Eek. Needles.

I’ve been struggling with hip pain for a long time; in the last 6 months it’s been getting worse and I finally went to the GP about it in June. In classic NHS style, I then waited till 2 weeks ago for my appointment with the specialist to roll around; I was in with him for about 5 minutes and he is pretty baffled, so now I have to go for an MRI. As he filled out the MRI forms he said words that made my blood run cold – “There will be a small injection.”

I hate needles. I have tattoos, sure, but that’s different for some reason (I’m not entirely sure what the reason is though). It’s only recently that I’ve managed to get myself to face up to needing regular blood tests – as a lot of mental health patients have to. As I walked out of the consultation, I was straight on my phone, looking up what an MRI with an injection entailed. Initial Googling reassured me that it would probably be what they term an ‘indirect arthrogram’, where they inject a small amount of contrast dye into the bloodstream and let it diffuse around the body. This seemed deal-able with.

But then, I got a letter to confirm the appointment and as I read it I felt the anxiety swelling in my throat. It contained details of the investigative procedure; specifically that they would be doing a direct arthrogram, which means they will be injecting the dye directly into my hip joint. Shit. It isn’t a prospect I’m ecstatic about (who would be?!). I am torn between reading up about every last detail and simply pretending it isn’t happening until the very last minute. I will admit I’ve had a little look on Google, and I’m not sure if that was a helpful thing to do.

Thankfully my mum is driving me there and waiting for me so at least I won’t be flying solo. But I am in a horrible panic about it even now, with 3 days remaining on the countdown. I’m hoping I can keep a handle on the anxiety and ‘power through’ it; I’m not half bad at doing that (I practice it every day of my life between travelling on the bus, dealing with work, and walking round town – I don’t let the niggles of fear swell into anything greater than a sense of nervousness, else I’d never get anything done.)

If anyone has had a direct arthrogram and have any tips, please let me know what it was like, how you dealt with it etc. I am desperate for some reassurance that this won’t be the trial I am setting it up as in my mind.

Eek. Needles.

The Trials of Office Politics

The whole situation with Colleague X is really getting me down, no matter how hard I try to tell myself it really shouldn’t matter to me anymore. It’s been over a month since I moved to the new team here and I love my new role. It’s all pretty rosy; except the Colleague X problem.

It would be OK if I knew what I’d done to deserve such low levels of respect or tolerance from her. I knew when I left the team they’d not be happy to let me go; getting the go-ahead to switch roles on the right date was just hassle. But it’s like I have made a personal attack on her by leaving, maybe? I really don’t know or understand. She outright ignores me, except to say thanks for holding a door open (this happened earlier today. I was amazed to even get a thanks.)

I suppose it is my eagerness to be liked and well-regarded in the office that is causing this to affect me so much. But honestly, to be ostracised so completely from even polite ‘Good Morning’s and ‘How’s things?’ feels absolutely awful. It’s not like I’ve not made the effort with her. When we went out for team drinks a couple of months ago – as I blogged about – we spent the whole evening talking on really deep subject and got along pretty well. I understand her issues thanks to that conversation and she knows a fair bit about me.

Maybe it’s because I know a bit more than she’s comfortable with? Maybe she sees me as a traitor for leaving the team for the new job? Maybe, maybe, maybe. I suppose I’ll probably never know. But it sucks and makes me feel like shit. All I can really do is pretend it doesn’t bother me and hope I get used to it. There’s no point obsessing about it, I can’t change it. But of course, my mind is my worst enemy. And such is life; the more I’m trying to accept things and move on, the more I think on it and the more I get bogged down in it. There doesn’t seem to be any reasonable resolution, so I’m not sure exactly what to do.

The Trials of Office Politics

Prompt – Mental health in tech

There’s a secret in the world of mental health, and it is super-well-kept. Prompt have started a mission to blow the cobwebs of shame from the issues of mental ill-health in the tech world, and they need your help!

After first responders, people working in technical jobs are the most likely to experience mental illness or ill-health during their careers. Be they system administrators, web designers or developers, the problem is being ignored and it seems many are trying to solve their own problems without proper support. Be it depression, anxiety, bipolar, or anything else you care to pick from the DSM, mental illness – real, life-changing illness – is still heavily stigmatised in the tech world.

It’s a tricky subject, and Prompt is hoping to ‘open the door and say it’s ok to have issues and it’s ok to reach out for help.’ Their plan is to fund speakers on mental health subjects and provide them with the resources to get out there and start spreading the message that it’s nothing to be ashamed or afraid of. They are also providing a link between organisations and speakers so that talks can be arranged and more people can be reached.

Essentially, they are looking for funding to get them on this awesome path to spreading the word. The money raised is to allow them to get speakers to events – things like travel costs and accommodation so that the voice of advocacy can be heard all through the tech industry. The benefits to their mission are far-reaching; any open and honest conversation and education goes a long way towards ending stigma.

