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.

What’s quetiapine gave me

Although scientists do not fully understand the ways in which quetiapine works, the trade off is that it is a very versatile drug; it can be used as an add-on treatment for treatment resistant depression, it can be used as an anti-psychotic for those experiencing psychosis such as hearing and seeing things that are not there, it can be used to treat and manage mania or hypomania alone, or with another medication. Ultimately it seems to have the ability to do a bit of everything in regards to managing the symptoms of severe mental illness. Quetiapine is an atypical antipsychotic that also has the properties to effective act as a mood stabiliser. The difference for all of these uses is the dosage, release profile and tolerability to the person taking the drug.

Even if you are convinced that a drug will work in treating mental health, it is not so much selecting the right drug that is the difficulty in prescribing. There is getting the correct dose, and taking those doses at the right times in the right format. Sometimes you need a couple of drugs, at just the right doses, in just the right formats, to be taken every day at just the right times. It is no wonder that finding the correct medication regime for severe mental illness is such a drag. This process can take numerous years, crises and adjustments, often alongside psychological and emotional intervention.

Quetiapine saved me and gave me so much. It saved me from additional lost years to being a non-functional person floating endlessly around Lewisham Shopping Centre. It has saved me from not being able to keep friendships because I am now more than a shell of myself overrun by mental illness. It has saved me from continuing the string of many suicide attempts and ever escalating self harm, all of which arose from an inability to cope with unmedicated bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder all mashed together into an ugly chaos. It saved me from sleeping my life away because leaving my bed every day isn’t an act of mild torture. It saved me from wasting my working years not tapping into my talents. It saved me from a life void of purpose. It saved me from myself. It saved me from my illness. Yet it was the first drug I was prescribed in 2011 by adult mental health services.

What stopped me from reaping the benefits of the drug back then? I was not ready to accept the weight gain side effects, and learning to overcome this fear took years of hard work and treatment. The dose was not right. I was out of control and without the input of such extensive therapies targeting my behaviour, past traumas and screwed up way of interacting with the world that had developed from trying to raise myself in a chaotic home environment. Without these therapies, schema, DBT, and psychoanalytic therapy the medication would have never worked alone. I needed the input and nurturing obtained from my therapists, social workers and doctors.

All of it together has given me the ability to think. Without quetiapine, I am pretty useless at thinking clearly. I just cannot. With it I have the ability to be creative and coherent. Quetiapine gave me the opportunity to respond appropriately to emotional circumstances. It gave me the assurance and confidence in my own thoughts and feelings that I am not being mad or irrational. It has given me the confidence to socialises because I don’t feel or seem inherently mad. It has given me a drive to make something positive from these experiences. It has given me a sense of where I have come from and what I have gone through to get to where i am. It has given me gratitude, to the small moments in life, the scientists who made the drug and the wee animals who underwent horrible experiences and death so that I could have my life back. It has given me hope and stability.

Now when someone asks me how I have been, I can answer that I have been well and it’s much less likely to be a lie than ever before in my life. If I’m honest, sometimes things are so stable and well that I can start to feel an inane boredom creep in. It’s not the type that creeps in and I stare at walls because there is no joy to be hard from even my favourite activities. It is the kind of boredom that blesses those who are not living from crisis to crisis. It is the kind of boredom where I look at myself and think, “yeah, I’m ready to take on a little more, bring it on”. The kind of boredom that gets you out of the house in the morning to see the world and be busy. The kind of boredom that lights a little fire in your belly that could well be described as a lust for life. Now there’s something I haven’t felt for very long at a time for years and years. I may even start thinking about my next birthday celebrations because I am convinced I will be here, alive, and well. This is something that could not be said for a long time before. I feel privileged to be feeling bored with stability. What an absolute privilege it is to have a sense of normality.

