Mental Health Update (September 2020)

Trigger Warning: This post contains mentions of self harm, but it’s simply a statement that it happened and there are no descriptions, graphic or otherwise. If this could upset or trigger you, please don’t read any further. Please always put your mental health and emotional state first.

I feel like it’s been a while since I posted a mental health update. And while most of my recent posts have mentioned mental health, I haven’t really felt able to write anything mental health centred. I’ve tried but it’s been really hard. Since the pandemic hit the UK and we went into lockdown, my mental health has basically been a black hole of anxiety and depression that I can only occasionally distract myself from. So it’s been hard to write about it, to write anything beyond “my depression is overwhelming and my anxiety is off the charts.” And there’s only so many times you can say that before it just makes things worse. So I’ve been focussing on things that might be helpful in lockdown, music things, and the day to day approach that I’ve been taking to things. The blog itself has been a method of managing my mental health. But now I’m going back to my Masters (my first classes – all online – are tomorrow) and I wanted to try and describe where my mental health is before I take on that new challenge. I guess it’s something to measure myself against, to see whether I’m coping or whether I’m struggling even more, because I really don’t know how these next few months are gonna go. So here we are, this is the state of my mental health at the beginning of my third semester of my Masters in September 2020…


My anxiety has been – and still can be – paralysing. Early in lockdown, it was a constant, debilitating state but it has evolved since then. It’s easy to get sucked in but day to day, I seem to be able to manage it with a combination of flexible tasks to distract but not restrict me and large amounts of Diazepam. I’m not sure how I’m going to manage going back to university classes with deadlines and uncertainties but as I’ve previously said, I need to try. I will reevaluate if my anxiety starts to become unmanageable again.

My depression has almost become background noise at this point, just a deep, dragging feeling at the back of my mind. I’ve had days where everything just felt so overwhelming and insurmountable that all I could do was stare at the TV and breathe but most of the time, my anxiety has just taken up too much of my attention to really feel it. This still seems to be the case: my anxiety is just too demanding to allow it much space in my brain.

My OCD, which manifests as a compulsion to write down everything that happens to me, has been easier to manage in lockdown with not much going on. I was majorly behind when lockdown began and, because this period of time is so unknown, I wanted to document it in real time so I started a new notebook with the plan to catch up with the old one as time passed. Unfortunately I still haven’t managed that and with multiple stressful things happening in the last few weeks, I’m behind in my current one so I’m going into a new academic year already trying to juggle that. My attempts to balance my OCD and my anxieties around Masters work was a really challenge last year and it looks like it’s going to be just as bad, if not worse, this year. So that’s really not fun and causing me a lot of anxiety already.

My Trichotillomania really spiked in the first few months of lockdown when I was so anxious that I could barely do anything. I’m currently writing a post about the triggers of hair pulling (not to be confused with the causes) and three big ones were really present here: stress, not having something to occupy my hands, and feeling out of control. So I was pulling a lot – to a painful level – back in March, April, May. But as I’ve slowly been able to distract myself and get things done, I’ve been pulling less – significantly less. It never completely goes away but I’ll take whatever I can get.

I’ve had multiple autistic meltdowns since lockdown began. Living with such a high level of anxiety, it doesn’t take much for something to trigger a meltdown. I’ve had about twenty (which I’m pretty sure is more than the whole of last year but I don’t have last year’s tracker in front of me); most of them have been ‘normal’ for the meltdowns I have but a couple of them have been significantly worse, taking days to recover from. They’re really, really horrible and I feel awful afterwards, mentally, emotionally, and physically.

While there have been periods of time where I’ve self harmed consistently, it’s more often than not a one off occurrence with big gaps of time in between. I’ve always considered it a coping mechanism for very specific emotional scenarios rather than a habit or addiction. Given how much I’ve struggled emotionally during lockdown, I’m kind of shocked that I’ve only done it once but then, with my Mum around all the time, maybe it’s not all that surprising: I know that it upsets her and that only makes me feel worse so I have suppressed it in the past. But there was one occasion where I just couldn’t. So it could’ve been a lot worse.

