anyone can reap the benefits of not drinking alcohol

I promised you a guest blog this week, and here it is!  Martyn Rowe is the Senior eBusiness Manager at AXA PPP Healthcare.  His blog is slightly different from my usual content, but I think that it shows the similarities in some of the downsides and ALL of the benefits of giving up drinking, for both an alcoholic and a non-acloholic.

I also can really empathise with some of Martyns experience of drinking too; it had started to take me longer and longer to get over hangovers.  My sleeping was ineffective and impacting on my mental health.  Mr. Invincible complained about how my drinking effected our relationship.

Martyn will be doing a live Q&A session on Thursday 13 February 2013 from 1.30 – 2.30pm, on AXA PPP healthcare’s Facebook page: www.facebook.com/AXAPPP.

So without further ado, here is Martyn with his story about giving up drinking alcohol.

Martyn1[1]Hi, I’m Martyn.  I had never been someone who had a drinking problem, but before I gave up alcohol I would have defined myself as being a ‘binge drinker’.  I wouldn’t drink every day, but I was having about five beers once or twice a week, usually in front of the TV.

I started thinking about giving up alcohol in March 2012, but it wasn’t until 30th December 2012 that I finally made the decision to experiment with a dry January.  I was forty years old and it was taking longer to get over hangovers.  I wouldn’t get much quality sleep when I’d been drinking and I would wake up tired and ratty.  My wife used to complain about my mood the day after I’d been drinking, so I knew it was having a negative effect on me.

However, the main reason I gave up alcohol was because I wanted to be able to train and exercise more.  I do a lot of taekwondo and found that I wasn’t feeling motivated to train the day after I’d been drinking.  This frustrated me as I was missing out on something I really enjoyed; it felt like I was wasting a day, just because I’d had a few drinks the night before.

Although people find it hard to believe, giving up alcohol wasn’t too difficult for me once I’d made my mind up to do it.  One of the things that helped me to stick to it was the realisation that alcohol is often misguidedly perceived as a wonder drug that can solve everything.  I used to tell myself that drinking when I was upset would make me feel better, that I should have a drink to celebrate good news, or that a drink would give me courage. 

The first few big occasions where I didn’t drink were difficult, but once I realised it was the event and the people that I was there for and not the alcohol, it was fine.  I remember going to a West Ham vs. Manchester Utd match in January and not drinking any alcohol.  I would usually have had 6-7 pints at a match, so when I didn’t have a single drink I knew that I could manage anything! 

The longer I went without a drink, the more I saw it as a challenge to continue.  On reflection, I set myself sub-conscious challenges.  Once I got to the end of January without drinking and felt better for it, I decided I could continue for longer. I resolved to make it until summer then once I met this target, I tasked myself to get through Christmas without a drink.  Before I knew it I’d gone a whole year without drinking and I had no desire to take it up again.

My health and mental wellbeing have improved and most importantly for me, I’m more focussed on training and much fitter as a result of giving up alcohol.  I also find it easier to function at work when I’m not feeling groggy! It was a bit hard going out with work colleagues at first and although I got teased a bit, everyone was generally accepting of my decision.

My wife and children also supported me in the challenge and they can see a change in me for the better, which is great.  I do get asked if I ever see myself having a drink again and the answer is no. I do not feel there are any major benefits that alcohol can offer me now and whilst I could have a drink if I wanted to, I choose not to. 

I would encourage anyone seriously considering cutting down or giving up alcohol for the associated health benefits to give it a try.  There is nothing to lose and as long as nobody is forcing you, you may well be pleasantly surprised by the positive effects!

PPP_logo_270[1]If you would like to find out a bit more and ask me any questions about my experience on giving up drinking, you can join me for a live Q&A on Thursday 13 February 2013 from 1.30 – 2.30pm, on AXA PPP healthcare’s Facebook page: www.facebook.com/AXAPPP

 

114 days sober

distantstorms-a-bird-and-a-little-girlSo, it’s been quite a while since I last posted (November 2013) and that’s because I’ve been busy re-learning how to do life – without alcohol.  This is somewhat tougher than I first thought!

