Monday, 31 October 2016

I’m off my antidepressants. We’re now long distance pals.

** Disclaimer: Not a medical professional. My views based on my experiences only. Please visit your GP, mental health professional, or Mind for more expert advice! **

I’ve not been taking my medication for a month now. GP approved, for immediate clarification. I would never endorse taking yourself off your medication without talking it through with your GP first. Sorry to be ya mum, but… do as you’re told. 

It’s been… ok? I think. It’s hard to self-reflect, especially when you live with different forms of anxiety. I try to differentiate between ‘me’, ‘me with anxiety’, ‘me on medication for anxiety’ and ‘me having just come off medication for anxiety’ which is a whole new territory. 

I came off them for a few reasons, some of them good and some of them bad. I felt ready to try and come off them, primarily. That should always be the main reason. Do it when you’re ready. But I also came off them because some of side effects had started to make my anxiety worse: I put on three stone in a year and I had absolutely no sex drive. Zilch. Nada. Nothing. IT WAS SO SAD.

I know that those reasons are trivial compared to the fact that I could now function, but them being relentlessly thrown in my face when I couldn't fit in my clothes anymore, or when I saw a flash of my boyfriend's bum and didn't start growling, was getting tiresome. So when I felt confident and comfortable to try and come off the medication, those particular side effects made my decision much easier. 

I started to cut down at first. I skipped taking them on weekends, then I only took them every other day, then I only took them every three days… then I didn’t take them at all. This was definitely the best way of doing it. The withdrawal effects weren’t strong but they were definitely there even at the start of the slow process, so I’d never recommend going cold turkey. 

The withdrawal effects I’ve had so far have been:

  • Mad dreams. Like… really weird. Baffling. Could-consider-for-a-Tim-Burton-movie dreams. 
  • Slight trouble sleeping. Courtesy of above, mostly. But I’ve been super nervous of going to sleep and haven’t slept through a lot. 
  • Weird appetite. One week I wasn’t hungry at all and the next I was reaching for the pregnancy test because surely I was eating for two? 
  • Irritableness. Sorry friends.

Aside from the simmering anxiety of being off them, I think that’s it. For now, anyway. No, the weight hasn’t just dropped off but I’m hoping that I can have a better relationship with my body now that I feel more in control of it. And yes, my sex drive back. Bangin’. Literally. 

I feel good. The anxiety is definitely there but my eye's on it. I’m happy I made this decision and, to be brutally honest, I’d be absolutely gutted if I needed to go back on my medication. But I know that that’s a possibility and I shouldn’t feel guilty or ashamed at all if it came to it. But one step at a time… 

Antidepressants are wonderful things. I’m definitely pro-medication, and I’m also pro-doing what’s best for you. If you don’t get on with medication, that’s fine. If you need medication for the rest of your life, that’s fine too. There are many different treatments for mental health struggles for a reason; one type won’t work for everyone. I, personally, hated counselling. But medication turned my life around, and once that was working in my system, I then learnt how to self-care properly and the combination of the two worked marvellously.

For me, medication gave me a boost in confidence and a gap between something triggering my anxieties and my anxieties acting upon them. It gave me time, and it gave me hope. It let me sleep, it let me believe in myself, it let me go out, it let me learn and adapt, and it let me improve my relationships. 

It also gave me weird appetites, made me put on a lot of weight, beat up my sex drive, made me twitchy, and sometimes made me clumsy, forgetful, and ‘not with it’, but those last effects only happened when I had to up my dose earlier this year. That dose didn’t last, needless to say. 

I still keep my trusty Sertraline on my bedside table. Just having it there in my sight makes me comfortable. I know it’s there if I need it, though I desperately wish I won’t. I don’t feel scared of ‘going at it alone’. I did, at the start of this year. The thought of not taking medication terrified me and made me so vulnerable. But I depended on it then. I relied on it to get me through the day. But I can get through days myself now. Weeks. Months! Look at me go. I’m far from over with my mental health struggles but, for now, I’m keeping up with them. We’re friends.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

My Royal Parks Half: 13.1 + a comedown

It's been nearly two weeks since I ran a half marathon. My first. 13.1 miles. One of the best known half marathons with the prettiest and most popular route through four of London’s eight Royal parks: Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, Green Park, and St James’ Park, with a handful of London’s best landmarks in-between. I ran the whole way, I never stopped or even walked, and I finished in 2 hours 48 minutes which shaved 12 minutes off my expected time of 3 hours. I did, you could say, a bloody great job.

So why, then, have I been monumentally grumpy and sad and frustrated in the fortnight since I crossed that finish line after a 400m sprint (just saying)?

