Recovering

I’ve talked here briefly about how I’ve had a difficult time recently, with anxiety and depression. It’s caused set backs, and difficulties, and I lost quite a lot of weight (when I didn’t really need to). I spoke to my doctor a few times and we’ve sorted out medication, and tweaked a few other things too.

After a few stops and starts, I’m in the process of healing, rather that just licking my wounds. I can tell I’m getting better! I cannot express how relieved I am to write those words. I think if you’ve experienced mental illness repeatedly, you always doubt if you will get better from each episode. Or if each new bout is just a new normal, and that your personality has forever been changed since the last bout. 

I feel better than I have in a long time. I’m not bouncing out of bed, or singing with the birds or anything. I’m still anxious at times, and have moments of bleakness or irritability. Who isn’t, right? But I’m excited about things, things that I thought I’d maybe never enjoy again.

I’m writing again, for a start. It’s not life changing, or ever going to be a career for me but I enjoy doing it. I’m thinking of starting fiction again, and maybe poetry too. I used to love those too, a lifetime ago. And I think I should give it a go again.

I’m motivated. I’ve cleaned, scrubbed, sorted and organised, and been more productive in the last few weeks than I probably have the last few years. And my god I feel better for it! I’m taking pride in keeping things tidy, of being organised. While I’ll never be thrilled at the prospect of housework, I’m cracking on and doing it – and more so than just the basics. We are even talking about doing some minor redecoration and I’m so excited – the thought alone of the change, effort and mess involved would have had me reeling.

And I’m back in my little kitchen again. I love to cook, usually. Feeding people and making them happy is a great feeling; pottering about trying new things was my happy place. I love watching cookery programmes, reading recipes, browsing spices and new ingredients to me. Until this latest bout, where I lost all enthusiasm for food – I couldn’t bring myself to eat, or keep food down I was so anxious. So the fact I’m cooking, and eating again means I’m definitely doing better. I haven’t put much weight back on, but I’m a little softer around the edges and eating in a healthy way.

I guess the main thing is that I feel able to do things again. For a while, everything felt so overwhelming that I thought I was suffocating. Even doing nothing felt impossibly hard, and going through the motions of life was all I could manage, in an anxious, panicked robotic motion. I couldn’t relax, or take pleasure in anything; I’m so thrilled now to be finding snippets of joy, no matter how small the pieces. And because I’m not choking on the tiniest of things, I’m able to be more productive with my days than I think I ever have been (it’s difficult to know whether I’ve always had underlying anxiety, or was just drunk/hungover. Could be both, neither or none. The main thing is I’m not like that today).

Dare I say, I’m even smiling at my bad days, or dips in mood, because for the first time in a bloody long time I can feel confident that it’s JUST A BAD DAY. And it will lift, and get easier. A bad day doesn’t make a bad life – seems to obvious but impossible to see when you’re stuck in the mire.

The only thing to be anxious about now is how I’ll be when I come off this medication… I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it, and just enjoy today instead. 

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Hello darkness, my old friend…

It’s been a while, I know. I haven’t been well, and so I’ve been focussing on trying to get better and work my way through the ‘blah’. I struggle with depression (general and post natal) and anxiety, and it’s been giving me a kicking lately. I’ll be fine (I’ve survived my worst days, after all) but it’s an uphill battle some days. I have medication and action plans in place, and support systems a-go-go, so I’m hoping that the future will be less bleak. Anyhoo. Not the most uplifting start, is it?! 

I’ve wanted to write, but simply haven’t. Haven’t been able. Haven’t had the words, the focus, the commitment. I’ve abandoned posts after starting, because I know that a) it’s not really been that good and b) I couldn’t care less. I find it difficult to just ‘be’ in these times, let alone gain enjoyment or pleasure (I don’t even know what I enjoy anymore). So I gave up the half hearted attempts in the hope it would come.  Or that I’d at least stop worrying about it.

And then so much has happened, so many awful and heartbreaking things that any writing I considered seemed so silly and insignificant. My stuff is tiny, and I have faith in time that it will be better. That I will be better. While I’m trying to rebuild my world, I know some are facing things that are inconceivably hard, unfair,  heartbreaking, and feel that their world is crumbling around them. And again, I have no words.

