Mind over Matter

Day 695 – Fear of Absence

Fear (noun): An unpleasant emotion caused by the threat of danger, pain, or harm. A feeling of anxiety concerning the outcome of something or the safety of someone. (verb): Avoid doing something because one is afraid.
Absence (noun): The state, occasion or period of being away from a place or person. 
https://en.oxforddictionaries.com

Well, I suppose I did just that by allowing myself to take time off work on the advice of my manager. Although I didn’t feel THAT bad, I felt stuck in my own, self-imposed prison of fear. Fear of failure, of losing control, of losing respect, of losing work, my identity and my sanity.

I didn’t think I felt ill enough for me to warrant time off work, assessing each day if this was it, but the mere thought of taking time off made me ill. Catch 22, caught between a rock and a hard place.

And it was damn hard to give in and equally took my manager a lot of persuasion. In the end I’m grateful for her kind and understanding support as I feel much better having overcome this hurdle. However, the fact that my work continued with the extra help of my dear colleagues and didn’t have to be cancelled as feared, which had been a major worry of mine, was a big contributing factor that allowed be to finally sit back and relax.

I know that it is unrealistic of me to maintain a zero policy for sickness absence as the subsequent anxiety this creates additional to my already excising anxiety around fear of failure is unnecessary and quite frankly silly. I see now how most problems can be solve, even if I can’t see that at the time. I just need to remember to talk and ask for help cos that is okay to do. And the fear I feel prior to asking for help, admitting that I need time out, facing my fear and admitting failure, is the worst compared to the results which will quite likely be not all that bad.

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Day 678 – Normal

Normal (adjective): Conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected; (of a person) free from physical or mental disorders; (of a line, ray, or other linear feature) intersecting a given line or surface at right angles.
Origin: Mid 17th century (in the sense ‘right-angled’): from Latin normalis, from norma ‘carpenter’s square’ (see norm).
https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/normal

I long to be normal. In the way of being free from physical and mental disorders, not so much in the linear, straight forward, boring kind of way. Yet at the same time I loathe people who say that it is normal to feel the way I feel. They are trying to be nice, helpful, supportive. They don’t know it any better. They draw on their own personal experiences and use those to help you.

But it isn’t the same kind of helplessness, sadness, tiredness that you experience when something in your life goes wrong. For starters, it is there just for the sakes of it. There isn’t always a reason. There might be triggers, but even if they are identified it can sit on top of you and smother any sense of hope or zap any last shimmer of light from your world. And then there is nothing left but darkness. Are you telling me that this is normal?

What exactly are you trying to say? That it is normal to have this dry lump sitting in my throat but no tears to cry while still smiling? That it is normal to dread going to a social event and even if I go to feel like I’m trapped inside a tiger’s enclosure? That it is normal I feel I have to act on every new idea or suggestion right there and then and if I don’t I will beat myself up for missing out a great opportunity?

Is it indeed normal that I can’t think straight and every word I say has taken what feels like a million years to be carefully chosen and presented and then still to worry that I said the wrong thing? That it is normal to still think about long gone arguments and still play out different scenarios and alternative endings?  Is it normal to think that everyone is talking about you behind your back?

Is it normal to keep noticing my fingers are once again in a tight grip only when they begin to hurt? That it is normal to avoid eye contact out of fear that someone might actually want to talk to me? That it is normal to not want to talk to people even if I really need directions or can’t find what I need? That it is normal to go into various shops and leave soon after empty handed because I felt like if I don’t leave immediately I will never make it out again alive? That it is normal to avoid meeting friends because I wouldn’t know what to say or talk about anyway? Is it normal that you feel overwhelmed when a colleague asks you to confirm their 60th birthday party

Is it normal to either overeat or restrict your diet depending on how you feel? That it is normal you can’t stand to hear and see others eat? To worry certain foods will make me ill so I actually feel ill before I even eat them? That it is normal you absentmindedly let slip “I want to die” if you can’t find anything you fancy on the pudding menu? That it is normal that you let your boyfriend pay for all your meals out because you can’t handle the awkwardness of giving a tip? That it is normal to not know whether you do or don’t love your boyfriend because you simply can’t feel anything? Is it normal to look for a new place to live  every now and again because you somehow convinced yourself that your relationship doesn’t work anymore?

Is it normal to put off having a shower because it is too much effort? That it is normal to be unable to travel to see your family due to sheer mental and emotional overload? To not sit down on the train as you might not be able to get out without talking to people? Or to faint on a fully packed train? Is it normal to lose interest in your hobbies because you fail to see the point in any of it? Is it normal that you don’t answer the phone unless the call is expected? Or not to answer the door bell unless you know who it is?

Do you think it’s normal to take antidepressants to at least attempt to deal with any of these? Is it normal to self harm? Is it normal for your heart to beat so much you feel out of breath even though you are lying in bed trying to sleep? To shout for help in your head when waiting in a very slow cue in the shops? Is it normal to go blank when someone asks you a question? To feel like you’re carrying bricks in your gut?

Is it normal to feel trapped, to literally run away when things get on top of you, to feel like being executed when criticised and to feel a huge electric shock at the mere thought of having forgotten something? Is it normal to jumble your words because your mind is racing and your short-term memory doesn’t work? To still fear the dark? To keep smiling because you don’t want to give away how sad and lost you actually feel out of fear that nobody will understand because there is actually no reason to feel that way? That it is normal to plan your own death because you can’t bear that turmoil and pain anymore?

Is it normal to still feel tired after having slept thirteen hours? Is it normal to feel overwhelmed and tensed up when entering the town centre or the office? That everything feels ten times harder than it probably should?

Sure, some of these will be normal to some people at some point. But all of these, on continuous loop, all of the time amount to a lot of anxiety. So when people say that it is normal to feel the way I feel, not only does my memory not allow for much recollection of the carefully written words above, but also does my anxiety cause a major blackout during which I simply smile and carry on.

And that ain’t normal either!

I feel misunderstood without the right words to explain how I really feel. So other than waiting for some medications and therapy that are actually working, I have no other solution. I have tried most things of the conventional and alternative and am still none the wiser.

I have long played the game of “being normal”, to fit in, even to not fit in, to be different, but I don’t seem to belong anywhere and the symptoms are just getting worse. Two more weeks until my psychiatric review, and maybe we will learn yet something new.

 

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Day 675 – Escitalopram and Propranolol

“Escitalopram belongs to a group of medicines called SSRI antidepressants. It is prescribed for the treatment of some mood and anxiety disorders. These are depression, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, generalised anxiety disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Escitalopram works by regulating the level of a certain chemical in your brain, called serotonin”.
https://patient.info/medicine/escitalopram-for-mood-and-anxiety-disorders-cipralex

“Propranolol belongs to the group of medicines known as beta-blockers. It is a medicine which is used to treat several different medical conditions. It works on the heart and blood vessels by slowing down the activity of your heart by stopping messages sent by some nerves to your heart. Propranolol is also prescribed to help ease the physical symptoms of anxiety, such as a fast heartbeat and trembling”. 
https://patient.info/medicine/propranolol-a-beta-blocker

Two weeks after seeing the psychiatrist and starting the new medications I finally begin to reduce the dreadful Mirtazapine. And although I feel more tired, overall I’ve been feeling better already after a couple of days, which I largely believe to be due to the calming effect of Propranolol. Why did nobody suggest I take this before? It’s as if my body doesn’t have to work so hard keeping up with my racing heart and instead can focus on other things. I just feel a bit more rested. Escitalopram promises to have less side effects, especially not the kind of appetite Mirtazapine brought upon me!

But my mood has been more down again too over the past couple of days. It’s annoying, it’s tiring, it’s quite frankly unnecessary but quite clearly unavoidable. So what do I do? Carry on, tell myself to see how it goes tomorrow, give it just another couple of days, another week. I know that I’m still adjusting to the new medication and that coming off the old medication is expected to cause some side effects. I know…

I just wish it was over, that I didn’t need to feel so low and tired and irritable all the time. That I could just be “normal”. So I’m trying my best and simply sit it out this weekend, spending most of it in bed, with the adorable support of my cat who once again takes over most of the space!

IMG_3218

Live blogging update

Day 675 written in retrospect for 07/03/2018.

 

 

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Day 672 – The Psychiatrist

Psychiatrist (noun): “A medical practitioner specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness.”
https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/psychiatrist

And then I finally saw a psychiatrist. I was hopeful to finally be given the chance to be properly assessed and yet at the same time I was quite terrified what he might find, as I always associated psychiatrists with mean professors in white coats that pump you full of medication and leave you to rot in a padded cell.

But I was relieved to be greeted by a really kind and open doctor that seemed to ask all the right questions and suggested we focus on the current situation instead of going too far into the past just yet. That alone actually made all the difference as I hadn’t realised how far behind today I actually was, digging around in the dark, looking for answers to explain why I felt so bad. He changed my medication to a combination of an antidepressant and a beta blocker and made me hopeful that I am on the right track to getting this under control.

I also had an informal chat with our psychologist at work who noticed from what I said about feeling so overwhelmed by all the past events that were uncovered during past counselling and CBT sessions, that talking therapies might not be the right solution for me. Albeit they help at the time, while talking things through, they don’t have any lasting effect and I just seem to dig up dirt that doesn’t settle. Something I never gave much thought to before.

We pondered that maybe it wasn’t a mental health condition after all that is causing me these problems but “merely” a hyper aroused nervous system which the beta blockers will calm down. I had to laugh at that insight and the possibility that I could have an extrovert autonomic nervous system with an introvert personality. It would once again be yet another excellent explanation for this persistent battle within me. The constant command to go and fight immediately opposed by the instruction to stop and retreat.

Armed with two new packs of pills I am willing to give it another go in my attempt to claim victory over this never ending battle.We shall see.

Day 672 written in retrospect for 20/02/2018.

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Day 671 – Faith

Faith (mass noun): “Complete trust or confidence in someone or something.”
https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/faith

While on my little relaxing getaway in Scarborough I had plenty of time for soul searching, ruminating, looking for the bigger picture and hidden answers. I pull myself to a halt every time as I am sick and tired of it. I have spent the majority of my life believing in some sort of higher guidance and explored many different believe systems and felt important enough to believe I was on some special journey to God knows where (no pun intended) and that I could make a difference to humanity.

In fact, my only reason to carry on living after each low episode has been to help others, as I felt so helpless myself. There has never been a good reason to live other than to be there for others that are struggling. Now I have reached exhaustion point and fear that I spent all my live simply going from one fanatic psychosis to another.

They call it “Messiah Complex” when you believe you have a special task to save the world. How can anyone possibly tell the difference between reality and make-believe when it comes to your core believes? This really puts me in a very tricky situation out of which I don’t know any way out. So I simply abandon all faith and believe about everything and sit it out, hoping for someone to set the record straight and pull me out of this black hole.

I worry that I will be seen as a complete lunatic if I tell anyone about my need to save the world and at the same time I get really angry at anybody that re-affirms my believe and offers spiritual guidance and well meant holistic advice or support.

I probably have simply once again overwhelmed myself with too much information on my search for the truth.  My human brain can’t keep up with it. Like I said before, this is either the biggest crisis in faith or simply a nervous breakdown. Both are essentially the same, just that with faith it is said to test you, to see where you are, before it lets you progress to the next level, which brings me back to the beginning, that I still believe there is something to be gained here…

It’s just that there is no right or wrong answer here. You either believe or you don’t . At the moment I rather don’t because to believe raises too many questions and I am too exhausted to keep searching. There is a point to be maid that to believe is just as simple as not to believe. No questions asked or answers needed. But that just doesn’t feel right for me.

This feeling of right and wrong, that has been there for all my life, been guiding me, made decisions for me, what is that based on? Is it really a gift, a connection to the higher realms or simply an instinct, a primal urge to follow the safest route? How will I know that this isn’t higher guidance but possibly some form of autism or personality disorder? Not even “just” my perfectionism that I feel the strong urge for things to be a certain way and to feel uncomfortable if they are not and even get angry if there is nothing I can do about it?

If there are no coincidences and no higher guidance, then why is the code to my hotel room 357? 35 my age as of this week, starting a new year 7 cycle. I managed to ignore it and not let it carry me out onto a mind-blowing journey of self-discovery of which I’ve had had way too many. But I can’t deny that I see it as a sign.

I find it difficult at this point to listen to all those theories and possibilities as it overwhelms me and makes me feel confused. It’s just too much to take in. What I find helpful at the moment are clear guidelines and measured outcomes, which the clinical route offers. What I find hardest is to ask for help and accept that the support might not be what I would want it to be. I have to make peace with that fear inside of me to be misjudged and misunderstood and not get better straight away. I need to learn to have patience and accept whatever comes my way, to trust that it will be for the best.

I feel like I need to reset myself, back to basics. I need clarity, structure and as time goes on I might be able to adorn these bleak walls with some colourful quotes and pictures of other helpful support mechanisms. But first comes the base stone, then the colourful wimple on the roof. 

So here I am, trying to escape my higher purpose and surrender myself to my darkest thoughts. Maybe that’s simply what I have to do. Just surrender and see what happens. I’m scared, of course I’m scared. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Maybe there isn’t even anything wrong with me after all. But honestly, I don’t know what is worse: having a confirmed mental health condition or nothing at all to explain why I feel the way I do.

So take it slowly, one step at a time. Don’t overload yourself. Look after yourself. I know at the moment it feels like there are a thousand monsters inside of you who are all screaming for attention but you can only take one at a time, look at it, understand it, accept it and let it go. You will find the right support. Just be patient. Relax. Enjoy the journey of life. Once on the other side you can look back and understand it all. At the moment you are just stuck a little in the middle of the woods. Just keep following the path and you will soon be able to see the light. Don’t’ be frightened by all the strange sounds and shadows the forest harbours. They are natural. You have to accept them and see them as part of the forest. Just like you have to accept your monsters to be part of yourself. That is not pleasant at times but it is just the way it is at the moment. Now rest, sleep, recover and continue with new strength and extra support along your fantastic journey that is your life.

Day 671 written in retrospect for 19/02/2018.

 

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Day 670 – Relaxation

Relaxation (mass noun): “Recreation or rest, especially after a period of work; the state of being free from tension and anxiety; the loss of tension in a part of the body, especially in a muscle when it ceases to contract; in Physics the restoration of equilibrium following disturbance.” https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/relaxation

After the six hour train journey it takes a mere two hours, an Indian Head Massage and a beautiful three course vegan and gluten free dinner later and I am already totally relaxed. Welcome to Scarborough’s Fountains Court, Centre for Wellbeing. It is amazing how much calmer it makes you feel!

