Third dates: The one with the mutual acquaintance.

You might remember the first dates blog post back in May of this year. If I was technologically literate I’d be able to link to it here. But I’m not, so I won’t.

 

Lovely readers I hadn’t been dumped and a couple of weeks ago it was third date time. The second date was fairly uneventful so I’ll spare you the details. As it was, I hadn’t heard from him for a few weeks so I’d more or less written it off.

 

I got his letter (how cute, who writes letters these days?) stating the date and time. Also invited was a mutual acquaintance of ours. This means I don’t have to do all the talking or feel obligated to fill silences with my socially awkward chat.

 

I arrived slightly ahead of schedule, I’d gone smart casual again (big mistake, he was exceptionally well turned out and sporting a very shiny watch which I hadn’t noticed before). We had a slightly awkward greeting where I wasn’t sure if I should shake his hand or not. I did shake his hand and he laughed at me. Next time I might air kiss him, that’ll throw him right off.

 

We sat in exactly the same place as last time. He took off his watch and laid it face upwards on the table. A sly way of keeping time without looking directly at your wrist. Smooth.  He apologises for not seeing me in so long, he’s been out of the country. I think this guy is a player.

 

Where was our mutual acquaintance? It’s starting to get awkward and I don’t feel much like talking today. I need backup. My poker face lets me down, he says appear depressed. Bad. Move. It’s more like an accusation than a question and whilst answering without realising I manage to cross my arms and legs and fold myself as small as I can on to the corner of my chair. Maximum defensiveness has been deployed.

 

Our acquaintance arrives at this point looking slightly stressed, slightly sweaty and telling me that she tried to call me. She’ll be my wing woman, agree I’m absolutely not depressed and completely fine and that he is barking up the wrong tree. Won’t she? Instead she agrees with him. The words running through my mind should not be repeated (although after the arseholes blog I’m pretty sure we’re all comfortable with swearing).

 

Sod him, sod her and sod this situation. I can’t leave as I’m sure that will make me appear more guilty. Not content with making statements about my mental health, he comes up with some helpful tips so that I can be slightly more presentable for next time: regulate your sleep pattern, try and reduce your stress levels, tweak your medication. There’s only one option for me here: play the long game and prove them both wrong.

 

I’ve got 4 weeks to turn myself around and extract myself from the situation by inventing some sort of app so you can swipe right when you find a psychiatrist you really like.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Are you surrounded by a**holes. Part 2.

In part 1, we realised that being surrounded by assholes can have a significant effect on depression and low self-esteem.

 

Surely the next question is: how do we deal with assholes? What if you’re too shy/don’t like swearing/might get fired for telling them where to go? My own feeling is that dealing with assholes is a skill which you can hone and benefit you in a variety of situations. Here are a few strategies which won’t get you fired:

 

Try not to see offence when none was intended. What I’m about to say sounds a like victim blaming but stick with me because it is going somewhere. When you’re in a low place, it’s easy to feel upset or offended by trivial things.  When I’m low, I can see meanings which aren’t there purely because of where I am mentally. When someone forgets to say good morning to you, the reality is that you probably haven’t done anything to upset them. Maybe they’re preoccupied about a row with their spouse or stressed because it took longer than it should have to get their kids out the door. Or (if they’re like me) the need at least 2 caffeinated drinks before conversation is possible. There’s always the chance they just didn’t hear you say hello. Challenge your negative thought patterns and see situations for what they are.

