As I write I’m on the sixth day without any form of SSRI at all. This is new territory for me. I’ve taken them every day for 15 years (with terrible healthcare making it much trickier).
Three months ago I moved to Sertraline. Two months ago I was down to 1/4 of a tablet per day. Then I started alternating days. One month ago I moved to one day on and two days off. Over the Christmas break I’ve been attempting one day on and three days off. This time round when it got to day four off I decided to keep going.
It’s been a LONG time coming. I’ve been bobbing around the 20-30mg mark for years. I tried to come off them in 2008 but didn’t get below 10mg Citalopram before an abortion and a move to London meant I needed more support again. I tried in 2012 but again couldn’t drop below 10mg. In 2014 I got to 5mg before it became unbearable and ended up slowly and frustratingly working my way back up to 20mg.
My chest sometimes feels uncomfortably tight and I’m still welling up at the slightest thing but I haven’t had any big uncontrollable surges of irritability (horrible), anger (scary) and panic (painful) since before New Year. The worst day was the first time I got to three days without. That afternoon there was little to be done except pick my sobbing self up off the bathroom floor and breathe deeply in showers as hot as I could bear. I would lie completely still in bed hoping for sleep but fearing the threat of my mind building, rushing and slipping away into a place of panic and pain that felt unknown and terrifying. It’s really scary to feel genuinely out of control of your mind. Luckily there was only one afternoon that bad.
I only feel completely safe when I’m exercising and in the calm and blissful hours afterwards when I’m myself again. I’ve ran hundreds of miles. When my knee gave out I cycled hundreds more. I discovered spinning. I’ve been chaining Kalms and I haven’t had a good coffee or a glass of wine in weeks (interestingly when you’re recently married and of a certain age people tend not to push alcohol on you, even at Christmas!). But I’m nearly there. I really think I might be.
I’m very very lucky to have such supportive and loving friends, family, work and (most of all) my husband Alex. My family love me unconditionally even when I’m unforgivably difficult. My friends make me feel myself again just by being in their company. But Alex is endlessly patient. Those surges of anger and irritability disguise themselves as reactions to things happening day to day. They show their ugly faces in snippy comments, slamming doors and helpless tears. He recognises these as symptoms. He knows that deep down they’re not my fault. He doesn’t react to them as if they are. This is perhaps the most helpful but also the most difficult thing someone can do to support your mental health. He’s an absolute hero.
(I’ve also written about managing depression and anxiety in relationships here)
There’s been plenty of dramatic lows and a few proud highs in this particular journey. But a lot of the experience of living with and managing this stuff is the day to day mental grunt work. Looking after yourself. Recognising triggers and identifying negative thoughts. I’ve been doing a lot of that too.
I love a metaphor when it comes to managing my mental health. Metaphor helps me identify and pin down my experiences. This is a step towards understanding and managing them. It helps me regain perspective and use the language of shared experience to transfer and talk about some pretty intangible feelings.
Over the last few months I’ve found a couple of new ways of thinking about my experiences which really help day to day. The tapes and the oil painting. I’ve written about them here: The Regret Tape and the I’m Not Good Enough Mix – new metaphors and thinking tools for managing anxiety and depression.
I don’t know what’s going to happen next and I’m going to try not to beat myself up if it doesn’t go quite as planned. But I’m cautiously pleased and proud to have made it this far. The sun is shining and I’m off out with the dog (he helps a lot too). I might even treat myself to a (decaff) coffee.
It’s worth emphasising that I spent a long time reducing my Citalopram and then Sertraline slowly in 2015. I did the withdrawal and reduction with advice from my doctor. This is a personal account of an individual experience. Mind has a lot of great info on coming off psychiatric drugs which it’s worth looking at if it’s something you are thinking about.
Today is Time to Talk day. Once again the Time to Change campaign is encouraging people to take some time to break the silence that so often surrounds mental health problems and have a conversation with friends, family or colleagues. Or, in this case, the internet.
