Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Appointment and Shopping

I've got an appointment at Occupational Health Service at St Andrews University, which I've heard good things about.  So that is a good thing. 

I wish I'd known about this organisation earlier. I'm a bit embarrassed I didn't, but also I suppose it needs better publicity.

I went shopping today to get some beer and crisps.  But making tiny choices seemed very hard: should I look for meringues to make Eton mess??   It's well known that decisions become hard when you are anxious, but I really saw this - and felt it - today.

I'm microblogging this because ... I don't know, but I am.

Feeling normal from time to time

Last night I had a bath and afterwards realised that during the bath I more or less felt normal.  I mean, normal being however I usually feel, which may not be normal at all.

Also this morning woke up with the same feeling.  Got up and got breakfast like I normally do instead of slumping and waiting for my wife to do it.

Later on started to think about the referendum again and was winding myself up.  But managed to catch it, and have a nap.  Not feeling normal right now but not too bad.

For me the not normal feeling is a slight clench in my stomach telling me that something is going to go wrong: maybe not my stomach but just on the bottom of my ribcage on the left.

Apropos nothing I'm pleased that my sense of humour never went away. I don't mean it's particularly helped me, but it's nice that I'm not completely broken.

And here are two news stories on the referendum that have cheered me up a bit in the preceding days:

Random donations to a food bank, showing that many Scots want to get over the referendum and get on with helping other Scots.

Tam Dalyell on the West Lothian Question (partly because I honestly thought he had died so was pleased he's still her).

And finally here's an amazing story that I hadn't heard about until now

India got an orbiter round Mars for $71 million.  !!!

Monday, 22 September 2014


1. On Friday, I had to sign for medicine. I couldn't remember the day of the month, the date, or the year!

2. Today I had to park to get medicine. I forgot and drove past, but pulled over with a slightly longer walk. Then I got the medicine and walked home. So I walked back to get the car.  (It was about a 5 min walk away)

3. I'm very glad i started Depressed Academics 21 months ago because I couldn't have started it now and it's nice to have a friendly place to chat.

It's Anxiety

Should have realised.

Went to the doctor for symptoms of anxiety and she changed my medication to be more anxiety focussed.

Don't know if that will help.  I'm not obsessive about meds so haven't even looked at the name yet.  Apparently it can make me more anxious for the first couple of weeks.

I think the anxiety is an issue.  I am a worrier definitely, and then join that together with an obsession, I dunno but it could be not too healthy. In this case - the referendum - obviously it can cause anxiety.

But now I have whatever you have when you anxiety. I think it's called anxiety.  The tiniest things set my heart racing and I notice it.

Anyway, it's anxiety.


I feel like my brain is a million pieces of jelly, shaken apart and now hoping to settle back together again in the right order.

Yesterday I wanted to listen to an audiobook or podcast and I simply couldn't decide which. This has never happened before.

Lots of nice mails and comments as I expected.

Successfully got off facebook and twitter but it's harder than you think.  Now can only get in with entry code that goes to my wife's phone.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

I don't know which side of breaking point I'm on

I met an old friend today, and I mentioned I was having trouble.  He said an interesting thing, along the lines of "As long as I've known you, you've always been on the edge, but you've always been able to hold it together."  This is a very good description and I have recognised what it describes in myself before as what you might call "high-functioning depression". But I'm not holding it together now.

Straight away I'll tell you I don't feel suicidal in any way.  Don't want you to worry.

But otherwise I'm not coping at all.

Last night I stood in my bedroom in floods of tears.  My wife held me tight.  My children came in and also held me.  My daughter stroked my left cheek,  to my wife's disgust (not really) since she had previously stroked it to no effect.

Earlier in the day I had a wonderful experience that made me really happy. I wanted to come straight home (about 6pm) have supper and write about it.  But it was now 9 or 10 and I hadn't started. I was upset with myself, and also wound up.

What was I wound up about?  The Scottish Independence referendum, as I've blogged about here. Not only was the referendum over 2 days ago, but my side won. I thought it would get calmer then, but somehow it didn't.  I guess the problem is that my obsession didn't know it was meant to be over: why should it?  I mean normally it's something timeless (like chess problems) so it can just go on as long as it wants.

