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It's been a few days, and what a few days it has been! Walking, cycling, Zwifting and more.

After Tuesday things have stayed quite positive, with the occasional hiccup here and there. Biggest issues have been my back pain and crappy sleep, but more on that in a bit. Being back on the bike has been a massive help to me I think. Being able to free my mind of the dark and worrying thoughts for a while is always a positive start to a day. With a good hard real world ride yesterday, a lethargic Zwift session the day before, and plenty of walking in between, my head is a much fresher place to be.

Yesterday saw a call with my manager regarding my recent visit to the GP, and the outcome of that. The plan being to take these findings to HR, and arrange an appointment with the companies Occupational Health service, in order to better understand the impact of my situation, and to address any adaptations to the role or "workplace" to accommodate the recommendations. This is a road I have been down before with work, and one I am comfortable with. Even if the intentions of the first referral years ago were somewhat questionable, but lets not go there again!

The conversation with the manager was a very pleasant and understanding chat, which was quite welcome I have to say. While I am pretty much an open book when it comes to talking about my mental health, having a conversation with a new person about it can feel quite awkward at times. Thankfully I have known this manager a long time now, and it was just a matter of finding a common language to get the conversation started. By the end of the chat it felt like I had been understood, and we were on at least the same chapter of the book about what was needed.  A referral to OH has been made, so now I await an appointment and go from there. 

In the meantime I am due a follow up with my GP next week, but of course I need to chase this up as their appointment system at the moment doesn't show an appointment for me. No stress, just taking things one step at a time. Next week I also have a consultation with the local authority Mental Health team IAPT for an assessment for counselling and any other treatment recommendations moving forward. I remember the first time I spoke to them, and how hopeless it made me feel by the end of the conversation. So I am putting that to the back of my mind, and hoping for a better experience this time around.  What do we think they will recommend for social anxiety? A group session maybe? lol

All in all, as far as mentally anyway, things are on track. I mentioned to my manager during the chat the possibility of an assessment for ASD too, so that is all noted. Yet to see what the GP and IAPT think about this, and what the timescales would be. The next week or two is all about appointments, chats and assessments, then we take the next step, whatever that may be.

From a work perspective, it is recognised that changes may be needed depending on what OH think of it all. The biggest thing that came up again and again with my manager was the way working in the office with the "team" makes me feel, and how time away has made me realise that the office environment is probably THE biggest contributor to my struggles with anxiety on a day to day basis. Jeez just interacting on TEAMS is harder work than it should be at times! Fingers crossed the chat with OH which I believe is virtual at the moment (Covid rattles on) is good enough to put across what the actual issues are here, and not sound like a whiner.

My biggest fear at every step of the way, being seen as a work shy little whiny princess who wants it all his own way. I am sure anyone who doesn't understand anxiety (not just feeling a little anxious) will see it as a ploy to just stay working from home. To some, as it has throughout Covid, working from home is just for lazy people who don't want to work. Whereas in reality, with WFH I actually spend more time working, am more flexible with my time, and able to adapt better to changes in requirements. Only this week I was able to log on to work at 7am and get the day started much earlier than usual, which allowed me to help the team long before I was officially starting work that day. But hey, WFH is for lazy people, and isn't productive. 
Let's see eh.

Physically however the back pain has continued, which has led to poor sleep and feeling tired a lot of the day. I was not sure over the past week if that was mental or physical exhaustion, but as my mood lifted things changed a bit. However some residual lethargy remained, the product of crap sleep and dare I say poor diet too. Dealing with the back was first up, and today I visited Andrew Fung the awesome Osteopath, visiting him at clinic in Greenwich. Had a lovely little walk there with Ann from Greenwich Park, so arrived in a good frame of mind. An hour later, lots of popping and cracking from my back etc, and I am already moving a lot more freely, however will be following up with another appointment next week. It was good to get a professional take on how things were, and be assured that things are on the mend, so I look forward to my next appointment with Andrew next week. I won't pretend I am not left with discomfort at the moment, but am sure I will sleep a little better tonight, and hopefully get on the road to normal again soon.

The other side of things, the nutrition side has been bugging me for a few weeks. Just before France I stopped using the Huel I had been using for meal replacement. On the week or two running up to that time I asked the question openly if people thought the Huel could be contributing towards how I was feeling. Better sleep, more energy, resting HR dropping to an all time low for me (around 37bpm). Not convinced it was that, when I got to the end of the trial bag I had ordered, I didn't get anymore. But shortly after stopping, things took a dive. Coincidence? 
Well, we will find out soon I guess, as today two more bags of Huel arrived (with another free t-shirt). So from Monday I think I will be back on the shakes in the morning, and cleaner eating the rest of the day, and we shall see how things go from there. If things start to improve again I will be shocked and delighted, and of course a Huel customer for life!

For now, it's almost the weekend, the weather is looking great, my bikes are calling, and I can't wait to get some more miles in the sunshine in. Maybe even a ride with a friend, if I can find one! Haha

 

Have a fun and safe weekend all. 

 

 

 

It was recently mentioned to me that it might be helpful to look into the realms of ASD with regards to my behaviours, and general mindset, not to mention the symptoms I have commonly discussed on this blog and with others. Fair to say this is not the first time it has been mentioned, and has been the topic of quite a few conversations with certain friends of late. Obviously we know I struggle with anxiety in general. But is that the condition itself, or simply a symptom of a bigger issue? That is the question for today.

