I Gave Up Alcohol For My Mental Health

wp-1522770217504..jpg

My last psychiatry appointment was a tough one – I was told with certainty that I should, no, needed to give up alcohol. My response was a hopeful one, surely half a bottle of wine on a Saturday night was alright? The answer was a definitive no, even that amount of alcohol was far too much. We agreed that I should go sober, and I agreed reticently. I left feeling dejected, grumpy and silently cursing my psychiatrist. Although I felt fed up, I had known before my appointment that this change needed to happen.

Why go sober? 

My psychiatrist explained that alcohol reduces the effectiveness of many medications. Alcohol is a depressant, and pretty much cancels out the work my mental health medication does. In other words, I might as well not bother taking my medication every time I drink. If I have three days in a row of drinking, then that’s three days without medication. For me that can cause the beginning of withdrawal symptoms, that feel like having the flu. Or, more seriously, it can cause a bipolar episode of severe depression or mania.

The mental and physical effects

After a heavy weekend, or a number of days in a row of a ‘few’ drinks in the evening to help me unwind and relax I start feeling the negative effects of alcohol. I’ve noticed a correlation between heavy drinking and heart palpitations, that often leads to a full blown panic attack. Panic attacks are a debilitating and exhausting experience, and I’ll feel drained for days afterwards. Another experience I’ve had after drinking is psychosis. Earlier this year I drank heavily over my birthday weekend and at the end of it began to hear voices. I wrote about the experience in this post, My Hearing Voices Journal Alcohol free, I wouldn’t have gone through these experiences, and would have stayed mentally well and stable.

How I did it

I literally just stopped! Seriously though, it’s been tough, especially on nights out and at family celebrations. I’ve been drinking since I was fourteen, so to just suddenly go completely sober was a massive challenge. I was open about it with everyone, and my partner, family and friends have all been extremely supportive. I reached out to the twitter community and was given heaps of advice and tips on non alcoholic drinks so I wouldn’t feel like I was missing out on nights out. Soda and lime cordial has been my saviour when I’m out at a bar, along with flavoured sparkling water when I’m having a night in. It’s taken a terrific amount of self determination and will power, but I knew it was something I had to do for my mental health.

How I’m feeling now

Two months later and I feel fantastic! I’m clear headed, have more energy and haven’t had any palpitations or panic attacks. I’ve been stable and haven’t experienced psychosis or any depressive or manic episodes. I feel physically healthier and I’ve lost weight. I know my medications are working as they should be now, and that’s given me the impetus to stay sober.

I may have left my psychiatric appointment with a feeling of dread and wondering how the hell I was going to go sober, but I’m so glad I stuck with my decision.

We Need to Stop Apologising for Being Ill

20170918_114250

 

This is something I find myself doing often. I have lived with mental illness for over a decade and I still find myself uttering that one word; sorry. Sorry I let you down. Sorry I couldn’t make it. Sorry for being ill.

An example of this is my partner and I recently went on holiday. Due to a mix up, I was left without one of my medications, and in the end went for three days without it. Including the withdrawal symptoms I was experiencing, I also started to feel very low and tearful. We didn’t leave our lodge for two days because I was convinced I would break down or have a panic attack. The one thing I kept saying again and again was sorry. I felt I’d ruined our holiday and it was all my fault.

When it comes to my mental health It’s so ingrained in me to apologise that I do it without really noticing. I find myself saying it before I’ve realised what I’ve said, and what it implies. Apologising implies it’s your fault. Mental illness is not your fault, it isn’t anyone’s fault for being ill. We are blameless. We didn’t cause ourselves to be ill, and we certainly didn’t ask for it.

So why do we do it? I think the stigma that lives in our society is mostly to blame. Mental illness by many is seen as a sign of weakness.

The ‘just snap out of it’ and ‘cheer up’ brigade often think this way. We’re told by them we need to be stronger and to just get on with life.

By others it’s a character flaw. There is something wrong in how we think and live and that it can be easily fixed. We’re lazy, so exercising regularly and working hard will cure all our problems. If we’re constantly being told we’re weak, flawed and lazy, no wonder we’re always apologising.

Another major reason we find ourselves apologising is guilt. We often find ourselves feeling guilty for a multitude of reasons. Our room or our house is a mess, we can’t get out of bed, we cancel plans with family and friends. But is this guilt an ordinary part of mental health problems, or does the pressure of being happy and normal cause it? I think maybe the guilt is always there, but the demands put on us by society exacerbate this feeling.

Back to the holiday I took with my partner. I kept saying sorry. Through tears and sobs I was still apologising. However, my partner would say to me, until it finally made sense,

“Don’t apologise, you’ve done nothing wrong. I’m not angry or upset, you can’t help being ill.”

That’s the key to all of this; to surround yourself with accepting individuals. Keep hold of those friends that understand and really mean it when they tell you it’s ok. Ignore  those that demean your mental illness and cut them out of your life if necessary. Educate the rest.