I’d love to be able to wave a magic wand and make everything ok. To help pick the pieces up for people, to lighten their load and suffering. But sometimes it’s impossible because there is nothing you can do to make it better. It simply is that shit, and life can be very cruel. Just existing in this world is exhausting sometimes, and extremely difficult. 
The only thing I can think to do, is to pray for those hurting, show love and kindness. To be there when needed, and to try and let others know that I’m thinking of them during a terrible time for them. It’s not much, but it’s all I can think to do. And if everyone in the world did that, maybe it would be a better place. And to those that I know are having a hard time, know that I carry you and yours in my heart, always.

It’s all in the balance…

Life’s all a balancing act, apparently. We all have busy lives, these days, and many balls that we valiantly attempt to juggle while keeping a cheery and positive demeanour. Sound familiar?

But how do you get the balance right? Seriously, I’m asking for tips here. Because most of the time I feel swamped, like I’m drowning, and I can’t even fit in the lifeboat because the kids are throwing a tantrum in there. Everywhere I turn there’s stuff to do, people to look after and who need attention and not enough time to cram it all into.

It’s not all as gloomy as it sounds. Sometimes I have days that I manage more than I could ever have anticipated. So many chores achieved (that’s extra plus the daily mountain), brilliantly fun games with the children, maybe some baking in a (not often) spotless kitchen. I might even squeeze in a shower, or apply make up too. I am woman, hear me roar.

And then, there are days where nothing gets done. Nada, zilch, zip. Intentions are great, execution is piss poor; because both kids have decided to screech for no reason, or the dog is having a bit of a wild day, or despite the fact I’ve spent the whole damn day racing around attempting to get things done, at the end of the day, I’ve achieved nothing. Nada, zilch, zip.

It only takes a few of those days before I feel utterly overwhelmed and defeated. The self doubts set in. I berate myself harshly. Tears are shed, usually irrationally. The days feel like endless gloom, with a bit of bleak tossed in as well. I realise that I haven’t shared my time equally. One of my many loves will have been compromised in the midst of the madness, and the guilt sets in. I’m not doing this right. Maybe I’m not but out to be a mum. They all deserve better than me. Etc.

I find it so difficult when this hits, because I’ve had depression throughout my life and postnatal depression after my son. And I’m never quite sure if I’m back there, and I need help, or whether it’s a rough patch that will pass. Whether it will pass, or get worse. Whether I’ll hit so low I won’t even notice that I’m seriously ill again. And whether medication would even work, as it didn’t last time (on a separate note, sometimes I conveniently forget that drinking on the medication would no doubt have contributed to this and negated much of the needed affect of the drugs. I chose self medication, and not to bleat on about my alcoholism again but that didn’t go so well. Obviously.) 

I think what I need to remember is that every parent has these days too – whether you’re working or stay at home, mum or dad. I don’t think anyone ever warns you of the crippling guilt that is a huge part of parenthood, and how overwhelming it can feel at times. How frustrating it can be to not manage to successfully toilet in peace, let alone tackle the laundry. But I’ll be checking myself, just to make sure that I’m not on a slippery slope. I don’t want to go back there again.

(If you or someone you know have beenaffected  by postnatal depression – or any perinatal depression – there is a twitter support group that runs between 8-9pm GMT to talk. It’s called PND Hour, and you can find it on #PNDHour. Also #pndchat is checked daily if you are struggling at any time, so please reach out. And the wonderful founder is Rosey at @PNDandme. The people in there have saved my sanity on many occasions, so please get involved, it’s a wonderful community.)

I remember it well 

This last fortnight has felt hard, at times. The whole house has been ill with a hideous cold thing, the kids have both had birthdays in the midst of the snot, and we are transitioning a very indignant lady into her cot, as opposed to co-sleeping in our bed. All of which feels harder when you are grumpy, feel rotten and are extremely tired. In recovery, you look for potential triggers that may try to unbalance you, and a common one is H.A.L.T. – hungry, angry, lonely, tired. Which is very apt, and accurate, but pretty much daily life with two small children anyway!

So, I was expecting to find my sobriety tested. It never goes away, you see, the little wicked whisper that wonders if it was really all that bad, you’ve surely proven you haven’t a problem with alcohol because you’ve given it up for 19 months! That alone practically deserves a toast! No need to be over dramatic about these things, it was all fine! The little needling thoughts, that make a point to stab deep, then recede quicker than the wine that used to disappear down my neck. It never fully goes away.