In fact it's got a lot worse.  I think there are various reasons for that. The election night (the night before last) had me going to bed at 4.30 or 5 and up again at 7.30, so obviously mild sleep deprivation doesn't help. Annoying because I hadn't meant to do that.  With bad timing my pills ran out a few days ago and I only just got them back again. My fault for not refreshing the prescription because I was doing so well!    What's been happening after the result has been very different to a normal election, where one side celebrates and the other side is miserable.  So I've still been winding up, plus of course there is a lot of postmortem stuff my mind can obsess over.

Anyway, what happened over the last couple of days is that the obsession took over from something that happened to me when I wasn't doing something else, and on a good day I could beat with website blockers, to something which was full on all the time.

I still file like I'm just on the right side of the breaking point. But I don't think I can stay there much longer if things go on as they are.

Ok, don't be stupid Ian. What the bleep are you thinking?  You know you are way past the breaking point.  But I did write those sentences in all seriousness.  Same with the post title. Kind of interesting the way your mind plays tricks on you, huh.

It's obvious I can't do my job at the minute.  Not to anything like a sensible standard.  I could probably hold it together enough to go into work and to come home, but to nobody's benefit.

So what I'm going to try to do is this.

By a lucky coincidence my sister and brother in law are visiting this week, so I think that time with them will be a great help and take my mind off things.

1.  Tell my head of department and school welfare officer this fact
2.  Turn off twitter and facebook completely for a week
3.  Greatly reduce and possibly stop email completely ditto.
4.  This all has some problems because of "forgot your password" and the like.  I'm sure I can sort something out with my wife.
5.  Do things I enjoy like cooking, reading.
6.  Do more running because I have found it really hard to get enough done over the last year or so and I enjoy it - though I wouldn't say for sure it helps my depression.
7.  Keep taking the tablets
8.  Go to see a doctor
9.  Have naps
10. Hug my family
11. Drink a bit more.  Sounds crazy but I've been cutting down for a few weeks and I feel that has worked well, but it just seems like something extra to worry about. Obviously take this back on doctor's orders but that's the plan right now. My drinking is not out of control, because fortunately I don't like to get drunk.  But I do like to drink a moderate amount all evening which takes me over the advised weekly allowance.
12. Ditto eating. Comfort food.
13. Avoid coverage of the referendum, but that's a bit tricky... but certainly I can't let the
14.  Talk to the university occupational health officer - probably via school welfare officer.
15. You know, whatever, I'm not really very functional right now so I think I'm going to stop worrying about this list.
16. Ask my sister to read this post. I've never been very open face to face, while very open online as you can probably see from Depressed Academics.

This seems like quite a long list to me.... but ... umm... well ok I guess we just see what happens. In my family we tend to make long lists and then get upset that they are not done.

It might be that a week turning off and on again will get me back to normal.  That would be cute.  Because there's important work I want to do and was getting into the flow of when my brain wasn't stopping me. But I have no idea how long this could be.

I suspect that I've been this bad or nearly so before. But certainly those other times I didn't decide I couldn't do my job. Now I look back from here I probably should have done.

Honestly, since I started Depressed Academics 21 months ago I have always had imposter syndrome here because my depression has been under control.  I don't feel like an imposter at the minute.

There's one last thing I'm going to do, which is to tell everybody. I mean, I think that is pretty clear by now.  But also I'm going to mail the staff in the department to tell them. I don't think people should do that in general, because their health is for themselves alone, unless it affects their work. If it does, there is a VERY limited group of people who need to know.  Other people might just need to know that somebody is away or not available, or signed off for unspecified reasons.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Obsessive, moi?

Ok, I get it.

I completely get that my current obsession with the Scottish Independence Referendum isn't healthy and isn't helping anyone.


Three days from now (as I write) the Scottish electorate will go to the polls to decide if Scotland should be independent from the UK, or remain - as it is now - a constituent nation in the United Kingdom. The decision will be on 50% + 1 vote and will be definitive. The referendum has been in the schedule for several years, but of course it is now reaching fever pitch. There has been regular polling throughout, which for a long time was roughly 42-45% Yes, 55-58% No.  Recently the polls have tightened to very close to 50:50.  For sure, nobody knows which way the result is going to go.

What do I think?

If you want to know what I think, you can find out on my personal blog, where a number of posts discuss various aspects of the referendum. Or if you want less considered thoughts, look at my twitter timeline. Well if you want to know even more, and you know me in person, friend me on facebook.

Obsessive, moi?

I'm completely obsessed. I have wasted days online refreshing twitter and facebook, surfing the links that come up, looking at arguments. I find myself just absent mindedly clicking on facebook and twitter to see what's new a minute into trying to do something important. I installed an app to block  these sites, and would find myself going to my phone to get the info, though it did work a bit. And then I wasted half a day because the app wasn't working.

