Catching my Breath

For the first time in 3 months I have the luxury of time. Since my last post I have been working 7 day weeks, travelling non-stop for work or family events and trying to fit in those pesky little essentials: eating & sleeping. Two weeks ago I flew to Australia for a long-anticipated Xmas break. The first 2 weeks taken up with family events & social niceties but finally, this week, I checked into a beach side retreat for 2 days and, luxury of luxuries: I caught my breath! I’m not ashamed to admit that I “wasted” several hours playing on my iPad. Or that I spent a considerable portion of my first day sleeping away the beautiful sunlight. I’ll even admit that right now, instead of rushing out to explore Melbourne, I’m relaxing in my hotel lounge, drinking the free whiskey & waiting for them to bring out the free cake I’ve heard rumours of. I am well and truly “switched off”.

Unlike others who choose to disconnect from their work email when on holiday, I still have mine running on my phone. I check in every couple of days to see what’s happening & I delete the nonsense. (I like returning to a spam-free inbox.) Unlike other holidays though, I merely mark the important ones for follow up & then forget all about them. There have been several times I could have dropped a quick one-liner in reply, but I resisted by chanting the following rule: is this important enough to break the illusion that I’m uncontactable? We all know that as soon as we send that first fatal email we open the floodgates to a hundred “quick question”s and “just wanted to check”s. The web of invisibility I have successfully weaved was hard won and I won’t apologise for guarding it ferociously!

It all sounds good so far, right? There’s always a but… that I’m stripped bare of the emails and the “busy” and the oh-so-trivial-but-right-now-so-important things I fill my life with, I find that the real me has no where left to hide. The “new me” who practices disconnection and invisibility finally has the mental space to face up to emotions and decisions that have been buried under the flurry of my life. It hasn’t followed suit however, that the real me is ready for them. It’s easy to distract myself from inner turmoil when there’s grocery shopping to be done or a client meeting to be scheduled. Not so easy when I’m strolling along a beach listening to the crashing waves or snuggled up in bed with my beloved, eating Doritos and watching nonsense television. And so I find myself in a bittersweet and contemplative mood. This city is my oyster, promising delicious delicacies and enthralling experiences at every turn and yet my mind, and my heart, are demanding my attention. Who wins remains to be seen, although I suspect I already know the answer: if you ever find yourself in Melbourne let me know, because by this time tomorrow I’m sure I will have a detailed hour-by-hour itinerary I can send you…

Catching my Breath

Lets Talk About Sex…!

I feel like I know you guys well enough now to pull up a cocktail, kick off my shoes & indulge in a good ol’ chat about “sexy time”. There’s a point in every good friendship where someone broaches the topic of sexuality and the reaction of the other person determines the relationship forevermore. A shared laugh makes a sex-friend for life, one who you can tell your funny “vibrator in my handbag on the tube” stories to. An embarrassed silence puts that friend firmly in the “hobbies & shopping chats only” file. And maybe you might wait a week or so to call them again. So lets jump right in and see where we end up!

You’ve made it past the first hurdle. Your partner lovingly caught your hand as you walked down the street, or caressed your neck from behind while you were cooking dinner. Whatever the trigger, you’ve made it all the way to the bedroom (or couch, or balcony, or…ahem, I digress!). You can feel the tingle in your “special place”. That football shirt your partner is wearing is suddenly as sexy as anything worn by Colin Firth in Pride & Prejudice and you are the sexiest woman alive. Bow-chica-wow-wow! Forget the FHM 100 list cos they ain’t got nothin’ on you right now. You strip off your “round-the-house” leggings and hell, you might even leave a light on tonight (dimmed of course…let’s not get too carried away). For a moment in time you’re the star of your very own porno (a classy one, well scripted) and with a twirl of your nipple tassels you turn expectantly to the door as a stranger enters. The third participant in your sexy party has arrived. He saunters into the scene with a sly grin on his face and a swagger in his step. You take a moment to regroup, to register his presence, to assess the situation. And faster than you can say “lube me up” you’re launched slap bang into the middle of your very own farce. The score changes from “I wanna sex you up” to “Ice Ice Baby” and as the rose-tinted glasses are ripped from your eyes you see your surroundings for what they are. No porno movie. No fancy lighting. No FHM Top 100 model. Just you, hairy legs and stained t-shirt, straddling your partner in your untidy room with the cobweb on the ceiling. Mr D. Pression has arrived.