Before I dive into that, I wanted to make note here that today in general has been a pretty shitty day. No particular reason, just generally started out on a low, and for a while went deeper and deeper into it.  Snappy, struggling to focus and keep my cool, and VERY irritable. Nothing particularly on my mind, but just had no tolerance for anything at all. Noises especially today have really wound me up.  I had a nice walk in the sun with Ann before work, try and get some of those endorphins flowing, then came home to relax before work. Nope, not happening, just getting wound up tighter. 

After another conversation with another couple of friends, I thought I would re-run an ASD screening test I have done before. Recalling the score, I thought it would be interesting to see where I scored now. As I went through the questions, it is incredible how many things you realise "trigger" you. Reading scenarios, then taking a moment to honestly answer the question. Not the "yeah yeah I am fine", but really being honest with myself. As I said before it is nice to pretend that you can do anything, but "coping" with something is not the same as being able to simply do something. 

Similar to being asked by the GP yesterday if I could go to the shops OK, and first saying "well yes", then realising I shop at off peak times, generally prefer smaller stores, always use self checkout to avoid interaction and so on... So, nope, I CAN go to the shops, but it is NOT easy. So today answering the questions on the assessment I thought I would allow the same thought process to take place. I learned something for sure! I am NOT OK !

By the end of the test, I scored quite highly, well into the "severe" score range, and displayed multiple strong signs of ASD. Then to the "what next" section. Well of course this was done on a private companies website, so there were places to enquire, but also some helpful pointers on who to speak to and where to find help. Like I say, this is not the first time considering ASD, so I have some ideas of what is out there. The wait for the NHS last time I checked was somewhere in the region of two years for assessment. While private clinics such as this one have much shorter waiting lists, but come with a price tag of around £2,000.

So now I am left wondering what to do next. The idea of ASD is not a simple and convenient one for me. But as I have said to others in the past, the more I have learned about it, and the more I look back over my life, the more it would make sense. Will it change anything, not really. I am not looking to "cure" my anxiety as such, not turn my life around. I like who I am, and how I live, label or not. But it would answer some questions I have asked myself, especially about my upbringing and earlier years. It would help me convey to others what I struggle to do, why, and what they can do to help me. And of course it would make me cool.... OK I am lying about that one, but there is nothing wrong with knowing what is going on inside the grey matter.

Like I say, it doesn't change anything fundamentally for me, life goes on. But it helps with the frustrations of life when you struggle being on a busy train, around strangers, or some days just want to be left alone for a bit.  Like today. Not to an extreme, but it has taken me a few hours of being at my desk working to start to feel balanced in any way. The first couple of hours, trying to do quite simple tasks of comparing data fields on documents, focusing on an issue to resolve it, or just typing in a phone number required exhausting amounts of concentration. To a point of "arrrgh I can't do this" and wanting to just call it a day. Moment like that are usually the catalyst to a much bigger and longer episode. But thankfully in the peace and quiet of an office, on my own, I was able to work my way through it, and feel much better in my mind this evening. There is hope! 

Using today as an example, this is what I was trying to touch on yesterday. An anxiety disorder, triggered by stressful situations, being in an uncomfortable environment is one thing. However today was not triggered in any way. I slept OK, and simply woke up feeling like I needed space, fresh air, and some time out. So there probably is more to it than straight forward socially triggered anxiety. And with that in mind, that is why I was so torn about starting the medication straight away, or waiting for some more questions to be answered, and more things to become apparent. If I had started the meds yesterday, one of the side effects is heightened anxiety for a while, and today would simply have been put down to that, and nothing else. 

Instead, I have had the head-space to consider opinions of others. And that is actually quite important. To have the honest and frank opinions of others, as it is so hard to see sometimes how your behaviours actually appear. From time to time I will catch myself acting differently due to how I am feeling, but most of the time it is more likely others can tell you more about your behaviours than you can yourself. So I am very grateful to have such people around me, and encourage anyone who thinks they have something of benefit to say to let me know. No offence will be taken I promise. Unless you are being a bit of a twat, in which case, expect as good as you gave. 

So now with the test results, the comments and opinions of others around me, some of whom are in a very educated position to form such opinions, when I see the doctor next I can raise the question of ASD screening, without feeling like I am clutching at straws, searching for a label, or just trying to find more and more excuses as to why I should continue to work from home.  Where it goes from there, who knows. I am sure there is a long long waiting list, and one which will not be in my favour with work related matters. However at least having had the conversation and been referred for screening, or indeed considering paying to go the private route may help in all walks of life. Time will tell. 

Thanks as always for reading a long ramble, and a special thanks to those who have taken the time to reach out, share their thoughts and opinions, and give me a little bit of hope and direction.

 

Til next time...

Not my first rodeo with anti anxiety, anti depressant meds, so that is not an issue as such for me. When the time is right, needs must, and I have no issue with taking such medications to help. But is that time now?

I am getting ahead of myself here, the last thing I said was I was going to speak to the doctors. Well, that appointment has come and gone. Much to my delight the conversation was relaxed and open, and I felt I was able to express myself clearly. More importantly I felt I was listened to throughout, and the doctor understood where I was coming from. Ironically 2 hours before the appointment I received a call from the surgery informing me that the appointment would now be on the phone as the doctor was working from home! Alright for some eh. 

I discussed how I have been anxiety "free" for a long while now, and how Covid times have shown me there is a way to do my job, and be in a good place mentally too. And that even starting to process returning to an office environment has thrown me into a tailspin, and it is affecting me. I said I have always been bad in public spaces, or crowded environments, and do much better alone or in controllable spaces. From there we moved onto the more general aspect of the issue, and the social anxiety.

