Testing times

It’s hard to get your head round what is happening globally isn’t it? Within less than a week I’ve gone from relatively normal movements to doing most work remotely and no social contact. My world has shrunk to C, work, walking the dogs and riding though that may get banned soon as too dangerous. I’ll see my mum but not too often due to the risk. They are in lockdown pretty much where she lives. I don’t know when I’ll next see my girls. I’ve decided that I need to stop smoking and attempted this yesterday. It didn’t go well not surprisingly. Giving up the main way you manage your anxiety at the most globally anxious time of your life was never going to be easy. I’m caught between the anxiety of Corona and the knowledge my years of smoking make me higher risk and being stuck in the house with little distraction. What I normally do in this situation is smoke, play games on my iPad, read, etc. I’m not very good at doing nothing when I’m not stoned. My depression meant I’ve done that more in recent months and now I want to connect! I’m out of synch with the world.

If I had any doubt this is an addiction searching for the bits of hash left in the box last night dispelled those thoughts. I’m not sure if it’s the hash the tobacco or both? When away from home I don’t smoke hash and it’s fine but I do have cigarettes. When I’ve not had cigarettes (a 6 month spell a long time ago) I found I didn’t want hash so it was definitely tobacco to start with. I need and want to stop both. When I smoke a cigarette I’m thinking ‘why am I doing this?’ but I keep doing it. I think back to giving up alcohol which was so much harder as the rest of the world thinks alcohol is great. I had been battling with myself a long time and was truly fed up with it. I don’t feel like that about smoking which I know is pretty stupid.

Yesterday the wine witches friend, smoky devil was out in force. She started gently ‘try to notice when and why you smoke today in preparation for stopping’, she said as I had breakfast even though this was stop day and I’ve done that many times before. ‘You’ve got a full pack – stop after those are gone’ etc etc. When I stopped drinking I had a house full of booze and didn’t even throw it all out so whether I have cigs in is irrelevant – there’s a shop over the road. I managed to externalise this internal battle by shouting at C over some minor issue causing him to shout back which he rarely does. I went in a shop and got really anxious as was close to people. By the evening I was feeling miserable and saying things like ‘if I’m going to die then I may as well get pissed and have some fun first’ – ‘hello wine witch not seen you in a while! Come out to party with your friend?’ The addiction playing out in my thoughts and dragging me down once again to the fuck it mode which usually is followed by shame and self loathing.

So this morning instead of reading the Corona news (and ramping up my anxiety) I’m writing this. I’m not going to beat myself up or shame myself for smoking yesterday as that will push me towards doing it again. Instead I’ll try to check in here as often as I can; I will do my meditation this morning so I am grounded for the day ahead rather than late in the day in a vain attempt to calm down and I will prepare by writing down the reasons I want to stop and look at it every time I think of smoking. Take care everyone – sending love to you all and hope for a better world when this is hopefully over.

Hello there!

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Hello fellow bloggers – sorry I’ve not been here for a while. It’s Sunday morning and I’m being lazy drinking tea and reading and writing in bed. The thought of doing this last night gave me a warm feeling! I’ve been thinking of you all but I’ve been busy getting back to work and catching up with friends in the real world now I’m not feeling depressed; as well as reading a great book that you want to keep getting back to (A Gentleman in Moscow) that I’ve really enjoyed. The irony of emerging from my own period of self isolation just in time to enter one for very different reasons is not lost on me, but I’m glad I’ve seen the people I have in the last few weeks. I feel like I’m living again and that has been great. A lovely weekend with my eldest daughter; lunch with my youngest brother and his wife and new baby; dinner with my yoga retreat friend and a few other dear people. A couple of films (Parasite is just brilliant!); yoga, meditation, riding and dog walks. Hard to fit it all in! Going back to work dipped my mood but only for a couple of days and this week I did a full week without that happening. Everyone has been so supportive and lovely, I look back on my anxious paranoid thinking and see it as just that – not a reality except in my mind; but our mind is where we construct our reality whatever our circumstances. Colette (wine to water) and Boozebrain’s posts reminded me of that this morning! (I don’t know how to put links in being technically challenged but they both post great stuff!).

If I’m being entirely honest though another reason I’ve not been posting is because what I would post here is the internal dialogue I’ve been having about cannabis and smoking and whether to stop and when. I’m wondering if I have to give up completely, can I moderate etc but I think I know (as a voice in my head tells me) what you would all say and I’ve not been quite ready to hear it! I’m addicted to it in that my use is compulsive and when I try to cut down/stop I can’t. That isn’t a judgement it’s an observation and a truth that I can no longer ignore.

