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.

Advertisements
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”.

The Dreaded Phone Call

The Dreaded Phone Call

This blog post in no way reflects or refers to my current place of work. The following has been gathered from personal past experience, and by speaking to others who have had, or still have, the same experiences.

phone-fear-300x300

So you’ve woken up, you feel horrendous, and you know you can’t make it into work. But not going into work means you have to phone in to work. Talking to someone on the other end of the line and telling them what’s wrong is a terrifying prospect. For many with a mental illness, this also means lying about what’s wrong; an added layer of anxiety.

So you go into work and are ineffective because you are unwell. Or you phone in, and spend the rest of the day feeling guilty, questioning what you said and whether or not anyone believed you. You then return to work sooner than you should do, and sometimes worse because of the effects this has had on your anxiety.

I’ve emailed and text into work before, and been pulled up for not phoning in when I should have done. Why do I email? Because I am already feeling physically or mentally ill enough to be off sick, so I’d rather delay speaking to anyone until I am fit enough to do so. At the point of being well again, I am strong enough to explain my reasons, particularly if they were related to my mental health.

In 2016, why aren’t places of work more flexible with this, particularly with those who struggle with mental health? I can think of a few reasons:

  1. Trust, or lack of it. Phoning in lets the manager hear the employee speaking, and explaining why they are off sick. Managers may gauge from this phone call whether they believe them or not.
  2. The phone call can discourage people who are not genuinely unwell from phoning in.
  3. Open conversation can develop, to discuss any support needs or to reassure the employee.

My question is, should employers offer an alternative way of contacting their managers should employees request this due to a mental illness? I believe so.

I asked some social media followers what they think.

Female, 26:

I consider myself to be a trustworthy, hard working employee; yet I feel severe guilt when I need to phone in to work sick. The stress and anxiety would be greatly reduced if I were able to text my boss, and if she understood why I was contacting her this way.

Male, 34:

I feel physically sick at the thought of phoning my supervisor. Not because we don’t get on, or she doesn’t understand my [mental] illness, but because when I am having a dark day, the last thing I want to do is explain it verbally. I just go into work, or invent a physical symptom.

Female, 32:

I mainly feel OK phoning in sick, but there are days when my anxiety runs too high and I feel like I can’t do it. It goes one of two ways: I either just go in and am completely unproductive, or I phone in and then criticize myself for the rest of the day on what I said. Being able to text would be awesome for my anxiety.

Female, age not given:

My worry is that if I text in, people would think it was too easy for me to take a day off and I would [take advantage]. Which isn’t the case, but do other people know that?

So, what do you think? In this age of technology, should we embrace other forms of communication for situations where using the telephone can cause someone with anxiety more harm than good? Should this be open to all, or just to those who specifically request an alternative means of communication due to a mental health condition?

I think I would feel far more comfortable knowing that if I was having a bad MH day, I could text my line manager and have an open discussion when I was back at work and feeling stronger. I would love for some employers to embrace this way of thinking, and I firmly believe better working relationships based on trust and understanding would develop.

Let me know what you think in the comments. Keep being mindful, and please don’t be hard on yourself if you have to phone in sick. We all deserve the time it takes to feel better again.

 

Bring on the Night

Bring on the Night

sleeping and thinking

Does this look familiar? Even now with mindfulness practice and CBT, I still struggle occasionally with getting a good night’s sleep. For me, falling asleep is generally quite easy, but I know for many this is a problem. I tend to wake up at 3am and allow my thoughts to run away with me which really causes problems.

So how can we stay mindful in the dead of night, when there is very little to focus our attention on?

Throughout therapy, I’ve been working on some techniques to help alleviate this problem. The first I identified was that lying in bed and worrying had become a habit. If I woke up in the night, it was normal for me to start worrying about something. In fact, one night I noted that I’d said to myself “I’m not worrying about anything – there must be something I can worry about…” Habits are hard to break, so the easiest thing for me to do to start with was to remove myself from the bed and bedroom completely, as soon as the unhelpful thinking habits started.

Luckily we have a huge comfy sofa, so when this happens I can take myself into the living room and cozy up on there. Even the walk through to the other room takes my mind out of that negative space. Sometimes I make a cup of (caffeine-free) tea, or I read a book, or I watch TV. I always put the lamp on, which creates a sense of being back in the land of the living instead of in a dark and lonely nighttime. I always fall back to sleep on the sofa. It doesn’t happen straight away, but I don’t clock watch or worry about not getting enough sleep. I distract my attention with something on TV and suddenly the alarm is going off and it’s morning.

