Tag Archives: recovery

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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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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