Anyway, Corona virus has given me a push and I’ve asked C not to get any more in as I want to have a break. We are worried as C is over 70; we have a lot of contact with my 81 year old heart diseased mum, and I’m a 55 year old smoker so also at risk if I get it and medical care is in short supply. If there ever was a time to stop smoking this is it. The reasons are up close and personal. Having had suicidal thoughts intermittently in recent months I can now say unequivocally I don’t want to die just yet if I can avoid it; and there is something I can do to help with that. I’m also coming up to a year AF and I’d like to be fully sober on that day so I don’t feel like a fake in this world.

I’m going to try to emulate the Sober School course applying the lessons and thinking to weed and tobacco whilst only committing to 6 weeks initially. Interestingly in search of literature to support me in this (reading a lot changed my mind set with alcohol but there’s a lot less out there for cannabis) I’ve found a book that advocates ‘changing your relationship’ rather than total abstinence with cannabis. But addiction’s addiction right? If I stop for 6 weeks I can test this all out and decide for myself at the end of that time. An experiment, no more no less.

I hope you’re all safe and well and thank god we have the Internet and these virtual communities to help us through what will undoubtedly be difficult times for us all. Take care and stay strong 💞💞

The Power of Yoga

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I have dabbled with yoga for many years but it’s only since I started my AF journey at the end of 2017 that it’s been in my life more consistently. When I came back from the retreat recently, recognising that I had neglected yoga for a few months I set myself a 40 day challenge to do yoga or meditate every day in an attempt to embed the habit. Ive missed 2 days so far out of 30. Some days it has been really difficult to get myself onto the mat and I’ve literally only been there for 5 minutes. More recently I’ve found myself prioritising it and looking forward to that time.

In his wonderful book, The body holds the score, Bessel van de Kolk talks about how trauma is held in our bodies and nervous systems, and people need more than talking therapy to help with that. It’s like the body’s smoke alarm is set to be triggered at any hint of danger, leading to over reactions, stress and catastrophising all over the place. Their research has confirmed what the yogis already knew; yoga calms it all down; encouraging balance between the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and digest) rather than the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight). It is also said in yoga circles that we hold emotional pain in our hips in particular; a result of those muscles contracting whenever our stress response is triggered. Sitting at desks and in cars for long periods doesn’t help either.

I’ve had tight hips as long as I’ve been aware of such things; particularly on the left. Years of running and riding and not stretching – the folly of youth! Yoga has helped ease it but I often have pain in that area, particularly as I fall asleep. I’ve been doing a lot of hip stretches in my yoga routine these last few weeks. When I wrote my last post about getting in touch with the origins of my depression; I didn’t say that whilst the memories flooded me as I was going to sleep my hip was throbbing intensely – not super painful but intense. I wrote the blog and the next night I dreamt that my mum died. It was now, not the past, and all I did in the dream was cry buckets of tears. Since that night I have not felt depressed in the same heavy, unmotivated way; and my hip is looser and the pain has gone pretty much. I’ve felt extremely grateful to my unconscious that it took care of the weeping so I didn’t have to in the day!

Whilst there are other things that can take some credit for my improved mood; time off work and antidepressants have helped for sure; as does writing this blog; I don’t think they can account for the physical and emotional healing happening in tandem. As I move through the poses I feel stronger, more balanced and more connected to my body. I also feel a mental lightness and a sense of well being. My thoughts can still go to anxious places but not the black despairing holes they were finding before. I can rationalise my thoughts and put them in perspective more easily. Best of all I’ve got energy and I’m enjoying the small things again. Doing the weekly food shop no longer seems a gigantic task and I’m getting through things I need to do without getting stressed about them. It will be a challenge to keep it up when I get back to work later this week but I think my well being will depend on it!

The little things….

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My posts have all been a bit deep and introspective lately so I thought I’d write something a bit more cheery about (drum roll) – – teeth! A lot of us notice the positive effects of no alcohol on our sleep, our bowel habits, our weight and other physical concerns – for me a big one is teeth. I’ve been blessed with quite nice teeth but when I was drinking a lot I didn’t look after them as well as I should and it was starting to show. A daily reminder that my body wasn’t taking the punishment I was giving it unscathed. It’s hard to clean your teeth well though when standing up is a challenge! Rushing in the morning when you’ve overslept doesn’t lend itself to good dental care either. Trips to the dental hygienist would fill me with dread. Each time as I lay back in the chair with my mouth prised open she would exclaim about the sorry state of my teeth; take photos to show me just how awful they really were and quiz me on my habits and brushing technique. An early return would be recommended with a double appointment as one just wasn’t long enough for teeth this dirty and I would shuffle out armed with new things to use feeling like a naughty kid.

