We came along this road

The journey back isn’t a Hollywood blockbuster. There are no explosions. No world-destroying earthquakes. Denzil Washington doesn’t turn up with a cartload of braille Bibles to point out the right way to go. There are no maps. No signs. You are entirely alone in the quiet, unassuming task of getting back on your feet, and the act is nothing spectacular. It doesn’t warrant any fanfares.

In Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, there is a Dark Desert, with miles and miles of “brilliantly-lit black sand, under a black sky studded with cold bright stars, stretching away to distant mountains (where judgement awaits).” Thousands of souls pass each other, all walking the same desert, but they never see each other. They just keep walking towards what they hope will happen, locked in their own time.

For a while now, I have been, metaphorically and physically, taking that long walk back home.

walking-home

It began with Autumn arriving. Almost overnight, the leaves on the horse chestnut tree next door began to turn a bright, yellowy-orange, and the fir in the front garden began to turn blue in preparation for winter. Red berries briefly appeared on the bushes near the driveway before being eaten by fat woodpigeons, and the nights began smelling of leaves and bonfires; the sea air feeling chilly in the dead of night, a cat cuddling up to my dressing gown for warmth.

After a successful cortinsone injection into my ankle joint, walking has become much easier. This is the second one which has worked; and it’s worked miracles. Today, on the way to the back garden, I kicked through some leaves to entertain Stimpy. This time last year that wouldn’t have been even close to possible, and I’m very aware of the difference both cortisone and Methotrexate have made to my life.

I’m not running marathons; I still need the stick for balance and still struggle to pick things up. S still has to do most of the cooking, although I’m helping more and have cooked a few meals alone recently. I still have bad days. My health is currently compounded by Methotrexate doing the exact job it’s supposed to do; suppressing my immune system, reducing the white blood cells and calming the inflammatory response when my immune system attacks the joints.

That side of it has worked very well and I have far more movement in my fingers, neck and wrists than I did even a few months ago, however, lowered immunity means bacteria and infections have almost free reign and infection can be very difficult to treat. I’ve found this to be the case for a while now, with repeated infected cysts and tooth abcesses – which require constant antibiotics as the infection returns as soon as they’re stopped – as well as mouth ulcers, swollen gums, losing clumps of hair to the shower drain, and difficulty urinating.

It has increasingly been a case of weighing up the pros and cons of taking a disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drug, but so far the ability to walk and go outside (the wheelchair was causing me too much anxiety; I left it at my mother’s house) and have that small shred of indpendence back is more than worth dealing with anything Methotrexate can throw at me.

methotrexate

So. Slowly, the road is leading me back. It’s a little scary to know how long I’ve felt… muffled by life. With hindsight I can see how the combination of moving in with S after living with my mother – albeit with brief breaks – in the same house since I was born, the psoriatic arthritis symptoms becoming chronic, difficulty getting diagnosed again, so many tests and hospital appointments I lost count, all built up to set a sequence of events in place which, really, I should have seen coming. I have never dealt well with crisis.

Moving away from my mother was emotional in a few ways; my time at the quiet suburban semi was often fraught, she and I fought like cats, refusing to budge on any subject until I became uncontrollable and set to destroying whatever I could get my hands on (my early teens) or saying the worst things I could possibly think of (my later teens) and the majority of the time I lived there was spent sequestered in my bedroom like a hermit, refusing to come out except to go to the bathroom, binge, or, in the later years, smoke. Sneaking down at night to use the phone to call whoever I happened to be dating at the time, trying to break into my mother’s bedroom – she installed locks – to find my confiscated medication.

I slept all day and tiptoed around like a ghost at night, flicking through Teletext at 3am, smoking out of the window, eating everything I could get my hands on and purging silently in the garden.

