Category Archives: depression

On Quitting Alcohol

I bloody love a drink. I do. I love being elevated above my life of an evening, switched to a different mode. A mode that doesn’t have negative thoughts or see any obstacles in front of my desires. I love the way tequila feels. People are funnier, the air is sweeter with booze. There ain’t no denying. 

I don’t bloody love the next day though. Or the shitty broken sleep, waking up at 4am to the sound of my blood pumping hard in my throat, wondering how my heart has the muscle to keep going. The constant peeing. The eye bags. The not being able to get out of bed the next day. The feeling that my head is stuck in a vice. The bank balance after a bender. The sheer disgust at oneself. The hundreds of lost weekends. The not getting stuff done because of the fucking sauce. 

I have always wondered what I would have done with all the hangover days and lost weekends if I hadn’t been hungover. Would I have written more? Read more? Seen my family more? Would I have got really good at say, erm, rock climbing? I certainly would have eaten fewer dodgy fried chicken burgers at 3am. 

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I haven’t drunk alcohol for 12 weeks. Not a drop. Ok – let’s be honest – I tasted someone else’s Old Fashioned on holiday, tasted it with the tip of my tongue, and it was glorious. But I’ve chosen to put alcohol on hold for the foreseeable future, because it has been engulfing my spare time. Clouding my ideas. Distracting me from what is good and real.  

Taken from ‘Hooked’ at The Science Gallery, 2018.

Over the summer, after a particularly anxiety fuelling placement as part of my nurse training, I relapsed into a deep bout of depression. This one was slow and gnawing. I felt like a big sloth, dragging my heavy leaden body through life, with my eyes practically closed. Walking to the station in the morning felt like I was heaving a mountain behind me. Alcohol filled the void, threw a bit of colour in the mix. It released the pleasure chemicals I needed in my brain (aka dopamine), stimulated my reward centre, offering the satisfaction that I so desperately needed. It also took over entire weekends, meaning I didn’t have to actually address how I was feeling, or what I needed to do in my life to make it better. It was slowing me down and throwing me off. I’ve dealt with depression and hopelessness enough to know that during these foggy times, making a teeny change can be the catalyst to heaving me out of the hole of perpetual self pity.

After one too many all nighters, and yet another Sunday spent unable to move on the sofa, I had to ask myself – what is the point of alcohol? And what is it doing to my life? I knew that I had to stop getting carried away on the fizz, no matter how jolly the sound of the second bottle popping will always be. 

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This might sound like I’m on a one way trip to Bore Ville. Proper Bore-asaurus territory. But as part of being human, I have to let go of worrying about people thinking I’m dull or whatever, because this is me and I have to live with myself and the consequences of my tendency to binge. The thing is, that alcohol has historically fuelled my depression, filled me with all kinds of regret, fucked up my sleep and made me less able to do nice things for myself. 

I’ve quit alcohol before, and I’ve spent lots of time over the years trying to moderate my drinking. It works at first. But gradually I slip back into the routine of getting shit faced at every opportunity. Friends Birthdays are a given. Then there are exam celebrations, weddings, bottomless brunches, dinners, flights, the fact that it is Friday, or Thursday for that matter. It turns out that in my life, there is almost ALWAYS an excuse to get drunk. 

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Recently I had a counselling session with an amazing ex-mental health nurse. She dropped the A-bomb and asked if I thought I was an alcoholic. It’s funny that she asked, because I had been silently mulling this over. I don’t see myself as having a physical addiction to alcohol, that’s for people who have vodka on their cornflakes, right? I’ve never had withdrawal symptoms, unless a three day hangover is considered to be a sort of withdrawal process. But I have been a problem drinker. A binger. Someone who uses the excuse of a party to get bladdered. To forget the week ahead, soften my negative self talk. I have habitually planned entire weekends around opportunities to get pissed. To make music sound better, to make my problems seem smaller and to feel less out of place. Fuck tomorrow. I loved the way I looked after a bottle of Prosecco. I felt more articulate, funnier, and the world was less dull. There was a meaning to this life, and the meaning was to sink as much vodka as poss so that I no longer felt bored by the reality of existence. Which frankly, can be really fucking dull when your main hobby is basically wine. 