Scarborough is a truly beautiful place! Sandy beaches, a quieter North Bay and a busier South Bay with the usual seaside amusements and the occasional sweet scent of candyfloss carried by the wind. A castle ruin majestically resided on the high cliff in-between the two bays and the town consisted of an eclectic mix of beautiful old Victorian buildings, including the old Spa and the well and truly grand Grand Hotel, and the usual high-street shops.

I’m calming down, exploring new areas, am away from my usual places and routines, left to my own devices. It helps me to relax, but that grey shadow is still right behind me and the lump in my throat makes enough appearances to ensure I don’t forget about it.

Overall I had a lovely time in Scarborough, discovering both bays, the castle headland, Ravenscar walk along the cliffs, Peasholm Park, the old spa, harbour, market hall and enjoyed lovely treatments at the hotel. From the initial welcoming Indian Head Massage to the Balinese Massage on my silent day to Qigong and foot detox it was just one heavenly day after another.

Scarborough South Bay

I was humbled by the natural effortless ways the hotel was run and maintained. The atmosphere is just so friendly and welcoming that you instantly feel at home. Not to forget the fantastic food, the extra effort with special requests and that nothing was too much to ask. The hotel has a very homely feel and it was just the right place for me to escape to  and rest for a little while.

And I may not have reached a complete state of being free from all tensions and anxieties but the welcome recreation and rest helped to loosen my aching muscles and restore at least some of my equilibrium for me to carry on.

Day 670 written in retrospect for 18/02/2018.

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Day 654 – Happy Birthday

Happy (adjective): Feeling or showing pleasure or contentment.
Birthday (noun): The anniversary of the day on which a person was born, typically treated as an occasion for celebration and the giving of gifts.
https://en.oxforddictionaries.com

(spoiler alert: the below is an unnecessary whinge that is probably best avoided)

35 today – congratulations, half-way to 70! Besides collecting my medication and having a grand three course breakfast, including cake, I have done very little so far. Didn’t even shower (though it’s day three and I probably should have). The weather is gloriously beautiful and I’m secretly jealous of it cos I wish I could enjoy it as much as it promises.

News have also reached me this morning that I’ve finally been given an appointment with the psychiatrist next week and am adamant I’m going to take double the dose of antidepressants from tonight to get on top of this dreadfully sad nothingness I’ve been feeling over the last four days, regardless of whether my GP is getting back to me to confirm.

For heaven’s sake, I’m on annual leave, for crying out loud! I should be having the time of my life. But instead I’m a self-loathing heap of pity, cowering on the sofa, munching birthday cake while watching TV all on my own, blogging annoying sob stories. Disgusting really.

Well, I do remember my 22nd birthday, one of those random thoughts swirling around in my dilapidated brain, living in a student’s house at the time, and despite there being a get-together for coffee and cake in the afternoon I refused to shower and even get dressed – yes, I wore my pyjamas ALL day!

Looking back, especially seeing photos of the day, it serves as a cringe worthy reminder that I have been in and out of this dark hole for many more years than I whish I could remember. And although I can still emphasise with my 13 year younger self, I didn’t realise how bad I had been back then already.

I recently dug up some pretty dark and desolate poetry from around that time. I clearly wasn’t right, maybe I never was to begin with. They started 20 years ago. I was 15! But compared to now, back then I still had plenty of energy to pull myself together and get on with it. Fight that teenage angst!

And so I did. And here I am, 13 years  later, 20 years later. A total and utter 35 year old heap of mess.

Happy Birthday!

PS: Thoughts below from my 21 year old self:

Do you know that painful scream of silence

Deep in your head

That eats away at every twist and turn of your brain

And removes any incentive for thoughts?

Do you know how it feels

When the smallest sound in the night

Is transformed into loud thunder

Rumbling along your ear canal

That upsets your heartbeat

And causes your hands to tremble

Like ancient walls during a storm?

You should know

That tiredness alone is no reason for sleep.

Fatigue of your mind

Only takes place after done work.

Eyes

Open with fear and terror

Won’t rest

Until the war is over

And sacred silence has settled.

PPS: Granny’s simple wisdom just now: “One just has to take what life throws in front of you.”

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Day 652 – The Waterfall Analogy

Waterfall (noun): A cascade of water falling from a height, formed when a river or stream flows over a precipice or steep incline.
Analogy (noun): Comparison between one thing and another, typically for the purpose of explanation or clarification.
https://en.oxforddictionaries.com

Life never flows in a straight line, that’s just not how it works. Some deal with the odd bend better than others. Some have help and get on with it. Others get on with it regardless but still struggle. Life shouldn’t be a struggle, or rather, it doesn’t have to be. What comes to mind is the joyful moments spent as a child by the water during summer holidays, splashing around, laughing, teasing each other. That for me resembles a worriless life.

Call me naïve, but I find myself longing for that feeling, I just can’t get it back into my life. Although I’m floating on some sort of makeshift raft, made of coping mechanisms I gathered through soul searching and from therapy sessions, I still feel lonely and scared, confused to say the least, unsure where to steer my raft to and which areas to avoid, until after a while it naturally begins to disintegrate, breaking apart from damages by various hidden rocks under water, more closely resembling other’s hurting comments and life’s general ups and downs, and finally being torn to pieces by others who are already in the water, having lost their own rafts, and clinging to me for dear life in hope I could save them. But I can’t help others anymore. I’m not strong enough.

And here I am, swimming in the river of life, at times struggling, other times finding some time to rest and recover on small islands on the way, but as soon as I get back into the water, hoping to get myself back to the jolly and fun shallow waters of the nearby beach, a current grabs me and pulls me away. I call for help, I manage to hold on for a little while, get washed further down once again, and of course there comes the point of fatigue where I think: “What’s the point? Might as well just drown here and now”.

But of course that is a scary thought and it isn’t an easy decision to make. It’s somewhat helpful that the solution to all this struggle is there, almost reassuring, but ultimately there is that last bit of hope that keeps me going, all those good memories of the past and those grand plans for the future.

So I keep swimming and suddenly notice the stream getting faster and wilder and I realise I’m heading straight towards a huge waterfall. I panic, an actual panic attack, I suddenly fear for my life because it looks like I’m powerless and for once worry that everyone will think that I did this on purpose, possibly planned this, and then I’m getting really angry at the injustice that it wasn’t time yet, that I wasn’t ready, and yet I feel powerless that there is nothing I can do.

So I swim harder, with all the last energy I have left and I shout for help, clinging onto everything I can find (GP, self-referrals for CBT, friends, colleagues), but to no avail. There comes the point where I have no energy left to fight the inevitable and I resolve to my destiny, that it is easier to just “go with the flow” down the waterfall, as it has become the easier option to all these struggles. It almost feels calm and somewhat beautiful. No more need to worry about what others may think, as it isn’t going to change anything anyway.

Just floating along until I fall over the edge of the waterfall and I fall and fall but I never seem to arrive at the bottom. And once again I get terribly angry as I thought this would be the end after all and now I’m trapped somewhere, nowhere, where there is no going back nor going forward and this is incredibly frustrating, nothing like the promised peaceful end of all struggles.

Now what do I do?

After a while of this endless fall I gain a little more energy again and I wonder if it is worth shouting for help again. Just one more time. So I do, but I only get my own echo back. But a strange sense of hope arises and it says that surely someone will come and rescue me at some point. It may just need a little bit of time.

Essentially this is where I am now. I’ve made the necessary call for help, again, and it gives me enough hope to hang on for a little while longer until help arrives.

Just hang in there.

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Day 616 – Pandora’s Box

Pandora’s Box (ancient Greek mythology): a metaphor in our modern languages, and the proverbial phrase refers to a source of endless complications or trouble arising from a single, simple miscalculation. www.thoughtco.com/what-was-pandoras-box-118577

Essentially I had another panic attack late one Friday just after New Years while still at work. It came over me during a crying fit cos I felt trapped in the confusing world of manmade obligations and social responsibilities that I felt I couldn’t keep up with. I felt it coming on, feet, hands and lips tingling, feeling giddy, cold shivers and I worried I would faint and bang my head somewhere and die a lonely death. So I just lay myself down there and then, on the floor, in my office, trying to calm myself with deep breathing – and it turns out to be quite difficult to deep breathe during a crying fit, especially when lying flat on the floor!

In short, I didn’t die just yet but as I also felt so terribly weak once again I knew I couldn’t walk to the train station to get home, so I figured I call for a first aider who might be able to help me get over it. Boy I was not prepared for the entourage of people to arrive, I nearly died out of sheer embarrassment. But it did help for someone to be there and they even kindly organised a lift home for me (however embarrassing…)

Reflecting on what brought this on, it became clear to me that I’ve pretended for far too long that everything was okay and that I’m doing just fine. I believed that if I pretend all is fine, all has to be fine. If the only person who knows the secret hides it well, the secret has no chance to be exposed and therefore technically doesn’t exist. If you believe this, others will believe it.

However, I never thought of what kind of effect this would have on me some time down the line. It is clear to see what impact this has on myself, anyone really, mentally, emotionally, even physically, not to forget the very environment and social circles affected by my behaviour.

As with anything in existence in the known universe: what goes around comes around. And it is not surprising that my panic attacks are simply my body’s way to try and rid itself of this unhealthy and ill-making black core that lies hidden so deep within me that even I myself couldn’t see it. It was only ever noticeable as this horrid dark feeling of dread that washes over me at random intervals.

Well, it looks like Pandora’s Box has been found and, although it isn’t a very pleasant feeling, I’m hopeful that I will be able to learn from it. Help is always available, one just has to ask and trust. Trusting people can be hard. Living with a heavy black box in your gut, however, so much harder. So open up, talk to others, tell them how you feel, express your thoughts and emotions and you will find that life is so much more than just existence.

According to the Greek myths around Pandora’s Box, after all evils had been released into the world, it is hope that is the last thing left within, the last thing needed to survive.

Good luck!

Day 616 written in retrospect for 05/01/2018.

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Day 604 – Mirtazapine

“Mirtazapine is an antidepressant. The way this medication works is still not fully understood. It is thought to positively affect communication between nerve cells in the central nervous system and/or restore chemical balance in the brain. Mirtazapine is used to treat major depressive disorder”.
www.drugs.com

Back from my trip to Germany (still feeling flat and tired), having told my GP about the collapse and panic attack (read blog post here), he suggested I try another type of medication and to sign up for some more CBT. I did try to explain to him that I felt merely taking medication and having CBT isn’t going to help with whatever it is that’s wrong with me. But you see, I find it difficult to explain myself when it comes to my feelings, especially when I feel that essentially I don’t have a right to make demands (it’s complicated). So he simply said I should see how I get on with the new medication and CBT and to see him again in three weeks.

Boy did they make me drowsy! I could literally hardly wake up the first few days and particularly the first morning after having taken the first tablet, I was in a whole other world. Unfortunately it was Christmas Eve and we had arranged to meet a couple of friends for lunch and all I could do was sit there and smile absentmindedly. Like I had left my brain at home to sleep. And I felt giddy, soo woozy, could hardly keep myself upright on my feet.

I still feel dizzy now, nearly four weeks later. And out of breath. I know I’m not the fittest but for crying out loud, I shouldn’t have to gasp for air after two set of stairs! And then these strange tingling and numbness in fingers, feet and my face. Especially when I turn my head while I walk, I go all fuzzy.

Worst of all though, the first listed side effect is “increased appetite and weight gain” and I have been eating like a pig the past few weeks! Not just over Christmas, that’s normal. But these weird and wonderful cravings, after months of poor appetite (which really helped me to lose a few kilograms), as if my taste buds had suddenly found a connection to that part of my brain where memories are stored and keep sending these sudden tantalising bursts of flavours to my tongue…. I’m just not strong enough to fight it!

On top of it all, another of my New Year’s Resolutions aimed at making life less stressful for myself, I decided that this year I’m not even going to TRY to be vegan as I figured it’s causing me more stress and anxiety than it is doing anyone any good. And also I came to the conclusion that all my carefully self-diagnosed food intolerances are basically unfounded and, if anything, rather an eating disorder, since I’ve been restricting my diet in the believe I was cutting out food that was making me ill without realising that actually I was continuously triggering my anxiety by checking ALL labels and every ingredient while blissfully believing I was doing myself a favour.

So yes, now that there is no stopping me to eat whatever I want, with the unhelpful support of my medication’s side effect, the weight is going up and up and up …

In regards to mood or anxiety/depression I actually feel worse. Am in some weird place in my head with plenty of irrational thoughts and my short term memory is presently running at an gestimated average of 25%. It basically only remembers what it has heard before. Anything else simply doesn’t get registered, hence I spend a lot of time double checking stuff as well as looking for stuff that I just can’t recall having seen anywhere. Where could my blue jumper possibly have gone in-between me taking it off the washing line and putting it into the washing basket??!!

I can’t follow conversations longer than 30 seconds and last time I went shopping I felt like a little goldfish trapped in a glass bowl unable to remember what I had already looked for and what I had come in for in the first place.

(BTW I don’t actually smoke or drink so make that a pack of triple chocolate cookies and, well, another one of those)

It’s a shame really. I was actually quite motivated to come of my medications and, similar to the past few times when instead the dosage was raised, I now even ended up with a whole other medication to adapt to. I don’t want to. Be dependant on medication. Really. But despite all the peculiar and annoying side effects it did give me back a little of my stagnant motivation to get up and do things (dizziness permitting) and they do at least keep me that little bit more above water to look out for a better place and time.

For how long for, only God knows.

Day 604 written in retrospect for 24/12/2017.

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Day 597 – Collapse

Noun: A physical or mental breakdown.
Verb: (of a person) fall down and become unconscious as a result of illness or injury.
Origin: Early 17th century (as collapsed): from medical Latin collapsus, past participle of collabi, from col- ‘together’ + labi ‘to slip’.
https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/collapse

Concerned and worried voices, questions, suggestions, someone or another pulling me about this way, then the other, my breathing hard and strained, too hot, dizzy, wedged in the narrow train corridor, hunkering down on the ground – the sudden realisation I must have fainted – but my body just didn’t want to respond. First they tried to stand me up, then decided to lay me down onto the floor, realising I was very hot and clammy, removing my coat, finally pulling me up onto a seat with my feet raised on someone’s lap.

