Is this what “normal” feels like?

For the last 10 years (perhaps even longer) mental illness, depression and anxiety, has plagued my life. In my blog I have tried so hard to articulate how this feels, to try and help those who have never experienced the black dog of depression understand just a little part of what it is like. Living with this illness has become my norm. Until now.

My last blog post shared how a new antidepressant had started to help. For just over two months I have been on citalopram. Over the past 10 years I have tried numerous antidepressants. In all that time not one has really rid the depression. Yes some have helped for a short while, or at least made me feel a bit numb to the intense emotions and anxiety so I have been more able to cope.

I know I have frustrated friends who haven’t understood why I have wanted to wean off them after a while. In all honesty it has always been because I have still felt ill even on them. Yes they might have helped in some way but not enough. As a side effect I have felt a bit out of it and dulled.

I had got to the point where I truly believed they did no good. Worse still though, I was blaming myself more and more. Perhaps I was making this depression up? Maybe I don’t have anything really wrong with my head? Maybe the chemicals really are all in balance and I’m just a big fat failure.

So when the latest attack of the depression hit, and I hadn’t been on any medication at the time, it took a lot of convincing mainly by two very good friends for me to return to the doctor and seek more medication. This time everything is so different!

I keep asking myself is this what it feels like to have a normal brain? Is this how it feels to not have a mental illness? I feel like I have had one for so long I have forgotten what it is like without one? It’s almost impossible for me to put it into words but it is like I have woken up out of a nightmare that has been my head. No longer is everything surrounded by grey. No longer am I in a fog.

I just feel content. Not happy. But just level and balanced. Last night I went for a drink with an old friend. She actually interviewed me for my first teaching job and we have remained close friends over the years (we always joke she is my surrogate mother). She said to me “do you mean the person I interviewed for that job 14 years ago is back?” And I laughed “yes”. She said you waltz that interview that day and you shone from day one.

It stayed like that for a while. Then I got ill with the depression and since then the fog has been there. I have had moments of being able to lift out of it. Moments of shining. Moments of pure joy. But beneath it has always been grey and depression.

Now it feels like it’s lifting. I feel so clear. I feel like I’m not fighting a battle with my head every day. I feel like I have so much more energy and enthusiasm for life again! I’m making decisions about my future. I’ve got a fire in my belly again for what I want. Life is there again. I’m not fighting to stay alive.

I’m not going to lie. It’s not perfect. I still self harm every day. This has become my coping mechanism that even my counsellor says she would be worried about me if I just stopped suddenly. I still have quite a lot of major self esteem issues and emotional issues due to past events that I believe will take years if I truly want to work through them. But despite all of that day to day is 10 times better.

I’ve made a decision. A decision I’m not questioning. A decision I accept for myself. The change brought about by this medication has proved to myself something I believe and try to educate others about. Mental illness is real. If I had a problem with my thyroid I might have to take thyroxin everyday for the rest of my life. The same as if I had diabetes I might have to inject insulin. Well I have a medical condition too. It’s called depression and it’s a problem with my brain. I have to take antidepressants. I’m going to take them everyday for the rest of my life because they are a treatment for my illness.

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Happiness

Three weeks ago I started on a new antidepressant (Citalopram) after being off medication completely for 4 months. The first week was horrible with side effects including sickness, dizziness, nausea, headaches and a general feeling of being a different planet. But since that first week things have started to turn a corner.

This week students in one of my re classes said “I was the happiest teacher they have ever had”. A sign of perhaps how good I am at putting on an act. In my head I thought if only you knew; last week I was contemplating suicide! It is mostly easier for me to put on an act (especially in the classroom). As I said to them “well I try to be happy in every lesson as it isn’t fair to you to bring anything in from outside”.

Yesterday though someone else remarked “your so happy today”. I had come into work and felt well. I had gone to see the lady who arranges all the cover for teachers who are off because a member of my department was off and I wanted to see who was doing her cover. She had lots of teachers off and I wanted to help her. I offered to cover a lesson for her and two registrations. My quiet day had suddenly got much busier! But it felt good.

Minutes later back in my classroom I took stock. This week hasn’t been the easiest with my husband away on a school trip and the house being in chaos as we were having new storage. But I felt happy. What was more staggering was I didn’t particularly have a weekend to look forward to; but I was still happy.

I sat there questioning what’s going on? Today I have a doctors appointment first thing -always a cause of anxiety for a doctor phobic like me. Then my husband is going away for the day and night to see a mate. Meaning I have my two gorgeous boys on my own and have little family time. This afternoon I have a play date with one of my eldest sons friends and his mum-another cause of anxiety because of peopling with someone I don’t know that well. Then Sunday when he gets home my husband will be preparing for a job interview he has so once again little family time which I love.

