Understanding

Would You Wish Away Your Illness?

Would You Wish Away Your Mental Illness?

Someone recently asked on Twitter, would you get rid of your mental illness if you could? You can read the original thread and the replies here.

Fairly obviously, my instant reaction and answer was yes and I’d question the motives of anyone who’d say otherwise. However, I started thinking on it a bit further and realised that the answer isn’t quite so simple. I don’t think I’d ever say no to getting rid of my mental illnesses but I’m not sure it’s a 100% yes, especially not if it meant that I’d never had them. While I would never sign up for being ill, would never wish it on anyone else and have spent countless hours, days and probably weeks of my life wishing it away, the experience of it has changed me and not all of those ways have been for the worst. I’ll point out here that I’m not grateful for these experiences, this isn’t some evangelical post where I change your point of view about suffering and “teach” you that really it’s an “opportunity for growth and learning”. It’s not. Suffering is exactly that, suffering. It involves being uncomfortable and worse and it’s sure as hell not something I want to have to continue to experience (albeit I don’t have a choice about that one), or something I’d sign up for again. However, without the experiences that I’ve had because of mental illness, I wouldn’t be who I am today. I’m a firm believer that we are a product of our experiences and so without them we wouldn’t be the same.

I would never have done a psychology degree without becoming mentally ill. Mental illness and the way the brain worked weren’t even on my radar until I developed depression right before my 16th birthday. I was going to pursue geology and hoped to work on oil rigs getting very rich whilst discovering oil around the world. If not that then I was going to become a scientist or teacher. I wasn’t going to work with sick people. Not ever!

If I hadn’t become mentally ill then I wouldn’t have been forced to take a gap year. I wouldn’t have gone to the same university. I wouldn’t have met the friends I did on my degree course. I wouldn’t have met my partner, Joe, the man I hope to spend the rest of my life with. I wouldn’t have saved lives at work.

Without becoming mentally ill, I wouldn’t now be a carer for my Grandad. I wouldn’t have the understanding I do about his condition (Posterior Cortical Atrophy, a rare form of Alzheimer’s) and I wouldn’t be able to support my Nana in her role as his primary carer. I wouldn’t be able to explain his behaviour to her or be as understanding and sympathetic to him when he tells me the same story or asks me the same question for the umpteenth time. (For the record, I don’t mean that one needs to be or have been mentally ill in order to do these things, simply that they wouldn’t have occurred for me had I not been). I would be working a normal job and have very little spare time to even visit them, let alone spend time in a caring role two or more days a week.

If not for mental illness, I wouldn’t have created my blog or my social media channels, I wouldn’t be helping others and I wouldn’t be as nice as I am. I was a very opinionated child who thought they knew it all and would have quite happily voiced my almost certainly stigmatised views about anyone else who was mentally ill. I would have thought they just needed to pull themselves together and snap out of it, to be stronger willed and to just get on with it and suck it up. I wouldn’t have been half as empathetic and sympathetic as I am now. I would have remained far more ignorant and arrogant. I also wouldn’t have learnt about others as much as I have because through being mentally ill I’ve learnt to ask questions, to not assume, and to find out directly from others about their experiences and motivations.

If not for mental illness, I don’t actually know who or where I’d be, I don’t know what I would have become or what I would be doing but I know it would be different and I know I wouldn’t be as caring. I’ve always tried to remain separate from my conditions, to have them but for them not to have me and more importantly, for them not to become me. But, when you’ve lived with something for such a long time, there’s no way that it won’t affect you. You can’t stop it from seeping in and from making changes. There are the obvious changes like the constant worry, the dark thoughts and the incessant need for control but you don’t notice the more subtle changes or the positive ones and you’re never quite sure whether they’d have happened regardless or are purely a result of the conditions. If not for mental illness, I wouldn’t have self-harm scars, I’d have eyebrows and eyelashes because I wouldn’t be incessantly pulling them out due to Trichotillomania, I wouldn’t have had an eating disorder. But I also wouldn’t have the friends that I met when I was an inpatient, I wouldn’t have got into most of the hobbies I have now including photography, colouring and crochet, and I wouldn’t have the problem-solving abilities that only someone who’s imagined every single possible and impossible scenario can develop.

There are many ways in which my life would be better if I weren’t and never had been mentally ill, I’d be in full-time work, I’d be well on my way to owning a property, I probably wouldn’t have completely written off the idea of having biological children and I’d be able to do anything and everything I wanted to without the restrictions of my conditions. But I don’t think I’d notice all of the little things I do, I don’t think I’d be as observant, as grateful, or as driven and determined as I am. There’s little else that will focus you quite as much as having to fight through adversity.

As I started off by saying, I wouldn’t wish this on anybody and I’d wish it away in a heartbeat but I’m not sure that I could wish away all of the ways in which it’s changed my life because without mental illness, I’m not sure I’d be the same person, I’m not sure I’d be who I am, and I’m not sure I’d even like who that was and so when answering whether I’d get rid of my mental illness if I could then the answer is yes…..but….. The things that I’ve gone through are in the past, even the things that happened yesterday or even a minute ago and so I’d allow those, I’d wish away the conditions right now but I’d want the changes that have occurred to stay. I couldn’t have studied a better degree, I couldn’t have met better friends, I couldn’t have wished for a better partner and I couldn’t have picked a better field to get a career within and without mental illness I’d have none of those. So I’m really ready to no longer be mentally ill, to have mental illness as part of my past rather than my present or future, but I wouldn’t change much at all about the past because if I did, I wouldn’t be who I am today and much as that includes being a huge heap of worry, anxiety, and nervous energy, I couldn’t be prouder of how kind and caring I am and the fact that I’m turning the negatives of my own conditions into positives to help others who are suffering too.

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Insomnia and Mental Illness: Its Impact and Effects – Video Post

My latest video about insomnia and its effects on mental health. Going through a severe phase of it for about 2 months is now leading to personality changes and an inability to tolerate much and this video goes into detail about the impact this has on my life and my health.

Considering Self Harm? Here's What You Need To Know First

Considering Self-Harm? Here’s What You Need to Know First.

This post may be a little triggering for those who self-harm, however, I have tried to write it sensitively and most certainly haven’t glorified it or written about it in a positive light, nor have I vilified or criticised it. Please take care if you choose to read it and seek support if necessary.

I’m guessing that the readers of this post will mostly fit into one of two categories, either you’re considering self-harm, or you’re wanting to know why someone would consider self-harm. Hopefully I can help both groups. Self-harm is the act of harming oneself, in any of a multitude of ways, which causes pain and either temporary or permanent injury. I’m not going to list all the ways in which this is done and I’d seriously advise against looking a list up too because it just tempts those of us considering it to think of ever more inventive ways of harming and researching this topic can make you more likely to think about self-harm and ultimately do it. If you’re seriously considering self-harm then please read the whole of this post before acting on your thoughts because this is what I, and others I know, wish I had known before I hurt myself for the first time.

