Time To Talk

 

Living with mental health problems can already make you feel like you’re trapped by yourself. You convince yourself that no one could possibly understand the nonsensical brain rave that’s happening inside your own head. You can feel ashamed, scared, terrified that your brain is a uniquely baffling and fucked up organ compared to a population of ‘normally’ functioning human people. This is just another on the long list of rational fears that we live with. The mental health afflicted mind can be predisposed to introversion, an unwillingness to share, a fear to rationalise your the weirdness happening in your own frantic cranium.

If there is anything I have learnt from being on twitter for all these years, it’s that if you drop two hula hoops into a coffee it doesn’t look anything like an owl. It just ruins your fucking coffee. Oh, and that talking can be fucking magical. Trying to quantify the myriad of ridiculous thoughts running through your brain by yourself can be one of the most worrying things you can do. We’ve all sat and googled our symptoms when we hurt our leg or got a rash, but when you start to self diagnose your own mental illness through the internet, you will convince yourself that you are a one bad day away from imploding into yourself like a black hole appearing in a ham factory. That metaphor was terrible. Sorry. Imploding in on yourself like a… owl… in a…. fuck off you know what I mean with this.

Talking about my problems online, sharing my experiences, reading other’s experiences, listening to people, it convinced me to take my problem seriously. To go to a doctor, to face my fears, to admit that my brain chemistry is wired like a toddler got their hands on a pair of apple headphones, that my amygdala is pretty sure everything in the world is trying to murder me, so panics at the drop of a hat. It took me a while to realise that you don’t have to be ashamed of the way your brain works, it’s not a life choice, this is just who you are, and you can control it, you can learn to battle it, you can wrestle into submission.

If you feel like you need help, see your doctor, or talk to many of the charities available to you. You can try meditation, CBT, medication, what ever you and your doctor thinks is best for you. You can go for a run, or spend an evening colouring in or just write your thoughts down. I have endless word documents filled with ramblings that have expelled themselves from my brain. I have no intention on ever posting them, but seeing the words in front of you, reading through your own thoughts through in bizarre detail, can really help. Talk to your friends, talk to your partner, talk to the dog, just vocalising your turmoil can be a major turning point in how you approach these situations. Yes, it will still be utterly shit on some days, but you now know that you are not alone, you’re not the only one suffering with this, and there are thousands of us willing to chat about it. We are all in this shit together, so let’s kick its arse.

Light and Dark, Up and Down

What goes up must come down is the age old analogy.  When I’m up life is great, like up, up and away good.  Nothing is a bother, I’ve got energy to spare.  Fuck sitting still, that’s for losers right?

But when I’m down, fuck am I down. I’m the shit on a snake’s belly after it’s been trodden on by an elephant. Who would have thought just opening your eyelids could be such hard work?

Mind you, it’s not as hard as pretending to be “normal”.  During the down phases I spend so much energy pretending that I’m ok that there is nothing left for anything else.

I’m sure this correlates directly to the lack of feeling and sensation when nestled in the black, all- encompassing trough.  How can you enjoy things when it takes the energy output of a small town just to function without anyone noticing you’re broken?

Light and Dark, Up and Down –  are they just be a matter of perspective?  Is one man’s down another man’s up and vice versa?

That thought got stuck like one of those odd little brain thorns.  Barbed and stuck in my mind, irritating me till I decided the best way to draw the damn thing out is to rant about the effects of Therapy and Anti-Depressants and talking to strangers on the Internet.

Just remember that the Pros and Cons are interchangeable depending where I am (and you are) in your own personal cycle.  To paraphrase Paul and Michael “Ebony and Ivory, live together in perfect Harmony, unless your brain is broken and you need help to fix it”

Therapy

Pros:  Where else do you get to sit for an hour with a rapt audience talking about yourself?  Great in an up phase, fuck yeah, clarity, finding connections, discussing the living shit out of things and it’s on the NHS despite the best efforts of the government to fuck us over.

Cons: I’ve got to sit and talk about myself for an hour.  Who in their (sic) right mind wants to listen to me?  Gently, I’m being guided back along all the closed off corridors and locked rooms inside my mind, opening the doors a crack and peeping inside.

Conclusion:  Therapy is amazing.  Amazingly insightful, amazingly painful, amazingly engrossing and amazingly terrifying.  All at the same time.  In the early days of being in therapy I found myself looking at all my relationships differently.  Questioning them, stress testing them almost.  Are they ones I want to keep or are they ones it’s time to let go.  Am I fucking a particular relationship up or is it a mutual clusterfuck?  I’m looking and dealing with my own issues – are they and should I care?  Do I have enough time and energy to take their problems on as well as my own?

Having said all that, I was due so start back in Therapy last week.  The therapist phoned in sick.

Pro: more time to prepare and come off my meds.

Cons: He thinks I’m “Tappy Lappy, Nuts, Crackers, Mad bad and dangerous to know”.  Probably.

Anti-Depressants

Pros:  They definitely got me out of the worst down periods I’ve been in.  I’m a child of the rave generation.  Pop a pill and feel better – let’s do this.  50mg is for wimps, I want 200mg.  Yeehah!  Everything is so fucking………..normal.