Her feelings on the matter were two fold. Firstly recognising that this new episode is triggered by the fear of being back in a space I can't control, and that this has until now been avoidable with no impact to my ability to do my job, or work for a living in general. And that secondly she would like to try and improve my general wellbeing in all walks of life, by getting me help for my "anxiety disorder". Her suggestions being using medication to control the anxiety, and counselling to address the social aspect of it, and help me find ways of improving my state of mind in such settings.

We also discussed moving forward with matters at work, and how I can go about addressing my anxiousness about being in an office again. Going back over how things were before Covid, and how I have over the years learned ways to "cope" with the anxiety it caused me, rather than overcome it and feel normal at the end of a working day. Touching on how mentally exhausted I get when in uncomfortable situations. Using all my mental energy to appear and function as "normal", and when the curtain falls, just crashing and being left exhausted, and totally drained. Not to mention feeling edgy and in a foul mood. Repeat that on a daily basis, and the cycle is, wake up OK, interact with partner and friends, go to work, be drained of all your will to live, come home and be an utter arsehole until you go to sleep....Repeat...

Some would say I am not that bad, or too cranky etc, but even that alone takes all my reserves to maintain. Being aware that you are behaving like a bit of an arse is really upsetting. So you are then left with two options. Hide away, or draw on your final reserve of mental strength to at least be likable. It is a really hard one to explain, everything feels so fake. Oh look, its people, slap that smile on, crack a joke or two and reply to "how are you" with a very plastic "yeah yeah good thanks". Rather than, "well to be honest dying inside right now, this is exhausting the shit out of me".

Having spent so many years with multiple personas (not split personality), switching at will to suit the audience, I have become very self aware, and know the second I am starting to be "fake" . And let me tell you, being fake has an energy burn 10x higher than just ticking along being me. To put it in physical terms, as some people only understand those, think of the difference you feel between walking at a nice sedate pace, and running flat out as fast as you can. Heart rate rises, body temp sky rockets, muscles tense, and energy rapidly drains from your body. Now imagine feeling like that, while still just walking along. It would be alarming right? Welcome to my anxiety mind!

So, here we are, post appointment. Diagnosis "Anxiety disorder", treatment, counselling and medication, prognosis hopeful but too soon to tell. I have sent off my referral to the Mental Health service providers locally, and await to hear back with any sort of waiting time, and suggestion of treatment. I have informed my work of the outcome, and await hearing if there is any intervention at this stage, and I have collected my medication from the pharmacy.

The last two are the important factors here. Work, I am sure there is no need for any intervention at this point for a number of reasons. Firstly there is no official 30 day notice period given to return to the office yet. Just the pre-notice notice, if that makes sense. In the meantime we all await to hear if there is a chance of overturning the decision to end WFH. And secondly, at this point the anxiety has not affected my work. While working from home I am still able to function OK, but can honestly say that my focus and concentration has taken a huge hit, as I have touched on before.  If and when work are to do anything, it will be a referral to the Occupational Health service, to assess my ability to carry out my job, and see if they agree with the GP. The GP has said they are more than happy to work with the OH to make sure the best and most suitable arrangements are made, to allow me to work, while managing my well-being. 

The second factor being the medication, and the point of this blog entry. So the deciding factors here are a bit of a mess, hence blogging to try and make sense of it. Bear with me here. 

My need to go down this whole road, to me at least, has been the anxiety triggered by the knowledge of the request to return to the office coming. Until that point I have felt better than I have ever been before. Sure there have been moments of avoidance and struggling with socialising away from work. That is something I have always lived with, and chosen my battles carefully. Risk vs reward so to speak. Is the end goal worth the use of all my mental energy, feeling exhausted and edgy for the next day or two? As you can imagine there are not too many scenarios which warrant that result. The GP wants to tackle this aspect too, so the medication and counselling is to help with all walks of anxious life. OK, great.

Or is it? In general, I don't like being around a lot of people, fake people, talking shit, all in the name of looking good. No thanks, I will stick with the genuine people I actually like, people who know ME and not one of my personas, and that I can actually communicate with, without becoming exhausted. There is no denying that there is social anxiety for me in both settings, but one is far more manageable than the other. Do I feel the anxiety in the calmer setting needs addressing? Maybe! It would be nice to spend more time with people I like in a wider range of settings and environments, but do I want to medicate to do that? THAT is the question here.

The other half of the question, am I happy to medicate, and have to attend counselling to learn coping mechanisms to return to an office, to do a job I have done without fault for the past two and a half years from home? Well............... errm, no, not really! I appreciate I did it from an office before, but that was before WFH was even accepted as possible for my team, and before it necessitated us being at home to do our jobs, to enable the company to keep functioning through Covid. A change I was willing to make for my employer, at very short notice. A change which proved itself to be beneficial to the company on a number of fronts, and one which showed me that my mental health was SO much better away from an office environment. All very accidental. But when you discover a better method by accident, or through circumstances, do you change back because the old normal is the only right way?

If you commute to work by car and the main road you use is closed, and a diversion is set up. If the diversion it turns out it's a quicker route. When the main road opens again, do you go back to your old route? See where I am going with this? There is a new, proven route / work method, why deviate from it for the same of going back to the "good old ways"?

