i want to be
You know that dream where it’s suddenly Christmas and you haven’t organised any presents? Or that classic, it’s exam day and you haven’t studied at all? Have you ever had the one where you’re the lead in a play and someone’s pushing you on stage and you have no idea what the lines are? What about those dreams where you have to catch a plane and you haven’t packed your bags and you can’t remember how to call a taxi?
Well, that’s what my life is like. Truly. Unfortunately I also have those dreams a lot too. Bleak side note — I haven’t been able to get my act together to travel anywhere since 2012 so I’m at a place where my plane anxiety dream is practically aspirational. But I’m not here to talk about dreams. What I’m trying to say here is something I really haven’t talked to anyone about, except for a few friends and a blur of doctors.
I’m convinced I have ADHD. And rather than giving you all my symptoms, I’m giving you this dream analogy, plus this list and this list of symptoms. Read them. Every last example. That’s me. On a very high-functioning day. After talking to me for an hour about said symptoms, a social worker told me she was exhausted. “Try living it!” I said. We had a good laugh at that.
I don’t recommend ADHD. Not because it’s a difficult life filled with uncertainty, immediately forgetting what people tell you seconds after they’ve said it, letting people down constantly and bad credit ratings! No, I don’t recommend it because asking for help is easy, but then getting help is SO HARD. Unendingly exhausting and labyrinthine and belittling and like being stuck down a well and being told to find your way out by thinking positive. It’s like knowing you’re allergic to gluten but the doctor who can help you is hidden under a pile of flour and you have to eat the entire pile of flour to get to them and then they tell you, your sinuses packed with finely-milled wheat, to wait for a month and to keep your chin up.
You see, the thrilling promise of an ADHD diagnosis isn’t even really my main problem. It’s just that a diagnosis might help with everything else. And despite being on a relentless For Your Consideration campaign for the Oscar Award of five minutes attention from someone in the mental health system, I feel like I’m being sucked backwards rather than making any incremental steps forward whatsoever. There’s probably a dream analogy for this too. You know, that dream where you’re trying to run and you keep falling over and your movements are slow, like you’re wading through off-brand PVA glue?
So: I’ve had struggles with anxiety and depression for a long time and have generally been able to keep it at a manageable level while remaining pretty open about it. In July of 2016, however, I became severely depressed. Things started to look up a bit. Then they didn’t. Since the start of October — how do I put this without sounding like I’m exaggerating — I’ve been more depressed and anxious than I’ve ever known. Every single moment of the day I’m battling through either one or a charming mixture of both. You might not realise it if you’ve interacted with me, or maybe I’m terrible at hiding it, I don’t know! But it’s there. Depression — oh man. Sometimes it’s concrete thick and pinning my bones to my bed, on grimy sheets that I hadn’t changed for two months and only finally did in December because I threw up on them — silver linings! Sometimes it’s mild, and I lie there on my bed — just on the mattress because I still as of this moment haven’t put the now-clean sheets back on, and surrounded by shoes and towels and makeup and clothes — and, having lost all interest in my passion for cooking, writing, dancing, anything — all I can do is obsessively watch TV shows and cry occasionally. NewsRadio, Table for Five, the entirety of Nigella’s back catalogue, an appalling Jilly Cooper TV adaptation, all of Bill Bryson’s available audiobooks, and currently, The Simpsons.