 

If you’ve challenged your thought patterns and the conclusion is that you were on the receiving end of an asshole, ask yourself if you’re dealing with a temporary or permanent asshole? We can’t completely excuse shitty behaviour but in certain circumstances a normally lovely person behave like a bit of an asshole. I tend to get irritable and snappy when my mood is low. I’m not like that normally and it’s in my crisis plan as a red flag for impeding mood changes.  My husband has noticed the pattern that when I’m short tempered a drastic mood change usually follows (this can be up or down). Personally, it comes from a place of either not having the energy to make proper conversation or feeling so high that I’m irritated that the average person cannot follow the million ideas I’ve just crammed into one sentence. If you know a friend is having a crap time with their partner or stress at work and is normally otherwise lovely, a degree of a**hole behaviour can be much easier to tolerate when you know that normal service will be resumed shortly. When I think back (or am reminded of) my asshole behaviour during an episode I feel absolutely mortified. I can now accept that I’m not that person normally know I’m incredibly, incredibly lucky to be surrounded by family and friends who know that I’m not the real me when I’m ill. (Edit: same applies when I’m hungry as my good friends will testify, there was a particular occasion in America when 3 of us ladies had food mood at the same time. It nearly didn’t end well!)

 

There can be situations where you are surrounded by permanent a**holes. I have one particular friend (I won’t name) who has been in a toxic work environment with a culture of general asshole behaviour. When this behavious is tolerated and even demonstrated by those in power, negativity and poor treatment filters down and those eager to progress in the workplace will try to emulate the behaviour of the more successful asshole bosses. When you’re in this toxic place, you face long-term erosion of your self-esteem or even worse, the possibility that you may turn into an asshole yourself. It isn’t easy to escape when you’ve got bills to pay or worked hard in your career and don’t want to lose a good position.  If you’re in this situation you need to seriously bolster your self-esteem. Throw yourself into activities which make you feel good outside of work. Avoid socialising with assholes outside of work and when you are at work and forced to interact with assholes keep it polite and professional. Share stories of your favourite workplace asshole with close friends. It can make for interesting entertainment when you turn up for dinner and say: “You’ll never guess what that asshole did today.”  Oh but please use a fake name, it’s a small world and your friend may not take kindly to you telling her what a twat her cousin Barbara is.

 

My next suggestion probably isn’t one to try when you feel particularly low but is a useful strategy for future dealings with assholes. Call them out on their behaviour. It’s tempting to imagine standing up in a meeting and shouting: “Stop being such a twat Gerald,” but a more low key approach will probably be better. Politely confront the asshole, tell them you were upset by their behaviour. It’s okay to let them know you won’t accept being spoken to or treated in an unacceptable way. While I’m at it, don’t let people make excuses for others asshole behaviour. Comments like “She’s not being nasty, she’s like that with everyone,” or “He’s not rude, he tells it like it is,” are simply another way of saying “Yeah, he’s a complete asshole but we tolerate it.”  Everyone else might be too afraid to stand up to an asshole but why should you?

 

My favourite (and final suggestion) was touched upon by Alex who commented on part 1 of this post: feel empathy for assholes. Imagine that your life is so miserable you need to be unkind to others to make yourself feel better. Or imagine what it’s like to be a fully grown adult and unable to express your thoughts and opinions in a mature way. If you know a grown adult who is incapable of expressing themselves constructively and resorts to shouting and screaming to get their way, you have to wonder about the life they have had so far. Chances are it hasn’t been pleasant. I hear you saying “well Emma I know lots of people who’ve had a shitty set of circumstances and managed not to turn into complete asshats!”.  Yep, I hear you there and it’s worth remembering that even if you have had a shitty time, when you’re a grown adult you can choose to carry on behaving in a shitty way or you can address your behaviour through the right channels like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or counselling.

 

Bottom line is, asshole awareness is an important part of life and learning to deal with assholes is a useful weapon in the fight against mental ill health. Oh and if someone could count the number of time I’ve said assholes in this post, feel free to comment. I owe the swear jar a LOT of money…

Are you surrounded by a**holes? Part 1.

First of all I’d like to say a big “Thank you” to the people following my blog, there are 20 of you at the moment (and not all of you are people I know personally) which makes it feel like an even better achievement. I’ll try to keep the content coming and read your blogs also. So thank you random internet people for reading my ramblings!

 

Have you heard of William Gibson? He wrote the cult science fiction book Neuromancer, countless other pieces of fiction and non-fiction and is also responsible for the following fantastic quote: “Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure that you are not, in fact, just surrounding yourself with assholes.”

