The kitten and the bird

About half an hour ago, a loud ‘meow of triumph’ from downstairs alerted me to the fact that the kitten had caught something. I came running out of my office as he came strutting up the stairs and managed to slam the bedroom door just in time to prevent him from hiding his prey under the bed. There was then an impasse on the landing while he protested at the closed door and I waited to see whether the blackbird was alive or dead.

It was alive. He put it down and it flew into my office. The kitten pounced after it, caught it, let it go, then he emerged from behind my desk with nothing but a few feathers in his mouth. I threw him out of my office (quite literally – I needed enough time to move the random piece of discarded furniture that was preventing me from shutting the door) then went to look for the bird, which was playing dead in the crack between the back of my PC and the wall.

I pulled the desk out a little and cupped my hands around the bird, but didn’t manage to pull it out because of all the wires in the way. It escaped and retreated further behind the desk. Damn. I looked for a piece of cloth I could use to grab it, but I didn’t want to leave the room and risk letting the kitten back in – he was complaining vocally outside the door – and the only thing in my office was my dressing gown, which I thought would be too bulky. I therefore pulled off my pyjama top – yep, it’s a pyjama day and as is usually the case I had no bra on underneath – threw that over the bird and picked him up.

My office window won’t open very far as it’s one that pivots and a blind at the top gets in the way, but I judged the gap was just big enough for a blackbird. I didn’t want to just drop him in case he was in shock and fell like a stone, so I settled him on the window ledge and uncovered him. After a few minutes, he started to show an interest in the world outside. Unfortunately, I’d forgotten that birds don’t understand about glass. He must have bashed himself against the window at least 20 times, losing a few more feathers along the way. Eventually, I managed to scare him into flying sideways rather than straight ahead and he just squeezed through the gap, escaping unharmed.

It was at this point that I noticed the bird had wet itself and pooed on my pyjama top (the white stuff is urine, if you’re interested. I once proofread a whole book about turkeys). That bloody kitten has a lot to answer for! I also decided to shut my computer down before pushing the desk back, as the power cable has a tendency to get caught and come out. Of course, this meant my PC asked to install the Windows updates that I’d already installed twice, then had to run a system restore when my computer didn’t start again.

I’m pleased to report that the updates worked this time – third time lucky! My pyjamas are now in the wash and the kitten is still looking for the bird in my office.

Officially useless*

Saw my GP this afternoon and she’s signed me off work for four weeks. I’m kind of freaking out about the length of sick note but as she pointed out, we need to allow enough time for the citalopram to kick in. I also have to acknowledge that I was sat in the appointment with unwashed, unbrushed hair and partially wearing pyjamas, which doesn’t bode well for being a fully functioning member of the workforce.

She asked how it all works when you’re self-employed and I admitted I don’t exactly know (I have tried giving the sick note to my head of occupational health but she just meowed at me then went to play with Mr Bird-on-a-Stick). I suspect I’ll have to claim ESA, so Dr Right has made me an appointment with the CAB tomorrow. What a star!

As I was leaving, she said, “Have you ever seen Dr Prescription-and-a-Sick-Note-and-You’re-Outta-There, our mental health lead?” (Needless to say, she did not use his full hyphenated name.) I said, “Yes, years ago, but I didn’t find him particularly…” I was trying to word this tactfully when she explained that he’s taken early retirement, and she thought I should be aware in case I was counting on him as a source of support. To be fair, I have indeed relied on him as a source of a speedy prescription and sick note, but “support” is not a concept he seems to grasp.

The last time I saw Dr PSNYOT for mental health reasons, he put me on enough venlafaxine to knock out a horse then refused to believe me about the side effects, resulting in me halving the dose AMA (the only time I’ve ever done this with meds, unless you count, “I won’t fill this prescription.” Two days later: “OK, I’ve filled it”.) It was in the same year that I was denied access to a psychiatrist, and that I finally managed to drag myself to the CAB and claim the benefits I hadn’t realised I was entitled to.