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I sort of knew, that there was more to the weekend than boozy brunches and hungover fry-ups (as lovely as bacon tastes the morning after). I wanted to see London, and museums, and the park, and my friends in all their glory without the smog of booze. I wanted to grow my mind and not drown it. I simply had to try not drinking and see what happened.

I’m not going to say that I wake up every morning these days singing like Snow White. I still have shitty sleeps, but they are fewer. I still get bouts of gloom, but they are less pronounced. I have anxiety, but it is largely fleeting. There is still a small part of me, that would love to chug 17 Prosecco’s with my friends and end up asleep on a night bus bound for Edgware with my head in a pizza. But I can’t really do it to myself anymore. 

I want to get stuff done. I want to read books and make stuff and be able to concentrate and not wallow in my own filth on a Sunday. In kindness to myself, me and alcohol have most definitely broken up. 

Annie x 

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Bread is Life: Easy Sourdough

I’ve got writers block and I am decidedly flat.

I can feel Spring is in the air and Summer is peeping around the corner. I know that I am very lucky and have great pillows, but it doesn’t stop me feeling flat as a pancake, or as flat as Norfolk or flatter than the Earth during the middle ages.

I created this blog because I had a ‘realisation’ and I needed to share it. I also felt strong enough to share because I was feeling well and on-point. The problem is, that when you’re not feeling so well, you might not feel ready to publish that. When you have depression your mind becomes this elastic creature that can go from normal to sad, or elated to despairing daily, hourly or even less. So it goes without saying, that this blog can’t have ‘fresh and engaging articles each week’ like other blogs. I might be feeling highly creative and articulate in April, but then completely Ryvita-style-dry and uninspired in June.

My guilt for not feeling ‘switched on’ all of the time comes from living in a world in which nobody is supposed to have an off-day, or an off-week or month. We need to be able to give presentations, visit Sainsbury’s, smile in pictures at weddings and be totally on-top-of-your-game at job interviews on any given day. We also need to answer the phone whenever it rings and this, I believe, is unrealistic for anybody.

When I’m feeling like this, I need to go back to basics. Which basically means running around in the woods (naked if possible) and I also need to make BREAD.

Making bread is one of the most natural things you can do (apart from having sex or picking your nose.) It’s been done since the dawn of human life. Well, since whenever they started milling flour. It feels honest and real and in the end you can eat it with a massive slab of cheese. Without wanting to sound Mumsy, which I often accidentally do without being a Mum whatsoever, there’s something very therapeutic about making bread. It’s creative, it’s practical, it’s satisfying, and it’s way fucking easier than pie.

So if you’re feeling uninspired, or a bit sad, I reckon that making this recipe for a big fat sourdough loaf will put a little smile back into your soul. At least if it doesn’t, you have something yummy to eat, and we all love eating.

I took this recipe from BBC Good Food, because it’s my holy grail, but I used spelt instead of rye flour and it was delicious.

You’ll need…

For the starter:

100g strong white bread flour

100g spelt flour

1/2 a 7g sachet of fast-action dried yeast

For the main dough:

400g strong white bread flour

1/2 a 7g sachet of fast-action dried yeast

1 tbsp salt

Do this…

1.) Put all of the ingredients for the starter plus 250ml of cold water into big bowl, mix it all together and then clingfilm it over and leave for 24 hours at room temperature. Just forget about the whole damn thing for a day, safe in the knowledge that those little yeast granules are gleefully busy fermenting .

2.) After 24 hours you can start making the main dough. Tip your white bread flour, a tbsp salt, the other half of the yeast sachet and 200ml cold water into the bowl with the starter. Mix this together until a loose dough forms. Tip out onto a floured surface and knead for at least five minutes until you have a spongy elastic dough. (I always need to add more flour during kneading because otherwise it sticks to EVERYTHING.) Leave the dough to rise in the bowl at room temperature for at least an hour.

3) Tip the newly risen dough onto a floured surface, and gently shape into a round without knocking too much air out of it. Plop this onto a parchment covered baking sheet and leave to prove for one more hour.

4.) Score the top with a knife, dust with flour and bake it in the oven at 220c for 25 minutes until it is starting to brown and sounds hollow when you tap it.  A little tip, if you’d like a crusty crust, splash a cup of water in the bottom of the hot oven as you put the bread in. This creates a lovely steam, which somehow, creates a lovely crust.