I heard all the baffled conversations still going on, my poor boyfriend trying to explain himself in English to a loaded train full of worried Germans, all eager to help, trying to make them understand that I too was German and they could talk to me in their own language. Just I couldn’t make myself properly heard.

My breathing was still fast, sharp, laboured. My speech nearly inaudible, the words slurred, my eyes still simply didn’t want to open. Someone sprayed water in my face. Another wanted to give me biscuits to get my blood sugar up. I answered some questions with vague nods or shaking of my head. I was still gasping for air, the dizziness really not helping. My hands and feet were tingling and my nose and upper lip were strangely numb.

I was pushed, pulled, half carried off the train by what felt like everyone on the packed train carriage at the next stop and sat onto a bench at the station. I was a little less dizzy and communication became easier but I now started shaking and feeling quite cold and my eyelids were still too heavy to open them.

So my first ride in an ambulance and I didn’t see much, not even what the paramedics looked like. They strapped me into the seat, checked my vitals and blood glucose and told me to slow my breathing as I was hyperventilating – I actually didn’t realise I was breathing too much but thought I was keeping my breathing under control!

We had been on the way to meet friends and got onto the delayed overcrowded train with me already feeling stressed and overwhelmed from a week of visiting family and friends in different areas of the country, having driven over from the UK via ferry. My medication had been increased for the second time only a month earlier and quite frankly I was tired and exhausted on top of increased symptoms of anxiety and depression which the medication didn’t touch.

I could feel it getting too much for me on the train, standing squashed together in the corridor, nowhere to go, nowhere to hide – only half an hour, only half an hour, it won’t be long, it will be okay, just keep breathing, calm down, breathe – wherever I looked I saw faces and phone screens. Unfortunately I didn’t take my MP3 player with me to help me calm down.

Then I started to feel sick and worried what I would do if I had to throw up. My breathing increased, I got hot and started sweating, my legs began to feel shaky and then I could literally feel the blood drain from my face and you already know what happened next.

In the emergency department I was checked over again but nothing abnormal was found and after having had the opportunity to lie down for a while I started to feel better and was able to talk normally and finally even open my eyes. But I was left feeling as if I hadn’t slept for weeks, tired and mangled.

On day 52 I first mentioned the onset of panic attacks (read the post here), but until now I never actually fainted, and maybe I wouldn’t have if I have had another way of escaping. Since the physical escape wasn’t an option, my mind buckled instead. Fair enough.

Now, what I have learned from this experience, as well as what made my New Year’s resolution for 2018, is that I need to prioritise myself, look after myself and be kind and gentle to myself. As part of that I also made the decision to not travel to Germany this year for my annual visit. I have noticed over the past few years that it caused me more stress than it gave me opportunity to have my well earned annual leave and rest.

This incident made me realise that I don’t have to do anything but instead can choose what I do and don’t do based on whether something makes me happy or serves a purpose. And if it doesn’t make me happy but still needs to be done, well, then I will have to outweigh the advantages from the disadvantages.

But I can guarantee you that it won’t be that simple but I feel it is important for me to change my mindset in order to make the right decision for myself instead of doing something that I feel I should do albeit I mentally, emotionally and physically don’t feel up for it.

This I have clearly described to my family and friends in Germany in a detailed email and from the responses I had so far it was worth it. Not all of them had been aware of my struggles with anxiety and I confess that it was not always easy for me to talk about it, since until now I firmly believed if I pretend everything is just fine that it will indeed be just fine. Which I now realise is a dangerous Fata Morgana, projected by my very own mind, which has basically now told me that it can’t do that anymore. So off to another chapter, another year. Let’s see how many more days I will count on antidepressants.

Happy New Year everyone!

Day 597 written in retrospect for 16/12/2017.

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Day 542 – Trigger

Noun: An event that is the cause of a particular action, process, or situation.
Verb: (especially of something read, seen, or heard) distress (someone), typically as a result of arousing feelings or memories associated with a particular traumatic experience.
Origin: Early 17th century: from dialect tricker, from Dutch trekker, from trekken ‘to pull’.

https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/trigger

The world is full of hidden triggers just waiting for you to step on. You never know where they are, how they will reveal themselves, how you will behave. And yet the reaction is always the same: an electric jolt bursting through your nervous system kindling a sickening sensation deep in your gut followed by light headedness, weak knees, confusion, eyes widened with shock. “Did this really just happen?” 

Unfortunately this reaction can be totally out of proportion to something someone sais in the spur of the moment, as a joke, without any bad intention. Then what do you do? Just carry on? Pretend it didn’t happen? Smile like you always do? How can you be better prepared or even stop yourself from being triggered so easily and repeatedly?

“You are normalising this. It’s not normal”, I was told once when trying to explain why I was likening someone’s suggestion to near enough emotional abuse. Interestingly, they were just as much triggered by this as I was by their original remark to do something for them, expecting me to put their happiness above my own ill feelings about the situation and then expecting an apology.

So, so complicated…

The thing is, I have been on double the dose of medication now for a year longer than I had intended and all the therapy I have had has had no lasting effect and even my own exercises aimed at calming and looking after myself are not stopping myself from being triggered by nearly everyone I meet all the time.

The above mentioned trigger set me back a long way, down the dark hole, from which I find it incredibly hard to get of again. And why is that? Surely I should be able to stand above this by now?

But no, I feel peculiarly estranged and disengaged from myself, nauseous, panicky, tired, irritable. I can’t focus properly and easily forget what I was just about to do. My mind is on a trip on it’s own to God knows where and I can’t keep up with it.

My last bit of healthy common sense says that this is the time to reach out, to ask for help, to talk about it. But another part in me says that it is actually not that bad, that I can still carry on, that it will surely get better soon, that I should grow up and get on with it. Nobody is going to take me serious anyway.

What’s at the base of it all? Is there possibly still more to be discovered?

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Day 396 – Communication

Communication (noun): The imparting or exchanging of information by speaking, writing, or using some other medium. The successful conveying or sharing of ideas and feelings.
Origin: Late Middle English: from Old French comunicacion, from Latin communicatio(n-), from the verb communicare ‘to share’.
https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/communication

On day 19 I wrote about the phenomenon so aptly described by the late Sally Brampton as the “Throat Monster” (read my blog post). I had mostly forgotten about it, yet about a year later it re-emerged. To clarify what I’m talking about, in case you can’t be bothered to read it yourself, it’s a lump sensation in your throat, similar to the sensation you get before you cry. A Globus Hystericus.

Humbly did I acknowledge it’s return, wondering what had brought it on. I couldn’t recall having had any sad or distressing events recently. But there it was, sitting quite noticeably with all it’s sharp edges wedged right inside my throat. Why had it come back?

I figured I refresh my mind on the phenomenon and re-read day 19 myself. And I opened the link (http://drsandraefenster.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/globus-hystericus_21.html) I had added and there it was, the answer that explained it’s recurrence so simply and easily: “That lump in your throat is a symptom, an emotional symptom, a lump of unexpressed feelings converted into a physical sensation”.

That’s about right, I figured. I had indeed been keeping my feelings and thoughts to myself because I didn’t feel I had a right to express them since I didn’t want to upset anyone, upsetting myself instead. Dr Fenster describes in the above link how dear old Freud saw symptoms as a compromise between two different parts of the mind: one wants to openly communicate a feeling, the other says something like “that’s stupid, weak, unacceptable” and bars the feeling from your awareness. The agreement between these opposing parts is a symptom, a lump, conveying the feeling in a disguised way.

So, what is it that this lump in my throat is trying to say? It says I’m angry and feel unfairly treated and that I don’t have a right to say how I feel but that instead it is all my fault. And turns out this is because of a colleague who feels very insecure in herself and I not only try to help her but also end up at the receiving end of her irrational and incongruent behaviour which leaves me upset, angry and yet with no opportunity to say so since I don’t want to upset her.

And guess what? I wrote all this down and as I was writing I felt the lump shifting and fading until later in the day it had gone!

Wow. That’s like magic.

The lump made a brief and short lived return the next day when I was unsure of how to take this forward. I had learned to speak up more over the past few years but some stuff still resembles more an explosion since I have the uncanny habit of waiting too long for the right timing by when anger has usually manifested. Someone once said that I’m losing my stand and credibility when I “explode” with a cocktail of emotions. So say it early, best when it happens.

I attended a talk on “Listening”, by Will Young of all people, because I was curious to see what he had to say. His points were that listening resolves conflicts and that we feel we don’t matter if we aren’t listened to. He also pointed out the importance of feedback to confirm we really heard what was said. He mentioned a model of communication which acts as a way of defusing a situation:

“When I heard …(what you said)…, what came up for me was … and about that I feel … “

I played with this by writing down all the things I hadn’t said to my colleague to avoid upsetting her although it had clearly upset myself and it all made so much sense!

It dawns on me that communication is important and if done properly can get you further while also help others feel valued at the same time. It’s not healthy to swallow your own feelings out of fear you might upset others. I begin to enjoy this game of words, especially practicing my “standard sentence”.

In a way I suppose I have to thank that annoying little lump in my throat for nudging me to communicate more openly and teach me how to express myself properly. Especially since “hysteria” according to Freud is the basis for anxiety, yet another symptom, which incidentally this blog is all about.

Memo to myself: express your feelings to rid yourself of symptoms of anxiety!

 

 

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Day 377 – Thriving or Surviving?

Thriving (adjective): prosperous and growing; flourishing.
Surviving (verb): Continue to live or exist, especially in spite of danger or hardship, manage to keep going in difficult circumstances.
https://en.oxforddictionaries.com

I’m such a hypocrite!

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week and to mark the occasion I arranged a Coffee Morning at my place of work. But you know what?  Humbled I listened to numerous people open up about the issues they face surrounding their mental health and I engaged, showed support and listened and asked questions but not once did I myself open up about the fact that only a year ago I myself was affected by stress at work which lead me to a pretty dark place, merely surviving, from which I emerged with the support of medication and newfound will to find another job in which I’m now thriving.

It is quite amazing that my new job allows me the honour to support others who are encountering tough times at their workplace, but my role also acts as some kind of a shield behind which I hide and worry that if I do open up and tell everyone that I still struggle with anxiety from time to time and only three months ago increased the dosage of my medication that I might lose my credibility and won’t be able to remain impartial, that I will be seen as weak and as a failure and accordingly will be treated differently.

Ironically, the whole idea of Mental Health Awareness Week is to offer others the opportunity to speak out in order to reduce that awful stigma surrounding the topic. And it would probably make others relate to me even more if I did share my own experience.

So if I could muster the courage to openly stand up, put my hand on my heart and say “I have had a tough time in my last job, wasn’t well supported and encountered persistent high levels of stress in a high pressured environment which left me with an anxiety disorder which is managed with medication and my own practice of mindfulness and relaxation and I am now in a better place and have found my strength and enthusiasm again to go out and help others“, how freeing and beautiful would that be?

I suppose I’m slowly but surely getting there. It is a shame that one has to worry about looking a fool and how it might affected your work being truthful to who you are by sharing the inner world of your mind and emotions. If we could answer the common “You’re alright?” truthfully with “No, today I’m not doing so great”, knowing that it is okay to say this without receiving awkward and pitying looks or being told to “cheer up“,  “pull yourself together” or worst of all to “man up”, then that would be truly soul nurturing.

If I would want that to be the norm I need to begin by being truthful to myself and my colleagues and acknowledge my past and face my biggest fear: to show that I’m not as cheerful, calm and strong as I portrait on the outside, but that I am just as vulnerable as everyone else and that it takes a lot of my strength to remain calm and cheerful. And that just takes a little time.

So, are you striving or surviving?

Visit www.mentalhealth.org.uk/campaigns/mental-health-awareness-week to find out more on the topic and take the short survey to find out your own good mental health score.

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Day 325 – Magic Pills vs Mindfulness

Mindfulness: “Mindfulness exercises are ways of paying attention to the present moment, using techniques like meditation, breathing, and yoga. Training helps people to become more aware of their thoughts, feelings, and body sensations so that instead of being overwhelmed by them, they a€™re better able to manage them. Practising mindfulness can give more insight into emotions, boost attention and concentration, and improve relationships.”
http://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/m/mindfulness

A good month after first taking the increased dose of my antidepressants did they begin to reveal their magic. I feel happier, lighter, more positive, calmer and got some of my “go and do” mentality back. Best of all, however, is that I can love my boyfriend again and am able to practice mindfulness.

Yes, I wasn’t strong enough to sit with the pain and inner turmoil that was coursing through my nervous system when meditating. I needed pills to take care of that pain so I could be at peace. And yes, it does make me feel like a failure. And it also makes me questions myself: “Why can I only love my boyfriend when I’m on pills? Why can I only meditate when I’m taking medications? Surely that’s not how it is supposed to work? Surely, if I really loved someone I should be able to feel that regardless and surely practicing mindfulness should help me gain control over these awful feelings, help me learn to accept them so that they won’t take over my life?”

“You’ve just got to keep practicing”, they said at the mindfulness course, after I had, without even noticing and unbeknown to the rest of the group, been visualising ramming a knife into my arm when I was supposedly been sitting quietly practicing my mindfulness meditation.

That’s why I feel like a failure. Because others make it sound so easy. They think that everything can be made better by practicing. Why can’t I?

So, being (actually mindfully) aware of what’s going on in myself, and after having found out that next to my anxiety there is some sort of trauma (read my last blog post) inside of me that hasn’t found a way out and also bearing in mind that I was well capable of sitting in peaceful meditation some ten years ago “being the snow on the highest mountain peak”, I can now responsibly say that it is okay to take medications if your body is stronger than your mind because it has suffered, even if this has initially been caused by your mind, and to allow yourself the time it needs to recover.

I now know that mindfulness is more than just sitting with a smug smile on your face. It is recognizing and acknowledging what is going on with you right now, in every moment of your existence and to find the most gentle and nurturing way to love yourself and to be able to say to yourself “It is okay”.

Mindfulness is about bringing awareness into your everyday life, so that you can live each moment to the best of your capability and not fight against yourself and your thoughts with the well-intended intention to clear your mind so you will be light enough to levitate off the face of the earth.

Let gravity nurture you, bring you down to reality and show you what life is really about, walking through it one mindful step at a time.