If you’re a frequent flyer to my blog, you’ll remember I wrote about how I came to accept that I had a problem with managing my mis/use of alcohol.

If you’re not a frequent flyer and have come across my blog by chance, have a read of my previous post Can’t you just cut down?  It will make this post all the more relevant!

So, without further ado, if you’re sitting comfortably I’ll begin.  

114 days sober

I have my three month chip from AA (alcoholics anonymous) and feeling in a much stronger position than I did in November 2013.  In many ways it feels like a miracle, 114 miracles.

I’m still seeing my Psychiatrist (affectionately referred to as Mr. Darcy!) and I’m averaging one and a half AA meetings per week and I’m no longer considered a newcomer. 

How am I getting on?

Well – it’s great overall.  The benefits are vast (I’ll come to those later).  However, the novelty of not drinking is wearing off and I’m discovering that I now have to find out how to do my life without it being full of alcohol and all the rigmarole that goes with it.

I am taking medication to help with my cravings and when Mr. Darcy asks me how my medication is effecting my cravings, I tell him that I have few, much fewer than before the medication.  He confirms that this means it is working.  Great. 

When I do get the cravings, they are crippling though very fleeting, lasting a matter of only a few minutes.  I put this down to my coping strategies though.  Mr. Darcy says that I must fill the gap left in my life by the absence of alcohol with something just as rewarding.  This was a tough one for me (as far as I knew there was nothing as rewarding!) and I’ve had to test a few things out before deciding on my most reliable coping strategies.  Anyhoo – I managed to find a few that met the requirement!

Coping strategies

  1. The gym
  2. Crochet (yes I have become a haberdashery queen!)
  3. Cooking
  4. De-cluttering
  5. Socialising with friends
  6. Being a wife

AND the rewarding aspect…

Benefits

  1. I am fitter, thinner and my mood is stable and healthy.  Instead of using alcohol as a stress reliever I now run… Run, Forest, run (to quote a timeless classic movie!).
  2. I can’t do anything else but count stitches and follow patterns, so the benefits are the reward for completing a project and the lack of time to think about anything else.  It’s very calming and relaxing in that way.  However I am getting ‘crocheters finger’!
  3. I am taking care of myself nutritionally and also learning a new skill – never really got the cooking thing, but now find I’m feeding myself, Mr. Invincible and friends too.  This was unheard of – eating was cheating!
  4. Tidy cupboards, tidy mind.  De-cluttering is also very calming and relaxing.  But this is also cathartic as I wade through years of hanging on to things that led me to negative moods!  I used alcohol to numb the negative feelings and moods and I wasn’t dealing with some of painful issues that were keeping me stuck.
  5. OMG – I simply cannot believe how available I have become to my nearest and dearest.  Seeing how my mind is no longer occupied with the rules I impressed upon myself around alcohol (see Can’t you just cut down?) I have so much more of time and of myself to give to others and find I’m having much more meaningful and stronger relationships as a result.
  6. This last one I guess is one of the most important relationships I have.  Mr. Invincible was VERY concerned about my drinking habit and the impact it had on me (and those around me).  Since being abstinent I find some very interesting things happening between us;
     - Suddenly I see….I can see the respect he has for me (whether it was there all along or not, I don’t know).
     - The support from him is tremendous, I never could have imagined I was worthy of it.
     - I feel ‘useful’ and part of the relationship again; I’m engaged and thoroughly bought into it.
     - I’m getting my libido back (I’ll leave that to your imagination!)

Curve ball

My cravings sometimes rear their ugly heads when life throws a curve ball at me.  Recently I accompanied Mr. Invincible in meeting his long lost sisters and family (which is a whole other story – a very fabulous one).  I had cravings in the run up to that meeting, though surprisingly not so at the meeting.  Afterwards I was overwhelmed with how great it all was.  This is a new thing (and a very positive one) for me.  I showed myself that I can do difficult emotional situations without resorting to alcohol!

