ITP

Towards the end of May, not long after all my classes had finished at university, I noticed a very odd rash of pinprick red spots all over my body, severe unexplained bruising, and I was also getting nosebleeds. The rash and the bruises freaked me out a bit so I phoned my GP surgery and got an appointment that day. They sent me to hospital, where they ran some tests and diagnosed me with an immune condition called immune thrombocytopenia (ITP), which is when the body decides to destroy its own platelets. I was told my platelet count was dangerously low and that they’d need to start me on steroids straight away. Apparently a normal platelet count is 150-400, less than 50 is considered unsafe for surgery, and at less than 5 they start to worry about brain haemorrhaging. My count was 3. The haematologist said if it wasn’t for the fact I live with others, I would’ve had to stay in the hospital at least overnight to be monitored. I think my parents had initially thought I was making big deal out of nothing, but this is one of the few instances in my life when I’ve actually been GLAD to have anxiety. If I’d not been so worried about it, I’d probably have done nothing and things could have been more serious, especially if I’d accidentally injured myself.

I’ve had four courses of steroids in total since then and my platelet count has steadily increased. It was at a normal level at my last two appointments so it seems I’ve responded well to treatment and it’s just a case of them monitoring me now. I’m glad I’m off the steroids as the side effects weren’t much fun. I felt exhausted all the time when I was on them and my appetite has never been so strong in my life as it was on steroids – not even when I was training for the Edinburgh half marathon! I have a hearty appetite most of the time but this was just ridiculous. I made myself stir fry one night while I was on the second course and I swear the portion I had would’ve been enough for three full-grown men! Needless to say, I gained a bit of weight while on the steroids – apparently that’s pretty much universal. Even though it’s only been a few pounds, and I’m still a healthy weight, I always freak out when I gain even a little bit of weight. I worry I will no longer be attractive to my boyfriend, that everyone will think I’m fat, and I begin to feel almost as if my worth as a person is non-existent simply because I’ve gained weight (thank you dad, and the people at high school who bullied me for being fat as a teenager!) I was mocked about my weight so often as a teenager that it’s a minor miracle I didn’t develop a full-blown eating disorder. I’ve just started very gently getting back into exercise and hope to lose the weight I gained over the next 2 or 3 months.

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What being on dexamethasone is like

For the first week or two after I was first at the hospital, I was so exhausted that I could barely get out of bed. Even going to get myself some food or water seemed to require Herculean amounts of effort. Even by the third and fourth week, I found just having a shower so exhausting that I’d need a lie down afterwards. I have no idea how people with chronic immune conditions do it – they are some strong people. I remember the haematologist asking me if I’d been feeling really tired all the time after they found out I had ITP, but I’d been so exhausted anyway with studying ridiculous hours for my master’s that I hadn’t even noticed. They’ve done a whole battery of blood tests and haven’t found anything that could’ve caused my body to suddenly decide to try and kill me! I wouldn’t be surprised if the extent to which I’ve compromised my physical and mental health for this master’s has had a great deal to do with it. It’s certainly been the wake up call I’ve needed to take better care of myself and listen to my body. I also discovered while I was unwell that I seem to just naturally need slightly more sleep than most people. I always used to think that it was just normal for me to wake up feeling groggy and like I’d been hit by a bus no matter how much sleep I got, but I’ve since discovered that I actually feel well-rested on 9, or sometimes 8 and a half, hours of sleep per night. Given that I was regularly getting less than 6 hours (not healthy for ANYONE, I know) during various stages of my master’s, it’s no wonder I ended up feeling so exhausted and so burned out.

It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster ride of emotions at times, as pathetic at that might sound. I’d feel great whenever my platelet count went up and awful whenever I needed more treatment or when the extreme fatigue or joint pain (after coming off the steroids) was really getting to me and I felt like an old woman. I think the steroids may also have done weird things to my mental health, or perhaps it was simply being quite socially isolated while I was unwell (more on this later). Both my boyfriend and family were really caring while I was unwell, which I’m very grateful for.