 

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Day 296 – Trauma

“Emotional and psychological trauma is the result of extraordinarily stressful events that shatter your sense of security, making you feel helpless in a dangerous world. Traumatic experiences often involve a threat to life or safety, but any situation that leaves you feeling overwhelmed and isolated can be traumatic, even if it doesn’t involve physical harm. It’s not the objective facts that determine whether an event is traumatic, but your subjective emotional experience of the event. The more frightened and helpless you feel, the more likely you are to be traumatized.”
https://www.helpguide.org/articles/ptsd-trauma/emotional-and-psychological-trauma.htm

Just where is the time gone? Nearly 100 days have passed since my last post and one might assume that I would much better by now. Unfortunately I have been getting slowly worse. It started with my thoughts speeding up about three months ago, overthinking, ruminating, mulling things over again and again, waking up in the night to carry on thinking, waking up in the morning with a racing heart and more thoughts to accompany the event and nausea made an unpleasant appearance at random times and places. Then came the tiredness, the irritability, the anger.

So instead of starting to come off the medication as I had hoped, my GP doubled the dose, and 296 days since the first tablet, today was the first day I took twice as much.

Last month I had started an 8 week Mindfulness Based CBT course and was very hopeful that it would help me work with my symptoms so that I could reduce the medication. But I just couldn’t get my mind to shut up! So instead of hovering in a blissful state of mindfulness I got really angry and was bothered by thoughts about harming myself. “What the hell”, did I think. Where’s all that coming from?

The answer came unexpectedly yesterday from our lovely psychologist at work whom I am fortunate to have regular supervision with and who had asked all of us to complete a psychological questionnaire to ensure we are fit to help our clients. And turns out that I’m rating at the top level of trauma and anxiety!

Well, that explains a lot but had been furthest from my thoughts, which is why I’ve been carrying this stuff around with me for soo many years, very likely since childhood, unaware while the world has been merrily pushing my triggers as it passed me by, creating all sorts of issues for me which I didn’t or couldn’t fully comprehend.

Ok, so another piece of the puzzle has been found and slotted in it’s allocated spot.

What next?

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Day 214 – Light

Light (noun): The natural agent that stimulates sight and makes things visible, a source of light, an expression in someone’s eyes indicating a particular emotion or mood, understanding of a problem or mystery; enlightenment; (adjective): Free from worry or unhappiness; cheerful.
https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/us/light

As you can tell from the above definitions, there are many different areas light influences. Besides our mere vision it affects our moods, understanding and the way we feel and act outwards.

Last year’s winter was unbearably long and dark for me. Having come to “understand the mystery” of depression that came with prolonged stress and anxiety, which not only dimmed the light in my eyes but also suffocated my usual cheerful and happy self, it all makes sense now. It is the “aha moment” of realisation when one has not only climbed the mountain but also made it back down unharmed and realised what danger one has been in.

This autumn has been a rather pleasant affair, plenty of golden sunshine and colourful leaves and in 3 weeks the days will already begin to get longer again. “It wasn’t that bad”, I said to myself when I remembered  last year’s never ending darkness. Upon reflecting back to that dark time, and even unknowingly the years before, and comparing it to how much lighter I’m feeling this year, I’m glad that I’ve had the opportunity to fully appreciate once more the dimming light and shorter days and actually have the motivation to begin preparations for the festive days.

Whichever hole it was that I got stuck in last year, I wholeheartedly believe that I have learned from it and am wiser to recognize the signs, ask for help early and walk around it the next time I stumble over it. Never mind over 200 days on antidepressants, they did their job well, albeit they don’t work to their full capacity no more. Besides the occasional, yet regular, wobble and flare up of anxiety, I’m still in  a better place and hope to begin the gradual reduction in the new year, when the days are a little longer again 🙂

There is a lot to be said about Seasonal Affected Disorder (SAD), which can play it’s own tricks on anybody but also make any stressful situation or depressive mood worse. With the right tools and support you can start to climb towards the light again.

Trust me, it’s much nicer in the light 😉

 

 

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Day 201 – Tears

To cry (verb): Shed tears in distress, pain, or sorrow; (noun): A spell of shedding tears
https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/cry

I had a little cry today (while watching “The fault in our stars”).

For me, finally being able to allow my tears to fall, is synonymous with allowing myself to feel a range and depth of emotions, which supposedly had somehow got blocked, either through my own pride of not admitting my weaknesses to myself and others or because I didn’t know where to direct them.

In the past month I had incredibly eye-opening talks with individuals, whom I never considered to have stories like those they shared with me. But by opening myself up, showing my own vulnerability, they must have felt save to share theirs with me, which added a whole nother connection between us, adding depth to growing friendships.

I’ve been longing to cry since an “accidental” outburst when I learned that my boyfriend had spent all afternoon alone in our hotel room in New York just in case I would come back and didn’t have to be alone after I had disappeared in the nearest underground after what I would call an episode of sorts in which my nerves just snapped and I had to get away from our friends while on holiday and legged it to the Brooklyn Bridge on my own.

Since then I’ve been having a tough time keeping my act together for another couple of months until my GP urged me to accept that being singed off work was a good thing to allow me to rest and recover, of which the recovery itself took a further three to four months until I finally found another job and escaped a stressful job that had plainly been making me ill.

And suddenly I not only had a new life ahead of me, but also a surprising amount of close friends, I found my distant dad and had a first real conversation with him, began painting again, joined a really lovely supportive new working environment, started to cook and bake a little more, and quite frankly am pleasantly overwhelmed by my sudden busy social life after years of social anxiety and persistent tiredness and lacking motivation.

I had found myself again.

I’m still experiencing occasional bouts of anxiety but I now am aware of when they arise and am able to use new found tools to keep them under control, even if that means simply having to sit and breathe with the horrible wave of nausea instead of following the strong urge to run away and hide somewhere save.

Having been wanting to put all these suddenly emerging emotions into words over the past few months had proved difficult for me, there just weren’t enough appropriate words to describe what I was suddenly feeling. And I’m not even sure what I want to say, just that I am incredibly lucky to be alive and to be able to feel what I’m feeling, see what I’m seeing, hear what I’m hearing, taste what I’m tasting and sense that this life is a gift, that I should cherish and not waste with worrying about the future or past, but to just live it one step at a time while keeping in touch with myself and those around me, to connect with the world, its people and nature.

That is the simple truth of life: just live it.

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Day 168 – The missing link

Missing (adjective): Not present or included when expected or supposed to be.
https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/missing

152 days after commencing on antidepressants I found the vital missing link: my father.

I have briefly mentioned him here and there in the first few posts, more notably on Day 16 – Anger. I was under the impression that he had made a decision to not be part of my life, had suggested abortion, and had stuck with it, regardless of how many letters I had send to him over the years. I never got a reply. And I thoroughly believe that the reason I ended up on antidepressants is because I pushed myself so high to make him feel proud of me and at the same time battling low self-esteem based on the belief I wasn’t good enough because he simply wouldn’t acknowledge me.

On day 133 I got a reply: He acknowledged my persistence and said he was looking forward to meeting me! Just like that, after 23 years since I saw him last in person, albeit I was too young then to make it count as a proper meeting. We didn’t really talk .

So, “What was it like?” is the first question I get asked mostly. And I can say that it almost felt like the most “normal” thing to do, as if we had actually known each other all our lives. We talked and laughed and discovered a lot of similarities in the  life choices we made, the things we value and our creative minds.

The two most important questions I had were: “Why now?” and “Why not earlier?”

The first he answered with: “Your persistence, my wife’s encouragement and you saying in your last letter that you are a similar age now that I was when you were born and that you can see things differently now.”

The second answer was: “I was simply too stubborn and I also wasn’t sure to begin with whether I really was your father. There had been another man around.”

He declined my offer for a paternity test. “It doesn’t really matter now anyway”, he said.

It took me a good three days to process this event, for after 23 years of waiting for this day, this one day went over very quickly. And when it had sunken in that this had indeed happened, that I now had a dad too, I found myself coming to terms with a host of conflicting and confusing feelings.

For once I felt really happy and excited, like butterflies in my tummy, like when you’re in love, which seemed to be wrong. But then there was also this strange sense of familiarity, an invisible bond, and yet he was basically a complete stranger and at times I found his physical touch, his hand on my shoulder, his kiss on my cheek, a little uncomfortable, though the very last physical contact after our meeting was him lightly brushing the back of his hand over my cheek. A very humbling gesture.

And something closed, the missing link had found a hook to hold on to, suddenly I felt whole. I didn’t need to push myself anymore because I could tell that my father was clearly very taken by my achievements and I could tell that he did have slight regrets of not having been involved in my life. He admitted that all these years I had been on his mind quite often, he expected me to just turn up at his door one day, and that he was almost relieved that it was done now. He also admitted how nervous he was, compared to my unbelievable calmness. He had also been very nervous when he last saw me briefly when I had just turned 10.

I said to him that there were no mistakes, that we only make decisions at certain times in our lives based on what seems to be best for everyone involved, and at times we might regret them but that doesn’t make them mistakes. Because mistakes only happen accidentally, a thought through decision can not be a mistake.

That very answer shows how far I have come, that I have moved past the blaming and anger phases, that I had made peace with myself, which opened the opportunity for my father to meet me to find his own peace too.

What a wonderful experience!

 

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Day 157 – A second chance

Chance (noun): An opportunity to do or achieve something.
Origin: Middle English: from Old French cheance, from cheoir fall, befall, based on Latin cadere.
https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/chance

When I realised that it was stress at work combined with my perfectionist tendencies that was making me ill, but that despite me working on my perfectionism, the stressors at work just didn’t go away, I knew it was time to look for another job.

I submitted a few applications and was invited to a couple of interviews but was unsuccessful. During that time I was clinging on to the little specks of light those interviews represented, but when those diminished I was left exhausted and disappointed in the dark of my ever dwindling will to do anything. I once again was signed off work and for the first time, unable to see a way out of my misery and throwing all ideals overboard, I allowed myself to fully rest.

I had almost given up hope of finding a way out of this situation when I received a phone call from one of the jobs I had presented for interview, asking if I was still interested since their first choice had dropped out. Hell yes was I still interested! And any previous doubts that I might not be well enough for a new job disappeared and I knew that I was ready.

It was almost as if the universe had decided that it was willing to offer me a new job but that it needed me to fully rest first. And as soon as I had done that, my second chance arrived. I was well and truly chuffed to be given the opportunity to start anew. Just knowing that the days at my stressful job were counted took a massive weight off my shoulders. A bright light had appeared at the horizon and I gladly followed it out of my dark and dingy hole.

And I promised myself to not follow my old routine of low self-esteem propelling me to achieve high and end up tiring myself out through perfectionism. This second chance means that I can start again and, taking everything I have learned about my behaviour during therapy sessions, my personal experience and own reflections, live a calmer, happier and more content life.

It’s just funny, or plain ironic, that to take a chance and find exciting new opportunities for growth, sometimes we have had to go through the thick of it first in order to get to know our real value.

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Day 145 – Art

Art (noun): The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.
https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/art

And the day came where I created three paintings. And  whereas some of you may think that this can’t be that much of ground breaking news worth mentioning, for me it has been truly liberating.

I’ve always been into arts, creative, full of ideas, but I have not been able to paint at all over the past few years. Mainly due to not enough peace and quite, or simply sheer stress, and more recently complete brain fatigue. And even if I tried to follow my urge to paint on the odd occasion, it only ended in frustration because it just wouldn’t work. Having been dealing with my need for perfectionism over the past few months, I think I have got the message that it is okay to just play around without needing to produce the perfect piece of art, or anything else for that matter. But even more so I learned that it is also okay to start something and not finish it straight away. I believe this gives me the much needed space to create and do things without putting myself under pressure.

So last weekend I visited a friend and she suggested to do some painting. I was well and truly excited at the idea so off we went to buy a few bits and pieces. First thing I saw in the shop were some colourful paper butterflies which I couldn’t pass, then a violet “blackberry” colour acrylic paint and after the cheapest value pack of canvases I also bagged some glitter glue, two more paints and some more silver butterfly stickers.

My head was buzzing with ideas and after an initially succumbing to a few seconds of doubt while staring at the blank canvas, I just squeezed some paint out of the tube, let it drop onto the canvas and smeared it around with my fingers. And I’m telling you, it was so much fun! I even ended up adding coloured beads and gem stones to the glitter glue which my friend had plenty of.

For me it was a sign that I was well and truly over the worst and I am really grateful for it. Grateful to have had people around me who stuck with me during my darker and confusing times and in the process became true friends, grateful for all the professional support I received, grateful for having found the light at the tunnel and emerged relatively unharmed as a new person, even grateful for the little chemical pills that kept my serotonin levels up over the past 145 days.

Four more paintings followed a few days later and when reflecting on them, I realised that the chaotic background represents upheaval and uncertainty from which the butterfly emerges as a sign of rebirth or renewal. Each coloured painting represents one of the seven main chakras (energy centres, google it if you never heard of it).

Painting is certainly very therapeutic and I can only recommend to try it. I have bought more canvases and paints and am looking forward to experimenting, just for fun, not with any pressure or need for perfect outcomes in mind. Try it, I dare you 😉

I finally feel whole again.

ButterflyChakraSeries0916.jpg

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Day 115 – In an imperfect world

Imperfect (adjective): Not perfect, faulty or incomplete.
Origin: Middle English imparfit, imperfet, from Old French imparfait, fromLatin imperfectus, from in- ‘not’ + perfectus.
http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/imperfect

I have to say that, despite my initial criticism, working on low self-esteem did open up a whole new world and made a lot of things clearer, like why I behave the way I do and what my triggers for stress are. So in order to help me feel less stressed about certain things my therapist suggested to set a time for an activity and stick to it, regardless of whether I had finished or not and to leave more things unfinished, even if time wasn’t the factor.

Obviously this was at odds with me, having adopted perfectionism as one of my coping mechanisms it meant that I DID NOT finish something until it was “perfect” even if that meant that I spent a long time on improving, re-checking and going over and over it afterwards on how to improve it even more. You can probably guess that this can cause a whole lot of unnecessary stress and anxiety not to mention exhaustion. And I might not be fully there but I have been giving this more thought and been watching myself and occasionally set a loose time to it. Just leaving half a flower bed with weeds intact, like my therapist suggested, has not been possible so far (imagine what that would look like!) 🙂

Here we go then, in an imperfect world, it doesn’t matter that something doesn’t get finished and it is okay to not check on it.

In an imperfect world it is perfectly acceptable to not do yoga first thing in the morning, or right after breakfast or not at all.