So now, while I wait to hear about the official line on WFH, if any appeal has been successful, or if indeed we will get our 30 days notice to return. Do I start the medication now, to primarily treat the anxiety caused by the news. Tolerate the side effects as the levels build up in my body, and possibly trigger worse anxiety in the short term, and maybe the need to take time off work anyway. Or do I wait for the outcome, and if it us unfavourable, and the notice is given, THEN start the process of taking the medication, at which point I feel it would be more than needed, as my anxiety will blow up? Feel free to share your thoughts.

I know the idea of the meds is to help with my social anxiety too, but right now, I don't want to take meds, and feel like I have been forced into this by matters at work. Which are the primary reason I am in this situation, and had this conversation with my GP in the first place.

Phew, that was a lot to get out of my little head. Thanks for reading. 

 

That paradoxical moment when you realise how anxious you are getting about seeing your GP about your anxiety! Seeking help about a debilitating condition, but feeling almost incapable of having that conversation with the person who can actually help you. In fear of the reaction and response you will get from that person.  You really couldn't make this up. But thankfully it is not the first time feeling this way.

I know good trumps bad here, and that ultimately the doctor is there to help and guide me through this time. They have done it before and can do it again. Having run through this exact scenario at the RCGP many times in aid of helping students learn, you would think I would be well practised. Well in that regard I am, but it doesn't make doing for real any easier. 

There have been a couple of times over the last decade where I have felt that the GP and I didn't connect in the way necessary to build trust. I didn't feel comfortable enough explaining to the GP what I was honestly feeling, started to feel stupid, so popped the cork back in the bottle of emotions. That can really set me back. But fingers crossed this wont be the case today. 

The second part is when the GP asks you what YOU want them to do and help with. When doing this in scenarios, it almost felt stupid to be asked what you wanted. Especially if this was your first time feeling this way, you would not have a clue what you were going through, and what was wrong, let alone what was available to help you. But I get it... Once you understand that they don't all want to force meds or treatments on you, and are asking how you would like to tackle the issue, it makes more sense. If only there were an easier way of going about it. Maybe running options by you, expressing their preference and then asking if you would rather go a different way?

But here I go, already 3 steps ahead of the whole process, and I am not going for another 2 hours! I just want to relax a bit, and stop running doom scenarios, and stressing myself out more. But, if it were that easy, I would not need to see the doctor in the first place eh. 

What I want from today is to create a safety net, if things slip further, to have options and a plan in place. For when my mind can't quite do these things as well anymore. If I really start to spiral, to have considered that meds are the right way to go. If I need to take a time out, and take time off, so be it, and whatever happens after that be prearranged by me in a state of sound mind, so none of the decisions are knee jerk or irrational.

In my head I have thought through and discussed with myself the worst case scenarios re work. I know if it all goes wrong and gets too much, leaving IS an option, and not an irrational one. There is a plan there of what I would do next, how I would get by etc. More importantly though, there is a bigger more hopeful plan in place to not reach that stage. To find a way to move forwards, and not have any dramatic changes. Compromise can be found if both parties are willing. And seeing the GP today is the beginning, and works fine in either scenario.

So I guess what I am saying is, this is a necessary evil that I have to go through, and a conversation I am dreading, but must happen. The only unknown now, for the next 2 hours at least, is which doctor I will see, and what their attitude to mental health is.

If you are reading this after 14.30 on 27/07/22 then I have seen the GP now.

I am sure there will be another entry a bit later on, maybe today, maybe in a few days, depending what state of mind I leave the doctors in. 

Thanks for reading.

It has been a few days, and as the mood continues to dip, so do the energy levels. Earlier in the week I put the lethargy down to the high temperatures, but as the weather has returned to normal, and my sleep periods extended, the tiredness has really taken a hold. Lack of interest in getting up in the mornings, seemingly slipping towards the "just another half hour" of the days of depression. And even once up, unless I am fully engaged doing something, I quickly feel ready to sleep.

Another thing I have noticed is a long background headache. The past couple of days now, its just there nagging away, threatening to get worse. It's not dehydration, caffeine deficiency or anything like that. As usual my fluid levels are sky high, and my caffeine intake has not differed. It is more like a stress/ tension headache, which just doesn't want to give up. 

Speaking of tension, the lower back muscle tightness and pain still doesn't seem to want to ease up in any way, and it spreading into my shoulder and neck. Just feels like I am turning into a big ball of stress right now. Which in some respects is hardly surprising. The discomfort, combined with the tiredness I have been feeling are starting to leave me less and less able to focus on tasks. Instead becoming distracted by either symptoms, or starting to put things together in my head, and worry myself into a deeper state of stress and anxiety. 

I have the doctors in a couple of days time, and already that is starting to worry me too. Going over the consultation in my head over and over. What do I say, how do I explain why I think I am feeling this way. Will I sound bone idle and like I am trying to pull a fast one. What is deemed a "disability"? Dare I even utter those words? It just seems such a crass thing to say, when others around me suffer much more in different ways all the time. 

In reality, I am hoping I will see a decent doctor, who I will feel comfortable explaining my symptoms and situation to. Hopefully I will be able to discuss the past 15 or so years, and how I have slowly learned what I can and can't do. Periods on medication, total periods of depression and anxiety on record. And somehow get across how different the past two years have really been for me, until now anyway. 

In the meantime I am trying to keep up with my exercise, and stay active, to at least get a mental boost that way. But I can't deny being distracted while I exercise now. Morning runs and rides are thwarted with thoughts of "I might not be able to do this soon", which really kills the mood I have to say. Not to mention the back pain too, which kinda makes riding and running that bit more difficult. A 40 odd mile ride yesterday wasn't too bad, and thankfully I managed to lose myself for a bit. But by the end I was truly exhausted. A run this morning, first in a while was uncomfortable to say the least, pressure around the hips and pelvis from the muscle tension made it a bit miserable. 

