Beating the January Blues

January is well and truly underway halfway point of peak wintriness (definitely!). With lengthier stints of creepy darkness consuming our hours, it’s a very natural feeling to want to hibernate a bit. I think the bears have the right idea with this one. Unfortunately, we are not bears and the world does not stop for 6 months a year for us to hibernate; the show must push on.

My Mum looking wintery AF in The Lakes

Winter would not be complete without a mention of our aptly named friend, SAD. SAD is actually an acronym for ‘Seasonal Affective Disorder’, which is characterised by depression that occurs recurrently and seasonally, most often during winter months. A small number of people do experience symptoms during summer months, however. There are a few contributors to the development of SAD, including affected circadian rhythms (a pattern of rhythms and motions that control and affect our sleep/wake cycles), reduced sunlight exposure meaning a reduced exposure to Vitamin D, and therefore absorption. Vitamin D, particularly D3 is very important for mood maintenance and overall happiness. It is now recommended that everyone takes a supplement during the winter months because as the winter progresses in the northern hemisphere most people become deficient of this vital and unique micronutrient and hormone precursor.

Even for those of us who aren’t experiencing SAD right now, January is still a bit of a funny month. The festive shenanigans are over, which can be a relief. For others, this means there’s nothing to look forward to for a while (debatable). Perhaps something terrible happened at Christmas because usually in someone’s life something terrible happens at Christmas (not an official statistical fact). To top it off, January hosts Blue Monday – an idea that the third Monday in January is the bluest of them all, and although I very much disagree with the sentiment that you can feel depressed for a day or a week only, the fact that the idea of Blue Monday took off indicates that January is just a bit of a shit time of year – which is kind of funny considering we start it off with the biggest bang of all the months; while being the number one most hated month (a very quick and brief google search confirms this if that’s the level of evidence we’re accepting now).

With all of this in mind, I thought it might be helpful to think of some ways to cope this January if you are feeling a bit off keel. Maybe you’re skint and want a holiday – Oh HI THERE!?! Maybe you’re feeling a bit crappy because Christmas happened and that can be a bit shit for a lot of people. Maybe you’re feeling fat but that crazy restrictive diet you started and swore would change your life hasn’t lived up to your hopes, or you didn’t stick to it (I don’t blame ya!) and the thought that having a specific quantification of your gravitational force on Earth is maybe, just maybe, not the answer to all your problems (spoiler alert, this is almost guaranteed!!) And maybe you can’t put your finger on a reason, and that’s OK too! So without further ado, I present to you the catchiest list title ever…

Things Maybe, perhaps, Worth a try This January if and when You Feel a Bit Shit

(also recommended for when it’s not January and these are not January specific suggestions – you can do them any time of year, any place, where ever and whenever you want)
Exercise
Even just getting out for a walk in the park, preferably during daylight hours if you can, will help; fresh air, trees, and a punch of nature. If you’re in the countryside, then go submerge yourself in real nature for a stroll instead of the man-made catastrophes we love in London so much.
Eat your fruit and veg
This isn’t the same as dieting, but eating a varied and colourful diet can really make sure you’re getting all those vitamins and minerals that play a vital role in maintaining your well-being. Also, the fibre and whatnot will help your gut microbiome be healthy – which is super important for maintaining your mood and mental wellbeing. Speaking of gut health.

20200113_2154343768690410311929801.jpg
Don’t be a sad pumpkin, like this fella!

Take a probiotic if you can
Look for one that is general all-rounder, or perhaps more specific to what you might need. I’m currently taking one for my immune system because *cough cough splutter* need I say more?

Connect with people
See your friends. Have a real conversation and turn off the box a little bit. Netflix does not count as hanging out with a friend or partner. If real-life people contact is a bit difficult, go to the park and pet people’s dogs. Dogs love it, usually. You love it, don’t you?

Spend time with your Homies, like this Beau!

Let yourself rest
I get it, January is prime life overhauling time. You want to train for a spring marathon, you want to lose weight, you want to work towards that promotion – and go for it if you really want to – but don’t forget to rest. There’s no use pushing for goals and burning yourself out in the process because you are more likely to either fail or achieve your goals injured, battered and unable to really enjoy the glory of your hard work and suffering. Chill with a cup of tea, have a bath, read a book, watch some TV.And remember, if you’re marathon training – you really really do need more sleep in order for your body to recover from training and lay down the training gains in muscle reparation. Thisall happens mostly when you’re asleep. Early bedtime calling your name? Yeah same, I love an early bedtime!

