Don’t You Lose Your Halo

The last few months have been particularly difficult, anxiety and depression wise. I came of my anti depressants and one of my anti anxiety medications with the intention of starting a new medication but starting that new medication has been a real struggle. This new low brought on by the withdrawal and the lack of meds has been possibly the worst I’ve ever felt. I’m aware that it’s affecting my thinking and my decision making but right now, the starting of a new medication just feels impossible. Just the thought of it triggers an autistic meltdown. So it’s safe to say I’m struggling.

BUT the last week has been better for exactly one reason: I got to see Maren Morris in concert! In fact, I got to see her twice! So that’s what I want to write about: seeing her and how concerts are something that can really help me when I’m feeling very low. There’s something about the energy that just lifts me, makes my body feel lighter and that’s so very valuable when I’m in this place.

My first show of the tour was Bristol. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, if possible, I like to go to multiple shows of a tour because I get overwhelmed so easily. Seeing the show more than once allows me to really experience and enjoy all of it. Concerts are pretty much the only thing I spend money on so I’ve been very fortunate in this endeavour.

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The show was incredible. I’d been feeling very, very depressed in the days leading up to the show and didn’t even want to go – it felt like it was wrong to want such a simple ‘fix’ to my low mood and like seeing such an amazing songwriter would hurt too much given that I haven’t been able to write a song in months (if not longer) – but as soon as Maren Morris took the stage, I started to feel lighter. It felt easier to breathe. She’s an incredible songwriter and performer and her voice is out of this world: I remember once describing it as sounding like a gorgeous sunset. Hearing the new songs was like hearing them for the first time and hearing the old ones was like a wave of nostalgia: they remind me of my degree, of my first trip to Nashville, of writing songs in my best friend’s living room, of a younger, less troubled version of myself.

The song that really got me was ‘A Song For Everything.’ This is what I wrote in my diary after the show:

“Given how emotional and tearful I was, I was crying by the first chorus. It just lifts my soul and makes me feel lighter, like I’m going to be okay, like I need to dedicate my life to writing a song like that and so I have to be alive to do it. I was breathless by the time the song finished.”

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“I don’t often cry at concerts (it usually happens when I hear the songs again for the first time after the show) but this one just got me. My depression is the worst it’s ever been but tonight… helped. I could write a book about the emotions of the last few days but I’m so tired that even this is a struggle. @marenmorris, thank you for being there exactly when I needed you to be. Thank you for reminding me that there’s a song for everything and that maybe one of them could be written by me, but that I need to be here to write it. #girltheworldtour

I had a day to recover before my next show, in London. At the freaking Royal Albert Hall. This is probably my favourite venue I’ve ever been to and it’s my ultimate dream to sing there one day. One can hope. And work hard. Anyway.

The day of the show, I cried all day. I was miserable, deeply, deeply miserable. I was on the edge of a meltdown all day but somehow I was holding it back because I knew if I had a meltdown, I wouldn’t be able to go to the show. Me and Richard (my best friend and writing partner) had bought the VIP packages, which meant we would get to meet Maren before the show and I couldn’t miss that. But even though I was looking forward to it, I was paralysed with anxiety. I didn’t know what to say or do and the fear of wasting the opportunity was so great that I couldn’t think. I couldn’t think my way through the problem and that was almost the worst part.

I cried all the way to London (listening to ‘A Song For Everything’ on repeat) and I only really managed to get myself together when I arrived at Victoria station. Holding onto that song helped somehow. I got to the Royal Albert Hall, met Richard, and we (all the VIP package holders) were all taken in for the pre-show Q&A and meet and greet. It went okay. I’m not gonna lie, I was actually shaking. It wasn’t specifically because I was anxious about meeting her – I’d met her on the previous tour and she’s absolutely lovely – it was more that I was worried about it going wrong, that I’d waste the experience by saying something embarrassing or meaningless. Looking back at it now, it went okay. It could’ve been worse, it could’ve been better. Maren was very sweet but I didn’t feel able to be as honest as I would’ve liked to be, for multiple reasons.

When the doors opened, we went to find our seats and discovered that we were FRONT AND CENTRE. At the Royal Albert Hall. For Maren Morris. I think that was when I first started to feel more excited than anything else – anxious, depressed, lost (“The depression was receding – just out of reach – and it felt easier to smile, even if it was a little slow and stiff.”). And all of that completely fell away when the show started.

