What a crazy, crazy time this has been and looks set to continue. I haven’t posted for a while I know. I’m hanging on by the skin of my teeth, white knuckle riding life (or so it feels at the moment). It’s a roller coaster that’s for sure.
I finally broke up from work for a week last Friday. I really needed to finish and stick that ‘out of office’ on. The stress was gradually building day by day. More and more to do; colleagues off sick with stress, Covid or isolating; people making big mistakes under just too much pressure. I could feel myself losing control so my leave came at the perfect time. I have to say, so many people seem really low and down at the moment. It’s no wonder with everything that’s happened and continues to happen. Now people’s Christmas plans have been upended at the last minute and the UK has a new strain of the virus that is spreading faster and is fairly unknown. Another huge test of people’s resilience and strength.
For me, my plans remain the same. We had decided to stay home just the four of us. We will meet my parents for a walk as long as it isn’t raining and not see my brother or my in laws until this shit show is over. I know vaccinations are happening but will take time and my gut tells me this will get worse before it gets better. So, I’m hiding out. Protecting myself, my family and other people. I did venture out on Saturday. Just to the local shopping centre and I hated the experience so much, I turned around and came home. Too busy, people not really paying attention to any guidelines and I felt unsafe. I’m not prepared to take unnecessary risks. I have to work in the hospital. My husband teaches in one school and my children attend a different school. We have to do those things. No point adding additional risks into the equation.
I haven’t been doing my yoga regularly or getting out for walks, runs or cycling. I can tell I’m going slightly stir crazy so I do need to begin my routines again. It’s so easy to fall out of step. I know how much better I feel when I keep up my own self care. I am so grateful right now though. Grateful that we have a warm, cosy house. Food in the cupboards and the fridge. Thankful that we can keep in touch with family and friends via messages and video calls. It’s the small stuff that makes me happy now. Interestingly, I have just noticed on by sobriety app that I hit 400 days without alcohol today. That’s quite something. It doesn’t feel like that much of an achievement anymore. It’s part of my life and I never want to go back. But not that long ago I wasn’t able to get through 4 days without booze so it is something to be proud of. I won’t take it for granted. I know I would not have coped with any of the challenges this past year has thrown up if I’d been drinking (and likely actually throwing up!). I would have been a mess. Now I feel like chaos happens around me, mostly out of my control. I can watch it, experience it and remain calm. Knowing and believing, this too shall pass.
I am now past my one year sobriety milestone and life is ticking on. This past few weeks has been a little like wading through mud. Various challenges keep cropping up and with the back drop of Covid and lockdown it’s an uphill struggle some days.
My situation at work is dragging on and on and on. We cannot seem to reach an agreement on the pay for the additional role I have taken on. Usually it would be a consultant/medic who has the role and I have seriously upset the apple cart being a mere allied health professional (AHP). They have tried to offer me less than half of what would be offered to a consultant doing the same job with the same responsibilities because, and this is a direct quote, as a ‘non-medic’ I come with a ‘different skill set’. Damn right I do! Arguably a more holistic set of skills with significant expertise in the area of communication. I am a speech and language therapist, communication is my ‘thing’. Anyway, I have not accepted this offer and after a lot of back and forth we are now going to put the job description through a formal banding process. Which I have to say, has its own issues. It’s just all bureaucratic nonsense really and they have stalled and delayed. I am the first non-medic to take on a leadership role for a surgical team. They don’t want to open a whole can of worms where other allied health professionals start to demand equal pay. It’s all a little corrupt and dishonest and quite frankly I’m at the point of walking away. My colleagues, the patients and their families are the thing that keep me going but boy, it’s bloody exhausting.
