’10 Things’ Reloaded

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I’m going to try that final Living Life to the Full cCBT module again, this time with a happier hat on than I wore last night!

1. A banana a day

I can do this!  Especially considering I’m used to having to eat bunches at a time, one a day will be easy.

2. Breakfast every day

I already always do this, so that’s an easy tick on the list

3. Exercise

I do already do a bit, and will look forward to doing more when the weather cools off/move to England where it’s cooler anyway.

4. Get some wow glasses

Yup, looking at the emulsion paint right now…strange to imagine that some of the ingredients started life as itsy bitsy creatures that collected up to form oil beneath the deserts or sea. And while that was happening (well maybe some millions of years inbetween, have no idea about ages), tiny coral polyps were growing and dying one top of each other to build calcium carbonate rock that was ground down and resolidified as limestone hills. These were quarried out to make the stone for the building that the oil-based paint now covers…pretty cool I guess!

5. Music

Firstly I realise that listening to BBC World Service, although not music, does fulfill the intent of this point: to break silence and give me other thoughts to think about besides stewing in worry.

Secondly, why not listen to Mozart or Portuguese folk music if that’s what I like?!

Thirdly, being open to listening to other music that others also like might help me widen my repertoire of acceptable noise.

6. Do a small act of kindness

I will do something for someone every day.

As I, like all other children in my country, have been brought up to be courteous to others, I’m already often saying the right things. I just need to make sure I am sincere with my ‘good mornings’ and ‘good afternoons’, and that my ‘thanks’ are said genuinely, and not just for fear of being told off for forgetting!

7. Take away a takeaway

If I find myself eating takeaways unnecessarily, then I will change and make the effort to cook myself an meal from this type of fast food. (But I will not stop eating a takeaway or readymeal if the alternative is to go without food!)

8. Heavy breathing – get out of breath and get your heart pumping by doing some housecleaning

Point taken, will endeavour to houseclean, quickly.

9. 5-a-Day

Smoothies! Yum!

10. Let memories make you happy

My 101 Things to make me Smile list is growing! Today’s things (and it’s only middle of the afternoon):

  • Daisy Chains (thanks to Nosebody[who happens to be #24!] for reminding me!)
  • Beating Pringles can lids (bongo style!)
  • Lizards
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’10 things to make you feel better Now!’

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Nope, sorry I don’t have the magical keys to a happy life, but this is the title of the 8th and final Little Book module on the Living Life to the Full cCBT website.

I seem to have had an ugly negative hat on when listening to the online thing, but anyway, here goes a summary of it and a few of my thoughts.

1. A banana a day

Bananas are a natural source of typtophan, an amino acid required to make serotonin. Well, as for much of the last eight years I’ve had serotonin re-uptake inhibitors and then serotonin antagonists coursing through my veins, it makes sense that having the ingredients to make more of the serotonin in the first place is a good thing.

Aside from the chemical stuff (which I find more interesting), bananas are meant to be good at releasing sugary energy slowly.

My only problem is trying to get myself to eat one banana a day. Having been brought up on homegrown bunches of bananas, the trend I am used to is to gorge myself on bananas for a week, and then feel sick of them for the next couple of weeks til the next bunch is ready. So now I tend to just remember that sick feeling when I think of bananas, and the thought of actually having to buy one, part with money for it, puts me off too.

2. Breakfast every day

Muesli and porridge every day.

I already do this. Porridge in winter, generic weetabix+generic alpen+granola in summer. I am certain breakfast helps, but it hasn’t been the tipping point into guaranteed good moods.

3. Exercise

Don’t be unrealistic: you don’t need to splurge on gym memberships just yet, start by simply choosing the stairs over the lift (like when going out to buy bananas)

I can relate to the realism conundrum: until the weather cools down or I find a silver bullet to energy, I have had to accept I really can’t keep up my morning runs, as they too predictably leave me in a snotty exhausted heap four hours later in the day.

