The internet is a wonderful way to present a heavily edited version of yourself to the world. Online I try to be funny and ranty and entertaining but if you know the real me, you’ll know that recently the ranty has been more prevalent than the funny.
I have also had periods of depression and anxiety. Not just anxiousness about something tangible, like a driving test or 10 (ahem, sore point!). The anxiousness i have experience is known as free-floating anxiety. It permeates everything and leaves me paralysed with fear for NO reason, rendering me incapable of concentrating or functioning other than on a very basic level. Thankfully I haven’t experienced too much that since Gus was about 15 months bar a few wobbly days. I am always aware, however, that it has the capacity to come back at any given moment if things start to overwhelm me emotionally.So, say for example, if I was in a permanent state of anger for NO reason at NOTHING and then as a result I was constantly exploding at my husband and my kids and feeling sick, sick, SICK with guilt.....
First, a little background info.
My first memory of feeling anxious (although I had no idea that’s what it was) was moving to a new school in London after moving from Wales when I was 4. Specifically watching my new school doing a version of the Nutcracker and feeling sick and nervy but not really knowing why...the music still gives me the creeps now.
Another time was when I had a case of cystitis as a kid and I was stuck in an assembly line waaaay far from the exit to the loos and I had a panic attack. This led me to years of associative anxiety if I was ever away from a loo especially being stuck in traffic jams on the bloody M25....leading to much amusement about taking ice cream tubs on even short car journeys JUST IN CASE!
As an adult, anxiety reared its ugly head in the form of what friends and I would call “booze blues”...if we’d had big sessions on the beer and we’re feeling wobbly or miserable or anxious the next day. But the proper, everyday, hit-you-like-a-ton-of-bricks anxiety came when I went through the time which I like to refer to as "Cancer-gate". My beloved Nana (Mum’s mum) was in hospital being operated on for secondary cancer of the womb. That same day, my mum, at 49, was diagnosed with a rare and extremely aggressive form of breast cancer. Within 2 months my Nana (who everyone expected to pull through) was dead and my mum had had a mastectomy and was on her second round of Chemo. That time SUCKED. It was horrendous and I guess, unsurprisingly, my tiny mind couldn’t cope!
I didn’t turn to drugs though. It actually never occurred to me at that point. I saw a counsellor but I don’t think she helped much. I didn't feel like she understood me at all. I just felt like a stupid, blubbing idiot every time I was there. I knew that anxiety was a common side effect of grief and I thought it would go at some point.
It wasn’t until a year later that I started to feel more and more desolate and insular, despite my Mum doing brilliantly. I realised I was depressed. I had lost interest in everything. I cried at everything. I just wanted to sleep and never see anyone or do anything. So I went to the doctor. I was prescribed 20mg Citalopram. 6 weeks later I felt normal again. Not super-whizzy delirious or jumping through fields of flowers on a warm sunny day happy....just....normal. It was amazing. I had no idea how not normal I’d been feeling until I felt like me again. I re-emerged into the world as if I’d never been gone. That was 11 years ago.
Cancer-gate left a lot of emotional scars and I spent a few years flailing about trying to find some stability in my life (also a few years of brilliant, happy, drunken, silly times but flailing nevertheless). Of course, at the most unexpected time in my life...when I’d just finished a destructive relationship and had moved home from Australia in a pit of debt and misery... I did find emotional stability....in the form of my husband. Now PLEASE don’t misinterpret this as some Victorian-esque misogynistic statement that a woman needs a man to be happy! All I mean is that I finally found a relationship that fulfilled my emotional needs.
But I still didn’t feel like I needed to come off the Citalopram. Some people I know, who have taken anti-depressants to help them through PND or other tough emotional episodes in their lives have been desperate to be rid of the pills. I completely understand that but I’ve never felt like I needed to. That’s not to say that when I was first prescribed them, I didn’t feel like a complete an utter failure in life! Why do I have to have DRUGS to make me feel NORMAL????? OTHER PEOPLE can cope without them! What’s WRONG with me?! WHY AM I SO PATHETIC?! I was so hard on myself.
