Are cucumbers cool?

I have perfected the art of looking fine and feeling like absolute rubbish. I am a smiley, bubbly person, I make lots of eye contact, listen, ask questions, make jokes, appear as cool and calm as a cucumber (are cucumbers cool? – maybe they are just pretending like me).

Yesterday I had a work meeting and spent the entire hour smiling, laughing, feigning confidence, offering to do whatever work was needed and more. At times I thought to myself “who are you?!” I left the meeting and got into the lift almost in tears. I reached the ground floor, went into the toilet, entered a cubicle, crouched on the floor, cried, and self-injured. I felt absolutely rubbish. If my boss could see the sorry state I was in she would wonder what happened on the journey from sitting in her office to entering the toilet. What did happen? Absolutely nothing apart from the ‘front’ crumbled and was left at the entrance to her office.

I want to feel like the confident woman I pretend to be. My confident persona is much better than I am. I spend my life at home, often in bed, often fighting suicidal thoughts, climbing the walls inside my own head. I stare into space, achieving nothing as the hours slip by. Who am I? And what am I doing here?

‘Confident me’ wants to do all sorts: PhD research, public speaking, charity work, art, music, reading, writing. ‘Real me’ wants to self-injure, curl up into a ball, and sleep forever. How on Earth do I bring those two very different personas closer together? I’ve  been feeling like this for years and it only gets worse. I spend so much of my life in the sorry state and only have the confident edge when I am at a meeting (maybe 1-2 hours per week). I’m at a loss of what to do.

 

Pretend happy Demeanor

“Cheer up! It may never happen”

I was sitting on a bench in a supermarket waiting for my partner to go through the checkout. I was staring into space and a chap said the above quote. I gave him a smile and laugh, waited for him to be out of eyeshot and continued my staring. I feel crap for numerous reasons and sometimes I don’t have the energy to smile whilst staring into space. I have recently had a multiple sclerosis relapse, my blood sugars are up and down, and I am battling a way to recover from years of emotional trauma. Perhaps it feels like ‘it already has happened’.

I look back at things I wrote 8 years ago and it feels like I could have written it yesterday. Where has my life gone? Why is everything as messed up as it was back then? I am a problem solver and like to find ways to get through…but I feel completely trapped in my situation and I cannot find any solutions.

Where are my tears? I never cry but I wish I could. The distance between the person I am during meetings and the person I am in the rest of the 95% of my life are so different. I’m taking ‘faking it’ to a whole new extreme.

If I were to be a ‘fly on the wall’ and watch myself in those meetings, I would think ‘this woman has a good outlook, she’s very resilient, and somehow seems to find a way to keep going. How does she do it?’ I imagine a lot of us have a certain facade we wear to get through the day. When asked ‘how are you?’, we often say/lie ‘good thank you!’ I wouldn’t necessarily want that to change in my life. I am quite content with going to meetings appearing together. However what I want is to feel more like that resilient woman who seems fine. Or even if I don’t quite reach that stage it would be better if I was half way there, or even a quarter. How do I get there?

 

Progress has Diminished

I’ve been working on my PhD for 9 months now and I have completely ran out of ink. (I haven’t really had any ink for the past 8 months but let’s keep that between us.) From the above picture, it looks as though I have at least used some ink. However the ink has only created endless doodles. You would think I would have perfected my drawing of a cloud/tree/house/hill/flower by now, but I haven’t. My art is still crap and so is my PhD progress.

At the start of my PhD I attended a good workshop by Hugh Kearns called ‘How to plan your doctorate’. I am going to dig out my notes from this in the hope that I can start working. Hugh is part of ‘ThinkWell’ which uses research to help students/academics to achieve their maximum productivity. There are lots of good, and free, resources which may help which you can access here

Perhaps it is unsurprising that I am not working…I can barely get up sometimes. The toxic mix of mental and physical health problems cements me in my own body. I need something to change. If only I could go out and buy a pack of ink and then productivity would ensue. Alas the ink is merely an analogy.

So my plan is to break it all down and make very small goals. Hopefully these will be more achievable and I will begin to see some progress. Goals for today:

  • Make tea
  • Drink tea
  • Make another cup of tea
  • Drink another cup of tea
  • Check emails
  • Reply to 1 email
  • Read 1 paragraph of the ‘journal club’ article
  • More tea?

It’s a start.

Pause her Death

What does it feel like to have suicidal thoughts? The answer will be different depending on who you ask, when, where, and why. For me, it feels like a whole-body emotional burn. Let me try to explain…

I imagine most of us have had an accidental-kitchen-related-burn, whether it be a hot saucepan or a toaster incident. Let’s imagine we’ve accidentally burnt our hand, you feel the initial sharp pain and then spend the whole day being aware of the sore wound. People may tell you to ‘rest’ your hand and you may do that but you can still feel the pain. Others may tell you to try and ‘distract yourself’, so you try to read/watch TV but you can still feel the burning pain. You are aware of the discomfort no matter what you do, where you go, or how hard you try. There is no escaping it.

