Feeling like my old self again

Monday, May 13, 2019

Did you know that it is Mental Health Awareness Week is 13-19 May?  The theme this year is Body Image, which I will talk about in another post as it is such a loaded topic.  I have been sharing a bit here and on social media the mental struggles I have been having over the last few months.  I am happy to report that I seem to be coming out on the other side.  There is still a bit of stigma around mental health and anxiety in the United Kingdom, so I wanted to share a bit about my story and what I have been doing to try and get better.  It feels a bit weird to do this as I brand myself as the "Happiness Personal Trainer."  You might think I have nothing to be sad about or that I am always smiling.  Neither of these are true.  I am just like everyone else who experiences the highs and lows of life.

The first time I was on anti-depressants was in 2005 when I didn't get into veterinary school for the second time.  It was a plan I had put in place in 2002 that involved moving back in with my mom, attending university part-time to obtain the appropriate prerequisites (like organic chemistry) and working part-time in a small animal clinic.  I also had to take standardized tests and obtain additional experiences with animals (I volunteered at the local humane society farm on the weekends).  I knew it would be a stretch to get in based on the USA vet school admissions system (too complicated to explain here) and even considered moving to North Carolina to increase my chances at different school.  In the end, it wasn't meant to be.

I really struggled with that reality.  I felt lost.  I didn't have a life plan or a sense of purpose.  All I knew is that I wanted something else with my life.  I tried to figure it all out with career counselling, therapy, and switching jobs to a medical laboratory that allowed me to move into my own place.  To help me get through an unsettling time, my doctor put me on citalopram, a selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor.  It is used to treat depression and panic attacks (luckily, I don't have these unless I have to get a cavity filled or go in an enclosed slide).  When I started to feel better, I went back to my doctor and obtained a plan to wean myself off of them.

Fast forward to the summer of 2010.  I was getting married and moving from a small Midwestern town in the USA to London.  Almost everything I had, I had to sell, donate, or throw away (turns out not enough of it as we had to hire an extra car to drive items for storage to my mom's).  Luckily, I was able to secure a job before we landed, but there was a lot of change going on in a small window of time.  So I decided to get back on citalopram to help me through another time of transition.

Life in London was a huge adjustment and I stayed on the medication to help me cope.  There never seemed to be a good time to come off of it.  I am 'only' on 20mg/day which my doctor says is a low dose.  A few years ago, I increased my dosage around Christmas time as I was stressing about family and holidays (as many people do).  There is too much to go into here, but I wasn't handling things well.  I went back to my doctor and we agreed to temporarily increase my dose. After a few months, things were less stressful and I went back to my original dose.

And here we are today.  For the last few months, I have been struggling mentally and emotionally.  There are a few reasons why:
  • Things at work aren't where I want them to be
  • My dog passed away unexpectedly (we knew the end was near, but there was an accident)
  • I haven't been able to do high-impact exercise (ie run) since 8 March
  • Also during that time, I have had a bad cold with stuffy nose and cough (so it was good that both happened at the same time to save me time)
  • My energy levels are low and I just feel tired, especially when I wake up. I was worried my glandular fever (mono) was back but I never had a fever.
  • In general, I tend to over-commit which brings on anxiety.  This is an on-going problem that I am working on.
I finally decided I couldn't go on like this.  A few weeks ago, I went to my doctor for blood tests and to increase my citalopram dosage.  I have also read books on mindfulness, cognitive behaviour therapy, SUMO straight-talking, had hypnotherapy, and tried CBD oil.  I also reached out to several friends back home and had some amazing catch-ups on the phone.  Even though it caused tension at home, I decided to avoid certain social situations that could have triggered additional stress.  Finally, I ate a lot of raw cookie dough.  So much so that I gained six pounds (I am sure the no exercise bit didn't help).

Slowly the tides are changing.  My cough is just about gone.  Last week, I was able to run for a few minutes at a time (not long enough to get a runner's high).  I was a bit worried before I started running as I didn't want to injure myself again, but so far so good!  At the end of last week, my husband noticed my mood was improving too.  Citalopram (much like other anti-depressants) can take a few weeks to start working.  My blood work was normal, aside from low folic acid for which I was prescribed a medication.  The doctor said if I still feel low in three months to come back and see her (thanks NHS).  On Saturday morning, my latest adventure became real because I booked my flights (more on this later in the week).  Finally, I was able to watch a very adorable puppy Saturday afternoon which brought me much joy.  I am still looking on several dog rescue websites a day but haven't found "the one" yet.  Puppy-sitting will have to do for now.

Where does leave me?  And you?

Obviously, in sharing these personal details with you, I officially have Imposter Syndrome and am worried the trolls will come out of the woodwork.  However, I felt strongly that I wanted you to know about my experience in case you or someone you know are also feeling low or sad.  I am quite open with my colleagues about my medication and happy to answer any questions that they may have.  And I want you to know that you can ask me questions too.  There is nothing to be ashamed of in needing anti-depressant medication.  I have many friends that have been on them.  Some have been able to come off and others realized that they need to stay on them.  

Depression can be genetic, it can be a chemical imbalance, caused by a stressful situation (like I have had recently), or medical problems.  It doesn't mean you are weak or a bad person.  If you are feeling depressed and thinking about harming yourself, please call 999 or Samaritans in the UK (911 or Suicide Prevention Helpline in the USA).  Ask for help.  

What have I learned over the last few months?
  • I need to run to manage my anxiety and depression levels.  Soon I will be able to do this.
  • I asked for help and I got some from friends, my family, and my doctor.  And their support helped me tremendously. 
  • Although I have enjoyed having freedom in my schedule not to be home at specific times, I really miss having a dog.  Oldland gave me a purpose, a reason to walk in the park every day, and a friend to cuddle with on the couch.
  • I needed extra medication to manage my situation.  How did I know this?  I didn't want to get out of bed (sometimes I didn't even want to shower, but I did).  I didn't want to talk to anyone.  My tolerance for other people was very low.  I just wanted to sit on the couch and watch Grey' Anatomy.   
  • Having an adventure or trip to look forward to gives my mind something to focus on and plan for.  Which makes it a good distraction technique! 

I can't say what the next few months will bring.  The medication seems to be working.  Once I am able to run regularly, I will have a good think about whether it will be time to adjust it again.  I will keep sending James links to dogs up for adoption and try to convince him that we are ready for another one.

Please feel free to email me if you would like to ask me any questions about depression or being on anti-depressants.  

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