I’ve missed a lot of therapy sessions over the last few months. If I’m honest, I’m finding it really hard to know how to approach them. Obviously, the biggest thing is the pandemic and my pandemic anxiety but we can only talk about that so many times before running out of things to say and yet, I feel so mentally fragile at the moment that tackling any of my other issues feels like just too much, like the process of digging into something difficult might disrupt my delicate, carefully maintained ability to function. So I’m not really sure what to do. I’ve just started having regular sessions again so I guess we’ll see how it goes.


Am I ready for this next semester? I have absolutely no idea. I really don’t know how I’m going to manage it with my mental health as it is but as I’ve said, I need to try. The only thing worse than trying and failing would be not trying at all. Maybe that’s a naive approach to things, considering my mental health problems, but that’s how I feel. I can only hope that, if there are any warning signs that things are getting worse, I can see them and make the appropriate response.

A Week In My Life (in Lockdown)

It’s been a while since I did a ‘week in my life’ post and I haven’t done one about lockdown, mainly because I feel like most of my days are incredibly similar, which wouldn’t exactly make for a scintillating post. But I saw the idea in my ‘blog ideas’ list and realised that over the last few weeks, I have managed to be a bit more productive (with my mental health fluctuating so wildly, it’s hard to really get into anything) and so each day is looking more like its own entity.

The week in this post started on Monday 22nd June and ended on Sunday 28th June.


MONDAY

Even though I don’t have anywhere to be, I’m still getting up relatively early, partly because I’m at my best mentally in the mornings (generally) and partly because we have five cats who are always very eager for breakfast. They’re actually really helpful when it comes to maintaining some kind of routine; sometimes I think it’s easier when there’s something external to build from, rather than trying to build it from nothing.

Cats fed, I settled on the sofa and replied to all the messages on my phone that were waiting for me. In times of mental distress (which there is a lot of lately), I tend to abandon my phone and withdraw from communications because it’s all just more than I can handle. However, it can then be a rather daunting task when I feel able to engage again. But I managed to reply to everyone and messaged some of my friends that I hadn’t checked in with for a while.

I spent the morning sorting through my tech box of electronics, my store of everything electronic, from spare pairs of headphones to camera equipment to cables I know longer own the devices for – I’m sorting through all of my possessions and this was next on my list. I went through it, throwing out the stuff that was damaged or so old that it was no longer useable, piling up some stuff to give away, and organising the remaining items by function. I certainly don’t need the big box anymore.

I didn’t stop there though. I went through all eight of the USB sticks I’d found, deleting the files I didn’t want and storing those I did. I now have multiple memory sticks empty and ready to go whenever I need them. And then I started on the hard drives, most of them assorted back ups of my laptop. That’s a job that’s going to take considerable time. But I’ve assigned each of them a function and started moving the relevant files. I can’t have done more than a quarter of the work and even that took most of the day.

Eventually I gave up, having spent so much time on it that I kept getting confused about which hard drive I was in. So I disconnected them, packed them away, and did a couple of hours work on my blog post for the kittens’ birthday post (here). Me and Mum had dinner together, continuing our rewatch of Nikita, and then I spent about forty five minutes at the piano, during which I recorded this:

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This song calms my soul ♥️ @sarabareilles

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Then we fed and settled the cats before going to bed.


TUESDAY

It was a quiet day. I spent most of it working at my laptop, finishing the blog post for the kittens’ birthday the next day and writing the one about coming off Pregabalin (here). I also planned out the next few as well, with sketches of the rough post structures. So it felt like a pretty productive day, which I was pleased with.

My Mum and I usually work pretty companionably since her desk is in the living room and I tend to work from the sofa (it’s better for the physical pain that I usually deal with to some degree or another – I need to get a specifically supportive desk chair but I’d have to go and try them out, something I can’t – and wouldn’t choose to – do until it’s safe). But recently she’s been working at the kitchen table, paper spread out around her as she transfers her accounts to a new system. It’s weird, going from being basically on top of each other to almost feeling like I’m alone in the house.