One thing the ride yesterday helped me with though was reminding myself of the difference between mental and physical exhaustion. Are highlighting that what I am feeling at the moment, during a working day is mental exhaustion. My brain absolutely running at full speed, some on day to day work stuff, and the rest seems to be preoccupied and bunged up with worry and overthinking about what is going on, and what lays ahead. 

Boy oh boy, I am getting tired just thinking about it all to write this, so I am gonna go and write myself a list to take to the doctors with me on Wed. Part of me is hoping they don't suggest meds right now, but the other part realises that at times like this, I am not great at judging my own state of well-being, and have turned to a doctor for a reason. I think I would like to stay off meds at least until any discussion between my line manager, HR, and the seniors has taken place, but who am I to judge. 

Right now I am 99.9% positive it is the news of the return to the office that is the cause of this. Over 15-20 years of mental health issues, there have only been a handful of times I feel I can put my finger on the trigger. It always amused me before when I was asked by doctors, and I had no answer. On this occasion, I am pretty darn sure of it. Now I just have to wait and see what everyones opinions of my thoughts are, and how it is treated.


*sigh* Right, back to the real world. Thanks for reading. 

As I start to feel the slipping feeling of my mental state, I thought it would be interesting for me to document, for myself, the things I start to notice as time goes by. It starts out simple and slowly becomes more and more unsettling, until doing the most basic of things starts to become impossible. 

Loss of focus. This one hits hard especially for working. Dealing with numbers and sequences of characters all day, the ability to read and recall is quite important to me. For example, looking at a phone number on a screen, while dialing it on the phone. Sometimes it's two quick sequences of numbers, but as focus slips, it becomes a collection of two digit numbers, so rather than 12345-67890 it becomes 12-34-56-78-90.. When trying to work quickly, that soon becomes very frustrating, and you get behind on things quickly. 

Which brings me onto frustration and franticness (is that even a word). Generally as you start to do something you make little errors along the way, we correct loads of them all the time, without so much as batting an eyelid. But as you start to make more little mistakes, and are more and more aware of them, it soon turns into a frantic spiral of doom. "I can't do this" becomes the mantra, and you begin to give up and doubt yourself.

 Being manic comes next, with self doubt, fear of messing up big time, and the desire to just get the hell outta there. It would be simple to just remove yourself from the situation all together, rather than mess up and make yourself look like an idiot, not to mention let everyone down. Some of these situations are so hard to explain to someone who has never felt that way. And I should point out that just because the person is feeling like they are failing, they could in fact be acing it, but are just unable to see that for themselves. 

Focus is one I notice almost straight away. Did I mention that.. Oh yes, I did. But here is a different example. Let's call it attentiveness. Trying to be in the moment, spend time with people, listen and be attentive, engage in conversation. It's not that you are distracted by something else. Not even caught in your own thoughts for once, you just simply become vacant. It is not for the lack of want to engage, just simply being unable to. It works both ways too. Being mid sentence and simply losing your place. Which reminds me of something else. 

Confusion. Simply trying to make yourself understood, trying to find the right word for a situation, or being able to express yourself properly. Over the past few days I have given up mid sentence while trying to think of the word I wanted. Confusion plus frustration leads to just wanting to run away. 

There is so much more to add to this, and I will try a second part tomorrow, but it's late now and I NEED sleep. Hopefully my back will be less painful tomorrow morning and I can get out on the bike for a few hours to clear my head a bit. Phew, feels good to have gotten that off my chest. 

 

Night! 

And just like that, WFH was over!

OK, slightly exaggerating there maybe. However, the outcome of the meeting I blogged about the other day did indeed say that our workgroup is "not in the scope for WFH", and therefore must return to the office full time after a 30 day notice period.

To say my reaction to this news was bad would be a serious understatement to say the least. Sleep has gone out the window, constantly dwelling and over-thinking the decision. Mind filled with worry and genuine fear of the idea of returning to working from an office, and anxiety off the chart. To such an extent in fact, I have made a doctors appointment for next week to discuss it.

So much on my mind right now, I don't even know where to start, but will try at the beginning, to try and get some of this out of my head.

When you suffer with severe anxiety, it is not so much about curing, but learning to cope. Over the years I have removed myself from situations which cause me anxiety, becoming quite anti-social which is fine by me, avoiding unnecessary contact with people. Obviously avoiding work, unless having a serious bout of anxiety was never an option. So each time I recovered, I would make an effort, and learn ways to cope with the office environment. However, Covid changed everything.

With Covid, and the introduction of working from home, my life changed, for the better. Now I have to say, a lot of people saw the benefits such as being home for deliveries or work on the house. Childcare became easier for some, and many others saw a huge improvement in their work/home balance. No commute meaning time and money saved, and so on. But for me there was one other thing, a huge reduction in anxiety, and a massive improvement on my mental health. Seriously, you could measure it on so many metrics!

Better sleep, more relaxed mood, more engaging with others, healthier state of mind, almost no anxiety about issues at all. I have become fitter both mentally and physically. I have a better relationship because of it. I am able to deal with lifes little worries in my stride now, rather than falling apart about how I am going to pay a bill for example. I am a better me! And its all thanks to working from home. Plain and simple.

