Turn and face the strain

Ok world - yes, change is in the offing - I get it. I bloody get it.

It's just there, isn't it. Like some sort of mouldy smell hanging in the air during the first morning that feels like spring (in May, because this is England) - incongruent with the rest of an otherwise springlike picture. Or when you're enjoying some ice-cold cider and if you sniff too hard you'll inhale one of those little midge things that seem to congregate anywhere there's a beer garden. Not that I've seen many of those in my 14 years as a Londoner. 14 years, which is coming to an end just as it began - with a literal leap into a metaphorical unknown. Alright, so Milton Keynes is about as far from the unknown as you can get - it's a mini-city that was 'designed' from scratch in a way you don't see anywhere else in the UK, where we do love our history - but you know what I mean. Concrete cows? Yes, I know. You're the fifth person to say that to me just today. I've never seen them so I think it's safe to assume they're not that noticeable.

I was a godawful student. When I started my degree I was on disability benefits for my mental illnesses. I felt weird about that, so I wrote to them to say I didn't want to keep claiming and they said because I wasn't studying for over 16 hours a week they wouldn't stop paying me. That's a Daily Mail headline right there (and if you missed it, here's a previous one about me that you might find entertaining). As is a common theme in my life, I wasn't in either camp - I wasn't a proper full-time student, but I wasn't a total screw-up either. I left Somerset behind, and executed my half of a plan that had included my boyfriend at the time, but then did not (I ballsed that one up spectacularly). I gave up my flat, which was decorated like the seventies and had no heating or double-glazing so one would awake on a cold winter's morning with an icy crust on the duvet/one's face, and where I'd been utterly miserable for a couple of years. Most of my serious self-harm had happened there, next door to a guy who used to beat up his pregnant girlfriend and on the floor above a rapist and some guys who did a lot of cocaine every night and then stuck porno pages on everyone's front doors. There was also a short and elderly italian man who didn't speak any English living there who used to get blind drunk and pass out in the car park. The police visited on the regular. I'm having a strange sense of deja vu writing this, but I'm buggered if I can find another post with any of this in it. Anyway, I certainly had nothing to lose in leaving and I had no idea what to expect. 

Arriving in a new city, alone, is a source of anxiety for anyone, so it wasn't any different for me - in fact my anxiety was off the scale. My ex-boyfriend had moved out (with his new girlfriend in tow from what I'd seen out of the window) and gone ahead to London. He'd been living downstairs in the building so he was tantalisingly close but refusing to respond to calls and texts. Mind you, because I have BPD I'd probably sent hundreds of texts. I may have even listened at his door... I knew I'd have to face him at some point when we showed up on our first day at university and I had no idea how awkward and painful this would be yet. I seriously considered suicide during this time of my life, I just didn't have the tools to deal with the pain I felt, and thought I'd feel forever. 

When I followed two weeks later, my first challenge was to figure out how to fit my stuff into a tiny single room in halls. This meant throwing some of it away, and this was a concept I'd struggled with both times I'd moved before. I was 21, and already this was my third home after I left my mother's house. I had a few boxes' worth of stuff that I'd been carting about since childhood; some of it belonged to dead relatives I'd never met but that I'd imagined in great detail until I felt I knew them; stuff that had sentimental value, but zero use in my daily life. Silver napkin rings with names engraved into them. I was clinging to all of it. So after this first emotional wrenching, I spent the next week psyching myself up for the first day of the course, and for being the only person stupid enough to base my university choice on my relationship. Who the f*ck does that? Someone who dislikes change does. Someone who wants to take 'home' with them when they change where they live.

Do you ever do that thing where you somehow end up in a job by accident? No? Oh. Just me then. Well, it's kind of a 'tough gig', let's say, for the sake of argument. But of course tough gigs are my thing aren't they. Fight to join the school cricket team as the only girl just because already you feel you want to be able to do any sport you want, regardless of your gender? That's fine, but you can't play in the all boys league because you're a girl. No dinkle, No game. Even though you're a great catcher. Sorry Kid. Pub full of old men in Torquay when the football's on? Why yes, of course I'll perform my indie pop/rock hits whilst I also have tonsillitis, that'll boost my band's profile a bit. Definitely our target market. Go to university with your ex-boyfriend doing the same course after a killer break-up? You'd be mad not to. Get a job in a corporate 6 months after you get your hands tattooed 'to mark becoming a full-time musician and never working for 'the man' again'? Yep. Sounds like one of those Cosmo quizzes - score mostly red? You're an idiot.

BPD is devoid of routine. Even the routine of time itself can slip away when things kick off. Eventually you get sick of being perpetually strung out and learn to use it as a coping mechanism. Nowadays I tend more towards repeating the same routine every day, because my mental health depends on it. If I so much as sleep in my brain reacts by operating more slowly. If I stay up late, I start ruminating on the meaning of my life and thinking about self-harming. Nothing bad needs to have happened, it's just my default setting. I know many other people with 'severe mental illnesses' (bipolar, schizophrenia, personality disorders - as termed by the charity I work for) who depend on a strict routine in order to manage their symptoms; for me, it's worth the loss of a social life. 

On the flip side, my eating disorder demands routine and reacts badly to change for a different reason - if I eat exactly the same things every day, I know exactly how many calories I'm consuming. They have to be contained in portions I can't change, like a carton or a bag so I don't have to worry about the possibility of eating more than I want to allow myself. Doing that removes the anxiety for me. This is also where being vegan 'feeds' (no pun intended) into my disordered eating, providing a set of rules that keep me accountable and that I have no trouble sticking to. If I know cake has dairy in it I find it easy not to want to eat it, where the omnivorous me would be overwhelmed by the mere presence of cake in the same building. I'm not ashamed of admitting this when so many others won't, but it comes with a caveat: vegan diets are not disordered or abnormal in any way. Whilst I find cutting out meat and dairy helps me stick to low fat, low calorie options that reduce my anxiety, eating vegan is extremely healthy and definitely not a disorder. It really p*sses me off when people assert that it is. 

Part of me loves the excitement of change, that feeling of knowing anything could happen, a gravitation towards things I know might hurt me, but that part is slowly shrinking with age. I've grown content with certainty, replacing excitement with the unremarkable, so leaving London felt terrifying. This terror built up over the weeks leading up to the move and caused me to have a meltdown so severe I became physically sick and mentally defective. I lost my grip on reality in a way I've never experienced before. I lost my cognitive function almost completely, and all of this simply because of change. 'It's all relative', so they say, and it does seem perverse that one person's sick is another person's dream. God knows I feel guilty for that. I'm so close to madness that even something as covetable as buying a much bigger house somewhere in a lovely, peaceful area can tip me over the edge both physically and mentally. 

A change is a good as a rest for the neurotypical. And for me? Well, I'm a creature of habit so I'd like this to be the last change for a bit. Maybe once I feel invincible again I'll start smelling that mouldy air  full of midges once more. 


Margaret said…
I think routine is critical for everyone, including neurotypicals who take it for granted that they won't go off the rails if they go to bed too late ;) I hope you'll be posting again soon!

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