Thursday, 16 February 2012

Waking Up with a Smile

Today, I'm not wrapped up in a duvet for the first time in a while - fingers crossed that's the end of the stupidly cold weather for now!  It's been a little easier to get up the last few days as a result, despite the fact I'm still not sleeping very well, but it's helping me to try and return my sleeping pattern to something approaching normal.  It's all too easy to start to despair when you are constantly tired, but still can't relax enough to nod off.  I've spent more hours than I care to count lying there in bed, trying not to disturb my husband while I toss and turn.  I always used to try and make the missed hours up by lying in the next morning, but I've now realised that only further compounds the problem.  Besides, I never really seem to sleep properly in the morning anyway, I just end up lying there with the same self-destructive cycle of thoughts, tormenting myself for being too useless to even get out of bed.  So, I'm now trying to establish a new routine while I concentrate on getting better, and to make sure I don't slip into bad old habits.

My morning routine a few months ago was waking up at about half past seven, then straight into the bathroom to have a quick wash, etc.  Once my stomach started playing up, this would be interrupted by dry retching until I'd vomit.  There have been mornings where I've brushed my teeth about five times because I'd immediately be sick after brushing.  I'd then try and perk myself up a bit with a cup of coffee.  I have turned into a bit of a caffeine junkie over the last few years, particularly when I was doing the London commute (once or twice leading to a panic attack on the tube - trying to lug my laptop trolley up from the Waterloo & City line out of Bank station was a struggle at the best of times), but a few people had warned me when I went on to the Fluoxetine that caffeine does not go well with it, so I completely cut out the coffee and energy drinks for the last couple of months.  I did find that a real struggle, so this week I've compromised and now have a cup of decaff in the morning - I think it's the taste as much as anything else that perks me up, and boy, did I miss the taste!  Denying myself that small pleasure every day seemed counter-productive.  I now see it as my reward for getting up at a reasonable time.

I find a full shower helps to kick-start me in the morning, perking up my circulation.  A bit of music helps as well - a tuneless wail along to some cheesy 80's pop tends to do the trick.  Actually, one of my favourite happy songs inspired the name of this blog - "Doing The Unstuck" by The Cure (yes, The Cure - they're not all moody goth-rock!).  I can't help but smile at this perky tune when I hear it, and with lyrics such as "Kick out the gloom, kick out the blues, tear out the pages with all the bad news", it's seriously infectious.

I've been trying to reward myself for little achievements this week.  I went and did the food shopping by myself on Friday, and had a nice hot chocolate and a brownie in town afterwards (thanks to @arryaardvark for that suggestion!).  After doing my blog last week, I painted my nails for the first time in ages.  Looking at them now, I might be doing the same when I've finished this one, they have all chipped rather badly!

This has all been quite important as I had a couple of small setbacks this week.  My iffy kidney is playing up, so I've had a very painful urinary infection for the past few days (it's something that used to happen all the time when I was a kid, one of my kidneys has what is known as a "partial duplex", which means it doesn't filter things as well as it should).  I'm on antibiotics for it now, so fingers crossed that'll clear it up.  My dad's also back in hospital with a chest infection that he's been fighting for weeks.  He's been very weak since his last round of chemotherapy last year, and he was in hospital for a bit last year for another chest infection.  It wasn't so much of a shock this time, as I'd seen him a couple of days beforehand and he was not in a good way then.  I feel a bit guilty as I haven't visited him yet this time, but my mum knows I find hospital visits quite difficult and she said not to worry, as I don't think she wants me to stress out too much over it.  I plan to try and 'man up' and visit him at the weekend if he's still in.

So, next week's target is to try and continue to get up in the morning, be grateful for the little wins and try to build upon them.  My husband's band has a gig on Friday night, which I'm really looking forward to.  As always, I'm a bit nervous about the number of people who could be there, so I'll try and report back next week on how it goes!

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Reviewing Feedback & Trying Not to Freeze!

Well, what a great response to my launch into the blogging community!  To be honest, I was a nervous wreck for the first few minutes after I posted it, until the responses started pouring in.  I’d spent quite a long time contemplating doing this anonymously (hence my picture on here is a drawing, rather than a photo).  I had many reasons for this, first and foremost being my apprehension about the reaction I would get from my nearest and dearest.  Being completely open and honest with someone who has known you for years seemed much more daunting than laying myself bare for some faceless reader on the other side of the world, especially as I had previously remained largely silent about my problems, perfecting the false smile and polite, mindless small talk to avoid even acknowledging, much less addressing, the sinister shadow lurking around me.  To put it bluntly, it felt like I’d been brazenly lying to them for the past decade.  I thought about a half-baked compromise, whereby I would blog as myself, but not publicise its presence to anyone I knew.  I swiftly came to the conclusion that this would have been largely counter-productive, as any negative recriminations would be further compounded if one of them stumbled across it by accident, especially if I was as frank as I had intended to be by doing it anonymously in the first place.