It’s Addictive
The first thing you need to know which I wish I’d known before starting is that it’s addictive. Yes, you read that right, hurting yourself becomes addictive and while most of us start doing it in order to exert some control and express pain, it quickly becomes addictive and out of control and rapidly becomes part of the problem which doubles the number of issues you’re dealing with. It’s addictive because it releases adrenaline and along with adrenaline you can get a release of endorphins, just like when you do intense exercise or overcome a fearful situation, you get a high afterwards because of the hormones coursing through your system. The problem is, that these highs get shorter and shorter and you therefore have to harm yourself more often or more severely in order to get the same effect. I have a long history of cutting myself, never severely enough to need stitches or any sort of medical treatment but I went from doing it once a fortnight to 4 times a day and running out of “safe” spaces to cut myself quicker than I was getting relief from it. It rapidly stopped helping me and became a problem of its own and a huge part of this was because I became addicted to it and when I was actively harming myself I would obsessively think over how, where and when I next could. It was a really dark few years of my life and not something I wish to repeat.

People finding out
Once you start, you’re pretty much starting a timer until someone around you finds out. This is never easy. It never gets easier. I still remember so many of the incidents of people around me finding out I was cutting myself at 16 and 11 years on I try very hard to not remember them because it still causes me pain to relive those moments. Seeing the pain and hurt on other people’s faces is really tough, feeling guilt, fear, feeling like you’ve let them down is really hard and I can guarantee that you will feel that way. When you’re young it’s very difficult to cover up any injuries and people aren’t half as stupid as you might think, the excuses of a cat scratching you or falling into something will only work once or twice, they won’t work multiple times a week and people react very badly when they find out that you’ve lied to them. Many take it very personally and blame themselves. In many ways, people finding out is the best solution because then you don’t have to deal with the problem on your own anymore but this assumes that whoever finds out is understanding and sympathetic, that may well not be the case because most of the time they’ll find out by accident, when you’re caught off guard and the situation will shock you both and neither of you is likely to react well under those circumstances.

Education and Work Problems
Self-harm isn’t accepted in education or workplace settings. If you are found out to self-harm at school, college, uni or work then you could be asked to leave. You will have to disclose your history of self-harm on occupational health forms which then leads to a fun chat with someone from occupational health at each company you work for having to explain to you that it’s unacceptable to self-harm at work or school and that any injuries must be sufficiently covered up not to arouse suspicion and that if you’re found to be self-harming within the institution that your contract or course will be terminated. This isn’t fun for anybody involved, it’s not the end of the world but it’s another thing that I wasn’t aware of until after I’d started and it was too late. I’ve never self-harmed anywhere other than my own home and was rarely tempted to do so either but if your main coping strategy is self-harming and something triggers you while you’re at work or school then you’re going to need to have a very good plan in place for how you’re going to cope with that without breaking those rules and jeopardising your future.

Scars
Scars don’t fade half as much as you think. I convinced myself that the scars would go really quickly each time and that I wouldn’t be left with any permanent reminders. This isn’t the case. Some do fade really quickly and keeping your injuries clean, allowing them to heal as quickly as possible and moisturising your skin certainly helps but most scars don’t disappear quickly at all. I had chickenpox scars as a child, all of which have gone, I don’t have a mark on me from the various times I must have scraped my knees or ended up with accidental injuries that every child accrues. But self-harm does cause scars and you need to be aware that while you might be fine with that now when you’re feeling desperate and looking for anything that might offer temporary relief, you may well not be fine with it later. Personally, I’ve made peace with my scars, I know that those actions kept me alive and if they don’t fade any more than they have then I’m ok with that but some of them I do wish weren’t there. I’ve got scars on my right leg that are very obviously from self-harm and that can make me quite self-conscious in any sort of swimsuit. I also have them on my left forearm and these are faded but noticeable and people, especially inquisitive children, do sometimes ask and it’s a bit tricky to think up excuses on the spot or decide whether you’re going to tell the truth. Scars are a very permanent reminder of how bad you felt, sometimes they can help remind you of what you’ve overcome and in that way they can almost be positive, but they’re also a constant reminder of how bad things got and a reminder of that coping strategy having been an option even years after you’ve managed to stop. People aren’t always very understanding about self-injury scars and can be pretty judgemental and you need to also be aware that if you have them in very prominent places that are tricky to cover up, these may possibly cause you problems with employment and possibly other opportunities.

Excuses and lying
Unfortunately, self-harm turns the most truthful of us into liars. I’ve always prided myself on telling the truth and always being honest but I absolutely wasn’t when I was self-harming. I couldn’t be. It’s not nice having to keep secrets from people or outright lie to them and then come up with excuses for why you’re wearing long sleeves in summer or flinching when someone hugs you too tight. When you’re suffering from mental illness you can feel really lonely and isolated, self-harm just makes this worse, you feel detached from people, you don’t want them getting too close to you physically or mentally and the lying drives a wedge in ever further. When it eventually comes out that you’ve been lying it can take ages to rebuild trust because most of the people around you won’t understand that you were only lying to cover up the self-harm, they’ll think that you can’t be trusted about anything and that’s beyond infuriating and upsetting. You’ll spend countless hours trying to think up excuses, work out outfits that won’t arouse suspicion and engineer situations so that you don’t have to change clothes in front of people or stick to a uniform code. It’s endless and it just exacerbates the stress and underlying conditions that you were originally trying to cope with.

It’s often mistaken for a suicide attempt
This is a difficult section to write because there are kind of two distinct types of self-harm, there is the type that is used for relief, to express pain and to help cope and then there is the more suicidal type which is either a suicide attempt or a very serious cry for help which requires immediate intervention. Many people think that all self-harm is a cry for help and this isn’t true but equally it should never be dismissed or viewed as attention seeking. Some people do harm themselves and then get deliberately “caught” because they don’t know how else to express the pain they’re experiencing. This isn’t done for dramatic effect, it’s done as a last-ditch attempt to get help and to have their feelings noticed, validated, and hopefully treated! Be warned that if you do decide to self-harm it’s a slippery slope and it’s often mis-interpreted by those around you who don’t understand the thought processes behind it. To someone who’s never self-harmed or even considered it, this world is very alien and it’s something they’ll never fully understand, they simply can’t, but once they know you’ve been covering it up, lying and making excuses and that in their mind you “can’t be trusted” they’ll make all sorts of assumptions and jump to all sorts of conclusions and this can mean that the situation gets escalated way beyond your control, really quickly. It’s really scary suddenly being unable to control what’s happening to you and you may get forced to go to the doctors or hospital and if you’re deemed enough of a risk to yourself you may be asked to go into hospital either as a voluntary/informal patient or under Section if you refuse and your risk is deemed high. While this is often necessary, it’s not nice to be on the receiving end of. I’ve worked with countless numbers of patients who this has happened to and it’s really hard for them to come to terms with and can cause a temporary deterioration because they feel so let down or betrayed or misunderstood. Learning more positive coping strategies rather than resorting to self-harm is the absolute best option and while it may not be such a “quick fix”, it will be infinitely more useful in the long run.

