Be More Edison

Last year, I published a post about Thomas Edison. 2nd January 1879 was the day that Edison began work on his first generator, only to see his life’s work go up in flames in 1914. Yet was he deterred? Not at all. Almost 70, he simply began all over again.

For me this is what January, and New Year, is all about. It is a time of year when everyone is reflecting, looking back at the year gone by and making plans for the year to come. It is important to be aware that this reflection makes it a challenging time of year for many, especially if personal tragedies have occurred. I like the Thomas Edison anecdote because it is all about renewal and rejecting regret. Regrets, and the expectations that lead to them, are the biggest foes of mental wellbeing in January.

Be More Edison

This year, I too am starting over. Our little family has grown and new life has brought rejuvenation. The past year was filled with personal reflection and emotional exploration as I attempted to regain some past integrity I felt had been lost through traumatic experience.

The initial ambition when I created this blog was to find solace, and perhaps provide some too, along the way. Now, I feel refreshed, thanks to you dear reader, I have persevered and gained confidence.  Like Edison, I have begun rebuilding, forming a disposition that I recognise from before my mental health broke down and becoming suicidal. Recovery, especially from an emotional injury, is a long journey, but I do believe it to be possible, however long it takes.

Take your time.

Where to Start?

Mental illness can be all consuming and because it is invisible can take longer to recognise, diagnose and understand.

Identifying the triggers for episodes of mental ill-health is an important place to begin. The trigger is the connection between the symptoms you experience and their root cause, most frequently a past experience. It’s working backwards to move forwards.

If you have been following my blog for a while, you will be aware that the trigger for my depression and suicidal thoughts was a series of negative relationships and intense academic anxiety. However, my anxiety is much more ingrained and has a root buried much deeper in the past.

Over the last year, I have begun to mentally excavate around the root. This began by assessing my panic attacks and identifying when the latest one started, working back from the obsessive behaviour to its trigger.

This is a good place to start because it does not require going outside, getting dressed, or even leaving the safety of a duvet cocoon.

Once identified, triggers can be used during grounding to re-centre and gradually gain control over mental illness, instead of feeling that it is control of you. It took me years, but I can now identify activities that are more likely than others to affect my mental wellbeing. As a result, I can be selective in my actions. This does not mean avoiding triggers outright. But it means that I can choose to engage with a stressor and feel in control or disengage from it if I am already feeling overwhelmed.

This isn’t about ‘Saying No’, which so many people find difficult. This is about self-awareness and being able to use that awareness to cope with the things you say yes too. Personally, I think it is generally good to say yes. Yes is positive, it makes you feel capable, because you are capable. If you didn’t know that on some level, you’re subconscious wouldn’t have jumped in and said yes on your behalf before the rest of your brain had thought it all through.

Have faith in yourself and your abilities, even if, like Edison, you have some rebuilding to do.

 

Advertisements

Medication in Pregnancy

I thought it was about time I put all these hospital visits to good use. I have now been prescribed pretty much everything you can be prescribed for pain during pregnancy (in the UK), and had numerous doctors explain to me what medications I can and cannot take.

I hope that this post will help you gain a little more information about medications during your pregnancy experience and reduce the amount of scrolling through the world-wide web.

This post covers Paracetamol, Ibuprofen, Codeine and Co-codamol.

Where This Post Began

For those of you who have been following my pregnancy journey, you will know that 3 weeks ago I was in the Out of Hours clinic at the hospital, and then the maternity unit in the next town. This resulted in a diagnosis of renal colic, likely resulting from a kidney stone.

I discussed how pregnant women can become more susceptible to kidney stones (although there is no increased risk associaed with pregnancy) because of the extra pressure all your organs undergo during gestation.

Kidney stones can take a while to pass by themselves and treatment, both of the stone and of the accompanying pain, are limited during pregnancy. X-rays are the most reliable screening test (although ultrasound can be used with mixed results), but of course radiation would never be used anywhere near a developing fetus.

Pain Relief: Paracetamol, Codeine and Co-codamol

Due to the extreme agony of renal colic and the limited options for pain relief in pregnancy (under usual circumstances Paracetamol is the maximum and then recommended to be used as little as possible), it is very common for women to be admitted to hospital if they develop stones during pregnancy.

