A girl with too many thoughts...

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Decisions, decisions...

To say that I am indecisive is probably an understatement: I hate making decisions. It doesn't matter how big or small that decision may be, this still remains true. However, I now find myself faced with quite a large decision about my health, my education and generally how things are going to pan out over the next year or so of my life - and I really don't know what to decide.

To sum up, my quandary is this:

You may or may not know (depending on if you have read my previous posts or follow me on Twitter) that I have just started my first year at University and am currently living in a brand new city, quite far from home. You may or may not also know that I suffer from mental health conditions (namely OCD, social anxiety and an eating disorder).

Since day one I have been struggling at uni (which you can read about here) and now, two weeks down the line, I'm questioning whether or not I am really ready for this massive change. I don't know whether I'm in the right mind-set to cope with everything right now and whether I'm physically healthy enough (as I'm still underweight and feeling drained with all the walking). I feel as though I should have deferred a year to properly work on my health, as well as gaining some confidence (and weight), before embarking on this new adventure.

However, hindsight is a wonderful thing, and the fact of the matter is: I did not defer a year. And now I'm at University totally overwhelmed and regretting my life choices (what's new).

Having spoken to several people at the University about this, we have come to the conclusion that perhaps 'suspending my studies' until next year would be the best course of action for me. That way, I still have my University place, but I just start next year rather than this year. It's almost like being on sick leave for a year.

This gives me a chance to sort both my mental and physical health out. Not only that, but I can gradually introduce myself to situations that make me uncomfortable during that time too, so that it doesn't all come as a big shock to me this time next year when I attempt to try again. I can visit the University throughout that year, familiarise myself with the campus and also the staff.

I can get to know the city a little better and get used to taking the train on my own. I can get a job (something I've been terrified to do since my last awful job), which may help me to gain my confidence. I can learn to drive so that it's not constantly on my mind as 'something-I-must-do-which-I-haven't-done-and-what-if-I-can't-do-it-and-am-really-worried-about-doing-and-oh my-goodness-when-am-I-going-to-do-it!?!?!?!?!' I can also get more counselling to tackle the social anxiety/low self-esteem/self-doubt issues.

So, that all seems fantastic and you are probably wondering what on earth I'm hesitating for. But then there's the flip side of the coin. I was stuck in a rut at home, I was bored and unmotivated - do I really want to be like that for another twelve months? What if I don't get a job or learn to drive because I'm too scared and end up wasting that year? What if I get jealous of all of my friends who are off to uni this year and wish I'd stayed? What if, what if, what if...

Basically, I just can't decide what to do and I need to (like soon...like by tomorrow). If I don't decide by the 26th of this month (Monday), then I miss the 'grace period' that the University offers, meaning I basically owe thousands of pounds (not great when you don't have a job). So, if I stay on a few weeks, I don't really have the option to leave because of the financial implications, no matter how much I may be struggling by that point.

That turned out to be a very lengthy 'summing up', but I needed to get all of the information out of my brain and write it down. I've been tormented by this decision for days and I need some advice on which option to take:

Do I defer until next year and focus on my health (knowing that my University place will be waiting for me this time next year) or do I stick it out and hope it gets better (knowing full well that if it doesn't, I'm stuck here anyway because of money...)?

HELPPP!

Check out my blog post that I wrote for 'Hear2Listen' all about University & mental health. You can view it here!
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Saturday, 17 September 2016

Self-doubt

Self-doubt is something I've been struggling with throughout all of my teenage years and it's only getting worse. It feeds off my confidence and self-esteem, leaving me believing I'm useless at absolutely everything. In the past week though, I've come to realise that I cannot go through my entire life doubting myself like I do. It's making it near impossible for me to progress in my life and enjoy the things that I should be enjoying.

