***Trigger warning: explicit references to self harm***
What better way to spend your first wedding anniversary than on a psychiatric ward where your husband can only visit for a little while in the evening and the staff check on you every hour?
Three days after I was admitted was one year since our wedding day. I don’t think I’ve ever felt lower. That morning, in my ward room on my own, I used a sharpened pencil crayon to cut my arm and thigh repeatedly. I screamed and I cried. It was just so fucking unfair. A year before had been the happiest day of my life, and now here I was being the worst wife in the world, having trapped Tom into a marriage with a mad woman. Or at least that was what my very poorly brain was telling me. It wasn’t an amazing start to the day. I remember one of the scariest nurses telling me off (fair enough) and telling me that I needed to see my marriage as a reason to keep going, not a sign that I had failed. She was scary, but she was right.
On the ward we had a team of staff who organised occupational therapy sessions for us (more on these sessions in a later post), and on one of the first few days I was there we were making cards. Yes, the cliché is true – arts and crafts were deployed freely for us as a way of de-stressing and helping us be creative. Wait until you see the bowl I made in pottery… but I digress.
I decided to face the fact that I was spending our anniversary apart from Tom, and made him a card. I drew, glued and bejazzled the shit out of it, with tears pouring down my face the whole time. It is possibly the tackiest thing I have ever made, and yet when I gave it to him he was thrilled, and that evening he sent me a photo of it in situ in our lounge. Bless his heart. He brought me a card into the ward (NOT homemade, what a slacker) and I put it up on top of my wardrobe so that I’d see it every day.
I’ve written previously about how supportive Tom is, and how he made sure I was as okay as possibly in hospital. He never made me feel guilty about being away from him, and a few days after our anniversary he picked me up from the ward and took me out on leave for the evening, to one of our favourite Sheffield restaurants.
As first anniversaries go, it wasn’t a conventional one, but it was ours, and it reflected what was going on in our marriage at the time.
Tonight we’re going out for a meal to celebrate our second anniversary, and I won’t have a nurse checking me every hour. At least I hope I won’t, because that’d be weird.
Even a year on, I can still picture my room on Stanage really clearly. And as I write this, I realise that I actually took a photo on the day I left the ward. I haven’t looked at it since and if I can find it I will add it to this post.
First off, I was not expecting to have my own room. During a previous crisis, about a month before I arrived on Stanage, I had been offered a bed on another ward, had looked round it and been scared out of my tree by the cramped dormitory-style wards, and the angry, unhappy people I saw. At that point, I felt that being in that situation would not be beneficial to my mental health, so I declined the place. I guess it shows how desperate I was a month later, on 26th October, that when they offered again to find me a place, I didn’t even care that it might be like the first ward I’d seen. I just knew I needed to accept the help.
In the end, it was a completely different set-up, and this ward (Stanage) had a much calmer, less chaotic feel to it. Purely circumstantial, I’m sure, but I guess it shows just how much of a lottery mental health provision is, even within the same city.
Anyway, I did have my own room. It was very basic, but clean and pretty large. It contained just a hospital-style bed with a plastic mattress, a wardrobe with no coat-hangers, I guess for obvious reasons, and an easy chair that was slung very close to the floor.
The en suite toilet and shower were separated from the room by a thick plastic swing door, and again the en suite was very clean and very basic. The square shower tray was surrounded all the way round by a plastic curtain that liked to adhere itself to you while you tried to wash your hair and the towels were approximately the size of a sheet of A4, but for the time I was there it was all mine.
Along one side of my room was a massive window, which took up most of the wall. Very lovely, except that it looked out onto the outdoor space for the other ward in the building, so I often had my, garishly patterned, curtains closed.
Overall, it may not have been much, but at the time it was my little sanctuary in the middle of the chaos of the ward and my own brain. I’ll always remember it really fondly as the place I first began to feel better, and it makes me extra-grateful for the lovely, comfy home Tom and I share.
I arrived on Stanage Ward at the Michael Carlisle Centre in Sheffield late on the evening of 26th October. I was met by the Ward Manager, Tom, and told the basics of how everything worked. I was shown past the nurses’ office, through the communal area (including ping pong table and some plastic sofas), down a long corridor to my own (!) room, which had a mini en suite (!!!). Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t The Ritz, but it was mine, and I could close the door on the rest of the ward, and the world. The shower that evening, after the day I had had, could not have felt better. Even if Dwayne The Rock Johnson had joined me. Mmm, Dwayne The Rock Johnson.
