Social Stamina

One thing I have always been aware of – though perhaps even more acutely over the last few years – is how little “social stamina” I have compared to the vast majority of other people. By this I mean energy/ capacity for social interaction. I think it’s partly to do with having social anxiety and also partly to do with being an introvert. I’d say I’m easily in the top 5% of people when it comes to introversion, possibly even the top 1%. Even when I’m well rested, in a good mood, and not massively stressed about anything, I get tired out by social interaction far more quickly than most other people (even when I really WANT to be social). When my depression flares up (like it is at the moment), I have even less energy for social interaction. This might be part of the reason why I’ve never really liked pubs (there’s always so much going on in there that I’m drained and want to leave after about 20 minutes, usually!) Also, parties (all parties) have always felt far more like an endurance test to me than anything else. (I remember even as a kid, I would need to go and find a quiet room to escape to at big family parties because I was so worn out by it all). I did still very much enjoy the two parties that I went along to with classmates during my master’s (but I did feel VERY tired and had a bit of a social hangover the next day). I would be interested to know if this is a common experience for people on the autism spectrum too.

My boyfriend is also very much like this, which is really nice in a way (I honestly don’t know how I’d cope with a really extroverted partner, and they’d probably quickly get fed up of me with my tiny social battery). I do sometimes worry though that it sometimes means we aren’t giving social occasions a fair chance.

Whenever I’ve worked at the supermarket, it drains so much social energy from me (even though I interact with people a lot less than most of my colleagues there) that I don’t want to interact with anyone except my immediate family or my boyfriend for the rest of the day. If I absolutely do have to interact with anyone outside of those people after a shift, my total social battery amounts to about 30 minutes before I am completely and utterly drained. This happened to me the other day, when I visited my dad and his partner for Fathers’ Day. My sisters and I had all gone to meet him for a socially distanced chat. I thought we’d be there for about an hour at most but it ended up being about 2 and half. I felt terrible but I was just so tired that I was absolutely desperate to leave by the end of it. I’ve been sleeping terribly since I took the supermarket job so that probably contributes a lot to it as well. I mentioned how I felt to my sisters afterwards and they asked why I didn’t just excuse myself and leave. I know it sounds really stupid but it just never really occurred to me before that I could do that. I always feel that I have to push myself to stay in social situations I’m no longer enjoying for fear of appearing rude. I’d worried about what my dad and his partner would think of me if I left after only half an hour/ an hour. But it backfired massively on me because I was extremely irritable by the time we were leaving, so probably came across as far more rude and unpleasant than I would have if I’d just politely excused myself. I probably looked “like a half-shut knife” (to use a Scotticism) the whole time as well because I’d slept so poorly for the last few days. I do always tend to worry about what other people think and put their wants/ feelings above mine rather than doing what’s best for me. But I’m realising now that it would probably be better for everyone if I just gave myself permission to leave when I feel tired and irritable, rather than forcing myself to stay and just getting more and more grumpy. It’s sometimes difficult to know if I should just keep pushing myself to see if I could get back to a point where I’m enjoying the situation, but I can’t say that’s ever happened to me (at least, not without me leaving the situation for a bit and then coming back).

That said, I’d also like to find ways I can increase my social stamina, or at least make social occasions more pleasant for everyone involved. I’m thinking maybe I should make sure I’m well slept and go on a big nature walk before any big social occasion from now on! I have always done this quite instinctively on Christmas Day. I’ll normally spend an hour or two just by myself in my room in the late morning/ early afternoon and then get my dog out on a long walk before anyone arrives for Christmas dinner. It works fairly well. Perhaps short breaks to myself would help too (like sitting in my room by myself for a few moments if I’m at home, or stepping out for a quick burst of fresh air). I know a lot of people might find this strange, but I can’t change the fact that I’m highly introverted and have social anxiety. Maybe this would be a way to actually enjoy social situations more and still look after myself.

Can anyone else relate? How do you cope with naturally having less social stamina than other people? How do you politely excuse yourself/ extract yourself from a social situation, and how do you look after yourself during them?

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Life Is A Lemon (“Mega-rant”)

Life isn’t great at the moment and this whiny, self-pitying mega-rant has been building for quite some time now. You have been warned! My mind is all over the place at the moment and I’m having trouble expressing myself so I don’t know if any of this makes sense but here goes…

I’ve been meaning to write this for a while but I’m not really functioning outside of working/ shopping for my family right now and I’m struggling to structure my thoughts into any kind of coherent order. I can’t tell if I’m mildly-moderately depressed right now or just reacting normally to both what’s going on in the present and everything that has happened in my past to make me the messed up and stunted person that I am today. Either way, I’m struggling to get much of anything done outside of work (even things I enjoy), and I cry/ feel tearful an awful lot. I’m not suicidal but I don’t want this existence anymore. My social anxiety has also gone up a gear thanks to my low mood and incredibly low self-esteem. Speaking of which, working at the supermarket again really hasn’t been great for my self-esteem. I get yelled at and treated like an idiot by one of the managers just for asking basic questions about the work. I know it’s almost definitely her rather than me, given that absolutely everyone in my department constantly mentions how moody she is and how horrible she sometimes is with other people. However, when you combine this with having to deal with a handful of rude, impatient and entitled customers on a daily basis, and then add in the fact that I seem incapable of having even a basic conversation with my colleagues (and don’t feel like I fit in with them at all or that anyone there likes me), I’m sure you can see how this would grind down any belief in myself. I have some serious concerns about my ability to function in any job due to how poor my social skills are and due to my non-existent self-confidence. I feel incompetent in just about everything I do and I feel sometimes that I lack common sense/ initiative.

I don’t think I have ever been so angry at society/ people/ life in general as I have been over the last couple of months. You only need to read/ watch the news or overhear some conversations between other people to realise what a racist, homophobic, transphobic, classist, ableist and ignorant society we live in. I can’t believe it’s 2020 and this is still the world that we’re living in. I was already quite the misanthrope before the coronavirus lockdown started and before I started working at the supermarket again, but both of those things have made me so much worse than I was before. I’ve been such an angry and miserable person recently and I feel as if I’m turning into a grumpy and bitter old woman already!

Yesterday at work, I overheard a conversation between three of my colleagues. From what was being said, it sounded very much like one colleague’s young relative (who is 6 or 7 years old) suffers from selective mutism. She was saying that he doesn’t talk at all at school and barely even makes a sound at all there. One of the others did at one point suggest that “it sounds like he might need counselling or something”, but mostly they were talking about how strange that is and whether they should use tough love to snap him out of it or shock him out of it. The implication seemed to be that he should grow up and get over it. I was shaking with anger and I wanted to say something but didn’t. They were also talking about other people who are really quiet, including someone on checkouts who speaks really quietly. Apparently one of my colleagues has mentioned to her a couple of times that she speaks too quietly, as have several customers. They said that she shouldn’t have taken a job that involves talking to people a lot if she’s quiet and not very talkative. I just sat there, wanting to say to them: 1. Capitalism exists, and 2. Which job/s DON’T involve having to talk to other people? There are very, very few. I was just so angered by their ignorance and their complete lack of empathy for people who struggle with social anxiety. I don’t think I will ever understand how some people can be so lacking in empathy. I was so angry at the time that they didn’t seem to realise or care just how difficult getting through life can be with crippling social anxiety. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Even now, I still struggle constantly with my anxiety and with interacting with other people. I wonder what it’s like to have had mostly positive social experiences in your life. I can’t imagine that. I’m becoming more and more angry and bitter about the ignorance of society towards mental illness. In saying that, I’m not sure I would have achieved much by just getting angry at them and pointing out how ignorant they were being. Perhaps if I ever get the courage to say anything in future, I’m better off just encouraging people to put themselves in other peoples’ shoes and explaining how mental illness can make life so difficult.

I feel as if my life and my future have completely gone down the toilet. Even without a global pandemic, getting a job in ecology/ conservation is extremely difficult, even with a relevant degree/s and experience. I knew that even in better circumstances, getting a longer-term contract might take a few years, but now it just feels as if the future I’ve worked so, so hard for (probably harder than most due to having to cope with severe anxiety and depression throughout much of my time at university) has gone up in flames. I keep hearing about people in ecology/ conservation losing their jobs. And I worry that I’ll be lucky just to be stuck working for low pay in a job I hate for the rest of my life at this rate. Everything seems so hopeless. I don’t know that there’s even one aspect of my life that I feel hopeful about right now. I was supposed to be moving in with my boyfriend this summer but lockdown threw a spanner in that and also put a bit of a strain on our relationship. If we do end up moving in together at a later date, I’m very worried about how I’m going to pay the bills as it seems I have no chance of a permanent job in anything any time soon. I’ve almost completely given up on making close friends too. I can’t seem to trust other people enough to let them get close to me, and even if I could, I have no idea if it’s even possible to make close friends post-university. Obviously, it looks like it’ll be a long time yet before I’m able to go along to social groups. I feel unbearably lonely so much of the time.