5.) EAT IMMEDIATELY WITH CHEESE.

Annie x

Social Inclusion and the Power of Decent Bubble Bath

The isolation of battling depression is a major hindrance to recovery, loneliness and depression are best mates.

When I feel myself tumbling into a depressive phase the last thing I do is call my friends or family about it. Almost subconsciously I nestle in and I go full throttle speeding into hibernation mode. I stop making plans and confine myself to the duvet tent. I order greasy takeaways and play endless games on my phone, I watch an entire season of Orange is the New Black on every hermits Holy Grail – Netflix. I then trawl through Facebook to make sure no one is having too much fun without me (but of course, they are.) This in turn triggers loads more negative thinking, leading to another sizzling hot American (pizza) and a serious marathon session of ‘World Chef’ on my new best friend of an iPhone. I become ensconced in an unhealthy and insular grease laden bubble of misery.

I spent much of the last two weeks hibernating and this is after a full recovery from ‘The Episode’ aka my emotional breakdown last year. Which proves that this illness can rear it’s grim head at any point. Even though I am fully aware that cutting myself off is the worst thing I can possibly do, the feeling that I have nothing to add to any conversation and physically don’t have the energy to put my eyeliner on  straight in order to meet people in a social setting where normal humans dwell, is far stronger.

I’m telling you all of this because I can now feel myself coming out of this little bleak place, and the two key reasons?

  1. Self Care
  2. Social Inclusion

Basic self care goes out of the window when you’re depressed. You might start smoking because the nicotine rush takes you momentarily out of the hole. You might not shave your legs for weeks (when you’re a person who normally does.) You’ve run out of all the fucks to give about body moisturiser, but worst of all, you beat yourself up about all of this until your innards are black and blue and you feel all of the guilts. Sorry to be a cliche, but it’s just a ma-hoo-sive vicious circle. BUT, you can find your way out. This week I did it by:

  1. Running myself a hot deep bubble bath with the expensive shit I got for Christmas that I’ve been saving for a ‘special occasion.’
  2. Painting my nails
  3. Going to the London Buddhist Centre for my favourite yoga and meditation classes.

What I found was (and I always knew this really, I just chose to forget it) that small positive steps lead to many more. Good activity breeds good activity, just like bad breeds bad. Before long I started feeling human again and I got my confident walk back. (Instead of looking like Tigger.)

Social inclusion is a term I’ve only recently started using. I’ve often felt better when I’ve had a purpose and when I’ve mixed with people for that purpose (aka work) but I didn’t realise it was ‘a thing.’ Now I know that it is THE most crucial part of a persons recovery from depression. To feel like you are part of something and that you are needed boosts your self worth, which is why it’s a tricky thing to be off work on sick leave. It might feel like a relief at first and although my sick leave was indispensable in giving me the space to see clearly and have a new direction I also felt isolated and ashamed. That’s why getting involved in ‘stuff’ and keeping busy to me is so important. Every Friday I can be found digging and weeding and laughing at dogs in Battersea Park. I am a Volunteer Garden Assistant and I support other people living with mental ill-health for the brilliant charity – Thrive. By doing this I have developed confidence in the fact that I am a valued member of society and now I’m very much back on the job hunt AND I’ve applied to go back to Uni. I honestly believe that if I hadn’t started volunteering it would have taken me an awful lot longer to get where I am now, or even to develop the confidence to work out what I want to do next with my life.

If you notice a friend has gone off the radar, they may be on holiday, or having too much fun with their new boyfriend. But maybe, just maybe, they’re suffocating under a duvet tent and getting a repetitive strain industry from Candy Crush. Give them a text, eh? (Because they probably won’t answer the phone.)

Annie x

 

 

Antidepressants are confusing but mostly good (I think)

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Antidepressants. To do, or not to do? That was my predicament for about 5 years.

I didn’t want a drug changing my personality, (at least not beyond the weekend) and I didn’t want to be a full-time zombie. Drugs are bad, man, drugs are bad.

