About a year and a half ago I decided to start a YouTube channel to talk about my mental health struggles, because I feel like there is still a lot of stigma around mental health and I thought the more people talk about it the better. I posted one video that was sort of a stream of conciousness and have posted nothing since. Similarly this blog which I started quite a bit longer ago had the same aim. Right now I’m feeling like it’s time to stop being hesitant and silent and to really start to share my thoughts and struggles publicly. Will this resolve last beyond today? Time will tell.
In September, after 4 and a half years of living in a house that was probably quite bad for me but had given me some stability, I moved. I moved in to a house that was much quieter, homely, and had a garden. At first I was very happy there, but this wasn’t to last. I was sharing with one other tenant who had been there for a few years. At first she seemed lovely and we seemed to get on well and have quite a bit in common. However it soon became clear that she was quite confrontational, a trait that became increasingly aggressive.
As someone who struggles with anxiety this was a bad situation for me to find myself in. Things steadily got worse to the point where the first week of January I felt distressed just being in the house, and was regularly driving to the nearest motorway services and sitting in the car park, just to be out of the house and have somewhere quiet to sit and try to feel better. On the Wed I tried to talk to my housemate about the fact that things had got strained between us, but that didn’t go well, with her putting all the blame on me. So by the Friday I decided that being in a constant state of distress and sitting in car parks wasn’t sustainable, and that I needed to remove myself from the situation.
So I found a bedsit on AirBnB and checked in for a few nights. That was only supposed to be a short term solution to get away and try and figure out what to do, but since the middle of a pandemic is a bad time to be trying to find friends to put you up (although I have several friends who normally would) I decided to stay in the bedsit and have been here since. At first I was panicking about the cost, because I struggle to afford paying my rent, let alone paying to live somewhere else at the same time, but given the level of distress I’d been feeling it seemed worth it in the long term. Luckily I was able to increase my Covid business loan by enough to cover the cost of the bedsit.
My housemate has to leave the country soon, so she is moving out at the end of this month, which means that I only have a week left until I can go home. I’m really looking forward to it. I’ll have been in the bedsit for nearly two months by the time I go home, and although it’s clean, quiet and comfortable I’m still displaced from my home. I have gradually been feeling better over the time that I’ve been here, but I think there’s a limit to how much better I can feel in this situation. I think it’s one of those things where I won’t know how much being here is affecting me negatively until it’s over. I’m feeling anticipation for the sense of relief I’m going to feel when I go home. Also because of a delay to my new housemate moving in I’m going to have the house to myself for a whole month, which after everything that’s happened is going to feel glorious. I really feel like my life can now start again.
One of the things that has really helped me through this time of crisis is the brilliant Changes Bristol peer support groups. I’ve been attending Changes groups for a few years now and became a volunteer facilitator last Oct. The groups had been all online for most of the time since Covid but they recently re-introduced a small number of in-person groups. So as well as my usual Monday night group (on Zoom) I’ve attended an in-person group every week since the start of the year, and it’s really nice to just be in a room with a group of other humans, especially when they are all understanding and supportive. I really don’t think I can overstate how valuable it is to me and others that this exists. If you live in the Bristol area (or even if you don’t) and you feel like you need support, I would highly recommend attending one of their groups.
Reading Motorway Services
Friday afternoon, middle of a pandemic
Past the peak? Boris thinks so
Normally oppressive, calm today
Staff standing around, outnumbering customers
“14 meals sold yesterday”
Inside the cubicle,
no sound but rain on the roof,
and distinct voices from the lobby
Feeling of a place about to close for the day,
brings on urge to be quick
Overpriced tea, some normality
Time to go
I’m not quite sure what’s going on with me at the moment. For probably a couple of months and especially the last couple of weeks I’ve been what I can only describe as sluggish, and feel the need to lie down a lot. Since I was first ill in 2012 I’ve needed to have a nap for an hour in the afternoon to get through the day, in fact it was the first sign that something was wrong. So I’ve got used to that, but this is different. Sometimes I don’t seem to be able to get through more than an hour without needing to lie down, and yesterday I got home from a van booking about 11am and slept nearly the whole time between then and 5pm, and that was after a full night’s sleep. The way it affects me it feels like a function of my depression, but it’s never affected me like this before. I also feel like I’m having lots of scattered bits of thoughts going through my brain quite quickly, and it’s difficult to form coherent thoughts. Now I say that I guess it’s probably what’s causing the tiredness. But why that itself is happening I don’t know.
I’ve been trying to think about what I can do to help myself get better. I think the number one thing is regularly connecting with people. So reinforcing my support network, and getting myself to spend more social time with people by scheduling things.
