Friday, March 29

Facing it all

I've been having counselling now since Feb, through this fantastic organisation in Haringey called Space to Talk. My doctor referred me just before Christmas when I turned up with hair like a nesting box and a face like a war zone. She and I both agreed that I couldn't wait the regulation 6 months for NHS counselling, it had got a bit too extreme for that.

So now I go to Tottenham once a week and talk and talk and talk. I sit in a sparsely furnished room in a community centre and pour my heart out to a total stranger. Thank goodness I really like my counsellor, she's honest and sensible and I trust her advice. We talk about why I measure myself against everybody else in the world, all the time, and how exhausting it is. We talk about how I'm ashamed of my mental illness, she referred to my depression as my 'mad old lady in the attic', which I really liked, as I am embarrassed by it and afraid of it in a mildly gothic way. We discuss ways I can try and let people into my life when I'm afraid, instead of pushing them away.

It's working. I feel less scared all the time, and am starting to push myself to make some positive changes in my life. Most of the thinking goes on after the sessions, when I digest everything we've said on the bus home. Every twinge of neurosis has been discussed, even the stuff I'm mortified about discussing, like my sociophobia and hypochondria. And while I'm not battling these full-on, every second of the day, just being more honest with myself about everything (and feeling less guilty) is making a huge difference.

I've made some big decisions. Last week I told my work that I would like to reduce my hours to 4 days a week, as I was finding it difficult to maintain a work/life balance and my mental health was becoming difficult to manage. This has been apparent for some time, but I'd been struggling against it. I agonised for days over the wording of the letter - should I mention the D word? In the end I did, and I'm so glad. Work have been awesome, and from September I am going to have a little more of my life back.

Life is okay. I really am so lucky. My fiance is amazing, my family and friends love me unconditionally, and my work are supportive of me - all of these things have given me the courage to be honest. Being brave doesn't come naturally to me, but I think I'm learning...

Wednesday, February 27


I"m writing this in my kitchen/living room at 6.40am where I am chugging paracetamol. I am recovering from something akin to flu. The time I'm taking off to recover is making me panic. I was awake over half the night worrying about it. Lesson: I really need to learn to separate my physical/mental symptoms. I have made myself worse.

OF COURSE people with mental health issues can be physically unwell. The two aren't always interlinked. I was absolutely fine until I started shivering/being sick on Sunday. I was in the zone. I was succeeding at life.

I was just unfortunate, I blame poor hand hygiene in others.

But there is a blurry line between what ails me physically and mentally.

Here is a list of my current physical ailments:

  • Recovering from flu - knackered, head aches - this is okay, I can explain this one, and I know it's non-fatal.
  • Nagging ache in my left shoulder - I've had this for years. HEART ATTACK.
  • Stomach pains - I get these almost every day. DEFINITELY DYING. CANCER.
  • Heartburn/indigestion - this occurs regularly too... DYING. CANCER.

Aaaaaand the two significant losses in my life up until now have been to? You've guessed it... HEART ATTACK and CANCER. I'm so cliche, I sicken myself.

There is a perfectly rational explanation for all of those physical symptoms up there, I'm just choosing to catastrophise matters. This is when I talk myself into total and utter self-destruction, real Armageddon Bruce-Willis-pointing-space-drills-at-my-brain stuff.

Here is an example of me catastrophising last night:

"You need to sleep. You've been unwell. You have to recover to go back to work."
"Go to sleep. Go to sleep now."
"Seriously, go to sleep."
"Why aren't you asleep yet?"
"My stomach hurts. Ow."
"Maybe it's cancer."
"Fuck! It's CANCER!"
"Well now you're not going to sleep. Well done, you berk."
"Okay, it's 2am. You haven't slept yet. Now you're going to feel awful in the morning"
"You probably won't get better now."
"How are you going to manage this one, eh?"
"You're going to spend all day worrying now too."
"And all tomorrow night as well."
"You're going to get worse."
"You'll need more time off work."
"People will ask questions."
"You'll probably lose your job."
"If you lose your job you'll have no money and you'll lose your nice house."

This all took place gradually over approximately 2 hours. No wonder I couldn't fucking sleep, I was ending the world in my head.

