My Experience of Citalopram

My Experience of Citalopram

Before we get started, I’d just like to point out that everybody’s experience of medication will be different. That being said, this is how citalopram has gone down for me personally.

I’ve been taking citalopram for probably about seven or eight months now. I’ve struggled with anxiety for years, but it has taken until this year to give up my fear of a pill controlling the chemicals in my brain and just accept that I need it. It’s a scary thought, having a tiny white circle messing about with your brain’s chemical balance.

My first month or so on citalopram was bloody hard. I felt as though I had every side effect on the arm-length list that came with the box of pills. I felt sick, tired, lost my appetite, couldn’t sleep, got hot way too easily,  was always thirsty, had a constant dry mouth, had no energy whatsoever, suffered with headaches, and my anxiety actually got way worse. Imagine a really severe hangover for six weeks, laced with panic attacks and dread. Yeah, it wasn’t pretty.

After that initial period of horror, things started to get better. I noticed small changes at first, like how going to the supermarket didn’t seem so scary anymore. I know that’s a really basic daily task, but it’s one that I couldn’t really do before. I found myself tackling that giant pile of laundry and cleaning up my room. Then I started to find it easier to be around people for longer amounts of time. Things just started to ease up in general, and my life got easier and easier by the day.

However, that little bubble of joy and happiness didn’t last forever. A couple of months ago, I found myself slipping again. I started getting anxious for no reason at all, broke down in my manager’s office, cried a lot, had more panic attacks, felt like the world was probably falling down around me. Medication was failing me.

Solution? Sadly, more scary medication. Twenty milligrams of citalopram a day.

The side effects were less severe this time around. I had a few hiccups, but they were nothing compared to when I first started off on ten milligrams months earlier. Twenty milligrams came with its own problems though.

I was tired all the time. I mean, I’ve always been a bit sloth-like, but this was ridiculous. I could sleep for an entire day and still be exhausted. Sometimes I had to take a couple of naps a day to keep myself going, depending on how bad I was feeling. On top of that, everything just felt a little bit dulled down around me. Not quite numb, but my emotions were pretty flat. It did mean that I didn’t get that horrible, anxious, tight feeling in my chest, which is always a bonus, but I also felt really disconnected from everything.

I am now back on ten milligrams. Being on twenty was just too much for me. Being on ten again means that I can feel things, connect with people, and I have a lot more energy. Sometimes I get a little anxious, but it’s something that I’ve learned how to control a lot better than before.

Adjusting to medication can be pretty difficult, but for me it’s been worth it. I feel emotionally normal. Putting up with anxiety can be so draining, but citalopram has really helped me to tackle that problem and function like a normal human being. I can give myself a pat on the back every day for getting in the shower, going to the supermarket, tidying my room, bashing out some work, and doing things that are used to be a challenge for me, no matter how small they may be. I can finally be productive and useful, and it feels great.

 

 

Why Prom Wasn’t for Me

Why Prom Wasn’t for Me

At the end of secondary school, we had a prom. And at the end of college, we had another prom. I didn’t go to either.

When I was sixteen, my self esteem was lower than you could possibly imagine. When everyone around me started getting hyped up for prom, I couldn’t help but feel ridiculously anxious. Prom is the kind of event where everybody makes themselves look all fancy, and then other people compare you. Who has the best dress, best hair, best makeup? I couldn’t stand the thought of being looked at so much, judged so much, and compared to all of the beautiful girls around me. My chest was too flat, my hair was too limp, my skin was too bad, my vision left me rendered with ugly glasses. There was no way that I was going to parade myself around when I felt so low.

My friends tried to encourage me, bombarding me with messages about how I would miss out, how I would look fine, how I would enjoy myself once I got there. The seemingly endless conversations telling me to just push myself and step out of my comfort zone made me feel worse, because actually, it’s not that easy to face your fears like that. My best friend was supermodel material, so the thought of standing beside her while she looked like a younger version of Blake Lively was torture to me.

The same fears struck once again at the end of college. The difference was that this time, I actually intended to go. I bought my dress, I got a new lipstick, all the plans were made. Then, on the night of the event, I found myself looking in the mirror and bursting into tears. There was that familiar feeling again, holding me back from yet another event. I spent the rest of my night in my pyjamas at my sister’s apartment after crying on my mum for what felt like forever, while my friends all had the time of their lives with free ice cream and a photo booth, dressed to the nines. Another one lost.

