My Personal Warning Signs of Depression

In a recent therapy session, my therapist and I were talking about this latest depressive episode and what I’ve learned from it. Because I’ve learned A LOT. I’m not ‘un-depressed’ yet but coming out of it a bit has given me a new perspective on it, on my depression and how it affects me. Hopefully that perspective will be helpful to me in the future. Because depression can creep in very slowly, you don’t always notice the signs but in hindsight, there are a handful of things that should be red flags in my mind. Maybe being aware of these things can help me prevent the depression getting as bad as it did this time.

  • Unable to write songs – I don’t mean a bit stuck. I mean a continued inability to reach the level of functioning necessary to write songs. Songwriters, do you know what I mean? I know exactly the feeling I mean when I write this and although it does sometimes come out of nowhere, it is the biggest sign that depression is creeping in again. It’s very distressing to be unable to do the thing I love the most.
  • Losing my excitement – This was something I didn’t realise was gone until it returned. I’d get excited about things in theory but I assumed the dampened emotional response was just part of the depression numbness. But since I’ve started to feel better, my excitement has resurfaced about as dramatically as a volcano. It’s fun but a bit disconcerting. So, in future, if my excitement seems to have gone AWOL, I know that it’s a potential sign of depression.
  • Overwhelming anxiety about the future – I am always anxious about the future so this is a tricky one but when it becomes overwhelming and it feels like more than I can cope with, than I could ever cope with, and it goes on for an extended period of time, it’s a symptom of my depression.
  • Feeling hopeless – Similar to the previous one, feeling overwhelmed by hopelessness is a real sign of a depressive episode. It feels like everything inside me has stilled, like there’s a new, sharp clarity to everything. Everything becomes very simple and really pointless. We all feel hopeless now and then but when this feeling doesn’t pass, I know I’m in a depressive episode.
  • Increased suicidal thoughts – This one is the final straw, the most telling sign. I’ve always felt very strongly against suicide so when these thoughts start to filter into my everyday thinking, I know I’m in trouble.

There are symptoms common in everyone – like low mood, fatigue, low self-esteem, and so on – but these are my personal warning signs. Do you know what yours are? Are they similar or different?

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The Next Chapter in the Medication Chronicles

Just over two months ago, I finally stopped taking Amitriptyline and started taking the new medication I’d been prescribed, Clomipramine. I’d had the prescription for over a month but I just hadn’t felt able to start taking it: I felt so drained and so worn down by what felt like an endless train of medications that made me feel worse instead of better. And on the off chance that it worked, I didn’t feel ready to feel ‘better.’ It’s hard to explain but it felt like I’d physically feel better – chemically happier – but still have all these ‘depressed’ thoughts, a juxtaposition that I did not feel strong enough to cope with.

But on this particular night, I felt a little more steady and so I took advantage of that: I stopped taking the Amitriptyline and started the Clomipramine. I felt different almost straight away; it took less than a week. I felt physically lighter, like a fog had lifted, a fog that I hadn’t felt settle. It was disconcerting – I felt a little bit like I might just float away – but it felt good too. It felt cathartic.

Suddenly, I was excited again. I was excited about pretty much everything, from swimming and playing with the cats to bigger things like future writing sessions and far away holidays. I hadn’t realised that that was something that had disappeared. I’d been excited about things in theory, in the way I thought about things – I could recognise that something was exciting. But I wasn’t actually feeling it. So to have it back was exciting in itself. It was amazing and I savour the feeling every single time it appears.

The most exciting thing is that my creative brain woke up and started firing again. It’s like my depression completely suppressed my creative brain and so I was physically unable to write songs, to function at the cognitive level necessary to write songs. I wrote about this in a post a few weeks ago. I’ve got several writing sessions coming up which I’m really, really excited about so I’ll keep you guys updated as to how they go.

