Birthday Presents!

I turned 27 yesterday! That means I’m properly in my late twenties now! Hurrah! Also, I have a shiny new toy and am typing this on it! Got a Galaxy tab S2 – go me! So shiny! Much pretty! This is the first top of the range piece of gadgetry that i’ve ever owned. The laptop I bought for undergraduate uni is still clinging on for dear life but good lord, is it sloooooowww. And also large and heavy. And not very portable. It was never top-of-the-range, although it has served me faithfully for 8 years so far.

This on the otherhand is shiny and new! Playing app games on it is actually fun. Tumblr, WordPress and FB work prroperly on it, as opposed to on my old Windows Phone, Lumia 520. I have MS Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote on it so I can do proper work things on it too if I need to (I hope I won’t). I got a nice faux-leather and microfibre cover in turquoise blue with a dinky little bluetooth keyboard for actual typing, and that’s partly why this post – to see how well it works. It’s good so far. Wouldn’t want to type a thesis on it but it works for blogging, which is what I really wanted.

Expect to see me posting more things on tumblr too, now that gifs and pictures load properly (so fast!). I’d forgotten what I was missing!

In more serious news, I’m about a week into my course of zoloft, which I expect I’ll be on until the Spring at least. Turns out my brain wasn’t quite as recovered as I’d hoped. My mood had been going downhill for a number of weeks to the point that people at work had noticed and I was being terribly short-tempered with Squishy at home, feeling sad and worried for no concrete reason (I mean, there is a concrete reason – my brain doesn’t make as much serotonin as it perhaps should) but I had a list of worries a mile long with nothing specific to point to.

In thinking about it with a long view, realistically I’ve suffered with depression and anxiety to varying degrees since I was a teenager. My first depressive episode lasted about 6 months, and started when I was 15. I was ok from then until about 2nd yr Uni when my beloved Pompa (Grandad) died, which triggered an episode that lasted about 6 months, maybe longer. Starting on the pill made me depressed again – for about 3 months, until I stopped taking it. I started to recover – finished 3rd Yr, moved to Scouseland for the PhD. Cue going rapidly downhill as I was stranded without any real support network close by, close on the heels of my parents’ separation, with PhD supervisors who were utter bollocks, and all of the general PhD stress, which is well documented here. So, a relatively brief period of depression as a teen, followed by roughly 2 years depression/anxiety through undergrad, followed by 4.5 years of depression/anxiety as a PhD student.

Looking back over my university years, depression and anxiety have dogged my steps the whole way. Six and a half years of up and down mental health, severely aggravated by the very nature of higher academic study. Is it any surprise then that maybe I’m not as recovered as I hoped?

People say there’s no shame in taking medication for badbrain issues. And not just people in general, but my specific people, my friends, my family. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a little disheartening to be on meds again. Doesn’t mean my jerkbrain doesn’t try to skew it as failure, as weakness.

My history of depression and anxiety as a young adault (and I am no longer a Young Adult according to demographics questions!) makes it likely that I’ll have to manage it for many years, if not all the rest of my adult life. Which means maybe I could or should switch to thinking about myself as a person with a mental health disability. And that is something to consider and not take lightly.

I mean, I am quite matter-of-fact about my mental health troubles with friends and acquaintances. I am now out about it to my line manager at work, as well as half the team. I don’t want to use it to make excuses anymore. I just have to live with it, manage it, take care of myself, and be aware that it’s a thing that I struggle with occassionally. Which is an okay place to be.

Anyway, I hope you and yours are okay, especially in light of recent events.

Reflections on this Year of Upheaval

I’ve been itching to get back to this blog so here we are! Hope life’s been treating you passably well in my absence?

I’ve been in my new job in Medical Communications for two and a half months and it’s going well so far. I passed my six-week review with flying colours and a short-ish list of things to work on. My colleagues are lovely people and the team is working really well together. After a slow start, my primary project has kicked off and I have plenty to keep me busy. I’m learning loads on the job as I go, and while it’s been difficult at points, it’s great to develop a whole flotilla of non-science skills. My job is a combination of events planner, project manager and client handler, so it’s very, very different to the PhD.

