How to Beat the Christmas Blues

Merry Christmas my deers (heh heh). Although it seems that everyone is just a little bit merrier at this time of year, some people struggle more than normal during the festive season. If you are prone to depression or anxiety, Christmas can be a really challenging and difficult time. Here are some tips to help you beat those festive blues:

1. Be sociable

It’s so easy to hide away in this cold and dark weather. Staying inside and shutting yourself off from the world, however, can be damaging in the long term. Meeting friends and family for a meal or even a coffee will automatically make you feel better and you’ll feel good for leaving your house, if even for an hour. Aim to stick to coffee or tea instead of alcohol, which is a depressant and will ultimately make you feel quite down. Hot chocolate is always delicious 😋

2. Make your ‘alone time’ productive

It’s important to strike a balance between socializing and relaxing alone. Time by yourself is necessary and healthy. For some people, however, it can be destructive and lonely. To combat negative feelings, go for a walk somewhere quiet and pretty (this time of year is so beautiful!). Alternatively, you could colour, draw, listen to music, meditate…whatever brings you peace. Don’t let those negative thoughts overwhelm you. If you’re busy, they can’t!

3. Don’t over-indulge

I know. I know. Christmas is all about going BIG. The problem is, however, for people with anxiety, over-indulging in food and alcohol and spending too money is a huge cause of stress. You should absolutely enjoy yourself but remember: moderation is key. Your belly and your bank balance will thank you for it in January!

4. Open up

Some people feel that they can’t express their negative or depressive feelings during the festive period because they’ll be a perceived as a burden or a ‘buzz-kill.’ The truth is, your mental health is important to those that love you and opening up to them shows them that you love and trust them. Bottling up negative thoughts is not helpful to anyone. Sharing your feelings is unbelievably helpful and therapeutic.

5. Find peace in the chaos

Christmas is an insanely busy and manic time. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and over-stimulated by this. Remember to take the time to unwind and switch off. Sitting in a quiet room alone for ten minutes in total silence is a wonderful way of relaxing and de-stressing. Listening to Christmas carols is one of my favourite ways to unwind. Just listen to how peaceful this is:

Carols from Kings

6. Be kind and spread the love

This time of year can become ridiculously consumerist and materialistic. It’s a lovely feeling to just be kind and thoughtful and it costs nothing! When you are kind to others, it is a wonderful and rewarding feeling that just can’t be bought. Helping out a family member, volunteering for a charity or cooking someone dinner are just some of the kind deeds you can do. The feeling of being the cause of someone’s happiness is really uplifting. You will find when you are kind, you will receive kindness in return.

There you have it guys! I hope this was helpful to some of you and I hope everybody has a peaceful Christmas 🎄

A Love Letter to Anxiety 

Dear Anxiety, 

Should I name you something? Maybe it would make you a little less intimidating and a little more human. I used to picture you as a fuzzy black shapeless entity that I couldn’t quite make sense of, clinging to my body and pulling me back from moving forward. I’m seeing you more clearly now, though. I’m getting to know your idiosyncrasies day by day. You seem to know me very well. You know my weaknesses, my doubts, my fears and always the perfect time to strike. 

I should hate you, but I don’t. I fear you. I resent you sometimes. I regret you. But I don’t hate you. 

You see, you’ve taught me so much. Because of you, I truly know myself. I feel liberated because I can finally accept myself for who I really am. I am flawed. I make mistakes. Not everyone likes me. When I mess up, you’re there to remind me. You make me feel it. I cannot escape you. Your grip is too strong, your voice too loud inside my head. In those moments, I have to confront my reality. Instead of running away, blocking out all negative thoughts, you force me to accept. Of course, many of the thoughts you throw my way are completely irrational. That’s kinda your modus operandi, isn’t it? There was a time when I ran from them and from you. I denied negativity, I denied sadness, I denied you. I pretended that I was okay, all of the time. Of course, you lurked in the background, waiting for me to let my carefully constructed guard down. And when I did, boy did you hit me with everything you had. It was terrible; the worst experience of my life.  But at least it was real. It was my truth.  And you gave that to me, so I owe you thanks. Thank you for finally forcing me to confront and accept the person I really am: imperfect but actually quite resilient.  