 

Are you surrounded by assholes? Take my quiz and find out (kidding, no quizzes here my friend!). Gibson’s quote resonates with me when I consider my own struggles with low mood and low self-esteem. When I feel low it’s easier to take things personally. Comments from poorly informed people: “You don’t look bipolar.” Sitting in all day for a package that never shows up. Having to chase after people who haven’t delivered on a promise (psych team, I’m eye balling you here). Comments that because I’m off with depression I should be sitting inside in a dark room instead of (heaven forbid) having a coffee with a friend or daring to visit the supermarket to buy food.

 

When you’re low, these small and rather insignificant events feel like a battle in a raging war. Why is this happening to me? What have I done to be such a terrible person that things never seem to work out? How can I stop being such an idiot so I no longer make mistakes?

 

The negative self talk goes on. The spiral begins and before you know it, you’ve thought your way from an okay 5/10 mood day to a terrible 2/10 day all because sometimes we are surrounded by people who are insensitive, ignorant and sometimes, just plain assholes.

 

So what do we do? Do we keep talking negatively to ourselves? No. No we do not. We recognise the assholes and we put their contribution right where it needs to be: the mental trash can.

 

In part 2 of this article (which I am aiming to release on Sunday only it’s not written yet), I will introduce some concepts around how to manage the assholes and bolster your self-esteem. Until then, please feel free to share your experiences of people acting like assholes in the comments below.

 

(Edit: I nearly wrote share your experience of assholes then realised that actually had an entirely different meaning and may attract a different readership entirely)

How I stop the sh*t from hitting the fan (a.k.a) relapse prevention.

Relapse. Feels like a dirty word. A personal failure that happens when you thought you had your shit together. Statistically, it’s more likely than not that you will relapse at some point in time.  Depressing thought but all is not lost, here’s a little more about how I stop the shit from hitting the fan.

 

Use a (free) sleep and mood tracker:  There are many free trackers for logging mood and sleep patterns. Stepping on sleep problems early (for example being strict with bed times, using a short course of sleep medication as recommended by your doctor) can avert a full blown crisis. Secondly, having information about thoughts and feelings leading up to mood changes can help identify subtle negative thought patterns which can be challenged using techniques such as cognitive behavioural therapy to reduce their impact on mood.

 

I know my triggers: Extreme stress, too much alcohol, poor sleep. Day to day I cope with stressful events pretty well. We all have stress in our lives and living completely stress free can potentially hamper our creativity (anyone who has waited until a few days before an important deadline to start a project will know what I mean). I’m talking about major stressors. I can trace pretty much all of my depressive episodes back to specific life events (giving birth, a 2 week bout of being in bed with flu, grief). As for alcohol, if I have a few nights of 2 or 3 drinks each night it makes me depressed and anxious. Even at Christmas I try to moderate my alcohol intake as much as possible as the fun never seems to be worth the drop that happens afterwards.

 

Use healthy coping mechanisms: When you know what your triggers are you can utilise positive coping mechanisms to balance them out. I like to exercise, especially when I’m stressed. Out goes the negative energy and in come happy chemicals**. I also like to knit (the focus of making sure I don’t mess it up takes my mind off everything else), keep a journal and read. Find something you enjoy and deploy it often!

**This has backfired once during the early phase of a hypomanic episode. I did my usual zumba class and stayed awake until 1am that night. Lights, latin music and jumping around are not good for the overstimulated mind.

 

Accept that not every bad day or different emotion means that a relapse is going to happen: If you have kids, do you remember when they were born and you were obsessed with their toilet habits? Have they pooped today? What colour was it? What does green poo mean anyway? If they haven’t pooped should we talk to the doctor Before you had kids did you give any thought to other peoples bowel habits? Probably not. This is my way of saying that when we focus on one small thing we can become bogged down and miss the bigger picture. When I’ve one bad day (tired, hormonal, bad day at work), I often decide a relapse is coming. I’m on that downward spiral, I haven’t noticed and there’s nothing I can do. Then I wake up the next day, laugh that I had a bit of a shitty day yesterday and go about my business. One bad day does not make a relapse. Feeling elated because you had a great time with your family at the weekend does not mean hypomania is coming. Recognising and accepting the contrast between different thoughts and feelings can be hard if you’re prone to over-analysing but it’s important to know that everyone (regardless of mental illness) goes through a spectrum of emotions.