Since I stopped drinking (306 days ago) I have cleaned my teeth religiously every night. Interdental brushes in every space and a proper brush every time. My gums no longer bleed either. It’s a daily reminder that I’m taking better care of myself without alcohol, whatever else is going on and that’s a nice motivator. I was disappointed the hygienist didn’t seem to realise how much better they were on my last visit. ‘It’s been 6 months since I last came – can’t you see the difference’ I wanted to say but couldn’t speak with the cleaning in full flow. It all took a lot less time and hurt a lot less though, and I noticed that even if she didn’t! My teeth are not perfect but they are clean and cared for now and that’ll do for me. 😀

The Guest House

Since I’ve ‘come out’ as depressed I’ve felt as if I’ve allowed it in, to wash over me and occupy the space. ‘Like that poem’ my good friend A said as I tried to explain what I meant. I looked it up and Rumi says it far better than I ever could. Most of my life I’ve been fighting any negative feelings, trying to banish them one way or another. Allowing my depression is a necessary step to becoming comfortable with who I really am but I still want to fight it, berate it, and banish it a lot of the time. I feel as if I’m shedding identities and I’m not sure what’s left or if I like it very much. I’ve shed the party good time girl persona and my competent professional self (though hopefully this one is temporary). I’m still doing horse stuff and being a mum but not a lot else.

I did go to the Celtic Connections music festival in Glasgow a couple of weekends ago with 2 of my oldest dearest friends S and B. It was hard being so sociable but it was wonderful. The music and the joy of the musicians as well as the easy company lifted my heart and soul. I stayed out until the small hours – something I didn’t think I’d be able to do without alcohol and guess what – it was better! No glazed eyes, loss of memory, stumbling around etc etc. No anxiety about pacing oneself. Just unfettered enjoyment of the music. Live music is definitely high on my list of sober fun and my love of it is definitely part of the real me.

Returning home I was tired then got ill. The depression and lethargy came back and I found myself resistive again. Feeling frustrated that I’m not doing enough, berating myself for it. Yesterday I woke up really low and C responded to me in a way that made me connect with his frustrations and hate myself even more. I’m questioning a lot of my decisions from my life at the moment and I started to question us which felt really threatening. I’ve never doubted us – I’ve always known we are meant to be together. We reconnected in the evening and I tried to explain how I was feeling. ‘I know I’ve no actual reasons to be depressed which is the most depressing thing of all’ I said. ‘Maybe not in your life now, but I think there’s plenty of reasons in your past’ C replied.

I feel a lot like my 14 year old self right now so I got to thinking about that time in my life. That’s when I first got depressed. I remember being in my room and my stepmum saying in exasperation ‘what’s wrong with you?’ I didn’t know anymore than she did. I do remember that’s when I started smoking again. I’d first smoked as an 11 year old – the end of primary school. I was trying on rebellion for size but it scared me and a part of me was very critical of it so when I got to High School I ditched my rebellious friend and went back to being the clever good girl for a while. When I started smoking again at 14 I was much better equipped to manage the rebellious persona and now there were boys and sex in the mix as well! Alcohol followed but I didn’t really take to that until I was older. I first smoked cannabis aged 15 and I remember thinking it was the best thing I’d ever experienced. Drugs and alcohol have rarely directly given me a bad time or experience which has made it hard to see them as the problem until now. Of course they are not the problem per se; they have been my solution to the problem of my intolerable feelings and dislike of myself. The conflict between the good girl me and the ‘fuck it’ me (the one that smokes and drinks) has been a constant most of my adult life. I would flip from one to the other without really thinking about what they meant, what their function was, and when in one state of being I would be critical of the other, admonishing without compassion or understanding.

When my mum left when I was 13 I remember feeling relief. I was riding before school and I shed a single tear and that was it. The ‘it was better afterwards’ narrative has been the only one I’ve allowed. I’ve not acknowledged how hard it was being a 13 year old girl living in an all male household; how lonely I was a lot of the time; how angry I felt. Nor that whatever the circumstances if your mum walks out and leaves you then that is an abandonment and it’s only natural to interpret that as you somehow not being good enough or loved enough. I’d had a lengthy separation from my mum as a toddler so perhaps the depression goes back to that; a time when we can’t put it into words so we have to embody it. This is the first time I’ve connected my parents divorce to my depression. I can’t help but also link my younger daughter’s struggles since me and her dad divorced to my own unresolved issues. A colleague of mine once said if you can’t understand what’s going on with a child that you’re seeing, ask what was going on for the mum when she was that age. We pass things across the generations in more ways than genetically.

As I was going to sleep last night I was flooded with memories of those years and I forgave myself my failings and comforted myself. I reminded myself I was just a kid. I woke up this morning feeling lighter and brighter and more my adult self – whoever that is these days! My daughter arrived home and she is lighter and brighter too and that cheered me more than I can say. I’m back in a space where I can appreciate this life and for that I’m grateful and in this moment happy.

