Sh*t, I’m 29 today.

Sh*t, I’m 29 today. At 7.42am to be precise. I mean, I actually don’t feel so bad about it right now. My feeling on this number seems to fluctuate. There are times when my mind gets thinking about all the things I thought I’d have achieved and the milestones hit by this stage in my life. And then I try to push these thoughts out of my mind – or, better yet, try to be still and tell myself to stop it.

It was only 2 years ago that I turned 27, and I wrote this post. On the one hand, there are some gems in there. On the other, it gives me a headache just looking at it. Years of consuming knowledge all spilled out onto a page. Constantly trying to self-diagnose, to find ‘better’ information, to seek answers to the big questions and somehow come up with this grand-theory-on-life.

How to be happy. What career to do.

The irony is, this constant information-consumption leads to over-thinking and anxiety. A state of paralysis and in-action. I’ve worried so much about what to do with my life work-wise, that I have found myself not working – which itself causes low mood. My identity has become so wrapped up in “work”, that my life used to be unbalanced and key parts of my life neglected. Friendships, family, exercise, sleep.

Even at the gym this evening, I found myself pondering the 5 or 6 projects I’m currently interested in, work-wise. I’m constantly worried about making the right decision, about where to focus, about which ones to choose and which ones not to choose. About what I’m supposed to do.

Fuck it’s exhausting.

It’s really hard for me to let go, and just commit to – and focus on – a couple of those projects. I get this ridiculous FOMO and worry about making the right choice. What the f*ck is the right choice?! Surely there isn’t one. I know this logically, but it’s not easy to untangle myself from this destructive mindset.

Because I spend so much time thinking and worrying, I stop myself from just going with it and enjoying the moment. Living in the present. I have recently gotten back on the Headspace app and I usually do a little meditation whilst sat in the gym jacuzzi after my workout. I incorporate stretching and yoga into my workouts to relax and ease tension in my body – and thus in my mind.

Anything to keep me as still and relaxed and as focused on the present as possible.

I’ve spent so much time reading books and blogs and listening to podcasts, trying to reconcile my life and my work with those free-living freelancers whose stories I have endlessly devoured. I love to learn new things and have always been curious – but all this info-consumption only makes me more anxious.

Not too long ago, I even put myself on a non-fiction diet to stop putting irrelevant information in my head. I wish I could just make a choice and stick with it. And not need reassurance from the stuff I read and the people I see online. Really, it comes down to self-belief and self-confidence. There’s a lightbulb moment right there.

It looks like I’m about to start a job working for a good friend of mine in an exciting business, and I’m feeling good about this for a lot of reasons. But then I ask myself what projects I should be working on on the side – which might potentially become ‘the thing; further down the line. Again, it comes back to those stupid expectations.

I am just trying to be still, to feel rather than think, and to do rather than ruminate. I’m pretty sure that once I start this new job of mine, I’ll largely be kept busy and engaged. So I reckon I’ll have time for just 1 or 2 side-projects, maximum.

And whilst I’m still teetering over which ones to focus on, I am trying to lean into feeling rather than thinking. Both my therapist, and a good friend of mine who is training to be a coach (none other than ‘Girl J’ – remember her?), have asked me to imagine myself how I feel and experience doing the thing I’m pondering over, rather than thinking and ruminating about it.

And that’s what I intend to do from here on in. Less thinking, more feeling. Less ruminating, more doing. Less anxiety about the future, more being in the present.

Happy 29th to me. Perhaps I’m becoming more of an adult after all.

by Jas

✏ Written: Monday 4th June, 2018

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Do I have social anxiety?

When I penned this post a couple of weeks ago, I feel I was still posing this as a question. As I write this, today, I am fairly confident I have some social anxiety at the very least. Googling the definition only makes me more confident of this.

This time last year, I found myself in therapy, yet the thought of being socially anxious was not remotely on my radar. However, I have found myself becoming increasingly introverted in the last couple of years, as I’ve left the stability of my office job (sales).