In an imperfect world it is safe to leave the house without a bag complete with a water bottle, an emergency snack, an umbrella, tissues, glasses cleaner, face powder, combe, hair clip, lip balm, hand cream, spare headband, earphones, chewing gum, scarf and cardigan “just in case”.

In an imperfect world bathrooms and windows are dirty, dishes are left unwashed and the hoover is getting dusty.

In an imperfect world cats do leave hair everywhere and they also occasionally present you with birds, mice, slow worms, moths or fleas.

In an imperfect world work is stressful and nobody likes their job nor other people.

In an imperfect world it is okay to leave clients wait for a little longer.

In an imperfect world it doesn’t matter whether I’m dressed appropriately for the occasion, the weather and certainly not for other people!

In an imperfect world it’s fine to go somewhere without dealing with other errands in the same area.

In an imperfect world it is okay to arrive a little late instead of way too early.

In an imperfect world it is fine to eat things you shouldn’t and feel ill afterwards.

In an imperfect world the lawn and hedges are overgrown or cut uneven and edges are left untidy.

In an imperfect world everyone has wobbly bits, thunder thighs, spots, greasy hair, wears scruffy clothes and no make up whatsoever.

In an imperfect world it is the norm to order takeaway or eat out because you can’t be bothered to cook.

In an imperfect world money doesn’t matter.

Reading this “random list of imperfections” back to me I realise how much the list is actually representing an even more perfect version of life, or rather a life we might all be longing for, where we can just be ourselves and not worry what other people think. Is this because I’m a recovering perfectionist or is it indeed the beginnings of acceptance for things that can’t be changed or that we don’t have much control over, to neither class them as perfect or imperfect but to just see them as an aspect of our life. Would that be possible?

I do feel more relaxed and less stressed having looked at my common stressors and realised that it is okay to not do things perfectly all the time. It not only gives you more time for other things but also makes you more open to different ways of living.

What does your imperfect world looks like? Would love to read comments below!

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Day 110 – Stages of Grief

“The stages of grief and morning are universal and are experienced by people from all walks of life, across many cultures. Mourning occurs in response to an individual’s own terminal illness, the loss of a close relationship, or to the death of a valued being, human or animal”.
http://psychcentral.com/lib/the-5-stages-of-loss-and-grief/

After nearly 4 months on antidepressants (110 days to be precise), I’m facing a probable raise in dosage and feel I am slowly resigning to the fact that my life just will not suddenly be “as it used to be”, not that the time before the antidepressants was a particular good time (or else I wouldn’t have started taking them in the first place). I think I was too naive to believe that a few tablets will bring me back in sync with the gravitational field of planet earth. But sadly evidence suggests that medication rarely works for anxiety and that dosage will need to be increased eventually to keep on top of the symptoms. Of course therapy is said to help the process, of which I’m having my fair share. So fingers crossed…

Either way, I’ve been signed off work again for the past two weeks and I’m dreading having to go back again. I just can’t do that sort of work at the moment. And amidst the next flurry of anxiety surrounding my head like space debris circling planet Jupiter, I figured that it is okay to go back to my GP and say I’m not ready to return to work yet. This has been my big issue actually, not just work itself, but my persistent drive of having to get better soon because I have to get back to work or else my whole life will be lost!

My whole universe shattered to pieces when I contemplated the possibility of not being able to work at all anymore, be it my current job or any other job for that matter. And instead of resting and recovering I’ve been internally slave-driving me into some virtual mindset of get up and go, pull  yourself together you silly woman!

Not a very nice thing to say to yourself really, is it? Would you force yourself to walk on a broken leg just to look “normal” again? It’s just that I feel like a massive liar for being seen out and about in the sunshine while being signed off work. But as my therapist put it nicely: “Different conditions need different treatments. And yours needs lots of sunshine, fresh air and socialising.”

So it finally dawned on me that I might be about to accept that I’m currently not able to work and that I need to stop punishing myself for it and try to enjoy time in the outdoors and with friends, to focus on the simple act of living and being alive.

Feeling a little calmer after all the anger and resentment about my situation I realised that this is no different to the stages of grief, albeit I have not lost a person dear to me, but I lost a vital part of myself and will probably loose my job and with it a big chapter in my personal history.

Sounds too dramatic? Well, think about it. The 5 stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance and I’m certain you can apply these to any sort of loss in your life. When I began to struggle at work and in life with the excess stress I was under I denied the fact that I couldn’t cope for a long time, having always been the strong one, and I got angry when I couldn’t cope and blamed others or the high workload for it, in the end even myself for doing too much! Then I bargained in hope to make the situation any better, reducing my hours, dropping responsibilities, applying for new jobs. But in the end, when depression descended, and I was not able to do anything at all anymore, I near enough gave up. A part of me died then. And I am now beginning to accept that. And I am somewhat glad I can see it that way, because I realised that fighting the inevitable is a lost fight.

Your energy is much better spent in healing and nurturing yourself like a new borne baby about to take the first step into the big unknown, than keeping an old, malfunctioning part of yourself afloat that doesn’t serve you anymore.

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Day 70 – Health and Wellbeing

Health: noun: The state of being free from illness or injury.
Origin: Old English hǣlth, of Germanic origin; related to whole.
http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/health

Well-being: noun: The state of being comfortable, healthy or happy.
http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/well-being

Health and Wellbeing lies close to my heart, probably too close so that I thought I knew all about it but missed the vital cut-off point when I began to decline.

Since I was 12 have I been reading about herbs and moon phases and over the past few years have attended courses on subtle energy healing, acupressure massage and counselling in my own time, because it interested me and I found it to be a valuable addition to life. Besides my own practice of yoga and meditation I also started to run monthly Mini Retreats as a reminder for myself and others to take time out and learn something new.

While working as a Clinical Support Worker in healthcare I felt this part of my life missing but found the opportunity to bring a little awareness into it when I was seconded for a university program. There I focused my project on Patient and Staff Health and Wellbeing with the focus on stress reduction. The irony was that I felt increasingly more stressed while researching the very same topic. But, like I said above, I knew the signs, I knew what to do about it and I was convinced that was all I needed to stay on top of it.

I got more and more involved in different extra projects at work and had plenty of opportunities to push my project into every corner of our big hospital trust and achieved a lot of recognition. That was truly amazing! I was living the dream, I was passionate about it and nothing could stop me, least of all the gentle warnings of family and colleagues to take it slower.

And then I started my new job after graduating and our department moved and I began to feel the stresses and strains pull at my intestines but battled on regardless, believing all would calm down soon and when it finally did I began to feel worse. And there I was, the “expert” on stress management, compassion fatigue and burnout, all stressed, fatigued and well and truly burnt out to the ground. And I was so ashamed that this was happening to me that I still put on a smiley face and carried on because I couldn’t possibly admit that the stress reducing techniques I’ve been teaching others didn’t work!

Of course they worked, for a while, hence I managed to carry on for so much longer. But when excess stress gets worse and carries on for a long time, then you are running into a dead end from where there is no escape. And that’s the hard lesson I’ve learned.

The turn came when I finally did get signed off work with the dreaded “anxiety with depression” stamp and I was able to admit to myself that I am also only human and it was my turn now to be looked after, which initially I wasn’t very happy about at all, having been the strong role model all these years, but I’m learning that this is also important and I’m humbled at the great support I had since then from colleagues, friends, family and therapists.

Another barrier I had set myself was that I was hoping to get a job in Health and Wellbeing at our hospital trust, which would have been so perfect for me but it also meant that I was not able to refer myself to our Occupational Health Department because I feared it would have a negative effect on my application. So I hung in there for weeks until after the interview was over and someone else got the job when I felt a huge weight lift off my shoulders not only because I was worried I wouldn’t be in the best frame of mind for the job but also because I could finally get proper support at work.

So you see, Health and Wellbeing affects anyone at any level at any time in our lives. Nobody is immune against stress, especially in today’s fast pace society, where achievements count more than happiness. So look out for yourself and when you recognize the signs go and ask for help. There is no shame!

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Day 52 – Panic Attacks

“A panic attack is an exaggeration of your body’s normal response to fear, stress or excitement. It is the rapid build-up of overwhelming physical sensations, such as: a pounding heartbeat, feeling faint, sweating, nausea (feeling sick), chest pains, feeling unable to breathe, shaky limbs, or feeling like your legs are turning to jelly, feeling like you’re not connected to your body.”
http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/anxiety-and-panic-attacks/panic-attacks/#.V2f-OY-cFMs

Gasping for air like a fish on dry land, I found myself staring into the bathroom mirror at work, figuring that if I left now I would never return to my job ever again, which naturally started yet another circle of worries. It had already started with the usual unease, the worries about unmanageable stress at work, on the way to work. A couple of days earlier I had already felt the dizzying and nauseating sensations but managed to keep it under control. But today it just washed over me, like the incoming tide, unstoppable. A sickening feeling in my gut, hot and cold flushes, shaking, dizziness, feeling I was about to either faint or throw up. I know it was because we were short staffed again, working together with someone who can be vocally very demanding and that this would mean a lot more on my shoulders which I just couldn’t cope with anymore.

Panic attacks had not really been playing a very active part in my current package of anxiety and depression but I assume it is all part of the parcel. Just why would it come and get me nearly two months after starting the medication and having been feeling so much better? Is it because although I have been feeling better, the stressors at work had not changed at all and it was still affecting me negatively?

I checked whether panic attacks were a side effect of my medication but besides anxiety and depression, which is just so ironical, no other possible side effects would have brought on the attack. Something in me, however, connected the current panic to the past where my evil ex was stalking me. Both situations give me a strong feeling of being trapped and it is kind of understandable that all the emotions rushed to the surface and spilled over.

One of my colleagues was very supportive and allocated me in a different area which really helped, even though I first panicked a little more about what the rest of the team will think and say. But it turns out they were all quite supportive. It also helped that I was able to recognize the panic attack rising and calm it a little with slow breathing.

Another reason why I feel trapped is that for the past three weeks I’ve been waiting for this blasted job interview next week before I can carry on making any further plans and arrangements. It’s pure purgatory! It’s using up all the precious little energy that is left within me and besides feeling trapped and dealing with stress at work I find it really difficult to deal with my impatience. I can be quite impulsive at times and when I have set my mind onto something I will almost instantly need to go for it right away.

Just another week….breathing in and breathing out….

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Day 45 – Stress

“Stress is any pressure or accumulation of pressures – physical or psychological – that is too much for a person to cope with comfortably. What is perceived as stress will vary from individual to individual. Stress manifests itself in a variety of ways such as disturbed sleep, physical complaints (e.g. high blood pressure, heart disease, migraine, irritable bowel, skin complaints), excessive alcohol or drug consumption, depression, burnout, anxiety disorders. Suffering extreme anxiety is not a sign of weakness or moral fibre, it is purely a response to stress.”
How to master anxiety by Joe Griffin and Ivan Tyrell

The above mentioned book says that many anxiety problems are due to chronic levels of stress. It lists financial difficulties, a relationship breakdown, change of job, more or less responsibility at work and difficulties with a new boss as valid causes for stress. When several events like these happen at the same time or within a short time span, we can be pushed completely beyond our normal coping capabilities. And this is exactly what happened. I started university and my role development at work, my manager changed when I had only a few more months left of my course, my role changed, the department moved, the workload increased, the support decreased.

Three years ago I was seconded to a two year university programme as part of a role development programme by my employer. I had also taken on an extra responsibility at work and was organising monthly gatherings in my own time as part of a self-employment strategy I had started a year before the university course. I was on a high, it was all very interesting, I was enjoying the buzz of learning, engaging with people and doing something that was worthwhile. The first sign that I was experiencing very high stress levels was half-way into my university course when I had an incident where I couldn’t recall my home address.

After prolonged uncertainty whether I would get the proposed new job at the end of the course,  I started in the brand new role a little less than a year ago, as the first on the department to pioneer it. This was both challenging and rewarding. A couple of months later our department moved location and that’s when the stress began to grow. The move wasn’t very well organised nor supported and I found it increasingly difficult to cope with the excess demands. I also found it difficult to approach our manager, she was overloaded herself, and it made me feel very isolated. But I am strong and was proud of my new position and saw no other way than carry on. But it only got worse and when I raised the issue higher it was somewhat misunderstood and left me feeling even lonelier. Still I stayed true to my profession and carried on.

When everything started to settle down and was less chaotic at work, I still had this feeling of doom hovering over me that I just couldn’t shake off. My heart was pounding in my chest, I felt increasingly tired and low in mood and was signed off work with anxiety and depression a few months down the line.

The book goes on to say that any kind of stress arises because some of our essential physical or emotional needs aren’t met. At work for example, I felt I had no choice, no escape, no support, nowhere to vent my feelings, simply too much to do and felt that nobody cared about it. Worst of all these feelings released old fears from a traumatic relationship, being trapped, in danger, not valued, a failure. And even triggered worries about the future and finances if I wasn’t able to uphold my job and couldn’t find another job and would lose my little house. Having just started the new job and not coping was a big sign of failure to me and it embarrassed me so I felt less inclined to show how much I was struggling.

As you can see there are many reasons to cause stress and everyone has their own ways of dealing with stress. My stressors will most certainly appear trivial compared to what others have gone through. And even though it was the work stressors that triggered my bout of anxiety and depression, I believe that it was just the icing on the cake that life had baked over the past years. A spilling over of fears and life events that had mixed together like chemical compounds in a test tube – needing to prove myself to my father and teacher, leaving my home country and setting up a life in a foreign country on my own, struggling to get out of an emotionally abusive relationship – creating a toxic solution of stressors.

Will I be able to better recognize and avoid stress in the future? I might be more aware and be able to pull the emergency brake earlier. I might also be better equipped to explain myself and get more support before I’m in it too deep. Life is full of stressors. We may not be able to change the stress around us but we can try to have coping mechanisms in place to lessen the impact.

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Day 41 – Work

Noun: Activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a result .
Verb: Be engaged in physical or mental activity in order to achieve a result; do work.
Physics: The  exertion of force overcoming resistance or producing molecular change.
http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/work

It only took the first day to be back at work after a month away with anxiety and depression to realise that nothing at work had changed or is in fact going to change and that it is my job that is making me ill.

The realisation was both a relief and an immense worry. What was I going to do? I felt I couldn’t do my job but also couldn’t just walk out because I have a bloomin’ mortgage to pay! So I did what I had to do and carried on.

