Category Archives: Mental Health

A Quick Wednesday Update

I’ve had bad anxiety for the past few days – never sure if the nightmares set it off or it causes nightmares, or both just go round in circles… but it’s just a Bad Brain which got particularly bad last night, and left me in a heap.

Today’s been a little better, albeit rather shaky; work’s absolutely lovely about it and I have wonderful and supportive co-workers (even if one of the support methods is an unexpected bag of Haribo dropped in front of me; that made me jump!) And I had a good cry on my partner at lunchtime when they hit me with something lovely that released a tangle, so that helped whack a few of the weasels occupying my brain.

So hopefully on the up from it now; still shaky, just had cereal for dinner (because it beats not eating) and going to do some self-care this evening, but the world’s looking a bit better.

Ps. I’m writing! Snippets of characters, but there’s writing there!

sloth by neil slorance

Duelling Weasels: conversations about mental health

One of the strangest and most amazing things about my life at the moment is the fights I’m having with weasels. Over the last few months, I’ve been having so many wonderful, painful and helpful conversations that identify and clarify the voices in my head; both with my partner, and with friends – and with myself!

It has mostly been my partner who’s responsible for the growing. We’ve both got a lot of background from growing up and from previous relationships – as has anyone, I suspect – but after starting off our relationship on an entirely honest foot, it’s just continued from there. Our conversations are peppered with mental health shortcuts; weasels, pins, owls, tangles, ducks, balloons – they do all make sense to us, honest! – and they all really help to be able to analyse how we’re feeling and what we need.

But the best thing, the most amazing, and sometimes most painful thing, is the ability to say, “I feel like this. And I think this is why.”

The first step is usually being able to identify an emotion – to stop, and think, “Well, ouch…but this is what I’m feeling”.  Sometimes I can’t identify it, or it’s a tangle of things; a lot of the time there’s multiple strands to any emotion, and it takes time to unpick them. So it’s just slowly untangling, or appreciating that maybe it’s too big a tangle, and putting a pin in it to come back to. Sometimes it’s just a case of different expectations. Sometimes it’s a complete misunderstanding. And sometimes it’s just a weasel sitting in my brain going NYAAAAAhH. But very often, I’m able to sit there and think, “Yes, I can put my finger on this. I’m angry/sad/upset/jealous/hurt/hyperactive/depressed/nervous.”

But identifying doesn’t mean suppressing it – that’s something I’ve been trying to work on too. Things like jealousy and anger and frustration are healthy! If I’m angry, it means something’s wrong. If I’m jealous, it means there’s something I need to deal with. If I’m miserable, it’s often just my brain having a depressed moment. It is really hard, when I’m feeling something, to make myself stop and analyse when all I want to do is scream or grumble or curl into a ball. It’s hard to stop the knee-jerk reactions, and just be able to step away. But it’s also so, so satisfying to be able to recognise it; to say, “yes, I’m feeling that – and that’s ok. Let’s look at why.”

And it’s really satisfying to be able to talk about it; to try to figure out why I’m feeling like this, and what – if anything – I can do. It’s something that I’ve noticed in my interactions with my partner, and with friends – and I think, I hope!, that it’s making all of my relationships healthier. If nothing else, it’s preventing misunderstandings based on past experiences or a missed word or simply an email with no context – and if it means that I can be a happier and healthier person, then I think that’s a really good thing.

So, self-reflection and talking: hard work, but absolutely worth it!

(Also, weasels are derps.)

A Kate Update

I’m not doing too well at the moment. I got flu last week, and had three days off work (over a weekend, as well, so ended up being ill for about five days). A week later and I’m now off again as the lingering cough has developed into a full-blown raw throat and hurting chest, plus a mild bout of food poisoning yesterday, plus nightmares that mean I’m not sleeping well. My partner’s been ridiculously sweet about looking after me, but there’s only so much you can do when everything just needs to work itself through.

Fuck this I'm going back to bedMy mental state isn’t the best either. I know that I should be feeling really happy – I have a wonderful partner, a place of my own, a job I love – but everything’s feeling pretty overwhelming. I know that it’s mostly just brain weasels and depression talking; the point when I start thinking that I “should” be happy is usually the point that I know it’s not entirely me talking. But it’s also really hard to cope when I feel like my list is growing, and it all feels incredibly endless.