If you feel you can spare a few pounds/euros/dollars/your-currency-here to help them towards their cause, they have an indiegogo page with multiple levels of backing available.

If you’ve got a couple of minutes spare, you can find out all about Prompt in the video below.

Prompt – Mental health in tech

Things that make today A Bad Day, in no particular order.

Some days, I suppose, are just going to be worse than others. Today started badly; I woke up to a text from my dad to let me know Nanny Ollie has had a fall, broken her hip and had a hip replacement. They all live in the west-country so it’s not like I can pop in and visit her with a bunch of grapes (or whatever people bring to those in hospital. When I was in hospital for my tonsillectomy as a kid someone brought me Cadbury Roses. I enjoyed them a lot more than the hospital fare.) It would be nice to just drop everything and go see her – it’s almost a year since we went down to visit, but it’s just impractical with work; and I hate that work is the priority here.

My mum picked me up to take me to my appointment at the hip clinic. I’m not great with irony, but maybe it’s ironic that my Nan had a hip replacement at the same time I had my long-awaited appointment with the specialist. My hip has been playing up for probably six months now and I saw my GP in June; since then I’ve just been waiting for the appointment to roll-around. This morning I was called in at 9:20 and back out at 9:30 with a slip for an MRI and the confidence-boosting knowledge that the consultant really wasn’t sure what the issue actually is.

It was nice to have a chance to catch up with Mum, and she’s let me know that my Nanny Noo isn’t doing well. In reality she’s not been doing well for a while, but now it really seems that her time to go is imminent. It’s one of those things I’ve thought I’ve been prepared for, but thinking about losing her now is hard. She is in constant pain and confusion; there’s no quality of life left for her and I know it’ll be a sad blessing when she’s gone, and that’s how I’m trying to think of it. But ultimately she’s my Nan and the child in me remembers making sausage rolls with her at Christmas or playing in the paddling pool in the garden with her watching from a deck chair nearby. She’s not been that woman for a long time now, but that’s the benefit of memory. We can hold our loved ones image from the best times of our lives.

The smaller things are piling up today too. My work laptop is broken, and I’ve got a loan one until they fix mine. All my work and documents and emails are inaccessible for a while and it’s just making things difficult on a day I have little patience for difficulties. Daily happenings are getting on my nerves. I’m irritable. I’m grouchy. I’m trying to hide it. It’s not working.

At least today I can attribute the beginnings of a mixed-mood to situational things. There’s not much I can do about these things, except try to accept them as happenings outside of my control and refuse to stress about them. I’m not too sure how well that’s working out but mainly my goal is to zip my mouth, listen to music and get through to 4:15 when I can make a dash for the bus home.

Finally, to counteract the bad things, here are a few good things today:

  • Walking Luke to the station and getting a coffee so we’d have a few extra minutes together
  • Having breakfast with Mum at the hospital before my appointment
  • Getting referred for further investigation into ‘whatever’ is going on with my hip
  • Arranging to go to a beer festival next month
  • This week is a short week! (Kind of – company field trip on Friday!)
Things that make today A Bad Day, in no particular order.

A Brief History

I was thinking as I was walking to the bus stop, as I often do, and started to reflect on what the early indications were of my mental illness. Without a doubt I was depressed from the moment I hit my teens; my first suicide attempt was at that age where the pressures of school and hormones are totally overwhelming. Being bullied played a huge part in it. I had bad acne and attracted nicknames like “spot the dog” and “pizza face”. I was very tall too, and developed breasts before I knew what a bra was for (yes, there was an incident when my school shirt came unbuttoned). I didn’t have the skillset to cope with all the crap life was throwing at me, so I simply surrendered. It was too traumatic to continue.

My “treatment” at that time consisted of a trip to see the GP who referred me to a psychiatrist. I suppose if I’d been treated as a mature teenager (“young adult”, awful phrase) then I might have found some benefit in the sessions with that psychiatrist, but from the moment he told me that he was obliged to disclose any danger I presented to myself I bottled up. How could I risk telling him about the constant suicidal thoughts and self harm if I couldn’t trust it wouldn’t get reported to my mum.

The events of my now-13-year story of depressive episodes are pretty clear in my mind. What I didn’t realise until recently is that my psychotic episodes started young too. The most notable of these was at a gig in a local club. My friendship group often went to see bands there and generally it was a great night out to exercise our rebellious teenage natures. One of these nights, I remember being freaked out by so many people making so much noise. The memories are vague, but I do recall seeing the face of Kurt Cobain on the wall and somehow getting behind the vending machine to hide. I wish I could remember what happened that my friends were able to calm me down in time to be picked up by mum after.

Anxiety has also been a constant companion for me, probably for the longest time of any other issues I’ve had. I was a paranoid child, believing that I had to crawl under my window to cross the room because I was convinced a sniper had a gun pointing my way, or making plans for escaping my room in case of fire or flood. As I grew older, the fears faded into a sense of general anxiety, at meeting new people, unfamiliar situations, or being put under pressure. I lost count of the number of panic attacks I had at college. My classmates became expert at helping me get through them.