Despite our lack of relationship, I was nevertheless hugely reliant on my mother even if I didn’t believe it at the time. Without me knowing, she steered me through the important parts of life; albeit in a way which wasn’t always right, but she always tried. A few years ago my mother stopped speaking to my brother, C, after he never repaid her a large debt despite being able to, and yet she has never given up on me despite the years of carting me to psychiatrists, sitting in the ambulance with me on the way to A&E after overdoses, the shouting, the ignoring, sitting up all night waiting for me to come home as the police helicopter passes over me, never stopping.

She says the difference is that I try to fix things.

bamboozle

I am back in therapy. Somewhere along the road was a stumbling block and I was too busy enjoying my new-found freedom to notice before walking straight into it. Overnight, agoraphbia strolled back in and set up camp without so much as a greeting and, as a result, I am back to sending S on small errands I could do myself and staying indoors for days if no appointments are due; however, I’m adoring being outside once I get through the front door. This is new for me, and I’m not sure how to make myself go outside even though there’s nothing I want more than to put my boots on and crunch through the piles of fallen leaves down the street into the village.

Despite this, the future looks bright. Or brighter, at least. For the first time since I can remember, thoughts of a possible future are beginning to creep in. Reading has become pleasurable again after being used as a distraction from unwanted thoughts and crippling boredom for a long time. S and I bought a new mattress and we’re back to sleeping in the same bed every night; he kisses me in the morning while putting his shirt on for work and I wonder how I didn’t go crazy sleeping in the spare room without him, with just the cats for company. I suppose I did in a way.

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I had a meltdown. That’s why I’m back at therapy, really; my GP referred me after seeing the cuts I’d made on my right arm with a scalpel and hearing from my mother – I couldn’t find it in me to talk and needed somebody by my side – how I’d “spiralled downhill” since a difficult hospital appointment and overhearing an argument between S and a friend in which my so-called friend called me “lazy” for being unemployed; despite him having witnessed the illness at its worse on a number of occasions. There was more to it than that, but… I flipped. Took a scalpel and  harmed myself for the first time in, well, a long time, and certainly the first time since moving in with S. I have never self-harmed with him around, and when he came inside and saw me sitting on the bed with a bloody towel inexpertly wrapped around my arm and mascara everywhere, he panicked and we argued. We both said terrible things.

We made up and the relationship actually feels even better, but ever since that day I’ve been struggling in a number of ways. Friendships are becoming difficult again; S and I are invited to a close friend’s wedding on Monday and I’m terrified of having to cope with, well, other people. Even those I know. I worried I won’t pull it off. It’s a long time since I did anything truly social and since I stayed away from home for the night (we’re staying in a hotel) and I suspect I may be more nervous than the bride.

nerves

I don’t  know. I’m just trying to grab any shred of confidence and push along the road, because what’s the alternative? Another year in bed, on the sofa? Another year of sleeping through the day, seeing S only briefly in the hallway? That was never what I wanted, and nor was hiding inside my flat day after day, week after week, nervously emerging only for appointments and to see my mother once or twice a week.

It feels better to be on the road than off it.

Brother and Sister

Late last year, Z told me of a friend who was looking for a home for his two cats. Both a year old, brother and sister, one ginger and white, one black and white. S and I had been considering getting a cat for a while but always put it off due to my concern that the physical issues would make caring for them difficult while S is at work all day; I’ve found looking after myself hard and have had to forgo showers and basic self-care at times due to the stiffness and pain.

However, I admit to falling in love. I grew up with cats always in my life and since Molly died of kidney cancer years ago I’ve been reluctant to go through that pain again. I’ve always known that a cat is what’s missing, though. Over the next few days S and I weighed up the pros and cons and came to a decision – that the positives would outweigh the negatives and I had plenty of support if I found caring for them difficult.  We decided to go for it.

A week before Christmas, Stimpy and Magrat came to live with us.

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I am in love; two cats have never been so adored. Aside from a major anxiety freakout when Stimpy went missing for three days, the negatives have never materialised – in fact, caring for them has made a huge difference to both my mental health and my mobility. Agoraphobia is a lot easier to deal with when you have two silly creatures trotting after you, and I no longer feel lonely during the day. Feeding them forces me out of bed and onto my feet, and even on my worse days I have very little choice; which makes a huge difference to how I deal with the hours stretching in front of me.