Now. Let's look at where I should have had a word with myself:

"You need to sleep. You've been unwell. You have to recover to go back to work."
"Go to sleep. Go to sleep now."
"Seriously, go to sleep." HERE. STOP BEING A DICK. 

I should have got up, read a book, made some tea, anything. But I was so bloody desperate to sleep that I started to berate myself, and that's when all the DOOM started occurring.

The irony is, if I die of cancer or a heart attack, I won't have a job to lose and all of the worrying will have been in vain. I do know this. But it's like smack, I keep crawling back, I've become used to being terrified.

So today I'm going to try and have a word with myself. If I have the energy. It is much harder when you've been poorly, the germs have infiltrated my forest moon of Endor and disabled my deflector shield.

I'm going to call work in 5 minutes and tell them, truthfully and rationally, that I am still unwell and will be back tomorrow.

Monday, November 26

The Depression Card

Anybody with a history of depression will have been accused, either literally or implied (usually with one slightly-squinted eye), of playing The Depression Card. It's the stock response from people that are either afraid of, or simply too ignorant to try and understand, mental illness. It's how they think you are avoiding doing all the sensible and vital surviving that allows you to become a fully functioning member of the real world.

Problems at work? Use the Depression Card.

Don't fancy going out tonight? There's a Depression Card for that!

Dirty teeth and hair like an egret's nest? Slide that fucker across the table and just watch the look on their faces melt from smug 'judgemental' to bitterly resigned 'thwarted'.

It's your Get Out of Jail free card for pretty-much any unpleasant situation you wish to extract yourself from, and the beauty of it is NOBODY CAN TOUCH YOU FOR IT.

Let's get something straight right here. When somebody accuses you of playing The Depression Card what they are really accusing you of is being LAZY.

Problems at work? You could go into work if you really tried.

Don't fancy going out tonight? Don't be ridiculous. Of course you could put a dress on, and do your hair, and apply makeup, and get the bus into town and go to a party and be sociable and talk to people. You just can't be bothered.

Dirty teeth and hair like an egret's nest? You could stand in the shower and brush your teeth and rub shampoo on your head, then blow-dry it and put some clothes on. You just don't want to because you're lazy.

They could be right. All depressed people could just be incredibly lazy. That's why so many of them can't be bothered to go to work, or the shops. Instead of Depression Awareness days we could hold Laziness Awareness days instead. We wouldn't even have to do any work in advance. We could just yawn or cry at each other simultaneously over webcams and feel immediate solidarity with our lazy brethren.

When I was 18 I went a bit mad*. My parents were going away for two weeks and I knew I was too sick to look after myself. Instead of discussing plans of how I'd cope with them in advance I kept all my fears of 'Oh GOD I am going to DIE here on my OWN' to myself until the night before they left. Then I collywobbled all over the floor in a snotty mess, terrifying them. Mum was upset. Dad was furious. He accused me of playing The Depression Card. I was dispatched to my nan's.

Much later, when I was in my twenties and able to synthesise my experiences more successfully, I discussed this period in my life with my mum. Her response set me free. "I just looked at you - the state of your hair, your red eyes, your shaking hands and thought 'How can she possibly want to feel this way?'"

Yes, Mum. Bloody YES. How can I possibly want to feel this way? I honestly felt right there that my life's work was achieved. One person in my life knew how debilitating this was, and right there the Depression Card vanished before my eyes. Because nobody with depression would ever want to feel this way. Ask any of them if they want to feel so awful. ALL of them will say 'no'. That's why some even try to end their own lives. We are foot soldiers battling against the Black Dog, we need as much rest, sleep, understanding as we can get. And we don't ask for it lightly.

So (and this blog had to end on a 'so' didn't it? It's a Sesame Street-esque lesson, is what it is!) if you've ever been depressed, and you've read this: Please stop worrying that you're using your illness as some kind of excuse for not living your life as successfully as everybody else. You can't live your life like that right now. But you will, given time. And if you've ever (either directly or inadvertently) accused anybody of playing The Depression Card  at any point in your life I hope this has urged you not to do so again lightly.

*depressed. I was depressed. I just thought I was mad.

Sunday, August 5

Zip, zap...


