‘Yes, it WAS worth it’

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Back around the New Year, Enise (uni MH advisor), asked me: ” I wonder, when you look back now, if you think it was worth all the stress and effort?!!”.

I finally had the confidence today to write as a reply: “It’s taken me a while to decide, but I think that it was worth the effort, if not the stress, last year! (sometimes even find myself missing university and the strange landscape architecture studio life!) Thanks again.”

It feels good: It took six months from my last appointment with her, last June, to feel I could reliably thank her for helping me feel more positive and sorted. It’s me taken a further six months to decide that yes, persevering with uni and staying where I was living was all worth it. It may have been a flipping long ‘blip’ (as my friend tried to reassure me it was), but it feels good to look back at the good memories of the last few years and enjoy them, and also know I’ve learnt a lot about what I can do for myself in the future!

When I read Celine’s CBT competion letter to me, I was at first a bit miffed that, despite feeling she got to know me quite well, she’d just sent me a bog standard letter: “continue to work on your new rules for living – getting better balance in your life with work and play, sleeping well and having fun”. Then I re-read it and realised quite simply she was speaking directly to me, referring to my own silly little saying she helped me make:  “Don’t lose heart, Don’t lose sleep, Put fun in wherever I can”. I’m grateful to have discovered that three such simple things (in idea at least) can have such a powerful effect. I haven’t perfected the art of it yet, but seeing how quickly I can slip when I stray from those three things is enough incentive to make a conscious decision to keep trying everyday.

With that, good night x

Seeing the good: Week in Pictures – 12th-18th March

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Pne of Dream Electric’s recent posts, ‘Three Good Things – The Positive Data-Log’ struck a chord with me – it was what Celine (CBT Lady) encouraged me to do back in June last year, and what I aimed to do by starting the challenge of photographing what I did or saw each day! I find have a tendency to automatically see the bad side of things, so challenged myself to end each caption on a positive note, regardless of how it started out. It must be a positive thing to be able to do that (see what  I did there?!)!

Monday, 12th March: I've been keeping an eye on the buds on the shrub by the office door,. Reassuringly they'd sprung open over the weekend.

Tuesday, 13th March. This photo is meant to represent my Tuesday night running activity (our club runs start and finish at this tennis club but). After feeling a bit knocked by one of my bosses telling me my drawings weren't good enough, I appreciated going running and being competently able to put one foot in front of the other!

Wednesday, 14th March - Juicy kiwi berries (basically what it says on the tin: grape sized very sweet kiwis, eaten whole!) were on a sale offer at Budgens today, seemed very exotic in a corner of Suffolk!

Thursday 15th March: My birthday! Went to see The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel at the old fashioned but perfectly decent Riverside theatre. Although at 26 I have to accept that I'm more than a quarter the way through my life, the pensioners in the film made me feel young still!

Friday 16th: Hazy Sunshine. I tried to line the sun up as a light bulb on the mast, but then forgot and missed half of it from the frame! I hope you still get the idea.

Saturday 17th: Came back from three hours of rowing to find I'd 'locked' my bike like this! Though I was thoroughly frustrated with myself for being so inoompetient, I did sort of persuade myself to see the funny side of it (my post on FB got quite a few '*likes*) and to be grateful that I live in a fairly civilized town with an undesirable 10pound granny bike.

Sunday 18th: I visited the Beth Chatto Gardens in Essex. It's a quiet time of year for the gardens, but the woodland bulbs and scree garden sempervirens were worth the logistics of 3 trains and a cycle ride to get there!

Pssst…I made it through a week!

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I don’t want to jinx myself, but just want to whisper that I’ve finally made it through a full week, Thursday 1pm to Thursday 1pm with no tears or mini-meltdowns!

Since I saw CBT Lady, Celine, in the spring, Thursday 1pm became that magic time when I’d make plans  for how to have a positive week and attempt to put them into action. (magic as in a reasoned arbitrary point for starting a week. Not actually attributing super powers to Celine or that particular hour). I’ve more or less kept that habit up ever since, and finally I got there!

I may not have been bubbling and bouncing off the walls the entire week, but for now I’ll take being on an even keel any day!

Running

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A while back in one of my early sessions with Celine (CBT Lady), I made a list of goals that I wanted to do, or to start doing again. Most were boring, logistical things like spending only reasonable amounts of time on uni work and eating three meals a day. I also included a couple of fun things, like trying to go out with friends once a week, and to go for a run once or twice a week.