So to suddenly be told that it is coming to an end has thrown me into a tail spin. Was it ever said it was permanent, well no. But as time passed and there was talk about the new way of working, caring about peoples life balances, learning from having WFH, etc, it started to feel like it for sure. Of course, that is just an assumption, and a big one at that, so shame on me for hoping. But as groups started to find out their fates moving forward, people in groups which function similarly to ours were told they were at least working hybrid, so the assumption continued. Then BANG!

Knowing what lays ahead at least removes the uncertainty. But it also in turn replaces it with dread, fear and so much more. My mind is manic right now, concentration on simple tasks is impossible, to the point for example, cutting chicken for lunch earlier, I had to put the knife down, step away and take some breathes, to stop myself from frantically rushing, and possibly hurting myself. It sucks, and I hate feeling myself drop into this mindset. One which is all too familiar, and I know where it goes from here. The only way is down. 

Desperate to get a grip on things before it gets out of control and messy, I contacted my GP surgery today, to try and get an appointment. Of course they were all gone, but after a minute of speaking to reception, it was obviously clear to her that I was in a bad way, and she managed to get me in to see a doctor next week. This is really a situation I hoped I was over with now. Quite a while without seeing a GP about anxiety. In recent years my coping mechanisms were enabling me to work without too much drama. But WFH showed me just how much of a compromise I was making to do that. A level of compromise I cannot even imagine returning to. So much so, I am almost positive it will lead to an episode for me. 

The idea of speaking to the GP now, with the possibility of going back onto medication I have managed to stay off for a number of years now, just to be able to function normally enough to go back to working in my office. All while I have continued to be able to do my job for the last two and a half years, without issue, and in fact with increased productivity, just seems barbaric! If someone said to you "sure, just take this medication, and the job is yours".... Would you?

I know I am asking a lot, I know in a lot of cases people are asking to remain working from home for much more "trivial" reasons. I use that phrase with caution, as I appreciate we are all different, and our reasons are personal to us. Mine just happens to be a well documented mental health issue. Working from home has highlighted to me how much the "toxic" environment of an office was affecting me, even when I thought I was doing well. Only to discover how much better off I was mentally away from that environment. 

I have spent a few days now thinking things over, and trying to work out where my good place is mentally, and have come to the following conclusions.

  • I feel happier and safer working in an isolated environment. Be that a small office, or working in my home office. Preferably the latter. 
  • I am not adverse to being in larger groups to attend meetings, or training.
  • It is not about any person or individual, I simply don't do well around other people. 

This is not about being work shy, trying to have my cake and eat it, or any other head shaking, finger wagging reasons some might like to think up. This is about me being able to do a job I have done for over two decades now, one I enjoy very much. But without having to take medication to do it, and have a "normal" life. 

Without having ever known what it felt like to work from home, the idea of asking to be allowed to, and expecting mountains to be moved to facilitate me would have seemed like a bit of a stretch. But then along came Covid, forced the hand, and made changes no one could have anticipated. For some departments like the one I am in, on the surface it seems to have been a success. Sickness way down, productivity up, engagement up, communication up, and so on. So to upset the apple cart as a whole seems a bit counter intuitive. But on an individual basis, for me, is a cataclysmic blow to my life balance. 

By this point, some are starting to think I am being a bit over dramatic I am sure, and others noticing the repetition in the paragraphs, but it is with reason. Those thinking its dramatic simply do not understand the implications on day to day life living with severe anxiety has. And the repetition, well that is just to get my message across. I cannot even start to comprehend working back in the office with a group of people, without having a complete meltdown, and taking a huge dose of medication to numb my mind a bit.

What a great balance, taking medication, dulling my thought process, but being able to work, before coming home completely mentally drained from work, then starting all over again after a crap nights sleep.  

I have to say of course, that this is a fluid situation, and at this point I have NOT been given 30 days notice to return to the office. If this is to happen, it is estimated we will return for some time in September. In the meantime I have my GP appointment, have begun some online counselling with AXA provided by work, and have spoken to my manager and HR about my concerns. Which are in turn being addressed. 

With the disability act in mind, I have asked for some consideration to be given to my situation, and have been advised I will need to see Occupational Health for an assessment. I will also raise this with my GP. All I can do now is hope that my appeal is considered fairly, and that I can continue in my role, and without medication for the foreseeable future. 

Right, am back to find a cold damp rock to hide under until I hear more. In the meantime, thanks for reading this ramble. 

It is amazing how fragile the status quo of the mind can be. One minute you are whistling along, all is fine and dandy, and the next... Well, in a flash you are where I am right now.  Overwhelmed, irritated, stressed, over-thinking etc. You name it, that is what's going on in my head right now. 

I have no idea what is going on, just know that since this morning I have felt incredibly low and stressed, and as the day has drawn on it has just spiraled. To the point, the smallest of things are weighing heavy on me. I am obsessing over trivial things, and having doom filled conversations with myself.

Fresh back from a week away in Svalbard, it is only natural to hit the ground with a bump. That said, Monday and Tuesday felt OK with being back at work. The break was nice, but getting home and back to normality has always been a nice thing too. 

As the years have gone by I have gotten better and better at picking up on the little signs that things are starting to wobble a bit, and right now I think that is where I am at. It's not rock bottom, in fact it is far from it, in general things are good. It is just the amount of anxiety I am feeling over nothings. Out running earlier, and walking just now, the people around me felt like they were getting close for no reason other than to wind me up. The familiar "what are people thinking about me" is back too, although not too badly at the moment.