It was one of the best shows I’ve ever been to. Maren is one of the best performers I’ve ever seen, her vocals are unmatched, and I love her songwriting more than I can properly express. The upbeat songs were so much fun and the slower songs were quiet moments filled with emotion. It might sound like any other concert (any good concert) but the energy was bigger and bolder and brighter than any other concert I’ve been to. I lost my voice long before the show was over but that didn’t stop me from singing along. And as I said in my diary, “I’m always self conscious dancing but sometimes, if all the stars align, the constant tension in my body releases and I can just move as my mood dictates. It’s not very elegant but it is fun.” She even had special surprises planned: performing ‘Seeing Blind’ with Niall Horan and bringing a string quartet (an all female string quartet!) on stage for several songs. The whole thing was magical. I never wanted it to end. But unfortunately it had to, although she closed the show with style: an amazing performance of ‘The Middle.’ Me and Richard have spent so many car journeys and writing sessions and just hours of our lives singing that song; singing it with Maren Morris from the front row of the Royal Albert Hall may be one of my favourite memories of all time.

Another snippet from my diary: “The performance was incredible and hearing everyone sing along just made my heart soar. It was all gone and I felt alive and light and happy. I was tired and achy but it was amazing.”

Getting home was hard. I had a huge adrenaline crash and all the negative emotions returned and that, combined with several unpleasant incidents on the train, had me in tears before I was even halfway home. I also struggle physically after concerts: my whole body hurts and that was starting to set in so yeah, getting home was a struggle. But I made it and my Mum was kind enough to prepare macaroni and cheese and ice cream (not together), which did help a bit. My brain wasn’t really ready to go to bed but a migraine was setting in (another side effect of concerts) so I didn’t have a choice.

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“Yesterday was a very difficult day. The depression was bad; I shook, I screamed, I cried (probably seven or eight times). It was miserable. But in the evening, I got to see @marenmorris at the @royalalberthall and my god, it was like it was built for her voice. What a special artist in such a special venue. Somehow, me and @richardmarcmusic ended up with front and centre seats and the whole show was just incredible. Every second was fun, every second was amazing. I wish it could’ve gone on forever. The tears returned on the train and I cried most of the way home but I am so, so grateful to have been there, so, so grateful to have had that escape for a few hours. I will treasure those memories.”

Recovering from these concerts has been an experience. Over a week later and my back is still bothering me. But it’s an improvement: the day after the London show, I could barely walk and it took days for the limping to fade. But I’m doing better. Surprisingly, the post concert low hasn’t been too bad. Mainly, I just miss being at the show, in the show. I physically miss it. My body misses it. But I’m doing okay. These concerts have given me a lift I desperately needed and will keep me going while I take my next steps, whatever they end up being. For that, I’m incredibly grateful.

Some ‘Interesting’ Medication Experiences

I’ve now been taking various medications for four and a half years. It’s been a very mixed experience but through it all, I’m an advocate of medication because when we get it right, it’s incredible. A whole new person emerges, a person you’d forgotten you could be and that is the most amazing experience. It’s the closest thing to freedom that I’ve ever felt. But during that time, there have been a number of interesting and strange experiences. I don’t know if reading about them will be helpful to anybody but all of this stuff can be so scary if you think you’re going through it alone. So I’m putting it out there, just in case.

Venlafaxine withdrawal

I’ve written about this before but it makes sense to include it here as well. Because of several very busy days, I forgot to take my Venlafaxine and accidentally went into withdrawal. It started with an almost debilitating headache and on day four I woke up unable to think clearly. I couldn’t hold on to a thought: they were moving so fast that it made me feel dizzy and sick. On my Psychiatrist’s advice, I resumed the medication and I started to feel better pretty quickly although it took about a week before I felt like myself again.

Too much Pregabalin

At one point, I picked up my prescription and didn’t realise that the pills were at different doses than the previous prescription had been. So when I thought I was taking 150mg, I was actually taking 450mg. I woke up the next morning feeling shocking: I felt like my head was filled with cotton wool, the ground was moving under my feet like ocean waves, and my legs and hands kept twitching. It was awful and because I wasn’t aware that I’d changed my dosage, I was really freaked out. I ended up at the out of hours doctors because both me and my family were so worried. They didn’t find anything serious so we were left to wait and see but then my Mum realised what had happened. So that was a scary experience that I have no desire to repeat; I’m much more diligent about checking these things now.