(…sort a plumber for getting the dishwasher out, and then sort them coming back to replace a part – and get the dishwasher fixed or replaced. Paint the shelves, and then again, and then sand and paint again. Email a solicitor about some niggly divorce financial stuff and then understand the answers – which I am seriously struggling with – and then have to do paperwork which is a task in itself, as printing and getting ID documents sorted and sending them is apparently a multi-day job. Get my boots fixed (again). Finish a formatting job for a client and then do six lots of corrections and then do the ebooks. Start another formatting job plus email a quote back to someone else. Sort a vet checkup for the cats, which involves ringing them as none of them put fees on their websites. Sort the council tax, which is in the wrong name and is somehow very confusing for them. Read five books for friends and give feedback. Think about the Grimbold Patreon because that’s getting urgent. Worry about my laptop screen not working in certain positions which means it’s going to fail soon, and have I backed everything that I need up recently? And this is on top of go to work, sort food, write blog posts, tell my partner I love them (not that that’s ever a chore), be nice to the cats, see friends, see family, email my Aunt, text my Dad about the latest thing he’s worrying about (although that was actually a new table he’s got, so that’s nice), work out which hug gif I haven’t used recently for my friend, book dinner with Badger, remember to ask another friend about their medical procedure, remind Otter that we’re baking eclairs and blues dancing sometime soon…)

I think one of the things that always gets to me is that it never stops. My task list will never be done; it’s quieter now than it has been due to my deliberately trying to throw some things out, but there’s always things. There’s always so many “shoulds” even on top of the task list – I should write more. I should see more friends, appreciate the people in my life more. I should read more. I should take more time for me. I should find space to improve myself or do more things that I want to do. I should be better at using my time than I am… I know it’s a familiar thing for a lot of people, and it’s something that won’t ever stop. I’m being whiny and silly. I do like being busy, I like having tasks – and I do this to myself! I could stop. I could just…say no. Stop doing it. This business and the subsequent tiredness is on me. It’s my own damn fault, and I shouldn’t whine.

But there’s reasons to do all of it. Some of it is shoulds. Some of it simply needs to be done. Some of it is for other people, for friends, for family. Some of it is expectations. Some of it is just because I don’t want to throw away a year’s hard work (the formatting) or 5 years hard work (the blog) or X years hard work (the writing). And some of it is because I do honestly want to do it.

cosy christmas with a book

I’m just very, very tired right now, and a lot of the tiredness is because there isn’t help available. I’ve asked for what I can; and now the only person who can do the rest of it is me. I just need to get on with it.

Anyway! I am going to be ok. I have a cup of tea, some sunshine, a fantastic sofa, and hugs promised this evening. I’m slowly doing what I can. One thing at a time, and I’ll be fine.

Distrusting the Voices

So I’ve been musing about the voices in my head, and how you know when they’re real: how do you distinguish between the anxiety weasels and actual voices that say needed things?

How do you know if you are ugly or beautiful? Worth something? Annoying or funny?

Anxiety means it’s all lies; so how do you actually know what the truth it? When do you start believing the voice in your head, having always shouted it down for lying?

I don’t really have any answers yet, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot.

The image is from Nerds with Vaginas on Facebook.

How to cope with Hypoglycemia

Because a couple of people have asked me about hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), and I realise that while I do explain, I might not do so particularly clearly…and, to be honest, it’s not so common a thing, despite everyone having it to some extent!

The TL;DR of this is – LISTEN TO THE PERSON. THEY WILL USUALLY TELL YOU WHAT THEY NEED.

Having got that out of the way, let me do some more explaining. I’ve got mild hypoglycemia, and have had since I was a child. Basically, I don’t cope too well with not eating for extended periods of time – by which I mean about 3 hours. However, I’m lucky: because it’s mild and not related to diabetes, it’s very much an invisible illness, and one that mostly doesn’t affect me. (Hah. Ok. I manage it so that it doesn’t affect me, mostly.) I don’t need to do the blood pricks or carry insulin/glucose, and it’s not immediately life-threatening – which for many people with the condition, is can be. For me, it just means that I seem to go through glucose a lot faster than most people – and have a worse reaction if I get low blood sugar.

So I’m writing this for a couple of reasons:

  • a PSA for anyone who a) knows me, or b) may know someone with the condition; this is the sort of thing you need to watch out for.
  • to say that this is one of the small, invisible illnesses that does exist – it doesn’t affect my life too badly (or at least is something I manage) and I don’t need any accommodations beyond “sometimes I need to eat in meetings”, but it’s something that is there.
  • and to say: this is me. This is my brain, my body, my life; I’ve had a couple of people asking simply in the spirit of “really? Can you tell me more about it?” so…explanation!