Does a diagnosis make a difference?

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My last post – The Retreat led to an interesting discussion about depression and anti-depressants in the comments section amongst fellow bloggers. I had been to my GP as I’m off work so needed a sick note. I asked my doctor to write depression on the note which was in itself a significant step for me. I got a prescription but I hadn’t started taking them as I was going on The Retreat, and when I got back I felt so good I didn’t think I needed them. I planned to go back to work next week and ‘get on with it’. It hasn’t quite worked out that way. I continued to feel good until Wed and was functioning better – eating better and fitting in the yoga. Wed I had a riding lesson back where it all started 12 years ago; the 2nd time around horse part of my life. I was flooded with memories and I missed my old horse. I enjoyed it but I came home feeling really sad. I didn’t want to do yoga but I managed a little. By yesterday morning my thinking was dark again, I was crying and couldn’t be bothered doing anything. When I tried my brain was sluggish and I got easily frustrated. I decided to take the tablets.

What has been different is I’ve been more aware of this shift and I’ve not transformed it into something else; an irritation with C, a complaint or just a hissy fit about not much at all. I’ve also stopped myself going too far down the self critical ‘it’s all your fault you always mess up’ path too. That I credit to the retreat and yoga. It helps me keep a little bit of me in an observing role to myself so I can check what I’m doing more easily. I was resistant to it yesterday but managed a 5 minute meditation. However I’m not functioning well and I have now decided to label that ‘depression’. I am depressed or I have depression? Does it make a difference which way I say it? Does it make a difference to label it?

I don’t like diagnoses which is odd considering it’s my job to hand them out. When I first started psychiatry 30 years ago we were taught that basically people were either mad, sad or bad (I kid you not!). Psychosis, mood disorders and personality disorders. I quickly noticed that the people I met had stories to tell and usually their stories told of loss and bad things happening to them. Some people couldn’t tell you their story but their body told it for them – the young girl in a wheelchair with fixed contractures of her legs meaning it unlikely she would walk again though there was no physical reason. She had been sexually abused but she smiled and told you all was fine. She didn’t know what she was doing in a psychiatric unit. I found that the so called bad people were the most likely to go mad or be sad but because someone had labelled them ‘Personality Disorder’ no one was very sympathetic when they did. I still find this 30 years later; even though all the evidence backs up what I noticed back then. In Child Mental Health there has been a shift towards more diagnoses so that a huge proportion of referrals now are for assessments for diagnoses such as ADHD and Autism. I found that giving the child’s symptoms a label and then trying to medicate them away didn’t really work that well; especially if nothing else changed around the child; and especially if other things were not as they should be. I remember as a very green consultant seeing a child who I thought had severe ADHD. I gave the meds and at follow up asked his mum how it was going. ‘Oh I didn’t give him those she said – I stopped giving him Powerade’. A powerful lesson for me that symptoms can reflect many possible causes. I didn’t stop diagnosing completely but I tried to use it as a systemic intervention; a way of shifting parents thinking and their interactions with the child, as well as a way to get support in school. I also couldn’t help noticing that sometimes when you treated one set of symptoms a different sort popped up like an unsolvable puzzle that keeps changing shape. Quite a lot of my patients could have any number of diagnoses and none of them really helped with changing anything. I found that when people were able to put words to their secrets, their unspeakable experiences, their shame often their symptoms diminished somewhat. I was learning that symptoms have a function as well as a cause.

In 2006 I came across Pat Crittenden and the Dynamic Maturational Model (DMM) of attachment theory. (www.iasa-dmm.org). This made more sense to me than any other way of conceptualising mental health across the whole spectrum from well to really unwell had ever done so far. How you function is rooted in your early experiences and is your best adaptation to that unique context is the premise of it in a nutshell. Of course it’s a lot more complicated and I will write more about it in other posts as it has literally changed my life professionally and personally. The more I studied and trained in this the less I diagnosed, and the more I focused on trauma and adaptation.

The DMM conceptualises depression as when your strategies no longer work for you to get your needs for comfort and safety met, and you know it’s not working. Psychodynamic thinking about depression speaks of anger turned on the self; cognitive behavioural of negative thought patterns that bring you down. Women are so much more vulnerable at times of hormonal shifts – puberty, childbirth, menopause which supports a more biological understanding. I’ve used different thinking in different combinations to help patients understand what might be going on for them; a one size fits all approach isn’t that helpful. I still prescribed for patients, recognising that depression stops them from helping themselves, alienates one from loved ones and support. A barbed wire fence that keeps the pain out but the support as well. I know that meds alone can’t fix things but they can get you to a place where you can more easily help yourself. Ive not applied this to myself though. Is it arrogance that makes me think I’m different? Shame? Stigma?