Cons: Everything is so fucking normal. Normal, normal, Normal.  Normal Brian, 45 Normal Avenue, Normaltown, Nornmalville USA.  Boring in fact.  Stale.  Stuck. No ups, no downs, no black no white, nothing.

And this is the positive benefit.  There are a whole host of side effects linked with SRRI’s.  At the risk of over sharing, my personal highlights have been.

Weight Gain: On average the weight gain in 25% of people taking SRRI’s is circa 10lbs.  Let’s round it up as the tablets also reduce your motivation to get off your fat arse and exercise.

So I’m calling it a stone.  14lbs of fat where nothing has changed really other than the ability to put on weight simply by breathing.  As I’m weaning myself off the meds the weight is coming off.  Not by magic and not all at once but there is a sense of breathing the fat away.

If I could market that as a fad diet, I’d be rich.

Decreased sex drive:  Sertraline killed my sex drive faster than getting married did.  And that was fucking fast.  Then having kids chipped away at it but the tablets dropped it off the edge of a cliff.  So much so I went to see the GP about it, wholly expecting a tablet to fix the problem (rave generation again).

His advice was “I just need to suck it up”.

That was it, word for word.  If I hadn’t been so fucking normal at the time, I’d have either laughed at the implied joke or told him to fuck off.  I did neither just went back home to Normaltown.

There are a couple of others but there is still a limit to how much information I’m comfortable sharing

* and Yes, I’m looking at you Having Difficulty Reaching Orgasm*

Conclusion: Fluoxetine scares me, it left me like an extra from the Walking Dead.  A total Zombie but one who had to function instead of just biting people.  Sertraline did something, although I’m still not sure what.

Maybe I’ve never found the correct tablet or dosage but they aren’t for me long term.  Everyone is different, if yours work for you keep taking them.  Be happy, don’t feel isolated or that there is a stigma attached.  More people than you think are on the happy tablets, they just don’t talk about it.

 

Strangers on the Internet

Pros:  Twitter, Forums IRC, Reddit etc.  I’ve had all kinds of interactions with people who I will never meet in real life.  I’ve learnt obscure facts, shared stories, laughed along with and felt sad for people (mostly who’ve lost their dogs).  All of these have gone some way to making me feel a little better, a bit at a time.  When depression hits and causes you to withdraw socially it can be a viscous circle.  Just having a tiny glimpse into the world at these times is brilliant.

Cons: Facebook.  Just fuck right off.  I know your life is so much better than mine. I don’t need to see your perfect family, in your perfect house doing your perfect things.  How come nobody says things like “I love my kids but they’ve been little shits today or I’m only friends with you on here to see how fat you’ve gotten since school”

Conclusion:  It’s good to talk.  To anyone, someone, your dog, your plants, yourself.  I’m a socialable loner, in that my default happiest state is on my own.  I’m very comfortable in my own company but I recognise it’s also very bad for me if I avoid people for too long.

People need people. And people need dogs.  Dogs are brilliant.  Fact.

I’m going now

Life is all about the ups and downs.  Some of us seem predisposed to going higher and falling farther than others.  Sometimes we need a ceiling and sometimes a safety net to stop our minds bouncing us into oblivion.  Sometimes we just need to read some random blokes ramblings on the internet.

When the going gets tough, give yourself a break.  It’s ok to admit your struggling.

Hope you smiled.

Thanks for reading.

@Tucker_DJ

Brexit and the 2016 existential crisis

Bowie, Brexit, Bake Off. I’m being tongue-in-cheek about the importance of the last matter, but I think you get where I’m going. This has been a hell of a year for many people. If you have your own personal crap going on and/or mental health problems, the news throughout 2016 may have added to your thoughts that things suck a bit.

The psychotherapist Susie Orbach wrote about Brexit early in July, saying that all of her clients wanted to talk about it in therapy during the last week of June.  Susie’s work is different from mine – I work for a free counselling service that specialises in bereavement – but most of my clients also wanted to talk about Brexit (or Syria, or the government, or Jo Cox) at some point.

I saw clients the day after the EU referendum. I had been unable to attend my own personal therapy on the Thursday because flooding had screwed up the trains – a one-hour journey took three hours. Fortunately my therapist was able to reschedule for the Friday morning, and I ended up feeling very grateful that trains in the south east are so sensitive to rain in the summer. I talked through my shock and confusion. I talked about how the news seemed to be one unexpected thing after another. I was scared to really think about the present, let alone the future.

On the Friday afternoon, I saw clients at the bereavement service. They talked – to various degrees – about the referendum and the news generally. For some, Brexit seemed like another bereavement of sorts – an ending that many people, no matter which way they voted, were unprepared for. For others, it was just a bit peculiar, unlike any other public vote they could remember. I didn’t ask how people had voted, nor did I tell them how I voted. In the counselling room, whether I was the counsellor or the client, it didn’t seem to matter. What mattered was that we felt accepted and understood.

Outside, it was different. There seemed to be an epidemic of empathy failure, which spread everywhere – through newspapers, strangers, friends, acquaintances. Social media, as ever, was the best and the worst of it. It was the first time since the early 1990s that I felt genuinely scared of being dark-skinned in the UK. Amongst it all, I was trying to finish my dissertation before the 4 July deadline. “How are we supposed to block out what’s going on outside?!” I asked another student in desperation. This student was finding it as hard to detach as I was. I wonder now what it was like for people who had big things going on in their personal lives at the time. Were those weeks in midsummer happier, sadder, more confusing, exciting, or frightening for them?

