Mental Health and Me – An Update

I went to see Occupational Health on Tuesday last week.  At the time I didn’t really see that it was necessary as I knew that the environment I was going back to in work had changed, there had been work done to the offices – new heating systems put in and walls taken down which meant that the seating arrangements and whole office layout had changed which had changed the dynamics of the team I work in.  I thought that, until I returned to work I wouldn’t know if that environment had affected me or whether it would.

I got ready on the morning of my appointment and the anxiety started to creep in but I managed to control it.  I was really anxious about the drive there as I’ve not really driven much since I have been off from work.  I was also really worried about the actual appointment, what I needed to say, whether I would forget to mention anything, whether they would see me fit enough to return to work and whether I would be allowed to return to work full-time.

When I arrived I had to fill in a form with all my details on it, it was a quick form to fill in and taking time to answer it seemed to calm my nerves a bit.  I was 10 minutes early so I thought I would have to sit and wait but the doctor was able to see me straight away.  I think this helped too as I wasn’t able to start overthinking things.

We talked about how I am feeling now, how I was feeling, my medication, anything that may have triggered my anxiety, stress and depression and what sort of things I was doing to overcome my illness.  We talked about my worries about returning to work and how I’m still not sleeping properly.  The doctor was really lovely, she asked lots of questions and listened to my answers without brushing them off, and she gave me some really useful advice.  She also said that I would be ok to return to work on an extended phased return as she felt that it would be better for me.  She suggested that for 2 weeks I work a total of 12 hours over 3 days, the next 2 weeks increase to 15 hours over 3 days, the 3rd week 24 hours over 4 days and the final 2 weeks to work 30 hours over 5 days.  After that period of time I could then resume working 37.5hrs a week.

A report was written up and a copy was sent to my employer.  I spoke with my line manager on monday this week, it was the final day of being covered on my sick note and we discussed my return to work for Tuesday.  I decided, with her, that I would attend work at 9am and we would have a meeting to discuss my phased return.

So, yesterday, I got ready for my first day back.  I was really worried about going back, namely about how my work colleagues would be with me, where I was going to be sitting, if I could remember my log in details for my work computer and about what was going to happen during the day.

I arrived at work, found my desk, my computer took an age to fire up as it had been switched off for some time, then I had problems with my computer screens (I use 2 for work), I then got locked out of the system as the password I did remember didn’t work.  Eventually I was able to get into the system!  I spent time sorting through my emails (all 600 of them!) then I had a meeting with my line manager, we needed to fill in some paperwork about returning to work, then my overall manager joined us to discuss the Occupational Health report.  She said that it was a really positive report and that she could see that I was taking steps to help myself which was good.  We then discussed my phased return.  Both my managers agreed that the proposed return was a good idea and that they had worked out a timetable of hours and days for me to work which was nice, and they asked what sort of hours I preferred – I said mornings, as eventually I would need to be getting up in the mornings to come to work anyway and a routine would be really beneficial to me and probably help with my sleep patterns.

After the meeting I went back to my desk and managed to do the work that had been allocated to me before it was time for me to go home.  My work colleagues were lovely and all said hi and had a chat with me.  One of my work friends had left a note on my desk welcoming me back and put a little Hello Kitty figure with it.  That really made me smile and was such a lovely gesture to come in to.

I’m back in work tomorrow and really looking forward to it.  I just have no idea what to wear!  This time last year it was freezing in the office but now the heating has been upgraded it seems warmer so I am unsure how to dress.

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Time To Talk

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Today is Time to Talk Day, an initiative bought about to help end the stigma that surrounds mental health.

Suzi (2)
http://www.time-to-change.org.uk

I decided that Time To Talk day was something I wanted to get involved with as mental health is something I have had dealings with over the course of my life and the stigma that surrounds mental health has always created a barrier that has stopped me from talking about my mental health.  And this stigma seems to be really silly, we all  have mental health, whether it is good, bad or you never think about it.  I think it is time to start having the conversations about our mental health, just as we do with our physical health, we need to normalise all health issues to the same level.

So, today I am going to share with you my mental health story. (You can find other posts about my mental heath here)

On a Monday morning, back at the beginning of September 2018, I got up to get ready for work and I just couldn’t do it, I couldn’t face the idea of getting ready or even leaving the house to go to work, I felt dizzy, a bit sick and really panicky.  I already had a routine appointment with my doctor booked in for that morning and I managed to leave the house and get to it.  I sat in the doctors waiting room and just didn’t feel connected to myself, it felt like an alien had taken over and inhabited my body.  I got called in to the doctor’s office and just burst into tears.  I told him how I was feeling and we went through a series of question and answers and he eventually told me that I had anxiety, stress and depression.  I was prescribed medication and given a note for 2 weeks away from work and asked to return to the doctor for assessment at the end of that fortnight.