Medications containing Codeine should only be used under  prescription during pregnancy because it contains opiates, and should not be taken at all during the first and third trimesters as it is during these developmental stages that baby will be most effected by its use.

I was prescribed Co-codamol (which combines Codeine and Paracetamol) because if you have ever had renal colic you will be aware that regular painkillers just don’t touch it.

Unfortunately, I did not react well to these tablets (and to be perfectly  honest was not keen on taking even prescribed medication with opiates in it). They made me dizzy, disoriented and extremely nauseous. They numbed the pain beautifully, but made me completely disfunctional.

When you react negatively to Co-codamol, you just plain react badly to it. Attempts to reduce the dosage and prescriptions of straight Codeine, are unlikely to have any different results.

What are Your Alternatives? 

Whilst the tablets reduced the pain  enough for me to deliver walking tours, the side effects would have made me a health and safety nightmare. With my additional reluctance over what the tablets contained, I stopped taking them and headed off to the doctor.

She prescribed just straight Paracetamol and told me that to make it effective, I would need to keep on taking it every 4 to 6 hour. As you will note from the link above, this is not ideal.

Ibuprofen should also always be taken with care, not for prolonged periods, and is ideally completely avoided during pregnancy.

So in answer to the initial question, there are very few alternative options.

When (as in this instance) screening tests make you certain that the pain is not related to baby (always a relief to any expecting parent) it is the case that the pain is not a complication of the pregnancy, but that treatment of the cause is complicated because of the pregnancy.

Personal Update and Notes on Buscopan

This was my final alternative for the pain I was experiencing. For two weeks following the initial hospital visit, the pain became gradually less severe and to my relief I was able to manage it without going near Codeine.

But last week, suddenly the pain spiked once again and rather than occurring centrally, moved around to my back, concerning me that it was kidney related. Once again, we ended up with a midnight trip to hospital, numerous blood tests and multiple medical opinions.

There seemed to be some surprise that I had received the diagnosis of kidney stones without any screening tests (as I mentioned above, you won’t be x-rayed during pregnancy due to radiation, but ultrasounds can be used, although they are less effective in this area).  Currently, I have been re-diagnosed with constant, considerable abdominal pain of unknown cause.

After a lengthy but pleasant discussion with the doctor, there was one final painkiller we could try, Buscopan. This was because of the new conclusion that the pain wasn’t renal and the guess was that perhaps it could be bowel related.

Buscopan is usually used to treat conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), menstrual cramping and other forms of cramps and internal spasms. For the majority, it has no side effects making it a suitable alternative for those who react negatively to Codeine. There is, however, a very long list of instances in which you should not take Buscopan, and like Ibuprofen it is not a solution for long term pain relief.

Where We Are at Present

Ultimately, it is feasible that 3 weeks ago when the first round of hospital trips and tests began, I did have something (the professional jury still seems to be out as to whether it was a stone or not) irritating my kidneys, but although I am still experiencing considerable abdominal discomfort, it is now unlikely to be kidney related.

I am relieved, kidneys are vital organs and no one wants there to be something wrong with them. Whilst it is daunting to be experiencing unexplained abdominal pain, it is reassuring to know that all the blood tests have come back clear, showing that the kidneys are functioning properly. These blood tests also indicate that there is not infection or inflammation, which suggests that if there was a kidney stone, it is not the cause of this current pain and that it isn’t a urinary tract infection (UTI) or anything else too be overly worried about.

This is good news because it is when these (otherwise unrelated conditions) result in infections or fevers that they can start to impact the developing fetus.

I can gain comfort from a referral to get an ultrasound scan on my kidneys next week. 

As ever, if you are experiencing any medical concerns, always seek professional assistance. 

 

Lessons from Blogging: Blogging and Mental Health

So the Month of Writing didn’t happen, and it’s not looking good for this month either.

All advice to new bloggers focuses on regularity of posting and consistency of content. This blog is eclectic at best and irratic at most. Thus, my apologies to you generous souls who have taken the time to read, like, comment and follow this blog. You are greatly appreciated by me.