In such a short space of time, they have turned my world around and shown me that giving up simply isn’t an option. I can no longer lie in bed all day feeling sorry for myself, and that can only ever be a good thing.

There and back again

During my brief* flirtation with cognitive  behavioural therapy, I found my first stumbling block to be the advice I was given to follow when I’m having a panic attack:

“Remember, it won’t kill you“.

Really? Because that’s not how I felt last night.

Terrified Woman Screaming

Images.com/CORBIS

Of course, it all worked out fine. It always does. This is the frustration; I know nothing terrible is likely to happen, but still I obsess and panic until I can’t see straight. Throughout my life this has happened hundreds if not thousands of times, and while bad stuff undoubtedly does happen… has the world ended yet? No.

I’m sick of not being able to make sense of myself.

Talking of sick, the Tramadol made me vomit. Penance, I guess.

 

*one session. I’m amazed I lasted that long.

A letter to my consultant

Current medications:
Propranalol Hydrochloride (80mg daily) – for anxiety and panic attacks
Lansoprazole (30mg daily)
Etoricoxib (60mg daily) – for inflammation
Pregabalin (300mg daily) – for fibromyalgia
Duloxetine (90mg daily) for pain, depression and anxiety.
Dianette – contraception and treating polycystic ovary syndrome

Recent medications:
Cipralex – for depression and anxiety
Celebrex – for pain
Omeprazole
Prednisone (12 week course to treat chronic eczema)

Past surgeries:
Four wisdom teeth removed
Laparoscopy (to investigate painful periods and bleeding) (2007). Laser ablation done at the same time to treat inflammation in cervix.
Cholecystectomy (2008)

Current diagnoses:
Synovitis in left ankle and inflammation of tendon at side of foot (originally misdiagnosed as achilles tendonitis 18 months ago), diagnosed approx. 6 months ago.
Pompholyx eczema/dyshidrotic dermatitis (diagnosed in 2012)
Polycystic ovary syndrome (diagnosed in 2001)
Fibromyalgia (diagnosed in 2006)
Irritable bowel syndrome (diagnosed in 2002-ish, originally treated with Mebeverine but currently under no treatment due to side-effects)
Depression and anxiety (first diagnosed at the age of thirteen) and Borderline Personality Disorder.

Current symptoms:
Pain and stiffness in fingers, knees, upper neck/base of skull, hips, feet/toes, lower back and wrists. Fingers, knees and toes most affected, although neck is becoming much worse. Pain and stiffness much worse in morning/after sitting still, and takes at least 2-3 hours after waking to begin loosening. Gentle movements seem to help the pain in most joints.
Unable to bear weight on heels for 2-3 hours after inactivity.
Swelling in fingers, toes, ankles and knees after waking/inactivity, especially in joints closest to nails in fingers and toes.
Clumsiness, especially in morning. Unable to grip items with confidence, especially pens and cups.
Fingers and toes have become misshapen over the past 18 months.
Weight loss. This is a particular concern for me as I haven’t dieted, although my appetite has decreased dramatically, again over the past 18 months. Since September 2012 I have lost almost three stones in weight, which is very unlike me as I have always struggled with keeping my weight down and I love food.
Recurring cold sores.
Itchy eyes and very dry mouth, which seems unconnected to medications.
Lack of temperature control. I have suffered from this for a number of years, but only at night. Recently it has become an issue throughout the day also, leaving me either far too cold, or far too warm. Fingers and toes always feel painfully cold regardless of weather or environment.
IBS has become much worse in the past 18 months, with constant diarrhea, cramps and loss of bowel control.