Those first weeks away from work went by in a haze.  I got up, took my medication and either slept or lay on the sofa, I couldn’t carry out tasks very easily as my thought process was jumbled and everything felt too hard.  My concentration levels dropped which meant that I had difficulty in reading a book or even following a tv show.  I don’t know whether that was down to the medication or whether that was my brains way of shutting off in order to heal itself.  I told this to the doctor on my next visit.

I had a lot of side effects from my medication, from feeling too hot or cold, feeling sick, shaking, headaches, bad stomach, feeling like I was going to pass out, lack of appetite, I can’t remember them all now.  The worst was feeling really wobbly and light-headed all day, so much so, that I didn’t trust myself to get into the shower or have a bath.  I was really worried that I would fall or pass out but really needed a shower.  In the end, I had to ask a friend to come around and stay while I had a shower incase I did fall.

Over time my medication was increased as my anxiety levels were still really high and I went on to have further side effects from the medication which have now gone as my body has got used to the ingredients.

I still have problems, sleep is an ongoing issue.  Despite how tired I am and what I have tried, I am not sleeping very much day-to-day, but when I do sleep I am loosing nearly 24 hours as my body and mind try to catch up.  I have been referred to a mental health worker who will be working with me to improve my sleep soon, so hopefully, I will be able to sleep for a full night again.  I still feel anxious, worried and feel the panic start to set in but I have a few coping mechanisms which seem to work well for me.  I have had a few anxiety/panic attacks (you can read about the worst one here) but generally I am able to take control of them as I feel them coming on, distracting myself by doing something I enjoy seems to help a lot.

I have been off from work for around 4 months now and I can feel my old self starting to return.  My concentration levels are increasing and I’m finding that I am able to do more things.  I am finding myself enjoying things that I used to and am preparing to return to work.

I think that the main thing I want to say is that if you are feeling stressed, anxious, depressed or start to notice that your enjoyment in life seems to be shrinking then it really is worth speaking to a medical practitioner.  There is no shame to be had by saying that you are not ok, and seeking help for it.  I have also been blessed with having family and friends who I have been able to talk to and who have supported me through this period of time which has really helped me, whether it has been a phone call to ask how I am, a text or a visit, going shopping or cooking for me when I have been unable to, having a support network has really aided me along the way.

If you need to talk, there are lots of places you can turn to and a host of on-line support available as well as groups that meet in person, to find out what is available to you in your area Google is a good place to start.

And if you ever need someone to talk to, you can always drop me an email – my.colourful.life@outlook.com.

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Mental Health and Me – An Update

I spoke last month, in my mental health update here, about wanting to return to work in February and issues that I still had that were hindering returning to work, namely my problems with sleep.  At the time of that update I was waiting for a referral to some kind of therapy programme which may help me with my sleep issues.

I have now spoken with a member of the mental health team who went through an assessment with me and had a lengthy conversation about my sleep.  We spoke about how I wanted to return to work as I was feeling much better emotionally and how frustrated I am that sleep is now the biggest problem for me.  We identified some possible reasons why I’m having trouble sleeping including worry about returning to work (how it will affect me, what will happen when I’m back at work, others attitudes to me, as well as the general anxiety around my return), that my brain may not be getting enough mental stimulation now I’m getting better – a sign that returning to work would be good for me, how I am going to cope at work and having coping mechanisms in place, as well as anxiety about getting back into a work routine and balancing my work/home life.

We spoke about medication and the option of increasing the dosage during my return to work phase and seeing if that will help with sleep, and we spoke about having a key worker who would work with me 1 on 1 with issues I may have.   I said yes to both, so now I need to return to my doctor once the assessment has been recorded in my notes and request a dosage increase and wait for a letter regarding my key worker.

I have also been referred to Occupational Health by my manager so I can have a chat with a medical practitioner with regards to returning to work and what things work could put in place to support me in returning including a phased return which my manager suggested.  I have the appointment on Tuesday.

In all, I’m feeling pretty optimistic about everything.  I would have liked to return to work this past week but realise that there are certain things that need to be done before I can return.  I also think that implementing a phased return would be really helpful as it means I would be returning gradually and I won’t be feeling so overwhelmed by it all.

I will post an update once I have seen the Occupational Health practitioner and know what is going on more!