I was supposed to be finishing up my master’s degree in mid-August but the extreme fatigue from the steroids and the condition itself made doing coursework extremely difficult, particularly for the first few weeks after first going to the hospital. I am ridiculously behind with it all and will now have to defer my graduation until next summer, finishing up all my coursework in December. I’ve been feeling pretty down at times that I will once again be graduating later than everyone else (it took me just over a year longer than most people to finish my undergraduate degree too). I feel useless and like a disappointment because of it. I’ve been seeing a counsellor at university for the past few weeks and she pointed out that this is unfair because my classmates haven’t had to deal with being unwell, having a loved one who is in the final stages of cancer, and pre-existing mental health conditions, all at once. Yet I still can’t help feeling that way at times. I suppose I’m proud in the sense that I’ve only needed one extension due to mental illness during my entire master’s course (back in late March/ April when I was going through an episode of depression), whereas I needed A LOT during my undergraduate course. That may just be because things have been better/ I’m better able to cope with it all now though.

On the bright side, having to defer my graduation means that I can spend more time with my grandma in her final days without also being incredibly stressed about missing deadlines, and I can also take on more seasonal ecology work over the summer (which I’ve already started and have been really enjoying) without worrying about it impacting on my studies. I probably won’t get another ecology role until spring, and will have to just get a retail job or something after finishing my course anyway, so it doesn’t make too much of a difference in that sense. From what I gather, getting your first permanent job in ecological consultancy is no mean feat, so I may have to just do seasonal work for the first couple of years out of uni anyway. It’s both scary and slightly discouraging that even after all my hard work at uni, and with work experience, there’s still no guarantee of permanent job at the end of it all. But even if I can’t get one, doing seasonal ecology work for half the year and a retail job for the other half wouldn’t be the end of the world.

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End Of An Era

I’ve been meaning to write a series of updates for a while. This is the first of them. 2019 hasn’t exactly been great so far.


My grandma (my paternal grandmother) was diagnosed with breast cancer not long before Christmas last year. She didn’t tell us all until January because she said she didn’t want us to be upset/ worried over the festive period. They managed to catch it early but unfortunately the treatment didn’t stop the cancer from spreading.  My dad gave my siblings and I the bad news a few days ago that she now only has at the most weeks left. She’ll stay at home for as long as possible before spending her final days in a hospice. We’ve been trying to visit as often as possible over the past few weeks but it does seem to really tire my grandma out, as much as she says she likes having everyone round. She certainly seemed to be weaker and more tired when we visited her a couple of days ago.

I feel terrible for my grandad. No one in our family is religious except my dad’s partner, and my grandad is an atheist like me. He’s said before that he just goes to pieces when someone close to him dies. I think I will be exactly the same. I’ve cried a fair bit already and I cried for about 3 days straight when we lost our beagle, so I can’t imagine how I’ll feel after I lose my grandma. I can see the comfort that being a religious/ spiritual person would bring in this sort of situation but – while I respect everyone’s right to believe in what they believe – it’s just not for my grandad and I don’t think it will ever be for me either. My grandad has seemed like a different person over the past few months. He does still have his sense of humour but he had always been a fairly happy-go-lucky person whereas he has (understandably) been miserable and very worried lately. I don’t think he will ever get over my grandma’s death, and to an extent, I feel like I’m losing him too. In some ways I feel closer to them both than their other grandchildren, given that I lived with them for the majority of the five years that it took me to complete my undergraduate degree. I feel very lucky to have been able to spend that time with them. I just wish I hadn’t been in such a terrible place mentally for most of that time and that I could have made more of it but – despite having to listen to them argue – it was lovely nonetheless. I actually felt closer to them at that time than I’ve felt to either of my parents in years. They’d always ask how my day had been at university/ work (when I worked at the mail centre) and took a genuine interest. I’ve been very lucky to have had such wonderful grandparents and to have made it to the age of 25 without losing anyone close to me until now.

My grandma was supposed to be having another course of chemotherapy but she’s too weak for it now and if she’d had the choice, I don’t think she would have had it anyway. She was told about a month ago that she probably only had a couple of months left WITH the chemo, so it seems she doesn’t have long left at all. We were talking about this the other day and my dad’s partner said that perhaps after the steroid treatment she’ll feel a bit better and want to fight it a bit more, but I don’t think she will. I actually find my grandma’s attitude to the whole thing very refreshing. She’s in her eighties and she feels she’s had a good life. Everyone has to die eventually and it seems she’s accepted that her time is near and just wants nature to take its course. I think it’s about quality of life too. The chemo might have given her longer but it may have also just have prolonged the suffering.