And now a brief diversion via storytime for the fourth reason that I’m writing this…

Basically, one day last week, I messed up. There’s various factors that affect my sugar levels and how they work with my body, including how well I’ve slept and what I’ve been eating (which is why you’ll sometimes find me talking about having a “shaky” day). I hadn’t been doing anything that I knew would trigger issues, and I woke up fine and trundled myself on my walk to work. I realised when I got in that I was a bit tired, but it was the point that I put my bag down and had to try three times to open it that I got a bit suspicious. I can’t always judge how well/badly I’m doing, so it is always a little bit of a guessing game to see where I am on the when-I-need-food scale, and that morning I was struggling a lot sooner than I normally would do…

And that was when I went via Badger’s desk on my way to make tea and porridge, as they know me, and know how to cope – and I had a sneaking suspicion that I might need someone there to watch my back.

The point I nearly dropped the kettle the first time was a bit of a giveaway that I’d been right to be suspicious; the second time got the kettle taken off me before I tipped hot water everywhere, and the point I got tunnel vision was the point I sat myself down on the floor! I think I startled a few caffeine-deprived coworkers, but Badger just handed my tea down to me and spent the next fifteen minutes cheerfully disclaiming any responsibility to said startled coworkers and checking my porridge hadn’t exploded, while I cracked up laughing and got as much of my tea into me as I could. Because I’d caught it in time, I had enough energy to get back to my desk and get breakfast in me (which Badger kindly delivered, mostly to save the carpet from spilled porridge) and by lunchtime I was back to normal. Not unusual in my general experience, but the first time (in six months) I’ve been that bad at work – and in front of other people *winces* which was…well. Not fun, for them and for me – sorry to anyone I scared!

But! I will bet quite a bit of chocolate that the above incident was the first time everyone (except said Badger) in that kitchen had realised there was anything different about the way my body processes glucose and the way I deal with it. Invisible illnesses are invisible – until they’re visible!

So this is your PSA on dealing with hypoglycemia, or at least my case. In anyone with a more severe condition, these timeframes will be a lot shorter, and they’ll have specific things they need to do – but in all cases, more glucose is never a bad thing.

What does it look like?

The first things people tend to notice (to do with my hypoglycemia, anyway) are;

  • I’m the snack queen – I’ll usually have a cereal bar, packet of biscuits or banana on me, and my desk drawer always has a selection of noms;
  • I’ll occasionally hold my hand out flat and stare at it intently for a few seconds, usually after someone’s asked me “how are you doing?”;
  • I usually give time periods before I next need a meal, which can range from “eh, I’m fine” to “you’ve got half an hour and then I WILL NEED FOOD.”
  • I’ll occasionally interrupt things with, “Sorry, I need to eat” and cheerfully continue with whatever it was with the addition of a cereal bar. It seems to flummox some people. (Sorry!)
“When did you last eat?”

The root of hypoglycemia is something everyone gets if they don’t eat enough: low blood sugar. A lot of the initial symptoms might be recognisable – know anyone that gets hangry, tired or irritable if they skip a meal? I get hungry and then tired, but I’ll also get shaky, which is what I look for in my hand. That’s my first sign that it’s not just hunger – as obviously I do get the same reactions as everyone, and therefore “hungry” could simply be my stomach demanding a second breakfast or that spare donut 😀

This is basically the “Kate, you’re a bit grumpy/tired/pale, when did you last eat?” stage, and the solution is a decent meal – for me, preferably something hot and with carbs. However, it’s not always quite that simple: my anxiety means that I often find it hard to go to restaurants or buy food, and if I’m not doing great, I’ll actively avoid eating because it’s stressful…which then, of course, makes me worse. (Yes, I know. That’s why it’s anxiety: it’s not rational.) Various friends know what to look for with this, as it’s quite hard to explain – but as a quick solution if I don’t want to eat, get yourself food and share it with me. It’s one of the shortcuts for my anxiety brain, and will at least get enough energy into me that I’ll hopefully get myself sorted shortly afterwards!

