Self employment and mental health

Self employment / freelancing and mental health issues seem to go hand in hand. The stress of finding work, maintaining momentum, dealing with all the admin etc, not to mention restricted access to Actual Humans (besides the postman) and the feelings of isolation this can bring, lack of holiday and sick pay causing freelancers to feel like they have to be “always on”… all massive contributors to stress and mental health issues.

From a personal perspective, I have recurring mental/emotional problems and my work is usually the first thing to suffer if I’m experiencing one of “those” days. This in itself can trigger feelings of inadequacy and guilt, putting me in a downward spiral. But, as someone with a mental health condition brought on by a relatively predictable syndrome (hello PMDD) self-employment is not always the stressor. In fact, it can sometimes be the cure: the chicken soup for the soul.

I’m not tied to Mon-Fri / 9—5 working hours

If I’m having the sort of day that kicks me in the guts from the second I open my eyes, where getting out of bed and facing the world seems impossible, I just don’t. I soak up the comfort of the warm snuggly duvet and I treat myself to an extra hour. The indulgence can often be a band-aid on invisible wounds, enough to get me to take the first step back into reality.

And when it doesn’t work? I can double down, bury my head under the covers and catch up on Saturday. Or at stupid-o-clock of an evening when the kids are in bed.

(Photo by Sonja Langford)

And allows me to exercise

Working a schedule outside of the norm allows me to sub an hour at my desk for an hour in the gym, or an hour on the road training for my next race. Exercise is a huge contributor to better mental health (it’s scientifically proven!) and being outdoors massively benefits my mood, my self esteem and my overall health.

I can juggle my calendar

Because my issues generally fit within my cycle, I am able to fit my work around this. I don’t have to drag myself into work just because it’s a Monday, or meet a client just because some dev manager or boss has stuck it in my diary.

This week I am post-period, and so I will be prone to hyper-concentration, greater sparks of inspiration, confidence & an increased libido greatly improves my people skills (believe it or not!) so now is a great time to work on things I’ve been putting off or new projects that need creativity. By the end of next week this will have a fizzled out and I will be anxious and needy. I will avoid meetings with new clients and difficult phone calls. After that I may get another short period of increased productivity, and then I will need space for my temper; it is not a good time for me to deal with clients who don’t pay on time (for them, I mean).

Finding a full time / office job that would give me the freedom to organise my time and my work into 28 day blocks would be next to impossible, and would massively contribute to the guilt I feel for not being on “top form” 24/7 and in turn worsen my symptoms. And so…

It reduces the guilt

The last time I worked in an office, I spent the majority of my time ‘on-edge’ and feeling guilty. Guilty for needing flexibility, guilty for needing mental support and compassion for nearly 2 weeks of every four, guilty for feeling like I was letting my team down, and for a long time just guilty for the inability to put a name to the problem that I had.

I was very privileged to work for a boss who was understanding and supportive, but even the most compassionate of people have to draw a line when their profits and productivity are threatened. I avoid most of this as a freelancer by utilising the flexibility of hours and schedule, as mentioned, which lessens the burden and eases the symptoms.

I can choose my clients

Beyond sculpting my schedule into something that works for me, I help avoid inter-cycle flare-ups by working with only people who are sympathetic to my needs. It doesn’t have to be someone who’s intimately familiar with mental health issues or working with someone with PMDD, rather just a case of finding clients who are fine receiving an email at 8pm rather than 8am, or who trust that I can balance out a shit day with more great days in return.

Picking my own clients also allows me to reject people who I don’t think I’ll get along with either through a conflict of beliefs or simply mismatched personalities. It’s so much easier to produce great work for great clients and feel good about it.

I can choose my own path

Conventional advice would have us believe that to optimise your ‘wellness’ and ‘work / life balance’ you have to set strict boundaries, never reply to e-mails outside of the 9—5, never get personal with clients or allow work into your “home life”. That’s great if it works for other people, but if I never replied to emails outside of the 9—5 I’d miss out on a chunk of my day when I’m at my best (or busy doing the school run). If I didn’t get personal with clients I wouldn’t have the great relationships that I have with some of them.

It’s not for everyone, but my balance and my wellness comes from ignoring the conventional and choosing my own rules and my own path.