For a young woman who was drowning in depression at the beginning of the year, who felt she had no voice and nothing to add to the mass of information media, the past few months have been astounding. Thank you for being part of a blogging experience that has led to increased confidence and value of self.

Benefits of Blogging for Mental Health

I have posted a few times in the past about the benefits of Blogging and Creative Writing for mental health.

For me, blogging provides a  space for focused reflection and increased freedom of expression. It can be a platform to help you feel connected rather than isolated through your thoughts and writing.

The anonymity of an unpersonalised site, such as this one, can help you feel secure enough to explore the personal, whilst keeping the most intimate details – the when, where, who – private. You are in control of sharing your experience and choosing to reveal your blogging identity to others.

This security for exploration and expression can build strength and self worth and empower others to reflect on, or even share, their experiences.

Blogging Challenges 

There were (well, are) two main difficulties I encountered when I started to seriously consider blogging.

1) Anxiety.

It can be very daunting to put anything online for the world to see (coupled with the worry that no one in that world is looking). This feeling may decrease or diminish over time, but personally, I still get an adrenaline rush before I press ‘publish’ and I am always editing and agonising over individual words and phrases (even after publishing!).

2) Consistency.

To be frank, that I jump about with the topics I cover doesn’t really concern me. This blog was always intended to be a personal exploration, and as I detailed in the post Dreaming of the Temple, I deliberately chose the name because of the scope I felt it had for content.

I do, however, find myself getting a bit jittery if I haven’t posted for a while.

Partially, this is because I really enjoy blogging, it has become my cathartic hobby, but also due to concern for blogging reality.

There is so much information media that without regular new content even the most dedicated visitors to your blog (again, thank you!) will slip away and your site will lose interest. This introduces yet another pressure for those who are trying to use blogging as part of a process of healing.

It is challenging, especially for those affected by ill mental health, to maintain an established posting frequency. This may be due to a whole range of personal life factors; a new/additional job or increased workload, a change in circumstances or situation, or any other element that you feel impacts upon your ability to post at the time or frequency you had intended.

Stop the Vicious Cycle

I have yet to encounter anyone who has not, at some point, felt that they should have done something differently, or better. But the truth is, for most of us, most of the time, what we did was the best that we could do in that particular moment, in that particular situation, with that amount of time, and those resources.

Consequently, we all need to stop telling ourselves that we could do better. This results in the negative Thought Spiral  that culminates with us not only beating ourselves up over the unchangeable past, but also being pessimistic about the future.

Stemming from the idea ‘I should have done that better’, leading to the notion ‘I should be better’, resulting in unrealistic, unmotivated targets that we then beat ourselves up for not achieving and perpetuating the cycle.

Whilst I am confident that if you truly have an element of yourself or your life that you are eager to work on or improve, that you will achieve your goal, it needs to be a positively motivated change to succeed. The cycle described above is not positive. It drains your energy and diminishes your capacity to achieve your goal.

This is my most recent lesson from blogging. 

Whatever your motivation for blogging, personal or business, it can be tough going in the beginning. To develop a voice, a niche and a sense of regularity. Therefore, you need to enjoy it. Blogging can be stressful but also great fun. Let it be fun.

I was getting jittery because I didn’t post at all last week. My mum and her partner came up from England to help us decorate four rooms ready for the new arrival. It was fast-paced but we did it. I was in what my colleague refers to as the ‘dormouse phase’ when the developing baby makes you want to sleep all the time. At times, the pavement has looked quite comfortable!

I was exhausted, covered in paint and had no clue what to write about. I felt I had lost my voice, I had nothing to say, and that this was it for me and blogging.

However, as with anything else creative, it needs and takes time. It’s not something that you can knock out in 5 minutes, it usually takes me 2 hours to just draft a post that I am content with. It isn’t something that you can force or squeeze into a tea break. The more pressure you feel the harder it will seem. Take a walk, a deep breath, and suddenly something will spark inspiration. Let it be fun.

Breaking the Vicious (Laundry) Cycle

Mental illness can begin to create vicious cycles for those who suffer it. Depending on your triggers you can end up in a perpetual state of anxiety or depression, or both.