In the weeks before the referendum, I had been horrified by the news of clubbers murdered in Orlando and the MP Jo Cox in Yorkshire. In the following weeks, as the PM stepped down and shadow cabinet members resigned, I talked in my own therapy about how scared I was of the uncertainty, violence, and things changing on a big scale, as well as the changes in my own life. I needed the outside world to anchor me, but instead it felt like that scene in the film 2012 (I know it’s a ridiculous film, but I like it) when the ground keeps ripping apart below everyone’s feet.

How can we be like John Cusack, still standing, still cracking jokes, despite the OTT, unbelievable script going on all around us? And how can we do that if we have our own mental health problems going on at the same time?

I guess we need to do what we can to look after ourselves – and we’ll have different ways to do that. Seeing your doctor is a good start. It might be doing something creative or active (I recommend doodling). It might be spending time with people who care about us, who we can have a cry and/or a giggle with, rather than spending hours reading vicious comments from strangers below the line on news articles (I have never done this. Ok, I’m lying). It might be watching something horrible and cathartic (The Walking Dead for me, Game of Thrones for others), something silly and fun, or something lovely and sad but not traumatic (my dream cinema would have a screening room that showed a double bill of Inside Out and Kramer vs. Kramer on a loop every day).

There aren’t easy answers to the big questions that a year like 2016 brings up: Why do bad things happen? How will we cope with change? What is the meaning of life? Why am I here? But I think the fact that we ask these questions shows our humanity as well as our fragility, and if we can find someone safe to talk through our thoughts, hopefully we can find the compassion and acceptance that we need.

 

@TherapyShamini

We All Need Space To Grow

It’s nearly my third anniversary.  Not one I’d normally choose to celebrate but one that feels significant nonetheless.

3 years ago after a period of feeling increasingly down I found myself crying at my desk right in the middle of some mundane work task or other.  Proper wrenching sobs coming from deep, deep down, so hard in fact that they hurt physically as well as emotionally.

This was the catalyst for visiting my GP to start on a course of anti-depressants and to get on the waiting list for my local NHS Talking Therapies group.

I made a decision very early not to hide this from my children.  I wanted them to understand that like a broken leg, my head was a bit broken and I needed to help mend it.  Since then frankly I think I’ve bored the hell out of them talking about feelings, sharing, empathy all of those good things that us stoic men are not supposed to show the world.

I’d like to think I’m decent dad (always room for improvement right?) and as well as taking care of my kid’s material needs I’m encouraging them to be open about their feelings both positive and negative.

This was brought into sharp relief last night over my teenage son.  Love him to bits, but god knows he knows how to push my buttons all at once.  He’s been having some issues at school, nothing major just minor disruption as they like to call it.

There was a lot of back and forth arguing and then I humped off out with the dogs to calm down.  While I was walking I had time to think and realised that some of the things he’s saying sound like me.  A little bit too like me for comfort.

I realised that what he needs for now is not me/us to be on at him constantly.  Yes, he needs to understand the boundaries that we as his parents have set but more importantly we need to let him grow, to give him space to work out what is important to him and the mechanisms and strategies he’s is going to develop to make the life he wants.

So I told him all of this.  He expected shouting, I talked gently.  I explained that I love him very much but we’ve reached a point where as close as we have been he needs his space now to be himself.

And really the other thing I realised is that I need my own space.  Working full-time, kids, pets, wife, house and all those other things that take your time doesn’t leave a lot for yourself.  By giving my son emotional space, I get some back for myself.

When I have space then I can grow as a person to.

This is the first thing I’ve written in three years.  It’s no co-incidence that my creative ability stopped as the tablets took hold.  Feeling level is ok, it smooths out the bumps but the apathy and lack of feeling has me screaming inside.

I’m going back into therapy to see if I can finally get of the medication and accept life for what it is and myself for who I am.

I’ll finish on something that struck me this morning when I was suddenly struck by the need to write this down.

Picture a heart.  Look at the bottom where it joins.  That’s me and my son.  Look how it grows apart as it moves up, creating space but the turning in, curling down to join again.

That’s us.  We are moving apart to find space, never not loving each other, just respecting our needs.  We will come back together; our relationship will be different but with space for each other.

If we don’t acknowledge our feelings and talk things through, then that heart will break and be unable to be repaired.

Nobody should have to deal with that.

hearts

Thanks for reading.


Brian

@tucker_dj

Work in progress

I wanted to go back to work with a bang, not with a whimper. To show them all that I was “fine, thank you. Absolutely! Really, really well.”
I looked well. So well, in fact, that old colleagues did a double-take when they saw me. I’d been off sick for eight months, during which time a neurological condition had caused me to lose seven stones in weight and gain some on-trend glasses and a (less fashionable) walking stick.
I looked like a new me. Well – not exactly ‘new’, but different. Definitely different.

