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Mental Health Track 002

Day two, always the most anti-climactic day. Start strong on day one, and on day two wonder what to write. States of being, I guess. Terms to describe internal states are difficult. We have a rich vocabulary of feeling and emotional words, many of which seem to be synonymous and both very specific and hopelessly vague at the same time. We sometimes ask each other if we’re happy, and I’m rarely sure how to answer that. In the moment I’m almost certainly happy, or at least not in a wildly negative state, otherwise I either wouldn’t be there to be asked or I wouldn’t have answered. I do wonder if that’s just an automatic response, selected from the available library of quick and polite answers to everyday questions. Maybe it’s just those tracks I was thinking of yesterday – it’s a little bit like multi-tasking. People are terrible at multi-tasking, even when we think we do it really well. Almost without exception the tasks being done take far longer than they would ever have done alone. What we can get really good at though is task-switching, because that’s where the time vanishes, wrapping our heads around the information required for the task we’ve begun and ditching the stuff that made the previous task possible. I reckon the mental tracks of attention and attentiveness are similar. It makes it easy to snap from whatever place we’re in when someone asks us a question like, “how are you,” and into the near-autonomic replies. So much of daily interaction is like this, automatic and relatively unthinking, a lot like the experience many have of being unable to recall a single detail of our trip to work. Add to that the notion that all memory is imagination anyway, with the particular focus and interests we have at the point of recalling an incident reframing and rewriting that memory in our minds. Nothing is real. That should have been obvious long ago.

I don’t know if I am happy. Much of the time I am calm, quiet, peaceful – perhaps content is a good word for those occasions. I feel as if that’s one of perhaps four states that or tracks that I feel myself grinding along – when I do stop to consider which track I’m on or how I feel. There’s also the complete immersion and engrossment in a task, the flow state often described by creative folks, which I relish finding in both work and play: writing, improv, design work, a good film, a fun conversation. It’s a somewhat heightened state in which time fades away and so do all the other tracks. Then there are the bad ones, waiting in the wings for me to blow a line or fall over the props. Absolute gut-wrenching anxiety. This is when I’ve properly fucked something up, or think I have. It would freeze me in place if I had a more casual work ethic (that’s another thing I don’t get – even in the darkness I can force myself to keep carrying on. I’m slower, less useful, but you can’t just stop, can you?), if there weren’t things to be done. Perhaps the anxiety track is more of a trough – all these tracks go downhill, by the way, like water slides – and it’s the slippery sides which are coated with anxiety and in the fast-flowing centre is my other state, utter emptiness. I suppose that’s despair, a non-human state where I feel totally disconnected from everything and everyone. It’s usually preceded by a sense of tearing, the awareness of that anxiety slope rearing up and dominating the interior conversation, and I can feel like I’m splitting in two, and these parallel tracks become visible and I can see them running on separately, caught between them. Once it asserts itself, I plummet into it. And there’s nothing there, no reason to keep being. Nothing has value, not my beloved externalised memory of tat and the physical things I enjoy, not the relationships I have with people. It all just stops, and I drop out into a vacuum from which there seems to be no escape. That’s when I want it all to be over, long to never have even been.

But I’m not certain where jolly little words like “happy”, “joy”, “jealousy”, “sadness” and so on quite fit in there. I’m not sure I feel them fully. I know the sleeping tablets/antidepressants blunt it, keep me from the worst of the down, most of the time simply by regulating my sleep a little better than the clusterfuck it is on its own. They also keep me from the best of feelings, such that focus is a good feeling rather than joy or ecstasy. I have grown weary of not being able to access those positive highs, and I’m possibly in a decent enough place that I could stop taking the amitriptyline and find out how I really do feel. It’s not going to be a smooth ride though. It’s been more than ten years on them, and I’m now on the lowest dose I can take and probably get a good night’s sleep without a weird amitriptyline hangover. If I take less I just won’t sleep (and I don’t always anyway), as on Monday night when I slept for an hour, then got up for another five and even though I took yet more tablets, still didn’t go back to bed till six in the morning. And that’s when I take them properly, at around 7.30pm and feel the effects of them slowly dragging me to stillness, like there’s a rubbery version of myself I’m pulling along behind me, thoughts and words slurring out until I must go to bed. That’s hours. Hours of lost time. If I take any more then that gets worse, and leaks into the next day until I’ve got more than twelve hours of a day sluggish and unproductive. By productive, I don’t mean doing anything useful – within a few hours of taking the pills I can’t even follow LEGO building instructions, though I can just about read a book. It’s vexing.

How do I feel today? Pretty good actually: slept OK, even though I got woken up by the postman before I’d have chosen to wake fully. Last night I felt absolutely trashed, after having had a very hyper day on Thursday: unable to remain still, manically focused on work and improv and being in place. I’d woken up at six and felt great, more than ready to start doing something, anything. That persisted all day and evening, and even with just six hours sleep after that still felt pretty damn peppy on Friday morning (hence the beginning of this mental health track, more exercise, more stories and on into the day). If I am going to ditch the pills, I’ll need to be ready for both more of those days, and more where I’ve had no sleep and still need to get through the day without falling into the bad tracks. Requires some thought, but more than I have done for a while, I feel ready to deal with.

Mental Health Track

A purposeful daily attempt to track how I feel and what I’m doing.

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