In truth, I was already often going for a run once a week with a friend, so that part of my goals wasn’t too arduous. But at least it kept Celine happy, as she probably otherwise would have gone off on a typically therapist mantra of ‘exercise, exercise, excercise and everything will be happy jolly bunnies’. I also suggested that that would kill two birds with one stone on my list (friends + run), so was a bit crestfallen when Celine pointed out that that slightly missed the point of trying to work a range of activities back into my life!

I managed to keep up going for a run about once a week for most of this year. Though I think I categorically can say it is not responsible for helping me feel less low now! When I was feeling my worst this year, through Feb, March & April, it definitely didn’t benefit me at all going for runs on 3 or 4hrs sleep (I allowed myself to cop out if I’d only managed 2hrs) and on a fairly empty stomach having often forgotten to eat the previous evening (sounds silly now, but I seemed to achieve that on more occasions that I care to remember)!

Edit: After discussing this with my friend about the benefits of running on my mood, he diplomatically suggested running had helped afterall, as I’d clearly forgotten the worst of how I felt! In fact I hadn’t managed to run throughout the year at all: I’d run til mid Feb when I hit total exhaustion and was physically ill for nearly two weeks. It was then nearly two months before I felt like moving myself into running again. Though my friend continued to offer going for a run each week. I must have been remembering that act of kindness, and blocking that fact that I didn’t actually go! 

I think the running itself only prolonged my vicious cirles around uni work as I’d only end up spending the rest of the day and the next feeling exhausted and then feeling guilty for not getting as much done as I needed to, so I then had to stay up later and miss more meals in a bid to catch up! Also, in previous years I’ve played several sports on various teams at any given moment, and my low moods didn’t know to keep away then either. (Really I was just replacing everything else I should have been doing with an extortionate amount of sport, which was pretty ugly itself. I’m grateful my dr didn’t send me on my way without help, which some one else subscribing to exercise =everything-is-fine may have done)

The one thing I think might be good about the concept of exercise, exercise, exercise, no matter how much flack it gets and however much I hated it at the time, is that it helped me ‘hit the ground  running’ (no pun intended) once I got through my most depressed time (which was mostly thanks to time and meds). Because I was running already, now I just needed start enjoying it properly. Otherwise it would have taken more time to pull myself out of default depression mode trying to think of what to do with myself once I felt a bit better.

Since I’ve been home for just over week, I’ve gone for a few runs. I’m aiming for every other day now – trying to find a balance of optimism and realism – I know I’d just give up altogether trying to go every day. The first two times I ran my loop in 28 minutes, and today I managed 27 minutes! I don’t know how far it is, not more than three miles, but it does have a killer hill at the end!

I’m looking forward to getting into a running routine – in previous summers I’ve tended to see the same people out, in roughly the same locations, at the same times each morning. It’s an odd sort of relationship we have with each other: the interaction is limited to a brief wave and an exhaled grunted ‘hey’ (or ‘morning’ if it’s early on in the run and feeling particularly energetic),and in any other sort of situation we would barely recognise one another (not least because of wearing proper clothes), or have anything else in common. Yet we see each other at quite a vulnerable, if superficial, point: girls with no make up on, guys in pools of sweat and close to exhaustion. It’s funny how much you can gather, and give a good deal of empathy/sympathy/support to each other, depending on their running style and ease or strained gait that day.

And I guess it’ll always be good to get out if only to avoid those mean side effects of mirtazapine 😉

To cCBT or not to cCBT

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I had planned to write a few blog posts following how I was getting on with the Living Life to the Full (LLTTF) cCBT modules this summer.

Except I haven’t.

I haven’t even looked at the website recently, and have just had to request another login password as I can’t remember mine anymore. Or at least the one I do remember apparently isn’t the right one.

I don’t blame myself for not following the course while I was sailing, as aside from the fact my mind would be somewhere totally else and my time filled with activity, internet access on the ship was via satellite and would have cost  €1.65 per kb!

But I have little excuse now that I am home, with freely available broadband and wi-fi.

I have wanted to look and listen to some of the modules, but my only excuse is that I simply don’t know how I can listen to them, with Dr Chris William’s distinctive Scottish accent, without raising eyebrows in my family. (I know I could use ear phones, but I have wonky ears that make them uncomfortable to use).