Salem’s got the right idea about sleeping and chilling; he does nothing else!

Be Balanced in your approach
Even if you are wanting to lose weight or change your diet completely, a piece of cake won’t ruin everything. Whatever your goals, we need to move away from the all-or-nothing mentality. Have a piece of cake if you really want it, a cake can be a perfectly fine and healthy complement to our lives. Believe it or not, there are situations where eating a piece of cake is a sign of healthier behaviour – moderation is your mentor!

Rugby
If you’re feeling really radical, maybe try a new sport: Rugby England are currently doing their Inner Warrior Campaign for womens rugby, or maybe there’s a sport club near you offering try-out sessions to have a go and have some fun? Rugby is great fun (I may be slightly biased but, if you’re feeling brave enough give it a try! YOLO and faces can be restructured by plastic surgeons really well now so that’s not an excuse!)

Inner Warrior for Beckenham Ladies RFC

I hope these are some helpful ideas. If you’re really struggling and think you might actually be depressed or suffering way more than what you think you should be, then book an appointment with your GP and talk to them about how you’re feeling. They can assess you a little bit and figure out what the right steps might be for you.

Wake Me When September Ends

For anyone who knows me well, they know that September/October is a hard time of year and has been throughout the past decade. For a long time the underlying cause was assumed to be situational stress, with something always assumed to have been bothering me: an argument with my other half; studying was difficult; work was stressful; my routine had been disrupted; this had happened and that had happened, historically speaking, like an anniversary of shite; it rained too much or it was too sunny. To be frank there’s always someone in your life that is doing your head in a bit, and in the UK there’s always always the weather, regardless of how good or bad said weather patterns are being, no matter the time of day, week or year, there is always an angle to take from which you can blame the weather for life’s woes.

This ‘something must be going on’ approach is understandable; when things go awry with your mood and mental state it seems that the most logical first step is to try and pinpoint a cause, and from there you can theoretically hatch a plan. The thing is, there is always something external to blame whether or not there is validity or truth in the reason. For ten years we’ve been fine-comb picking my life apart to figure what it is that has set me off this time. After about a decade, a pattern has emerged. I am always looking for an explanation in september and october. The chicken or the egg, the mood or the thoughts, the cognitive or the behavoural?

Now we have pinned it on the changing seasons: autumn saddens, and spring quite literally springs. I have tried to go on as if to not expect the wobble. I have tried to distract myself out of the habitual mood change with hoildays, festivals and exciting events to look forward to, just in case it was a subconscious pattern. I have tried ignoring it just in case I was placebo affecting it into effect, and I have tried to go on as if everything is just as fine and stable as it was mid-August. None of this has worked.

A breakdown in Berlin, a meltdown in Morocco, a face like a slapped arse, and difficulties in not to lashing out ensued from getting into confrontations with mates and strangers alike, particularly on public transport, inextricably blaming everyone but me for being so goddamn unreasonable. I mean sometimes they are but my patience is tissue paper thin right now, so instead of not rising to the occasion or ignoring something annoying, I snap, crackle and pop.

The difference between now and a decade ago is that I have a decades’ worth of experience up my sleeve at managing these episodes, it that CV worthy? I feel like managing this is a transferable skill? At least these episodes are no longer scary for me because they are in fact incredibly familar. I recognise and feel familiar with the feelings and the irrational thoughts of “I should just kill myself” – spoiler alert, I shouldn’t. The intrusive thoughts of just pushing, shoving or tripping people up for having the audacity to be near me in the street street are just that, intrusive thoughts. I can choose to act on them with varying degrees of self control – and if I’m really struggling to control them then I just stay close to home. I take it easy. I grab coffee and reply ever more inconsistently to my phone. I watch shit TV and let myself be. Sometimes I’ll fall into mentally beating myself up for being so useless and lazy, and then I remember that this is in fact why I am studying part-time, this is in fact why I get the financial aid that I do and this is in fact a much better option than pushing on even more so, only to absolutely lose my fucking shit completely. Top tip: prevention is always better than cure, or picking up the pieces.

