On climbing out of a hole

When I tell people how happy I am now, how different things are to how they were last year sometimes they ask me how I did it.

I wish I knew. There’s no magic solution, and to be honest I don’t think I am recovered, but still recovering. It takes time, lots of time.

This post deals with how I personally have dealt with depression and got myself out of the “hole.” This is not medical or professional advice, in fact it’s not even advice – these methods may or may not be helpful for other people, it’s just what I personally have done to help myself recover. Maybe it can help people who are stuck have some hope that things can get better, because they really can. It’s important to have your GP/psychologist/psychiatrist/etc to help support you, and even more importantly;  remember you do not have to do it on your own…

CBT was a big help, I know that. It was painful, and in reality, I have not finished dealing with all of the issues, but I’ve dealt with some things. I’ve learned how to deal with my anxiety differently, I’ve learned how to see my behaviour differently, and sometimes (on a good day) I can cut myself some slack, and say it’s ok not to be perfect. That was a big step.

I have tried 5 different anti-depressants, all at various doses. After 5 with no effect, I thought there wasn’t any anti-depressant that could help. Then the psychiatrist increased the dosage of the 5th medication (lofepramine), just to check and after that things got better. I do not know whether the medication is what helped, or if it was the CBT, or pure coincidence, but I think it was more likely a combination of the CBT and the medication. So my tip is don’t give up, sometimes it takes a lot of different attempts to get it right but trust the doctors, they are trying to help, and maybe it’ll pay off in the end.

And I opened up to people, I didn’t keep it all inside. I told people I was struggling. I asked for help, and I got help. You don’t have to do it on your own, and sometimes talking to people helps… it shows you that they care, and it lets out some of the pain that you are dealing with.

Once I started feeling a bit better, life became easier. My concentration improved and I could work again (a massive help when it came to revision and exam time!) And it has a knock-on effect. When you feel a bit better, you are more open to do things that you might enjoy, and then before you know it, you’re actually smiling because you’re happy instead of that old pretence you’re so used to.

Another thing I did was I started climbing. It doesn’t have to be climbing, anything active is good for you (physically or mentally) or even something that’s not sporty – a hobby, something you can do for fun, preferably something you can improve at. Then you start to see your progress, and see that you can achieve something, you can grasp every victory, even if it’s completing a new level wall or just getting one hold higher. If it’s knitting your first scarf, or even your first stitch… it’s all progress, it’s all an achievement!

Then I moved to Germany. It was make or break time. A whole new life, where there are no memories to hurt me and no one I know. I got the chance to start again. A lot of people won’t have this option, but I’m glad I did. I was so unsure about doing this year abroad but I can now safely say, 6 months in, that it was the best thing I could’ve done for me, for my health, for my happiness. And I’ve been taking every opportunity, making the most of this year… Last week I went on a cabbage tour, despite the fact I don’t like cabbage, and it was fun. I got to talk to the teachers outside school and it was nice. And I found myself telling one of the teachers that I don’t want to go home… a massive difference to the way I thought I’d be dealing with this year. I didn’t think I could do it, I thought it would go slowly, I thought I’d want to go home, but I was wrong. (And I’m so glad about that.)

Today I did the depression questionnaire on the NHS website, the same one I used to fill in every week at CBT and everytime I saw my GP about depression, it is scored out of 27. Today I scored 9, indicating mild depression. What a difference from last time I filled that in… I used to get scores of over 20. Turns out I’ve come quite a long way. But it also shows that even though things are much much better, and a lot of the time I am happy, I can’t just ignore it now.

It’s not just about getting out of the hole, it’s about staying out of it… Because depression has a very high relapse rate, and looking after your mental wellbeing is something everyone should do all the time, not just those suffering from mental illnesses, and expecting that once you’ve “recovered” it’s all over is a big mistake, and one that can lead to a bigger fall. My next post will deal with staying out of the hole (once you’ve climbed out of it.)

So tired

Constantly. So tired.