Yes, I want to talk about sex, but more specifically I want us to talk about that all-too-common and not-so-understood side effect of being a tiny bit crazy: sexual dysfunction.

Antidepressants are not known for their sexy qualities. SSRI, SNRI, MAOI….whatever you’re taking, none of them add up to S.E.X. They murder your libido and if abstinence could reverse virginity, well we’d be the purest damn people on the planet. For men getting or maintaining an erection can be impossible and for women, well lets just say the Sahara should remain a desert in Africa. And probably most insultingly of all, should you miraculously make your way over all of the hurdles, with your end goal in sight, so close you can almost touch it….almost….almost….almost….ooooooohhhhh bloody hell…..nothing! Anorgasmia is the final insult in our tale of woe. And the evil doesn’t stop there, it can continue even after you no longer take them. The wisdoms at Wikipedia tell us:

Post-SSRI sexual dysfunction (PSSD) is a name given to a reported iatrogenic sexual dysfunction caused by the previous use of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants. While apparently uncommon, it can last for months, years, or sometimes indefinitely after the discontinuation of SSRIs. It may represent a specific subtype of SSRI discontinuation syndrome. This condition has not been well-established or studied in the field of medicine.

Indefinitely?! Are you frickin’ kidding me?! Any why is it that the condition has not been well established or studied? I am often struck by how sparse any real, helpful medical information on sexual side effects is while at the same time being bowled over by the sheer volume of anecdotal evidence on the topic (i.e. patient forums, questions on google, etc.). Not to mention how unhelpful medical advice is. Don’t get me started on the article that advised me to “schedule your sexual activity to occur before you take your medication”. I question why this imbalance exists. Are we ashamed to admit that we are having sexual difficulties? Are we suffering through the very worst type of “keeping up with the Joneses” phenomenon? In this day and age it’s hard to believe that so many of us feel that we shouldn’t prioritise our sexual selves. That if we are mentally well and our medication is working we somehow don’t have the right to complain because we don’t feel sufficiently lustful. Would we be more likely to express ourselves about side effects such as heart palpitations, fainting or low blood pressure?

I am a (physically) healthy 30 year old woman in a relationship with a kick-ass bloke. I fancy him. I am confident that he finds me at least a bit attractive (he assures me that he does in fact want to have sex with me). I know that I want to have sex with him. I just can’t seem to get my mind to play along. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with me complaining about that.

Lets Talk About Sex…!

High Functioning Depressive

A recent article on the death of Cory Monteith describing him as an atypical “junkie” who didn’t fit the stereotype got me thinking about the concept of a “high-functioning” addict. This is a term I hadn’t come across before until quite recently and it certainly never occurred to me until now that the term might be applicable to myself – a high-functioning depressive.

I guess in order to apply any definition to oneself you have to analyse what exactly does it mean. What is “high-functioning”? I suspect that this is something that will differ from person to person according to their beliefs and values, but for me it means:

Being able to work closely with colleagues without them knowing about my illness and excelling at that work

Some people might define high-functioning more emotionally – being stable more days than not, not doubting oneself, not being dependent on medication for balance – but for me it’s the ability to be a functioning member of the 9-to-5ers that is valuable. I guess that comes down to my high regard for the opinion of others, good or bad as that may be. I have often been described as a Type A personality and a counsellor once said that perhaps my upbringing and the focus on working hard and achievement mean that these are now the measures against which I score myself. Regardless, it’s important to me that I am considered strong and capable. I have a high-pressure job with a lot of people and money balanced on my ability to perform, so any instability would not be looked upon favourably. I love my job and I know I can do it better than a lot of other people – I don’t want to introduce any element of doubt or second-guessing into the mix. I want to be Mina. Not Mina-question-mark.

Maintaining what I deem to be a good social life, though to others it may look entirely antisocial

Again, I think this comes down to personality and values. I value a good meal, a movie, a chat with friends. I no longer think hungover is a good way to spend a Sunday and I don’t like how I feel when I drink on my meds. My move to London was also relatively recent so my social circle has contracted significantly and I spend more nights in than out. However, on the flip side, I spend more days out than in. Something that was unheard of in my 20s. Weekend days especially were for recovery or pre-party preparations. Now I go to museums, I brunch, I sip cappuccinos and read my book while my other half relaxes with his newspaper beside me. And I love love love restaurants.