I have been referred to orthopedics, physiotherapy, rheumatology at SDGH, and to the local mental health team all regarding my symptoms. Because the pain and swelling in my left ankle was misdiagnosed as achilles tendonitis, they have only concentrated on that area of my body, and not taken the whole range of symptoms into account, which I feel are connected somehow as all my symptoms either appeared or became worse around the same time.
Emotionally, this has had a huge impact on me, and my life. I am no longer able to live independently as I need somebody around to ensure I have help with basic tasks (like cooking, taking a shower, and walking), as co-ordination and balance are something I struggle with a lot now. I am no longer able to go outside on my own in case I fall or am unable to bear weight on my heels. As a result I am now almost entirely housebound and even though I have bought a walking stick (after physiotherapy claimed I didn’t need help with walking), this only causes pain in my hips and neck as I try to balance with it.
I feel that if I could at least have a name for what is happening to me, I would cope a lot better, and possibly find a treatment which may help. Currently, I have lost all hope of ever leading a normal life, of being able to work. My hobbies all involve movement (walking, sewing, knitting, photography) and I am no longer able to do these things, and the rapidly increasing pain in my joints leave me unable to do the most basic tasks such as hold a pencil (I am also a writer) or comfortably type on a keyboard without wrist pain.

In which I didn’t die

When you have a fear over something – be it general anxiety, agoraphobia, spiders or – in my case – being sick –   you’re often given the advice “remember, you won’t die”.

On the surface it’s good advice, and very true. CBT (or my experience of it) focused on that a lot, and I can imagine most people who don’t experience such extreme fear see it as perfectly sensible advice which can really help. So I don’t begrudge those who tell me this; apart from those in the psychiatric profession, who should know better, because it’s all well and good saying “it won’t kill you”, but anyone living with fear knows that there’s absolutely nothing rational about the red-hot tangle of despair and terror.

But, I didn’t die. I stopped being sick once the anti-emetics kicked in, and I’ve been able to eat without feeling nauseous. I’m still scared of the idea of it starting again, and there’s a huge bruise on my  hand from the IV, but I didn’t die. I’m okay.

Somehow, it always ends up okay. I don’t know how.

moving on

I always find someone to bruise and leave behind: the personality of BPD

Trying to access my blog has been a nightmare today; it’s almost as if I’m being punished for putting off writing. I sit in the living room or the kitchen, staring at my laptop and willing the words to be there, but they just aren’t – I don’t particularly want to think about the negative side of things at the moment – and not being able to log in to my account all day has driven me half-crazy. Finally, I have the words… and the fear that I will never get my blog back. Similar issues have been had across WordPress according to their support forums, and my natural cynicism makes me wonder if they’ll ever fix it, or if I’ll be in blog limbo for the rest of my life, unable to download my content or ever update. It’s frustrating.

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I’m going to write anyway, because I received email notification of a comment from one of my old posts – Borderline Personality Disorder – and although I try not to put too much pressure on myself to respond to negativity, it was too tempting to reply, rather than let it go.

I can’t stand people with BPD!!!!!!!!, My soon to be ex-wife has ruined or should I say destroyed everything i built for the last 21 years. I’m retired military, she put me into 25k debt, sold my retirement gift (1972 Plymouth duster), took money from me, calls, texts, emails, hoovers, threatens, plays the victim, has filed PFA’S on me to hide her lies, told a judge she tried to commit suicide 3 times, told that crap to my youngest daughter, lied about 6 surgeries, accused me of killing the dogs when she had possession of the dogs, sold items of mine, harassed county attorney, hide my cell and car keys, twice told my daughter she doesn’t want to be her mom, called and emailed my family members about our sex live, hates my other kids, took all parental rights away from me with her son while we were leaving together, called child protective services on me for child abuse, lied about receiving taxes (my taxes 3.5k) and spent it all, gave her 4k for my daughter’s ortho and she never paid it, keeps getting into my retirement account and changing crap (it’s a federal crime!), every three days would be arguments until i apologized or caved……and so much more……..you people with BPD SHOULD ONLY BE ALOUD TO MARRY EACH OTHER!!!!!! The total destructiveness you bring into peoples/family/loved ones lives is just criminal!!!! Now I have to pick up the pieces; my daughter cuts herself, oldest daughter is on depression meds, claim bankruptcy, and start all over again age the age of 44. You BPD!!!! should never be allowed to date/marry/have kids……I feel so sorry and sick to my heart for all of your next victims…..GOD help them so they won’t be put through this hell I’m going through.

