Tired.

Tired of:… Laying awake as the thoughts tumble around inside my brain.

… Looking at the scars on my arm, wondering if they’ll ever fade.

… Looking at the people looking at my scars, wondering if they’re wondering where they came from.

… Questioning every thought, is it my own? Logical? Illogical? Rational? Irrational?

… Being paralysed from making a decision, so scared about the foundations of my own judgement.

… Being sensible and trying to do the right thing.

… The same old shit. Every day. The same old feelings that this will never end.

… Putting a positive spin on things. 

… Championing a decision not to harm myself as some sort of victory.

… My head spinning every time I stand up.

… Being overweight and useless.

… Making excuses for being overweight and useless. 

… Pain.

… Explaining myself over and over, but nobody understanding.

… Feeling alone.

… Trying to get the puppy to walk properly on the lead.

… Being on the brink of tears.

… Being on the brink of explosion.

… Being on the brink of anything.

… Hoping that somebody who can bring my writing to a bigger audience, will notice my writing.

… Questioning this whole open and honest endeavour. Is it working? Is it helping others? Is it helping me?

… Leaning on others.

… Being a burden.

… Wondering what the hell i’m gonna do with my life.

… Shutting others out, when I’d just learnt to let them in.

… Intentionally listening to sad music.

… The circular nature of life.

… Hoping for a change that never comes.

… Despair.

… Being tired.

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Tired.

Medicated. Pt 2.

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Continued….

Following this latest development, I went back to the GP. We discussed my options (limited as they were, as GP’s have a much shorter list of drugs at their disposal than a specialist) and we settled upon Duloxetine. Duloxetine is an SNRI (Serotonin-Noradrenalne Reuptake Inhibitor). An SNRI is basically the same as an SSRI, with the added benefit of supposedly increasing Noradrenaline levels as well as Serotonin. I’ve been unable to find a decent explanation of Noradrenaline (also known as Norepinephrine), so I’ll provide a brief synopsis of what I’ve learnt. Noradrenaline is a hormone and neurotransmitter produced by the adrenal gland. It is normally produced in times of stress and is the trigger that gets your blood pumping and your heart pounding. It is effectively the fight or flight mechanism that prepares your body to respond to stress.

My GP had dealt with a person similar to myself in the past and found that Duloxetine had been very beneficial for him, with regards to his anxiety and irritable bowel. Sign me up, I said. It has to be better than Sertraline. Before I continue, I’m going to take you back and remind you of something that I said earlier, you know, about how transitioning drugs was “the WORST”. Well this is the point point at which I made this discovery.

Ordinarily in this situation, you would be tapered from one drug and onto the other. In this case, that didn’t apply. The GP’s computer said that it was fine to completely stop Sertraline and go straight onto Duloxetine, so that’s what I did. And I was a mess. I won’t go too much into detail right now, save to say that my self harming went through the roof. I became completely irrational and ended up trying to strangle myself with my own t-shirt, having ripped it pro-wrestler style straight off my body. It was the WORST. There are several reasons for this; many anti-depressants have severe withdrawal symptoms if stopped incorrectly, it can take several weeks for the new medication to work, your body is awash with different drugs. So, you are effectively swimming in chemicals, none of which are actually working for you and combatting your depression/anxiety.

This WORST-ness went on for several weeks. It was hell. Literal hell. I didn’t know if I was coming or going. When I thought I was being completely rational and seeing things clearly, I was actually being nuts. So I didn’t know what was what. I never knew if I was feeling rational and normal because I was rational and normal, or because I simply believed that I was. I was permanently on edge, bordering on the brink of breaking down and freaking out. All day, every day. It was exhausting (having researched Duloxetine further for this blog, it’s now quite obvious to me why this was occurring, I was in permanent fight or flight mode AND I’ve also seen that recent studies have shown that SNRIs may have pain relieving properties, which is not so great for self harming!). Things got so bad that my GP made an urgent referral to the local mental health crisis team, with a request that I be seen within 24 hours. Several weeks – and multiple calls from the GP, myself and Frankie – later (don’t let them tell you the NHS isn’t up shit creek), I finally had my urgent appointment with a psychiatric doctor.