The years passed; and so did two courses of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, one really dodgy therapist, and one evening spent in a drunken heap on the kitchen floor after a tearful DJ set. This time I was in the darkest, most sleepless fear-filled hole ever, and I really couldn’t clamber out. So I went to my doctor, unable to speak through self-pity, snot and blubbery tears so she gave me 20mg of Citalopram. It is a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (whatever the devil that is.)

“You would be very surprised if you knew how many people are on these” She said. I then pictured all the people in my life and tried to work out which ones were doing it. There must be at least two or something, right? I also later googled which celebrities take them, and for some reason it made me feel loads better to know that Sheryl Crow (yes) probably took them at some point. If it’s OK for Sheryl, then it’s OK for me.

 

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“What does it actually do in my brain, does it rewire it?” I said desperately. I very much needed some rewiring, but I also needed to know how these tablets worked. Most of all though, I needed a boost of happiness, a chunk of rainbow joy and I was now ready to pop some pills to get it. “Well, not exactly.” She then mumbled something about serotonin that didn’t really make sense. I don’t think my Doctor really knew how the pills worked apart from the fact that they could make my symptoms worse for the first few weeks or take months to work at all. YIPPEE.

The next fourteen days in actual fact were an absolute JOKE. I downloaded the soundtrack of ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat’ onto my iPhone and listened to ‘Any Dream Will Do’ on repeat on my way to work very loud.

 

 

I cried tears of ecstatic joy at the children’s chorus part, and the crescendo at 3’17” was all a bit too much. The rush of serotonin had allowed me to connect on a whole new level to the lyrics about dreams and weeping and returning to the beginning and being stripped of colour. I wanted to hug people on the tube. I was constantly thirsty. I had sweaty palms. I skipped, literally skipped into the office. I was positive about everything. I declared with gusto to my whole office that if you squinted and looked out of the window (in Camden) it kind of looked like L.A. I felt like I was coming up on a pill of the non-legal variety. I felt high for about two weeks, not very hungry and not really quite able to hold a professional conversation. The problem was that my anxiety was still there, only heightened. This time when my office phone rang I felt a very real and physical buzzing sensation in my heart, as if I had just had a mild electric shock. My eyes must have been on stalks. There is nothing quite like feeling like you’re coming up whilst being in a meeting about meetings and feeling the pressure to say something interesting and constructive about said meetings.

I rushed back to my doctor and told her of my weird anxiety high. She said very calmly that she would like to keep me on the same dose for at least 6 months, and that the drugs would take time to start working properly. It was weirdly awkward, I felt under pressure and I couldn’t argue, so I agreed and I left with another prescription for more pills.

In hindsight, she probably should have signed me off work for a week or so to ‘adjust’.

Over the next couple of months things did balance out, I didn’t feel the need to cry at poodles and old people, or hug them for that matter, and I felt ‘together.’ I was decisive and balanced. Although, I would definitely say that things were a lot more ‘beige’ than usual. I didn’t get as excited about Jay Z as I used to, but I also didn’t get terrible anxiety in the night about cancer and wrinkles and homelessness anymore. In fact, my sleep, which had been disrupted  and basically shit for years had started to regulate and I was sleeping better than ever.

The problem was that I couldn’t work out which part of my recovery was down to the tablets, and which part was just me. Alongside taking the medication I was also doing a great deal of meditation, I was going to regular therapy sessions and, alarmingly, I had stopped drinking alcohol. I didn’t want to feel like my recovery was all down to the tablets – but there was absolutely no way of knowing. Nobody can look inside of your brain and tell you what’s going on and why.

I know that some people take antidepressants forever, and they work. In my case, I know that they worked at a time in my life when I needed something to change. They can help coax you out of the hole, they clear the haze and things feel a bit more straightforward. I found that there wasn’t so much negative chatter in my mind, so I had the energy and confidence to do more stuff.  As a result of this, they helped me form new habits which in time encouraged recovery and a more positive way of thinking. Basically, they did their job.

I don’t think antidepressants should be given the bad rep that they often get. I was scared of them for years, and I was very ashamed of them at first. I still find them to be the most embarrassing thing to talk about surrounding my mental health. One of my close family members still thinks they are ‘the worst thing you can possibly do.’ (THANKS.) But I’m sure that if they had a headache, they’d be cool with popping an Ibuprofen.