The much dreaded conversation with my manager on my day of return wasn’t that bad but also rather inconclusive. I was disappointed that she couldn’t find time to talk to me until the afternoon ( I know she was very busy with patients) which reflected in my feelings of rejection and not being able to approach her ever since she took up the job early last year.

Our conversation went round and round in circles and I think I tried to explain to her how the ward move had been very stressful to me and that I still suffer from the aftereffects. I also tried to touch on the fact that I struggle with her not being available to talk to when I have suggestions or concerns. But to be honest I can’t even remember what her response was, just something like we are all busy and it is the nature of our work. So I figured that the only solution for me to get better is to leave this job.

Yesterday I had a follow up meeting with my manager to see how I have been over the last week. Working over the weekend hadn’t been too bad since it hadn’t been busy at all but the weekday yesterday provided yet another struggle for me. She gave me a stress assessment form to fill in to establish what exactly it is that is stressing me. I feel disempowered. The main reason why I feel the way I do is because she wasn’t available as a manager and support when I needed it during the ward move. And I can’t find the strength within me to say this to her face. Besides it being very confrontational and accusing, she is also clearly trying to help me now, it’s just that her well-meaning support comes a year too late.

So the circle continues. And my head and body follow the circular motion of thoughts and involuntary movements of limbs with each agonising thought and worry.

I have applied for another job and am dying in the process of waiting for a response. I’m not sure I can work another two months waiting to know whether I will get the new job and work through my notice period. I could ask my GP to sign me off again for another couple of weeks, but how will that affect my new job application?

I worry just as much that I won’t be able to do the new job either.

So I am stuck between a rock and a hard place. And it is a very uncomfortable place in indeed.

Apart from work I’m feeling fine.

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Day 31 – Retreat

“From time to time, to remind ourselves to relax and be peaceful, we may wish to set aside some time for a retreat, a day of mindfulness, when we can walk slowly, smile, drink tea with a friend, enjoy being together as if we are the happiest people on Earth.” Thich Nhat Hanh

Lower Hamlet, Plum Village, France

So I spent the last week at a Buddhist Monastery in France, Plum Village (http://plumvillage.org), in the hope I will find my inner peace again. I had spend a week there already three years ago, but this time it was different. I felt very agitated, frustrated, restless and quite frankly annoyed with the rules and that there were so many other people this time round. On top of it did I experience an awful backpain that I felt even when I was merely breathing.

And I can’t say whether this is because I have become a different person over the past three years, or whether my recent stress induced anxiety and depression had made it impossible for me to enjoy the simple joys in life or possibly I can blame the medication, which was helping but I was still right in the middle of the adjustment phase.

I was hoping I would be able to cry, since I had a good cry there the last time, but no tears would come. I made some really close friends, especially with the two girls I shared the room with. We were very similar in many ways. We all shared a history of depression to start with, which was a strangely good ice breaker and provided food for many good and deep conversations.

To sum up my experience, however bad I feel for having been rather critical during the week, I also know that it was important for me to recognize and experience those emotions to be able to process them so I could move on and be ready to deal with them back in the “real world”. And where better to deal with such unsettling emotions than the loving embrace of a Buddhist community in the heart of Plum Village.

I have also come to the conclusion that you don’t necessarily go to a retreat to relax but to become relaxed, to learn how to relaxed so that when you finally do relax, after shedding all the layers of irritation during your week of practice, you can go home feeling at ease and with the tools to help you maintain that sense of relaxation.

The thing is that we don’t always realise how deep we are into something – be it stress or relaxation. We simply carry on living. The only time we really notice how deep we have gone is when we experience the opposite. That’s how we measure success or failure. So without the bad we won’t know how good we are and equally we won’t know how bad we have got until we feel good again.

And at the moment I feel very good, calm, relaxed, at ease, happy. I have crossed the 4 week threshold of the adjustment phase of my medication relatively unharmed by side effects and am so glad I took those damn pills. The calming effect shows in all areas of my life: peacefulness within myself, enjoying time with my partner without fear and worries, being among people without panic, waking up without my heart racing, appreciating simple moments, having the motivation and will to get up and do things and not worrying too much about my return to work the day after tomorrow.

Life is good again.

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Day 19 – Throat Monster

“The monster is at my throat, claw stuck fast. I cannot eat. I can scarcely breathe. He says the shaking and the throat may be the symptoms of anxiety, which often comes with depression.  It hurts, like a knotted rope thick around my neck, the knot pressed hard to my windpipe. And it never goes away. It is the sensation you get when you’re struggling to hold back tears, the tight aching ball that grows and grows even as you try to swallow it down. I read, somewhere, that crying can relieve the symptoms. It can’t, or not for me anyway. I try to reduce its horror by giving it a name, the throat monster. Grief, said a therapist. Unexpressed grief. It’s got you by the throat. I think that, whatever it is, it’s going to kill me. According to my psychiatrist, the monster is not real. Of course it’s not real, it is a somatic manifestation of my illness, a mere, clinical symptom of major depressive disorder. It is called Globus hystericus, a psychological term for ‘lump in the throat’ given to it by Freud.”

Sally Brampton, Shoot the Damn Dog: A Memoir of Depression

The few weeks leading up to being signed off work for anxiety with depression I had this growing lump in my throat, as if I was about to cry, just that there were no tears, another reason why I really didn’t think I could have been that depressed. I just couldn’t cry. But the lump was there, which is why I thought it might by something to do with my thyroids. Just that it wasn’t. I didn’t find an explanation to the lump, which is still persisting, even if it is getting less intense now.

But reading about Sally Brampton’s “Throat Monster” made it clear as day what it actually was. And I love the way she refers to it, considering how uncomfortable it is, though mine is nowhere near as bad as she describes hers. I worked on it during my therapy session yesterday and intuitively associated it with grief, a black lump with sharp edges, like a lump of tarmac, accidentally dropped by the side, forgotten and left to dry. I looked it up online and didn’t find an awful lot about it and thought it might be interesting to hear how many of you out there have this sensation and what you have done or found out about it.

Read this for little more food for thought on the topic: http://drsandraefenster.blogspot.co.uk/2012/11/globus-hystericus_21.html

Sally’s death is still on my mind. I went for a walk along the sea earlier, the very same stretch of beach that Sally washed ashore, just a little further up. It is very real and yet surreal at the same time. Why does it affect me so much? Because I’m just working on the beginnings of what she had already reached the end of? Because I was reading her book at the same time? Or just because the grand insignificance of our illusion of a connection doesn’t affect the world even a little bit. It’s just in my mind and my heart.

http://quotesgram.com/cookie-monster-quotes/#14FLDMEhTH

 

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Day 18 – Therapy

Noun: Treatment intended to relieve or heal a disorder or the treatment of mental or psychological disorders by psychological means.
Origin: Mid 19th century: from modern Latin therapia, from Greek therapeia ‘healing’, from therapeuein ‘minister to, treat medically’.
http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/therapy

After yesterday’s disappointment, like a spoilt child I immediately arranged a session with a trusted therapist I had been seeing on and off over the past few years. I was very lucky for her to have a slot available today and I felt so much better straight away afterwards. The only downside, and the reason why I can’t see her more regularly, is that I pay her out of my own pocket.

I don’t know how to best describe what she does to make you understand why she helps me so much, so let’s say it in her own words from her profile: “My mainstream background in integrative Psychotherapy is my foundation. Since my original training, I now work with Hypnotherapy, EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), Matrix Reimprinting and EMDR. In my experience, talking therapy alone is not always sufficient to unhook neural pathways that keep people stuck in trauma based patterns of thinking and behaviour. I like to create a tailor made approach to each client so use whatever technique is most likely to effect the therapy goal they wish to fulfil. I am passionate about creating safe space in therapy including creating strong rapport and also working firmly within a strong ethical and professional framework.”

Through talking, reflective questioning and EFT tapping (and a little bit of hammering my fists onto a pillow while shouting) she helped me reduce my stuck sensation of anger and made me feel accepted, understood and integrated. And much happier as a result.

The thing with therapy is that you need to find the right one for you. The therapist matters just as much. If you don’t feel comfortable with someone it doesn’t matter how effective the therapy approach is. I had wonderful counselling sessions and terrible ones, depending on the person I was talking to. It wasn’t the counselling that was the problem, but the individual leading the session.

This is also an interesting experience for me, since I always thought that maybe I wasn’t in the mood or that the chosen therapy didn’t work for me anymore. But I have learned a lot about myself over the past few years and I can confidentially say that I know what I need and what I expect to achieve as an outcome.

Life Love Quotes Therapy Helps But Screaming1

 

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Day 17 – Perfectionism

“Perfectionism involves a tendency to set standards that are so high that they either cannot be met, or are only met with great difficulty. Perfectionists tend to believe that anything short of perfection is horrible, and that even minor imperfections will lead to catastrophe. Trying to be perfect is also likely to make you feel stressed and maybe even disappointed with yourself much of the time because you are not able to meet your standards easily or at all. Over time, you may even start to believe that you are not as capable as others.”
https://www.anxietybc.com/sites/default/files/Perfectionism.pdf

I’m leaving the first therapy session with the Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner (what exactly is that anyway?) disappointed, sad and feeling hopeless. I think it was supposed to be CBT, however, half-way through the session I said I didn’t actually recognise the way I really feel in my responses, that this is just random behaviours I display based on something that goes so much deeper. She concluded that instead on working on low self-esteem we better had working on perfectionism, which, so it turns out, is a totally different approach. Sadly our time was nearly up so she gave me some light homework to do and sends me back out alone again into the wilderness that is my confused mind.

I had high hopes (or idealistic perfectionist intentions) that this would really help me move forward. But the anger I wrote about yesterday wasn’t even part of the session. Which, ironically, made me really angry. Mostly it angered me that I had been put into a box, however well-intended for the purpose of helping me getting up and going again, but my whole life is defined by being put in various boxes that I just don’t fit in!

The biggest boxes I believe were set up by my father and my teacher, who even went to great lengths, knowingly or unknowingly, to make sure they dig an extra deep hole as well so the box would be well positioned and not easily removed. So if anyone tries to put me into a box I rebel, I kick and scream if necessary, and if this doesn’t change anything then I will simply leave.

And I have done a lot of running away in my time, the kicking and screaming only happens when I feel truly trapped.

I do reckognize myself in the descriptions of perfectionist tendencies, trying too hard not to be a failure, re-reading this blog post, changing a word here and there, even adding this paragraph after publishing, just to make this post “perfect”, like all the other posts, wasting time by fussing about unnescessarily, and somehow being disappointed for not receiving many likes. Just what’s there much to like about the topic of anxiety and needing to be perfect? I realise that I’m setting myself up to feel a failure by setting myself and others way too high standarts, the achievement of which would be perfect, but life is rarely ever perfect.

So how do I move forward from here? Was I possibly just expecting too much from this session? Was it my perfectionism that set out how it would go and since it didn’t go that way at all I was miffed? I hate myself for being a critical and miserable person but since my stress levels had gone up so much a few months ago I find myself getting angry and snappy at the nicest and most well-meaning people. And that is not okay. I’m just so frustrated and really don’t know what to do…

It’s bad when you feel that you think you know a better approach than the professional in front of you and get frustrated with their slow and unnecessary  approach of things you already know all about. It’s even worse when you think you know what to do but it either doesn’t work or you just don’t feel it is working properly for you.

What a mess.

A person who never made a mistake never tried anything new - Albert Einstein

https://www.thefusionmodel.com/5-great-tips-to-control-perfectionism/

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Day 16 – Anger

Psychology of Anger: “Anger is a natural and mostly automatic response to pain of one form or another (physical or emotional). Anger can occur when people don’t feel well, feel rejected, feel threatened, or experience some loss.  The type of pain does not matter; the important thing is that the pain experienced is unpleasant. Because anger never occurs in isolation but rather is necessarily preceded by pain feelings, it is often characterized as a ”secondhand” emotion.”
https://www.mentalhelp.net/articles/psychology-of-anger/

In an interesting discussion with a friend yesterday I realised how much silent anger I’m storing inside of me. No wonder that I end up with anxiety and depression. Incidentally this anger mainly refers to my father who wanted me aborted and when this wasn’t an option to my mum he made clear he didn’t want to be a part of my life. There is also anger for my teacher, who was convinced that I wasn’t all there and suggested I should be transferred to a school for children with special needs.

I’m picking these two themes since two very clear emotions stand out from those experiences: not being seen or accepted and feeling rejected and undervalued. Applying those to all other experiences of my life they repeat themselves in all sorts of scenarios with different people and since I’m either not really aware of them or don’t know how to deal with them they just fester and engrave themselves even deeper into my being.

The thing, however, is that I had already done a lot of work on dealing with the two individuals and the emotions attached to them and really thought that I had more or less made peace with them. But somehow the anger, the pure and raw fundamental human emotion of anger, had if at all only been scraped on the surface. My attempts at making peace with the past probably ignored my anger because I didn’t feel I have a right to feel angry. I actually kind of understand my father and teacher. Instead I’ve been merrily transferring this “silent anger” onto my partner, work and a lot of other things, even silly things like advertising…to mention but a few. So we’re dealing with a lot of repressed anger here.

Tomorrow I have my first counselling session and it looks like I already have a topic prepared 🙂

Two weeks into taking the antidepressants I still feel better but seem to hover a bit in a state of slight unease. My GP was happy to see I felt so much better already after just two weeks, just as surprised as the psychological assessor on the phone the other day. Apparently it usually takes longer for the medication to work. Am I just lucky or does my generally “healthy” lifestyle with regular yoga practice, acupressure and walks outside help after all?

http://quotesgram.com/releasing-anger-quotes

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Day 13 – Suicide

“Killing oneself is, anyway, a misnomer. We don’t kill ourselves. We are simply defeated by the long, hard struggle to stay alive. When somebody dies after a long illness, people are apt to say, with a note of approval, “He fought so hard.” And they are inclined to think, about a suicide, that no fight was involved, that somebody simply gave up. This is quite wrong.”
Sally Brampton, Shoot the Damn Dog: A Memoir of Depression

A bleak topic, best avoided, no time is ever right to discuss it, yet when it comes it comes and sometimes there is no stopping. I was rather shocked to hear today that Sally Brampton, agony aunt, journalist and self-proclaimed depressive, has “gone into the sea”, not far from where I live, two days ago.

Not that this is any of my business, it’s just that I’ve been dipping in and out of her book about her depression “Shoot the damn dog” for the past few weeks while battling my own demons. I particularly liked her witty and down to earth column in the Psychologies Magazine. And now she has done what I have never had the guts to do. And yet I can almost feel her decision, or urge, as if it was my own. I feel sad for her and really hope she is in a better place now.