The anxiety — well. Sometimes it’s big, and I’m tensing so hard to try and stop shaking that it feels like my bones are going to crack and splinter into shards. Food makes me nauseous. I throw up nothing at all. I sit on my bed, rocking back and forth and unable to move because I have no idea where my socks are under the mountains of weeks-old rubbish and laundry in my room. Constant panic attacks, people, followed by aftershocks. Or it’s mild! And I’m just carrying about my day with a sense of dread lightly tickling the back of my neck slowly and persistently, with hooked claws. I’m in the street and forget why I’m there and have to count continuously to four to remember how to breathe. My words have two left feet and stumble over themselves and I can’t articulate a damn thing. I can’t look at myself in the mirror. In the middle of all this is something darker. Wanting to disappear under a cold, muffled layer of dirt and sleep forever. Thinking about being hit by a truck. Lying there and fantasising about a major earthquake to crush me. But without being a burden in any way. I’ve always — and this is going to sound stupid — had too much of an ego to want to die. I’m going to be a star, I’ve got selfies to do, people to cook for, love to give, words to write. Now I just want to quietly fade away without hurting anyone. I know, not nice to read, right? But haven’t you ever had a bad day at the office or whatever and been all “man it would be nice to be on a beach right now”. Well that’s me, but with my life. I just want to escape it in a harmless way. Unfortunately that makes one’s brain be all like “getting hit by a truck and then going into a coma seems like a good work-around.” Please know I’m not going to do anything about this. I’d just really, desperately love to be airlifted out of all this right now to be gently laid down to sleep upon a pile of warm, fresh, KFC bread rolls.
Since October I’ve had four doctor appointments — in the the first two I was essentially (and once, literally, hence my scathing use of the phrase) told “chin up” after tearfully conveying to them my depression and anxiety and desire to not exist. The third was supposed to be a huge win — I was referred to a local mental health services clinic to assess whether I could get public health support in order to get an ADHD diagnosis. After two weeks of no follow-up, and ringing daily to hear back from them, it turned out my information hadn’t been taken anywhere. So I emailed my GP in desperation. Finally, it was taken higher up and the results came back immediately: they didn’t think I fit the criteria to get public funding. I sobbed on the phone to my GP, feeling incredibly helpless. I’d waited so long. I was told that this appointment was what I had to wait for, to keep my chin up for. And then nothing. “So this is it?” I asked frantically, terrified that they would hang up, “this is my life? Forever?”
Not knowing what to do, I made another appointment with my GP and this time a friend came along to make sure they listened, especially since I have the tendency to nervously start doing a comedy routine in the middle of the bleakness.
I managed to wrangle some kind of minor result: that I should change my medication since the Fluoxetine I was on clearly wasn’t doing anything. It seemed from here the best solution for my desperate self was to go to the university Psychiatric unit who could see me for a sum I can actually afford. I rang them and left a shambles of a message on their answering machine. A very kindly person rang me back and said the soonest they could see me was in February. There’s almost no point in me saying that I cried upon receiving this news because currently crying is not a particularly reliable barometer of my feelings. I cried on Christmas day at a very small candy cane. It’s just so small and trying its best.
So that’s where I’m at. This is currently my life, forever. I’d just like to reiterate that no matter what time of the day it is, I’m feeling this way. Do you ever wonder if something is an aspect of your personality or just a symptom? I honestly don’t know anymore. I’m dying to know who I am.
I don’t want sympathy. I want money and for this to get sorted so that I can get the medication and ongoing psychiatric care I need to live my life, because it occurs to me that if I have the focus and drive to do simple tasks that are currently eluding me, it might help with my depression and anxiety, or at least give my brain some more space to do so. What I don’t want is to continuously be making phone calls to person after person and sending the same emails and getting referred around and around and told to wait month after month because it really seems unfair that so much admin and organising is involved in this process when lacking skills in that area is such a clear marker of ADHD. It’s like telling a person with a broken leg that they can get it X-Rayed and fitted for a cast but they have to do the high rope course from that episode of the Simpsons where Lisa and Bart go to Military School; in order to get to the X-Ray machine.
I don’t want sympathy, I want a rich and ethics-adjacent Mr Burns’ type person to saunter into my GP clinic and, with brittle wrists, fling enough money at them that they shrug ruefully and immediately make the time to listen to me and give me some goddamn Ritalin so I don’t waste any more of this woefully short existence on being hopeless all the time. That’s the only solution I can currently think of. Release the hounds. Excellent. (I’ve been watching a LOT of Simpsons. Which character do you identify with most? I’m definitely Homer Simpson but with a Lisa rising and a touch of Santa’s Lil Helper.)
