Just be chill about it

Gaz asked me one Saturday a few weeks back — as I ordered a vodka cocktail — whether or not I’d given up on the ‘not drinking’ thing. A fair question, given the ‘ordering a cocktail’ thing.

Sobriety was going really, really well. I had managed to get through several months without a drink, battling some immense cravings (which peak around ovulation, bizarrely) along the way. I ‘slipped’ on a couple of social occasions but was able to get back into it with ease. And then my brother died, and not only did I smash through a few bottles of red wine in a short space of time but it brought on a crisis. What am I fucking doing? Why can’t I just be “normal” and enjoy a drink with friends without getting utterly wasted? Why can’t I have a healthy relationship with this addictive drug (ha ha ha)? Am I going to end up like my brother?

It wasn’t pretty, and the more I thought about it the worse it got, and the worse the cravings got, and the more I felt useless and like a failure… a vicious circle of self-loathing ensued which, for someone used to self-medicating their problems with a glass or 5 of wine, potentially only had one way of ending. (Because only I could be so stressed about drinking that I need a drink to de-stress which causes me to stress about my drinking… & so on.)

So, I tried to be rational. I tried to think about what my “goals” were if I wasn’t going to be 100% sober:

  • Enjoy a drink on a special occasion, e.g. birthdays, celebrations etc, without it being “weird”.
  • Be able to order one drink and no more. Or, order a soft drink around people who were drinking without feeling left out.
  • Not put on the weight that I lost by giving up.
  • Not drink for the sake of drinking.
  • Most importantly, to not get into a cycle of drinking to ease problems, which worsens my anxiety and depression symptoms caused by PMDD, which causes me to drink more.

With these goals in mind, I have been able to concoct a vague plan, and ultimately relax about it. Relaxing calms the stressy voices which immediately reduces cravings. This, combined with the pressure of knowing what I have to lose if I regress (my sanity, my relative happiness with my body), and seeing the impact of sobriety on my mental health, means I have been able to better make ‘mindful’ decisions about where and when to drink. To just ‘be chill’ about it.

So far so I’ve successfully navigated a couple of birthdays, a weekend with friends, several games nights and other social occasions:

I have chosen to drink, and to not drink, in equal measure. I have interspersed water with wine. I have picked low alcohol ciders over double vodkas. (And I’ve got pretty drunk and felt like shit the next day, which served as an excellent reminder of what not to do.)

I am feeling OK with where I’m at right now. It might not last; I might lose my shit and drink far too much, or… I might go sober again. I don’t know. But it’ll do for now.

Orange & Lemonade Pt 2: 5 weeks

It’s now been about 5 weeks since I decided to stop drinking for good.

I am sleeping better. Aside from a couple of weeks of intense drinking-frenzy dreams where I got completely smashed off my face (in the dream, that is) I have slept solidly every night since I stopped drinking. My sleep cycles have gone back to normal and I don’t feel tired all the time.

The puffy dark circles under my eyes are mostly gone. Partly because I’m sleeping better, and partly because I’m not in a state of perma-dehydration.

My weight is slowly dropping. I was able to wear a pair of size 12 jeans again this week, which I’ve not been able to do in 12+ months, since I lost a huge chunk of weight initially. I’d convinced myself that my drinking was not to blame for weight gain because I moderated input and calculated calories but this was completely ignoring the science behind alcohol consumption (in simple terms, when you eat & drink, food is stored as fat so your liver can prioritise dealing with the poison you’re voluntarily taking into your system). Ignorance is not bliss, after all.

And most importantly: I’ve not had a single anxiety related episode despite going through the tail end of one cycle and another complete cycle. What this basically means is that I was worsening my own PMDD by constantly drinking (despite often doing it to self-medicate the symptoms themselves!)

It’s not a huge surprise, alcohol is a known depressant, but what is surprising is just how much difference it makes being completely sober. The scale of change in my symptoms is massive. I can’t attribute this entirely to drinking/not drinking — my circumstances are more stable, and I’ve implemented strategies to better cope with workloads and stress — but is a massive help.