When the cravings do come I use my coping strategies and I work the AA program, 24 hours at a time.  Each 24 hours I’m sober I’m a winner (as is everyone else in my life)!

Life is different now though and it’s clearer to me that I am going to have to re-learn a lot of things.  The amount of physical time and emotional time that I spent adhering to my rules was exhausting.  It has been like that all of my adult life (and maybe earlier) I’ve come to realise I‘ve NEVER not been an alcoholic. 

It’s tough at times. Like any habit, alcohol dependency takes time to form.  I then gave it years to consolidate in me.  To break the habit it means doing things that feel completely alien to me, until they don’t anymore.  That’s what I’m working on.  Its weird, uncomfortable, nerve wracking, exciting and fruitful in most cases…

At work – I was never a drinker at work, but it impacted it negatively with my ability to perform and ‘be’ at work.  So now I’m practicing being in the office, not shying away when things are tough.  I’m learning a new work ethic.

At home – I can’t believe how much more available time I have to do things like household chores.  So I’m forging a new routine that means I get these done so I have more time to play.

Being Social – I’m ‘making’ plans with old, new and renewed friends.  I would always wait for an invite and would chose to accept it dependant on the involvement of alcohol.  I would probably ditch out at the last minute too.  Now, I’m initiating plans, even so far as spending a lot of time in friends company (maybe even entire weekends) doing all sorts of different things.  I’m finding my interests are wide and it’s an eye opener!

My mood – Frequent flyers will know that I am recovering from depression (http://thementalmassive.com/want-to-know-about-me/).  Now, as you’ll read from my post on Dual Diagnosis, it’s never clear which comes first; addiction or mental illness.  However, my mood is much more stable and consistently so.  I have much more respect for myself now (this is VERY new for me), I don’t have any blackouts and any alcohol associated guilt and shame.  I’m doing much better and can actually visualise that it will remain this way as long as I follow my treatment regime; medication and abstinence.  I feel powerful and ready to grab life again, instead of powerless against alcohol and forever beaten into submission by ‘it’.

So as it’s my first real post of 2014 (though somewhat late for Gregorian New Year, yet very timely for Chinese New Year of the Horse) here are my new year thoughts.

Dear 2014,

Bring it on!  You will be my year of self-discovery.  voyage-of-discovery

I will learn new skills. 

I will find my inner beauty. 

I will be content and I will stay sober.

Yours lovingly,

thementalmassive.com

P.S.  Please make it as smooth as possible for me!

If you are struggling or supporting someone who is, Dr Mark Winwood who is the Director of Psychological Services for AXA PPP healthcare, is available on Time to Talk day this Thursday 6th February. 

He will answer questions and share his expert advice on opening up and talking about what’s on your mind.  This could be anything from having trouble opening up about problems at work, feeling you can’t talk to your partner about something that’s on your mind, or advising on how to support a friend or colleague that you think may be going through a difficult time emotionally.

PPP_logo_270[1]If you have a question you’d like Mark to answer you can join him from 12.00pm – 02.00pm, or post your question in advance.  Just visit https://chat.axappphealthcare.co.uk/ to post a question in advance or join the Q&A.

Next week I’m hoping to have a guest blog too from a gentleman who has been sober for over a year, but for somewhat different reasons to me…watch this space!

Do you want to avoid getting too tipsy this Christmas season?

You may have read my latest article about struggling with alcohol addiction, how it exacerbated my mental health issues and how I’m now in recovery. 

I’ll be sober this Christmas (for the first and very scary time).  This approach isn’t for everyone though.  For those of you who want to take steps in gaining control over your drinking habits have a read of this article.  Mark Winwood is the Director of Psychological Services at AXA PPP healthcare and has kindly offered to guest blog for thementalmassive.