So many external things out of my control, so many little things that are getting to me for no good reason, and of course my old favourite, the self loathing, and doubting.  All signs that things are not right, and time is of the essence. So it is time to jump off social media for a bit. At least the parts which I engage with others, at least for now. Maybe hang on to Insta to share a few bits for a while. But for now, this is me time. 

Not a cry for help, not a pity me, just a me me me. If I need to talk to anyone, rest assured I will as ever reach out to those I know and trust. In the meantime, enjoy the peace and quiet from me. 

 

2

Since around Xmas time, the same question has been on my mind, and as the weeks go by it is frustrating me more and more. 

Without beating around the bush, it's a simple one. Do I continue to do the RCGP sessions? If you don't know, I work with the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) a few times a year, doing sessions with med students who are learning to work in the GP environment. Doing staged consultations, as an expert patient, presenting with symptoms I am familiar with, i.e Depression and Anxiety. I have done this for a few years now, and while I find it pretty bloody stressful, I also take some comfort from the fact that I am helping others to understand the conditions, and maybe help them be in a better position in the future to help future patients. 

I have said time and again, I find the sessions exhausting, more mentally than physically, and sometimes it can trigger a bit of a wobble for me. However, I really love the engagement with the students, being able to talk about bouts of depression, and dealing with day to day life with severe bouts of anxiety. So you can see where I am going with this. There are genuine pros and cons. 

Each session I do requires me to take a day off work, for the physical sessions which are now returning, I also need to travel to Central London for the day, and pay for transport or parking. In return I get to stretch myself outside comfort zone a little, engage with the next generation of GP's (some of them anyway), and explain from a first person POV what it is like trying to live when things are bad. I don't for one second think this is an unfair balance. I also get an Amazon voucher for my time, so I am very grateful for that.

A couple of months back, I was approached by one of the teams at Kings College London (KCL) about the possibility of doing some sessions for them too. At the time I was in one of my more positive frames of mind, and really keen to get back to doing what I could for the cause, and was happy to talk to more people about living with depression and anxiety. I have to say the first couple of experiences were a little daunting. New people, new procedures, and the likelihood of becoming a lead in a session of my own at some point. For someone with anxiety, that's a big change and ask. But looking back, I went through the same when I started working with the RCGP too. 

Over Xmas and the New Year, I had a bit of a wobble, and my head went a bit funny, and I started doubting myself. Not only taking on work with KCL, but also questioning my continued work with the RCGP too. A technical error on the last KCL session left me unable to participate, and in that moment I panicked a little about what the hell I was doing. I was out of my depth, completely out of my comfort zone, and floundering. I made my apologies and bowed out quickly, then spent the next few weeks contemplating. So, here I am!

To compound things more, I contracted Covid a couple of weeks back, which coincided with the first RCGP session of 2022, so I missed that too. The longer I have been away, the more I have doubted myself. I have always said as soon as you start to have doubts and questions about something, it is time to get out. But it just doesn't sit right with me. 

I am not irreplaceable, I am sure there are plenty more people who could and would do the sessions in my place. I don't think it is about ego and having some sort of bragging rights either. To me, when feeling positive about things, I love the idea that I am able to help people understand what others are going through. Be it blogging to let others struggling know they are not alone, or explaining to someone, whilst in a rational state of mind, what it is like to be in that situation, and how doctors and the medical world can best help those struggling.  

It is ironic that something that I do to help with mental health has caused me sleepless nights, hours and hours of painful contemplation, and yet still it isn't a simple "I'm done" in my head. I need to be sure of what I do next.

  • Pros     Rewarding, enlightening, educational for others
  • Cons   Tiring, uses annual leave, travel stress

I know I have made an impression on some of the students in the time I have been doing this. I know deep down inside I want to continue to help anyone in any way I can. Teaching, counselling, sharing. But I would be lying if I said it doesn't come at a cost. So I am stuck!

I am away in Svalbard for a week mid Feb, so think I will take that time in the arctic to weigh it all up, without any other pressures, and go from there. But am always interested to know what others would do in a similar situation. I'm not a martyr, not a hero or a saint, but I know I make a tiny bit of a difference, and like a dirt devil in the desert, I know from small things, big changes can come. 

So.... WHAT DO I DO ???

I guess it's just the time of year more than anything, but my head is getting into a funk, more and more each day. Looking back I can see a pattern, winter, darker, gloomier days, and the mood to suit. Perfectly normal really, many of us are in the same predicament I am sure. Difference for me is, it is the catalyst for spiraling down into the doom and gloom of my mind. 

For years now this time of year has been horrible for me, going right back to losing contact with my daughter, and completely losing the Xmas spirit that goes with parenthood. So I am not sure if it stems from that, or just part of my normal mood swings these days. It was around Xmas of '98 I lost touch, so it seems obvious to me that Xmas would bring feelings of bitterness in general. But as the years have gone by, and I have enjoyed it less and less, there also seem to be parallels to the fakeness of the whole season. 

Commercialised rubbish, people feeling duty bound to say festive things, and be even more fake than usual. Having family, friends and relatives that you spend the whole year avoiding, thrust into your face. I struggle with people at the best of times, but at least when I do engage, it is with genuine people for good wholesome conversation and company. 

So here I am, the 2021 slump is here. The past few weeks, I have slowly lost a lot of my usual drive and motivations. Exercise is still alive and well, but I noticed last week I was pushing maybe a little too hard, so made an effort to back off a bit this week. Distraction is fine, destruction less so. I am at the point at the moment of stalling with the motivation to get going. This morning for example, I was meant to be observing a session with KCL, but the slightest opportunity to back out of it was enough of a temptation to cancel that. Instead opting for a run.

