by Alicia Brennan
I improved slowly in my late teens, but quite often ended up crashing back down again. A lot of it was probably due to the fact that I tended to push myself too far, too soon, but when you've had years of forced inactivity, you will seize on any opportunity to get out and do anything you possibly can- regardless of the consequences. As frustrating as it was to find myself housebound again a short time afterwards, I could live with it for a while- knowing that I had actually been able to get out and do something, and that in time I would do so again. But it was slow going, and I had never been the most patient of people.
One of the biggest problems I was faced with when I was able to resume some form of a social life was my own attitude. Years of misery and depression had honed my low self-esteem and general distrust of people down to a frightening level of the most brutal cynicism, pure negativity. A woman I attended a Tafe art class with several years back once said to me
"Dammit! You're way too young to be that cynical. Hell, I'm 54 and I'm way too young to be that cynical." She was brutally honest and I respected that. She was also completely right and I knew it. Unfortunately, as I had grown older, I'd found it harder and harder to believe in anything anymore. It wasn't that I didn't want to, but that I had been through too much and I couldn't. Life held no joy for me. It was simply a way of passing the time.
Nothing is sadder than seeing someone who is so young being so totally disenchanted with life. I refused to have hopes and dreams anymore- I thought there was no point in hoping for anything because then you were never disappointed when it didn’t eventuate. I didn't want to make friends because I figured they would just take off when the going got tough again. I hadn't really had many friends stick with me when I fell ill. I don’t blame them for it now as they had no way of understanding what I was going through, but I remember that it hurt me badly at the time. One person who stayed with me through most of the worst years was my boyfriend at the time. No matter how badly our relationship ended, I will be forever grateful for his years of loyalty, patience, love and gentle care. I could not have asked for anything more in a partner at this time than what he gave me. Anyone who stuck with me through everything I could hurl at them deserves credit. A lot of credit.
The true angel of my illness would have to be my Mum. No matter what has happened, whatever I've said or done, she has always loved me unconditionally, and she has never given up fighting to find new ways to try to help me. I shudder to imagine how much time and money she has put into finding a treatment or cure for me, and we are only a working class, single parent family. No matter how many different things we've tried over the years, she has always been there- to help me through when things got bad, to pick me up when something didn't work, and to keep searching for answers.
I've always tried to hide the full extent of my illness from everyone, especially Mum. She is such a gentle soul, and I see how much it hurts her to see me suffer. I think one of the hardest things in this world would be to have to stand by and watch your child suffer and to know, deep down, that there is no way you can make it better. It is heartbreaking, and poor Mum has been through it with both of her children. My younger brother was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease when I was about eighteen. He was only fourteen at the time, and he has also suffered over the years. It has torn me apart to watch my baby brother suffer from some of the same things that I have, like insomnia, because I've been there- I know exactly what it does to you. And to know that I can't make it go away is terrible. If there was any way that I could spare him from going through anything that I have, believe me- I would. Watching my brother grow up with a chronic illness as well has given me a huge insight into how much agony Mum must have been through with me, how helpless she must have felt.
Another problem I faced as I started to improve was the fact that I had started cutting myself as a coping mechanism. I had thankfully gotten past most of my serious suicidal tendencies and I no longer wanted to die, but I felt completely adrift. I believe that I probably started to cut as a method of having a tiny measure of control over some aspect of my life. My pain tolerance is fairly high, so pain was never an issue, and the slight stinging that I did feel was one of the few things that reminded me that I was still alive.
I was always pedantic about sterilising anything I used, and I always treated the cuts afterwards- they were only ever in places that I could keep hidden. Strangely, I think that seeing that my body actually could heal itself afterwards brought me a measure of hope. There was a possibility that I could get better.
To be continued...
Alicia Brennan is married to a wonderful, supportive man, whilst keeping busy looking after three amazing kids. Making cakes in her past time and volunteering as a basketball scoretable official is something Alicia does regularly, all whilst deaf in one ear and slowly losing her hearing in the other. Living with MDD,CFS & other health issues for the past 20 years, Alicia has taken the opportunity to get out all of her pain onto the page - so she could 'accept it, let it go, and live her life to the best of her ability'. What an incredible woman!