Just Like A Pill

In December, we finally made the decision to go on antidepressants. It was a big decision as we haven’t been on them for eighteen years. We couldn’t cope with the side effects so we kept switching tablets, but never found one we got on with. We were on Amitriptyline, Dothiapin, Seroxat and a couple more we can’t remember the name of. We usually self-medicate through exercise and submitting stories, but that’s stopped being effective and doesn’t sustain us for more than a couple of hours now. This was the only option left until we can see a mental health professional. This time, we’ve been given 50mg of Sertralin. This is our diary of side effects.

Day 1 – The doctor warned us we’d feel out of sorts to start with. Currently experiencing dizziness and nausea which ranges from mild to “dear god, might vomit on the laptop.” Combatting it by eating a choc ice and doing shoulder flexibility stretches. Update: been five and half hours since taking them. Lynx feels nauseous. Cat feels horrendous and fell asleep, waking half an hour before we had to leave for our radio show. Now sat in the station not feeling quite human. Luckily Lynx is on controls tonight.

Day 2- Nausea has lessened, though we’re feeling a little spaced out and become aware that we’re just staring into space or rocking back and forth. Fighting it and forcing ourselves to write and do flexibility. Going to switch to taking them in the evening so the nausea will hopefully hit when we’re asleep.

Day 3 – Taking them at night. Nausea and dizziness has returned, with feeling weak and a bit shaky. Lynx has abdominal pain, Cat has an ache in both sides of her jaw. Struggling to write due to the antidepressants making us feel weird and also affecting our eyes’ ability to focus on the screen. However, our anxious brains can’t cope with finishing work early so we’re doing flexibility instead.

Day 4 – Woke feeling horrendous. Lynx felt very sick, Cat was weak and shaky. Had to get up early to walk Bandit before going to work in a print company. Now in work and Lynx has a terrible headache and felt on the verge of fainting. Cat is utterly exhausted and extremely dizzy. Glad we’re not writing today as our eyes can just about cope focusing on our phone screens. Wouldn’t be able to write today.

Day 5 – Feeling nauseous from the minute we wake up seems to be our new normal at the moment. Christmas poledancing routine in advance class tonight. Yes, we’re dancing to Mariah Carey. Amy played Papa Roach and Marilyn Manson after to make up for it. Thanks to our tablets, Cat did the routine feeling horrendously sick.

Day 6 – Spent the afternoon trying to finish our new story. Quite hard when your eyes can’t focus on the screen and you can’t stay awake! Still feeling nauseous.

Day 7 – 🎵On the seventh day of Sertraline, our tablets gave to us, 1 nasty headache, horrible exhaustion, never ending nausea and sometimes feeling dizzy!🎵

Day 8 – the nausea wasn’t as constant today and we could actually focus on the laptop screen. Managed to do our radio show, but pulled out of a social event as the nausea started to worsen again. Hoping this is the beginning of the side effects wearing off.

Day 9 – 🎶On the 9th day of Sertraline, our tablets gave to us: waking weak and shaky, teeth hurt when eating, never feeling hungry and the nausea can just fuck off! 🎶
Though our eyesight is back to normal and the exhaustion has gone 👍🤘

Day 10 – Woke feeling nauseous, but it went by 2 p.m., which was nice. Maybe the side effects are lessening.

🎶On the 11th day of Sertraline, our tablets gave to us: waking feeling normal, no fucking nausea, still looking shitty but we have no side effects! 🎶

So far, there hasn’t been any improvement to our mental health, but we’re not expecting that to change for at least another week. Feeling physically ill never helps with mental health at the best of times. At the moment, we just feel nothing. Went to the supermarket and didn’t feel like going postal with a box of cat food, so the rage has been subdued. Unfortunately, every emotion is subdued. Anger is what motivates us, so without that, we have no drive to really do anything.

Day 15 – Cat woke in the night and heard a loud bang inside her head. She attributed this to her hypnopompic hallucinations, but they’re always visual so we now think it was the tablets.

Day 17 – Took the tablet much later than normal. Cat woke up so dizzy she couldn’t move and spent all morning lying on the settee, unable to even sit up. By two o’clock it had eased. At three o’clock, we went to a yoga workshop and didn’t fall over.

Day 18 – Lynx experienced the loud bang in her head during a dream. This is why we now think Cat’s was tablet related, as Lynx doesn’t tend to have the hypnopompic hallucinations as often. If she does, she always sees spiders.