However, I tend to avoid going out to shops like the plague, and I guess I can’t expect the lovely Dr Chris Williams doesn’t know where I live, but in my country we have the silliest planning laws that prohibit any house over two floors. Thus I have a grand total of one (random) step in my house to crawl over every day. It will take a lot of climbing up and down it to call it ‘exercise’.

4. Get some wow glasses

Oh dear!

The online thing tells you to put them on (figuratively is ok) and “look with joyful wonder at the things around you right now. Don’t take things for granted. Think about all the amazing things it took to make the surroundings you’re sat/walking in… even to think about the processes it took to make the emulsion paint on the walls.”

My first thought was oh dear! Then after the emulsion paint line, I had to think, ‘hmmm I’d like to have a bit of whatever the lovely Dr Chris Williams is on!’. But I have to agree that in my heart I know the idea is right. Sometimes I forget to appreciate the good things around me. While noticing the good things doesn’t make everything right, and sometimes in the the short term makes me feel worse about myself for still feeling bad, I also know that being blasé about the good things doesn’t help!

5. Music

Silence = space to worry, so music must be used to drown it out.

Good in theory. Slight problem only in that I really don’t get on with music very well. I can cope with classical music, and even traditional toe tapping stuff if I’m in the right mood. But on an every day level where mainstream music is expected (ie what I can admit to listening to and/or when others might be listening too), I can only put up with it for so long before I have to remove myself from the scene.

As exemplified by conversation with music-college-student-cousin:

MCSC: “Zee, what sort of music do you listen to?”

Me: “Umm, not much, nothing in particular”

MCSC: “What, not even the radio?”

Me: [eyes light up] “ooh yeah!”

MCSC: “Great! What station?”

Me: “Umm, 1160AM…BBC World Service”

MCSC: “God you must be dead”

Point taken.

6. Do a small act of kindness

Eg write a thank you note, put someone’s bins out, say thank you to the check-out girl

I can’t argue with this one. Except for that last one. Again, the lovely Dr Chris Williams can’t know where I’ve been brought up, but let me say it’s in a place where ‘thank you’ to a check-out girl is more likely to be said in the context of “thank you for letting me pass my ‘attitude adjustment‘ exam and letting me out alive!”

7. Take away a takeaway

Cut down on your takeaway meal diet by cutting out one meal a week.

Good in theory and probably for many people, but to be honest it’s rare I do ever get a takeaway meal in the first place! Though I know I should try hard to actually cook myself something, rather than resort to a another sandwich or a bowl of cereal.

8. Heavy breathing – get out of breath and your heart pumping by doing some housecleaning.

Good in theory. I guess doing any sort of cleaning would be a good start!

9. 5-A-day

And drinking them in smoothies is a fairly quick and painless method for getting lots in. Plus you can check off the banana from Step One too!

Just slightly worried by the small print at the bottom: ‘Kidney problems? Please check with your doctor before drinking smoothies’

10. Finally, let memories make you happy

Don’t forget the good things. Write down 3 things everyday.

Funnily enough I started a101 Things to make me Smile list a month ago, completely independently of this cCBT module! However I have now stretched it to 31 things, so that is only 1 thing a day on average (I must not smile much!).  I will make more of an effort to smile and then remember what it was, with the aim to complete the last 69 things in 23 days.

The things I smiled about today and added to the list are:

30. Putting tourist sunglasses on and going sightseeing!

31. Remembering the New Forest Show Heavy Horse Dressage display (and double smile to find they’re still using the same theme tune compilation as they did from my earliest memories when I was 4 or 5 years old!)

I also slid in 21. Explaining geo-caching to others 😉

It feels like this is a rather downbeat post to end my journey with Living Life to the Full.com. I don’t think that has been my overall feeling from it, so I will plan to gather my thoughts on the website course and write a summary post about it. (I know I said I’d do the same thing after my sessions with Celine, the CBT lady, ended, but I haven’t yet. I keep wanting to, but at the same time don’t feel I’m ready to draw a line under that experience.)

read the Reloaded version for a more positive account!

‘Are You Strong Enough to Keep your Temper?’