Wow. Where to begin.

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It’s difficult not to take such opinions personally when somebody says that the likes of myself and many of my readers should never be able to date, marry, or have children. Attempting not to take such comments to heart is nigh-on impossible. Those like myself already live with ridiculously low self-confidence and constant snipes from society and the media, without being told these things in shouty capital letters on a blog which – I like to think, judging by many comments I’ve received – has become a safe place to discuss issues like BPD and mental illness without being judged. Although I know there’s no way to stop such comments – and I wouldn’t want to, as everyone is entitled to an opinion – I don’t like to respond to them, as it makes me feel like a victim. The very act of explaining why I behave the way I do gives more ammunition, and I’m not always sure it’s possible to change somebody’s mind on mental illness when their beliefs are so set in stone.

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I will be the first to say that living with someone suffering from BPD must be a nightmare if they are experiencing the fully-fledged out-of-control side of BPD. If they refuse to take their medication, won’t or can’t accept help, or have attempted to get help but the system and/or friends and family have let them down, as is so common with borderline personality disorder. I will never deny that my past behaviour has been controlling and has caused pain to those around me; to lie about that would be to lie about my entire life from puberty onwards.

However, that controlling behaviour has never been out of malice, or acted out with any intent to hurt or cause distress. Describing the BPD mind is an impossible task; but, like everyone else, we have our own distinct personalities. Although outwardly we may appear incredibly bitter and resentful, hell-bent on causing mayhem wherever we go without a single thought for the consequences, inwardly can be an entirely different story. Inside there could be somebody who simply has no control over their actions, and who is lashing out because it’s the only way they know how. It may not be the right way, but it’s their way, and it’s the only thing they have at that moment because their entire being is consumed by all-enveloping fear.

BPD is not a free license to abuse people; when I was first diagnosed, I noticed a lot of resentment around the internet regarding relationships with BPD’ers, and their ability to destroy everything within sight; emotions, furniture, families, friendships, affairs… to the non-BPD partner it seems that everything their boyfriend/girlfriend touches turns to shit. That they get off on controlling others, and seek attention at every available opportunity.

This is a myth.

I have never, ever enjoyed having BPD. Since my symptoms started in puberty, my life has been an uphill struggle to find some form of sane balance. To connect with others without clinging to them. To know who I am, and why I think the way I do. It’s been hard; heartbreaking at times, and a nightmare for everybody around me. I’ve sprinted through life like a whirlwind, grabbing onto others for safety and leaving chaos in my wake. I’ve said and done terrible things. Threatened to harm myself when I had no intention. Lied. Cheated. Stolen. Caused undeniable pain and, yes, abused others.

Of this, I will never be proud.

However, I have made every effort to change, and gain control over the tangle of self-abuse and denial. Comments like the one I quoted above, and many I have read online, seem to suggest that abandoning those with BPD is the only solution. When I was first diagnosed, my mother bought Stop Walking On Eggshells by Paul T. Mason and Randi Kreger. After she read it, her suggestion to me was that I didn’t look at the book, as there were heavy hints that walking away from somebody suffering from BPD is an easy option. I haven’t read the book myself, so she may have been exaggerating, but it wouldn’t surprise me. BPD is a mental illness like any other, but it seems acceptable to cast suffers off with “they’re a cruel person” or “it’s not worth it”. Or, as above, suggest that we should never marry or even date.