Week 3 of Sertraline. Holy fuck Batman, is this how it feels to be “normal”? These past few weeks, we’ve isolated ourselves from everyone (don’t worry newer friends, you’ll get used to this :p) and honestly, it’s been amazing 😀 We needed to be alone in order to heal. Masking was exhausting. We were very conscious that we weren’t good company, that we were boring, because it took so much energy for us to hide the darkshines that we had nothing left to act social. Our control was slipping. Rage outbursts were happening frequently. These past 14 months, depression has taken away everything that it means to be us. We haven’t done ghost hunting, urb exing, random day trips or adventures. We’ve felt lost. We hated the people we became. We reached breaking point many times. And now…we feel like we’ve reclaimed everything we once were. We’ve reconnected to our witchy sides. We’ve tackled things that were overwhelming us, we’ve thrown out or recycled a lot of things we no longer need, we got the council to empty the bins at the wenallt, we’ve submitted more stories, worked harder on our flexibility. We’re planning day trips we want to take, we’ve started a savings scheme so we can do more travelling. We feel happier and more enthusiastic than we have done for over a year. We feel like us.

We’re not naïve enough to think that this is it, that we’re cured, or it will remain like this. The darkshines is like Jason Voorhees. We can chain it to the bottom of a lake, or bury it and when we think we’re safe, we hear ‘cha cha cha’, turn around and it’s peering in through the windows at us. After three days of sorting through boxes and clothes, we’re already losing the motivation. It was making us feel good, now we’re bored and it’s starting to feel overwhelming. We feel constantly exhausted, which is demoralising us somewhat. We’re also struggling to focus on working, which is frustrating. Being productive is essential for our mental health. But we are trying to learn that taking days off isn’t us being lazy (which the anxiety tells us it is), that spending the day reading is good for us. We’re also reconnecting to our witchy sides. We used to do candle work, buy crystals, study astrology, but over the years, we stopped. We’re now starting to study witchcraft, and learn its different ways. We have an affinity with animals and nature – when we’re away from nature for more than a couple of days, we feel starved for it. We need it. And right now, studying witchcraft is helping us. We love learning and educating ourselves and it’s given us something to focus on. The kind of ‘high’ we were experiencing during the first five days of January – we had a story accepted on day 2 – has worn off and we feel…disappointed. Like we’d had a massive breakthrough and have now gone backwards. We know that’s the exhaustion – slept for most of the afternoon today – and now feel guilty about that! So we’re sorting through boxes in the attic crawlspace. Regretting that now…

It’s difficult when the two issues – anxiety and depression, are in constant battle for dominance. The depression feels overwhelmed, unmotivated and lethargic. But the anxiety is desperate to be productive, which then changes the depression into guilt. We then feel paralysed by indecision. We hate feeling guilty, so the anxiety eventually wins. Hopefully the Sertraline will help with this, but at least it’s taken away the emptiness. We don’t want to put people off trying anti-depressants, (the side effects don’t last forever) but we just wanted to give an honest account on what they’ve been like for us. Some people manage without them, others need them. When it comes to mental health, you have to do what’s right for you.

Welcome to our black parade

We’ve been speaking on social media recently about our depression and how bad it’s got. Churchill called it his black dog that followed him around. Sometimes it was small and he barely noticed it. Sometimes it was big. Right now, it’s about the size of a horse and it’s sitting on us. We can’t move or breathe. We call ours The Darkshines, after a Muse song.

For a year, we’ve been struggling. Really struggling. What’s surprised us though, is how very few people noticed. To us, it was obvious. We’ve been moody, angry, confrontational, quiet, unable to have fun and quite frankly, unpleasant to be around. At first, we thought that maybe our masking skills were pretty good. Then we thought “is this how people see us? To them, have we not changed?” Because we no longer recognise ourselves. Maybe The Pretenders were right. Maybe we’re only human on the inside. Whoever these people are that look like us, it’s not us. And we’d like them to leave.

We’ve suffered from depression and social anxiety for twenty years. We’re so used to it, we don’t remember the people we were before it. We sometimes wonder about the people we could’ve been without it, but those people will never exist now. Oh well. They would probably have been dicks anyway. But for the past year, the slide into the worst side of the Darkshines has been rapid and all-consuming. We normally have bouts that will last anything from a few days to a few months. But never an entire year. This is not normal for us. In fact, our depression hasn’t been this bad since we were teenagers. Back then, we were suicidal, self-harming, had a breakdown, and gave up everything we loved doing so we could live in a void of emptiness. It hurt less.