You are now an integral part of my person, a part of me that I will never fully be free from. You will be there, for better or worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, ’till death do us part. I could try to pretend that you won’t be, but ignoring you seems to make you stronger, angrier and more determined. So I will embrace you. If we work together, we might just be able to live together in relative harmony. 
So what do I see you as now? Well, now I see you as a cat. You play with me sometimes, but most of the time you get bored and fall asleep. And then I get to feed you fried chicken, so everyone’s happy. 

I’m sure I’ll see you soon. I’ll be ready.

Love, 

Jane x

Anxiety and Me 

Hi everyone! 

Well, it’s been a while. As usual. It’s been a little crazy for me lately…well crazier than usual, anyway. 

So back in December I was diagnosed with a generalised anxiety disorder and put on Zoloft (and xanax to help me sleep). I have been through some rough patches in my life but I have never, ever felt so low. I thought I knew what anxiety was but nope, not until it hit me full force in the face like a wet fish. 

I had to take time off work. I felt alone and helpless. It led to huge strains with my family and with my boyfriend. I never knew what it would feel like to not want to get out of bed, nevermind leave the house. I never knew just how miserable a person could feel; how panicked and how vulnerable. 

The road to recovery will be long and difficult. Maybe I will never fully recover, but I can learn to live with this. I certainly am feeling much better and am able to do many more things now than I could have last month. My boyfriend has been wonderful, my family has been supportive and I’ve had a close friend be there when I needed her. She was also diagnosed with a GAD and we’ve been able to support each other. I think I’ve taken her for granted in the past. It’s only when you hit rock bottom that you really appreciate the genuine friends who don’t hesitate to make you a priority. I hope she feels the same about my friendship. 

The past few weeks have been much better. The first of the month was the one year anniversary of my aunt’s death from cancer. I spent the day with my family and just knowing how close our bond is made me feel really special. So too did the numerous messages from close friends and colleagues who remembered her anniversary. It really was as good a feeling as any pill. Sometimes people really surprise me with how thoughtful they can be. 

So guys, I’m doing well. Really well, in fact. I’m working part-time again and I love my job. I’m taking much better care of my health by exercising and eating well. I’m writing a lot and learning to love my own company. I’m laughing again and playing with my nieces and nephew. I’m running through fields with my dogs (LOL at that mental image) and bopping my cat on the head with her toys. All in all, life is good right now. There will be a time when I’ll struggle again, but I’ll be okay. I will always end up okay.

Who wouldn’t be when they’ve got unicorn slippers? I repeat, UNICORN SLIPPERS 🦄🦄


I hope all of you have been doing well, and if not then feel free to tell me about it. It’s always good to talk, right? Now let’s all have tea and freak out over how adorable my slippers are. 

And now for a proper catch-up

Sometimes I feel like I complain too much. I feel like when things are going well, it’s hard to say “I feel great and everything is wonderful” without sounding braggadocious. When things are going terribly, it is easy to dwell on it. Sometimes I think it’s easier to complain because maybe it makes a person more relatable. I have always felt the need to externalise my fears. I have to share them, because I dwell on them so much they become just too much for me to deal with on my own. So I talk about them. You know, I say something like “yeah, I’m just a little nervous about work” or “I feel a little let down by that person.” When I can identify my problems, I find them easy to share. I’m okay with that and I think my friends appreciate the honesty. 

But what about when I can’t identify my problems? What about when I should be fine, but I’m just….not. 

I am currently out of work on sick leave. I have no idea what is wrong with me. What I do know is that I have been dizzy and lightheaded. The other day, I stood in front of a class and almost collapsed. I couldn’t breathe properly and my chest was tight. I felt like I was in a nightmare, not really experiencing reality at all. 

I was diagnosed a few days prior to that experience with labyrinthitis. I had bled out of my ear (sorry for the visual) and had been a little unsteady for some time. I had been experiencing dizziness and weakness for weeks. I was out on antibiotics and that was that…

…Or so I thought. It wasn’t my ear that was troubling me really. I mean, sure, I more than likely had an inner ear issue that needed to be fixed. But there was something else. Something I really found difficult to verbalise. I felt completely fuzzy. Like I was trapped in a constant fog. I felt like I was experiencing a dream and that I was out of touch with reality. I told myself that it must be the viral infection playing tricks with my mind. But I felt so off that it was difficult to ignore.

I noticed that the dizzy episodes and the difficulty breathing were only happening in certain classrooms. And never at home, or while driving or when comfortable. Always when I really, really didn’t want them to. 

