Monthly Archives: April 2021

Stop, or be stopped..

I’ve been finding it helpful to type these introspective little pieces as I work my way through a few struggles. The one saving grace I’ve held on to whilst I’ve had mental health difficulties over the last few weeks is the work I’ve been putting into my physical health since last June.

My stats are all green now on my Smart scales, my fitness levels are great and I’m in better shape than I’ve probably been since my teens, if I’m honest. Lots of walking, and since it’s been available again lots of playing football has been great along with tracking what I eat, making sure I hydrate, getting sensible amounts of sleep and pretty much giving up alcohol – it’s genuinely wonderful to wake up easily each morning and feel good ready to face the day.

That’s how I felt yesterday, I woke up before my alarm went off – I read a couple of chapters of my book before getting up and getting ready to start the day. I logged into work and had a really good productive day – ticked off loads of things on my list, popped out to grab some lunch, finished up early and had my assessment for the work-provided therapy I’ve been referred to.

That was a great conversation too – of course the subject matter was at times difficult, but I was honest, the lady handling the call was brilliant. She’s recommended a non-intensive course of CBT which I think means I’m suffering from mild to moderate anxiety and/or depression. I finished the call feeling uplifted – a path forward, something that might help to put a framework around some of the thinking and learning I’ve already been doing in my own scatterbrain way.

I logged back into work, we had a catch up call to close the day – it was fun, we’d all had a decent day, we had positive updates. I had one more call with one of my team to run through some stuff, also positive. It was basically as near as damn it a good day – the only fly in the ointment being a working at home day, so no actual people contact.

Work over, I logged out and headed out for a walk just to get a bit of fresh air and exercise – the sun was out, I tuned into a Podcast (Lee Mack and Neil Webster’s ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Not Buddha’ – I’d recommend it for a light hearted exploration of Buddhism – which, ironically, is not that dissimilar to the book I referenced earlier but with added spirituality). It was a fun episode, it was a good walk – I didn’t go too far, with football planned for the next day I just wanted to ‘top up’ on activity. I stopped for a while in the park half way round to read a couple of chapters of my book, pausing the Podcast and enjoying the birdsong.

Once home again I cracked open the final HelloFresh order from my box and got cracking. Mango Chutney glazed chicken with Cumin Bulgar Wheat and roasted carrots – like all HelloFresh orders it takes all the pots and pans and impliments and fills up the dishwasher! It was fun to prepare though, I plated up both portions, one to go in the fridge later, one to eat and tucked in. It was lovely and satisfying. I sat on the settee to let my dinner settle and felt generally all was well with the world, considering.

After half an hour or so I figured it was time to get up. I’d opened the front door a crack and the back door to air the house after a bit of smokiness from the cooking, I picked up my bowl and got up to push the front door to, and that’s the last thing I remember except for the initial sensation of losing consciousness. I remember fleetingly worrying about breaking the bowl I was holding, the next thing I knew I was on the floor by the now closed front door, my arms jerking uncontrollably still holding the bowl I was still worried about breaking.

I’ve no idea how long I was out, or how long the seizure/fit lasted, as it waned I sat on the floor feeling disoriented and confused. I’d struck my head either on the floor, door or bowl, it felt tender but wasn’t bleeding. As I oriented myself I crawled over to the settee where my phone was, I dialled 111. I spoke to the lady on the other end for 20 minutes or so, she put me on hold a couple of times to talk to a supervisor/clinicial after going through check lists. She said to await a call from a clinician or a visit from a paramedic in either a 30 minute or 2 hour window depending on which happened.

I texted Mum, then was naughty and went to finish sorting out the kitchen / put second portion in the fridge whilst I waited for her to arrive. We waited, I did call back to chase as 2 hours came and went – they confirmed a paramedic had been dispatched. Right on cue he arrived pretty much as I hung up. He was lovely and caring, I masked up and he checked me over – mainly focusing on heart-related issues, stroke symptoms, blood sugar levels. Everything came back looking okay, which is reassuring, but he did identify a ‘regular irregular’ rhythm on the ECG scan he ran. Whilst not a significant concern, he advised I should go to A&E for blood tests as a precaution.