Another technique which I’ve tried, and which works, is mindful breathing.

The primary focus in Mindfulness Meditation is the breathing. However, the primary goal is a calm, nonjudgmental awareness, allowing thoughts and feelings to come and go without getting caught up in them. This creates calmness and acceptance.

Source: http://www.getselfhelp.co.uk/mindfulness.htm

This technique allows the mind to calm and stop its focus on thoughts and feelings which distract you from sleep. A particular favourite of mine is to count your breath backwards from 1,000. The in breath counts as 1, the out breath as 1.  It is important here to only focus on the breath, how it feels as it goes in and out of your body, and what changes it brings to your body as it does so. Along with counting, I will never reach beyond 900 before I am asleep again.

Why not try The Worry Warrior’s technique too:

I’d love to hear which techniques you have used to get a better night sleep while struggling with anxiety! Please leave them in the comments.

The Wee Wedding Build Up

The Wee Wedding Build Up

On Tuesday 12th April, my wife and I got married!

Anxiety was one of the main reasons we made the choices we did for our wedding. We chose to marry at Crear, a gorgeous house in the middle of nowhere on the west coast of Scotland. They specialise in Wee Weddings, and this appealed to us as we deliberately wanted to keep it small to keep nerves on the day to a minimum. A large wedding would, for both of us, end up in panic attacks and no enjoyment – and what’s the point in that?

Here are the good, the bad, and the ugly experiences we had whilst planning our wee wedding:

The Good

  • The venue arranged everything for us; the photographer, the flowers, the food, the accommodation and even a piper for our ceremony. All we had to do was pick an outfit and turn up. It meant once we’d booked, everything was automatically ticked off. Me -1, Anxiety – 0.
  • The unbelievable support we received from many of our family and friends when we told them our plans was incredible. It was surprising how many people told us they wished they had made the same decisions as us for their own weddings.
  • We had a Humanist ceremony:

    We believe that marriage and civil partnerships are based on mutual love and respect.  We also know that every couple is different and that is why our ceremonies are unique and personal.

    It meant our ceremony was our story, in our words. It was funny and sentimental in all the right places, and our loved ones delivered readings which were personal to us.

  • We chose to use a symbolic hand fasting gesture while saying our vows, and also finished our ceremony with another ritual where we drink to each other from a traditional Scottish quaich. Because our wedding was so small, our guests could also drink whisky from the quaich to celebrate our marriage.
(6)
The Quaich, filled with whisky
  • We chose outfits which felt comfortable and reflected our own style and personalities. I wore a loose fitting dress with converse trainers, and my partner wore jeans, a shirt and a bow tie. I didn’t hide my tattoos, I showed them off. We felt amazing. We also encouraged our guests to be comfortable and not worry about expensive dressy outfits.

Wedding Dance

  • We got ready together, helped each other with hair and make up, and took a few deep breaths before heading downstairs to the hall. With my partner by my side for support, my anxiety was nowhere to be seen.
  • After our wedding, we had a buffet meal, a small toast and lots of champers. By 7pm, we and our guests were in our pyjamas, relaxing and chatting in front of the open fire. It was exactly how we wanted to end our day; fuss free.

The Bad

  • Choosing our guest list. If you have a wee wedding, expect it to be near impossible to choose who to invite. We originally thought we would elope on our own, but decided against complete unknowns as our witnesses. In the end, we chose two family members to witness our wedding, and this in turn completed our guest list. It’s tricky, but if a small wedding is what you want then stick to your guns and go for it.
  • Wedding body shaming. Yep, this happens to everyone, and I honestly don’t think people realise they are doing it. I decided not to diet for my wedding. I don’t ever diet, I hate the idea of going on a diet, and to be honest I am happy with my body. However, I often heard the words “I can’t believe you are eating that three weeks before your wedding!” If I want to eat seven custard creams, in one go, three weeks before my wedding, I don’t think that’s anyone’s business but mine.
  • A few people found it difficult to understand that we didn’t follow a traditional wedding pattern, and whilst we were always more than happy to tell people our plans, on the odd occasion we had to justify our decisions. As a gay couple, we were asked questions such as; “Who is the man?”, “Who is wearing the dress?”, “Who is giving you away?”. When we explained that neither of us are a man, or no one is giving us away but we will walk in together, it was sometimes met with a strange look of confusion. Straight or gay, I think you are allowed to deviate from tradition wherever you want to, and should never have to justify this to anyone.