On the home front, we have been having some serious teenage struggles with my 16 year old. The Xbox, particularly when playing FIFA, triggers such rage and anger it’s scary. It has scared him too. The other week he punched a hole in a door and made his knuckles bleed. With his right hand I might add. The one that has only just come out of plaster after breaking his wrist. Numpty. He also swore at his Dad and I. Think of the worst, crudest swear word you can direct at someone …. he used it. He has now, along with a hole in the door, broken two TVs, 4 Xbox controllers, 1 TV controller and damaged his bedroom walls on three occasions. I would like to say I remained calm and reasonable during the last exchange but I didn’t. I screamed and shouted back at him, which was not helpful I know. In my defence, I am completely sick of him trashing my house because of a stupid video game. He does pay to replace the things but that’s meaningless to him. It comes out of an account where he stashes birthday and Christmas money and it has no value. He is generally a kind, loving young man and after we all calmed down talked it all through. He had a week off the console. We haven’t replaced the TV. He has to play downstairs now, which means sharing the time available with me as it’s the room in which I work. He has, so far, remained calm and he is reducing the time spent playing FIFA. Let’s hope we have turned a corner.
What next? Christmas arrangements with the recent UK rules. Trying to please everyone. People feeling offended. My brother stressing about how to manage it all and Mum in tears. My Mum is also having surgery to remove skin cancer tomorrow and is understandably very anxious about life in general. I did have to listen to her moan and groan about me the other day. She hadn’t realised I’d picked up the phone and she was listing all my faults to my Dad. That also ended in tears (not mine!). In the end, it has been decided my husband, the boys and I will not see anyone within the five day Christmas window the government have allowed. It was becoming far too complicated with the ‘bubble of three families’ and frankly I just don’t see the point on risking my parents’ health or my eldest missing his mock GCSE exams in January for one or two days. So we are set for an extremely quiet Christmas, just the four of us. We can got for walks with family and my in-laws live 2 hrs drive away so it would be tricky to see them anyway. I am noticing how fed up and low people are now feeling. Lots of them struggling with this restrictive way of life. I had conversations with many people last week, upset and tearful about the new Tier system and arrangements for the Christmas period. The area I live in will move into Tier 3 restrictions once ‘lockdown’ ends on Wednesday. There will be little change to what we are currently allowed to do. It is ground hog day for sure. Vaccines are around the corner and as a patient facing member of the health service it would appear I will be the first to be offered one. I will have it but I’m not going to lie, I am nervous about it. I am also anxious about my children having it if they are offered. The unknown long term impact concerns me. That said, the long term impact of contracting Covid is very real and there is also a lot still unknown. It’s the right thing to do, to protect myself, my family and stop the spread of the virus. It’s just hard to shake off the anxiety.
So, lots of things happening and challenges to deal with. On a positive note, I am loving my bike. I’m slowly building confidence and though turning left is tricky as I can’t signal without veering into the curb, I am now able to pick up some speed without permanently squeezing the brakes! I’m practicing yoga daily and I totally love it. I don’t know what it is I love about it but I just do. I also went for a run last Monday which is the first in months. It felt great. I’m reading more and I have started a jigsaw. My cross stitch is coming on. It might be finished in time to give to the little girl at Christmas. It was supposed to be for her Christening gift last February. Ah well, better late than never.
Although some days I feel overwhelmed with life’s challenges, overall my mental health has been stable. I haven’t descended into periods of not being able to face the world or had days when I just can’t let go of what is bothering me. There have been disappointments, frustrations and tempers flaring but I can still breathe and continue on. I have been bored on occasions but interestingly boredom doesn’t fill me with anxiety anymore. I haven’t at any point been tempted to drink. I rarely have AF drinks either. A cup of tea provides me with the ‘and relax’ feeling I used to seek from booze. I have many dreams and hopes for 2021 and the future. All in all, I think I’m doing ok.
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.
Life has been fairly quiet in my little corner of the world. Work continues to be as crazy as ever with no sign of let up and no sign of me being paid the equal pay for my additional role. Otherwise, no dramas to report. Which is nice. I feel stable for the first time in a while. I did completely forget to take my antidepressants for a week (don’t ask me how, to this day I don’t know). That was a few weeks back and believe me the ‘withdrawal’ made me feel so ill (physically and mentally) I know I will never just ‘stop’ taking them suddenly. I can fully understand why the advice is to lower your dose slowly and wean off them very very gently. The cycle of on/off/on/off would be a dead cert if you simply stop one day.
Anyhoo, I have recovered from that little mishap and back taking the SSRIs regularly and I now feel level again. I have struggled with energy levels in recent weeks but I don’t think I’m alone in that. There are some days when I just want to curl up under my duvet and sleep and there are some days when I have done just that. Before you report me to social services, I have fed and watered my two boys, the house is clean and shopping is done. But I then tend to ‘give up’ on any other plans over and above the daily survival routine and I sleep.