Overcoming addiction is multi-faceted. We have to change our habits, find new coping strategies, new ways to manage our emotions, to have fun, to relax etc etc. We also have to deal with all the unprocessed losses and traumas that alcohol blocked out. I’ve been conceptualising my lack of energy and motivation as this – I’m processing lots of unresolved stuff as well as grieving the person I was and taking responsibility for the mistakes I’ve made. I’ve had therapy in the past so I’ve been surprised there’s still a lot of pain buried in my psyche. Also I’ve thought of it as a reorganisation process (that’s the attachment model term for significant change in how we adapt). I’m slowed up because doing things differently takes time; it’s learning a new way that isn’t yet second nature to me. I’ve also attributed it to cannabis. I’m lazy and demotivated because I’m still smoking dope. I’ve smoked dope a long time though and it’s not stopped me wanting to get out of bed in the morning before or had me crying at the thought of going to work. I’ve been reluctant to think of it as depression, an illness – until now. I’ve had enough symptoms for more than enough time to meet criteria for a diagnosis but I’ve resisted. So what difference does it make?

Firstly I think it’s given me permission to take time off work and look after myself. It is socially acceptable to stop functioning when you are unwell. Whilst I am trying to maintain as much functioning as I can, I’m not being so hard on myself for not managing all I set out to in a day. If I manage anything at all that’s ok. This is helping me keep some self compassion and stopping me from beating myself up mentally. It allows me to focus on what I can manage; walking the dogs, doing some yoga, trying to cook and eat well instead of going to work, not performing well and coming home too tired to do those things. Not doing them drags me down further. I can start from where I am at and build it back more slowly. It also allows me to separate it out from myself – one of the most helpful things a diagnosis can do. I’m struggling at work because I am depressed; rather than I’m struggling at work because I’m no good at my job. My GP said I’m self medicating with the cannabis. That’s a part of it for sure and I’m hoping that as I am able to do more I will want to smoke less. That the anti-depressants will take over some of the functions of the cannabis.

I still think the depression is related to the massive change of removing alcohol, processing unresolved issues and learning new ways of being. However I have to function as well as do this. I feel as if I’ve spent several months navel gazing and whilst necessary on one level too much of it takes you away from others and doing things that are good for you. It’s all about balance. Self awareness versus self absorption. I’m hoping the meds will help me reset that balance – reach out instead of hide away as I continue to find out who I really am without the shadow of alcohol. Help me embed the new habits that will help me stay well and connected to others and give me the energy and motivation to make the other changes I need to make; on the outside as well as on the inside.

The Retreat

I saw my doctor Friday morning for a sick note and left with a prescription for antidepressants and a heavy heart. I didn’t want to go to the retreat. I didn’t want to talk to anyone let alone strangers. ‘What if they’re a bunch of weirdos?’ I said to my daughter J. ‘Well you’ll fit right in then’ she replied. I was anxious about leaving C and J for the weekend. We had had our first family meeting Thursday night. It hadn’t gone well and part of me wanted to be here to do what I do; try to keep everyone happy. The knowledge that C wanted me to go and that how things are was beginning to impact on him got me out the door. On the way there if I’d hit traffic I’ve no doubt I would have turned round but I didn’t and I arrived. It was held at a homely country house in Warwickshire near where my mum and grandmother grew up. The area holds a lot of family history for me and I could sense that ancestral familiarity around me.

Of course no one was weird at all. A group of mainly middle aged women looking for some peace of mind in this crazy world we live in. We all gathered around the table in the conservatory and Rina, (www.rinagolan.co) who led the retreat asked us to say a little about why we had come. I’d not intended to share too much but I had to go first. I burst into tears saying I was overwhelmed with loss and grief and couldn’t do my job. I was met with warmth, compassion and love. As we did the first yoga session that evening my body was resistive and sore; my mind distracted by physical discomforts. I went to bed early and slept lightly as my mind continued to spin.

The weekend was also a cleanse so we ate delicious organic vegetarian food, and Rina shared her wisdom in her very down to earth, very real no nonsense style. As my resistance started to lessen I set my intention for the weekend. I started with acceptance and then changed it to spiritual guidance. To reconnect with yoga to help me make the decisions I need to make. Rina spoke of self compassion and letting go. Also of how women need to slow down when they reach the menopause; become a source of wisdom rather than continuing to do things at the pace they have in the past. This really resonated with me. The workplace is unforgivingly relentless these days and one of my constant refrains is “I’m too fucking old for this”. I thought of my dear friend R, a teacher who is going through a similar crisis.