It’s been like this for a long time. I can’t even remember NOT being tired. But some days I’m completely knackered, like today. An early night is needed I think.

I asked at the doctors if there’s anything they can do about constant tiredness. She said 9 times out of 10 it’s something psychological rather than physical so there’s probably not a lot they can do. She said I can have a blood test to check, but it’s unlikely that there’s a chemical/physical cause. I’ve already been checked for anaemia and I didn’t have it last time, so I doubt I’ve developed it now.

But it’s mentally draining, being tired all the time. I never feel like I’m functioning the way I could if I wasn’t tired. But no amount of sleep seems to help. I kind of expected that once I started feeling better (like I have been over the last few months), this constant tiredness would go away. But no, of course not. I want to be able to live to my full potential, instead of being a walking zombie all the time!

Oh – and don’t even get me started on the dark circles under my eyes. They are horrible. And very dark. My dad always calls it “panda eyes”, and yes I definitely do have panda eyes – no amount of concealer can hide them! I’m very self-conscious about this too, but there’s not a lot I can do except put concealer on and hope for the best.

I’ve just had a thought, and I’m fairly sure this is quite a repetitive post, I’m sure I’ve written about this before. But I’m STILL tired, so I’m writing about it again.

It’s not too bad though – at least I can sleep, even if it doesn’t stop me being tired. In the months where I couldn’t sleep properly, it was HORRIBLE. I dread to think how hard it must be for people with insomnia. The feeling of being so tired, and wanting to sleep, and not being able to is so frustrating. I can remember getting really wound up and angry with myself for not being able to sleep, but of course that only makes the problem worse because when you’re stressed, you can’t sleep. Nasty cycle.

It would be great, really really great, if I could get a good night’s sleep. And by that I mean sleeping all the way through the night, no waking up, no nightmares, no screaming, crying or any of that strange stuff. Wouldn’t it be lovely…

Ellie’s little think (and ramble)

Today I went to the doctors. It seems like I haven’t been in ages! Last term I was going every week (not an exageration) but I think this was only the 2nd or maybe 3rd time I’ve been this term (and the term is nearly over now!) That’s progress in itself, I haven’t felt the need to go because things have been improving.

Over the last month or so I have felt a bit worse again and had a few wobbles. But I’m still a lot better than I was, so maybe recovery isn’t a straight line all at one gradient, it seems like it has its ups and downs, and times when things seem to stay the same for a while. But looking back, things are SO much better than they were, and I’ve come a long way this year.

I also got a copy of the letter from the psychiatrist (that I saw in February) to give to my GP in London when I get home. So obviously I had to read it… (Ever tried having a letter that is about you and not reading it? No thank you!) I thought it might upset me a bit, it is the reality of how things are (were?) in 4 pages. Written without compassion or explanation, just the bare bones of it really… And it was difficult to read. I had a little cry.

And then I had a little think, because these kind of things do make you think. One thing about this letter was that it had an actual diagnosis. It says depression and anxiety with post traumatic symptoms. And in that one sentence, it brings validity to what I am feeling. Someone else’s words shouldn’t be worth more than my own experience and emotions, but somehow it is. Sometimes I still think that maybe it isn’t that bad, or I’ve been overreacting to normal emotions. Sometimes I still doubt that it’s all real. But this man knows his stuff, and he is saying it’s real.

But since February things started to improve, little by little. Sometimes there were big changes, sometimes tiny, almost insignificant changes. And still now, I have my wobbles, and I have my little victories, but most important of all I have hope again. Hope that things can change and get better, hope that I can do this!

Well this is all sounding a bit positive and progressive isn’t it?! Time to add some worrying (because otherwise this wouldn’t be an Ellie post!)

I got an email back from the school I am going to in Germany today. I emailed them yesterday, in German. My “Betreuungslehrerin” (mentor teacher) emailed me back today, in English. So now I’m stuck; a decision that probably wouldn’t phase most people, but somehow any decision gets me into a flap! I’m just not good with decisions. So do I reply in English? Do I reply in German? Do I do half and half? (No Ellie, that is ridiculous!)