I waited until 10pm when I could go and collect my sleeping medication, then I crashed out my teeny hospital bed, under a very thin duvet, right up against a radiator belting out some RIGHT heat. I must have been exhausted from the previous day as I slept until about 6am the next day, which at that point was a lie-in for me.
If I’m honest I can’t remember many details about that first day, which is weird as my memory is generally pretty good. I can’t even tell you what I ate that day, which is unheard of. (My mum will tell you that as a kid she could ask me what she’d served to guests the last time they had visited, in order to not serve them the same meal this time.)
That first day on the ward was a Saturday, which is a pretty quiet day on wards in general. The doctors weren’t doing rounds and there was no chance of me seeing the consultant psychiatrist until at least the Monday. That was at least two days stretching ahead of me, two days with no contact with the people who I was hoping were going to help me get better. After the initial relief of being admitted and of accepting the help I so desperately needed, I started to feel hopeless again.
I remember speaking to one of the support workers on the ward (a poorly-paid and mainly thankless job, but the SWs were some of the most amazing people I have ever met), Sally, who was very kind and let me pour out my mixed-up thoughts to her. I saw a lot of her during my time on Stanage – she was straight-talking, funny and bonkers (in a good way). I will always remember that chat, the first proper one I’d had with anyone there, and although the details are hazy, I do recall that the overriding message from her was to try and use the time on the ward to take pressure off myself and relax as much as I could. She told me to treat it ‘like a really shit holiday camp’. At the time I had no idea what she was talking about, but looking back I know what she was doing was telling me to trust the process and let go of what I couldn’t control.
I don’t remember much else about that day. I must have met more people, staff and patients, that day but all I really remember is mainly thinking one thing over and over:
***Trigger warning: references to suicidal thoughts and self harm***
My recovery from my breakdown began on 26th October 2018, five and half months after I first became ill. That Friday was one of the worst days of my life but, looking back, I know it had to happen and I’m beyond glad that it did. I’m going to try and be as honest as possible in these next few posts, but I will be skating over a few of the grimmer details about how bad things became. I’m not entirely sure why I’m doing this, and if I’m being honest I think I still feel ashamed of some of the things BPD has made me do. I also don’t want to put those close to me in an awkward position by oversharing, as this is their story too, and not all of it is mine to tell. But I will do my best.
In the weeks prior to 26th October 2018, I was a complete mess, doing all the wrong things, and deep in denial about how ill I actually was. I tried to go back to work in this time, believing that maybe if I went back to having the life I was living before I was ill I would become that person again. It went spectacularly badly (entirely as the result of me misjudging what I could cope with; my work were incredibly supportive) and triggered a series of events and A&E crisis visits. I was not even slightly managing my difficult emotions, and I can barely remember a lot of what was happening in that time. I know I wasn’t sleeping well at all, and the team looking after me at the time had changed my medication, meaning I was taking a large dose of a sleeping aid every night and waking up in the absolute terrors at 3am or 4am every day, unable to get back to sleep, terrified of the thoughts and images my brain was churning out.
The morning of this Friday I woke even earlier than normal. I think it was about 1am. I couldn’t settle back to sleep, my brain was on fire, everything was wrong, wrong, wrong. I needed to escape my own mind, and I could think of only one way to do that. I needed to not exist anymore. God, I’m crying now just thinking about how desperate I was. I didn’t want to die, but I just could not continue as I was. I did not know how to save myself, and I couldn’t stand what I was putting my family through anymore. These thoughts triggered a series of awful events early that morning that meant I was taken to Bassetlaw A&E in crisis, and in floods of tears. Panic had consumed me and I did not know what was going to happen next. I had lost.
We had been staying at my in-laws house that night, and with me in the hospital were my husband, Tom, and my lovely sister-in-law, Hannah. I honestly don’t know what I would have done without them there with me. We were put in a windowless room all day, whilst the medical professionals assessed me and I climbed the walls with panic and despair. Again, I won’t go into details, but they had put me in a separate room so that my distress did not disturb other patients, and they had to sedate me at times. Tom and Hannah talked to me, held me, calmed me down, distracted me and encouraged me to eat whatever food I was brought. They helped me talk to the man from psychiatry liaison, and explain what had been happening. And, ultimately, they helped me make the decision to admit myself as a voluntary in-patient to a psychiatric ward.