 

If the shit does hit the fan, remember that you’ve done this before. You can handle this. You can follow your plan to the letter but there’s no foolproof way of avoiding relapse.  It’s going to take some time and effort but you can and will get through. Scale down your expectations, if showering and brushing your teeth is the only goal you can achieve then that’s okay. Lean on your support network and be kind to yourself. Slowly and steadily things will be rebuilt.

Demi Lovato and the fragility of mental health and substance misuse.

I was saddened to read of Demi Lovato’s suspected drug overdose this week. Whether or not her relapse was related to her bipolar diagnosis is impossible to know. We do know that mental ill health and substance misuse are a bad combination. The statistics are frightening: in the UK, 75% of individuals in drug services and 85% in alcohol services have a co-existing mental health condition. More on this here.

 

A significant issue in considering mental ill health and substance misuse is the chicken and egg nature of the problem. Did the substance misuse start first or was the mental ill health the cause of the substance misuse? Long waits to access specialist mental health services mean that self medication with substances can provide an outlet from troublesome symptoms. The chaotic lives of some substance misusers make engagement and ongoing treatment problematic. If you’re homeless, how do you receive appointment letters? If you aren’t earning, how do you afford the bus fare to get to appointments? When the day is structured around relieving immediate discomfort, are you going to regulate your sleeping and eating patterns and remember your meds? The answer is a resounding no.

 

I don’t do illicit substances (if my boss is reading this I’m sure she’ll be relieved) but I do drink. When I’m having an episode I tend to drink more. I’m sure that the motivations of each individual to misuse substances are different but here are my personal reasons behind using alcohol to cope with bipolar:

 

When I’m hypomanic, I love a party. I’m outgoing, chatty and definitely up for doing shots of tequila (yuck) at 3am. Hypomania gives me a super human tolerance to alcohol. It’s easy to get caught up in the fun especially if you’re with the wrong crowd as Lovato was reported to be.  What’s fun and exciting at first ends up in a slow car crash when you inevitably fall off the hypomanic cliff.

 

When I’m depressed (and I’ve been depressed waaaay more than hypomanic), sleep tends to go out the window. I sleep 4-5 hours a night, waking at 2am and then wanting to drift off around 5:30am when I need to get up. I’m anxious and sad. Drinking helps me to relax,  sleep and socialise when I’d rather hide in my room with the lights off. I don’t binge drink when I’m low but get into the habit of having one drink several nights a week, more on weekends. I completely get how 1 or 2 can turn into 2, 3 or 4.

 

Alcohol doesn’t help, not really. It’s a depressant, it stops your medication from working (in some cases its downright dangerous to mix your meds with alcohol). If you’re using other substances to self medicate then you’re adding to the adverse effect.

 

Situations like Lovato’s illustrate the need for a watertight crisis plan. This needs to be done when you are well. Who is looking out for you? What will they do if you hit a crisis? What do you want to happen when you’re unwell? Mine has various sections- a note of my early triggers (not sleeping, not eating), giving authorisation for my husband to discuss my care with my doctors if I’m acutely unwell, what I would be happy to undertake treatment-wise (would I agree to hospital admission- yes, would I ever have ECT, no). The plan needs to be shared and agreed by everyone involved. Not only does the plan help those around you in a crisis, it gives you a sense of security. I know if the sh*t hits the fan I’ve got a strong team who will step in even if it might not be what I want at the time. That support is worth its’ weight in gold.

 

Get well soon Demi Lovato, we’re all human, we all relapse, it’s what we do in the aftermath that counts. She needs support, she needs a crisis plan and above all she needs no judgement.

 

If you are struggling with substance misuse, it’s important to see your health professional. You can also find more information here.

