Hikikomori

I’ve been made to feel very grateful today for the care and support I receive from family, friends and the NHS regarding my depression. I have a wife who loves me, supports me, and helps me manage my depression. I have friends who read my rantings, talk to me, and support me. My doctor takes the time to discuss my condition, prescribes me sensible amounts of medication and assesses the levels of my anti-depressants on a regular basis.

I am lucky.

I can ask for help and receive it. There are systems in place for me to talk to a counselor if I need to, I have access to the medication I need to control my depression and anxiety. I live in a civilized society where help is easy to come by and I am not judged for needing it.

I realised just how lucky I am by reading an article online regarding the young men of Japan who are suffering as a result of the economic depression. Unlike their parents who would’ve found jobs and remained in them, today’s young men are unable to find stable long term work and have found themselves at odds with the older generation. This has led to a feeling of detachment known as Hikikomori – a sense of withdrawal – where young men become so depressed with their situation and inability to reconcile their parents desires with their own. These men take to hiding away in their rooms, unable to talk to friends and sometimes family, filled with fear, sadness and anger.

I’ve been in that situation, I know how they feel. I’ve locked myself away, filled with fear, unable to talk to people, but I got the help I needed to get out of my room, get dressed and live life again. Some of the treatment these young men receive to “cure” them is Victorian at best. A lack of understanding from the parents of the Hikikomori usually leads to confrontation, anger, communication breakdown, and verbal abuse. Some parents take more extreme measures and seek help from agencies who abduct the young men and attempt to shame them into becoming what they were expected to.

The majority of mental health issues in Japan are going untreated. It’s estimated that up to two thirds of psychiatric disorders are untreated and that only a quarter receive any medical help at all. The crux of this issue is that Japan has a suicide rate of 30,000 people a year, with up to 90% due to depression and other mental health issues.

Until the stigmatization of those with mental illness ends, and the keep it to yourself society changes, these young men will remain at risk. They will keep getting depressed, they will keep withdrawing from society, and they will keep dying by their own hand.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help, we have it available in this country. Mental illness is not the stigma it once was. Celebrities are open about theirs, politicians have opened up about theirs, and if you need to then you can too. Remember how lucky you are to be depressed in the UK and seek help if you need it.

Keep talking.

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged about the state of my mental health, but I’m sat here watching BBC Three’s ‘Don’t call me crazy’ and I thought I’d best put pen to paper/fingers to keys.

I’m on a new set of anti-depressants and they seem to be more effective than the last ones, although they leave a nasty aftertaste in my mouth! If that’s not something to help me “get well” I don’t know what is! They give me more balance in my emotions and I’ve been told that I’m more like my old self recently.

This upsurge in emotions can probably also be linked to my knee recovery too. I don’t suffer as much pain anymore and there’s nowhere near as much swelling on the joint. I’ve not had any extra treatment for it, it’s just improved over the last few months. This has also led to me exercising again, which is a great help to many people in countering their depression, and I can feel it helping me. The only problem is that it can be difficult still to force myself to get dressed and go out to run. The mental effort is sometimes just too much.

I’m interacting more with people now too. I went on a week long training course recently to sharpen up my job skills and chatted happily to the other students, participated in roleplay exercises and got involved in the class discussions. A few months ago I wouldn’t have been able to cope. The noise and the pressure to participate would’ve left me morose and uncommunicative.
This week I met someone I chat to on Twitter for coffee (diet coke and fruit smoothies actually, but you get the gist) and didn’t panic too much beforehand. Usually the idea of meeting strangers and taking part in smalltalk fills me with dread – I don’t go out much, I’m not currently working, I don’t really have hobbies, and this leaves me rather restricted on conversational topics – but I think I coped ok! It helps that my new friend is lovely!

The little things aren’t getting to me as much these days. I’m not getting so angry or emotional over stupid insignificant matters, I don’t feel the need to withdraw from my family and spend time alone so much. I’m finding life easier. It’s like I can remember the rules again and I know how to play, whereas before I felt like I was the only player without a piece and didn’t know whether to roll the dice or spin the wheel. I’m not winning by any means, but at least I get to play.

Stop the noise

I’m having a low day today. I don’t really want to talk to anyone or do anything. Conversation is a struggle. The kids are annoying and loud. They want me to interact with them, to draw cats, to be Peso the Octonaut, to get up and play. They want me to act like a human being today, but it’s too noisy for me to function like one.

The kids are noisy, the tv is noisy, outside is noisy! Why is everything so bloody noisy today?!? Can’t we all just be quiet for a while?

But that doesn’t stop the noise in my head. My brain is still talking to me, neurons firing electrical impulses around creating thoughts, telling me things I should be doing, making lists, replaying conversations I had a week ago, forcing song lyrics through my skull, pondering the future, exploring my past. My head hurts.

All I want is some quiet. Just for a while. All I need is for the noise to stop. Maybe then I could feel human.