Saturday morning the yoga came more easily and my heart was beginning to open. With Rina was a massage therapist, Lena, a petite ethereally beautiful woman who worked tirelessly all weekend. I felt things release from my body as she kneaded my tight muscles intuitively, with strength and tenderness. In the evening we watched a film – Finding Joe. It was about the work of Joe Campbell, the professor who discovered that mythology in all cultures is one basic story – the Hero’s journey. From an ordinary unaware life, the hero has a calling or awakening (that he may keep ignoring until he can’t any longer). There is resistance and obstacles along his path; and he has to battle dragons and overcome quests to get to his enlightened return. Star Wars, The Wizard of Oz, The Matrix are just a few examples – all movies I love. The film spoke of finding your bliss; your true path. All mythology representing the human struggle to find our true self.

I realised that the reason I keep getting stuck and depressed is I am not on my path. My fear is the dragon that keeps defeating me. Fear of failure, fear of judgement, of not doing the right thing. My fear uses many forms and guises to keep me stuck. Until I find the right path I will keep circling back to the same point psychologically; one of frustration and despair. It is at this point there’s a crossroads, a choice. If I let the fear get the better of me then I circle round again to it. It may not look the same and the fear may find a new form but it’s the same place. It’s easy to get stuck here. You drift along and manage for a while – there’s so much to distract yourself with; until something happens that brings the dilemma sharply into focus once more. For me it was the death of my patient last year. You can block it out; distract yourself fighting the dragons without and within, real and imagined; or lie down defeated in a depression. Many of us live out our lives stuck here, endlessly battling our dragons. When you can step back from it as I did this weekend you realise all of these things are there because you are scared to follow your true path. I almost didn’t go to the retreat. My resistance almost got the better of me as it so often does. One of its many forms is to pre -judge, make assumptions and dismiss in advance. I think it’s my love for C that got me there and what I’ve learnt so far on this journey. I knew I had to do something different. I’ve taken another step forward.

I think all of us who are consciously trying to be sober are heros on a quest to find our true selves, the real meaning of why we are here, what makes us truly content. C has told me that in AA they talk of alcoholics choosing the wrong kind of spirit. Even if we keep getting knocked back whilst battling the demon alcohol we have started the journey; there’s no going back to life as it was; we have to keep going through the forest or get stuck in it. The alcohol won’t do it for us now no matter how much we drink though our fears may keep taking us back to it. If we make it through then we can live as our true authentic selves.

Sunday was a beautiful day. I felt strong but light doing the yoga. We walked in the crisp countryside, frost glistening and mud squelching underfoot. We hugged and shared and others cried this time. The power of the female energy was palpable. I shared that I am quitting my job to follow my own path. Also that I need to get closer to my resistance, to be curious and try to understand it and recognise it’s many forms. I’ve removed the blanket anaesthetic resistance of alcohol but that was just a start. To do this I need to keep up my yoga practice and stay connected to communities I can share with and learn from like this one. No one can do it alone. I need to put in the training like all heroes have to so my other pledge from the weekend is to do yoga or meditate every day for 40 days, even if just for 10 minutes to firmly establish the habit. I’ve no idea how far into the forest I have gone yet or what other trials are going to come my way. Some will be from within and some will be what life throws at me. I know others have much harder lives to battle with than I do. Much of my suffering comes from myself. This weekend I ended up exactly where I needed to be at exactly the time I needed to be there but I had the choice to go or not. I won that battle. I may yet lose many. Where are you up to on your Hero’s Journey? Are you ready to break out of your matrix? Follow your yellow brick road? May the force be with us all.

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Stuck in the spin cycle

My plan to approach 2020 with tolerance and acceptance (mainly aimed at my job) got derailed after 2 days as shared in previous post. Talking it over with C brought some insights that I thought worth sharing.

As we talked over what is bothering me I was lamenting how every time I try to manage differently I end up irritated and discontent again. I try to focus on the positives – the young people, the team, the good salary but it doesn’t last. C asked what I’m not letting go of; and pointed out that I’m spinning between frustration and blame and attempts to be ok without addressing the real reasons it’s not ok. I’m still attached to an idea or belief that is unresolved but hidden from view but powerful in its effects. What was I holding onto? I feel unsupported and unappreciated at work was my first thought. After a moment I remembered that things had changed following an incident over 2 years ago that involved a MHA assessment where the young person was not detainable but the home said she couldn’t come back. Having just spent an hour negotiating with her how we would manage her coming back I then had to tell her at 4pm on a Friday she couldn’t. I didn’t agree with the decision and I broke down with her as she screamed ‘you’re making me homeless’ repeatedly in my face. In her eyes I was the doctor and I had the power. I left in distress, emailed my resignation in tears from my car and came home. I don’t remember but I almost certainly will have got very drunk that night.

