Fluoxetine

Fluoxetine

I came off my Fluoxetine in January, as I felt my CBT and mindfulness practice were helping me enough to stave off any episodes of anxiety and panic. It was the right decision at the time as I really was feeling like myself again; I was less anxious and could identify when an episode was coming and do my best not to let it take over.

Over the next 6 months I became complacent with my self care. I was almost under the assumption that I was “cured” and didn’t really have to try anymore to look after myself or my mental health. I deteriorated quite badly, but so slowly that you would hardly notice. It wasn’t until I began to negatively affect those around me that I started to sit up and listen to what my body was telling me.

I became irrationally angry and irritable at a lot of very small and seemingly unimportant things. The washing up not being done instantly caused me to have the feelings of pre-panic attack as the mess in the kitchen reflected the mess that was in my mind. Any clutter in the house was a big no-no and I was never relaxed; always tidying things away and getting angry that my wife wasn’t doing the same. I took a lot of things personally that were not aimed that way. A small comment from someone, or a look in my direction, was felt as a personal attack and I would either get incredibly upset, or incredibly angry.

The anger worried me more than anything else. The anxiety I felt towards a lot of situations manifested itself in an irrational rage that would cause me to lash out at those who I love the most. I wasn’t enjoying the little things anymore. I was just getting annoyed with them. Nothing seemed to be right, nothing seemed to give me any satisfaction, and no one seemed to make me happy. I was, quite frankly, horrendous to be around. And I applaud my wife for putting up with it!

When I was in a good frame of mind, I often reflected on how I was behaving and vowed to identify the anger and sit with it, rather than let it run out of control and destroy the day. But it never worked. It was always too late and I couldn’t control it. I had let so much slip that I was finding it near impossible to get back on track.

I believe I have suffered with depression over the last 6 months. Although not officially diagnosed, I have certainly felt feelings other than anxiety. I’ve had evenings completely void of feeling, days where I have just felt no joy, days where I couldn’t be bothered to do anything and had no strength to force myself either. I’ve also had days where I couldn’t stop, couldn’t sit down and had to be constantly busy. It’s exhausting.

My wife and I sat down 4 weeks ago and had an open conversation about how I had been. We were honest with each other, and she was, as she always is, incredibly supportive. I decided that since coming off my medication, things had taken a downward turn. I wasn’t well again, and I was heading to the same place I had been in the winter of 2015. The next morning I made an appointment with the doctor, and I went to see her on 30th June after work. I told my doctor what had been happening and how I had been feeling. I told her that I wanted to go back on the medication, and she was in agreement that it sounded like a good idea. She, as ever, let me make that decision for myself. I was not forced into a decision either way. She said I would need to stay on them for a couple of years this time, just to make sure that if and when I come off them again I’ll be ready. I am happy with this. To be honest, I would be comfortable with staying on them now for the rest of my life. They help me, and I am OK with that.

I’m 3 weeks in, and the difference in my mental health is notable. I am calmer. I can now put things into perspective a lot more. I’m not worrying about the little things; in fact I’m also worrying less about the big things if there are any. My anger has all but disappeared. My irritability is almost non-existent. I’m not snapping, I’m not being a bitch.

The physical side effects of the drug in the first 4 weeks have not been fun. I have struggled with:

  • Fatigue; I slept like a log for a full 8 hours last night, but this morning I felt like utter crap.
  • Sleep disruption; I have had to take my tablet as soon as I wake up to try and combat the waking-up-at-2am-and-worrying-for-2-hours thing.
  • Tremors
  • Spasms in my arms
  • Bladder control! I pee so much now…
  • Jaw pain from tensing in the night
  • Physical symptoms of anxiety (butterflies, heart palpitations, shakes)
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea, especially at 6pm for some reason

I knew this would happen. The first time I was on Fluoxetine was horrendous, and I was expecting worse if I’m honest. But I know once I see myself through this first month, these side effects will ease, and I will start to feel a lot better. The doctors say you may feel worse before you feel better, and that is definitely the case with me. It is another reason why I won’t come off these meds again unless I am 100% sure I can manage my anxiety without them.