My usual doctor believes that I’m probably allergic to penicillin since I reacted especially badly the other day. But deep down, I know something else…something I’ve held from her and from myself: 

I am having panic attacks.

I’ll admit; I knew next to nothing about them. I thought that to experience them you had to be especially or noticeably stressed. You would presumably have some knowledge that they were about to happen, right? You could control it surely? 

Well, no. No you definitely couldn’t. And you might not even be fully aware of your stress. On the surface, everything might appear perfect. I know that I felt fine; happy even. But I wasn’t and I’m not. 

And how the hell did I arrive at the conclusion that I’m having panic attacks anyway? Well, through a process of elimination. Besides the labyrinthitis, there’s nothing else physically wrong with me, except for chest tightness and breathlessness. After a careful medical examination, any heart issues were ruled out. My GP was a little confused, naturally. How could I be having such extreme symptoms with so little physical evidence of a major problem? As much as I like my GP, I had to seek a second opinion. “Waiting it out” didn’t seem the most viable or attractive option when at least once a day, I felt like I was suffocating and choking. 

My second GP barely needed to ask me how I felt before she knew. She took a look at my chart. When I had an “attack” I experienced these symptoms: chest tightness and pain, feeling of choking and throat swelling, neck ache, tingling and pins and needles, hot flashes but also shivers, derealisation, dizziness and lightheadedness, and a general feeling of weakness, like I would collapse if I didn’t sit down. It almost exclusively happened when I was being really focused on, like in class or during a conversation with someone I wasn’t overly comfortable with. The worst thing of all is I can never, ever predict them. They literally come out of nowhere and completely overwhelm me.

Even though I was sick, GP2 (what a lovely name, I’m sure it’s French) was sure it was anxiety attacks. The thing is, she can’t really tell whether they are being caused by the labyrinthitis or not. They have certainly been exacerbated by the antibiotics. I guess I had a kind of psychological allergic reaction to them, if there is such a thing. She feels that maybe I am excessively stressed because I don’t want to appear ill in front of my students, and the pressure to be okay is actually causing panic attacks. So I have had almost a week off work, which feels like forever. I am still very foggy and unwell and prone to anxiety. I am trying my best to self-talk my way through it but I would really appreciate advice from anyone who goes through anything similar. 

Anyway, my bloods have been done so I’m waiting on those. And I’m going to take a few days to decide whether I feel the need for medication. The rest is doing me some bit of good but I am alone for large portions of the day and that is just no fun. 

So, woah, Negative Nellie is out in force today. But I feel at least here I can try and make sense of whatever the hell is happening to me. I can make sense of who I am. Or who I’m not, I don’t know. 

For now, I am doing okay. I’m not in any imminent danger and I am surrounded by wonderfully supportive family and friends. I feel the need to remind myself of that quite often. Hopefully, sooner rather than later, the fog will lift and I will see clearly again. For now, I must get used to seeing in the dark. 

The Cloak

You came upon me like a blanket suddenly

thrust upon a flame

to smother me

to choke me

to quench me

I ran with you clinging to me

Covering me

Shrouding my path in darkness

burning me out

A caricature of a ghost

I failed to shrug you from my shoulders

I had to learn to see again

From the shadows you cast

The colours, the light, the road ahead

I had to accept you.

Thank You <3 

My last post dealt was difficult to write and I was very reluctant to post it but I’m so glad that I did. I was absolutely overwhelmed by the wonderful, considerate and thought-provoking comments you guys left on the post. It really moved me that you guys took time to leave such kind and caring messages. I mean, this was my face reading the majority of them:

  

I just wanted to say a massive thank you to you all. You have no idea how much you have helped me and I am so lucky to-…

*music starts playing*

No, no don’t cut me off. I’m not done…I’M NOT DONE. 

*fights security guards*

Okay, I’m done. But thank you. Sincerely and from the bottom of my heart, thank you. 

  

  

The Most Difficult Post to Write

Hello everyone. The following post has been sitting in my drafts since Christmas Day. I have been very reluctant to post it for a number of reasons: Firstly, I categorise my blog as a humour blog. This post is not going to be funny or light-hearted and I suppose I didn’t want my readers resenting or becoming confused by a sudden change in tone. I also don’t want any of you to think of me differently after reading this, and part of my has felt like that will be inevitable. Secondly, I saw a conversation on Facebook recently where somebody was complaining about the amount of people who blog about depression and anxiety. Their argument was that it has almost become trendy to claim that you are suffering from some kind of mental illness and while I don’t agree with what they were saying, I would hate to think anyone thinks I’m posting this to jump on some kind of bandwagon. I think it’s essential to talk about depression and to attempt to break the stigma surrounding mental health issues. Today, I just want to tell my story.