My battle with anxiety and low self esteem has been a long one. I can’t tell you how many plans I’ve cancelled just because I can’t stand the way I look in the mirror that day. The thought of getting dressed and leaving the house is just too much to handle sometimes, even if it’s just to pop to the corner shop.

It wasn’t until I started taking medication for my anxiety that I finally let go and stopped caring about the way I looked so much. Instead of spending two hours a day trying to get my hair to curl just right and getting my eyeliner straight, I can now let go enough to just do the basics. I can even leave the house without makeup now (but only on rare occasions, I’ll admit).

Sometimes you have to step out of your comfort zone and push yourself to do something brave. But other times, it’s okay to just admit that it’s not your cup of tea, and you’d rather be in bed. You have to find your own balance and make your own decisions, and eventually you’ll expand your comfort zone at your own pace. Prom wasn’t for me, but Freshers Ball was, and I finally got to wear that dress I’d bought. Come to things in your own time, it will all be okay.

Spiralling

Spiralling

This is the hardest and most personal thing I will ever have to write.

As I’m writing this, it is 4:30am. I have hardly slept in the past 24 hours, although it makes a change from my usual twelve hour sleeping shifts. I never have trouble sleeping, but tonight I do.

My head is buzzing around like you would not believe. It feels like it might explode into a billion shards if I can’t calm it down, and part of me wishes that it would. I am not exaggerating when I say that I have spent my entire day in tears. Not just a couple of silent droplets every now and then, but that kind of loud, ugly crying where you can’t breathe properly and you feel like your organs are collapsing. I ran out of tissues, so I have a mountain of screwed up kitchen roll next to me. That stuff is not gentle on your nose.

How do you explain to someone what’s going on in your head when you can’t even comprehend it yourself?

I have not been to uni for maybe two weeks. I don’t know how I’m ever supposed to make anybody understand that I cannot possibly get out of bed when I have no physical disability, but somehow my head is stopping me from getting up. It’s like it’s too heavy to move. The inevitable anxiety that I will face the moment I step out of the haven of my room is too much to bear. The questions, the conversations, the smiles, it’s all too much. There is no polite way to ask somebody not to talk to you because you feel like your head is going to splatter everywhere. There is no way of hiding in a lecture theatre or a seminar room when you feel you may burst into tears. The thing is, I can feel myself falling. I can see everything I want getting further and further away from me as I get behind, and yet that makes everything feel even harder. I’m failing. I’m a failure. I messed up.

Because of all the anxiety (and the inability to get out of bed and make it to the supermarket), I’ve found myself eating a whole lot less than I should be doing. All of a sudden my jeans have a lot more room in them, my skirt is getting baggy, my watch is falling down my wrist. My cheekbones feel more prominent when I’m washing my face and my stomach looks flatter as I skim the loofah over it in the shower. It’s dangerous, and I know it, but it’s the first time I’ve liked my body in a long time. That’s the most terrifying part. I’m petrified for myself, and yet I can’t seem to do anything about it. I look in the mirror and see the sallowness, my dark circles, my frizzy hair, my broken out skin, and I’m disgusted with myself in every way possible, but I look slimmer. I’ve been forcing myself to eat more lately, but it is a conscious effort rather than a natural process. I wobble about a bit and sometimes everything still goes dark when I stand up, but at least I’m trying.

I have just been through a break up with the person that I thought was the love of my life. That’s not the kind of stuff you go through easily. My break up was definitely not the cause of the way I’m feeling; in fact, it was actually the other way around. He was my entire support system, and losing that has been a real blow. I have never felt more lonely, isolated, and unwanted. I tried to throw myself into talking to other people, but I have come out the other side feeling even more insignificant than before. I just wanted somebody to care about me, validate me, make me feel less alone. It doesn’t work like that though. No matter how many times a stranger tells you that you’re “well fit”, it doesn’t actually mean anything. They can’t possibly compare to words said with love and meaning. All my current relationships with people feel empty and desolate, even with people I consider my best friends. I can’t connect.

