Benzo’s Are A Girl’s Best Friend: Unsolicited Advice on Progress

The Diary

Jen McGuire

 

I often find it difficult to talk about my varying mental health issues. Not because I’m ashamed or embarrassed, but because I’ve been dealing with them for so long. I don’t remember a point in my teenage or adult life where it hasn’t been something I’ve had to face head on. In a way, the depression and the anxiety are a part of me that I’ve never been without- I have blue eyes, I’m allergic to penicillin and sometimes I’m cripplingly afraid to go outside. If you know me well, you know I’m a walking bingo card for psychological dysfunction. But, with a little help from our good old friends Sertraline and Chardonnay (a mixture I lovingly refer to as truth serum), Ican shed some light on my unconventional coping mechanisms, and how I’ve survived the past eight years of cerebral chaos.

1: Selective Self-Seeking

Unconventional self-help tip numero uno: sometimes you have to be selfish. If I had a pound for every time someone told me they’d delayed getting help to ‘protect’ a loved one’s concerns, I’d have Zac Efron on a diamond encrusted leash. It’s normal to be reluctant to worry the people you care about, but looking out for yourself is the first step to progress. What makes mental health disorders so incomprehensible to those who have not experienced them, is their enduring nature. You can’t just take a course of pills and feel better, it isn’t a virus that needs to be placed into isolation, and it can’t be surgically removed. When battling addiction, they say admitting you have a problem is the hardest part of recovery, and I think the same can be said for mental health. Admit it to yourself and those around you, and then do everything you can to kick its arse into remission. In the beginning, you need to look at what youneed and what’s going to make you better. Those who truly have your best interests to heart, will accept that and aid you in your journey. Those who don’t, do not care about you and will get crotch-punched later in life (either metaphorically by karma, or literally by me if I ever meet them). Be aware of the things that are good for you mentally, and be selfish in your attempts to surround yourself with them… Just try not to be a massive dick about it.

 

2: Accepting the Ugly

When I was 15 I had my first panic attack in the middle of my high school gym hall. If you have ever experienced one of these little shits, you’ll know your first thought is that you’re very possibly dying. In between mentally planning who was going to sing ‘Wonderwall’ at my funeral, and who gets my electric pink Stratocaster in my will, I saw my local GP. What I’ve come to realise as I rapidly approach my mid-twenties, is that not once did this doctor ever explain that this could very likely be an ongoing issue (spoiler: it has been). My mentality at the time, fragile as it was, was that it would just be a blip in an otherwise normal adolescence. For nearly eight years I’ve wondered when it’s all going to stop, when I’m going to “get better”. This notion was shattered only a few months ago when my new (and infinitely more likeable) doctor told me “Jen, you’ve had this for eight years now. It’s not going away.” Whilst that might seem harsh to some, it was a revelation to me. Yes, I would love to wake up tomorrow and never have to deal with any of it ever again. I’d give almost anything to not have another panic attack or a day spent crying in the dark. But recent experience suggests that this is something that is always going to be a part of me, and that’s okay. I can and have coped, and so can you. We all have things we don’t like about ourselves, but you can take part of it and turn it into a positive. Let your efforts to protect your own wellbeing against all odds become one of your biggest strengths, I promise you’ll come to love yourself for it.

 

3: Knowing Yourself

By living with mental health disorders, it has become somewhat difficult to differentiate between aspects of my personality, and symptoms of my conditions. Am I a paranoid person, or is the anxiety making me that way? Am I pessimistic or am I just on a downer right now? Will drinking bring out the best or worst in me tonight? Which version of myself am I today? Who am I? What will I be? This is the hardest thing for me to write about, because battling with what’s me and what’s a side effect has brought me upon some of my biggest crises to date. I wish I had an answer to this, but I’m still trying to work it out myself. On the good days, I trust in myself to know who I am. I’m funny, intelligent, kind and sensitive. On the bad I interpret these traits as being annoying, arrogant, selfish and cold. Maybe I am all of these things, or perhaps I’m none of them. What I’ve come to learn is that you can find solace in the uncertainty of it all. I can change, I can grow and I can learn because it’s all a part of who I have the potential to be. I also know the things that will never change: I will never not rap R Kelly’s ‘Ignition’ to random strangers in a club; I’ll always eat the blue M&M’s first and so help me god if there’s tequila anywhere near me I will vomit rainbows. What I’m trying to say, is take advantage of what is unique to you today and look forward to learning the rest tomorrow, next week or a year from now.

