Category Archives: change

Therapy and mirrors

I had a telephone consultation with my GP (doctor) this morning. He is happy with regards to me starting my antidepressants again and I already referred myself for the NHS counselling service. I have been put on a waiting list for 6 sessions and in addition I am currently following an on line CBT programme. I’m grateful to have access to anything that might help and willing to give things a go. I’m not loving the online course I have to say. There’s a lot of information I already know. My problem seems to be with using the strategies. It’s all very logical and sensible but bloody impossible when you feel like crap and logic and sense have done a runner.

Overall, I haven’t had a lot of success with counselling. I had 6 sessions CBT face to face when I was initially diagnosed as depressed and anxious. This was organised through work. I’d go as far to say, it was a load of rubbish and a waste of time. I hadn’t taken any medication at that point in proceedings and I was in a bit of a state. The lady was lovely but I just said what she wanted to hear. When she suggested I looked at myself in the mirror every morning and say the words ‘I love you’, I just knew we were on a completely different wavelength. After the final session I walked out feeling extremely grateful. Grateful that I didn’t have to go back again!

My next dabble into the wonderful world of therapy was a locally run charity. My cousin had recommended it. There was a long waiting list but after 4 months I had my first session. Unfortunately, within 3 weeks of starting, my mental health hit an all time low and I had stopped eating. I saw the GP again and there was no choice really. Time to medicate. I continued with the counselling and we talked about a whole range of things. It was more helpful than before and certainly, with the antidepressants kicking in, I did feel more positive. That said, though it’s nice to have someone to talk to and not judge, I honestly don’t think it changed anything for me. It was interesting and I learnt a few new things but in terms of it improving how I was feeling or dealing with life stuff, it didn’t. Again, the counsellor, Sharon, felt I had done really well in the sessions and called them to a close. I am really good at talking the ‘counselling and therapy talk’ by the way. I don’t know why I do it because it doesn’t do me a single favour. I still do it though.

This is most definitely a cycle. I stopped the meds not long after this period of counselling because I felt well again. Yup, you guessed it, within 4 months I had re-referred myself back to the same charity and had started sessions again, with a new counsellor, this time a man. A few weeks in, I was back on antidepressants and so it goes on. I think I possibly took more from the counselling that time. He gave me lots to read and research and I learned so much about personal development. By this stage I felt I deserved a degree. I still however could not apply it to myself. Or maybe I just didn’t try. Again, the sessions came to a natural end. I was one of the hardest working clients he’d had. Same old story. Top of the therapy class. Gold star. Still no real progress for me though.

Not long after these sessions finished I gave up drinking alcohol. Interestingly my reliance and addiction to booze had never come up in any of my counselling or therapy sessions. I’d touched on it and I’d always been open and honest about how much I’d been drinking. On reflection I think they dropped the ball with that. Since being sober I have felt so much better. Sure there are times when it’s been horrible to have to experience the emotions without having wine as my crutch but I am more honest with myself and others. I’m not giving up on counselling or therapy, I just not sure what it can give me anymore. Whilst sober and taking antidepressants I can use the information and the strategies and yes, they work. Take away the meds and it’s like I’ve never heard of triggers, behaviours, reframing etc. Maybe I’m not cut out for counselling. Maybe I just haven’t found the right ‘fit’. Maybe it will finally be successful one day. I am absolutely sure of two things though. One, taking the medication only ever really worked when I was sober. Two, I am never going to stand in front of a mirror and say ‘I love you’. Just saying.

Claire x

Limbo

So strange this feeling of treading water. Just biding time until something happens but I have no idea what. It is really disconcerting and it’s triggering all sorts of stuff for me. Wanting to drink, feelings of dissatisfaction and boredom and the general overarching emotion of ‘meh’.

The thing that is really annoying me now is myself. I can’t tell you how frustrated I am that I’m not making the most out of all I have and that happiness is eluding me. I’m irritable and tetchy and quite frankly, a right royal pain in the arse. Nothing is right and nothing is good enough. In fact, ‘nothing’ is a great word to describe how I feel at the moment. Now I realise that sounds terrible and reading it back now makes me want to shake myself. I mean, what is wrong with me for goodness sake? I want to find the switch that turns it all back on again. Whatever ‘it’ is.

