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”.

AMA: What gets you out of a funk?

I was going to answer my AMA questions in the order they were asked, but having not long come out of a pretty rough few days or so I figured now would be the perfect time to answer Kelly’s question:

What gets you out of a funk?

The reality with PMDD, which is the root cause of my ‘funk’ symptoms, is that there’s not really any way to stop it. Which means that if I’m having a bad cycle, the only thing I can do is wait it out. With that said, there are several ways I can distract myself from it, which often reduces the severity of the symptoms at least temporarily:

Socialising

Being around people makes a big difference to my ‘funk’ symptoms. I think this is partly because I like to socialise, and enjoy being around other people’s energy, and partly because if I’m in the company of someone who seems to be actively enjoying my conversation and my presence, it tempers the anxiety. I find it easier to convince myself that I’m not a worthless piece of crap because surely nobody would want to be around a worthless piece of crap?

Of course there are times when my mood is so deeply low that getting off my arse and actually going to see someone, or making the effort to socialise is a moutain to conquer in itself. It can be hard to take that step when you’re already ‘in the depths’, so to speak.

Alcohol

Ahh, alcohol. My friend and my nemesis.

One or two glasses of wine can mean the worst of the anxiety completely disappears even if I don’t feel particularly tipsy. However, it will come as no surprise that using a known depressant to ease depressive feelings is a Bad Idea. One or two glasses of wine can become one or two bottles without a second thought and before I know it I’m sobbing over the nearest person who’ll listen and feeling like a massive twat.

I know I have a weakness when it comes to alcohol and so I try and avoid ‘using’ it as anything but a ‘social lubricant’. (Try and achieve are two different things, mind you.)

Running

There’s nothing like a really long run to help you mash out and mull over a shit ton of unwanted thoughts and feelings, and process everything so as to come to a reasonable and rational conclusion.

Unfortunately, I haven’t done anywhere near as much of this as I should have lately and it shows: both in my mental health and my waistline!

Counselling

If the shit really hits the fan, I go and see my counsellor. Talking therapy is the dog’s bollocks and I would heartily recommend it to anyone who is struggling. Find someone you can trust, and get it all out.

Although nowadays my counselling sessions are few and far between, I find it reassuring just knowing that I have that fallback if I need it.

Sex

There is no doubt about it, sex is my #1 ‘fixer’ when it comes to my low moods but it’s a complicated and dangerous path to tread… using intimacy and closeness to boost me up when I’m feeling so fragile can end in tears, and has on several occasions. It might take one ‘wrong move’ or one misinterpreted signal and I can be crushed in an instant.

Even when it goes right (wink wink nudge nudge) it’s not a perfect answer: it can exacerbate the problems I have with my libido during certain parts of my cycle which puts in a vicious circle of needing it more.

Of course the worst part about it is that it feels incredibly selfish to expect Gaz to ‘help’ in this way. It can’t be easy finding someone who is literally rapid-cycling through a million unwanted emotions even remotely sexually attractive, let alone to know exactly the right thing to say and do lest you destroy what little self-esteem they have at that precise moment.

I’m working on my expectations and ‘demands’ in this area.

So there we go: my funk-fighting techniques. If you want to ask me a question, pop it in the comments over here.

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.

Cold Turkey

I had a massive panic attack on Saturday night.

Partly fueled by a few too many vodkas, and partly by confronting a ‘demon’ that I’ve never been able to tackle before, culminating in an explosion of anger and frustration and ending up with me unable to breathe and choking on tears.

It’s not the first time it’s happened and they seem to be increasing in frequency since I started taking my meds. What with that, an increase in suicidal thoughts (don’t worry, I wouldn’t) and a few other things, I feel like I’ve swapped one set of symptoms for another. Not only that, but I can feel some of the old problems creeping back in and the thought of having to up my dosage or change meds fills me with dread. I don’t want to spend my life jumping from one pill to another.

So, the panic attack gave me the perspective I needed to make some decisions, and while I feel I’m currently bouncing from one epiphany to another any focus in the short term is a good thing. Ultimately I’ve decided to stop drinking (again) and to stop taking the fluoxetine. Cold turkey.