That lethargy seems to be reducing now and I do have more energy although I can sleep in so long at the weekend I’d give any teenager a run for their money. Is this a sign of menopause? I blame everything on the ever approaching menopause. Shitty mood? Menopause is coming. Eating my own weight in chocolate? Peri menopausal for sure. Weight gain? Time of life fast approaching. No energy? It’s the change. Don’t want to do any yoga? Understandable with those hormones flying around. Aches and pains? Nothing to do with the truck loads of sugar I had the night before … it’s the bloody menopause.
That said though, it is a horrible time for women and though I still may be a little way off, I’m not looking forward to it. My GP says the low mood, anxiety and periods of depression could well be related to the hormone changes as I approach that time. The antidepressants help considerably and my doctor says it’s what he prescribed for many women going through menopause, so I feel I’m ok for now. I can re-evaluate as time goes on I guess.
I have managed to continue with my yoga practice and when life settles down in terms of covid and restrictions I would love to train to teach yoga. Please don’t imagine that I’m some flexible zen yogi master after 7 months of home practice. I’m really not. I can barely get onto some poses and the inverted balancing ones are out of my league. But I think there must be scope for a person of 48 to teach others that it’s ok to not be able to touch your toes, you can still join in and reap the benefits.
So, I’m building my ‘to do’ list for future Claire. Teaching yoga and volunteering for the Samaritans or a similar support charity. I’d like to learn to dance and to one day act. Maybe even take singing lessons. I’m slowly creating a bucket list. My new bike is on it but hasn’t arrived yet. Oh, and that dog that I will have one day, when I can give it the time it deserves and needs. The list is getting longer by the day. It’s good to have plans and dreams I think. I’m adding to mine constantly. Make sure you add to yours too.
I haven’t written recently mainly because I haven’t had too much to write about. No naval gazing or soul searching to speak of and, much like the rest of the world, opportunities to head out and find excitement and interest are few and far between. Work occupies most of my weekdays and my weekends consist of house cleaning, reading, watching tv and not much else. I’m not complaining but it is a strange kind of existence.
I have been thinking that I need a new focus. Something outside of work and something that takes me outside and away from my bed, sofa and iPad. I’d love to have a dog but I need to be realistic about that. Though I am working from home quite a lot right now, that won’t always be the case and the rest of the family are out everyday. It seems that the world and his wife are all getting dogs. Every second conversation I have with someone they tell me they are about to have a new puppy. It is definitely on my bucket list but not for a good few years yet. I have to shelve that one for now.
So, it was back to the drawing board and I hatched a new plan. Last week I bought a new bike. It arrives in a couple of weeks (yes it is the bike in the photo) and it cost me more than I ever dreamt I’d spend on a bike. I’m not big into cycling but I want a hobby that I am able to do on my own as well as with my family. My Dad also adores cycling and I’m hoping it is an interest we can share and participate in together, even with the strictest of restrictions in place. I’m excited for it to arrive and hoping it lifts me out of my ‘meh’ mood. I used to run a few times a week but that has fizzled out. I still practice yoga every day and I am loving it but I need something more. I can feel boredom creeping in and for me boredom is very dangerous. It brings with it risks to my mental health, it triggers unhelpful behaviours and negative thoughts and is generally a state of being that I need to prevent and avoid.
I have also picked up my cross stitch again. I have such a complicated piece going on that mistakes are all too easy to make. Unpicking is not fun but when I hit my flow I find it really quite relaxing. It keeps me from reaching for the wine so that’s got to be positive. I started the current project last Christmas, intending it for a baby’s christening present in February. It’ll be about ready for her 18th birthday by the time I’m finished. It’s the thought that counts I guess.