This is not going to be an easy post to write. Usually, I think of an idea for a blog and I draft it up pretty enthusiastically. If you are a regular reader of my blog, you will know that my posts tend to be quite silly and immature, because I have never been fully comfortable with embracing adulthood completely. We often write posts with a specific goal in mind; this goal is often to elicit maximum engagement from readers, or hoping that it will reach as wide an audience is possible. In short, we want our posts, and by extension our blogs, to be popular. This post is different. Personal posts are ten a penny on the Internet and I will admit this upfront: this post isn’t going to be brimming with philosophical or enlightening thought; there will be no moments of catharsis or life-changing epiphanies. I am sharing my experiences with depression because maybe there is one person out there who reads this and thinks “that sounds just like me.” Maybe one person will feel even a fraction less lonely and isolated after reading this. Maybe, just maybe, one person reading this will see that even those of us who others would refer to as funny or good-humoured experience dark and lonely times. And that it’s okay to feel like this. So let me begin.

I am lonely and I am sad. I’m not lonely all the time, but loneliness is a feeling I experience far more often than I would like. The most frustrating aspect of it is that I can’t quite pinpoint why I feel like this. I have the most supportive and kind boyfriend. He makes me laugh in a way no body else can. I have wonderful friends, even though the majority of them live far away. Sometimes I feel like I could have more friends, but I’ve never been one for maintaining several relationships at once. I prefer to keep a small, close knit group of friends. I’ve had the same friends for the majority of my life. I do make friends easily, but I’ve moved jobs quite often, and have moved away from where I attended school and college, so contact has naturally ceased with many people I had been close with. Over the years, I have found that I have been subconsciously isolating myself from many people in my life; it definitely has not been deliberate, but I do like to spend time alone. As the years have passed by, I think I’ve gotten used to living quite a solitary life. I spend the majority of my day with Jack, but I live far away from my family and childhood friends, so I do often find myself keeping myself company. I have great work colleagues, who frequently ask me to come for after work drinks. Years ago, I would have attended any social gathering without hesitation, but nowadays, I choose to stay at home more often. The thing is, I don’t think that this is the source of my loneliness. I have always been comfortable in my own company. What makes me feel really lonely is the fact that I feel like nobody really gets me. Doesn’t that sound woefully arrogant; as if everyone out there should care enough about me to attempt some kind of in depth study of my character. I don’t expect anyone in my life to spend copious amounts of time considering the complexity of my emotional state. I also do not want to sound like some teenage EMO, clutching a copy of The Catcher in the Rye and lamenting the fact that “no one understands me”. Of course no one really knows me, when I spend so much of my time making jokes and not taking life seriously. In school, I was the class clown. I’m the joker in my family. My friends know me as the funny one, always ready to crack a joke or laugh outrageously at the silliest things. This blog is a reflection of that side of my personality. Some would consider it my entire personality. And don’t get me wrong, I love it. I’m not going to pretend I don’t think I’m somewhat funny. This isn’t a time for false modesty. It’s a great trait to possess and I have embraced it wholeheartedly. The thing is, it has led people to erroneously assume that I’m immune to sadness or misery. I think people in my life think that because I smile a lot, or because my laugh is ridiculously jolly, I simply must be fulfilled and continually happy and gregarious. Do I blame people for making this assumption? Of course not. It’s nobody’s fault, but it’s frustrating when I’m in a bad mood and someone pipes up with “but you never get moody, Jane”. Of course I bloody do. I’m human. And it goes far beyond being moody. I sometimes fear that if people say the tears and the sobs that wrack my body and the days I spend lying in bed refusing to get up, I would have no friends left.

So is that just it? Do I just feel a little isolated by my sense of disconnection from my friends and family? I know it goes far beyond that.

As a child, I suffered incredible mood swings. When I was happy, I was positively jubilant. But when I was angry, or sad, I was hysterical. As is the story of my life, I did not make this known to anyone in my life. My parents would never have put up with it, as they loathed any kind of emotional outburst and would have branded anything resembling one as attention-seeking. I would lie in my room or sit on the edge of our bath tub, overcome with sadness and dejection. I felt at odds with the world around me; like I was crazy and no one else seemed to care.

