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.

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.