Whilst I have known I’m an introvert for a while now, after watching Susan Cain’s infamous TED Talk (+ subsequently going on an introvert book/blog/general binge), I never would have said I was socially anxious. I’m aware I’ve typed that twice already. But really, I would have though it impossible. My job for 5 years was talking to people all day long, working in an open-plan office!

That said, looking back, there were still clues there. Each day, the first couple of phone calls were certainly the trickiest. I’d feel awkward, and anxious, but I thought that was just ‘warming up’ for the day, and it seemed to be common amongst other sales folks too. Perhaps we’re all socially anxious to an extent. Like everything, it’s probably a scale.

This morning (at time of writing) I was supposed to go to my second “monthly goalsetting” event. It’s an event run by a couple of friends I know, who are wonderful, intuitive human beings. For the first session the previous month, the two-hour event was followed by a brunch – which pretty much everyone in the group went to. A handful of us even hung around after that for some drinks, I stayed till around 6pm and others were still going. A long day by my current standards, but a good day.

Today (at time of writing), when my alarm went off to give me time to get ready and take the train, I spent a few more precious moments in bed, pulling the duvet over my head. I don’t like mornings, and I like my bed. Half an hour later, I emerged from my sanctuary. I was going to miss the train I’d planned to get to arrive early, and the next one would get me there around 5 minutes late, and that was if the connections were all smooth.

As I lay in bed for longer, I feel on some level I was already doubting if I’d go along to the event. Thinking about it, I think I felt a little nervous about the apparent lack of progress with my job search (I didn’t have a job yet, after all), and from the judgement that would come with that. I met a really sweet, lovely girl last time, M, and I was sure that – probably out of complete innocent interest – she wouldn’t be meaning to make me feel bad. Said girl, M, had only graduated last year and was now seemingly flying in her first role after university. And now, with me arriving late (like several of us had done last time) twice in a row, and the prospect of walking in and having to apologise to everyone… it was something I just couldn’t hack. In that moment, I decided I wasn’t going to go.

I gave myself the excuse that I’d not been 100% well this week and was recovering from a slight cold, and Whatsapped the two girls as such to let them know. By not going, I’d be saving myself from the cold weather, and 3 hours of travel. There is a chance that I could’ve picked up some more germs along the way to add to the remnants of my cold; but really, I knew that wasn’t the main reason for my not going.

Simply put, I was not really in the mood for talking to anyone that morning (as nice as this group was), and I was anxious about the judgement re: my job situation (or lack of one) – and the cherry on the cake was walking in late after missing the intended train.

Interestingly – and shamefully – I was often late for meetings in my sales job. I became frightfully good at apologising in a way that kinda let me get away with it. Back then, I was in more of a routine, and ‘socially-energised’ (or, really, anxious in a different way) from the job I was doing all day. So, somehow, I got through the discomfort. I honestly think the ‘buzz’ I feel the constant buzz of being in the (open-plan) office and socialising, was what carried through the day and helped me cope. Even though I’d start each day feeling nervous, I’d ‘warm up’ from any calls/meetings early in the day.

These days, the lack of routine and steady interaction with others (which I’ve been missing for nearly 3 years now), seems to have added power to this discomfort.

Was I wrong to ‘chicken out’ of this goal-setting gathering? I had been looking forward to it, and I hadn’t done much socialising this week (again, at time of writing). There-in, perhaps, lies the problem.

I’ve learnt a lot about myself over the last couple of years. I know I’m particularly sensitive to others, and their opinions and judgements. (In fact today, at time of publishing, I’ve written a long post about all of the people at my gym I’m currently aware of/avoiding/feel awkward with – it’s a long list, and adds more evidence to my having ‘social anxiety’).

I feel that, with the lack of structure and interaction of late, this social anxiety has only been heightened. It has gained in strength.

Reflective on the positives, I am pleased that I am finally realising this, acknowledging it, and slowly getting to know it better. Hopefully, I can begin to actively manage it. It helps that mental health, and social anxiety (which the NIMH describes as a ‘mental health condition’ – this is news to me, I must admit), are being talked about more. I am fortunate to have already connected with several other bloggers and readers here on WordPress, who also write about their experiences with mental health. Folks like James Edgar Skye, who often writes about his social anxiety.