And what about living arrangements. She mentioned that in the past sometimes the assistant has found a flat in the town, sometimes lived in the nearest city (about an hour away) or she said I could live with one of the other teachers… Too much choice, too many decisions! I’ve decided not to reply today, but I’ll think about it and try and get out of this anxious worrying. Because really, whatever decisions I make – English or German, town or city, alone or with people, it’s not that important. And living arrangements can be changed if it doesn’t work out when I get there…

So time for Elllie to take a deep breath, and CALM DOWN.

Talking of breathing, I must do my meditation for today! And that’s another thing I want to blog about.

I’ve also been trying to plan my dissertation. As I’m doing psychology, we have to do an experiment so need ethics approval. I’ve been working on my ethics proposal today, but have been stopped in my tracks as there is a large flaw in my experimental plans… I have a PC and not a Mac. I have never seen this as an issue before, but apparently the software that I was planning to use for testing in my dissertation which measure reaction time does not exist on PCs!! (I mean seriously, come on!!) So there has been a lot of rushing around, panicking, and emailing my supervisor… hopefully we will sort this out soon! The problem is that next week is the last week of term, and I’m leaving Lancaster then so won’t be able to organise these things once I’m gone!

(Once again, breathing may be useful here!)

So little time, so much to do! In just over a week I will be leaving Lancaster until after my year abroad! Scary stuff!

Edit: I have just seen that I have passed the 200 mark on followers! Wow!! 🙂

One step at a time

Sometimes I need to remember that it’s ok to take little steps. Recovery does not happen overnight, even small amounts of progress take time. I am one of those people who wants to achieve everything straight away. But I can’t. (Because no one can!)

Take climbing as an example. I have learnt in the couple of months that I have been climbing for, that progress takes time and that little improvements are good. Yesterday I went climbing, I tried a route I hadn’t done before and couldn’t do it, and I tried one that I had tried before and still couldn’t do it. I was talking to S and saying that I felt like I was getting worse at climbing (instead of improving) and  it had been a very unsuccessful climb, and that I only got a little bit further on the one I couldn’t do before so I was disappointed. He said, but you got further than last time, so surely that’s progress and not getting worse!? And he’s right. I know he is, but until he said it, it didn’t register in my mind in that way. Maybe I’m just too used to putting myself down.

And when it comes to recovery it’s the same. I feel frustrated and disappointed that I don’t magically feel better yet. I have tried to put a time limit on it (as in, I must be better before I go to Germany) but that isn’t a realistic goal. Yes, I am a lot better than I was, and I hope to make more progress before I go to Germany, but the chances are I’m still going to have some problems. These things don’t go away overnight, especially when it’s complicated and it has been building up for a long time.

I asked A whether the psychiatrist had actually diagnosed me with PTSD. I guess a part of me still feels that I don’t have it, how could I? My experiences weren’t bad enough… But what does that even mean? Who is anyone to say what events and experiences are and aren’t traumatic enough. I feel like I am a fake, that I’m being a drama queen and making a fuss out of nothing. And at the same time I know that this stuff did happen and did affect me. Maybe I just want some validation in the form of a diagnosis. If a doctor says it then it must be true. Don’t even get me started on the flaws in that, talk about irrational! Anyway, A said she will try and get me a copy of the letter that the psychiatrist wrote, and she said that when I’ve filled in the impacts of events scale (which is a questionnaire that they use to diagnose PTSD) my scores definitely indicate that I have it.

I want to stop the past from affecting my future. Most of the time I manage to fight against things – do things even though they scare me, try and succeed even though my thoughts tell me I’ll fail (because of the past). But when it comes to relationship stuff I’m a mess. It’s probably not surprising, given that my relationship with the ex was not only a long one (nearly 3 years) but also my first relationship. And so I find it hard to trust. I’m scared, terrified that S is going to cheat on me, and even more than that I am scared that he is going to leave me. He tells me that he’s not going anywhere, that I should trust him, that I am just pushing him away. I asked him not to let me [push him away], and he said it’s hard because even though we’ve been together a year and a half and he’s never given me a reason not to trust him, I’m still convinced something will go wrong…

So this is a reminder for me and anyone else with this tendency to forget to take things one step at a time… Progress is slow and it takes time but it will happen!

