Thursday 22 January 2015

Withdrawal Symptoms: A Stark Reminder of Being Human

"Don't get me wrong when I say this..." Emma pauses and narrows her eyes with an almost imperceptible shake of the head, 

"But you're not normal."

My eyes close and I inhale sharply with a small smile on my face, savouring the taste of that very sentence, before exhaling a deep whooshing thanks - my tone weak with simultaneous gratitude and relief. Thank you I repeat slowly and firmly, reestablishing eye contact as we both give a small nod in mutual and earnest understanding of exactly what this means.


I've always lived in firm understanding and respect that my mind and my brain are two very different things, perhaps common only in the fact that they share the same head, and both defiantly wage an endless battle over possession of my thoughts.

To be quite honest, the part that is truly me, my mind, my consciousness, has always remained in fear of my brain and the erratic and illogical ways it independently chooses to operate without my consent. 

Hmm, today I think we're going to fall in love with that guy you've met twice and is moving to Australia tomorrow, lol have fun with that.

...Come on, that's not fair.

Actually nah, I think we should be paranoid now and believe that every single person is staring at you because you put on too much eyeshadow this morning and thinking it looks super try-hard.

For god's sake dammit, give me a break.

Or how about when we wake up this morning we realise that we have no idea what we're doing in life and realise all the things we're looking forward to in the future are just pipedreams and long shots?

W  H  Y       B  R  A  I  N        W  H  Y

When I was younger, I used to actually think I was some extra-terrestrial soul that had been implanted into the body of a human child when I was born, but then had just forgotten that was the case as I'd grown up, and now was just left always wondering why this was all so damned hard.

Hell, there are still some days when I feel barely human, when my senses jumble from synesthesia and I can feel the texture and taste of words against my teeth and lay in the darkness watching the dazzling spectral light-shows projecting from the sleeping soul beside me. When I have thoughts and ideas and sentences which beam straight into my mind from somewhere completely unknown and I vomit them out into notebooks until I'm weak.

I guess I've just always had an extraordinarily vivid and absurd imagination partnered with a very unfortunate awareness that I have very little control over my brain and am solely at the mercy of my own biology.

But then,

There are those rare, rare days, 

When I am given a painfully stark reminder of just how human I actually am.


The punctured pill packet turns over furiously in my quivering fingers.

Twelve, Thirteen, Fourteen. 

The warning labels from the creased little pamphlet I read once, haphazardly, suddenly propel themselves to the front of my mind, dancing in front of my vision, almost jeering, taunting. There's a reason you have to be carefully weaned on to these pills, and delicately rehabilitated off.

I begin to realise, then, what I've done, and what's going to happen to me.

The medication had completely changed and saved my life.

I'd grown accustomed to inhabiting my brain like a 1940's air raid warden during the Blitz, carefully going about my life knowing any moment, everything I'd built could detonate and explode without warning, sending me into a dark little space for an untold amount of days before I could finally emerge and begin to build again.

The pills meant I didn't have to live on tenterhooks anymore. I could finally be liberated from constantly anticipating an imminent downfall.

I was free.

But I'd taken my peace for granted and I'd fucked up. Oh god had I fucked up.

And the worst part was, the knowledge and expectation of what was about to happen, was going to make it that much more rapid and brutal. When you break your leg, thinking about how bad it is isn't going to make it more broken. That's reserved for the unique and paradoxical frustration of mental illness.

It was half way through the third pill-less day when I felt the first blow.

I was sufficiently distracted, whiling the hours away at work trying in vain not to think about the chemical warfare raging inside my own brain, when suddenly the whole world and reality just dropped into half speed.

Like watching a movie with a low frame rate, or trying to wade through treacle, I began to perceive the world in jarring stop motion, aware of my own speech and reflexes slurring and lagging to a noticeable degree.

But then like a DJ momentarily holding then releasing a vinyl disc, the world snapped back into normal dimensions again and I was left shaking my head, feeling a sense of panic beginning to rise in my chest.