We reconvened in the evening, having dinner with several more episodes of Nikita, and then I sat at the piano, playing for almost an hour, methodically practicing each of the songs I’ve been learning recently. Thank god my neighbours are so easygoing and even supportive of my music because I usually ending up playing fairly late at night and even though I try to keep it as quiet as possible, some noise does drift through the walls.

I was just going to bed when I got a Twitter notification that Ingrid Andress is doing a virtual show on Tuesday 30th June. I love her and was supposed to see her live when I went to the US (before the trip was scuttled by the pandemic) so that was really exciting. I went straight to my computer to get a ticket and thank god I did because it was already difficult to get a ticket. I also managed to get a meet and greet, which should be fun; I have no idea how it will work online (plus it will be about 3am my time…) but it will be really nice to see her again. I’ve been going to her shows and chatting with her afterwards for the last several years so I’m glad that lockdown won’t prevent that.

(Note from present me to past me: it was an awesome show and I really enjoyed my chat with Ingrid.)


WEDNESDAY

It was the kittens’ first birthday so we didn’t delay in heading downstairs and presenting them with their present. They both had a go at it but it was Sweep that eventually managed to open it, revealing the birthday cake shaped toy. Despite not having had breakfast yet, they were both very excited and played with it enthusiastically. It remained in tact for about twenty minutes before Sooty managed to tear the felt flame of the candle off it… Sigh. Ah well. They don’t seem to mind.

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Unfortunately, I ended up getting caught in a panic spiral about the loosening of lockdown (I know I’m not the only one who feels that the government cares more about the economy and their reputation than the lives of the British public) and the scientists declaring that they feel we’ll still be dealing with the pandemic next year, that a second wave is extremely likely. The idea of feeling so terrified and so unsafe and so worried for my loved ones (plus the uncertainty around my education and my career) for all that time is exhausting and makes me feel almost overwhelmingly sick.

In hindsight, it probably turned into a meltdown but I didn’t really process that thought at the time. The intensity of my emotions are so extreme at the moment that it can be hard to clearly identify them within the mess I’m feeling. In the end, I was so worn out that I fell asleep on the sofa and didn’t wake up for three hours, a common reaction to a meltdown, for me at least.

When I woke up, I didn’t feel better – that’s not how it works, at least for me – but my head was a little clearer. WordPress had been playing up on my laptop so I hadn’t been able to post the kitten birthday post but eventually I got it up, complete with a video of the kittens: one second a day everyday for the first year of their lives…

In the evening, I spent about an hour on FaceTime with one of my friends. We had a good moan about missing each other and the things we can’t do, drooled over the guitars we wish we could afford, made plans for the first time we can hang out properly again. It was fun and nice and as normal as you can get in a time like this. Mum had wandered in and out of the room during the conversation and commented that we sounded like we always do, hanging out as if we were on opposite ends of the sofa. That made me laugh.

We had dinner together and continued our rewatch of Nikita, staying up far too late.


THURSDAY

I’d struggled to sleep with the heat so I woke up, still tired and with a throbbing headache. Not exactly the greatest start to a day.

I sorted the cats and then spent some time tidying the living room and sorting out my space: it had gotten pretty chaotic with the various stationary and electronics that I always have within reach due to my frequent need for them. It’s definitely better and I’m always calmer and more productive in a tidy space.

I’d intended to do some more organising of my hard drives but the rising heat (over 30 degrees) was only making my headache worse. I ended up lying on the sofa with my eyes covered, waiting for the painkillers to kick in, except I accidentally fell asleep and didn’t wake up until about three hours later. Thankfully I slept through the hottest part of the day: I don’t cope very well in the heat. The cats were struggling too, poor babies, stretched out on the cool of the kitchen floor. I’ve never seen them look so flat.

I didn’t manage a huge amount because the headache never really abated but I did get a few bits and pieces done: some research for the blog, some blog writing, watching a bit of TV. But most of my energy was focussed on managing the headache; I spent a lot of time with my eyes covered, blocking out the light.

Mum and I kept to our evening routine of dinner and Nikita rewatch (we’ve just finished season two, which has such a great finale) and then, to finish off the evening, I listened to the two tracks that Richard (my writing partner) had sent me and gave him my feedback. I loved them: they’re both really cool but I had a handful of comments that can hopefully be of use. I also sent him a song of mine to listen to before we start work on the production.