My head feels like it has fallen into my chest. My heart feels like it has shattered in the pit of my stomach. My stomach feels like it has dropped out of my body completely. I am a shell of my usual self, with no filling and no feeling. I can’t focus enough to read, I feel like I am face to face with a brick wall creatively, and I can’t bring myself to even act normally. People tell me to keep busy, but how can I when I can’t focus on anything at all and I can’t even leave my room? I could probably do with a higher dosage of medication, but I have only just come down from a higher dose that made me feel like a permanently exhausted robot. I feel like I can’t possibly win, no matter how much medication I take. I feel lost.

A few days ago, my flatmate said to me, “you’re such a yes person, but then when it actually comes down to it you change your mind”, and it’s true. I say yes to things because I want to do them. I sign myself up and tell myself it will be fun and everything will be okay. I make plans with people and I get excited. But then the days race past and the pre-planned coffee date is looming, and suddenly I feel like I can’t do it anymore. I can’t possibly be seen by anybody today, I am too revolting. And the excuses pour out: I’m not well, I have work to do, I can’t afford it.

A few years ago when I was going through a rough patch, and old friend told me that I was “spiralling downwards”, and those words stuck with me. In this case, I feel a whole lot more like I’m spinning rapidly out of control. I have never been in such a dark place in my life, and it’s very hard to try to explain things to myself, never mind other people. The moment you first catch yourself thinking about death, you try to brush it off. But then it’s 2am and you’re in floods of tears telling somebody that death is all you want and suddenly your life is very different. It’s all too easy for somebody to say “get help”, but it’s not that easy for me to actually do. When you’re too anxious to make a phone call to a doctor or a counsellor, too stuck in your own head to explain your situation, crying too hard to even form the words you need, or too scared to admit that you need help in the first place, it’s actually really hard.

Now, it’s 5:20am, and I am making toast. A pretty basic thing to do. Except this is something I’m really proud of. I will likely feel sick afterwards, but at least I’m eating. Some days you need a sticker just for making it to the kitchen and making toast. I’ve had a lot of those days lately, but I’m getting there.

This has been a very difficult post to write, and one which I have read over a million times. Yes, I’m oversharing, but this is the only way that I can try to get people to understand. I have completely fallen apart from the inside. I do not skip uni because I am lazy, I do not hide out in my room because I am antisocial, I do not leave social events early because I am boring. I hope that people can try to recognise that now.

This is not a cry for attention. This post is about ending the silence that cloaks mental illness. It’s not fair that so many people suffer and can’t talk about it. They can’t tell their bosses the real reason they couldn’t make it to work today and they have to make up excuses to avoid going out with a friend. I’m sick of silence. I have lost track of the amount of times I have faked an illness or a family event because I had a panic attack trying to leave the house or cried the moment I looked in the mirror and couldn’t stop. I don’t want to be silent anymore. I want people to learn, to accept, and to help each other.

I am not saying that mental illness gives anybody a free pass. I am well aware that I have hurt people because of what goes on in my head, and it’s not a valid excuse. I am responsible for my words and my actions. I know that always flaking on plans is a pain in the neck. I do not expect people to treat me differently, because I am still accountable for the things I do. Sometimes I just need help to do the simple things.

I am not asking for your sympathy. I am asking for your understanding.

 

Calm Down Songs

Calm Down Songs

When I’m feeling really anxious and panicky, I don’t often like music. Noises agitate me, and I find myself feeling worse, no matter how calming the song might be. But when I’m feeling just a bit on edge, music can help to soothe me before I get worse. So here are some of the songs that chill me out before I lose it.

The xx are one of the most chilled out bands I’ve ever come across, and one of my favourites. A few of their songs really comfort me, but this three hour long seamless edit keeps me calm for a long time, and I find it especially useful when I need to get work done because it doesn’t distract me from what I’ve got to do.

Nick Mulvery’s voice is so gentle and soothing, and the gentle acoustic guitar makes me feel safe and cosy. It’s such a nice, chilled, feel-good song, and I can’t get enough of it.

Of Monsters and Men are one of my favourite bands, and Dirty Paws just takes me away to a happy, mystical land where everything is calm. As soon as I hear the opening notes, I find myself instantly relaxing.

If you have any calm down songs, please let me know what they are!