If you are feeling overwhelmed by the washing up, the growing laundry pile, the state of the kitchen floor, somehow, you have to break the cycle. This is not easy. It is never easy to face, what I think we can reasonably term, fears. By no means are you afraid of the washing up, you don’t think it will cause you harm, but the biological response is similar; sweating, tension and accelerated heart-rate. A routine chore, like washing up, is causing you to stress.

Getting Started

The process will be slow. It will have false starts and perhaps false positives too. The thing with washing (dishes or clothes) is that there is always more of it. You finally face and overcome the stress, complete the task and almost immediately it is back.

It gets bounded about a lot but really and truly the most effective way to break the cycle is to break it down.

Personally, I came across the advice to new mums of doing a load of laundry everyday. Now, you probably are not going through outfits at the rate of a 3-month-old, but the principle applies. Whilst I was at the height of my depression (I refuse to term it depths as ironically I think it sounds too negative) I was effectively acting out the rule out of sight, out of mind. I would put laundry in suitcases, inside moving boxes, anywhere that I didn’t have to look at it.

The result, of course, is a huge amount of laundry in all methods of storage apart from where clothes usually live, such as a wardrobe or a chest of drawers. Following the advice to new mums, to deal with the laundry load, I decided to do a wash a day in the effort to get on top of things.

Results 

In addition to finally getting the laundry done, and ensuring that it never gets this out of control again, this has the benefit of instilling a feeling of accomplishment. To those who have not suffered the incapacitation that can accompany mental illness this may sound unbelievable, but if like me you have been filled with dread every time your mind turns to your growing collection of laundry hiding places, you will know how elusive this feeling can be. As soon as you receive even the slightest sense of accomplishment you feel more able to complete another small task. This in turn encourages you to do more, and suddenly you have a day that you can feel positive about, and therefore feel positive about yourself.

A Step Further

With the motivation from accomplishing this routine task, I started having a full-on Spring Clean kind of tidy-up. This is when trouble can set in, and it has for me in the past. The initial high spirits from completing that first laundry load usually only last for a finite time, a few hours perhaps. You can therefore end up with more mess than you started with, without the energy to do anything about it, and end up back in the presence of Self-loathing once again.

This is the cycle all suffers of mental illness are trying to move beyond. So when I started to clean out, this time, I was armed with clean bin bags (rubbish bin liners). If anyone is concerned about the environmental impact of this, fear not, once the bin bags have been used to help you fulfil your laundry task, they can then be used in your rubbish bin.

So This is the Idea

I wanted to eliminate laundry as a trigger of a downward thought spiral. I wanted to push through the pile of laundry I had, be left with an empty laundry basket (pretend it was just the laundry basket that was full) and start over, this time keeping the amount under control. I wanted to the results to be visible.

Hence the bin bags.

I sorted through the laundry (whites, delicates, jumpers, darks, bedding and so on) and put each type into its own (or multiple – I have lots of non-descript dark clothing) bin bag. This broke down the process even further. It stopped me connecting the notion of doing laundry to the masses concealed in the various suitcases, boxes and so forth. Instead, I just had to focus on a single bag at a time. It takes a load, sometimes two, to empty a bag and it prolonged the feeling of accomplishment from completing the overall task.

Before I started suffering with depression, laundry was just a task and it didn’t need any additional consideration. Now it does. But I know that I am not alone with this and I hope this method will help you regain control and end your vicious laundry cycle too.

Productivity: Elusive and Blissful

Regaining a sense of productivity can be one of the hardest aspects of recovering from mental illness. When we are physically sick understanding and patience are more widely available. If a physical illness is long term then it can be very emotional, frustrating and life changing for all involved. But one of the biggest challenges with mental illness is that it is invisible.

The Effect of Mental Illness on Work and Everyday Life

When we have good relationships with friends, family and colleagues they can pick up on even small changes in our behaviour, body-language or voice that can indicate that something is not as it usually is. But everyone has their own struggles and if the earliest indications are missed then the individual may have already distanced themselves to the extent that there is not that closeness with which to be aware of the more drastic developments with ill-health and it becomes invisible.