As a teenager, my mood swings worsened. On the surface, I appeared carefree and happy. Most of the time, I was okay. I had lots of friends, I performed well in school and I had a lot of fun at weekends with my fun-loving companions. I drank too much alcohol, I stayed out too late and I wore really awful clothes. All in all, I was like a lot of other teenagers: full of angst and uncertainty about my surroundings. But there was something else. I felt a profound sense of loneliness and isolation, even when I was surrounded by dozens of people. I didn’t want to be out partying and drinking. I didn’t want to be talking to boys or dancing. I wanted to be alone. I felt this inexplicable sense of impending doom; I was always on edge, even when I appeared to be having fun. At home, I spent a lot of time purposefully detaching myself from my family. I was quite an introspective teenager and I could have happily spent hours lying on my back, overly-analysing issues that I perceived as major problems. 

It was in college that the problem started to get out of control. I skipped lectures, avoided social contact and spent days lying in bed with the curtains closed. I cried easily and I was extremely sensitive. I felt that my friends were ignoring me and that my boyfriend wasn’t as committed to our relationship as I was. I fought with my friends and my family. During one shouting match with my sister, she called me “unstable.” It hurt. It hurt because I knew that it was true. I had become completely unbalanced. You might assume that was the turning point; that I suddenly revealed all of the dark and anxiety-filled thoughts that I’d been having. But I didn’t. Even though my mother was a psychiatric nurse, I knew she wouldn’t react in the way I would have wanted. She was amazing at dealing with the problems of strangers. She viewed all her patients as exactly that: patients. She was a fantastic nurse but her job frustrated her. She didn’t want to see the problems that she encountered at work reveal themselves at home. My family have never been the most affectionate or open with each other, and my parents were only a few years away from their marriage breaking up. Our household was continuously tense and only added to my feelings of isolation and anxiety.

In 2009, I was diagnosed with epilepsy after suffering a major seizure and I was hospitalised. When I recovered, I was sent to a consultant neurologist. I brought my mother with me for support. I had a long conversation with him about my lifestyle and my medical history, and he discussed anti-seizure medication with me. I will never forget him looking up from his notepad and fixing me with a look of sympathy and understanding. His voice became softer, as he said “and this medication is also used to treat depression. So you’ll find that you’ll feel a little less…anxious.” I was flabbergasted. I hadn’t said anything to him about what I considered my carefully concealed secret. My mother stared at him, then at me. She shook her head. She didn’t want to hear this. He was still looking at me, and he seemed to be mentally saying to me it’s okay. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. He then continued “around a third of people with epilepsy experience depression. It’s very common. And-“

“Can she not drive, so?” My mother interrupted him, and we didn’t speak any more about depression. I don’t want anyone thinking that my mother is neglectful or selfish; it’s worth pointing out that her sister had just been diagnosed with cancer and her marriage was falling apart. 

After that, the situation continued to get worse. I began studying for a Master’s Degree and Jack and I moved into a beautiful apartment. I knew that I should have been happy, but I wasn’t. The pressure to appreciate what I had just served to make things worse. I pushed myself to appear okay; I painted a near constant smile on my face and continued partying and drinking to try and block out the emotional pain. There were a number of days where I sat alone in my bathroom, feeling that life would never be different and I would never be normal. I wondered what the point in carrying on would be. I was exhausted from pretending and from lying. I was not okay, and I felt like I never would be. That’s when I started to think about suicide. I realised that I didn’t have to feel this constant sense of dread. I didn’t have to lie awake every night, worrying about how abnormal I was compared to all my friends. I could just fade into blackness and everything would be gone. 

Although I want to be honest with you all, I don’t want to describe in too much detail what I attempted to do. Truth be told, I was never going to do it. I knew that deep down. While I did hurt myself, I didn’t cause any real harm and I just sat in my bathroom, cursing at myself for being so pathetic. I was a mess and I knew I needed help. 

The epilepsy medication did help somewhat. It stabilised my mood swings and the feelings of self-loathing and doom were never as extreme as they were before I’d been on the medication. I found out that a close family friend, who had been suffering with severe depression for most of her adult life, was on the same medication. Although mine was primarily used to treat my epilepsy, I began to fear what would happen if I stopped having seizures and would have to come off it. I knew that treating the problem went beyond medication. I needed to change my lifestyle and my attitude. I needed to talk to people and open up about my problems. 

