Rebuilding

Rebuilding

So, it’s been a while. Over four months, actually. Sorry about that! But I think my break from blogging has been an important one.

It’s time for a long overdue catch up I think, so settle down with a cup of tea and let’s get on with the chin wagging! You might remember this post from back in November. If you do, you’ll know that I had a pretty bumpy time of things a few months ago. It was, in all honestly, a time I didn’t think I would get past. Well, have I got a surprise for you!

I think that one of the hardest things about having a low time is the belief that you’re not going to reach the other side of it. My mindset has had a complete transformation since those days in more ways than one, and I’d like to share with you some of the little things that have pulled me through, and how I have learned to (finally) love myself after years of self hatred and destruction.

It’s been a wild few months, but a good few months too. I am, for the first time in a very long time, exceedingly happy. What a nice thing to type. Of course, I have my wobbly days, but I have reached a point in my life where I have come to appreciate the little things enough to not let the bad things take over my day. For example, on Thursday, although life gave me a bit of a kick up the bum, my flatmate Jaz brought me cookies, I read a novel for pleasure for the first time in months (The Outsider by Albert Camus, in case you were wondering), and I made a really great curry for my tea. All small things, but significant things all the same. It is up to me to find beauty in even the most difficult days.

First of all, let’s talk meds. I am now completely free of all kinds of medication. Coming off antidepressants was not easy, and I’m not going to pretend that it’s the answer for everyone, but this was the best decision for me. Although they helped me at the time, I reached a point where I needed to give my head some space to breathe. I felt so suffocated and changed by medication that I just wanted a break to be myself again. It was hard at first, but I think I made the right decision, and I have definitely benefited from it in the long run. But citalopram isn’t the only medication I’ve booted. A few weeks ago, my doctor took me off the contraceptive pill because I was at high risk of developing blood clots (scary, I know). I was pretty scared of coming off it at first, because I’d gotten so used to it and the benefits that it brought. After being on the pill for about a year and a half, I’d never really noticed that it had such a huge impact on my moods, but within a week of ditching it I felt infinitely better. My mood lifted, I felt happier, more energetic, even more confident within myself. Of course it comes with its downsides, but the change I’ve seen in myself is so worth it. Since dropping all medication, I’ve learned how to handle my own extremes of emotion and bouts of anxiety a lot better, so I feel nice and stable and I’m learning how to balance myself in ways that I never could before. I have taken control of my own mind, my own happiness, and my own health, and I’ve pretty much kicked mental illness’s ass. Although medication (or lack thereof) has played a big part in this, it isn’t the only thing that’s had an impact on me.

I want to have a bit of a chat about social media. In a culture so obsessed with keeping the world updated with our everyday lives, it can be really hard to disconnect and switch off from everything. It’s far too easy to fall into the pits of negativity, jealousy, and self pity when you’re reading about how great someone else’s life is on their Facebook or eyeing up all their flashy new things on Instagram. It feels like everyone else has got it so much better than you when you see people getting amazing jobs on Facebook, someone’s new car on Instagram, your friends going out without you on Snapchat, or a festival you’re not going to on Twitter, and it dampens your mood for the day. At new year, when I was watching everyone else entering 2017 at a party with their best pals or with a kiss from their other half while I lay alone in bed with the flu, I decided that enough was enough. I deleted every single social media app from my phone, and I left it all alone for about a month. It wasn’t an excessive amount of time, but it was enough to take away the urge to see every single post on my timeline and to make me realise that there are much better things to be doing than scrolling through Instagram. I suddenly felt kind of free, and a hell of a lot happier about myself. I was no longer comparing myself to other people, and I came to appreciate my own life a lot more.

I eventually came back to social media, although I never got the Facebook app back. I didn’t come back because I felt like I was missing out, but because I finally felt comfortable enough in my own skin to know that it wouldn’t cause me to self destruct anymore. I learned a lot about myself in that month away, and I think that my social media presence is a lot different now. It’s certainly less frequent, and it’s much more focused on self love and bad jokes than self pity and complaining. I think it’s working out well.

More recently, I’ve started to realise my own value. I no longer want to take any shit (sorry mum) from anyone. If someone is treating you badly, if someone isn’t putting the effort in, if someone isn’t caring for you the way they should, don’t waste your time on them. It’s okay to end friendships that make you feel crappy, or to distance yourself from those who fail to see your worth. Surround yourself with people who see your value, treat you as an equal, and make you happy. That might be a very small number of people (hello Paige, George, and Elliott), but that isn’t what matters. In the words of Elliott Fudge, “giving things to other people and not getting anything back won’t make you happy. You don’t have to tolerate being around people who make you feel second best”. I’m sure we’ve all had our fair share of friendships or relationships where you feel like the only one who ever makes an effort. I know I have. I absolutely tore myself to pieces over people who wouldn’t even give me a second thought. That ends now. Frankly, life is too short and I am too great for that. I won’t let it happen anymore. Get yourself friends that bring you Kinder Buenos when you’re having a bad day,  get you books they think you’ll like, put your favourite song on just for you, make you toast after a night out, build you up to no end, and who never make you feel like anything less than important.