When I imagined the time post-race I thought it would mimic my post-Vitality British 10k in July; I’d be full of adrenaline and positivity and pride and determination to do more and more and more. That’s how I signed up for the Royal Parks Half in the first place. I was high on success, tried to open a recipe for an extortionately cheesy and carb-filled pasta dish, but slipped and ended up pledging to Alzheimer’s Society that I’d raise £500 for them by running 13.1 miles. Less than 12 hours after running my first ever 10k.

And sweet Lord, don’t get me wrong, I was bloody chuffed when I crossed that finished line in Hyde Park. I hadn’t put any pressure on myself and I’d done what I set out to do: run a half marathon without stopping. I didn’t push for a time, I didn’t have any competition in my sights, and I didn’t give a merry fuck what I looked like around that course. Red, sweaty, slumped over, angry-looking, and slug-like, if you were wondering.

It hurt though. Obviously. It’s a very long way, 13.1 miles, and I ached in places I didn’t know I would ache… 

Ok, my fanny felt bruised. Like someone had punched it. For real. Why didn’t anyone tell me that could happen? Should it happen?! WHO KNOWS. 

But I was fine and very much looking forward to a bath. The aches and cramps and suspicious searing pain in my left foot would dissipate after a LUSH sponsored bubble bath, lots of pasta and a good sleep.

The next day I ended up in A&E.

Of course. 

In hindsight, going to County Hall/The London Eye for a big World Mental Health Day event to talk, one-to-one, with The Duke & Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry about my London Marathon plans the day after running my first half marathon was… questionable. 

I ended up in tears as I walked/hobbled from Waterloo Station that Monday morning. My foot was in agony. But I was too proud and too embarrassed to show it so I walked as normally as possible with a big smile on my face until the event was over and Ryan met me to carry me to A&E.

It was ridiculous and I was so angry. I felt like I was wasting the NHS’ time and money, but thankfully I was out within two hours with instructions to rest and work from home for the rest of the week. I could have had a stress fracture but apparently they don’t show on x-rays for 7-10 days after the ‘incident’ so mine was clear. 

Thankfully it’s healed and I haven’t needed to go back for a second x-ray. I still have no idea what happened but it’s definitely not broken, so. Good.

But that fortnight of resting and, more importantly, not running has been the most miserable fortnight I’ve had in a while. Not only have I not been able to run, but I’ve taken the injury as a personal attack on myself. I’ve beaten myself up horrendously as I’ve winced around the flat and watched running friends bask in the glory of the half marathons they’ve completed up and down the country over the last few weeks. This has pretty much been my thought process:

  1. They’re fine, why weren’t they injured?
  2. Bastards.
  3. They did it in well under two hours.
  4. Nearly three it took me. 
  5. Pathetic really.
  6. I obviously wasn’t ready.
  7. Why did I think I could run a half marathon? 
  8. Look at me.
  9. My foot hurts.
  10. Ow.
  11. Those half marathon photos are horrendous. 
  12. Look at my body shape, what even is that.
  13. *pokes stomach fat*
  14. *punches foot*
  15. Ow.
  16. They’ve already been for a 5k run?!
  18. My foot hurts.

This finish is probably what did me over... show off...

So, I’ve learnt a lot. I’ve learnt that:

  • I hate being restricted from doing things, especially running. 
  • I’m very good at attacking myself for something that is totally common.
  • I’m still incredibly good at flip turning my mood upside down.
  • Ditto unncessary spiralling and catastrophising.
  • I hate people saying nice, encouraging things to me when I’m feeling so sorry for myself.
  • I always put pressure on myself no matter what I consciously think.
  • I have bad trainers.
  • I’m bad at being sensible and following doctors’ orders (I managed to work from home for one day). 
  • My overachiever days as a kid are most certainly not over.

They sound like mostly bad things I’ve learnt, but they’re not. They’re just things. The only rule with classing them as just #things is: I’m allowed to feel sorry for myself but I can’t continue to feel sorry for myself. I still want to mope and feel bitter and jealous, I still want to hate my body and think I’m not good enough for all this running, but I can’t and I won’t. It’s not fair. 

I ran a half marathon. I ran the whole 13.1 miles, did a sprint finish, and crossed the line in under 3 hours. I injured my foot and had to rest for a fortnight but that’s ok, it’s a runner’s right, I’m learning, and I’ve got a full marathon to train for so I’m carrying damn well on.

I’m doing, you could say, a bloody great job.

Monday, 10 October 2016

The importance of self care. #WMHD16

The theme of this year's World Mental Health Day is 'psychological first aid' and thanking those who give it to us. So my two pennies is: self care, and how to give yourself psychological first aid, or just a bit of a MOT.

I always thought the term ‘self care’ was the hippiest pile of shit - grouped with ‘self love’ and ‘self help’. I thought, like ‘clean eating’, it was a notion that did more harm than good, and it wasn’t until I actively tried it that I realised how important it was and how much I could learn from it.