I have worked hard to get this far. I’m twenty-eight in ten days, and there was a time when reaching eighteen seemed impossible. Admittedly, I find it difficult to recognise any achievement, but I know my life is massively different to how it used to be. Medication has the anxiety and panic attacks mostly under control, and stops me going too far into depression. Without the anxiety, I don’t overreact, I don’t convince myself that everybody I love despises me. I don’t believe that the world would be a better place if I were dead.

So, people with BPD can change. They can grasp some control, if they work at it. We’re not hopeless cases.

I called this post “the personality of BPD”, because the comment above angered me. It totally disregarded any of his partner’s personality, and attributed all her behaviour to borderline personality disorder. Just like anybody else, people with BPD can be cruel, regardless of their condition. They can also be kind, although sometimes the kindness is muffled under sheer panic. Somebody living with BPD is not the whole of the condition; they’re still the person you know, with all that person’s foibles, beliefs, experiences and knowledge. BPD may be a massive part of their lives, but it doesn’t entirely consume; they’re in there somewhere and not everything they say or do is dictated by BPD.

I don’t know if this post makes much sense; my head is everywhere right now. There’s a lot to write about.

 

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Last stop: this town

“You know, we’ve spent every day together for a month now. Are you bored of me yet?” 

It was said in jest – I still refuse to be clingy with S – but, as always, there was a nugget of truth in my words; a small fear I covered up with a nervous giggle. Since S and I first discussed the possibility of moving in together over a year ago, I’ve worried that spending so much time in each others pockets will cause some sort of breakdown between us – we’re both so used to our own space – but so far it seems to be working. I don’t want to question why it’s going so well, in case I somehow jinx it, and going well it is. I’m still in some sort of weird denial; I keep expecting to wake up tomorrow in the little white bed in my old bedroom, with the sheets covered in loose tobacco and ash, my head fuzzy from co-codamol overdoses. All that feels so far away now, yet too close for comfort. Life doesn’t work this way for me, it never has. It’s never been so good. I don’t think I can be blamed for worrying, can I?

We’re still living in chaos, but it’s a strange, enjoyable sort of chaos. The large hallway of the flat is filled with boxes, as is the living room and temporary bedroom, and the kitchen and bathroom still have no floor coverings. It’s a bit of an awkward situation; we’re renting the flat from a friend’s mother, who lost her father a few months ago. Her mother is in a nursing home with dementia and arthritis. I don’t think she was quite ready for us to move in, or maybe she forgot when we were supposed to be taking over the flat, but the bedroom is still filled with their belongings – paintings, books, old clothes – which is starting to cause a problem. Perhaps I’m overreacting as usual, but it’s frustrating that we can’t move in ‘properly’. I want to unpack, I want to see our belongings together so it all feels real. I want to sleep in the bedroom with the big bay window and built-in wardrobes, instead of a small room which the bed can just about fit in. I want to be able to make this our home. We’ve been here a month, and the bills haven’t even been sorted out yet.

I’m probably the only person in the world who wants to pay bills.

On the whole though, it’s wonderful. I always imagined I’d end up on my own in a cheap bedsit, living off cigarettes and peanut butter from the jar. If I’d stayed in school long enough to have a yearbook – if we even had yearbooks in the UK – under my picture it would have said “most likely to end up alone, eaten by cockroaches”. Honestly, I never believed that life would throw me the lifeline it has. That it would change so dramatically.

On the subject of change, everything has been shaken up on the medical side of things. I saw my GP on the 9th, determined to finally make my point about the way I’ve been treated; or not treated, rather. Moving out has given me the motivation to stand up for myself, if only because I don’t want to burden S with all my problems. Now we live together – I can’t stop repeating that we live together, it’s still so unreal – I can no longer hide all those freak-outs and breakdowns from him, and the last thing I want to do is make him feel like my carer rather than my boyfriend. Living with J taught me just how difficult it is to be constantly bombarded by mental illness, and S doesn’t need my craziness hanging over him. Neither do I.

So I sat, and explained to my GP just how difficult things have been.

This is probably going to take longer than usual“; and take longer it did. He listened though, and made all the right noises; nodding when I explained how let down I feel by the treatment I’ve received from the specialists I’ve seen recently.