So, what can you do instead? There are heaps of things you can do that might help and different things work for different people so just because one thing doesn’t help doesn’t mean that the rest won’t. Some people need to feel pain and so pinching themselves or snapping a rubber band on their wrist can help. Others need the adrenaline and therefore doing high intensity exercise is a great, healthy alternative, especially high impact activities like running or boxing where you’re physically exerting energy, stress, and any bad feelings you’re currently experiencing. Often, self-harm is used as a way to express pain that you don’t know how else to express, learning to talk about these feelings or write them down or draw them can be really beneficial. Distraction is also a great tool and especially activities that use your hands so that you’re not tempted to start hurting yourself, things like adult colouring, knitting, crochet, sewing, baking, anything that uses your hands in a repetitive way is a great thing to keep you distracted and keep your hands busy and safe. Steer clear of activities that involve using risky objects for you, the less temptation you have around you, the better. Don’t make implements easy to get hold of, if you use something specific to hurt yourself then make it inaccessible, don’t get rid of it unless you want to because sometimes just knowing you could hurt yourself is enough to make you delay doing it or even not do it at all so removing all implements is not necessarily the best option but make it difficult to access them so that you can’t do it without thinking. Wrap them up, put them in a box, put them at the back of your wardrobe or under your bed with stuff dumped on top so that you have to go to some effort to reach it and in the process be thinking about whether you actually want to do it at all. If you’re going to hurt yourself, do it safely, make sure what you’re using is clean and that you keep any injuries clean too and if you think you’ve gone too far then please seek medical help. We’ve all heard horror stories of people seeking medical help and being treated very badly but times are changing and most medical staff are better trained now to deal with self-injury and help rather than judge. Please seek help if you need it. Some of the best ways of coping are simply to try to delay hurting yourself. Saying you’re never doing it again is really difficult and most of us who’ve managed to stop haven’t actually made that choice. While I’ve not harmed myself in at least 3 years, I haven’t written off the possibility of doing so again in the future and actually, by knowing it’s an option, it makes it much less likely that I’ll actually act on it. In many ways it’s like dieting, if I told you that you could never eat a cake again then all you’d think about or crave is cake, whereas if I told you that you could have cake whenever you liked and there was always a cupcake waiting in your freezer to be defrosted then you might find it much easier to have it in an hour, or three, or tomorrow, or next week, knowing it’s an option makes it much easier for most people to not have to act on it right away.

Finally, if you want to talk about how you’re feeling but don’t feel able to do this with anyone you know then please do contact a helpline or charity, there are heaps of them out there and they deal with issues like this all day, every day and have lots of training to be able to listen and help. It’s amazing the difference that can be made just by knowing that a stranger has volunteered to spend their time talking to people like you in the hopes that it might brighten your day just a little, it’s at least worth giving a try. This doesn’t just have to be done by phone, many charities now offer a huge range of talking services including face-to-face talking, phonecalls, texting, email, live online chat and more. If none of this has manged to put you off self-harming then fair enough, it wasn’t specifically aimed at doing that, I just wanted to write the post that I wish I’d have been able to read before starting, I’m not sure that knowing all of this would have stopped me but I’m sure I’d have started later and I’d have been better prepared and less scared about what came next so I hope that this has helped in that way.

If you know someone who you suspect or know is self-harming then try not to panic and please talk to them. Find out their motivations and find out how serious they are, accidents can happen when self-harming and those in deep despair don’t always make the greatest choices about hurting themselves in safer ways, try to find out the extent of the problem and advise them if you can. If you’re worried then seek professional help but try to be as honest as possible with the person because going behind their back will only cause more problems. The absolute best thing you can do is talk about it so that the person is no longer struggling alone. Show them you care and don’t berate or criticise their self-harm; they’re not doing it to you, they’re not ‘acting up’ and they’re very unlikely to be doing it for attention. Self-harm is almost always an expression of feelings that are overwhelming, unbearable, and intense and we need help to discover healthy and safe ways of expressing and dealing with this pain, not judgement for the way we’re currently handling it which is the only way we know how. You can make such a difference just by talking, listening, and showing that you care.

Coping with Unexpected Things – What Happens When You’re Mentally Ill? – Video Post

This video was recorded on the 28th of August 2018. Coping with unexpected things can be a real challenge but when you’re mentally ill it really throws you off course. Something as small as a leak can ruin your day and even dealing with how to fix those things is harder when you’re coping with mental illness symptoms on top of trying to be rational and solve problems. This video explains what it’s like when these things happen and shows the effects it has on me, even hours after the event.

Update – Insomnia, Trichotillomania, IBS and Anxiety (27.08.18) – Video Post

This video was recorded a couple of days ago and gives an update on where I’m at now, both the good bits and the bad bits. Living with mental illness is very much like riding a rollercoaster, constantly up and down and always changing unexpectedly. As always, it’s a very honest account of how I’m doing and what’s going on for me, it’s not sugar-coated. And if you don’t get as far as the end then my plea there is for people to make suggestions for future video ideas so that I’m creating content that you actually want to watch so please do let me know in the comments or privately via the Contact Me tab what you’d like me to be talking about. Thank you.

Dear Psychiatrist – July 2018

Earlier this year, I was sent a letter by my psychiatrist stating that it had been 2 years since our last contact and asking me to update him about how I’m doing and whether they can provide any help. I struggled with this. 2 years is a long time, especially when you hadn’t realised it had been that long and trying to put down in words how I’m doing, how I’ve changed in 24 months, has been really difficult and something that actually made me quite anxious. This might surprise many of you because I blog and vlog about it (albeit not very regularly) but those are done on my terms, they’re about topics that are important to me, at a time that suits me, when it feels right. And often, I take months or even years to hone posts and finally share them with the world. I had originally planned to write the letter the same week I had received his but somehow weeks went by and after writing two thirds of it I just drew a blank. Much as I’m always open and honest, I don’t think on a day-to-day basis about how I am. It’s a running joke with my Nana and close friends that I really have to think properly when they ask me how I am because I’m so used to either saying I’m fine or people not even asking. Seeing how I am in black and white, in polarised terms about improvement and deterioration isn’t easy and having to face the fact that I expected to be back at work and well by now, or at least well on my way there, has been really hard. I had no intention of showing this letter to anyone other than my psychiatrist, and Joe, who I got to proof read it and check it was accurate. It was Joe who suggested I should share it here. I’ve been quite reluctant and despite getting him to take it in to my psychiatrist a few days ago, I’ve just had the Word document sat open on my laptop, not quite ready to post and not quite ready to close it and file it away. It’s nearly 1am and for whatever reason, I’ve finally decided to bite the bullet, to listen and trust in Joe’s wisdom and share this here now. In some ways I think it makes me sound worse than I am but Joe thinks the opposite, that depending on what people focus on in my words, it may well give a less accurate picture and sound like I’m better than I am so hopefully you’ll read it just as it is, the good and the bad, without giving one more weight than the other. I often think that I’m so used to this now, so used to being ill, that I can no longer give an accurate picture, no longer compare to “normal”, or life before these conditions because the memory of that is so faded and distant. Hopefully it’ll give you a bit of a picture of how I am now though and another snapshot into my life.