For the first time, I found myself talking to somebody who had a detailed knowledge of the medications available to treat my conditions (but for only 30 of my scheduled 60 mins, as they’d double booked the second half of my appointment). The GP had done his best, but now it was time to brush aside his puny list and access the good stuff.

The psych Doctor recommended that I come off of Duloxetine and onto a combination of Pregabalin and Mirtazapine. Pregabalin is used mainly to treat epilepsy and certain types of pain, but it is also used for generalised anxiety disorder. To put it very, very, very simply (I am neither a doctor or scientist), Pregabalin is believed to work within your body to calm the damaged or overactive nerves that cause pain. It does this by binding to “over-excited” pre-synaptic neurones, reducing the release of excitatory neurotransmitters (those neurotransmitters again!). Mirtazapine is used in partnership to provide the anti-depressant element and was a must according to the doc. It works in a similar way to other antidepressants (affecting both Serotonin and Noradrenaline), but differs slightly in so much as it only stimulates one type of Serotonin receptor. It is also prescribed to people with insomnia as the “sedative effects lessen the hyperarousal which prevents people getting to sleep, whilst increasing the stages of slow wave, restorative sleep”.

This time around, I got to taper. Therefore whilst lowering my dose of Duloxetine, I was building my dose of Pregabalin and Mirtazapine. Once again, I was awash with chemicals and a mess. But a different kind of mess. A sleepy, dozey, dopey mess. This seemed very much tied to the Mirtazapine, and it’s sleep inducing properties. Like most anxious people, I struggle with sleep. My brain simply will not stop ticking over, it never gets tired, never stops thinking about what could have been and what might be. As I mentioned earlier, I hate not being in control and in particular the feeling of anaesthesia. So, something that was forcing me to go to sleep, was never going to go down too well. I fought it, got up, paced around, smacked myself in the face. Anything to avoid the induced sleep!

After a few days, this issue ceased to become relevant. I was such a mindless zombie, I had no bloody idea I was even being put to sleep, let alone an ability to fight it. I also aided the cause by taking the tablets last thing at night – literally in bed. After 10 days (just as the zombie effect was wearing off), I was fully off Duloxetine and had Pregabalin and Mirtazapine upped to a therapeutic dose. Once again I was part of the walking dead, waking to a fog that hung around till late afternoon. I was completely incapable of moving quickly or standing up, let alone driving. My co-ordination was off, any minor movement causing my head to spin. Putting the dog on the lead was a monumental task that required a good sit down when completed (sorry Lyla for all the times you were ready for a walk and I sat back down again).

Things got dark again. I woke up every morning dreading the day ahead. Questioning why I would bother to put myself through life as a zombie. I wholeheartedly convinced myself I was better off dead. Fully, fully convinced myself that I’d finally worked it all out, life was a cycle that lead nowhere and I wanted to break that cycle. Once again, timely intervention was all that came between me and a Viking burial (I’m being serious by the way, put me in a boat with a sword, push it out to sea/river/lake/any bit of water you can find and fire flaming arrows at it). The erratic behaviour returned, as did the panic attacks. I couldn’t be trusted to make the most basic decisions for myself and began to self harm again. All of this lasted for around ten days in total.

