Saturday, 4 October 2014

Scare Away The Dark

"If we all light up we can scare away the dark."

Scare Away The Dark by Passenger

I've taken somewhat of a blogging sabbatical this summer, not so much due to lack of time, but lack of motivation and joie de vivre.  But this post comes as an absolute pleasure to write, so get a hot chocolate and snuggle down.

As of my last post (yes, June, it was that long ago), things have changed.  In my last post, I spoke about how lost and vulnerable I was feeling, and that I had begun to feel crippled by the weight of depression that was bring me down.  Despite being surrounded by my family, and supported from afar by Josh, I felt so alone, and that I would never see the light at the end of the tunnel.

I kept believing this until about three weeks ago.

It was as though my mind suddenly began to think clearly for the first time, as though it was able to wade through the memories and distractions that were clouding my head and finally begin sorting through them.  I had many sleepless nights, with my mind racing through past memories, working out why they hurt and what could be done, and then they were simply filed away.  On awaking in the morning, I felt like there was room to breathe.  After several more nights like this, my mind just began to feel emptier and clearer, in a way that I have never felt.  The only way I can describe it is if you have been to an insanely loud gig, and you leave with ringing in your ears: it's the moment you realise that it has faded away entirely. 

In brief, I felt free.  Free from the panic, the anxiety, and the misery that had been following me for longer than I can remember.  I can wake up and face the day with a smile.  I can laugh at silly animal videos on youtube, not just a half-hearted giggle, but proper laughter.  Josh has noticed such a difference: the Hannah that he met two and a half years ago is back, but more than ever.  I can eat (70% of the time) without worrying and feeling huge pangs of guilt: I'm not eating to comfort or to punish, but I'm eating to survive.  More than anything though is, with the return of university, I can think.  Before my mind would constantly stray from the task in hand, so that working on anything for more than a few minutes was impossible.  But I can now sit down in a class and be completely there in every sense of the word. 

Honestly, I never thought that I'd be here, feeling as I do.  Things have become so much better that, after support since February, I have been signed off from counselling.  I no longer feel that I am a danger to myself.  The emotional and physical scars are fading fast, and life suddenly feels worth living.  And, okay, I am still on the medication for at least the next eight months, but I think that after that, I will be ready to be completely free.

Basically, I just wanted to write this to say that if you're suffering from depression, or are supporting someone who is, get the help you need, as recovery is so worth it.  Like a packet of digestive biscuits after two days of 'nil by mouth' in a hospital bed.  Like a long, warm bath after finishing the Duke of Edinburgh expedition.  The feeling of relief is incredible, and worth every second of pain myself and everyone around me went through.  You can do it.  Like any illness, depression can be helped, you just need the right support.

And if we all light up we can scare away the dark.

xx

 


Saturday, 21 June 2014

Sticks and Stones

As I write, I have been home for three weeks, though it honestly feels like I never left.  As great as it is to be back, and to be around my family and friends, it has been a very difficult time.

The first week was a whirlwind of unpacking, and seeing everyone that I had missed so much over the year.  Three days in, Josh dropped the biggest of all bomb-shells - he'd been given an amazing opportunity to move with work up to Manchester (one of his favourite cities) to help run one of the biggest bars in the country.  Naturally, he took it, with some major cheering from me.  I am wholeheartedly proud and pleased to bits for him: his perfect job, a pay rise, perfect city, and now we have found the perfect flat there.  The only slight niggle is that I can't go with him.

Since being back, my health - mentally speaking - has deteriorated.  The doctor explained that now I am in a safe environment surrounded by people that will love and protect me, my mind is ready to start dealing with the trauma I faced a few years ago, and begin the path to recovery.

I have begun my counselling with the wonderful staff at UEA, and though I know it is necessary, boy is it harder than I anticipated.  I am naturally a 'don't worry, everything is rosy' kind of girl, so really opening up to a stranger (albeit one I have been speaking to for three months via email, and a professional) is incredibly challenging.  The first session was fine: I pretty much just filled her in on how it was being back, and Josh's move, and didn't hit on any 'big' topics, persay.

