Admitting defeat.

“Bereavement and low mood.”

That’s what Dr B wrote on my doctor’s note after signing me off work. He said he didn’t want to put depression, despite prescribing me anti-depressants, because he didn’t think I was clinically depressed and also because of the stigma attached to the word. In his words, I’m just in a “shit situation” – bored, stifled and scared at work, hating my houseshare but unable to afford my own place, struggling to cope with the loss of a longtime friend, reeling from the sudden death of my grandma, and recovering from the recent breakdown of a relationship that, at the second time of asking, I can’t seem to get over. He said any one of those things would be good reason to lose it. To have them all occur in the space of a month is more than anyone should be expected to deal with.

So, I’ve become a what I think is a cliché. Signed off work and prescribed anti-depressants and sleeping tablets, at the age of 26, when I’m in the prime of my life, when I should be enjoying every opportunity afforded to me, embracing the future and not wallowing needlessly in the past. What on earth is wrong with me?

Stupidly I now feel guilty for any kind of happiness I feel; I went to a football match today, which was fun, yet I felt like I somehow had to act like I wasn’t enjoying myself as otherwise I didn’t deserve to be signed off. Bullshit. When you’re contemplating driving off the motorway into the embankment (whilst your little sister is in the car) then you have a problem, and you shouldn’t have to justify any kind of pleasure you take from life when generally it all seems overwhelmingly hopeless.

Dr B said I needed two months off. I refused, because of what my boss would say, because of how it would affect my future job prospects, none of which are things I would give a damn about if I had broken my leg or was undergoing treatment for a physical disease. I agreed to a week initially, and said I would see how it went. So far it feels like weakness, it feels like defeat, it feels like scamming a week off work for no good reason. But I’m at home, and I’m eating, and I’ve got my parents with me and I’m no longer sobbing in my car in case my housemates hear me in my bedroom. Things are far from perfect and I’m still agonising over whether to take the anti-depressants or not (the sleeping tablets seemed less scary and have sort of helped). But I can try and think here. I can try and visualise the future. I can try and make a plan and see where it takes me.

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When it turns out things can always get worse.

Grandma died today.

It wasn’t unexpected – well, not totally. She had been poorly for a while. But she’d always come back fighting and I didn’t think this time would be any different, even at the age of 87, even with pneumonia, even with dementia. When my phone rang at 7.25am I assumed it was my alarm and sleepily hit the cancel button. It wasn’t my alarm. It was my dad.

It’s strange to think that she’s gone. She was always so tiny yet so formidable, a no-nonsense Yorkshirewoman with no time for fuss, who kept a small hatchet well into her eighties to keep her garden in check, who didn’t trust her microwave, who described any weather over 18 degrees as “mafting”, who taught me how to wrap presents properly one Christmas years ago. She always heated milk on the hob and made a fantastic fruit salad and could knit seemingly any animal of any shape; the octopus hanging from my childhood bedroom ceiling a bright blue testament to that. She was a crack shot with a gun and never watched her television and embraced her memory loss by remarking that at least now she could re-read old books and be surprised at the ending.

I’m going to miss her.

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When the only way must be up.

Today I walked out of my doctor’s surgery with two prescriptions: one for sleeping tablets, one for anti-depressants. If you’d asked me ten years ago to describe the kind of person such drugs would generally be prescribed to, I’d never in a million years have described myself. And I’m scared because the kind of person I would have described is not a person I want to be.

Things have not been great lately; family illnesses, friendship drama, work difficulties and a relationship break-down all combined to make Christmas rather less festive and fun than it should have been. It seems almost like juggling, in that I was keeping so many balls in the air that when one inevitably fell to the floor all of the rest came crashing down too. The consequences of that (no sleep, no appetite, no desire to do anything except sit in my bedroom staring at the wall) were immediate, unwelcome and all too familiar. Cue the call to my doctor, the two weeks of waiting for an appointment, the worry that in the interim I would totally break down.

I didn’t break down. I kept going. But now I’m at a crossroads and I don’t know what to do. I’ve always believed that my mind and thoughts can’t be treated with drugs; it’s more about unlearning patterns of thinking, and no tablet can help with that. So to be told today by my doctor that he doesn’t think talking therapies are helping me wasn’t what I wanted to hear.

I don’t want to take the tablets. I want to believe I can get better on my own. I’m scared of them, what they represent and the possible side effects they might have; I don’t want to become dependent, or feel even worse than I do now. But at the moment I’m existing rather than living. Shouldn’t I try anything to change that, to get back to my old self? Dr B wouldn’t have given them to me if he didn’t think they would help, surely. But then what else could he do? Send me away with nothing?