If you've read any of my older posts you might be aware that I'm no stranger to antidepressants. In fact, I've been on them since the age of 16, when my GP prescribed a low dose of venlafaxine for me because 'everything kept feeling like it wasn't real' (baby's first panic attacks). Since them I've had (cue Hartbeat 'Gallery Music'):

Dosulepin - when I went a bit mad aged 18 and had to go and stay with my nan for a few weeks.

Sertraline - at uni, mainly for panic attacks.

Citalopram - because the sertraline didn't really work.

Fluoxetine aka 'Prozac' - when coming off the citalopram, which murdered my libido. I had a horrific allergic reaction to this stuff and wanted to run out of my own skin for about 24 hours.

Valproic Acid - mood stabiliser, when I had 'manic depression', made my hair fall out - which made me more crazy - came off after about a month.

Venlafaxine - cos it worked when I was 16 and is quite strong.  My highest dose was 150mg (when I was diagnosed with 'manic depression') but I switched down to 75mg about 3 years ago, and am hoping to come off this summer... This stuff gave me my life back when at times I despaired of ever having one.

This isn't a post about depression, cos I've done loads of those and am quite bored of them. I want to move forward with my life and I think that too much navel-gazing can be bad for you.

No, this post is just to record the fact that, after half my life on antidepressants, I'm coming off the venlafaxine. It's quite scary, because I can hardly remember being happy without it, but my life has stabilised and in the not-too-distant future I hope to get knocked up (venlafaxine taken when pregnant can cause harm to the baby, and cause neo-natal withdrawal). I'm also FAT, and think that part of that could be linked to the meds.

I started halving my dose two days ago and coming off has been slightly unpleasant. My brain feels like it's being zapped by a laser for about three hours a day and I'm a bit dopier than usual. Otherwise everything else seems to be going okay. I've got off lightly, if all the horror stories about venlafaxine withdrawal on the internet are to go by. Google 'venlafaxine + withdrawal' and all you'll get are reams and reams of results about excessive vomiting, suicide attempts, hearing voices and chronic insomnia. This stuff has a seriously short half-life, so your body starts freaking out when it realises it's not going to get its fix.

Going to update again when I stop the pills altogether. Hopefully not from my sickbed!

Saturday, June 23

Baby's First Risotto!

How have I reached the age of 30 without ever making a risotto? Probably because I am afraid of cooking rice. I always over-boil it, even if I time it, and it turns to mush.

Sitting in the freezer were some lovely scallops and prawns and I wanted to do them justice; cooking them simply with very simple flavours. Risotto just seemed right.

Being a kitchen MAVERICK I followed a recipe for a completely different risotto to the one I was making (pea and pancetta), just to get the technique. This is how I did it:

Scallop and Prawn Risotto

300g risotto rice
750 ml chicken/fish stock
150ml white wine
Big double handful giant prawns
Big handful scallops
Zest and juice of 2 lemons
50g butter
1 clove garlic
Bunch spring onions - chopped
Handful parsley - chopped

1. Shell the jumbo prawns and remove the veins (actually their digestive tract but, oh well). This is LONG, but it stops them from being gritty. Shelling prawns is really easy, twist the heads off (WARNING: brain juice will explode on your fingers), remove the legs and peel the shell off from the bottom up. I leave the shell on the tails cos it's pretty and they do it in posh restaurants. Take a sharp paring knife and cut down the prawn's back, you'll see a manky brown/black vein. Pull it out. Wash the prawns and put in a bowl in the fridge.

2. Fry the garlic, lemon zest and spring onions in the butter for approx 2 mins until soft.

3. Add the rice and cook in the butter mix for 2 mins, stirring constantly (this bit FRIGHTENED me, I kept expecting it to pop/explode or burn - told you I was afraid of rice).

4. Add the white wine and boil, stirring constantly, for 2 mins. This bit smells lovely.

5. Add the stock, a bit at a time, as the rice absorbs it gradually (or you can chuck it all in, I suppose, I got bored halfway through and did just that). This process should take about 20 mins. After that time the risotto is more or less done. Stir it regularly to prevent the bottom burning.