When I last felt so very low a few weeks ago, the tiredness had overcome me and left an empty shell which ran on autopilot. I recognized the point where I stopped caring about anything, and after the thoughts to just stumble onto the road or plop in front of the train turned into automatic instincts which I felt I wasn’t properly in control of anymore my last little emergency alarm bell rang and I picked up my last senses and saw my GP. And I’m glad to say I feel much better now.

It is often said that it isn’t so much the wish to die, but more the wish to not be anymore, to not feel that internal pain anymore, which I totally agree with. A fellow blogger recently wrote a perfect blog about suicide, which really sums up all the thoughts, feelings, emotions that emerge when suicide begins to be lurk on the horizon. And since I couldn’t possibly write it any better I urge you to read the post on “What it really feels like to be suicidal”: https://perfectionhasapriceblog.com/2016/04/12/the-crab-apple-tree-what-it-really-feel-like-to-be-suicidal/

http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/agony-aunt-sally-brampton-loses-battle-with-depression-lngmbpjg3

Are you affected by this?

Samaritans

The Samaritans helpline is available 24 hours a day for anyone in the UK struggling to cope. It provides a safe place to talk where calls are completely confidential.

Phone for free: 116 123

Email: jo@samaritans.org

Visit the Samaritans website

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Day 12 – Self-Esteem

If you have healthy self-esteem, your beliefs about yourself will generally be positive. You may experience difficult times in your life, but you will generally be able to deal with these without them having too much of a long-term negative impact on you.
If you have low self-esteem, your beliefs about yourself will often be negative. You will tend to focus on your weaknesses or mistakes that you have made, and may find it hard to recognise the positive parts of your personality. You may also blame yourself for any difficulties or failures that you have.
http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/self-esteem/#.VzOC0I-cFMs

So I finally had a phone assessment after registering with Health in Mind (www.healthinmind.org.uk) as advised by my GP. It dug up a lot more of the past than my last blog post and left me feeling down again. The assessment concluded that my anxiety and depression is not the cause of a mental health condition but might be caused by low self-esteem.

Interesting, could make sense. But is that really “all it is”? Wouldn’t this be something easy to get over with? Clearly not. It is one of the causes on the list for depression, albeit the least likely reason I would have thought of. But isn’t that always the case? That we don’t see what the real problem is?

The list of causes is long and obvious and very general since we all react different to our experiences. Look them up on the website if you are interested: http://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/self-esteem/causes/#.VzOFrI-cFMs

The assessor recommended CBT based sessions with the focus on my self-esteem. Since they first session won’t be until July and I really felt I needed to talk about this sooner she made me a counselling appointment for next week. Sorted.

This morning I woke up again at 3.20am unable to drift back to sleep, which I hadn’t for the past week. Clearly been dreaming too much, probably related to yesterday’s phone assessment and also having been to the movies to see the latest Captain America, which was just way too long and confusing and kinda too much to take in.

Considering I haven’t been doing much exciting things other than self-directing myself around house and grounds, having had the phone assessment appointment coming up brought up some of the anxiety symptoms again. Was it the “big unknown” or that I had to watch the time, worrying that I might miss it? Or is this simply what anxiety does? Overwhelm you at the next best opportunity?

Like having to remember to take my medication, and sometimes nearly forgetting, and then asking myself several times for the rest of the day whether I actually had taken it….seriously!

http://www.healthinmind.org.uk/are-you-ok

 

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Day 10 – The Past

Adjective: Gone by in time and no longer existing
Noun: The history of a person or place
http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/past

People say what’s in the past is in the past, that it can’t be changed, that there is no point worrying about it. This obviously depends on the things that happened and can be difficult with existing conditions like anxiety or depression. The past makes us who we are now, it makes us interesting, an individual that has stories to tell. How boring a place would the planet be without stories?

There are numerous events leading up to my sickness leave that could have played a part, but that is life, isn’t it? Life happens and sometimes we deal with it better than other times. If it catches us without warning or at the wrong time it might leave a deeper mark than when we are prepared and ready to deal with it. I would consider my life to be fantastic. I’m a strong individual with many dreams and visions. I’ve done a lot and accomplished a lot and wouldn’t say that my life was lacking in anything, apart from not being very social and occasionally low in mood.

My mum was diagnosed with depression only a few years ago. She said she’s been battling the symptoms for many many years. She also thinks that her mum has shown similar symptoms. So does that mean that my past and future have finally come together to form the inevitable?

I grew up without a father, he didn’t want to take part in my life and still silently refuses (he wanted me aborted, it’s complicated). My teacher didn’t believe in me and tried to send me to a school for children with special needs. Boys were just not interested in me (oh the heartache). My childhood best friend deserted me for her new best friend. My great-grandmother died when I was 7, my granddad followed when I was 12. I changed school when I was 14. My circle of friends fell apart when I was 20 (it’s also complicated). My job was taken over by someone else (there must have been a misunderstanding). I changed career. I moved abroad on my own when I was 23 to find what I was missing. My cat back at home died, I felt like I deserted her. I changed career again. I still had trouble with boys but this time it got more traumatic, leaving me emotionally and mentally scarred. I learned and learned and learned a lot of things, professionally at work and attending college in my own time. New friends came and went. I entered my longest relationship (6 years and still going) but have trouble with the commitment and intimacy. We bought a house together but at times this makes me feel trapped. I still get panic flashbacks from the traumatic relationship. I got promoted at work but burned out in the process. Stress at work went from manageable to worst. And it stayed there. I cared too  much about other people and forgot myself in the process. Now I’m on antidepressants.

Is that evidence enough? Who’s more to blame? My father, the teacher, my evil ex, genes, work? Who’s to say…

The catalyst in the end clearly was the persistent high stress levels at work. But I believe life had already left a mark and it was only a matter of time when it would needed to be addressed. There is never a good timing to deal with depression. My sickness leave was my emergency stop. And I realise now how much I needed it. I feel so much better now. Even better than when I didn’t even realise I was heading towards no-man’s-land. And like I had said before: why would you want to wait until you have completely fallen to pieces? It’s easier to get back up again when you stop earlier.

Get help if you feel persistently low or anxious!

http://inspirationalquotes.club/ive-never-met-a-strong-person-with-an-easy-past/

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Day 9 – Highly Sensitive Person

“In the past Highly Sensitive People (HSPs) have been called “shy,” “timid,” “inhibited,” or “introverted,” but these labels completely miss the nature of the trait. Thirty percent of HSPs are actually extraverts. HSPs only appear inhibited because they are so aware of all the possibilities in a situation. They pause before acting, reflecting on their past experiences. If these were mostly bad experiences, then yes, they will be truly shy. But in a culture that prefers confident, “bold” extraverts, it is harmful as well as mistaken to stigmatize all HSPs as shy when many are not. Sensitivity is anything but a flaw. Many HSPs are often unusually creative and productive workers, attentive and thoughtful partners, and intellectually gifted individuals. HSPs could contribute much more to society if they received the right kind of attention.”

I can say that I was born an introvert, quiet, highly sensitive to my surroundings with the purpose of changing the world for the better. These might be at odds and you might wonder how a quiet introvert can possibly take on the challenge of changing the world. The answer lies in the adaptability of life, the life choices I make and the actions I take on the way.

Being highly sensitive means that I take in more than others of clues and information which can often feel overwhelming. Self-doubt has been, and still is with me most days.  One might say that it is a lonely path I chose, an idealistic freedom fighter on the way to unknown territory. The fact that only about 20% of the world population is introvert makes it harder for us to prove our validity and to explain why we choose quiet solitude over crowded parties.

This whole topic on introversion and high sensitivity have been much clearer to me after reading the book “Quiet” by Susan Cain and “The Highly Sensitive Person” by Elaine Aron and I felt it important to share this information with you as part of my journey to understand my anxiety and depression. It was almost as if I was reading books about myself. All the confusion about who I was and who I was supposed to be settled and merged into a much stronger version of my quiet self. “Quiet” even explained that it is possible to grow out of being shy and to adapt a much more dominant mannerism, something that I had already observed in myself.  The more you practice something that causes you stress, the more your nervous system, particularly the amygdala, will calm down.

When I was younger people said about me that I was shy. I didn’t like it, but not knowing the difference between being shy and being a highly sensitive introvert I accepted my shyness. In recent years, however, have I morphed into this outspoken individual that reaches for as many stars as she can reach and doesn’t stop at a barrier. That is until my anxiety and depression got the better of me…

Anxiety and depression might have been part of my genepool since birth or might have developed with me during the ups and downs of life, struggling with my identity as shy, being highly sensitive, naturally worrying about some things and taking other too much to heart. Maybe I tried to hard to fit in and be accepted by others. And maybe it is just another 50/50 factor that may or may not have played a part.

The pills seem to work, I can feel spring again, feel the sunshine – not only on my skin but also in my heart. It feels nice to have that sensation of peace back compared to the tumultuous whirlwind of thoughts and feelings rushing through me. Feeling relatively normal I almost feel embarrassed for all the drama and the sickness absence at work, but then I remember that I might not feel much different if it wasn’t for the pills. It is strange to think that this is only an “altered state” which only exists because of artificial chemicals. This is never something that appealed to me, and it doesn’t mean that I have any less of a mental health problem, but I have to say that I’m grateful for it at the moment.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Looking for bluebells on a walk with a friend.

 

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Day 7 – Diagnosis

Noun: The identification of the nature of an illness or other problem by examination of the symptoms.
Origin: Late 17th century: modern Latin, from Greek, from diagignōskein ‘distinguish, discern’, from dia ‘apart’ + gignōskein ‘recognize, know’.
http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/diagnosis

It’s been a week since I saw my GP and after yesterday’s great improvement in mood I was stuck in deep hole of nothing today, in a strange and distant headspace. Spend most of the day dozing or asleep. Not even very keen on writing about it, feels a bit pointless. So was the thought of going for a walk, which I did after all on strong suggestion from a friend who went through similar a few years ago (“don’t be a hermit” she said), albeit it didn’t make much of a difference after all. All just a big haze…

A week ago, after all the blood tests had come back normal once again, and my initial short panick of not knowing what it was that made me feel that way, I was actually relieved to have names to give to the way I feel, it added some more perspective to the confusing mess. But a week later I feel more confused than before. Since starting the medication I have been feeling a little clearer in my head, less heavy in my body, slightly better mood so to still be feeling low and lacking motivation I feel rather more like a spoilt child that is lazy and bored at the same time.

I bumped into a couple of friends on my walk and while answering the casual “how are you” with a calm smile and a “fine” the big lump in my throat nearly chocked me. Why can’t I just be happy? There are so many people out there who are acutely ill and whose life will be cut short by their illness. And here I am, a moody cow that can’t get her act together and enjoy the brilliant life she’s got.

A fellow blogger said that I was so much braver than her for letting myself be signed off work. I actually saw it as weakness, as giving up, not just on myself but on everything around me. And I still worry about the dreaded conversation with my manager on my return…which reflects in my repetitive dreams. Should I have just carried on? No, I couldn’t possibly, working in care is not a good place to be with an acute onset of anxiety and depression…

And in terms of diagnosis, I don’t know if I will ever be officially diagnosed with anxiety or depression or whatever else for that matter, and maybe I don’t want to be diagnosed at all, and yet I almost worry that I won’t be because what the hell is going on otherwise?

I really think I shouldn’t have written this blog today after all, and I’m sorry for the moody outlook. Maybe someone somewhere can learn something from it. Lets hope the medication evens itself out soon.

 

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Day 6 – Dreaming

It has been shown that depressed people dream up to three times as much as non-depressed people. Emotionally arousing ruminations which are unfulfilled at sleep onset (i.e. the concern is still a worry) get ‘dreamed out’ metaphorically during dreaming. This is done to leave the ‘higher brain’ (neo-cortex) free for dealing with the next day’s events. Dreaming literally takes the ‘charge’ out of a concern.
However dreaming is a very distinct part of sleep. It’s called ‘paradoxical sleep’ because it is not the part of sleep which provides us with rest. During the dream phase of sleep (REM), we actually have more of the ‘stress hormones’ such as adrenaline in our systems. So over-dreaming stresses the system leaving us exhausted when we awaken. Nature sometimes tries to prevent the person over-dreaming by causing them to awaken in the early hours of the morning so that they spend less time in dream sleep.
Depressed people dream more because they have more emotional arousal to ‘dream out.’ Depression causes (and is caused by) a lot of emotionally-arousing introspection, or rumination, that endless sort of worrying that never seems to go anywhere and just makes you feel bad.
http://www.clinical-depression.co.uk/depression-faq/depression-and-dreaming

This really explains a lot and make sense to me since I remember dreaming about things left undone or which were on my mind the past couple of nights. Considering I’m feeling increasingly better and also sleeping a bit better, my dreams clearly “rounded” up my worries to make sense and make me feel better about them. Watch the short clip below for better understanding.
Compared to a few months back where I tossed, turned, sighed and pulled my hair in a desperate attempt to fight that monster that was stealing my sleep followed by the more recent weeks of the black hole I was waking from exhausted, day 6 has been a big difference. I woke up with this calm state of mind and it took me a few moments to realise that this was “normal” and it lasted a few more long moments before a light anxiety fluttered in again and settled in my gut. Apart from the persistent lump in my throat and occasional nausea I had a pretty “normal” day. I felt compelled to take up my yoga practice right after breakfast followed by cleaning the cat’s litter tray (had been due for more than a couple of weeks…) and proceeded to potter around the house and gardens.
At lunchtime I got a strong urge for macaroni cheese and actually made it without much bother, even going the extra little mile to pick fresh herbs from the garden! And I even ended up mowing the grass too later in the afternoon! Wow!
Heart beat increased a little again this evening and I feel a little moody, but otherwise, so much better! Thank you little wonder pill!

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Day 5 – Friendship

I messed up a lot of potentials to make close friends in recent years because I have this social anxiety which makes it really difficult for me to casually get together with people and do small talk. The pure thought of it literally tightens my throat and sends an evil sensation through my body so that I politely decline a lot of invitations.

Interestingly, at work I have become some sort of hero by setting up a staff forum and getting involved in campaigns and events. But even then, as long as I’m in charge and organise things I’m fine, as soon as I’m done organising and it gets to the socialising bit I feel that dark shadow cast over me and suddenly feel very small and insecure, not knowing what to say to the person next to me.