So we drove down to Burton A&E (good to know there’s one so close, I had no idea!). I’ve been advised not to drive until we get more answers, so Mum kindly dropped me off but couldn’t stay due to Covid-19 restrictions, after a lot of waiting and more similar tests in A&E it was established that whatever it was, it didn’t appear to be anything that was an imminent emergency. I was to be referred for more non-emergency testing, which is reassuring. I got home by about 5am and went to bed, thankful for our wonderful NHS and that to the best of their knowledge there wasn’t any dramatically sinister medical thing I’d need to contend with.

So I don’t know what caused me to black out and shake uncontrollably, it leaves you feeling tremendously vulnerable – but I was reassured that I wasn’t dealing with some kind of cardiac episode or stroke. Upon reading up and guidance from knowledgable friends the most likely culprit is a vasovagal – a fairly common thing, and something that is unlikely to require any medical intervention at all. I do sometimes get light-headed if I get up quickly from a sitting and particularly reclined position. And I do like a good recline!

I can manage elements of that – now I’ll eat my meals sitting at the dining table I’ve set up, eat slowly, enjoy it, give myself time to let the food settle, don’t get up quickly. It’s easy really isn’t it? Lots of what I’ve been trying to do mentally recently is forming good habits – similarly with the physical health kick before that. I’m really reassured that I think whatever it was that happened – whilst scary – isn’t likely to be a medical emergency, as much as it felt like it and it was appropriate to treat it as such.

Of course, further tests etc might tell me something different – and I’m taking the advice of the A&E doctors in taking it easy, taking some time away from work, not driving, taking a break from football. Just gentle walks for the next few days and seeing how things go. I did that today, Mum came with Buddy to make sure I didn’t collapse somewhere out and about. I didn’t, I felt fine, we extended our route to be a little further than the initial conservative plan and I even included the hilly bit of the local woodland. I felt fine. I really don’t want to lose the fitness levels I’ve been building up so well.

I and others jumped to the conclusion that I’d probably reacted to my assorted woes by doing too much exercise and stuff – I don’t think that’s the case. I’ve been mindful that I’ve been doing more intensive exercise but I’ve felt great doing it, I wouldn’t have played football so much if I was struggling. As a precaution I’ll lay off it a week, but I’m tentatively planning a comeback on Sunday. So I don’t think this really was a case of my body saying “stop!”, it was just a coincidence – but it’s a useful reminder. Listen to your bodies. Mentally certainly I recognise I’m fragile right now, and there’s bound to be causal links between that and my physical faculties in dealing with things that might normally just be a fleeting bout of light-headedness.

And thank you, NHS. You really are wonderful.

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Multiple personalities..

The title of this post isn’t meant to disparage a more serious mental condition, but it’s a good metaphor for my state of mind over the last few weeks. Plus by being called Al I’ve been able to weave it into irresistible puns based on that, and who doesn’t love a good pun?

I’ve been reading ‘Think less, live more’ by Richard Carlson. It’s not a particularly new book, it was first published in the 1990s and a colleague recommended it to me and I’ve been taking a lot from it. I’m only about 41% of the way through it according to my Books app, but it’s really helped me to put a framework around some of the things I’ve been grappling with myself.

To paraphrase its basic tenet (probably really badly) it outright states that your feelings are driven by your thoughts – and you have some degree of control of your thoughts, if you’re present enough to acknowledge them, recognise them and decide whether or not that type of thought is likely to fuel your happiness. I guess that kind of theory more recently would be badged as Mindfulness or Being Present. But I’m quite drawn to how Carlson achieves the same effect without feeling like you might have to bust out the buddhist bells and whack some joss sticks on.

As you can probably imagine, much of my thoughts have not been leading me toward happiness in recent times. When those negative thoughts surface now I’ve tried to learn to call them out to myself, to put them to one side, and leave some room for less damaging ones. It sounds really silly, but it’s been working – which surprised me. I’ve never been much of a self-help book kind of person, maybe it’s a case of finding something helpful at the right time?

So anyway, multiple personalties, right? In my private writing space I’ve been identifying my different voices, thought processes and moods. Of course, I’ve changed mine and anyone elses’ name on there because it’s anonymous and whilst I clearly felt the urge to expel whatever was going on in my mind somewhere, I’m certainly not prepared to go into too much detail in public. So I couldn’t take advantage of the subsequent pun-based idea I had, so I’m going to do it here without going into specifics.