I've posted many many many comments on facebook.  And many tweets on twitter.  And I have also written and deleted posts before sending them. And many more I have mentally composed without writing them. And many many more thoughts have entered my head about the referendum.

Not helping me or anyone

I don't honestly think I've been helping others very much. Maybe a bit, highlighting things they hadn't seen previously. I have had some good arguments where both parties have left thinking differently, not on the main question, but on some of the issues. But equally not helping them by bombarding their timeline with what are often ranty posts.  Ranty because I can't hold myself back in the middle of whatever thing infuriates me this minute. And as I say, my friends should see many of the posts I don't send!  Oddly, today I did get a mail from somebody saying he was enjoying my posts: I think he must just be the politest person on the planet!

The point of this essay is not whether I am helping my friends or not. It's that this obsession is obviously not healthy for me, and I know that because my brain gets so scrambled.  It just gets to a place I hate, where almost every thought is about this issue, I can't fix any of it,  it matters very deeply to me, and it causes me pain.

Simply put, I'm a worrier, and when I get into a certain loop it just takes over my brain somehow.  I know this because it's happened to me a few times before in my life. All have been extremely unpleasant to me. Usually about some failed relationship in some sense (and I'm not going to go into details about those.)  When it gets like this I feel in danger. Not so much that I am not functioning - just now I'm doing functioning well and I'm not even depressed.  But I feel like some stick could hit the fast spinning wheel of my brain and throw me off it, with unpleasant effects.

Obsessive, moi?

Obsessive is what I do. I get into some computer game, and just play it to death. Eventually move to the next one and never pick up the old one again. My daughter noticed this years ago: it's not subtle. I archive binged on books decades before it was possible on films and tv. It was Asterix, or it was Asimov, or it was Peanuts.  And I would read them over and over again, not going on to the next obsession.  Now I get into a movie or tv series and watch it over and ... well I think you are getting the idea.

If I find something fascinating I just obsess about it and think about it all the time. Growing up it was cricket. I would get out my reference books and compile all time great teams composed of players with the same initial letter. (If I remember right the H's and B's were particularly good: Holding and Headley against Bradman and Botham amongst many others.)  For a few happy years it was chess puzzles. I particularly enjoyed helpmates. I would have long baths and do several puzzles in them with a portable chess set (a wonderful one found by my wife.) I would wake up and think about a chess puzzle in my head, have an insight, and go to the chess set to find out if I was right.

You might see where this is going. This obsessive brain that doesn't stop thinking about stuff is one of the reasons I am good at my academic job. I think and think and think and something comes to me.  Often the result is garbage. Sometimes they are really good ideas.
I wouldn't change it

I would love not to obsess about a broken relationship or the independence referendum.

But if I had a choice of a button that changed my brain to be non obsessive like it is, I couldn't hit it. The risk would be too great that I would change myself so I wouldn't recognise myself and I would be no good at my job.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Emotional selfawareness — the rare success

So this is something I struggle with. Noticing how I'm feeling early enough that I could possibly do something about it. It was the main focus of my first therapy, back a decade ago: mapping my swings so that I could pick up on warning signs and figure out ways to disrupt them before they started a resonating, self-amplifying feedback mood spiral.

It is really hard to do though. Especially since many of my mood swings sort of self-reinforce. It's only natural that I feel crappy, because I should be feeling crappy, because I don't deserve to not feel crappy, so I shouldn't even try to knock myself out of it… things like that…

But today, a measure of success:

I traveled all day today. Got out of bed at 4.30am to fly from Vienna to Stockholm. Couldn't sleep yesterday night. Have been resigned all day to how sooner or later this sleep debt will kick off a mood swing. Just waiting for it.

It came now. Just as I was gearing up towards maybe packing myself into bed, I felt pressure behind my eyeballs, and my breathing got strained and sorta staccato-like, and an overwhelming need to cry.
Came and went in waves. There a minute, gone a minute

I realized that this wasn't how I should be feeling.
And then I remembered: I actually have something for this. I got oxazepam against the rare case where I want to knock out a feedback spiral before it starts. Together with a lecture about drug-seeking behavior, and cutting down the dose for each pill, but that's good enough for me.

Took one.

Knocked out the spiral.

I now no longer feel like a crash is impending. Nor like it necessarily needs to show up at all.

If only I could remember these the times I crash so bad my face goes weird or my movements just slow down…