Gosh, after all this time I’m not sure where to start. I won’t try and fit it all into one post. I’ll take my time. Slowly does it and all that.
It’s funny really. I feel quite nervous writing a post again. What’s that all about? Maybe I’ve forgotten how you do it, the sorts of things to talk about. What if all my blogging buddies have disappeared? Maybe I’ve let people down by being absent!
First off, I have really missed everyone. My blogging tribe, sober or not, have been so important to me over the past few years. My life line on more than one occasion. I want to spend some time catching up with everyone, reading their blogs and picking up with my community once more. Therein lies the rub! ‘Time’. I seem to have had very little of it recently and I have been racing through life at high speed. So much going on and days turning into weeks, months and then bam 💥 a year has passed!
This past year has been tough. I know anyone who has followed my blog will be aware of my ongoing challenges at work and the inequality and discrimination issues I had been facing. I also reduced my antidepressants last summer and stopped taking them altogether in August. Sadly, around late November last year, I entered into another period of severe depression caused by work stress. I was signed off sick from work and took almost 3 months off. I restarted SSRIs … double the dose … and began (very expensive) therapy with a fabulous psychologist. I remained totally alcohol free and hit my 2 year sober anniversary on November 16th.
I have worked so hard to get back to good health. I have read so much literature on all kinds of things to help support my therapy and progress. I’ll share some of it over the coming months. It’s been quite a journey. I’m back in work. I’m managing much better nowadays and I think I have a far better understanding of my triggers, my behaviours and my responses than I ever had. I remain on high alert, making self care a priority and ensuring I practice self compassion. I look forward to sharing some of my experiences with this WP community once more.
Oh … and I turned 50 on May 3rd! 👵🏻 (hence the title)
I am a control freak. Well I always believed I was anyway. Right up until 4 years ago when I had what I can only describe as a breakdown which subsequently led to my giving up alcohol.
My ‘breakdown’ – which was really just a build up of years of stress, over-worry, being busy busy busy, doing far too much, huge anxiety and poor coping mechanisms – meant that I had to let go of control. My brain and body formed a pow wow and said “this can’t go on, she cannot live this way a moment longer!” and bam 💥 they went into their own little lockdown. I still managed to continue to work (loosely) and also to drink (obviously) but I did very little else. I sometimes partied with friends and then consequently stayed in bed all the next day. I sometimes drank at home and then when I wasn’t drinking, I was lying in bed. I dragged myself into work and when I came home, yep, you got it, bed. Sometimes I’d sleep, often I would just lie there, staring into space, living inside my own head.
I turned from someone who had their finger on the pulse of every aspect of life to a person who really couldn’t care less. Where I once was the most organised, ‘in control’ mum, friend, daughter, sister and wife …. I became a shell. I totally disengaged from my life and my loved ones. I lost any grip I had on my children’s lives: what they needed; what they ate; what work they had; how they were feeling. I relinquished all control of household and family jobs and planning. I had gone from, not the proverbial ‘sublime’ to the ‘ridiculous’, but rather from ‘the ridiculous to the even more ridiculous’!
Eventually, and thankfully, I got well again. Slowly my mental health improved and I began to engage in life, take an interest and take back some control. I started a course of antidepressants and my life, though far from perfect, was better.
Then, around 2 years later, I got sober. Through sobriety and being able to reflect on my experiences from the breakdown, I learnt that it was OK to not always be in control. That sometimes plans didn’t always happen as they should and letting the unknown unfold could bring joy and happiness too. I realised I had so often ruined days out or family events by allowing the crushing disappointment I felt when my expectations hadn’t been met to cloud everything else. And for everyone else I might add! I began to understand that one of the reasons I drank was to help me feel less weighed down by my expectations and my need to control circumstances. Once I drank, I cared much less about the plan and if things weren’t going according to it. I could let it all go. It was a crutch for dealing with the anxiety and stress that comes with needing that level of control and perfection. Just like it was a crutch for dealing with so many other tricky feelings and emotions.
I still have a need to control and organise. I am,however, now able to take a step back and I can appreciate the calm sensation of letting go of the reins. I always thought I was naturally a ‘stressed’ person, a born ‘organisation freak’. That was my personality, it was who I was and it was set in stone. If the last four years have taught me anything it’s that that absolutely nothing in life is set in stone. We don’t have to continue to be a certain something or someone if it makes us feel unhappy or miserable. We can learn to function another way and ‘going with the flow’, finding positives in the unexpected and embracing a feeling of calm is who I want to be and what I want to do.