I don’t want sympathy, I want the system to change so that people with mental health issues — all people, children, LGBTQ peoples, Maori, Pasifika, the elderly, people with no money, people on working holiday visas, famous people, immigrants, students, women, men, people who are a Venn Diagram of two or more of these, have NO barriers to getting the health they need. I don’t want anyone to have to live like I’m living.
But here’s what I’m grateful for: my friends who check in with me; buy me food and watch me eat it; listen to me; love me; encourage me to remember what I’m grateful for; congratulate me when I do the tiniest things (txts I’ve sent: “well I had my first shower this week” and “I’m feeling positive vibes towards gazpacho?”) and who hold me when I get yet another setback. I’m grateful for my job: I’ve never been happier than at my current workplace; the people are my home and working in hospo running a wonderful team forces me out of bed and to think about someone other than myself, to be On and Perky and Full of Banter and to have ideas and be creative, even when I’m shaking so hard with anxiety that I can barely remember how to talk and small administrative tasks make my brain feel like a bowl of jelly that’s been drop-kicked into a hedge. I’m grateful for the internet, without which depression would be an even lonelier place. There’s people all over the world who I talk to all the time and there’s always another TV series to watch, woozily, from 9am till 11pm without stopping. I’m grateful for the good people in the broken system, who talk to me in caring voices till their fifteen minutes are up.
I’m grateful for Carrie Fisher, who sadly, sadly, died on December 27 2016. Every time I joke about going into the bin where I belong, or about how I have to dye my hair regularly or I’d never shower, or about how all I’ve eaten today is three cashews that I found on the floor by my bed, or about telling a blinking pharmacist how stoked I am that I can get loyalty points for my meds and it was all totally worth it for this; or reply to “how are you” with “discordant noises”; or post a photo of a garbage bag or a pile of dirt and entitle it Self Portrait; I mean I’m mostly being a self-deprecating idiot who makes jokes to compensate for how scared I am, but I’m also — I’m also forgetting where I’m going with this. Basically, Carrie Fisher’s generous, brave openness about her mental health has always meant a lot to me. I’m trying to tell myself that I want to be brave like Carrie, instead of wanting to disappear. I’m telling myself that I would really, really love to stick around like George Michael. I’m telling myself that there’s a crack in everything, and that’s where the light gets in. That I like bands when they’re playing hard, I want more and I want it fast. That all I can think about right now instead of poignant Prince lyrics is Milhouse from the Simpsons saying “so this is what it sounds like when doves cry” when he hugs his doppelganger from Shelbyville.
Omg and did you know, these like…aren’t even all my problems! Not even close! In fact some of you may be reading this and being like why didn’t she mention [redacted] and [extremely redacted]? Gotta leave something for the autobiography I guess. I still feel so helpless and not seen. I’m still depressed and anxious and living like a tired rat in a pile of my rapidly disintegrating earthly possessions.
Do you know what’s weird though? Brightly pretending everything is fine to people who have no idea about all this sticky, suffocating syrup reaching boiling point just below the surface of me, is in itself a coping mechanism. Imagine if every single person you met was all, “are you okay? Are you okay? Are you okay?” The fear of being a burden because of my anxiety is in itself anxious-making and a huge reason why I held off writing this for so long; the unspoken code of You Know Things About Me But We’ll Never Mention It And Just Carry On As If Everything Is Normal Because If I Have To Talk It Out With EVERYONE I’ll Explode And I’ll Come To You If I Need You makes the world go round. Seriously.
But I did write all of this, because, well, not that I think I’m in the slightest bit inspirational, but Carrie Fisher’s openness about her mental health and struggles helped me so…I can be open about it too. Maybe some of this resonates with you. Maybe you’re scared too. Maybe you don’t feel like anyone can see you. If even the merest handful of words in all this rambling hits the tastebuds of your mind in some way, let me just tell you! Everything sucks. The system is forbiddingly hard to deal with. Getting anything done costs atrocious amounts of money. It’s all so tiring.
But I believe in you and I promise you have something to live for.
I want to be brave like Carrie.