Lead photo by Tim Goedhart

7 Ways to Make Fitness Stick in 2018

1. Find a reason

A reason that isn’t just “being thin”. Not that there’s anything wrong with losing weight if you feel your health and wellbeing is negatively affected by your current weight, but a lot of people make the mistake of deciding they’ll lose some arbitary amount of weight and then find that when (if) they reach that magic number that it’s not actually all it’s cracked up to be. Being skinny isn’t a cure-all.

When I first started running and weightlifting, my reason was to be physically fit and strong when mentally I was anything but. Physical strength was my way of keeping my body alive. (Mental wellness was a surprisingly addictive side effect.) Finding a reason kept me going even on days where I struggled to get out of bed, and always gave me something to fall back on when I hit rock bottom.

Your reason doesn’t have to be quite this ‘deep’, but having that “something” will give you motivation & purpose.

2. Find a sport

A lot of people use running as the go-to sport of choice when they first start. Running is awesome – and good for you – but not everyone likes running. Forcing yourself to run even if you despise it won’t help you stick with it long term. There are literally thousands of sports and activities you can try: you don’t have to run unless you want to.

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Martial arts can be a great cardio workout, and post-grading selfies are not compulsory.

With that said, I would recommend sticking out whatever you choose for at least 3-4 weeks. If you’re currently leading a sedentary lifestyle, most things are going to suck in the beginning while your body adjusts and you find your pace. Don’t write something off after a few days because you’ve got a few aches or you’re not immediately running like Mo Farah.

3. Find a buddy

Find a friend who doesn’t care when you go “gym wanker” on them.

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That time my instabuddies made me go to the gym

Find someone who you can either work out with if you can, but mostly find someone who will keep you accountable. Someone who will check in on you to find out how your progress is going, and who will not tune out when you rant that you have a blister on your big toe or you’ve hit a plateau under the bar. The key is to find someone who makes you feel like you’re doing something worthwhile, so that when the initial novelty wears off and your willpower is wearing thin (because willpower alone won’t make this stick) you don’t just give up.

This doesn’t even have to be someone offline; every sport I’ve ever been involved with has a massive online community of passionate folk who will have your back when you need it. I personally track a lot of my workouts via dodgy selfies on instagram, and love the feedback I get from fellow gym-goers.

4. Find a goal

When you have your reasons for working out, for running, for dancing, for zumba, for whatever it is you decide to call “your” sport, then you can set yourself a goal.

Real, tangible goals give you something to work towards. It could be something as simple as run 5km without stopping, or as lofty as getting yourself marathon ready. Set a specific goal, and even break it down into milestones if you can, and you have something long term to aim for that not only stops you flailing about aimlessly achieving nothing, but also provides motivation and allows you to track actual measurable progress.

In addition to the benefits of actually setting the goal, meeting a goal gives you an excuse to treat yourself. For some people, meeting a goal is its own reward, but if you’re a little more materially minded you might want to consider putting your sights on something physical: new running trainers if you run a 10km, a new fitness tracker if you manage to do a half marathon, or even something completely random… whatever floats your particular boat.

5. Find inspiration

One of the ways I stay dedicated to a particular goal, particularly in months where I feel like my progress is stalling or I’m just not quite good enough (and that will happen), is to follow athletes who participate in similar sports on instagram. When I wanted to get past my 60kg squat plateau I watched videos of crossfitters and weightlifters squatting massive weights and breaking world records. I squatted 100kg this Christmas.

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“Off my tits on dopamine post-100kg squat high” selfie

You don’t have to be on instagram to get inspired. Most professional and semi-professional sports persons have facebook pages, twitter profiles etc. Find someone who’s doing it like you want to and follow them for that dose of “fitspo”.

(Word of warning: don’t get sucked into the rabbit hole that is “thinspiration“. It’s dangerous.)

6. Find a routine

When the novelty of a lifestyle change is wearing thin and it’s cold and wet outside and your well of motivation has run dry, there’s only one thing that’s going to make you get out of bed and hit the tarmac or drag your butt to the gym: by making your new sport a continuous part of your routine, or more simply, by making it a habit.

