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.

But I thought you were doing better?

So did I, so did I…

And I am, but doesn’t mean I don’t feel the not so good days. And now I really feel them. Like intensely. Without alcohol I feel everything.

This weekend something felt off. I didn’t start my day as I usually do. There was no meditating, no connecting with my higher self and no visualising a beach or a meadow. I figured one day ‘off’ wouldn’t hurt, except that it’s not something I need to take a day off from because I enjoy doing it so that was definitely a massive faux pas on my part.

So my day continued, I felt deeply un-zen like but Disney’s Aladdin was on TV so it wasn’t all that bad. After I’d finished my magic carpet ride I decided to pick up a drawing project I’d started when I was in India. When lockdown started I couldn’t get the art supplies (posh paper) I needed so I put it to one side and just assumed I’d find my wanna be artist vibe again at some point. Turns out some point was Saturday.

It was a pleasant couple of hours because the rents were in another room and I was blasting some killer tunes; and by killer I mean the likes of Carly Simon (you’re so vain) and The Boss (Badlands). I know, I know I have THE best taste in music. Born in the wrong decade possibly, but still!

It was my turn to cook dinner on Saturday so I made a start early because I quite like having the kitchen to myself. Nothing fancy, just a roast chicken dinner and a vegetable pie for my Dad. But I never keep things simple and of course had to make the pie from scratch (pastry included) and have proper roasties. We are not the traditional Sunday roast type people so on the odd occasion we do make a roast dinner we tend to go a bit overboard for a midweek (or in this case a Saturday night) dinner. So anyway, I cooked, we ate and then we retired to the drawing room and finished the evening with cigars and a single malt. Obviously not, in fact I think I barely sat around before I decided to go up to bed.

Having not meditated in the morning and with my head still in a bit of a funk I decided I’d give it another go. I’d also read something about a lion and gate being very significant in the astrology realm so I found something fitting on YouTube and closed my eyes and went on my search for the lion and the gate. For those who are interested this is the guided meditation I followed Lions Gate, I found the experience quite incredible actually so give it a try if it’s your thing.

Doing anything remotely relaxing at night time normally sends me off to the land of nod pretty quickly these days but on Saturday those bloody negativity gremlins started whispering in my ear didn’t they?! Little fuckers with their creepy sniggering and giggling. I needed a distraction so I consulted Amazon Prime and it came up with the goods. A very interesting documentary about the civil rights activist Joan Trumpauer Mulholland. Look it up, it’s an excellent watch – An Ordinary Hero. That was another big sign that I wasn’t feeling joyful as I tend to find comfort in dark depressing documentaries or episodes of Greys Anatomy that are particular sad when I feel like shit. So I watched about an hour before eventually falling asleep.

Yesterday morning I woke up and instead of learning my lesson from the day before I again decided not to doing any of my usual morning stuff. I didn’t even journal and I really should have. Because I knew what was bothering me and I needed to get it out my head before it started to fester and grow arms and legs. But I didn’t did I? No, because I’m an idiot.

I knew I wasn’t going to get anything productive done so I opted to chill in my room, finish watching my documentary and write content for my blog. None of that happened, instead I napped. It was a good nap. My mind rested and the gremlins stopped laughing at me for a little while.

Didn’t do much for the rest of the day. Went outside for a bit to collect worms for my mums compost bin. That was fun. I like worms. Watched a bit of TV, had dinner and then sat in the conservatory with Louis and finished my art project…again with some cracking tunes. I then ended up having a good cry because, well I’m not sure to be honest. I just felt like there was this immense pressure building up in me and I needed to let it out. So I cried. It helped.

I don’t want to go into what happened that put me in such a weird headspace all weekend. What I do want to say is that even when you’re in a stronger place mentally it doesn’t take much for something or someone to make you wobble. And for anyone who has struggled with their mental health, self sabotaging thoughts and anxiety you’ll know that a wobble can spiral very quickly. And 6 months ago I definitely would have spun out, fast. I would have resorted to alcohol which would have led to more self destructive behavior and I’d be feeling ten times worse today.

So yes, just because I’m doing better doesn’t mean I don’t get knocked down or hurt. Yes I’m stronger but I’m also still a very sensitive person. And life is particularly confusing right now so try not to be a shitty person. Especially to those that don’t deserve it.

Connect with me

“Social connection is such a basic feature of human experience that when we are deprived of it, we suffer.” ~ Leonard Mlodinow

No, I don’t mean send me a message. I mean, actually connect. Let me explain…

As a species we are not meant to live like lone wolves, we are hardwired for connection. The need to be social is in our make up. But I’m not talking social like going out with your mates on a midweek bender. No, I mean on a deeper level.

We want to be seen for we are. We want to be understood. And that only comes from a true connection, a meeting of minds or better still a meeting of souls.

When we lose someone in our life whether it’s at the end of [any kind of] relationship or saying goodbye forever it frickin hurts. Or does it? What is that feeling? We’ve all felt it at some point in our lives and we call it pain or hurt. But it’s not the same as feeling physical “my finger has fallen off” type pain is it? Turns out social pain is a thing…a real thing. So if you have to take time to heal from physical pain then why is it any different when you suffer the loss of a human connection?

Now I think there’s a whole heap of shit that needs exploring here but I want to go back to the ‘need’ rather than the ‘loss’. I think our need for connection is underestimated. I always used to think I was over reacting when I got jealous of people hanging out with friends or partners even if they were technically ‘staying in’ or ‘doing nothing’. For me, who was going home to her dog (momma loves you Louis) their none plans were still better than mine. And yes, I know it sounds pathetic. And yes, there were tiny violins everywhere. But it doesn’t take away from the fact I felt shit.