I am still INCREDIBLE HULK ANGRY in lead up to menstruation, but angry on its own is a hell of a lot easier to deal with than angry AND anxious/paranoid.

In the space of 5 weeks I could have easily consumed 1-2 bottles of wine a week, and the equivalent of a bottle of vodka on a ‘going out weekend’ – of which there has been a couple. So in 5 weeks I’ve “missed out” on approximately 10 bottles of wine and 2 bottles of vodka.

Except I’m not missing it at all.

Your anxiety is not my anxiety

I started writing this post a couple of months ago, but decided not to finish it because it came off too ‘special snowflake’ or a dig on other types of anxiety (which it definitely isn’t) but my good friend Aisling posted recently about atypical depression and how it differs from typical depression, and I realised that it’s important we talk about how things affect us differently purely on the off chance that someone sees them and thinks “ah!”. Not everyone experiences mental health in the same way, so here it is, this is my anxiety…

Anxiety seems to be the topic of choice right now. I can’t go five minutes on any social media platform without seeing articles, blog posts and comic strips about it. It’s great! It’s raising awareness of a very real Thing that I was basically oblivious to until one day I suddenly realised that the Thing I felt had a name. Yay!

Except the problem is that all these blog posts and pseudo-articles and comic strips all seem to follow the same theme: “10 reasons your friend doesn’t want to come out to play”, “Here’s why your mate keeps cancelling all your plans”, “Your anxiety-ridden pal just wants to hide at home under the duvet”, “5 reasons you can’t make a phone call” … and so on.

And yes, each of these refer to different symptoms of anxiety but these pieces are generally specific to social anxiety, and that isn’t all there is to anxiety. It’s not my anxiety.

My anxiety doesn’t stop me from going out with friends. In fact, it pushes me to socialise as a much needed distraction but often then results in me over-analysing friend’s behaviour to look for clues as to whether or not they really like me. And, if we’re socialising outside of the house, it causes me to constantly assess my surroundings and the people nearby in case of Some Big Disaster.

My anxiety doesn’t stop me from making phone calls, it just causes me to spend hours afterwards wondering why I said That and not This and, especially in a professional context, causes me to question the entire conversation and whether or not they’ll want to work with me ever again. (Ironically, this has caused me to withdraw from clients causing the breakdown of a great working relationship anyway.)

My anxiety doesn’t cause me to avoid strangers and public interaction — I will play up to a crowd — but it does cause me to freeze or shut down when offered even the most basic of choices. I can’t go into a Subway and ask for a sub as I get ‘analysis paralysis’ and start to panic … over whether or not I want salad on a fucking sandwich?

My anxiety doesn’t rule out crowded places, but it once crippled me on the tube because I saw someone who looked like a person from my past. My anxiety lets me wear outfits verging on obscene to command attention but doesn’t like me being the first person to walk through a door.

My anxiety isn’t every day, and it isn’t even every period, but it is real, doctor-diagnosed anxiety. And it is my anxiety.

Identity

I was having a conversation with Gaz in bed the other day. You know the type: snuggled up in bed, pillow talk, vulnerabilities exposed, all that shit.

And this deep, meaningful conversation — the sort of conversation I can only truthfully have with my fucking wonderful husband — made me suddenly realise that over the past year or two I’ve become so wrapped up in treating or not treating, coddling or ignoring, planning in or avoiding my symptoms of PMDD that it has become my identity.

In my desperation to not become defined by this Thing that I cannot fix, I have literally let it define me. Let it control me. Let it stop me taking risks and let it stop me pushing harder.

Having not so long ago risen up against foes and demons of my past and thrown myself into the deep end of discovering ‘me’, I have gone and let a new demon wash me away. My fear of drowning in the abyss of hormones and treatments and not-treatments and symptoms and anxiety and SHIT has distracted me from the greater goal of constantly learning and constantly redefining who I am and who I can be.

Of course, this epiphany doesn’t come with answers. Knowing I’ve wrapped myself up in knots trying to avoid something whilst simultaneously using it as the very rope that binds me doesn’t magically fix all my problems. Introspection has only ever got me so far, and acknowledging that won’t make it go away.