The commuting is taxing but I’m handling it much better than I thought I would. What annoys me most is the truly awful mobile internet coverage. It’s sooooo patchy and intermittent, it’s impossible to browse the internet properly and means I can’t use the considerable time spent on the train to either work, play or blog in any meaningful way. Not having a Tablet or iPad etc also doesn’t help matters so it’s on my birthday wish list!

What I am finding difficult at work is the occasional anxiety. I know the two key situations where it flares up. First, checking emails when I, for whatever reason, fear I might be in trouble and that the email will be the bearer of bad news. It doesn’t stop me getting work done but I am aware when I’m averse to checking my email because of fear, and it’s more often than I like. The thing I’m afraid of – being in trouble – has yet to happen and I hope that the more I put myself through the momentary fear and anxiety, the easier it will become. I know why it frightens me too – stupid PhD hangover from dealing with awful, bullying supervisors, but that doesn’t make it any easier to make the dread go away! *Sigh*.

The second situation is in asking for help/doing something new with too little instruction – I don’t like interrupting people and ugh, what if I get/do the thing wrong? Being aware that that’s what the anxiety is about does help a bit, and again, it’s not crippling, it’s just unpleasant. I figure as long as I try to be aware of the low level anxiety and keep an eye out for if it gets worse, I’ll be okay.

Because that’s the other thing – I’ve been off citalopram since the middle of August. I’d weaned down to 10 mg/daily and had been there for over a month and then I, after a conversation with my GP, stopped taking it all together. I have a back up prescription of  Sertraline/Zoloft just in case but I’m seeing how long I can go without to see if the depression that’s been dragging at my heels for the last 5 years is in remittance for the time being. And actually right now, I’m pretty much fine. Mainly what I’m waiting for is the last of the citalopram side effects to disappear.

The weight I gained hasn’t gone anywhere but I’m not taking active steps to see if I can shift it because body-positivity and laziness. (Frankly, I just love cake! And sweets, and chocolate, and popcorn, and alcohol… You know, all the tasty things). The boobs leaking tiny quantities of milk (galactorrhea) stopped within a few weeks of ceasing citalopram and my sex drive has slowly been returning, which is a huge relief. Nothing like feeling guilty because you don’t want sex as often as your partner after previously having a vigorous and highly regular sex life with them! My periods still haven’t returned but that may partly be because of the Mirena coil rather than the citalopram alone.

The downside is that my Reynaud’s Syndrome has returned with a vengeance. I am feeling the autumnal cold in the mornings like nobody’s business and washing my hands under too cold water is guaranteed to turn my fingers white. SSRIs have been noted as relieving Reynaud’s and part of me is considering taking the sertraline just so I don’t have to be cold all the time throughout winter. Which, may not be the best reason for taking it, especially as I don’t know how else it will affect me, but not having to deal with the Reynaud’s would be nice!

I figure once I’m back to “normal” and have settled there for a while I’ll start taking sertaline for a trial period and see how it goes. Because whilst the anxiety isn’t stopping me from living my life, I have been feeling more emotional and prone to tears than I would like, and I don’t know if that’s just me, having feelings and being better at being aware of them, or whether it’s an *Issue*.  My Beck Depression Inventory-II score is 7 (“not depressed”) if I’m really fishing to answer any of the questions with anything other than 0, whereas back in January 2015 it was around 25-30 – which scores as moderate-to-severe depression. So that’s not actually a problem to be worried about right now, which is bloomin’ marvelous! Seriously, if you’d asked me back in January, or hell, even in June, before my graduation and landing this job in Med Comms, whether I’d be feeling this well by now, I think I’d have strangled you just for asking, and then burst into tears about how awful my life was.

Let’s just take a look at a post from February, after I’d handed in my PhD Thesis for comparison.

“The only downside to all of this was that emotionally I was still a wreck. I cried/had hysterics once a day for over a fortnight. I.e. things were not that great. I was massively anxious and panicking about my future and all the things I have to do over the next several months. The list is as follows:

  1. Prepare for my Viva Voce exam
  2. Start claiming Jobseekers Allowance (JSA)
  3. Job hunt for temp work while I prep for my viva
  4. Job hunt for permanent work, probably in the Med Comms industry
  5. Move in with Squishy in deepest darkest Kent, i.e. a long way away from where most of the Med Comms companies are, likely necessitating communting into London for work, the thing I said I’d never do.