I didn’t resign and we did have her back that night until another placement was found. I carried on but something shifted. A lot of my complaining centres around having all the responsibility and little power or influence over what happens. It’s not hard to see the link with this experience; or why my recent MHA assessment triggered me so much. Rather than talking about it I did what I have always done when I feel very threatened – withdraw. I feel overlooked and undervalued at work but in truth I’ve isolated myself from senior management as I don’t trust that they have my back. It doesn’t take much for these unresolved feelings to present themselves around minor issues; excessive irritability that makes me unreasonable and difficult to work with. It’s easy to construct a narrative around these things that perpetuates the negative feelings and the real reasons become buried and inaccessible. When you add alcohol as your primary coping strategy what’s underneath becomes harder and harder to access. Onwards you spin – blaming others for being crap or yourself for not coping. Neither position helps you deal with anything constructively.

I think a similar process happens a lot in families and other relationships. When a family can’t get together without things kicking off you can bet someone is stuck in a spin cycle around an old grievance or hurt; unable to talk about it directly or accept it. If you grew up in a family who were unable to talk things through then it doesn’t come easily; you have no model for it. Much of therapy is about learning to communicate your feelings more directly and experiencing being truly heard. I can do this for my patients most of the time but when myself or my loved ones are involved and I feel threatened I revert back to the spin cycle – blaming and bargaining with myself and others.

Of course there is a deeper layer. My drive and motivation for the work I do comes from my own experiences of being a child who’s needs weren’t adequately met and who’s environment was often unpredictable or frightening. When I think about myself as a child I picture myself alone with my dog. Perhaps this young persons’ experience tapped into my own feelings of abandonment and neglect with me cast as perpetrator? No wonder I couldn’t bear it. In truth after 30 years on the frontline I feel less emotionally equipped to deal with others pain now than at any point in my career. I’m more aware of my own inadequacies as well as the systems inadequacies; I’m more sensitive now I no longer numb it with alcohol and I no longer thrive in or crave high stimulus, high risk reactive environments.

Usually when I get to this point I take a day or two off and then get back to it as too long doing nothing makes me more depressed. This time I’ve stayed off work and I’ve booked onto a yoga retreat this weekend. I’m going to stop spinning, allow my feelings and take care of myself.

Photo by Prasanth Inturi on Pexels.com

The Drugs don’t Work

My little cat was hit by a car this morning and killed. She’s always been a free spirit – we lost her numerous times, but she always found her way home one way or another. If her heart belonged to anyone it was to my eldest daughter E. In recent years the cat lived between us and a neighbour (her and the dog from Greece didn’t hit it off) but whenever E was home she would appear and stay; less of the teenager only coming home for food and occasional rest. E has been here this weekend so we saw her last night and this morning a couple of hours before we got the call. I’m taking comfort from knowing what happened; when and where more or less. I know she would have died instantly. I know she had food in her belly. I know she slept in the warm last night. She was an old lady now – 14 1/2 years we’ve had her but you wouldn’t know it. She still looked like a kitten. I guess she used up her nine lives today.

I’ve spent the day since being sad and resting. I’m not gonna lie I’ve smoked spliff too. It’s helped me rest but not really taken away my grief. It occurred to me that alcohol might; then I realised it had stopped working for me quite a long time before I stopped drinking it. Stopped making the night out really good fun; stopped numbing me out when my feelings overwhelmed me. Instead of being the lubricant for my life it was becoming the life.

When this first starts to happen you just drink more – chasing the feeling and sometimes you find it. Those sweet nights when you and yours laugh so much and put the world to rights through long crazy conversations. Everything feels right. Mostly it eludes you though until the drinking isn’t about having fun anymore; its an end in itself, the main purpose of whatever it is you’re doing; if you’re doing anything at all other than stay home and drink. It’s like you’ve reached your maximum “lifetime consumption with fun” quota. Without noticing you’ve crossed into the “consumed by your addiction unless you stop” stage of your relationship. There’s no going back from here but there is a way forward if you choose to take it.

Knowing this – really knowing that it doesn’t work anymore; in spite of it looking like it’s fun for everybody else; and every form of media that subliminally enters your subconscious telling you it should be fun; when you really know that for you that ship has sailed there’s absolutely no point in having a drink. The first step forward.

So back to the smoking and the grieving. I know it doesn’t work, I don’t even want it to work. I want to mourn my little cat that we loved as much as she’d let us; her company hers to gift when she chose to. So why am I doing it? It’s my comfort blanket but I’m starting to see that it too takes as well as gives. I know I could get more done and have more motivation without it. If I’m about to pull away my safety net and give up my salaried job then I’m thinking it might weigh me down on the tightrope as I step out alone.