 

Dear Psychiatrist,

Thank you for your recent letter. Sadly, there isn’t a lot to report in terms of progress or improvement. When I wrote to you 2 years ago, I fully expected to be well on my way to recovery by now but that hasn’t been the case. Having now been ill with these conditions for over 4 years, I’m starting to notice patterns of improvement and deterioration though I seem to have little to no control over these. Certain times of year are worse for me due to increased external demands and I struggle greatly when under pressure or when demands are placed on me. Having said that, I’m doing well at maintaining a mostly positive mood and keeping my depression at bay. I do my best to keep busy and keep my mind occupied with productive tasks so I get a sense of achievement and satisfaction. I do a lot of creative activities including baking, crochet and adult colouring. I am also doing what I can to help others suffering from mental illness and run two blogs and more recently a YouTube channel where I am constantly pushing my boundaries in order to create content to raise awareness, increase understanding and decrease stigma. I remain motivated and hopeful of recovery.

I am also a carer for my Grandad who has Alzheimer’s and go as regularly as I can to my grandparents’ house nearby to look after him. Despite them living in their house for my whole life and me visiting on a weekly basis, my anxiety about doing this has not lessened. For periods it seems to ease up and then comes back with a vengeance and I can identify no reasons for either the positive or negative changes. Currently, I’m feeling more capable and confident whilst at their house and am worrying for less time beforehand and it’s not as severe which is a welcome improvement. I don’t know why this has changed and sadly in the past this has always been temporary but I’m enjoying it while it lasts and trying to maintain and improve my abilities as much as possible whilst not getting my hopes up too high that this will last this time. My IBS has been exacerbated by the anxiety and fairly regularly leaves me unable to leave the flat even when I feel mentally capable of doing so. Last January, I bought a new camera and took up photography. This has been a great tool for helping me stay outside and remaining calm for longer because it provides a great focus and distraction and also requires concentration to get good shots. There are times when I can go out for hours taking photographs with Joe or my mum but it doesn’t get easier and has no consistency; almost every time feels like the first time when I’m trying to get out of my front door. I know the research says that practice makes perfect, that systematic desensitisation will work but that really isn’t my experience though I do still persevere and fight as hard as I can to do as much as possible as often as I can.

The focus of my anxiety seems to periodically shift with one aspect easing up while another gets worse so as soon as I seem to learn a strategy to reduce one lot of anxieties, another lot pops up. For the last year, I have struggled less with being outside in people-free areas thanks to doing photography but I’ve become increasingly anxious about health, getting ill and getting food poisoning. My eating habits have changed, I’m much more cautious about what I eat and have a huge fear of being around anyone exhibiting any symptoms of illness, even a cold. It’s exhausting trying to keep up with the constant changes and having to explain these to others while not even understanding them myself.

In terms of help, if there’s anything I can be offered either in my home or remotely then I’d really like to know. I stopped the therapy I was having via Skype over 18 months ago as it really wasn’t helping and I was making no progress so I’m now dealing with this pretty much alone apart from the support from a dwindling number of relatives and friends. I’m doing a very good job of getting through each day, albeit with a huge amount of difficulty and discomfort but I’m not improving, just changing and trying to adapt to each change. My Support Worker still visits occasionally and I really appreciate those visits and very much look forward to them, I really hope they can continue. Although I’m not improving, having a professional to talk to and check in with and also have a link back into psychiatric services when I’m well enough again to attend appointments is really important to me. If you have any suggestions of things I could be doing to help myself improve then I would appreciate them, I am nowhere near well enough to attend group therapy or any kind of appointments, as I mentioned before, I still struggle every time to visit my grandparents at set times and any kind of deadline or time pressure causes me overwhelming anxiety and increased IBS symptoms and attacks, but if there are any self-help tips or resources I should be made aware of then I would really like to know.

Just to make you aware, my GP has now left my surgery and I don’t know who I’m under the care of now, I’ve not met any of the doctors currently practising there. I do not want to be discharged back to their care and wish to remain under yours so that I don’t have to go through the lengthy waiting list process again when I’m eventually well enough to attend appointments and engage with services. I know you’ve not suggested discharging me, I just wanted to make it very clear that my wishes are to remain within your services.

Kind regards,

Lucy

Letter to Myself 10 Years Ago – Age 27 and a Half

Today I was reminded about a post suggestion I followed a couple of years ago to write 50 words to yourself 10 years ago. 50 words is nothing like enough now but I wondered how different that might look, 2 years on. I realised that 10 years ago I was in the midst of severe depression and very very ill so here’s my letter to Lucy of 10 years ago.

Dear Lucy,

You’re 17 and a half. For some reason the halves and quarters have always mattered to you. In fact, you recently described yourself as 27 and a half so it’s not something you’ll grow out of. You’re currently in hospital. You asked to go. You didn’t feel able to keep yourself safe anymore. You’re not sure at the moment if it was the right thing for you to do but I can tell you from the future that it’s one of the best decisions you ever made. You’ll meet some of the best, kindest, most normal people there. You’re still friends with some of them now. You’ll decide on a new career direction while you’re there, you’ll have a poignant conversation with some other patients and realise that your passion lies in helping people and the fire will be ignited in you that, 10 years on, is burning stronger and brighter than ever to make a difference to the lives of people with mental illness. I probably should have started this with a spoiler alert, I guess I’m wrecking all of the surprises. Sorry!

You’re struggling so much right now. You’re in so much pain. It does get better, I promise. But I know that right now it just feels like the worst thing ever and you’re wishing with everything in you that it would all just go away. You feel so alone, so misunderstood, so attacked and hurt by people around you. Some of that gets easier. You’re not alone in the future and you aren’t alone now. Let people in. Try to spend less time worrying about what other people think, I know it matters so much to you but it’s eating you up inside. Later this month you’ll be asked to create a “positive box” by the hospital, you’ll think it’s silly and you’ll only be able to write two positive things about yourself when you start but just watch what happens next, watch all of the patients and staff around you take time to write you messages, make you things, draw you pictures and give you gifts to put in your box so that it’s so full it almost won’t close. It’ll bring you so much comfort over the coming decade and it’s still kept safe now and is a treasured possession.

Listen to the staff. They care about you, even though you sometimes don’t realise it. They’re trying to help you. Eat the food. You’ve had an eating disorder for too long. You’re restricting yourself so much as punishment because you feel you don’t deserve nice things. It’s not true, you do! You’re so kind and caring, you put everyone else first, always, please stop punishing yourself with restricting food and self-harming. Spoiler alert again, this will get better, I can’t say if it’s permanent or not but right now, you’re a healthy weight, you no longer have a distorted body image and you haven’t self-harmed in years. The scars you’re so ashamed of currently are no longer something you feel embarrassed about or have to cover up. You’re happy to wear t-shirts and short-sleeved stuff and despite the scars on your leg that you’ll create when you’re 22, you still wear a bikini and finally realise how fabulous you look in it!