So, no biggie, right? All small, minor obstacles that can easily be overcome, right?

Wrong!

Try major, stress-inducing issues, each with their own set of sub-tasks and problems. All at once, when I’m still physically, emotionally and mentally exhausted from finishing my thesis.”

Soooo, I wasn’t in the best place in the world but it’s inspiring to look at that list and see that I’ve handled all of those things.

I had my viva, and passed it well. I went on JSA and found a part-time job to keep body and soul together and get some relevant work experience (organising travel and booking hotel rooms was one of the reasons my company gave me the job!). I landed a job in Med Comms which suits me, that I’m enjoying and want to stay in for the foreseeable future and which pays reasonably well. And finally, I’ve moved in with Squishy and have been living with him for over 7 months and it’s good! It’s not 100% to my liking but that’s because housework sucks and we both work long hours and spend upwards of 20 hours a week each commuting to London, on top of the hours we actually spend at work. So when we do see each other in the  evenings, we’re usually both tired and hungry and have to be up again for work in not enough hours.

Three months ago, I literally couldn’t see myself where I am now and for that I am deeply grateful.

 

Reflections on finishing my PhD

Unlike my usual self, I’ve been lost for words lately. Many of my posts about my PhD experience have been word vomits – chucking all my strong feelings at the page and just letting it all out in the hopes that it begins to make sense to me, and that I can calm myself in the process. Writing here has been a vital safety valve, both for the virtues of the process itself and the support you my readers have given me.

The thing is, at the moment, life is pretty cushty. I’m settled in with Squisher, our house looks like a proper grown-up house, we get to chill out in each others’ company of an evening and at weekends. My PhD is finally, completely, utterly finished. My corrections have been accepted and I will be graduating on the 22nd July which is only a few weeks away. Soon, very soon, I will never have to interact with my wretched supervisor again. Once I have his reference, and have handed my lab boooks and laptop back to the lab, I am done. With him and with it.

The approaching freedom is so close I can taste it. Continue reading

Unexpected Feels: Safety, Failure, and Loss

Let’s start with the good news.

First, I have completely unpacked all my belongings and found homes for everything. The dining room is no longer a mountain of boxes and it has a dining table which is doubling up as my desk at the moment. I also found curtains for the living room. Second, with the help of Mum, I’ve finished digging up the weeds in the garden and sown my flower seeds. She also identified all the mystery shrubs. There’s a Weigela, a Ceanothus and a Hydrangea. There’s also a Himalayan Honeysuckle which is in bud. Very exciting!

In the interesting news category, this coming week is my last at the RCN. I am sad to be leaving but also grateful as I had reached the limits of the interesting bits of the job and have spent the last two weeks bored out of my skull with not quite enough to do. I am however going to miss my paycheck, especially as I don’t have anything lined up for when I get back from sailing.

Speaking of which, I’m going sailing on the Stavros in a week’s time! Much Excite! Southampton to Cardiff with a sea shanty group! Hopefully the weather will have the correct amount of wind, in the right direction. The bad news is that we are currently lacking enough Watch Leaders and Deckhands. I hope to Neptune they fill the volunteer crew positions in time else I am going to be VERY busy.

Pink weigela flowers

Flowering Weigela – very pretty!

In between all the things I’ve been doing lately, I’ve been having some interesting emotional outbursts. I’ll just start feeling sad for what seems like no reason and then tears follow. Continue reading

Citalopram Side-Effects

Soooo, I’ve been taking Celexa/Citalopram for 6 months now. Two months ago we increased my dose to 40 mg/day because I was sufferring badly with depression and anxiety symptoms.