So as I was savouring my first shower alone in about ten days, I started to remind myself of why and when I realised I had an alcohol problem (initially, that’s how I referred to it. That or problem drinking, because, obviously, I wasn’t an alcoholic.) And I thought I’d share here, in the hope that I can always re-read this, or that someone who may be questioning themselves can. As I’ve had a bit more time to think with a clear head about my drinking, I’ve realised that I’d been behaving in alcoholic ways as long as I’ve been drinking – far earlier than it became truly problematic.

So. Obsessing about drinking, and amounts etc was pretty much a normal, daily thought process for me. The time I could open or buy a bottle (or two), and the rules that I adhered to to make sure this was socially acceptable. Remembering which shop I had visited the day before, so I could alternate with the other. How I would justify the need to consume as much as I planned to (good day, bad day, stressful day, celebrating something, date night, commiserating, I needed to unwind, it’s my one vice, I’ve earned this by working so hard, I’m cooking with it and it’s a shame to leave the bottle to sour, it’s a Monday and everyone hates Mondays.. you get the idea. Obviously bullshit, but still to my wine craved mind it was hugely necessary). The rituals and planning that went into my drinking, and the effort taken to justify it is exhausting to think about.

But also, my fevered interest in how other people were drinking, and their habits. Counting units and drinks consumed by others, to make sure I could keep to a ‘normal’ level publicly, but secretly ordering a chaser to drink at the bar, while buying the round. Being genuinely astounded when meeting for a coffee meant meeting for an actual coffee, because surely drinking and socialising went hand in hand?! And then being equally shocked that it was possible to have an enjoyable time without alcohol (but also being careful not to make such sober plans again). Making sure my friends and ex partners were heavy drinkers too, so my behaviour wouldn’t be out of place, or the worst in the room. Being ironically disapproving of people who repeatedly got drunk (ha!) because they obviously must have a problem. But not me, guv. I’ve no problem, because I haven’t what they’ve done. Of course, I then became the person that I was carefully measuring my acceptable drinking yardstick against, and so instead I found an obvious fix – no drinking outside the home. That way I couldn’t embarrass myself in front of anyone, no one would see how much I was actually drinking, and I would know that I’d made it home safely and without incident because I would already be at home! How I congratulated myself with my clever, cunning plan. It never occurred to me to stop drinking. If I had a social engagement, I would be sure to drink enough to keep my buzz, but not any more than that, and console myself that I had a bottle waiting for me at home. 

The angst and jittery feeling I would get if my acceptable time to open a bottle came and went without being able to. The panic of knowing I would usually be a few glasses in, and the rage I would feel at how unjust and unfair it was that I wasn’t. Resentment simmering towards whatever person or situation was depriving me of my intense relationship with Malbec. Having to be careful not to gulp the first glass too fast, despite how much I needed to, because I needed to offer an appearance of ‘normal’ drinking. Or, buying a miniature bottle that I could neck on the way home secretly, but being sure to pour a glass from the acceptable bottle swiftly when I got home so my husband wouldn’t smell my deceit on my breath.

And then, the feeling that however much I drank, it would never be enough, could never be enough. I’ve stayed up late into the night drinking alone, choosing to drunkenly stay in a morose state of drinking cooking wine rather than go to bed with my husband. Feeling depressed, lonely, and sobbing to myself while desperately trying to find someone I could call or Facebook message so I felt less alone. Finding anything that I could drink, and sometimes hiding the evidence (topping up spirits with water, hiding empty bottles, pretending that I’d cooked with the Japanese rice wine). Other times I couldn’t be bothered.

And the cold hand of terror that would grip the following morning as I tried to piece together what I had done, said, who is spoken to. What conversations I’d had. The feeling of despair and utter shame, self loathing. That was worse than any of my many instances of alcohol poisoning. Feeling like I was worthless, with nothing to offer, and then isolating myself from anyone I had spoken to out of sheer embarrrassment. Knowing that I was living a car crash, but unable to climb out of the wreckage.