In 6 months you’ll start embarking on romantic relationships. It’s safe to say that these are not successful and some are still a source of embarrassment and shame. I won’t tell you what to do or not do, you wouldn’t listen. You need to go through all of that to realise what you want in life, to realise how you shouldn’t be treated and to eventually realise what you’re worth. Try to make sensible choices and stay true to yourself. Try not to regret anything. Take it from me, your “accidental anal” story will become legendary and the chlamydia test debacle will put more than a few of your friends at ease that their experience can’t possibly be more embarrassing than your own. All of these things make you an even better friend and when you get to my age I think you’ll be really proud of the friend you’ve been and still are.

I know you’re really struggling to stay alive right now. Even 10 years on I can still feel that ache in your chest, that desperation to find any small reason to stay alive, to not spend all of your time planning a way out that won’t involve causing yourself pain or hurt those around you. I know you think you want to die right now but years later you’ll realise that’s not true. You don’t want to die. You want to stop hurting. I don’t know how it happens, I can’t even pinpoint when, but gradually that pain does lessen. Gradually, you stop wishing for death. Get through each moment, each day, I promise you it will get better and you’ll never believe how good it is to not feel that weight on you all day every day.

You’re currently being told by a lot of people that you’re selfish. Deep down you know that’s not true but it’ll take a long while for that to sink in. Tell yourself every day that you’re not. It might just save you some heartache and might keep you more confident. You will realise eventually that you’re not selfish and you’re not self-absorbed either. The people telling you that are angry and they don’t understand your illnesses and so they’re lashing out in the hope that they can snap you out of it. You know it won’t work, eventually they realise that too, but right now it’s going to hurt like hell and you’ll spend way too many hours crying til you can’t see anymore and wishing even harder to disappear from the world. You won’t always feel that way and even though life at 27 and a half is a challenge that I wouldn’t even consider telling you about now, you’ll be helping people, you’ll be making a difference and no one will have called you selfish for a really long time.

You’re hearing voices and that’s ok. It’s terrifying and it’s something that you tell almost no one about because you’re convinced that you’re schizophrenic and you’ll get sectioned but it will be ok. You won’t get sectioned. You don’t have schizophrenia. And although you do get some worried reactions from people, no one leaves you because of it. You’re going to start hallucinating soon. You may have already started. It makes you feel like you’re going mad, like your mind is out to get you. It gets easier. You get used to it and it does stop, at least for the most part. Again, I don’t know when the voices stop, not for a while now but eventually they will and they certainly quieten and lessen over time. You’ll learn to over-power them, to drown them out or tell them they’re wrong. You’ll stop seeing hideous versions of your own suicide. The only hallucinations you’re left with in a decade are of bugs and those are only occasional and when you’re particularly tired. Quick tip – when that happens, go to bed, it’s a sign you’ve been up for way too long! You won’t be scared of it anymore and it isn’t anything sinister no matter how much it feels like it must be right now. You won’t believe this but it’ll actually help you with your future work, all of these experiences will help you be an awesome nursing assistant and they’ll help you to relate to patients and be understanding and empathetic. When you’re working in the future you’ll actually consider being grateful for these experiences because by then you’ll have learnt so much from them. I know that sounds crazy right now but trust me, you’ll get here.

I’m so sorry you’re going through this right now. I wish I could make it better, take the pain away, give you the map of how to navigate your way through it. The truth is that I have no idea how we get from you to me. If I could do anything to make this easier, I would. You’re feeling so alone, so hurt and so suicidal right now and you’re going through one of the toughest periods of life that we ever do but you will get through it, you’ll make amazing friends, you’ll choose a fascinating, worthwhile career path, you’ll do a degree that will make you meet even more fantastic friends and even the man you hope to marry one day. There will be some dreadful periods, times when you can’t see the light, when you won’t even want to try and look for it. But you’ll keep fighting, you’ll keep driving yourself forwards because that’s what you’re doing right now and by 10 years later you’ve got even better at picking yourself up, dusting yourself off and striving forwards to get what you want.

Take care of yourself, be proud of yourself and try not to fear the future, it’s terrifying, even worse than you’re imagining, but it’s amazing too and you’ll get here.

Love you,

Lucy (age 27 and a half) xxx

Bravery, Pride and Cervical Smear Tests

Lovely readers, I’ll prewarn you now that this post will probably be full of all sorts of things where you think “too much information”, feel free to close and move on and wait for my next post which will probably be less “share-y”. You have been warned!

As many of you know, I’ve been really struggling this year with low confidence and very bad health anxiety that has been increasing week on week. Last week it got so bad and I was getting so many worrying symptoms that I finally looked into getting a smear test done at home as I’m 2 years overdue and have never had one before. A few people thought I’d definitely be able to have it done at home so I thought I’d find out and go from there. I sent Joe off to our doctor’s surgery because I was too scared to phone and ask and probably be told no. I had to wait until today to be contacted and as I expected, they don’t offer smear tests at home. At some point in the future I will write a post about all of the ways in which being housebound/agoraphobic has hindered me, from the mundane things like clothes shopping and getting haircuts to the serious stuff like not getting medical investigations or having dental appointments for 4 years, the list is long and probably surprising to those of you who’ve not experienced these conditions. I had luckily already prepared myself for being told today that I wouldn’t be allowed to have my test at home which would have been extremely difficult for me to cope with anyway but going to the doctors is significantly worse for me. My mum had very kindly offered to come over from the Isle of Wight, a 6 hour round trip, to go with me if I needed her to (I’m sure she must be very glad that I haven’t taken her up on this). I asked the receptionist what other options I had and if there were any quiet periods at the surgery as sitting in a waiting room full of sick people is extremely difficult for me (it’s actually my idea of hell but I didn’t want to sound dramatic on the phone). She wasn’t hugely helpful or understanding; this is probably the same receptionist who gave me completely incorrect information when I finally (after 10 months of psyching myself up) requested a telephone consultation to have my beta-blocker medication dose increased and refused to give me a telephone appointment, informing me those appointments don’t exist anymore. This caused me a huge amount of stress and panic and when I asked what a person with severe anxiety who’s virtually housebound is meant to do, she just reiterated the (incorrect) rules. I was lucky enough to speak to a different receptionist the next day who was absolutely lovely and so sympathetic and understanding and told me that I’d been told the wrong thing about the rules and had worried for 24 hours and barely slept or ate in that time for no reason and that telephone appointments do still exist and my medication increase had been approved. Anyway, the not so nice receptionist gave me a couple of different clinic options, all of which were getting further away from my flat (we don’t drive and my surgery is around the corner), I asked if there were any quiet periods at the surgery and she said no, it’s never quiet – this woman could really do with some teaching about sympathy and bending the truth a little rather than just scaring me silly when I’ve already said that I’m severely agoraphobic and socially anxious. She then mentioned that a cancellation had been made today with their senior nurse and I could be seen at 12.20 with enough time for the appointment to be over and done with before Joe had to go to work. I reluctantly agreed and decided that being anxious about it for the next 3.5 hours was preferable to booking on another day and worrying for significantly longer.