Mental Health and Me – An Update

I wrote about my anxiety/panic attack around a week ago and since then I have re-visited the Dr.  I spoke in my last update, (back in November), about how I wasn’t sleeping very well.  This is still an ongoing issue.  A lot of the time I feel too awake to sleep and yet to asleep to be fully awake, it’s affecting my thoughts and reaction times, my emotions, mood, energy levels and levels of motivation.  And if I’m honest, it’s really starting to piss me off.

I have spoken to the dr’s that I have seen about not sleeping, the first thought that upping my dosage of sertraline from 50mg to 100mg per day would help, the second one spoke about sleep hygiene and other lifestyle things (like no caffeine of an evening…), the 3rd dr I saw said it was likely due to the increase in my medication and to just “hang in there” and as my body gets used to the dosage then my sleep should return.  And it felt like no one was really listening to me, like they were all offering ideas and things but nothing to really get to the root of the problem.

You see, I don’t drink coffee of an evening, in fact, I now really only have 1 or 2 cups a day and that is in the morning, I go to bed when I’m tired, my room isn’t too hot or cold, there is a supply of fresh air into the bedroom, its dark enough in my room, its quiet enough, I don’t watch tv or play games before I go to bed, I don’t have harsh lights on in the bedroom… I’ve tried having a warm bath before bed, a hot shower, a warm drink (like herbal tea or hot choc), I’ve tried leaving all the house lights off as its getting dark and going to bed when the natural light has faded, I’ve tried essential oils, Ive tried meditation, reading, not reading, just lying there doing absolutely nothing, and still I can’t sleep.  And when I do sleep, it’s either a few snatched hours here and there or I lose a whole day because it’s almost like I have passed out from lack of sleep to the extent where I will sleep through alarms and my phone ringing.

And so, the last doctor I saw, a few days ago, sort of bore the brunt of my frustrations, maybe because I had been awake for 2 days straight, but I think it was more to do with being so frustrated with not being able to sleep, and I told her exactly how I was feeling.  I want to go back to work, emotionally I’m feeling a lot better than I was, but how can I return when I’m not sleeping which means I can’t think straight, have this awful brain fog a lot of the time, end up sleeping through whole days and just can’t seem to do anything without it taking a lot of concentration and planning to do so.

And she was lovely.  She really seemed to understand where I was coming from and all the intricacies involved with not sleeping and we went through several ideas to try, as well as referring me to therapy to see if we can overcome this problem.

I’ve got until the end of the month off, the doctor said that it would give the therapy team a chance to sort an appointment (or appointments) out for me and hopefully I can return to work in february.

I left the drs feeling a bit of relief that my lack of sleep was being taken seriously by someone.  The other drs, though they had been good, I don’t think that they had really understood how not sleeping was making me feel or even quite how bad it has become.  And in all honesty, I feel that it was down to me and not explaining it to them well enough for them to understand that it’s not just a case of not sleeping every now and again, that it’s a constant thing that is getting worse as time goes on.

So, I’m feeling a bit better with the outcome and just have to wait for an appointment to be made with the therapist and see what happens then.

Why I Don’t Care for Modern-Day Self-Care

You only have to search the likes of Instagram and Pinterest for self-care and you are met with a barrage of posts about hair care, exercise, make-up, face masks, luxury bath products, fashion, jewellery and all sorts of other things that to me are less about self care and more about “treat yo’ self”.  It’s all sorts of flowery, feel good stuff that in itself is fine but is not really what self care is all about.

There are loads of self-care journals on the shelves now too, many giving writing and creative prompts for you to fill in as and when you choose.

And while these things can help us feel good about ourselves and assist in feeling happier and more positive on a day-to-day basis, they don’t really address the issues we face when we have mental health issues.

When you are in the pits of a mental health illness (for me that would be anxiety, stress and depression) disorder/illness/issue the last thing on your mind can be to pick up a journal and write or create.  Your only instinct is to survive and get through the episode and out the other side.  Housework, basic hygiene, eating and even sleep cease to be important and having someone tell us to take a bath with a luxury brand product is not helping in any way, shape or form.  When it is too much effort to even get out of bed and make a drink and see to our basic needs this is where I have to disagree with modern-day self-care.

I read something, a list of self-care “tips” when I had my anxiety attack the other day which gave really “helpful” advice such as “Get more sleep” and “Have a deep and meaningful conversation”, “light a scented candle”, and even “Close your eyes and rest for 5 minutes” and I got really angry.  If I could get any more sleep I would, trust me.  I have tried and failed and having some poncey list telling me that this will help just infuriates me.  As does the advice to have a deep and meaningful conversation, for me, when I am in desperate need of self care, talking to someone, let alone having a meaningful conversation is laughable, I just want to be left alone.  Lighting a scented candle, when I’m having a period of anxiety just magnifies the anxiety I already have so that really isn’t helpful.  And I’m sure whoever came up with “Close your eyes and rest for 5 minutes” has never experienced stress or anxiety or any other condition where being able to rest would be great if we could totally unplug our brain and our racing thoughts.