I’m tired, and confused, and when you’ve no idea what’s the best course of action all directions seem impossible. I just want to be better.

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When you’re not alone.

I love Anna Kendrick. In fact, I love her probably more than is healthy, as most of my long-suffering friends will be aware (luckily they tend to share the appreciation). And to my  delight, Anna has written a book, Scrappy Little Nobody, which is finally due out in the UK. Because of this Glamour magazine have published an excerpt, which is Anna talking about getting her heart broken after a terrible relationship, and I don’t think I’ve ever related harder to anything in my life. Almost every line could have been written by me, if I was far wittier and more eloquent. Key quotes that I identify with so much it hurts include:

“I’d been so nervous when we met (and only got increasingly nervous as I tried to win his affection) that as a result I have no idea what I was even like around him {…} I had this fantasy of a braver parallel-universe version of myself, but around him I became the most sterile, inoffensive version instead.”

“Sometimes I’d send a breezy text and spend the day staring at my phone until he invited me over.”

“I don’t know if being motivated by amazing sex would have made my desperation more pathetic or less, but I cannot say that was part of it.”

“He seemed to debate himself Sméagol/­Gollum style in front of me: “Well, we get along…and I’m not saying that I want to be with anyone else right now…but I guess I don’t want to miss out on any opportunities.” I should have screamed, “I’m the opportunity, you asshat!” But I clenched my teeth and convinced myself once again that I didn’t need a label.”

“It could have gone on like that for God knows how long—being ignored, making myself available, swearing I was fine with how things were, too nervous to push for “girlfriend” status. I was angrier with myself than I was with him. On one hand, he must have seen I was more invested than he was, and arguably he should have let me down easy in the first few weeks of knowing me. On the other, I can’t blame a guy for believing me (or more likely, pretending to believe me) when I insisted I was happy keeping things low-key.”

It goes on, but I won’t copy much more for fear of being sued, save for these final lines: “Looking back, it’s hard for me to understand what I was doing. Why on earth would I pursue someone who had no interest in me? […] The idea of acknowledging the rejection hurt more than pretending the relationship might be going somewhere.”

This is me. Why am I doing this? Pursuing something that doesn’t make me happy, that won’t ever make me happy, for literally no apparent reason. I can’t figure out why in this particular situation, I seem to have lost all sense of rationality. I’ve never been the sanest, most balanced person, but usually my anxiety, for all its faults, is pretty good at diverting me well away from anything I deem hurtful, worrying or harmful – even when there’s nothing actually wrong. And here, everything is very, very wrong.

So why, in this case, when for once I want it to be raising its ugly head, is it letting me down? It won’t let me go to the bloody theatre, or for a meal out, or travel in a car as a passenger, but it’ll let me carry on screwing myself over for the sake of a guy who does not care about me, who sees me as nothing but a vaguely amusing diversion when he’s got nothing better on. What has happened to the last of my self esteem that I’m, well, not happy, but willing to accept this for as long as he wants it? What will it take for me to wise up and tell him, quite rightly (and long overdue), to go fuck himself? As Anna says, I’m more angry at myself than him, because I let him treat me like this without admonishment. If I had any semblance of a backbone, or self respect, this would have been over a long time ago. But I gave it a second chance, gave him a second opportunity to treat me even more badly than he did the first time. I feel like I’m going mad, day to day, thoughts and feelings whirring like crazy round my head, one minute elated, the next at rock bottom. And I have no idea how to change it. What’s wrong with me?

(The extract from Anna’s book can be read here; I highly recommend it.)

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Déjà vu.

Another Saturday morning, another feeling of regret. It’s remarkable how fast shame and bitterness can set in once you stop blindly ignoring all the indicators stating the bleeding obvious. Apparently not content with destroying my mental health, I’m so tired I can barely see straight, because sleep just isn’t happening at the moment, and I had to have a rest on a two-minute walk to Waitrose because I haven’t eaten properly in about a week and thought I was going to pass out. In what world does this make getting what I wanted worthwhile? And how do you rewire your brain so that you stop wanting something that is slowly breaking you, day by day? I’m my own worst enemy. I want to go home.

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Making a mistake.

I did something stupid last night. Stupid in the sense that I knew full well it would only lead to more uncertainty, anxiety and misery, but that I wanted it to happen anyway. It’s funny really, when something can seem so enticing and so awful at the same time. And when everyone you know is giving you sage advice that contradicts what you want to hear, it just heightens the sense of regret when you realise they were right all along. I bring it all on myself and the worst thing is that I can see my self-destructive behavioural patterns from a mile off. But I carry on regardless, and so maybe it’s time to stop complaining when I see the signs but so frequently choose to ignore them. You reap what you sow.

