This is the next part of my story of my breakdown. The first part can be found here.
This is something originally written in 2010/11…
At home, I sit and look at the Prozac. Do I want to do this? These little blue and green pills, they look so small and innocuous, but I know from past experience they can change things a lot. We’ve been here before, when I was 16. It wasn’t a pretty story. I don’t want to go down this road again, to be dependent on a pill to function, to wonder whether my feelings are real feelings, or side effects. I’ve read Prozac Nation; its author, Elizabeth Wurtzel, credits Prozac with saving her life. But I’ve also read the stories in the media about the people who have gone mad on it. This whole situation feels a lot like admitting defeat. What am I saying about myself if I start taking pills in order to make myself normal? That I’m not capable of functioning without something to steer me in the right direction? If that’s the case, am I not better off dead? I feel like if I give in and take these pills, it will be tantamount to admitting I’m not capable of even a basic human existence on my own. That I can’t even put one foot in front of the other and fool people any more. I don’t want to be that weak and useless.
I put them in a drawer and pretend I can cope without them.
The GP and the friend are both wrong. They must be. This sort of thing happens to other people, not to me. Yeah, I’ve had my depressive moments, but they were when I was a moody teenager in love with the idea of teenage angst, and foolishly thinking I was a tortured soul like Richey Manic. It was more affected than real, wasn’t it? I’ve got my head screwed on right really, haven’t I? This is just a rough patch, it’ll pass. I can’t possibly be one of those unfortunate people who need Prozac to cope.
On the other hand though, I can’t stand the thought of feeling like this any longer. The doctor has been to university for several years’ training to do this job, surely she knows what she’s doing? Who am I to argue with her?
A couple of days later, I give in. I come home from work crying uncontrollably. I have no idea how I passed 7 hours at a desk, I have no idea what I am going to do with regard to any single aspect of my life. Simple things are beyond me, and I’m scared to go out of my front door.
I admit defeat. I take the pill, and I cry some more. I really am that sort of person, and it breaks my heart. I had such high hopes for myself. I imagine the pill floating up to my brain and plugging some sort of gaping hole, like the Dutch boy with his finger in the dam.
Within days, I stop eating or sleeping, and lose the capacity for rational thought. My life is like wading through molasses. I hear people speaking to me, but it’s as if they are in another room, another place, talking to another version of me. Nothing gets through to me. I can’t tell if the Prozac is causing this, or if it’s just a coincidence that I started taking it at the same time as I turned the corner into this state.
I stop trying to pretend to be normal; I was never any good at it any way.
The not eating starts as “I can’t be bothered with cooking any dinner tonight” and quickly moves onto “I can’t stand the thought of putting that in my mouth.” It’s not that I’m not hungry; I must be, I’ve not eaten properly for weeks now. I’m just seized by this feeling that I cannot eat. I lose more weight without trying, and this serves only to make me even less inclined to eat. I begin to keep a food diary, as a way of showing off to myself. One Tuesday, the diary reads simply, “Mini Baby Bel x 1.”
At work, I speak to a nice lady from HR. The whole company is on notice for redundancy at the moment, nd I am worried that if I get signed off work again (as I am increasingly tempted to do) it will affect the likelihood of my being made redundant. I don’t want to lose my job, on top of everything else. She tells me not to worry about work at all; if I need to be off work then I should go. She suggests I book a holiday or something, but advises me I should speak to my department manager first, out of courtesy, and explain that I am having problems.
The department manager is a gruff, middle-aged, old-fashioned manager. I cannot imagine having a discussion about feelings with this man. I’m horrified at the thought of having to tell him I want to go home because of such a flimsy excuse as “stress.” I decide to just ask him if I can finish the day, and take the rest of the week off. I go to see him and tell him about the issues I’ve been having, in very general terms. No details. I ask if I can take the rest of the week as holiday, then brace myself for his response. He takes a breath and says: how about this… my heart sinks. Here it comes. And then he surprises me: look, I know what you’re like, and if you just go you’ll worry that your work is being left. Go home now, get an early night. For the rest of the week, come in when you feel like it. Check your emails, make sure your work has been handed off to other people, and go. I don’t care if you’re only here for two hours a day. Come in as late as you need to, make sure things are covered, and leave.