I was also concerned that I would not reach as many people as I would have liked by not utilising social media.  I use both Facebook and Twitter, but tend to keep Facebook more for “people I actually know”, as I tend to put it.  Putting the link up on there was the most daunting part, as I knew that old school friends, my parents and my in-laws would see it.  Let’s face it, these were the people I needed to open up to the most about it, and I was going to find doing it in writing a hell of a lot easier than I would do talking face-to-face with someone about it.  If I’m writing, no-one can tell if I’m crying at the same time, and I can continue to communicate coherently without my words being punctuated with sobs and snatched breaths.  I can get my point across without worrying about the other person’s immediate reaction too much.  Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s not so much that talking about it upsets me.  The tears are more... relief, really.  But once I start to cry, I start to worry that I’m garbling my words and not making sense, which then leads to what I’ve started to call “the crumple” – I get myself into such a state that I physically can’t talk, and I’ve yet to find any way to bounce back from that short of a good sleep.  Anyway, I feel I’m drifting from the point here.  I needn’t have worried.  Every single response I’ve had has been positive and supportive.  I’m thrilled that a few of my friends have even volunteered some of their own experiences.  I’ve only spoken to a couple of people who’ve seen this face to face since then, and I didn’t crumple.  In fact, I actually had a whacking great big grin across my face!  I’ve also had a great response on Twitter, largely thanks to Time to Change retweeting my link, which has helped me reach a wider audience.  I almost doubled my number of followers within the next day.

I must admit here that I’m finding this post a lot harder than the first one.  The first one was a mad rush of stream of consciousness typing, but I’m reading back and reviewing this one more thoroughly.  I’ve been working on it for days, to be honest.  Because of the overwhelming response I received, I’m aware that people are actually going to be reading this.  Writing is something deeply personal to me, and something I’m very proud of.  I’m not quite sure whether I’m more flattered by the praise about the subject matter I’m dealing with here, or the quality of the writing.  Both have made me determined to persevere with this, but not as much as knowing that a few people took a little comfort in my words.  When I first sat down to write this, that was my main goal, and opening up about myself was more of a coincidental bonus.  I’ve also not slept all that well in the last week, so I don’t quite feel like my brain is firing on all cylinders.  The first couple of days I was buzzing so much from the blog feedback that I could barely sit still, and kept running over ideas for the next post in my head.  Those have mostly made it into this post, but I’ve got a couple of ideas for future ones as well – I just wanted to make sure I thanked everyone for their support before getting into anything too heavy!  Anyway, I’ve barely got more than a couple of hours every night this week.

Other than lack of sleep, my main concern this week has been how sodding cold it is!  When I'm struggling to get up in the morning already, the added factor of the cold makes it that bit harder to motivate myself out of my lovely warm bed.  Temperature always seems to have had quite a bearing on my mood.  It's largely self-perpetuating as well - odd as it may sound, I tend not to really register that I'm cold until I lose feeling in my hands or feet, by which time it's a nightmare trying to get warm again.  As I get colder, I'm less inclined to do anything to warm myself up.  I think the part of me that constantly bitches at me, telling me I'm a useless, worthless and generally horrible person, thinks I deserve to suffer in the cold.  I've become more aware of this, so I've been making an effort to ensure I don't get too cold in the first place.  I'm currently sat here with a furry/fleecy blanket round me, taking regular breaks from typing to warm my hands up again, fuelled by copious quantities of tea.  I'm lucky enough to have a proper fireplace in my house, but I'm not too good at lighting it myself, so that doesn't tend to get done until my husband gets home from work in the evening.

Generally speaking, I think I've been doing a lot better this week, and I attribute much of that to the blog.  I've had something positive to focus on, and it's made the hard days seem that little bit easier, as I think "well, at least I have something to write about".  I had a lovely roast dinner with my family on Sunday, which always perks me right up.  I think an excellent meal with plenty of conversation, with people you truly love and care about, is hard to top in terms of feel good factor.  I took my car for MOT on Tuesday, which was quite a big thing for me in terms of independence.  It was nice just to get out of the house and feel I was doing something productive, really.  She didn't pass, unfortunately, but I'm off to the in-laws this evening to have a look at the couple of bits that need fixing.  I also had my second session of CBT, where we started looking at activities I've been avoiding, and I have an exercise to do this week where I try to tackle some of the less intimidating tasks, and log how I feel about them in terms of a sense of achievement, closeness to others and enjoyment.  I'll be interested to see what I find out through this one, and look forward to reporting back in next week's installment.

Thursday, 2 February 2012

A tentative toe dipped in the water...

Phew, right, where to start?