I was nervous about going back. I dreaded all the conversations that I had ahead of me in our open-plan, anyone-can-listen-in, office. Cheery conversations like; “So you’re not dead then?” and “Oh, you’ve *really* been sick? We thought you’d just had a breakdown”. Just?
No, I hadn’t had a mental health problem and no-one  was more surprised about that than me. All through my illness, particularly the months when I was practically housebound, I kept expecting depression to wangle it’s way in. But it didn’t, and I was very conscious of that; cocky even, that i’d kept it at bay when things were at their worst.

What I didn’t know was that the old black dog was lying in wait, licking its balls and planning to cross my path as soon as I tried to make it back to the mythical place known as ‘normal’.
I had been longing to get back to work. I love my job. Unfortunately, in my absence someone else discovered that they loved my job too, and they took it.
Of course they told me that it was all for the best. That I needed to think of my health. That I couldn’t possibly work full-time for a while and, well, I didn’t need the stress of managing a team any more, did I?
I tried to protest. First I lost my temper, then I lost the plot. Finally, I started to lose my hair as well.
And I cried. A lot. All over the place; at work, at home, at the fish counter in Waitrose.

In between the bouts of crying, came the screaming, when I would completely lose my shit over anything and everything; imagined slights, insignificant asides, the kids taking too long to “GET IN THE FUCKING CAR!”
It finally dawned on me one morning, when I flew into a rage at someone for ‘being suspiciously nice to me’ that my long-forgotten depression had returned.
My GP wasn’t surprised. He wrote me a prescription for a stock-pile of ‘happy pills’ with almost indecent haste. “Take them” he admonished “and take any other help you’re offered as well”.
He meant counselling, which the Occupational Health team at work were eager to usher me towards. I wasn’t keen, but I went along with it anyway. I made an appointment with a therapist and cried on cue, just to make her feel like she was doing it right.

I’m about 12 weeks on now. I’ve taken the tablets and completed my counselling course. Ironically, the depression has triggered a recurrence of my physical symptoms and led to me agreeing to take more time off sick “so that I can *really* get better”, so eventually I will have to face the trauma of returning to work all over again.
Not yet, though. The depression may be off the menu, but it came with a side-order of anxiety which I definitely didn’t ask for.
It’s interrupting my life like a needy newborn, stopping me from doing anything productive during the day and preventing me from getting any meaningful sleep at night. Why – my raging brain asks – would I want to sleep, when I could be designing tiny trampolines for cats, or writing a Netflix blockbuster starring John Barrowman as a hot priest with a shady past? Why, indeed?

Some days – the good days –  I remember how bloody brilliant I am at my job and that I still have something to offer, even if I can only work part-time for a while. Other days I tie myself in knots worrying about how we’re going to manage on my smaller salary, and how my colleagues will react to my drastic drop in status.

Family members tell me to focus on getting better; the work will still be waiting when I’m ready to go back to it. Friends suggest that I walk away and “try something different, less stressful”, as if I can magically conjure up an entirely new, dream career that can be managed from my kitchen table.

I don’t know which way to go. I just know that for now, I’m not going anywhere. And that’s ok. Maybe the world *does* need those tiny cat trampolines after all…

A Sense of Purpose

So firstly, hello, that always seems like a good place to start!

My name’s Marie, I’m almost 30 (ahh!) and I like to think I’m a pretty alright human being. Well, to be completely honest some of the time I think that I’m an alright human being, but even from day to day and week to week, the way I feel about myself can vary enormously.

There are the times when a) I’ve felt like a fantastic, wonderful human being (rare, but it’s happened, I swear) and b) the times when I am feeling like a bit of a crap human being – now in the past, feeling like I’m a crap human seemed to happen way more often than me feeling alright about myself. But slowly through the years my feelings of self-worth and the belief that I DO have something to add to the world, has grown.

I bet you’re wondering HOW it has grown though? Okay, well I’ll tell you, but only if you make the next cup of tea. After a few years of having depression every year in winter, it was the middle of another cold, dark, I guess lonely winter period for me. I was doing a bit of googling (as you do) and I came across a volunteering opportunity. It was with a mental health service and the ad wanted someone to help out with running the drama group each week. So after some internal vascilating between wrangling with self-doubt and feeling excited that this sounded like a cool thing to do, I applied.

Now I will have you know that I know diddly-squat about drama (although I would like to!), but I guess my enthusiasm came across and the manager of the centre where it ran decided to let me have a go.

Best.Thing.I.Ever.Did.

To cut a long story short, I absolutely loved every minute of helping out, I began to gain experience in a mental health setting and I ended up finding what I am truly one million per cent passionate about in life.

As a child I helped to care for my mum and my dad – who both suffered a lot with mental health problems (I’ve also had problems myself) and I really feel that these experiences gave me a ton of compassion and empathy for others going through hard times emotionally. Volunteering there (at a local Mind) truly boosted my confidence in a huge way – I had somewhere to be each week on the same day, but not only that – I could help. I realised that helping others was something I was truly passionate about. Helping someone else to feel alright, when they’ve been having a crap time, can be the best, most rewarding feeling in the whole world. By volunteering there I gained skills and confidence, but most importantly, I found what I truly love to do.

I also gained a job, for a charity I’m so proud to work for (big up, Mind!) – and I am still enjoying working there, still gaining skills, and still helping others to (hopefully) feel a bit less crap.