Without further ado – here are Mark’s Top tips to avoid getting too tipsy this party season

AXA_PPP_healthcare_logoThere are plenty of opportunities to socialise over the Christmas period which is great, but these gatherings often involve alcohol and it can be easy to overdo it or feel pressured into drinking more than you feel comfortable with.

When you’re tempted to consume a large volume of alcohol over a sustained period of time, it’s important to be careful – your body needs time and resources to manage this seasonal increase.

It doesn’t have to be all or nothing when it comes to alcohol consumption this party season though – there are a few simple steps you can take to stay in control, avoid binging and a hangover and still take care of your body while having fun. 

1.       Plan your evening – it’s not a race to see who can drink the most in the shortest time, so slow down and enjoy your drink and the company of the people you’re with. Better still, centre your social outings around an engaging activity rather than just drinking: perhaps go dancing or book some entertainment. Stick to your plans and pre-book your taxi home to avoid the risk of being swept up in an evening that drags on when the fun’s over.

2.       Opt out of rounds – don’t feel pressurised into being part of the crowd when it comes to rounds. Be up front and honest with your companions if you want to opt out – you probably won’t be the only one as others may want to stick to their own pace too. Not only will this help you keep track of what you’re drinking, it will also help you save your Christmas present pennies!

3.       Steer clear of cocktails and avoid mixing your drinks – one of the easiest ways to lose control of your alcohol intake is to mix numerous wines and spirits. You consume more units of alcohol when mixing drinks so choose one drink and stick to it.

4.       Less is more – don’t be caught out by a large glass of wine; opt for a small glass instead and choose singles over doubles. Check the strength of alcohol in your drinks – you might be surprised to find that the alcohol content in similar-looking reds or beers can vary greatly, so just ask at the bar. And it’s not a bad idea to drink water in between alcoholic drinks – this can help dilute the effect of the alcohol and keep you feeling fresh.

5.       Dilute your drinks – soda and tonic water can be your best friends on a night out. Diluting your drinks means you’re lowering the percentage of your alcohol intake and with less alcohol going into your bloodstream, you’re likely to feel better the following day!

6.       Alcohol free drinks – don’t feel you have to stick with alcoholic drinks. These days most bars offer a great range of ‘mocktails’ so why not order one of those? Drinking fruit juices provides the body with a range of vitamins you may not otherwise get on a night out.

Remember, being a sensible drinker doesn’t have to mean being a boring one! You can still have fun and enjoy the company of your family, friends and colleagues this Christmas, without overdoing it.

If you have any concerns about drinking too much over the festive season or just generally, you can ask me your questions as part of AXA PPP healthcare’s Live Q&A on drinking alcohol. I’ll be available to offer advice and support on Friday 6 December 2013 from 11am to 1pm (or you can submit questions in advance) at: www.axappphealthcare.co.uk/chat.

Can’t you just cut down?

woman_drinking_alcohol_drug_substance_misuse_blondeA while ago I wrote about dual diagnosis… http://thementalmassive.com/dual-diagnosis-whats-that/; the diagnosis of a mental illness alongside drug and/or alcohol misuse.

I am being treated for treatment resistant major depression disorder.  However after months (probably years) of looking inwards, through self-reflection and treatment for the depressive disorder, I became acutely aware of my alcohol dependence and misuse.

Recognition (and denial)

At first, it was a surprise to me, as I’d always thought that I just ‘used’ it, rather than ‘needed’ it.  I had been living in a great deal of denial.  I’d ignore the pleas from Mr. Invincible to ‘please don’t drink tonight’, or ‘why do you need to have another one’.  During a drinking period, he’d describe me as; belligerent, aggressive, angry, difficult, embarrassing. 

All I said to him was that those descriptions were thoroughly unfounded and unfair, I’d play my pity card – how could he think such things of me?  There were also instances where my drinking habit had interfered in my familial relationships, both in my younger years and in the years leading up to me becoming aware of the issue.  If I’m really honest, there was a huge impact on my ability to function effectively at work and it was becoming obvious.