Eventually, I did come off the epilepsy medication. I made the decision very carefully but I know that it was the right one. While I still have mild, infrequent seizures, they are never very debilitating. It was the feelings of dread and anxiety that I was afraid of. I still hadn’t properly or formally discussed my feelings with anyone, in the medical profession or otherwise. I didn’t want a formal diagnosis, because I dreaded a label. I had had health issues for a number of years, and I was tired of feeling like a victim. I know that sounds almost callous of me, but I just wanted to move on with my life. I was also afraid that my meantal health struggles would go on record and that I would find it difficult to secure a job. I tried to just ignore the feelings and convince myself that if I just didn’t live like I was depressed, then it would just disappear. Unfortunately, depression doesn’t release its grip when you want it to and pretending there wasn’t a problem only made it worse.

Since I moved around a bit, different GPs did notice that I seemed anxious and frequently recommended anti-anxiety medication, which I always turned down. I’m not anti-medication at all, but I had spent years on different medications and I had gotten a little fed up. I knew that tablets would help me, but I also knew that I could help myself without them. 

So I started to open up. I had long talks with my sister and my mother. My boyfriend was a huge help. I cut back on alcohol. I stopped staying in bed all day on weekends. I started to freely admit my struggles and my fears. I visited doctors and I discussed my feelings.

Did the depression go away?

Well, no.

And it never will. And that’s okay. I will never be completely free of these feelings of fear and dread but I can learn how to live with them. Somedays are good days. I get up out of bed and I go about my business and I feel fine. I can have a laugh with my friends and I can have fun. Conversely, some days are bad days. These days seem to be during periods where I don’t have much going on in my life; like school holidays. It is usually during the summer that I struggle most because I don’t have work as a distraction and I feel pressure to have a good time and enjoy myself. When I have bad days, I feel inexplicably exhausted. I’m hyper-sensitive and I cry. I feel anti-social and useless. I don’t like looking in the mirror. It feels like no matter what I do, or no matter what happenes, nothing can cheer me up. It could be sunny, I could have won the lottery and I would still feel anxious and sad. It feels like I’m wearing an invisible and heavy cloak around my neck, that only I notice and I have to drag it everywhere with me. I can’t take it off, I have to live with it. I guess there are just days where I notice it more.

But most importantly, I have hope. I know now that these dark days are inevitable, but they will pass. The darkness gives way to light and I have good days again. Hope has been the only thing that has helped me to get through all of this. I have a tattoo on my wrist (a place I need this tattoo) that simply states, in Latin, While I Breathe, I Hope. This is an important life motto for me. Every second I am alive, I have hope. Coincidentally, it also happens to be the motto on my family crest. 

I have come to embrace my struggles. I know what’s good for me and what isn’t. I try to keep a close circle of good friends that I can trust. I stay in touch with my family. I maintain a strong relationship with my partner. I spend time with my pets. And I blog. You guys have no idea how helpful this blog has been and how happy and appreciative your support and love had made me. I hope that you all realise that the humour and immaturity isn’t a front; it’s a part of who I am. But so is my depression. I will continue to be weird and awkward and all the things you guys expect, but I think it’s important to discuss this side of me too. It’s a side I used to conceal, but I don’t want to anymore. I’m not ashamed. 

Lastly, I want to thank anyone who read this far. I hope that this piece hasn’t come across too self-pitying or self-indulgent. I just wanted to be honest and open with you all and if I could reach anyone, then that’s a bonus. If you do find yourself struggling with feelings of depression or anxiety, it’s important that you don’t just close up and ignore these feelings. Confront them. Share them. Or, like me, embrace them. I spent so much time vainly attempting to appear happy and well-adjusted that it just became exhausting. When I finally realised that I could stop, that I could just become okay with not being okay, I felt relieved. In many ways, my struggles have helped me to become a more compassionate and empathetic person. I choose to see the good in my situation instead of the bad. I truly hope that this post has been even a little helpful to someone out there. Finally, here are some words to live by if you are struggling:

I will live with this.

I CAN live with this.

This post was inspired by a number of fantastic bloggers who encouraged me to find the courage to post this. I don’t want to link to anyone else because I feel that their stories are very personal and they may not want me to but I have to say thank you. This has really helped.