In all honesty, I really don't know how to pull myself out of this mindset - it's like my brain's default setting. 'Oh, you're actually trying to do something useful with your life? Well you're SHIT at it'. I could achieve loads of things in my life and still feel like I'm useless at everything or 'not good enough'. I'm programmed to only ever dwell on what I can't do so well, as opposed to what I have achieved.

Rather than focusing on the fact that I got decent GCSE's and A-levels, I feel like a failure because I didn't do quite as well as this or that person or come out with all A's and A*'s or get into a Russel group University or go to bloody Oxbridge!! Instead of recognising how much I've overcome in terms of my mental health conditions, I focus only on what I can't do because of them. Absolutely nothing I do will ever be good enough for the impossible standards that I set for myself. And these aren't standards that I apply to anybody else, only myself.

I'm just really sick of feeling like this. I can't get a job because no matter what I'm doing, I'm going to feel as though I'm not good enough to carry out that job. I can't learn to drive because I'm going to feel like I'm rubbish at driving or I'm too slow to learn or it's taking me more lessons than everybody else or I'll never be at a stage where I'll actually be able to pass my driving test. I can't stay at University because I have absolutely no confidence in myself to meet new people, turn up at lectures and sit in a room full of people or approach people when I need help with work.

So, the question is, what do you do when you feel like you aren't good enough to do anything?


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Friday, 16 September 2016

First Week At Uni

It's nearing the end of my first week at university and I would be lying if I said I wasn't struggling (like really, really struggling). I wish this post could have started a little more positively, but there you go! It's not like I didn't expect to find this transition difficult. I think it was pretty much inevitable that I would experience a slight 'blip' when starting uni.

So, why is it so bad? Well, for one, I've been waking up every morning feeling very, very sick (and before you ask, no, it's not because I'm hungover). My stomach has been upset every day (which I will not go into detail about). Eating has been a task in itself and I haven't actually had a cooked meal since I arrived, or any real meal for that matter. I've been running on no more than fruit, yoghurt, Weetabix and adrenaline all week.

Another thing that's bothering me? Living in halls. Being next door to loud, drunk, scary teenagers is proving to be very challenging and it's leaving me constantly on edge. Every time the light goes on outside my door, every time I hear somebody come out of their room, every slight sound, is making me jump. Listening to people shouting outside my door at 12am isn't really my idea of a relaxing night in.

The thing I'm by far struggling with the most though, is socialising. That doesn't come as a massive surprise (I do have social anxiety, after all) but it has been a whole lot worse than I had anticipated. I'm constantly self-conscious and overwhelmed being around all of these people and I've only had one-off conversations with people here and there, never to speak to them again. Therefore, I'm feeling quite isolated and cut off right now, which is only making the homesickness even worse. It appears that everyone else already knows somebody or has somebody to walk around with, whereas I am a certified loner.

And, of course, it's wasn't long before a new set of obsessions took hold, just to make everything easier for me. What if I set the fire alarm off and everybody has to leave the building because of me? What if somebody got into my room when I wasn't in and poisoned my milk? What if my next door neighbours are actually murderers who are plotting to break into my room in the night and murder me? What if I get murdered walking to Morrison's?

So yes, I'm finding the whole experience a bit too overwhelming right now and just want to go home. I've decided the best thing for me to do is take the train home for the weekend, in order to be able to think rationally about everything and decide whether or not I'm truly ready to deal with uni and all of the new challenges it brings along with it right now. I'm not thinking clearly here, since I'm just constantly filled with anxiety and dread, so going home seems like the only way to make a proper decision.

On another note, I wrote a blog post for the mental health charity, Student Minds, all about worrying about starting uni and some tips that may help (although, I need to start taking my own advice now). Check it out here!
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Monday, 5 September 2016

Why I Shouldn't Be Ashamed of Taking Antidepressants

My last post on antidepressants became my most popular post, so I thought I would talk about them a little more. It also led me to have some interesting conversations with people about the topic of antidepressants and I like to talk to people! (Well, not in real-life, but on social media I can just about cope).