All of this and I was still happy. I sat there in my classroom wondering what on earth was going on? I feel positive. Happy. Level. This isn’t my normal!

Maybe just maybe the tablets are helping. I have never felt they have before in 10 years taking them on and off. Maybe just maybe this is what they are meant to feel like when they do?

I feel like I’m coping. I feel level. I feel in control. I feel like I could be affected by good, bad events or tiredness like any normal person. I’m hoping so much this is not a short term thing. I hope this is more than a day!

Keep your fingers crossed.

Medication

Saturday I went to the doctors. It took 3 weeks of persuasion from various sources including my counsellor, friends and husband. When you have had as many bad experiences,with doctors and mental health, as I have you get a little scared.

Well I had such a positive experience. She was the nicest doctor I have ever met. What was even more special was the time she gave me, the care she showed and her genuine interest in wanting to hear me so she could help me.

I came away with two prescriptions. One for my stomach pains that have been relentless and she thinks due to irritable bowel syndrome. The other a new antidepressant.

After coming off my antidepressants in September I have been determined not to go back on them again. I have fought feeling poorly. I have pushed away any comments from sources to suggest it might be best to consider them.

Why? It’s ingrained. My mum is an advocate for no medicine unless absolutely necessary. Even when it is you try and get off it as soon as possible. I think i just always fall into that trap.

I’m trying Citalopram. I was on it for a few months about 10 years ago. I’m not sure why I came off it at the time, it’s too long ago. The doctor thought it might be worth a try as I was so scared about starting fluoxetine again as the side effects crippled my anxiety at the start last time.

So I’ve taken two so far as she advised me to take them at night to start with to help the bad effects be when I’m asleep.

If you don’t know antidepressants take between 2-4 weeks usually to have a positive effect. The first 2 weeks are also usually tough because until your body gets used to the side affects they can really make things worse.

So what’s happening right now. The last two nights I’ve been awake since 4am with heart palpitations and feeling sick. In the day I’m dizzy, feeling nauseous, and had a headache which nothing has touched. My anxiety levels have certainly risen. I’m super tired and I feel very spacey. I went to work today but I’m not sure I’ll get there feeling like this tomorrow. Not easy when your job involves teaching classes of teenagers.

I know these side effects should subside in 1-2 weeks. I can manage them in the short term, I just hope the tablets help my mental health long term.

Depression curse

That’s what I feel it is right now. A curse that I will never be free of. I’m coming to learn and finally accept that it may follow me like a shadow for the rest of my life. But somehow I have to stop it being such a curse in my daily life.

Right now it’s making me feel so poorly again. Today I awoke and was sick three times with a chesty cough, however in reality it wasn’t solely this that kept me off work. Without it I probably would have gone in. But with it I felt that the combination of physical exhaustion and mental illness was too much.

So how is the curse troubling me? What are the current difficulties?

  1. I absolutely hate myself! I cannot see anything good in me. I feel like the most selfish, miserable, good for nothing person in the world. I feel like a complete failure as a wife, mother and teacher.
  2. My self confidence is so low I’m so anxious. I can’t even look people in the eye. I’m scared nearly all the time. In the classroom is certainly the worst.
  3. I’m lonely. I’m feeling so alone yet I’m surrounded by people. I have two beautiful young boys and a husband with me but yet I feel alone. I have friends only a text or phone call away yet I am lonely. I have colleagues offering to help and yet I’m lonely. Why? I’m pushing people away. With every offer of help I refuse to accept it. With every kind word I shy away. Why because I’m so scared these people who I like will lose respect for me and hate me if they spend even a few minutes listening to me. I almost want someone to force the issue because I can’t but no one does because they don’t know what to do for the best.
  4. The curse tells me it will be this bad forever. For the last two years I have been riddled with this curse. Yes it has been up and down and I have had good times too. But right now I’m beginning to feel like i am a hopeless case. People must wonder what a waste of space I am because I am always ill.
  5. Self harm. I know it is still such a taboo subject but it’s daily in my life. Currently I’ve done it quite a lot recently it hurts. Not only do I have the marks I have the pain as well.
  6. Suicidal thoughts. These are daily too. I wouldn’t say I’m in crisis (I’ve been there and I know the difference) but it doesn’t stop the thoughts going round my head as I feel like everyone would be better off without me.