Looking back, my advice now would be to listen and pay attention to the things your body and brain are trying to telling you. There are no bonus points for being so busy you are about to break. Feeling frazzled all the time is no fun at all. Worrying excessively and trying to control for every eventuality does not mean the worst won’t happen. An outing can be just as fun if it doesn’t quite follow your agenda. It is absolutely fine to let your children eat nuggets and chips for yet another night because you are exhausted. Take that bath, give them beans on toast for tea and if their school clothes are creased … so what! If the birthday cake is shop bought and not home made … good for you! Let go of perfect, ‘good enough’ is great. I know it’s easy to say and not so easy to action, but I tell you this: the impact on your life by continuing to live this way can be devastating. Don’t take the risk. Don’t make the same mistakes as I did. Let it go!
I am having a rather wonderful Monday. I know, I know. You may want to reread that first sentence. It’s not often I start with a positive and recently I’ve felt more negative than usual. But not today my WP friends, not today!
I don’t normally work on Mondays but I was supposed to go into the hospital early this morning to support a family whilst their baby is in surgery. Long story but I found out yesterday that my services were no longer required and I could stay at home. After a week off on leave I had been feeling anxious about going in. Work has been really stressful and I was starting to dread this morning. However, I now feel like I have had a ‘steal’ of a day. My first thought was … ‘I can catch up with outstanding emails before tomorrow’. My second was … ‘WTF is wrong with you Claire? Will you never learn?’.
It is now approaching 11am and my boys are home schooling upstairs in their rooms. We bought a new desk for my 13 year old and set him up with his own work space. I’m hoping he’s going to knuckle down a little more but I can’t do it all for him. Ultimately, the motivation has to come from him. I have eaten a lovely breakfast, had one too many cups of coffee/tea and done my yoga practice. The weather was miserable earlier but it’s already brightening up so I’m planning a walk with a podcast to keep me company. So far, so good.
I know I have to start work again tomorrow and I know it’s going to increase my stress levels. I have to find a way to deal with it. A way that doesn’t involve returning to guzzling wine. I’ll be honest, because we should be honest with ourselves right? I have been considering drinking again. On a fair few occasions and really quite seriously. I’ve been bored, stressed, lonely and frustrated …. all triggering the old habits and behaviours. The only thing that stopped me heading out to buy a bottle of Shiraz was fear. It scares me, the thought of starting and not being able to stop. I’m a believer that it can be doubly hard to give up something a second time around. For me anyway. I can do a specific diet to the letter the first time, but once I stop it I can never do it again. I would be the same with alcohol. I’m not convinced I’d ever be able to give it up a second time around.
And that, my friends, is the crux of this sobriety thing for me. At the same time as considering having a glass of wine, I am wondering if I’d ever be able to give it up again if I did. There is the warning message flashing big and red above my head. Don’t start again if you know you’ll want to stop at some point. Why bother putting yourself through it? So I didn’t. Today I am completely relieved that I remain sober and I will find other methods to manage the stress.
Wendy from http://untipsyteacher.com recently wrote a post entitled ‘How I get out of a low mood’. I have some of the same strategies and tools and it’s so important to make use of them. Today I am using them all. I’ll finish my coffee and this post, check on my boys and then get out there for some lovely fresh air. My only decision is which podcast to choose as my companion. Not a bad decision to have.
Sometimes we just don’t realise how stressed we are. I certainly don’t. Suddenly I find myself gasping for breath, drowning, going under and it’s all a bit too late to save myself. I can sense something is off kilter, I know things are mounting up and I can feel the pressure build but I don’t see the wall until I am about to crash into it. And about a week ago … I smashed into it pretty badly.
However, here I am, just a few days later and it’s like a weight has been lifted. A little battered and bruised but the air is flowing back into my lungs and there are no serious injuries. A few years ago I just couldn’t recover like this. It spiralled into chronic depression. Complete wipe out and long term after effects, including excess drinking. So what was different this time around?