You might be reading this and wondering how on earth I didn’t realise I was an alcoholic. It’s as obvious as the Sun in the sky. Right? But it’s not that simple. When you’re in an active addiction, your thoughts are not your own. Everything revolves around the next hit, the next binge. You’ll be morose, and promise never to drink again – it has to stop – but know that you’ll be nursing a drink later on. Maybe that week, or month, or day, but either way there will be another drink. Life becomes full of empty bottles, empty words, empty apologies and even emptier actions. You’ll aim to drown these feelings, sink them so far into oblivion that you won’t worry. But of course, that won’t work. Deep down, I knew this wasn’t normal. I would drunkenly assess my swaying self in the mirror, and tell myself that I was nothing more than a worthless alcoholic. That I needed to stop, I was being unfair. And I meant it, at the time – as much as you can mean anything when there’s too much blood in your alcohol stream, that is.

I would fill in alcohol questionnaires on the AA website and then feel resigned at the inevitable outcome. I’d test the waters with my GP, but lie about the amounts. I almost wanted someone to tell me, make the decision for me. Of course I was an alcoholic. And I’d deal with it, I really would, after I’d drank whatever was left in the house. That way, I’d have nothing to tempt me tomorrow. It’s simple maths, and common sense really. 

It’s an exhausting way to live. And yet, the cycle continued, for almost 6 years more before I finally stopped, and got serious. I could go on, but this is already a long post. If anyone reading this is affected by its content, please reach out to someone. There’s support out there, and it gets so much better. I’m always available to help.

Accelerate; brake

At the grand age of 31, I am learning to drive! I first started 18months ago, when pregnant with C (and when I started this sober stretch). It’s been on and off, but I’ve recently started back up again with a new instructor, and have been doing a 2-3 hour lesson a week.

I enjoy it. I love to learn. I love the quiet time. I love the feeling of doing something just for me, away from the house, the kids, the work.

But.

It’s showing me the harder and less favourable sides of my personality too. I’m incredibly frustrated with myself if I make a (what I perceive) to be a silly mistake. I can then get distracted because I’m too busy dwelling on that mistake. I get flustered when I’m embarrassed (from making a mistake). I procrastinate a lot (from changing address on my licence, to booking my tests, to actually revising for said tests). I’m very hard on myself, and will quietly brood about a bad lesson for ages, even if I’ve had some really positive aspects to it.

My last lesson was one such example. Previously, my instructor and I had discussed that if this lesson went well, and I drove consistently, we would be heading to the city in which I’d be taking my test to practice test routes. This is a big deal, as I live in the country and so this signifies a huge step in terms of progress and my driving ability. 

So of course… I stalled, holding up traffic. I rolled back, I attempted some things at the wrong speed, or gear. And then mentally fell apart as I knew I was messing up the basics, which we’ve covered often and I’ve done well at. Needless to say, the decision was taken to delay our city driving (which I completely understand, and appreciate his decisions. I trust his judgement and know I am learning well overall with him). And I was gutted. I haven’t written this before because I was ashamed, embarrassed and disappointed with myself. Ah, self flagellation, we meet again.

Once again, I’m trying to learn from this experience and not get hung up. There’s positives here, and were in my lesson too – my approach and perspective needs to change. Because I

  • Didn’t give up, or throw my toys out of the pram. I continued to try, and owned my errors and reasons why
  • Didn’t get angry, or turn into a spiky, defensive ball
  • Listened to and accepted criticism
  • Actually aced a number of manoeuvres (reverse bay parking, parallel parking, reversing around a corner and 3 point turn)
  • Was honest about my feelings 
  • Booked three lessons in advance, and asked for advice on how to improve
  • Thanked my instructor for his patience, time and honesty, and reiterated that I feel I learn well with his teaching.

These may seem like small things. But it’s a huge leap forwards in terms of how I would have handled it two years ago, in active addiction. So, there is no such thing as a bad lesson, as I’m showing progress each week, even if it’s personal growth rather than driving ability. And I remind myself that each lesson is a step towards a goal that I will achieve, no matter how long it takes me. I’m not giving up.

And it’s the same with life – sometimes you take a step back, or stumble, or take an unexpected turn. Sometimes we go back on ourselves and need to pick ourselves up, refocus, take smaller steps. But that’s ok too, as long as you keep moving. The trip from A to Z might sound easy, but there’s still a whole number of stops and letters as part of that journey.