So, when I finally admitted to my psychiatrist (who, by the way has earned his nickname of Mr. Darcy, though not for the reasons you may think – he’s a gentleman and refers to me as Bridget [Jones]) he was two things; one – extremely surprised (though he did say “so that explains why some lack of recovering has not made sense to me”) and two – very keen to get started on managing it.  So what did we do?  He’s a very simple version of the conversation we had:

Mr. Darcy: “How much do you drink ‘Bridget’?”

Me: “Honestly, I’ve never really thought about it (lie), but a lot… it varies, I used to drink mostly wine….but then in trying to cut down the alcohol content switched to cider.  However this was really high in calories and I wasn’t losing weight, so then I moved onto Vodka.”

Mr. Darcy: “Do you know how alcohol affects you, your body and maximises the effects of the depressive illness?”

Me: “Yes I think so, though I probably still need telling / educating”

Mr. Darcy goes on to tell me the specifics….

Mr. Darcy: “So will you stop drinking?”

Me: shock and horror face “No!”

Great… So I had proved to myself, that whilst I was unhappy (as were other close people in my life) and fed up of my drinking and its effects, I was very unwilling to stop. 

Journaling

So my homework was to go away and journal my habit.  I was quite enthralled, flabbergasted and disgusted with the results. 

In terms of volume I was drinking between 60-100 Units of alcohol per week.  In the seven weeks I had been monitoring my drinking, I drank over 500 units.  As a woman the recommended volume is 14 units per week, I was averaging 70+.  In the weeks where the volume was lower, it tended to be because I got such awful hangovers I wasn’t able to drink for two days, but then on the third I’d be desperate for a drink and so binged again.

Dems da rools!

My pattern of drinking was thus; after work during the week on arrival at home, pick up glass of wine and don’t stop until I’d finished two bottles, or at least one and a half, I rarely remembered going to bed, but always did before 12 midnight.  At weekends, drink from tea time (about 6pm) onwards, until I was blotto.  Sunday – drink as per a week day.  I was functioning like this (albeit, not very well) amazingly.

I had rules around drinking too;

  • Never drink in the morning.
  • Never drink in the afternoon.
  • Always have some available at home.
  • Never run out.
  • Don’t drink alone (if possible), though this was compromised by the fact that I didn’t consider drinking at home (Mr. Invincible doesn’t drink alcohol) drinking alone even when he wasn’t there!
  • Always go to bed before 12 midnight when working the next day.
  • Only get blotto at weekends.
  • Don’t drink spirits when out with work colleagues.
  • ‘Try’ not to drink on an empty stomach, though this was greatly compromised by the next rule…
  • Eating is cheating!

The Mask (and denial)

These rules kept me satisfied (allowing me to drink alcohol) and also kept me very able to put a ‘my drinking habits are not a problem’ mask on, which in turn meant that I could hide it very well from those around me.

Because I didn’t have to drink during the day; morning or afternoon, I kept saying to myself, I’m not an alcoholic, because I can choose to drink when I like.  What I wasn’t acknowledging was that half way through the afternoon I’d start craving, hard.  By the time I got through the door at home I’d be reaching for a glass before I’d even get my coat off. 

If I ignored these facts, I was OK, just fine thank you very much!

Pros and Cons

As to why I drank, well I could go into the ‘once upon a time… when I was young’ story, but I won’t.  That is not to say that it isn’t where the issues started, but a long time has passed since then, a lot of therapy has healed old wounds and what originally began as an escape, is no longer true.

Why?  Well here are some of the benefits I got from drinking:

  • I felt tipsy – which is a nice relaxing (and legal) buzz.
  • As I was drunk by the time bed time came around, I fell asleep (or passed out) instantly.
  • I didn’t need to eat much (as you know I’ve got a gastric band, and I’m working on losing weight).
  • It helped me ‘manage’ extreme feelings (anger, sadness, happiness, boredom etc.).
  • The loss of memory after a nights drinking meant that I didn’t have to remember if I’d been a dick or not.