The Ugly

  • Due to our anxiety and budget, we didn’t invite everyone. We genuinely believed that everyone would understand and be happy for us, but a few let us down. There is nothing you can do about how other people feel, or how other people interpret your decisions. Holding on to negative feelings like that does no one any good. We had to let it go and move forward with planning our wedding, focusing on the things which make us happy and the reasons we were getting married: because we love each other and want to start a family. You can never please everyone, but you have to remember that it is your day, and you should celebrate it the way that you want.
  • I put so much pressure on myself that the day should be perfect, that I ended up an anxious mess two nights before the wedding. I broke a nail, and you would honestly have thought that I’d just been told the world was going to end in fifteen minutes. Thankfully, I was marrying the most amazing woman on the planet, who helped me through my panic attack. She made me tea, and reminded me that whatever happened, we would go to bed on Tuesday a married couple and that is all that matters.


Nothing went wrong on the day of our wedding. I was shaking throughout the ceremony through excitement and nerves, but my anxiety stayed away. Our wedding was happening, and it was happening beautifully. Everyone laughed, most people cried, we got drunk and woke the next day as the happiest Mrs & Mrs that ever was. I wouldn’t change one thing about our day, and I know that if we had had a big wedding, I would be writing a very different blog post on wedding day anxiety.

Do whatever you and your partner want to do, because you are the only people that matter, and I cannot stress this enough. Enjoy it and make it YOURS. That is all.

(146)

 

Hokusai Says by Roger Keys

Hokusai Says by Roger Keys

When I started discovering mindfulness and Buddhism practice, this poem made so much sense to me and helped me through some really tough days. I hope you enjoy it, and get as much out of it as I certainly have.

 

image

Hokusai Says

Hokusai says look carefully.

He says pay attention, notice.

He says keep looking, stay curious.

He says there is no end to seeing
He says look forward to getting old.

He says keep changing,

you just get more who you really are.

He says get stuck, accept it, repeat

yourself as long as it is interesting.
He says keep doing what you love.
He says keep praying.
He says every one of us is a child,

every one of us is ancient

every one of us has a body.

He says every one of us is frightened.

He says every one of us has to find

a way to live with fear.
He says everything is alive —

shells, buildings, people, fish,

mountains, trees, wood is alive.

Water is alive.
Everything has its own life.
Everything lives inside us.
He says live with the world inside you.
He says it doesn’t matter if you draw,

or write books. It doesn’t matter

if you saw wood, or catch fish.

It doesn’t matter if you sit at home

and stare at the ants on your veranda

or the shadows of the trees

and grasses in your garden.

It matters that you care.
It matters that you feel.
It matters that you notice.
It matters that life lives through you.
Contentment is life living through you.

Joy is life living through you.

Satisfaction and strength

is life living through you.
He says don’t be afraid.

Don’t be afraid.
Love, feel, let life take you by the hand.

Let life live through you.

– Roger Keyes

Anxiety Superheroes

Anxiety Superheroes

I have two cats, Teacake and Cinzano, and I love animals. In fact, when I haven’t had animals I find something is really missing in my life. My cats, along with so many other things, help me with my anxiety and mindful practice. Below are some of the things a pet can help you with if you’re having a tough time.

Animals are amazing at being mindful

Yep, animals are an incredible inspiration to me when trying to stay in the present. My cats don’t care about what happened in the past, and they certainly aren’t worrying about what will happen in the future. They live in the moment, and I try and take some tips from them when I’m struggling. “What would Teacake do?” She would probably just chill out and go to sleep.

Teacake

Animals never judge you, or try to fix you

My cats have never said to me “you’re worrying over nothing”, or “there’s nothing wrong with you, everyone feels like this”. I can have a good rant to them, and just saying something out loud makes me feel better. I don’t necessarily need any advice. For those times, the cats are my perfect flat mates.

Animals are an incredible distraction

Have you ever played fetch with a dog, or watched a cat chasing a laser pen, and worried about something at the same time? No, me neither. Just interacting with an animal takes my mind off everything else and I am able to be in the moment. Providing for, and taking care of an animal is also a great way to conquer anxiety. The world may be completely falling apart around me, but Cinzano really wants her milk, and that is now more important than anything else. When I get a dog, I’ll have even more to do that I just won’t have time to worry! (Here’s hoping…) Your pet needs food and love, which really can distract you from everything else.

An upside down Cinzano

Animals are always home

Sometimes the world can be a lonely place. When you have a pet, someone is always around. It doesn’t matter that it isn’t a human being (in fact sometimes this is a bonus), it’s just nice to have another living thing sharing your space.

 

The best thing about our cats is that they love me, no matter what I am feeling. I will always take care of them as well as they take care of me.