So my epilepsy is back…

Warning: this is going to be a long and personal post. If you don’t want to continue reading, well…don’t. Here’s a cat meme:

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Source

When I was about nineteen, I started having these intense bouts of déjà vu. We all experience it in some form every now and again, but this was different. Something would trigger the déjà vu, like a song or a conversation, and I would temporarily just get lost in the feeling; I would literally just zone out. This would last for about thirty seconds. Afterwards, I would feel an overwhelming terror. I also became emotional, as well as feeling physically ill.

These episodes happened at least once a month. I have to be honest, I was terrified. I had no idea what was happening to me.

I didn’t tell anyone for a long time. After months of worsening episodes of déjà vu, I began to draw my own conclusions. I decided that it must be psychiatric. I had my reasons for believing this. Since the beginning of my time at university, I became gradually more depressed. Instead of attending lectures, I spent hours of the day in bed. I felt perpetually exhausted. I didn’t want to go outside. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. I constantly felt down, as if nothing could cheer me up. I was ridiculously temperamental. When I was angry, I would fly into rages. When I was upset, I sobbed uncontrollably. Jack and I both knew something was wrong, but neither of us wanted to admit it.

That first year of college was torture. I struggled with even simple day to day tasks. I rarely ventured out of my house and I was an emotional wreck. The déjà vu episodes had begun that year so it didn’t take me long to connect the two.

The trouble is, I didn’t want to talk to anyone, even my mother, who was a psychiatric nurse. I just couldn’t bring myself to admit that I was struggling. So I just kept quiet and hoped that it would all go away.

In my second year of college, I started to feel better. I made friends and had a thriving social life. Jack and I were still going strong. I felt happier. I will admit that I drank far too much alcohol so most of the next two years in college were a blur. Part of my regrets my wild college antics, but another part of me knows that it was kind of a rite of passage and I’m glad I got it all out of my system.

Despite my improved self esteem, I was still experiencing the intense déjà vu. Of course, alcohol made it worse. I then realised that it might be some sort of neurological disorder. The less sleep I had and the more I drank, the worse the déjà vu was. I also starting getting headaches. They were incredibly intense and painful and they had a massive impact on my concentration. This may sound silly, but I chose (again) to ignore it all. I was frightened and it was easier to just take pain relief and try to forget about it.

For the next few years, I noticed some other symptoms creeping into my day to day life. The most worrying of them was memory loss. Out of all of my symptoms, I’ve found this the hardest one to deal with. Important moments in my life have just completely disappeared. I went on a holiday when I was nineteen and I can’t remember any of it (and that’s not just the cocktails talking). I can’t remember many details of my graduation day or the day my niece was born. It’s an awful feeling but Jack has been so great to fill me in on all the details of the things I don’t remember.

My concentration also became very poor. I found it so laborious to listen to long stories or to focus on important news stories. The worse and worse I became, the more I ignored it. That’s when the myoclonic jerks started. For anyone who doesn’t know, these are the jerks or tremors you experience when get that “falling” feeling right before you go to sleep. These are perfectly normal in moderation; but I was getting them constantly and that’s when I finally realised that I might have epilepsy.

Something just clicked. All the symptoms pointed towards a neurological disorder. My aunt also had epilepsy, so I knew that it was in the family. The thing is, I had always feared epilepsy. My friend reminded my recently of a conversation we had had in our youth where I had said that out of all of the disorders to have, I would dread epilepsy the most. It scared the life out of me; losing control of your body.

I decided, finally, to visit a GP. My mother was now very concerned with all the symptoms I was presenting with and we knew that I had to seek help. The doctor was not convinced, however. She told me that the myoclonus I was experiencing was benign, and that the headaches were due to stress. I left her office that day feeling deflated and embarrassed; was I perhaps imagining the symptoms? Was I just being a hypochondriac?

Six months later, I collapsed. I came to, in my kitchen, surrounded by my family with no recollection of what had happened. I was badly concussed and had to be hospitalised. I had scan after scan and nothing conclusive was shown. I was referred to the hospital cardiologist (because there was no neurologist) and he tried to convince me that it was just a fainting spell. I had also fainted several times as a child.

This time, however, I wasn’t to be silenced. I knew what was wrong with me. My GP referred me to a consultant neurologist. I sat in his office in late 2009 and I told him every symptom I had experienced over the previous three years. He was particularly interested in the déjà vu.