After this time, with each passing day the dizziness abated a little further. The self harm and thoughts of killing myself became less frequent (although I did come very close to throwing myself out of a moving car) whilst the feeling like a zombie completely disappeared (trust me, I’m sat here writing this at 2am with no obvious sleep in sight), only to be replaced with a hair trigger temper and an overwhelming sense of irritability. And that’s pretty much where we stand right now, a couple of weeks into my therapeutic dose. Wide awake, freshly scarred and with my brain ticking over like crazy as I question myself about the whole experience…

Have I found a magic cure? No. Do I feel better? Well, I feel better than two weeks ago, but I’m not sure I’m better than when I started taking the meds. Have I stopped feeling anxious? No. Depressed? No. Suicidal? No. Have I stopped self harming? No. Do I know which thoughts are my own? No. Can I tell when I’m being rational/irrational? No. Can I trust myself? No. DO THE DRUGS WORK, DAMN IT? No idea.

My end goal remains the same though; to conquer this with more than medication. I’m certainly not trying any other meds, not transitioning onto anything else ever again. I’ve given it a good shot and if the current lot don’t work, so be it, cos I ain’t trying anything else.

Once again, I’m not sure if this is helpful, but I’m hopeful that it is. Maybe as a warning that you aren’t just going to begin medication and feel suddenly better, or as a comfort that you aren’t the only one struggling. As ever, please feel free to contact me if you’re experiencing similar – or have a loved one going through this, I’m happy to share experiences, provide advice where I can and just have a general chit chat if that’s all you want.

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Medicated. Pt 2.

Medicated. Pt 1.

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Recently, I have been trying and failing to write a new blog post. Trying and failing to sort out the antiquated layout of my blog site. Trying and failing to stop being a burden to those around me. Trying and failing to stand up without feeling like I’m gonna fall down. Trying and failing to be rational. Trying and failing to see the worth in my own life.

A contributing factor for these failings is my medication. I will forgive you for thinking “hang on, isn’t medication supposed to make you better?”. Because you’re right, it is supposed to make you fell better. But when it comes to mental health, it often doesn’t. And when it comes to transitioning from one set of medication to another, it really, really doesn’t.

Currently, I find myself transitioning again and I’m trying and failing to find an eloquent way to describe how it feels… All I can come up with is, that it is the WORST (honourable mention to the losing contenders, “hella bad” and “the drizzling shits”). From what I have read on forums and message boards, I can only conclude that I am not alone in my experiences. So, given that this is my blog, it seems only right that I should inform you of these experiences.

Back when this all started happening (the anxiety and depression, not the blog) and it was becoming apparent that I had a real problem, I was reticent to go down the route of medication. This feeling stemmed from a simple and logical idea; I did not want to become reliant on drugs just to feel normal. I wanted to get through it using only counselling.

I hate not being in control of myself, it’s part of the reason I’ve never been a big drinker. Don’t get me wrong, I like a few drinks on a night out, but just enough to get me tipsy and relax a little. I freak out at the first sign that the room is spinning. And you certainly don’t want to see me under the threat of anaesthesia – most medical personnel are rightly wary of a fella who is 6’1”, 14 stone and kicking off about going under. It’s just the way I’m wired. I’ve always been this way, so becoming reliant on medication for my mental wellbeing was never something I would pursue easily. But as we all know, things change. And they changed for me.

I had been at a family wedding, consumed a few alcoholic drinks and enjoyed myself. I went to bed, the room wasn’t spinning, I didn’t feel sick, I wasn’t stumbling or slurring. I wasn’t drunk. I felt fine. And then suddenly I didn’t. My thoughts turned dark. Depression washed over me, no doubt aided by the alcohol – a depressant in its own right. I plotted ways to kill myself. And not in a vague “if I were to ever kill myself, I’d do it by…” way. I was specific. I was thinking about it in a “I’m gonna get the dressing gown cords, make them into a noose, hang them over the other side of the door and attach them to the door handle, then hang myself” way. Luckily, Frankie woke up, saw that I wasn’t right and nipped it in the bud.

Due to the actions of that night, my initial plan for a drug free recovery went out of the window. Clearly, counselling wasn’t enough. I was still suffering severe panic attacks, daily bouts of anxiety and my depression had grown to suicidal levels. I had to consider medication.