I took my beta-blockers to slow my heart rate down and took some diazepam, reserved for emergency needs like this (I’ve been given a very limited supply that is closely monitored by my doctors so that I don’t end up relying on it or addicted to it). I’m never sure how well the diazepam will work. I almost never take it and so I forget its effects and they seem to come and go in waves and it’s relatively easy for my brain to fight off the effects if I allow it so I do have to kind of give in and relinquish control to the drug and let it work; I did that today and thankfully it worked. On the walk to the doctors I could feel my brain wanting to be anxious, wondering why I was fine when I was in one of my most feared situations but the medication blanketed over that nicely and while I didn’t feel great, I kind of didn’t care about anything and didn’t feel worried. Joe had agreed to come in with me but luckily, while I was waiting I realised I didn’t really need him in there and I’d like to retain some mystery in our relationship for as long as possible that doesn’t involve watching nurses shining a torch on my lady bits, putting things up there and then taking samples out of it. I was seen late but I managed to go in on my own and the nurse was just lovely! She hadn’t been told anything about me which was a bit of a shock but she saw instantly how nervous I was and knew from my notes it was my first test and when I explained about the agoraphobia and why I was 2 years late for the test and about the medication she seemed genuinely impressed that I was even there and just got what a big deal it was for me. This is in stark contrast to much of my previous experience and treatment where I’m often dismissed, disbelieved and treated with aggression for “behaving like a child” and “making a fuss”. I ended up crying, I think with relief, and also because the meds make my brain loopy. She told me everything she’d be doing, explained what all of the different types of results and consequences could be and then chatted to me while I got my kit off and she got the test stuff ready. I really can’t praise her enough. I hate not knowing what’s going on and I’m terrified of pain and it didn’t hurt at all, it wasn’t comfortable but having people sticking things up your lady bits when you’re not in the throes of passion never is but the test itself I barely felt and whenever my breathing was getting fast she got me to slow down and before I knew it it was done! I thanked her multiple times and I hope she knew just how much her treatment of me helped because it honestly couldn’t have gone better, thank goodness for wonder drugs and wonder nurses! She also assured me that unless she wins the lottery, she won’t be leaving anytime soon and so she’ll be around to do my future tests and I’m allowed to request her so that was a huge help. I even got a sticker as I mentioned that that should be a thing given that having a smear test is way more impressive than cleaning your teeth. I think smear stickers should be a thing – “I only cried once on the nurse”, “I looked after my cervix today”, that kind of thing! Mine had a snowflake on which was apt given that it was lightly snowing here today!

So, now I have the two week wait until my results come through. I’m not feeling calm but I am at least calmer than I was. I’m very worried about what to do if the results come back as anything other than my cervix is beautiful and healthy but I’m trying to just deal with that when it comes. Today at least, I’m very focused on how brave I’ve been and how proud I am that I managed to face my fears of doctors, invasive tests, showing people my lady bits, and sitting in a waiting room with sick people. None of those fears will go away, as you know, that’s not how my condition works but at least I fought through them today to get a test done that I needed to have. The nurse even said that I should be really proud of myself and that I’d done brilliantly so that was really nice, I definitely earnt my sticker. For anyone worrying about having their smear test, please try not to, it doesn’t hurt and it’s not even that uncomfortable, at least it wasn’t for me. I have an extremely low pain threshold and often get criticised for fussing too much and making a big deal out of things when they’re painful for me rather than uncomfortable but this honestly wasn’t painful and the nurse was so understanding and going at lunchtime was great because there were hardly any people there in the waiting room. Oh, and diazepam! I wouldn’t have got past my front door without that today and my lovely boyfriend. Get it booked ladies, if I can do it then anyone without a severe anxiety disorder can. Yes, it’s scary but it’s important and you might even get a sticker if you mention it while you’re there!

Before I disappear, I just want to say a huge thanks to my best friend Katie, my superstar online friend Claire and my mum, without whom I’d not have been brave enough to go for this test today. Huge apologies to them too for way oversharing and probably boring them senseless with my ridiculous worries and fears and obsessive thoughts but thanks to all of you, and my lovely boyfriend Joe who went with me to the doctors today, I was able to get tested and hopefully I’m now one step closer to being told I’m fine and that my brain is a massive overthinking hypochondriacal mess (I hope their letters don’t comment on your brain state but you know!).

Health Anxiety - What it's like to live with

Health Anxiety

Health Anxiety – it’s something I mentioned in my last post and boy is it making life almost impossible to live right now. It’s just relentless. And the worst thing? When you’re this anxious for this long, you start getting even more physical symptoms. And what does my brain do with those? Decides I must be ill, poisoned, or dying of something. I literally have no idea what symptoms I’m experiencing are even real now and which ones are either being created by my psyche, my stress response (those ones are real) and which I’m just imagining due to being so sensitive to every single movement, noise or feeling in my body. I can’t even express how all-consuming this is. It’s like nothing else I’ve ever experienced and it’s terrifying.

Every single sensation is now worrying me, am I hungry or is it a stomach tumour? Is my appetite lower than usual? Does that mean I’ve got cancer or is it just that I’m so stressed my appetite has been suppressed? Why can’t I go to the toilet? Am I under-nourished? Sick? Or has my digestion shut down because of my stress response. My heart rate seems a bit high even though I’ve taken my beta-blockers, maybe they’re not working anymore, maybe something else is wrong. Have I eaten the wrong stuff? Is sugar causing it? When did I last eat sugar? It can’t be sugar, I’ve not had any today, maybe it’s adrenaline as I’ve not actually eaten anything yet. My downstairs bits feel funny. I don’t remember that happening before. I don’t remember being able to feel there before. Maybe it’s just a random twinge. Why am I getting repeating random twinges there? Maybe it’s cancer? Would I even know? What if it is? How will I get treatment? I’ve still not had my smear test that was due two years ago because I can’t face going to the doctors, my anxiety just won’t let me. I know I need to go, I know that finding there are changes is so much better than leaving it and them possibly developing into cancer and yet the thought of even trying to make the appointment makes me feel physically sick and my stomach ties itself in knots. I just can’t do it at the moment. I get a pain in my mouth and I’m convinced it must be an abscess, a rotten tooth or that I’ll need a filling. I religiously brush my teeth and realise I’m probably brushing them too hard and causing the pain because I’m so worried about needing dental work. My ears feel weird or I get a slight pain and I’m sure I must be getting an ear infection again. I sneeze or have a slight sore throat and I’m instantly sure I’m getting a cold or flu and that I’ll get really ill with it. Any sort of pain or weird sensation is instantly focussed on, fixated upon and blown out of all proportion. No matter how logical I try to be, no matter how many statistics I bombard myself with to try and make myself see sense, it just doesn’t work. Even when the sensations or symptoms go away, my brain just fixates on the next one. It’s so consuming that I can’t do many activities now because I just can’t focus on them, I’m too busy being convinced that I’m going to get really ill or die. I’m not even scared of dying, if I drop dead tomorrow, I’m kind of ok with that, but I’m absolutely scared senseless of suffering. I’ve felt this way for as long as I can remember. I’ve had a lot of health problems for the latter two thirds of my life, none of them have been serious or life-threatening, but all have involved a lot of aches and pains and never feeling “well”. These conditions have also meant that when I get regular viruses or infections I’m hit much harder by them and get more severely ill and suffer for longer than regular people do. For some reason, I’ve managed to develop a huge fear of suffering that has been increasing for years and made me very frightened to be around other people who are ill firstly because I hate seeing suffering and secondly because of the risk of being infected by them. The only type of illness and suffering I don’t have an issue being around is mental illness which is why I managed to work successfully in mental health and in a hospital no less.

