Tag Archives: mental health

The happy truth about anti-depressants

This morning, I shared a post on Facebook and Instagram about my relationship with anti-depressants (ADs). The response has been overwhelming and I’m so glad it’s opened up another conversation about mental wellbeing. I realised that, in all my posts about anxiety, PND and depression, I’ve glossed over the use of anti-depressants. And yet there are a lot of people who are scared of taking them or ashamed that they are. So I wanted to write something real and positive and to share what I know about them from being on them for two and a half years. *Disclaimer: I’m obviously not a medical professional and this post is based on my experience and conversations with others. Always talk to your doctor.  

  1. If someone doesn’t understand taking a pill to be ‘happy,’ they’ve never been unwell enough to need to. The thing I hear repeatedly about ADs is STIGMA. People feel ashamed. They are made to feel ashamed. For the record, I am NOT ashamed. I do whatever it takes to stay well. The most useful and simple summary I’ve ever read about anti-depressants is this. ‘When you are REALLY unwell, you will do ANYTHING to get better.‘ It’s that hard and that simple. If someone else judges you for this, thinks you’ve copped out or whatever, they just don’t understand what it feels like to be in a really dark, lonely and physically tortuous place. That’s their issue, not yours.
  2. Taking responsibility for your happiness and your mental wellbeing is to be applauded. Where is the shame in taking a tablet that helps you feel well? For me, there is far more shame in being irritable, not coping and shouting at my poor kids. (OK, I still shout. ADs aren’t miracle workers and they don’t help your kids put their shoes on any faster when you’re late for school. AGAIN. But they do help me feel better about it.)
  3. You haven’t failed. You haven’t failed because, today, you need to take a tablet to function better. You’re only failing when you don’t get the help you need and deserve. Also? More people are taking them than you could ever know.
  4. How do you know if you need to take them? Personally, I think you know. This doesn’t mean you will necessarily feel any easier about doing so. But for me, I knew. After my second daughter was born, I felt anxious. I went to the doctors and, after a long chat, she prescribed me some anti-depressants. I’ll be honest, they scared the bejeezus out of me. ‘I’m not the sort of person that takes these,’ I thought, ignorantly. I went home, sat on the sofa and stared at the packet for a long time, before calling my dad. ‘I don’t want to take them,‘ I said. ‘Do you think I should?‘ My dad said simply, ‘If you really needed to take them you wouldn’t even be asking me.’ He was right. And that time I made it through on my own. Fast forward three years to my third baby and the experience was COMPLETELY different. I felt SO unwell in every way, I would have taken ANYTHING to feel better. My doctor herself said that if I hadn’t been so open to taking them, she would have insisted I did. That time? Nothing but those tablets (alongside a combination of CBT) was going to make me function again. I can still remember the relief when I started to feel better.
  5. Sometimes going swimming, running or meditation is not enough. I run three times a week and it is essential to my mental wellbeing. But, right now, it is NOT enough on its own. And anyone who’s ever tried to meditate in a house full of three under eights would probably find they want to pop a couple of pills too.
  6. It can take up to 6 weeks (or more) for ADs to work. Lots of people don’t realise that ADs take time to have an effect. IT IS NOT INSTANT. It was almost a month before I started to feel less foggy and less teary. Even then I had to double my dose from 50mg to 100mg to really start to feel the benefit. It can also take time to find the right type for you. So keep in regular contact with your doctor in those early weeks so you can both monitor your progress.
  7. How do you know when you’re ready to reduce your dose/stop taking them? I think your body tells you. For me, the lightbulb moment came 18 months after starting them, when I was at a funeral and I couldn’t really feel sad. It showed me how well I had become, that my body was obviously producing its own serotonin again and the 100mg I was taking was too much. After that, I called my doctor, we discussed it and I set about reducing my dose. I felt ready and I was. Some people might never be ready. And that’s also ok.
  8. Don’t rush to come off them. If you go on them already thinking about when you’re going to come off of them, you’re just adding more stress, expectation and potential disappointment to your life. Enjoy feeling well! My doctor told me I would be on them for a minimum of one year for my PND. When I started feeling better, I remember thinking, ‘Only a year? I like feeling well again!‘ Almost three years later, I’m on a daily ‘maintenance’ dose of 25mg. My doctor and I stay in regular contact and she fully supports my decision to remain on it, post separation. I have no plans to come off of them at the moment. Maybe when the kids leave home. Maybe not even then.
  9. If/when you are ready, come off them gradually. Side effects are inevitable (people talk about feeling more emotional and also unpleasant physical symptoms like an ‘electric shock’ feeling when you move your head) but if you come off them slowly, these are minimal. I took six weeks reducing my dose from 100mg to 25mg. It felt fine. Do not rush the process.
  10. If you do come off them, you might choose to go back on them again. So what? You don’t take a Lemsip pledging never to take one again, do you? Foolish people limit themselves. They say things like, ‘I’d never do that,‘ or ‘I’m never doing that again.‘ The less foolish amongst us recognise we’re setting ourselves up to fail, if we make promises we possibly can’t keep. If you’re well today without tablets, that’s brilliant. If you hit a bump in the road next year and find yourself back on them, that’s also brilliant. Because you’re taking responsibility for your mental wellbeing. Again.
  11. We do WHATEVER IT TAKES to stay well and that is different for everyone. Some people will have a ‘blip,’ recover fully and never look back. Some people will be on and off ADs, as ‘life happens.’ And some people will never come off them. Because they NEED them for a chemical imbalance or something physiological that means they can’t function without them. Or, they’ve simply made a personal choice because they feel better on them, than not. We don’t say to a diabetic, ‘Here’s some insulin. Have it for a couple of years and then we’re going to take it away and you can just wing it.’ In this regard, mental health is misunderstood and it shouldn’t be. Always remember. We do whatever it takes to stay well. And that is different for everyone.