 

4: Progressing

I’m not a fan of the term ‘recovery’ when it comes to mental health. It implies something going away, never to return, to be forgotten about and rarely discussed. Even if what you’re going through does ‘Die Hard’ it has the potential to return ‘With A Vengeance’ like some sort of ‘Lethal Weapon’… Excellent action movie puns aside, it is completely normal to accept that you may take three steps forward and five steps back. You might be crushing it in the office today, then sobbing on the bathroom floor tomorrow. A couple of weeks ago I was hysterically crying and vomiting in a bucket on my mum’s living room floor, and now I’m writing an article promoting mental health wellbeing. The journey from depression and anxiety to fully functioning human being is kind of like the Trump presidency- unpredictable, daunting and senseless. You can’t call it, so roll with the punches and pat yourself on the back for getting through each day. They say thank heavens for small mercies, and I agree. Applaud yourself for any and all progresses, no matter how minor they might seem. Managed to eat some toast despite not having an appetite all week? Progress. Not self-harming when you’ve had a really bad day? Progress. Telling a friend what you’re going through at the minute? Progress, progress, progress.

 

5: “You’re going to have to save yourself.”

A depressive, 20-something English graduate quoting Bukowski? “HOW ORIGINAL!” I hear you cry. But spare me your eye rolls, because I have a point to make and you bet your apprehensive arse that it’s a good one. Like so many, I turn to literature on the dark days to bring my spirits up. I even managed to bullshit a degree out of it, but that’s neither here nor there… However, one verse by Charles Bukowski always comes to mind when I’m giving myself a pep-talk:

“Nobody can save you but

yourself.

and you’re worth saving.

it’s a war not easily won.

but if anything is worth winning then

this is it”

 

While it might sound daunting, I’ve found a great deal of comfort in knowing it’s all on me. We are all the masters of our own destiny and the engineers to our own happiness. Talk to people, love people, share your life with people, but remember it all starts and ends with you. The strongest people I know are the ones fighting the monsters in their own head. Getting yourself out of bed and seeking help is the most empowering thing you can do. When you feel like your life is getting out of your control, take it back. When you’re crippled with self-doubt, find comfort in the promise of tomorrow. Put one foot in front of the other, and know that whenever you fall there is always a way to get back up. You are both the victim and the hero in your own story. Dammit, you are the story, so start writing.

The Crazy Clinic Chronicles

The Diary

I try to be as open as possible about my treatment and personal progress, as you know. So, with this in mind, my aim is to document my visits to the doctor and any changes to my medication/routine.

Is it too personal? Perhaps too much sharing? Probably.

But I know that there are people dealing with undiagnosed mental health struggles and, this way, they get to see that seeking help and being on prescribed medication isn’t as scary as it seems.


My last visit for an evaluation was a month ago, my doctor had changed my dosage for my anti-anxiety drugs and, today, wanted to see how the alterations had affected me. Four weeks ago, I had complained of a ‘spike’ in my nerves. The way my anxiety works means that when it flares up, my bipolar symptoms can too. Feeding the fire, so to speak. It’s easy for me to separate anxiety from my more severe problems now, I can sense when it’s coming and how it’ll affect my mood swings. Last month, I had started experiencing faint hallucinations and severe distraction. I couldn’t focus on a task for more than 30/40 seconds without something breaking my attention.

Imagine Dory from Finding Nemo on drugs. That was me.

Anyway, the changes involved going from one, slow-release tablet in the morning to two, fast-acting pills taken 6 hours apart. For the first week, I didn’t feel any better. Worse, in fact. I was having small panic attacks on the commute to work and was only able to remain calm due to the knowledge that I had taken action and had to be patient to see changes. By the second week, I noticed a huge change in my nerves in the morning. I was walking up calm instead of shaking with irrational fear. At this point, mornings were starting to get lighter and brighter too, which makes a huge difference to me. I was able to leave the house much more confidently.

Today I had my re-evaluation, and while it could’ve went better, I’m staying optimistic with treatment. I had yet another increase with a different drug, one which I was disappointed in having to take.

I’m still naive in the sense that I always think my doses will go down, rather than increase or plateau. 

I’m allowing myself to be bothered by this increase because it’s normal to be disappointed at needing help. There’s no need to act like you’re happy to be taking even more medication. Will it help? Yes. Do you need to enjoy taking it? Absolutely fucking not.

Anyway…

I’ve got a new, and dare I say better, doctor. She explained to me that once your mind stabilises and is ready to bounce back, it might need some help to get there. It’s been through a shock. So, again, in a month she’ll evaluate my progress with the new medication. I have appointments between now and then, so any issues that arise can be tackled pretty quickly.