I had a strange time at first, but it settled down in the end – and now I feel well enough to wean myself off them. It might be a long and bumpy road, but I’ll give it a go.

If you think you might need to get some extra help in the form of medication, go for it. There’s no shame. But they definitely aren’t easy and they might not work on their own. But don’t write them off because of fear, or your family, or the Daily Mail.

Annie x

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Battersea Park Road to Paradise (and belonging)

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I’ve just finished reading The Battersea Park Road to Paradise by Isabel Losada. I picked it up in the brilliant Oxfam book shop in Brighton during one of my soul searching days out. The book jumped out at as the kind of light, life-affirming reading I needed after surviving a deep depressive phase and was beginning to rebuild my life brick by brick. It’s the kind of book that could easily be dismissed as another Eat Pray Love-esque chick-lit romance novel without a great deal of substance. But as I read, I found that this was not the case. Like me, Isobel was genuinely on a quest to emerge from a big black ‘hole’ and hungry to find meaning and substance to this life.

Feeling stuck? Yes, me too. I’m in a pothole on the road to enlightenment. You wouldn’t have thought a pothole would be deep enough to get stuck in, would you? But I’ve managed to get totally wedged in. – Isabel Losada

As I read more and more, about her voyage into the world of Feng Shui, motivational speakers, guru’s and Ayahuasca in the Peruvian jungle – I  realised that I had just bagged myself a new friend in Isobel with something in common. The desire to learn and make the most of life. To experience the extraordinary, to be willing to take the road less traveled for fulfillment.

She too is a woman living in the big city, and like many people in big cities all over the world – we can feel bereft of something. I love london, but I also long for a tribe. I feel envious of the Ashaninka tribe, that Isobel stayed with, who live off the land in the Amazon Jungle. Their basic needs are fulfilled and they want for nothing. I can’t help feeling that our insular and consumerist culture has a lot to answer for when it comes to our mental health. In order to sell us something, that shampoo advert, or diet pill or new Apple product needs to make us feel unhappy with that we’ve got. So we buy, buy and buy forever. We don’t need all this shit, we need people, warmth, love, knowledge.

As Isobel puts it:

Isn’t it ironic that the Ashaninka tribe are, in so many ways, living more happily from the land than most of us are living in our boxes in our towns and cities? They live simply and with people they love around them. We have to learn to love and cherish one another. We have to bring people together. We have to hold parties – not the kind where people drink, but the kind where people listen to each other, where real friendships are made.

We can’t all live in the Amazon, but in London we too can feel connected and vital. I have just started volunteering one day a week at Thrive – an organisation specialising in Horticultural Therapy – in Battersea Park (funnily enough!) I spend my Tuesdays there digging potatoes, planting seeds and cutting sweet peas with a small group of adults with different learning disabilities. Gardening is therapy – living off the land even in a small way is nourishing for the spirit, and soil can make you happy! But what I am finding to be extra therapeutic is the existence of a community of people, working together, and being nourished by each other. A team where everyone belongs, and are working hard together for a shared positive goal. Surely this human connection has to be part of the key to happiness and well being. If you feel like you belong, then you are part of the way there.

So join that rounders team, go to a community cooking class, volunteer at your nearest nature reserve if you have the time. There is something magical about people coming together for something that is not money driven. Something that adds to our sense of community and belonging. If you do this, then perhaps everything else will fall into place in your world and you might just find your tribe.

Annie x

 

 

 

I Quit Being Sensible

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I haven’t told you this yet but I have done something bold and decisive and honest and potentially foolish. I quit my job.

This, as you can imagine, was not a light decision. This was my first ‘normal’ job after years of bar working and freelancing and I was chuffed to finally have a regular and stable salary and free weekends. Hooray! I graduated the same year that the Credit Crunch took hold in the UK and the jobs market was literally ‘Dodo extinct.’ So I was thrilled to finally be able to pay my ever increasing London rent, and to cook a massive dinner with all the trimmings for all my friends without worrying about how much it cost. Hell, I even shopped at M&S.