Back to now though. This health anxiety is just crippling. I can’t face going to the doctors to have any of my fears allayed and I often wonder if that would even help because I swear that at the first sign of a new symptom I’d be back at square one again. I’m also so scared that they’d find something that I then have no idea how to cope with treatment for, it hardly even seems worth getting investigated if I then can’t get treated for whatever hideous thing it might be. And I realise just how unlikely it is that there’s anything wrong with me, but still, the worries are constantly there. Today I found out that the most common cancer in women under the age of 33 is cervical. Oh joy! I also know from research that almost all of the female cancers, at least those affecting the lower half of the body, have very few noticeable symptoms and that those I may experience are remarkably similar to IBS symptoms which I also suffer badly from, especially when my anxiety is this bad. I can’t tell you how useful that is when trying to talk yourself down from being convinced you’ve got every disease under the sun. I’m sure that half of the symptoms I’m now experiencing are because I’m focusing so much on my body that I’m getting phantom symptoms from sending too much of my attention to those areas. It’s just doing me in. I’m sick of feeling so on edge, sick of feeling so out of control, sick of feeling like I’m going mad and sick of being convinced that I’m going to die some horrible, slow, painful death. I just want my brain to calm down, chill out and focus on something a bit less morbid than my own death or illness.

Anyone who thinks anxiety is a walk in the park clearly hasn’t visited this particular park which is currently frequented by wolves, big cats, and a whole heap of horrid diseases trying to kill me off at every turn. I have such a strong urge to give up, to stop even trying and to just give in. I don’t even know why I feel like that, I know it wouldn’t help. But I’m so tired. So tired of the thoughts, the constant stream of worries and then symptoms and the desire to research it but knowing that’ll almost certainly make me feel worse. I’m tired of fighting, of dreaming about it, of never being free. I’m tired of all of it. It’s been almost 4 years of fighting with my own head, fighting against each and every new worry that comes up, trying to adapt to every change, to every loss. Having health anxiety and worrying that I might lose even more functioning on top of all of that is nigh on impossible to cope with and means that I spend a lot of each day on the verge of crying because I feel like I’m falling apart. Part of me knows that this will probably pass, or at least ease off, just like a lot of the worries I’ve had throughout this period of illness. But I also know that the anxiety is becoming more and more ingrained and it feels like it’s taking a bigger hold with each passing month. It scares me so much. I don’t want this to become who I am. I have always been determined to be separate from my illnesses, to have them but not to be them. I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be able to say that of the anxiety. It feels so intrinsically linked to who I am now. Most of the time I can differentiate between thoughts from the condition and thoughts of my own but when the thoughts from my condition are so overwhelmingly frequent, so loud and so awful, it’s hard to know where my own thoughts begin because there seem to be so few of them now, there simply isn’t room for anything much other than health anxiety and the occasional worry about going outside.

After my last post I’d hoped to be back to reviewing quite soon. I hoped that expressing how I’d been feeling would help it lessen and in some ways it has, I definitely feel less alone but sadly my health anxiety has just ramped up and up, day after day. My mum came to visit for the weekend and we had a lovely time and I managed to go out with her on two days and take lots of photographs and do lots of walking outside seeing loads of nature and very few people (my idea of perfect!). But still, even while I was out, I was getting twinges, random stabbing pains, wondering if I’d need mum to take me to the hospital. I’m at the point where I’m so frightened that I’m asking people random, really personal questions to find out if what I’m experiencing is normal or likely to be the cause of my premature death. I hate what this is turning me into. My social phobia is ramping up because I know I’m becoming obsessive about this and I’m terrified I’ll bore people or alienate myself from the few people remaining in my life. But I know that I can’t keep this inside as it feels like it’s eating me alive.

I’m not really sure where this post has gone or where it’s ended up. As usual, it feels like a rambling mess and I’m hoping I’ve pulled it miraculously out of the bag and written something at least partially coherent. I’m guessing it’s a heap of negativity and for that I’m sorry but I also can’t even begin to sugarcoat this and I always promised I would never do that, that I’d tell my story, tell the story of so many of us with mental illness, warts and all, with all the worst bits left in. So if this has left you feeling bleak or despondent then I guess that gives you a snapshot into what it’s like to be inside my head, to live a few minutes in my life and I can assure you that it’s infinitely worse when there’s no cause, no end in sight and no tab to close. I hope that sooner than I think, I’ll be feeling a bit brighter, a bit more hopeful and a little less plagued and that I’ll be back with some more positive posts that at least end on a lighter note. I’ll try to edit my photos from the weekend down enough that I won’t bore you all to tears with shot after shot of the same deer or ducks, that’s about the only task I’m managing to do whilst this poorly and I’m still sticking to my showering every day routine. Everything else is pretty much out of reach but I’ll try to get back on with my small tasks project and see if I can achieve a little more than showering and deleting photos. Writing this has been a bit helpful and some of the physical symptoms have eased off a bit which will hopefully sink in to my anxious brain as proof that they’re stress-induced. Huge hugs to all of you who are feeling this way or even just a little bit this way, you’re all warriors to fight this fight every day and I hope it gets easier for us all soon, we damn well deserve it!

Confidence Crisis

Lovely readers, I’m so sorry for the radio silence this year, it’s certainly not been intentional and I’m working hard to try and get myself back in a position where I can be blogging and reviewing again because I miss it and I miss you guys! I’ve had a lot of stuff going on in my personal life and change never does me much good, especially when multiple things are having to be dealt with at once. It’s also a really rough time of year for me, I’m never well at this time of year so it’s unsurprising that I’m so badly affected currently. I thought it was going to last just a couple of weeks and I did manage to write and share a review in early January but since then my confidence has completely deserted me, my words have disappeared and my motivation has been non-existent. None of that is conducive to blogging. I did manage to record and share a couple of videos which can be found here, but that’s pretty much it. I’ve not even been doing anything that’s not blogging. I’ve just been spectacularly unproductive. In some ways, I wish I’d realised how long this would last and just written off blogging for the last 6 weeks and got on with something fun or at least distracting. Instead, I’ve spent the whole time spending way too much time asleep and in bed, scrolling through Facebook aimlessly and watching crappy television for more hours than I care to remember or admit! My flat is dirty and untidy, I’m not showering often enough, I keep missing meals and the thoughts going through my head are much darker than usual and very much swirling around the I can’t be bothered and what’s the point sort of level. My focus is completely gone, my memory is dire and I just don’t know where the last 6 weeks have gone, I can count on one hand the number of meaningful or useful activities I’ve done in that time, even when I really start lowering my standards of what classes as productive, I’ve done next to nothing for weeks!