Some individuals, such as myself, may have to get sick leave from work when the illness prevents them from successfully completing assignments, interacting with people, or even getting out of bed in the morning. Severe mental illness can inhibit individuals from effectively completing day to day tasks such as washing up, laundry and even aspects of personal hygiene.

The hopeful outcome is that even those of us who hit rock bottom will find the strength and light within us, assisted or unassisted by medication, professionals or loved ones, to regain full health, awareness and maybe eventually return to work. Sadly, this is not the case for all but I am one of the lucky ones and can only write from my own experiences.

Return to Work

I still have wobbles about work. I have just completed my annual review and it was tough for someone so self-critical and pessimistic to focus on successes and find things to be ‘proud’ of. When I returned to work I didn’t feel ready at all. I felt drained and groggy as if I had crawled out from hibernation and it took a lot for me to be able to face my colleagues again. I wasn’t confident about performing stories and still didn’t even like going beyond the front door. There are still days when I can’t face leaving the house and catching the train into the city feels overwhelming even though it a direct line.

It is difficult when you are effectively at war with yourself every time you try to accomplish something. Everyone has self-doubt and negativity from time to time and lots of jobs are very stressful these days. But when you have mental illness these periods are not temporary. The voice of self-loathing is constantly bullying you from within your own brain. You spend twice as much time worrying as actually doing and each worry makes the task seem so much bigger. Then there’s the agonising you do once the task is completed. Worrying about whether it was good enough and beating yourself up for not having done it sooner or quicker and all the while preventing yourself from moving on to the next task.

Have Patience and Be Kind to Yourself

We are our harshest critics. We will tell others that they should slow down, take a break, stop being so hard on themselves, but we are (for the most part) useless at taking this advice ourselves. I volunteered for a charity that supported those with mental illness. I sat at the end of a phone listening to others tell me about their experiences and I would see all the warning signs. It was part of my job to spot the triggers and ask the difficult question: Are you feeling suicidal? To try and help others give words to how they were feeling. 

I missed all the signs for myself. I told myself that what I was feeling wasn’t real, it was all in my head, that I was attention seeking, pathetic, weak. But I have to be patient with myself. I have to give myself permission to slow down, to take a break, to heal.

I am not the same as I was before I was suicidal. I don’t have as much energy, my memory isn’t as good and I can’t take on as much as I could before. This makes me feel like I am not achieving as much, that I am not productive.

Loss of Perspective and Regaining Productivity

As a result, I seem to have lost all perspective on time. I am no longer assigning reasonable, achievable timescales to the tasks I am hoping to complete. If the goal is designed from the outset to be unachievable, then the feeling of failure will creep in before you have even begun and snuff out all your motivation. This is how productivity can become elusive.

But when it happens, productivity can be blissful. The same way that unachievable goals, which are only that way because they have not been fully planned out, accurately time scaled or suitably prepared for, can lead to a tailspin of negativity, anxiety and depression; the completion of even the smallest, simplest task, can buoy up, motivate and brighten.

Moving Forward

There is a lot of advice out there on how to be productive. There’s a lot of stipulation about what time to get up in the morning, when to go to bed, how much to drink, what you should eat; endless lists on how to be successful. Yet, everyone is different. I feel most productive when I get up early because I work best during daylight hours, but my husband works best later at night because it is quiet and there are less disturbances from emails and the like.

Does it matter? There is so much emphasis on changing everything about your routine, your diet, your exercise pattern to become better, more, to be successful. If you are recovering from any form of mental illness that is immediately going to be overwhelming and you will have your head under the covers again waiting for it to go away. I know because I did just that.

So don’t change. At least, not all at once. Just reach out your arm to the nearest writing materials you have. You’re phone is probably in arms reach so type a note or a text to yourself and list 5 things that you can do that day that will be an achievement. Whether it is getting dressed, brushing your teeth, having a shower, it doesn’t matter. Being able to check, cross or delete things off of that list will make you feel stronger, it will let you be able to move on to the next thing. Start as small and as simple as you need to. Then build it up.