That’s it…. Not much hey?!  Well, not much if you compare it to the cons list:

  • Hangovers, horrendous hangovers (worsened as I got older).
  • Drunk behaviours – That I would ordinarily be very ashamed off.
  • Taking in extra calories that I didn’t need.
  • Sleep wasn’t beneficial (because drunk sleep isn’t productive sleep), which led to..
  • Poor sleep hygiene (sleep very late, get up late, got to bed late).
  • I shit myself on a regular basis (sorry).
  • My bowels were never solid (again, sorry).
  • I was depressed and down after a heavy drinking session (probably constantly).
  • Terrible temperature control (hot flushing and sweating).
  • Acid reflux.
  • Shame and guilt.
  • My mind was continually preoccupied with finding the next drink, planning it and getting it.
  • I felt judged by others.
  • I Effed up some relationships.
  • I lacked self-care.

Breakthrough

It was through doing the work to discover these things (through journaling and therapy) that I really found a desire to want to stop drinking. 

So I did, for two days! 

Then I tried again, for three days! 

Apparently I didn’t choose to drink at all, my body craved it terribly and I ‘needed’ it. 

So with some medication (to manage the cravings) from Mr. Darcy I eventually stopped drinking alcohol and stayed stopped.

How did I do it?

I went to AA; Alcoholics Anonymous.  I took my medication.  I continued journaling.  I continued seeing my therapist and Mr. Darcy.  I told my family.  I told my friends.

I’m now 40 days sober.  It’s very hard and challenging, but AA is a fantastic support network (though this may not be true for everyone who tries it) and Mr. Invincible is simply a rock for me, as always.  Only those super close to me know about this (until this was published anyway) and that’s because there is stigma attached to an addiction to alcohol….both in the general public’s heads and also in mine, I’m ashamed and embarrassed about it.  I have to get over that to be able to treat myself better!

I’m in very early days yet, but I am reluctantly pleased with my progress.  I’m frightened though, as Christmas is coming (and the goose is getting fat…) and it has always meant a lot of alcohol consumption for me.  So I need to put plans in place to manage it.

It’s very strange to think that I will never be able to drink alcohol again.  But hey – if I were allergic to nuts I wouldn’t even entertain eating them and whilst I don’t have an allergic reaction to alcohol, it does have a very negative effect on me and my life.

Reactions and secrecy

What I have found very interesting is how secretive and manipulative I must have been.  My friends and family accept that I have a problem that I want to deal with, but have struggled to identify with the fact that it is something that I NEED to deal with.

For example; my father wondered why I couldn’t just cut down.  He was surprised when I explained how much of a problem it was for me and that moderation was not an option.  My friends can relate to some extent, especially because it’s such a socially acceptable vice.  They use alcohol to relax too, most of my friends have young kids and kids can be very challenging, it’s not uncommon to hear ‘I could do with a drink’ being said.  Whether they actually need it, rather than want the dulling effect that you get from alcohol, who knows.  Still even they knew very little of my dependence and were surprised to hear the full extent.

I’m not sure what my work colleagues will think of it, I don’t want them to know (although I am being treated for it through the company’s medical team which I’m very grateful for).  I’m very frightened that the knowledge will be coloured by my colleagues with the stereotypical stigma attached to alcohol dependence (and mental illness) and that I will be treated with disdain and pushed aside as the woman who just couldn’t control herself.

Stigma

Why do so many people still think of addiction as a moral failing?  Why, despite widespread agreement that addiction is best understood as a complicated behavioural-biological scenario that requires treatment? 

The system seems hard-wired to prolong stigma, and in turn stigma contributes to addiction’s lethality, and it is lethal.

A whole question for another article I think…

life after depression?

recovery_exit

I’m in the process of recovery from depression and it’s actually quite a scary thing for me (and I suspect many others too).

You see, I’m not sure what my life will be like after ‘struggling’ with the depression for the majority of my life.