I feel so immature and stuck behind everyone too. I’m 26 years old and I don’t think I have the life experience even of the average 18 year old. I am so, so socially stunted and socially incompetent. Maybe I just filter myself too much but I never seem to know what to say to people or how to keep a conversation going. I am actively considering another autism assessment but it looks like I’ll be waiting quite a while for that too. I could really do with counselling right now (even though it’s only been slightly helpful) but I don’t have the privacy for online/ phone sessions at home, and the only alternative is driving my car somewhere and having phone sessions. Though in that case, I’d have to make up some kind of excuse as to where I was going to my family.

I find myself being irrationally angry at things much of the time. My job definitely isn’t helping and I’m probably a bit of a miserable person to be around right now as I constantly tell my family how much I hate my working situation at the moment. I know I’m fairly lucky in that my mum and stepdad are allowing me to live with them and that I’m not struggling for money. It could be an awful lot worse, I know. But I’m still miserable and angry. I even find myself getting irrationally angry when customers order lots of really expensive/ luxury items (like £70 worth of wine) when there are people literally starving right now due to the pandemic. I find myself assuming the worst of everyone. I feel angry to an extent that only now are people starting to realise how big of an impact social isolation can have on your mental health. I would hope that’s a good thing for mental health awareness in the long run, but I do wonder how many people will realise that this applies to some people all or most of the time, not just when they can’t physically be around people. Certainly I think there’s been an increased awareness of how it impacts on young people. But at least teenagers who can’t see their friends due to the pandemic can message, call and video call their friends, and they know it’s temporary. Many of us with chronic mental health problems didn’t have that when we were younger/ ever and there was no understanding or awareness whatsoever.

On a somewhat more positive note, I finally grew a pair of ovaries the other week and put a particularly rude customer in his place. Two of my colleagues and I were in an aisle together, collecting customers’ items and putting them in our trolleys. This customer was behind us and angrily asked us “How are we supposed to social distance with you lot in way?!?” I decided to just ignore him at this point as I was so angry and fed up (with rude customers and with life in general) that I don’t think I could’ve given him an answer that wasn’t deeply sarcastic. One of my colleagues replied to him “Well I suppose you’re just going to have to be patient and wait until we’ve moved away from the shelf”. He then lost it with her and shouted “Well MOVE then!”, and stormed up the aisle. My anger actually overtook my SA and I managed to firmly tell him that we were just doing our jobs (helping to get shopping to customers who may be shielding or otherwise unable to come into the store to shop) and that his behaviour was completely unacceptable. He continued to storm off, though his poor wife (who seemed very embarrassed) was extremely apologetic to my colleague for his behaviour. I felt bad for my colleague, though I think she was glad that I’d also said something to the customer. I wish I could do more of this – not being aggressive but being assertive and standing up for myself/ others rather than letting people treat me like crap. And yes, these are the kind of people that I have to deal with on a daily basis right now. I also seem to have at least one customer coughing almost in my face every few days, so this is a great game of Russian roulette I’m playing! Management at my store are also still doing absolutely nothing to enforce the one-way system or to stop customers from coming far too close to us, and we get absolutely no sick pay if we end up contracting the virus and/ or having to self-isolate. If a customer or colleague did have COVID-19, I’m sure it would spread like wildfire in there, despite them now having had months to put better measures in place. I suppose we just have to be prepared to risk our lives for the company. A certain Banksy piece comes to mind…

Anyway, I’ve ranted long enough now. I hope to start blogging a bit more frequently in an attempt to (somewhat) maintain my sanity, so expect more word vomit soon. The lyrics to this song sum up my feelings at the moment.

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The Obligatory Lockdown Rant

Well in typical me fashion, I disappeared off the face of the earth for a bit and it’s now been nearly 6 months since I last posted here. I’m not sure if any of you still read this word vomit, but I am very much in need of somewhere to vent, so here it is anyway!

So, other than a global pandemic, what’s happened since I last posted? Well after getting an initial extension for my master’s due to a serious illness*, I ended up needing a second extension due to a combination of things including depression. The last year hasn’t been the best and I initially felt terrible about once again being left behind while my classmates had long since graduated. It also meant that even before lockdown started, I had already gone about 6 months having barely spoken to anyone except my family, my boyfriend, and mental health professionals. I’ve also long since discovered that due to my perfectionistic tendencies, academia is not good for my mental health. I finally finished my master’s project in mid-April and had to then immediately start looking for work as I’d been living off my savings for the past 4 months and my student loan ran out in August 2019. I actually had a job interview for a seasonal ecology role back in March, which seemed to go well, but my application has been put on hold for now due to the COVID-19 outbreak. I can’t do any other ecology-related work for similar reasons. I was starting to get really desperate, as my savings were very close to running out altogether, but finally managed to get a job at the same supermarket I used to work at, doing the exact same role.

*I’ve since made a full recovery so I’m not at higher risk of serious complications from COVID-19.

Yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella)

I felt very lucky just to have any job at first (and still do, to some extent, given that there are people far worse off), but the way we’re treated by both customers and management has made it quite unbearable at times. There is a one-way system in the shop but no one enforces it and many of the customers ignore it and any idea of social distancing is completely out the window, as customers come far too close to us and it’s impossible to socially distance from colleagues. There are still too many customers being let into the store at once, and there can be more than 15 people in particularly busy aisles at one time. The customers therefore get very impatient and cut in in front of each other and us. We’ve had to deal with all kinds of abuse from frustrated and impatient customers, and from a management team that doesn’t even treat us like human beings. On the plus side, one of my colleagues said that it’s the most appalling treatment by a management team she’s ever experienced in any job, so if I can make it through this, hopefully I will actually be treated a bit better than like a pile of dog excrement in future jobs! I actually had to (politely but sternly) ask one customer to keep his distance the other day as he cut in so close to me that he was practically breathing down my neck. Even if we weren’t in the middle of a global pandemic, there is such a thing as personal space, and he was in clear violation of it, despite the rest of the aisle being totally clear. You know things are bad when even I start to tell people off. I really can’t for the life of me understand why grown adults can’t either say “excuse me”, wait a few seconds for the other person to move out of the way, or (if the person is taking a really long time) stare at the object they want off the shelf until the other person gets the idea. So yeah…working at the supermarket again during this time hasn’t exactly endeared me any more to humanity. I don’t think I have encountered so many selfish, entitled, impatient or downright nasty people in my life as I have in the past month. Please, PLEASE, be nice to retail workers (or at least don’t be a total $@£%!) We’re people just like you, just trying to do our jobs. On the plus side, we are currently being provided with PPE, for those of us who choose to use it, but I’ve no idea how long that will last. Given that I come within 2 metres of probably in excess of 1,000 people who aren’t from my own household on a daily basis, it is a bit of a concern, especially as one of my sisters currently works in a care home. Absolutely no one from the management team has at any point asked any of us how we’re coping/ if we feel in any way unsafe, or if there is anything they can do to make the experience safer for us or customers. But it’s all good, because I’m getting paid minimum wage and risking my health and life (and those of my family) in order to be overworked, sleep deprived and have abuse hurled at me! It’s fantastic!

Linnet (Linaria cannabina)

Anyway…that’s my rant about work (nearly) over. I’ve been working full-time and while I do technically have a lot more time outside of work that I did during my master’s (during which time my work-life balance was basically non-existent), I am far too sleep deprived from both early starts and doing in excess of 20,000 steps most days that I often don’t have the energy to do much of anything. I don’t even know where the time goes. I sleep absolutely terribly here as my bedroom gets so hot in the late spring/ summer despite me never having the heating on and having the windows open all day and night. We also live close to a busy dual carriageway and with the window open, even with my earplugs in, the noise is constant, as is the noise of cars and people going past in the street outside while I’m trying to sleep. I’m also really sensitive to light when trying to sleep, and there is no way to block it all out. I even have one of those eye masks but it still doesn’t block enough of the light. I’ve been getting less than 6 hours of sleep most nights, which really isn’t healthy, especially on how much exercise I’m doing (and how much social anxiety I’m dealing with on a daily basis). I’m actually getting less sleep now than I was when I was doing bat dusk and dawn surveys last summer. I’m not really sure what I can do, other than trying to get some extra sleep when I get back from work.