I’ve also been taking Pregabalin – for several months now – to manage my anxiety. It has reduced my anxiety to a degree but I’m still dealing with A LOT of anxiety, so I need to talk to my psychiatrist. But it has helped. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been side effect free: I’ve been experiencing muscle twitches, mostly in my legs but sometimes in other parts of my body too. And it’s gotten worse as I’ve increased the dosage. That can feel quite scary, to not be in control of your body… I’m in the process of trying a new anti-anxiety, Flupentixol. It doesn’t seem to have had much of an effect so far but I’m trying not to lose hope.

The excitement and the giddiness have faded a bit since the initial boost. I’ve had a pretty bad week: my depression got overwhelming for a moment there. I’m coming out of it but it was pretty scary and I still feel quite shaken by it.

So that’s an update on the medication front. As per usual, it’s been a bumpy road but things are better than they were and for that, I’m really grateful.

Situation Specific Mutism

I first found myself unable to speak when I went to see the doctor for my anxiety and depression, although I didn’t know that that was what it was at the time. I’d been referred to the ‘Wellbeing Service’ by my GP (who I’d been seeing since childhood). I have always struggled with anxiety and so my Mum – my hero – came with me to provide support and any extra relevant information I might forget in the moment.

But the anxiety built and built. I walked into the room and sat down and in that moment, I stopped being able to function. I felt like I had this massive weight on my shoulders, so heavy that I physically couldn’t lift my head. I stared into my lap, unable to move. I couldn’t even move my eyes. And even if I could have, sustained eye contact felt impossible. That’s something I still struggle with (there’s a blog post about that here). The meeting of eyes feels so incredibly personal, like they’ll see all of me or I’ll see all of them.

And I couldn’t speak. I knew what I wanted to say – I could just about hear my own voice in my head above all the anxiety – but I couldn’t physically say them. My throat felt painfully tight and my tongue refused to cooperate. I was trying to speak, trying to function, but I just couldn’t.

I was told that, if I wouldn’t talk, they couldn’t help me. That still upsets me all these years later because, to me, it seems so obvious that I was struggling with real, difficult anxiety. We walked out and suddenly the words exploded out of me and I was standing in the street outside, screaming and swearing and sobbing. I felt so abandoned.

From there, I went to a series of doctors and therapists but was unable to speak. My Mum spoke for me: we would discuss it all in detail before the appointments so she knew what I would say if I could. It was difficult and traumatic and I felt like I was getting sucked further inside myself with every experience of being unable to talk.

Eventually I ended up seeing an EMDR therapist called Mark. We sat on chairs in the middle of a big empty room that had a glorious view of London at night. Sometimes we sat on the floor and played dominoes. I couldn’t speak and I couldn’t look at him but after a while, we started using a white board and pen. Writing has always come to me more naturally than speaking. So he asked questions and I replied, filling the board with scribbles.

But in the end it wasn’t to be. Maybe it wasn’t the right thing, maybe it wasn’t the right time. We’ll never know. I ended up taking a break from all types of therapy. I just needed some space. And then, in the summer of 2014, I went to see a psychiatrist and I knew things had to be different. I couldn’t do it again. I needed to talk.

I don’t want to give the impression that selective mutism is a choice. It’s not. I didn’t simply decide to start speaking again in these highly stressful situations; it’s so much bigger than that. There was a shift inside me, an unconscious realisation that talking was the only way to create change. One of my parents describes it as “a leap for survival” and she’s not wrong. It was about survival, although I wasn’t conscious of that at the time. At the time, it was just another step in a long line of steps.

What I’ve learned throughout all of this is that everything changes. It’s like shaking a box full of puzzle pieces, trying to get all the pieces to land in their respective places. With every shake, it lands in a different arrangement and life looks different. Different things are possible. Sometimes it’s even enough to see what the picture is.

Somehow I was able to talk. I couldn’t tell you how. My psychiatrist has told me since that he didn’t initially believe that I struggled with social anxiety, and anxiety in general, because that first impression of me was so confident and articulate. He understands now that it was a matter of survival, desperation making once impossible things possible.