The funny thing though, rather than ignoring it and hoping it goes away I think the real solution is to acknowledge it, embrace it, and fucking kick some ass anyway.

Easier said than done though, right?

Crack on

I started writing a blog post about anxiety yesterday, and perhaps ironically my own was so strong that I ended up deleting it.

I spent most of yesterday hiding: hiding from the world, hiding from myself. I was supposed to be going for a run… with a half marathon fast approaching it would be silly not to. And yet despite getting out of bed and putting on my gear I just could not bring myself to leave the house. I spent half of the day trying to distract myself from Dark Thoughts that can only mean my period is fast approaching. I ended up having a long hot bath, a hot chocolate and finished reading Amy Liptrot’s The Outrun (more on that another day though)

By the time Gaz got home, despite having talked myself out of going to taekwon-do, he talked me back into it and so I got changed, and we set off. As we approached the community center, I glanced in through the windows and saw something I did not want to see: our principal instructor was taking class.

Now, I have a lot of respect for this guy. He’s obviously passionate about taekwon-do, he’s very good at what he does and he has clearly worked very hard to get to the grade he’s at. But he scares the shit out of me. Absolutely terrifies me. If he said jump, I wouldn’t just be asking ‘how high’, I’d be asking ‘how high, Sir?’; I’d be asking if he wanted fries with that, Sir, and whether or not there was anything else I could help with… Sir.

(And I say that as someone with an abject — and obviously completely inappropriate — disregard for people of authority.)

So usually this makes me nervous, and a bit wobbly on my feet, but I crack on. Because that’s what you do, isn’t it? Crack on. Unfortunately yesterday I forgot how to “crack on”. Perhaps exacerbated by missing a few lessons, but almost certainly because a day of Dark Thoughts had left me without the reserves to fight the demons. So I started to shake, and my heart rate quickened, and my breathing became shallow. I tried to control it, but it wouldn’t go away and so I started to panic. Tears welled up in my eyes and I had no choice but to flee.

It’s the first time I’ve been unable to bring it under control in public and that scares me more than anything else. I don’t care about crying or making an arse of myself, I don’t care about people knowing that I have these issues with anxiety or that sometimes shit overwhelms me, but I do care about losing control. Losing control is not an option. I need to be able to just “crack on”.

An Insight into PMDD aka Today I’m Crazy Because…

Today is day 12 of my cycle, so over the next few days I will be at peak hormone anxiety-ridden mess. To put this into perspective, this is how it’s affected my day so far:

  • I turned down the opportunity to work for a local agency today because I couldn’t face people. My usual day rate is £400, so this isn’t just like turning down the last slice of pizza.
  • I took a phone call from a client, arranged a meeting for tomorrow AM, spent a couple of hours after that panicking that they wouldn’t be happy with the quality of my work (despite being my longest standing client of some 11+ years) and proceeded to hide from a follow up phone call.
  • Noticed another client on twitter chatting to a tangentially related business and convinced myself that they were going to ‘leave me’ for a better alternative. Had a panic attack. Cried.
  • I ate an entire tub of pringles because I had an overwhelming carby salty craving and then convinced myself I was going to be fat forever thanks to my poor diet choices and the meds I recently gave up.
  • Masturbated. 6 times. Thanks, ovulatory libido increase.
  • Got angry at Gaz because he didn’t reply to a text message this afternoon (despite the fact that he is, you know, working) and convinced myself it’s because he doesn’t love me, and goes to work to get away from me. Cried.
  • Had a small glass of prosecco because it was the only thing I could think of that would calm down the anxiety enough for me to function this afternoon. Convinced myself I am an alcoholic that’s going to die of massive liver failure. Cried.
  • Realised I hadn’t thought of suicide ‘properly’ since coming off the meds. Thought about suicide. Cried.
  • Pondered what I did to deserve life throwing so much shit at me (completely ignoring all the pretty cool experiences and stuff I get to do). Cried.

I am unproductive and unpredictable, up and down and anxious. I see no worth in myself or my creations and can’t understand why people like me, let alone love me.