Lots of love,

Ellie xx

There’s no magic wand

I knew that before. But I guess I was still hoping…

Today was my appointment with the psychiatrist that I have been waiting for for quite a while. 

I managed to get lost on the way, but found the place eventually, and even arrived on time.

We sat and talked for about an hour. He asked questions. I answered them. I cried. I cried more. 

He increased the dosage of my medication. I cried even more.

He said “There’s nothing you’ve told me that we can’t help you with” and then explained his “plan”. But I couldn’t stop crying.

He wants me to try a higher dosage for a month. If that doesn’t help, he wants me to try another antidepressant. And if that doesn’t work then he will try combining an antidepressant with an antipsychotic, which apparently can also be prescribed for depression/anxiety and can help with flash backs. He also said that after I finish my CBT, there might be other talking therapies to try.

So there are ways forward. So I should be happy? Relieved? 

I’m not. I am sad. Sad that there is nothing they can do that will help me NOW. Sad that getting better is months or years away. And sad that there wasn’t something blindingly obvious that we had missed, like another diagnosis which could be treated easily and would suddenly mean I’d get better.

I know there’s no such thing. I know it’s a long journey. I know people spend years and years fighting depression. But I want to feel better now. I could deal with ok, I don’t even need happy. I just want to be able to finish my degree, but I can’t keep going forever the way things are at the moment. 

I should be feeling more hopeful – there are things that can still be done. But instead I feel disappointed and let down. I don’t know what I was hoping for, but not this.

I just can’t stop crying.

Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a magic cure?

CBT – Week 6*

Today I went to my CBT session, and if you read my post yesterday, you’ll know I was feeling very anxious and scared about it, and really didn’t want to go. I decided to be kind to myself and got a taxi instead of walking up that massive hill for a change!

As suggested by some of you here (being the lovely and helpful people that you are!) I spoke to A about it, and told her that I had really struggled with writing down the memory, and about the flash backs, nightmares and screaming in the night.

She said we will wait a bit longer before we start the trauma work. In a way I am disappointed because I wanted to get it over with, but I am also relieved because I think it probably was too soon, and I probably wouldn’t have been able to deal with it very well at the moment. So instead we are looking at the thoughts which come with the feelings.

CBT says that thoughts cause feelings which cause behaviours, so in order to change feelings and behaviours, we have to change the thoughts. And that means starting by identifying the thoughts which cause the feelings. For example, I may think “I am useless” (thought) which will cause me to feel down (feeling), so I hide in bed (behaviour).

I need to become more aware of my thoughts so that I can start to counteract them with evidence. And realise that they are only thoughts, so they don’t have to be right.

A gave the example that even if I think about her crashing her car on the way home, it won’t cause it to happen! I said “That’s not very nice!” 

We will look at the thoughts that I identify, and test them, to see if there is evidence for them. It all sounds very scientific! 

I did some crying in my session (as usual) and A also said she thinks we need to look at the anger as well. As well as feeling upset/hurt/sad about the memories, I am also very angry. Angry at myself, angry at him, angry at anyone who didn’t do anything to help. 

Also this week I will be seeing my GP (tomorrow) and the psychiatrist (on Thursday) so it’s a very busy week for appointments! I am really hoping that the psychiatrist will be able to make the right diagnosis/es and hopefully work out the right medication for me! Although I’m pretty sure that he will say I have anxiety, depression (as previously diagnosed) and PTSD (which has been suggested but not diagnosed).