Pet Therapy

Pet Therapy

My cat throws up on my bed at least once a week. She sits on my black trousers and leaves me frantically running around for lint rollers. She sneezes on my face in the middle of the night. But I will never be mad at her.

I have to be honest, my cat is my best friend. Yes, I’m a bit of a crazy cat lady, but I’m okay with that. She drives me absolutely loopy sometimes, keeping me up at night, refusing to eat the food I give her, and stinking out the house, but she’s always going to be an angel to me. Pudding is an old lady now, so she’s been by my side for around sixteen years, if not longer. Throughout that time, she’s been cried on, cuddled, and held close during thousands of panic attacks and hard times, and she’s always there for me.

Sometimes I wonder if animals have an extra sense which tells them when we’re sad. It amazes me how often my cat comes and head butts my hand when I’m not feeling so great, as if she knows I need the pick-me-up. Animals are the ultimate stress reducing tool, providing us with that silent comfort that people can’t seem to offer so easily. Their soft fur feels like a safety blanket when everything feels like it’s getting too much, and stroking them increases our levels of serotonin, helping us to feel calmer and happier. Every time I get upset, I reach for my cat. It’s no wonder that therapy cats and dogs are becoming so popular.

The thing is, you don’t have to explain yourself to an animal, and they don’t need to say anything to you. You can just sit in your quiet company and soothe each other. There’s something really comforting about that.

Yes, she may be sick on my bed, sit on my clothes, and sneeze on my face, but that’s just because she likes to be close to me. She follows me everywhere like a little guardian, and it’s the kind of relationship you can never have with another human being.

So here’s to Pudding, and all the other animals out there, who provide us with the solace we need on a daily basis. Thanks for being there for us.

Introvert vs Extrovert

Introvert vs Extrovert

I’ve lived my life teetering on the edge of being both an introvert and an extrovert. I love talking to people and making new friends, and I find social situations fairly easy most of the time. But that doesn’t mean I’m always confident.

As I grew up, I was taught to make the most of situations – including social situations – so that I would never miss out. The problem was, most of the time I didn’t want to go to that guy’s party or hang out at that friend’s house. I just liked sitting in bed.

It wasn’t until I hit about sixteen that I realised that the reason I didn’t ever want to go anywhere wasn’t because I of who I was as a person, but it was all down to anxiety and depression. While all my friends were starting to hit up parties in secondary school, I turned down every invite because of a crippling fear of drunk people (and their vomit). It wasn’t until I felt obliged to attend my best friend’s 17th birthday party that I came face to face with my fear, donned my party dress, and turned up hoping that I was exuding some kind of fake confidence. After spending most of the night sat on the stairs, squishing to one side to make room for the stumbling person trying to make it to the toilet, and propping up the occasional swaying drunk, I decided parties weren’t my thing. I left early (I know, I’m a terrible best friend) and was all too happy to crash, sober, into my bed.

By the time I got to college, the sense that I was missing out started to creep up on me, and I pushed myself to make the effort to attend people’s parties and various outings, even if I was going to be the only sober person there. The anxiety never left though. Although I may have been the loudest person singing Reach for the Stars, I was still the quickest person to get out of the way anybody who got a bit too drunk or started offering out drugs I’d never heard of. Yes, I was naive and sheltered, but I’d rather have had it that way.

As the months went on, I began to push myself more and more, trying to shove my overwhelming anxieties to the side. I had my first alcoholic drink not long after my 18th birthday, and was terrified of throwing it all back up again, even though I’d barely had anything at all. I became more and more adventurous, forcing myself to become the confident extrovert that I always wished I could be. I bought a ticket for my first ever festival, despite the knowledge that everybody would spend the entire weekend getting drunk and high. I survived it, even though I suffered panic attacks and had to battle with the constant fear I was going to be stabbed. I even got brave enough to book a holiday to Magaluf with a few friends, which turned out to be one of the worst weeks of my life: panic attacks, aggressive promoters, vomiting drunks… you name it. I was permanently on edge throughout the nights, but nobody wants to be the person to spoil everybody else’s fun. I’m pretty sure I was the only sober person in the whole of Magaluf.