There’s tons of small snippets of advice on how to build good, strong habits online so I won’t repeat it all, but for me the basics are as follows:

  • Plan ahead to when your best time of day is, and fit your sport in then. For me this is directly after the school run on a Monday and Friday, before I even touch my laptop or look at what chores need doing.
  • Make it easy to do by prepping anything you need in advance. I always lay out my workout clothes the night before, and I always wear them on the school run so that I can head straight out.
  • Don’t make poor excuses to miss out early on. If it’s a bit cold out, put a coat on. If you’ve got a bit of a sniffle, take a tissue. If you’re tired, suck it up, you might end up with a much needed boost.
  • If you have to skip a session, never skip it twice. It’s just a downward spiral from there.

There’s lots of science behind habit building and I recommend having a bit of a google to find out more.

7. Find yourself

Cheesy? Probably. However, the times in my life I have been most consistent with my exercise and most dedicated to my current goal are the times I feel the best me that I can be.

Exercise has massive positive benefits on many aspects of your wellbeing and I’m my own living proof of that. Nothing feels as good to me as physical and mental wellness and that’s a privilege I do not take for granted, so I owe it to myself to keep going.

Reflecting on a Rollercoaster Year

I can’t really think of any other way of describing 2017?

Starting the year with a massive unexpected tax bill (sound familiar?) was an uphill battle – a chain lift, dragging the rollercoaster car to the top of steep hill – following by rocketing at speed towards lows like the loss of yet more pets and the suicide of another brother, struggles with excessive drinking and my mental health issues chipping away at my sanity. Each low interspersed with heart-pounding highs: achievements in the gym and with my fitness, including reaching green belt at Taekwon-do and smashing massive squat goals (90kg and 100kg over Christmas!); accepting my bisexuality and how this affects my identity; and completing some of my best work yet both for myself and for local design agencies.

I didn’t manage to learn Dutch, or run a marathon (not that I am surprised by the latter) and I didn’t manage to blog more, but I did survive. I survived and, despite some crazy lows, not only did I survive but I kicked arse: I worked hard and I played hard.

Gaz has gifted me a year at the gym for my upcoming birthday. I’m so excited at the prospect that I can continue to build and shape myself in 2018 without having to worry about scraping change for a gym session. It should give me the chance to firm up a proper lifting plan, to work in the deadlifts and bench press both of which I typically avoid, and to make and break some crazy goals.

On top of time under iron, 2018 has to be the year that I finish with enough money to sort my taxes in January 2019: to be able to pay my dues and have enough for the payments on account, which screw me over year after year. This is not only important to reduce my stress levels but because I want to move house soon: to have a bigger kitchen, for my babies to have their own space and to finally move on from certain parts of my past which are tied up in shit memories here.

Beyond that I think I need to just carry on being my awesome self. Shouldn’t be too hard, right?

Featured image photo by Priscilla Du Preez

The Best Laid Plans

Diet plans, that is. Last week, I decided to get a head start on the January fitness rush by getting a “customised” nutrition plan from a personal trainer through his website. I have done so much reading on fuelling my workouts and weight loss, weight gain, maintenance etc that it took several weeks of convincing myself to even justify the cost (not exactly breaking the bank at £35) but as with most things in life, I doubt my own ability to put my knowledge and ability into something workable. There’s also something reassuring about having the back-up of someone who does this as a living.

Nonetheless, my excitement was short-lived when I saw the plan. There’s nothing wrong with it, per se, but it’s clearly just a generic template with my macros worked out and inserted in the form of varying size portions of chicken and veg spread over SIX MEALS A DAY. I know that I need to fuel my workouts, but I also need to run a business, raise my children, take care of my ‘zoo’, fulfil my volunteer responsibilities, etc. I barely have time to sit down and eat 3 meals a day (and so generally don’t!) and so 6 meals is never going to work.

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Such chicken. So wow. Much gains.

Despite my cynicism, it’s still a breakdown of what I need in terms of protein/carbs/cals etc that I’ve never had the mental energy to work out myself, and so I’m determined to see it through for at least the first 4 weeks (Christmas Day indulgences aside). I’ve “cheated” and modified the plan based on the stats provided, doubling up a couple of the meals to bring me down to 4 meals a day, which is eminently more workable. I can’t find any science to justify eating 6 meals a day, aside from the possible issue of maxing out protein absorption, but as I’m eating more protein than I normally would I can’t imagine that negatively impacting my workouts, which is my main concern anyway.