*Trigger Warning* Birthdays, Triggers and “Family”

It was my birthday last week. A number of years ago this time of year became incredibly difficult for me. I’d had a lot of pretty shit things happen at this time of year many times, always involving my parents. You could call it a repetitive pattern of really shit things happening.

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A few years ago I was so convinced I wouldn’t make my birthday. Many times the reason I held off initially was because of my then girlfriend. She always went way out of town with her celebrations for me, and each birthday we spent together was really special. The formative birthdays however, as with anything in these years of your life, weighed in heavy and hard on me. I remember my not so sweet 16. I was home alone, my parents away with the business. I had been grounded for something I didn’t do over the phone. Some other shit went down and my main memory is right before going to bed the night before, I really wanted to self harm right across my stomach, for some reason on the right side. I didn’t do it but that is the main memory I have of turning 16. I have never told anyone that before. Regardless of the effort made by some of my friends, the main memory is that one of wanting to self harm and really trying hard not to.

The cumulative of these experiences around my birthday, and with the “family business from hell” is that the summer, and in particular my birthday has been really scary for me. The depth of entrenched that feeling hated, unwanted and unloved by your parents goes really far. There was also a particular fall out in 2011 that started in the June of 2011 and didn’t quite finish peaking around September 2011, which led to almost zero contact with either parents for 3-4 years. Triggering isn’t quite the word I’m looking for.

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Even last year I went to my Dad’s I had a good 12 hours of breaking down, contemplating killing myself because it basically became trigger central fore the majority of the day. This year felt different though.

On my 19th I remember sacking off my plans in Devon in favour of catching a train to Cheshire to see my then girlfriend ands how she surprised me with the first birthday cake I’d had for years that hadn’t been thrown by one family member at another in a crazy ass fight. I think I cried, or very obviously nearly cried (I’m hard like that). At this point she had no idea… so this is a huge Thank You. Even up until last year for the selfies you sent me telling me to smile and how they broke my tears into a laugh, and this year for not wanting to break tradition and ordering a helium balloon to be delivered in a box because you couldn’t be here in person this year.

Around my 21st

The act of feeling cared about at an otherwise scary time of year, over all the years I’ve known you have really helped finally re-shape how my I view my birthday emotionally. These feelings and associations annoyingly are not voluntary. I often just get really unsettled and wanting to self harm a lot around this time of year. This year I haven’t and even though you’re my ‘then girlfriend’ I just want you to know, and for others who have partners or friends with similar issues, just how much these acts including the small ones such as silly selfies, really do make a difference.

This year I haven’t had the same dread of the past yet. I think gaining distance between the present and those moments of the past has helped. Additionally, the huge effort my then girlfriend put into trying to change this memory and association with my birthday has started to pay off as I put less focus of worth in my life on feeling valued by my parents and more on the people who actually enjoy having me in their life. People always raved about how blood is thicker than water, but when blood is making you cry tears that only your friends and partner help mop up, then blood don’t mean shit. I do love my parents in some weird way that means proceeding with absolute caution and cynicism at the best of times but relying on them in any way to emotionally support and validate me is something I’ve learned to leave in the past in my hopefulness of youth.

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I don’t wish to change them anymore simply because I have accepted that I cannot. What I have learned though, is that the people who value you and appreciate you in their life, they are the ones worth putting in the effort and emphasis for.

The Importance of Talking About Mental Health

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Heavy with lead through every morsel of torso and limb she tries to carry herself tall. Heaving an impossible weight and pushing on she gets by, dragging what may fall behind along the way. A fog has descended and thickened, clouding her vision, judgement and perception. A thick rain cloud of anger hangs over her head, a relentless thrashing of her senses persists. Hearing anything clearly becomes impossible and coping with daily life is an overwhelming task. Her thoughts are foreign to her previous self, morbid, dark and terrifying. Through her diminishing abilities she becomes frustrated and deflated, hopeless and surrendering. She is vulnerable, but not weak. This is no personal flaw and through no personal fault of her own; she is experiencing an invisible illness, a mental illness.