My grandma was talking the other day about all the Munros she’s climbed in her life. I didn’t realise it was so many, or that she climbed Ben Nevis 3 times. She certainly seems to have lived a full life. She was also talking about family holidays they took together when my dad and his siblings were kids. We’re all obviously very upset to be losing her, but there was laughter too when we visited. I just want to make the most of however long she has left.

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Back on the autism/ depression merry-go-round

Cheer up and dry your damp eyes

And tell me when it rains

And I’ll blend up that rainbow above you

And shoot it through your veins

‘Cause your heart has a lack of colour

And we should’ve known

That we’d grow up sooner or later 

‘Cause we wasted all our free time alone

– ‘Rainbow Veins’ by Owl City

 

A quick update.  Lately I’ve been thinking once again about whether I may be on the autism spectrum. A classmate recently confided to me that she was recently diagnosed with autism, and I see a lot of similarities in us/ in the way we interact. So many of the female features fit so well with my experiences, though I wouldn’t say I have any of the stereotypical behaviours usually seen in autism. It would explain A LOT, though I’m not 100% convinced. Either way, I very much doubt I would be allowed to be re-tested again (after having been assessed for autism twice previously). Sometimes I just feel like some bizarre Aspie-Neurotypical hybrid who can’t relate to anyone. Even if I could be assessed again, I’m not sure the results would be any more conclusive than they were the last time.

The thing is, I usually only tend to wonder if I’m autistic when I’m depressed. I’m not sure if I’m depressed because my social skills are so poor or if my social skills are so poor because I’m depressed. I’m a mess lately. I’m crying myself to sleep, getting very little sleep, and binge eating. I feel like I don’t belong on my course because all of my classmates seem to have insightful and interesting views and knowledge to share, and I have nothing intelligent to say. I can’t concentrate and I can’t think straight. My future seems fairly hopeless. And I know it’s ridiculous because on paper, my life looks great. But I feel so hollow and useless. Depression 1 – Gemma 0.

I’d say depression is definitely my biggest problem these days. It’s not that anxiety doesn’t still make life extremely difficult much of the time; it’s just that I seem to be better at dealing with that than with depression. I mean, I’ve certainly been a mess at times during my course with anxiety, especially before the presentations (in fact, that was probably the worst my anxiety has been in years), but at least that was shorter-lived. I’m only mildly-moderately depressed right now, and this has only been going on for about 4 weeks now, but I can’t take it. I’m sitting here writing this at 1am when I need to be up at 6 because I kept crying for 2 hours and couldn’t sleep. And this is better than lying alone in the dark with nothing to distract me from my thoughts. You cannot comprehend how much I hate myself. I always do but I hate myself even more intensely right now. I cannot stand myself. And I’m convinced that everyone else hates me too. Just for existing.

I was messaging the classmate I mentioned above the other day about mental health related stuff, and she suggested that I’m probably still experiencing these intense feelings of self-hatred because of the bullying and other stuff that happened to me when I was younger. I think she’s spot on. The main problem with this though, and I can’t remember if I mentioned this before, is that CMHT have effectively abandoned me. They won’t allow me to be referred back to them, as I discovered a year and a bit ago when I was going through a rough patch and went to my GP to see about being referred back. This is fine with me because quite frankly CMHT did f*** all to help me in the 2 years or so that I attended their appointments. But I feel that if they aren’t going to help me, they should at the very least point me in the direction of somewhere that CAN. I asked the GP, “Well what happens if I become suicidal again then?” Her reply: “Well you can get in touch with us and see what we can do”. Oh, you mean like tell me my mental health problems are due to me being pathetic and not just getting over it (and on one occasion very reluctantly prescribing me an SSRI) like you’ve done almost every single time I’ve been about something mental health related before? I can’t wait! It’s no wonder so many people totally lose faith in the mental health services in this country. They are a disgrace. Can you imagine if we treated physical health problems in the same way?


