure to perform like a monkey on a typewriter abates somewhat.

So yeah, I have no idea what the point of this exercise was, but I’ve said it and maybe now I can find another way out of this dead end.