Making it to Bude

A couple of weeks ago I went to Bude in Cornwall for two nights, to give myself a break, but I almost didn’t go because the days leading up to my trip weren’t plain sailing.

On the Friday, the day before I was supposed to go to Bude, I woke up late with an anxiety headache. I get these every so often and it’s a sign that things are not right. At the most extreme level of anxiety the headache can be followed by me throwing up and a day of recovering in bed. Several years ago when it first started happening I didn’t realise it was a function of my anxiety because it tended to happen the day after I’d done a long drive (like to London and back) and I blamed it on exhaustion and dehydration.

Still having a headache, I went to do a van booking helping someone move house I had in the afternoon thinking I would be able to manage. I had been for a walk beforehand, which always helps when I’m feeling anxious but I don’t think it was enough. After I got to the pickup address I started to feel worse, and it became obvious there was a lot more stuff than I was expecting. The van was crammed full and I knew it was all going upstairs at the other end. The way I felt, I started to think that I just wasn’t going to be able to do that. So I text Jody, my go-to helper to see if he was free and able to help. With amazing luck he had just finished walking a friend’s dog roughly en-route between the collection and delivery addresses. So we picked him up on the way, and from that point on he and the customer did everything, I just drove. When we got to the delivery address, I said to him “I’m just going to sit still and try not to throw up” and I got back in the van and left them to unload. About 5 minutes later I threw up. I was parked with the drivers seat on the road side, so the customer didn’t see me. So I managed to avoid embarassment and the need to explain. I then managed to drive us to pick up a bed nearby, after which I went home to bed and slept for about 3 hours.

When my mental health takes a dive I usually try to figure out what’s happened recently that’s caused it, which can be difficult, but when I do I tend to find that I feel better about feeling shit, if that makes sense. On the Thursday morning I had my 4th (I think) telephone session of CBT from the local (outsourced) NHS mental health service. During that session it was decided that on the basis that it should be helping me and I was actually feeling worse, that I should be referred for more intensive CBT. This would involve a wait of several months. While I agreed that this was the right decision, I had waited a few months to start the sessions and had a lot of hope it was going to help me. While it was only a few months I had been on the waiting list, in a way it was help that I had waited for for far longer.

When I was first ill in 2012 I tried to get help from the equivalent service available at the time, who also offered CBT. They told me I was too ill to engage with the service, so my GP referred me to be assessed for “secondary services” ie higher level mental health care. I had this assessment, the result of which was the decision that I wasn’t ill enough to qualify for help. So I fell between the cracks. The result of this was that I spent several years with the attitude of “fuck the NHS they’re not going to help me”. It’s worth saying that the two GPs I dealt with a lot during my darkest times were brilliant. So a while after that a decided to pay for private counselling.

So I guess all of this from the past added a lot of weight to how my brain processed this most recent setback. So I think it’s actually perfectly understandable that I felt to terrible the next day.

I was due to set off for Bude on the Saturday, and had booked two nights in a nice hotel with a sea view. As my brain and body were recovering from the Friday I was pretty far from feeling up to a 3 hour drive. I did think about just not going, but it was £200 I’d paid that I really couldn’t afford to lose. So I rang the hotel and asked them if I could push my booking back by a night. Luckily they had availability for the Monday night and agreed. So on the Sunday I set off on my trip.

I’m glad I went, it was really good for me. It rained heavily quite a lot of the time I was there, but I didn’t feel like doing much anyway, and I was happy sitting in my room looking at the sea while I read my book or meditated, wrote my journal or watched TV. It was dry in the afternoon on the second day so I went for a short walk along the coast path, and it was pretty windy but the coastline there is beautifully dramatic. As Bude faces west I had hoped to see the sunset while I was there, but it was so overcast both evenings that you couldn’t even tell the sun was there! Maybe next time.

I’ve been taking these short trips away for two or three nights every so often since a couple of years ago when I started putting £10 a week in a savings account as a holiday fund. For several years I’ve been in quite a bit of debt and struggling with money while I build up my business, and for a long time I just didn’t feel like I could afford any trips or holidays. Putting a little money aside each week has made me feel like I can justify it, and these kind of trips are really good for my mental health.

The inconvenient thing about trying to write a blog focusing on my life struggling with mental health is that, like most things, it’s difficult to get myself to do it, meaning I only really write it at times when I’m feeling relatively OK. So that’s why I’m writing now about something that happened two weeks ago.


Awake

Part of the reason I struggle to start writing posts is that I’m sat here looking at a blank title wondering what the post is going to be about, and even if I know that, what I should call it. So instead I’ve just started writing in I guess what you would call a stream of consciousness. It’s 00:55 and the reason I’m awake is that I decided to stop killing time watching TV at 8:45 and meditate for an hour instead. Meditation is a good thing but the result of doing that in the evening (which I used to do a lot but seem to mostly do it earlier in the day now) this time is that my brain has become quite active in the headspace generated by doing that. This used to happen to me for the first couple of nights whenever I went cold turkey from Facebook. Since getting a smartphone in Nov 2019 my Facebook addiction has spread to a more general device addiction, some of the worst elements of which have included a Scrabble app, and more recently Tinder. Watching Neflix even became part of it, and little while ago I stopped watching TV for about 6 weeks (which is when Tinder became a serious problem). It’s become obvious that the primary goal of Tinder is not to help you meet someone, but to keep you using Tinder. Not that I really want to meet anyone at the moment, swiping is just an outlet for my addiction. I’ve also become aware that Tinder, OK Cupid and Plenty of Fish are all owned by Match.com which makes more sense of why OK Cupid has changed to have a swiping element to it that you have to match with someone before you can message them. It seems like, just like Facebook seems to have made it increasingly hard over the years to use it to actually communicate with people, dating sites seem to be making it increasingly hard to actually get to the point of going on a date. I get that there’s an issue with people (especially women) getting lots of messages from people they are not interested in, but I’m sure there’s more than one way to solve that problem. I’ve used OK Cupid quite a bit over several years and before they changed it so you had to match with people, I had quite a few good chats, and during periods where I was putting effort in, went on dates. The way it works now just seems like a far more frustrating experience. As one of my friends said to me recently maybe it’s time to “go analogue”. He’d recently starting seeing someone he met IRL when he said that, so may be slightly biased, but I’m increasingly thinking he’s right.

As I might have said on here before, apparently the more you write a blog the better your writing becomes. The only way is up haha. Maybe my next post will be more structured and coherent.



A mental health crisis

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.


Apocalyptic pit-stop

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”
Toilets deserted
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


Sluggish

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.


Cold Turkey: 3 Weeks

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.


I did it! Cold Turkey: Day 7 (Sat)

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.


Cold Turkey: Day 4 (Wed)

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.


Cold Turkey: Day 2 (Mon)

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.


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