The second however was completely different.  I have always had a strange relationship with food.  After being overweight and bullied terribly for it as a child, I was able to become healthy and lose the weight.  However after discovering I was gluten intolerant, I developed a kind of phobia of anything that wasn't fresh fruit or vegetables, as it had the potential to make me ill, and as a result, I read the packets of everything and ended up very concious of ingredients and calories.  After beginning the course of Citalopram, my appetite dropped, I lost a lot of weight (I have put a little back on since being back, but I'm still lighter than I was two months ago), and I only ate fruit, salad and the occasional ice cream.  I also blame the heat of Seville in the spring, but hey.  Josh, having not witness me eating and this downward spiral, became very worried about me when he realised that my eating tiny portions and skipping meals in favour of eating fruit and insisted I spoke to the counsellor as he didn't want another illness to get added to the pile.  However, she helped me to realise that this is a way of me being in control, which was a symptom of me feeling out of control with my state of mind.  I have since started to eat properly - more or less - and am favouring balanced meals with protein and vegetables rather than pure veggies, meaning that I have more energy and am stronger to deal with what is coming at me.

We also began to deal with the 'trauma' (which is far too personal to go into detail about here at the moment, but possibly one day).  She explained the routes we could take into starting to deal with it, the best of which meant reliving the event.  I left feeling very tense and panicky.


I will put a short disclaimer here: this next part may prove disturbing for some of you, particularly those of you who are going through depression in a similar way to me, so continue with caution.

That night, I had the worst dreams - people trying to kill me, me slitting my throat, hanging myself: brutal stuff.  I woke up, told myself it was just a dream and got ready for the day.  Just as I was about to leave, I started crying.  I ran back to the bedroom where Josh was sleeping and curled up next to him.  I cried my eyes out.  After I calmed down momentarily, I went to the bathroom to get a tissue, and found myself curled up again on the floor clawing at myself, screaming and crying.  I was terrified and in so much internal pain I couldn't handle it.

I returned to our bedroom, where Josh wrapped his arms around me and tried to comfort me.  I just lost it.  I began shaking, hyperventilating.  I scratched at my arms and wrists, and bit my hands so hard that there were marks the following day.  I felt like I had been possessed, like I was going mad.  Josh just held me tight, and restrained my arms until I had calmed down.

I then lay down, and looked at the floor - there was a black belt and a packet of tablets on the floor - and memories of the dreams came back.  I started panicking again, and started screaming and crying that I wanted to die, I wanted to kill myself.  Josh hid the belt and the tablets and then held me again until I calmed down.

This happened one more time, by which point I had contacted my mum, and Josh told her that I should see a doctor.  As I got ready, I wandered aimlessly around the flat, where I saw a knife and started sawing at my thumb until I drew blood.  I felt completely overwhelmed and dazed, and so out of control that I didn't know what to do.

Shortly after, my mum arrived and rushed me off to Hethersett surgery, where I had another attack, biting my arms, crying that I wanted to run away and die, this time with my mum restraining me, telling me that I was safe and loved, and nothing bad was going to happen.

The doctor saw me, and told me, much to my surprise, that this was normal: I was beginning to deal with the trauma of what happened. After another attack in her offiice  - thankfully my mum came in with me to help me talk and was able to calm me down - I was given a higher dose of Citalopram, taking me up to 30mg a day, and a drug called Lorazepam - which is used to immediately calm or sedate patients who are suffering from severe anxiety attacks or agitation - of which I was told to take half to one tablet as and when I needed them.  I was also told that I shouldn't be alone for a few days.

I spent the rest of the day with Josh's mum, sleeping, pottering about and being in a Lorazepam induced vegetive state, but at least I was safe.  Since that day, I haven't been quite as bad, but had noticed when I was getting close and took half a tablet in order to avoid the peak of the attack.

My counsellor decided that I wasn't ready to start dealing with the trauma straight away, and so she has started to teach me ways to calm myself down, including through led calming exercises, and I left feeling sleepy but so much better.

I am so glad I was taken to the doctor that day, as honestly I really do not know what would have happened.  If I had been left alone, I am sure that it would have got a lot worse, and that I would have attempted suicide.  However, I am so thankful to Josh, my parents and his parents for taking care of me and ensuring that I was safe through the worst.

Unbeknown to me (and it took me a while to notice), after I had left to go to the doctor, Josh hid all the sharp objects, lighters, tablets and belts in the house just in case I took a turn for the worse.  He only returned them yesterday - a week after the incident, but even the sight of the black bag full of potential death almost set me off, and as I was alone for the first night since, I hid it in a suitcase so that I wouldn't have to see them, and would be less likely to tempt me should my panic increase.

As a result of all of this, I am not going with Josh to Manchester initially: the idea of being so far away from my family and people that can care for me, and Josh needing to spend so much time and energy on his new job would mean that I would be very vulnerable, and so, until I am in a safer state of mind, it is not worth putting myself in danger - as much as I want to be with him and be there to support him.

If anything I have said sounds familiar, please speak to someone close to you or a GP - depression is an illness that needs to be addressed, and believe me, it is way more common than you might think.  If you need someone to speak to, I am always here, so contact me on coquetin.blogger@gmail.com, and I will get back to you as soon as I can.