I am lucky enough to have found something that I love doing, and I strongly feel that a sense of purpose, having something to be passionate about in life, can make a MASSIVE difference when it comes to feeling good about ourselves.

Well …all I am saying is that it’s worked for me!

Marie  McCormack

@MarieLMcCormack

A confession – with no conclusion

The awful feeling returns. And with it comes the horrible accompaniments: shame; doubt; anxiety. Maybe this time it will get really bad and we’ll move into anger; hate; self-harm. It’s a vicious circle. I feel sad. I then feel pathetic. Toughen up. Deal with life’s knocks better. Don’t be defined by this. Thoughts circle my head, and I’m not even sure who I am or how to be. I don’t know what I want anymore.

It takes its tolls on relationships. Friends bored, hearing it all over again; frustrated that you seem to be talking yourself into a rut; wondering why your problems are always so much worse than theirs; who feel frustration that their words, suggestions, support – filled with good reason, practicality and kindness – are met with indifference or a polite refusal. Their love is not unconditional, their patience will run out, you can only bring them down so many times. Why listen to your cry for help when you seem to have no intention of being saved?

Parents are concerned, going days without hearing from you, getting short, non-committal answers. Their love is close to unconditional, but it doesn’t seem enough.

Acquaintances wondering why I haven’t said anything for 30 minutes and hardly seem to have heard what they’ve said; taken aback by a dark sense of humour that hints at something far darker beneath the surface. Those who look and see it as nothing but self-obsession; the pretentious ramblings of someone who has nothing else to say; who would narrate your every thought with ‘Oh here we go again – woe is me’. Or maybe they don’t, and it’s just my paranoid projection. A product of the fact that it’s so often how I view myself, and thinking that surely someone else must see it for the narcissistic, self-absorbed shit it is.

I think it contributed to the breakdown of my relationship with my girlfriend. It’s so easy to blame my anxiety, my paranoia, black moods that gripped me so tight I didn’t think I could breathe. But there is no catharsis in absolving responsibility for shitty things said and done. Shortcomings. The times that blackness and anger – unresolved and undirected – triumphed over love, kindness, gentleness. I have to take responsibility for that.

I did really try. It just wasn’t enough.

Therein lies the problem. I know I am suffering with something. There is that temptation, encouraged by those around you, to be ‘kind to yourself’, absolve yourself. Yet, I have a tendency to self-sabotage. And it is hard to show yourself kindness when you feel as if you are your own worst enemy. It’s hard to be kind to the person who feels like the source of this dissatisfaction.

Someone said to me ‘You’ve felt like this before; you know you feel better in time’. It’s true. I can’t argue against that. Yet, it’s marked by this sense of foreboding that for every up will follow the inevitable down. Perhaps that seems defeatist, or to be inviting the rain into the sunny day. Maybe I’ve got what is my due. To me it just feels realistic, inevitable. It is my life. And it’s one that I’m not sure I want.

I have no answers or inspiring thoughts. I’m not sure I can offer comfort when I seem so irreversibly wrapped up in my own thoughts. I have no hand to offer you. Maybe we can just be a little sad together.

I have found that it is easier to be sad – is that the confession of a weak and vulnerable man? Sadness feels more natural. It feels more honest. It feels strangely comforting to say I am totally fucking lost. So much of my life consists of excuses, justifications and explanations for why I’m feeling sad. But I think I just do. The rest is just a front to make this more acceptable and palatable. Not just to the listener, but to me.

Dom Damesick

Anxiety, depression and fatherhood

Anxiety has played a large part in my life from my late teens onwards, and in particular during the last 10 years or so. I didn’t realise what it was until my first proper ‘breakdown’; I hadn’t seen any literature, any online articles (the internet wasn’t really a thing for me until University really) or any programmes about it. No-one had said “hey, that’s not a bizarre recurring sickness or bowel problem, that’s anxiety manifesting itself”. There just didn’t seem to be much of a focus on mental health at the time, and no Twitter to help.

About two and a half years into my first ‘proper’ long-term relationship, we had recently moved into a new flat, our second place together. A few weeks after we had moved, we decided to get a kitten. A colleague at work had one to give away so, after buying the requisite supplies, I picked up the kitten and brought it home. My family came to see the new arrival, and we spent the day watching the kitten dash back and forth across the living room. We decided on shutting her out in the kitchen/hallway overnight. Thus followed hours of the kitten crying, so we opened the door and let her roam around the house before deciding that shutting her out again was the best option. I did not sleep at all during this night due to concern for the kitten and her crying.

The next morning I felt sick and anxious. I veered between wanting to stay in bed or go outside gasping for fresh air. I spent ages hunched over the toilet, dry-retching. After a discussion with Mum and the other half, none of us could really fathom what was going on. My brain had started saying ‘get rid of the kitten, return things to their normal state’. There was a real ping-pong in my mind between supposed rejection of the kitten, and thinking ‘it’s fine, I’ll be ok in a minute’. I took the next day off work, still feeling sick and brain still pogoing between the two states. Later that day, my girlfriend and I had a long, emotional discussion that ended in our separation.