Cutting remarks

It’s surprising really. I’ve been with my wife for 11 years now and have known since the start of our relationship that she was a self harmer. We’ve talked about it many times, I’ve seen her scars, I understand her compulsion to cut. I never realised that I was a self harmer too.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my mental health recently and how I behave when I’m down, and I’ve come to realise that I exhibit certain traits of self harm. I don’t cut myself or stick pins into my arms as the media would have you believe all self harmers do, but I do harm myself in other ways.

I have a compulsion to pick at imperfections on my skin. If I have a spot I can’t leave it alone. I can’t just dab some spot cream on and let it vanish without a trace. No, I need (not just want) to squeeze it until it bleeds and then when it scabs over I’ll pick it open. My spots take a long time to heal. I currently have one on the back of my left hand that was a teeny tiny bump of a blemish, barely noticeable, but now it’s a half centimeter slightly infected crater of glaring angry pink.

I will hunt down anything resembling a spot on my body and try to remove it. It’s not a vanity thing before you ask, I couldn’t really care less about my appearance (another act of self sabotage) and most of the spots I get tend to be on my upper arms and shoulders which never see the light of day. It’s not even something I feel satisfying. I gain no pleasure from doing it, it just has to be done. If I’m aware of a spot anywhere on my body I have to gouge it out.

This physical act is probably just the latest in a long line of ways I’ve self harmed. I used to use alcohol as a crutch, a way of making it easier to be me and talk to people. Social interaction is something I find difficult. I often find it hard to relate to people and engage them in the dreaded small talk. Even my best friends don’t hear from me much as I shy away from having to be the me they think I am. I don’t know exactly who I am, but I know how people expect me to be. Alcohol always made that easier and I didn’t skimp on medicating myself.

I guess the point of this post is to show that you don’t always need a blade to self harm and you don’t always realise you do it until you’ve been doing it for years. I may not have a network of scars on my wrists, but I do have a gouge mark on my hand. It’ll be gone in a week, but the compulsion will remain and I’ll find another spot soon enough.

Ill health vs mental health

I hate being ill. Really really hate it. Even more than I hate Jamie Oliver. And I really hate Jamie Oliver.

I tend to get ill a fair amount, I just have a crappy immune system, but it more or less guarantees that if the kids are ill I’ll get it too. But one of the side effects of this is that I get depressed. Today I’ve barely wanted to interact with anyone and even went back to bed whilst the rugby was on and all that’s wrong with me is a sore throat, cold and headache!

When I was at university the first time I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome and spent most of the day sleeping as I was constantly exhausted. I spent most of my twentieth birthday in bed rather than out celebrating with my friends. My previous birthday had lasted for a week! I was depressed, but there was little I could do to change what was happening and just had to wait for my body to sort itself out.

I’ve struggled with this since then, my mental health taking a downturn whenever my physical health does. At the moment it’s a daily battle. Since my cycling accident I’ve been in a dark place. I suffer with pain on a daily basis and my mood rises and falls in sync. Any additional impact on my health just makes the situation worse. I need to be healthy. I hate to think what I’d be like if I ever had a serious illness…

My dark passenger

Ok. Deep breath.

This is the tough one to write, the tough one to post, the one where I open up and lay myself bare before you.

This is the one about my mental health. My depression.

I think he’s always been there, my dark passenger, sitting inside me, waiting to take control and steer me toward the nearest brick wall, just waiting for my personal situation to match up with his hands on the wheel. Sometimes he sits in the backseat watching the world go by. We put some music on, enjoy the scenery and the driving is smooth. Sometimes he sits next to me and switches off the GPS, turns the music down and hides the haribo in the glove compartment. Sometimes he takes the wheel and drives while I lay down in the back and wait to see if there is a destination or if we’re heading for a cliff.

My personal situation has a lot of influence over who’s hands are on the wheel at any given time. When I was living in a place with my friends close by and I was working at a job I enjoyed, I was fully in control and my radio was blaring classic rock down the motorway of life. At the moment though, he’s sitting behind the wheel, driving down dark alleyways and long abandoned dirt roads with grass growing up the middle. The radio is off and there’s only silence to replace it.

Last year I was firmly in control, I was at university learning something new and exciting for me. I was making new friends and giving myself a shot at a well paid career. My family had just expanded again and everything was right with the world. Then early one morning on my commute to uni I was involved in a crash which wrecked my bicycle, but more importantly wrecked me. I was covered in cuts and grazes, banged my helmeted head hard into the asphalt, broke my glasses against my eye socket, and took a massive impact to both sides of my body. The impacts left me unable to walk properly for a month, unable to lift my arms above chest height, and unable to move my neck and head.

As a result of this I missed my exams, I was unable to attend large numbers of lectures and workshops, and I ended up dropping out of uni.

My knee turned out to be the worst injured part of my body and over a year later I still suffer with pain and have difficulty walking. This meant that I couldn’t continue in my job where I worked nights warehousing in a supermarket. In short, I was fucked and I moved over and let my dark passenger take control of the car.

I guess he’s been in control most of the time since then. Some days I take the car for a spin, but I always have to hand the keys back at the end of the day, just in case he decides to drive tomorrow.