He referred me for more tests but he told me, in very simple terms, that all the signs pointed towards temporal lobe epilepsy. The déjà vu episodes were actually simple partial seizures (I didn’t lose consciousness, but they were technically seizures). He said that the déjà vu is one of the most common auras (or warnings) that a seizure is about to occur.
The collapse was a full blown seizure. He believed that my symptoms were getting worse and that I would need medication. He had seen hundreds of cases exactly like mine and weirdly, that gave me comfort. He also said something strange to me that day, as if he could see inside my head. “The medication I’m going to put you on is also an anti-depressant. Around a third of people with epilepsy also experience depressive episodes, although I believe the figure is probably higher.” He looked at me directly in the eyes as he said it, as if he understood what I had gone through.

Walking out of his office that day, I felt strange. On the one hand, I was afraid. I had temporal lobe epilepsy and would have to go on medication. There were several side effects associated with the medication and it wasn’t going to be a pleasant few months adjusting to it. But I also felt a strange sense of acceptance; I had known this in my heart for a long time. I could now deal with it.

I was put on a tablet in early 2010 that I had to take twice a day. I took it for three years, and never had a seizure. I was very lucky. Of course, I had to make adjustments to my lifestyle. I virtually gave up drinking (except for a few nights out now and again). I got my sleeping patterns in order. I exercised more. Even though it was the most challenging six months of my life after that diagnosis (my parents had a nasty split, a family member was diagnosed with cancer, my dog of fourteen years died, I had been in hospital so missed out on a year in South Korea and other job opportunities and several other unpleasant experiences that I won’t bore you with), I came through it much stronger than I had ever thought I could. My friends would say that I try to handle everything with a sense of humour, and this was no different. I made fun of myself and you know what? It helped. I had some great support too.

So three years passed, and there were no seizures. I was sometimes a little cavalier about taking my medication but at my checkups my consultant told me that I was making good progress. He also said that within five years, he would reduce my medication with a view to taking me off it completely if I didn’t have any more seizures.

I decided after the three years that I would like to come off the meds. I felt better and hadn’t experienced any symptoms in a long time. I also felt that when I was diagnosed, I had been leading quite an unhealthy lifestyle and since that had now changed, I could control my seizures by watching my stress levels, not taking any alcohol and sleeping right. My consultant was reluctant, but he agreed. So in early 2013, I officially came off my epilepsy medication.

To say I was delighted would be an understatement. It was a chapter of my life that I was happy to close. And for the last year, I didn’t experience any symptoms.

Until recently. In the last few months, I have moved away from home. I have begun a new job at a school that is challenging, to say the least. I have found the whole experience very stressful and I know that this has contributed to a return of my symptoms.

The symptoms began again around Christmas. I was standing in the school hall, listening to the students sing carols when I suddenly felt dizzy. I had to search for a seat, as I knew that I was about to faint. In isolation, I just thought that the room had been too stuffy. Days later, I started getting headaches again. They are profoundly painful and debilitating. I also keep experiencing dizzy spells.

And then, the other night, as Jack and I sat in bed watching some crap horror film, my old nemesis made a return: The déjà vu. It wasn’t as intense as it had been, but the feeling of dread returned with it. Tears pricked my eyes as I finally confessed to Jack that my symptoms were back. I had to concede to the fact that there was no getting away from it. My consultant’s words rang in my ear: “I will let you come off the medication, but if you ever experience another seizure, you’ll be back on it more than likely for life.” Life. Life with epilepsy. Where I can never have a normal pregnancy and where there are several risks to any children I may have. Where I will have to take medication for the rest of my life. And where I can’t ever ride Space Mountain again. Curse you, epilepsy.

The thing is, I’m okay with it. I have come to terms with this as an inevitable part of my life. It could be worse; I see people on a daily basis who struggle with far worse than this. I also have an amazing family and group of friends who will be there for me if and when I need them. And I have this ridiculously childish and immature blog that I can come and be silly on when I need to. So now you see why I do blog: it helps me. I don’t have to be serious and grown-up and I’m not some woman struggling with epileptic seizures here, I’m just a random eccentric who posts cat memes. And it feels great.

If you read this far, I just want to say: thank you. Really. I didn’t even read this far, so there are probably numerous typos but I have an excuse. My brain doesn’t work properly. So there.

Hugs and kisses x