Stay safe xx


Sunday, 18 May 2014

Two Weeks Left

Well, technically less than two weeks.  I must admit, this last chunk of time in Seville has flown by, what with a weekend in Madrid, followed by the Feria de Abril, beach trips and going to school as often as I can.

Though I do feel better in myself with regards to depression, I am still struggling.  My mood goes up and down on a seemingly weekly cycle, which fortunately seems to mean that I am happiest during the week at school, though it does feel like a struggle at times, and goes down towards the end of the week.  When I am in a down period, I feel terrible.  All I can bring myself to do is lie in bed in silence, playing Dots on my iPad.  Even having music on in the background feels too much.

I had such a low on Friday, preceded by a anxiety attack in the supermarket, meaning that I cancelled all my plans for the afternoon, and spent the night on skype to my parents.  The thing is, though I know it was what I needed to do, and my friends are aware of why I cancelled, I feel guilty and like a let-down because 'feeling a bit sad' doesn't feel like a genuine reason in my head.  But I know that had I gone, I would have been terrible company, and a quiet night at home was what I really needed.

However, the ups I have make it completely worth it.  Being able to go to and enjoy the Feria in a flamenco dress, despite my anxiety (Bach rescue remedy is my new best friend) meant so much to me, as did a genuinely happy day at the beach with my friends.  Actually having these happy moments is something that I have been missing, which sounds weird, as I have had so many experiences that I would normally have loved (The Lion King in Madrid or time spent with Josh for example), but because of my brain being my worst enemy, I haven't been able to relax or enjoy them.

Citalopram is working well for me: thanks to sleeping tablets, I am able to feel well rested and as alert as humanly possible at school in the morning, though I do struggle to sleep past 7am.  The only slightly strange effect is that my appetite still hasn't properly returned, and I have lost 8lb, going from 9st 9 ish to 9st 1 in a couple of weeks.  Though being smaller has been a bit of a confidence boost, it's probably not healthy to be eating as little as I have been (though when it's 35 degrees plus outside, all I can bring myself to eat is watermelon anyway), and the thought of food does make me feel physically sick, as does having eaten a proper meal.  However getting back to England in a couple of weeks, and having to cook for a insatiably hungry man as well as myself, and the drop in temperature, will undoubtedly help to increase my appetite again.  So long as I don't go below nine stone in the meantime, then I'll be okay.

I am making sure that, even if I don't spend time with other people, I make time for myself.  Whether it is a mug of hot milk whilst watching 'Cloudy With A Chance Of Meatballs 2' (honestly, it's brilliantly silly and funny), or going the long way home, and taking a detour through Maria Luisa park to watch the duckling and terrapins in the pond, I am spending time doing things.  I've also been trying to spend less time with headphones in: listening to podcasts does help me when I am feeling really low as it is a good distraction from my thoughts, but I need to let my brain work through my thoughts, no matter how troubling or annoying they may be if I stand any chance of recovering.  As a result, I'm becoming less scared of my own thoughts, and allow my brain to wander, without censoring myself or worrying, which is proving more positive than I had anticipated.

On the whole, things are looking up.  Josh is coming to Seville for a few days later today, and unlike last time, I can actually feel excited for it.  We have been apart from nearly five weeks, and despite talking much more than we had before, we have missed each other so much more.  We're also celebrating our second anniversary on Tuesday, so we have a lot to be happy for!  And after that, I have my last weekend in Seville, and then I begin four hard days of saying goodbye to the children, teachers and friends who have become like family to me over the last year, the thought of which is so bittersweet.  I can't wait to go home, but not seeing my favourite little kids on a weekly basis will be horrible.

All in all, the last few weeks have been lovelier than the rest of the year combined, and with so little time left, it almost feels like I'm on holiday.  Which is really what I need.

Madrid




The Real Alcazar



The Feria

xx

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Lost and Found

Image here


I'm not sure how to start this, so I'll just jump in.

A short while ago, I wrote a post about me being an introvert, and about how I had begun to feel extremely alone.  An aspect I didn't go into was how sad I felt.

I would wake up dreading the day ahead.  I'd look at the date, and my heart would sink when I realised how many days I had until I got back to my normal life.  I would go through the motions of each day, going to school, eating lunch, wandering around Seville, all without mentally being there.  I began to worry about seeing friends (this was around the time I wrote the introversion post), but when I did, I struggled to keep eye contact, and couldn't wait to get away: these weren't strangers, these were friends.