We’ve been living in that void for a year. We recognised the signs and hoped they would go away. We know the Darkshines. If we wait it out, it eventually retracts its talons. We’ve carried on, hanging out with friends, going to exercise classes, doing our usual daily routine, hoping it would pass. Hoping that if we acted like it wasn’t there, it would leave. We self-medicate – exercise is what works for us. Being out in nature, submitting work and doing everything we can to further our career. It all backfired. Cat tore her ankle ligaments in gymnastics and seven months on, it hasn’t properly healed. Our work continuously got rejected. At the beginning of the year, we were getting acceptances. Well, three. That stopped in April.

It got worse. Our therapist died earlier this year from an aggressive form of cancer that took her within four weeks. We thought “everyone else we know can live without a therapist, we’re clearly weak cos we can’t, we’ll prove we can do it.” Forgetting of course that the people we know who live without a therapist don’t suffer from chronic depression like we do. And this angry, empty void is a really shit place to live. We know it’s not weakness to have a therapist, but the Darkshines likes to make us think it is.

We don’t really enjoy anything. We no longer look forward to anything. There was a time when we’d excitedly plan adventures or ghost hunts or even the smallest, random thing would make us happy. Knowing we had a pole lesson coming up would make us happy. It’s gone. We’ve been desperate to travel since last year. We were supposed to be in Rome for our birthday in February. That was the only thing we wanted. And it couldn’t happen. It still hasn’t happened. We now can’t face it. We spend time with our friends and don’t feel like we belong any more (best friends aren’t included in this). We go out after gymnastics and sit there in silence, uploading our videos to social media. We don’t belong there either. We leave feeling empty and wishing we’d stayed at home. Our gymnastics friends have only known us 19 months. So for most of the time they’ve known us, they’ve had to know these horrible imposters. They probably think that’s who we are. Polefit has been the only thing that has brought us a measure of happiness.

And two weeks ago, we couldn’t even face going to class.

That’s when we knew something had to change. When we were kids and teenagers, we were obsessed with horse riding. You know our love for pole. That was our love for horse riding. We were going to be professional riders. And the Darkshines made us give it up. The crash after the high was unbearable. We haven’t ridden since. So when we didn’t want to go to pole, we realised it was time to get help. We’ve come so far, we cannot walk away now. We are not giving up pole.

Unfortunately, we have to wait a month for a GP appointment. This is a big thing for us. We’re not good at asking for help. We’re even worse when admitting how bad we’re feeling, because we don’t want people to know. Hence the masks. We can always tell when we’re not in a good place because we don’t wash our hair. We have short hair. It takes like five minutes. After around three weeks, we will then force ourselves to do it. But depression isn’t about feeling sad. It’s also not being able to do simple tasks. It’s feeling worthless, helpless, angry, tired, overwhelmed, and so fucking guilty about everything. Sometimes, like now, it’s feeling nothing. Then throw in anxiety to the mix. Depression is not wanting to do anything. Anxiety is finding lack of productivity unbearable. Depression is feeling there’s no point submitting work because it will only get rejected. Anxiety is the gnawing feeling that you’re not helping your career goals. Depression is not wanting to go to exercise classes. Anxiety is screaming at you that you won’t be good at pole if you don’t work hard at it. The two sides fight constantly.

Around the time we were told our therapist had died, so did our beloved cat, Spectre. She was 19. She’d been with us through the worst times of our lives since we were 16. And then she was gone. We needed to see our therapist. The hospital didn’t tell us she had died. We’d been trying to get hold of her for a while and it wasn’t like her not to return our phone calls. We only found out because our sister went to the physio department where she worked and at first, they tried to fob her off, until she told them we were her mental health patients, not physio patients. Then they admitted she’d died. That hit us harder than we expected it to and all of a sudden, we felt very alone. We would’ve liked to have gone to her funeral, to say goodbye, to say thank you for helping us. We never got the chance. We don’t even know where she is buried.

