I’ve always been a night owl, and it takes a real effort sometimes to settle to sleep at the same time as Lady M. I do it because it’s the only way to guarantee that we’ll remain more or less active and alive at the same time, because I know my body clock is constantly wanting to switch back to being fully nocturnal. Quite aside from the household disharmony being active at different parts of the day would bring – and indeed has brought in past relationships – I’m told that there is a tendency for night owls to be more depressed, have a higher dependence on caffeine and use alcohol more
This doesn’t surprise me in the slightest, and as I don’t need any help in experiencing depression I’m trying to avoid activities and situations likely to exacerbate my condition. The unfortunate thing is that many of the people I know socially are also night owls, or are on the other side of the planet. Thanks to the joys of the internet, we can reach out and chat to each other, but one or the other of us at any one point is likely to be at the wrong end of their working day. Sometimes we have the time to indulge it, sometimes we don’t.
They do usually end up being fascinating conversations, even if for one, the other, or both of us it results in a late night. A recent conversation for example got onto the thorny subject of high intelligence – and my usual instinct is to try and not get drawn into long debates about what common traits may or may not go with whatever method of quantification is being used. If pressed, I quite often point people at this Cracked article on the downsides of high intelligence, with my tongue pressed into my cheek to varying depths depending on my mood.
Every now and then though, those late night conversations go down rabbit holes that you just don’t expect. These are the conversations where you both get unapologetically deep, or honest, or both and its usually in introspection about yourselves or in trying to clear up long-standing issues that you’ve been skirting around. I had one earlier this week with an old friend who, for various reasons, I’d not really gone into any detail about my condition. It wasn’t through any concerted effort, we’d just never had a suitable conversation about it.
It started with my making a reference in a shared chat channel to my requirement to inject Bydureon once a week as part of my diabetes control regime, which led to a discussion of pain thresholds. My friend volunteers as a St John’s Ambulance driver, so he was fascinated to hear my take on the process because of the varying reactions that he encounters when he’s on duty. He gets called out to help people having a hypoglycaemic incident more often than he likes because people cant stand injecting themselves.
I’ve always taken the approach that if its me doing the injection its a lot easier to handle because I’m in control of it. I can either push through discomfort, or back off and try another site if I inadvertently hit a fat pocket. I did however make a reference back to when I used to self harm, and how my high pain threshold had made it a lot more difficult to get it to “work” as a coping mechanism.
Now, this freaked him out a little – not for the self harm reference or the direction the discussion had turned, but because I’d done it in a semi-public channel. We took the conversation private at his request, and he expressed amazement at my, for lack of a better word, bravery in this respect. My response was that I refuse to let shame colour my responses when it comes to mental illness any more.
The argument I put forward and that I live by is that I wouldn’t be ashamed of a broken leg, and I’m not ashamed of being diabetic, so why should I be ashamed of an illness rooted in the operation of another part of my anatomy, namely my brain? Whether caused by chemical imbalances or the reaction to trauma, my approach is that mental illness is just that – an illness and nothing to be ashamed of.
Now, my counsellor would nod and then remind me at this point of the number of times where I’ve struggled with shame over my conduct and actions when ill; if only to reaffirm the work we’ve done on recognising that I had no more control over being ill in that respect than of being feverish with the ‘flu. Obviously there’s a question of a matter of magnitude there, but bear with me here, let it fly.
The reason for his reaction to this conversation soon became clear with a number of disclosures about his own health, followed by the challenge to lay out clearly what I’d been struggling with. From there we twisted and turned through all sorts of discussions about friends and family, and I think both came away with revised opinions of each other that informed and contrasted sharply with the sometimes superficial observations we make of our friends.
I’m not going to go into any detail here, because they’re not my facts and opinions to disclose – it was a private conversation, so that’s where it stays. What I did find interesting was the process of writing down the elements of illness that I’ve been dealing with, and that by and large I have a handle on these days.
At various times I’ve had diagnoses of clinical depression, cyclothalmia, PTSD, bipolar and non-specific mood disorders. Some of these were made worse by undiagnosed and untreated diabetes, which forced mood swings on a truly titanic scale. Getting the diabetes under control was one of the major steps in getting a measure of control and peace, but then again I’ve also been using talking therapies for the best part of twelve or thirteen years too.
It should be no surprise to hear that I get a bit irate when people are actively dismissive of people with mental health problems, especially working with the public as I do. I can understand where some people are coming from – exposure to the irrational, as embodied by people who are ill – is a scary thing. There are times where I have to check myself when I’m dealing with someone who is in a chaotic state in the library, and my memories of how I was when ill do make me wonder sometimes how certain people kept their cool with me too.
But then, for those friends that have fallen by the wayside in response to my actions when ill, there are those friends who have stayed and continued to be an integral part of my life. I have a feeling that for at least one person this week, I’ve stepped into that latter category myself, and that feels kind of cool.