First dates: The one with the bipolar girl and the shrink

Ah, dating. Does anyone remember dating? The kind of fun pre-marriage/being over the age of 25 dating. The sort with good food, good booze and late nights. Rigorously planning what to wear/how to do my make-up and yet 9 times out of 10 having a strop when I couldn’t get my eyeliner right or the weather fucked up my choice of footwear.

 

Of course back when I dated (8 years- wow!) I didn’t have a bipolar diagnosis. I did have a depression diagnosis which I could generally keep well hidden with selective participation and the odd gin and tonic. Dating is tough. Dating with anything that makes you less than textbook “normal” is tougher. You can probably imagine my anxiety today at having a second date. It was an afternoon appointment and the weather was rainy making outfit choices hard. Also I need to wear my glasses at the moment as my eye is playing up again. The odds of making a good impression based on looks weren’t in my favour.

 

Still, better show up and make conversation. I tried to run through some subjects I could talk about other than my mental health and my job. Learning Spanish, yoga, books and Mo Salahs’ shoulder all seemed like safe options. True to form, I was too nervous to eat beforehand so by the time I had to leave home I was getting a little hangry.

 

I was early (as always) so I had to hang around looking anxious whilst occasionally squinting at whoever was coming through the doors to see if it was him. The squinting probably made me look demented instead of the thoughtful/intellectual look I hoped for. Then again, I was reading a 2016 copy of What Car magazine that was lying on the table infront of me so really there was only so much I could do to help myself. And why was it so warm? I’m sure I wasn’t the only one sweating while they were waiting.

 

He was slightly late and I was even hangrier by now but managed a good 5 minute chat about the Liverpool/Real Madrid match and then tried to move on to books or yoga. Unfortunately he had other ideas and steered the conversation to asking how I was really feeling at which point I burst into tears (note to future self- always carry a snack in your handbag). Thankfully he had a box of tissues and I settled myself. At the end of the hour, he said he’d write and see me in around 4 weeks which I thought was delightfully quaint and old-fashioned.

 

I really like this guy, he seems like a decent psychiatrist and I think we’ll work well together. But it’s tough. Discussing thoughts and feelings is incredibly difficult when you’re dealing with someone you have only met once before. You try to go in ready to make a decent first impression, a bit more polished than usual and like you are bringing your A-game. Even if really you’ve spent the first part of the day staring into space whilst lying on your bed. You have to be ready to admit how things are really and even to hear advice you don’t really want to hear. A random stranger is shining an incredibly bright torch into the recesses of your mind and what you really want to do is look away. Like any bad date, I left feeling like it was me and not him. Perhaps I’ll never feel normal and maybe I’ll end up alone in a house full of cats whilst I knit and prance about in nice shoes like a modern day Miss Havisham. I comforted myself with a large bar of chocolate, a cup of tea and some online shopping when I got home. It’s at times like this I realise how grateful I am for my husband.

The un-committed blogger and other guilt trips

Hey everyone,

I’ve been on a hiatus of late due to an eye problem which needed reduced screen time. Happy to say it’s a lot better now so I am hoping to pick up where I left off (that is, intermittently sharing my semi-coherent thoughts with total strangers). Ah the joy of over-sharing.

 

It’s Wednesday night, I’m wearing my Christmas Pyjamas (don’t judge, the rest are in the laundry) and I’ve just eaten a large bar of Fruit and Nut. Sometimes I think I’d like to video blog but that would involve (a) learning how to use the technology required and (b) making some more effort with my appearance (or at least putting a bra on under said pyjamas) which, after an entire day at work, isn’t going to happen.

 

If my blog were a school report, I’m pretty sure it would say “has potential but must try harder.” Thinking about it, you could say the same for many aspects of my life. Occasionally I become aware of my “failings” and resolve to address them, creating a vision of my end goal then breaking it down into small steps to help me realise the vision. Bonus points for creating a Pinterest board outlining the vision. This is what experts on time management tell us isn’t it? Small, achievable steps adding up to reaching a bigger goal.