I went to my GP, explained what had happened and was informed that my first port of call would be Sertraline. Sertraline is part of a group of drugs knowns as SSRI’s (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors). The following is directly lifted from the NHS website “Serotonin is a neurotransmitter (a messenger chemical that carries signals between nerve cells in the brain). It’s thought to have a good influence on mood, emotion and sleep. After carrying a message, serotonin is usually reabsorbed by the nerve cells (known as “reuptake”). SSRIs work by blocking (“inhibiting”) reuptake, meaning more serotonin is available to pass further messages between nearby nerve cells”.

I wonder if you’ve picked out the same thing from that excerpt as I did…. “It’s thought”. That’s right. Not known. Not proven. Just thought. And it gets better, “It’s thought that SSRIs work by increasing serotonin levels in the brain”. So we think we have an idea of what Serotonin does, and we think that SSRIs work by increasing it!

SSRIs are mainly used to treat depression, but can also be used for anxiety. So, I proceeded… and it wasn’t actually that bad (aside from a few side effects – google them and you’ll see what I’m talking about). The depression kind of hung around, but my anxiety began to reduce and my stomach problems all but vanished, leaving me no longer bound by a need to be within walking distance of a toilet. Sertraline worked. Until it suddenly didn’t. And I mean it really didn’t. Seemingly out of nowhere, I found myself locked in the bathroom with a razor blade, cutting my arms.

To be continued…

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Medicated. Pt 1.

Mind Team 6

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Hi. Let me start by introducing myself. My name is Steven Edwards, I am 33 years old and married to a beautiful woman called Frankie, as well as being ‘daddy’ to a mischievous puppy named Lyla. I have lived my whole life in East London/Essex and have been a Police Officer for almost 10 years. I am an amateur writer and Liverpool FC supporter, who loves nothing more than a round of golf in the sunshine. I am also somebody who has experienced problems with my mental health, having been diagnosed with both an anxiety disorder and depression. You have probably found yourself here because you are now aware that I will be taking part in a charity challenge – The Snowdon Multi-Activity Challenge on behalf of Mind. The challenge involves; Cycling 17km around the lake shore of Llyn Padarn, followed by climbing to the summit of Snowdon – 15km, 1085m high. We will then descend back down and Kayak for 4km around Llyn Padarn. Initially I was going to undertake a challenge alone, but as my battle with my mental health has required a strong team around me, it seemed only appropriate that my battle against Snowdon should involve the same. I will therefore be joined on this challenge by my wife, Frankie Edwards, my brother Tommy Edwards, my sister-in-law Roberta Cefai and my friends Anthony Crammer and Brad Frankel. I’m sure you’ll agree it’s a fine team, and well deserving of the moniker ‘“Mind Team 6”.

So, why did we choose to raise money for Mind? Mind is an organisation that provides advice and support to anybody experiencing a mental health problem. They campaign to improve services, raise awareness and promote understanding. Mind are also particularly aware that people like myself – who work and volunteer within the emergency services – are at an increased risk of experiencing a mental health problem compared to the general population, and delivered the Blue Light Programme in response to this issue.

Due to the Blue Light Programme, I was led to contact Mind and subsequently put in touch with my local Mind centre. I discovered that Mind were no longer able to deliver certain services for free, as they had done in the past, due to lack of funding. Whilst the costs are still incredibly low when compared to the benefits that you receive from them – and cheaper than pursuing such help privately – it is obviously an obstacle for people who simply cannot afford it.

I am fortunate. I have a loving family, willing to support me both emotionally and financially through my problems. My GP has been incredibly helpful, relentlessly pursuing NHS mental health services to get me the help I need. My friends have also been incredibly supportive, being available to talk when I need them, or keep me company when I feel low and alone. I have also been incredibly lucky to receive great support from my line managers at work, who have always put my health first, throughout my troubled times. But despite all of this support, I have still struggled. I therefore cannot begin to imagine what it feels like for those who are unfortunate enough to not receive such support at work or at home, and it is for people like these that Mind really exists.