But now I know it was more than me just throwing myself a pity party. I mean, of course it was mostly that. But It was also my need as a person to have that human connection. Like we genuinely need it for health reasons, it’s been proven! It reduces anxiety, depression and low self esteem. Those who lack human connection are said to be prone to inflammation, heart problems, ageing and devastatingly, suicide.

And it’s more than just having someone to spend time with or talk to. We emanate those we connect with, consciously and subconsciously. So not only is it important to make and have connections, it’s important that we be aware of how those connections impact us.

Anyone keeping count of how many times I’ve used the word ‘connection’?

One final point on this subject which I’m now realising is HUGE is connections with a purpose. I worked 5 years in a job where I was surrounded by people all day. I made some very good friends there, but some connections weren’t as strong as I thought. But such is life. Now I’m self employed and with my business being an online one you might think connections are a scarcity. Well it’s actually the complete opposite. I may not be meeting people face to face every day but the connections I’m making are meaningful. They have depth because we are connecting over things like mental health, insecurities and sobriety. People assume that I just ‘sell products’, and you can call it that if you want. But it’s not really like that. My business is about making connections with people, getting to know them and finding out ways in which I can help them. It doesn’t always result in me selling a product and it doesn’t have to either. My aim is to help, in any way I can so if that’s just having a chat, offering suggestions or even signposting them to something else then that’s what I’ll do.

So like I said up top, connect with me. Whatever your reason I’m here to help you, listen to you, laugh with you and if you want to, put the world to rights with you! ✌🏽

A Sober Education

Who’d have thought? Not a drop of alcohol has passed my lips in 151 days. I am pretty proud of myself but not because of my incredible willpower or determination, because to be honest it’s not really been like that for me. Not this time around anyway. I can’t really explain why but I’ve not really had any cravings, moments of ‘my life is going to be so fucking boring now, why could I not just drink sensibly like all the normal people out there?’ or even felt the need to fill the giant vodka bottle sized gap in my life with alcohol free beverages. It’s actually been pretty smooth sailing….so far. I am under no illusion that this is going to be a doddle and I’m never going to think about alcohol again, because that’s just stupidity at its finest. I am yet to try sober socialising, I have my first sober birthday since I was 17 coming up in a few months (and it’s a big one!) and I’ve just realized that if I ever decide that looking for love is a good idea again I’m going to have to go on a sober date! FML!

Anyway I digress. So, proud. Yes I am. Why? Because it’s given me the opportunity to go back to school. Sober school that is. No, not the online one. The imaginary one I made up so I could be a student again. A student of life! I’ve just said that out loud and I sound like a twat, but stick with me here.

I’ve learned more in the last 5 months than I did at school, university or in any job I’ve had. It’s been an incredible journey so far, so many light bulb moments and epiphanies. When alcohol was my pal, I spent so much of my time confused, lost, misunderstood. In fact I didn’t even really understand myself if I’m honest. I didn’t know who I was and now looking back, I think I spent too much of my time trying to be like other people just to fit in. No bloody wonder I was depressed. Feeling like you don’t belong or unsure of your identity is not a nice place to be. It’s actually incredibly lonely and I think as a society we underestimate the impact loneliness has on people. You don’t have to be elderly to be lonely, in fact I think older people accept loneliness better than most. I know for me watching people in my life; friends, colleagues etc go about there day to day lives with their families, other friends, partners made me feel like shit. It’s not like I didn’t have friends I just didn’t have a regular crowd to hang out with so to speak. So I hung out on my own…well, maybe not completely alone. Had my buddy booze there with me didn’t I?!

So what’s so different now? Well, since me and alcohol parted ways I feel like it took with it the dark cloud that used it hang over me, so I can see so much better now the skies are clear. I can see myself again and as a result I’m more aware and less dismissive of the impact my thoughts and actions have on myself and others. Having this clarity and self awareness gives me a sense of control that I didn’t have before. I always thought I was in control and it was my decision to do the things I did but if I wasn’t myself, how could it have been?

I’ve also done a lot of soul searching since going sober…wait is it going or getting? Anyway I’m talking actual soul searching. The spiritual kind, where you try and connect with your higher self and see the bigger picture. I never thought all that stuff was a bunch of crap, but I also didn’t think it was for me. Turns out I was wrong. Not only is it very much me and has opened up a whole new world for me, but I actually think everyone could do with checking out their spiritual side. You don’t even need to meditate, just google soul vs ego and I promise you, you’ll find out a lot about yourself!

Having found spiritual Shaena my life is so much more peaceful and calm now. I get less irate about things and even if something really annoys me I try not to react, but instead pause and take a breath. I also have way more patience and I find myself enjoying the simplest of things. I can’t even remember the last time I was in a bad mood which is saying something considering my whole life used to be a bad mood.

There’s so much more I could say about sober life and I’m sure you’ll get plenty more snippets in future blog posts but the last thing I want to mention today is people. I have made the most incredible connections via Instagram, I’m honestly blown away. I’m no stranger to making friends online, a few years ago I was following this fitness program and connected with a few girls who were doing it too. I think that was in 2015, since then I’ve been to 2 of their weddings, had 2 weekend cottage breaks with them and there was even a trip to New York! Madness! Anyway the sober community on Instagram is so welcoming and supportive. Obviously you don’t click with every single person but in just a few months I can definitely say I’ve gained at least 5 new friends. It’s funny actually, so many people worry about their friendships changing when they decide to stop drinking. I get it, I was worried too. But it’s true what they say about people all having a different role in your life and not everyone is there to stay. When you make changes to your lifestyle, some people adapt and evolve with you but others, their role in your life comes to an end. And that’s ok, because chances are you new lifestyle choice will bring a whole bunch of new people into your life.

So here’s to 5 months and to my continued education at sober school.

Cheers!