I couldn't concentrate, I couldn't read, I couldn't even watch a film without falling into the black hole that was my empty thoughts.  Work was becoming impossible: going to school would prove too emotionally draining, and I found myself trying to come up with excuses to get out of going.  Naturally, I became physically ill too - obviously the strain had become too much for my already delicate immune system.

The change came when I went home for Easter - everything should have been fine and dandy.  However I wasn't excited.  I felt empty.  When I saw Josh, yes I was happy, but again, I struggled to look him in the eye when speaking to him.  This was the same for everyone, my family, my close friends - it was really upsetting.  I found myself withdrawing from everyone and everything, and soon I found myself sitting alone in our living room, crying my eyes out.  It was then I realised there was a problem that reached past loneliness or introversion.

I had read about depression some time in a magazine a few months earlier, and it struck me how much it all sounded familiar.  But I shook it off as just me being away from home, and that everything would be fine when I got back.  But after being home and things getting worse, not better, I knew it was more than just that. 

It took a couple of days, but one particularly hard morning, I called my mum in tears and told her in between sobs that I thought might be have a problem.  Her response: 'I know'.  It shocked me how those around had notice how withdrawn and distant I had made myself in the past few months.  She made me call the doctor and get an appointment for that morning.

She picked me up an hour before my appointment, and drove me to the doctor's surgery, listening to me attempting to make small talk, whilst avoiding the subject.  However, in the car park, the nerves got the better of me and I broke down into tears.  I told her everything about how I had been feeling, and how I just wanted to run away from my life.  She listened patiently, and told me to tell all that I had just said to the doctor.

During my appointment, I sat in silence for a minute, trying to order my thoughts, but instead started crying.  I had asked my mum to come in with me, and fortunately she was able to fill in the blanks when I struggled to talk.  The doctor asked me the questions she needed to, and told me that I was suffering from depression.  She expressed her concern about my returning to Spain in four days, but I said I needed to - both for my own personal sense of achievement, and for the technicalities of my degree.  She prescribed me citalopram - an anti-depressant - and told me to call her in two weeks to let her know how I felt, and to go to a doctor immediately if anything got worse.

The next few days were terrible: during the first day on the medication, I felt so sick I could barely eat, and felt completely spaced out and weird.  On the second day, my appetite still hadn't returned, and my anxiety went through the roof.  I met up with my mum, as I just couldn't be alone, but felt so terrified and stressed by being anywhere - I walked around with my jaw clenched, and my hands in fists.  On the third day, still no appetite, but the anxiety had got a bit better.

The fourth day was the day I was due to return to Spain, and despite the most stressful flight ever (literally, everything that could go wrong pre-flight did), I got there in one piece.  For the next few days, I barely slept, and constantly woke up with headaches due to my overly-tensed jaw overnight.  My mum checked out whether I could use a sleeping tablet alongside my new medication, and found that I could, which was such a relief.

On the 24th April, my birthday, I woke up feeling clear headed and alert for the first time in months.  After opening presents and forcing down breakfast, I went into school, and felt like I was able to contribute to the class.  I then met up with a friend called Becky, and had a wonderful afternoon wandering around Maria Lusia park in the sunshine.  I hadn't felt so relaxed or happy in so long, and the relief was overwhelming.

Ever since, I have gone up and up.  I increased my medication due to the doctor's orders a few days ago from 10mg to 20mg, and despite a slight increase in anxiety, headaches and a major loss of concentration, I feel a lot better.  It feels like a fog has been lifted and I can start enjoying life.

Instead of spending a day lying in bed, completely empty with nothing to look forward to apart from going to sleep, I am excited to go out and do things.  I make myself leave the flat every day, even if it is to do something as simple as sunbathe on the roof or go to the supermarket for more watermelon.

My family have been incredible: along with my birthday presents, my parents put together a huge bag full of small gifts, with the instructions to open one each day until the day I leave - the 30th May - with a 'star chart' to coundown the days.  Josh, though initially apprehensive about medication, is much happier now that I am starting to be more myself.  I am now looking forward to the upcoming Feria de Abril in Seville, a trip to a theme park, and seeing Josh in two weeks time to celebrate our second anniversary. 

I know I still have a long way to go, but at least I feel I am in control once again, and that I am able to start to enjoy my last month in Spain.  

If you're reading this, and think that anything sounds familiar, please go and speak to a doctor: I am so glad and grateful that I did, and now I am on the road to recovery.  And if you need someone to talk to, please do not hesitate to contact me at coquetin.blogger@gmail.com, or contact Mind, a UK charity that supports sufferers of depression.  Talking is the best thing you can do. 

xx