Patient: “I’ve discovered a lump and I’m worried it’s cancer”

Health services: “Okay, well we’ll put you on the waiting list but it’s looking like about 13 weeks or more at the moment”

Patient: “…But I’m worried it’s cancer. It could get even more serious if I wait that long to see someone.”

Health services: “Well unfortunately that’s all I can offer you. *Hands the patient a leaflet on making healthier lifestyle changes*


Patient: “I’ve got a heart condition and I’d like to see a specialist”

Health services: “It actually looks like we had appointments with you over the course of 2 years a few years ago, so I don’t think there’s anything else we can do to help you”.

Patient: “Yes but it’s getting worse. I had a heart attack last month”.

Health services: “Well unless you’re having a heart attack at the moment I’m afraid we can’t help you. I’m sure you’ve learned enough by now that you can manage on your own”.


 

A counsellor at my university recently made me aware of a private therapy practice that accepts donations, and I’ve been put on the waiting list, but they only do talking therapy there. While it helps me slightly in the short-term, it doesn’t change anything because it doesn’t get to the core of my problems. I’ll give it a go, but it seems that unless you can afford upwards of £75 an hour for private CBT/ psychotherapy, the help out there isn’t great. And who CAN afford £75 per session? Even if I managed to get a job in the ecology/ conservation sector after graduating and saved up for a few years, I’d probably still be struggling to afford the number of appointments that I’d need to make real progress. It’s not exactly a sector you go into to make a lot of money. But what enrages me all the more is that people who are long-term unemployed due to mental health problems would NEVER be able to afford this. The system fails those who need it the most.

I don’t know where I’m going with this post. I suppose I just needed to vent and to get some of these thoughts out of my mind. I should probably go to bed now.

 

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Me walking into my 9am tomorrow today

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My First Date

“Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot.” – Charlie Chaplin


Just in case you ever thought YOU were awkward…

It was a cold but sunny day in early December 2016. One of the men I had been speaking to on an online dating site and I were going to meet and it would be my first ever actual date! To say I was anxious is an understatement!

We were supposed to be meeting for coffee in the city centre. I arrived first and checked out the café, but it was quite crowded and I was too anxious to go inside. I waited outside for a little while but I was getting more and more anxious. I went into a shop initially to get out of the cold, but then my date texted me saying he’d arrived. For some reason my brain went into complete panic mode and I then – in much the same fashion as I did with my teenage crushes – proceeded to do everything I could to avoid him (and essentially muck him about) for over an hour. I was very close to having a panic attack and kept moving from shop to shop, messaging him to see where he was, terrified that I’d bump into him. (Yes, this is how social anxiety makes you treat a promising first date and someone you really want to get to know. Lovely, isn’t it?)

My date was extremely patient and initially suggested that I go and meet him in the other, less crowded coffee shop he was now sitting in to get out of the cold. I was too scared to even do this, so he then suggested that we each grab coffee separately (decaf for me of course) and then try to meet up somewhere nearby. The coffee shop that I ended up going into was just across the street from the one he was in, and as pathetic as it sounds, I sneaked past very quickly, looking in the windows, to make sure he hadn’t spotted me.

Once I’d bought my coffee and was back outside, I went to take a sip but the lid wasn’t on properly so I ended up spilling it all over myself. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at this point. So much had gone wrong already. Two days before, I’d ended up in A&E after I’d collapsed at work, and I still wasn’t feeling 100%. The day before, our washing machine had broken, and since everyone else had been hogging it, the outfit I wanted to wear (and most of my other clothes) were still in my laundry basket. This didn’t help my anxiety. I ended up having to hand wash what I wanted to wear on the date in the bathroom sink.