So my history of mental illness is a long one now. The beast has changed and transformed but the essence is the same. Finally I am better equipped to deal with it.

A Brief History

When Anti-Depressants Don’t Quite Work (Or, Work Too Well)

So, it turns out that keeping track of medication and changes is a useful thing to do. Lately I’ve been feeling somewhat low; kinda-almost-but-not-quite depressed. I was chalking it up to being just one of those things but then the keeper of the medication (aka the husband) reminded me that until about two weeks ago I’d been taking 100mg Sertraline – sorry Doc P, we know you dropped it to 50mg a while back but we forgot to change it down. Sertraline, for the uninitiated, is an SSRI anti-depressant which is known as Zoloft in the US. Like many anti-depressants, it has magical powers that are sometimes too magical – sometimes, for people like me, it sends a person too far ‘the other way’ and triggers hypomania or even full-blown mania.

For me it was somewhere on the spectrum of low-to-mid range hypomania. Not awful, but definitely noticeable. So that’s why Doc P decided to bring it down when we added a mood stabiliser to the equation in the hopes the lower dose would work out better. Probably worth mentioning that when I first started sertraline I was tried on 50mg and it simply wasn’t enough to be therapeutic, so that’s why we bumped up to 100mg. Gosh, this whole meds thing is so confusing and delicate; not made easier by my hyper-sensitivity to weird but not wonderful side effects (yes, I am the girl who was knocked out by a single dose of aripiprazole on the way up the stairs to bed. Also, risperidone gave me incredibly high levels of prolactin and my body reacted as if I were pregnant. Weird.)

When we realised that I was still taking the higher dose a couple of weeks ago we immediately switched to 50mg. To be honest, the 100mg was working but we’re following the Doc’s advice here. We’re not experts on the whole medication malarkey! The lesson here is that I need to be closely paying attention to the changes that happen in my mood and symptoms when meds get changed. It’s taken two or three weeks to realise that this current slump in mood could well be directly related to the reduced dosage.

Of course, this happens whilst my CPN is on leave, but I’m not so bad that I need to call the office and speak to my Pdoc. It can reasonably wait till she’s back (and that’s only tomorrow, so definitely no panic). I don’t know if it’s worth asking to try 100mg again when I know I’ll most likely swing back into the hypo range of moods. Maybe a different anti-depressant? Citalopram is the only other one I’ve been on and wow was that a bad experience – back to the weird side effects; everything I ate tasted greasy and (less weird) it spun me into an extreme mania.

Going forwards from here I know I’ve learnt something; I know I need to be more on top of things when bits and bobs change. Things like going back to diarising moods and meds and various other factors sounds like a good idea. Hopefully next time we change something it’ll finally be the last piece of the puzzle and I can get back to functioning properly!

When Anti-Depressants Don’t Quite Work (Or, Work Too Well)

Becoming Stable

It is hard, after so many years of being ‘not myself’ to know who I really am. I think I’m coming back to something resembling my ‘old’ self but I feel like I still have a long way to go. There are so many positives in the last six or so months that I try to focus on. I have spent too long tallying up my so-called failings. I seem to have lost any frame of reference to help me judge what is normal and what is of concern. It all comes down to self-awareness. I am getting better at being self-aware.

I want to keep on top of being well; I’ve really enjoyed being stable and not wildly swinging from high to low and back again. I like being more out-going too and getting to know people around town. Getting into conversations with the baristas at Starbucks, or getting a hug from the security guard at Tesco; it’s the little human interactions that I would’ve felt unable to handle not too long ago that are making me realise that I am actually worth a chat and a smile. The people who get paid to do a job but go out of their way to be nice to me make such a huge difference in my daily goings-on. I hope they realise the good they’re doing. I hope their bosses realise it too.

A little while ago my CPN and Luke helped me write out a relapse indicators list. Looking at it now it shows me how far I’ve come since we wrote it in September 2013. It is heavily based around delusions that haven’t been in my mind for a long while; things like suspecting the neighbours of trying to poison us, thinking they’re aliens, going to church to listen to the voice of God are all just memories now.

And I think it’s easy to discount how much progress I’ve made in the last two years. Once we got the psychotic aspects of the disorder under control the mood features came to the fore and became the next challenge. Now I’m finally on a good mood stabiliser the moods are settled and I feel somewhere around the middle ground on what was previously a binary scale of ‘off’ or ‘on’.

Now, I am hoping for my referral to the personality disorders unit to come through; I don’t want to be reliant on meds forever to keep things controlled, plus there are certain things they can’t help with that I want to learn to deal with myself.  Hopefully that’ll happen soon. It’s the next step in my road to recovery.

Becoming Stable