For months and months I trudged through a thick soup of depression trying to work out whether it was my job or just me that was making me sad. When you have depression, the difficulty in differentiating between what is a ‘depressive episode, so you’re perceptions are all skewiff’ and what is actually a ‘genuinely shit situation that would make anyone sad’ is incredibly difficult. I tried hard to imagine someone else in my shoes to work out whether they would be unhappy too, but of course, that didn’t work because I am and will always be me. I was crying at cute dogs and old people on the tube, for God’s sake, something had to give.

When I was signed off work for anxiety and depression and trying to fill my days with mind nourishing things to make me better, I gradually realised that although I am prone to periods of depression and big bouts of anxiety wherever I am in the world – it was a great deal worse when I was at work. Being away from work made me feel human again. I explored and I read and I walked and swam, I got back in touch with a childlike curiosity for life, and the simple things that make life wonderful (like growing cress in pots, climbing trees, making banana bread, talking to my Mum, reading the Beano.)  I realised I was actually quite happy about most of life, but that I hated my job.

I had been telling my therapist that I had survived a breakdown. He didn’t like the term ‘breakdown’ and so he did something incredible which was to flip it completely. “No” he said “You’ve had a realisation, a catalyst for change, an exciting epiphany.” I wanted to throw a heavy object at him and tell him sternly that feeling like you can’t get out of bed ever and that you are wading through mud on a daily basis does not feel like an exciting epiphany to me. But now, after a bit of time, I can see exactly what he means. This was a realisation, an arrival at the idea that something in my life had to change, something in my life was making me unwell. It was liberating and it was scary. I knew I couldn’t stay in my job. It was a lovely job, a sensible job, but it wasn’t for me.

I realised that too many of the decisions I have made in my life have been because I think I should, and not because I have wholeheartedly and passionately wanted to. I studied Sociology instead of Art at College because I thought it was more sensible, and I did Hospitality Managament at Uni because I thought I’d get a stable job at the end of it, I chose baked potatoes instead of chips in restaurants because I should, I even went to church because it would be ‘me being good.’ Too many choices taken out of wretched fear or a sense of obligation.

Ever since the day I realised that I would have to find a job when I grew up, I’ve been suffocated and worried by the idea of fitting into the world, and by the question ‘what to do’ with my life. This, I think, has been the real root of my anxiety. I took my full-time stable job because it looked like the safest option, it wasn’t my dream job but it was something that would pay me money and was vaguely connected to the thing I’d trained for. But it didn’t make me want to live. The truth is, I took the job because I didn’t know what I wanted to ‘do’ next with my life. And because the pressure and alienation and guilt felt when not knowing what to do with your one-and-only-life is hideous.

From childhood we are conditioned to find our place in the world, a place that will earn us money. Money is a necessity, I know, and there is a mind-bogglingly large number of ways to get it. But after a breakdown/realisation something changes in the very core of your being. In a way, things become simpler. You have seen what the bottom looks like, and you don’t want to go back there, so you need to follow what feels good in your very soul, what is quite literally your guttural instinct.  You have a need to find something that makes your life worth living each day. So now, the only option is to feel my way through life. Does this feel right, working in this office? No? Then get the hell out of there. Life’s too short. Do you feel good working with this tree and this soil and these worms? Yes? Then keep doing it. It’s about using your intuition and it’s smart. Surely this is a route to contentment.

The luxury that wild animals have that we don’t, is that they can and do simply act on instinct. Generally speaking, the animal kingdom goes through life doing exactly what it feels like doing. Starlings migrate to the other side of the world because they feel in their bones that that is the right thing to do. Us humans however often have to disregard instinct because we need to earn money to survive and life just ‘gets in the way’ of doing what we really want to do. I’m not sure if anyone’s instinct is to sit behind a screen for 8 hours a day in a stuffy office doing budgets, but I’m sure it’s lots of peoples instinct to tell stories, to run in fields, to make art, to swim in the sea. Perhaps this is a simplistic way of looking at life, but to me it feels right.

So, to follow my nose I’m taking time out from the pressure of ‘having to be something’ in the world. As part of my healing process and my recovery I’m just going to be me.  It means I’m absolutely stone broke of course, but I think it will be worth it in the end. I’m going to try everything, everything that I feel like. Eventually I want a job that is going to make me sing when I wake up in the morning; so I’m going to volunteer all over the place, with elephants and the elderly, with nature reserves and Buddhist monks, I’m going to explore explore explore like Phileas fucking Fogg until I find the thing that makes me tick. I’m on a grand new voyage, a quest for realness, wholeness and not for obligation. So I say bollocks to being sensible. Life – I’m coming for you.