I am proud of myself for going back on my meds. It’s not an easy thing to do, and it’s not an easy thing to admit to yourself that you are relapsing. But I hope if you need to do the same, you will. It really is worth it if medication works for you.

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Writing Guilt

Writing Guilt

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged, and I regret that. It’s one of those things that I want to do, and then the longer I leave it, the guiltier I feel about neglecting it, and then I just avoid it. Head in the sand kind of situation.

I do the same with my journal. I get a reminder on my phone every day to log an entry in my journal. If I’ve missed a day, I think “ah, I’ll do it tomorrow.” If I’ve missed a week, I get a pang of anxious guilt in my gut and I feel awful. I get rid of the notification as soon as I can and then feel guilty for ten minutes that I’ve not written to, essentially, myself. No one else is relying on me writing in my journal except me. To be honest, even I’m not relying on it. Then the little number 1 stays red and glaring in the corner of the journal app which I use, a constant beacon of my laziness and failure. I hate it and I avoid looking at it, and if I see it I feel guilty again.

I get to the point, eventually, where I delete the app and then go for a few months without logging anything. I then regret it, download the app and start afresh, only for the whole cycle to begin once more.

I think it’s got to the point where I need to face facts; keeping a daily journal doesn’t work for me. I don’t need to log my thoughts on a daily basis, but I need to write when I need to write. Sometimes it is cathartic, because I don’t want to spill what’s in my head to anyone. It’s usually when I’m in a completely irrational rage about something, and once I’ve written it down, the anger subsides. Without needing to upset anyone. It works. So I’ve turned the notifications off. Now, like with my blog, when I want to write in it, I do. If I don’t , I don’t.

I’m happy with that.

Anxiety and Employment: How I Made it Work for Me

Anxiety and Employment: How I Made it Work for Me

It goes without saying; having a mental illness does not mean you cannot work and work well. I work full time across two offices; one in Glasgow and one in Edinburgh. It’s taken a while to adapt to two offices and the long commute to one of them, but I’ve put steps in place to counteract the negative effect this has on my mental health.

For one, I must have a good night’s sleep to stand a chance of feeling OK the next day. Eight hours is my absolute minimum. Couple this with an anxiety of being late for work because of being stuck in traffic, because my car won’t start, because I’ll over sleep, and this was always going to be a recipe for disaster when it came to an early start with a long drive to Glasgow.

The second challenge I have is a need to be near my safe-space, which is my home. This feeling isn’t there all the time, it is just when my mental health is suffering. Being on the other side of the country when feeling like this isn’t ideal. It’s days like this when I am truly grateful for owning a car. My personal bubble which takes me back home in the quickest time and with the least amount of people nearby.

I also have an irrational fear of phoning in sick to work. I get incredibly anxious at the thought of letting people down, especially my work. My mind goes into overdrive thinking about what people will be saying about me, and the possibilities of losing my job because of it. If people ever think I take a day off sick and lie about it, they don’t know me very well at all! I get so overly anxious when I have to do it for genuine reasons that I become mentally ill as well. It’s certainly not worth the pain for a sneaky day’s skive. I generally return before I am ready to as well. I never follow my own advice that I dish out to others on self care in this respect. Must work on that.

Finally, my anxiety makes me so frightened of making a mistake. One mistake at work and I go into overdrive worry mode again. “I will definitely get fired. My boss definitely thinks I am incapable of my job. Why am I doing this job? I clearly can’t do it… I am so rubbish at it. No one else makes mistakes. It is definitely JUST ME.”

As many of you know, I was on long term sick absence a year ago with anxiety and panic disorder. It wasn’t until this time that I started to review how I could effectively manage working and staying mentally healthy. The way I was going was making me unwell. My workplace arranged a meeting with occupational health for me, which was the first step in identifying some of the areas which were making me sick. I also had a frank talk with my Line Manager and told him how I was feeling and how my illness impacts on my life. Please do this if you are struggling. An open and honest talk with your manager (or a colleague) is not only a relief, but you may be surprised at how understanding they are, and how much they want to be flexible to allow you to carry on working to your maximum potential.