My name is Clare and I have experienced depression and anxiety. It’s made worse by my errant hormones. I’ve been on Citalopram since I was 17. I’m trying to come off them now but it’s HARD! I have stalled at the 10mg mark but will be reducing in tiny tiny instalments again soon (when I’m feeling strong and the spring sun starts to shine).
My mental illness has affected my education – I had to repeat a year of university – and my relationships. Before Alex, pretty much all of my serious relationships ended because of my mental health.
My greatest source of support has been my boy Alex. He also manages anxiety and that shared understanding helps us care for each other. I’m also lucky enough to have supportive friends and family, many of whom also experience mental health problems of their own and to whom I can talk openly. There were times when I couldn’t make sense of my experiences in my head or out loud and then my journals and writing kept me going. I wrote to them like a friend.
I’m deeply aware of how fortunate I am to have the people around me I do. I’m thankful for them every day. My hope for the future is that everyone is able to find that network of support. A lot of the peer support work I do online is motivated by the desire to help people build that.
I’m taking 5 on Time to Talk day because I’ve found that being open and sometimes vulnerable in the world helps others be the same to me. And if I can help someone take that very first step to seeking help, to feel the relief of sharing and normalising their experiences, I will. Every time.
Every other Sunday I moderate support chat on TheSite.org. TheSite runs a number of types of chat – I’ve also been an expert for their recent Mindfulness chat. I used to do moderation as part of my role as Advice and Training Manager at YouthNet – but since leaving I have continued in a volunteer capacity.
Support chat is the most common type of chat. For two hours, four evenings a week, the chat room is open for anyone to sign into. Usually it’s community members who come along (young people who are regular chat and discussion forum users) but sometimes it’s a gateway for new people to discover TheSite’s support service. Chatting in real time helps to strengthen the community who gather around the discussion forums. And sometimes regular forum users come into chat under a different name to discuss a more confidential issue.
Support chat is a group peer support space. It allows young people to chat in real time about their difficulties, get peer support from others and give people the benefit of their own experiences and suggestions. Sometimes it is a space for chat and distraction.
It’s a non judgmental and safe space. It is the role of the moderator to keep it that way – even when it gets very busy. Sometimes the chat transcripts can run to 80-100 pages when downloaded into Word. That’s a lot of support for an evening. In general there is a strong focus on managing mental health and wellbeing, although lots of other topics come up too. These can include friendships, relationships, self harm, accessing health services, school and college, online dating, bereavement, music and X Factor (to name a few!).
As a moderator I will be ensuring that everybody in the chat gets support and noone is ignored. This can involve offering suggestions and signposts or encouraging others to offer peer support. I am not there as a counsellor and would never diagnose or tell someone what they should do. Instead I am there to facilitate peer support, to give young people the space to talk and help them decide what courses of action are right for them. Continue reading
I’ve written four articles for lifestyle, health and mental wellbeing magazine ONEinFOUR.
The first was published in the Spring-Summer 2013 issue. It was one of the cover stories and explored managing anxiety and depression in relationships.
More recently I’ve written three pieces for the Autumn-Winter 2013 issue. A piece about volunteering and mental health, an article on stigma and a longer piece on managing the festive season by avoiding making too many comparisons.
Clare uses her knowledge of mental health and previous professional experience to write good mental health and wellbeing related content that focuses on what would be useful for people to know. The results of this moves mental health away from a symptom/service defined subject and into the real textures and experiences of everyday life.
Mark Brown – One in Four Magazine and Director Social Spider CIC
A version of this article was published in the Summer 2013 edition of ONEinFOUR magazine.
Four years ago I was pretty happy. I felt I was finally managing to keep all life’s balls in the air. In meeting someone new, another ball was introduced. This ball brought strong emotions with it: uncertainty, interdependence and allowing someone else to influence my feelings. Fitting this ball into the show without dropping the rest proved difficult.
In the early weeks the obsessive, over thinking part of my mind – the part that makes me ill – stirred and breathed its negative fog over everything. It was poked awake by the healthy but strong emotions associated with falling in love. And then it distorted them horribly.