So, today I wanted to speak about why I'm not ashamed to be taking antidepressants. I've heard all sorts of opinions about these drugs. 'They are over prescribed', 'They don't really do anything', 'It's just the placebo effect!' etc. etc. And I'm not going to sit here and tell you that any of those statements are incorrect. But the fact of the matter is, antidepressants seem to help me, so I take them.

Just like with any medication you may take for a physical condition, I need medication for my mental health condition. So why, I ask, is that such a problem?! Why should I feel ashamed about that? Why should I feel like that is a dirty little secret that I shouldn't tell anybody, just in case they judge me? (And I wouldn't want anybody judging me, now would I?).

It's ludicrous really. Could you imagine having diabetes and feeling guilty for having to take insulin injections? Or having somebody tell you that you really shouldn't have to rely on those insulin injections, just to be able to function. You just wouldn't. So why is it any different when it comes to medication for our mental health?

(In fact, I was having a conversation with my Dad about this and when I used the diabetes analogy, he replied with: 'yes, but diabetes is due to a physical imbalance in the body'. I just looked at him with confusion and said 'SO IS A MENTAL HEALTH CONDITION!? It's due to a chemical imbalance in the brain?!' Safe to say, he couldn't really argue back).

But it doesn't matter how much I tell myself that I shouldn't be ashamed. I can't quite seem to shake that feeling off. Even when I go to the chemist to pick up my prescription, I feel like they are negatively judging me when they look at the little piece of paper and it says 'Fluoxetine 20mg'. Or like the other day when I had my eye test, and the optician asked me if I'm on any medication. I actually felt embarrassed to 'admit' that I was taking Prozac. And when he asked me if that was a 'long-term' thing or not, I felt like he was suggesting that it shouldn't be. 

When people take medication for their physical health, they are being 'sensible' and 'responsible'. We commend them for looking after their health and their body. In fact, if they have a physical complaint, we actively encourage them to go to the doctor and get something for it. Or if somebody has a headache, we say 'I have a paracetamol, do you want one?' as if it is nothing. However, when people take medication for their mental health, it is viewed as 'a failure' or 'a weakness'. 

I'm working on getting rid of that feeling of shame when I tell somebody I'm taking antidepressants. I've slowly come to realise that I shouldn't feel ashamed about it at all. A mental illness is an illness just like any other, and sometimes it needs to be treated with medication.
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Saturday, 3 September 2016

Antidepressants: Expectations vs. Reality

Going on antidepressants was not a decision that I took to lightly. I had read all sorts online about the possible side effects and why you should never go near them. There are a lot of misconceptions floating around about antidepressants, and I ended up with a very confused perception of what being on them may be like and what they might do to me, so I thought I'd write down a few of them here. However, please bear in mind that these are only my experiences and yours may be very different.

(Just a little side note: I'm currently taking 20mg of Fluoxetine daily, and have been since around September 2015, so about 1 year now. Woah, typing that just freaked me out, how has it been a year already?!)

Anyway, here we go...

Expectation 1: I would get every side effect on the list


If you've looked on a leaflet for antidepressants, then you will know that the list of potential side effects is practically endless. When you look at this list it can be very daunting - it makes you question what exactly you are going to be putting in your body. I wrongly assumed that just because a certain side effect was written down, then I would automatically get it. However, this wasn't true. Sure, I got some side effects (namely an upset stomach and an increase in anxiety for a few weeks) but most of them never happened and one year on I am not noticing any side effects what so ever.

Expectation 2: I would become overly happy and care-free


I thought that being on antidepressants would completely change me - that suddenly all of my worries would go away and I would become a different person, a person who was super happy all of the time and up for anything (if only!). Safe to say, that really didn't happen. Going on antidepressants has helped me better cope with my anxiety and fully utilise the CBT techniques that I have learnt to control my OCD. It has also lifted my mood, motivating me to focus on my goals more. But I'm still me, with the same worries - I'm just a little more equipped to deal with those worries. I'm not immune to getting down just because I'm on anti-depressants, either.

