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Posts Tagged ‘depression’

Long time no writing from me – sorry! Anyway, I wanted to write a little about something that has affected me for as long as I can remember – basically as long as I’ve been depressed, which is as far back as I can recall, and that’s food addiction.

It manifests itself in me feeling desperate to eat food at times when I feel trapped, stressed, bored, ugly, lonely or sad.

I am only really beginning to start analysing myself and how I deal with my problem. I’ve gone through one major hurdle in that now I find myself knowing, as I eat, that I am doing this for a reason – to help me cope with the feelings – and I acknowledge that I am hurting myself by doing it, but also in the short term that I am helping myself and that it is a less damaging way, perhaps, to deal with feelings than some others.

Despite this, however, it makes me unhappy; I’ve always felt too big for my natural body, as if I’m wearing a fat suit made of my anxiety and addiction all the time. I know I need to start taking time out to deal with issues whenever I feel desperate for food. I know I need to start planning my weekly diet a bit better so I’ve got fruit and veg to plough through if it gets bad, as at least that will be nourishing for me as opposed to damaging.

I want to start writing about my addiction, because I find examining it through putting it down in words helps to break up the opacity of it – a lot of the time I feel as if I’m lost whenever I do it – as if I can’t pinpoint what it is that’s making me so upset.  Sometimes low levels of stress causes me to just casually overeat. Sometimes high levels of stress causes me to properly binge. But I would say I overeat most days of the week, some more than others.

It’s not going to be an easy thing to examine, but I feel that I want to start talking about it more. Any other women out there with a similar issue? Write to me in the comments!

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Photo by Mr La Rue

Photo by Mr La Rue

So, after nearly three years I am currently coming off my anti-depressants. I was on 20mg a day of Citalopram and lucky that I had no noticeable side effects.

Using anti-depressants is a very personal choice and it turned out to be the right one for me. However, it wasn’t an easy to start using them as it meant finally admitting that I was depressed and that I couldn’t cope.  I went through a phase of bursting into tears several times a day, including at work and this is why I chose pills. I needed to stabilise myself so that I could start dealing with my depression and work out what other help I needed.

I been to three different counsellors alongside using the anti-depressants, the most successful counselling treatment being the cognitive behavioural therapy I received in early 2008. The general advice from GPs about coming off anti-depressants seems to be that you should only come off them once you’ve felt okay for 6 months and then to cut down to a pill every other day, then one every two days etc.

I had 3 weeks off work before Xmas with my ME/CFS and IBS which was frustrating, but didn’t put me into a bad place mentally so I decided I was ready to start cutting down the pills. I’ve been cutting them down for the last month or so and I’m currently taking one pill every three days, so another couple of weeks and I’ll stop altogether.

The hardest part of coming off the anti-depressants is trying to decide what is “normal” for me. Before my depression I would very rarely get upset or cry because I tended to push all my feelings deep down inside. Now I’m double-guessing myself and thinking “am I upset because I’m coming off the pills?” The answer seems to be no, mainly when I’ve got upset the last few months it’s been about things that most people would find upsetting, and I generally deal with them sensibly and quickly. So, I still need to work on accepting and recognising my feelings and then working through them but overall I’m very happy with my progress and that I’m doing the right thing for me.

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I heard a few snippets this week on the BBC news along the lines of

Put away the tranquilisers. Sushi, chocolate and a new haircut could help beat depression, a new book suggests.

The overall impression I received from this was that it was advocating the ‘buck up, go out and sort yourself out’ attitude that can be very damaging to people with mental health problems. It also implies that it is aimed at women with anxiety and depression, as I can’t see many people suggesting to men that they eat sushi, chocolate and get a haircut to deal with stress.

I decided to seek out the details about the news on the BBC website and found a short interview with Professor Jane Plant, author of Beating Stress, Anxiety and Depression, and Jane Harris, of mental health charity Rethink.

Luckily, my first impressions were wrong as they seem to be advocating that people with mild to moderate depression may find a range of diet and lifestyle changes helpful. That these options should be considered before anti-depressants are prescribed, and that more non-drug psychological treatments should be available for mental health. They also mentioned that only 6% of health research funding goes towards mental health research, even though the NHS spends approx £300 million a year on drug therapies.