I drove to my parents’ house, quite frankly in a bit of a state. They were leaving to go on holiday the next day, so my sisters arranged to spend a few days with me until whatever it was passed. The next day, I made an appointment to see the doctor and tried to go to work despite the fact that my ex would be there. I spent most of the day going into a private office and crying, and eventually went home, picking up my eldest sister from the station on the way. She talked about dinner but I had no appetite, feeling sick after starting to eat anything. We grabbed some of my stuff and stayed at my parents’ house because I just couldn’t face being in my own house, full of reminders of the broken relationship.

The doctor seemed fairly disinterested and diagnosed the problem as stress, and prescribed Citalopram. There was no further insight into what caused this, and no follow up. The first week of taking the drugs I couldn’t keep food down. I remained on the sofa for most of this time, watching television that didn’t make me feel anxious. In the second week, my other sister visited. The drugs had entered the system, I started to eat more, and the anxiety lifted slightly. After a few weeks, I felt much better and stopped taking the drugs but the events of the night we had the kitten still baffled me, for months afterwards.

A few years later, when living with my future wife, we decided to get a puppy. The memory of what happened with the kitten occasionally nagged, but I thought that, being in a much better mental state (only having had some mild anxiety prior which, after a course of Fluoxetine prescribed by another disinterested doctor, I felt ‘cured’ from), it would be fine.

We picked up the dog and, that first night, she was crying in the room where we had left her. So again, a sleepless night, and the anxiety started to creep back in. I had the same ‘get rid of the dog, make things the way there were’ see-saw thoughts. Over the next few days, I was feeling sick, retching, not sleeping and after being prescribed Fluoxetine again, the initial period where the drugs ‘bed in’ to your system led to the symptoms becoming worse, with more sickness, sleepless nights, and uncontrollable sobbing fits, as well as some fairly frightening suicidal thoughts. The most helpful element this time was finally seeing a doctor at the GP surgery who had a keen interest in mental health issues. They described / diagnosed what was happening to me – a chemical imbalance, i.e. a very low serotonin level, was causing a part of my brain to act irrationally; a part that the rest of the brain was reliant upon for logical, rational decision-making. He asked to see me for follow-up appointments and prescribed other medication to help with nausea and those very low, suicidal moments. I was trying to work while this was going on, commuting from Wales to Bristol, and after a while, between medication and work, I returned to a more even keel again. I’ve had one or two ‘moments’ since getting the dog but have been building up a stronger resistance using resources such as breathing exercises and literature about mindfulness and meditation. Counselling has since established that the arrivals of the cat and dog were ‘triggers’ for anxiety attacks during times where there were aspects of my life that were causing that low serotonin level in my brain.

Recently, my wife and I decided to try for children, and once she confirmed she was pregnant, I was immensely happy. But there was still that nagging about whether I would have another breakdown – that somehow the responsibility of this new life, the sleepless nights etc would cause an upset in the balance I’d achieved in the past couple of years. Other doubts concerned whether my children might inherit any of my mental health issues? The doctor had suggested it could have been a genetic predisposition to lower serotonin levels.

The pregnancy was possibly the smoothest it could have been for the majority of the term. My wife was the archetypal blossoming pregnant woman, there was no morning sickness, and only a few hormonally emotional moments occurred. The most difficult part at this point was my poor wife going through five days of continuous contractions – between 2 to 10 minutes apart for the duration – neither of us slept for this five days, and travelling to the midwife-led unit we’d opted for was even more difficult. We somehow endured this, and ended up being admitted to the birthing unit at the main hospital in Newport because they had intended to induce her. As it happened, upon examination the midwife decided that she was dilated enough to be sent up to the birthing unit. We felt relieved that she was finally in labour, and that a baby might be with us soon after almost a week of such hard work for my wife.

After 14 hours of labour, the midwife decided that labour wasn’t working. She arranged for us to be sent downstairs to be examined and to discuss the options. At this point, my wife was delirious after all the gas and air, exhausted from contractions over almost a week, and I was so sleep-deprived I’d entered a bizarre, twitching limbo state between falling asleep and staying awake. When they started plugging my wife in, putting needles into her, I became overwhelmed. We called for her parents to come down to the hospital. After trying drugs to expedite the contractions, and an epidural, still nothing had happened, so the decision was made to have an emergency C-section.

During the C-section, they discovered that the baby was absolutely wedged where he shouldn’t have been, and would never had been born through contractions and pushing because of just how far he was wedged in. My wife lost a huge amount of blood, which they had to collect and gradually give back to her over the next day or so. Our boy was finally born 7 days after the contractions started. The elation completely overcame any stress or sleep deprivation we had felt. She was in recovery and the subsequent maternity ward for almost three days, while I was going back and forth between the house and the hospital to bring her stuff and make sure the house was in order for their return.

When we brought him home, the job of doing everything to keep things ticking over and look after my wife and baby began. There was no time for any thoughts about myself, and any anxious thoughts were long forgotten. There was no see-saw of ‘take it back, make things normal again’ – and frankly, there’s no way to take a baby back but this didn’t worry me. I’m still amazed to this day that the experience, while far worse for my wife (she’s far stronger than I am), didn’t bring me to another breakdown. I can only attribute it to the fact that I’d made so much effort to build up a resistance to any anxiety beforehand, that my wife’s wellbeing was my main priority, and that subsequently, parental instincts took hold as soon as he was born. There have still been very mild moments where I’ve daydreamed about escaping it all, but I know within myself that I’d never have acted upon these very fleeting impulses. From talking to friends who have babies, those are perfectly natural thoughts to feel at the most challenging times.