I've been motivated by Mind's recent advertising campaign, "Time to Change", to start sharing my own experiences of mental health issues.  This is something I've never really been comfortable talking about, except with a select circle of family and friends, and I've been thinking about why this is, as recently I've found reading and hearing about others' problems has been a great help to me - the old cliche springs to mind, knowing that "you are not alone".  I think it's partially because I didn't always find this to be the case.  When I first started experiencing problems with depression, in my mid-teens, I was deeply suspicious of anyone trying to tell me they knew "what I was going through".  How could anyone possibly know EXACTLY what I was feeling at that time?  Quite frankly, I found it incredibly patronising.  I am an individual, and I (perhaps arrogantly) believed that my brain was special and no-one else could really identify with the thoughts I was having.  I blamed my problems on "excess intelligence" and resented that my inquisitive nature had exposed me to the ugly injustices of the world, which I was just too damned sensitive a person to deal with.  I think, initially, I felt exasperated that I was being held back by having to go to school and finish my exams, when I felt I was past any help formal education could give me, and that I could be doing so much more with my life.  This then turned into hopelessness driven by the thought that maybe, just maybe, I wasn't anything all that special, and striving to be was pointless, so I may as well give up trying altogether.  I envied my classmates of more average academic ability, and my real mantra of the time was "ignorance is bliss".  I honestly believed that if I were more in line with what was deemed to be "normal", I'd be happier.

Looking back, I was a bit of a self-absorbed, precocious little prick back then!  But, as I've got older, I've found the silly little differences in my experiences are nothing compared to the big, stupid similarities.  And I've slowly started to come round to accepting my intelligence and empathy as gifts rather than curses, as they give me the ability both to look at things from a cold, analytical point of view and from an emotional point of view.  I think my biggest battle is to try and reconcile what I see as these two entirely disparate sides of my personality, and listen to both.  I tend to try and push aside my emotions as I seem them as irrational, having less validity than interpretation of hard facts.  To use a more geeky reference point (which you will probably come to see that I use a lot), I often wish I was Vulcan.  Adherence to pure logic and the purging of emotion appeals to me, as a sort of self-insulating technique to protect myself from psychological harm.

 I want to use this first post as a bit of a general overview, so forgive me for not going into masses of detail just yet.  If I did, I'd end up typing for days on end and not even scratch the surface of why I'm here.  I got over that first bout of depression with the help of my family and a bit of support from anti-depressants, but most of all with the help of a chap I met through friends, who, for reasons I could not understand back then, and still don't fully understand to this day, thought I was attractive and brilliant enough to pursue for months, until I felt stable and secure enough to open myself up to a relationship with him.  That turned out to be just what I needed, and with his gentle encouragement, I felt strong enough to wean myself off of the crutch of medication.  I've had a few more low points since then, but he has always been incredibly patient in helping me through it.  Although he'd had no prior experience of anyone with depression or any other mental health issues, he's always listened to what I'm saying, tried to understand what I am feeling, and learned to watch for slight changes in my general mood and behaviour, to the extent that he often knows I'm feeling down even before I realise it myself.  I've had a few smaller relapses since then, but we've managed them between us.  I've managed to function normally enough to hold down a good job for the last few years (despite having left school with pretty much no qualifications to my name, and with the added difficulty of my history of health problems, I am incredibly grateful to those who saw my potential and were willing to overlook these... well, black marks, against my name).  I've learnt to drive, bought a house, got married, and all sorts of things I never would have believed were possible in those dark early days.  I've generally been pretty happy.

However, a few months ago, I started having problems again.  At first, I didn't think they were in any way connected to my mental health - yes, I'd lost my previous job a few months before that, through no fault of my own (in common with many peoples' experience in the last few years, it was company restructuring/downsizing), but I'd managed to walk straight into another job, thanks to a colleague from my previous job's recommendation, where I felt comfortable.  I started having horrendous stomach cramps, vomiting frequently, and when not vomiting, constantly dry retching.  I'd had similar problems for a couple of months about two years previously, which no cause was ever found for, although I'd undergone plenty of medical examination (an endoscopy being the highlight of this - already having a pretty strong gag reflex, I had to be sedated for it, and I'd count it as one of the more traumatic experiences of my life!).  This cleared up after a few months of antacid and anti-emetic tablets.  I went to my GP and started treatment for acid reflux again, as it seemed to be much the same thing.  However, this didn't really seem to help, and after a few more visits to my GP she noted that I didn't really seem my usual perky self, and referred back to my old records which highlighted I'd previously had treatment for depression.  I'd not really considered it until this point, but I started crying right there in the doctors office.  It all made sense all of a sudden.  Now, this was just before Christmas, so I feel it's a bit too soon to say for certain whether my stomach problems were caused by poor mental health, or whether the stomach problems have led me to become depressed.  I've been on Fluoxetine (more commonly known as prozac) since then, and, to be honest, I've seen little improvement on either the psychological or physical fronts.  I started seeing a CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapist) specialist earlier this week, and am hopeful this will be just the push I need to better understand myself and start towards more healthy thought processes.

Well, I think this is a good start.  I want to try a post to this blog about once a week - I know from past experience that trying to commit to anything more than that is overambitious!