I have to be honest though. No point in not. I have lost enthusiasm for it all again. I can’t see a way forward and I’m in one huge mental block. I’m living life in limbo. I have absolutely no answers and all I’m doing is hanging on to the small ray of hope that it will change. I don’t know how to initiate that change but hopefully it will come. Ideas and solutions seem out of reach. One question that keeps going round and round my brain is ‘why can’t I just be grateful and appreciate all I have?’. That would make me happy. That would bring joy and contentment. Sadly, it doesn’t seem to happen like that. These things can’t be forced and actually that only serves to make the situation worse. I’m becoming increasingly despondent and fed up with Claire.

So on I go. Not drinking, trying to do my best to be a good mum and a kind person, feeling a little like a failure. Am I the only person that sticks rigidly to a diet and gains weight? Are the odds stacked against me in that too? We tell each other constantly to ‘take it a day at a time’ so that’s what I’ll do. Maybe an hour at a time would be even better? It’s just an hour can feel like an awfully long time here in limbo land.

Claire x

Resilience

I have been thinking today about sobriety and what it has given me. It can be difficult to hold onto the positives of giving up alcohol as it becomes the norm. In the initial months of becoming sober the fantastic changes I felt inside and huge improvements in my mental health were a daily occurrence and realisation. I spent every day thankful and grateful for all sorts of impacts it had on my life. Better sleep; waking up feeling well; less anxiety; increased self esteem; a feeling of peace; more hours in my day; respect from my teenage boys; less internal and external conflict; less guilt; resilience; more focus; improved memory; better self control; and so on and so on.

The list is endless and is all a direct result of removing alcohol from my life. Awareness of these changes and positives fades as they become part of the status quo. Surely I was always this resilient? I never had problems with self esteem and setting boundaries did I? Calm and peace is not new is it? Nope I wasn’t, yes I did and yes it is. Personally I think it’s really, really important, as we clock up the sober days, months and then eventually years, to remind ourselves about the reality of what life was like BS (before sobriety).

BS, I was fragile and vulnerable. I was teetering on the edge, in a constant state of ‘fight or flight’. The slightest issue, event or comment could send me over that edge, into conflict or despair. I had absolutely zero resilience. Zilch, nada, nil. Resilience is such an important thing to have in life. How we achieve it I don’t know. Where it comes from is still an enigma to me. Maybe different people build it in different ways. What I do know is, when you have the internal strength resilience gives you, life is much more doable and challenges are not insurmountable. Sure, you still feel low, fed up or downright miserable some days. At times people can offend, upset and infuriate you. Situations don’t always go your way. Resilience helps you move through all this without falling apart. Sobriety provides us with that resilience.

I notice now that my vulnerability has lessened, I’m less affected by what others think about me. I want them to like me, of course, but I know that stuff happens around me that I can’t control and people will form opinions that have no bearing on the truth or facts. This has come with sobriety and this brings more resilience. Life is pretty tough when you feel constantly fragile. Like at any moment you might break or shatter. I am the opposite of that now. I actually feel strength inside and out. The first step towards this change was saying ‘bye’ to booze. Practicing yoga and mindfulness have built on the foundations laid down by being alcohol free. I knew I wanted to try these and the advice from my sober tribe when I wrote my post ‘Musing over mindfulness, meditation and mereally gave me a push to give them a go. I am now addressing my diet and ensuring I am eating for positive physical and mental health. Continuing to build, brick by brick, my own personal wall of resilience.

Tomorrow it will have been 9 months since I put a glass of wine to my lips and every day of those 9 months has made me stronger, tougher and more resilient. That’s why I am sober and that’s why I will stay that way.

Love Claire x

What do I want to know today?

My mindfulness journal had this question as the prompt for writing. I wasn’t really sure how to respond or answer. What does any of us want to know at a particular moment or time? It might be something very specific or factual. It could be existential or philosophical. It might be nothing at all. Maybe you feel you know enough. It’s an odd question really.