Nowadays, the dog is fantastic for my mental health and fitness. The baby gets cuter with every new noise and smile, and while at times the constant care and attention can be tiring, I wouldn’t be without him. I can’t wait to see him grow up, to see what kind of man he will become. Do I worry about anxiety being part of his life? Of course, but I will do everything I can to read any potential signs, and support him in every way I can.

Joe Purse @Joetele

A Day in Anxiety

One day last week I woke up feeling anxious. This day I decided to note down what happened, when I felt anxious, what I did and what I could learn from it.

It’s 7:45am, I’ve checked, re-checked and then checked again to make sure I’ve got everything in my bag for today. I already know it’s going to be one of those days where I’m constantly anxious. I’m used to having these days periodically and I’ve got better at managing them. Still, managing a day of constant anxiety feels like, what I imagine, tight-rope walking feels like. Constant, tiny adjustments have to be made to make sure I don’t fall off into some kind of anxiety canyon.

8:10am I’m on my bike and halfway to work. It’s biblically pissing it down and I’m canvas shorts because I’m a bloody idiot. Cycling generally helps me deal with anxiety and depression to boot. Cycling in London especially helps as I’m constantly on high alert to make sure no cars, taxis, buses, trucks, fellow cyclists, pedestrians inexplicably wandering down the middle of the road, kill me. Concentrating on this really helps as a distraction plus the added boost of testosterone always makes me feel better. I’m finding it more difficult today to switch off my anxiety and concentrate because it’s pretty shitty conditions today.

9:15am nearly everyone on my team at work has called in sick. I work in social services and today is the day we usually have our 3 hour team meetings to go through all our cases. Since it’s only me and one other person I’ve cancelled this meeting. This has left a 3 hour gap in my schedule and although I’ve got plenty to do I have no idea where to start. I generally have a set plan in my head for my work day, when I’m not feeling anxious I’m much more flexible and find it easy to re-arrange tasks in a second. Anxiety though makes the thought of doing this seem like trying to build a house based on an Escher painting.

10:00am I’ve got myself a coffee. I know it won’t help but I’m cold and tired and it seems like the thing to do.

11:00am I’ve done a couple of smaller tasks to try and get my head into the right kind of mind frame. They’re done but they felt ridiculously difficult to complete. On a good day I’d have flown through them, barely having to think about the steps I needed to take, no problems. Today though it feels monotonous, every little step I usually never have to think about I analyse and rethink in great detail in case this time I get it wrong. I’m terrified that what I’m doing is wrong and will screw everything up making everything in my job fall apart.

11:25am My brain’s spiralling. All my work/personal tasks are going through my head on an infinite, quickening loop. I’ve taken a 10 minute break to go for a quick walk outside. There’s no particular point to the walk I just need to change my environment.

12:00 I’ve started making the phone calls I need to make today. A lot of my job involves persuading people to do things they don’t particularly want to do and these phone calls are all about that. I’ve been dreading these, if the first goes badly I’ll feel like shit for the rest of the day and get nothing done. Luckily it goes well and now I’m suddenly king of the world.

1:10 – 2:00pm I was too lazy to make a packed lunch last night so I’m wandering around deciding what to eat. I like to wander around slightly aimlessly at lunchtime. I go to the nearest park, I wander around playing Pokémon, I sit down and look at all the dogs, in short I distract the fuck out of my brain for an hour.

3:00pm One tough phone call has kicked off an hour of tough phone calls trying to sort something out. Luckily it’s just after lunch and I’m full of energy after being outside and walking around for most of that. It’s only after the phone calls end, when I start writing them up as case notes, that I worry if I’ve done the right thing. I go and speak to my co-worker to go over what everyone said, make sure there’s nothing I’ve missed. It pays to be meticulous but I go over and over inconsequential points thinking if I could have done anything better. I can feel my brain going into overdrive again so I go and get some water.

4:00pm Spent pretty much the last hour unable to concentrate, but slowly getting work done. Very slowly. I keep going in cycles of heart beating quickly, getting over-agitated, doing breathing exercises, getting water, calm down, heart beating quickly, getting over-agitated and so on and so forth. Unable to break the cycle this time. My muscles feel weak and faint. I’m actually snapped out of the cycle by suddenly having to deal with a minor crisis. A tiny re-set button somewhere in my brain has been pressed and all I’m left with is wondering how I let this build up to the point in became almost uncontrollable.

5:25pm I’m on the tube and it’s fucking awful.

5:55pm I’m in a pub and there’s a guy playing guitar, the sound’s bad so you can’t hear what he’s actually singing but at the same time it’s so loud I can’t hear anyone around me. I’m partially deaf so loud pubs are generally a nightmare for me anyway but this is impossible. I feel helpless and hate not being able to properly talk to people. I can feel my heart speeding up and I know there’s very little I can do to stop it now. I need to feel like I can make any situation better or bearable but there’s nothing I can do here.