Obsessive eating with Amitriptyline

Almost from the moment I started taking Amitriptyline, I was obsessed with eating, constantly thinking about what I could eat next, what it would taste like, what it would feel like. It was very much about the sensation of eating rather than being hungry. And the higher the dose, the more I wanted to eat. It was all I could think about. Seriously. I couldn’t think about anything else; I couldn’t function. It eventually caused me so much anxiety that I had to stop taking the Amitriptyline and try a different medication. I’d lost a lot of weight while on previous medications but I gained it all back while taking Amitriptyline and I found that very stressful and upsetting.

Taking Diazepam with Redbull

During a period of particularly high anxiety, I was taking Diazepam regularly throughout the day. The anxiety lifted but what was left was this overwhelming tiredness and sleepiness that had me falling asleep in the middle of the day, sometimes mid sentence. So I started drinking Redbull to keep myself awake and functioning. It wasn’t until a few weeks later – when I used Redbull to wash down the Diazepam – that I realised that it was the Diazepam that was making me so sleepy and that this was not something I could continue to do (not that Diazepam had ever been a long term strategy). I’d been taking it to ease the transition between medications and fortunately my anxiety started to go down and I didn’t feel the need to keep taking it.

Running out of Pregabalin

At one point, I ran out of the 225mg capsules, which didn’t seem like a problem because it was less than a week until my next appointment and we still had a load of Pregablin pills from earlier prescriptions, when we were still trying to get the dosage right. But then we realised they were 50mg capsules that you couldn’t split in half so I wasn’t going to be able to take my full dose of 225mg. I’d have to take 250mg or 200mg and the safer course was the latter. So I did several days on 200mg with pulsing headaches to remind me exactly why you take the exact amount you’re prescribed.

Too Much Magnesium?

This is speculation but not long after I started taking a Magnesium supplement, my mood seemed to nosedive. I’d been doing pretty well and was actually having bursts of what I think was happiness and so I’d felt able to add the (nutritionist) suggested supplement into my system. Nothing happened straight away and taking it became a habit but then depression started to creep in again. The only thing we could attribute it to – the only change – was the addition of the Magnesium. I’ve always been incredibly sensitive to stuff like this (I once threw up moments after taking a different supplement because it had too much copper in it) so I stopped taking it and within a couple of weeks, I felt more like myself.

Twitching on Pregabalin 

The one real side effect of taking Pregabalin – in my experience, at least – is that it causes twitching, mostly in my legs but sometimes in my hands and arms too. It’s very disconcerting to not feel in control of my body and I really, really don’t like it. But as of now, Pregabalin is something I need to get through the day. It helps me manage my anxiety but if another option became available, I would jump at the chance to change, even with all the potential problems of switching medications.

I hope I haven’t put any of you off medication. These experiences weren’t fun but as I said, getting it right is worth it. At least I hope so.

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I’m Running Out of Clever Titles for Medication Reviews

A couple of months ago, I (with the help of my psychiatrist) decided that it was time to stop taking the Venlafaxine. I don’t feel like it’s helping; it just makes me numb to everything and, as overwhelming as my emotions tend to be, feeling is better than not feeling. It might not always feel like it but that’s the truth. Plus, the side effects are not worth it, even if it was helping: my concentration and motivation were pretty bad before I started taking it but I’m pretty sure it’s gotten worse, especially recently. Writing has been such a struggle, even the practice of it. My depression has always had a negative impact on my creativity but this is the first time I’ve found it so incredibly difficult to simply write at all: getting words out has been like pulling teeth.

So I had some good reasons for wanting to stop and I’d put in the time to make sure I had an informed perspective. So I discussed it with my psychiatrist and we decided that the right move was to wean myself off the Venlafaxine and try something new.

When I first reduced the dosage, I didn’t really feel the difference. I still felt both depressed and numb, which is a really weird combination. But over time that’s changed. Obviously I can’t know how much of that to attribute to the medication change or to life in general but I still think it’s worth keeping track and I recommend this practice to everyone: it allows you to see the trends in your life and analyse what does or doesn’t work for you.

Not long after lowering the dose, I started getting headaches. The pain was very similar to the pain of a migraine but I didn’t have any of the other symptoms that come with it. Normal painkillers didn’t seem to help much and there were several occasions where I just retreated to my bed and tried to sleep through it. I had one of those headaches almost everyday for about two weeks, which was horrible but they have now passed at least. So that’s progress.