We eventually decided to meet in Princes Street Gardens, where I sat on a bench, sipped my coffee, and waited. He texted me saying that he was in the gardens and trying to find me. I was incredulous that he hadn’t just decided to call it a day at this point. He appeared and sat what seemed like a mile away from me on the bench (I think he was just worried that he’d scare me off if he sat right next to me). I was so anxious that I couldn’t even look at him, and we rather awkwardly just texted each other for the first few minutes after he’d sat down. I was gradually able to speak to him after a little while. (Again, I’m aware that all of this probably sounds completely pathetic to anyone who doesn’t have SA, but I was so, so grateful that he was so patient and understanding despite my anxiety doing its best to ruin things for us). Then, in yet another one of my anxiety’s hilarious jokes, the coffee and the anxiety were having their effects and I suddenly really needed the loo. I felt so awkward and awful having to tell him this after all the bother I’d already put him through that day, but he seemed totally unfazed by it and we walked together to a department store in search of the toilets. As we were just leaving the gardens, the one o’ clock gun went off. Having lived in/ around Edinburgh all my life, I was completely unperturbed by it, but as he hasn’t, and he also has an aversion to loud noises, he pretty much ducked for cover. I think he was a bit embarrassed by this but I found it both funny and adorable.

My jaw just about hit the floor when I came out of the toilets and saw my date still standing there. There had been a huge queue so I’d made him wait around for even longer. I was so convinced that he was going to do a runner!

We wandered back along Princes Street and went to a café for some lunch. I was so anxious about eating in front of him. Once again, I know it sounds pathetic/ stupid, but I was too anxious to let him see me eat, so he kindly agreed to look away/ look at his phone while I ate my lunch. To anyone else eating there (and probably to anyone reading this), it probably looked as if we’d just had a huge argument about something and weren’t talking. To anyone reading this who thinks this was a bad thing to do on his part because he was just “enabling” my anxiety in this situation, you couldn’t be more wrong. I can see your point to an extent but (Warning: mini-rant coming on here!):

  1. The fact that he was so patient in these situations in the early stage of our relationship meant that I felt able to trust him and gradually become more comfortable around him. I felt he accepted me, anxiety and all. I gradually became a lot more comfortable in situations I was extremely anxious in before. For example, after about a month and half together, I was able to eat in front of him with no problems whatsoever.

 

  1. I am an adult with an anxiety disorder. I have had said anxiety disorder since I was around 4 years old. Therefore, I think I’m more qualified than you are to determine what I can or can’t do at any given time. It’s not your place to push me to do stuff that makes me extremely anxious because “You should be able to do this like everyone else” or “There’s nothing scary about this, you’re being illogical”. No shit. How I wish anxiety disorders operated in logic…

 

  1. “Flooding” (in the context of anxiety) is a thing. Over the years, I’ve taken baby steps with my anxiety in a wide variety of situations and I’ve made some great progress. But there is such a thing as doing too much, too soon, too fast, and that can be counter-productive.

 

After we’d both eaten, we pretty much just wandered around the city centre for another hour or so. He later said that he’d just wanted to spend as much time with me as possible and didn’t want me to go. I didn’t want the date to end either. Eventually, he walked with me to my bus stop, and after some initial awkwardness and hesitation on my part, we hugged. I was extremely anxious when it came to physical intimacy in the early stages of our relationship, but he was again very patient and understanding with this, and I gradually overcame my anxiety around that too. It was so great to hug him despite my anxiety. I felt so happy after our date and I couldn’t wait to see him again. We arranged a second date a few days later. Over two years later, we’re still together. Yes, I realise that I am ridiculously lucky. This almost never happens – I went on my first ever date and met such an amazing person. I’m so lucky to have found him.

I’m not saying that just because I found someone amazing, you will too. My boyfriend has suffered with depression in the past (and still does sometimes), and I reckon he likely has mild SA as well, which is probably why he is so understanding. But I have a friend who has also had lifelong social anxiety and her boyfriend has SA too. I know someone else who has suffered with social anxiety and selective mutism for years and is in a long-term relationship. Particularly if you’re still quite young, it’s at least within the realms of possibility. People with even severe SA can and do end up in relationships. All I’m saying is, don’t write yourself off yet.

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Guided Tour

Following on from my last post, for the second of the dreaded oral presentations, everyone in my class had to give a 20-minute guided tour of part of a museum to a group of 5-7 other classmates and a tutor. Again, I was a complete wreck for nearly 2 weeks leading up to this assignment, and I again had nearly constant chest pain for 3 days leading up to it, and struggled to sleep. I was again able to let the tutor in charge know about this, and she was thankfully very understanding, saying she was glad to hear that I again wanted to push myself and present in front of my classmates if I could. We agreed that I could give my presentation first if I was going to go ahead with it, to get it over and done with.