That done, I went to bed but it was so hot and humid that I felt like I could barely breathe.


FRIDAY

It was so hot that I just couldn’t sleep. It wasn’t until about five am that I finally drifted off. It was uncomfortable and frustrating but as least I got to witness the incredible thunderstorm that started at about two. There was a lot of lightning and heavy rain, although not much thunder. I sat up and watched it for ages. I absolutely love thunderstorms; they’re my favourite kind of weather. The air just feels different and I feel lighter. Apparently thunderstorms create negative ions in the atmosphere and that’s where that feeling comes from (x).

I struggled up at eight thirty and managed to have breakfast and a shower in time to relax for a moment and collect my thoughts before my therapy session. It’s taken me a while to get used to therapy via Zoom and while I still think face to face is better (and I really miss it), I am really grateful for it. I know that going without therapy during this time would be incredibly damaging for my mental health. I think it’s probably fair to say that we’re not necessarily focussed on making progress right now, rather we’re focussing on managing my emotions and the things I’m struggling with in the present moment, like my overwhelming fear of going outside and my sudden inability to sleep properly to name a few. I mean, technically it all comes under distress tolerance, one of the fundamental areas of Dialectical Behaviour Therapy so I guess we are making progress in a sense. Anyway, we had a pretty intense session because of several tough things going on at the moment, not helped by my lack of sleep. By the time we were done, I was exhausted.

I had a gentle afternoon, watching Nikita with Mum, and then napped on the sofa for a couple of hours. Three hours of sleep really isn’t enough. Throw in a tough therapy session and I was completely useless. I wasn’t going to make it to the end of the day without a nap.

In the evening, we had a socially distanced dinner and movie with one of my parents (she doesn’t live with us). Despite keeping up to date with the briefings and doing my own research, I’m still really confused about what the official safety guidelines are so we’re just sure to be really careful: apart from seeing each other now and then, none of us go out for anything other than the essentials, we social distance when we’re together, and we keep the space (and ourselves) as clean/hygienic as possible. It’s hard not being able to behave naturally together – having to be so conscious of the risks all of the time – but it’s so, so good to see her and hang out and have just a touch of normality, even if it is only a touch. I’ll take what I can get. Getting to see her in person is better than not getting to see her in person.

Despite my nap, I was tired and so me and Mum had a quiet evening together. Exhaustion always makes my anxiety worse so I just needed some time with her. Sometimes we joke that, rather than an emotional support animal, I have her: my emotional support person.

Always far too late (I swear I’m trying to maintain a regular sleep pattern), we fed and settled the cats before going to bed.


SATURDAY

I slept better but still not well and I woke up feeling very anxious and unsettled, usually how I feel when I’ve had nightmares but can’t quite remember them – I definitely want to write a post about how the pandemic has affected sleep and the increased number of nightmares. It was still quite early so I stayed in bed, trying to shed the feeling. The cool, grey weather helped.

Eventually I got up, fed the cats, and managed to get a few good cuddles in, which also helped. Although nothing helped as much as the Diazepam I took.

I had a quiet morning, doing some admin, some blog post writing, and a couple of video calls to family and then I spent the afternoon catching up with my diary. The one mental health problem that hasn’t been too badly affected by the pandemic and lockdown is my OCD. It’s much easier – and quicker – to write down everything that happens when so much less is happening; before lockdown, busy days could take hours and hours to write up. My ability to concentrate has been seriously compromised by my anxiety so it still takes longer than it should but at least, with emptier days, it balances out a bit.

Mum and I had dinner, continuing our rewatch of Nikita, and then I spent some time at the piano. One of the things I really wanted to use my empty semester – and I guess, now the lockdown – for was improving my musical skills and at the moment, I’m just really in love with playing the piano. I’ve definitely improved already, which is really satisfying. I practiced my current repertoire and then tried to work out a new song. But it was tricky and I was tired so I didn’t get far before giving up – for the night, not on the song in general.