Throughout this time, I thought I was doing a pretty good job of covering up how much I was struggling. It turns out, I’m not half the actress I think I am. Though the flipside of that is that it’s quite comforting to realise that even when you don’t tell your boyfriend of 6 years that you’re feeling crappy, he can work it out from your subtle behaviour changes (including less nagging about cleaning and tidying). I always put off telling people that I’m worse or struggling more as I’ve previously documented on this blog. I hate admitting it to myself, let alone anyone else and it doesn’t properly sink in with me until other people around me know about it and then it’s a real wake up call. I tend to wait weeks, partially to be sure, and also because I spend that time in denial, before telling anyone but telling them usually leads to at least getting a bit more help to drag myself out of the pit I’ve inadvertently ended up in. I never learn though and always leave it ages before telling anyone or properly asking for help. Normally, my depression is pretty under control, it still sneaks in whenever it can, I still get horrible dark thoughts creeping in regularly but I’m able to dismiss them and get on with being productive and busy and that generally drowns it out. Recently though, that’s not the case, the depression has really ramped up in intensity and it’s crushed my confidence, my motivation and drive and has also made me unbelievably tired and pessimistic, which isn’t like me. On top of this, my anxiety is just on fire! For a while I’ve been noticing that as soon as one worry lessens, it gets replaced by another. This isn’t something I’m consciously doing and it’s currently something I have absolutely no control over but as soon as one thing becomes easier, less worrying, or goes away, another worry comes straight on in behind it and replaces its space. All of the things I was told by my psychiatrist, by therapists and that I learnt in my psychology degree, aren’t working. I was always a huge proponent of the idea of systematic desensitisation, the idea that the more you do a specific thing, the less it will make you anxious and the more used to it you’ll get. The theory is all completely sound, the research backs it up, but my experience is absolutely not showing it to work. No matter how many times I visit my family or don’t get food poisoning or don’t get an IBS attack when I’m out, I never consistently feel better about being in those situations again. I go through phases of things being a bit easier and then much harder but these seem to come and go like the weather with no rhyme or reason and no logic or pattern that I can decipher at all. No matter how much CBT I try to use I just don’t calm down or get over the thoughts. I’m a very logical person, I know the likelihood of my worries coming true (at least the ones I’m aware of rather than the residual feeling of fear for no reason that I so often experience now) but knowing these things won’t happen doesn’t stop me feeling intense anxiety each and every time I have to do something that my brain has decided is anxiety-provoking. I make no medical sense and no one around me, me included, has any idea why I’m like this or what to do to make it better. I was told a few years ago by my psychiatrist that I needed to stay outside for at least 6 hours for my anxiety to calm down and that then being outside would get easier. I’ve done this a number of times since then, in various places and with varying levels of success and yet I’m still severely agoraphobic, unable to even take my bins outside most days and suffering IBS attacks and extreme anxiety about going to places locally that I’ve known my whole life. It’s just doing my head in.

To top all of that off, my brain has decided to become hugely worried about germs and food poisoning. My mind is honestly a living hell right now. My brain is almost constantly fixated on worrying about getting ill with a virus or getting food poisoning. I’ve even considered going vegetarian (not an option long-term as my diet is very limited already due to dislike of a lot of foods and many vegetables being IBS trigger foods) so that I don’t have to keep worrying about meat being off. My partner is an ex-chef, we both know a lot about food storage, prep and just doing a good old sniff test, and yet my brain just can’t switch off these worries and once it’s decided that something is a “risk”, it just obsesses and even causes me physical symptoms because I spend so many hours worrying. Sometimes I just can’t eat the food because I’m so worried about it making me ill even though I logically know it’s absolutely fine. I’m pretty sure that part of the reason I’m so scared of getting ill is because I’m worried about getting so ill that I’ll need medical treatment and that invariably involves leaving the house. I’m increasingly worried about getting a serious health problem that I currently can’t imagine being able to receive treatment for because going out is so difficult for me. No doctor will just drug me up to the eyeballs on Diazepam for the foreseeable future while I get whatever fictitious disease my brain conjures up treated or cured. I hope that if I ever did get a serious illness the fear of it being left untreated would take over the fear of going out and getting treatment and that I’d be able to go and deal with it but part of me thinks that’s just wishful thinking and isn’t exactly likely. I hope I’ll never have to find out but I spend a huge amount of my time at the moment worrying about getting all sorts of conditions and diseases and trying to work out how I’d deal with it without just imploding.

So that’s where I’ve been at since December. I’ve realised that doing nothing and sitting around feeling sorry for myself isn’t working or helping at all; not that it’s really been a choice but still, it’s not helpful. So I’m trying my best to do little tasks that are productive and make me feel better in the hopes that they might spur me on to do bigger and better things and if not, well at least the small tasks I’ve done are done. I started earlier in the week by turning my mattress because for the last few weeks I’ve been getting backache and my tummy has felt twisted when lying on my side in bed, turning the mattress has really helped. I also changed my bedding at the same time. It took me an hour to do all of this and I had to change the duvet cover the following night because I was exhausted but I now have clean sheets and a comfy bed again and this also meant I had to clear up the things that were being dumped on my bed and also that I’ve made myself shower every day so I’m not getting my sheets dirty quicker than necessary. Some days these showers have been 2 hours before I go to bed but still, I have at least showered every day for 4, possibly 5 days, I forget when I started this. I’ve also done 3 lots of laundry, one each night when Joe’s gone off to work his night shifts and put those up and taken the previous day’s load down so it can be replaced with wet stuff. Yesterday I was feeling really low and rubbish and completely unmotivated but my head was just buzzing from too much screentime and I felt like I was going mad, eventually I got so fed up that I went and did some washing up and then hoovered most of the flat while Joe cooked dinner. There are still thick layers of dust on any above-floor surfaces and I’m sure there are other grim discoveries to make that I’m currently just trying to ignore but my floors are mostly clean, my bed is welcoming, my laundry is done and I’ve been clean for a few days in a row. Given how dreadful and unproductive I’ve been feeling, that’s pretty huge progress really and more in 4 days than I’ve managed in over 6 weeks! I’m really trying to make this stick and hope that even though my mental state is completely crap currently, at least my surroundings won’t be so bad and won’t be making me worse anymore. I’m hoping that I might even be able to slowly work through some reviews and finally start getting back on track with that because I’m dreadfully behind and don’t want to just give up like this.

So yes, that’s where I’m at. Not a good place to be at all and I’ve got no idea when the anxiety might start shifting or the depression easing off a bit but I’m hoping that my goal of doing a small task or two a day is at least achievable (possibly with help and encouragement from Joe) and will start making me see the difference I can make to my surroundings and stop me feeling quite so useless and unmotivated. I’m hoping the confidence might journey back to me after that!

P.S Apologies if none of this made sense, seemed to change writing style throughout (it was written in a few goes rather than all at once like I usually write) or doesn’t sound like me normally. I don’t write well when I’m this ill and I’m too distracted to be able to properly edit or read through it to check it makes sense so this is raw and as it came to me. Future posts are unlikely to be like this so please don’t desert the blog just based on this post, I felt I needed to get all of this out and explain to you all what’s been happening for me but it’s far from the standard I would normally hope to produce, I hope you understand.