In all honesty I don’t know, other than the major difference of not pouring a poisonous depressant into my body. I guess that has a huge impact. Don’t get me wrong, on Saturday, in the eye of the storm, I thought … here we go again. Disengagement, switch off, dysfunction and months of recovery. I did nothing all day. I did however take the proactive move of turning my phone off. I allowed myself a day of sleep. I set myself a target of getting up to make a cup of tea and eating something. I succeeded. Sunday, I managed to get out of bed and took a walk with my mum. I still didn’t do any yoga, any house jobs, anything much really, but I fed my family, I read and I did part of a jigsaw puzzle. On Monday, I remained under water and I kept sinking. Each time I started to float up, thoughts dragged me down again. When I am very stressed and about to crash into the wall I ruminate. I dwell on situations and circumstances I can’t change and worry about what lies ahead. I attach a story to these thoughts. This stops me hitting those brakes to avoid the wall. It prevents me reaching for my life float before I drown.
On Monday evening I chose to not drown. I chose to avoid the wall. I’d crashed just days before, I couldn’t do it again. I didn’t think I’d survive this time. I had to give myself a break and some time. More time. I did my yoga session (thanks to the encouragement of my lovely yoga buddies), I made some decisions about how best to reduce the spiralling thoughts and how to stop the endless stories dragging me into places of darkness. It’s not easy for me and there is no magic wand. I have realised that too much stress is a huge trigger for my depression. Work, relationships breaking down, parenting, a pandemic, lockdown …. it was too much. If I don’t learn to reduce the pressure I am going to forever be driving into walls or being sucked under the water. Only I can do this. I have the power to say enough is enough. I am not a passenger in my life. I have choices and I need to make better ones.
15 months ago I made a choice to remove alcohol from my life. It was the of the best decisions I have made. Now, I need to continue to make more good decisions. To say ‘no’ when it’s needed and to reduce stress where it is preventable. I am not out of the woods, not by a long shot. I am however driving more slowly, looking out for trees in my way and using my brakes to avoid any walls. And if I do crash, I can survive it. Here’s to floating and not drowning.
Too much to say. I can’t get it down in any sense or order. Overwhelmed, worried, anxious and just struggling.
I want a drink more than ever tonight. I know you’ll all want to send me messages of positivity etc, you really don’t have to. I’m just so bloody fed up and I want to do something I used to really enjoy and found comforting. I also know this is not what many of you new into your sobriety need or want to hear from someone nearly a year down the line but I can’t lie.
This is so (F BOMB alert 💣) fucking hard sometimes. Not all the time, not even most of the time … just right now. I don’t have any thing else to say. I can’t be bothered to even go through possible reasons for it. It’s not fair!!!!! Why can’t I simply have a drink and enjoy it without so much other baggage attached to it? That’s pathetic and selfish I know. But this week I’m fighting demons again.
My last post was all about my saying ‘yes’. It was a kind of poem, sending out a declaration of intention. Sadly I haven’t really abided by many of the statements I made. All too quickly the negatives and the ‘if only’ thoughts crept in.
I’m away on holiday right now. It’s drawing to a close. I was really looking forward to coming away. I told myself I’d just sit, be happy with chilling and not doing anything much. I would be the queen of zen and tranquility. I even brought my yoga mat to take to the beach. What was I thinking?
In reality, the whole arrival and setting up the caravan was a complete fiasco. The drive took almost 5 hrs. The site information had clearly stated “levelling blocks would be required” but my husband had chosen to ignore this little nugget. As we perched at a very precarious angle on the side of a slope he finally admitted defeat and I had to race down to a caravan shop to buy ‘recommended’ levelling blocks. The van would still not level out and we enlisted the help of 5 other caravaners and a ramp, kindly donated by some bloke that felt sorry for us. Eventually we were level. Two hours later.
Level and ready to go, we started the mammoth task of unpacking. We have an old, small van and a large awning where most of our junk gets housed. Last year the awning broke. We got it fixed but one of the new poles was a little awkward. Holding up the proceedings even further. Then, no running water. The pump was doing nothing. This was something that had been a problem when we last used the van. Something that was on the list of jobs that my husband had a year to sort. You can see where this is going can’t you? No running water in times of COVID-19 is absolutely not my idea of fun. The shower blocks were set up for social distancing, two people at a time. Not only would we have to queue every time we wanted a shower or a wee (my husband bans using the toilet on the caravan) but to wash our hand and brush our teeth too. Deep sigh.
So, at around 9.30pm I had to start cooking burgers and sausages. By this point, I was seething. I kept trying to channel ‘the power of now’. This isn’t a problem. This is holiday time. Stop yelling at the world and your family and get over it. I’m ashamed to say that I couldn’t and I didn’t. I raged against humanity. I spiralled into ‘poor me’ and ‘this is so unfair’ territory. I was a complete toddler and I became more difficult, with an increasing bad temper, as the night (and next day) wore on.