There’s been a few times recently where we’ve had enough and can’t face the thought of carrying on. But we’re too fucking stubborn to quit. Our stubbornness is what kept us alive when we were suicidal. People will tell us others have it worse and they do. But depression doesn’t care about that. Also, that sentiment is bullshit and all it does is make depressed people feel even guiltier. It’s like telling people they can’t be happy because others have it so much better than they do. Depression is a disease. It whispers to you, tells you people hate you, tells you you’re not good enough, you’ll never be good enough at what what you do, you’ll never be good enough for people, you’re a failure, people only put up with you cos they have no choice, you’re fat, you’re ugly, you’re boring, everyone will be better off without you and they won’t even notice you’re gone.

Maybe it’s right.

Maybe it’s wrong. And it doesn’t matter what others say to contradict those thoughts, their voices will never be louder than the Darkshines’. Because as they’re saying this, the Darkshines is whispering in your other ear ‘they’re only saying this to make you feel better. They don’t mean it.’

We find ourselves crying over stupid things. We don’t cry. We’ve never been ones to cry over anything unless it’s the death of one of our animals. We don’t want to hang out with our friends and the Darkshines tells us they wouldn’t miss us if we cut off the friendship. The temptation to withdraw from everyone and revert back to our reclusive selves is getting harder to resist. We don’t have to wear masks when we’re alone. We find ourselves pushing people away. We came very close to quitting writing. When the Darkshines isn’t that bad, rejections don’t bother us, it’s part of a writer’s life, but when the Darkshines is drowning us, each rejection is more proof that we’re shit and quitting will ease the pain. But there’s nothing else we can do. Writing is our life and if we can’t even bear that, something is very, very wrong.

Our warrior trainer, Si, has been really good for us. Despite the abuse we shower him with, we’re so glad he’s in our lives. He understands us. He understands the Darkshines. We signed up because he said it would improve our pole. And it has. But warrior training is more than just hard, physical exercise. It’s about building a mentality for when you’re on the battlefield, and it seems you’re about to be defeated, you have the strength to pick up your sword and keep fighting. We don’t have that strength at the moment, and we really want to drop that  sword, but we know we can’t walk away. So we’re calling in reinforcements.

We’re going to ask for a new therapist. They give you six weeks with one. We don’t trust people easily and it will take longer than that to build a relationship with someone new. But six weeks is all we’ll have, then they’ll cut us off. Yes we can pay for a private therapist, but with what? Tokens from a cereal packet? We doubt they accept Clubcard vouchers. We got lucky with our other ones. We’ve been in therapy for 15 years. We’ve been toying with the idea of going back on antidepressants. We haven’t touched them since we were 17 as we hated how they turned us into zombies. But they don’t prescribe those any more. Coming to that decision has been tough. But right now, we feel there’s no other option. We cannot go on like this. What always worries us is how much will they change us? Will they help us or make us worse? Will they make us even angrier or even more numb? Or will they bring back the version of us we like? We don’t know. But what we do know is we can’t live like this any longer. We do not like the people depression has forced us to become. So in a few weeks, we will ask for therapy and hope they give it to us. And we will ask for medication. It takes around 3 weeks to work. So we’re stuck like this until January or February probably. And they might not even work. It can take months or years to find the right medication.

Then hopefully we’ll be different people.

We don’t know those people yet but we hope they won’t be dicks.

See you on the other side.

Time To Talk

It’s Time To Talk Day, which if you don’t know about it, is a day to talk about mental illness in order to remove the stigma from it. We wrote a post about it last year too. You can read it here. Until 2014, we’d been seeing a wonderful psychologist, Neil, who changed our lives. You can read about how we felt about leaving the mental health system here. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t get the help they need – they’re either ashamed, see it as weak, or there just isn’t the support around. Mental health isn’t treated with the same importance as physical health, when really, the two are often linked. If people with cancer were treated the same way as people with mental illness are, there would be uproar. And whilst illnesses like depression and anxiety are slowly gaining support, the other issues, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder are still stigmatized. That needs to change.

We haven’t blogged much recently – we’ve written maybe two posts in two months. We’d like to blame it on being busy but that would be a lie. We just didn’t care. Our youngest cat, Ebony, died in December and to us, our animal army are our family. So when one of the dies, it’s like losing a family member. Grief is grief, no matter who you’re grieving for. We were heading into a spell of what we call the darkshines anyway, because when we’ve had a few good months, the darkshines like to visit to remind us they’re still there lurking in the background. Whilst they can be dealt with, they never go away completely. Winston Churchill likened his depression to a black dog – some times it was a small dog that he barely noticed, other times it was a large dog. It’s a good description. It’s like a shadow – you always have one, but sometimes you and others don’t see it, so you forget it’s there. Other days, it’s clearly visible, like a twisted, blackened version of yourself.