I have no idea where this has come from. This is not what I have come to expect from the man who has been running the department for the last year. I’m gobsmacked. I thank him profusely, and leave. For the next week or so, I feel like a complete fraud. I arrive for work between 9 and 10 each morning – I couldn’t cope with the guilt if I rocked up any later, despite my manager telling me off if I arrive too early. I check my emails, check my normal duties are covered, and sort of hang about, wondering whether it would be ok to go home now… until my manager basically kicks me out of the office.
Leaving work early only brings on a new problem, though: there are now more hours between getting home and going to bed. The hours spread out before me like some massive, barren desert. I cannot think of how I will fill so many hours. Most people (presumably) will fill their evening with socialising (I can’t do that, I can’t speak to anyone), preparing a nice meal (I can’t eat anything), housework (what’s the point?), watching TV or movies (can’t concentrate) or… what else? What do normal people do? What did I used to do? It’s as if I’ve forgotten overnight how I like to spend my spare time. I haven’t the first clue how to fill the coming hours.
I sit on the sofa and switch on the TV; a force of habit left over from when I used to enjoy things. I flick through the channels; there is nothing I want to watch. Eventually I let it stop on some American reality show or other. I’m sure I used to watch this all the time. Didn’t I enjoy this once? I don’t remember. I may have seen this episode, I don’t know.
I go upstairs to my desk and switch on the computer. I wait for it to load up, and connect to the internet. I used to spend hours in here, didn’t I? What did I do? How did I fill that time? I don’t want to chat to anyone on Facebook. I don’t want to wade through my emails. I don’t want to read any news stories or articles. I don’t want to check my bank account. What else is there to do online? I stare at my Facebook for a few minutes, wondering how I ever coped with these demands for my attention.
Eventually, at a loss, I leave the room and go back downstairs to the living room. The TV is still on, talking to itself with some vacuous nonsense about tans or hair or make up or weddings. Or perhaps all of those subjects. I can’t stand the voices. I find the remote and flick through the channels some more. It all seems so pointless, just devoid of any meaning whatsoever. Why does anyone watch this? I switch the TV off and sit there, staring at the blank screen for a while.
What time is it? I must have killed an hour or so by now… No, only twenty minutes. I go back to the spare room and look at the computer. I have ten Facebook notifications. They’ve been sitting there mocking me and my stupid inability to cope with even the simplest of things, for days now, slowly increasing in number as the days progress. I can’t bring myself to do anything about it.
I go back downstairs and sit on the sofa in the silent living room. What am I doing in here? I don’t want to watch the TV, there are no DVDs I want to watch. I have a book which I’m half way through, but I couldn’t tell you what it’s about… What else can I do with my evening?
Out of habit, I go back upstairs to check the computer. Check for what? I know I have unread emails and Facebook notifications, and I don’t want to read any of them. I get to the doorway and realise I don’t want to be in here.
I go back downstairs. I get to the living room, and I don’t want to be in here either.
I go to the kitchen and find a bottle of some dodgy green liqueur at the back of a cupboard. I find a shot glass – I’m not some sort of uncivilised drunkard, after all – and take them into the living room with me. I pour myself a shot and look a it. I don’t normally drink. This bottle has been in my cupboard for six months or more. The liquid is sticky and smells of bananas. I drink it quickly, down in one. It doesn’t taste bad, not like it used to. I feel it burning its way down to my empty stomach, spreading out in the cavity and heating me from the inside. I still don’t want to watch the TV; I still don’t want to be in this room.
I wander back upstairs to the spare room, with no idea what I intend to do when I get there. Where else can I go? My bedroom has nothing but a messy pile of un-ironed clothes and a lot of dust. The bathroom has nothing to occupy my attention; I’ve already had a shower and washed my hair today.
