“Fugitive in hiding, from yourself// always slip-sliding, everyday// a mask your wearing, trying// to show you’re surviving// on the run from soul 2 soul// but you can never find your goal// you lose the spirit at the cost// and now your soul it could be lost”
This was supposed to be a blog post about my October Birchbox. It started well (I am lying. I fussed over my cat, danced around in my underwear, looked at and sniffed the products in my Birchbox repeatedly, drank coffee and ate leftover food from yesterday then stared blankly at my laptop) but then a song from one of my Spotify playlists started playing and my mind went ping. The song was Battle, by Wookie. A Quintessential UK Garage tune, It’s one of those songs that I’ve always enjoyed and recently it seems to be following me and my friends around (this kind of thing happens a lot), probably because we’ve been to a few UK Garage nights recently.
I wasn’t expecting this to be the tune that set me off writing about mental health, but inspiration can happen anytime, anywhere. I can’t say that I’ve ever even really listened to the lyrics of this song in anything more than a ‘I’m out at a garage night doing trigger fingers’ capacity, but today they resonated a lot. I am aware that it’s world mental health day today and that was at the back of my mind, so maybe I’m just feeling a little more attuned.
I’m just going to write about my most recent experiences… This is could be a long read. (Sorry not sorry).
I’ve battled a lot with my mental health over the years. It feels strangely cathartic writing it and seeing it in black and white. I’ve gone from being an anxious child, to an anxious adult, with a good sprinkle of bouts of chronic illness and depression in between. As well as all that that I also have Asperger’s Syndrome (or High Functioning Autism) – I’m such a catch! (I’m not even being sarcastic, I really am!). Most people don’t know these things about me because I don’t really talk about it. Also I am very good at hiding it (well I thought I was, but it turns out having little to no tact, being honest to a fault and having an encyclopaedic knowledge on my pretty narrow interests is a dead giveaway).
Today however, I am going to talk about it, in the hope that someone may read this and talk about their mental health to someone!
I had a look at my old (now deactivated) Facebook account and went through some of the pictures. I’m smiling in every single one of them, but I certainly wasn’t happy. The period between 2010 – 2014 wasn’t a particularly great time for me. Looking back it was a bit of a blur. I’d just graduated, out of education for the first time in my life and had no structure or no real idea what I was going to do next or what I even wanted to do. I knew deep down that I wanted to do music but, after spending 3 years at a university that (I am trying REALLY hard to have some tact here) wasn’t the most shall we say ‘nurturing’ place, I didn’t want to sing a note. I didn’t sing for a year. I tried to convince myself that I wanted to work in the music industry behind the scenes and did varying jobs with varying success, but ultimately I was unhappy and ended up working an office job. Don’t get me wrong there is nothing wrong at all with a 9-5. You gotta do what you gotta do!
The initial plan of “Just 6 months temping to tide me over” turned in to two years of relative misery. I worked with some lovely people. I made some good friends. But I care little to nothing about finance, and the rubbish shift pattern stifled what little creativity I had left. I really wasn’t in a good place, and felt that certain aspects of my personality were getting in the way of me getting on with life. Add that to a brain that doesn’t switch off and you can imagine it’s potentially a recipe for disaster! I decided to go to the Dr to see how he could help. After filling out some forms and answering a few questions, my Doctor declared I had anxiety and was pretty depressed, gave me a prescription for Duloxetine and sent me on my way.
Now what Drs don’t warn you about some antidepressants is that they make you feel completely numb to anything. I didn’t realise at the time, but Duloxetine are pretty strong and I was on a high dose. I remember going out in Brighton around a week or so after first taking them. There were a lot of street performers around, and to my amazement there was a Drag Queen hanging out of a window, singing arias (It was Le Gateau Chocolat if you must know). I remember this moment particularly well because I stood and watched him sing and I didn’t feel anything. I wanted to smile, I couldn’t. I wanted to laugh at his fabulous jokes and I physically couldn’t! I couldn’t FEEL anything and it was the worst thing ever. I asked my boyfriend to take me home. I got home and wanted to sob, but the tears wouldn’t come. I’ve never felt (or not felt) anything like it. ‘So this is how the pills work’ I thought. I certainly didn’t feel depressed any more, but I didn’t feel anything else either. I stuck with the duloxetine for around 4 more months, but the side effects of dry mouth, incessant yawning and having no emotion made me return to the Doctor to see what he could do.