I decided I would quite like to know what direction I should take. I want to know if I’m following the right path, heading on the correct journey. I feel like I’ve taken a turn somewhere, not necessarily a wrong one, but one that’s leading me somewhere different and away from my original route. I look back and I can’t really see the road I was on. It’s overgrown with trees and bushes. Should I spend time cutting them back and start searching for what was there, maybe to find it isn’t really the way I want to go? Or do I continue, down what looks like a footpath but I can’t be sure. I want to know where the signpost has gone. Where is the stile to help me over the tricky patch? There is just no clear map.

I really don’t mind how long the journey takes. I’m not in any rush to reach a destination. But what I’d really like to know today is, am I’m heading in the right direction?

Claire x

Going Keto

Time for a long overdue update. My recent posts have all been a little on the naval gazing side of things and too much naval gazing makes Claire a very dull girl.

A little bit of good news at last. Yesterday I had my interview for the position I’ve been covering at work for the past 4 months. I was offered the job and I have accepted. There are still lots of unknowns regarding the pay, the banding of my current role (as this is an ‘add on’) and the lines of responsibility but there has been agreement this will be addressed. This is a start and a big step forward. A month ago my stress and anxiety levels were pushed to the max due to feeling ignored and unappreciated at work and I was unsure what direction to take. I set boundaries and I communicated the issues and my expectations. I came to terms with accepting that, should the situation did not change, I would walk away. It was a really tough time and I hit a very rocky patch emotionally but I stuck it out. Now, I have been officially offered the post and I will be paid (at least something) for it. Underlying issues need to be resolved and I am quite ready to stand up for myself if they aren’t sorted. I have found an inner strength and self belief that allows me to know my worth and not accept anything less. That feels pretty darn good.

In other news, I have worked my little proverbial socks off since we arrived back from the ill fated caravan trip. There hasn’t been much time for anything else. I kick started yoga again. Boy, one week off had a big impact. I’m was absolutely not a yoga guru before the holiday but this last week I have been a creaky and squeaky old lady. Lots of muttering a few expletives under my breath as I attempted a ‘sort of’ downward dog and a very wobbly warrior three. Never have I been so relieved to hear the words, “now we will get ready for our final pose, corpse pose”. Thank the Lord for Shavasana.

My weight has been worrying me for a while now. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not hugely overweight but I have gained a fair few pounds over the past year. In fact, 2 years ago I stuck a huge bag of clothes in the loft. Clothes that were far too big for me. Last week, the ‘fat clothes’ had to come back out of said loft. As if that wasn’t depressing enough, some of them were too tight! Oh the shame and mortification. I reflected on why I might have gained so much weight. Looking for reasons other than the lorry loads of chocolate I consume every night. My daily activity levels have seriously reduced during lockdown. When you reach the end of the day and your smart watch tells you the total daily steps are 82 you know you need to get your arse moving. So, I tried a run on Tuesday. It was a very unpleasant experience from start to finish. I felt so heavy and each and every step was torture. In addition, my joints and limbs have been so achy, stuff and sore recently. This can’t go on. Time to take action.

My plan is to increase activity levels and manage my food intake. I will persevere with the running and ensure that every day I at least run or walk 2 miles. I will continue with my yoga. I will, and here is the biggie, go on the 30 day keto diet. I have bought the book. I’m reading it now. This is my new ‘thing’. If I can ditch the wine, I can do this for 30 days and hopefully for the longer term. So, Dr Josh Axe, author of ‘Keto Diet’ …. let’s do this thing. Who’s with me? Anyone? Hello… Are you there? Hmm, radio silence ….

I’ll keep you all updated. Be warned, this may not be pretty.

Claire x

Reflection

Time for some self reflection I think. Life has gone a little awry recently. I’ve found myself engaging in a good deal of ‘stinking thinking’ (thanks Collette for this perfect phrase). My sobriety has been really tested, I’ve had periods of huge anxiety and my mood has dipped uncomfortably low on some days. This all seems to have happened during the past month to six weeks and I’m starting to wonder why that might be the case.