I’m going to stop writing here, it is way more intense writing about all this than I expected it to be. Not in an awful way, I guess this is all pretty cathartic, but I feel so deeply sorry for that broken and desperate person I am writing about, and also so deeply grateful to her for holding on and believing that things could get better, that she could get better.
***Trigger warning – references to suicidal thoughts and self harm***
26th October will, I think, always be a date that is meaningful for me, as will 13th November.
Between those dates in 2018 I was a voluntary inpatient on the Stanage Ward (an acute psychiatric ward) in Sheffield, following a prolonged period of mental ill-health. If you’ve already read some of my posts, you’ll know that mental ill-health is putting it mildly. I broke down, lost myself, was stalked by a black dog, stared into a seemingly bottomless void. All those things are clichés for a reason, it turns out.
During that period of complete and total mental annihilation (May – October 2018) I battled suicidal thoughts and self harm. I couldn’t sleep or eat properly. I stopped doing everything. I was not myself, I couldn’t even remember who ‘myself’ was. So that was where my hospital admission came in.
I’ve doing a lot of thinking about how to address this time in hospital on my blog, and I’ve decided that the best way to tackle it is to take it in little bits. So I’m going to be posting every day this year between 26th October and 13th November, with each post discussing a different aspect of my time on the ward. Quite a few people have asked me what it was like, so I’m going to try and address some of the questions I’ve had, and also use it as a bit of a chance to work through some of the stuff that happened during that time.
I will not be discussing other patients, except in a general sense; I will be focusing on my own experience while I was in there, the ups and downs, the really crap bits, and how I feel the decision to accept the help and admit myself was the best decision I made for my recovery.
On Thursday last week, someone pissed me off on Twitter. Not exactly big news, as Twitter is full of people getting irked on a minute-by-minute basis.
This was someone tweeting that they disliked the sentiments ‘it’s okay not to be okay’ and ‘it’s okay to talk’, because in their line of work they would be judged negatively for opening up about their poor mental health. The tone of the tweet was a bit resentful and sanctimonious, or at least that’s how I read it.
Thursday (10th October) was World Mental Health Day and, from what I could see, social media and news feeds were flooded with people engaging in the conversation about it. I felt a bit like this person on Twitter was saying that those of us are able to talk about it should maybe be a bit quieter when doing it. I felt this person was saying that in a REAL job (which I don’t have at the moment) and in the REAL ADULT world, talking about mental health was not the done thing. So I got cross and stroppy.
Then I pulled my head out of my own arse and had a word with myself.
Now, I am aware that I am in a really privileged position to be able to share as much as I do about my mental health. I have met with very little judgement from people (at least to my face!) and I don’t work in a job where I feel forced to conceal when I’m not okay. Even when I was still working I received nothing but support from my colleagues and the leadership team. I’m white, I’m straight, I’m cisgendered – all of which mean that I I am a lot freer to seek about my mental health than a lot of others. My situation is by no means representative of everyone.
So, even though initially I was quite cross with this person for being so down on the idea of WMHD and of people talking more, that quickly morphed into just feeling really sad that they have not had good experiences of talking about their mental health, and that they feel it would be detrimental to their job to do so.
It also reminded me that, like everything, talking about mental health is a very personal thing, and what feels comfortable to one person would be unthinkable for another.
I’ll also say that, considering I bang on about mental health so much myself, I am still sometimes surprised by the things people share and reveal. On Thursday, people who I have never before seen speak about their mental health in public shared stories, anecdotes, messages of support and reassurances that their metaphorical doors are always open.
Despite knowing that mental illness does not discriminate at all, I still found myself going ‘but X is so pretty, surely they can’t feel anxious?’ or ‘woah, I always thought Y seemed so confident and successful, I can’t believe they ever feel down!’ We can all fall into the trap of thinking that some are immune to unhappiness or illness, and in my opinion the more people share their stories, big or small, the more the mental health narrative grows and a much more realistic picture is created. So this massive outpouring of mental-health related messages on Thursday was amazing, and I think everyone who shared their sentiments is so incredibly brave.