And then I started thinking about what self-care really is, it’s about being a friend to yourself, the best friend, the one who tells you, honestly, that you stink and forces you to take a shower, wash your hair, brush your teeth or do the washing up.  I’ve been there, and I have had no care for washing, brushing my hair or teeth, staying in pyjamas that I’ve been wearing solidly for a week, having no energy or motivation to do anything except lay there and avoid everything.  And I’ve been the one that has forced myself to go and shower, and it may have taken me an hour but I’ve done it, and, do you know what?  Just that simple act of standing under running water and getting clean has helped me feel a teeny bit better.

So, heres some advice.

Eat regularly, don’t worry if its healthy or not, even if it’s a bag of crisps or a few haribo at least you have eaten something.

Drink.  Water is the easiest.  Set an alarm on your phone and try to take a few sips through the day.

Brush your teeth.  Just this small act has made a huge difference to how I have been feeling.

Tackle one task at a time…if the bins are full then empty them.  If the sink is full then take your time and wash everything.  If the counters are grubby then clean them.

Change your clothes, if not everyday then at least every other.  It really feels like the greatest accomplishment.

Force yourself to shower or bath, even if its only 10 minutes, it will help.

Self care isn’t about long baths, lie ins, scented candles, journals or anything like that.  It’s about existing and really getting to the root of the problem, being your own best friend and doing what is best for you.  So, sorry to all you modern-day self-care lovers, but that stuff aint working for me when I’ve hit a real low.

Anxiety/Panic Attack

I woke up, I’ve been in bed, sleeping since around 11:30, it’s 3am now. I woke up unable to breathe or move, my heart racing, shaking and feeling really panicked but I don’t know why. I mean, I do know why, it was an anxiety/panic attack, but I don’t know why it happened. I’m still feeling shaky now but my heart rate has come back down to normalish, and I can breathe again. It was probably the worst one I’ve had. I feel like I need to turn on all the lights on the house and get up. I need a glass of squash, juice or anything but I’m not feeling up to doing that just yet…. and I’m writing this here because everyone I know is asleep and I don’t want to worry them, but I feel that writing it down will maybe stop it from happening again. My jaw is aching where I’ve been grinding my teeth in my sleep and I’ve managed to catch my tongue at some point which now feels really uncomfortable in my mouth 😐 and I’ve got a bit of a headache (though I’m not sure if that’s residual from yesterday). And I don’t know what to do, I’m too awake to attempt to go back to sleep and worried that it will happen again. Maybe getting up is a good idea?

Mental Health And Me – An Update

This is the first update about my mental health since writing this post, and in the time between that post and this I’ve been to the doctors for a medicine review on the 22nd November.  Thankfully some of the symptoms that I had when starting my medication (Sertraline 50mg) have subsided, the sick feeling still comes and goes but isn’t a persistent feature of day-to-day life, the hot and cold feelings have gone, and the dizzy spells are getting less and less which is good.

I’ve now developed insomnia, which I do get from time to time but never like this, over the space of a few weeks I have not been able to sleep for more than half an hour at a time if at all which is really starting to get me down.  The flip side to this is that when I do sleep, I can sleep for the whole day which has happened a few times now (the latest being sleeping through the whole of sunday 25th November).

I have still been feeling anxious and still have these anxiety attacks along with panic attacks though I can not identify a reason why, perhaps if I could then I would be able to stop them?

I spoke with the dr about all of this, he said it may help to up my medication.  I’m now taking 100mg of Sertraline each day.  I still feel unable to go back to work, mostly because my concentration levels are still really low and I keep forgetting things (like when watching tv, the adverts will come on and I have no idea what I have been watching), I still can’t settle to read a book and I’m finding myself really tired even when I have had a good nights sleep.  All of these things create a frustration in me and I know I would find it difficult in work with these symptoms, and I would end up being angry at myself for not being able to carry out the tasks I need to, taking too much time over completing tasks and generally struggling with the day-to-day things I need to do.

I’m finding it pretty hard to motivate myself to leave the house or even have conversations with people.  I feel like I’ve become a bit of a hermit at the moment.  I did manage to go food shopping at 12:30am on the 21st November…the Asda supermarket by me is open 24 hours and because I couldn’t sleep I decided to put that time to good use.  The supermarket was really quiet with only myself and shelf stackers around.  I got to walk around at my own pace and pay attention to what I was buying.  Usually, if I go in the day time I run around like I’m on supermarket sweep, grabbing things and not thinking about what I need or want in order to get out as fast as I can.  This time I only bought what I needed and didn’t forget anything.