The obvious answer would be the antidepressants and the fact that around that time I started to wean off them and have been without them for almost 6 weeks now. My constant deliberation as to whether I should remain med free has come to no conclusion as yet. I don’t want to dwell on the whole antidepressant debate right now. Instead I’m going to look back and reflect on some successes.

  • I have maintained my sobriety for over 8 months now. I didn’t even realise I’d hit 8 months until the day after which in itself is petty crazy, considering I once thought about drinking ALL the time
  • I stepped up to take on a new role temporarily at work. It came with a significant increase in responsibility, leading a medical and surgical team at a time of great stress and anxiety.
  • I have done a good job in leading the team, maintaining our service and now resuming patient care.
  • I have become a yoga addict and since lockdown at the end of March (other than being away for the last week), I have practised at least 5 times a week and sometimes twice a day. I really do enjoy it.
  • I have maintained close friendships and formed new ones that have brought me so much joy and happiness.
  • I have cut ties with old ‘friends’ and people who had a negative effect on my mental health.
  • I have survived social situations that involved some of these people and I did so sober.
  • I have a lovely invisible shield. Granted I forget to use it some days and for a while it’s been stuck at the back of a cupboard BUT I’ve pulled it out, dusted it off and it’s back in action.
  • I have attended a christening in Belfast that involved a stay over and I spent a weekend away with a large group of people to celebrate my brother’s 50th birthday. Both occasions involved people engaging in a lot drinking for a significant amount of time. I enjoyed both events and remained alcohol free.
  • I have become a garden lover and enthusiast, gaining so much pleasure from pottering around and watching my plants and flowers grow.
  • I have realised many new things about myself. I am actually fairly introverted. I enjoy my own company. I can achieve peace and calm inside my mind and body, even if it evades me right now.
  • I have faced my ongoing battle with anxiety and depression and I will continue to find strategies and ways to deal with them when they come knocking. They will not get the better of me.
  • I play online scrabble and enjoy it
  • I have learned that kindness brings all kinds of positivity into my life
  • Eight months on, I am still living my life sober and free.

Looking back I am proud of the things I have achieved. My journey is not just about sobriety. It’s about learning to love myself. It’s about discovering what exciting things life might hold for me. I just need to learn to open my eyes and really see.

“sometimes the smallest step in the right direction ends up being the biggest step of your life. Tiptoe if you must, but take a step”. Naeem Callaway

Love Claire x

Today

I have a mindfulness journal. I found it in a cheap bookshop and art store. It was £3. I have almost filled it with thoughts and emotions. There are exercises and prompts to help focus my writing and one of the final questions was …

What do I want to do today?

I’m not a writer by any stretch of the imagination but this is what I wrote ..

Today I want to move forward 
Today I want to feel acceptance and gratitude
Today I want love, peace and kindness
Today I want calm
Today is a day for people who love, respect and care for me
Today I want to let go
Today I want mindfulness, joy and laughter
Today I want nature and fresh air
Today I want family
Today I want friends
Today I want to look in the mirror and say ‘I like you, you’re ok’
Today I want to breathe
Today is the day it happens
Today I will move forward

The instruction was to write down one thing but as always I went rogue and created a huge ‘to do list!’ I won’t accomplish it all today, but TODAY is where it begins.

Love Claire xx

Unanswered questions …

You can never take your sobriety for granted. Never take your eye off the ball. Don’t assume you are safely through to the other side. That is what I’ve learnt today.

This past week has been full of anxiety triggers for me. Work pressures and stress, the sad loss of a very old family friend, not having been able to see my closest friend for 4 months now (and still likely to be longer) and the outlook and reporting on the news just so bloody bleak. In addition, I am fully med free having spent 4 weeks weaning off my antidepressants. I have had virtually no sleep since Friday, struggling to go off until 2 or 3am and then awake again at 5am. Then, today, for the first time in ages, the unthinkable happened. I wanted a drink.