Today is 3 weeks since I decided to do a week of Facebook cold turkey. When I started I really didn’t expect to be where I am with it now. This morning and last Sunday I allowed myself an hour to do maintenance on my groups (after 2 weeks the were a lot of join requests) but apart from that I’ve not been on Facebook or Twitter at all for 3 weeks.
I have spent quite a lot of time online the last 3 weeks, especially in the first week, but reading news stories and random Wikipedia entries, and repeatedly checking stats for my business’ website is far less addictive than Facebook. It’s emphasised what I guess I already knew, that Facebook isn’t my entire problem, because I’ve still been using the Internet as a means of distracting myself feeling the way it feels to have depression/anxiety. However taking away the very addictive element makes it far easier to control how much time I spend online, and I feel like I’m gradually reducing it and spending more time meditating and thinking about what I actually want to do with my time.
At 8pm today it was 7 days since I decided to do a week of Facebook cold turkey. I really wasn’t sure if I could do it but I did. It’s been difficult at times but I think it’s gradually got a bit easier over the week. It feels like a bit of an anticlimax, I guess partly because I don’t really know what to do now. When I started I thought it was going to be a case of having a good break then going back to using it on Monday for my business stuff etc, just with a bit more focus and control and see how I got on. However after a week off it, I feel like I don’t want to go on it, not even because I’m weighing up the negatives, just feeling like I don’t want to, and am actually trying to think of a good reason to. Someone did ring me about some work today saying they had seen the business on one of the groups I run, so that did make me think about that side of it a bit more, but I’m still not sure that outweighs the negatives. So in summary I think if I did decide to go back on it, at this point that would feel like a big decision.
Four days before I decided to go cold turkey I suffered the worst withdrawal I’ve had so far. I was sitting on our doorstep (just because it was sunny and we don’t have any outside space) and as well as a really unpleasant feeling in my brain which I’ve become familiar with I realised I was actually physically twitching. I remember thinking “shit this is really not good”. I definitely don’t want to feel like that again, or the way I’ve felt any of the many other times I’ve suffered withdrawal. It’s really hard to push through.
A few days before that I was having a nap and I realised I was dreaming about scrolling facebook. Also not a good sign.
I think I’ll give it another week.
On Monday night I slept through the night, so that felt good after two nights of struggling to sleep due to my brain being full of thoughts and ideas. I had counselling on Tue morning, and when I sat down and she asked me how I was I realised I was feeling happy and had a bit of a smile on my face, neither of which I’m used to so that’s been something to adjust to. Last night I slept quite badly because I went into a bit of an Internet wormhole, but it was looking into something that could benefit my business so it was worthwhile, I just got a bit carried away and was doing it up until what would have been a sensible time to go to bed, but of course I couldn’t sleep. Instead I ended up standing out in the street watching a lightning storm with my housemate at about 1am. It was quite an epic lightning storm but amazingly we escaped the rain which, which I was actually a bit disappointed about. I do like a bit of biblical rain.
I realised yesterday that I’ve been talking to myself a lot more since I started my cold turkey. That’s not necessarily an issue, apart from possibly when I do it as I’m walking down the street! So I need to keep an eye on that. It makes me think of Marcus from Nick Hornby’s About A Boy who was prone to “singing without realising”. I guess it’s just because I need an outlet for my thoughts, and their usual outlet isn’t available so they are just kind of spilling out of my mouth. I think that will probably settle down the same way my sleep has as my brain gets used to the change.
This morning someone messaged me saying he’d been waiting for approval to join one of my Facebook groups and could I approve them please. I thought seriously for a bit about temporarily removing the block on my computer so I could do that and any other maintenance that needed doing on my groups, but I’ve decided that I said I would do a week so I’m going to stick to it. Although this request did make the pull of it feel much stronger than it has done the last day or so, so it felt hard to decide to stick to it.
PS The eagle eyed of you reading this (is anyone reading this?) will have noticed that there is no “Cold Turkey: Day 3” post. That’s because I didn’t write one.
I’ve slept quite badly the last two nights, but in a good way. I say that since it’s mainly because my head has become full of thoughts and ideas and memories that there weren’t space for when I was constantly stuffing it with dopamine and lots of tiny bits of pretty useless information.
I actually spent quite a lot of time online yesterday, but without Facebook it was mainly reading articles, and reading them all the way through. That’s in contrast to what I usually do which is read the headline and the first paragraph, share it, then look for the next thing. So although I spent a lot of time online, I felt much better than I would have done if that had included Facebook, and I felt like I’d actually learnt some things and absorbed some interesting information. I’d still like to cut down my overall online time, but it feels ok to have been in a sort of transition for Day 1.