I asked A about my mood swings and tried to explain that even when I am feeling horrific, and at my lowest I normally manage to do things that I have committed to, like going to lectures, but that doesn’t mean I am ok, and it doesn’t mean I take anything in! I know that part of what they measure how bad things are on is your functioning level, but even though I appear to function, I’m really not. My memory and concentration are appalling, and I sit in lectures without listening to a word half of the time. She said that I need to make sure I tell the psychiatrist all of this, and that he will understand where I am coming from. Apparently he is very good** and is nice, so hopefully it will go ok on Thursday. I just want things to be sorted out and to start making progress.

So all in all, today was a difficult but kind of helpful session. AND afterwards I took the decision to go home and rest instead of going to class because I need to start looking after myself and stop doing things just because I “should”. 

*There was no week 5, in case you’re wondering where that went!

**Well I should hope so too!

6th time lucky?

I went to see my GP today. We talked about what has been going on – the screaming, feeling detached, no concentration etc.

We decided to try another medication. I’m a little unsure on this – on one hand, I’ve tried 5, why would a 6th medication make a difference? But on the other hand, it’s probably worth a try! Also, my GP said this one has been recommended for me by the psychiatrist, so if I don’t try it now, that is what he is likely to suggest when I finally have my appointment with him (at the end of February) so I may as well try it now!

The new one is called Lofepramine, which is an older type of antidepressant apparently. It will take 3 – 4 weeks to get into my system… so we will see! Has anyone tried this one?

Also I went to see the disability service at my uni today, about travel to uni from CBT (by getting the bus I am late) and possibly extra time in exams. The lady was really nice. She gave me a form to fill in to apply for disabled students allowance, and says I need to get a letter from my doctor, and then they can sort out extra time in exams, and I can do my summer exams in a smaller room (which hopefully equals less anxiety!)

This is good news! Although I will have to do a 2 hour assessment so they can see what I need and how they can help! The other annoying thing is that I have to pay for a letter from the doctor… Why do we have to pay for something which proves our own medical history?! Apparently they are around £30… so not even cheap!

So today I am feeling a little bit hopeful for the future – new medication to start tomorrow, and probably extra time in exams which might help me!

But on the other hand I’m feeling really low. The hopefulness is very small, compared to the feeling of emptiness and being really fed up. What I really want to do is hide in my room for a few days, with no responsibilities, and just rest. But no, can’t do that – life gets in the way! I am hoping to have a restful weekend though!

This morning I had a lecture at 9am, I spent a good hour arguing with myself, telling myself to get out of bed. I did it eventually, and made it to the lecture only a couple of minutes late.

This is a daily routine. Sometimes I win, sometimes the depression wins. But I am trying. My attendance isn’t perfect, but it’s not bad considering everything.

Tomorrow is another 9am, this time it’s a German seminar… can’t even sleep my way through one of those!

After that I have agreed to go to the gym with my housemate. It will be horrible, but I know it’s good for me, and afterwards hopefully I’ll feel a little better!

Now I’m off to do some german grammar exercises, then bed, and hopefully a decent night’s sleep!

Hope all my bloggy friends are doing ok! 🙂

Lots of love,

Ellie xxx

Things that go “arghhh” in the night

Over the last week, I have been told that I’ve been screaming in my sleep.

The first one was last Monday. Apparently my housemate (Mr Map) came in, had a full conversation with me, and I was crying, and then when he left I stopped crying after a while and went back to sleep. I have no recollection of this at all… Very strange.

The second one was on Saturday. I must’ve screamed in my sleep, because the next thing I knew, I was in that state of half awake, half asleep and I thought there was a man standing next to me. Just as I properly awakened, Mr Map came in and asked what was wrong. Again, I had screamed and had no recollection of this. The only difference is that this time I woke up and do remember the conversation.

And the third time was last night. Apparently at about 4am I screamed 3 times (according to one of my housemates – Shopaholic). Again – no recollection of this, and I didn’t wake up after it.

It’s all very strange! It has only happened twice before – last year at uni, and both times within a week. But both of those times I woke up screaming, so I knew I had screamed. This week I don’t remember any of them!

I don’t really know what is going on… Any ideas? Could it be because I’ve come off my medication?

