Me And My Shadow – Five Years On

I tend to do lots of thinking. Well, what else is there to do when you live in your head all the time? If you’re sitting in a pool all day you may as well swim a lap or two every now and again. Most of the thoughts are fine and banal. Some are friendly, some are out of my control, some have sent me shooting out of sleep like a cannon in absolute terror, taking me five solid minutes to remember where I am, and another five to believe my mind was telling me the truth. Thankfully the latter isn’t as common as it used to be. I wouldn’t wish that kind of thing on my worst enemy. If you can’t trust your own brain, then hope is a very faraway thing.

But anyway, I digress. It’s been a fucking rollercoaster of fresh hell and insane adventures in mental health the last twenty-five months, not to mind the last five years. To put it mildly, this last half-decade makes Girl, Interrupted look like High School Musical. I spoke about my own experience with depression before in Me And My Shadow (click here to read) almost five years ago (yikes), and I’ve felt for a while that it was worth a revisit, if only for myself.

The reason for posting it publicly is to show that there is never an easy wrapped-up Hollywood ending to these things. I’d like to tell you that I found inner peace, loved the shit out of myself and had amazing life-fulfilling relationships that made me glad to be alive, and came off all meds, and lived blissfully ever after, happy as a laughing baby on YouTube. I’d like to tell you that, but I’d be lying SO FUCKING HARD.

I got worse. A whole lot worse. In every way. I still did the everyday stuff like finishing college and all that, but my soul did everything under massive protest. Most nights I stayed in, relieved to be at home where I could collapse into my dark, sad, yet comfortingly familiar little corner of my world. The thoughts of having to get it together mentally & physically to go out into the night and deal with crowds and bright lights and shoving stupid people stepping on my toes and elbowing me in the head (being short in the club is a fucking curse) was just too much to cope with.

I spent most of my alone time listening to sad music and faffing about online. I could be the life and soul of the Facebook party from the comfort of a Onesie while wearing a hair turban with sections of my face smothered in Sudocrem. It’s a good front for those of us who are mentally terrorised by the outside world. It has its drawbacks too, in that if you’re good enough with words and you REALLY don’t want anyone to see how bad you are, nobody will be any wiser. Remember: your fingers don’t get sad; you can still type happy words while crying your eyes out.

So on went this life of mine, with the usual ups and downs while I more or less navigated my way through various crises and hurdles that are microscopic looking back, but at the time seemed like I was at the foot of Everest. That was all fine, and doable, and that too did pass..but then in 2013 my mom died, and my heart and brain broke one after the other, never to be fully healed again.

It’s a strange old thing, grief. I spent the first year without Mam simply on auto-pilot on the outside, working in schools, trying to get some sort of new life together and find a place to live in town and being ‘grand’, all the while holding on to the soothing effects of various meds for dear life for fear I would collapse into a pile of tiny shards of glass if I didn’t have them. There were times I couldn’t allow myself to even take a deep breath in the classroom, in case I would break into sobs because the pain in my chest was too much. But life marched on yet again, and I eventually found some semblance of stability, which is precisely the point at which my brain joined in the fun of completely fucking me over for another twelve months.

I won’t dwell on the many adventures that me and my mind went on together, lest this piece become some sort of self-indulgent Depression Porn, which is not the purpose of this piece (you can wait for The Book for that!). Suffice it to say that when your own brain is your enemy, the world is a very frightening, lonely place. I repeated a lot of bad habits I thought I had left behind years ago. I was back self-harming, both physically and in being careless and not looking after myself, and various other bits and bobs that didn’t help. All this led to an intervention of sorts by some very caring friends who I hadn’t managed to fool, and they scooped me up and got me first into A&E, then into a day psychiatric unit. The rest is a better, albeit staggered, slightly more stable mental history.

I’ve left volumes out, because I will be writing about it in more detail in another long-term project; but also because the nitty-gritty isn’t pertinent to the piece. I guess by looking back at the original piece from 2010 compared to now, I’m showing the world that things aren’t always linear. Particularly when it comes to mental health issues. There’s no such thing as an “I lived happily ever after!” finely tuned ending when it comes to the battle for your sanity. But you know what? That’s totally okay. It is what it is. That ‘One Day At A Time’ stuff works for depression and anxiety as well as addictions. They’re all pits that can pull you back in with the slightest little knock-back. I went eight years without cutting myself, then fell off the wagon during a particularly dangerous black time last year. Afterwards, I was so angry at having broken the promise I made all those years ago, but all I could do was reset the numbers and start again. One day at a time? One minute at a time if you have to. Fuck it, whatever it takes to keep you on this earth a bit longer to give yourself a chance.