It’s been several years since I found myself unable to speak. Even though I continue to struggle with anxiety, it’s never again manifested in that form. But even now, I hate the phrase ‘selective mutism.’ It implies that there’s some element of choice, like I was (and others still are) choosing not to speak. If I could rename it, I would call it Situation Specific Mutism. I think that fits better.

I wish I could offer some wise words or some quietly brilliant advice to those still unable to speak. But I think the most important thing is finding someone who gets it and not giving up until you find that person. If it doesn’t feel right, it isn’t right. The right person – the person that will get you and make it work for you – is out there.

Somebody once told me the story of a boy who was only able to participate in therapy when the lights were off but up until that point, all the medical professionals in his life had refused to do that because it wasn’t how things were done. Sometimes it’s ridiculously simple but for whatever reason, people don’t want to make those adjustments. But there are people out there who will, whether that’s having someone with you, whether you need to write rather than speak, or use another medium to communicate. In my experience at least, sometimes you have to treat the anxiety in order to make communicating easier.

The last thing I want to leave you with is an app that might be useful. It’s called Emergency Chat and it’s designed for communication when speaking is difficult. You hand it over to someone and it shows a message that you can personalise to what you’re going through so that the other person can understand it better and then you can type back and forth, or not. The message itself may be enough.

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I hope this has been helpful. And if you’re going through something similar, know that I’m thinking of you and sending good thoughts.

19 For 2019

It’s that time of year again and I’ve been thinking a lot about resolutions. I know a lot of people think it’s silly, that it’s just another day in a long line of days, but I love the feeling you get on New Year’s Eve, like you’re on the brink of great change. After the year I had, I was ready to move on and ready to do more. I’m excited about things for the first time in months.

I was really inspired by this video so I thought I’d have a go at coming up with my own nineteen things to achieve in 2019. I’m a bit overwhelmed but I’m also excited to do all of these things so I’m hopeful for the coming year:

  1. Stop pulling my hair out – whether my hair pulling is Trichotillomania or stimming (I don’t know where it comes from), I need to stop pulling out my hair. I hate it but stopping is incredibly difficult. I managed to stop once before, for a year, but the compulsion didn’t fade at all. I’m anxious about that but I really, really, really want to stop. While I was dealing with suffocating depression, stopping was too much to contemplate – I didn’t have it in me for both battles at once. But now that I’m feeling a bit lighter, I want to go for it.

2. Read ten books – I had a goal to read five books last year and read ten so I feel pretty good about this goal. It feels manageable.

3. Get a tattoo – There’s a tattoo that I’ve wanted for a year at least so I think it’s time to bite the bullet.

4. Continue swimming (let it evolve if it wants to) – I’m so proud of myself for continuing with the swimming for six months and I really want to keep it up. But I’m also open to it changing if that’s what feels right.

5. Write more songs – I’m so excited to have my creative brain back. I can’t wait to dive back into songwriting.

6. Get my photo albums up to date – I’m way behind with my photo albums. My depression made looking at my own face a really upsetting experience so I just had to let it slide. But it’s something I love doing and something I love looking through so I’d like to get up to date.

7. Pursue the cause of my tiredness – My struggle with fatigue is ongoing and I need to know why, where it’s coming from. Something has to be causing it and I want to know what that is and what I can do about it.

8. Improve my instrument skills – My piano and guitar skills have suffered during my depression and I wasn’t an expert to start with. So I want to work on them seriously.

9. Watch a meteor shower – I love watching meteor showers so I want to get them in my diary and make the time to go and watch one. Hopefully more than one.

10. Write more poetry – I barely wrote any poetry last year and that makes me sad because it’s something that I really love. So I want to make more time for that this year.

11. Finish decorating and organising my room – We’ve been moved in for about eight months and while we have the day to day stuff sorted, there’s still stuff like hanging pictures on the walls and finding places for all the small things (like extra hard drives and sorting out my make up) that still needs doing. So I’d like to work on that.