I suppose my main problem now is why am I worried about what my family think of me using a computer based therapy programme? I guess it is because it is just that- therapy. That’s the sort of thing that my dad’s sister is into. But not me, not my own parents’ daughter needing therapy. They know I got super stressed by uni this past year, and I’ve told my mother I take mirtapazine (to reassure her I was doing something about my moods, so she wouldn’t get too worried). I did vaguely mention that I was seeing someone at my university for advice about work. Though I think I probably conflated SG (NHS Stress Guy), Enise (University mental health advisor), Celine (CBT Lady), my dr, various nurses and uni tutors into the same person to avoid really revealing who or what help I was receiving.

Maybe I am just censoring myself. Maybe I should just be forward with my own family (if I can’t be open with them, who can I be open with?): I got super stressed, stressiness slipped into depression, I’ve been on anti-depressants which have helped take the edge off things, and I had been going to cognitive behavioural therapy (does putting in extra big words help soften the t???). Now I need to try to keep the momentum up with the cCBT stuff in order to help me learn better ways of dealing with things to help make sure I don’t fall back into the depths of depressions again. OK? Happy? Case closed.

In fact maybe that is what I should do. Or at least just listen to the LLTTF modules and be prepared with my explanation if questioned.

Except I know I most likely won’t.

Because I want to look/be normal.

(But to be confidently normal I probably should follow a bit more of them.)

[I just looked, and the next module is entitled, ‘The Things You Do That Mess You Up’! Maybe it would have some useful tips for this very dilemma. Except how can I watch it without raising suspisions? I’m heading round in circles…]

Final session

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I had my final session with Celine this afternoon. I’m sorry that they’re coming to an end. I’ve felt like I’ve been making progress. This is a good feeling in itself. But the last couple of sessions have felt rushed, like I was jumping ahead of myself, simply because we were trying to fit too much in. I’ve had 10 sessions (actually 11, as one afternoon she gave me two slots), and she never made me feel like I was ‘using’ up my allotted time. She always told me that she would be there for as long as I needed. I’m grateful for that reassurance. Though I’m not sure how long she could have realistically been allowed to keep that up. Or else she always knew that I would be leaving my university town before she was forced to stop the sessions, so was safe in pretending to reassure me they were limitless.

Anyway, one way or another, yesterday was my last session and today I’m leaving the town altogether. As usual at the beginning made a list of what to do in the session:

  • First: do ‘blue print’ stuff – the thing for me to take away from the therapy in a neat, condensed form,
  • then: ask about how to stop getting upset when I’m on the verge of becoming upset (going through my printer woe from earlier in the week. Not the only recent wobble, but one I’d written about already and seemed like a nicely contained, typically trivial example),
  • lastly: go over the positives of the previous week

The blue printing stuff was fine. Fairly formulaic and obviously just something they want everyone to fill out during the final session. Sleep kept coming up. Isn’t there a saying about sledgehammers and overkill…did it really take 10/11 sessions with Celine, plus how ever many with SG before, to find that my problems could be solved as easily as just  forcing myself to get 8 hours sleep each night? I don’t think that sleep itself isn’t the cause, symptom or problem, but I do agree it is a barrier to dealing with things.  Anyway I wrote down that my “message in a bottle” for my future self is “Don’t lose heart, don’t lose sleep, put fun in wherever I can” – what I made as a key ring fob a while back.

How to not get upset…I recounted what had happened earlier, and filled in one of those hot-cross bun thingies: Thoughts/emotions/Behaviours/Physical reaction. I had sort of hoped she would have an easy solution to how to rethink the situation in a less upsetting way at the time, before I reached the point of public tears (ie how to do the 5 step ABTBP of Living Life to the Full module 3). I said that I could come up with other ways of thinking about the problem afterwards, in theory, but in reality that hadn’t helped me at the time. Interestingly she agreed that when you’re up against a deadline and realising you’re wasting time/money/opportunitity for advice, it’s only natural to be upset. So maybe this counts as a ‘real problem’, rather than a ‘bad thought’? or else just that she recognised it would be really hard for me, once on the verge of tears, to do the mental gymnastics to make myself feel better.

Instead she suggested I should try to approach what I do differently, to avoid problems altogether – like being more organised and realistic in the first place, and have a contingency plan for when things don’t go right, eg in this case maybe it was unreasonable to have expected myself to be ready for a Monday tutorial anyway, if I were to fit a bit of fun and sleep in as well, which hopefully no one would argue with. Or I could have made sure I had enough credit on my printing card or have left enough time to be able to find an ATM to get cash out to top it up.

Well we could all wish to live in an ideal world.