It’s great that so many people felt able to talk that day, and I hope they found their words were met with support and kindness, and that they can continue to talk all year round. But equally, I hope people who do not feel comfortable sharing do not feel they HAVE to. I hope that, for them, just seeing that they are not alone will be enough to offer some comfort.
Just because in an ideal world we would be as comfortable speaking about mental health as we are about physical health, does not mean that everyone should feel compelled to.
Sorry it’s been a while. As my mother pointed out to me the other day I ‘need to do another blog post’ (thanks for cracking the whip, Mum), but I’ve been struggling with what to write about. Not because I have nothing to say but because I actually have A LOT to say, I just don’t know how to say it all. The anniversary of my admission to the psych ward is approaching fast, and I really want to write about my experience of those weeks, but I need to sit down and properly organise my thoughts about that before I do. It will probably end up being series of posts focusing on different aspects of my time in hospital and what I got from it, as there’s a lot to say. So that’s mostly what I’m working on at the moment.
Before I get to that stuff, though, I wanted to talk about the role social media has played in my ongoing recovery, and what I hope it will continue to do as I rebuild my life.
I think we can all agree that there are many, many bad things to be said about social media. It gives bullies yet another way to bully, but with the coward’s shield of anonymity. It can make us feel inferior when we see others ‘living their best life’ (#blessed) and we seem to be falling short. It can become addictive, making the need to check what is happening so compulsive that it is impossible to ignore.
All of those things are crap, and I think social media should ALWAYS be approached with caution. One thing that helps me deal with it is that I didn’t grow up with social media at my fingertips – Facebook was introduced when I was ***thinks*** 19, and I didn’t get Instagram until I was in my mid-20s. I’m so glad it wasn’t around when I was growing up, as the fewer pictures of me as an awkward teenager there are the better, and I got bad enough FOMO (fear of missing out – see, I’m down with the kids and the lingo) from MSN Messenger. And I still have flashbacks to that jarring sound of the modem dialling up.
But coming at it all as a ‘grown-up’ made it a bit easier, and has probably meant a more harmonious online life.
So, ways social media, especially Instagram, helps me:
My Instagram ‘bank of hope’
When I was in hospital, one of the nurses suggested I keep a notebook and write down sayings, poems or thoughts that helped and inspired me to get better. I definitely scoffed at this, because I was not a 13 year old girl, but then I realised that I’d kind of been doing that since I fell ill, I’d just been using Instagram instead. I’d been storing any photo I liked or that I wanted to remember in the future to my ‘saved’ items folder, using it as a kind of bank of hope. These saved items could be anything: hopeful quotes, posts from The Happy Newspaper assuring me it was okay not to be okay, snippets from books by Matt Haig, quotes from films, literally anything. I still do this on a daily basis when I’m scrolling, even when I’m feeling good, because I want to help future-proof for my bad days, and the more hope I have in the bank, the better!
Using social media as an online diary
I regularly use social media to record moments, good and bad, in my day-to-day life. It can help me, on bad days, to remember that I have felt good at certain times, and also to see that I’ve felt bad before and bounced back. This is especially useful because on bad days I still have a tendency to catastrophise and think ‘I have NEVER felt this bad before’ and ‘I will NEVER feel better’. Looking back on my old posts reminds me that a) I have felt that bad before and b) I will definitely feel better, because I have done before. Facebook and Instagram give me a place to record these moments, as well as helping me to be honest about the ups and downs of living with a mental illness, which is massively important to me.
Following people/pages that help or inspire me
This may seem like an obvious one, but sometimes I do catch myself scrolling through my Instagram feed, suddenly feeling rubbish, and being unsure why. Nine times out of ten, it’s because I’ve seen a post that has impacted on my mood, making me feel inferior or just generally a bit crap. So I now make a concerted effort to curate my newsfeeds, and to only follow people, accounts and pages that make me feel happy or uplifted. Ok, not everything I see on social media is rainbows and kittens (how amazing would that be??), but I have chosen to hide certain adverts or posts that make me feel rubbish or impact negatively on my mood, and taking back that bit of control has helped massively.
So these are just some thoughts about the good bits of social media, and how I’ve made it work for me. Now I need to sit down figure out these next few ‘hospital’ posts. Maybe I’ll just look back at my bank of hope to give me a bit of courage first…
My suggestions of some excellent accounts to follow on Instagram, by the way, are:
The Happy Newspaper – @thehappynewspaper – good news stories
Matt Haig – @mattzhaig – have I mentioned how much I love him?