It’s when things stop going okay after you think you’ve gotten it all under control that can cause a lot of despair in people. They feel like they’ve failed. But look, shit happens. Whether maintaining good mental health, or recovering from mental health issues, these things are a constantly evolving (and devolving) process. People love loose ends to be tied up all clearly explained and resolved in 30 minutes with commercial breaks, but that’s just fiction. The only thing that marches on consistently, not giving a fuck about where you’re at in life, is time. So let that do the straight-line thing, cos nothing else in life or the state of your mental health is going to behave that way.

So take comfort. If you’re falling down just when you think you’re doing okay, you’re actually still doing okay. It’s just a bump. I swear on all the Gods that people believe in, and on all the laws of nature. You know how I know? Because I’m still here, and so are you, reading this and getting a headache, for which I apologise. Time has passed since you felt a hell of a lot worse, so you’ve got an advantage straight away. That’s how I judge my progress with this Shadow of mine. If I compared how I am now to how I was when I wrote the original post, there’s actually very little progress made. But fill in the space between with all that happened in my life (none of which is unique to me, we all grieve), then I realise how lucky I am that I’m still above ground. So onwards I march. I really hope you do too. But don’t do it alone. I had a treasure-trove of people around me, and that’s the only reason I’m able to sit and type this in any coherent form. Pretend you’re a friend asking you for help – would you be annoyed and tell them to feck off? Speaking from experience, it is incredibly profound and liberating to actually say the words “I’m not okay.” The dynamic that they set off can be, quite literally, life-saving. Get it done.

Oh, and one more thing: FUCK HOLLYWOOD HAPPY ENDINGS.

Ask J-Ro: Pet Peeves

Our neighbourhood cat Simon uses us for our food, he sleeps on our couch, urges us to lavish him with petting and ear scratches as he eats our food then ups and leaves. Are we stupid to indulge this selfish cat in the hope he may one day love us?

 
Pic by Ken Coleman
“In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this.” – Terry Pratchett.
Ah, cats. Bunch of divas, the lot of ’em. Can you tell I’m a dog person? Don’t get me wrong, cats are great while they’re deigning to acknowledge your existence, letting you rub them while they act all snuggly and cute…with the emphasis on the word ‘act’. Don’t let them away with that shit for a SECOND.
Did you ever see Mean Girls? This cat is the Regina George of the pet world. We’re all their adoring fans just throwing ourselves at their feet begging them to love us. Sometimes it works and they’ll be gracious in their mercy by acknowledging your existence; other times they’ll start cleaning their assholes right in front of you, like “This is WAY more fun than you will ever be.”
If Simon was a dude, you’d tell him feck off and get his own food. He knows he’s on to a good thing here. By being a slave to his flighty affections, you’re only enabling what is sure to be a future dictator when The Cat Revolution starts. When that day comes, you’ll be the one shitting in boxes of litter while buck-naked, being filmed every second of your existence in case you do anything worthy of YouTube. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.
In the meantime, take all the cuddles and snoozy cat-purring you can get. You can’t beat animal-lovies when you’re feeling blue. Make the most of his superficial attention and make him work for his food by snuggling you guys like a mad bastard. It’s all about Give and Take, you know.
(Until the Revolution, but that’s for another time)

Ask J-Ro: A Platonic Dilemma

Jen,I’ve been very attracted to a friend for years. In the early part, my marriage was falling apart but now it’s been over for five years. I’ve admitted to her directly a few years ago how I felt but she didn’t respond how I’d hoped. I’m afraid if I say something again it will ruin our friendship.

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Sorry to hear about the end of your marriage; it’s not easy to call an end to a union you believed would be permanent. However, you’re living proof that there is still good times and great connections to be made if you do become separated / divorced, so give yourself credit for wanting to get back in the game!

I can only imagine how painful & complicated a process it was to get to where you are now, and the fact that it’s been five years tells me that the feelings for your friend seem to be more than just a rebound straight out of your marriage. I think in a case like this though, there’s a few factors at play here. I don’t know if you told her about how you felt while you were maybe still in the middle of the messiness of ending the marriage, or if you were free and totally single at the time. If it’s the former, I think she was probably right to knock you back because you might not have been in the best mindframe to launch into a relationship, especially with a friend, because the consequences would have been disastrous.

It’s a tough one. She sounds like a fantastic person who was there for you during one of the most stressful & emotionally demanding times anyone can experience, and the value of that should never be underestimated. She’s obviously aware of your feelings from before, and the fact that a few years have passed tells me that she’s probably happy with things as they are right now.