Annie x

 

Surviving a Nervous Breakdown

Having a nervous breakdown feels like your mind has literally broken down like a car. No matter how hard you push it, it won’t go any further. It is the body’s way of saying STOP! That’s why it is not unusual for someone to feel like giving up altogether. When this happens, continuing with daily life is overwhelming. The world outside of your head feels like a gargantuan unslayable beast, and it’s going to eat you all up. You are a tiny grain of sand worth dusting away.

So you have two options, you can end it or you can keep going.

I chose to keep going, but apart from sleeping and eating there wasn’t much I wanted to do. Being signed off from work was a necessity but it also lead to feelings of isolation. I felt like I had just dropped out of life, and that everybody knew and would be talking about it. I’ve always been an energetic and motivated person, so to feel broken like this was tricky. I was scared to bump into work friends in the street (which I did on one occasion) and I was worried about going out in case people saw me having fun. Being able bodied and ill in the mind is complicated.

I couldn’t go to work, but I also knew I couldn’t stay in bed. I had to do something. So, I took tiny little steps, and each step made me feel better and better and better. I took care of myself and I followed my nose, there wasn’t much more to it.

Doing these things helped me out of my hole, and I always come back to them when I feel myself slipping.

Step 1: I brushed my teeth and my hair. The simplest bit of self care imaginable, that can work wonders when you’ve been wallowing under your duvet tent for too long.

Step 2: I read ‘Mental Health’ by Yrsa Daley Ward

If you did not get up for work today
If it has been afternoon for hours
And the silence is keeping you awake.
If you only remember how to draw your breath
in and out like waves of thick tar cooling
If you are wishing it later,
pulling the sun down with your prayers, leave the damn bed.
Wash the damn walls. Crack open a window even in the rain, even in the snow.
Listen to the church bells outside.
Know that however many times they chime is half the number of changes you have to make.
Stop trying to die. Serve your time here, do your time.
Clean out the fridge.
Throw away the soya milk. Soya milk is made from children’s tears. Put flowers on the table. Stand them in a measuring jug. Chop raw vegetables if you have them.
Know that if you are hungry for something but you cant think what then you are more often than not only love thirsty, only bored.
When the blood in your body is weary to flow. When your bones are heavy and hollow
if you have made it past thirty celebrate, and if you haven’t yet, rejoice. Know that there is a time on its way when the dirt settles and the patterns form a picture.

Step 3: I listened to this song:

Step 4: I cut pictures and words out of magazines that made me feel something good in my bones, then I stuck them all onto a big piece of paper and hung it on the wall next to my bed. Most of the pictures were of palm trees and bears.

Step 5: I got lost in Oxleas Woods for the day. I used to go there when I was little with my family, I needed to reconnect with a more natural, happier and simpler time.

Step 6: I went to the London Buddhist Centre and I meditated with a room full of friendly strangers. It was beautiful to be anonymous, and to not have to talk.

Step 7: I had a hot bath over flowing with bubbles, and I turned out the lights.

Step 8: I went swimming in London Fields Lido, the water is warm and the sun shines on you as you swim. It’s even nice if it’s raining because steam rises and you feel like you’re in an Icelandic hot pool (kind of.) Anyway, It’s a small piece of paradise in Hackney.

Step 9: I listened to these guys talking about elves in the woods which helped me switch off and sleep at night.

Step 10: I created this blog and I wrote. Probably the most important thing I did was to start writing it all down. There isn’t a cure for anxiety or depression, but there are ways of dealing with it – and this remains the most liberating antidote for me.