I’ve been taking the higher dosage of medication for the last 3 days and so far have not got any more, or bought back any of the side effects I was experiencing.  I just hope that these will help somewhat!

Mental Health and Me

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In a time where mental health is spoken about daily, by the hour and by the minute and in a time where there is, or should be greater understanding of the struggles and difficulties of others it can still be really hard to talk about our mental struggles.  And there is still a sense of shame about talking about our problems and also a worry that we will be defined by our illness or, even worse, treated differently because of it.

I’m writing this as I have recently been diagnosed with anxiety, stress and low mood, and consequently I have been advised to take a break from work and to start taking tablets to help me feel better.  I also have Aspergers which is part of the autism spectrum which means I process things a bit differently to others and certain things can cause me stress and anxiety on a day-to-day basis.  Normally I am pretty good at dealing with day-to-day stresses, whether it be too much noise, the lights being too bright, lots of things going on, lots of different things to do, worrying about whether I am doing things right, interruptions, the list of things goes on and on….  I have developed coping strategies for most stresses that I encounter and on the whole they seem to work.  Well, they have done until recently…I started to notice that the coping mechanisms that I normally implemented were not working so well…making lists and prioritising what needs to be done usually stopped me from panicking but I noticed that faced with several tasks to do, at home or work, I couldn’t work out what to prioritize and started to feel like I couldn’t breathe as there was “too much to do” and that I couldn’t complete any of it.  I found that I couldn’t concentrate, following conversations was becoming hard work, the background noise becoming too distracting and as loud as the person talking to me, even coming home to the relative silence of my home felt like sitting in the middle of a football pitch at half time.  I couldn’t read my book, I lost where I was and kept reading the same sentence or paragraph over and over, or forgetting what I had just read and having to go back a page to re-read it.  Even sleep, the one total shut off from the world wasn’t helping, I was waking up after having nightmares, sweating and gasping for breath, or lying there, so totally drained of energy yet unable to sleep as my mind just kept going over things that had happened. should have happened, could have happened, might happen…

And while all this was happening my skin was suffering too…I broke out with eczema on my face – on my forehead – right.between.my.eyebrows.  (Thank you body for giving me something else to add to my stress and worry list…).

I eventually, after months of pretending I was fine (I sort of made myself believe that if I got up and put a smile on and managed to go to work, I couldn’t be that bad and that it was “all in my head” and that it was just me…) went to the doctor.

The doctor that I saw went through a load of questions with me about my life, feelings, mood, work, sleep and eating habits along with lots of other questions.  He said that my eczema outbreak had been caused by stress and that he thought I was dealing with high levels of stress and anxiety based on my answers to his questions and how he read my body language.  He gave me a prescription for Sertraline tablets which will increase serotonin levels in my brain and make me feel better in due time.

I’ve now been taking the medication for a month or so now, originally I was on half a tablet each day which was then upped to a full tablet every day.  The side effects are not that good, I’ve felt sick, dizzy, hot, cold, thirsty, not hungry, my concentration levels are still really low, following anything on the tv or reading is really difficult and I can’t decide whether it’s the meds or the stress and anxiety still.  I have days where I really don’t feel like leaving the house or even seeing anyone and just existing in my own bubble, though I feel like that sometimes anyway because of my aspergers (though that sort of feeling comes after time spent with too many people and being a bit sensory overwhelmed…).  It’s hard to know what is caused by the tablets, what is stress, anxiety, aspergers, or me.

Sometimes I feel like I am just this bundle of diagnosis’ and it can be hard to sift through what is what to the extent it can become exhausting and overwhelming.  Sometimes I wonder if I am becoming my diagnosis/illness or is it becoming me?  Sometimes I just feel really lost in it all and wonder if I’ll ever feel “normal”, whatever that is?

I do  know that I am really grateful to my family and friends who I am able to talk to and who accept me for me.  I’m sure it can be difficult to converse with me at times,  I am not particularly good at explaining how I’m feeling either or putting words to what I’m thinking or feeling, so explaining how I feel can be hard work.  I’m also greatful that the doctor that I have been seeing is really patient and understanding, he doesn’t try to put words into my mouth, he sits and listens or will ask more questions to get a full picture of it all.

There is no shame in seeking help for whatever is going on in your mind, whether it is speaking to a relative or friend, a doctor or health worker, or anyone who you can trust.  If you notice that you are struggling with things then reach out and talk to someone.