Liking someone brings vulnerability, uncertainty and risk of rejection. Could I keep this experience separate from the part of my mind that worries over things until it’s wrung out every negative conclusion? Could I stop myself seeing every uncertain incident as an example of my inability to conduct relationships?
Recognising and distinguishing between the emotions that come with the territory of falling in love and those made worse by my depression helped me to focus on the former and disregard the latter. I’m very glad I did. I wrote a little more about how I worked through some of these emotions in my post ‘Writing my mind – writing in the immediacy of the moment’.
That was the early days. And despite the uncertainties being countered by excitement and the rushes of dopamine and norepinephrine, I’m glad they’re over. But how do you manage when depression or anxiety are part of a committed relationship? It isn’t easy. Depression and anxiety can magnify and distort emotions. You need to be on your guard. When looking through their unnatural or distorting lens you can start to feel that there is a problem with the relationship itself – or with one person within it.
When you have to manage mental health in a relationship you need to ensure that that your safety net is strong and maintained by you both to avoid regularly hitting crisis point. So what can work? Continue reading
I recently had reason to remember a scene from my childhood – my friend Jess and I in a tent in a field, surrounded by old copies of teen magazines, reading the problem pages with a strange mix of awe and derision. There was the frisson of excitement caused by the ‘sex and relationship’ problems – aged 12 or so, the whole ‘sex thing’ was still pretty adult and mysterious in practice. This was combined with the certainty that, despite our lack of knowledge, we wouldn’t ever be so stupid as, for example our favourite, the couple we read about who used a crisp packet as a condom. The problems, not the answers were the most interesting to us, and we always turned straight to the problem pages.
Last week, I was published in Bliss magazine, approached in my role as Advice and Training Manager working on TheSite.org. Not on the problem pages themselves but on a page which approached various holiday issues by posing questions “HELP! …….” and then asking various experts to answer them. Continue reading
Take a look at this relationships question about jealousy:
“I’m always worried my boyfriend is going to cheat on me when he’s out with his friends. I’m always texting him when he’s out and it annoys him but I have no confidence that he won’t cheat. We live together and have been together for nearly two years. I can’t help thinking ‘what if?’ even tho he says he has never cheated. I can just imagine that in the future he’ll decide he’s had enough and I will lose him. I really don’t want that. I’m pushing him away, I don’t want to but I am. Help me.”
How would you go about writing an answer?
At the moment, I’m thinking a lot about the skills needed for peer support online – whether that be in mental health, relationships or other areas of support. You can have a look at a slideshow I did at a conference in Antwerp about using the web to provide peer support for emotional health and wellbeing here. Continue reading
Earlier on this week I rediscovered a website called askphilosophers.org. It’s a question and answer service where people post questions which are answered publicly by philosophers. All the sections are pretty interesting (check out the environmental philosophy section) but particularly relevant to us who work on askTheSite was the section on love and emotions.
There was a really interesting mix of some of the sorts of questions we would get in the Relationships section of askTheSite
(‘Can a guy REALLY love you if he comments on other girls saying that they’re cute?’), to questions that took a step back and saw the issue in terms of a more general dilemma (‘If, within a marriage, one partner denies the other sex, can they morally still demand that the other refrain?’).
In my previous job I was once asked a question about the meaning of life. It wasn’t phrased quite like that, but in essence that was what the question was. It went something along the lines of ‘I’m not suicidal, but I keep thinking that, when I die, my family and friends will be sad for a while, but then they will get on with their lives, and they will die and it will be as if I had never existed at all. I just don’t see the point’. The user was concerned about this question to the extent that she felt the need to write into a helpline to help her find meaning in her life. But where else could she talk about these issues? Possibly askphilosophers.org? Patrick and I were thinking about whether we should have a section in askTheSite for more general religious and philosophical questions – young people come up against these all the time but don’t really have a young person orientated forum in which to ask them. Continue reading