At this point she then pulled me up on how, “when you walked into the room today, you listed what you thought we could get through in the session, and I knew that was most likely unrealistic, and so warned you we probably wouldn’t get to the third thing, of going through your previous week’s activities”. Oh hum, I guess I should have warned her that I’d already Dx myself with “Over-optimism that invariably leads to a crashing low mood“. But I guess it does also match up to the post I wrote about brick walls – I tend to under estimate time and only give myself enough time to bash the walls down, which will always hurt and end in tears, rather than be realistic and give myself time to look at the problem and find the path of least resistance. On the plus side, hopefully recognising all that now is a step away from Einstein’s definition of insanity: “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” I also think those low moods are less deep than they were a few months ago, and hopefully that is directly linked to improving my sleep, and therefore sustainable, rather than pure chance.

I’ll write a more coherent summary of my thoughts and what I’ve learnt from my sessions with Celine when I’ve had a bit more time to reflect. In the meantime, maybe I do just need to try harder to be a more normal person to avoid problems, and then just accept I will be upset when I come up against some, so that hopefully I don’t waste more time being frustrated with myself for being upset!

Oh, we did have time to go through what I’d done the previous week. So maybe my problem isn’t over-optimism after-all! I didn’t bother to tell her though that her negativity just reminded me of typical hurricane forecasts: they’ll always predict the hurricane’ll hit, just so that on the off chance it does, they’re covered, and for all the rest of the time no one will complain that a hurricane doesn’t hit!

Plans and more plans

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My session with Celine last week ended up with the homework to write a six month and a year plan, as well as to record how I got on with meeting those plans and following my new rule, ‘try hard where reasonable to reach and keep my high standards in career and personal life goals, and to enjoy doing it’.

The first part of my session this Thursday (already #9) was going over what I had done this past week: I’d met up with friends for drinks, gone to a food festival, watched a film, did laundry like a normal person, visited a landscape architect’s office with friends, and finished my final piece of uni work. My general feeling for the week was that on paper it looked like I’d had a pretty good time, Celine even wrote a great big ‘GREAT!’ across my notes. Except that in reality, finishing that final piece of uni work had totally exhausted me, so all I could think about was being frustrated with myself for having taken such a long time over it all – which frustrated me further as  I knew I should be feeling relieved and happy I’d managed to fit in a balance of ‘normal people’ things too, but I was too tired to appreciate all that! I just hope that it was just tiredness that stopped me properly enjoying everything, because if not then I don’t know what to do. I think I will have to keep going through the motions of doing other things, so that when I have the energy to properly enjoy them again, I will be doing them anyway and able to enjoy them. Or just fake it til you feel it???

The second part was to go over my plans. I’ve already mentioned how I’m not totally convinced that I’ve moved on from tripping over immediate problems and am ready to put all my effort into making grand plans. But I thought I would have a go with it. I ended up with three versions of a six month plan, all of which involve getting back involved with the activities I always used to do, but differ on what the main thing I’m doing, or location. The year plan is to make sure that what I’ve started finding out about during the first six months are in action:

Plan A – based on applying for jobs, getting a job and setting up ‘home’ in the UK – making new friends and reconnecting with old ones from my boarding school, undergrad and post grad universities.

Plan B – getting a job back at home, probably meaning I’d need to move back in with my parents. On the one hand that feels like I’m moving backwards. Though it has the obvious financial advantages, and I already know a lot of the people involved in the activities and groups I’d like to get back into, and some of my friends are still there, so that whole side of things is less of an unknown and not so scary.

Plan C – if a job doesn’t materialise either at home or in the UK, I’d fall back on my original original plan from a few years ago, to continue with my postgrad course and write my Master’s dissertation. That wouldn’t be bad in itself, but I’m nervous I’m not up to it. Hopefully I would find that that is just an irrationale fear. And then go back to plan A or B and find a job. If plan C went according to plan, and possibly as a part time student and an unscary job-  I could have more free time to spend travelling, ideally volunteering or working along the way, to help keep costs down.