So I’m grieving today and being kind to myself, but I’m mindful of my choices. As I started to have these thoughts the song I’ve stolen the title of started playing in my head. They really don’t work for me anymore and I know which way I want to go on the road.

RIP 2005 – 2020

Struggling with acceptance

I mentioned in a previous blogpost that after inspiration from a fellow blogger my word for 2020 would be acceptance. The reason for this choice is that I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to fix things or to change things. Constantly mixing it up and seeking newness and challenges which have also functioned as one big distraction from whatever is really going on inside. I’m not very good at allowing and being so I thought having acceptance as a mantra would help. I’m already being tested by work or rather my feelings and beliefs about work.

I left the NHS almost 4 years ago and now work for a private company that provides very specialised care to young people who would otherwise be in hospital. I love the client group, the team and the model of care but the corporate structures have grown as the company has and I hate all that being a natural born rebel. I tell myself that’s why I left the NHS so what am I doing here? I spoke to someone about going back to the NHS but was reminded that the emphasis on assessment and through put rather than individualised care and treatment was the other reason I left. I wanted to do work I could feel good about. I also struggle with working in the private sector when I’m a socialist as I’m not being true to my core values and beliefs. If I’d stayed in the NHS I could be retiring now so there’s a layer of regret there too. The result of all this agonising is I’m negative and unhappy at work, and I get moody and irritable about it at home. I’ve started working for myself as well and I love that but it is a lot less secure than a salary. How can I accept that work is never going to be perfect so that the imperfections don’t impact my mood and well being so much? Did I leave my last job too hastily? Probably yes but I can’t change that now and I was miserable. Can I improve things in my current job? Things were better for a while when I made a conscious effort to manage my emotions and expectations but since a young person died the negative thinking and reactions have crept back in.

On a seemingly completely different topic I saw a post about a horse for re-homing last night and thought I might look at it; even though I know it would tie me into massive financial and time commitments when I’ve other things I want to do that I struggle to fit in already; as well as wanting to work less if I can. I told myself I’m tied in to working for the foreseeable future so why shouldn’t I spend the money on a horse for me? I am getting less impulsive as I didn’t call immediately but slept on it. Today I’m not so keen and have decided to wait and see what I think in the summer and to let this one pass me by. I think my unconscious mind was getting uneasy about going back to work and hey presto here’s a distraction! If it was hamsters that floated my boat I’d probably have thousands by now! Excitement at the thought of something new blocking out the complicated difficult feelings I have about my job.

So no new horse and no new job for the time being. I will have good days and bad days, probably good hours and bad hours on the same day. Work is like that; life is like that. The problem when you don’t stand still for long is you don’t learn that most things pass by themselves, and nothing is permanent especially not feelings. When our feelings take charge, especially negative ones, then we view life through a shit coloured lens so even when it’s ok we find the bit that isn’t. Our reactions and responses shape what’s around us and if we keep it up long enough it’s a self fulfilling prophecy.

So tomorrow morning before I go in I will do my yoga and meditation and aim to be mindful and calm.

I wrote the above 3 days ago but wasn’t entirely happy with it so it didn’t get posted. I didn’t manage to get up and do yoga but I went to work Wed determined to be positive. In the afternoon I had to go and be part of detaining one of my patients. She’d been found the wrong side of a motorway bridge by the police the night before and was on the local 136 suite (where the police bring people for assessment who they deem are at risk). This was her 5th such assessment in 10 days. We detained her and she kicked off resulting in restraint. I came home feeling both exhausted and agitated. I didn’t sleep well and yesterday all the petty irritations at work got to me and by the end of the day I was in tears. I talked it over with 2 of my lovely colleagues who said they thought I was depressed and should take some time off. I don’t think I am depressed as I’m ok when I’m not at work but when I think about it I’m not very motivated to do anything, can’t get up in the morning and the thoughts that life is a futile exercise and there is no point are never far away. Something about the experience on wed has triggered me; I’ve been in that kind of situation hundreds of times so why now? I would have always drank after a day like that in the past. Now I feel skinless – I have no defences against the pain and misery that is my stock in trade. I can’t do it anymore but I don’t know how to do anything else. I don’t know if I’m absorbing other people’s trauma or if it’s triggering trauma of my own. Am I blaming work for my own weaknesses and faults? Why can’t I just get on with it like normal people do? Why do I feel others pain as if it were my own?

I don’t know the answers to these questions yet. Maybe I never will. Maybe I’m just burnt out after 30 years. I’ve taken the day off today and I’m writing this in bed as I can’t face getting up. I think I’m going to resign and figure out the rest (like how I’m going to pay my bills) whilst I work my notice. Perhaps it’s not just acceptance that I need but courage as well?