For me at least, which this writing is principally for, it’s a combination of insightful and amusing – and I think to try to derive some amusement from what has been a genuine struggle is not necessarily a bad thing.

I’d like to introduce you to the Als.

Logic-Al is getting much more airtime in my internal monologue lately – he’s able to dispassionately weigh up the outcome of events and not worry about how that outcome came about. He recognises that however regrettable something might be, you can’t change it once it’s happened – so it makes most sense to focus on the present. He can seem a bit heartless or dispassionate, but he’s usually right. He’s been very much brought to the fore by the book I mentioned.

Analytic-Al was in the chair at first – he wanted to understand everything, he relived events both recent and further back, he scrutinised clues, agonised over the minutae of detail. Anyone vaguely familiar with my career would probably not be surprised he is often at the front of the queue, these are skills that have earned me my wages for less emotionally charged subjects. Whilst he arguably causes pain by reliving or discovering things, without him the road to recovery probably wouldn’t have been discovered, so whilst he needs to be tempered, he’s not a bad egg.

Cynic-Al has a very dim view of future opportunities – he’ll cherry-pick some of Analytic-Al’s work to turn everything that has happened back on himself. Things he should have done differently, things he should have anticipated, things he could have done better. He’s a bit of an arsehole in truth. He creates patterns that don’t really exist to sabotage the future, finds correlations without establishing whether one variable truly drives the other. He’s a terrible analyst.

Miserab-Al can’t see past the losses. He wallows self-piteously, simulteneously failing to see the myriad of positives in life that remain whilst agrandising things that are lost to almost mythic proportions. He feeds on the work of Cynic-Al and can’t envisage a path to a future with happiness, whilst often glancing wistfully backward through rose-tinted glasses.

Judgement-Al shifts the focus outward – he is concerned with the unfairness of situations, he fixates on how unfairly he feels he’s been treated by people, fate, whatever else. He looks to point the finger at other parties, trapped in his own bubble of feeling and unable to consider the bigger picture, life is unfair sometimes after all. He doesn’t have a very loud voice in my pantheon of personalities, I’m happy to say, but he pops up now and again.

Philosophic-Al is more accepting, he also takes Analytic-Al’s work but layers empathetic interpretations – he is in many ways the counterbalance to Judgement-Al. He isn’t devoid of emotion, and probably doesn’t put enough value on his own needs, but his heart is in the right place. At his core he is looking for answers like Analytic-Al, but with the ultimate goal of a calm resolution, whatever that resolution might be.

Antisociab-Al is a bit of a paradox. Nearly all of the Al’s are craving human contact, whilst the restrictions of lockdown are gradually relaxing allowing a little more mixing for those of us unfortunate enough to live alone, a year or so of heavier restrictions are surely going to make you ripe for wanting to be around people. Not always. Sometimes you don’t want to inflict Miserab-Al on the wider world, he’s quite a burdensome fellow. Again, luckily, he’s not really been a dominant part of the conversation so far. Even in more normal times it can be quite overwhelming to people, especially after a period of time without being able to.

Sociab-Al on the other hand has been more dominant too – he’s quite limited on options, but he’s been able to fashion ways for him to spend more time with more people in the last couple of weeks than he’d been able to in the twelve months prior. Whether it be football being available to play again (and boy, he’s played a LOT of football, I’m amazed he can still walk), meeting folk in gardens, for walks, clandestine secret project meetings he’s not allowed to talk about. He’s been a bit of a hero to be honest, he’s accepted the offers he’s received and run with them. He’s a good influence.

Inimic-Al has probably been the most eerily quiet. He has a silly name because I struggled to think of a better word that ended in al or le. But he’s angry. He’s similar to Judgement-Al I suppose, but instead of lamenting injustice he is just fucking furious about it. I know he’s there somewhere, more generally in life I’m quite good at keeping him under control – I’m at heart a peace loving person, I crave harmony, and I like to see the best in people. Inimic-Al is the opposite of that – he wants chaos, vengeance and beelines for the worst case scenario when it comes to the motivations of others. I don’t like him at all, in truth.

I’m sure there’s other Als that I’ve not been able to pigeon-hole into my weird personality segmentation – it’s nice that Comic-Al came forward with the idea for the puns to be honest, he’s not often far from the forefront of the conversation – I do have quite a fatalistic sense of humour, and it’s often by go-to mechanism to lighten a sad or stressful situation.