Painted Lady butterfly (Vanessa cardui)

I suppose I’m lucky that my mum and stepdad are still letting me live here for drastically less than the average Edinburgh rent, even if it’s not the ideal situation for any of us. I hadn’t exactly planned on still living with my mum at this age (though to be fair, I also at one time hadn’t planned on being alive for long after my 18th birthday, so I suppose that’s a considerable improvement) but here I am. I suppose it helps that my three younger siblings are all still at home too (for now). My boyfriend and I were actually supposed to be moving in together this summer but obviously that’s been put on hold as a result of the lockdown. I haven’t seen him in person for 9 weeks now and I miss him terribly. It looks like the Scottish government will start easing us out of lockdown tomorrow so we hope to finally meet up again for a socially distanced walk soon, but it’ll be really hard to see each other and not be able to hug or even hold hands. I have even less of a life now that I did before I finished my master’s (yes, really!). It’s pretty much just work, walk the dog, and do couch to 5k twice a week, on the days when I actually have the energy (I’m definitely enjoying being able to eat as much as a man and still lose weight! I’m nearly back down at my target weight already.) I pretty much went straight from seasonal depression to lockdown without any respite in between, though I seem to have handled it fairly well, all things considered. The poor sleep definitely hasn’t helped my mental health though, and the intrusive thoughts (which seem to happen a lot more frequently when I’m not sleeping right) have returned.

I’m been feeling very, very lonely. I coped fairly well with lockdown at first as I’ve basically been in training for this (re: social isolation) my whole life, but even I have my limitations. Not being able to see my boyfriend is rough and I do worry that I’ve made him the only person in my life that I can truly talk to about anything. I don’t even bother telling my family how I feel as I don’t think they’d understand. My aim was to go along to more meetup/ other social groups after finishing my master’s, in an attempt to meet new friends/ acquaintances, but it looks like that’ll be on hold for quite some time yet. To be honest, I don’t know that I really have any hope of making friends at this stage. I haven’t ever really learned how and I feel that I’m too weird and too unlikeable for anyone to truly want to be friends with me. The situation with my colleagues at work has been making me feel miserable as well. I can just about have a one-on-one conversation (though I do worry a great deal that they think I’m a very odd person), but I just can’t seem to join in with group conversations at all. This has always been a huge problem for me. I assume that I’m not welcome and that no one else wants me there. Even if someone asks me questions and tries to bring me into the conversation, I assume they’re only doing it to be polite. Today at break time, I tried to show interest and lean in to the rest of the group (as much as I could while we were all sat at tables 2 metres apart) but no one took any notice. And I didn’t want to risk pretty much shouting at them (what with the social distancing measures) in an attempt to join in. No one sat with me. I get the feeling that other people really don’t like me very much, and it does (combined with the abuse from customers and management) strip away at my already virtually non-existent self-esteem. I often feel like there’s no point in even trying to talk to people because they’ll inevitably reject me for being weird and not like them anyway. I yearn for close friends but I have absolutely no idea how I would ever have any at this stage, and even if I did, I’m not sure I would have the courage.

Small Copper butterfly (Lycaena phlaeas)

The counselling that I was receiving previously has now stopped due to COVID-19 and I have no idea when it will resume. There were a few times when I felt it might be helping, but mostly I feel it hasn’t helped me that much. I sometimes felt that I’d be as well just throwing £10 into the sea every week. Still…it’s something I could do with right now. My boyfriend reckons that I may still be suffering from stress after everything that’s happened in the past year, but I don’t feel especially stressed, I just feel miserable much of the time. Maybe that’s just how I am. Nature walks on my days off are the highlight of my week at the moment, as sad as that might seem to some people. (In case you were wondering what all the terrible photos of wildlife were about! I was lucky enough to see a Kingfisher a couple of weeks ago but unfortunately didn’t have my camera with me.) It’s the only time I really feel alive these days. I’ve been getting really into my birding recently and took an online course on bird calls and songs a while back. (I’m not sure if this is the sort of thing that “normal” people – particularly people my age – enjoy, but it’s what I enjoy!) I can’t wait until I can resume wildlife surveys and hopefully start working towards becoming a proper ecologist, if it’s not too late now.

I will try to post further updates (including a bunch of blog posts that I’d started writing months ago but didn’t finish) when I can.

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Angry

Yes, this is my second rant on here – this time with an added bit of animal behaviour nerdism (read: tangential ethology rant) – in the space of a week. A few things happened yesterday which made me quite angry and I just need somewhere to vent.


My dad and his partner came over to visit yesterday. My dog grabbed something out of the bin (as he tries to do about 30 times per day) not long after they arrived so I shouted “No!” and he left it. My dad’s partner then said (talking to my dog rather than to me) that if my dog belonged to him and he went into a cupboard he would “smack your a*** and you would never do it again”. I was really angered by this but was not sure how to respond. My dad then responded jokingly to his partner “Hmmm, maybe I should try that with you then”, so I just said “Yeah, I was gonna say…” I actually wanted to say “Well it’s a good thing he’s not your dog because he’d probably have some serious aggression issues”. I witnessed first-hand increased aggression in the beagle (i.e. one of the most placid dog breeds of all – hence why they were unfortunately used in animal testing laboratories) we had when I was a kid after he had been repeatedly hit/ mistreated by my dad, and this was a dog we’d raised from a puppy and knew the full life history of. I know things would be far worse with my rescue dog, whose puppyhood we know nothing of, and who seems from his behaviour to have been hit or mistreated in the past. I’ve witnessed an almost immediate increase in aggression from him after the few times that my mum has smacked him – he’s bared his teeth a couple of times after she told him off and once snapped at her (he didn’t bite her, he just snapped at the air in front of her, if you see what I mean). He doesn’t do this with me when I tell him off, but my parents apparently can’t see the connection.

I’m just so fed up of my dad’s partner constantly undermining me. I worry that if I ever have children, he’ll make similar comments about my parenting. And what annoys me even more is that he has absolutely no idea what he’s talking about. His knowledge of dog training appears to have been taken from a few episodes of Cesar Millan (i.e. someone with no formal qualifications in canine behaviour and who backs his methods on long outdated theory). Unsurprisingly, my dad’s partner seems to be a big believer in “dominance/ alpha dog” theory*, which was based on behavioural observations of wolves in unnatural conditions and of which there has been no evidence in more recent studies of wolves in natural settings. Any dog trainer/ behavioural expert nowadays who actually has qualifications and uses an evidence-based approach will tell you much the same. Furthermore, although dogs are descended from wolves, humans domesticated them around 15,000 years ago and we have changed their behaviour considerably since then. The wolves from which dogs originated were also probably quite different from modern wolves. Honestly, I could write an essay on this but that’s not what this blog is for. I’ve included a bibliography at the end, on the off chance that anyone is as much of a nerd about this as I am. (I’ve included mostly web sources and haven’t done formal referencing because I think it’s more important that this information is accessible to everyone) Maybe you’re wondering why this topic is such a big deal for me/ makes me so angry. The answer is that so many people misunderstand their dog’s behaviour/ motivation as a result of outdated theory (popularised by certain TV shows) and think that they have to use aversive training methods to show their dog who’s boss. This greatly damages the dog – owner bond. The majority of trainers/ behavioural experts today are against the physical punishment of dogs for this very reason.

*This was based on the observations of groups of unrelated captive wolves in Swiss zoos in the 1930s. Often only single animals could be obtained from the wild and these were then grouped together in captivity to form a “pack”. This is very different from wolf packs in the wild, which simply consist of the “alpha” (breeding) pair and their offspring. Futhermore, zoos (especially in the 1930s) obviously restrict the movement of animals so they cannot run away/ form separate territories so the wolves had no choice but to interact aggressively with one another.

I can’t remember how it came up but my parents and their partners then started talking about the London terror attack which happened a couple of days ago. My dad’s partner has been discriminatory towards eastern Europeans before and my mum mentioned that one of members of the public who confronted the attacker was Polish. So naturally he then went on a racist rant about Muslims instead. I’d had enough of him by this point and just did the dishes then went to my room to get away from him.

In the evening, my mum and stepdad were pretty much having a counselling session at the dinner table, with my stepdad saying that his stepmum used to tell him he’d be a “loser”, a “waster” and “amount to nothing” if he didn’t study and do well in his high school exams. My stepdad then said to me that my siblings and I should feel so lucky that we’ve had such supportive and encouraging parents who never said anything like that to us/ verbally abused us in any way. I kind of just ignored him and went back to my studying. I felt like screaming at them that I’ve tried to tell them before exactly how my dad treated me when I was younger, but they just brushed it off and in essence said that I was lying/ exaggerating things. I felt like I really wanted to say something about it but I didn’t want to say something I’d regret, so I said nothing. I’d like to say to them that I don’t think being called “selfish”, “pathetic”, “fat”, unpleasant to be around, or being told that I’m so horrible it’s no wonder I had no friends/ that my own father will be glad to no longer be around my siblings and I, by my dad really counts as either supportive or encouraging!