On that note, Fitness Savvy got in touch with me this month to mention some supplement giveaways they’re running to celebrate their launch; there’s more information on their Facebook page (I’ve not been compensated for mentioning this, it’s just “of interest” to much of my audience…)

With my upcoming nutrition in the bag, the next step is to figure out how to take my fitness forward. I have a couple of races booked in 2018, but as I’ve demonstrated time and time again I absolutely suck at training for them, somehow winging 10ks and half marathons by the skin of my teeth. I’ve tentatively considered getting up half an hour earlier each morning to clock a steady 5k – my logic being that although short in distance, some running is better than no running – but I’m not a morning person by any stretch of the imagination and the prospect terrifies me.

On top of that, having cracked the bodyweight squat earlier this year (and beyond) I’d like to reintroduce deadlifts to my routine in 2018 and beast a bodyweight deadlift. I stopped doing them because I was worried about my form, but I have so many resources available to me to fix this, I just need to suck it up and ask for help. I’d also like to start benching, which is something I’m terrified off.

Lofty goals.

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.

Death, Depression and Drink

Content warning: suicide, mental health, addiction

On Wednesday I sat down and mentally compiled a tribute to my brother, whilst assembling an IKEA table. There’s something strangely therapeutic about putting flat-pack furniture together (at least when I’m doing it by myself).

My brother, Robert ‘Bobby’ Addison, took his own life some time around the 21st-22nd July. Securely fixed a piece of wood between the rafters in his loft directly above the access hatch, attached the rope, and… well, you get the idea. Obviously something he’d planned out; who just happens to have a piece of wood exactly the right width to slot between the rafters just sat around the house? He was found on the 25th by a neighbour.

Although we were once close, my relationship with my brother was complicated. He had extensive mental health issues, in part exacerbated by the suicide of our eldest brother Ian back in 2000, the fallout of which (long story short) broke down his relationships, his connections with his children, family and friends.

I hadn’t seen him in 7 years, since Isabel was tiny; bumped into him in a local shopping centre. I kept meaning to write, to find him, but put it off: I wasn’t sure I could cope with the risk of introducing someone explosive into my children’s lives, and I felt I needed to ensure the safety of his children too.

Part of me feels like I shouldn’t be talking about this – we’ve not even had the funeral yet. But how do we break down barriers about mental health if we don’t talk about it? Particularly when someone with issues is left with no support network. Yes, actions have consequences, but where do we draw the line if it means potentially saving someone’s life?

Anyway. Bobby had threatened suicide multiple times since 2000. Part of me was sure he’d never go through with it. I liked to believe that he would not want to put us through “it” all over again. But if you feel ostracised, if you feel nobody cares, would that have even crossed his mind? Either way, having to deal with a suicidal brother for 17 years… it numbs you. I grieved for him again and again, every time I thought it was the end. Watching him jump in front of a moving train. Seeing him surrounded by drugs and drink. Every text telling me he’d had enough, that he couldn’t cope, that he didn’t want to be here without Ian. I cried and I grieved and then he didn’t die, he missed the train, he survived the drug cocktails.

And now he’s gone, and I expected to grieve once more, and mostly all I feel is a complicated mess of shock, regret, and relief that he is finally free from his pain.

Unfortunately, being relieved doesn’t make this shit any easier. I have been drinking. Not “bottle of vodka on a school night” drinking, but drinking nonetheless. I use it to escape my head, my own mental health, but it’s cowardly and it doesn’t work. I have also slacked off at the gym and avoided people and responsibilities.

I like to think that I have the self-awareness to nip the unhealthy behaviours in the bud before they get to a “point of no return”. (And by self-awareness, I mean my habit of constantly over-analysing the minutiae of my life and then wondering why I have so much going on in my head that I can’t escape from.)

I like to think that having the privilege of a support network, of an unwavering rock of a husband, of friends who are there for me 24 hours a day, and a counsellor who willingly listens to my swear-filled rants punctuated with sobs and sniffles… that all of this means I will go on. That I will grieve, that time will heal the wounds of regret, that I will forgive myself for not being there.

Until then? One day at a time.

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”.

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.

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