Megan Jayne Crabbe – @bodyposipanda – a burst of body positivity and sparkles
The Blurt Foundation – @theblurtfoundation – they do amazing work around mental health
Sad Girls Support Group @sadgirlssupportgroup – a group of wonderful women posting their own experiences
One of the main symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder listed on the NHS website is ‘intense but unstable relationships with others’, and a lot of other resources discuss the instability of relationships experienced by those with BPD, often saying that many of us struggle to hold down personal or romantic relationships at all. All symptoms and characteristics listed for BPD are specific to the person, and my consultant psychiatrist is always very keen to make sure I understand that BPD is sliding scale on which many of us sit, and that we do not fit neatly into categories. Which may explain why I buck this particular BPD ‘trend’. I am happily and stably married, to a man I’ve been with for nearly six years. In that time we have not broken up or even really had any serious relationship problems. But this is, in part, due to the kind of man my husband is.
Before I met Tom (that’s my husband) I had three long-term relationships, which were all definitely affected in different ways by some of my (what I now know be) BPD tendencies. I was too clingy, but I pushed them away when they got too close, and I could not cope with the intensity of my emotions at times. As much as I’d love to talk about each one here, it would not be fair to discuss details of these relationships. But I will say, I was not the only reason each of these relationships ended, none of them were really right to begin with and, to be perfectly honest, none of them were Tom.
My husband is the best person I know. Absolutely hands down. I could write pages and pages about all the ways I love him (although I could also write A LOT about his annoying habits and ways he drives me mad), but I think it’s easiest to do it as a list so I don’t get carried away. And so he can still get his head through the door. So, in no particular order, these are some of the reasons I think our relationship works:
He has no idea about mental health stuff, but he takes time to understand MY mental health stuff.
He never makes me feel like I’m going mad.
He’s endlessly patient with my BPD meltdowns. Not so much with my normal demands.
After three dates, I was unsure about whether I wanted to embark on a new relationship. My mum was undergoing a stem-cell transplant for a long-term illness and my previous relationship had left me desperate to hang on to my freedom and independence. I broke off our fledging romance. He was understanding and we continued to talk as friends. One day, while my mum was very ill in hospital, my ex-boyfriend contacted me asking to meet to ‘draw a line under things’, and Tom contacted me to ask how Mum was. The ex got told where to go. Tom got a sh*g. (Sorry, Mum. REALLY glad your transplant went well BTW.)
He tells me when I’m being unreasonable/irrational and doesn’t take any of my sh*t.
When there were mental health tremors in my life before the Big One last year, he gave me space to figure it out, and didn’t put any pressure on me to sort it. He has always just walked beside me, holding my hand when I needed it and backing off when I didn’t.
Planning our wedding was really easy, because all either of us was really bothered about was marrying the other one. And it was an awesome day.
When I was an in-patient on the psych ward he brought me things he knew would help – his T shirts for me to sleep in, my pillow and cookies. Mmm cookies.
I have given him multiple opportunities to leave our marriage since I became ill, and no one would have blamed him if he had. He has never wavered. Never faltered. Never stopped loving me. Although I know that at times he has found it hard to like me very much, which is fair.
He let me adopt a cat.
The point of this post isn’t to say ‘Oh look at me, I have BPD, but I have a nice marriage, yay.’ It’s to sing the praises of the man who has looked me up and down, clocked all my craziness (so far), taken a deep breath and still committed himself to our relationship, every day.
Neither of us has found the last year and a half easy, we have had to learn together, and we definitely still are learning. But I’m so glad I found someone who can see the Me that is separate to my BPD and understands that I want to be the best version of myself I can be, no matter what front I may be presenting to the outside world.
About ten years ago, when I was mired in a bad spell of mental health – which I now know was a BPD episode – I read an excerpt from cricketer Marcus Trescothick’s autobiography Coming Back To Me, which chronicles his battle with anxiety and depression. I went on to buy the book, and it helped me and my family to make sense of what was happening with me at the time. I think everyone should speak more about mental health (WE ALL HAVE IT) but I do have a soft spot for sportspeople who open up about it. We hold them up in our society as paragons of health and strength, but they suffer in exactly the same way as the rest of us. The difference is, unfortunately, if they’re successful and famous their battles are played out on the stage of the media. Marcus Trescothick, Kelly Holmes, Clarke Carlisle, Elise Christie. They’re just a handful of the sportspeople I’ve seen open up about their mental health issues (which are often ongoing) and I think anyone who chooses to be open in this way, in such a public way, is incredibly brave.