6:50pm We’re in a different pub now, it’s much quieter, I can hear people, I feel much more in control.

8:15pm Me and my wife are on the bus home, we’re gathering pokemon and comparing what we caught that day.

8:45pm Home, at last, home. I’m cleaning out the bins and tidying up and working out how I’m going to cook our noodles. Being home, with nothing else to do, instantly makes me less anxious. My wife is here, my cats are here, I can do or not do anything I want here. There’s nothing expected of me which I can’t manage.

10:30pm Bloody hell Stranger Things is good.

What did i learn? Well, on days like this all I can do is distract myself as much as possible. When I absoluteloy had to speak to people, when I was outside, when I was exercising these all made me feel more in control of myself but conversely more distracted. Absolute concentration on one thing stopped the anxiety. This isn’t really a way to live but on these days when anxiety takes over they provided distractions, they stopped the anxiety from taking over completely.

 

@M0by_Duck

Where to run

Realising that the previous night had seen me try and score a gram of coke from my GP was a startlingly poignant moment for me. One of those events that carry potent recognition of one’s state. I had done what had become a regular act of shame and regret and deleted all of my cocaine contacts, a futile act that invariably resulted in late night texts to friends with just the words “any numbers?” A vicious cycle of repentance, need and misguided desire kept two opposing forces locked within and they went to war almost every night. The me that tried to phone my cynically named dealer ‘the doctor’, and ended up trying to call my GP finds this story hilarious. That ‘other’ me is beguiling and so incredibly well-versed in putting on an elaborate show of innocence and ease. Regaling people with stories of recklessness masked with humour, spinning such entertaining and convincing accounts that I fool even myself. Crossing the road without bothering to look is easily woven into a story about a daringly mischievous, hopefully lovable person. Accounts of drunken fights and arguments can be twisted into stories that are comical and feature a headstrong, passionate character who means no real harm. Even hideously swollen hands that punched walls can be explained away in tales of innocuous frustration and perhaps even a certain wild charm.The truth is there is no humour to be found in slowly destroying oneself.

So many nights of madness, of becoming detached from one’s sane or right mind. Perhaps even losing one’s mind. Of course it has been my choice to retreat from my mind, to replace it with one hastily and haphazardly constructed from the flimsy bricks of drugs and booze. A mind that I carelessly fashioned atop my fragile foundations, a state that habitually falls apart and has to be reinforced over and over again. A hazardous structure that should have been condemned before any building could begin. Short term relief is so massively underrated and misunderstood. People refer to it with such sneeringly judgmental tones as if you are nothing but a fool to invest in such momentary solace. The vast majority of us will take a pill if we have a headache, pain relief is big business. Built in obsolescence allows pharmaceuticals to dish out perfunctory fixes designed to keep you buying more. We all want a quick fix, especially when it fucking hurts. Don’t prisoners think of little else than freedom, don’t we all wish to escape when we’re in pain? I know that all of life is transitory, I know that thoughts, feelings and emotions are all constructs of our own making, I know that change is the only constant. But suffering is not a state that readily summons patience; although we may know that it will pass, it is hard to sit comfortably in prison whether that be the prison of one’s mind or physical confinement.

My retreat from my own mind has produced quite shocking results. I have found myself almost passed out on a pavement at 6am with people stepping over me, I have heard them ask one another if it’s acceptable to step over a woman passed out on a pavement. I have had drink and drug fueled sessions that lasted all night, all of the following day and then through a second night. Sessions that ended in a state so far removed from reality that I knew not who I was. Unable to form words with my mouth let alone stand up. Climbing buildings, jumping in canals, rivers and seas, being removed and barred from bars and clubs, falling over, punching walls, ending up in A&E. Being in such unbelievably vulnerable states in places that I shouldn’t have even been in sober during daylight hours; I have watched people drink their methadone amongst bloody needles, been arrested and locked in a cell for 12 hours, been alone in barely known dealers’ flats doing free lines whilst they knew full well that I’d be back within the hour to buy. Such risk, such incredible risk and all in the pursuit of something other, anything other than my own mind.

My view of the world has been moulded and formed by my experiences as well as by the me that I was born with. Experiences that have scared me witless have left me more hurt and vulnerable than I can admit. Naturally people have shaped me both positively and negatively, things that I have seen have been etched onto my eyes, ways I have looked and thought have become me. The effect of external happenings on one’s own internal dialogue becoming indistinctly entwined with one’s own thoughts. All of these things make up a person, determine how they respond to and deal with life, it is always a uniquely individual version. It is the very precise ingredients that have been mixed into our lives together with something other that determines the way that we cope with and view the world. It is of course no one’s choice but my own to run away, it is my brain that decides how or if I can handle life but it is decided by a brain that has been wounded, wounded in ways particular to me.

To express and explain our emotions rather than relying on their outwardly visible affects to communicate with others is a task that dwarfs me entirely. I have rarely experienced relief or comfort from sharing my suffering and as a result have retreated so far that I no longer have words let alone faith in their ability to convey my inner turmoil. In painting, I am attempting to transmit something without the use of words, in life my behaviour is in effect an image of my inner self. This dangerously sophisticated image is one I must face. The frightful sight of destruction is not light hearted and it is not funny.

 

Submitted anonymously