I don’t know how much longer I can deal with this. Am I being the unreasonable one? It just feels that with my dad’s partner frequently undermining me and my parents and stepdad acting as if there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, and denying that the past (re: my dad) happened, I keep being worn down. On the one hand, I’m starting to feel like maybe I should just start voicing my own opinions/ knowledge (especially if my dad’s partner is just going to disagree with me no matter what I say) because I am absolutely sick of constantly biting my tongue and walking on eggshells around him. On the other hand, I’m hoping that at this point, it’s only a matter of months until I’m able to move out, though I don’t want to build up too much hope because something will inevitability come up and complicate everything. I’m starting to worry that if I ever bring it up, I will cease to have any kind of relationship with my parents and their partners, and then my siblings may also stop talking to me if I’m made out to be the bad person. Maybe I’m catastrophising a bit, but that’s the worry. I know there are people who have been through far worse abuse (I still feel weird calling it that) than I have (my own mother included), but I’m starting to realise how family dynamics are so often set up to protect the abuser and to discount or blame the victim.  


Bibliography

Web resources

Books

  • ‘Clever Dog’ by Sarah Whitehead
  • ‘In Defence of Dogs’ by John Bradshaw
  • ‘Think Dog’ by John Fisher
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Seasonal Affective Disorder – My Symptoms

After my recent diagnosis of SAD, I wanted to write a couple of posts on my symptoms and things I’ve found helpful. I hope to help raise awareness of how SAD impacts on daily life, and hope that someone else may find this helpful if they also suffer/ suspect they suffer. Obviously, everyone is different and my experiences don’t speak for everyone, but I hope they’ll give some insight into what it’s like.


My Symptoms:

  • Low mood – This kind of goes without saying for any type of depression. I feel fairly miserable much of the time, and on particularly bad days, I cry a lot for absolutely no reason other than how terrible I feel. I have all the usual negative thoughts about myself, the world, and my future associated with any depressive episode.
  • Feel bad about myself/ very low self-esteem – Again, this kind of goes without saying for any kind of depression, though I do feel particularly terrible about myself at this time of year (even more so than usual).
  • Irritability/ anger attacks – This is unfortunately a huge one for me. Occasionally I explode at family members without meaning to, and I’ve broken a couple of my own belongings in the past due to anger issues. I’m probably not particularly pleasant to be around when my SAD is particularly bad, and swearing at inanimate objects becomes one of my favourite pastimes during the darker months! I’m hoping to find healthier ways to cope with my anger because I really don’t want to have anger issues for the rest of my life.
Image result for parental advisory
  • Struggling to get out of bed in the morning – This is the bane of my life (and my boyfriend’s when I stay over at his flat) during the autumn/ winter. It can often take me an hour or more to get out of bed if I don’t have to be somewhere urgently, particularly if the weather is bad. I am affectionately called “grumpy” by my boyfriend in the mornings. I have no idea whether this is unusual or not, but SAD seems to have given me the superpower of telling what the weather is like when I wake up in the morning without even opening the curtains. Nine times of ten, I can correctly guess whether it’s sunny, overcast, or raining outside.
  • Low energy most of time – It can be a struggle to find the energy even to do relatively simple tasks, like tidying or doing the laundry, particularly if the weather is bad.
  • Afternoon slump in mood – Most days, I have a distinct dip in my mood between about 3pm and 5pm, depending on what time sunset is. My mood basically just does this all of a sudden:

I’ve read that a lot of people who suffer from depression feel worst in the morning, but this has never been my experience. I can certainly wake up feeling absolutely dreadful, but I always feel at my worst later in the day (pretty much from around or a little while before sunset, often feeling progressively worse as it gets later into the evening/ night). I’ve wondered if this is part of what’s allowed me to be so high-functioning even when my depression was severe. I was still able to get out of bed, get dressed and go to university/ work, so I must have been absolutely fine, right?

  • Memory/ cognitive problems (“brain fog”) – Of all the symptoms I get, this is definitely one of the most disconcerting. I struggle to think as clearly as I would if it were spring or summer, and writing assignments for uni, or even writing half decent blog posts on here, becomes a lot more difficult. I seem to find it a lot more difficult to learn things and to retain information. My memory and ability to concentrate absolutely goes to pieces. (At my lowest point with depression, I couldn’t read more than a paragraph of text because I couldn’t concentrate and it was as if my brain just couldn’t process/ take in what I was actually reading). I also struggle to think clearly at times and often struggle to think of the right word/s to use in a conversation or when writing something such as an assignment for uni or a blog post. I worry that I annoy my boyfriend, my family members, and my one irl friend because they will have to remind me of things/ say things multiple times because I’ve forgotten. I worry that they think I’m just not listening and that they get annoyed over it. I am, it’s just that my memory is practically non-existent. I’m constantly walking into a room and forgetting what I went in for, or forgetting what I was going to do next. Whenever I remember a task I need to get done in the near future, I try to make a note of it on my phone so that I will remember it later. I get really concerned about the memory/ cognitive issues at times. If this is how bad things are when I’m 25, what is it going to be like if I live into my 80s or even 90s? I used to think I was gradually becoming less intelligent, because that’s what it feels like, but then I always seem to improve again in the spring. I recently learned that there’s actually a name for this phenomenon – “pseudodementia”. I’m trying not to beat myself up so much with things (for example, if it’s taking me a lot longer to master a song/ technique on the drums than I thought it would), but it’s often a lot easier said than done. Just knowing that this state has a name and that it’s common in people going through depressive episodes does help a bit. I’m now less inclined to blame myself/ feel worthless for this.
Rodin's Thinker
Me trying to remember what I came upstairs for
“Rodin’s Thinker” by steven n fettig is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
  • Increased appetite – If you’re been reading this blog for a while now, you’ll probably already know how much I love food. But I the autumn/ winter, things get a bit ridiculous at times and I comfort eat a lot. I try to exercise regularly to prevent myself from gaining weight, but I still do sometimes. I find that I particularly crave starchy foods like pasta, or sweet foods like biscuits and chocolate. I try to always have hot chocolate which I reserve for drinking on days where I’m really struggling with depression (probably not great for my waistline but I definitely advocate it for mental health!) Also, this is perhaps quite childish, but I still buy myself an advent calendar every year, purely because it’s great motivation for getting out of bed on dark, cold and miserable December mornings. I swear I’m basically half toddler.

Adult Gemma: Come on Gemma, I know it looks miserable outside but we need to get up and get things done.

Toddler Gemma: Noooo! I feel tired and awful! I just want to lie here all day.

Adult Gemma: But lying here all day isn’t going to do us any good. And we need to at least TRY and get things done. I’ll tell you what – you can have a piece of chocolate if you get up and get on with things!

Toddler Gemma: Oh, okaaay then!

  • Increased anxiety – I’m sure many people who suffer from both anxiety and depression also experience this. My SA gets even worse than usual at this time of year. I used to get really down about this and think that I had relapsed massively with my anxiety, but I do improve again in the spring/ summer, and I used to be A LOT worse with this during the darker months. I don’t imagine Christmas shopping is particularly pleasant for anyone, but it can feel horrendous at times for me, with crowds of people. I used to be so bad with this that I’d always go Christmas shopping with my sisters and just follow them around like a lost puppy the entire time, which was probably quite annoying. I remember on one occasion, years ago, when I was particularly depressed, I was following my youngest sister around and a Christmas song by Owl City was playing. She found the song quite funny/ sweet, and asked me how it was possible that I couldn’t be happy around Christmas time. She’s since completed a degree in psychology, so she probably gets it now, but I remember feeling quite alienated at the time, wishing that I could be as happy about a light-hearted song as she was. Nowadays, I’ve learned to just go Christmas shopping only when I’m feeling okay, and while I’m still more anxious than usual, I still cope perfectly fine by myself, and I haven’t had any panic attacks in shops for ages.
  • Don’t want to socialise as much  – As you might imagine, this is closely tied to the increased anxiety. It just feels like too much at times. Given that there is a lot of pressure to be social over the holidays, I have to try to pace myself. I’ll go off for a short break from social interaction after a while, if I can.
  • Intrusive thoughts – I get a lot of worrying and highly distressing thoughts/ images about bad things happening to people/ animals I love. I get this sometimes when I haven’t been sleeping well over the summer, but it’s always worst in the late autumn/ winter. This maybe sounds stupid/ pathetic to people who aren’t huge animal lovers like I am, but a lot of these thoughts concern terrible things happening to my dog (whose welfare I am 100% responsible for). These are perhaps somewhat justified, given that one of his favourite hobbies when I first got him was trying to find novel ways to kill himself. I partly mentioned that in a much earlier blog post, but in addition to what’s on there, he also:
  1. Was left alone in the house on the first Christmas Eve after we got him, for a couple of hours, while my dad treated my siblings and I to breakfast. We’d been careful to put any presents from family/ friends that might be edible in another room, but Finn managed to open two doors (one of which was barricaded), get into the other room, get onto the table, and then proceeded to help himself to a life threatening amount of dark chocolate. It also had macademia nuts (which are also highly toxic to dogs) through it so he really couldn’t have picked a worse combination of things to eat. Bonus points! Needless to say, I was in a bit of a state when we came home and discovered that all of this had happened. I had actually fainted that morning after banging my knee against my sister’s car door (I faint easily in response to sudden pain at times, and presumably it was the combination of that and being hungry for breakfast) and felt like I just needed to relax. I bundled myself, Finn, and my two youngest siblings into my car, and rushed him straight to the vet. Thankfully (not so much for my sister, who was sat beside him in the back at the time) my dog threw up a couple of times on the way there (presumably at least partly due to my driving!), and the vet was able to give him an emetic shortly after we arrived. I’m massively relieved that he doesn’t seem to have suffered any long-term effects from it.
  2. Liked to try and slip his harness and run out into the road at traffic lights when we first got him. Thankfully he’s calmed down a lot and is far better near main roads now.
  3. Has gotten into cupboards a fair few times (he can open doors easily, and apparently now even knows how to open fire doors!) and has gotten into chocolate a couple more times because he opens the doors to family members’ rooms, goes in, and helps himself to any food he finds in there. (Family members still sometimes leave food lying despite my pleading with them not to, which is understandable, because my dog’s behaviour around this can be a bit of a nightmare. FYI, I have tried just about everything to train him out of this and out of his bin-raiding habit (bearing in mind that I covered a lot on animal behaviour in my undergraduate degree and have read quite a lot on positive reinforcement dog training), but unfortunately it seems to be impossible to train it out of him – presumably because he was a stray and because the behaviour itself is so rewarding). Thankfully, both of those times, it was only a very small amount of chocolate.