We managed to buy a new pump eventually. My husband was slow to sort it, waiting for me to go buy it no doubt. My mood remained uptight and stressy for a good few days. Not helped by observing my 15 year old giving me the finger when he thought I wasn’t looking. He was upset I’d asked him to put his phone away for a while. I resented everyone and everything. I knew I’d reached crunch point when I suddenly had an overwhelming desire to go and buy a bottle of wine and drink it. I’d even reasoned that although sobriety had improved my mental health for many months, it was doing nothing for me now. I was grouchy, cross and stressed. I wasn’t enjoying the moment and peace evaded me. Why not just go back to having something in my life that I could look forward to and enjoy? It was the closest I have been to drinking again in 8 months. I chose not to drink but my resolve is wavering.
Eventually, after a torrent of tears yesterday evening, I picked myself up and made the decision to say ‘yes’ to enjoying the rest of the trip. The little that was left of it. My son apologised, told me he loved me and it was a sudden ‘reaction’. We moved on.
Today has been better. I ran this morning. I haven’t done that in weeks. I wrote an email to a friend and read her lovely long reply which was immensely supportive. Her suggestion, that I maybe reconsider taking antidepressants, is something I have thought a about a great deal. I’m still very undecided. I don’t want to but I also don’t want to waste my life worrying and stressing about unimportant issues and small hiccups. The peace, calm and sense of ‘all is ok’ is not with me as it once was. I’m not crazily anxious and nor am I ‘depressed’. I just don’t have the ability to give myself a good (and well deserved) kick up the bum.
Well that’s me right now. In the morning I’m up early for seal watching with my younger son. Some quality time (another bit of good advice I followed). I’m trying not to be hard on myself and I’m trying to ignore the guilt and regret I feel at wasting this precious holiday time. I know it’s time I won’t get back. I guess there’s a lot of sadness and some deep rooted unhappiness that prevents me really feeling at ease. I can see the caravan holidays are coming to an end as a family of four. The eldest is outgrowing it both physically and emotionally. I suspect their growing up is an event I have not wanted to face. The grief it stirs up is too painful for me to even allow in. Perhaps that is something to reflect on and maybe a post for another day.
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.
In the midst of social distancing and self isolation I still get two visitors knocking on my door. They don’t stick to guidelines or obey rules. Nope, they let themselves in and take over.
Anxiety has been here for a couple of days now. I kind of know how to deal with him (or is it a her?). I’ll refer to it as male for ease. He winds me up, throws all sorts of questions and ‘what ifs’ in my way. Dishes out problems I can’t solve and situations I can’t control. When I come up with a solution, he won’t accept it. Like a toddler repetitively asking ‘why?’ and ‘when?’.
I can handle anxiety. I use techniques to bring me to the present and the strategies do work, now that my body and brain are no longer muddled and confused with alcohol. Yesterday morning was particularly bad but I persevered. I cleaned, I ran and I listened to my buddhify app. So far so good. Or so I thought.
With a huge hit of anxiety I can sometimes have a visit from depression. She (I’ll switch genders in the name of equality) hasn’t been in my life for well over 6 months. I haven’t missed her, not one bit. I thought I was rid of her but like the proverbial bad penny, here she is! I could feel her coming late last night. I know that sounds weird but I know the signs now. Sure enough, 3am there I was. Wide awake and hanging out with two old ‘friends’.
This morning, anxiety had moved on for a break but not depression. She’s moved in, feet right under the table. That awful feeling of no feeling. Knowing there is so much you can do to help yourself and so much to be personally grateful for but absolutely no way to reach through the black fog and grab it. Not even a desire to do that. No energy, no interest in things that made you buzz with excitement only a few days ago. Most of all, no bloody reason. There is nothing in my life that others aren’t struggling with right now. Many many struggling with more challenges than I am.
At the moment I don’t have a positive, inspiring ending to my post today. I wanted to describe the feelings and emotions to try and depersonalise them. I’m furious that they, particularly depression, have returned to this extent and I’m praying it lifts quickly. I need to face what we are all going through as ‘Claire’ with my friends, family and loved ones by my side. There is no room for anxiety or depression. Quite frankly they can both fuck off!
