I was in an abusive relationship for years. When at my weakest my tormentor would begin its assault, filling my head with agony, infecting me with darkness and leaving me with no alternative. I’d convince myself the only way to stop this onslaught was to kill my demon — and that meant killing me. My mind was my abuser.
Fast-forward four years, that demon is well and truly slayed — for now at least. I’m not naïve enough to believe she won’t come for me again, but for now, I enjoy the quiet life due to a strict regime of medication, doctors appointments, 12 step program, a good night sleep, exercise and a healthy diet. But this process has felt like losing a person. Much like victims of domestic violence, I also loved my abuser. The fear and guilt of finally walking away are tainted with love, which makes it nearly impossible to leave. Letting go was a process. I’ve mourned. I’ve grieved. But I’ve learned to move on without this demon on my back.
I spent as long as I can remember in a relationship with darkness, or the witch as I’ve affectionately come to call her. And when she was finally gone, when the quiet set in, I was truly alone for the first time. I missed the noise. I missed her. I feel sick admitting that, but it was a glimpse into my very own Stockholm Syndrome. I’ll never forget my doctor saying, “you’ve been traveling with a dark passenger your whole life, and it just got out the car”. But with the loneliness comes triumph. I made a choice to get better, to seek help, to not live with this oppression — I chose to leave. I chose to live.
I’ve been diagnosed by 3 different doctors, two private (one American and one British) and one on the NHS in UK, all with the same outcome — apart from arguing if I’m Bi-Polar 1 or 2 (with psychotic episodes) depending on where I am in my cycle. I started out on an anti-convulsant 4 and half years ago, which stabilised my moods. Episodes went from daily/weekly to one or two a year, but after an episode in 2013 I was put on an anti-psychotic as well. As soon as I started Abilify, it all stopped. The witch was no more and I was left with a downtrodden clearing, complete with a smouldering campfire in a terrifying forest where she used to live. And it was lonely.
That said, I know people going through it now. It’s hard to hear when someone is struggling through the mental health system at home in the UK, not getting anywhere. They wait weeks for an appointment with a psychiatrist, they rarely see the same person, often get a new diagnosis when they see someone new, and that often means new medication. It seems so unfair that my doctors are available 24/7 and my medications have worked so well for me, but because I live in the US now I have to pay for the privilege. But it makes me question do I really have Bi-Polar disorder at all when I’ve recovered so well compared to others struggling or making no progress. Shouldn’t I still be fucked up if I really were ill?
This is a question I bring up frequently with my doctor. When I’ve had a reasonable period of stability, I question if maybe I’d made it all up. Maybe I was just being melodramatic. Maybe I’m a great actor. My doctor painfully reminds me how acute my psychosis can be, and I understand it’s a necessary reminder. He follows this abruptly with the stern reminder of the times I slept under the bed because I was convinced the witch was in my house trying to kill me; or the time I walked into a police station and asked them to arrest my step-mother for killing my childhood by abusing me as a child.
Maybe I just made those hallucinations up? Well, of course I did, after all hallucinations aren’t real, but what if I could’ve avoided them? When I was alone and terrified I would hide. I would sleep in my wardrobe to avoid any stimulus that may trigger a thought or image that wasn’t real, or worse, wake the witch up. It was my homegrown solitary confinement — a dark, silent, confined space. Prisoners go mad in The Hole and I was voluntarily admitting myself. No wonder I went insane.
Then there’s the time I came off my medication last year for 2 weeks, and within a week I sent an insane, manic love letter to a friend I had previously no romantic feeling toward, declaring my undying love for him. I almost bought a plane ticket to Italy to visit and tell him in person — I was convinced it was mutual, but it wasn’t remotely. It was completely out of left field and frightened my friend(s). It even included the textbook Bi-Polar lines of “I can see clearly now”, “my medication was holding me back” and “it all makes sense now”. Cringe-worthy, I know.
I’d find myself doing terrible, stupid things — things too upsetting to even write, as if someone else was doing them. I’d have periods of blacking out and not remembering. Once, as if sleepwalking I awoke tying bed sheets over my banister railings — there, I said it; It doesn’t bear thinking about. I didn’t want to die. But the witch wanted me dead. And that witch was taking over, winning the assault on my mind and my will to live, inch by inch, day by day. It was a constant war between this creature I had no control over, and me. I felt myself losing the battle, her winning; my life force fading. I was convinced I needed an exorcism to kill this foreigner that was trying to murder me.
Even though she tormented me, I had lived with her for years. We coexisted. Sometimes I had the upper hand; sometimes she did. I’d like to say it worked for a while, but it never worked and I know that now. When you think, “I don’t need help” or “it’ll pass”, it means you believe it’s working enough to continue. It is not working. Existing is not living. You’re in an abusive relationship with yourself. I understand how complex that relationship is and how masochistic it is not to want it to stop — just like the junkie that wants to quit, but wants the high more. But really sit and ponder, when was the last time you really laughed? When was the last time you felt freedom?
So, what explanation is there for my recovery? Surely it can’t just be the quality of doctors I have; that I’ve somehow struck gold with the perfect concoction of medication and that I take one of the most expensive anti-psychotics on the market that the NHS doesn’t like prescribing? Or maybe it is.
I don’t care what happened to my witch, but she’s gone for now. I know she’s lurking in the back of my mind somewhere, but as long as I keep up my side of the bargain to myself, I get a taste of the good life. It’s not easy to constantly act responsible for myself after years of neglect, but the alternative isn’t an option. I’ve come a long way from running out into traffic, or fantasising about taking that one fatal step off the platform at the tube station, followed by punishing myself for being too cowardly to go through with it. I’ve come a long way from disappearing for days or weeks on end because I couldn’t cope. And right now, I have no plans on going anywhere but forward.
photos stolen from pintrest and unsplash