Slightly worried I’m being judged for being a terrible dog owner right now but yeah…I love him to pieces but he’s definitely been a handful!

So yeah…perhaps those thoughts are somewhat justified, but they are still quite distressing. I also occasionally have quite strange thoughts like if I think of something bad happening to a loved one when I take a step/ yawn/ swallow/ blink, etc, it may happen. I am aware that these are completely illogical and I wouldn’t say this a huge issue for me, but it’s still distressing when it does happen.

  • Reduced libido/ sexual functioning – I don’t remember having this one as a teenager but then again, that’s probably because I was…A TEENAGER. This one’s been bothering me since I entered my 20s. I thought it was just a side effect of citalopram (which I took for a few weeks around my 21st birthday) at first, but it seems to happen every autumn/ winter now. It would have been nice if it had been the other way around – it would almost have been good to have this side effect in my teenage years, but now I just worry about it causing problems in my relationship in the long-term. My boyfriend suffers from depression too so he’s really understanding, but still… This, the low energy and the memory problems just make me feel like I’m getting old already.
  • Impaired ability to cope with stress – This is another huge one for me. Even relatively minor things – things that would be only mildly stressful during the spring/ summer – can feel like huge, insurmountable problems. SAD is good at making molehills seem like mountains. Much of the time, I have to avoid thinking about the future too much because it all just feels so overwhelming and hopeless. My ability to cope with stress is greatly reduced, and this is probably why university has been so horrendous for me at times (given that the times when I feel worse are exactly when I’ve also been bombarded by assignments left, right and centre). Thankfully, I coped incredibly well during my master’s (at least until now). I’m not sure if I just had a particularly good year or if regular exercise and frequent positive social interactions helped to keep my mood in a better state than in other years.
Bang Head Here
“Bang Head Here” by Allison Joy is licensed under CC PDM 1.0 
  • Nausea – Possibly a bit of a strange one, but I’ve had this for years now. I used to wonder if I had some kind of food intolerance, but WHAT I eat makes absolutely no difference. There doesn’t seem to be anything physical that could be causing this so I can only assume it’s psychosomatic. It can happen at any time of the day, but it usually happens within a couple of hours after I eat.
  • Oversleeping – This was a huge problem for me in my teenage years, but not so much now. I’d come home from school and just collapse into bed and sleep for 2-3 hours before I could do anything, then go back to bed again for another 7-9 hours of sleep at night. I think my parents assumed I was just being a lazy teenager but I felt absolutely EXHAUSTED all the time despite getting so much sleep. I felt the same way during my first year of university, when my depression was as its worst. If it’s possible to suffer from both SAD and regular depression at the same time, I strongly suspect that’s what happened to me for most of the depressive episode I had from October 2011 – May 2012. That was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before and I desperately hope I never experience again – I don’t think I could survive it again.

Nowadays, I don’t oversleep but I still feel exhausted most of the time. I’ve become a bit of a masochist when it comes to depriving myself of sleep in recent years – it’s the first thing to go if I have a lot on, and I’m trying to be better with this. I notice that I do feel considerably better if I get a good amount of sleep (Who’da thunk it?), though I do still feel tired most of the time in the darker months, particularly if the weather has been dreich (to throw in a Scotticism) for a few days.


In the next post, I’ll cover things that have helped me to manage SAD and my symptoms.

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A Depressive Rant

Yes, that’s right, it’s time for another brain dump! Also, I’ve finally set up a twitter account for this blog, so feel free to follow. A lot of the people whose blogs I used to follow haven’t been active in years (I really hope they’re doing well) so I need to find myself some new mental health blogs to follow – particularly on social anxiety/ depression/ seasonal affective disorder.


SAD and low self-esteem have really been getting the better of me recently. (Two posts on seasonal affective disorder coming soon). When I look back on my life, I’m not sure if I’ve ever had a healthy level of self-esteem. Probably the closest I’ve ever been to that was during my last year of primary school, when I had a small group of friends and could talk to my classmates and to teachers. I think that may be the only time in my life when I actually felt good/ okay about myself for an extended period of time. And even then, I was still very quiet and lacked the confidence to raise my hand to answer questions in class. I think that’s perhaps why I find building self-esteem/ self-confidence so difficult – I have extremely limited experience of it. I’m also beginning to wonder if counselling is just a complete waste of time for me. I think I expect too much of it. I want it to help me change my life – to improve my self-esteem to a healthy level, to have close friends, to be assertive, to stop constantly doubting myself and ruminating over everything – but maybe that’s just too big of an ask.

The time on my master’s course has also been a really positive experience for me in terms of confidence/ belief in myself, but sadly classes finished ages ago, in May, and most of my classmates have now graduated. (My classmates really were great with me and it’s the first time I’ve had a sense of belonging in an educational setting since primary school – I can’t thank them enough really. They’re a lovely group of people and even though I will probably never see most of them again, I’m glad to have made some happy memories with them for the year that we were together). I’ve gone back to being fairly socially isolated again over the last couple of months, since my seasonal job came to an end. Between then and a couple of nights ago, I don’t think I actually had a face-to-face conversation with anyone who wasn’t (a) My boyfriend (b) A family member (c) A health professional/ mental health professional (d) My one IRL friend. Needless to say, my social skills (which aren’t great even at the best of times) are EXTREMELY rusty, and the seasonal depression definitely isn’t helping. I feel as if I’ve completely forgotten how to interact with any humans who don’t fit into one of the categories above. A couple of nights ago, my boyfriend and I went to a wildlife event. Two of my classmates and one of my lecturers were there. I did my best to make small talk but I’ve just felt absolutely mortified about the whole thing since then. My boyfriend spoke more than I did, and he probably said more to my lecturer in 10 minutes than I had in about 7 years of being taught by him. I notice that I really struggle to offer my opinions on things in groups, and I was absolutely terrible in class discussions and probably really annoyed my classmates. I just have this huge fear that I’ll say something really stupid and make a complete idiot of myself. And to be honest, I AM an idiot. I always felt like an impostor and that all of my classmates were more knowledgeable and more deserving of being there than I was. So my default strategy is just staying quiet in these situations, and then everyone probably thinks I’m being rude or that I’m not interested. I can’t win. The reasons behind this are clear to me – growing up, my dad never really respected any opinion that didn’t fit with his. For example, if I or one of my siblings liked a band/ TV show/ hobby that he disliked, he could sometimes be quite mocking about it. In high school, on the rare occasion that I dared to express any opinion/ interest that differed from the norm, I was teased mercilessly about it. I actually lied to a high school “friend” about which bands I liked as I knew she would have mocked me for my music taste if I told the truth. I still do this now, actually. I hide my true self and my true opinions from other people and I can’t even fully be myself with my friend because I’m so afraid of her rejecting me too.

While we still had classes on the master’s course, I had two uni friends who I would sit with in class and at lunch and talk to all the time. Even though it was a fairly superficial friendship (I still feel weird even calling it a friendship), this was a huge positive step for me. There was also another group in the class who I occasionally hung out with. But I wasn’t ever able to truly be myself around any of them. I play down my own views and opinions and just try desperately to fit in, but it never works. I suppose because I’m not being real. You need to be real to have real, close friendships.