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It was late but before going to bed, Mum (who used to be a full-time massage therapist, although it’s no longer her primary job) massaged my neck and right shoulder. My Trichotillomania urges have gone into overdrive since Covid-19 emerged and they’ve only gotten worse as time has passed. How I haven’t ended up with any bald spots, I have no idea. But because of my excessive pulling, my arm and shoulder have seized up and become really quite painful. The muscles actually hurt to touch but she was very gentle and I do think it helped.

We went to bed and I actually managed to get to sleep fairly quickly, which is a bit of a miracle at the moment.


SUNDAY

I managed to sleep in a bit, which was nice, although I’d still had busy dreams. It took me a while to make sense of what was the dream and what was real and when I dragged myself out of bed, I felt slow and sluggish. Fortunately the cats had been very patient about breakfast. Having said that, they were very pleased to see us (and vocal about it).

I had breakfast and a shower, leaving me with fifteen minutes or so to clear my head before my music lesson. One of my parents is a professional musician and music teacher and as another of my goals for this period of time is to improve my understanding of musical theory, I’d asked a while ago if we could spend some time on it together (well, via Zoom). So, every Sunday, we dedicate a couple of hours (sometimes more if we’re on a roll) to working out the chords to a song, figuring out the rhythms to play, etc and then discussing the theory that underpins those things in that particular song. Then I practice it in the week before our next session. It’s hard work – I’ve always found theory quite difficult to really understand – but I do think I’m getting better, if slowly. I think learning it in a practical, applied way is helping and it’s much more fun than just trying to memorise it from a book. To my amusement, it’s basically turned into an attempt to learn every Kalie Shorr song because I love her writing so much but it’s also given me a new appreciation for the songs because I’m seeing how much more to them there is. As I said, it’s difficult and I’m exhausted afterwards (probably from the effort of keeping my concentration on it – a serious job at the moment) but it feels good to be learning and trying to improve my skills.

My concentration is always pretty poor afterwards but I did manage to get some blog writing done. I’m really enjoying this style of writing at the moment; it just flows really easily. I’m also trying to get ahead of myself by a couple of posts, creating a buffer of sorts, just in case I hit a period of writers’ block. That happened a while back and suddenly writing became really difficult and stressful, not exactly something I need more of right now. So I’m taking advantage of (and enjoying) how good and effortless it feels.

Early evening, Mum and I FaceTimed with my Granny. Mum speaks with her everyday while I join in every few days (sometimes in the frame and sometimes just in the room, adding to the conversation). We do the crossword together – something we’ve always done when we’re actually together – which is really fun and catch up on each other’s days. I worry about her, her age making her more vulnerable and her being alone during lockdown. We (especially my Mum and my aunt and uncle) try and talk as much as possible and suggest new things to do and new forms of entertainment (especially when her television died and no one would go out to fix it) but I still worry.

After we hung up, I tried to set up the laptop that had finally arrived from DSA, only to find out that they’d sent me the wrong one. Fortunately, I discovered that (sadly, I’m experienced enough with the problems of getting support as a disabled person to check) before I loaded all my files onto it. So we got in contact with them (and after a lot of back and forth) and they’re sending another one to swap it with. When this process is officially over – as in I’ve got the laptop and everything is signed off on – I will write a blog post about this whole process because it has been long and complicated and stressful and I think these experiences need to be out there.

Me and Mum had dinner with more Nikita and I did some more diary writing.

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Somewhere closer to a sensible bedtime, we fed and settled the cats and went to bed.


I hope this was somewhat interesting. When I started writing it, I hadn’t counted on a heatwave that made me just this side non-functional for two days; I’d been hoping to be more productive. I know that we don’t have to be productive everyday but achieving something, even something small does help me to manage my mental health and keep my depression and anxiety from getting into a cycle that’s difficult to break out of.

Anyway, that was a week in lockdown: some routine and some different activities to mix things up. This seems to be the best approach for me. The routine is comforting but the variation keeps me from feeling like I’m in a time loop, living the same day over and over again.

I hope you’re all keeping safe and healthy in these times. I hope lockdown isn’t too traumatic for you and I’m sure you’re managing the best that you can.