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Got in from work this afternoon to hear the tail end of Sunbathing in the Rain on Radio 4 (which I leave on in the mornings for the dog!).

From the BBC website:

Sunbathing in the Rain: Gwyneth Lewis’s adaptation of her book, a down-to-earth, courageous and entertaining chronicle of her own experience of a severe episode of depression, how she struggled to find ways of coping and ultimately survive.

 

 

Listen again link should work for seven days:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/arts/afternoon_play.shtml

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One of the few things tht I still found some enjoyment in when off work with depression and ME/Chronic Fatigue was music. Having a good, friendly local music venue meant I still managed the odd night out to listen to folk, irish or acoustic performers in a laid-back atmosphere.

When at home I could lie back and relax to celtic, new age or relaxation type sounds on at a low level, especially on those days where I couldn’t concentrate on reading or watching TV.

The other type of music I turned to were songs that inspired me with their lyrics, either to grasp a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel or to physically get me moving.

One of my top songs for this is I should Get Up by Teddy Thompson, who I’m guessing has suffered from depression himself:

Depression looms
I’m such a miserable fool
I stay in bed
I don’t wanna got to school
But I see the sun
is beating down
No excuses from the clouds

I should get up
I should get out
I’m sure there’s something
I can’t do without
I should get up
I should get up
I should get up

I’ve heard it said
that life will pass you by
Live underground pretty soon that’s where you lie
But I feel so warm in my room
I’m safe and sound
inside my tomb

I should get up
I should get out
I’m sure there’s something
I can’t do without
I should get up
I should get up
I should get up

The world goes on without me
I know it
I know it
No one misses
the quiet kid
And there are things
I may have missed
But living ignorance is bliss
I’m so wrapped up in myself
I got no time for
Everyone else

I should get up
I should get out
I’m sure there’s something
I can’t do without
I should get up
I should get up
I should get up
I should go out
I’m sure there’s something
I can’t do without
I should get up
I should get up
I should get up

Has any music inpired or motivated you?

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I’ve been on Prozac for three weeks now, so I thought I’d report back on its effects, and also offer a bit of a forum:

Comment, if you want to, sharing what medication you’re currently on, or have been on, (doesn’t have to be anti-depressants) and the effects it’s having/had on your life and mood.

Basically, I don’t think people talk about this enough! So, yes, Prozac has been… great. Unexpectedly so. The awful recurring thoughts of badness have pretty much disappeared, and when they come are much MUCH less persistent and less potent. I’ve also generally been feeling pretty ok a lot more of the time – actually contented.

So far, side effects have been minimal, although I am feeling tired in the afternoons more. At the moment that’s ok – I can either have a caffeine overload on the days I’m at work, or have a nap (yay for being a student…), but that’s not really going to be possible when I’m (hopefully) working full time in about 2 months. Apparently Prozac side effects do decrease with time as your body gets used to it, so I’m well willing to give mine the next two months to find out, but if it doesn’t get any better I know I’ll have to make some hard choices.

It’s made me think about quite a few different things, too. I had a brief email conversation with Dr Ben Goldacre (of Guardian Bad Science column fame) about SSRIs, of which Prozac is one, which have been in the news recently. Studies have shown that for people with mild to moderate depression (I would class mine as moderate, as it’s not totally debilitating, but without drugs I am depressed, anxious and suffer upsetting thoughts every day for significant amounts of time) SSRIs were about as effective as placebos.

Obviously, this was shocking news for a lot of people, and various people on here talked about it. To put a different perspective on the issue, a friend of mine who is a psychology student at Sussex University rubbished the revelations, saying they’d only looked at surveys of patients up to one month after they started taking the drug, and that it normally takes longer than that for some people to feel the benefits.

Which, of course, led me to wonder – is Prozac having a real effect on me, or is it a placebo, and I’m effecting the change on myself? I suppose it’s unknowable. Medication for depression is often likened to using a sledgehammer to crack a nut, so delicate is the brain’s internal chemistry and so primitive is our knowledge of it. Yet I do feel better, even though I’m consciously aware of the findings of that study, so I think that’s really the only important thing to consider.