Break down, only alone I will cry out now
You’ll never see what’s hiding out
Hiding out deep down, yeah, yeah
I know, I’ve heard that to let your feelings show
Is the only way to make friendships grow
But I’m too afraid now

I put my armor on, show you how strong I am
I put my armor on, I’ll show you that I am

– ‘Unstoppable’ by Sia

I often try to work out how I was able to do this with my boyfriend but not really with anyone else who isn’t family. Why was I brave enough to be vulnerable with him but not with anyone else? I think it’s partly that we started communicating online and not face-to-face. It’s a lot easier to be real when you don’t have to deal with face-to-face rejection and you don’t have the added anxieties of putting people off straight away with poor eye contact/ anxious body language. I’m also able to be real with my online friend (who I’ve “known” for over 8 years now) for the same reason, but (even though I value his friendship immensely) it’s just not the same as a face-to-face friendship. I was also able to be completely honest with my boyfriend about my social anxiety from the very start, and he was just completely accepting of it. I probably got very, very lucky, but it would be nice if there was something like online dating for making friends in your local area, so I could meet people in similar situations/ find non-judgmental people. Just being able to explain to someone before meeting them “This is why my body language/ behaviour sometimes seems a bit weird – I’m anxious, not rude, crazy or uninterested” would help immensely. I met my friend at a social anxiety group. I’d consider going along to a group again, or even starting my own at some point when I’m less busy and a bit more stable. I’d be absolutely TERRIFIED running a meet up group though. Membership benefits include watching ME having a panic attack in front of everyone to distract from YOUR panic attack!…

Anyway, I haven’t seen my two uni friends since August. I was quite depressed and suffering from derealisation the last time I saw them. I’ve tried to contact them a few times since but they just don’t seem interested. People who have a healthy level of self-esteem would probably assume that things are just really chaotic for them, or that those people valued their friendship but have now just gone their separate ways after uni. I, of course, take it as evidence that I’m completely unlikable and unworthy of having friends. I worry that I did/ said something wrong and that they never even liked me in the first place. I’m vaguely aware that that might sound ridiculous to some people. Certainly, I’d think it sounded ridiculous if it was anyone but me saying it. Somehow, in my head, I’m special in that everyone else = worthy and Gemma = s*** on someone’s shoe.

My boyfriend said after the wildlife event that he thought I’d done really well given how anxious I was, but I just can’t believe him. Even when other people reassure me that I wasn’t a complete disaster in any given social situation, it’s usually impossible for me to believe them. Because the only two possibilities that I can see whenever this happens are either 1. They’re lying to me to try and spare my feelings, or 2. My perception/ interpretation of how I come across in social situations is very different to those of other people. It’s less scary and more plausible for me to believe the former. This happens in a more general sense too. I basically have cognitive dissonance because I have a boyfriend and a friend, and I’ve done well academically, but I still believe I don’t have anything lovable about me, I’m not worthy of having friends, and that I’m nowhere near as knowledgeable as my classmates/ any time I’ve done well on an assignment or exam (most of the time), it’s been a complete fluke. I find this all very sad. It’s like mentally, I’m still stuck as that 14-year-old who was being bullied every day and thought she would never have any friends, be in a relationship, or be able to hold down a job. Mentally, I haven’t caught up with changes in external conditions and what those changes might say about me. I worry that I’m destined to be stuck there mentally for the rest of my life.

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How My Parents Have Contributed To My Issues – My Mum [2/?]

Before I launch into this post, I just want to say that I love my mum and, despite her probably contributing to my mental health issues in some ways, I truly think she’s done the very best she could have, given the sum of her life experiences, to raise my siblings and I. She’s been through so much in her life – coming from an abusive family, being lied to for around 2 decades by the one person she thought she could trust, and having to try and raise 4 kids mostly on her own – yet she’s still such a nice person. I honestly don’t know how she’s coped with it all as well as she has, especially without any therapy (that I’m aware of) – I think I probably would’ve fallen apart if all of that had happened to me. I don’t want to vilify my mum in any way, and I know if she somehow stumbled across this post, she’d probably feel really bad about it all and like a terrible mother. She’s not. I suppose all parents make mistakes.


My mum was quite overprotective of me when I was younger, and at times I feel she still is even now. I’d say that she was overprotective with all four of us but especially so with me, probably because I was her first child, and because I was so shy. Because my mum did so much for me, including social interaction, I never really gained the confidence to do certain things by myself. Of course, I don’t for a second doubt that it was done out of love, but when someone else is always covering for you and not letting you do things by yourself, you kind of get the message that you’re not capable of doing those things. I remember once when I was about 10, my best friend at the time wanted to go somewhere about a mile from where we both lived, with me. My mum wouldn’t let me, saying that I wasn’t “street smart”, and I felt like saying “Well no wonder, if you give me so little freedom!”

When my mum was in her late teens, she was walking back from a night out with friends but was on her own. Two men pulled up beside her in a car, and tried to get her into their car, when a third man stepped in and offered to get her a taxi. She wasn’t sure if she could trust any of them but thought that the third man seemed the safer bet. Thankfully, she made the right choice and is still here today along with her four children. It must have been a terrifying experience, and I think it did make her very wary of strangers for a long time and probably even now. I remember her really emphasising “stranger danger” to me when I was a child, and that may be a factor in my social anxiety. I was a naturally quite fearful child anyway, and I seemed to just latch onto anything that other people emphasised was dangerous and then become excessively, unreasonably anxious about it (I plan to cover this later in a post titled ‘My Childhood Neuroses’). I think that experience of almost being abducted and having goodness knows what happen to her also made my mum very fearful of me travelling by myself. She (in addition to my dad and his partner) was very against me travelling to Namibia and South Africa by myself, and all three of them tried to talk me out of it, just as my mum had successfully talked me out of travelling around Scotland with just my dog for company previously. But in the end, I am very glad that I did it. Travelling to another continent all by myself was one of the best things I ever did for my confidence in myself/ my ability to be independent, and neither of my parents could believe that I’d done it. But that feeling of confidence didn’t last very long after I got home again. I can’t be sure but I think part of the reason was my mum treating me like a child again as soon as I got home. I don’t even think she realises she’s doing it and again, I’m sure she’s doing it purely out of love, but it does make me feel a bit incompetent at times. The good news is that my confidence may increase when I finally move out of my mum’s house.

Something I’ve always found immensely irritating (and very odd as I’ve gotten older) is my mum’s disregard for my privacy throughout my life. She read my diaries (without my permission) so often when I was 8-12 years old – despite one of those diaries having a lock – that at 13, I’d finally had enough. I took the letters of the alphabet and randomly scrambled them into a code so that each “code” letter corresponded to a letter of the alphabet, and wrote my diary in this code, with code-names for any person I mentioned in there. I hid the diary in a drawer and wrote the letter code and code-names on two separate sheets of paper, and hid them in the dust covers of two different books belonging to me on the bookshelf in the bedroom that my middle sister and I shared at the time. One day I returned from school to find that she’d found the diary and the letter code, and had decoded part of my diary. I think she had been vacuuming our room/ giving it a quick tidy, and can only assume that either the code sheet fell out of the dust cover when she picked it up, or she spent ages searching for it. I can see no reason as to why she would do this. I was never in any kind of trouble at school, never drank/ smoked/ took drugs and clearly didn’t have a boyfriend. Even if she suspected those things, she could always have y’know…had a conversation with me. The least innocent things I ever wrote in any of those diaries were which boys I fancied at primary school, and how much I hated my dad when I was 13 for the way he spoke to/ treated me. There was nothing shocking in them, it’s just that probably all teenagers have things that they don’t want to share with their parents. I just wanted a place I could express my thoughts and feelings without either of my parents prying. I think my mum may have read my middle sister’s diary at some point too. The only way I could ever see this as justified would be if a parent had real concerns about their child’s welfare, though even then, surely it would make more sense just to talk to your kid about your concerns? Neither of us were bad kids, and my mum certainly wasn’t reading it out of concern for my mental health because she was in denial about that for ages.

After the above event, I stopped keeping diaries until I was 16, when the psychiatrist I was seeing at CAMHS asked me to keep one. As far as I know, my mum has never read the diaries I kept between the age of 16 and 18, but that’s probably because I bought a lock box and always kept them hidden in there when I wasn’t writing in the diaries, and I hid the keys REALLY well. Even now, at the age of 25, those diaries are still kept in a lock box. So I can 100% confirm that invading your child’s privacy just makes them very secretive.  I should also point out that despite my mum constantly invading my privacy, I still managed to self-injure and hide some razor blades in the room I shared with both of my sisters at the time (albeit with the stealth level of an MI5 agent) and no one ever found those blades. Constantly invading your child’s privacy will not necessarily keep them safer, it’ll just make them sneakier and less trusting of you.