It can’t have been easy for her to turn down a friend who was openly hurting and just getting back into dating, so I imagine it was a decision she didn’t make lightly. The last thing she would have wanted to do was add to your hurt, so the fact that she did knock you back may mean that she really was happy being your friend, and that was enough for her. You guys are still very close by the sound of things, so it seems she may have made the right call.

It’s been a few years since you ended the marriage. Have a think about where you are relationship-wise. Have you been dating since the marriage ended? Anyone serious? Have you met new people or socialised differently to how you would have done before? If you’ve been out & about expanding your horizons, and you still have strong feelings for your friend, then maybe it’s worth testing the water, but in a subtle way. Pick a friend who knows you both well and can be honest with you on the QT about whether they think it’s worth the risk. In the end, only YOU will truly know in your gut whether your friendship is open & honest enough to not be ruined by a second overture. But tread very carefully, because this sounds like a friendship worth keeping.

Whatever else you do, be kind to yourself. Don’t put yourself in a position where you may be rejected outright again. Nurture what you have right now, and if there’s something more there, a natural dynamic will take over. Relax and be happy you know someone like her, she sounds like good people. But, whatever else you do – DON’T DO OR SAY ANYTHING IF YOU’RE DRUNK.

Best of Luck!

Ask J-Ro: A Nuptial No-No

I am head over heels about this guy and he is mad about me too, but he’s married!! What do I do, am I mad to pursue it?

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pic by Ken Coleman

You’re not mad, but you will be very, very unhappy. No good will come of this. But you’re smart, you don’t need anyone to tell you it’s not a good idea to hook up with a married man. So let’s step away from the moral quandary for a minute and look at the practical aspects.

Brutal truth: If he was as mad about you as he says, he would not be with his wife. Or at the very least he would be a stand-up man and not let anything happen with you until he has been honest with his wife (and kids if he has any) and started making arrangements to separate and sort out places to live, financial arrangements, custody agreements if needed, and a million other heartbreaking world-shattering things he would have to do out of respect for everybody involved, including you. Is he willing to do that? Because that’s what it would take for you guys as a couple to have any kind of chance out in the open.

Next thing you need to ask yourself: Is his time more valuable than yours? Because if you guys DO go down the road of getting involved while he’s still married, then the answer to that question is going to be yes, unfortunately. You’re the one who’ll be second fiddle to everything organised, lest his plans are uncovered and you both get found out. Fuck that. You’re NOBODY’S lesser priority.

Ultimately you want someone in your life with integrity, and who puts you first. You’re not just a distraction for a man looking to alleviate some boredom in a marriage that, let’s face it, could be getting a lot more attention on his part and thus be far more rewarding.

Nothing wrong with thinking a married friend is hot, and there may even be a bit of chemistry, but write it off as human & evolutionary responses and look forward to the real thing that isn’t hindered by life-long vows of faithfulness to someone else 🙂

PS: If they did it WITH you, they’ll do it TO you. You’ll never have a moment’s peace or trust ever again. Not worth it really is it?

Lastly; what would you tell a friend who came to you with this?

BEST OF LUCK! <3

Ask J-Ro: When To Quit

Hi Jen! I was just wondering is there a limit to how many times one can ask the same boy out and get rejected each time? I have asked the same boy for caffeine or alcohol based beverages three times and each time he has essentially declined. From a fellow height challenged beour. XXX

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pic by Ken Coleman

Hello Fellow Petite! This one hits fairly close to home, so this advice is as much for me as it is for you, so we’re in this together. I’m going to be brutally honest here – stop in the name of sanity. Once was enough. I speak as someone who has been there, done that, and ruined the friendship. You’re verging into self-harm territory if you go back there again.

If you think he’s giving you signals that he wants more, he’s more than likely just enjoying the flirty banter with someone safe; and who is safer to flirt with than somebody who has asked you out? Doesn’t mean it’s right though, but it does happen. Ego is a bit of a bastard really.

On the plus side, after three times getting flat-out rejected, you now know there is nothing you can possibly do to make him like you that way. So let that lighten the load. He’s just a guy. A nice guy, I’m sure…but just a guy. You got on in the world fabulously before you ever knew he existed, and you’ll live a fantastic life from now on after knowing him too.

Make some headspace for someone to try asking YOU out. You’ve done your bit for forward-thinking women and equality in the dating world by now. Let the fellas shit themselves for once. The ones who DO fancy you will get shit done!

Best of Luck! I’m off to get this entire message tattooed on my own forehead… 🙂