Take care of yourself. And much love to everyone struggling, recovering and taking brave steps, today and always. If you need to know you’re most definitely NOT alone, check out today’s Facebook and Instagram post and read all the many amazing comments from people doing whatever it takes.

 

If you’d like to share your comments and experiences with the #whateverittakes, please do. You can do so below and also find me on FacebookInstagram and Twitter. I would ask that we keep the comments positive and encouraging, just because this post is about removing the stigma, not adding to it! New mums needing some support with their mental wellbeing might like to check out The New Mum’s Notebook, sanity saving journal, available online now.

Can we think ourselves happy?

By Amy Ransom on April 11, 2017 , 1 Comment

This post is for anyone who’s tired of seeing the hardships before the good. Of struggling with fluctuating moods or a persistent level of anxiety. This may just help you to feel happy, every day.

My epiphany.

The past few weeks have been a bit strange. In a good way.

It began a few Tuesdays ago. The kids were at school and nursery. I had done all the things that usually make me happy. A run. A nice coffee. Some work and writing. And yet, I felt utterly miserable and teary. I couldn’t blame hormones – as I so often do – it was supposed to be my ‘good’ couple of weeks. There was no tangible reason at all.

That Tuesday turned out to be the climax of a year that has, so far, largely been dominated by anxious thoughts.

And I had had enough.

No one to blame but myself.

Living your life with frequent feelings of lack and anxiety is joyless and frustrating.

Having so much to be thankful and happy for and yet completely missing that abundance is such a waste of time and energy. And it makes you feel sad. Especially when it feels you have no control over it.

That was the place I had found myself in, despite all my CBT practice. That Tuesday proved it. What could I attribute my misery to? What external influences could I blame? There were none. There was only one thing I could hold accountable.

Myself.

Keep on swimming.

So, there and then, on that precious child free Tuesday, I decided to change it. Anxiety and feeling low have stolen enough of my days. They’re not getting any more.

I decided to plough on regardless of the fact I felt rubbish and just wanted to curl up on the sofa and watch Gilmore Girls. I worked. I tried to be creative. I did my best to create opportunities. So at least if I got to the end of the day and I still felt awful, I wouldn’t also feel guilty for wasting those precious hours.

Of course, by the end of the day, I didn’t feel awful. I felt much better.

And I felt a real sense of achievement for pushing on through.

The law of attraction.

That day taught me a valuable lesson. It taught me that I can choose to be happy. That I can attract happiness, even if I’m not initially feeling it. That I can flip my mood and choose to look at things differently and, in doing so, override those low moments and the anxious thoughts.

I have that power.

After all, if the anxious and negative thoughts can feed off each other, why can’t the happy ones?

Being happy.

So I have decided to try it, every day. To commit to the happy, positive thoughts and the feeling that everything will be ok, in the end.

I have always believed this, ultimately. I like the idea of destiny (in the sense that you can influence it and shape it if you listen to your instincts, not that you’re entitled to it). I’d just lost my connection with it and in that void the anxious thoughts had had room to grow.

The thought that you attract whatever you think about isn’t really a crazy one. It’s like those days we label as bad, where one thing goes wrong after another. It’s only us who call it bad. If we choose to reframe it after we’ve spilt the milk, missed the train and broke our heel on the escalator, is it a bad day or does that day suddenly become defined by something else? The nice conversation we had, that we wouldn’t have had if we’d missed our train. It’s what CBT calls ‘challenging unhelpful thoughts.’ And it works.