Another thing that I find very odd and infuriating is that unless my boyfriend is staying over (which he doesn’t do that often because normally I stay over at his flat), my mum hardly ever knocks before entering my room. This year alone, she’s walked in on me several times while I was getting dressed, and has just barged in unannounced countless other times. You would think that after one or two occasions of walking in on your adult child half naked, you’d learn to knock, but apparently not. I could kind of understand her not knocking when I shared a room with both of my younger sisters (when I was 15-23), even when the other two were out, but it seems quite strange to me that she’s still doing this now, when I’m 25 and have my own bedroom. I’ve asked her politely to please knock before entering my room several times now but she still doesn’t the vast majority of the time. Obviously, I always knock before entering her room/ my sisters’ room/ my brother’s room, so again, I can’t understand why she doesn’t show the same level of respect for my privacy. Of course it’s her house, I totally get that, but if it was the other way around and she was staying in my house, I wouldn’t DREAM of not knocking before entering her room. In fairness, my dog sleeps in my room and she’s constantly letting him in/ out of my room, but even still…it wouldn’t be difficult to knock first, and from what I can see, she shows my two sisters the same lack of respect for privacy. I’m so close to the end of my tether with this that if she does it again, I might just tell her that I’ll start barging into her room any time I feel like it. That or I’ll just start sitting around naked in my room – one of the two. Again, it seems that I will have virtually no privacy until I’m finally able to move out. On the other hand, I hope to move out within the next year, so if I can just bite my tongue and put up with it for a bit longer, it’ll all be over with soon.

Both of my parents also disrespect my boundaries in other ways. For example, I have told them both on more than one occasion that my dog is not to be hit and that I feel very strongly about this. Yet both of my parents have hit him on more than one occasion. I understand that they were both brought up with corporal punishment and that it’s perhaps just an automatic reaction for them, but that’s really no excuse, especially after I have told them not to. It makes me really worry that if I ever have children, one or both of them may end up losing their temper and hitting my children. It would be pretty sad state of affairs if I could not trust my parents to be alone with their grandchildren.

My mum was also very much in denial about my mental health issues for such a long time, although she is much more understanding now. After I had been diagnosed with depression and put on anti-depressants at 15, she’d often just say things like “Smile!” or “Cheer Up”. If it had been that simple, I wouldn’t have needed the Prozac! When she eventually found out from my psychiatric nurse that I had been self-harming, my mum said that she thought I might have been, ever since the time I very quickly pulled up the sleeves of my dressing gown when she walked into my room. This had been probably about a year and a half before the CPN made her aware I was self-injuring, yet she never said anything to me about it back then. I know I certainly wouldn’t be the perfect parent, but now, as an adult, I cannot for the life of me comprehend why she never said or did anything about this. If I suspected that my teenage child was self-harming (particularly if they were already being treated for depression), I would make sure they knew that they could come to me with anything, and tell me anything. I would tell them that I know things have been very tough for them lately, and ask how they are coping, and ask them how school/ life in general is going. I’d listen to them without interrupting and I’d let them know that their feelings are valid. To be fair to my mum, probably a large part of why I was never able to let her know about the self-harming myself is that every time I tried to talk to my parents about my mental health issues – at least, while my dad still lived with us – my dad would constantly interrupt me and say that I had no idea how easy I had things compared to how adult life is. And to be fair to my dad, he was going through his own share of issues at the time. But that still doesn’t excuse his behaviour. If I were a parent, even if I was going through a mental health crisis at the time, my child’s welfare would still be of the upmost importance. I’d either listen to what they had to say without interrupting them or belittling their problems, or I would let them know that it wasn’t a good time, but that I cared very much that they felt they had something important they needed to share with me, and I’d arrange to speak with them another time. There were also a few occasions when I tried to let my mum know just how serious my depression was, with very subtle hints at me being suicidal, but she’d just end up getting angry at me, shouting at me, and making me feel even worse. Again, this is probably partly my fault for not being more direct with her, and I know that she was going through a lot of stress at the time, but if your kid is clearly trying to tell you about something serious, maybe hear them out?

The denial thing is probably the worst thing with my mum. There are so many issues throughout my life where she’s just buried her head in the sand or refused to address it directly. I think I said in a previous post, but I have been wondering whether to try and bring up the way my dad treated me when I was younger (including some incidents that were probably abusive) with her again, but the last time I tried that, about a year ago, she said that it couldn’t have been as bad as I say it was. I’ve also realised that on every single occasion my dad did/ said something potentially abusive to me, it was always when my mum was at work or elsewhere, so she wouldn’t have had any evidence of what happened other than what my dad told her. And it’s quite possible that his version of events was very different from my version of events. It’s possible that in my dad’s version of events, his actions/ words were minimised, and any wrongdoing on my part was maximised. I used to think my mum was just as accepting of the way my dad treated me as he was, and while that still may be the case, I’ve just recently realised that in many cases, I have absolutely no idea what he told my mum. So in her version of events, things really may not have been that bad. So it’s no wonder I was often told that I was “too sensitive” growing up, or that my mum and stepdad both apparently think I’m greatly exaggerating things.

I still don’t know if I will end up talking to either of my parents about how my dad was with me when I was younger. I feel sick to my stomach whenever I think about it because I know I’m risking my whole family hating me/ rejecting me. I’ve decided that whatever happens, I won’t bring it up before I’m finished everything for my master’s, because I’m stressed enough about that and about trying to get a job afterwards as it is. I’ve been wondering if it would be better to just wait until I’ve moved out before trying to bring it up with either of my parents. I suppose in the best case scenario, I’d get an explanation of why my dad did what he did, (though in my opinion, nothing really justifies it) and an apology at last – an admission that it wasn’t all my fault. Even if I did manage to speak to my dad about it, I’m not sure I’d get either of those things. I don’t want to just keep pretending that it didn’t happen and that it doesn’t still affect me now for the rest of my life, but I have absolutely no idea how to resolve this without my family (or at the very least, my dad) hating me.

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Road Rage

Last week I was involved in a road rage incident and, perhaps most surprisingly for this time of year, it wasn’t me who had the anger problem! I’d met my friend for a walk and a chat and was driving to uni to get more of my project work done when another driver forced their way out of a side junction in front of me (I had right of way). I had to brake rapidly to avoid going into the side of their car, so I sounded my horn. About 100 yards further down the road, we stopped in traffic and the other driver got out of his car and walked towards my car. I didn’t act fast enough to lock my car (it would probably be a good idea to lock it whenever I’m alone in the car, but I worry about what might happen if I got into an accident), and he started banging on the car window. I tried just completely ignoring him at first and looking straight ahead but he was rather furious and kept shouting at me to open the window, so I rolled it down a crack. He started shouting at me so even though I knew I’d done absolutely nothing wrong and that he was the one at fault, I apologised. He was an older man (65+) and quite short, but he was so angry that I was worried I might end up getting assaulted if I escalated things (or that he’d end up having a heart attack or something), so my instinct was just to appease him as best I could. Thankfully, he went back to his car after this and pulled over to the side of the road (I’m not sure if this was to calm down or for some other reason). I was a bit shaken up afterwards, and ended up just continuing my drive to uni. I stupidly didn’t get his registration number or car make/ model because I was just so focused on getting out of the situation at the time. I don’t know whether I could’ve reported him or not if I had, and quite frankly I’ve had so much to stress about recently that I didn’t want to add to that. I actually laughed afterwards – partly nervous laughter/ relief that nothing more had come of the situation, and partly I was laughing because I thought it was a ridiculous way for a man of that age to behave.

I was a bit shaken up going into uni that afternoon and worried that I had somehow been at fault. I spoke to both my boyfriend and my mum about it later (again with the seeking validation from other people!) and neither felt that I had done anything wrong. I felt fine about everything after this, until dinner time. My mum had invited my dad and his partner round and somehow the road rage incident came up (I wish I’d just kept my mouth shut!) My dad’s partner seemed unhappy with the way I’d handled things, saying that I should have “stood up” for myself and shouted back at the other driver that it was his fault. I tried to explain that I thought it was better just to de-escalate the situation, particularly because I didn’t want to risk being assaulted. My dad’s partner said that if that had happened, I should have just assaulted the guy back and other people would have come to my assistance because “It’s not okay for a man to be hitting a woman”. So, in other words, I should have escalated the situation and then if I ended up getting assaulted, I should have assaulted the guy back and/ or just hope someone else would step in (and potentially end up injured, with a damaged car, and possibly in trouble myself), rather than just resolving the situation peacefully and avoiding all of that. It seems because of the way my dad’s partner been brought up, he believes that being right/ winning an argument is more important than anything else, because the worst thing that anyone could possibly think of you is that you’re weak/ a pushover. And of course, apologising when you are genuinely in the wrong is “weak”. He seemed to think that although I managed to resolve the situation without any further negative outcomes for myself or anyone else, I have somehow failed/ been a complete pushover because I didn’t do all out with aggression just to prove a point. I just find his views on this sort of thing – what he thinks counts as assertiveness, strength and weakness – so toxic (and perhaps even a bit childish), though they have made me think a lot about my own views.