The travel for one was not helping. At that time, I was travelling three or four days a week on very little sleep. I changed this to a compulsory two days only, which could not be one after the other to allow for a good, anxiety-free sleep.

Next, I looked into flexible working options which would have a positive impact on my health.

All employees have the legal right to request flexible working – not just parents and carers.

This took some time to think about. Did I want to work less hours? No, not really. The anxiety wasn’t brought on by how many hours I was working. How about more time in my safe-space throughout the week? Yes, this seemed logical. I discussed with my Line Manager the option of working from home on a Monday instead of coming into the office. He agreed. This has helped hugely. The transition from weekend to work week is so much smoother for me, and I don’t have a horrible sleepless and anxiety filled night on a Sunday anymore. It also means I can concentrate better in my own surroundings and with less distractions and people.

The final changes I made to my life were personal. Meditation relaxes my mind at the beginning and end of the day. I don’t practice this as often now, but when I returned to work I practiced religiously everyday and I cannot emphasize enough how much this helped me to calm down and focus on five minutes at a time. I never thought further ahead than this. It was a life saver.

I bought a SAD lamp for the winter months, and waking up early isn’t quite as painful anymore. I feel the benefits all day and my energy levels are definitely up since having this on every morning.

I walk. I walk every day and I notice things as I do. Small things, beautiful things in nature. I notice and watch for birds now, and record which ones I see. I do this on my lunch breaks, too.

I keep a gratitude journal and I jot something down before I go to bed. It promotes better dreams. Never a bad thing.

And finally, I stopped worrying about mistakes. This was the hardest thing to do. I use the following mantra:

You are strong when you know your weakness. You are beautiful when you appreciate your flaws. You are wise when you learn from your mistakes.

Buddha

Mistakes are there to teach us things. You will only ever get better at something after doing it wrong. Keep doing things wrong. Keep making mistakes. Keep getting better.

And guess what? When you stop worrying about making mistakes, you’ll end up not making any. Well, you’ll end up making less, like me.

“How Can the Mentally Ill Help the Mentally Ill?” … & other stories

“How Can the Mentally Ill Help the Mentally Ill?” … & other stories

I am currently in training to become a Mental Health First Aider in Scotland, and have brought this course to the attention of my employer. Subsequently, they have now approached other people in my organisation to encourage more to be trained in this much needed resource within the workplace.

But… “How can the mentally ill help the mentally ill?”

I’ve heard this said before and I’ve heard it said again this week. It’s just another misconception about people with a mental illness, implying that we aren’t really capable of doing anything except being “mentally ill”. My mental illness does not define me. I have a career, run a magazine for people with a mental illness, am in a happy marriage and enjoy a lot of hobbies. Yet a comment like this still exists and people still believe that it’s viable, true, and funny.

Here are a few ways in which the mentally ill can help the mentally ill:

Talk

We talk (and write) about our experiences, good or bad, and how we have learned to live successfully with our illness. Not only is this a form of therapy for the person speaking out, but it also helps others who don’t feel comfortable doing so that they aren’t alone. It breaks down the stigma surrounding mental illness, which is necessary when you remember that 1 in 4 people have one. Not everyone wants to admit to their mental illness, not everyone wants to talk about their mental illness. But listening to someone who does can help in ways you will never imagine possible.

Listen

As well as being incredibly vocal, we can also shut up and listen too. Listening non judgmentally is hard to do, but really important when listening to someone’s story. Don’t listen and make up a back story, or make assumptions about this person because of how their mental illness has manifested itself. Just listen. Let them get it off their chest. One benefit of doing this is that it reduces the chance of that person committing suicide, even if you don’t offer advice.

Advise

Many people with a mental illness now live with it quite successfully. This could be due to medical intervention or self help. Either way, we can give advice to  other people based on our own experiences, and some of this advice could help someone to either seek the help they need, or help themselves back to full health. It could save a life, too.