I practised and practised, and the study skills person I’ve been assigned also agreed to come to the museum and listen to me practise a couple of days before the actual talk. I also met up with a couple of classmates the day before and practised in front of them, which was quite nerve-wracking by really helpful. They were really nice about it too.

On the actual day, I decided to go ahead and do my presentation in front of my classmates, WITHOUT taking any beta-blockers. It was absolutely nerve-wracking and I was visibly shaking, and my voice was shaking, to begin with. But it again went a lot better than I thought it would and my classmates were really great. I’m so hard on myself all the time, but even I was proud of myself for doing a talk like that, in a public place, without any anti-anxiety medication. Though you can’t imagine the sense of relief I felt after it was over!

At the end of the day, my classmates and I were all asked to give informal comments on each talk: one about what was good and one about what could have been improved on. While most of the classmates in my group said that I spoke very quietly and could have been louder, most of them also said that they could tell I was very passionate about the topic. This gives me hope for the future, in terms of possibly having to present/ give talks to people if I am lucky enough to get into an ecology/ conservation related career. It at least seems a lot less hopeless and a little more attainable now.

After both of the two oral presentation assignments, I felt really ill (flu-like) for 2-3 days afterwards. Some of my classmates had similar experiences. I suppose it’s probably all that stress weakening our immune systems. I swear sometimes that our tutors are trying to slowly kill us off. 😛 The night after both oral presentations, I slept for about 10 hours straight, (partly) catching up on all the sleep I’d missed before. I slept like a baby.

Doing both of the oral presentations really boosted my confidence in terms of dealing with public speaking situations like that in the future. There’s a strange sense of power in knowing that you have it within you to do what terrifies you the most.

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My Neck, My Back, My Social Anxiety Attack

I mentioned in my last post that the first term of my master’s had pushed me to the edge with my anxiety. Two solo public speaking assignments were to blame. For the first of these, we each had to give a 15-minute talk/ Q and A in front of our classmates and tutors. I was, admittedly, an absolute mess in the two weeks running up to this. I barely slept and would wake up in the middle of the night crying, unable to get back to sleep, because I was so anxious/ stressed out about it, and I couldn’t relax for a second or even think about anything else.  I had more or less constant chest pain for 4 days. So I ended up having to go back to my GP to get another prescription for beta-blockers. I’d made one of my tutors aware that I have an anxiety disorder, and she did say that I could choose to present only to the tutors, but being as masochistic? determined as I am, I really wanted to present to the whole class, just like everyone else. We agreed that I could go second (I wanted to get it over with asap but I didn’t want to be first) if I did indeed decide to do this.

On the actual day, I took a beta-blocker and decided (in a fit of madness) that I’d go for it. Unfortunately though, I think there had been a misunderstanding with my tutor. She was choosing the order that everyone else would present in randomly, and the third person had already gone without me being called up. I was getting increasingly more anxious, wondering when I would be going, and worrying that I would have a panic attack if enough time elapsed for the beta-blocker to wear off. We were on about the 7th person when my tutor finally seemed to remember, came over to me while the room was silent and said “Oh sorry. Would you like to go now?” I sheepishly replied “…Yeeaahhh”, and got up and just gave my presentation there and then. The propranolol definitely took the edge off but I was still very anxious.

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Having severe anxiety but pretending everything is fine like:

The presentation itself went a lot better than I thought it would. I still can’t believe I did it, though my volunteer role giving presentations to primary school kids definitely helped. (I still can’t believe I did that either actually!) I do still feel really embarrassed/ ashamed about my tutor asking me in front of the whole class though. I’m worried that they maybe think I got special treatment or that I was just being pathetic, or maybe they wonder what’s wrong with me. Then again, maybe that’s just self-stigma. Logically, I know it’s not my fault that I have an anxiety disorder, and I certainly didn’t CHOOSE to be this way. I don’t see how how getting “special treatment” in this case is any different from someone with dyslexia getting “special treatment” with more time in exams/ computer software to read their work back to them. Yet I still feel SO much shame around my anxiety. I still have this paranoia that no one would accept me if they knew, or that I’d be an even easier target if people knew. My SA doesn’t define me but it is a part of my experiences and probably always will be. I wonder if the massive amount of shame and self-stigma that I experience is a large part of why I struggle so much to let other people in, and to make friends. Since my late teen years, anyone who I’ve been able to have more than just a very temporary friendship with has known about my issues. Once people know, I feel I can relax a little bit and let more of my true self show.  I don’t have to put all of my energy into trying to hide my anxiety.