The other thing I’ve been struggling with is my personal history. I’ve been on anti-depressants before, during 2003-2004, in my first few terms at university. At the time, I made lots of new friends and was feeling happy and confident in my life. I remember that time as beautiful – full of drunken nights out, laughing endlessly with new mates and being amazingly, intellectually challenged. Up until now I’ve always thought of that time as a result of the circumstances of my life, not the citalopram, then escitalopram that I was on. But I’m being forced to reconsider, now, with the clear, obvious effects Prozac has had on me. It’s patent that my cynicism was, in some ways, unfounded, and that much of my general enjoyment of that time where I felt unanxious, free, fun loving and happy was down to the drugs. I’m not discounting the experience as helping – I’m sure being at uni for the first time had a big effect on my mood. But I’m also fairly certain the drugs had a big effect too.

I’ve recently started to realise, too, that I’ve been depressed, anxious and prone to upsetting thoughts for most of my life. I remember having them, and compulsively overeating, as young as five or six. They’ve never really stopped, or gone away, but have just been influenced by different things, such as grief or love. As such, I’m starting to wonder how long I will need to be on medication. For the rest of my life, perhaps? I’m still reeling from how much Prozac has helped me in what is really a very short time, and wondering how this year, last year, all the other years of upset and sadness and anxiety would have been different if I’d just been put on it sooner. I guess it’s unknowable, too.

Conclusions from all this soul searching aren’t easy to come by, except that I’m going to be far more tolerant of side effects this time. The escitalopram and citalopram I was on before made me drowsy every afternoon, so I was napping a lot and ending up sleeping for twelve to thirteen hours every day. At the time, unsure as to whether the drugs were really having any effect, I gave them up, reasoning that I needed to be awake more of the time so I could work better on my essays and reading. I spent my second year in a haze of extreme anxiety, deep depression and self harmed a lot. I also often got work in late and didn’t read enough, which, I am sure, contributed hugely to me getting a 2:1 instead of a 1st. I don’t want something like that to happen to me again, so I’m going to stick with these a bit longer, and see how it goes. I’ll report back, anyway.

So, what are your experiences?

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One of the things I’ve struggled with over the last few years is how my mental health has affected my career and vice versa. A large part of my identity has always been entwined with what I do and how well I do it, and it all started to unravel when I found myself deeply unhappy at work.

Obviously, the first thing I thought about was changing my job, but I wanted to stay in academic librarianship and there were very few positions available at the pay rate I was receiving. I did get interviews for all suitable vacancies in the vicinity, but didn’t get any of the jobs. This happened over the course of several months and I was gradually having more time off due to stress related illnesses such as IBS and asthma. Things spiralled downwards until I was routinely bursting into tears at home (though I did my best to hid tears and distress at work…), and feeling out of control. Ending in being off sick for several months.

Since I was a teenager I’ve always wanted to live by some “feminist ideals”- I wanted to go to Uni, get a well paid job, support myself financially, get my own place etc. I didn’t want to get married or be dependant on a man (though I always envisioned having a male partner). I managed all that, so it came as a shock when I realised I had depression. I shouldn’t be depressed! I was living by my ideals and hadn’t had any major upsets in my life.

However, through counselling and therapy I’ve realised I wasn’t just living my ideals, I was trying to be ideal… I put a lot of energy and care into trying to be very good at everything, and didn’t like to ask for help.

It all came back to that common cause of distorted thinking: Perfectionism.

Perfectionist Thinking

Having to re-evaluate my life due to my ill health (mental & physical) has made me come to the somewhat painful realisation that I am not what I do. Therefore, my job can be just a job and I can be good at it without it being the major focus of my life. It doesn’t matter if the house is a mess, or what wage I’m earning (as long as we have enough to live on) or whether I’m the perfect friend. I can be me, with all my imperfections and the people who matter will still love me.

Now I just have to figure out how to be just me!

 

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