Listening to our instincts (our inner beings) isn’t an alien concept either. As mothers, it’s how we raise our kids. Our instincts are strong and any mother who’s ever gone against them (and paid the price) knows what good guides they always are.

After a while, you start to do both without even thinking about it.

It really will be ok.

Since choosing to see the good as often as I can and simply being aware of the direction in which my thoughts are taking me, the anxious thoughts are at bay.

I’m in the most anxious part of my monthly cycle and still there is nothing on the horizon. I am able to refocus myself in a way I never have been before.

And it’s a much happier way to live.

Can we really think ourselves happy?

Surely, there are flaws? What about those having a really hard time? Those that are seriously ill? Those that are lonely or jobless or homeless. The list goes on. Do they just think happy thoughts and ta-dah! But those that have the desire or the ability, actually manage to do it.

We see them every day. They are those amazing people who are experiencing huge challenges that the rest of us marvel at and say, ‘How on earth do you find the strength?‘ But do they really have a unique strength waiting to be sourced? Or do they make a choice to be positive, often amidst no choice at all?

And maybe at the most basic level, that’s the difference between happy people and unhappy people. Making a choice. Making a commitment to finding peace and happiness wherever you can, whilst really getting to know yourself, your inner being and trusting your instincts, no matter what.

We must also have a realistic interpretation of the word, ‘happy.’ Because choosing to be happy doesn’t mean we will be all of the time. Or that we will be miraculously immune to pain. The Buddha’s teachings tell us that suffering is a part of life, that we must all acknowledge. And find our peace with. That’s the challenge, right there.

But it’s like anything you practice. The more you do it, the more natural it becomes.

And being happy feels pretty, blooming good.

Note: This post isn’t meant to make anyone feel bad or less validated in whatever they’re feeling. If you’re going through a hard/dark/sad time seeing positives will be hard right now. We all have to get places in our own time. Also? If you’re suffering from any sort of clinical anxiety/depression, this will seem insurmountable. I know that feeling first hand. But one day, it will all seem more doable, believe me. There’s lots more on the blog about living your life happily, CBT and the devil that is anxiety. Put ‘anxiety’ in the search box and more posts will come up. You can also follow the Facebook page and find me on Instagram.

Let’s talk about PND

Today is Time To Talk Day. Another important opportunity in the calendar to keep the mental health conversation going. And whilst I have no desire to become that broken record, ‘When I had PND…‘ (YAWN), actually? The conversation mustn’t go away just because the illness has. For this morning, there is someone (and a million more ‘someones’) waking up feeling desperate. And we, those that are well today, have a responsibility to make it ok for them to speak up and seek whatever help they need and deserve. This extract about PND is from The New Mum’s Notebook, the sanity saving journal for all new mums, no matter what round she’s on. There’s 10% off today with the code TIMETOTALK17.

Don’t be scared.

Around the four month motherhood mark, some new mums may be thriving. Others, not so much.

Some might even be feeling beside themselves and that can often be an indication that things aren’t quite right. So, let’s talk a little bit about post-natal depression (PND). Because it shouldn’t be something we’re scared of, or afraid to mention. It does happen unfortunately, to one in seven of us, but it can be treated very effectively and the sooner it’s diagnosed, the better.

All new mums deserve to understand what to look out for because it can be difficult to know, especially when you’re a mum for the very first time. How are you supposed to feel?

‘What is PND?’

PND is very different to the baby blues, which most, if not all, women experience in the first couple of weeks after birth, as their hormones literally crash. It is also more than feeling tired or occasionally low.

PND is different for everyone but typical symptoms include frequent tearfulness, anxiety of any form (health anxiety is common), panic (may include panic attacks), insomnia, extreme lethargy, trouble bonding with your baby (or detaching yourself from any other children) and a sense of doom or hopelessness. It can also manifest itself very physically with muscle aches, headaches and a general state of feeling unwell, leading new mums to think it must be something serious (that’s usually the health anxiety talking). Because what a lot of people don’t know is that when you’re very depressed, you can actually feel it. Another common factor is an overwhelming feeling that you just can’t cope. With things that never fathomed you before. It might be getting up in the morning. Dressing yourself and your baby. Doing the nursery/school run, if you have other children.

You just can’t seem to manage it.

‘How do I know?’

One of the cruellest things about PND is that when you’re in it, you can’t really see you’re in it.