I turned to let someone know I wasn't feeling too good just as everything lurched into overdrive and suddenly my eyes began viewing the world in such super fast high definition that I was almost perceiving things quicker than they were actually happening.

A hot, prickly sickness crept through my chest and rippled through the hairs on the back of my neck into my scalp.

Dizziness and faintness started to bore through the centre of my forehead as I ran, my vision flooded and blinded by white and grey pixels, like when you stand up too quickly after sitting down for too long.

I burst into the empty back room and dropped to my knees, my body expelling oxygen as if it were a toxin.

The world began to swirl at intoxicating speeds beneath my eyelids and my heart pounded furiously as if beating desperately against a locked door, praying someone will hear and come save me. My chest inflated and deflated rapidly yet purposelessly - none of the air circulating through my body seemed to appease any part of my biology which is so desperately crying out for sustenance.

The tremors and gasps of air tore through my body with such ferocity that I wasn't certain I could even stay conscious. Tears spilled freely down my cheeks and my head was in my hands, begging, pleading for this storm to pass.

Then as though a simple switch was flipped, my body was returned to me and the attack was over. I held my head in my hands until I could regulate my breathing, watching the storm clouds inside my mind slowly shrink and roll away into the horizon.

I inhaled deep, cool lungfuls of air and tentatively sipped water before returning to work as if nothing had happened.

The rest of the day was difficult, but somehow more manageable - it was as though the attack had purged some of the darkness out of me. I paid very close attention to every part of my body, monitoring every reaction to later describe how it felt. Most curiously I found myself experiencing a sensation every hour or so where it would feel as though the actual organ of my brain would fidget and shift forward inside my head, causing a momentary blip in all my senses and a dip in my vision.

But knowing the night was coming was the worst.

Night time was when my guard was down, when these chemicals weaved their way into my subconscious and showed me the most twisted, dazzling and electrifying dreams. It filled me with dread to think what they would show me now.

Once I'd finally got home and explained everything to him, I remember standing in the amber light of my kitchen listening to the blistering wind and rain, a furious and pitch black night world howling and spattering against the windows, knowing that in a couple of hours that storm will be granted access inside my own unconscious and vulnerable mind.

"I'm scared of myself." I whispered, and he pulled me into a warm and tight embrace.

He stayed up with me until we could hear the birds.

He turned to the indigo light beyond the window panes, then to me, and I nodded solemnly. The light was extinguished and dread immediately shrouded me as we lay in the darkness.

"It's like I can feel them waiting for me." I murmured sleepily and he squeezed my hand before I tumbled deep down into another world.

But they never came.

The next thing I knew was daylight and mild panic, before I turned to see his sleeping soul and felt instantly at peace.

I returned to the window and watched the swirling milky clouds for a while, feeling my brain fidget.

By 2pm, this would all be over and I'd be safe again.

Was it decidedly tragic I could only rely on medication to feel normal? That my mind was so damaged I needed pills to just feel okay?

But they hadn't got me. Even when all my guards had lain down, while my conscious mind had been absent, my brain had been able to fight as I slept and kept these dream demons from sucking me into mental oblivion.

I even smiled then.

Perhaps my brain wasn't the enemy after all.

Maybe I just needed the perspective to realise that it had actually been my greatest ally all along, however unconventional it's methods in helping my spirit to grow and learn.

Brain, mind, me - we might all be different things, but who says we can't work together?

If there's anything I learnt from accidentally going cold turkey on anti-depressants and dangerously fucking with my mind, is that I am goddamn stronger than I thought I was.

And that phrase has remained like a talisman on my soul, a medal from surviving that experience intact.

You are stronger than what you think, because you are stronger than you think.


"Don't get me wrong when I say this..." Emma pauses and narrows her eyes with an almost imperceptible shake of the head,

"But you're not normal."

There is no accusation, no malice. Her expression is a mix of understanding, empathy, faith and admiration, and it feels as though my heart is bursting with gratitude and joy and perhaps a tiny bit like I don't deserve an accolade as such from someone who's opinion and approval I value over most others in this world.

But those four words resonate harmoniously through the core of my being and I give a small sigh of relief.

"Thank you." I reply.