My ramblings on antidepressants

Last fortnight, after 15 months of waiting for sertraline to kick in, I had a frank discussion with my doctor wherein I admitted to lying.

Since a work-induced near-nervous-breakdown some months ago, I had been put on some little white pills and, under the auspices of five GPs, two work counsellors, one professional mentor, one four-month women’s empowerment course and a CBT therapist, I hoped to feel an improvement in my mood stability. The dose was doubled, later tripled, and month by month, I turned up at the GP surgery and flicked through an array of increasingly well-thumbed magazines awaiting my turn to tell the lie.

‘Yes, I am fine, thank you.’ ‘My moods are much more stable now.’ ‘Life is getting better.’ ‘No nightmares, flashbacks or panic attacks.’ ‘No thoughts of self-harm or being better off dead.’ ‘Yes please, a two months supply.’

What was I doing?

Increasingly, a little voice inside me was tapping at my temples from the outside in, telling me that I was playing the game, and I that knew it. Then an even smaller voice admitted it was only doing so because I was afraid of telling my doctor the truth – these tablets were not helping and I was no different to how I was before I started them. Yes, there was initial euphoria – but that golden (or green) ticket I was first handed several months ago was, in fact, merely symbolic, some sort of placebo, although I hasten to add, a placebo which kicked me firmly up the backside and told me I needed to leave my job to stay sane.

On some level I knew, with steadying clarity, that this was about wanting to keep the conversation open. I didn’t want to be refused more medication. I didn’t want to be denied the right to come in for a monthly appointment to discuss my mental health. I didn’t want to be left to contend with this darkness on my own. If it I meant I had to keep taking these useless, bitter tablets day after day, for fifteen months or so, so be it. But at some point, I had to admit it was no better than taking nothing.

Why do people grin and bear it?

People prevaricate, particularly in a medical context; bright lights, cold hands and the sweet scent of chlorahexadine gluconate are barely a conversation starter, much less about the inner workings of the mind. I can’t speculate for the millions of others with similar mental heath problems, but for myself, I find it all too easy to conflate somethings-not-working with some sort of inner failure, as if in admitting so what I am really communicating is that I haven’t tried hard enough or that it is, after all, my responsibility, and that I deserve to have all forms of support withdrawn.

Anyway, I did it. Last week I began the gut-wrenching and brain-zapping (literally) process of dwindling my daily sertraline intake down to nothing. Then the two day washout period before trying another drug. Then a weekend in tears, violent laughter, anger, irritation, bemusement, and today, in complete silence. I can’t say it’s pleasant but I’m glad I’m getting somewhere.

In the throes of these confusing emotions, I thought I should compile my lessons learned (sorry if they don’t make sense):

  •  Mental health appointments aren’t meant to be a weigh-in. There should not be guilt or shame (nor should there be at weigh-ins, for that matter, but that’s another subject).
  • The fact that something isn’t working doesn’t preclude you from accessing and trying other forms of support.
  • It’s not for want of trying that these things don’t always work. If that’s what’s going on, you can say so. You can be as honest as you need to be.
  • If you can’t put your finger on what’s going wrong (or not right), sound it out with someone you trust – a partner or a best friend. Sometimes having this time to practise your speech can put you at ease and give you a sense of validation.
  • Mental health problems happen to everyone. It’s going to be a while before society gets comfortable with that taboo, but while we all have a brain, a past, confusing emotions and complex relationships, let’s not assume it’s going to go away. Being honest with ourselves and people close to us about the reality and impact of these problems might help pave the way to a more supportive immediate network and a more tolerant society. At least I hope so.

My ramblings on an accidental walk

My foray into lifestyle minimalism was catalysed by a happy memory of an accidental hike in the Lakes with my partner.

On a warm, bright afternoon halfway through our holiday, we stopped in a supermarket, bought lunch, and made plans for a two-hour walk around Derwentwater. We had sandwiches in our backpacks and a rudimentary walking guide in hand. It’s funny, now, how our poor sense of direction meant the walk soon extended to a nine-hour hike through all sorts of weather and terrain, and how, fortuitously, a chance meeting with a seasoned walker atop a rainy hill may have literally been the only thing stopping us walking off the edge of a cliff. But for all we know, we had enlisted on a two-hour stroll and might visit a pub on the way home.

The day was resourcefully simple and memorably beautiful.