This is all familiar now. When it happens I have the confidence to manage it and that it will pass. It always passes. It is never like this forever. All I need to do is call my CPN and tell her. She is arranging zopiclone for me at tomorrows meeting from a single phone call today. It’s predictable and routine. I reflect to figure out the root cause and I’m not particularly confused. I’ve got through it for my entire life, and I know that with time it will settle and pass, if I do the right things to help myself. I know what helps and what really realy does not help. So if you’re struggling with the mood shifts that are so frequently triggered at this time of year for anyone with a mood disorder, hear me out. It passes. IT ALWAYS PASSES. Sometimes it takes a really long time, and sometimes it doesn’t. Look after yourself, take your meds, and get them looked at if you can if you’re struggling an unreasonable amount.

Give alcohol a miss and sleep is a priority. Solitude in times of feeling short fused is OK and seeing people when you’re feeling alright is a necessity for our sanity. It’s OK to watch shit TV. Doing small things helps, and not having major comitments also helps. Balance. Balance. Balance and perseverence. You’ve got this, I’ve got this, we’ve got this.

N.B. Fuck that ending was cheesy!!!!! Grab a cracker.

Eat Your Food, Take Your Meds

Have you ever thought is strange or inconvenient that you need to eat every single day, multiple times a day? Think about it for a moment. Every day we need to eat. What would life be like if we didn’t need to eat every day, multiple times? More convenient? Time saving? Resource saving? Picture this.

You wake up in the morning, pop the kettle on and make your breakfast. You sit to the table as you do every morning, and you stare. You are staring at your food wondering why on earth you need such sustenance to survive, pondering the meaning of this breakfast before you. You flirt with the idea of going without the food. The idea flirts back. You think “fuck it!”, pinch your nose, screw up your face and close your eyes. You jump feet first into the deep waters of curiosity to see whether or not you swim. It doesn’t kill you immediately but you don’t quite glide through the water either. It makes you uncomfortable but still you tread water, keeping your head bobbing beyond the surface. You are surviving. It makes you feel a bit queesy, a bit confused and a bit off. Perhaps you need to just muscle through? Brute use of sheer willpower is definitely what is needed. You knuckle down and do some problem solving, still bobbing. Maybe you just need to learn how to survive and thrive without the food, just as our ancestors adapted, you can too.

Missing one breakfast won’t have a huge effect on your health. It certainly won’t kill you. Perhaps you peruse, eating is a habit that can be changed. Are you addicted to food? The phrase is currently brandished across headlines after all. You continue with your plan to keep missing food at more meals and subsequent breakfasts. It starts to wear you down. You feel rough, you feel edgy, and very much unlike yourself. This is when the going gets tough. This is your time to rise up and adapt as your ancestors did.

With time you begin to realise that thriving this way is absolutely impossible. The next day at breakfast you pop the kettle on and prepare your food. You sit down and feel grateful for having changed your mind about eating your food at breakfast. You are relieved that you can sit down and eat your food, comforted by the knowledge that you have tried and tested the curious alternative. You eat your breakfast. This experience does not make you immune from dabbling your toes into this pool of ponders again because always, what if? Do I really? And is it so? Float around our mind.

I wasn’t talking about food very much at all; this is an experience I have with my daily medications, particularly my main Quarterback, Quetiapine. Quetiapine is an atypical antipsychotic that is pretty nifty medicine. A common occurrence in those living with Bipolar Disorder is that once feeling well and stable for a while, we wonder if we are ready to come off of our medications and manage without them. Sometimes we’d wonder if we were ever unwell at all, is it all a fallacy.

It makes sense that we experience these episodes; when you feel well why would you continue to take medicine every day? The catch really is that we are well because we take the medicine every day – and that can sometimes be a difficult idea to hold on to when you think about how well you are now with your healthy coping mechanisms and social support network, your backlog of lived experience and a well stocked kit bag of coping tools.

Every single time my Quetiapine goes below a certain level I become unwell. I am familiar with the territory because the ways in which I become unwell are ways that I have spent years of my life living – the same symptoms and experiences relapse into the forefront of my life and very very quickly I lose my ability to think, be rational, function, get up, be motivated, tolerate people and annoyances, or stay very much with it at all. I descend into a foggy and slow confusion, much like living in sludge. I stare at walls for hours, if not days, at a time. I watch TV without really watching it. My memory stinks and so does living like this. Essentially, I am very disabled without this medication at the right dosage.

For those living with bipolar, it can take years and years to get an accurate diagnosis. Afterwards, it can take years and years to find the golden snitch of which medication combination and what dose works for each person. I am hopeful that we have finally found mine, alongside my extra nifty and extensive tool box of coping mechanisms. There is no shame in relying on medication to be well and healthy; these tablets save lives.