 

I’m not about to say that goal setting is bad or that we should forget self improvement and aim for mediocre but I have to say that for the most part, my desire to improve is driven by guilt. And guilt isn’t actually a particularly powerful or healthy motivator. Guilt just leads to more guilt when you realise you can’t/no longer want to achieve a goal. Or (even worse) guilt motivates you, progress on achieving the vision begins but before you even reach half-way you’ve started planning what the next goal will be and then burn out and lose all motivation to do anything.

 

My current goals include learning to speak Spanish, planting a herb garden and blogging more regularly with the aim of making some real change to mental health care by reaching out with the blog. Wanna know which of these I am making progress with? None. I did make some progress with Spanish but as soon as I started to gain confidence I somehow ended up researching GCSE Spanish night classes and then lost interest because all I really wanted to do was learn how to order a gin and tonic.

 

I’m still not fluent in Spanish, the plant pots I bought for the herbs are still empty and the blog isn’t really changing anything at the moment! I’m still adding to my “To Do” list. This time though, I’ve giving myself permission to give up or lose interest. After all, if I achieve everything I want to achieve, I’ll only find more to do! I’ll be back (maybe soon) with more noncommittal blogging.

 

 

 

Condemned woman enjoys last (chocolate) meal a.k.a Dechox for British Heart Foundation

Some people like to run marathons, climb mountains or shave their heads for charity. Not my, I don’t run anywhere because when I do I look like Big Bird from Sesame Street (picture it in your mind, you’ll know what I mean), there are no mountains near where I live and quite honestly my hair is already quite short so shaving my head wouldn’t really be a big deal.

 

For this reason, I decided to channel my spirit animal (which is a sloth if you wondered) and raise money from the comfort of my sofa hence my decision to give up chocolate for the entire month of March.  To me British Heart Foundation are a charity who reach everyone in some way be it through promoting healthy lifestyle so we can look after our hearts or putting money into researching heart conditions in children. They’re a great organisation and I am proud to support them.  I decided that to do the challenge justice I should first have a gigantic chocolate binge on 28th February, you know, a final fling. 2 giant Cadbury bars were consumed and I felt satisfied and yet slightly nauseous.

 

It’s only day 1 and I’m tired and hormonal and thinking “why the f**k did you think this was a good idea?!”. I’ve also eaten 4 shortbread biscuits that my husband kindly bought me (so much for hoping I might lose some weight during this process!). I’ll keep you updated on my progress (and tell you how many people have been murdered in the process) and if you’re feeling generous please feel free to visit my JustGiving page to donate and a very very big thanks to those who have donated so far! I appreciate your faith in me!

 

 

The books that changed my life (And my mental health!)

I’ve been slacking a bit with my blog lately. Actually, I’ve been slacking in many aspects of my life as my energy levels are pretty low at the moment.

 

Moving swiftly on, you probably know that World Book Day is soon to be upon us (at least you’re probably thinking of what sort of character costumes you can dress your kids in for school with minimal money and effort!). I like to think of reading as my first love and I fully believe that if new book smell was a perfume, it’d be a best seller. So what better was to honour the day than by sharing with you the 5 books that have changed my life (and my mental health)?

 