The times I have forced myself to go out and socialise more I ended up exhausted whishing I hadn’t accepted. Every once in a while I organise a get-together of people at my house because in my heart I actually truly like to be around the people I know and to catch up with them. It is easier for me to have them all come to mine, albeit I still panic slightly the days beforehand, feeling overwhelmed, wishing I hadn’t set this up.

The thing with anxiety is that I can at times be very overwhelming myself, talking about all the incredible things I know, whereas the thing with depression is that I don’t want to talk at all. All my life people have either asked me why I don’t talk and socialise with them or told me that I needed to calm down. So, who am I and what am I expected to do when faced with a multitude of different people? You probably get the reason for my social anxiety.

The worse my  stress and anxiety got over the past few months the more did I accidentally snap at colleagues and friends. I regretted it the moment it happened but I couldn’t stop it either. Not a recommended way to keep friends. While on holiday abroad a little while ago I felt so anxious in a group situation with the well-meaning banter of a friend that I shouted at her to shut up and stormed off. We were all so upset. I was also so embarrassed about it I didn’t apologize until today. It still doesn’t feel right…

I don’t have to go into how anxiety and depression impact on an intimate relationship…it’s not good and I’m surprised to see that my boyfriend has made it over 6 years with me now. A lot of ups and downs!

None of the “grown-up” friendships I have made over the past years are as deep and fulfilling as those I made when I was younger. Is that maybe because the earlier friendships had more time to mature? Or is it that as grown-up you have just so many other responsibilities? I miss the uncomplicated way I used to hang out with friends when I was younger, even when this was the time my social anxiety materialised, it was still different. And I’m sad that of all the many, many people I know, some of which closer than others, I do not feel any deep sort of connection at all, a vital missing link. Is it the anxiety or depression that makes me not feel that connection or is it that I simply haven’t been able to get close enough to establish that connection because I don’t meet up with people often enough?

Day 5 brought with it some dizziness and a lot of tiredness which lifted in the afternoon so that after dozing in the garden all day (great life, eh?)  I went for a little walk in the evening sun. My head seems a little clearer, thoughts are slowing down, even my heart doesn’t pound as attention seeking as it had been anymore. It’s been nearly a week already…am I wasting time by waiting for some random pills to work?

 

 

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Day 4 – Mental Illness Tag

Today was the first time I actually looked at my little “wonder pill” compared to the last three days where it just disappeared in the dark void which is my digestive tract, in fear I might change my mind if I think about it too much. Such a small thing which promises so much…

Last night I woke up a couple of times and for a few seconds I felt absolutely normal. Defining “normal” as the absence of any churning acid and even thoughts. It was bliss, then the tsunami rolled in again and swallowed me up. Even if it was only a very short moment it gave me the much needed optimism that soon I might feel like that most of the time.

As suggested by a fellow blogger (Beccadoeslifethings) I’m answering the questions below to make others more aware of what it feels like to have this stigma attached to them. If you suffer from a mental illness then do the same and post your tag below and maybe on Becca’s blog too. The more it reaches the merrier 🙂

  1. What mental illness do you have? – I have just been signed off work for the first time for Anxiety with Depression. Does that mean I have a mental illness?
  2. When were you diagnosed? –4 days ago
  3. Who knows about it? – So far only my boyfriend, a friend and a work colleague who went through a similar experience a few years ago.
  4. Do you receive treatment for it? – I just started with 50mg of Sertraline once a day. Am waiting for CBT referral to come back.
  5. Has your mental illness stopped you from doing anything? –It messed with my meditation and yoga routine and other interest like growing veg, taking photos, doing exercise, cooking, meeting friends, socialising. Then it affected work because I was very tired, couldn’t concentrate, forgot things, was unable to do some things.
  6. Is there anything in particular that has helped you? –Yoga and meditation together with relaxation techniques I could do myself helped initially as did EFT with psychotherapy, acupuncture and reflexology. But sadly towards the end I gave up on all of them…when depression got the better of me it felt like too much hassle and also costs a lot of money…
  7. Can you describe what it feels like to have your mental illness? –tiring, I didn’t really know I had it, just thought I was stressed. Now that it has a name I recognize the anxiety on its acidic churning in my body from my gut, chest into my toes. There is a persistent rapid heart beat which can make it difficult to breathe properly and A LOT of thoughts passing in and out of my brain. I find it difficult to relax, am restless and sometimes my whole body, more often my legs only, feel like they are full of electricity. The ensuing depression bit is the lack of joy or interest for things, isolating myself, feeling sad and lonely.
  8. What is a common misconception about your mental illness? –That I’m moody or lazy or make stuff up because I can’t be bothered. I look totally normal from the outside!
  9. What do you find the most difficult to deal with? -To explain what is going on inside of me to others, especially to my manager at work. I worry that I won’t be able to do my job anymore and will need to be on medication for the rest of my life.
  10. Do you have anything else you’d like to say? –I always thought that you are managing until you break down in a heap on the floor crying your eyes out. A colleague said to me why I would want to wait until I am at that point before I ask for help, chances for recovery are better the sooner you work on the problem. So I got help. Get help now if you feel you can’t cope, even if you think you are on top of it!

ijcpejov

 

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Day 3 – Depression

Depression is more than simply feeling unhappy or fed up for a few days. We all go through spells of feeling down, but when you’re depressed you feel persistently sad for weeks or months, rather than just a few days. Depression is a real illness with real symptoms, and it’s not a sign of weakness or something you can “snap out of” by “pulling yourself together”. Symptoms range from lasting feelings of sadness and hopelessness, to losing interest in the things you used to enjoy, feeling very tearful, feeling constantly tired, sleeping badly, having no appetite or sex drive, and complaining of various aches and pains. Many people with depression also have symptoms of anxiety. At its mildest, you may simply feel persistently low in spirit, while at its most severe depression can make you feel suicidal and that life is no longer worth living.
http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Depression/Pages/Introduction.aspx

When I was 16 I ran away from home. There was no real reason apart from this enclosing sensation, like the walls of my room were caving in on me. I simply had to get out. I couldn’t explain it, I just felt “out of it”. I stayed at a friend’s house for about a week feeling very low and a little bit of a fool with no answers to what was going on. My mum was terribly worried but greatly understanding. She signed me up for counselling. I put it down to hormones, puberty, possibly that cute guy that just wasn’t interested in me.

But over the years I have watched these dips in mood coming and going, be it with the seasons, my menstrual cycle or simply life’s events. When I was 23, I moved from Germany to the UK. Again, I felt like I needed to get away, find my true purpose in life. 10 years later I’m still in the UK, still having ups and downs, but this time was the first time that I got signed off work for anxiety with depression.

Was this inevitable? I could say I saw it coming. Maybe it was just a matter of time. At what point does low mood turn into depression? When I first mentioned it to my GP some 7 or so years ago he suggested to start with counselling and see how that worked. Let’s say I had a lot of counselling, CBT and psychotherapy over the past years. It helped at the time but I still ended up in this mess. The worst is that there is never anyone available to talk to when you really need them.

So, how am I getting on after swallowing pill number 3? Tired, very tired. Had trouble falling asleep again last night. Woozy when getting up. Mood going down again. No motivation to do anything. Mild panic with nausea sets in when my boyfriend left for work. Alone. Dreary grey rainy day. Did I overdo it with the house painting yesterday? Or is the new yoga routine really affecting me? Probably just the side effect of the medication….

Clip I found worth watching below.

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Day 2 – Anxiety

Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is a long-term condition that causes you to feel anxious about a wide range of situations and issues, rather than one specific event. People with GAD feel anxious most days and often struggle to remember the last time they felt relaxed.
GAD can cause both psychological (mental) and physical symptoms. These vary from person to person, but can include: feeling restless or worried, having trouble concentrating or sleeping, dizziness or heart palpitations.

 

Looking back it all makes sense: constant overthinking, worrying, being unable to switch off and relax, then in the end the exhausting tiredness from which I just couldn’t recover, no matter how many days I had off. But interestingly,  although I was pretty sure that I had some form of depression or another since I first read about it in my teens, anxiety had never crossed my mind. Yet it is strangely reassuring to put a name to the way I feel.

I wouldn’t call myself a particularly anxious person. Although more of the quiet nature, disliking social situations and small talk, I am strong, full of big ideas, brave and nothing can stop me when working to turn my biggest dreams into reality. It was just a little niggle here, a little worry there – after chairing a meeting, leading a talk, sending an email, after work – that I began to have these acid surges coursing through me. That’s when the thoughts would start rolling, back and forth, back and forth: “Did I do it right? Did I make a fool of myself? I should have done this! I forgot to do that! What was I thinking!”…. 

I might consider the possibility that it was my anxiety, the need to prove that I am not worthless, the need to be seen, that propelled me forward to achieve the impossible, the constant learning, the way up into higher ranks while still remaining the humble”shop floor worker”. My current anxiety might also be a sprout grown from a seed planted during a particularly terrifying and abusive relationship a few years back.

After the second tablet began dissolving into my cells I began to feel more optimistic, suddenly there was a reason to be again, just to be around for a little while. It took me a long time to fall asleep last night but I dare say I slept a little better. Anxiety symptoms were still persisting, albeit a little less intense.

I don’t know whether painting the house is a thing one should avoid when just having been signed off work for anxiety with depression but it had been on hold for nearly 5 months now and my boyfriend took charge so all I had to do was go round the edges with my little paint brush and fill in the gaps. I thought it might be therapeutic and it would also make me go outside into the sunshine. We did it, regardless of nausea, racing heart and breathlessness washing over me every now and again, and I felt a welcoming sensation of achievement.

I also fittingly came across a 30 day transformative online yoga course yesterday and immediately signed up. What better way to get myself back into my lost yoga practice, do some light exercise with the view of being better at the end of the month? Just that it opened with the disclaimer that symptoms of anxiety and depression can be exacerbated by the practice and to avoid doing this if affected. Damn, did I thought, and my anxiety got the better of me for a moment. But then I thought, hey, yoga is the reason why I carried on for so much longer during the past few critical months. I probably would have been down a long time ago if it wasn’t for my regular practice of yoga and meditation, even if I hadn’t been able to focus anymore in recent weeks. So I did it and, aside a rush of dizzying energy,  felt better for it.

A thought occurred to me: if on the very beginning of a treatment for anxiety I set out on a 30 day yoga course and daily blogging ventures, does that mean I’m still not actually resting, that I’m still being driven by my anxiety, to carry on, to achieve, because I’m unable to relax, let go and simply exist? Because if this month goes by in no time and I still haven’t actually come to a rest, then what am I supposed to do? I need to calm down!!!

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Day 1 – Sertraline

Sertraline is an antidepressant in a group of drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). It affects chemicals in the brain that may be unbalanced in people with depression, panic, anxiety, or obsessive-compulsive symptoms. Sertraline is used to treat depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).  http://www.drugs.com

Hardly slept all night, with anxiety cursing through my body like burning acid. The pure thought of taking those pills…the anxiety had build up over the past few days in the run up to my doctor appointment, after that blood test came back negative and I knew that the only sensible explanation for how I felt was that I had turned into a nutcase.

After feeling so exhausted and low in mood the past few weeks, which was like being stuck in a huge grey cloud, the persistent electric current this anxiety generated in my nervous system was hardly bearable and carried on with a steadfast heart beat with no sign of slowing down since taking the first tablet in the morning together with the equally persistent dry lump I had in my throat for a couple of weeks now. To add to the fun I had strange aches and pains here and there, restlessness, tiredness, wooziness and no desire to eat despite a roaring hunger. A nice side effect of the butterfly feeling in my gut is that it has reactivated my sluggish bowels after nearly two years of persistent constipation.

Inside I felt like you do when you go on a rollercoaster under peer pressure against your will. From the outside, however, no visible change. Just how do you explain that to anyone? One butterfly seemed to have escaped my nervous gut and fluttered around me in the garden. Wings white and orange, a much welcome escape moment.

Against my internal rollercoaster ride I felt inclined to write some work emails, just to make sure life went on without me…which I think is a major player in the way I feel now. I feel responsible and have high standards. I believe that without me it isn’t going to happen. In hindsight a fatal mistake….

Let’s see what day two brings.

Listening to Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t worry bout a thing” A LOT.

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Mind over Matter

According to Wikipedia the first mentioning of the term “Mind over Matter”: “It may be said that, so far from having a materialistic tendency, the supposed introduction into the earth at successive geological periods of life- sensation, instinct, the intelligence of the higher mammalia bordering on reason, and lastly the improvable reason of Man himself, presents us with a picture of the ever-increasing dominion of mind over matter” (EVIDENCES OF THE ANTIQUITY OF MAN by Sir Charles Lyell 1863, pp. 505-506).

Leaving the GP practice slightly shaken with a prescription for an antidepressant and a two week sickness note. My worst nightmare had finally caught up with me and swallowed me up like a tsunami.

The perfect solution in hand I still was non the wiser what to do next. The simple act of swallowing a pill the next morning and enjoy two weeks off work seemed surreal and honestly terrified me immensely. What if the pill changes me as a person and worse, what if my reputation at work, which I had worked so hard on over the past years, would be torn to pieces?

After all these years of trying to understand how I work, mentally and physically, and finding alternative ways to heal myself (see sister pages The Cycle of My Life and The Sugar Hangover Diaries) the idea of popping a pill seemed like I had given up, that I was nothing more than a hypocrite, a weakling. I had been greatly involved in helping others maintain a healthy body and mind and was supposed to be the strong sample leading by example. This was not the sample I have had in mind!

However, my recent inability to cope with stress at work and feeling anxious pretty much all the time had eaten away on my ability to de-stress myself. I had lost interest in many things (and I have a lot of interest), felt exhausted all the time no matter how many days I had off and low moods left me wondering what it would be like to not be anymore at all.

I found it hard to focus, even my daily yoga practice suffered, couldn’t keep my mind still, not even during meditation, which I had practiced for years. I just wasn’t me anymore. So the thought occurred that I wouldn’t really have much to lose if I would succumb to the seemingly easy option of an antidepressant.

So here begins another journey, or maybe another cycle of my life comes full circle. Mind over matter, who will win? I remember the first time I felt unexplained anxiety when I was younger….it seemed so long ago…

Follow me if you want to hear how I get on. It does seem to be a lonely road, a little company would be great. And maybe you would like to add your own experience starting antidepressants or being close to someone who has?

To a better future
Anna

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