Welcome to the weird way I try to categorise my thought processes! I’m sure there might be other Als lurking about that I’ve not been able to identify (or come up with a pun for, more like!). It’s fascinating how we have such a wonderful capacity for abstract thought compared to our animal brethren, yet we seem to have reached a point where a significant chunk of the time we actually utilise it in ways that disadvantage us, or compound rather than resolve whatever problems we are working through.

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Locked down reprise

It’s been a while since I’ve written on here – aside from some geeking out with new routers and smart kit at home the last thing I talked about was struggling with lock down. Well, here we are nearly a year later and whilst restrictions are easing, we are still seriously hobbled with our ability to live our lives.

The period where things are starting to ease might be the worst, because you can almost see and touch the other side, but you’re still feeling desperately impatient for it to arrive. So that’s the general state of mind I’ve been feeling – cautiously optimistic that we’re over the worst of these things, that normality can resume, but also desperately impatient for some kind of normality.

Then along comes March. An underwhelming birthday – I think we’ve all had at least one now, some folk are now having their second lockdown birthdays, so that’s not a “poor me” statement. Days later I had to take my pet cockatiel of 20 years to be put to sleep, a not entirely unexpected thing – she has been poorly – but gut-wrenching nonetheless. Another family pet bereavement followed, then a friend passed away. Then my relationship collapsed on itself, and my whole world fell apart.

So much for cautious optimism, huh?

I won’t lie, the succession of things that individually I’m probably robust enough to cope with, whilst feeling sad of course, nearly broke me. I’m obviously not going to go into details or specifics, because this isn’t an anonymous platform no matter how few people read it. I’m lucky enough to have friends intuitive enough to look through the veil, so to speak, and I’m lucky to have a very cool boss who does the same.

I’m getting help, and probably the most difficult part of that process was admitting that I needed it. We all see the memes and the posts about it being ‘okay to not be okay’, we might even share them comfortable in the knowledge that at that time we are okay. But it’s quite difficult when you’re in that position, years of conditioning – mostly unwitting conditioning – to ‘get on with it’ is tough to break through. There’s always someone else worse off than you, right?

So I suppose if someone reads this in a similar position, look for help. Find some people to talk to without judgement, refer yourself for talking therapy via the NHS or – if you’re lucky like me – via your workplace. I’m trying to take some positive steps myself too – eating healthily, hydrating, finding time to exercise, be creative, making a point of writing something positive about myself down each day and severely restricting my social media use.

I’ve set up scheduled ‘Quiet mode’ on Facebook, which undoubtedly is my social media Achilles heel – now when I open the app on my phone it shows a picture of a cat instead of my news feed except for two half hour chunks of the day. I thought I’d find that really hard, and I probably will – it’s only been a day so far – but yesterday during my second half hour opportunity to binge on Facebook I found myself cooking my dinner rather than focusing on it entirely.

Outside of this I have set up private space to be able to write more openly about things, writing is often my creative outlet that I neglect, that has been helpful. There are a number of us doing the ‘positive steps’ plan, and we’ve got a group set up on, ironically, Facebook. We are technically allowed to use that group outside of our social media quiet time, but I don’t trust myself not to get lured into the rest of it so I’m being quite strict with myself. It’s good to have a support network though, and indeed, be part of that support network to help others with what their issues and goals are.

Yesterday after 9+ hours of no Facebook the time came and there were 20+ notifications, I’ll be honest, most of them were pretty meaningless. The ones from the group were ace, and there was one with an update on the lilies I sent to my Aunty in memory of her dog Digby she had to take for his final trip to the vet. They looked awesome, that aside it was mostly people posting pictures in beer gardens since the pubs have reopened.

I think I have a bit of a journey ahead of me to stabilise myself, but I’m certainly massively further along than I was, I’m cautiously optimistic (there’s that phrase again!) that I’m doing the right things – and as lockdown measures continue to ease it will be easier and easier to spend time with people and combat the crippling loneliness I’ve been enduring for, well, it’s more than a year now, isn’t it?

That was a cheery post wasn’t it? Haha! At least it implies the possibility of a happy ending 🙂

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