“Mental health problems affect the way you think, feel and behave. They are problems that can be diagnosed by a doctor, not personal weaknesses” – The Mental Health Foundation.

Those around her, loved ones, colleagues and friends may notice a change. Maybe she’s withdrawn, quiet, short-tempered or tearful and they may not understand, or perhaps they fear the unknown. Frustrations can rise, “she’s just not making an effort”, “she’s no fun anymore” and “you just have to get on with it” are all too easy a response, but ask yourself, is it the right response?

As tempers turn into turmoil, frustrations grate and ties wear thin she may start erupting into sky-high emotions, hearing voices or facing difficulties with food. What do you say then? Is she a psycho? Does she need to go to the loony bin and get out of your hair? Or is it just all in her fucked up head and she just needs to sort it the fuck out and stop it, this instant, right now? Believe it or not, these are the nature of responses I have received throughout my own journey and experiences with mental health difficulties. Dare I ask it, would this have happened had my illness’ been physical? I doubt it.

It is an abhorrent suggestion of absurdity to march into a cancer ward and demand that this has to stop, they have to stop their tumours and bodies from being affected by the illness, they must stop making a fuss of it, and they must stop dying from it – and that if they really must continue with this being ill from cancer thing they’ve got going on, could they please do it quietly, out of sight and act as if nothing is happening?

It is a despicable suggestion; cancer and mental illness alike need care, support and treatment yet mental health remains subject to negative attitudes of stigma, discrimination and invalidation yet the remarkable fact is that we all have mental health just like we all have physical health. Every year 1 in 4 of us will be affected, that’s 25% of the population, a whole quarter. Yet the experience of a mental health illness is often one of isolation and shame. The effects of which can be worse than the illness itself.

The invisibility of the illness does not equate to a lack of debilitating effects such illnesses can have on a person’s life: mental illness costs lives, it can diminish lives to a mere state of existence and make every day functioning a seemingly impossible feat. It can be overcome for many, and many people do recover or learn to manage their conditions whilst living fulfilling lives that are worth living again. There is hope, but in order to achieve that people need support, to be listened to, and acceptance.

This is why it is important that we talk about mental health; it affects every aspect of our lives: in how we function, enjoy and cope from day-to-day, and that instead of meeting these conditions with hatred and hostility, they are met with the care, compassion and support that these individuals need.

 

Medal Monday: CRUK Winter Run, London 2018

Sunday 4th February was World Cancer Day. To mark the event Cancer Research UK held their London event of their Winter Run 10k series. I ran this race for the first time last year, and it is a really great race. This year, my friend donated her place to me as she had signed up, forgotten so and couldn’t make it anymore, so that was really kind of her.

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I set off quite well in one of the final waves and remembered what I loved about this race so much. It’s not the size of the event, or the route – although it is a lovely route. It’s the inclusivity of the challenge. 10k is a significant distance to run. It isn’t a quick flash and it’s done for a lot of people. You have to mentally engage and push yourself to keep going. At this race there are runners of all shapes, sizes and levels of fitness, the brilliance of the event being that people are running not for times, but for a cause close to their hearts.

As I trundled behind some other trundlers (repping BackPackers!!) I couldn’t help read the signs adorning people’s backs remembering loved ones who had lost their fight to cancer, and celebrating those who survived because of research developments. More people currently survive cancer than ever. We still have a way to go but we’re progressing and that’s what feels so positive about this event. Developments have been made. There’s more work to do and fund to be raised by breakthroughs are happening and people are surviving.

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It was much colder this year than the last, but I’m not sure if that was because I layered more appropriately this year. Last year I was just getting back into running. I hadn’t managed to train much so it was a real achievement to even get to the start line because y’know, anxiety. I also wore way too many thick layers, like a running onion with them all tied around my waist by the finish line. So maybe experience made it feel colder because I was not a running onion this year.