Annie x

 

 

Depression = Guilt

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The worst thing about depression – when it has you by the balls / boobs and is holding your head underneath the pillow, when it’s at its most debilitating and downright exhausting – is the guilt. There is guilt about the fact that this might all be your fault. The guilt that you lack normal amounts of energy because you’ve been worrying too much. The guilt about feeling like a big fat lazy sloth whilst everyone else is whistling along cheerily to the sound of their 7am alarm. The guilt that your brain isn’t working properly and it might be your fault because of that time you got absolutely shit-faced on ecstasy and didn’t sleep for two days. That your life choice and your lifestyle may have some how had an adverse effect on your brain and therefore this depression is most definitely YOUR fault. There is also the very unhelpful thought chewing away at the back of your mind that you might be making this all up and that you’re actually OK because you managed to laugh at Deliciously Stella’s Instagram earlier so you can’t be that sad. Therefore you feel very, very guilty about it all.

 

Deliciously Stella being unashamedly brilliant.

 

Then there is the guilt experienced by those closest to you. Your Mum, your Dad, your Dad’s Dad, your best friend, your dog, your spider plant. In my experience, they too feel guilty. They think that perhaps they could have done something differently, and they should have tried to program your brain not to feel anxious about speaking in meetings or cripplingly worried about the fact that you have to do a speech at your best friends wedding and you are festering at the thought of fucking it all up. Maybe it was something they said to you when you were three that made you feel like you should be worried about life. This might absolutely be the case for some, but from my experience and from listening to lots of other people, it isn’t always. I would like to say now that even though there are certain behavioural patterns learnt from our parents and those around us in our early years, depression is not necessarily any bodies fault. The worst feeling I have felt when opening up about my anxiety and depression to my parents has been the reaction that they are worried they did something wrong and it made me like this. For me to experience my parents hurting because of me is incredibly painful, and, you guessed it, makes me feel VERY VERY GUILTY. So I would like to expel the idea from everybody’s minds and let them know that none of this is any ones fault.

The thing that makes the guilt extra horrible, is the idea that we can’t be open to people in our daily lives about what we are going through for fear of not getting that promotion, or not being trusted in our decisions or appearing weak. It breeds a feeling of shame, that there is something to hide. I can wholeheartedly say, that this lack of discussion and understanding about depression is stiflingly unhealthy to everyone, and actually if people felt comfortable to discuss the fact that they are having a bad time mentally as freely as they feel discussing their head cold, then things would be much easier for everyone.

Recently I spent 5 weeks off sick from work after suffering from a nervous breakdown (my therapist doesn’t like this phrase but I’m going with it.) Prior to this, I had developed a shiny exterior of lovely bubbliness in the office. I was positively bouyant around all of my colleagues and I undertook my work with gusto. This meant that because I was pretending that I was doing brilliantly, my brain was trapped in a pressure cooker and I would cry in the mornings at the sight of a very small needy pooch on the tube, or be overly empathatic to anyone expressing any kind of emotion. Basically, I packed my emotions into a tiny tiny box for work, and I wouldn’t let them out all day. Of course the emotions eventually out grew the box and the box would be forced open, resulting in me crying in meetings or having to vacate my desk to sob in the park (there are many small needy dogs there so you can imagine my state.) I’m telling you this because I feel that if I had allowed myself to be more honest with my colleagues about my mental health, then I might not have ended up in such a ball of pickle.

During this period of ‘sick leave,’ I made the decision to be honest with everyone and I sent an email to my colleagues explaining what had happened to me. I told them frankly that I had been suffering with anxiety for a long time which had resulted in a nervous breakdown, and that I missed them very much. I had to tell them that last bit because I felt guilty (that old chestnut) about not being able to do my job and for leaving everyone else to pick up the pieces. After I sent that email, a steady stream of messages began trickling into my inbox from colleagues offering genuine support and incredibly kind words. They too had each been through their own mental pickles, and it was clear that they valued my openness.

I know of course, that this is a very sensitive and personal subject to discuss in public, and I know it isn’t practical for everyone to be this open. But what I’m saying is that if one person opens up, then five others might feel better about doing so too, and by discussing what it is like to experience depression will no doubt enable others to understand and therefore help break a taboo that is exceptionally unhelpful and therefore help to dispel THE GUILT.

So, I stick to my decision to go forth boldly, and when someone asks me where I’ve been or what I’ve been up to, I’ll tell them. Unashamedly, just like Deliciously Stella does about how she’s just eaten 10 donuts in a row. I can already tell you that this has not been as painful or awkward as you might imagine. Instead it has been an empowering exercise, and I haven’t felt guilty or ashamed once.

Annie x