Even in 2016, there is still a stigma attached to mental health and it is perhaps around this issue that Mind does it’s most valuable work. Awareness needs to be raised around the seriousness of the issue and the need for early intervention and support. Mental health problems are extremely prevalent in modern society, yet are often acknowledged with nothing more than a simple “pull yourself together, you’ll be fine”. Sometimes this is due to ignorance, but mostly it’s down to a simple lack of education.

For the vast majority of the time that I have been experiencing my problems, my family simply had no idea as to what was the right thing to say or do. And a major factor towards that was that neither did I. We spent a lot of time looking for help in all the wrong places. That wasn’t because people didn’t care, they simply didn’t know what to do. I spent a very long time thinking that I would merely snap out of it. That I was just being weak and could get my head straight with a few simple counselling sessions. I was wrong and wish I had known then, what I know now. Hopefully by continuing to raise awareness, Mind can prevent others from taking the same route that I have.

So, why did we choose the Snowdon Multi Activity Challenge? Firstly we wanted to pick a challenge that was truly that, a challenge. Something that would test us physically and emotionally. Something that didn’t require us to just do a bit of running or walking in preparation. We aim to train together and complete the challenge together. Physical wellbeing is a huge part of mental wellbeing.

On a personal note, I wanted to do this challenge (and do it for Mind) because I wanted to be clear as to my reasons for taking part. As I’ve mentioned above, there is a stigma around mental health that means many of us keep our issues to ourselves. I wanted to overcome my own anxiety about opening up. Not only for myself, but hopefully as a message to others who may be experiencing similar problems to mine. The more people that you tell, the more people that can help.

I am still very much in the midst of my problems. I still experience high levels of anxiety (often for no reason at all) on a daily basis, as well as dark bouts of depression. I take medication. I self harm. I feel suicidal. I lock myself away and shut down. But, as we speak I’m beginning to show signs of improvement. Having a goal (and a change in medication!) added to the love and support I receive from the people around me, is beginning to make a difference. I’m sure that there will be bumps on the road ahead, but at least I’m finally on the right road (the road to Snowdon!).

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Mind Team 6

Today. Today. Today.

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My first post since ‘the big reveal.’ To be honest, I thought my first blog post would be about something that has happened in the past. I wanted to write something that people in my position can identify with, to tell them, “you are not alone”. But, feeling how I’m feeling today, I can’t help but start here. For myself. For my sanity. So I apologise if this first post seems self indulgent and I hope you’ll allow me a pass on this.

Today. Today. Today. I feel overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by the support I’ve received via text message, whatsapp, Facebook etc. Honestly, it’s amazing. I didn’t expect to raise so much, so quickly. I also feel overwhelmed emotionally. I struggle to understand and process my emotions when it comes to the little things, like choosing what to eat. So trying to process the flood of emotions and sheer volume of input I have right now is hard. Too hard.

I would assume (and I know we shouldn’t assume anything, but once again, indulge me) that most people would be expecting me to be in good spirits today. Happy to be raising sponsorship. Happy to be raising awareness. But I’m not. I’m low. Lower than a snakes belly. I cannot cope.

I apologise that this is scatter gun, but that’s how I feel so I’m gonna roll with it. Ordinarily when I write I go over and over it. Changing words, punctuation. I like flow. I like structure. I like telling a story. Today that all goes in the purple bin (tip of the cap to Jurgen Klopp). I’m writing it as it comes. I’m not gonna read back over it. It is what it is. I’m not even writing on my laptop. I’m sat in Nandos on my phone (I’ll try to get to that). So, this may be the worst piece I’ve ever written. I would kindly request you forgive me, I promise it will be better in the future, please come back.