& I’m already having doubts about my choice to drop the meds, instead of increasing the dosage.

I guess I should hurry up and investigate that rabbit hole.

Monthly post to confirm not-deadness (and other exciting news)

Not sure I made that blog title long enough?

Anyway.. hi, here I am. Not dead. Which you probably already know because you all follow me on social media. Don’t you?

Things have been a bit hectic lately. Last time I spoke to you I was just starting my new drugs. Which … oops, haven’t taken them yet today —interlude— …which seem to be working fine. I mean, I guess they are because after the weird zombie-no-feelings period I just felt normal. And normal is good, I like feeling “normal”. I can function, take care of my kids, not shout at everyone / everything, and generally just get on with life.

They haven’t been the miracle cure for my motivation that I was hoping for. I still seem to have issues with lack of coding mojo, and have to force myself to work, but we can’t have everything. This was especially problematic in February when I was ill and the kids were ill and everything went disastrously wrong and I did about 10 hours billable work, but I am vaguely back on track now so as long as I can do two months work in March, I’ll be fine HAHAHA BYE SAVINGS.

To add to the risk factor of my currently complicated catch up lifestyle, I’ve ‘invested’ in (that sounds way posher than the reality) a new project which will add to my current site portfolio expanding my passive income earning potential in the long term. Hopefully. If I can get the work it needs done. You can probably see the flaw in this plan…

Boring work stuff aside, I’m approximately 2 months off getting married and haven’t planned anything. I’ve lost 3 pets in as many months (predator, illness and old age respectively). And, the house stinks because the kitten I got for Gaz for Christmas keeps shitting everywhere.

But at least I feel normal now.

Giving in

I went to the doctors a couple of weeks ago and got my referral for sterilisation as mentioned back in January. The doctor tried to give me non-permanent long term contraceptive options but was obviously content that I had done my research and knew what I wanted as he consented to the referral. I can only hope that it continues to be as simple a process when I see the gynae specialist (must make that appointment).

While I was at the doctors we talked again about the debilitating effect the suspected PMDD has on my life: that I am basically inable to function for 2 out of every 4 weeks. I “gave in” and accepted his recommendation of trying fluoxetine (prozac) which has been shown to be effective in several studies, e.g.:

The marked increase in the number of well-designed placebo-controlled studies in the past decade has established several selective serotonin reuptake– inhibiting antidepressants as effective first-line treatments for this disorder. Both continuous dosing and intermittent luteal dosing strategies lead to rapid improvement in symptoms and functioning.

ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC353031

I say “gave in”, because that’s what it feels like I am doing. Feels like I’m letting it win. Having spent a lifetime stubbornly battling my problems by myself, this feels like a step backwards. Of course it’s not giving in: it’s fighting back. It’s accepting that there are ways to combat the issues I have without driving myself crazy shouldering it alone, or making excuses for myself and my inability to cope.

I’m currently trialling intermittent luteal dosing (second half of my cycle) to see if that helps. The side effects (nausea, loss of appetite, trouble sleeping) are hard going but I feel like they’re starting to pass. I do feel quite zombie-like at the moment, literally spending hours feeling absolutely nothing, but I also have seen a marked improvement in rage responses over the past couple of days. I hope this is *it*, and not a fluke…

The things I’m not saying out loud

I am currently sat in bed crying into my second glass of wine. Wine that I shouldn’t be drinking because I’m the sole carer for my children tonight, as with most nights, and if they wake up in the middle of the night with some sort of medical emergency I want to be competent enough to deal with that, especially given Oliver’s recent leg trouble, and yet here I am sobbing into this glass of wine anyway.

I didn’t want to write another whiny post. I want to tell you all about my awesome birthday yesterday and the fun I’m having lifting weights or the fact that I managed to run yesterday without my foot hurting for the first time in months… but instead all I can think about is trying to relieve this load weighing me down, constantly dragging my weary body into the dirt because writing helps and I can’t afford therapy right now anyway.