Last night and today I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about, and at one point even dreaming about scrolling Facebook. That emphasises for me the extent of the problem and that a week’s cold turkey is the right thing to do. Overall I think I spent quite a bit less time online today than yesterday, with a fair amount of time getting some admin work done for my business, as well as meditating and trying to catch up on some sleep (which proved difficult because it’s very humid today).
I’ve been frequently experiencing a strong sharing urge since I started my cold turkey, which I think is as often to share a thought I’ve had as it is to share something I’ve seen online. I think the strength of that urge when I feel it is slowly weakening, and I’m trying to say to myself that having a thought and trying to remember it if it’s a good one, and reading an article or watching a video online and just having learnt something is enough.
I concluded some time ago that the most important thing in life is connection with other people. It turns out that if you misuse social media, what appears to be connection is actually disconnection.
As mentioned in previous posts, I have a serious addiction to Facebook. Last night I decided that it’s more than a problem and it’s actually ruining my life, because it’s slowing, or even reversing my recovery from depression. Last night at 8pm I realised that I hadn’t been out all day and couldn’t really account for what I’d been doing. That’s actually not uncommon for me, but something about this time made me decide to go cold turkey for a whole week. I’ve done it for a couple of days before and it made me feel much better, but after I while I just slip again. I need to find a way to stop, so it’s time to “play hardball” (I don’t even know what hardball is but the phrase sounds good).
About a year ago, a member of my mental health support group who’s a recovering alcoholic suggested that if I have an addiction perhaps I need to go “sober” and not use it at all. I wasn’t convinced at the time, but I’m starting to think he may have had a point. Part of what’s stopped me completely ditching Facebook is that I use it to promote my business, and now even have a few selling groups connected to the business that I do daily maintenance on. So I’ve been telling myself that because of that I instead need to stay on it and try to control my usage. The reality is that it doesn’t really matter if I leave it for a week. When I think about it if I’m going to do marketing my time would probably be much more effectively spent treading the pavements doorstepping likely sources of business, certainly in the short term.
I’ve done a sort of mental cost-benefit analysis in on doing a week’s cold turkey and concluded that it’s really a no-brainer that the benefit massively outweighs the cost, even if I think of it only in terms of my business. I don’t of course, I mainly think of it in terms of my wellbeing. It very much feels like a downward spiral because the more time I spend online, the less I see people, so the harder I find it to contact people, so the more time I spend on my own, so the worse my mental health gets so the more I want to numb it out by spending time online. Then the worse I feel the more likely I am to struggle to cope with answering the phone and responding to emails so I lose out on work, which in turn means I have less money, the stress of which makes me feel worse which feeds back into the whole cycle. So it’s not a good situation.
I realised some time ago, that the fact I spend a lot of time on my own probably also makes the antidepressants I take less effective. I say that because they work by stopping your body from re-absorbing too much of the serotonin that it naturally generates. The problem with that is that serotonin is mainly generated when you engage in social interaction, so if you spend a lot of time on your own the serotonin isn’t really generated in the first place for the medication to stop it being re-absorbed.
Writing this post is of course partly alleviating the strong urge to share what’s on my mind that’s part of my addiction, but I think that’s ok.
I live in a shared house that has 5 bedrooms, I’ve lived here for 3.5 years. It’s unusual because unlike most shared houses, where someone moves in based on them meeting the existing housemates and everyone deciding they will fit in, here the agent shows someone round and they just move in. This suited me when I moved in because I’d been having trouble finding somewhere long term to live and was relieved to find somewhere where I could just pay the money and move in. This meant avoiding the frankly exhausting process of getting to know another set of housemates, who could potentially dish out yet another dissapointment by deciding someone else was their favourite prospective tenant. Experiencing this ease of moving in from the other side however, is less positive. It’s made me realise just how important it is who you live with, and not having any control over that can feel quite disconcerting. This is not helped by the fact that the first we hear about someone new moving in is when they come to the front door saying “Hi, I’m the new tenant”.
The unpredictability doesn’t end with who we share with. Because the bedrooms have locks on and we have separate tenancies the landlord is not required to give us notice to access the house (as I found out when I challenged them on it not long after I moved in) and they take full advantage of that. Fairly often we get random tradespeople, who they’ve given keys to just showing up and letting themselves in the house.
Then there are the prospective tenants who we didn’t know were coming knocking on the door because the agent is late, or a couple of times hasn’t shown up at all.
Occasionally they send us a letter giving us notice that someone is coming round to do something, but most of the times they’ve done that, no-one actually comes. It’s almost like they are trying to mess with our heads.
The agent responsible for our house is also utterly incompetent and I have no idea how he got his job. The only good thing he’s done is tripped over our coffee table and faceplanted on the carpet, which provided some entertainment for my housemate. Sadly I wasn’t in at the time.