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Let bravery be thy choice.

I’m not a very brave person. I tend to run away from anything even remotely resembling a difficult situation, confrontation of any kind bring tears to my eyes (which is hugely inconvenient to say the least) and sometimes even someone looking at me funny can make me upset. As I’ve mentioned in numerous previous posts, I prefer to take the path of least resistance (usually the path in the opposite direction) when it comes to addressing my problems.

But bravery can and should be measured in different ways. Running into a burning building to save a small child? Brave. Diving into the sea to rescue a drowning stranger? Brave. Standing up for someone who’s being bullied, even if you don’t know them? Brave. Yet it can be the littlest things that need courage too. For me, being brave is going into the hall at work for lunch every day. It’s going to the cinema. It’s getting on a plane for a short flight. It’s letting someone else drive the car. It’s going out for a meal. It’s greeting people at an event with a bright smile and a cheery manner, despite the fact my knees are buckling behind the table.

Part of why I can’t often drag myself out of my low moods is that I end up berating myself for celebrating the small occasions above. They’re nothing special, things everyone can do, why should I be so pleased with myself that I ate a whole plate of food surrounded by my colleagues? I don’t deserve praise for that, people do it all the time with no fuss. Well, that’s great. But I’m not people. I’m just me. And when you’re only small, even the littlest mountain that you climb deserves recognition. So I’m done apologising for and dismissing my achievements. Time to stop judging myself by other people’s standards.

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Little things to be proud of/happy about when I’m feeling low.

  1. I can cook a cracking roast dinner.
  2. I’m a whizz at remembering song lyrics.
  3. I know a good joke.
  4. I didn’t cry when I fractured my toe (even though it really hurt).
  5. I’ve flown four times this year and been fine every flight.
  6. I can walk in high heels.
  7. I read the entirety of L’Etranger in French (and managed to understand it).
  8. I joined the gym and actually go regularly, by myself, even though it still scares me.
  9. I’ve been on three holidays since July.
  10. My vocabulary never ceases to amaze people.
  11. My football knowledge is second to none.
  12. I get questions right on University Challenge.
  13. I don’t need make-up to be happy with how I look.
  14. My place of work is gorgeous.
  15. I have the best friends and family anyone could wish for.


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Going it alone.

I had my final session with Lea last week. I’m still not quite sure how to refer to her. Counsellor sounds like I’m drowning in grief, or perhaps working my way through a tricky divorce; therapist makes her sound like a middle aged blonde American woman asking me sympathetically and repeatedly “and how does that make you feel?” Neither is quite right for the motherly, straight talking Finnish lady in her fifties who has been setting my world to rights for the last few months. But now my appointments have come to an end and I don’t have her shoulder to (metaphorically and literally) cry on anymore.

Pre-Lea, I hadn’t had any kind of professional mental health support since mid-2014. I’d be the first to admit that keeping up with the CBT techniques I’ve been taught over the years isn’t exactly something I’m good at. It’s very easy to think you’re doing fine when you’re not actually challenging yourself by doing things that scare you, and when I’m not being pushed in weekly CBT sessions I tend to revert back to my favourite method of managing my anxiety – avoidance. This obviously isn’t the most healthy way to live my life, and Lea’s gentle prodding to go back and revisit the CBT procedures has reminded me that it’s a constant process; you don’t generally just have six sessions and walk out cured. So without Lea I need to be my own reminder. Easier said than done, but I’ll try…

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Ups and downs

Life tends to have the annoying habit of giving with one hand, whilst taking with the other. I’m sure this is to try and teach us a sense of balance, patience and humility, but in day to day life it can just feel like you’re taking one step forward and two steps back. The last week or so has been a salient exercise in this for me. See below for examples:

Pro: Had two weeks off work.

Con: Fractured a toe during this time.

Pro: Went to Mallorca for a week.

Con: Came out in a nasty rash for most of aforementioned time in Mallorca and had to spend my time cowering away from the nice warm sunshine.

Pro: Cute waiter was very interested in me.

Con: Cute waiter lives in Mallorca and therefore is not a romantic option.

Pro: Survived both the flight there and back without incident or panic attack.

Con: Phone has given up the ghost, typically directly after a month of having to spend a fortune on my car and owing my mum for all the holidays I’m extravagantly taking this year.

My fingers and toes (the non-fractured ones) are crossed that maybe soon there will be some smoother sailing ahead, instead of the choppy waters I’ve encountered lately, but the current trend might suggest otherwise…

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