This time I have a wonderful GP who listens to me about side effects (and everything else), who booked an appointment at the CAB on my behalf, and who is referring me back to the psychiatrist. Things are pretty shit but at least I don’t have to do battle with the system quite so much.

* Officially useless in a work-related capacity only. This sick note does not mean that Moon Tree cannot sing, make jokes** or drink copious amounts of tea.

** My sense of humour is the one thing I have never lost when severely depressed. It just gets a lot blacker.

Ashing

Last night I went to church to be ashed. This ritual, performed on Ash Wednesday in some Christian churches, is a sign of mourning and repentance to God. For me there’s always been something comforting about being told, “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return,” but this year it took on a special significance.

I’ve forgotten the details of the Gospel reading, but it was about people putting on a very pious face in public. One of the things about Ash Wednesday is you’re not supposed to make a big deal about the fact you’ve been ashed or whatever you might be giving up for Lent; it’s about being humble and honest and open to God. I realised suddenly that I’ve been putting on this huge face of ‘good mental health’ in public. I don’t tell my friends when I’m struggling, and if I post on forums, it’s usually only to support and encourage others. There are many reasons for this: shame at not being as recovered as I once thought I was; fear of how people may react; the desire to ‘lead by example’, especially when running Sirius; the fallout from losing a large chunk of my (online) support system three years ago; and the belief that if I pretend it’s not happening, I can make it not be happening. I suppose also tied into this is the idea that it’s bad to ‘wallow’ in one’s issues too much and the whole concept of ‘fake it till you make it’. The things is, I’ve been lying to myself and trying to convince myself everything’s fine or that if it’s not fine, I can just try a little harder and it will be. I gave up the Residual Craziness blog in part because it felt like I was wallowing in my mood swings and eating issues. I have to acknowledge, though, that apart from the fact I changed many details of my life to try and protect my anonymity, that was the most honest I’ve been in a long time.

The sermon talked about the meaning of “you are dust”. It means we are of the earth, it means we are human. Sylvia Plath once described herself as “the girl who wanted to be God” and the Manic Street Preachers wrote a song with the same name. I relate. So many times in my life I’ve wanted to have it all, do it all and be it all. So many times I’ve fallen off my own pedestal and had to pick myself up and admit not only my weaknesses, but that having weaknesses is normal.

The ashing itself was a shambles. There were no sidespeople, confusing instructions were given and no one quite knew what they were supposed to be doing. I couldn’t decide whether to put a really solemn face on, given the importance of the ritual for me, or be open and honest and let myself giggle. I opted for solemn until the priest, who should have been using the ashes to make the sign of the cross on my forehead, managed to drop half of them on my white surplice. (It could have been worse: my partner was mistakenly instructed to turn away from Christ, rather than from sin.)

At the end of the service there’s the reading about the lost sheep, and the man who leaves his 99 other sheep behind to go and look for it. This always makes me cry. This year, one of my cats died on the Thursday before Candlemas, and I appreciated the singing of the Nunc Dimittis (“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace”), laughed at the “gift of two pigeons” in the dodgy Candlemas hymn and struggled with the references to the dark being behind us and spring on the way. But three years ago, Bo went missing on the Thursday before Candlemas and, Easter being early that year, after those same Candlemas references we were plunged straight into Lent. I thought the reading was a sign, that Bo was my lost sheep and I would find him by Easter. We never found him.

The reason I mention this now is that I think it was in that January 2008, between Bo going missing and the loss of my support system, that things started to unravel for me. For a long time it was hard to tell what was an early warning sign and what were the normal ups and downs of recovered life. My friends encouraged me not to be so hard on myself. My T didn’t seem to think I needed any further help. Then I threw myself into my career and did my best to ignore and explain away the worsening ‘warning signs’. But this Lent, instead of practising the traditional self-denial (giving up chocolate or whatever), my challenge involves a different sort of denial: to be open and honest with myself and accept reality for what it is.