I start to head back down the stairs. It occurs to me that down there, there is only the living room – which we’ve already established I don’t want to be in – and the kitchen, which has only dirty plates and cups from my failed attempts at eating. I give up and sit on the stairs. Bottle in hand, I begin to cry. I have no idea how I will fill the rest of my evening. I pour myself another shot. And another, and another. Soon, half the bottle is gone. It occurs to me that I don’t feel drunk. I have no food in my stomach to soak up the alcohol I don’t usually touch. I should be drunk. Even that part of me is broken. I can’t even get drunk any more. I am still crying, sitting on the stairs, wondering what to do.
I can hear my neighbours through the wall, going on with their normal Wednesday evening. How do they know what to do? Did someone tell them? How are they able to just fill all of this time, all these hours? There are three of them, which probably helps. They can put their heads together and come up with ideas. I rock myself back and forth, trying not to cry too loudly in case they hear me, praying for something, anything, to help me.
Eventually the clock crawls towards 9pm. This is a reasonable time to head to bed. I breathe a sigh of relief; I know what to do at bed time, I don’t need to make any decisions, or think. I put on my pyjamas, wash my face, clean my teeth and get into bed. Usually at bed time I read a book. I know this because I’ve done it since I was very small. There is always a stack of half-finished books next to my bed. I pick up the top one, and begin reading. After twenty minutes, I realise I’ve been reading the same sentence, in the middle of the page, over and over again. I have no idea what came before it, what caused me to stop at that point. I try again. Concentrate. Stay with it. You can do this, you love to read. It happens again and I give up. I put the book on the floor and switch the light out. I lie down and eventually fall asleep.
As if by clockwork, I wake up at 3am. I look at the clock and groan. I have no idea what it is about 3am, but I am growing to hate it. I lie in bed and stare at the ceiling. Why can’t I sleep? I can’t stand another 60 plus years of this. I have no idea how people cope with this.
I become completely entranced by normal people. People who sleep all night, get up, go to work, come home, and cope with their lives. Some of them even enjoy their lives. I want to grab them by the shoulders and beg them to tell me their secret, what it is I’m missing. At the moment my life, my existence, seems more like a prison sentence to be endured, than anything to be enjoyed.
One morning at 4am when I’ve been trying to go back to sleep for what feels like an age, I switch the light on and begin to rummage through all the old prescriptions I have lying about the house. I have a box of co-codamol from when I had bruised ribs a few years ago; they always made me sleepy. I have some old antidepressants that didn’t work the last time I went mental. I have some antihistamines that used to send me into some sort of drugged haze. And there is some Valium left over from having a tooth pulled at the dentist. There are others too. I pile the boxes and jars on the table. Is there enough here to kill me? I’m not sure. Right now, I just want to go to sleep. So I take two of the co-codamol and an antihistamine. And then one of the other antihistamines, the ones my doctor actually gave me to help me sleep.
Eventually I pass out, and then I’m late and groggy for work in the morning. My boss pulls that face again. I’ve seen it a lot lately, it seems to be reserved just for me and it says You are worrying me, and I do not like it. I tell a little white lie: the doctor prescribed me sleeping pills. Over the next couple of days my work colleagues learn not to try and start a conversation for an hour or so, because the sleeping pills won’t have worn off yet. On one day in particular, I turn up with a large coffee, sit down at my desk and stay there, head lolling back and forth, not even drinking the coffee, for two hours until my manager sends me home.
I begin to take increasingly risky cocktails of drugs at 3am. I try to avoid taking pills before I go to sleep; I am ever hopeful that this will be the night I finally manage to sleep through. But when I wake in the middle of the night, in a fit of desperation, I take one or more of every pill I have available to me. I’ve a friend who is bipolar and doesn’t take his medication, so he lets me have some. It seems that there’s nothing left to do but wait until the day my quest for an uninterrupted night’s sleep results in my taking too many pills. I observe this in the same way one might casually think, if I leave that tap running the sink will overflow… oh well…
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