Last Christmas…

I was mostly drunk. This year, to save me from tears I’ll give it a try being sober.

No, but really…this year is going to be different for so many reasons. Clearly there’s the obvious festive corona in the air but that’s actually not having a massive impact on my Christmas.

This year not only will it be my first ever sober Christmas since I was 17 years old….a whole 23 years ago! But it will also be my first Christmas at home with both my Mum and Dad since 2008.

I really do feel for all the people who won’t get the Christmas they planned or hoped for but I’ve not had a Christmas like this for a while so I can’t bloody wait.

But I have been there, Christmas alone, family miles (and miles) away, mental health wavering and a very sad looking Christmas tree with maybe one or two presents under it. Some years I got through it okay, some years I got through it…but only just.

It’s a weird one for me because there were years when I loved being able to do Christmas my way. No schedule to stick to, no pressure in the kitchen and being able to watch whatever I wanted on tv. But there were other years where I was really flat. I’d miss my family who were been celebrating on the other side of the world, I’d struggle seeing all my friends on social media enjoying the day with their loved ones and even though deep down I knew it was just another day, sometime years Christmas alone was really shitty.

So for all of you NOT spending it completely alone this year hear me out for a second. Because you can make somebody else’s Christmas a little less shitty. Maybe you can’t have everyone you wanted over for the day. Or maybe you’ve had to cancel your plans and it’s going to be more subdued then you’d originally hoped. Whatever changes you’ve had to make just take a few moments to think about someone who will be alone. Completely alone.

They might not need an invite. They probably don’t want a fuss. They will most likely tell you that they’ll be fine. But just a few messages or a quick phone call to check in on them can make a whole world of difference. I remember that I would get a fair few invites the weeks leading up to Christmas Day. But then on the actual day, nobody really sent anything more then the blanket ‘Merry Christmas’ text. I didn’t really want to be part of someone else’s family Christmas so personally I chose to be alone. But, that didn’t mean I wanted to be forgotten.

Loneliness is tough at the best of times. But over the holidays it just hits harder. And this year…well, I can only imagine how some people are going to be feeling. I think the best thing everyone can do this year is to be mindful. Be mindful of your actions, your thoughts, what you post on social media. Be mindful of what others are doing, feeling and saying.

So yes, that’s my message…

Have a mindful Christmas everyone.

Mental illness, medication and me.

Today, a friend posted on Instagram about her recent struggles and how her mental health has deteriorated enough to warrant new medication. She was already taking anti anxiety meds and how now been put on an anti-depressant of sorts; I know this because I’ve been prescribed both in the past. Anyway having only known her a short time I have seen how she’s gone from being quite guarded about her struggles with alcohol and her mental health to opening up and sharing her journey in such a brave and beautiful way.

On the flip side I was talking to another one of my new sober pals this week and she was telling me about how bad her anxiety gets. I have suffered from anxiety in the past but nowhere near as severe as this. It made me sad for her. Knowing that your thoughts can become so intrusive and debilitating that you start to believe the most ridiculous things that then impact your daily life. Anxiety is not just getting stressed and worrying, it can be so much bigger and scarier then that. When I asked her if she had seen her GP about it, she said she was worried they would think she was crazy. I didn’t like that she would even consider using those words but then I remembered how I often used to call myself crazy when I was with friends. It was a way to make light of something that was actually pretty frightening and serious.

Anyway the point of this post is to actually tell you about my experience with mental health and medication. I’ve been on and off medication for about the last 10 years or so. I’ve been on a variety of different things, mostly antidepressants, occasionally meds for my anxiety and once I was even on a lovely cocktail of stuff for my depression, panic attacks and insomnia. Over the years my thoughts on taking medication for my mental health has varied. There are times when I’ve been prescribed something and been reluctant to take it. Times when I’ve been so desperate for some sort of respite for my mind and haven’t given my prescription a second thought. Almost every time though, when I have gotten to the point of stability, when my moods are less turbulent I’ve always slowly come off what ever I was taking. I think the reasons were based on a mix of the physical affects of the medication but also the idea of having to be on them.

I have been on my current meds for a little over 2 years now. I am taking Sertraline and up until last month I was on the maximum dose. Now bearing in mind that they probably weren’t even doing what they should have been doing while I was drinking, I’ve probably only really had the full benefits for the past 6 months. Still, I made the decision last month that I wanted to start decreasing my dose with the hope that eventually I will not need them. That was until a few days ago.

Glennon Doyle was someone I hadn’t heard of until earlier this year when I saw the front cover of her new book, Untamed plastered all over instagram. At first I thought it was just another quit-lit type affair which I’m not against but doesn’t quite float my boat all that much; so I didn’t really think anything of it. But more and more people were declaring it a ‘must read’, so last week I used one of my free credits and got the audible version. The verdict: not quit-lit, but instead a compilation of stories and life lessons which I think most of us would benefit from hearing about. There was a little too much motherhood talk in there; which obviously is no bad thing but just not something I can really relate to. Some people think it’s a bit heavy on religion but that part didn’t bother me, in fact I love learning about people’s faiths because I’m a bit weird like that. Anyway the point I am trying to get to is she talks about her mental health and medication. She made a really good point in that why would we decide to stop using something that is making us feel better. Surely the point is that it’s working and to stop it would leave you at risk of suffering again. This made me think about the times I’d come off my medication after months of feeling better only to relapse and sometimes find myself in even worse of a situation.

One thing I want to make clear is that I’m not someone who would opt for medication if there are other options. The idea of filling my body with chemicals I know very little about doesn’t bode well with me. And don’t worry the irony of that statement isn’t lost on me, I clearly didn’t include alcohol in that category for many years. But I live in different times now and having removed one of the biggest toxins from my life I am much more cautious about the other things that go into my body. So I am very much open to healing of a different nature and undergo regular reiki therapy courtesy of my lovely Dad and I practice meditation. And of course there’s what I believe to be one of the best medicines out there; the art of conversation. Therapy is in my opinion underrated and should be considered by everyone whether they think they need it or not. I think people would be pleasantly surprised by the benefits of talking to someone about their life, even if just to use the other person as a sounding board.

Basically what I think I’m trying to say is that don’t see medication as too much of a big deal when it comes to mental health. If you have tried alternatives and have seen little improvement then just be open to the idea. At least go and talk to the GP about it. They can’t force you to take anything and even I on many occasions have come home with a prescription and never had the medication dispensed because I’ve decided against it. So whilst I don’t think my mental health has ever been this good I have decided that I will stay on my lower dose for the time being…and possibly forever. Because right now, that coupled with the other things I do seems to be working really well. So I see no reason to change it.