I’m grateful for information being ‘out there’, and others – like James – helping me feel a little less weird, and much less alone.

PS. There was no post on Sunday this week; instead, I sent out my first ever ‘awkward newsletter’ – complete with voice note + updates on what I’m up to. If you opt-in here, I’ll forward you a copy.

✏ Written: Saturday, 24th February 2018 [time not recorded]

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What about you?
I’d be really interested to hear from your experience(s) with social anxiety, if you have any. Also, whether you’re someone who is socially anxious or not, let me know whereabouts you would say you fall on the ‘Introvert/Extrovert’ scale.

#MedsWorkedForMe is trending on Twitter

So the hashtag #MedsWorkedForMe is currently trending on Twitter.

This is pretty cool, especially as mental health and medication are prettyyyy difficult subjects to talk about “in real life” (IRL, for the cool kids). I sometimes wonder what the point of Twitter is, so it’s nice when a really valuable purpose like this shows up.

I’ve just tweeted about my own medication, and then I thought what better time for an accompanying blog post.

For anyone who has struggled with their mental health, they’ll know what I’m talking about. I’ll even admit, before I went to group therapy – where I got to mix with all sorts of people from different walks and with different mental health diagnoses – I had made all sorts of unfair, negative assumptions about people with mental illness.

This was even after I’d received my own diagnosis from a psychiatrist (a reputable one who’d come recommended), of depression and anxiety – I didn’t believe my diagnosis at the time, I was convinced there was something just intrinsically wrong with me, and that depression/anxiety was just an excuse. When I got to the private hospital I was being treated at, as a day patient, everyone would talk about their medication. We were in a safe space. It was normalised.

I still find mental health a complex, confusing subject. Especially my own mental health. And I’ve studied a Masters in Psychology too.

Medication

When it came to medication, I was sceptical. However, the first time I saw my psychiatrist, I was feeling pretty low, and it had been getting progressively worse over recent weeks. So I was willing to try anything. (Sidenote: admittedly, I wasn’t overly-keen when he mentioned group therapy. Me. Talking. About myself. Deep stuff. In front of a group of people? Hmmmm).

For 4 months, I took sertraline along with group-therapy (2-3 days a week) plus 1-to-1 therapy (1 hour a week). It took a couple of weeks for me to notice anything, but even the structure that getting out of the house and going to group therapy for the day provided (on the days I went in) helped. About a month or so in, I was starting to notice feeling different. I was slowly beginning to open up and talk in therapy, and they say sertraline can take anything from 4-8 weeks to make any difference.

Sertraline caused diarrhoea, particularly right at the start. I also used to sweat a lot at night (even if it was cold!), and I started to dream more frequently, and more vividly.

After 4 months group therapy came to an end after consultation with my psychiatrist / therapists at the private hospital. I went away travelling for a couple of weeks, and – feeling better – came off the sertraline. Later that Summer, having felt better again, I took a down-turn which gradually saw me get lower and lower in mood again.

This time, due to sertraline’s side effects, I went on escitalopram. Even after 7 or 8 weeks, nothing seemed to be happening. Apparently, escitalopram wasn’t for me.

I went back on the sertraline, and also started 1-to-1 therapy with a new therapist. It’s been a couple of months now and, especially this last month, I’ve been noticing my state lifting again. I feel less depressed, less tired, and with more general zest to do things/see people/get out of the house. As I took last year off, and have only recently began looking for work again (in fact, quitting my job and studying, whilst “figuring out what I wanted to do with my life” and the associated disruption to my life/schedule certainly contributed to the bout of depression around a year ago which was the first time I was officially diagnosed. That’s for another post), I am hoping that work – in the right job/environment – and the structure that will bring will also further help with my mental health.