Expectation 3: My personality would change


This kind of leads on from my second point, but I thought that going on antidepressants might change my personality. The idea of a medication that would play around with my brain chemistry seriously freaked me out. I thought to myself, surely if it is effecting my brain, then my personality will change as well? But, as I said in my previous point, it didn't. I'm still me! I still have the same likes and dislikes and the character traits that I had before I went on the medication, I still have now.

Expectation 4: I would feel emotionally numb all of the time


If I wasn't worrying that I would become TOO emotional, I was worrying that I would turn into an emotionally-numb zombie instead. I can't exactly say that this didn't happen at all. Okay, so I didn't turn into a zombie, but there are times where I think I should be feeling certain emotions but I am just unable to. It's really difficult to explain. Say there is a sad news story, for example. I know that I should be feeling really upset, but for some reason the emotion doesn't seem to be there. Of course, depression also causes symptoms like this, but I'm also wondering whether the antidepressants contribute too...

So there are just a few of the expectations that I had when I was considering going on antidepressants. As per usual, most of them never actually happened, which just proves there is often a lot of misconceptions and hype in the media that is rarely realistic. I think that this is especially true when it comes to matters surrounding mental health.

I understand that some people have had really bad experiences with antidepressants and don't get on with them at all, and I'm really sorry if that is you. But I also don't think we should be creating yet more mental health stigma by telling everybody that taking medication for your mental health condition is a terrible idea that will only make everything worse.

Nonetheless, I would just like to reiterate that this is MY experience, and that YOURS may be completely different. Just because I got a certain symptom, doesn't mean you will. Likewise, just because I didn't get a certain symptom, doesn't mean you won't. Everybody's body will react differently to certain medications.

You can read more about my experience on antidepressants in the blog post I wrote for 'Penny For Your Thoughts', here...
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Thursday, 1 September 2016

Is Happiness Really a Choice?

Recently, I've seen a lot of things on Twitter etc. saying that 'happiness is a choice' 'you must CHOOSE to be happy', and it got me thinking...

You see, I don't necessarily agree with these statements, is happiness really a choice? Surely if it was, we would all just choose to be happy, right? But we aren't all happy. Some of us suffer from mental health conditions such as depression. We want to be happy but something in our mind is just stopping us from achieving this, and instead we continuously feel low. Do you not think if we could CHOOSE for that feeling to go away, if we could CHOOSE to not suffer from depression, then we would without hesitation?

We aren't always in charge of how we feel, especially when it comes to mental health conditions. Trust me, if I was in charge of my feelings and emotions then I would most certainly choose not to feel anxious over the most irrelevant and irrational things. I would choose not to overthink every tiny detail, every interaction that I have with people. Surely if I could choose not to wake up one morning and feel like crying my eyes out for no apparent reason, then I would? Or if I could choose to feel confident instead of feeling inferior when comparing myself to others, there would be no question about it. But the reality is, I can't always choose how I feel.

Perhaps I am misunderstanding something here or possibly misinterpreting the message of these quotes. However, every time I come across something that says 'happiness is a choice', I instantly think to myself 'that's not always true'. Every time I am told 'I am in charge of my emotions', I think 'I wish I was!' (things would be a whole lot easier if I was!). Sometimes, it only ever feels like my emotions are in charge of me, rather than the other way around...

Surely it is phrases such as this that contribute to the stigma around mental illness. If we all go around telling people that they could be happy, if only they chose it - what does that say to the sufferer? Are we putting the blame on them? Are we telling them it is THEIR fault that they are unhappy, that THEY are the ones that CHOOSE to be ill? Do sayings like this initiate (or at least contribute) to feelings of guilt and shame amongst mental health sufferers? Or am I taking this far too personally and reading into it more than I should?
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