This is similar to living with the suicidal demons inside my head. No matter what I do, where I go, or how hard I try. There is no escaping them. They are insufferable little *****. They aren’t even small, they are enormous and suffocate my mind. Sometimes I will spend the entire day in bed feeling unable to move. Not because I physically can’t, but because psychologically and emotionally I feel beaten to my core.

Sometimes I can see the reason why I feel so low and I can find something to help but other times I feel like my emotions have gone too far. It’s like I’m on a bus and I was planning to get off at Stop 1 but now I’m at Stop 8, completely lost, and Without a Map.

I can be at Stop 8 for hours, days, or weeks. Time feels meaningless. Each moment can feel like an eternity.

The past few years have been horrendous. I keep landing at Stop 8 thinking ‘why am I here again? How did I get here? I just want this to end’. But I hold on.

One of the main things that helps me is the concept of ‘change’. No two moments are the same. They may feel similar but they can never be 100% the same. If I spoke to 8-year-old me I would never have been able to outline what would happen through the years. I could have tried to guess but that would have been all it was, a guess. Similarly, I cannot predict what will happen in the next 5 years. Things may get worse, but they also could get better. That horrendous kitchen burn could heal and be a memory rather than an present day agony.

At the moment it feels like it is taking ages to heal and, unlike having a kitchen accident, I don’t really know what I’m healing from. Too many things. Patience is difficult because it implies you are waiting for something, but I don’t know what I’m waiting for. I want to feel better but I don’t know how or what that would look like. Sometimes the best survival tool for me is living moment-by-moment. I try not to think about the uncertain future or trauma from the past. I focus on now and getting through this moment, this moment, this moment. Breaking it down like this helps life feel slightly more manageable. I am not trying to solve all my problems, I am simply trying to be. Right now, at Stop 8. I don’t have the energy to wonder why the bus driver kicked me off at this hell hole, or who the bus driver is, or how long it will rain for, or why my glasses are covered in so much crap. It takes all my energy to place one foot in front of the other in a direction I chose to go. And step-by-step, breath-by-breath, I seem to be moving towards a less hostile environment.

 

Note. If you need someone to talk to the Samaritans is a free, 24-hour, safe, and non-judgemental service. You can call, email, or visit a local branch. More info here

Prescriptions have Dominated

anti-depressants.jpg

I never wanted to go on anti-depressants. I never thought a tablet could help my sadness or anxiety. Seven years on and I have been on: citalopram, sertraline, escitalopram, venlafaxine, and fluxoetine. I have had various side effects and still feel dire. I am stuck on the medicine because of the hell of coming off them. Some would say this is because I need the medicine but I disagree. People who take illegal drugs experience a withdrawal if they try to stop. Coming off anti-depressants is similar, although for some reason these drugs are legal.

I am reading an excellent book called Lost Connections by Johann Harri. Here’s an extract from page 30:

The clinical psychologist Dr Lucy Johnstone was more blunt still. “Almost everything you were told was bullshit,” she said to me over coffee. The serotonin theory “is a lie. I don’t think we should dress it up and say, ‘oh, well, maybe there’s evidence to support that.’ There just isn’t”

I’m only 40 pages in but I am already gripped by Johann’s exploration of the history of anti-depressants.

The history seems very much like gossip. Let’s pretend, someone at school says ‘Tom has chickens in his garden’…after a few people have overheard this, incorrectly, and spread the tale it’s not long before we learn that ‘Tom has a chicken for a girlfriend’. The two phrases are completely different and almost incomparable. Similar to the serotonin story…

We begin in 1952 when hospital patients with TB were given a drug which made them dance uncontrollably and then spurred scientists to try this drug with depressed individuals. Just over a decade later in 1965 and after a range of drug trials, Dr Coppen, asked ‘what if all these drugs were boosting serotonin?’ Then, add corrupt Big Pharma to a range of (inherently flawed) drugs trials and you have a field of biased studies reporting the benefits of anti-depressants to restore a ‘chemical imbalance’ in the brain. But we don’t even know what the optimum balance is. We’ve gone from Tom having chickens in his garden/dancing TB patients to Tom dating a chicken/70.9 million NHS prescriptions for anti-depressants in 2018. (An article by Iacobucci (2019) discusses the massive rise in prescriptions.)

Where is the evidence for these drugs? There doesn’t seem to be any.

Earlier today I found something I wrote:

I have finally picked up my prescription for the new antidepressant….I’m willing to give it a go I just hope that it helps a little bit. I know that antidepressants can make you feel worse before you begin to feel slightly better. I really don’t know how much more I can take. I feel like a completely different person I’m so sad angry hopeless and disinterested. I am a nightmare to be around, I think my partner must have the patience of a saint. I wish I knew what started this. It’s like I woke up one day and someone had swapped me with some complete and utter walking disaster.

It feels like I could have written it yesterday but in fact it was from 8th August 2017. Where have the past 2 years gone? Anti-depressants certainly haven’t helped my brain. I feel like the years have vanished and I am no closer to feeling okay.

 

References

  • Hari, J. (2018). Lost connections: Uncovering the real causes of depression–and the unexpected solutions. Bloomsbury Publishing USA.
  • Iacobucci, G. (2019). NHS prescribed record number of antidepressants last year. BMJ, 364, l1508.