You know you’re in a fog. You know you feel the worst you’ve ever felt. ‘But I’ve got a baby,’ you reason, ‘I’m not going to feel amazing, am I?’ Well, actually, yes you have got a baby but no, you shouldn’t feel like that. At this point, the support of someone who knows you really well is helpful.

Someone you can turn to and say, ‘I’m really, really struggling. Do you think I’m struggling?

You can do this.

I’m not ashamed PND happened to me after my third baby. It was nothing I did. And it’s nothing you’ve done, either.

With a combination of antidepressants and CBT counselling, I now have coping mechanisms I never would have developed without it. PND isn’t a pleasant experience but the good news is you do get through it, once you get help. If you suspect you may have PND, speak to your doctor (ask them to do a full blood count to rule out any other cause). They can discuss treatment with you, which may take the form of counselling or a combination of counselling and medication. Don’t be afraid of medication, if this is recommended to you. You haven’t failed. It isn’t your fault. Sometimes after birth, the hormones are a bit wonky and your body fails to produce enough of the happy hormone, serotonin, so you need a little help. Either way, things won’t improve overnight but a few weeks in, you’ll start to feel a bit more like you.

Be patient with yourself. Recovery does take time. But you WILL get better.

If you’re struggling, pick up the phone today. Make that call. To a friend. To your doctor. To someone you trust. But don’t suffer in silence. The moment you take that step and open up, you’ll literally be falling over yourself when you realise just how many of us struggle post birth. And those women, the ones who really, really understand what it’s like to be ill, will have your back most of all. That, I promise you. 1400877817024713111213

Further reading…

Me and PND

You will be ok

The monster in our heads

GQ Dads – How to support your partner through PND

The Telegraph – I’m not ashamed PND happened to me

The monster in our heads

If you’ve ever suffered from anxiety, depression, panic attacks or any form of mental disorder, I don’t need to tell you how utterly hideous, scary and crippling it is. One in four of us know the horror first hand. I was reminded that this monster can come out of the shadows anytime when, last week, I almost had my first panic attack in over two years. So I hope that today’s announcement by the Prime Minister, to overhaul mental health care with a focus on children and teenagers, will be a step in the right direction to identifying and managing these conditions better so that those of us who suffer with them can get on and live our lives.

When anxiety rears its head.

It is over two years since I was diagnosed with PND and I have been well for 18 months.

But last week, I had a bit of a relapse, brought on by starting Cerazette*, the mini-pill (ironically to regulate my hormones) and I was reminded of just how awful the anxiety/depression beast can be. That it can lie dormant for months, even years and then something triggers it and it rears its ugly head again.

And boy, is it ugly.

Relapses happen.

Although I work hard on my mental wellbeing, I had completely forgotten how debilitating the monster in our heads can be when it takes hold. And although I would quite like not to have been reminded, it was a prompt to me to be grateful for my mental health, when I am well and to think of all those people right now who are not. Who are completely overwhelmed by life. Who don’t understand what’s happening to them. Who may be so unwell they aren’t even aware that something is happening to them. Because they just don’t know anything anymore.

My PND days were the darkest of my life. I’m certain anyone else will tell you the same. Last week was the closest I have come to feeling like that again since my recovery and it scared the bejeebers out of me because the relapse was completely unexpected. It took me by surprise. Fortunately, I identified the trigger pretty quickly (thank you Google) and stopped taking Cerazette as soon as I realised but it still took a further five days for me to start to feel better. And it has knocked my confidence just a little.

Because I had forgotten the monster could still be there in all its horror.

What is the point of this post?

I’m not sure, really. I just wanted to acknowledge that even when you’ve recovered, even when you are well, even when you are vigilant about maintaining your mental wellbeing and keeping an eye on your triggers, relapses can happen. That once you’ve suffered from anxiety or depression, unfortunately you are more likely to suffer again, not less. And future occurrences are likely to be worse and more intense. And that all the medication and CBT in the world (and I credit both for my recovery) can feel like it’s failing you in the midst of an attack.

Because that is the cruellest thing about anxiety. It warps your rational thought, it cripples your confidence and it makes you feel so unwell that you doubt everything you thought you knew.

You will be ok. (Read the full post about getting help here)

Don’t lose faith. If you ever feel like you’re relapsing, get to work on identifying your triggers immediately. Before it takes hold and becomes so much harder to see. A change in circumstances. Medication. Diet. Caffeine. Sleep patterns. All of these factors (and more) are critical when you’re predisposed to mental health issues. Because when your balance is disturbed, this is when the monster sees its opportunity.