Two weeks after handing in my thesis, I had a PHQ-9 score of 11 and a GAD-7 score of 14, flagging up as moderate depression and moderate generalised anxiety. I was having crying boughts/hysterics every day, nightmares *every* night and what I now know is “sleep maintenance insomnia”, which is where you wake up in the small hours of the morning and are unable to get back into (a deep) sleep. I couldn’t make any decisions and trying to plan anything resulted in my mind going completely blank with fear and dread. Alternatively, my mind would get stuck in a loop of a list of all the things I have to do and the order in which to do them. So I’d decide “first this then that, then the other thing….” ending up with a massive list and yet being unable to complete even the “simplest” first task on the list, which would be something like “get out of bed” or “put on clothes” or “clean teeth”.

After upping the the dose to 40 mg, these problems slowly subsided, particularly the anxiety-type symptoms, only to be replaced with crushing anhedonia. This alleviated after two to three weeks of being on the higher dose. After that time, I started my new job at the RCN (which is going really well by the way!).

Turns out I am capable of getting up in the morning, doing the London commute (only by avoiding the Central line entirely!), and turning up to work *on time*. Turning up on time was emphatically NOT something I was capable of whilst doing the PhD, to the point that I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to manage it on the job. So, winning so far.

Once at work, I can make polite/friendly conversation and LEARN NEW THINGS. Yes!

AND…. *drumroll please*…. NOT dick about on Facebook/Wordpress/Tumblr/the Internets in general aaaaall day. Again, not my strong suit whilst doing the PhD. This equals win number 3.

So, it’s sounding good, right?

The downsides are:

  1. Still suffering the with sleep maintenance insomnia
  2. Still suffering with nightmares/bad dreams
  3. Being so tired when I get home after work that I basically go straight to bed. I didn’t used to be a bed-by-9pm gal. This has affected my plans for working on my thesis/reading papers for a couple of hours every evening, which is really, really bad given how close my viva is.
  4. Libido, what libido? Squishy has been like “sex? pretty please?” and I’m like “nah, not really feeling it”. This is SO UNLIKE me, you don’t even know! I haven’t even felt inclined to masturbate. Sad, sad times.
  5. Rapid weight gain. I’ve gone up to a size 18 for my jeans, which I noticed round about Christmas, and when I weighed myself for the first time in months, turns out I’ve gained over a stone (14 lbs for you Americans). That is a lot to gain in the space of a few months.

Guess who’s going back to her GP! Perhaps once her viva is out of the way…

 

Exciting Life Updates!

So I started my part-time job this week working for the Royal College of Nursing! It’s for 3 months, which is pretty much ideal whilst I hunt for permanent work in sci comms/med comms and get through my viva (and do post-viva corrections/paper writing). I’m arranging travel so it’s not overly exciting but it pays all right, and hot damn, if it isn’t a good feeling to be off jobseekers. Everyone’s been really friendly so far and the office and building are really nice. Also the food in the canteen is yummy. Always a bonus. 🙂 Continue reading

Motivation vs Guilt

Welp, you know you’re having a bad day when you don’t even want to binge-watch your favourite TV shows.

Turns out, texting my beloved friends and family to say “I feel awful and I can’t muster up the energy to do anything” results in phone calls with conversations that make me feel better. Who knew?!

I spent more than two hours in bed this morning after I woke up and it wasn’t the fun kind of staying in bed where you’re glued to the pages of your current novel, but the bad kind of staying in bed where you stare at the wall thinking “I should get up”. “I ought to get dressed.” “I need to take my meds”. “It’s a lovely day outside, I could go for a walk” – “But that involves getting up, and putting on clothes, and eating food, and going outside”.

I didn’t even want to read my latest Terry Pratchett novel. I read a few pages and then was completely underwhelmed with disinterest.

I didn’t want to play the piano. I didn’t want to bake a cake. I didn’t want to go outside. Hell, I didn’t even want to blog, even though writing down my feelings and my thoughts makes me feel better, every time. I got as far as the opening sentence above, and gave up. Continue reading

Unwinding after my Thesis Submission and the Next Steps

So, hello, how are you all?

I’ve been unwinding and relaxing after handing in my PhD Thesis and working out my next steps.

Handing in my thesis went without a hitch and I didn’t stop grinning for two days, I was so relieved! I also spent most of those two days asleep, which was sorely needed after running on adrenaline and caffeine and too little sleep for the better part of two weeks. Continue reading