Yes, it was dangerous. Yes, we were muddy and, yes, by god I was tired. It was emotional, too – by turns we were groaning in misery as our legs stiffened up, quaking and clambering precariously down rapid descents, laughing hysterically when we had waited at the jetty and realised our state of boatlessness, crying furiously when, as a storm whipped around us in the eighth hour of our walk, my partner wanted to delay our return to take some photos. Not to mention we were assaulted by rain, sun, wind, sleet, mud, cloud, and sunburn.

My partner’s diabetes means we are never far away from the various artefacts of his condition. Armed in public with sweets and small cartons of emergency juice, we live under the rubble of insulin vials, clear plastic tubes, cannula kits, ketosticks, Roche manuals, faded pharmacy bags; the beep and whirr of his insulin pump is a sound I can now practically sing along to. I, myself, have limitations imposed by joint pain and fatigue caused by two long-term conditions and autoimmune disease. I have tendency to rely on taxi rides and hot baths to keep myself sane, and I know I can live over-cautiously.

Today was different. For a few long hours we were living according to the contents of our backpacks and a faded paper map which we still keep for posterity. Sitting halfway up a steep ascent, surrounded by sheep and molested by bleating goats, my sandwich was a reward and a treat. My bottle of water was something I rationed and cherished. My fleecy jumper was my lifeline. I was able to interact far more meaningfully with everything around me. I was liberated from my sense of personal limitations and countless distractions. All we had was each other, the frankly unreliable map, and a mediocre meal-deal sandwich. I had never felt more alive.

We were of course delighted to finally approach the Theatre by the Lake. I remember how, like the creatures which crawled out of the sea, we staggered, desperate and muddy, toward the light and warmth and the jingle of cutlery and murmur of interval discussions. We wolfed down olives and bread and hot tea with gratitude, and felt truly enveloped in privilege and luck and wonder as we stepped inside the warm glow and were able to change our shoes. As, later, we sat and ate a pizza in the torrential rain of Bowness, hair sticking to our faces and clothes covered in mud, I reflected that my nine-hour walk in the woods had been the best day of my life.

My ramblings on friendship

2016 was the year that I started to embrace lifestyle Minimalism, and it was probably because, unhappy in life, I was plucking at any type of straw to stop myself going crazy.

There is currently a plethora (somewhat paradoxically) of information and resources about minimalism: podcasts, websites, YouTube channels, blogs, books, magazines, and currently a documentary on Netflix. My personal (mis)adventure started with KonMari and rapidly evolved into my commitment to try the Minimalists Game. For several days and consecutive weeks, I was selectively downsizing my life, one item at a time, striving to find the magic moment where life felt good and everything just ‘clicked’.

It dawned on me that, for all the current whirlwind of writings about decluttering your cupboards, connecting with your belongings, embracing scarcity and approaching personal and spiritual growth, the paradigm didn’t extend to friendship – at least, not as ostentatiously.

For months, plagued by problematic friendships, I trawled Goodreads and libraries and sought recommendations for books about friendship. There were books about friendships; they were plentiful, but not right. These were the tales of giggly girls and worrisome women, shopping trips and sushi bars and sunshine days and cocktails – nothing practical, nothing useful, to console me that falling into disillusionment with certain friends was perfectly natural or perhaps even ordinary and, dare I say it, useful.

Ever one to blame myself, I used to carry a burden of responsibility on my shoulders that extended to every single friend or acquaintance or person to whom I felt otherwise obliged. At some point I realised how it was depleting me. I found myself promising through grimaces to certain friends that we’d meet for a coffee, responding with false enthusiasm to countless messages which a ballsier me would have ignored, spending time and money and energy and health on social opportunities which didn’t seem to be leading me anywhere I wanted to go.

The obvious thing would have been to realise that those friends wouldn’t have wanted to spend time with me if they had known how little I wanted to spend time with them. The humane thing might have been to be honest about how I was feeling then and there. The prophylactic thing would have been to be far more choosy with my friendships in the first place.

Be that as it may, I have come to realise that life is short and time is scarce. With so many wonderful people surrounding me, I am coming to decide that, if I can be frugal with money or selective with items in my house, it is not a massive stretch to be decisive about those with whom I spend my time and emotional energy. There are so many wonderful and beautiful people I know, and I want to ensure I can be my best self for them, instead of spreading myself too thinly.