It wasn’t a romantic, sit by a lake, enjoying a picnic, sipping a glass of Prosecco type of longing. Oh no! It was a full on, fuck this, I want to go and buy two bottles of wine (white or red – I’m not fussy) and drink the whole lot type of craving. Nor was it a, “I’m a bit curious as to whether I can moderate and be able to live with alcohol once again” moment. Nope. It was a, “moderation is for idiots, I’m going to get totally pissed and I don’t care” attitude.

Don’t panic. I haven’t. I went out and bought plants and shrubs for the garden. I bought paint for the utility walls and white spirit to mop up the paint I will undoubtably spill on the floor. I did not treat myself to a Chablis or a Shiraz. I’m not currently lying on my bed half comatose having fallen spectacularly off the wagon. It is however a sign I’m struggling again. What I can’t work out is what is acceptable and ‘normal’? Is it ok to feel anxious because problems, challenges and change are all happening at once? Is it ok that the anxiety is kickstarting my over thinking and subsequently affecting my ability to accurately read and interpret a situation? Is it ok that sleep has suddenly evaded me after achieving a consistent 8hrs every night for months and months? I suppose the question I really want the answer to is this. Is this the return of generalised anxiety disorder and is it directly linked to my coming off the SSRIs? I honestly can’t face it all again.

How long do you wait to find out? What if I’m basically just a stress head and I need to accept it as part of me, rather than blaming it on a mental health illness? Everyone gets stressed. I’m just not sure when my ‘stressed’ tips over into becoming unwell. Mental health is so complex. The interplay between lack of sleep, stress triggers, meds, personality and, let’s not forget, the lovely peri-menopause, makes it hard to tease out the cause and therefore the best way to manage it. I used a word early on in my sobriety. Tangled. It’s such a descriptive word and is exactly how I feel once more. Tangled.

I didn’t drink. I won’t drink. I know it is not the answer. Quite what is, I really have no idea.

Love Claire x

Life goes on

Last night I had very little sleep. I received a work email at around 11.30pm and stupidly I looked at it. I won’t go into details but I’m currently in one of those situations where I’ve taken on an additional role, not been paid for it but I wanted to do it to support my team. My grade for my regular post is significantly lower than anyone else doing the same job across the UK anyway and my employers have never been too fussed by that. Anyway, the long and short is the email made me feel incredibly devalued and demotivated. I have made a decision that I won’t continue with the additional role because the offer of any pay increase is minimal in real terms and the trust (I work for the NHS) won’t address any of the issues I have raised. They want me to continue working like a crazy woman but only do the bare minimum to support me. I would be a total mug to carry on.

Many reading this will wonder what the issue is. If the package isn’t right, don’t do it. The problem is more complex than that. When I’m challenged at work and have responsibility for making changes and decisions, although stressful, it motivates me. It actually keeps boredom and depression at bay. I want to make changes and influence our service for the families, children and adults we treat. I get a real buzz from that. It’s only possible to be influential if you are in certain positions and are mixing in certain circles. However, if I continue to invest the same level of time and energy with absolutely no recognition or support, I’ll likely end up struggling with my mental health anyway, just from the stress and resentment alone.

What to do? I don’t have the answer. Maybe it’s time for a change anyway. I’m limited with where I can go with my specialist clinical skill set and location constraints. I’ve considered volunteering for the Samaritans and have applied. I was going to put this on hold due to work pressures and time commitments but maybe that’s the way forward now. I’ve considered further education and completing a masters or even a PhD … finally using research to validate a patient outcome measure I developed years ago. Last night I was so wound up and frustrated at reading the email. This morning I cried big tears as I wrote to the individual whose role I have been covering, informing them I would not be continuing. Now, though I feel sad about the situation, I am already looking ahead and making new plans. I recognise this is so different to where I was a year ago. I’m not hungover, jaded and feeling sorry for myself. I’m calm and I will manage. I am hurting though. Life always seems to throw up little challenges and tests along the way. Decisions to be made. Keeps us on our toes I guess. Dealing with them sober is the only way I can cope. Thank God I am sober.