I took another test. This time I was less depressed, but still pretty anxious. I think it’s somewhat ingrained into my psyche. I remember specifically asking the Dr if he could do anything to ‘calm my Asperger’s down’. I had to wean off the Duloxetine for a fortnight and then I started on Citalopram. Ahh, Citalopram! Doctors give this stuff out like sweets you know! I can kind of see why, I can’t describe it exactly but it certainly ‘takes the edge off’. This is the period where I disappeared for a bit. I went to work and that was about it. After some time on these I started to level out, or so I thought. However, months went by and I went from 10mg, to 20mg, stayed on 20mg for ages and then ended up on 30mg, then 40mg. I’m not sure how this happened really, every time I went to the Doctors to talk about how I was feeling, I’d just get given a prescription for a higher dose. Looking back, I guess I could have challenged it, but at the time I was just happy to get the prescription for that ‘quick fix’.
Scott used to say that the citalopram definitely had an effect on me. I was less erratic, less moody, generally much, much calmer. If I ever forgot to take one you would definitely know about it! I’d be extremely impulsive, prone to random outbursts and extremely excitable. It got to the point where my friends would tell me they absolutely LOVED it on days where I ‘d forgotten to take my meds because it was like having the ‘old Sophie back’. I didn’t realise that I’d gone anywhere at the time, but looking back now, I had disappeared in more ways than one. I’d completely lost the essence of what makes me, me and I didn’t realise it.
I stumbled my way through the next year or so, got back in to music again at the encouragement of my mates, joined a band and had a lot of fun, got to play a lot of festivals, all sorts, it was great! I started to see a light at the end of the tunnel. I started to think about ways of earning a living for myself and be myself without having to follow orders or protocols. (I really dislike being told what to do). I eventually quit my office job and faffed around for 6 weeks. I started a choir which was great, it got me doing what I wanted to be doing, made me happy and made others happy too, which was really uplifting, however the lack of structure and really knowing what I was doing kicked back in, and anxiety came back. I changed to a different Doctors surgery as I thought a new Doctor might be able to offer something different, and I was thinking about coming off the Citalopram. When I left of the surgery I cried because I was so happy. It felt like the first time in years a Doctor had actually listened to me, about how I was feeling and what I wanted to do about it. She was quite a young Doctor, probably not much older than me – and personally I felt like this might have had something to do with her more progressive attitude towards mental illness. She suggested coming off the Citalopram, and instead trying a very old tried and tested medication called Amitryptline. The reason behind this is that although my anxiety was fairly low at that point, I have a chronic condition (ugh here we go) that renders me almost always in some degree of pain, always tired and often quite irritable due to poor quality of sleep. ‘It’s a bit of a wonder drug that will help with the pain and lack of sleep, but it also works for anxiety so see how you get on’. The Doctor also suggested trying Therapy.
This was the first time a Doctor had suggested something OTHER than pills in 4+ years. I was a little apprehensive at first, but she referred me to the Brighton Health and Wellbeing Service and I got a letter through soon after. (You can also self-refer, saving having to go to your GP) After reading that I could do online counselling, where you chat to a therapist in a chat-room type setting, I thought I’d give it a go. I’d been recommended for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), a talking therapy whereby you learn to change the way of how you think and behave.
It was during this time I got a part time office job to tide me over the summer for a bit of extra income. In all honesty I hated it. The job, the people, the banality of it all. I never want to use Salesforce ever again! I was feeling rather sorry for myself and ‘woe is me’ but not actually doing anything about it. Then one morning on my way to work I got a phone call from my Scott’s stepdad. Scott’s Mum had been taken in to hospital after having a fit and they didn’t know what was wrong with her. After a week or so of tests we found our it was terminal cancer. I don’t really know how to describe the next 6 weeks other than I went on complete auto-pilot. I’m the kind of person who will have a complete meltdown if something small goes wrong or my routine is messed up in any way, but it turns out I’m extremely calm in times of genuine crisis. Scott was away in Portsmouth with his family a lot during this time, and I stayed at home working extra shifts. I spent a lot of time alone with my thoughts and didn’t really have many people to talk to apart from a couple of close friends. I stuck to my weekly CBT sessions. I’m really glad that I did, as although I don’t think they worked in changing the way that I think, they were really therapeutic in that it was good to get everything on my mind off my chest to someone that wasn’t close to me and who wasn’t going to tell me to ‘pull myself together’ or ‘get some fresh air, that will do you good’ or other thoughtless crap. Just writing down the way I feel and reading it back was really helpful and made me realise a lot of things about myself and why I am the way I am.
Scott’s Mum never made it out of the hospital. She passed away after 6 weeks. She was 49. Seeing someone get really sick and die before your eyes and watching your boyfriend try to keep it together for everyone as he loses his Mother is definitely up there with the worst things I’ve ever had to experience.