Ask

Are you OK? These three simple words can help someone open up and talk. People with a mental illness can sometimes spot the symptoms in others, identify if they need help and empathise with how they are feeling. They are more likely to ask if someone else is OK, because they know how isolated it can feel when you’re not.

Finally, the majority of mental health charities I have worked with in Scotland have been started by people with mental illnesses. These successful charities help thousands of people who really need it.

And that’s how the mentally ill can help the mentally ill.

 

Do you want to volunteer your time with a mental health charity? Explore these and I hope you find your way to helping someone:

https://www.samh.org.uk/get-involved/volunteering

https://www.seemescotland.org/our-movement-for-change/supporters/volunteers/

http://www.health-in-mind.org.uk/get-involved/volunteering.html

https://www.supportinmindscotland.org.uk/volunteer-with-us

http://www.mind.org.uk/get-involved/volunteering-participating/

https://www.rethink.org/get-involved/support-us

http://www.sane.org.uk/how_you_can_help/volunteer/

http://www.youngminds.org.uk/support_our_work/fundraise

https://www.mhscot-consultancy.co.uk/events/scotlands-mental-health-first-aid/

What 2016 Taught Me

What 2016 Taught Me

This year has been up, down, all over the place. I know for many of us it’s been diabolical, and we’ve lost far too many awesome people that its been heartbreaking. But personally, I’ve learnt and grown so much that I can only look back on it as the best year of my life.

Here is a list of things I’ve learnt over the 12 months of 2016:

  1. People aren’t always against you, and they aren’t always out to get you. My mind played so many tricks on me at the start of this year that I truly believed that some were only out to make my life a misery. They weren’t; the only one out to get me was me!
  2. Going back to work after being off on long term sick leave is never as bad as you think it’s going to be. This might not be the same for everyone, but I built this up so much over January that actually going into the office at the beginning of February had a negative impact on my heath because of my anxieties. Once I was there, it was like I’d never been away. I was also lucky to have the support from my line manager and colleagues that made it very easy and comfortable. Again, my mind led me down the wrong path.
  3. Getting married is the best feeling EVER! I got married this year and I can honestly say it was the best day of my life. It wasn’t all plain sailing though. You can read about it here.
  4. Honeymoon in your own country. I don’t think we would have had a better time anywhere else. It was relaxing, we packed the car up with everything we wanted for a week and drove to where we were going. We chilled out, watched movies, went to the beach (the weather was stunning!), and when we came home we bundled everything in the car and came back. So stress free. We could also bring the cats – win!
  5. Your mental health will go up and down, and that’s okay. Yes, I am always recovering and learning. But some days I feel like shite and I’m moody and horrendous. That’s just me and I’m learning to stop apologising for it. There will be set backs, always, and that’s just life. It’s all okay.
  6. Negative and toxic people aren’t worth the hassle. Cut them out of your life and forget about them. If they don’t want a part in your life, then that’s fine. Let them go and embrace the people who love you and who want to share your life with you. The rest are just holding you back.
  7. Don’t get caught up in other people’s drama. Equally, don’t rise to other people trying to create drama about you with others. Keep your own peace and you’ll feel better for it.
  8. Do something you love, and don’t do it for profit. Just be the person you want to be, and if it grows into something more, that’s a bonus.
  9. Give those you love enough room to be themselves and to grow. Sit back and watch them become happier and more awesome than you ever thought possible.
  10. Getting a puppy is fucking hard work. It’s not the same as when you had one when you lived with your parents. It’s not the same as having a cat. AT ALL. But once you get through the first few months of absolute crap, you will have the best friend you’ve ever had and you’ll never want to let him go. It truly has been the most rewarding thing I have ever done. (I will possibly never get a puppy again, though… Older dogs for the win!)
  11. Volunteer your time with a charity that means a lot to you. I volunteer with See Me Scotland, a mental health charity which challenges stigma. I’ve met some amazing people and true friends through this, and found my calling in life. I now run a magazine  for mental health bloggers, and will soon be trained in mental health first aid for my workplace. I hope to pursue this more in 2017, and who knows where it will take me.
  12. Say NO to stuff you don’t want to do! Want to stay in? Stay in! Don’t want to drink? Don’t! People don’t like it? TOUGH! Over this year I’ve got more and more selfish, and it’s awesome. It’s self care, and it’s 100% necessary.
  13. Read more.
  14. Learn more.
  15. Worrying is pointless. Yes, I do it all the time. But I can’t think of one thing I worried about this year which came true.