Having a successful, mutually supportive relationship where I both give and receive love

Well, who doesn’t want that! I suppose the key here is “mutually”. I don’t want a kind, loving partner who strokes my hair and looks after me. Well I do, but I with two caveats: 1) I want to be strong enough to do the same for him and 2) I want him to let me. For several years I was in a relationship with a man who didn’t need me and he would freely admit it. Coupled with the fact that I really needed him at several points during our years together, the relationship was doomed to inevitable failure. Having found a healthy give-and-take relationship it’s important that I strive to keep it as such and not let my illness turn it into a one-way flow in my favour.

So What?

I guess you can look at this post in two ways:

  1. Think I need to be good at everything (cheers Type A personality!) and so I can only live in a world where I perceive myself to be really good at having depression and therefore I should shut the hell up with this high-functioning nonsense; or
  2. Consider that it’s good to have points of reference for yourself, that can only be defined by yourself, that you can check-in with from time to time and see how you’re doing.What do you think of the high-functioning concept? If it strikes a note with you I’d love to know how you’d define it for yourself.
High Functioning Depressive

Switch into my Mind

Today’s Daily Prompt for non-fiction writers is: If you could switch blogs with any blogger for a week, with whom would you switch and why?

The person I’d like to switch blogs with is my partner.

I have no idea if he has a blog. I don’t think so. And if he did, I don’t know if it would be a personal or a professional one. But for the sake of argument, let’s image he had a blog entitled “Living with an Irritated Dysthymic in London”. That would be the one blog on the interwebs that I’d really love to get into the guts of.

Depression is a selfish illness. I think I’m allowed to say that, though it may upset some people, as I’ve been on both sides of it. I have suffered from the immersion in self and self-pity of a parent. And I have seen myself do the same thing to others. It’s not pleasant, but it’s true.

Of course I can speculate and infer from his comments, from our open discussions & from just my general “sense” of him how he is feeling and how my current mood is affecting him. But I can never really know 100% what being with me is like for me. Unless I had a window into his soul, which I think this imaginary blog would be.

Why would I want to switch, you might ask, surely I could just read it? Well, perhaps in switching I would reach an audience that currently excludes me – usually because they don’t want to upset me with brutal honesty. I could access the friends, family & partners of my fellow miserable cows & bulls! I think these people are only truly honest about depression amongst themselves, as us sufferers are too. And I think that, once in a while,  a dose of reality about the hurtful effects of my actions on others would be a good kick up the arse!

Switch into my Mind

Have a Bad Day

Today was a {lower voice to whisper like solemn tone, wrinkle forehead, avoid eye contact} “bad day”. How many of us have uttered those words to a friend, partner or medical professional? I sometimes feel like I should have a reversible door sign “good day/bad day” that I can hang on the front door, to warn my boyfriend what awaits him when he puts his key in the lock. And I’m thoroughly sick of it.

Why? Because all my days are actually good days. And I don’t mean that in some happy-clappy tree-hugging way. I have a wonderful, supportive boyfriend, a loving family, great friends and a progressing career. I have worked extremely hard to get to where I am today – professionally, personally and mentally. So to write a day off as “bad”, well that does my journey, the upbringing provided by my mother and the love unconditionally given by my partner a serious injustice.

We are ourselves every day and yes, some days are better and some are worse – but each day is good because we are alive, we are surviving and we always have tomorrow. So instead of saying I’m having a “bad day” I think I’ll try out saying “my illness made me feel like today was a bad day”. I’ll still be communicating that I feel awful, less than my optimum self. But I’m hoping it will be powerful in its underlying suggestion that these feelings have been thrust upon me and may not in fact be entirely accurate. It suggests that tomorrow can be a good day, because in reality today was too – my stupid illness just tried to fool me into thinking otherwise!

It may seem like a small and insignificant thing. But then this illness is one that can be triggered by the smallest of slights (real or imaginary), by a degree of change in the weather, by the inevitability of a certain date rolling around each year, by the movement of a teeny tiny neuron… So perhaps the devil is in the detail and our own small efforts at self management (or survival) can actually be incredibly powerful. Therapy, medication and/or social support are the best weapons of mass destruction for depression but perhaps, some days, just hinting to your broken brain that you’re wise to it’s twisted game will get you through.

Have a Bad Day