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A couple of weeks ago I looked at the next module on the Living Life to the Full cCBT course, entitled “Are you strong enough to keep you temper?”. I’ve been meaning to write a blog post summarising my thoughts on the module. Except I haven’t done either yet, basically because I can’t really decide what to make of the module. Hopefully writing this post will help get my ideas together.

Module’s Intro

The introduction explains that it means ‘temper’ in terms of  anger, irritation and losing control

I like to think that I’m not a very angry person. I’m sure it’s true that I’m not the angriest person in the world, though equally true that I do get angry sometimes. Actually right now (or when I started writing this post), my mother’s vacuuming and the noise is driving me crazy and making my skin crawl! Can’t even think and have had to shut myself away in my room with my laptop volume up high to re-listen to this online module.

So far so good. At least I can see that this module might apply to me and be helpful.

According to the module…”Irritability upsets yourself and others. And can make you lose things, like a job.”

I haven’t had the latter occur to me (touch wood). But I can definitely relate to the first bit. I think the upsetting myself is mostly how my anger and irritability manifests itself. To avoid upsetting others and deflect attention away from me, I’ll turn the anger in on myself and be mad at myself for feeling mad. Like now, I know I can’t get mad at my mother for cleaning the house, so I’m mad at myself for not being able to deal with the vacuum noise, and mad at myself for not summoning the energy to vacuum myself and let my mother have a rest.

The module goes on to say, “it’s weak to stay and argue…things get out of control, you end up in trouble”

This is where I get a bit confused. To be honest, I think that doing what I do, of avoiding conflict and instead getting mad at myself, is an unhealthy way of dealing with things (especially when I feel like I’m simmering away and end up scraping at my skin to deal with myself…). But at least I don’t stay and argue, so, according to the module, I must be doing something right.

Having written that, I see that in fact if I am turning the anger in on myself, then even if I don’t show it outwardly, I have still gotten mad. Maybe the contradictory things that were confusing me aren’t contradictory afterall. Perhaps this module is helpful, and I’ll think about the rest of the module in terms of things that will make me mad at myself, rather than just concentrating on things that make me outwardly lose my temper at others.

So, on we go.

3-Step Plan

In order to avoid anger, the module gives a three step plan: ‘1,2,3, Chill!’ … and says it should be sung…oh dear. Through gritted teeth I remind myself to accept the naffness.

  1. Know your buttons
  2. Know early warning system
  3. Use your Escape Hatches
  • Chill!

1. Know your buttons

The online thing gives a few ideas on the sorts of things that might ‘push your buttons’, ie the things that will make me mad or make me upset. Therefore these are the things to avoid in the future. The things that I can think of for me (mostly things I’ve already mentioned on this blog):

  • Not knowing what I’m meant to be doing/what’s expected of me
  • Not being able to ask the right question, not being able to communicate what I want to say/ask
  • Not knowing how to fix something or what to do next when given criticism
  • Being criticized for something I don’t know how to change, or something that is intrinsically me.
  • Thinking that maybe this is me, I’ll always be stressed and on the brink of tears. I’ll always be on the verge of pushing myself over the edge, just to do something normal
  • Being too tired to think clearly, too exhausted to do something
  • Trying to doing something helpful for others and messing it up
  • Not having motivation, especially when I know it is something I should want to do
  • Being fobbed off. Especially when trying to ask for help
  • Being thought of as a cheater. Especially when attempting to ask for help
  • Being thought of as a whiner.
  • Spending unnecessary time just thing about problems and worrying about other things
The module then suggests that these triggers should be avoided, giving examples like:
  • Avoid it/the people/the places
  • Go to different places
  • Talk to different people
  • Drink less
  • Drive more slowly
  • Ignore others’ comments
I’m sure these are well meaning, and it’s hard to argue with the drinking and driving suggestions. However the rest I have more difficulty with, both with how to do them realistically, and with their intentions. I can’t really go about avoiding anything that might upset me, especially when they’re to do with what people say to me: Presumably I need to learn how to ask for constructive criticism, and not take things so personally, not avoid being criticized altogether. Same with asking for help but then fobbed off. I’m sure the answer isn’t really to avoid asking for help for ever more, and I can’t ignore their comment if I’ve specially asked for their advice! Similarly, I can’t avoid talking to my close friends and family, though they’re the ones who, chances are, I will be talking to about these things that upset me. Other things, such as vacuuming, scraping chair noises, and the ice cream van jingle really shouldn’t make me mad, so I need to learn to not be irritated by them, rather than always making sure I’m out of earshot of them for the rest of my life.