Will definitely be mentioning this to the doctor on Thursday!

When is it a crisis?

The NHS have “crisis teams” which you can call/go and see if you are having a crisis.

But what is a crisis?

My doctor once said if things get any worse I should call them.

How are you meant to know whether you should call or not?

I don’t want to waste their time. Even at my lowest points, all I could think was: This is not a crisis. There are people who need the help more than me. I’d just be wasting their time. They would be angry with me for wasting their time. I’m not worth their help anyway. And what could they possibly do to help??

So I didn’t call them.

This all got me thinking, what is a crisis? What are the NHS Crisis teams for?

So I consulted Mind’s website – http://www.mind.org.uk/mental_health_a-z/8038_the_mind_guide_to_crisis_services

And this is what it says about crises:

Mental health crises include:

  • suicidal behaviour or intention
  • panic attacks/extreme anxiety
  • psychotic episodes (loss of sense of reality, hallucinations, hearing voices)
  • other behaviour that seems out of control or irrational and that is likely to endanger yourself or others.

And who can help in a crisis?

Crisis Resolution and Home Treatment (CRHT) teams

  • usually includes a psychiatrist, mental health nurses, social workers and support workers.

Community Mental Health Teams (CMHTs) are teams of mental health professionals who support people with ongoing mental health problems living in the community.

~ ~ ~

But this still doesn’t really answer my question: When is a crisis a crisis?!

And back down again…

**Trigger Warning – Suicidal Thoughts**

Today has not been good.

I got up (just about) and got to my 9am lecture. It was boring as hell (statistics) but I made it. Then I went to my lab, where we had to listen to her lecture for 3 hours!! Again, boring, but I made it.

I went to the doctors. I was sitting in the waiting room. There were lots of babies and young children. That was a trigger in itself. And then when some of the babies cried, I started crying too. Too many painful memories. Too many “what if”s…

By the time I got to see my doctor (over 20 minutes late) I was feeling really really rubbish.

When she asked me how I was getting in, that was it – I was off, in floods of tears (again).

I told her I’m frustrated because nothing is helping. How my mood is all over the place and is so unpredictable. About not being able to concentrate and feeling worse because of my weight. About just feeling awful.

She asked if I have people I can talk to. I do, but I don’t want to. I don’t want people knowing just how bad it is. Then they would worry. So I drip information. Different things to different people so no one knows the extent of it.

I told her I don’t want to do this anymore and I can’t see an end to this. She said that things will get better in time. I’ve given it a year and a half, and things are getting arguably worse.

I can’t tell people, my doctor included what I think about. They will just worry and I’m not worth worrying about. I can’t stop thinking about dying. Ways to die.

Everytime I see a speeding car, I’m so tempted. Seeing the frozen canal… so tempted. The tablets, the knife….

But don’t worry. Because I’m “low risk”. This is because I don’t want to hurt my friends and family. I don’t want them to have to go through my pain. So just for them, I’m still here.

But the real truth is. If it didn’t affect anyone else, I’d be dead by now. All I cling on to, all that is keeping me safe is that I don’t want to cause other people pain.

Why can’t I look after myself?

I just want something to stop the pain.

All productivity for today has gone out of the window. I’m in bed, pajamas on, stuffing my fat face with chocolate raisins and probably going to have a sleep after this.

I can’t do my work. I have so much stuff to do and I can’t do any of it.

Am I just lazy? Why can’t I do what everyone else can do?

I’m sick of getting extensions for my work. Do you really think an extra week is going to help me? No it isn’t. It’s more time, but the work is still not going to be any good. Not compared to how I could do, if I was feeling good.

I’m drowning in despair and I can’t see a way out. What am I going to do?

I’m going to let everyone down. I have a social tomorrow for the society, I don’t want to go. I have work to do; I don’t want to do it. I have lectures and seminars, and I don’t want to go. I just want this all to end. Too much pain here.

And all of this triggered from seeing a couple of babies.

I’m pathetic. I want to give up but I don’t have the guts. How pathetic is that?