Love Claire xx

Big steps

I started this blog at the suggestion of the lovely Jim, Life Beyond Booze, who was really my first connection with the sober Word Press tribe. Although Jim’s posts are now as as scarce as a hen’s tooth, he was a great support to me and many others and he occasionally pops up to treat us to one of his hilarious and clever posts. The folks I met through connecting with Jim have pretty much remained a firm group and I now consider many of them friends. My sobriety blog developed into a managing anxiety and depression blog and, unsurprisingly I suppose, others on the ‘sober train’ had similar experiences and mental health challenges. It has been an interesting and eventful journey up until this point. A journey I had no idea I was taking but one I absolutely needed to invest in.

Why am I talking about all this today? Well, firstly, I have reached my 200th day sober. 100 days is supposed to be a phenomenal milestone and now I’ve doubled it! Secondly, 4 days ago I began the very slow process of stopping my antidepressant medication. Almost one year ago I started taking SSRIs for the second time in my life. I’d initially taken them for 6 months, stopped for 6 months and then my mental health regressed so much I was back taking them again in June 2019. Anyone who has followed my blog will know how totally devastated I felt when I started taking antidepressants. It was truly soul destroying and I had tried so hard to manage and cope with my depression with counselling, support, exercise etc. But it had become a desperate situation. For the sake of my family, I finally admitted what I viewed as defeat and I ‘gave in’. Both times I took that first pill I sobbed and was inconsolable. I had two different types of medication because the initial ones triggered some rough side effects that unfortunately didn’t reduce with time. I swapped to a different type for the second time round and apart from the initial 5 days of the worst anxiety I have EVER experienced, I have had no other issues with them.

On both occasions they helped. I wouldn’t say they ‘cured’ me or made life miraculously wonderful, but they gave me a way out of the grey, colourless existence I had been living. They put me on an even keel and hit the ‘pause’ button of the terrible downward cycle that is anxiety and depression. They gave me back a little bit of control over managing my own illness. I still felt pretty crap much of the time and I definitely did not achieve my one focus; to discover Claire again. I continue with counselling which ended around last September. Looking back now, I would say I was ‘better’ but still not well. I started reading more about anxiety and depression, looking further into alcohol addiction and soaking up any literature I could find. Then on the 16th November 2019 I gave it up. To this day I don’t know how I have succeeded. I was a ‘drinker’. I loved my wine. People who knew me knew I loved my wine but oddly had no idea how much I really drank. I also realised I had significantly increased my reliance on alcohol as a crutch for my mental health issues over the years. In addition, I drank rather than ate … my body seriously lacked any nutrients. I was underweight and my hair was just as thin and disappearing just as fast as I was.

Fast forward to today. 200 days later. Taking the antidepressants allowed me to examine my behaviours and realise I needed to make that huge step into the unknown. Taking alcohol out of the equation gave me my life back. It was clear that 2 weeks into sobriety, living an alcohol free life was the answer I’d been searching for. The grey quickly changed to a rainbow and the excitement and interest in life, gone for so long, had reappeared. The past 6 months haven’t been easy. As many of you will know, my mood regularly fluctuates and anxiety and depression still lurk at my door. I am starting to recognise the signs and pre-empt the downward spiral by using new tools. I am 2 stone heavier and my hair is thick and has grown back. Claire returned!

This past few weeks I have been deliberating a lot. I am ready to remove the last crutch and stop my medication. I have read around the subject and want to be sensible about it. (Thanks to Ashley, Mental Health @Home, for the suggested reading material). Some people have suggested I remain on the antidepressants as they aren’t impacting on me with any side effects. I understand their view and I appreciate stability is not something to be sniffed at. The crux though is this … I want to come off them. I want to know if I can do this without antidepressants. If I can’t, then I will have no option and they will be part of my life for a much longer time, maybe a permanent fixture. It’s time to find out.

So, here I am, 200 days sober and 4 days into taking a reduced dose of my SSRI medication. I will keep posting. Checking in is so important right now. I am scared and nervous. It feels like I’m taking one last final big step. It’ll be ok though. Whatever happens I know it will be ok.

Love Claire xx