Or maybe I’m missing something. Will read/listen further with this module.

2. Know your early warning signs

The online slide for this section says to write down the physical things you feel just before trouble starts, and therefore when to put Step 3 into action.
Mine:
  • eyes prickle
  • welling up feeling in throat
  • stomach clench
In fact these are more to do with crying, I guess the outward sign of me being upset and feeling angry. However, I’ve glanced at my mother’s recent emails where she writes that she feels she has to’tiptoe round’ me in case I ‘erupt’, and my cousin said to me on the phone the other night that I sounded ‘abrupt’. Unfortunately both these things have slightly got to be as I’ve actually been feeling fairly normal in myself, so haven’t felt any ‘early warning signs’. The module suggests asking people close to you what signs they pick up on. I should do this, but talking about how I feel, especially when I’m trying really hard to be normal, is a surefire way to make me upset. Funnily enough I therefore avoid these conversations, as per the suggested solutions of the first step above!

3. Use your escape hatches

The module suggests a range of options to defuse and a situation and give space to sort it out:
  • smile! – enough for others to notice
  • relax shoulders – drop them
  • breath slowly
  • ‘you’re right about that’ (works best when you really disagree! – you don’t need to mean it!)
  • hum a little tune

These sounded vaguely useful things to do. Unlike the the ABTBP (Amazing Bad Thought Busting Plan, described under ‘Little Bit of Good + lots of Naffness, and ‘A Bit of Bad’), which I found virtually impossible for me to do the mental gymnastics required to stop the tears once they are about to flow, these physical actions are a bit more do-able.

However I have already run into a couple of problems when trying to use them: Smiling: been told I’m acting like a five-year-old child being the Cheshire Cat. Likewise with humming a tune.

Chill!

Give yourself respect. Walk away, show you are stronger than the things that try to make you angry.

Summary

I seem to have had some misgivings at each step of this module. I think it’s better if I don’t take every bit of advice literally, and just take the bits that might be useful.

Looking at my list of buttons makes me realise how sensitive I am to other people’s comments and reactions to me. I’ll have to think more about this, Maybe I’ll have a look back at my notes from Celine, who I saw for face-to-face CBT while at uni. I hope I’ll find something useful there.

Shall promise myself to take the advice of step 2, asking others’ opinions of what my warning signs are. Aside from being useful, I think it will help me and my family if I can be a bit more open about my feelings, and will remind me and them (more me in fact!) that in the context that I am still working on helping myself. This should be less confrontational than the current situation, where I am pretending that I’m fine, cured of depression, anxiety, worry etc and totally myself. I think this has led me to unnecessarily feel like like their comments are an attack on my personality that is cast in stone. Which of course is untrue on all counts!

I basically like the ideas it gives for escape hatches, as they don’t require mental agility. I’ll just have to persevere and not worry about people’s comments (ahh, like the module’s suggestion for solutions to having buttons pressed, that I rather poo-pooed earlier).

I’d like to be…a palm tree

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Recently I read a post over on Monkeytraps, ‘Human Treeings‘. Referring to attitudes towards control, Steve said:

Hurricane Irene swept through here the other day, reminding me of a conversation I’ve had with many clients over many years.

“Let’s say you’re a tree, and a hurricane is coming,” I say. “ Which would you rather be, an oak or a birch?”

The oak versus birch question was refering specifically to attitudes towards control: do you stand firm against a problem, but possibly be knocked down (oak), or do you flex to accommodate the problem and then bounce back? That got me thinking, and, seeing as Hurricane Maria swirled past here today, I thought I’d write a post about the tree I’d be.


