Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Taking Courage....

It's been a bit of a rollercoaster few weeks. About a fortnight ago the Sertraline began to kick in, and I had a brilliant week. I felt like I was waking up, and remembering what it was like being me. I still felt worried and fearful, but that was put on the backburner, and I actually began to feel like could carry on with my work, and salvage something from the wreckage I feel I've made of my PhD. Wonderful! And this coincided with a meeting with my supervisor, and an evening with some friends, and a wonderful weekend away... Things felt pretty marvellous, actually........ and then came the Monday, and a depressing chat with the joiner who's going to put in my windows about the complete hash job left by the previous builders. There's nothing like a man patronisingly repeating the same upsetting things over and over (I HEARD "dry rot" very clearly the FIRST time. The next 3 times were, at best, superfluous) to really kick the stuffing out of cautious optimism. That was all I needed to send me back to bed for the next 36 hours. Poor Penny - I'm pretty antisocial when I want to be, and therefore pretty crappy to live with at times. Luckily I had an allotment trip planned on the Tuesday afternoon, which forced me to get outside and be active, so happily I was back up to somewhat-reasonable friend on Wednesday. Dizzying heights indeed.

One of the most problematic and insidious things about my on-going struggle with depression is the vacuum where my motivation should be. There are so many things that I want to do, but actually getting started feels impossible. I keep trying, and feeling like I'm crashing up against an invisible wall. I basically find myself offering up distraction after distraction and ultimately whiling away all the available time for whatever task is at hand. This is worst when it comes to work, and ultimately I end up feeling useless, lazy and stupid, with a big handful of other negative impressions of myself thrown in to boot. I try to tell myself that is not who I am, I can point to a great number of examples to prove this, but ultimately that does not matter when standing at the cliff-face of my own certainty that I am, in fact, rubbish. I don't want to turn up to my next meeting and have to admit I haven't done any work, because I cannot adequately explain (to myself or anyone else) why not. How can you explain to someone expecting sound results from cutting edge, novel research that, on some days, just having got out of the house feels like a productive day?! This problem can only be solved by actually cracking on and doing the work I need to, and the only way I can do that is to keep trying, I guess.

I went back to the doctor's for a scheduled appointment  and she said that it's quite common to see an improvement followed by a dip or plateau, and that I was on quite a low dose, so she upped it to 100mg/day - I should see the benefits in another couple of weeks. Obviously I'm continuing with counselling, and this is going very well - It sounds stupid but I'm finally getting the hang of what she's trying to encourage me to do. Basically, letting myself have feelings about things and accepting them for what they are instead of trying to force them into a pragmatic and rational mould. And also letting myself listen to the positive things and not let them be drowned out by the negative. What can I say? It's a journey. I'm taking my lead from the card that my lovely friend Lieke sent me:

Thursday, 6 March 2014

And the take-home message is....

I wish I could say that I've learnt some deeply profound lessons in the last month as the result of my Facebreak (tm)... but would be adopting the same simplistic view I had of the world when, in my early teens, I was convinced adulthood would be an endless adventure, thrilling, exciting and fulfilling at every turn, and not an endless barrage of should-dos, direct debits, difficult personal situations and truculent tradesmen. And I think I have a relatively fun life compared to a lot of people who work A LOT harder than me, either at their jobs or their families.

It has been a month of considerations though. I decided I would try a course of antidepressants so I'm now on 50mg/day of Sertraline, which is an SSRI - which basically means that your brain doesn't absorb seratonin quite as quickly, meaning there's more of that "happy hormone" kicking about. I had a long think about this step, and spoke to people trained in mental health, people who'd had good and not-so-good experiences, I read through my GP's British National Formulary which goes into medical-level detail about treatments for various illnesses, and obviously did my own research. I considered that I have a difficult 6 months ahead, and that I'm having weekly counselling to deal with some of the reasons I ended up where I am, and that I'm taking positive action in other ways to get better, and thought that everything that could help should probably be tried. I started about 10 days ago, and apparently they take 2-3 weeks to kick in, so, besides a pretty persistent low-level nausea which happily has gone now, I haven't noticed any changes as yet.

So the other steps I'm taking are many -

  • I bought a lovely notebook in Edinburgh which I'm using as a journal/notebook of my journey back to the top.
  • Working on my allotment which I now share with the lovely Kate & Vaida - I'm really excited about this as, like I've said previously, I've always wanted an allotment, and OH MY GOSH I MIGHT FINALLY BE SUCCESSFUL WITH PUMPKINS!
  • I'm trying to get out for a reasonable walk (at least 30 mins) with Alfie every day, although he was being very unhelpful in this last week when he very uncharacteristically didn't want to go to the park for 3 days straight last week. He actually behaved on the lead! Very worrying, but luckily he seems to be back to his normal, straining-at-the-lead self. Whew!
  • I'm trying to be more open with people, even if I think there might be some negative effects - I asked someone out a couple of weeks ago! They said no.... you would think that would be pretty rubbish but actually, after a day of feeling a bit glum, it was nice to reflect that, actually, it doesn't really make any difference to me at all - which is satisfying to remember.
  • I'm reading up about mindfulness, which, so far as I've read, is a philosophy of being more present in your everyday life, and not spending quite so much time on autopilot, effectively sleepwalking through your life. One of the core tenets is taking periods of time (They want you to start off with 45 minutes a day, 6 days a week, for 8 weeks.... I have not put aside this much time yet) and simply witting quietly, listening to your breathing and simply being present, instead of thinking about things that have happened, will happen, won't happen, might happen, are happening elsewhere, and letting ones mind relax and take time off the hectic pace which we pretty much all subject ourselves to.
  • I'm trying to stop telling myself what I should be doing, and instead ask: a) what I would like to do and b) what I would like to have done, because I feel like I'm constantly telling myself off for not having done things I think I should have done as a responsible adult. If anyone else did that to me, I would get the <expletive deleted> out of my life.
  • Just saying "yes!" more - I've definitely spent more time with friends in real life during February, more time out, more time talking (actual talking!).... long may it continue!
I guess the biggest thing I've learnt was: I didn't miss Facebook. I never once regretted not being able to go on it, and I considered not logging in again. If I found a reasonable FB-messaging app for my phone (the curse of the Windows phone user....) I might have chosen not to go back. I have spotted myself going to check FB to see who's responded to any posts I've put up - but I find I can just ask myself: "Why, though?" and the answer is normally "dunno...".

I did miss the people, though. I value the relationships I've forged with people very very strongly. But, on that note.... I've also decided to make conscious decisions about who I want in my life, and consider the net effect of individual relationships, and those that come out in the red - considering why I think I need those people. Happily, the vast majority of people I know are heavily in the black - which is just one of the many ways in which I'm actually a <expletive deleted> lucky sod. So to every single person who's messaged me, hugged me, called me, texted me, sent me handmade monkeys (Thanks Sarah :-D), or just let me know that they are there if I need them: thank you so much from the very bottom of my heart. You have buoyed me up when I really needed it, and you really do make life worth living. Go and tell yourselves that you are wonderful!!