I’d rather deal with the ups and downs of the PMDD right now than the uncertainty and negativity. I will increase my running again as that helps my mental health, and basically hold on tight for the foreseeable future.

I reserve the right to change my mind when I turn into Ragezilla though.

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…

You can’t go wrong with chocolate cake

After last week’s crushing failure to get back into the clean eating rhythm, recent anniversary of my oldest brother’s death, a bit of a breakdown on Saturday night where — with a room full of guests — I sobbed all over Gaz and then took myself off to bed, and a terrible morning on Tuesday which ended with both Isabel and I in tears I’ve been a little MEH.

But, on the plus side:

  • I have realised that the mood swings and desire to consume a few hundred thousand calories a day are “new pill” symptoms – I had the same thing when I started the pill for the first time so it makes sense that it’d all come back when restarting after a month break. The eating a million calories thing has already calmed down.
  • My awesome friends Aisling and Katy sorted me out with a Mother’s Day breakfast and a card on Sunday, just in time for my ugly mug to be splashed across the Telegraph moaning about how I don’t get a Mother’s Day cup of tea in bed.
  • I am taking the kids away for a week at the end of the month, so in theory that’s something to look forward to (although I have to admit that the idea of spending 5 days in a tiny caravan with 2 small children on my own is also very terrifying).
  • I’m trying a modified (harder?) version of Stronglifts 5×5 workouts as a bit of a shake up from my usual workout routines, which is exciting (I know how sad that sounds)

I re-read my “manifesto for life” this morning and I’m trying to be conscious of both what I’ve achieved and how much more I have to do (I mean that in a positive way: life has so much to offer) to keep me plodding along.

I never realised how all-consuming depression and anxiety could be until I got sucked into this whirlwind of self-doubt and negativity. The days where I wake up feeling low, it’s like a black cloud surrounds me threatening to swallow me whole. As I drag myself out of bed and make my way through the day I can feel the impact that my low mood has upon others than that just makes it worse: the feelings of guilt for wearing people down, the frustration at not being to “just cheer up” and so on.

Anyway, that sounds glum but the reality is I can see this ‘bad patch’ fading away. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, which gives me something to aim for. In the mean time, I’ll settle for self-medication: with lifting to make me feel strong, running to chase away the brain chatter, and chocolate cake… because you can’t go wrong with chocolate cake.

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.

Enter title here

Feel like I should blog to record some of the stuff that’s been going on lately but I’m struggling to formulate intelligent sentences. Fall back to list format!

  • I came home on October 22nd to find Flymo dead and Rosie missing. I can only guess but I assume something managed to get into the garden. There was no visible marks on Flymo or signs of a scuffle but if he was shocked sufficiently it could have killed him.
  • On November 4th I got home to find that Little Pig had escaped his run and is also missing.
  • My foot is only just this week starting to feel any better, so I’ve now got a month to train for this half marathon I entered
  • I finally got my passport renewed, so I might be able to complete #5. See my Dad soon too
  • I took the train to Birmingham on Wednesday 5th to meet Dominic
  • On Thursday 6th November I went to London to audition for Eggheads with Gaz and his brothers; we should find out this week if we get in
  • I’ve made the decision to stop taking on further self-employment work as of next year. Despite the extra cash being a major help with the bills, the stress it’s causing me is insane.
  • I went back to the doctors on Monday to talk about the fact that I’m still angry a lot; that it comes and goes but is still there. That when I’m not angry I’m sad, really really sad. He tried to offer me anti-depressants and CBT but I want to exhaust every other possibility first. I’m trialling a new birth control pill, I’m spending more time with my babies where possible, I’m cutting back on the things that make my mental health suffer.
  • Gaz and I have been not-dating for 6 months as of this week ♥

Despite everything — the work, the stress, the foot injury, the mortgage, the monotony of the daily grind — I am still the happiest I have ever been and I need to hold on to that. Shit will improve, things will get better. One day at a time.