My answer to Steve’s question would be, a palm tree. I’m not sure what Steve would have to say about me wanting to choose a different tree altogether…

Watching a palm tree in a storm makes me marvel: at the first breeze, the leaves rustle and dance elegantly, more alive. As the wind picks up, the whole trunk begins to sway, and the leaves are swept away from the wind. In this way, nothing is damaged and once the wind drops, the palm tree will look picture perfect again. On the other hand, if the wind strengthens even more, its second defense comes into action: its leaves will rip off. Perhaps no longer elegant, but by reducing its surface area and resitance, the tree becomes a javelin and is barely be buffetted by the wind. After the wind dies down, the new leaves, protected by the hard sheath in the centre of the crown, can unfurl. Then slowly but surely, as the sun comes out again, the palm tree will be living vigorously and growing once again.

In direct relation to Steve’s analogy, the palm tree is like the birch: being flexible and accommodating the problem, then bouncing back and being resilient. I’m not saying I am the palm tree or have its qualities (at the moment I feel like a sickly little seedling scuffed off the edge of the path under some dark leaves, but trying its utmost best to bat its way up and through those dark leaves to reach up to the light and become stronger), but it’s what I’d like to be:

  • I’d like to be able to float on my experiences, take them in my stride and enjoy them elegantly.
  • I’d like to be able to be flexible and bend if an experience begins to be troubling.
  • I’d like to have backup plans, and second lines of defense. Just like a palm tree will loose its leaves, I’d like to be able to shed my excess activities and unnecessary responsibilities, knowing that I’ll be able to develop new ones when the future’s calmer, and in the meantime they can be adopted and enjoyed by others (not wanting to draw a direct correspondence between the bugs and grubs that will recycle the leaves as energy and shelter for themselves…but the idea is there!)
  • I’d like to be sure that while my heart is protected, it’s never so tightly packed away it can never open up agai.
  • Best of all, palm trees always look their best in clusters or shoulder to shoulder, they’re rarely lonely.

Tanta sum lassa

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I never learnt latin, but my aunt suggests this should be my motto: “Tanta sum lassa“, “I’m so tired”.

She actually suggested this when I was about 13 years old. I guess I haven’t changed at all! Though today I would barely enunciate those three words, I was that tired.

I wish I didn’t say it so often, sometimes I feel like I must say it just to fill in a gap in conversation sometimes. In reality though, when I’m feeling awake enough to concentrate on what I’m saying or not saying, then I’m not tired, and don’t need to say it. It’s only when I’m tired that I find I’m saying what I feel without thinking, but then I really am tired!

I wish I felt more awake, more lively or sparky. So far this summer I’m really struggling to figure out how to be like that. I tried running, but that exhausted me. I tried sleeping more, but that just made me sleepier. I tried eating more but that didn’t help and made me (feel) fat. I’ve tried decreasing my mirtazapine dosage too, but so far am only noticing that I’m sneezing more. I tried pretending to be more awake, lively and sparky, but was just told I was acting like a five-year-old grinning like the Cheshire Cat.

I’ll still keep trying. I will always try. That is the one thing I’m half decent at.

De-mirtazapin-ize me please!

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A lot has come together for me in the past couple of weeks, which culminated in me deciding to make a dr’s appointment for this afternoon to get advice on how to go about tapering off my dose of anti-depressants – currently I’m on 30mg mirtazapine per day.

I didn’t really come up with a good pros/cons list of staying on or going off the medication, but in the end I’m starting to realise how tired I am doing day to day things, to the point that I haven’t really done much at all. I hadn’t really noticed how I’ve been acting or feeling recently, as I thought I was doing fine, but my (dearest) mother keeps on at me for not being more active or enthused or getting out and about. To which all I can say is that I’d love to be active/enthused/out and about, if only I didn’t keep feeling like I could do with another nap or a bit more sleep.

I’ve tried going for runs, but they only make me spend the rest of the day exhausted, I’ve tried eating more to get more energy, but I’m at the point of just putting on more weight, and I’ve tried getting more sleep, but I’m already getting plenty, and the need for sleep keeps eating into and destroying plans for doing other things like meeting up with friends in the evening or going out to photograph sunrise.