By the time I moved to uni for my first year, I had convinced myself that I could leave my anxious self behind. I had tackled parties, a festival, and even a boozy holiday, and I was ready to recreate myself as a new person in a new city. I wanted to be the fun, care-free girl for once, instead of the one that’s always turning down invitations and going home early. But when my flatmates started drinking on our first weekend together, I couldn’t bring myself to join in. I sat sober as they played ring of fire, gulping down my water whenever somebody picked up an ace, and my heart went racing when the first person threw up.

Throughout my first year of university, I forced myself to be that “fun” person, going on almost every night out, and trying to stick it out until the club turned the lights on. But I’ve finally admitted defeat. That isn’t me. I’m not the person who wants to go out every night and get home at 6am. Sure, I like to boogie to some cheesy songs every now and then, but leave the drunken drama out of it.

After spending so long trying to be that adventurous person who climbs over fences and stays out until way too late, I finally crumbled and went spiralling back in the other direction, and it wasn’t pretty. I locked myself away in my room, terrified of being seen by my flatmates. I stuck a therapist’s business card over the peephole in my door so that nobody could see when my light was on. Every time somebody knocked on my door, my heart raced and I held back tears as I sat silently, filled with the fear that they would somehow break in. I refused to go into the kitchen to make food until everyone else had gone to sleep, and when you’re living in halls, that might not be until after 3am. I survived on pasta mostly, and those ten minutes waiting for it to cook were torture; my palms sweated at the thought of somebody walking in and seeing me. I couldn’t even leave my room at 3am without makeup on. I didn’t last the full year at uni.

By the time I went back to uni the following September, I accepted myself for who I was, and not who I wanted to be. I went out very little, and happily spent my nights tucked up in bed watching QI and eating pumpkin seeds. I stopped being so scared of people, and for the first time ever I actually left my room without makeup on. Suddenly it didn’t seem so bad to be the girl always in her pyjamas, and I would happily spend an hour in the kitchen cooking a giant meal. I found my balance.

I’m not spending my life trying to be anybody else’s idea of fun anymore. I like being tucked up in bed with a film and my knitting needles, but it’s still fun to go and sing my heart out to Backstreet Boys every now and then too. I have found a balance that makes me happy, so I’m not overdoing it, but I’m not closing myself off either. I can’t tell you if I’m introverted or extroverted, because honestly, I chop and change.

Parties or party rings? Well, you know what, I’ll take both.

 

Knitting for Stress Relief and Anxiety

Knitting for Stress Relief and Anxiety

Back when I was fourteen and first saw Jenny Humphrey killing it on Gossip Girl, I wanted to be a fashion designer. I wanted to know everything: how to draw, cut, sew, knit, the whole shebang. That dream fizzled out when I realised that I was actually a rubbish fashion designer, but the desire to knit never left me. Finally, this summer, at twenty years old, I picked up my first pair of knitting needles and a ball of yellow yarn, and I learned how to knit.

A lot of people think that knitting is just reserved for old ladies gossiping about Barbara’s bad perm, but that’s not the case at all. Knitting is a great way to pass time, and once you know the basics, you can make something adorable that will leave you feeling super proud, whether it’s a scarf, a pair of socks, or a jumper for your begrudging cat.

For me, knitting came with a surprising benefit. I’ve struggled with anxiety for a good few years, and I’ve always found it hard to find something soothing that doesn’t overwhelm me. Music makes me feel worse, I can’t focus on reading when I’m in a state, and it’s not always possible to just drop everything and go for a nap. This is where knitting changes the game for me.

Once I start knitting, all I have to do is focus on my stitches. All other thoughts seem to evaporate from my head, and the only thing that matters is remembering if the next stitch is a knit or a purl. I may only be making the most basic scarf, but it’s enough to focus on to get me through those times when my head feels like it’s about to burst at the seams.

Everybody experiences anxiety in different ways, so there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Knitting may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but sometimes these things are just worth trying. If you’ve never even set eyes upon knitting needles before, then it’s easy enough to get started with the abundance of YouTube tutorials out there, which I found really helpful and easy to follow. An added bonus is that knitting is a relatively cheap hobby to pick up; you can grab a ball of yarn for just a couple of pounds, and knitting needles are cheap as chips too.

I’m no pro-knitter, but I do owe some of my sanity (or what’s left of it) to knitting this summer.