I haven't run as frequently as I have been of late, partially down to aches and pains, a little exhaustion, and mainly the change in the weather and mood. The idea of being out there puts me off. Although as I write this I realise it's not the weather at all. I have been running at about 7.30-8am recently, and that is school run and commute time. This means lots of people, which in my head equates to over thinking and over reacting, much as my last blog said.  So maybe, just maybe I need to get out earlier?

This time last year my sleep was terrible and I was out running at midnight, so I went into winter conscious of this, and keen to avoid disrupted sleep again, which is why I aimed for later. Hmmph, maybe 6am is a better idea? I think I need to experiment a little with timings. 

So that is one part of the issue I guess, the other is my head in general. Little patience, short tempered, easily distracted, lack of focus, the list goes on. Recently I have looked into what other than anxiety and depression could be contributing towards my state of mind. It's not a temporary thing, it is very much all year around, but sometimes exacerbated by external influences, such as time of year. The findings have been interesting to say the least, and the outcome of some of the tests equally interesting. I am not looking for a label, to belong, to fit in, nor an excuse for being the short tempered introvert I sometimes am. Just some understanding of it all, and to see if there are things I can do to try and make life a little easier for myself at times like this. 

Today for example, after avoiding the meeting, and going for a run, I thought I would come home, have a lay down and relax for a bit. So I hopped back in bed for half an hour. However, 5 mins into this half hour of rest, I decided I needed to wash my running gear, so got up and put a wash on. Then went to slump in front of the TV for a bit. But was distracted by dust on the cabinet, so got up and cleaned it. Returning to the sofa I decided the floor needed cleaning too so grabbed the hoover. While I have the hoover I might as well do the rest of the house, so I did. Returning to the sofa, now the dog hair on the throw was bothering me, so I took it to the garden to shake it off a bit. On the way back to the front room I thought, "sod it I might as well give it a wash". So stopped off in the kitchen, put my running gear on to dry, and the throw in for a wash... An hour later, and I managed to finish watching what I was watching, and have now put the 3rd load of washing on for the day.

Can you see the pattern I can? Obsessive behaviour created by the inability to focus and relax for 5 mins, in the fear of being left alone with my thoughts. Finally, I get to sit down, because it is time to work. Paid to be distracted for the afternoon, it almost feels like respite! 

It is this cycle (not the wash cycle) I am trying to learn to avoid, and train myself to spot early on. My anxiety is not always about being around people, but sometimes it's about being alone with my thoughts. My own mind is probably the most damaging thing to my mental state, and its own creations are usually my downfall. Whether it be spiraling out of control with premature anxiety about something that has not even happened yet, or dwelling and over thinking something that has already happened, and no amount of thought can change the outcome, my mind can do it all, and it is crippling.

I still to this day get caught up over thinking a situation that happened in 2016. Something I still to this day do not understand the reasoning for. No idea what I did wrong, but know the outcome and exclusion upset me to such an extent I can't let it go. Worse still is the thought of confronting the situation, and the subsequent discussion being even more damaging, and adding to the distress it already causes. Damned if I do, damned if I don't. There are many more things like this that I can't get my head around, but can't let go of either. 

In a rather cold way, I guess that is one of the reasons I have always been so "at ease" with death. It happens, it's final, you can't change it. Sure you never get to speak to that person again, but you know why, and you know you can't change it, end of. It seems such a crass thing to say I know, and realise it affects people so deeply at times, but maybe it is a blessing in disguise that I process it that way?

Every year I write blog entries like this, desperate to find an escape from myself, and every year I realise it is not going to happen. Am I depressed? By my definition, no. Certainly not to the extent and depths I know I can fall to anyway. So I try to see it from the normal perspective that it is cold out, not a lot of daylight, and normal activities are harder to do. So find other things to do, new things to focus on, and other more productive and healthy things to keep my mind occupied.

I guess what is present is anxiety. Anxious about my inability to cope with the simplest of things. Becoming overwhelmed at the drop of a hat, and at such insignificant things. Routine to me is everything. It is what keeps me functioning day to day. Breaks from that routine, even the slightest change can cause my day to crash and burn in a flash. Positive one moment, then dwelling the next about why I was not able to do what I wanted and had planned. My day off the other day a great example of this. I had planned to do a ride, but the weather said otherwise, therefore I had nothing to do, but sit at home with my thoughts, and from there it cascades like an avalanche. 

What I need to do is plan ahead, know what I am going to do when the seasons change in advance. Have a back up plan for my plans for days off, just in case. With that said, I have been thinking about getting a rowing machine for a while now, to mix up my training plan a bit, and work on the core a bit more. But as usual the world conspires against me (I joke, although it feels that way some times), and the prices have gone up, and availability gone away, so that has upset the balance for me too. My thinking is a rower is something to distract me, lower impact so I won't destroy myself on it, and will be a perfect option for breaking up the fitness routine, especially when the weather isn't playing ball.

Meh, this is dragging on isn't it? But as usual writing and thinking about what to write has answered some of my own questions to myself. Still I am left with many more. One day I will understand myself a little better, and hopefully a few days break over the Xmas period I hate so much will do me a little bit of good. Relax the mind, get some fresh air, and hit the reset button. Here's hoping anyway. 

Thanks for reading as ever, I am going off to think deeply again now, and hopefully get myself out of this funk a little bit.