The other thing my mother keeps trying to tell me is how I ‘don’t seem happy’. Again, all I can say is that I’m doing my best to ‘seem happy’, but pretending to be happy is really starting to get exhausting, and being properly happy, without the inverted commas, is equally exhausting, and too hard not to be cross when no one can understand me because I’m slurring my words because I’m so tired, and too hard not to be upset at what I’m missing out on with friends when I’m just too tired to make plans, let alone think about actually get myself to town and back again, or being decent company.

I don’t think I’m depressed anymore, not in the depressed way of not being able to bring myself to do anything, or not feeling anything is worth moving for. Rather, it is a pure and simple problem of not doing things because I don’t have the energy. Basically I know I just need to get a grip. Which I feel like I could do if only I wasn’t so tired…and round and round in circles I go, making myself upset as I don’t have the energy to fight the tears either.

I’m not blaming the medication entirely on my tired state, but given that one of its headlining actions is to help insomnia, the mirtazapine is almost certainly not helping me stay alert and energized through the day. While the medication almost certainly helped me through April and May, and the side effects were worth putting up with, now the side effects are outstaying their welcome. I’m imagining myself as a hot air balloon, and while the mirtazapine was a useful safety tether while sorting my supplies and gear out, now I need to cut the anchor and lines so I can rise up and float away.

So I’m now cutting my pills in half, down to 15mg/day, for the next two weeks, and then I’ll take half (15mg/day) every other day for the following two weeks. I  hope I’m ok with that. I think I should be. Through the day today, after I decided on my plan and felt like I was taking decisions into my own hands, I felt excited and lighter in my step, and for the first time in the longest that  I can remember, I felt a slight crackle of electricity coursing through my veins. I’d completely forgotten that feeling, but I like it and am glad to have it back.

Another wonder pill

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Following on from the supposed wonder pill that is Omega-3 rich fish oil, I wanted to give a mention to another wonder drug I’m on at the moment: Mirtazapine. It seems to take a lot of flak, but I’ve just been reading the small print on a new lot of just picked up from the pharmacy (I must be bored!), and found some rather interesting things:

“Mirtazapine is a potent antagonist of histamine (H1) receptors”

I had secretly been noticing, though not wanting to say it aloud for fear of putting a jinx on myself, that since I arrived back home at the beginning of August, I haven’t had a single stuffy or runny nose for the first time in the longest that I can remember! Now reading that factoid, that essentially I am taking a pretty strong antihistamine, I can understand why this is the first trip back that I haven’t felt like divorcing my nose because of the ubiquitous mould and mildew of my warmer clime homeland.

“Mirtapazine is a potent antagonist of 5-HT3 receptors”

When I looked up that receptor, it noted that antagonists are sometimes an anti-emetic. ie to stop nausea. It turns out that is also a ‘side effect’ of histamine antagonists too! At this point I must apologise to my fellow crew members last month when we were sailing: I was happily bumping up and down on the waves telling others (who were getting greener and greener) ‘ah you haven’t seen proper waves! I know I get sea sick, but I haven’t yet, so this must be nothing!’. It seems, that without knowing it, I was on some ‘potent’ anti-seasick tablets already!

Interestingly, according to Wikipedia, that same receptor is also antagonised by a drug called Memantine, which I recognise as the medication my grandfather is current trying in a bid to reverse his Alzheimer’s Disease symptoms. The jury is still out on the usefulness of that medication for that, but it’s interesting to think it is affecting the same thing that my mirtazapine also affects. Though I may be getting a bit ahead of myself to think I could also be staving off the Alzheimer’s that seems the inevitable ending of my family!

On the other hand, I was sorry to read:

“Mirtazapine is a potent antagonist of 5-HTreceptors”

as I just read that psychaedelic drugs like LSD are agonists at this receptor. Shucks! I was still waiting for that trip!

Now if I could just find something that will make me a bit less sweet to mosquitoes, I will be a very happy bunny!

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