'Any idiot can face a crisis, it's day to day living that wears you out.' - Chekhov
An honest portrayal of living with depression and dependency, alongside what 'recovery' is really like. Breaking down stereotypes about addiction and depression, this article fearlessly tackles one person's story of surviving the struggles of everyday life, and where their journey has led them.
I’m ready now. I’m ready for my montage. You know the one, six minutes of inspirational music and little snippets of me, hair in a ponytail, trainers on, looking slightly weary but hopeful. Pouring several bottles of assorted booze down the sink, running on a beach or through a leafy park, talking and crying earnestly with an academic looking psychotherapist with glasses, a notebook and a plant in his office. Then, laughing with new friends, sharing a meal and talking openly without alcohol. Going home at a reasonable hour and smiling as I go through my healthy bedtime routine and notice that the clock on the wall says 11pm.
Waking up, I might make a smoothie, go to my new job, read a book by a window drinking good coffee and eating a croissant. Then, the good stuff happens. The man that I’d never noticed before because I’d been too shit-faced suddenly appears and we have a heart to heart and talk into the early hours baring our minds, souls and bodies to each other. Or I get a degree and land that job I always wanted, helping other people and the planet somehow. The last thirty seconds of the montage is devoted to a group of people, in candle light, sitting eating, drinking and chatting about their plans, dreams, aspirations and love for each other and how their tangled lives led them all to one another.
I’ve watched too many films. Read too many ‘chick-lit’ books. I realise that everyone wants this. That life is not like a film or a book or an emotive American TV show. The reality is vastly different. I’ve spent the last twenty years in a long-term relationship with alcohol, prescription drugs, non-prescription drugs and rather a lot of fucked up men. So, my reality now looks like this:
It isn’t a montage. There are no defining moments. It’s fucking slow and it’s really really fucking hard. It’s moment after moment after moment after day after day after day. I must keep reminding myself that two years ago, this month, I had to call my dad to come to my flat to make sure I didn’t OD on the anti-psychotics, prescription painkillers and antidepressants I’d been storing in a tin under my sink. Five years before that I did take the overdose. Then ran away from the hospital with a fear that I’d be kept in if I talked to the psychiatrist. So, I ran. In my pyjama’s, slippers and leather jacket. Ran out of the hospital and then started the five-mile journey back to my flat. Past the local kids making their way to high school. I stopped at Sainsbury’s to buy a scarf and ten cigarettes. It had been snowing heavily and my feet were wet through and freezing cold. I couldn’t feel much but I realised I was pretty cold. I stopped at the park on my way.
I didn’t know quite where I was heading anyway and it was early on a weekday so it was quiet. It was also a rough area so I don’t think it was particularly alarming for any dog walkers or early morning runners to see someone sitting on a bench smoking and crying in the snow. I made my way to my car outside the flat. Thinking that there may have been people looking for me, I wasn’t ready to face anyone and needed to hide for a little longer. I got in the car and drove around the corner into a back lane. I lived next to the railway line at the time so I sat for a while, smoked some more and fantasized about driving my little Ford Ka onto the tracks. It felt slightly more decisive than being a wuss and taking a load of tablets then calling myself an ambulance. I couldn’t go through with it and ended up heading back home. Feeling high, wired and ridiculously exhausted from the drugs and booze in my system. I think that was the third overdose I’d taken and maybe the worst in terms of recovery from it.
Back to now. The reality. Depression. The sheer boredom of it. I haven’t poured all of the alcohol down the sink. There isn’t any. If it’s in reach, I drink it. I can’t go running. I don’t have any energy. I can’t go for a walk, I don’t have the time and it's dark outside for sixteen hours of the day. I have to work as much as I can to afford the shared flat I’ve just moved into and to try to chip away at the 20 grand debt I’ve gotten myself into. I can’t afford to study and I’m not sure if I’m capable. I’ve been referred for counselling but if I want to see anyone in less than six months I’ll have to agree to see a student in a grimy NHS office somewhere depressing at an inappropriate time.
I was once told by a psychiatric nurse that she expected some tears when going through our assessment. Having told my mental health history to numerous GP’s, psychiatrists, psychologists and various other healthcare professionals, I’d developed a self-preserving numbness which enabled me to reel off my medications, overdoses and self-harming without breaking down. She clearly didn’t like that. Maybe she thought I was lying or cold or something. It was miles away from the safe, friendly office of a kind faced man who wanted to talk me through to a better place that I so craved. It was grey, cold, clinical and degrading. Ticking boxes and going through the motions.
Finally, after sixteen years on four or five types of anti-depressants, mood stabilisers and anti-anxiety drugs, I am free from them. After a year of hideous physical and mental withdrawal symptoms, I am, for the first time since I was 16, drug free. I thought that would be the start of my montage. Oh how wrong I was. It’s not. This is almost worse. I am no longer numbed slightly to the harshness of the world. The edges aren’t blurred anymore. It’s all crystal clear and it’s terrifying. The worst part of it is the boredom. I am sure that the best thing I can do for myself is make small changes. And that’s what I’m doing. I’m drinking less, I’m doing yoga, going swimming, trying to cut back on the amount of time I spend with people who I know don’t have the best influence on me. I’m trying to reconnect with my family and nurture the positive relationships in my life. It’s all about small steps and little, yet significant changes. That’s what the books and the counsellors and the countless online articles on self-care have told me to do. I am sure that they’re all right. That these small steps will lead to a healthier and more fulfilling life. But fuck, it’s so very boring.
I’m realising that life is about day to day and moment to moment and that routine is a good thing. Occasionally I really appreciate that and feel a little bit smug when I go to bed sober or wake up with a clear head rather than a dreadful hangover and the feeling of guilt and regret that comes with it. More often than not, it all makes me want to be doing coke off a toilet seat at a noisy, dirty gig somewhere on a weeknight when everyone else is going through their healthy bedtime routine and settling down with a good book.
I’m caught between the world that I know, the coping mechanisms that I’ve learned and learned to love, and a new scary unknown world. A place where I have choices, a place where I’m held accountable. A place where I now need to take responsibility for my life and need to make decisions based on what I want rather than decisions based on what gets me through one day to the next. Being drunk and scared and numb was a piece of piss compared to this feeling. I am possibly the most depressed right now than I’ve ever been. Because I can see it all. I can see that beyond the drama of suicidal thoughts, overdoses, self-harm and ridiculously inappropriate men, there is just life. Day in, day out.