It can feel very lonely living with a mental illness. We want others to love us and not to frighten them away. We fear that we have made them angry or upset. So we say sorry, hoping they will stay.

We need to show ourselves some compassion and to truly believe that we are not at fault for being ill. We shouldn’t apologise even if some people think we should. Even if we don’t always realise it, to go through what we do everyday, we are far stronger then them.

My Triggers for a Bipolar Episode and How I Manage Them

Bipolar can be triggered in a number of ways and it can be different for each person. It has taken me years to correlate certain situations and experiences with the onset of a Bipolar episode, depressive or manic. Here are the triggers I’ve identified that effect me;

Stress – I don’t deal with stress very well, tending to unhealthily bottle up how I’m feeling and how much I’m struggling. A build up of stress sets off an episode of depression or mania. I am slowly learning to recognise when I’m stressed and deal with it head on. I am more aware of stressful situations and plan ahead if I know an event, social situation or work will cause me stress. Looking at a stressful situation from a logical and objective point of view helps me to minimise it’s impact. I ask myself simple, logical questions such as, “What’s the worse possible outcome?” “How likely is that outcome?” “What practical steps can I take to reduce the stress in this situation?” If I can find an answer to this last question I’ll ask others for help. I think this is key; knowing when to ask for help. It’s too easy to keep pushing ourselves and forcing ourselves to deal with situations alone. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, a notion that I still struggle with, but I am working on. I’ve blogged about how stress effects me in the post Why I gave up my full time job

Sleep – If I sleep less than fours hours a night for three or more days I often find myself in a hypomanic or more serious manic state. During the week I have to be strict with myself and go to bed between ten and eleven every night. On the weekends I stay up later, but by Sunday again I need to turn back to my routine before bed. What I need to work on here is a more concrete bedtime routine. What usually traps me is not being able to fall asleep and then giving up, and staying awake for most of the night. A routine will help me to relax and making falling asleep that much easier.

Alcohol and other drugs – Too much alcohol and other substances have a negative impact on my mental health. They often make me depressed, and alcohol especially stops my medication working the way it should. Alcohol in itself is a depressant, and teamed up with other substances I take causes me to behave erratically for days afterwards and can lead to depression or mania. I still drink, but not to the excesses I used to. At one point I was drinking everyday, which was extremely detrimental to my mental health. I go into more detail in the post How much is too much: Alcohol and Bipolar  

If these three are all combined together it can be dangerous. I am much more likely to become very ill if all three are in the mix. Stress often leads to me not being able to sleep, and in turn I will drink to help me sleep and to relax after a stressful day. Having identified these three main triggers has had a positive impact. It’s not always possible to avoid stress, but I know in theses situations that I have to watch out for warning signs for a Bipolar episode. I’ll make family and friends aware that I’m stressed, and rely on their support; whether it be a listening ear or helping with the practicalities of the stressful situation.

Awareness and understanding of these triggers is empowering. I am more capable of dealing with Bipolar than I was a couple of years ago and that can only lead to positive outcomes and stability.

 

Surviving a Festival whilst Living with a Mental Health Problem

P08-11-09_00.51

I love music festivals. To me, a good festival is other worldly, where you can get lost in the music and the atmosphere. With a mental health condition though, the very idea of attending can feel overwhelming, and a daunting task. I’ve put together a survival list that should not only allow you to cope, but also have a fun and memorable time.

Research festivals Finding a festival that suits your music tastes is important, but also one that allows you to feel secure in the environment around you. For instance, there may be a festival in your local town, so you don’t have to camp (and the added benefit of being able to shower in your own home)! Festivals all have they’re unique vibe, so it’s a good idea to look into what the general atmosphere is like before booking tickets.

Get plenty of sleep For me, a lack of sleep is a major trigger for my mental illness. If I miss out on sleep for a couple of days it can cause a bout of depression or mania. Regular, good quality sleep for any mental health problem is vital. Take some earplugs with you to drown out noise, and don’t feel pressured to stay up all night; if you need to sleep it will make the next few days much more enjoyable.

Take time out Festivals are loud and in your face. They’re full of excitable people, strangers and the unexpected. You don’t need to be partying every single second of the weekend. Not everyone likes to admit it, but none of us can be on the go constantly. Instead plan what you want to see and add to that times when you can take it easy. Whether that’s sitting watching the world go by, or going back to your tent for a breather.

Pack and take your medication It’s so important to not neglect your medications whilst at a festival. It’s easy to say, “Oh, I’ll take them later.” Put an alarm on your phone and take them when you normally would. A sudden withdrawal from medications can make you feel mentally and physically extremely unwell. Don’t be put off taking them with you. Your bag may be searched so take your prescription script with you to confirm these are your medications and for your use only.

