Everyone talks about rock bottom, and talks about being better but it feels like nobody talks about the in-between. Everyone talks about rock bottom as being this one particular solid place you hit. This one particular solid place you hit right before you get better.
I have spent some time searching online to find something I could read that did not just talk about this, but nothing seems to really come up. I want to understand. I want to be understood. How do I manage this stage? How do I put it into words? How do other people do this? I want to read someone else’s words, and feel less alone.
I cannot find them.
I do not know if it is specific to certain mental illnesses, like borderline personality disorder, which are more long-term and up and down, up and down… but rock bottom for me is not one time or one place, nor does it always look how you would imagine.
I have the kind of rock bottom times you read about a lot when people talk about their mental illness. The hospital admissions following serious attempts at harming or killing myself, like New Year. On December 30th I took all of my prescription medication I had been collecting, and I woke up in hospital on January 2nd. I think about that a lot. I woke up with no recollection of the paramedics taking me to the hospital, and no recollection of being in hospital. I woke up in a different year. To this day I have no idea where I was in the hospital or what treatment I had. That sounds like a rock bottom place, right? The sort of rock bottom you read about and think “Oh my, that is bad.” The sort of rock bottom that would make a good real life story. Or what about when I sat with my legs over the edge of a multi-storey car park? That was definitely a rock bottom kind of moment. Sadly what made it rock bottom for me was the fact that fear was forcing me to stay alive. It was a moment where I realised I had little choice in living, and walking down from the car park was far from a moment where it all clicked and I suddenly wanted to be alive. I took three more overdoses instead, and ended up in hospital on a drip each time. One time I ended up in the psych ward. It must have been awful, right?
And it was.
But this world between rock bottom and recovery is worse, I think. It is longer. It requires so much more. It is painfully slow. The bad times are horrific. I wish I could point out a particular time and say this was rock bottom and that it does not get any worse; but rock bottom is not some fixed tangible place. Rock bottom is where you make it. For me, the car park does represent a rock bottom, but rock bottom could have gone further. It could have changed. It could easily have ended up being somewhere else.
I hate that rock bottom moments in people’s stories within the media need to have the shock element to make them newsworthy. I mean sitting on the edge of a multi-storey car park and being found by security was pretty rock bottom. And people would be interested in that, maybe shocked, and sad. People are not so bothered about the in-between world.
The world where I do not wash for days upon days. The world where the sofa and my bed are the only two places I feel ‘safe’ (and I do not really feel safe at all). Nobody is so bothered about the nights when I cry myself to sleep, miss deadlines, withdraw myself from everything and everyone, or have to seek emergency support to stop me from self-harming, or overdosing, or finding myself back on top of the car park. It is not so interesting when the person does not actually do anything. I think people think it means it is not so bad, or perhaps I wrongly assume that. But it does feel that way. That by not hurting myself, things must be better or easier or somehow less painful.
I will tell you now, not hurting myself is much more painful than hurting myself.
It is like with eating disorders. Everyone is fascinated and interested in shocking images of underweight bodies. Stories that tell readers that this girl was on deaths door. They would be interested in the parts of my story where I would not even drink water or brush my teeth for fear of gaining weight. The bits where I ended up in hospital. People are less fascinated by the battle of eating, but eating any way. The battle of not wanting to gain weight, but gaining any way. They think that means that the problem is better, or easier, or perhaps even over.
Everyone with an eating disorder knows that is not true. I have not had any serious issues with my weight or eating, apart from small lapses, in years. It does not mean it has gone away, but nobody is really bothered that I had two months where things got a bit worse again and I lost a bit of weight. Nobody is really bothered that I struggle to eat out, or eat the exact same things every single day. It is not life or death stuff.
My previous psychiatrist was the first professional who made me feel like there was someone in my life that knew that gaining weight, eating more, and not hurting myself, was the harder option. I recall some of the things she said. She told me that I did not need her support to destroy myself, that I had proven I was perfectly capable of doing that by myself. She told me to eat, was to choose the harder path. She told me that to not take an overdose, to not cut my skin, was harder than giving in. She saw my weight going up, and she did not think everything was fine. She knew it was not. She knew inside I was falling apart.
By her understanding this, she probably saved my life a million times. Her understanding of the struggles I was facing when I was doing all of the “right” things, is what kept me doing the right things even when they felt incredibly wrong. If she had thought that my weight gain meant I was happy and absolutely fine, I would not have been able to explore just how difficult it all was. I would have kept it all inside, and I would have, in the end, gone back to restricting and losing weight. Her understanding that I needed her support most when I was looking after myself, and keeping myself safe, helped me to keep going. If she had assumed things were great purely on the basis that I had not self-harmed since she had last seen me, I would have slipped backwards.
The biggest thing I have ever needed to get better, is for someone to recognise that “getting better” is more painful and more hard work than not. That the time I needed the most support was when I was fighting against the thoughts inside of my brain. A brain that is very often trying to kill me. All I have ever needed is someone to see that I am managing to look after myself, but still sit in front of me and tell me they know I am not ok.
Right now I am in a good place with my eating. A genuinely good place, but that is not to say my eating disorder is not present every single day, it is. There are some real shit times still; probably at some point every day. But I have gained so much knowledge and understanding, and so much help, that even now my previous psychiatrist is no longer present in my life, in the moments where I could easily slip backwards, I hear her words in my head. They are no longer just her words, they are mine too. Her retirement did not hit me that hard. I wondered why for a while, but then I remembered something she said; that one day I would have got what I needed from her and be ready to move on. I got what I needed, and it is inside of me for life. I am ready to move on and work on the rest of my issues elsewhere.
The self-harm and suicidal thoughts side of things is a work in progress. Bloody slow progress. Painfully slow. Sometimes so slow I feel like I am sinking. My focus right now is on stability and I swear to god I am sick of hearing that word. I head the word ‘stable’ and my eyes automatically roll back. I have, in the last week or so, come to acknowledge that right now I am not really aiming to “get better” as such. Not really better. Right now I am aiming to survive. I know, it sounds defeatist and depressing, but it is not. Not for me. I mean, just surviving is crap. But it is also essential. Sometimes, temporarily, it has to be enough. Sometimes just surviving is brilliant. My plan is to survive for now; to be stable and reduce/minimise/stop my destructive behaviours. The “getting better” bit will come after that. Aiming for my end goal right now just leaves me feeling deflated and defeated. Aiming to cope and survive is best for me right now. It means that I do not feel disappointed in myself for still feeling so god damn sad every single day.
My biggest realisation is that the help I could return to mirrors (I think and hope) the attitude and understanding of my psychiatrist; that not engaging in a behaviour is much harder than engaging (or a different kind of hard at least). And that support is still VERY much needed after someone stops hurting themselves regularly. And my belief that the people who I might return to for help in the future know this, gives me an insane amount of hope, and an insane amount of trust, in them and in eventually getting myself where I want to be. I just hope that everyone can find someone who gets this, and if you can’t, I hope you can be brave enough to tell someone, and give them that chance to be the person who supports you when you are roaming in the no mans land between “ill” and “recovered”.