Slowly but surely …
Does anyone else struggle with boredom? It isn’t that I find it tricky to be in my own company. Quite the opposite. I do worry however that I could become too introverted and lock myself away within a virtual world. I am aware that whilst boredom is not good for me, I am becoming less and less motivated to engage in physical ‘in person’ social contact. I noticed that was happening before the pandemic hit us. Removing alcohol removed my desire to mix and socialise. Or maybe it just removed my desire to mix and socialise with others who are drinking. I don’t really know. Something has altered within though and I need to be careful it doesn’t lead to unhealthy levels of solitude and eventually loneliness and isolation. I’m am always grateful I have this blog and my word press friends. This community helps me connect and engage which is so important, especially in the current climate. And who knows, in a few weeks you might see me whizzing around on my bike. Laura Trott … eat your heart out. 😊
A few days a ago I had a really vivid dream. One of those totally ‘in focus’, acutely clear dreams where you feel you are completely in the experience. Many of my sober gang will know what I am about to say now. Yep, it was dream where I was drinking. It was so realistic. I felt the anticipation of the first sip, the automatic ‘unwind’ as the wine settled into my body, the buzzing effects as the alcohol started to do its stuff. In the dream I was living the experience but at the same time I was also watching it unfold as an observer. Almost like a documentary. I was socialising with a variety of different people. I was on form. Chatty (outspoken), sharply funny (mean and gossipy) and full of wit and wisdom (boring and opinionated).
I watched myself become embroiled in drama and physically felt the lack of control as my behaviour and reactions began to cause situations to escalate. Different people in my life made guest appearances and I found I was in circumstances that developed in ways I was not happy with. Reliving situations that have happened to me during my drinking days.
The most tangible aspect of the dream was the experience of waking the next morning. I don’t mean ‘actually’ waking, but dreaming I had woken up. I felt that crushing sense of shame as I remembered what I had done and said. The itchy skin feeling I used to experience when it dawned on me that I couldn’t undo what had been done. Feeling sick with wine swilling around my body and feeling sick with remorse and guilt swilling around my brain and heart. Horrendous.
This used to be my life. Not always but often. I have to say the overwhelming and intense emotions and feelings I used to experience were, for the most part, completely over the top. I generally didn’t deserve to direct such anger at myself. I had rarely behaved ‘that’ badly. It didn’t matter though. It was a pattern and a hard habit to break. I have come to realise I really had no self respect or self compassion and I could not, and would not, give myself a break.
The dream was so real. It stayed with me all day. I kept thinking about it. Revisiting those old feelings. It absolutely reaffirmed why I gave up my once beloved wine and why I remain sober. Nowadays, even when I have struggled with depression or anxiety, I still like myself. I can honestly say, in the latter years of drinking, I did not like me. I could see that I had skills and abilities but I did not like my very core. If your opinion of yourself is that low, you are vulnerable. It taints your view of what other people do and say and colours the things that happen around you. It adds a negative lens to life. Removing alcohol hit the pause button. It gave me the space and ability to work out that change is possible and that sober I could be pretty awesome! The negative lens does not switch to a positive lens, rather it becomes a ‘realistic’ lens. I still reflect on situations, my behaviour and reactions but I have the ability to recognise when comments, circumstances and others’ behaviours are absolutely nothing to do with me. What is apparent is that in sober life, it is rarely to do with me.
Making these changes has taken work. Calm, compassion and gratitude take practice. Integrating them into daily life is a challenge some days but was an essential part of me starting to like me. I haven’t always been aware that change is happening but I can see now that it has. I have had to show up day after day and live with feelings and emotions, thoughts and situations that, quite frankly, scare the shit out of me. I’ve had to take responsibility for past behaviour, accept it and move on. But oh! the freedom when you are able to do that. That’s what sobriety brings. Freedom. No crutch required. No prop needed. I have all the resources inside of myself. Yep. Freedom.
Today has been an exceptional day. Not exceptional in that anything particular has happened. I haven’t won the lottery or landed my dream job (not even sure what that would be tbh). I’ve not done anything particularly exciting or achieved a huge gold star of accomplishment. It was a Monday, it was a non working day and it was a day I spent (mostly) alone. So why exceptional?