We use the term darkshines (stolen from a Muse song) because it’s an umbrella term that covers the different forms it takes – sometimes we feel inexplicable rage, or a burning knot of frustration, or times where the slightest thing will make us cry. Sometimes, it’s overwhelming numbness. For it to be a bout of darkshines, it has to last more than a few days, otherwise that’s just a shitty mood. It’s been six weeks now and this time it’s despondency. Rage is preferable because we’re like Bruce Banner – avoid confrontations whenever possible but when the rage hits, we Hulk out and get shit done. We once emailed every library in Cardiff, asking if we could do readings purely because we were in a fit of rage. Why? Because we discovered dinosaur erotica was selling more books than we ever will in our lifetime. For us, rage is empowering. We embrace it. It gives us the confidence we normally lack to face our problems and take them down. We turn from socially awkward messes into goddamn productive ninjas. And who doesn’t want to be ninja?

Despondency is more destructive. Despondency makes us not care. Despondency finds something that isn’t going well and focuses on it, using it as a example of what massive failures we are. In this case, it’s book sales. We sell one ebook a month. Considering we have eight books out, that’s spectacularly shitty. So the darkshines like to remind us how shitty this is. Every single day. Though to be fair, even the most positive person would have to agree this is failure. It tells us we must be shit writers to achieve such poor sales. It tells us there’s no point releasing more books because they won’t sell either. It tells us that whatever we submit will be rejected and it backs up the argument with the 300+ rejections we’ve had over the past eight years. The darkshines love statistics to prove the point. We stopped counting after 300 but the darkshines wants to know what the current total to further support the point. It’stough to resist the urge to give in and do a recount. We’ve come close to giving in a few times, but we know it’s what it wants. January was extremely difficult as we submitted five novels and four poems with the darkshines chattering away about how pointless it all was because we weren’t going to get anywhere. Then we weren’t longlisted for the Exeter Novel Prize for the first time in two years. The darkshines just said “told you so.”

Writing is something we’re passionate about. Being writers isn’t what we do. It’s what are. That burning, consuming hunger we feel every day never goes away. Not many people understand that hunger. People tell us all the time, “if it has this effect on you, why don’t you quit?” And do what? It’s like telling someone to stop breathing. Yes, there are times it destroys us, but it also keeps us going.

What helps, is writing. Escaping. Going on adventures, doing zumba or FitBox. And hanging out with our friends. Our friends don’t know when the darkshines hit. We don’t tell them. We don’t want to burden them. But they help us without even realising it. Hanging out with them brings us out of ourselves, whether it’s going to the cinema, having game night, D&D or spending an evening watching horror films back to back. Even though we know we haven’t been fun to be around. When at times the darkshines is too strong to conceal completely and our mere presence just ruins everything. We’ve been hurt badly by people we thought were friends, but that taught us who the good ones are. Just because someone is fun to be around, doesn’t mean they’re a good friend. It’s the ones who are there for you, who stick up for you. We’ve found them and we’re keeping hold of them. Sorry, guys. Not sorry.

We’ve talked a lot about our depression and overcoming the social phobia that kept us imprisoned inside our house from age 18-26. We’ve come such a long way. Back then, we couldn’t eat out in public, could barely speak in public. A supermarket trip was traumatic. Now we’ve done readings at literary festivals, had tables at horror cons, we travel the UK with our ghost hunting show, Calamityville Horror and in September, we went to America with Neen. Our first time of leaving the UK. We went to Las Vegas and San Francisco. We visited Alcatraz, the Winchester Mystery House, we spent a day by ourselves in Vegas while Neen was at her brother’s wedding. We met the guys from Ghost Adventures. And these are the same people who were once too scared to walk anywhere in public. So the social phobia is cured. Yes we’re still socially awkward but we’ve learned that’s not part of our mental illness, that’s just who we are and we can’t change it, so we’ve learned to accept it. We joke about it. Our depression cannot be cured. But it can be lived with.Paillon Grand Canyon tour

The worst thing is knowing that it’s just the darkshines and it will pass and yet still drowning in them anyway. It’s like a wave – sometimes it drags us out of our depth, but eventually it will carry us back to shore and spit us out. We just have to wait for it to change direction. We’ve been listening to Rise Against’s ‘Tragedy and Time‘ which is great for reminding you that nothing lasts forever – not even the bad times.