Physio has been worse than useless, referring me to the Biomechanics Clinic, then when the appointment finally came ’round after being cancelled once and pushed months ahead, they referred me back to physio. Told me to keep doing the exercises on my foot, regardless of how painful it is. Told me there was nothing really wrong except for a bit of tendonitis. I can’t walk. I can’t sleep. It’s the worst pain I’ve ever felt, and I’ve had gallstones. I don’t think I can take the constant backwards and forwarding anymore. I can’t take the tiredness, the lying awake at night wanting to cut my foot off. I’m sick of it all”.

He looked at me. Put his head to the side, and leaned forwards.

Has the anxiety and depression become worse?

So it all came flooding out. How I simply can’t cope anymore; with the pain, with the panic attacks, with the hospital visits and disappointment. I can’t pretend that things have been rosy over the past few months; the combination of medical let-downs and moving house has sent me somewhat over the edge. Not enough to truly worry anybody; just enough for me to know that things aren’t working properly. My brain… it had become tired. Cynical. I think I’d given up in many ways.

And I didn’t want that, not when I have this chance to assert my independence and live the way I’ve always needed to. For the first time since I can remember, I have a little potential. Not much, just enough to reassure myself that I do have a place in the world.

And the fibromyalgia? Joint pain? We need to deal with that too. I’m going to put you on Cymbalta; it’s an antidepressant and works for anxiety much like Cipralex did, but it’s also licensed for nerve pain. Cipralex just doesn’t seem to be working for you anymore. You need to stop taking it, wait two days, then start the Cymbalta. That way there shouldn’t be too much of a gap where you’re without some form of medication for the depression and panic attacks. I’m also giving you Arcoxia, which should be more effective than Celebrex at controlling the pain. Finally, I know you’re tired of referrals but I think you should see orthopedics. I’d have referred you sooner but with your history I thought rheumatology would be more suitable. We’ll do some blood tests, to check for RA again, and see where we go from there. See me again in a month, and we’ll look at how you’re doing on the new tablets.”

I left the surgery with a prescription, an appointment with orthopedics for the end of the month, and a small sense of hope. Of course, it’s not the first time I’ve felt that hope and been let down, so I refuse to get too excited by the possibility of finally seeing some improvement.

I’ve been taking the new meds for six days now. Yesterday I began to feel the real effects of Cymbalta; fuzzy head, dry mouth, misplaced energy, and bizarre dreams. However, I haven’t panicked, and the dark mood has lifted a little. Taking a new antidepressant after years of Cipralex working perfectly is a little scary – I’ve relied on it for so long – but so far everything seems okay. Nausea, but no vomiting. Stomach pains, but not unbearable. Most importantly, the pain has decreased dramatically, to the point where I can now walk without a stick. I’m still stiff, and I still stumble, but I can walk to the shops; a massive improvement.

Living with S is everything I had hoped for, and more. We cook together. He brings me cups of coffee and rolls cigarettes for me when I’m tired. We have a huge leather sofa with a chaise longue. A low Ikea double bed with new sheets and a king-size duvet. A communal garden – currently waterlogged – and neighbours who say hello when I bump into them. We live in a village now; still in the same town, but nicer somehow. Slower. Less stressful. There’s a grocers. A butcher and a fish shop. Spar. A hairdressers and a shop which sells frozen yoghurt with fruit in.

I know we won’t be here forever. Renting is probably our only option for the rest of our lives – we simply can’t afford a house and probably never will – but for the time being, I’m in my own little paradise. A place I can be myself, without pressure to perform and be ‘normal’. Somewhere I can exist without feeling I should always be doing more to be like everyone else. Most importantly, perhaps, is the fact that I’m getting on well with my mother. We speak regularly on the phone, and I visit at least once a week. She now agrees that we needed to be apart. That I needed my freedom.

I have freedom.

You don’t know how amazing that feels.