Self care is about nothing other than looking after yourself. That’s it. Really. It’s not associated with hippies, or vegans, or mental illness. It’s not restricted to certain groups of people. It’s certainly about your mentality, but it’s not just for those who struggle with it. Everyone should know how to treat themselves with a little TLC, both when life is going well and when it’s not, and it shouldn’t be something you’re ashamed of admitting we need. It doesn’t make you weak. You need to cancel plans and have a self care day? Go ahead pal, you look after yourself.

With that in mind, it can still be hard to know how to… do it. It sounds ridiculous but sometimes we just don’t know how to best look after ourselves. We’re not taught it. We’re taught how to look after ourselves physically by exercising, showering, brushing our teeth, and eating well, but not how to look after ourselves mentally. And it’s tough, because you have to work it out for yourself. Not everyone will have the same self care ‘routines’. It’s totally individual to you. But hey, once you’ve worked it out and stick at it regularly, it may well 1) stop any mental downhill spirals, or 2) help you out of them if you’ve already dipped.

So here’s what works for me. My list of stuff I can do when life gets a bit much, my brain’s being an arse, or just when I want to check back in with myself. 

  • Have a bath with a shitload of bubbles and a good bath bomb. Everyone says it, but it’s true. Baths are relaxing. Some find them boring, and I definitely can’t lie there for hours, but just lying down in a vat of too-hot water can calm me right down. Phone stays in the other room, always.
  • Run. Here she is, banging on about running again. Didn’t take me long. Running has been completely revolutionary for me. It gives me time away from my phone and laptop, gives me a fuckload of endorphins, gets air in my lungs and the blood around my body. It gives me time to think and reconnect with my body. Now THAT sounds like the hippiest pile of shit…
  • Go outside. It sounds so bloody simple but it can totally change my day. I know exactly when I’ve spent too long indoors and acknowledge that by getting the fuck outside. I can just stand outside the back door of our flat in my pyjamas, or spend an hour in the park on my lunch break at work. The outside is a game changer. 
  • Light candles. I just love fire. 
  • Clean the flat. Sorry, yeah. I love a good clean. It makes me feel more in control when other parts of life are going to shit. Scrubbing the bathroom sink, ravaging the hob, or Freddie Mercury-ing it when mopping the floors. It makes me feel good (and keeps me on good terms with my flatmates). 
  • Drink water. I don’t care if it’s eight glasses a day or not, I just know that drinking water keeps your body in check. It keeps everything inside moving, stops your headaches, makes your skin glow, and stops you from getting tired so quickly. 
  • Find new recipes/holidays/flats. If I’m ever feeling stuck in a rut, I try to look forwards and plan. I can spend h o u r s on rightmove,, and BBC Good Food and getting excited for new things, whether it’s a different way to cook spaghetti or a getaway to the middle of nowhere. 
  • Do my nails/pluck my eyebrows. Your body is important, inside and out. My nails looking battered and my eyebrows looking like an overgrown garden is a sure sign that I need a bit of a MOT. The pain of plucking my eyebrows is a serious guilty pleasure and my Barry M collection is growing bigger by the second (payday). 
  • Colour/cross-stitch. Yeah, I’m an adult who has colouring-in books. So sue me. It’s proven to help those with their mental health and it’s so soothing. It’s also something my boyfriend’s mum and I used to do together before she passed away earlier this year, and cross-stitching is something my mum taught me when I was a little. So shut up. 
  • Write lists. I BLOODY LOVE A LIST. Whenever things are getting on top of me, I write down a list of everything I need or want to do in my neatest handwriting. It’s then out of my head and on to paper and I can’t ever leave a list unfinished. Competitive? Me? No…
  • Read. I got a Goodreads account last October and OH GOD I love it. I love finding new books, being recommended others, reading reviews, and finding out what my friends are loving/hating. You can also create a Goodreads Reading Challenge of how many books you’re going to read in a year, so that also lends itself to the competitive streak that I clearly don’t have…
  • Stick on Spotify. I actually pay for Spotify now. I AM ADULT. I mean, I grabbed my cousin’s student discount so I could get it for half price, but… whatever. I always find a new playlist to have on in the background when I’m working from home. It’s just nice. There’s not much more to it. It’s lovely, calming, sometimes nostalgic, sometimes motivating. Always helpful.
  • Open the windows. This is more meaningful when Elbow’s on the above Spotify playlist, but it’s imperative regardless. As soon as I’m properly awake in the mornings, the windows around the flat are open. I want the air, the rain, the birds, even the screaming kids next door. I want the outside world to interfere with my inside world. Otherwise everything gets a bit too much. 

I thought that was going to be quite a short list, but apparently there are quite a few things that come to mind when I think about what makes me feel better. And that’s rather importantly great, and something I should remember. Now where's your self care list?

Images by Freepik