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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.


Cold Turkey: Day 1 (Sun)

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.


House

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.


I’m afraid…..

I’m afraid of us not leaving the EU, and what that will mean for the future. All other things being equal I’d much rather we stayed in the EU than left, but all other things are not equal.

In the 2015 General Election, 3.8 million people voted for UKIP and although they only got one MP, they came second in 120 constituencies. The rise of UKIP is the main reason why the Conservatives gave them what they said they wanted, and held a referendum on EU membership with the intention of stopping them in their tracks. This strategy worked….for a while. When the 2017 General Election happened, the government had triggered Article 50 a little over two months earlier, negotiations had begun and the government had committed to taking us out of the EU. For UKIP this meant they tanked in the election compared to their previous performance, getting only around 600,000 votes. Likely because most of the people who voted for them in 2015 had only done so because they wanted to leave the EU, and thinking leaving the EU seemed certain, returned to their natural “home” party.

I said that leaving the EU is what UKIP *said* they wanted. I said this because I think what Nigel Farage says he wants and what he actually wants are two very different things. He says he wants the UK to leave the EU, but I’m fairly convinced that what he actually wants is to be the Prime Minster of a fascist dictatorship. This is why I’m afraid.

Since the 2017 election we’ve had endless political infighting, MPs repeatedly voting against the agreement the government has negotiated, followed by delays to leaving, first by a few weeks, then by six months. Because of all this, I get the impression that the people who want to leave the EU generally feel lied to and betrayed and are far more determined than they were in 2015. Add to this the fact that Farage’s new Brexit Party is even more single issue than UKIP, while all the other parties are suffering from the same problem that “the left” has done historically with the Conservatives, that they are broadly against something without being able to agree on exactly how to oppose it what they want instead.

As things stand it seems likely that there will be a General Election before our current scheduled exit date of the end of October. I’m afraid it’s a very real possibility that in that election Farage’s party will win a significant number of seats, and that he may even become Prime Minister. I’m sure a lot of people would think this alarmist and say “it couldn’t happen here” but if the last three years has taught us anything, it’s that the unexpected can and does happen.

My point in all this is that if UKIP’s performance in 2017 is anything to go by, the way to stop Farage is to give him what he says he wants, and leave the EU, consigning his apparently single issue party to history. The risk is that not leaving will instead give him what he actually wants, to become Prime Minister, and he’ll take us out of the EU anyway.

If the choice is between fascism and leaving the EU, I want to leave the EU.


Breaking habits/Forming new habits

For quite a few months now I’ve had the words “The key to a better life really is as simple as sitting and thinking about things” written in big letters in marker pen on a piece of paper on the corkboard on my bedroom wall. This refers to the fact that probably since I was in my early 20s (I’m 37) I’ve occasionally spent time sitting somewhere quiet and just letting my mind wander. When I do this, it helps me with things like remembering the things I need to do that day, remembering friends that I’ve not seen for a while, and I often find that I’ll accidentally solve a problem I’ve been having in my life, or come up with a new idea for something. I guess some people would say this sounds like meditation, but I’ve never really thought of it as that because it was just something I started doing because I felt like before I knew anything about meditation. In recent years I’ve looked into mindfulness and tried it a tiny bit, and some element of that has coloured what I do now when I sit down for a mind wander. This process tends to result in me having a much clearer head and suddenly I become much more productive and sociable, and in the years since I’ve been suffering from depression, from just doing this once I probably end up getting more done in the following few days that I would otherwise do in a month.

About a year ago I finally admitted to myself (closely followed by my counsellor) that I’m addicted to the internet, especially facebook. Now I think about it I’ve probably spent an unhealthy amount of time looking at computer screens since I was a child, before we even had the internet at home (can you imagine? It makes me feel about 100 just saying that). I’ve always resisted getting a smartphone because I knew it wouldn’t be a good idea for me, so I guess some part of me has known that I had a problem with the internet for a long time, I just hadn’t properly faced up to it. Since admitting my problem I’ve discovered the concept of the Cycle of Change, which is most commonly used in relation to addiction but can be applied to anything where you want to change your own behaviour. My interpretation of the cycle is essentially:

Admit you’ve got a problem
Think about doing something about it
Do something about it
Maintain a change in behaviour
Relapse

I’ve gone through this cycle quite a few times now where I’ll do quite well at limiting my use for a period then something will happen that will cause me to relapse. It could be being ill, being really tired from a physically demanding work day, or just running out of willpower. The next thing I know it’s weeks later and I realise I’ve slipped into my old habits and I have a moment where I say to myself “shit, what am I even doing? I really need to get off the internet”. Then I’m motivated by my lapse to take action again. The theory is that each time you go round the cycle you learn something that you can use to do better next time round, and you get quicker at realising you’ve lapsed and doing something about it.

The reason I’ve talked about both the seemingly unrelated “meditation” and the internet addiction is that I remembered something I’d read a while back in book called Willpower for Dummies (found in a charity shop, surprisingly good). It says that it’s much easier to actively decide to do something than it is to not do something that’s a habit. So instead of trying not to go on the internet, I decided I would commit myself to trying to do at least 30 minutes of “meditation” a day, knowing that when I do this I’m much less likely to spend significant time online that day. I heard somewhere (probably a TED talk) that it takes 8 weeks to form a new habit so my current goal is to try and meditate for at least 30 mins a day for 8 weeks and hope I can make it a long term habit.


To Tube or not to Tube

A few weeks ago (maybe longer) I decided I would try and start making YouTube videos, and I even bought a cheap webcam. I wanted to share my experiences of mental health difficulties and other aspects of my life, as no-one else really seemed to be doing that and I thought it might help me and other people at the same time. I came across a few popular YouTubers who’ve made a couple of videos where they’ve talked about their mental health, but I couldn’t find anyone who had a channel that was specifically about that from the outset. I think anyone talking, especially publicly, about their mental health is a good thing for the general way in which mental health problems are viewed by society and that many people feel ashamed to admit they are struggling as it’s still widely seen as a sign of weakness.  Now I’ve thought some more about it I feel like me making YouTube videos probably needs too much planning and headspace for me to actually do it, even tho I was planning for it to be fairly raw and honest. So for now I’m just going to try and post to this blog more often (ever) and maybe I’ll graduate to video at some point in the future.


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