Don’t get me wrong – assertiveness is definitely something I need to work on, but I just can’t agree with my dad’s partner’s views on standing up for yourself. If you’ve tried everything to resolve the situation peacefully and the other person escalates it to physical violence, or if someone physically attacks you, then yes, of course fight back. Fight back like a deranged cat. But I just don’t see it as an acceptable way for 2 civilised adults to resolve an argument. I also find it ironic that my dad’s partner is telling me to stand up for myself while at the same time I’m totally unable to “stand up” to him and voice any disagreement with his views because of the way he is. After what happened in Florida, I’m always worried about setting him off again, and my mum and stepdad seem to walk on eggshells around him/ placate him as much as possible, for similar reasons. I haven’t been able to be myself/ speak my mind whenever he’s around, since then. I find myself not really wanting to be around my dad or his partner recently. I spoke about all of this with my counsellor last week and she said that it almost sounds as if I know I must be doing the right thing for myself if it’s the opposite of what my dad’s partner would do/ want me to do. I’m beginning to feel that way myself.

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How My Parents Have Contributed To My Issues – Introduction [1/?]

In the crowd of pain

St. Jimmy comes without any shame

He says, “We’re f***ed up”, but we’re not the same

And mom and dad are the ones you can blame

                                                    – ‘Homecoming’ by Green Day

While I’m not here to blame my mental health issues solely on my parents, and I don’t think that anyone is responsible for overcoming those issues except me, I can’t deny that my parents have likely contributed to my anxiety and depression. I have been sitting on this post for a while because I don’t want to seem ungrateful towards them for raising me, or like I’m blaming everything on them. And I’m not saying that I had a bad childhood. It was good for the most part (though my teenage years were fairly horrendous). Nonetheless, writing this series of posts at all feels like a betrayal. Putting them on my blog (even though neither of my parents are likely to ever stumble across it) feels like an even bigger betrayal. I’m anticipating that I will probably get a lot of hate for this – people telling me to grow up and stop being so ungrateful/ disrespectful towards my parents, or telling me that what happened wasn’t a big deal/ that I’m being pathetic or over-dramatic. I’m beginning to work through a lot of stuff surrounding my parents (mostly to do with the way my dad treated me when I was younger) with my counsellor, so probably this series of posts will read as if I’m just spitting vitriol about both of them, because the anger is very raw right now.

I’ve been having real issues with anger these past few weeks and I think a lot of it is to do with finally feeling the anger around my dad and around being bullied that I had repressed for so many years. To be honest, as pathetic as it might sound, I’ve been really struggling to manage such intense anger and I frequently feel as if I’d rather just go back to repressing that anger and pretending that nothing ever happened because at least I know HOW to do that. I don’t know how to deal with this intensity of anger in a healthy way, other than writing this all down here. My counsellor said that she thinks this may be because when I was growing up, I wasn’t really shown a healthy way of dealing with anger. Either you let your anger build up and then explode and take it out on someone else, or you bottle it all up and take it out on yourself. I’ve therefore only really ever seen anger as something very destructive. I think she’s hit the nail on the head with that one.

I do love both of my parents (as hard as that has been to feel for my dad in particular over the last few weeks) and I am grateful to them for bringing me up, and for all they’ve done for me over the years. Ultimately, they’re two flawed human beings, like everyone else, and (while it in no way justifies many of my dad’s actions) both had their own fair share of issues to contend with. But I needed to write this. I need the catharsis and I need to get this out there/ off my chest. My mum has never done anything abusive towards me, while a lot of people would consider some of my dad’s actions and words towards me when I was younger to be abusive, and I still don’t know how I feel about that. What often complicates things like this is that what counts as “abuse” differs for everyone depending on a variety of different factors, including your own upbringing, cultural background, and generational views. On one end of the spectrum, there are people who think that as soon as a parent hits their child in anger or says something horrible to their child in anger, it’s abuse, while on the other end, there are people who don’t seem to think it’s abuse unless a parent lands their child in A&E or worse. While I’m not sure exactly where I sit on that scale at the moment, I’d like to be on the former end of the spectrum if I ever become a parent myself.

Two of my classmates from my master’s course that I got to know (and who I could technically even call my friends while we still had classes) were both hit by their parents as children. One was Italian and said that she and her sister would constantly be slapped in the face by her mother for misbehaving when they were children. The other was from India and said that her mother would hit her and her siblings with a shoe for misbehaving when they were younger. Both said they had no issues with it and that it did them no harm (though I think they may be demonstrating by virtue of that statement that it actually did). Anyway…this post isn’t (just) about my views on corporal punishment – I’m saving THAT for another (mega)rant.

In my mind, there’s still an element of doubt as to whether what my dad did was really abuse – even though a number of people have said it was – because my parents have never validated me in that sense. (That’s something else I’m becoming more aware of in therapy – how I doubt myself and my own views/ opinions/ choices unless they are validated by other people). And I don’t know if it fundamentally matters if what he did/ said counts (legally or otherwise) as abuse or not. What I can say with confidence is that it harmed me and damaged me as a person, and has contributed towards my low self-esteem, anxiety and depression.

As per usual, I’ve already written an essay here, so I’ve made this a post in itself and will make the next one about my mum. I’ll probably need at least a couple to write about my dad. I found it fairly easy to write the post about my mum but will probably really struggle to write the post/s about my dad, and it will probably take me quite some time. Brace yourself for some long blog posts!

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A Diagnosis At Last!

Following on from my last post, I had had enough of not knowing for sure whether I had seasonal affective disorder, and also wanted to find out if there were any anger management/ stress management resources I could access as I have been really struggling with feelings of anger lately. I made sure that I asked for a more newly qualified doctor when I booked my appointment, as from previous experience, many of the GPs at that practice are shockingly ignorant when it comes to anything mental health related. I explained all the symptoms I experience, when those symptoms usually start and end, how long this pattern has been going on for, and how it impacts on my life. I ended up being officially diagnosed with S.A.D this morning, after suffering from it for about 13 years now.

It was a pleasant change to have someone actually listen to me and treat my symptoms/ concerns as valid rather than calling me pathetic or saying I’m just not trying hard enough! I felt bad about taking up so much of her time but she was really nice and understanding about it all. I will definitely ask to see a more newly qualified doctor if I have to be seen for something mental health related again, at least until I move out and switch to a different practice. I’m not sure if it’s a generational difference in attitudes to mental health issues, or if it’s just that there’s so much more of a focus on mental health in doctors’ education/ training nowadays than 20-30 years ago, but personally, I’ve found the younger doctors to be far more knowledgeable and understanding of mental health conditions.

The GP also referred me back to a local organisation that I’ve used before and attended a couple of groups with. They don’t seem to do anything on anger management specifically, but it’s possible that they could still help me. I also attended a stress management course with them before, which was quite helpful, though I could probably do with reading through the material from it again! I’m not sure if it’s just the SAD (I always get quite irritable and have a few anger outbursts in the autumn and winter months), or if it’s also the thoughts and feelings being stirred up by counselling that are making me so incredibly angry at the moment. I swear I’ve not been this angry since I was 15/16 and taking fluoxetine. I do think that much of it stems from the way bullies and my parents treated me when I was younger. I started writing a post about the ways in which my parents have contributed to my issues last week, but I had to stop because it was making me too angry/ upset and I was thinking about it too much. I’m still in two minds as to whether to finish and publish that post. My biggest worry at the moment is that if I ever have children, I will end up abusing them because of my anger and inability to manage it, and because of the way I was treated by my dad. It actually eats me up inside to think about. Parenting seems very hard, and infuriating at times, and all it would take is a moment for me to lose my temper and do or say something terrible. I know this is all still years away, and I may not even end up having children, but it still really worries me and plays on my mind. I don’t want to be a monster. The last thing I want is to make someone as messed up as I am.

Another thing I found out from my appointment this morning is that I actually COULD still be seen by CMHT. It appears there’s been a miscommunication around that. The last time I went in about mental health related stuff, the GP I spoke to really wasn’t great and in a nutshell said that I must not be that bad because I was holding down my job at the supermarket at the time. She seems to have made the decision for me that I seemed a lot better and therefore there wasn’t enough evidence to support a referral back to CMHT, despite the fact that I was very much struggling with depression at the time. So again, yet another reason to ask for a more newly qualified doctor to discuss mental health stuff! While they were never that helpful, it is good to know that I can be referred back to CMHT if things get really bad again.

I’ve been really worrying about what this all means in terms of future employment, or if I will even last in a proper job at all. It’s been really getting me down that I may have worked so hard just fail as soon as I am in full-time employment and depression hits or SAD hits, or I mess everything up because of my anxiety. I also still haven’t found out whether my university can give me any more of an extension with my project, which is just adding to my stress at the moment.

I can’t say I’m at all surprised by the diagnosis. Of course it’s rubbish that I will probably have to deal with feeling crap for around half the year for the rest of my life (unless I win the lottery or something and emigrate to somewhere closer to the equator), but at least now I know for sure and can continue to take steps to manage it as best I can.

 

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