Umbles

If I ignore the hungry I-should-eat – which I can, and frequently do – then I start getting then I get what I affectionately call the “umbles”; mumbles, grumbles, fumbles, bumbles. I’ll drop things. I start getting noticeably tired. I’ll be a bit more clumsy – I’ve referred to “egg days” before, after the day I was handed an egg for baking and it went straight through my fingers…

So if I’m at the I’m at the a-bit-shaky stage, hand me a cereal bar or biscuits, but preferably something not too sugary – so oats, nuts, plain biscuit, that sort of thing. Chocolate isn’t great because it’s too quick a rush, and while it works, if I don’t then get something more substantial in me then I’ll come down off the sugar rush HARD, which hurts. The amount of people that give me chocolate when I’m looking a bit shaky is lovely – I thank them profusely and save it for later. (Definitely not wasting chocolate.)

This is also the stage where if I say to you, “I need to go and eat NOW,” it is not the time to just spend ten minutes faffing or “oh but I just need to-” because I am now on a time limit and You. Are. Not. Helping. If I ever say “NOW” and look like I want to murder you, that’s why. (In the nicest possible way, of course.)

[Edited to add: this sort of thing isn’t every day! This is maybe once every month, if that.]

“Ok, I’m not doing great: help?”

I can push through the shakiness. I know, I know – but if I do then hey, I get a bit of a second wind! Which depletes my reserves and I shortly end up in exactly the same shaky position just without the second wind option, and I really should, by now, know better. It’s easy to just keep going, but the consequences can be nasty (which I’ll go into in a sec). It also happens if I haven’t eaten for 10+ hours (for example, if I’ve been asleep…) or my body’s having a strange day with how it’s processing things, so it’s not just me making terrible decisions.

This is, to me, the “ok, this isn’t great” sitting-on-the-floor and completely-out-of-energy stage – I’ll be properly ‘umbles’, shaking, likely close to fainting if I move too fast, and I can feel an ache in my muscles. I’ll probably also be fairly pale, having trouble focusing, talking quite slowly, and generally a bit subdued.

I’ll possibly also ask for help if I’m around friends – that’s when you know it’s bad!

The solution: anything sugary straight off, and then a decent meal of some sort to back it up. A good compromise is tea, preferably with two sugars, and make sure I’ve got a damn good grip on the mug because I’m likely to drop it. I say ‘compromise’ there because the hot liquid and sugar hurt my stomach but it’s the best thing mentally, and also usually the simplest thing for someone else to make. Also be aware that it will take me about fifteen minutes to get enough sugar in me to recover and get myself somewhere (in last week’s case, off the floor and back to my desk) and then up to 3 hours to get everything back up and running – the aftermath feels a bit like a flu ache, so I’m likely to be moving slowly and holding on to things for a little while after.

The friend help at this stage is often more to field off enquiries and well-meaning people; I know what I need to do, and I’m usually already doing it. It’s also to carry things – yes, I have dropped full mugs of tea before because they’re too heavy – and generally just make sure I am recovering. I’ll still be completely compos throughout all of this; it doesn’t affect my brain (much), only my body. So just keep talking to me, and I’ll probably be laughing at myself while working through tea!

This is pretty bad… (not likely to happen soon to me, at least)

I can keep going, but I’ve not been that much of – frankly – a damned idiot for 15 years. Apparently I collapse, have a fit, and if I then push past that – which I’ve never done – I’d end up in a) hospital, or b) a coma. Fun.

So, if I (or circumstances) do push far enough that I do collapse: let me pass out. I’ll recover, and then you can do the above – aka. feed me sugar. Paramedics can’t do anything: I appreciate it’s a bit scary to see someone shaking on the floor, but it really is a case of just letting it happen and then dealing with the aftermath. I appreciate that anyone around me would probably call an ambulance anyway because it’s hard to tell what is causing a fit, but if you at least tell them I have hypoglycemia they’ll be able to confirm that’s the cause, rather than anything worse. In the one experience I have had, I’d recovered by the time the paramedics turned up and was able to reassure them I was fine.

General advice for any of these stages: talk to me.

Yes, my brain’s sometimes an idiot but if you ask me when I next need to eat, I’ll tell you! I’m also a lot better at letting people know and planning it in to trips, and letting people know if I am having a problem; it’s something that I can – and will – talk about.

If you’re not sure, then ask me (and feel free to tell me that I’m an idiot, as long as you back that up with actual help).

Edited: all of this really doesn’t happen that often, and I honestly do manage it. However, I will occasionally get a little shaky – so the takeaway from this is basically, don’t ignore me if I tell you I need to eat.

And that’s your random PSA for mild hypoglycemia in Kate form!

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