A couple of days after the oral presentations, at a gathering at some of my other classmates’s flat, one of my classmates asked me why I got to choose when to present. I don’t think she meant it maliciously, though I can never be 100% sure. I got a bit flustered and ended up blurting out something about getting to choose to when to present because I had “other things going on” (alluding to my mental health). Though she seemed to interpret this as me getting to present earlier because I was working later on that day/ had other commitments. I didn’t correct her and she didn’t ask any more questions about it.

I really wish I felt able to be more open about my mental health than I am. This is kind of ironic, I know, given that I write this blog. But I do still really struggle to be open with people in a face-to-face setting. I know it perhaps sounds ridiculous, and I feel terrible for writing this, given that I write a mental health blog, but I also worry about how being open about my mental health would impact on my future career prospects. Stigma is still very much alive in 2019, unfortunately. And yes, it’s incredibly stupid, because if I had an employer who was understanding and supportive around mental health, I (like millions of other people in the UK and around the world) could do a much better job.

I suppose that’s my challenge. To eventually be open about it and to raise awareness and educate people. I don’t want to scream it from the rooftops but I also don’t want to have to expend enormous amounts of energy trying to hide that part of myself. I hope that when I’m an old woman, young people will look back at the way mental health conditions were stigmatised in much the same way that many of us look back in horror now at the way gay people were treated when my dad was young. I want to be brave and I want to be part of that change.

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Unstoppable?

In case you wanted to know what having high-functioning anxiety is like in song form. I’ve felt like this throughout much of my master’s. I hide it pretty well sometimes. 


Hi everyone. I’m sorry that I haven’t posted on here over the Christmas break like I aimed to. During my undergrad, I’d always set myself impossible amounts of stuff to do over the breaks and then get really annoyed with myself for not doing it all, even though I still achieved a lot. It seems I’ve done the same thing again over the Christmas break. Depression (SAD?) has also made a return lately, and I’ve felt pretty exhausted much of the time. Thankfully, and mercifully, it’s fairly mild* these days. I can just about deal with being a crying mess every now and then if it means I don’t have to feel suicidal again. I’ll just do what I can to get through it and hopefully it’ll pass eventually. I find that taking vitamin D, using a SAD lamp, getting outside every day (especially in nature, if possible), exercise (when I can be bothered**), getting enough sleep (*laughs maniacally*), and actually penciling in downtime for myself, all help. I’ve also been working my way through a book on overcoming low self-esteem, and doing daily mindfulness, which are also helping. If you’re like me and find all the spiritual mumbo-jumbo that often comes with mindfulness a bit off-putting, I can recommend the Headspace app, especially if you’re also too busy to fit 30-60 minutes of mindfulness into each day, like some mindfulness courses recommend (no, they’re not paying me!)

* I suppose mild depression is a bit like someone being mildly pregnant but still…

**Though to be honest, I’d like to know who greets the prospect of going on a 5k run with the thought: “Wow! I can SO be bothered today! I am so ready!” ,and not: “Uurggghhhh…”

I’ve just started the second term of my master’s and it seems I’ll likely be working straight through to mid-August now, so I thought I’d write a quick update just in case I don’t find the time/ energy to write any other posts before then. The master’s has actually gone far better so far than I thought it would. It’s been far better than my first time at university, and while I still wouldn’t say I’ve made any friends as such, I have at least been able to talk to plenty of my classmates in class. There are only about 30 of us in total, and the smaller group definitely helps. I’ve even done stuff with my classmates outside of university, which has been a great experience. I’m really grateful to them for being so nice/ welcoming to me. Even if I don’t end up staying in touch with anyone from my course, I’ll at least finally have some nice memories from my time at university.