Overwhelmed. Last night I nearly deleted my Facebook account. The notifications. The messages telling me how brave I was. I couldn’t hack it. I can’t hack it. I felt stupid, not brave. I still feel stupid now. Bravery is some of the things I’ve had to do at work. Bravery is going to war. Bravery is fighting cancer, standing up for your rights, defending those who cannot defend themselves. I just did something I’m good at. I wrote a post on Facebook. Writing what I did was a piece of piss. It’s not hard for me. I find it easy. Bravery isn’t easy. Posting it was hard, I will concede. I still don’t know if I regret it. Being so open. Displaying myself to the world (well, Facebook). I think I do regret it. Hopefully more good will come from it than bad.

Last night. I sat there alone. I’m not at home. I’m staying with my in laws. We’ve found its better that I’m around people than on my own (more on that another time). I’m staying in my brother-in-law’s bedroom, he’s at uni. Anyway, I’m sat there alone. I’m freaking out about what I’ve done. Everybody knows. Are they gonna treat me differently? Are they gonna look at me funny? Maybe I should just fuck Facebook off. I can’t decide. I need a release. Maybe I should cut my arms? Sometimes it helps. No. Not again. Turn the lights off. That way you can’t see anything you can use. Fuck it, just scratch. Sometimes it helps. I scratch and scratch and scratch. I message Bertie (my sister-in-law). She’s very good in these situations. No point calling Frankie, she’s 200 miles away. She’ll just worry. Don’t worry her. Where’s Bertie? Has she got my message? Is she coming? Scratch some more. Harder. That will work. My phones ringing, it’s Bertie. She asks if she should come up and check on me. I say yes. Shall I delete Facebook? Make it all go away?

Bertie says stop. She reasons with me. Rational me says, what have you done? Irrational me says WHAT HAVE YOU FUCKING DONE?! THAT WAS FUCKING STUPID. We converse. Bertie, rational me and irrational me. After a while I calm. I’m still not sure I’m happy about what I’ve done. I’ve taken my meds. They don’t seem to be working yet, still coming off the old ones. At least I’m calm now. And that was nothing compared to what’s happened in the past.

Today. Today. Today. I’m in the car. Gotta go to the big Sainsbury’s, get dog food. Lyla has become fussy, she needs two foods mixed together now. We’ve run out of one. I’ll go get it. Stick some tunes on. The sun is shining. 2Pac – So Many Tears. Well that’s brought me down. Fuck. I can’t do this. I can’t go through with this. Should I park the car? Find somewhere to hang myself? What would I use? Fuck knows. Oh my god. This is all too much. Next tune. J. Cole – Breakdown. Why the two saddest hip hop tunes in a row? Where are the bitches? The guns? The money? Fuck fuck fuck. I’m crying. Despairing. I need to pull over. I’m stuck in roadworks, nowhere to go. Seriously. I am full on crying, sobbing in the car. Where did that come from? I can’t handle this. I really really can’t do it. Sack it all off.

No. Call Frankie. She can help. I call, she answers. She loves me. She’s gonna see me tonight. Things will be ok. I’m not sure. I need to park. She says let the tears out. I need to. I can’t though. I’ve stopped now. Holding them back. I’m sat in the car for fucks sake. Can’t have everybody seeing me ball my eyes out. I’m going into the nearest car park. I’ll call her later, gonna lose signal. I love her. Not too keen on myself though. I park.

I wander around Chester. So many pairs of trainers I want. I fucking love trainers. Nothing like a new pair of trainers fresh out the box. I’m gonna get Nandos. I’m hungry. Food normally helps. Have to be careful though, my meds increase appetite and I’ve already gained a load of weight. The nice man greets me as I come in. He asks if I want to sit near the front door, you can’t get mobile signal anywhere else. That’s thoughtful. He’s considered that I’m on my own. I’m probably gonna want signal on my phone to occupy myself whilst I wait for my food. I like that. Very considerate. Nice man.

I sit down. I take out my phone. I start to write.

Today. Today. Today…

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Today. Today. Today.