Both times I’ve taken the sertraline, it’s been accompanied by therapy. Interestingly, the second time around, the diarrhoea has gone/is minimal, though I’m still sweating (I’m taking milk thistle tablets which are supposed to help with the liver effects/sweating caused by sertraline).

It’s difficult to say whether it’s the medication, or therapy, which is helping. My psychiatrist always asks me whether he feels the medication is working, and I can never give a definitive answer. For me, as a “closed book” just having someone to talk to in therapy, especially someone who I can be open with and I feel “gets me” is so valuable.

But something tells me the medication is helping, too. My instinct is that it’s a bit of both.

For everyone out their currently taking, or who has previously taken meds, I hope it helps. It is amazing just how well/not well people respond to different types of medication. In my experience, there is something out there for everyone that help,s but it’s just a case of finding it.

I really hope more of us feel we can talk about our mental health with one another. Right now, it’s only close members of my family and select friends that know about my mental health / therapy / medication.

I feel that talking about it is really important, whether it’s in person, on Twitter, or in blog posts/discussions.

When it came to medication, I was sceptical. However, the first time I saw my psychiatrist, I was feeling pretty low, and it had been getting progressively worse over recent weeks. So I was willing to try anything.

For 4 months, I took sertraline along with group-therapy (2-3 days a week) plus 1-to-1 therapy (1 hour a week). It took a couple of weeks for me to notice anything, but even the structure that getting out of the house and going to group therapy for the day provided (on the days I went in) helped. About a month or so in, I was starting to notice feeling different. I was slowly beginning to open up and talk in therapy, and they say sertraline can take anything from 4-8 weeks to make any difference.

Sertraline caused diarrhoea, particularly right at the start. I also used to sweat a lot at night (even if it was cold!), and I started to dream more frequently, and more vividly.

After 4 months group therapy came to an end after consultation with my psychiatrist / therapists at the private hospital. I went away travelling for a couple of weeks, and – feeling better – came off the sertraline. Later that Summer, having felt better again, I took a down-turn which gradually saw me get lower and lower in mood again.

This time, due to sertraline’s side effects, I went on escitalopram. Even after 7 or 8 weeks, nothing seemed to be happening.

I went back on the sertraline, and also started 1-to-1 therapy with a new therapist. It’s been a couple of months now and, especially this last month, I’ve been noticing my state lifting again. I feel less depressed, less tired, and with more general zest to do things/see people/get out of the house. As I took last year off, and have only recently began looking for work again (in fact, quitting my job and studying, whilst “figuring out what I wanted to do with my life” and the associated disruption to my life/schedule certainly contributed to the bout of depression around a year ago which was the first time I was officially diagnosed. That’s for another post), I am hoping that work – in the right job/environment – and the structure that will bring will also further help with my mental health.

Both times I’ve taken the sertraline, it’s been accompanied by therapy. Interestingly, the second time around, the diarrhoea has gone/is minimal, though I’m still sweating (I’m taking milk thistle tablets which are supposed to help with the liver effects/sweating caused by sertraline).

It’s difficult to say whether it’s the medication, or therapy, which is helping. My psychiatrist always asks me whether he feels the medication is working, and I can never give a definitive answer. For me, as a “closed book” just having someone to talk to in therapy, especially someone who I can be open with and I feel “gets me” is so valuable.

But something tells me the medication is helping, too. My instinct is that it’s a bit of both.

For everyone out their currently taking, or who has previously taken meds, I hope it helps. It is amazing just how well/not well people respond to different types of medication. In my experience, there is something out there for everyone that help,s but it’s just a case of finding it.

I really hope more of us feel we can talk about our mental health with one another. Right now, it’s only close members of my family and select friends that know about my mental health / therapy / medication.

I feel that talking about it is really important, whether it’s in person, on Twitter, or in blog posts – and the discussion that can follow – like this one.

✏️ Written: Thursday, 22nd February 2018 @ 8.15pm

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What about you? 👀
If you feel comfortable sharing, have you used – or previously tried – any medications? How have you responded to them? I’m fascinated to hear what others’ “magic drugs” are