One of the weirdest weeks ever! Every single day, four or five times a day, things change. Plans are made, then unmade. People can’t work from home, people MUST work from home unless they absolutely can’t. Some of my staff are all guns blazing … let me get out there and fight this thing, others wanting to run away and hide. So challenging to deal daily with tears, tantrums and hysteria .. and that’s just my own.
So, I am finally set up (kind of) with the technology required to work from home for some days. How long for is unknown, like so many things right now. I may be redeployed to help elsewhere. God help anyone I have to care for. I’m not even sure where you shove a thermometer.
My first experience with Zoom teleconferencing was hilarious. Clearly the NHS world is not used to this type of futuristic magic. There were people who just did not realise they needed to mute their screen. We heard someone home schooling and yelling at a very bored child, saw someone relaxing on his hammock in his back garden and listened as a member of staff went to the bathroom. It was the highlight of my day.
Today I had an SOS call from a neighbour. They’d seen my leaflet and wanted someone to get supplies as they are elderly, in poor health and their son is now self isolating. She sent me her shopping list and told me it might be difficult to get her bread as she’s glutton free! I wish I was glutton free. Then I might not have this wobbly chocolate belly,
Finally, today I managed to go for a run. I have really lost my exercise mojo over recent weeks, even months. Today, however, with the sun shining, I stuck on my trainers and off I went. I walked/ran for two miles and ran for another 3. Shattered but good to get out after 3 days of high stress and anxiety (not mine for a change, other people’s). I’m planning to run most days now. Make it a routine.
I was asked by a fellow blogger to post some photos when running, so here they are …
It’s been a week of many firsts and of rising to challenges. I’m coping with change without panic and emotion and with a little bit of humour. I’m doing all of it sober. In fact, what I now know is that I have to be sober to deal with it. As people around the UK clapped for NHS workers, care staff, frontline employees, supermarket assistants, delivery man … etc etc … I realised that we have to ride this storm. I intend to do just that and to do it sober.
Stay safe, look after yourselves and keep in touch by blogging or commenting.
As usual I have no plan for what I’mabout to write. I haven’t posted anything in over a week but Istill regularlycheck, read and comment on others’ posts. It comforts me to do that. This past few weeks have been a totalwhirlwind. So much happening in such a short space of time. I have no ideawhatemotionI’mfeeling from one minute to the next!
Watching it all unfold has been surreal. Daily counts of those infected and those sadly that have lost their lives because of Covid-19 has quite simply shocked me. Heading into work this week (I work at a children’s hospital in a city centre) on a near empty rush hour train (hence the photo) the reality started to sink in.
The past few days has been full on with decisions and plans at work being made, remade and changed. The impact of each decision being reviewed and considered. Staff in my team in tears at one time or another with the stress and fatigue of the unknown. Then, the schools announced closure, but not for offspring of key workers (NHS staff, children in need, teachers etc). My two boys (15 and 12yrs) went into meltdown. Resolutely refusing to go because no-one else will be. This is still ‘under discussion’.
My mum was diagnosed with skin cancer on Tuesday. Two different types in two locations. She is 76 and already ticks ‘underlying health condition’ boxes. It was upsetting but treatment decisions have been made now and she has astonished me with her positive attitude about it all. I think she can see the bigger picture and is for once not asking ‘what if?’. She and my dad are self isolating and I’m feeling so proud of them both because I know they are feeling scared and isolated right now.
Interestingly I don’t think in my 25 years of working for the NHS I’ve ever felt this valued by so many. All sorts of shops, cafes and businesses are giving out free drinks, 50% off food and even free bottles of hand moisturiser to NHS workers. People are being lovely and so supportive and considerate. That’s such a positive to come out of this.
So, with all the drama and the stress, the sadness and the worry, my anxiety levels have of course been sky rocketing. Change is often so tricky and we are dealing with it daily, sometimes hourly. But for every moment of anxiety, there has been a glimpse of calm and peace brought by all the lovely, kind deeds that I’m witnessing. The renewed sense of community is palpable. Yes, there are stories of selfish idiots and acts of pure nastiness, but I’m not focusing on that. We are all in this together and I hope that after it is over we are all better humans and an improved society in many ways.
Finally, I’m not going to lie, there have been moments of ‘fuck it, I am going to drink’. I haven’t and I’m actually really, really glad about that. It would not help me right now.
Stay safe, be kind and take good care of yourselves. Oh, and keep blogging … reading your posts certainly helps me stay positive when it all gets a little too much. 😊❤️