I lost my part time job a couple of months later. Before, I would definitely have gone in to meltdown mode but it turned out to be one of the best things to ever happen to me! I didn’t want to waste another second of my life doing a crap job that I hate. I know it’s cliché, but losing Scott’s Mum made me realise that life really is too short.
“Everyday is like a battle// but we’ll overcome// when we get back in the saddle// faith will bring us home”
It was around this time that I decided to stop taking medication altogether. I wanted to know what it felt like to not take anything anymore. I’d gone full circle with the meds. I went on them to make me feel less anxious and more focused, but eventually they made me feel like I couldn’t see straight any more. My personality had changed, I was like a lesser version of myself, I’d slowly been erasing my quirks and personality traits over a period of five years.
The Amitryptline were good but I got an annoying side effect of really bad fluttering in my ear which is not what you want as musician. At one point I was convinced a moth was trapped inside my ear. I’d also I’d get really bad hangovers from them and feel tired during the day. Scott had been practising meditation for a few months to help him focus/sleep and in all honesty, I mocked him for it at first. It was only after a while I decided to be less stubborn and give it a go myself! It definitely has its uses and is worth a try. I also decided to start talking more and being more open and honest with myself and others about how I’m feeling. I credit having a great circle of friends and a brilliant partner to be able to do this in the first place.
Coming off meds was a massive step for me and I’ll be totally honest, I was shitting it. What if I have mood swings? What if I feel suicidal? What if I come across as really autistic!? All this and more crossed my mind, but I made myself do it. I can say that no, I haven’t been suicidal, yes I do have marginally more mood swings (I say marginally, Scott would probably beg to differ) and yes I am more impulsive, scatty, excitable, easily distracted and tactless. I’ve decided these aren’t autistic traits, but MY traits. I am who I am and I’m not going to try and erase parts of myself in an attempt to fit in/appease others/be this person that I think I should be. I still have my blips. I still apologise too much, I still have meltdowns over tiny issues, but I’ve come to realise this is me. Believe it or not I still have days of complete silence where I don’t feel like uttering a word (shock horror) and days where I’d prefer to spend hours reading up on one subject that’s piqued my interest (history of the London Underground anyone? No, I don’t know why either), or deciding to listen to the entire back catalogue of a certain band in one evening. I’ll be damned if anyone could beat me at a game of trivial pursuit.
I’d like to point out that because I’ve talked about how I chose to come off medication, it doesn’t mean that anybody else should. Different things work for different people, and the meds did work for me for quite some time! I have personally chosen to try and take a different approach, and if I ever feel like I’m having a shitty time, I wouldn’t hesitate to contact my GP. Admitting you may need help (be it counselling or medication) is the first step to getting better, and that is commendable in itself.
I am by no means a Doctor, but I have a few Mental Health tips that have helped/are helping me muddle my way through life:
- Talk about your feelings! To someone, anyone! If you’re feeling shitty, getting it off your chest can help. Don’t bury things… it ends badly (I can vouch for this)
- Write stuff down. Write down what ever is on your mind. Then do whatever you like with it. Burn it. throw it away. Leave it in a drawer at your parents house to read 10 years later (I did that. It was quite funny reading back)
- Try to do something you enjoy or something that you’re good at. I realise this may be hard when you’re in the throes of depression or anxiety, but sometimes making yourself do something you enjoy even for a short amount of time or in the comfort of your own home can make a little bit of difference.
- Ask for help. We aren’t superhuman and things get too much some times. Don’t be worried about holding your hands up and asking for a bit of assistance!
- GET A PET. OK maybe don’t get a pet, but getting a cat changed my life. My cat can see in to my soul and I love him. It’s nice having something to look after 🙂
- TAKE A BREAK! Even if it’s just five minutes from your day, just have a bit of YOU time. Life is really full on and we forget to look after ourselves.
- ACCEPT WHO YOU ARE. This is probably the most important one to me and the one that has made the most difference. I spent much of my life trying to appease other people, trying to fit in and trying to be like everyone else. Don’t bother, it’s a waste of time! It’s definitely easier said than done but once you do reach that point of self acceptance, it’s an amazing feeling.
- I feel like I should add the bog standard stuff like ‘eat healthily, exercise etc’ so I am going to say it. Personally I absolutely hate exercising in the form of going to the gym but I LOVE dancing/zumba anything like that. I’m also partial to a bit of Yoga. Do what you can, when you can. But don’t feel bad if you fancy pigging out once in a while, it’s not worth beating yourself up over.
If you’ve managed to get to the end of this essay, I’d like to thank you for your perseverance. 🙂 Wishing you a positive World Mental Health Day <3