And so I sit here in bed, tired but lacking the will to try and sleep (because what’s the point trying when I know I’ll lie here tossing and turning all night anyway?) I’m googling for ideas to fix me, to stop me feeling like my life is spinning out of control and I hit upon article upon article about depression and I keep repeating to myself that I’m not depressed. It’s just hormones. It’s just stress. I’ve got a lot going on at the minute. I am busy. I just need some sleep.

But the truth is I’m not sure sleep is going to stop me from getting to work and staring at my screen for 3 hours achieving nothing because I can’t even formulate a coherant sentence to reply to a client. Sleep isn’t going to stop me being irritated by the very presence of my children because they’ve looked at me wrong, and the rage I have to surpress when they open their mouths and all I hear is whine whine whine. Are hormones really to blame for the utter loneliness and desperation I feel when I climb into bed, alone and insecure? Is it really just stress & busy-ness that makes me want to give up my job, give up my children, lock myself away and hope I fade into the background so that nobody notices I’m only just managing to keep my head above water?

I guess the truth is that I don’t want to admit that I might be depressed. I don’t want to admit that even though in my lifetime I’ve been through experiences that would make the strongest amongst you wince and I’ve carried on without a second thought, that somehow I’m being brought to my knees by imaginary thoughts and fears and I don’t even know what. I don’t want to have to admit that as each day passes it gets harder and harder to pretend that everything is OK and I don’t have a fucking clue where to go from here.

But it might be the sleep. The hormones. That I’m not exercising enough. That I’m not eating the right foods. So I’ll pour this wine back into the bottle, salty tears and all, and I’ll put down my laptop and attempt to sleep. And tomorrow I’ll take another birth control pill to manage the hormones, and vow to run a little bit more, I’ll skip the sugary chocolate and eat regularly to avoid blood sugar dips. I will keep smiling so that I don’t drive away those I need the most with my constant complaining about how shitty life is.

I’ll do everything I need to do to mask the symptoms and hide the pain. Because I just need a good night’s sleep, right?

In which I nearly have a breakdown

Things have been a little weird recently here at Chez Jem. When I posted Enter title here I was struggling more than I let on.

I was struggling to see the point of anything. I didn’t want to get out of bed in the morning, I didn’t see the point in going to work because I was too stupid & useless to do my job properly (and my ever-increasing todo list was proof of this), I thought Gaz was going to get fed up and leave me, I questioned my role as mum to my children, I was eating virtually nothing because I felt fat and ugly, etc etc.

I have never felt as angry, paranoid, insecure and well.. just generally shitty as I did in November. Early last week, my mood sunk to an all time low. I was angrily snapping at the people I love and then using their retorts as mental justification that everything wrong in my life was all my fault.

I am usually ridiculously laid back, so it was like being a completely different person. The scary part was not so much that though, but rather I couldn’t remember who I really was. It was almost like the ‘me’ before this black cloud surrounded me had never existed at all. I am not sure if I’ve ever truly experienced depression but I’m fairly sure that *that* was as close as I’ve ever been, and it was fucking terrifying. I felt like I had lost my identity and my “self”.

I put the black mood down to not running (it’s been really pissing me off) so I thought fuck it, and blew nearly £200 on an exercise bike I couldn’t afford (yay overdraft!) Of course, sod’s law, having received and assembled said exercise bike (I’m NEVER complaining about putting together IKEA furniture ever again) I’m now pretty certain that it wasn’t actually not running that’s caused my moods at all.

Around Thursday evening last week I suddenly began to feel… normal. This followed into Friday, and Saturday, and Sunday and here I am today still feeling normal. Normal. Like me again! I never thought I’d be so grateful for being me.

What changed? The only think I can think of is that it’s because I have finally had an actual period for the first time in ages. After months of stupidly short cycles, followed by an extra long one, I think I’ve been suffering from raging PMS symptoms. That and the withdrawal from the mini pill / starting a new one (combined pill) must have caused some sort of mad hormone-cocktail mess. I should have known what the progesterone withdrawal would have done to me: I’ve been there before.

Of course I could be wrong. It could be a complete coincidence that my symptoms are identical to when I came off the depo jabs years ago, but really I don’t care. As long as I don’t end up feeling like that again it’s all good.