Cold Turkey: 1 week

The last week I’ve had an awful lot going on. It was my busiest week of the year at work, as it was student move week, and actually my busiest work week ever, doing a record 30 hours. To anyone who works in an office that probably doesn’t sounds like much, but when it’s 30 hours of lifting and shifting with short bits of driving, trust me it’s a lot! When I woke up on Saturday morning, for the first time in my life my hip hurt. My shoulder had been hurting for a few days. So I spent Saturday limping around, but luckily I didn’t have much work on as the rush was over. My hip and my shoulder bother feel much better today.

On Saturday night I went to see a stage version of Blackadder Goes Forth in Cardiff, and stayed over at my Mum’s in Penarth. Sunday morning I took my niece for a walk along the Taff trail, then in the afternoon I went for the first time to see my brother-in-law in intensive care before heading back to Bristol for my last booking of the week at 4:30.

So I’ve been very glad to have most of the day off today, and have spent a fair bit of it asleep, in between watching episodes of Big Bang Theory and making it out to go for a walk in my favourite park.

In a way I think the first week of cold turkey has been slightly easier than it might have been because I’ve been so busy. I decided not to include TV in my cold turkey, but I feel like I could have done better at moderating my TV watching today and that I was using it slightly to avoid sitting with myself which is why the things that are addictive for me have become so much of a problem.


Cold Turkey: Day 3

22:55 Today has felt a little easier, helped by the fact I’ve been quite busy doing driving work. Overnight I felt like my brain was re-balancing and finding a more natural state. I’ve left it a little late to write this as I’m a bit too tired. I was expecting to be at a support group this evening but it turned out when I got there that it was cancelled. So I’ve spent most of the evening sorting out my room which had got into quite a state. So that feels good. I’m sure I would have spent the evening in a much less useful way before I went cold turkey.

Thanks to a mention of it in a Matt D’avella video I’ve discovered a really good Chrome website blocker called Stay Focusd which has a “Nuclear Option” that blocks all websites on a blocked list (or even all websites) for a period of time you set and there’s no way to get out of it. I was using BlockSite but that’s too easy to switch off by just going into the Chrome extensions screen and disabling it. It makes it slightly harder to get onto sites you want to avoid but for me it’s not enough. Initially I think I’ll probably set the timeout for a number of hours in the hundreds to keep me off blocked sites for quite a few days while I’m in the earlier stages of cold turkey.


Cold Turkey: Day 2

Today I allowed myself to watch two consecutive episodes of Big Bang theory as I’m still not totally sure if I need to make TV part of my cold turkey and maybe it’s best to start by cutting out the worst things, which TV isn’t. I also allowed myself to briefly go on Tinder to contact 3 people that I’d been messaging with for a couple of weeks, two of which I’d discussed meeting up with. I hadn’t messaged anyone on there since a week ago when I suddenly had more important things on my mind and had started to seriously question whether I should be on there at all. So as far as they knew I had just dissappeared, and it doesn’t feel great when someone just stops messaging, so I wanted to get in touch. My objective now is to exchange phone numbers with the people I already have conversations with so I don’t lose the potential to meet someone but can get off Tinder.

I made myself some new sobriety coins for days 1 to 6. The ones I already had from when I went cold turkey from Facebook in 2019 started at One Week. Maybe I had more determination or willpower then, or maybe Facebook on it’s own when I didn’t have a smartphone seemed easier to give up than it seems now to give up the worst aspects of having a smartphone, including dating apps. I don’t really feel like I have much of a problem with Facebook anymore, and I’ve never had the app on my phone. Maybe it’s just that I’ve moved on to other things which are worse.

A few weeks ago I went with a friend to see George Clinton. I used to judge people who videod gigs on their phone and watched through their phone on the basis that as they are actually there they should just enjoy experiencing it. But I was standing there when I should have been just enjoying the music, swiping on Tinder, which is so much worse. At least the people videoing it on their phones are focused on experiencing the event they are at in some format. I became aware of this contradiction, but couldn’t seem to stop. I guess that’s what an addiction looks like.


Tough times

I didn’t know what to call this post, and I’m not sure the title I’ve chosen really narrows it down. Sometimes I feel like I hate my life. Right now my brother-in-law who’s been in my life for over 20 years is in intensive care, after going into hospital on Monday with a panchreatitis. This is obviously a difficult time for my sister, made even more difficult by the fact that she and my nephew have long covid causing them to suffer from chronic fatigue. I’ve been doing what I can the last couple of days to support them. At the same time I’ve become very stressed about money the last few days, am trying to get out of a very bad lapse of device addiction, and today got very wound up by yet more text-based conflict with my housemate who for the year we’ve lived together has opted wherever possible to not speak to me, even when we’re in the same room/hallway. (we are rarely in the same room because we’ve got into a habit of avoiding each other). I wrote some detail here about what the conflict was about, but basically I threw away some carrots which looked rotten to me and I thought were intended for the food waste. The assumption was then made that I did this out of spite. I don’t think I’ve done anything out of spite since I was about 14. It even feels stupid writing this much detail because it’s over something so insignificant.

Part of my motivation for writing a post was that I don’t really feel like I have anyone to talk to about any of this right now. I thought seriously about calling Samaritans earlier, but I don’t feel bad enough for that now. I think going for a walk in my favourite park helped. That always helps. The last time I called Samaritans was probably 2012 when I had such chronic anxiety that I found it very difficult to function.

Writing things helps. I write a journal most days but a lot of days I just write factual stuff and don’t get as far as the feelings.

I feel like I’ve tried hard all my life to be a good person, but I seem to have had a few situations the last year or so where someone, presumably due to their own issues, makes wrong assumptions about me and decides that some or all of my actions are out of malice. And explaining why I did something doesn’t help, and if anything often seems to make things worse. I’ve admitted to myself recently that I avoid conflict. I’ve also realised that this extends to the fact that when I’m in conflict with someone I always try to remain reasonable and calm, which it turns out can be infuriating and I think often if I just said how I was feeling it would diffuse the situation.

This has turned out to be another stream of conciousness post, but hey whatever, writing this blog is more for me than for anyone else, and better out than in right?

Tinder is horrible. I had an addiction to Facebook before I got a smartphone (Oct 2019) that had a seriously negative effect on my life. But Tinder is so much worse. I’ve slipped quite badly since I went back on it after a relationship I was in ended after about 2 months in mid May. Since then I’ve increasingly felt it was bad for me and thought about going cold turkey but I seem to be actually doing that now. A few years ago I made some sobriety coins to help me stay off Facebook and I think its time to use them again. I think I need to include all dating apps, social media and even TV. Oh and porn. I’ve been through phases where I felt like I was becoming dependent on TV and just doing stupid amount of binge watching. Episode after episode after episode, even when I’d stopped enjoying whatever it was because I’d watched so much of it.

It’s after 11pm now and I’m tired and have run out of steam. POST.


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.


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