I’ll hopefully write in more detail about this in a later post/s, but my master’s really has pushed me to the edge in terms of my anxiety, yet I’ve done the impossible and gotten through it. I’ve struggled with my mental health at times but I’ve gotten through it. I’ve also managed the coursework/ time-management side of things a lot better than I thought I would, and while I did hand a couple of things in at the last minute, I didn’t need any extensions. This is a huge improvement from my undergraduate degree. This is partly down to me not being severely depressed (like I was during much of my undergrad), but also, I think, partly down to me having learned some coping mechanisms over the years. For example, I no longer force myself to keep working when I’m feeling extremely stressed out; I always take a break for at least 20 minutes when the stress builds up to this level. Not only is it better for my mental health, but I’m actually a lot more productive that way. I used to just force myself to keep working even if I was so stressed out that I was crying, and I’d end up just burning myself out and getting nothing done. I think being just that little bit older helps too.

I also saw a counsellor for a few weeks in the autumn, and while I do feel that it helped, we’re agreed that I’d benefit from longer-term therapy. I’ve never really discussed with anyone the emotional and sometimes physical abuse I experienced from my dad, or the bullying I experienced in high school, in much detail with anyone. I believe those experiences lie at the core of why I feel the way I do about myself/ my low self-esteem. I definitely can’t afford private therapy right now, and I don’t think I will ever be able to, but another counsellor at my university has made me aware of a couple of places in Edinburgh that take donations rather than having a set price per session. I think it’s a bit much for me to process all the emotions that might bring up right now alongside everything else at the moment, but I hope to go for counselling there as soon as I finish my master’s.

During the break from uni, I visited my boyfriend’s family over new year again. I was there for about 10 days in total this time, which I think is the longest I’ve visited for so far. We visited Inverness for a couple of days for his brother’s birthday and I unfortunately had a bit of a breakdown. My depression had been pretty bad, and to cut a long story short, I ended up crying uncontrollably into my breakfast cereal – at the breakfast buffet of the hotel we were all staying in – in front of everyone. (Because y’know…that’s normal). I was absolutely mortified and just left the table, quickly explaining to my boyfriend that my depression was really bad and I didn’t think I should be around his family at the moment, before rushing back to our hotel room. I was absolutely mortified. I feel absolutely humiliated if I cry in public/ in front of pretty much anyone except my boyfriend. I was convinced I’d just ruined everything with his family. I don’t even know where my head was at that morning, but I was full-on heave-sobbing as if someone had just died, and I felt like hurting myself. (I didn’t). I do unfortunately still have those feelings whenever I’m feeling extremely distressed like that – even though it’s been nearly seven years now since the last time I self-injured – but thankfully I haven’t acted on them. It would be too easy to go down that road again. It’s like an addiction. The best option is never to self-harm. The next best option is to never do it again.

After explaining to his family that I really wasn’t feeling great, my boyfriend came and found me and just cuddled me/ spoke to me until I had calmed down. I’m so lucky to have him. I was a mess.

When I had eventually calmed down, stopped crying, and washed my face, my boyfriend rushed down to see if the breakfast bar was still open, as I hadn’t eaten anything yet. I was mortified, going out where people could see me again, as my eyes were all bloodshot, but I had to rush downstairs if I wanted to get any food. I was quite hungry by this point, and anyone who knows me well knows that food is pretty much my number one priority in life. My boyfriend got me some cereal and we sat down at a table together. I had just gotten to the point where I was well enough to be joking with him that I’d be having a Pavlovian response to muesli from then on, and start crying uncontrollably whenever I so much as saw the box, when his mum texted him. She said that she was sorry to hear that I wasn’t feeling great and that I shouldn’t feel I need to hide any part of who I am around them. My boyfriend’s brother was also encouraging. I’m so glad that his family are so understanding when it comes to mental health stuff – a lot more understanding than most people. They’ve been so nice to me even though I’ve been an anxious wreck around them. My stupid brain is still trying to convince me that his family all hate me, but I’m sure that’s my low self-esteem talking. I hope I’ll be more comfortable around them/ more able to have a conversation with them eventually.

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