Speaking of friendships, and any other kinds of relationships, I have finally learned a very important lesson. In the past, I have always relied heavily on other people for support, and for my own happiness. I never really realised how unhealthy it was for me to invest literally everything I had into one person, and then when things fell through I would be like a fish out of water. I didn’t know how to be okay on my own.

It has only been in the past couple of months that I’ve finally learned how to be okay on my own. That doesn’t mean that I am literally alone, and I still have a ridiculous amount of support and love from friends and family, but I now stand confidently as an independent person. I don’t rely on other people for my happiness, which means that I also don’t let them cause my sadness either, if I can help it. This has been, admittedly, hard for me to do. But I have never had so much appreciation for myself and my own strength. I can do a lot more on my own than I once thought, and I don’t need to depend on other people anymore. I wish that I had learned this sooner, so that I could have saved myself a lot of tears. But I am finally my own person who is in control of my own happiness, and it feels amazing.

I have also closed certain chapters of my life that I left open for far too long. Dwelling on old pain and allowing myself to hurt over things that no longer mattered held me back and caused me unnecessary heartache. Closure is a wonderful thing that can put your mind at rest. Letting go of bitterness, dropping that grudge you’ve held for years, forgiving people who hurt you, and moving on from sourness is so freeing. Your present is more important than your past. You will thank yourself for letting go.

But finding happiness doesn’t have to involve huge, life changing steps. Little things can have the biggest impact. For me, making myself a playlist of happy and empowering songs really helped; I actually have a sassy independent woman playlist that gears me up for the day and restores my confidence when I need it. Exercising more makes a big difference to me too – it gets me out of the house, gives me something to do, and makes me feel great afterwards. I make sure that I’m eating proper meals. I try to make more of an effort to make myself feel nice, whether that means putting on my favourite lipstick or waking up a few minutes earlier to do my hair. For my 21st birthday, I received a gorgeous “thankful journal” from my family. You can write the date at the top, and then it has space to write four things that you are thankful for that day. It’s simple, but it works. It helps me to look for the positive, no matter how small, and to appreciate how lucky I am. Taking five minutes out of your day to write down a couple of things you’re grateful for is a wonderfully positive habit to get into, and it’s one that I’ll be sticking to. It’s little things like this that make all the difference.

Balance is a process. I am working on it every day, little by little. Mental health is about maintenance, and I think I’ve done a pretty good job of taking control and rebuilding myself. I have never had so much confidence in myself, and I have never felt so secure in my own being. I may not have all the answers, but I’m learning and making progress, and that’s what matters.

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Lack of Concentration

Lack of Concentration

This post is very difficult for me to write. Not because it I am opening up my veins for you all to see, but because I seem to have lost the ability to function like a normal human being.

It has been weeks, maybe even months, since I was last able to properly focus on anything. As I write this, I have been living at home for two weeks, and I have spent my days doing precisely nothing. I cannot read for the life of me. I cannot even write, so as I’m trying to put this together, my brain is completely scrambled and can’t even concentrate on what I’m trying to say. When I try to pick up my knitting, I knit one row and then can’t seem to bring myself to do any more than that. I have tried watching films, but I find myself staring blankly at the screen with no idea what’s going on. The sound of music is incredibly frustrating to me lately, and I just want it to stop as soon as I start playing it; I can’t even hear the words over my head shouting. As a result, I have spent my days staring at the ceiling in silence, or lying face down in bed, and just waiting for it to be time to go to sleep again. I find myself staring into the fridge for a good ten minutes because I can’t make sense of what I’m seeing or decide if there’s anything in there that I can eat. It’s like when you’re trying to take a picture of something and your camera just won’t focus, no matter how hard you try. My head is just that blurry and fuzzy, like I’m looking at the world through frosted glass. I can’t even tell you how much of a failure it makes me feel.

All I want is to be able to get on with doing something. I want to be able to keep busy, but I can’t. I have nowhere to go and no friends to see. It’s lonely and it’s infuriating.

I can feel myself falling further and further behind with my uni work, and it’s making me incredibly stressed, but I simply cannot focus on a single thing. For someone who tends to thrive when I’m keeping busy, this is beyond agitating. I have so many things that I want to write about, with a list of ideas as long as my arm, but every time I sit down to write I find myself completely jumbled and lost for words. I feel like I’m living down a well, lost and stuck in the dark, so far away from everybody else on the surface.

Honestly, I’m not even sure that any of this makes sense. I have tried reading back over it, but I can’t even concentrate on that enough to know if I see any mistakes, so I apologise for how much of a mess this is. Please be patient with me.

 

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.

 

 

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.