My homework until then is to learn more about Bipolar Type II.

Plodding onwards, chums.

leonardo dicaprio cheers martin scorsese congratulations hooray

# Yes, I’m aware Leo has appeared twice. He’s soothing to me. Fuck off.

The craic with CBT.

The Diary, Uncategorized

This week, I attended my second CBT session with Uncle Fester the lovely Jim.

God love the man, but he genuinely takes an hour to ask a question.

CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) is designed to understand why you’re thoughts are what they are. It’s a mindfuck, basically. And for an hour each week, Jim will evaluate my reactions towards specific things that have happened since our last render-vouz. This post is basically to outline what happens when you start attending the Crazy Clinic, and why it’s actually not that bad.


Every Wednesday, I’ll wait in the reception area until I see his wee, round moon face. He’s a delightful guy, seems to know his stuff and always, ALWAYS comments on the weather as we walk to the consultation room. It’s a big white room with two chairs, a computer and a filing cabinet. He has a Reebok backpack and wears the same shoes as Nuns. Those wee clunky black things. So fetch.

The reception is shared with the dental department on the other side of the building, so sometimes it’s hard to tell if someone is there because they’re a lunatic or if they need a filling. This week there was a woman crying with her head in her hands and rocking in her seat. So I’m thinking her dental was stronger than her mental, na’mean?

Anyway, we’ll usually go in, sit down and wait for him to find the bits of paper that he needs. He’ll go over what we discussed last week, and always say this before we start:

‘So the point in these first few appointments is to get to know you and why you’re here, and what you want to achieve by coming here. Okay?’

Aye, okay Jim.

We started using little sheets called Behavioral Models which break down a specific event that occurred during the last week. The event has to be of a negative nature, so this week I used the fact that I didn’t get into my chosen uni course. It didn’t cause a flare up, but it was the only real negative thing to happen.

The models look a little bit like this, except I have to write under the headings. This one has already been filled out by some poor soul.

Infographic

I think Jim gets pissed off with me sometimes because I start blethering and going off subject, a sign – he says – of why I’m there. Refusal to ‘open up’.

I’m an Ice Queen, mate. A bottler, a closed book, a mystery to all.

That kinda thing.

Anyway, we use that model to promote conversation about how my wee head deals with negative news or bad vibes in general. He seems to think that I took the uni news well, compared to how I would’ve dealt with it in March – alcohol, not eating and toying with the idea of legging it to Dublin.

Jim’s job is to take my thoughts, actions, physical reactions and emotional behaviour then cause me to question why they stick with me. Instead of just fading away like most thoughts, my mind holds onto some bad things and causes me to react in certain ways. The week before, we looked into why a high school ‘frenemy’ had piped up and caused me to briefly consider doing stupid things. Why does her opinion matter? Why would a so-called sane person like her want to get a reaction? The truth is, her opinion didn’t matter – it still doesn’t. But my mind is impressionable, so it stuck and hit a nerve.

CBT is bit like tidying your room.

You don’t want to do it, but you have to because otherwise your mind becomes a tip. You’ll go into corners and find the most hideous mess and have to put it in a bin bag, and you’ll probably find things that are embarrassing and hurtful, but they need tidied up too. It makes you realise how many memories, experiences and feelings your brain processes on a daily basis. And if you have depression or anxiety, those things become more relevant and stronger than they need to be. You cling onto shit, basically. CBT is there to establish the links with those and your illness, and eventually snap them.

As the appointment goes on, Jim tries to explain why my brain is struggling to let go of hypothetical situations. He says that some people, for some reason, can’t see the line between real life and facts, and the little paranoid situation that they’ve fabricated in their heads.

This week, he gave me a little ‘workbook’ to add to my folder. It’s a collection of forms to fill out ‘whenever I feel like it’. Different sheets ask different questions about family life, aspirations, hobbies, health history and shit like that. I think he’s trying to figure out if I’ve been permanently damaged by Daddy Issues.

At the end of each meeting, he always asks if I want to come back. He never assumes. The thing with therapy is that, as intrusive as it can be, it’s on your terms. It’s a consensual fucking of your mind.

He’ll ask, I’ll say yes and we wait another 7 riveting days for our next chat.

There is no long sofa on which I lie down and confess my deep turmoil to a bearded, professor-like chap.

There are no padded walls.

It’s literally talking to a slightly inquisitive, stone-faced bald guy who just wants to know why the fuck you’re so worried.

If you’re given the option, do it. It helps.

fester and debbie

An in-session photo of Jim and I.