Plan your day This will help you feel more secure and give structure to each day. It can be as loose or as itemised as you want it to be, we’re all different when it comes to planning! A plan will help you remember to take time out, and when to take your medications.

Go with a group This is good advice for anyone, mental health condition or not. A group is more fun, but also safer. If you lose friends at a festival, the likelihood is you’ll never be separated from everyone when you’re in a group, or for long. Make sure it’s with people you trust that understand you may find the weekend difficult. Chances are when you need to take time out or need a rest, someone else in the group will be feeling exactly the same way.

Tell someone if you’re struggling Bottling up that you’re finding things difficult can ruin a festival weekend. As I’ve already said, going with a like minded, caring group of people is the best option. There might only be a couple of people you feel you can confide in, so tell them before the festival that you may need some support at some point. If they’re true friends, they won’t mind sitting out the festival for awhile to be there for you.

Know your limits I mean this in terms of how much you can see and get involved in during the weekend, but also alcohol and other drugs. Being forced by others to do more, drink more, take more, is not ok. Think about what you are capable of and comfortable with before the festival starts. This isn’t an easy one, as personally it has taken me years to realise what my limits are, and stick to them.

I hope this post has been helpful, and feel free to add your own tips in the comments!

Missing Medication: Withdrawal and Side Effects

ace542c792a5d5fe0c3e7dad1886a25c

 

It’s been around four months now that my psychiatrist has been telling my GP that I don’t need to see her every time I need a new prescription. It’s a situation that has been causing me a great deal of stress as it is nigh on impossible to see my doctor before I run out of medication. The first time I mentioned this to my psych he told me he had met with the doctors at a couple of GP surgeries to discuss this exact problem. My doctor has appeared to ignore this suggestion. The last time I went to see my psych he demanded in the update letter about my appointment that I should be given a repeat prescription, and that my GP and I should instead schedule regular ‘check ups’ to discuss how I was feeling and to discuss blood test results, if needed. It appears this information has not sunk in and my frustration with my doctor has manifested into full blown anger.

So inevitably, I ran out before I had a chance to see my doctor – any doctor – at the surgery. In the end I missed four days of aripiprazole and two days of lamotrigine. I must admit that missing so many days was partly my fault; at one point I simply gave up. Withdrawal is dreadful. I started experiencing tremors that became increasingly obvious. The tremors I could handle, I’ve had them before and I’ve only ever seen them as a mild irritation. I became utterly exhausted, with every task seemingly impossible. It felt like a bout of flu, actually worse than the flu. I somehow, as I often do in these situations, manage to carry on, much to the detriment to my overall health. There were times where I could barely keep my eyes open, and even now my eyes and head are pulsing with a haze of tiredness that refuses to dissipate. Then it gets a tad confusing. I’ve started taking the meds again and now I can’t distinguish what were just withdrawal symptoms and which are side effects; they seem to have overlapped. Now I still feel exhausted, but also nauseous, that has lead to bouts of vomiting. I can barely eat and I’m feeling constantly worn out with a large dollop of sickness to top it all off. And I can’t sleep, what has left me feeling so desperate I was shouting at myself at 3 in the morning. I just want to sleep and wake up feeling refreshed; not feeling that I’m going to throw up. So let me explain how this all came about.

A huge annoyance is how difficult it is to arrange an appointment to begin with. I’m fed up with tiresome phone calls to an engaged line, that then rings endlessly once I’ve got through. The problem is the surgery I’m registered with is ridiculously over subscribed, to the point where they are no longer taking on new patients. If I don’t ring at exactly 8 on a Monday morning I won’t get an appointment. There have been times when I’ve been sat waiting for the engaged tone to finally end, only to speak to a receptionist who informs me all appointments have now been booked for that day. I have to ring back on a Wednesday, or a Friday, or even the next week, where I might, just might, manage to see a doctor. It feels like I’ve entered a lottery each time I make the dreaded phone call.

Last time I managed to see my GP I told her about the problems I’d been having booking in. She was very sympathetic and to my surprise, was able to arrange an appointment to see her in four weeks time, there and then. However this meant I would receive my medication a few days before I ran out. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, I was just so pleased I wouldn’t have to deal with the stress of arranging to see her. She cancelled the appointment. I was furious. Marching up to the receptionist, trying to keep my cool, I demanded to see a doctor the next day, this was an emergency I said. I was told in explicit terms that it was not an emergency, or even a priority and I would have to ring them tomorrow. The next day, no appointments available. Christmas was looming and I was becoming increasingly desperate. The doctor I eventually saw was fantastic, and I intend to ask to see this GP instead of the one I’m registered with. What really upsets me is how dangerous this practice is. What if my mood (that has recently been more on the manic side) had made me decide that I just wouldn’t bother taking the meds anymore. What if this had caused an intense mania, a psychotic episode or a bout of severe depression?

You can follow me on:

Twitter

Facebook

Instagram