The main reason I’ve been thinking about ‘my mate’ Marcus lately, is because of the name of his book: Coming Back To Me. I mentioned in a post a while back that one of the scariest BPD symptoms for me is depersonalisation, and an unstable sense of identity. When I am Well, I am incredibly secure in who I am, I have strong values and beliefs, I like myself, I think I’m generally okay. But when I’m not doing too well, my sense of self crumbles and I feel like a shell of who I used to be, desperately trying to be the Well version of myself, but unable to remember the steps, the script, how I usually relate to others.
I am currently working through a lot of this with my awesome therapist. I won’t go into details here – more because I don’t really understand it all myself than anything else – but a lot of it comes down to confidence. I became scared of being myself, and now the work begins to trust myself again.
Last year, when I had my breakdown/became ill/went a bit mad/lost myself, I had been busy being the Well version of me. I was content with my life choices, deliriously happy that I had just married my husband, excited about my counselling studies, pushing myself hard but coping ok. But I still got ill. The Well version of me couldn’t stop that from happening. She failed. For a long time I hated that person, and I was scared of letting myself be her again. Because despite all the lessons I’d learnt in my 20s, all the wisdom I thought I’d acquired, I became more ill than I had ever been. I’D FAILED. And for months and months no one could shake me of this fact.
But. Wait for this. It will shock you. Are you ready?
It wasn’t my fault. ‘Well Me’ didn’t bring this on herself by being happy – she got really, really, deeply ill. This may seem obvious to an outsider, but to someone who has always believed deep down that happiness needs to be earned, deserved, this is Big News. With my therapist, my care coordinator, my amazing family, my husband, I have been picking apart the contributing factors to my breakdown, and realising that none of them were my fault, or anyone’s. They just happened. A perfect storm of events, environmental factors, cognitive processes and brain chemistry that came together to create a hurricane in my mind and to erode my once-solid foundations. Terrifying, yes. But a personal failing? Nah, mate. AN ILLNESS.
Now, I am learning to forgive myself, for anything and everything. To be kind to myself even when – especially when – I don’t feel deserve it. I am learning that on days when I feel I am too much, annoying, obnoxious, loud, irritating, just generally Not Good Enough, maybe these things are not *whispers* actually true. Maybe I am just scared of allowing myself to be unapologetically myself again. Being scared is okay, and it’s very understandable, but it isn’t how it needs to be. On these days I am now more able than ever to challenge the scared thoughts and risk just being me again. I let myself laugh when I want to, talk freely, and try not to think about it all too much. I am, slowly, slowly, tentatively, Coming Back To Me. Some days it is too much, I am still too much (or not enough, who knows?) and I retreat back into my shell. But now I know that even though sometimes I need to retreat, I will come back out again when I’m ready.
It’s okay to be Me. I am not perfect, far bloody from it. And Me is made up of all sorts of things, all sorts of moods, and all sorts of emotions. Even on the days when I don’t feel like Me, those days are still a part of ME. And that’s pretty cool.
When I was in hospital, on one of my last few nights on the ward, something shifted and it was like the Real Me was there again saying, ‘Don’t worry, I’ve been here all along, you can’t actually ever lose me. Remember?’ It was like coming home in my own mind. It’s the best thing I’ve ever felt.
Since that night in November 2018 I have known that I can, and always will, Come Back To Me. Sometimes it just takes longer than others.
After my last post, which was pretty heavy as it dealt with the crappy symptoms of BPD I experience, I thought I’d write about something a bit more light-hearted. Specifically, a TV show. Bear with me, I promise it’s relevant.
Before I continue, I am really not interested in what other people think of my choices of TV. It’s all personal preference, and for most people TV is a way of relaxing and switching off. For some people that means watching back-to-back documentaries about serial killers, for others it might be endless episodes of The Repair Shop (we have a backlog of these recorded on our Tivo box, as we both find it incredibly soothing to watch), for others it may be soaps. Whatever floats your boat.