I’ve had the best year, I’ve learnt so much and I still have so much to learn. 2017 is going to teach me a whole heap of new stuff, and I am so excited for it to begin!

Merry Christmas and a very Happy 2017!

 

 

Fight or Flight?

Fight or Flight?

Last night I couldn’t sleep because I had this blog post whirling around in my head. So apologies if it’s not as polished as I’d like… it’s just random thoughts on a page at this stage.

Anxiety is usually triggered by something, whether we are conscious of it or not. A phobia, a fear of a situation, something big at work which we can’t predict the outcome to. Anxiety triggers a fight-or-flight reaction; it’s natural and it’s normal and it’s our bodies helping us out. I am a serious flight person. I fly away from any situation I don’t like, I avoid things to avoid anxiety. Sometimes this is the best thing for me to do, it’s self care. Sometimes I’d be better off facing it. Flying, for instance, is something I try and avoid now after two subsequent panic attacks on my last two flights. Avoiding it is not helpful. It only makes it worse.

Well, recently I faced an anxiety head on. Have you ever faced something, and come away wondering what on earth you were afraid of in the first place? The problem was built up so much in your head, and when you saw it, face on, it was small and insignificant. You are bigger than that. That’s what happened to me. I realised that my anxiety had made me worry about something that didn’t matter to me. At all. My life would go on happily regardless of it.

My point of this rambling is to say that if you are anxious about something, try and face it. OK, so maybe you won’t be able to do it the first time, second time, or ever. That’s OK too. But facing it sometimes just makes it completely disappear.

comfort-zone

Block. Delete. Forget.

Block. Delete. Forget.

Two of my worst panic attacks have taken place in the air, on a plane. The first was following a major panic attack I had whilst on a weekend away in Madrid.

My panic attack in Madrid was triggered by a bad experience I had whilst I was there. I’ve never written about this before, and have only told those closest to me about it, but one year on I feel I need to put it out there. It’s long, but please stick around.

I was in Madrid with two people I believed to be my friends, however whilst drinking in a bar, they questioned me on being a lesbian. It’s hard to describe what they said without using the actual words, but it was along the lines of me going through a “phase”, that it was a choice, and how hard they found it to accept me as gay. They told me they believed that I would “go back to men”, and that they wouldn’t want their daughters to stay with me for any length of time in case “they came back as lesbians”.

Now, this was not the first time I had felt singled out like this in their company. There had been many occasions where I wasn’t invited to nights out or in, because it was them and their husbands. Many times, their partners wouldn’t come out if it were me and my partner because it was “too girly”.

My so-called best friend treated me as a bit of a joke, and I am sure she still thinks of me that way. My mental illness was growing for years as I found it hard to come out initially, and incredibly hard to deal with the pressures of telling family and friends that I was gay. It was crippling, and I found it hard to be at peace and love myself again. I am only just getting there now after my near breakdown in December of last year. There was little to no support from these friends. Although lip-service was made, they were not supportive and I could not talk to them without being subjected to another lesbian joke.

Following what was said to me in that bar in Madrid, I fought my corner as best I could, given that I was in a strange environment and it was two against one. I’d never done this before. I asked them why they were adding another layer of guilt and pressure to me for coming out as gay five years earlier. I genuinely believed of all the people in my life, my friends would understand and realise that it didn’t matter who I was in a relationship with – I was still Ellie. Apparently it did matter. They said it did alter things, and that it wasn’t the same now I was in relationships with women. This broke my heart, as I could not imagine how or why this would change anything at all.