Remember you will be ok and you will get through it. You’ve done it before. You can do it again.

And you’re never alone in keeping those monsters at bay.

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*I found a lot of material online from women sharing their experiences to suggest that Cerazette aggravates anxiety and depression. If you’ve had PND or are hormone-sensitive, I would suggest you discuss this with your doctor before taking any hormonal contraception. 

Thank you for reading. If you’re struggling, reach out to someone. Anyone. Feel free to follow the Facebook page and Instagram feed. (Finally, I was unable to credit this image used as couldn’t find the source – if it’s yours please get in touch so I can add.)

You will be ok.

Today is World Mental Health Day. If you’re sitting at home, work or wherever struggling. If you know someone who is. This post is for you. Because days like this are important and remind us that we can get better when we feel able to put our hands up and ask for help.

Depression can happen to anyone.

I would say that I now know as many people who are struggling or who have struggled with anxiety, depression or some sort of mental health condition, than not. Lots are taking medication alongside counselling and are living happy lives again.

I don’t know if it’s an age thing, the society we inhabit, which is now making it more acceptable to talk about it or just the fact that we expect so much from our lives these days. But it’s happening. And it’s happening to anyone. It’s not just people we might expect it to happen to or people that we can rationalise it’s happened to. It’s also happening to people we perceive to have their s*** together. Those we perceive to be happy, strong and successful, those people that firmly fall into the ‘what do they have to feel low about?’ category.

Yes, even them.

‘I haven’t got anything to feel low about.’

This is perhaps the biggest myth about depression. That you have to have a reason to feel depressed. (I’m only going to talk about depression and anxiety in this post, because that’s the only thing I have personal experience of. I’m not discounting the importance of other mental health conditions like OCD or bi-polar, for example, by not referring to them. I’m just not ‘qualified’ to have an opinion on those.)

Yes. You have to be bereaved, or have lost your job or in a really dire situation of some sort to be depressed. Sadly, that’s simply not true. You can have all the luxuries and benefits in the world and still feel really, really crap. And that doesn’t make you less deserving of help. It doesn’t.

Why would anyone want to struggle through life, continually trying to dig themselves out of the quicksand that just engulfs them a little bit further every time they try? It’s miserable. It’s debilitating. And it doesn’t have to be like that.

Once you get help, you will be ok.

When I had post-natal depression the ONLY thing I wanted to know was that I would be ok. Because, I simply couldn’t believe that I ever would be. Depression knocks that confidence out of you and any faith you had in anything. In yourself.

Having people around me that had had depression or anxiety and recovered was the only thing that got me through. Alongside CBT and medication. So I’m here today to tell you, ‘You will be ok.’ Confide in a friend you trust. Go to the doctors (ask for an empathetic one, preferably with experience in depression/anxiety), get a full blood count (to rule out any other medical reasons) and then discuss a way forward. Your way forward.

You will be ok.

Depression needs to be managed.

It’s been two years since I was diagnosed with PND. I would say it took me a year to recover, to feel totally myself again. But. And here’s the big BUT.

Depression and anxiety need to be managed. Every day. You need to know your triggers and be mindful of them. Despite CBTing the s*** out of life and continuing to take a very small dose of my medication, I still have low days, where I feel overwhelmed. Usually when I am tired, taking on too much, not exercising enough, eating badly, drinking, or coming down with a cold. Some days, I handle myself with grace and purpose. Other days, I feel low and teary and I’m not the best version of myself. I’m not even the best version of my worst self.

But I know what I need to do to stay well. And if I choose not to do that, I know there will be consequences. Even then, with all my ducks in a row, I no longer expect to feel amazing, all of the time. Life just isn’t like that, right?

Making your way back up.

I hope that this post helps someone today. I hope it helps you pick up the phone and make that call.

I know it’s scary, asking for help. I can’t possibly do the scariness justice by writing about it here. But I promise you, I do know. I know that the vulnerability you’re feeling right now is crippling. But I also know that, once you get that help, it will make you stronger. Because depression is a very humbling experience. It still brings tears of gratitude to my eyes, when I think about how bad I felt and how much better I am now. When you are at your lowest, you reach a point where you are essentially stripped bare and forced to face yourself as you’ve never seen yourself before. It’s unpleasant and unnerving but once you start to emerge from the fog, you get to know who you are. Who you want to be. And you know that you can handle anything because you’ve reached rock bottom and made your way back up.

And you will make your way back up.

Sending you love, support and encouragement to get the help you deserve.

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No footnote today. No plugs. Just remember that you deserve help. And you don’t have to feel like this.