Since I left hospital in November, I’ve found TV really therapeutic, distracting and, as weird as it sounds, a good way of adding structure and routine to my day. At first all I could watch was endless American sitcoms on E4, although this has shifted and evolved and now I’m feeling able to watch grittier stuff like Killing Eve and Chernobyl. And I’m doing a lot more during the day now, getting out and seeing people, so I don’t need the comfort of such gems as Melissa & Joey and Baby Daddy at specific times every day.
One show that has really helped during both my period of illness and subsequent recovery is The Big Bang Theory. For those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s a US sitcom about four male scientists and a ‘hot’ blond woman who befriends them. It ran for 12 seasons, with two more female cast members being added along the way, and it basically charted the lives of the characters as they formed relationships, careers and figured out things in their lives. The things that drew me in were the theme song, performed by The Barenaked Ladies (they also did ‘One Week’: a total banger), and the character of Sheldon, who is never officially diagnosed with any condition (his mother had him tested) but shows classic signs of obsessive compulsive disorder and some autistic traits. Working with young people who struggled with social situations and relationships at the time, I felt the show (mostly) presented his character with sensitivity and compassion, and within a few episodes I was hooked, and laughing a lot.
This show has been a pretty big constant in my life for a long time, not least because it took over from Friends as the show that E4 showed CONSTANTLY, and watching characters I knew really well always felt like being welcomed back to somewhere familiar and safe. I remember quoting Sheldon to Tom on our third date. He did not laugh.
When I fell ill last year, I stopped doing a lot of things that had previously made me happy. I couldn’t face doing things that didn’t make me feel ‘right’ anymore, and I could not face a lot of the shows that were bringing out new episodes. We still have a lot of Westworld to catch up on. But The Big Bang Theory (most of which is on Netflix) was still something I turned to for comfort and familiarity, which I desperately needed when I felt completely unmoored from everything that used to hold me steady. I watched it feverishly, trying to absorb the humour and happiness of the characters. Sometimes it helped, sometimes it didn’t, but they were always there for me. Some things did not change.
The final season of the show began around the time I was hospitalised in 2018, and a new weekly episode on a Thursday night was something that immediately became part of my routine. It lifted my spirits and gave me something, however small, to look forward to each week. Knowing it was the final season was bittersweet, I felt I needed to drink in every episode and appreciate them. I follow all the actors on social media, and to know they were all feeling emotional about the show finishing, that the show meant as much to them emotionally as it did to me, touched me and made me feel even more attached to them and their characters.
A special mention at this point has to go to Mayim Bialik, whose character Amy Farrah-Fowler was introduced in season 3 and quickly became my favourite. (Our cat has her full name as part of her middle name. She is Stella Smoky Amy Farrah Fowler Poulton. Yes, really.) Mayim is the only member of the cast who has a PhD in real life, she runs her own website: Grok Nation, and regularly posted videos during the last season about how she was handling the end of the show, and the impact it was having on her emotionally. Basically, I love her.
Ultimately, the end of The Big Bang Theory came a couple of months after I made the decision to leave a job I have held for 9 years. Watching these people who had worked on the show for 12 years come to terms with the end of an era really helped me feel less alone in that time (obviously they had a bit more money to soften the blow than I did!) and seeing how sad it made them only made me love them more. Mayim Bialik regularly refers to herself as ‘unemployed’ and often addresses the uncertainties this brings through her social media. OK, so we aren’t in the same boat exactly, but maybe the same sea?
Kunal Nayyar (Raj) regularly posts on Instagram encouraging people to be kinder to themselves. Kaley Cuoco (Penny) rescues anything with four legs, and enjoys sharing videos of her dogs, horses, rabbit and, most recently, goat. Jim Parsons (Sheldon), Johnny Galecki (Leonard) and Melissa Rauch (Bernadette) all support each other on social media, and it’s clear all the cast have a close bond. Simon Helberg (Howard) also seems lovely but doesn’t really have a social media presence.
ANYWAY, I could write pages and pages about much I love this show, but the main point is that for me it is the TV equivalent of being wrapped in a comfy blanket and drinking a hot chocolate. It makes me laugh, no matter how many times I’ve seen each episode, and I’m pretty sure I could go on Mastermind with this as my specialist subject.
I know none of the cast will ever read this, but The Big Bang Theory has played a massive part in supporting me throughout my recovery, and for that I want to thank them for their whole universe.