Still, I questioned myself. I asked myself if I was being unreasonable. I asked myself if I was being harsh on my friends to expect them to accept me as gay. I left the bar and went back to the hotel room.

Waking the next morning, my friends acted as if nothing had happened. One of them said that we should laugh off what happened the night before, and I shouldn’t be so sensitive about things. I sent a text message to my girlfriend, and one to my friend in Edinburgh telling them what had happened. Both were horrified. Both said they couldn’t believe what had happened the night before and I shouldn’t have friends like that. What a relief to know that I wasn’t over reacting and that what I believed about myself was right. What a relief to know that I had such amazing people in my life who loved me back home.

I spent the rest of that final day in Madrid quietly, only interacting when I had to. I was miserable and trapped and I couldn’t wait to get home.  My flight was at 8am the following morning, so I was counting down the minutes.

At 2am, the panic attack started. I text my girlfriend and she talked me through it. I have a fear of vomit, but I had to be sick in the toilet; there was no choice. I couldn’t avoid it. I lay on the bathroom floor convulsing until I had to force myself up to get dressed and get into a taxi. Still, my girlfriend was texting me through it, encouraging me to just take it minute by minute, not to think about the future just to concentrate on what was happening around me. What did the floor feel like? What could I see around me? How many colours? I made it to the airport in the taxi, but had no WiFi connection so couldn’t stay in contact with anyone until I landed back in Scotland. I checked in to my flight using a machine, and everywhere I went I stopped in the toilet for respite. I always knew where the nearest bin was in case I needed to be sick. I waited in a toilet until I had to board the plane, listening to music on my headphones which reminded me of home.

I boarded the plane, and sat at the back by a window. I was breathing fast but had to concentrate on that to keep calm. A couple were sitting next to me. I turned away from them, held a sick bag and concentrated on my breath. We took off. I was OK, just. It was about 30 minutes into the flight when panic set in again and I had to ask the couple next to me to grab a flight attendant. I was definitely going to pass out. The couple moved to other seats and I lay down over three seats. I passed out, and woke again to the attendants offering me sugar water. It was so welcome! I had zero energy left and one sip brought me back a little bit. I lay back down and slept the rest of the trip.

We landed. The relief was so immense that I cried. A text message came through from my girlfriend saying she was waiting for me, along with my friend who had driven her there to pick me up. I managed to get off the plane and over to Arrivals, where I burst into tears at seeing her, and couldn’t stop. She carried me to the car, and my friend was there – I cried. They had brought me a blanket, hot water bottle and water to make me feel better in the car. They took me home, and I vowed never to leave ever again.

It took me three days to get over the panic attack. I couldn’t eat, was too anxious to talk to anyone and couldn’t go to work. I was also too scared to sleep in my bed as it took me right back to the bed in Madrid. I had to sleep on the sofa with the television on all night, and my girlfriend set up a bed on the floor so she could be with me. We woke up in the night, watched random films and fell back to sleep. Finally, I was able to eat a rich tea biscuit and things returned to relative normality.

What of my terrible friends? I have never spoken to or seen them again. I cut them out of my life completely, because poisonous people do not deserve anyone’s time. It took me a while to come round to this way of thinking. My girlfriend, Mum, sister, aunties and friends convinced me that people who make you feel inadequate are not friends. I haven’t missed them once in the year since it happened. In fact, I feel better about myself and my life since they’ve been away.

A month later, I was diagnosed with anxiety, panic disorder and PTSD as a result of the incident in Madrid. It affected me deeply, and I was ill for a while. I am now in a completely different place mentally. I am still on medication, but I love myself, and I am not ashamed of who I am or what I have been through to get here. I work on bettering myself daily, and will never be afraid to disconnect with people who dull my shine.

I’m now happily married to the woman who helped me through all of this, have real friends who love me for who I am, and a family that have my back whatever I choose to do with my life.

I’m still afraid of flying, though. More on that next time!

no-longer-anything

This blog post is dedicated to Sharon, Louise, Alice and Marilyn who told me to tell them to “Get tae f**k”.