6. About 5-6 mins from the end fry off the scallops. Put the raw prawns into the risotto. Stir.

7. At the end add the scallops, lemon juice, parsley and seasoning and serve. Nice.

I'd add a picture here but I ate it too quickly. Soz.

Monday, February 6

Mediocre Mediums

A Groupon offer caught my eye this week: 30 min psychic reading for £10 (instead of usual £45). Now, please don't think that I believe in clairvoyancy, tarot, angels, fairies etc, I was just really curious as to how these people made their money. My grandmother has spent many years chucking money at what I believe to be charlatans and I wanted to have a little slice of it for myself.

On finding out that I could spread my 30 mins across various readings I decided to conduct a little experiment (kinda, sorta an experiment...). I chose four mediums and told them the following information:

  • My D.O.B.
  • My mum died.
  • I have a boyfriend.

The rest I left up to them. This is what they came up with...

The First Psychic: Male. A little Richard Madeley-esque in that he was condescending. ('This is your first psychic reading, isn't it?' ) Attempted to contact the spirit world to make a 'connection' for me. Failed. Apologised. Hung up. FAIL.

The Second Psychic: Middle-aged, cheerful, voice like me nan's. Told me that mum was reluctant to come forward, that she was 'hiding' and that she'd 'dragged her out' because she was hiding behind her maternal figure (Who? My nan? Who is very much alive? FAIL.) Saw a 'big contract' for my 'funny boyfriend' coming up in the near future and a curly-haired baby girl. 'But what about conception?' I ask.Then proceeded to lecture me about healthy eating 'You've got to get enough fruits and vegetables' for about five minutes, while I gnawed on a Kit Kat.

The Third Psychic: Made of much sterner stuff. Saw a tall nurse with white hair around me. FAIL. Kept asking me for a number between one and ten. Chose 7 - 'The World', packing boxes in my future, apparently. Then chose 5 - 'The Magician', I'm going to be 'decisive' and 'charismatic' this year. I took decisive action and terminated the call.

The Fourth Psychic: Brief. Advised me to go to my local spiritualist church because my mum was 'all around me, always' and that 'When people pass to the spirit world they don't remember the pain of their passing'. I ask how she can be so sure of this. 'Well, you can't remember being born, can you?' Then told me my mum had 'mid-length sandy hair' - FAIL. 

Not one of these people came close. Not one of them told me anything I didn't know already, or couldn't get from a horoscope or self-help book. 

Conclusion: I was right all along. I wasted £10. I FAIL.

Monday, January 30

Typical day...

Form time (am): Equipment check, over 25% of kids have no pen. Register taken. Lecture delivered to class regarding expectations for this week. Always late kid arrives late. Berate her. 

L1: Yr 7. Class arrives hyper on Powerade. It takes 10 minutes to calm them down. Kid reads Demetrius so beautifully I think I'll weep… … then proceeds to spend the rest of the lesson calling other students 'shag-haired villains'. Explain that 'shag' in this instance means scruffy, not 'sex'. Kid shouts 'SEX HAIR'. Students write mini essay.

L2: Yr 9. Fourteen year old has full on tantrum for receiving a 'satisfactory' level 5. Forgets both book and homework at the end.

L3: Yr 10. Class are 5 mins late (PE). Spend ten mins explaining that their essay q does not require discussion of Lady Gaga's gender… … still, half write 'Lady Gaga has a dick' in their books. Headteacher comes in with visitor. Pray to Gods to let kids behave. Gods on my side today. GCSE assessment tomorrow! Woo! 

L4: Yr 11. "Who's Tiny Tim?" asks student who's been studying A Christmas Carol since December. Consider purchasing gun and shooting self in mouth. One kid calls Tiny Tim a 'retard'. Another tells me he refuses to read the novel because 'it's of no relevance to my life'. Throw book at him and shout 'READ'.

L5: Yr 8. Class takes ten mins to settle (Powerade and Haribo, again). Class task: to describe Portia. 'Elegant' 'Desirable' 'Big Nose'. Child has epileptic episode in class. Class take five mins to calm down. Sullen child refuses to write, look me in the eye or hold a pen, then realises it's a colouring task and participates with gusto.

Form time (pm). Half of my form have not completed their homework. 20 minute detention + 40 mins to call home and inform parents.


Do Google searches and that...