12. Find an alcoholic drink I like – I still haven’t found an alcoholic drink I like. I know that I don’t need to drink alcohol but so many people have said that it’s something you get used to, rather than liking it straight away so I’m trying to give it a fair shot. Pun intended.

13. Find a tea or coffee I like – As above, I still haven’t found a tea or coffee that I enjoy drinking. I’m still looking though.

14. Get invisible braces – This has been in the works for a while now but I’m really looking forward to getting on with it and to getting straighter teeth.

15. Go rock climbing – I loved rock climbing as a kid so I would love to do it again.

16. Participate in FAWM – FAWM stands for February Album Writing Month and it’s a challenge to write fourteen songs – an album’s worth of songs – in the month of February. I managed it once before and I loved the constant drive to create so I’d love to try to again. It’s a bit of a baptism by fire after not writing very much but what the hell. I’m already looking forward to it.

17. Participate in NaPoWriMo – April is National Poetry Writing Month and there’s a new poetry writing challenge every day. And as it’s already a resolution to write more poetry, this seems like a good opportunity. If everything goes as planned, I’ll be in Nashville for part of April so that might get complicated but hopefully I can participate for most of the month.

18. Donate blood again – Giving blood was a really special experience and it means a lot to me to be able to do it so I’m looking forward to doing it again.

19. Join the bone marrow register – I want to be able to help as many people as possible in my life so this is something that’s been on my to do list for a while.

So there it is. Bring on 2019.

The Old New Year’s Resolutions

HAPPY NEW YEAR!! I hope you have all had a lovely, relaxing holiday period and that you feel hopeful about the year ahead. I’m feeling lighter than I have in a long time and for the first time in months, I’m actually excited about what’s coming next.

But, before we move on to the new year and all the new plans, I want to pause for a moment. This time last year, I set several resolutions – more like goals – for 2018. Now, 365 days later, I want to look back at them and look at how I did, whether I achieved them or not…

WRITE MORE SONGS – Technically, yes. I did write more songs. Not as many as I would’ve liked but more songs nonetheless. As I mentioned in my review of 2018, my depression seemed to completely suppress my creative brain so writing anything was a really struggle. But I’m cautiously optimistic about my songwriting in the near future.

RELEASE MUSIC – Yes, as I said in my halfway-through-the-year post, I have music out in the world (you can listen to my first single, ‘Invisible,’ here). It was a long, hard journey to that first milestone but we made it and I’m excited about what’s coming next.

FIND THE RIGHT MEDICATION – I found many wrong ones but, fingers crossed, I’m onto a good one. Right now, we just have to wait and see (my least favourite sentence in the world).

WORK ON BEING HEALTHIER – I feel really good about this one. Since August, I’ve been going to the gym and swimming for at least half an hour most days of the week and I’ve kept it up for six months. I’m so proud of myself and I love it so much. It helps me make sense of the world and it makes me feel really good. Food is still a daily struggle but I’m not restricting and I’m also not eating everything in sight. So that’s something.

BECOME MORE INDEPENDENT – I feel like I’m going backwards with this one. My depression has been all consuming and just as it started to let up, anxiety rushed in to fill the void. So I’m struggling here. I don’t know what else to say about this one.

READ MORE BOOKS – Yes! I definitely did that! My small, achievable goal was five books and I managed to read ten! So I’m very proud of my efforts in this department. Hopefully I can keep this up going forward.

IMPROVE MY MUSICAL SKILLS – This is another casualty of my depression. My lack of concentration and motivation has just made it impossible to do any consistent practice. Even when I tried my hardest, I couldn’t do it and then I’m really good at beating myself up over it. That’s another thing I need to work on. But as I’ve already said, I’m cautiously optimistic about things moving forward.

GO THROUGH MY POSSESSIONS – Well, I did that. We moved house and so I went through everything as I packed it. That was very overwhelming so I’m sure I missed stuff. I’m still creating a new order and finding things that I can throw out or give away but I made a huge dent in this resolution and I’m pleased with my effort.

So I guess it is now time to make some new resolutions. Watch this space…

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