Coming out of that, I felt really raw and emotional, which was very weird, having felt so blank for months. I felt like I had no control over my emotions, which was more than a little bit scary, and kept bursting into tears over the smallest things. It’s felt a bit like I’ve had all of my emotions bottled up since I started taking Venlafaxine and suddenly they were overflowing everywhere: if something upset me, I became inconsolable and if someone irritated me, I had the urge to scream at them. I feel very lucky and grateful that I’ve managed not to scream at anyone because that isn’t how I actually feel. Once that emotion has died down a bit and I’ve been able to process the whole experience, that’s how I really feel. I live in fear of saying something I don’t mean and it ruining everything. So far, I’ve managed to manage these emotional tidal waves. They’re still happening though, even now that I’ve stopped taking the Venlafaxine completely.

And more recently I’ve started to have moments where I can think more clearly. They don’t last very long and to begin with, they were so sporadic that I didn’t even connect them to coming off the medication. But now that there have been a handful of them, it seems pretty likely that the two are linked. These moments are amazing. The feeling reminds me a bit of coming up for air after being underwater for a long time. You breathe in and you can almost feel the freshly oxygenated blood rushing around your body; everything suddenly feels so easy and you’re shocked by how hard it was up until that moment. These moments aren’t lasting very long and I wish there were more of them but it’s something.

I realise that I’m not giving this progress the recognition it probably deserves but I’m really not in a place where I can be enthusiastic and optimistic; the most I can manage right now is one foot in front of the other. My depression is worse than ever but at least it’s real. And I’m doing the best I can. That has to be enough.

So I Accidentally Went Into Withdrawal…

Most of the time, I’m very good at taking my pills. I’ve had a few moments where a change in routine or a dramatic event has thrown off my rhythm but usually, I’m very diligent about taking my medication. We have a good relationship, even when I’m struggling with side effects: I know that I’m taking them to improve my quality of life and that knowledge helps me to push through whatever worries or difficulties that I have.

Having said all of that, I accidentally went into withdrawal a few weeks ago. A series of exceptionally busy days left me so tired that I just kept forgetting to take my meds before going to bed. As a one off, it’s not great but it’s not a huge deal. It happens and you resolve to be more careful. But with everything going on, suddenly four days had passed and I was in withdrawal.

I’d had a headache the day before, one that felt like my brain was too big for my skull and made me feel nauseous if I moved my eyes too fast. It was very unpleasant but I hadn’t thought much of it since it followed a very long, very busy day; a terrible headache after something like that isn’t uncommon for me. It’s like a hangover, but from socialising rather than alcohol. So I hadn’t been too worried but when I woke up the next morning (the fourth day without my medication), I couldn’t think properly. It’s hard to explain but it was like I couldn’t hold on to a single thought: one would appear and before I could follow it through, another ten would’ve flashed passed, leaving me confused and nauseous. I’ve never felt like we have full control over our thoughts – sometimes ideas appear out of nowhere and sometimes you can’t stop thinking about something regardless of how hard you try – but I do believe we have some control; you can choose which pathways to follow and which to leave unexplored, even if you can’t forget about it, for example. So to have absolutely no control over my mind was terrifying. I tried to keep calm and slowly collect my thoughts but I just couldn’t do it and ended up sobbing in my bed, curled up in the foetal position. It was really, really unpleasant.

My Mum called my psychiatrist and his advice was to take a normal dose straight away and then restart my normal routine that night so that’s what I did and within a couple of hours, I felt more normal. I could think again; the thought progressions had returned to their normal speed and made more sense, rather than being so chaotic and out of my control. So that was a huge improvement but I was completely exhausted by the experience. I spent the rest of the day on the sofa.

It was almost a week before I felt like myself again. I had trouble concentrating and had a tendency to zone out mid conversation; it kind of felt like I didn’t have enough brainpower to sustain one. Everything felt much more tiring.

So that’s my little cautionary tale. It’s so important to take your meds responsibly because not doing so can have pretty serious consequences. I was lucky: it was miserable but easily and quickly rectified. It could’ve been much worse. So, if you’re reading this and need to take your medication, please drop everything and take it now! This isn’t supposed to be advice for how to handle withdrawal (if you need that advice, please ask your medical professional!), more a description of the experience in the hope that it might be helpful to someone. Taking medication can be such a complicated, confusing ordeal and not talking about it only makes the process harder.