But over the years I’ve learnt that people are very different in their ability to cope and that’s OK. I would never think that about anyone else who took anti-depressants! I DON’T think that about the millions of people who take them, and whatever else they need to make themselves feel OK. So I stopped beating myself up about it too.
Why am I talking about it today though? Well since having Joni, I’ve been steadily getting angrier and angrier at less and less. To begin with, I thought it was lack of sleep, surging hormones, the stress and strain of having 2 small kids (one of whom didn’t sleep and spent the first 4 months crying for 3 hours every evening). Then later, trying to juggle work, and driving lessons, and having a gastric band (yeah great timing on your life choices Jess!) and two small kids....but then I really started to dread weekends. This brilliant post resonated with me. But then our weekends seemed to always ALWAYS end up with rows and fights and tears and shouting. And me shouting a LOT. And loud and scarily and then hitting walls and scaring my kids and making my husband hate me. I was this person but much, much worse. And I was spending all my time thinking that I couldn’t wait for Joni to be older because things will be easier but then feeling sick with guilt because I want to enjoy her NOW at THIS age.
One of my friends said that I was so lucky to be able to enjoy Christmas with two small kids and how magical it would be. I thought she was mad! It was going to be a hell of fighting and tantrums and shouting and wishing for bedtime EVERYDAY OF THE HOLIDAYS. Thankfully it wasn’t at all...it was lovely...probably because however angry I am, I am still obsessed with Christmas. And there was booze.
But I knew in the New Year I would have to do something to address it. It was starting to make me feel anxious. And if it wasn't a threat enough that I was damaging my kids and my marriage with my irrational outbursts, the thought of the returning feeling of constant terror was enough to make me face it head on.
I thought about seeing my counsellor (I’ve got a great one now) and I've looked into doing some anger management courses. I downloaded some meditation apps to help me relax before I go to sleep but part of the problem was, I wasn't sure if my anger was just from me being overwhelmed by my situation, which even though short term, is fairly full on. Is it OK to need some outside help to get me through this time of small kids, working life, driving lessons, lack of sleep, constant dieting? There IS a lot of stuff going on. And each time I WAS angry (and this applies to when I get PMT anger too) I felt totally justified in being that angry. Not so much with my kids....usually I was angry because they were moaning, but they were moaning because they were being hurried because I had made us late...and I could see that pattern of behaviour and was trying to change it. But with my husband...I'd be angry because of the most pathetic things and I REALLY FELT I WAS IN THE RIGHT. I'd argue to the death that I was right and that I had every right to be apoplectic because his decision making was JUST.SO.STUPID. What a bitch. What a horrible, horrible bitch.
In the end, the only thing I felt that would have an immediate effect on my behaviour would be if I went back to the doctor. I asked him if he could up my Citalopram to 30mg. And he did.
Luckily we had a fairly peaceful few weeks following that visit. I've found that usually making the decision to change things is the hardest part. The acknowledgment that things aren't OK and they need to change and the fact that I was doing something proactive helped the weeks pass more uneventfully. 4 weeks down the line though I DO feel different. I feel NORMAL. Again not skippy, happy, ecstatic. Just OK. And NOT angry. I mean, I do get the angers but over things that are normal to be angry about: my son being rude to strangers, formulas going wrong in spreadsheets, getting to the end of the wine etc. But I'm not being mental about ridiculous things like Emlyn buying a ready meal that contains aubergine because EVERYBODY KNOWS AUBERGINE IN READY MEALS ISN'T COOKED PROPERLY...what is WRONG with YOU that you didn't KNOW THAT?!
This last weekend was brilliant. I didn’t dread it. I didn’t spend my time shouting at everyone and praying for the kids’ bedtime to come around. I didn’t look forward to going back to work on Monday so I could have some peace. I ENJOYED my kids! I was NICE to my husband. It was a HAPPY house. Thank YOU Citalopram! I think you just saved my marriage.