I put ‘struggling’ in quote marks because I am in denial about depression being a struggle.  In reality though, it really is. 

I’m at that point in my recovery where I’m more or less in a balanced mood the majority of the time and I’m also working on the unhelpful behaviours that have kept me in the vicious circle of depression (primarily for me – the use of alcohol).

However, every time my mood dips I fall into heaps of fear about relapsing and spiralling downwards, which leads to unhelpful behaviours and can lead me into the vicious circle.  Conversely, every time my mood heightens I fall into heaps of fear of the unknown – how will I do my life without depression?  Can I do it?  What does it look and feel like?  This also leads to unhelpful behaviours and can lead me into the vicious circle!  I can’t win!

I’m getting a lot of help in my recovery; medically, psychologically and through my support network around me.  Firstly, I continue to take medication; secondly, I’m working with my psychiatrist on the unhelpful behaviours; and thirdly Mr. Invincible and my very best friends are invaluable in their support, experience and love.

Despite all this, I regularly experience the following:

  • Ambivalence – I don’t care if I recover or not, it’s going to happen again to me.
  • Excitement – I will be able to look at life in a new way and experience new things when I’m not depressed.
  • Exasperation – Why isn’t it happening quickly enough, I NEED it to happen now?
  • Concern (& low self-esteem) – How do I know what I will like or what I don’t like?  There’s no way I can do it, I don’t know how, I’m not good enough or worthy.
  • Eagerness - I want to jump right back into life, sod the consequences!
  • Worry – how will I change the (wrongly attributed) perceptions of people around me, particularly at work?

So what do I need / want to do about it?  This has had me thinking long and hard about all of the above and I wanted to share that process with you – perhaps it might help you?

‘I don’t care…about getting well or getting worse’ (ambivalence)

I really feel like this when I’m at the beginning or at the end of a depressive episode.  It’s basically (for me) a statement that I don’t care what happens to me, I don’t like how I feel but I also don’t care…at this point I’m still functioning fairly well and its only because I’ve done this a few times now that I recognise it for what it is. 

It comes with the WANT to do nothing (rather than the need to do nothing) and the engagement in unhelpful behaviours (likely regularly drinking alcohol in a destructive way, or self-harming).

I am usually not ready at this stage to seek formal support, but when I get to this point now I tell my support network about it so that they can help me move towards wanting to do something about it.  Mr. Invincible is also usually pretty good at noticing off his own back and is willing (and capable) of raising this with me (bear in mind that some people may not know how to do it for you, you may need to educate them).

‘Come on life…NOW, but not too fast!’ (excitement, exasperation & concern)

I’m grouping these three feelings / emotions together because they usually come one after the other in my head!

‘I’m excited about life, new experiences and being able to do and see things with a level head’…swiftly followed by…

’Why isn’t it happening quickly enough?’…even more swiftly followed by…

’How will I know what to do, I‘ve never done it before (or done it without being depressed)?  I can’t do it, simple as that.  If I don’t know how to then I just can’t do it, what a crap failure I am (or less polite words to that effect)’!

In all honesty – these feelings and thoughts almost always lead me to unhelpful behaviours that are so automatic now it’s very difficult to move away from them.  This is why I’ve sought psychological help in the form of my psychiatrist (a wonderful man) and a separate Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) therapist (a lovely woman).  It’s a slow process and a bit of a rollercoaster ride.

I am able to receive the CBT therapy through the National Health Service (NHS) here in the UK, so I don’t pay for it.  This is a relatively new provision though and really is still very limited in its availability considering the prevelance, severity and dangers of mental illness within the UK (and outside of the UK too).

I receive the psychiatric support through a private arrangement, one that my workplace has agreed to pay for.  This is amazing, as without my wonderful psychiatrist I think I would have been at the beginning of the end of recovery for a very very long time.  I can now see a way out to freedom (although I may be being too optimistic)….which brings me to….