Last year this race kick started my more frequent running. I do enjoy running, but when it’s cold, dark and wet it’s so hard to force yourself outside to run for the good of your mood, especially when you’re already in a ripe old funk. We all know this battle well, and it’s something that only sheer grit and determination is going to overcome until the nights get lighter and warmer: Yo! Spring, hurry up yeah?!?

7518843888_img_1553Hopefully this was the kick starter i needed, i hope *fingers crossed* to get back into running and exercising regularly as a way to stay well, mentally and physically. In fact it is a core pat of my current Wellness Action Plans, and I’m sick of letting myself sit in my bed for days at a time so let’s go! Everyone is saying that January was a trial month and that it doesn’t count right? I’m going to join that tribe. January isn’t a real.

 

 

Good Bye January, Hello Time to Talk Day 2018

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January is over. I never considered January to be too bad of a month but everyone constantly goes on about how it’s a bit of a shit month. This year it was a shit month for me. The weather probably didn’t help but I can’t blame the weather for everything because even in summer, if the mood strikes I can spend days in bed on the most beautiful of days. With this in mind as January became another month of lost days, it is somewhat timely that Time to Talk day is today.

Time to Talk, for anyone who isn’t aware, is a day where talking about mental health is actively campaigned for by Time to Change. Time to Change is a charity that campaigns to try to end mental health discrimination by encouraging conversation to harness positivity in the evolving attitudes towards mental health that we are seeing at the moment. In doing so, the hope I suppose is to move towards one of more balance, openness and create a culture in which everyone can develop a better understanding of mental illness and that one can’t just pull their hypothetical socks up.

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The campaign says there is no wrong place to talk about mental health, at the gym, over coffee, or even on a run. I think sometimes just being accepted and given the space to crack on in any way you know how without judgement can be a very welcome break. Most people in my life know I have mental health difficulties. It’s been somewhat of a long-standing issue for me, and one that I have a somewhat fraught relationship with.

When I’m doing well I can reflect and be grateful for everything my challenges have taught me, and how my path has shaped who I am today. I would almost certainly not be as non-judgmental and open-minded had I not had some of the experiences that I have. When I’m not feeling so chipper and dandy however, I cuss every moment of my life wasted on feeling shit, every lost opportunity because I let anxiety win, and every bad decision I’ve made due to my illness. I generally cuss the fact that mental health even exists a lot of the time, and how so debilitating your mind can become.

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I think being open about our mental health can only be positive. I try to be as honest as possible with those around me when I’m not feeling so great, so they know and can know not to take me being an arsehole personally. Let’s face it, mental health can get very gritty. It gets dark, it gets scary and it gets pretty fucked up at times. I don’t think shying away from this is helpful, however, maybe at the gym isn’t the best place to talk about the darkest parts of our psyche. I do think there are times and places that are more suited to certain conversations because even if you’ve finally accepted that you have or have had a mental health condition, there is still judgement.

I think closer, and more intimate conversations are best for challenging any stigma, prejudice or discrimination that may or may not be happening around us. People judge strangers very quickly, and sometimes you might not want everyone to know about your mental health struggles at first because hey, it’s nice to be known for your personality and not an illness that you have to manage. Kind of just like you might not want everyone to know about your bowel movements or sexual health. That’s ok.

Having said that, I’ll probably end up talking about mental health at some point because of my living and general situation, and that fact that a lot of my life still, unfortunately, remains largely oriented around managing my mental health. It’s not all roses and shortbread and that’s ok, for me, for you and for everyone. We all struggle at some point and I don’t think anyone can get through life without being tried, tested or even tortured by our minds albeit to differing degrees.

So let’s talk. This evening I will be heading to Crystal Palace park for a Time to Talk fun run. There’s some useful lists on their sites:
Events nationwide can be found here
Resources that can be found and used here
Tips on starting a conversation here

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