  1. Counselling for Toads (Robert de Board): The classic childhood tale “The Wind In The Willows” is brought to life by author Robert de Board as we follow Toads’ journey through depressive illness and his therapeutic journey with a counsellor. This book is a staple on the reading list for many counselling courses (but designed for people like me with no knowledge of psychoanalysis) and was recommended to me by a close friend.  To call it a self-help booklet doesn’t do it justice and the concepts of transactional analysis explored in the book are insightful and at times, unnerving when you apply them to your own inner workings. I’ve scribbled pencil notes in the margins of my copy and referred to it many times. A short read that delivers food for thought.
  2. Far from the Madding Crowd (Thomas Hardy): Hardy is like marmite thanks to his long descriptive paragraphs, you’ll either love him or hate him. Far from the Madding Crowd isn’t as dark as Hardy’s other novels but follows his ongoing themes of love, tragedy and farming set in the fictional county of Wessex. I read it in 3 days and it’s one of the few books I’ve read since. Hardy was visionary in his portrayal of strong female lead characters (oh and if I have another girl, I might consider calling her Bathsheba).
  3. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Dummies (Rob Willson and Rena Branch): There’s a huge wealth of evidence behind the use of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for treating a wide variety of mental health issues- from anxiety to anger. This book provides a toolkit which introduces the concepts of CBT and helps the reader work through various activities to challenge negative modes of thinking. I found the sections helping you to identify the causes you really care about very helpful when wandering out of that intense period of parenting that is the toddler years.
  4. The Total Money Makeover (Dave Ramsey): Save for emergencies, pay off your debt and have enough cash to give generously to the people and causes you care about. Ramsey’s approach to financial management uses a 7 step approach he calls the “Baby Steps” and has kick started my journey to responsible financial management (including getting rid of all my credit cards so I can’t spend recklessly during a hypomanic spree!). Look him up on YouTube to hear some of his epic rants or check out his website.
  5. The White Queen (Phillipa Gregory): Coming from Scotland, my knowledge of English history is incredibly limited. Gregory’s Tudor Court novels awakened a strong interest in history for me and shone light on the original strong women who tried to control their own destinies in a male dominated world. I’ve since read many (non-fiction) books on Tudor history and feel incredibly lucky to live close to many of the locations referenced by Gregory in her novels.

Which books would be in your top 5 life-changing reads? Have you read any of the books I’ve listed above? Please feel free to comment below.

Disclaimer: There are way more than 5 books that have changed my life but I assume you don’t have all night to read my thoughts about them!

 

 

The chicken and the egg: Fatigue and mental ill health

I’m full of the cold (again!), hubby has a chest infection and the little person isn’t well either. I’m so, so tired. Yesterday I had a nap and guess what- I’m still tired. I’m taking some pretty sedating medication but come on, I feel like I’m 62 not 32. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve put my kid to bed and woken up beside her several hours later still fully dressed, make-up smeared on my face and contact lenses still in. I’ve had enough.

 

According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, at any given time, 20% (1 in 5) of us feel unusually tired. Think of how many people you know, that’s a LOT of tiredness.

 

Tiredness (or fatigue) is a common symptom of depression however there are multiple other causes of tiredness including physical problems such as anaemia, coeliac disease and thyroid disorders. You can find more information about physical causes of tiredness here. Around two-thirds of people who see a GP for tiredness have an underlying physical or mental health disorder which may be contributing to their symptoms.

 

It’s impossible to break the cycle of constant tiredness without reflecting about how and when the tiredness started. When I try to pinpoint what came first, the depression or the tiredness it seems like a chicken and egg situation: my depression makes me tired and being constantly tired makes me feel depressed.  My tiredness (and that of many others) is likely due to several factors: work, stress, sedating medication, looking after small children and underlying depression.

 

Something that resonated with me was the concept of an activity roller-coaster. Going from intense, full on activity during the week to low activity at the weekend causes increased fatigue because you’ve put all your eggs in one basket then have nothing left at the end of the week leading to burnout. Whilst it’s only natural to want to push yourself and do more, trying to self-insure against the bad day that might come tomorrow by cramming in as much activity today creates unhealthy patterns. When the bad day inevitably comes, we blame our illness and start a cycle of negativity by thinking of all the things we aren’t doing today but should be (see, there’s that should word again).

 

So what is the answer? Are we doomed to live in a cycle of energy abundance followed by crashing lows of energy depletion? I sure hope not.  Careful planning of what activities to do on what day (seeing free time as time to be free, not time to do more housework), tweaking my medication regime (I’m slowly weaning off the sedating drugs**) and appreciating the need for rest even if I feel fine are my strategies to tackle the tiredness. That and the occasional bar of chocolate!

 

Got any tips for fighting tiredness? Please feel free to comment below.

 

** remember, adjusting your meds should only be done as part of an agreement between  you and the clinicians treating you.