‘Life – Let me right back on the ride where I left off please’ (eagerness)

What I have done in the recovery phase of previous episodes of depression is jumped straight back in to life where I left off.  What a mistake-a-to-make-a!

There were some major aspects of my life that were leading to unhelpful thoughts and behaviours that lead me into depressive episodes. 

Once I felt levelled out by medication and therapy I couldn’t wait to dive back into life – after all I’d ‘wasted’ that last few years being depressed, I wanted to experience it all RIGHT NOW!

I’ve learned that I’ve had to assess my work life and my personal life, who is in it and to what extent I engage with them and their behaviours so that they do not negatively impact on me. 

I’m a naturally caring and supportive person, so when someone looks in distress my automatic response is to run to their rescue.  This was damaging to me and not giving me the time to care and nurture myself.  I’ve learned that I do need to put myself first, be gentle with myself and be clear with others about what is acceptable, what isn’t and even cut some people from my life.

Workwise I’ve changed working hours and have learned to say no.  I’ve also learned that if there is too much on my plate, it’s OK to find another home for it, as long as I do it in a supportive way.

Again though – all of this with the help and support of the medication, my psychiatrist, my therapist and my support network (you know who you are).

I have, and continue to have to make some major decisions about those aspects of my life that do not support a mentally ‘wealthy’ me.

‘What do people think of me?’ (worry)

I’m not going to say too much about this because I get very frustrated about it.  I will say that I have worried in a very unhealthy way about what people perceive of me because of the depression I experience. 

There is so much stigma, discrimination and inconsistency in how people view and treat people with mental illness that it preys on me a lot.  I fight for the underdogs and people with mental illness are unfortunately underdogs in how they are stigmatised, discriminated against and treated unfairly in both work and life.

I have experienced all three of the above in my workplace, but also very worryingly in my personal life too.

I can’t change how they (everyone out there) perceive me.  I can only think about myself and what I need to do and how I behave to be the best person that I want and need me to be.

I can educate people about mental illness and about stigma, discrimination and treating all people equally.  I do this every day in small ways by writing my blog here at http://thementalmassive.com and occasionally in big ways by being a champion and supporting www.time-to-change.org.uk, www.rethink.org and www.mentalhealth.org.uk.

Ultimately though the more energy I spend thinking about what others think of me, the less I have to spend on myself.  I realised that I needed to commit more of my time and energy thinking about myself and getting well again.

As the saying goes…”what other people think about you is none of your business”!

So, life after depression? 

Bring it on; I’m scared, eager, worried and very ready

At last I may be approaching the beginning of the end of the relationship between depression and me. 

As a revered colleague (Danny Baker) of mine states ‘Depression Is Not Destiny’.  I embrace that statement and refuse to let it be mine.

Check out his Facebook page and look him up on www.youtube.com, there are some really good ‘Depression Is Not Destiny’ videos to take a look at.

 

 

Looking for happier living?

GREAT DREAM pic2Are you looking for ways to create a happier life for yourself and your loved ones?

Have you heard of the Action for Happiness campaign in the UK and across 142 other countries?

This is what Action for Happiness says about itself:

Action for Happiness is a movement of people committed to building a happier society. We want to see a fundamentally different way of life where people care less about what they can get for themselves and more about the happiness of others.

We are bringing together like-minded people from all walks of life, drawing on the latest scientific research and backed by leading experts from the fields of psychology, education, economics, social innovation and beyond.

Members of the movement make a simple pledge: to try to create more happiness in the world around them through the way they approach their lives. We provide practical ideas to enable people to take action in different areas of their lives – at home, at work or in the community. We hope many of our members will form local groups to take action together.

We have no religious, political or commercial affiliations and welcome people of all faiths (or none) and all parts of society. We were founded in 2010 by three influential figures who are passionate about creating a happier society: Richard Layard, Geoff Mulgan and Anthony Seldon.”

Well, Action for Happiness has developed ten keys to happier living , have a look and see if you can implement some of the changes and make a positive social change for you and those around you.