Our kitchen floor was being taken up, re-surfaced and prepared for new flooring later in the week. I couldn’t really make any plans so I didn’t. Once the boys went off to school, I settled down to do a 40 minute yoga session. It was tough and my legs ached but it felt really good. I pottered around a little, catching up with blogs and the news. I had an errand to run and because I’d not been able to grab a coffee this morning, I decided to buy a takeout one and head to the park. Weatherwise it was a beautiful day. Sunny and warm. I found a bench and sat with my cuppa and some nuts (don’t ask), watching birds fly about and ducks paddle on the lake. It was an extremely pleasant half an hour.
I managed to clean bathrooms and bedrooms in the afternoon but we still couldn’t go into the kitchen and therefore the garden. I wasn’t sure what to do with myself. I decided once the boys were in and doing homework to go for a long walk alone. I took my earphones and listened to a Brené Brown podcast. It was fascinating. I discovered that in times of anxiety I ‘do’ to avoid feeling and that ‘calm’ needs to be practised. It doesn’t always come naturally but it can be developed. I learnt some great strategies for practicing calm. It was a great feeling to walk, listen and learn.
Since we couldn’t cook due to not having a functioning oven I ordered pizza for the boys and my husband. I rustled something else up for me … still trying to reduce those carbs! We watched a little of the Tour De France. I started to think about work which triggered some anxiety. The outstanding job situation remains unresolved and I have been avoiding addressing it. Instead of allowing the thoughts and feelings to spiral, I decided to try a short yoga session. More of a relaxing one which ended with some really structured deep breathing at the end, whilst lying down with my head on a pillow and my legs wrapped in a blanket. Oh boy, it was bliss. I felt so relaxed on that mat I could’ve stayed there for hours. I didn’t want to get back up. I was so lost in the moment.
So right now it’s just past 9.30pm and I’m in my pyjamas and in bed. I’ve had limited social contact today. The day has instead been one of self learning, self care and (dare I say it) self love. That’s what made it exceptional. I have never before spent a day in this way and it was wonderful.
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.
Ah! Peace at last. My busy, bustling, burdensome brain has finally calmed. There are no big waves of feeling and no strong emotions to deal with which, after the month I have had, is nothing but a blessed relief. I love joy and excitement and fun just as much as the next person but I think maybe, like many things in my life, I don’t do emotions in moderation. The flip side being when I fall, I go to the other extreme. Occasionally it is good to take a break from extremes and sit in the middle and I think maybe that’s the place the antidepressants help me to settle.
I still feel all the emotions and enjoy them just as much. They somehow don’t take over when I’m in a better place with my mental health. I can appreciate them, like or dislike them, but they aren’t the end of the world or the only thing that matters. I can experience the feelings without them overwhelming me. That’s so important in being able to function. Some might consider it boring. Some people adore that high and low, rough and smooth. I used to be one of those people. I wonder if too much living life with such emotional extremes puts you into the ‘at risk’ category for depression? Or maybe I was depressed at times when I was younger but didn’t recognise it as that. Post natal depression with my first was the first experience I remember.
The other, completely lovely feeling of having your mind quieten down is the opportunity to stop thinking about yourself so much. Depression , amongst many other things, is so bloody boring. I mean, I’m really not that interesting a person to be spending so much time focusing on myself. The space in my brain means I can think about other things and care about other people. That makes me happy. In a selfish way it helps me climb the ladder to the top of the wall I have built around myself. Being compassionate and kind towards others really improves my mental health but when I am depressed my kindness mojo is switched to off.
So, after all the deliberation about the antidepressants, it was the right thing for me at this time in my life. I can feel they have worked even more quickly than last time and although I have a long way to go, I am grateful for the quiet and the calm inside my head and my body. I am also hugely thankful to all of you who supported me, sent me love and hugs and had your kindness switches firmly on.
It will come as no surprise to those of you who follow my blog and are in my little community that I have made the decision to restart taking antidepressants. I started them yesterday. This will be the third time in over 2 years and I am equally as sad and disappointed that I need them today as I was when I first took one in 2018. I honestly believed that I had this licked. I’d battled the demon and won. It has become apparent over recent weeks that really is not the case.
I will keep on going, using all the strategies and tools I have at my disposal. I will discover new ones on the way and rebuild my resilience and strength. I will remain sober and continue to focus on helping and supporting myself. Finally, I will accept that I have a diagnosis of anxiety and depression, that it is real and needs attention and that it is not a life sentence.