I keep trying to remember what friends say it will get better. But it’s been going on and off like this for 2 years now and it doesn’t feel like there is any end in sure. I wish someone could wave a magic wand.

My grandad

I know writing this is going to make me stream with tears but I want the world to know what an amazing man you were.

I could tell you about his life but this is not the time for a eulogy. Instead I want the world to know what you meant to me.

You had the kindness smile.

You always asked how I was.

You always showed interest in me.

I loved the tennis games we played into your seventies.

You always made me laugh.

You told the best stories.

You had such a cheeky side.

The bravest man I have ever known.

A fighter even when everyone else would have given up.

Someone who loved life.

You arguing with my nan which was always forgotten in a moment.

Your complete love and devotion to my nan (she was your wife for 77 years)

Your values and beliefs were strong.

Even on my last visit to you in December your character shone through. Dialysis, blindness, fragility, cancer…house bound but what a man. You smiled and laughed at my two boys. I could see how much you wanted to interact with them. You made me laugh about the nurse you had spoken to in the hospital whilst on the dialysis machine the day before. And despite how poorly you were your upmost interest and love for your family because that always came first.

Every day you have inspired me. Fighting in world war 2, the loss of your child and later your grandchild and nothing stopped your spirit.

I have so many happy memories and the last one I have is my youngest son kissing you on the lips goodbye the last time I saw you. 4 generations in one room that day and now you’ve gone but forever in my heart.

An overload and I’m scared

All was going well till Wednesday evening. Then an overload hit and my already fragile state feels poorly.

  • My grandad can no longer have dialysis and he will die very soon. He is 97 so he has a good and long life. But it’s rocked me. He is my inspiration. I have always admired him and loved talking to him. He is so special to me.
  • My dad’s Alzheimer’s is so much worse. I don’t like to share too much here as my mum and dad are very private and there are people who know him who may read this, but all I can say is it’s going downhill fast and although I knew things would happen, it doesn’t make it any easier.
  • My mum is finding it hard to cope with my dad. With my grandad dying it isn’t helping. He is my dad’s dad but it is my mum having to deal with that too. And it’s me who tries so desperately to be her rock.
  • Finally my rock is poorly. My husband is off work with stress and he is very wobbly and shaky. I am trying to support him in every way possible and I hope he knows I will always be there for him. He keeps apologising because he says he should be strong for me right now but things don’t work quite like that in life.

Right now the build up of life is impossible. I’m terribly overwhelmed. In a weird way I feel better than I did a week ago as I’m purposefully trying to hold it together for everyone. But underneath I’m incredibly wobbly. I can really feel the illness circling me like vultures. I’m desperately swatting it away.

I’ve told some colleagues, I’ve told a friend and I’ve told a boss; all to try and get the support there if the fall occurs. Currently I’m ok. Ok as in life is pretty rubbish right now but I’m ticking all the boxes and keeping going.

Constant failure

Why do small little words bury so deep? Why do good intentioned thoughts and wishes affect me negatively? How can something so meaningless make me double over with depression?

“I hope 2019 is a good one for you! Positive things coming your way.”

“Are you feeling better?”

Two completely innocent statements! The first I felt a real love and good will from the person. I felt like they really cared. The second again from someone who I know loves and cares for me, just willing me to be well.

What does my brain do? Twist them and make me feel like a failure. For both I end up feeling why do these people have to KEEP asking? Why do they have to wish me well?

The reason is because I’m continually letting them down. Over and over I am a failure at my life. How must it feel to be my friend? How must it feel to be a family member? When consistently I’m not well or I’m up and down like a yo-yo.!

My mind then makes it worse. Do they think I’m making this all up? Do they think I’m seeking their attention? Do they think I like the limelight? Do they think I’m a waste of space because I can’t get well.

Then I start to plan how I am going to increase the efforts to be well and put on a front. Then I am going to try harder to not let them see what is happening inside.

This in turn makes it worse. I spend even longer internalising the feelings than normal. The self harm triples. The isolating behaviour increases. The sense of failure intensifies.

So what’s the answer? Please don’t read this and think you shouldn’t ask how I am or wish me well. Please don’t stop. My rational brain is still in there some where feeling good that people care.

The problem is I have to live with this illness. Most of the time I have it in control enough to function which I have to be grateful for, as many don’t. I have a loving family, great friends and a good job.

The honest answer is I haven’t recovered from my horrific depressive episode 2 years ago. I have in the sense I’m coping and functioning, but inside it’s still messed up. I will keep working on it. Please don’t give up on me.