I was fairly happy with these plans.  Any of them have their positives and negatives, and hopefully cover any eventuality in the big things – whether I can get a job fairly easily, whether I continue with my postgrad or not, what country I end up in – so won’t feel like I’ve fallen off and failed at my plans. Also hoped that, by leaving my list of things I would like to get back into as broad and not fixed, will give me ideas when I’m feeling braindead but not be so stringent that if I don’t feel like doing them all, it won’t be another fail. I expected that Celine would point out that the point of the list was to get me to do things, and not to give the possibility of not getting around to doing things and being sucked  into a new job or dissertation to the detriment of everything else, which has been a big problem for me while doing the PGDip uni course. I tried pointing out that I didn’t want to just set myself a load more deadlines that would put pressure on me, which as the past couple of years have shown I’m not good at, so she left it at that. I do honestly want to get back to doing the things I used to do, so I hope that will be enough to get me going again and keep doing them.

The last part of the session was the most useful part. I guess from what I said through in the first two parts of the session, it was clear I’m still getting caught up on the day to day things. I told her how each week after seeing her, I feel quite upbeat (I won’t complain about that!) and every time I feel like this will be the week I will stop crying over silly things. Except that so far at least something every week, often tiny, has worked me up and tipped me over. It’s exhausing aside from the added worry that I’ll make an idiot of myself dissolving into tears at an unsuitable moment or place. Another common theme through everything I do, is that I hate wasting time, and I want everything to count. I presumed that both those things, not wanting to cry every week, and not wanting to waste time, are totally understandable ‘rules’ that most people would subscribe to. Celine thought that it was ‘worth looking at those more’, which translates to, ‘you weirdo, no wonder you’re unhappy’. Anyway, we wrote down the train of thought over a particular ‘trigger’ this week:

My computer not wanting to save the file properly that the printer would agree to read properly (fairly harmless in the grand scheme of things.)

>> felt frustrated with myself for being so slow when I realised that yet another day would go passed when I hadn’t finished my work. Although I knew that I had a university extension for the work, I had wanted to get the work done by Monday, so that the tutor would barely have realised  I gave it in after my earlier Friday deadline. Silly me. Ended in tears and me feeling like gouging out my eyeballs (thankfully not quite literally, but still making me realise I was reacting like an idiot. Cue more tears)

>> me thinking that everything I do wastes time and clearly I’m not doing things right: if I were, I would have finished this work over a month ago like all the rest of my friends.

>> clearly I’m an idiot and can’t cope with the work.

I guess it doesn’t help that all through this thread I’m realising I’m an idiot for reacting as I do and letting this spiral down and down. Even more so as it is crying over uni work…it’s only uni work! Except that I do spiral down and down which seems to confirm I am an idiot. The result is that I waste even more time being upset at not coping and being an idiot, which then makes me more upset for wasting time and being an idiot!! And round and round, down and down I go.

Celine suggested that I try to unwind the story and make it logical, so that I will stop spiraling down and wasting time, and can stop myself either at the first set of tears, or even preferably before. So:

My computer not wanting to save the file properly that the printer would agree to read properly

>> Think: it is the fault of the computer

>> I can come back and do it tomorrow, when someone else is around to help with computer geekery

>> Recognise that I’m not happy about it, that it’s upset me as I wanted to finish.

This thought process is meant to be better because it is logical/objective and therefore avoids the self-criticism spiral, while also being believable because it acknowledges that I’m unhappy and upset at not finishing. I thought the first parts sounded better than my original version, as it didn’t jump to me feeling so slow and were more problem solving orientated, but I didn’t see how the last bit would stop me from feeling badly about myself. Celine suggested that the emotion would more likely be anger and irritation at other things, rather than directed at myself. I’m not sure that’s a good thing either. I guess I hadn’t mentioned about the eye gouging or that I had already smashed my computer mouse at some point during the day. I wouldn’t like to see what I could manage in pure anger and irritation.

Anyway, as I said already, and said at the time, I thought that little exercise was the most useful part of the session. I slightly question it now, but I guess I do want to try putting it into action, and that is part of my plans of the week: When I feel that something might tip me over, to stop and try to work out a a more logical thought that is less likely to make myself frustrated with myself. If I can get through this week without tears, it will be worth it, so I’m willing to try. Just need to remember to cotton wool myself and everything else if the anger and irritation takes hold 😉

When I thanked her for going through that thread with me, she admitted that something had ‘clicked’ with her when I described feeling that I shouldn’t cry so easily, but that such little things seem to tip me over. She told me that if it were her being up against a deadline and then having the computer do irritating things, she would have been in tears too. Then she described how last week during Supervision, she had a migraine and had had a tough week, and something her boss said just tipped her into tears. She was so angry with herself for breaking down over ‘only work’. I expect she was making those stories up to make me not beat myself up so much for letting things get me me, but I couldn’t help having a slight feeling of the blind leading the blind…

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