A First-Timer Awaits Darkness Into Light…

Right lads. Four hours to go – no point in trying to sleep at this stage! I’m home and stocking up on bagels and tea for later on, got my raincoat & runners ready…it would only be a cause like Darkness Into Light that would have me up walking any kind of distance at 4am of a Saturday morning.

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I’m dedicating my walk to my wonderful gentleman of a cousin Keith Smith, who was one of the most genuine, gentle souls to walk the earth, and who, like many others, died by suicide this year. Something in our mental health care system is letting down the most vulnerable of people, and until that changes, I guess all us ordinary non-government folk can do is stand up in a show of force to those who are struggling with the darkness, and in a mass symbolic gesture, tell them we understand, we know the pain. Some of us (me included) are doing the walk simply because we are here to do it, and I’ll be honest, 18 months ago I didn’t think I would be. But that’s a whole other story…

So we walk for you, those people who can’t, those who are not around any more even though they should be, who wish they could, who can’t see the wood for the trees, those who could maybe be just one more human interaction away from deciding to stick around…we walk for all of you.

Mind Yourselves. Best of Luck to everyone walking around the country today.

Jen.

Ask J-Ro: Anti-depressants & Side Effects – What’s Normal?

Have you ever used anti-depressants? Any weird side affects? I’m currently on Venlalaxine and they cause me to sweat a lot and have dry mouth, just wondering if this is common for other people on ant-depressants to have recurring and annoying side affects.

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In my own experience: I’ve used anti-depressants on and off over the years (under doctor supervision), and been on a wide selection in the years that I’ve been treated. I’ve heard of one called Venlafaxine, so I think maybe that’s the one you’re referring to, because no search results are coming up for the one you mentioned. I’ve found Venlafaxine very helpful in the treatment of anxiety-based antidepressants, and is more commonly known through the brand names Ireven or Effexor.

There CAN be side effects to taking any anti-depressants, mostly in the first few months of getting used to the drug – the important thing is to take the time to read through the leaflets you get in the box, and that will make you feel a bit better about any strangeness while you’re on them. Sweating can be a side effect all right as far as I know, but if it’s giving you cause for concern, ask your GP for a detailed chat about any changes that occur after you start taking them. Unfortunately, it can be a trial-and-error process when you start getting treatment for depression, and some pills will be more effective than others. It depends on your diagnosis and the nature of your illness.

The important thing is to not give up or stop taking your prescription unless on the advice of your doctor. If you suddenly stop taking Venlafaxine then you’re REALLY going to experience some crappy side-effects, and you don’t want that. So keep taking them as prescribed until your next doctor’s appointment, and then have a chat with them about the side effects you’re experiencing and get some reassurance. You’re most definitely not the only one who gets these side effects, but consult your doctor before you do anything anyway.

Bottom Line: Talk to your doctor before doing anything.

Well done on being proactive in your treatment plan! Always be in tune with your body & mind and don’t be afraid to speak out if you’re not happy with what is being prescribed to you. The more information you have, the better you and your doctor can work together to find the best treatment for you in the long run.

If you haven’t before, I would also recommend bringing in a talk therapy aspect or some Cognitive Behavioural Therapy sessions to help with recognising signs of distress or anxiety and learning how to manage and deal with them in everyday life, and in conjunction with meds, you’ll be fighting fit and happier in yourself over time! Who doesn’t deserve a little peace and contentment in themselves?

Best of Luck!

Ask J-Ro: It’s Okay To Not Feel Okay – Get Talking!

Hey Jen, I have been really down lately, I have battled depression for a couple of years, but lately I have been lying awake beside my amazing husband thinking he would be better without me. I can’t work up the courage to get help. Some days I feel normal and tell myself I’m fine. Others are bad….

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First of all, thank you for contacting me. It must have been so difficult to write those words down. Suicidal thoughts can be louder than any other thoughts running around your brain, so to sit and put them down in concrete form takes a supreme amount of energy. Well done for reaching out!

Second of all, don’t despair. You will be okay. You’re still here, so you have options. If you think people would be better off without you, I can tell you now quite categorically that you’re wrong. Apart from your immediate family and loved ones who will be devastated and forever changed by such an event in ways you won’t be able to imagine, you have no idea how many other people you have influenced indirectly or connected with who will be affected by you deciding to end your life. So promise yourself that you’ll stick around, and in time you will be very glad you did.

It’s also vitally important to recognise that depression is an illness, and suicidal thoughts are a symptom of that illness, so thoughts are not coming from a place of logic. They’re coming from a brain that is battling with its chemistry & wiring levels, so when you get these feelings of despair and depression, don’t take them into your heart. Tell yourself it’s your brain chemistry, and it will pass. I’ve been there more times than I can count, so trust me on this one. It will pass. It may pop up again, but it will go again. The trick is to be self-aware. And that starts with talking to a professional.

Get the ball rolling with a visit to your GP, but also check out Aware (click here) for some fantastic support ideas. MOST IMPORTANTLY: Talk to your husband, and I can assure you, you will be glad you did, and so will he. You don’t have to do this alone. You would want to help him if the situation was reversed. What’s also fantastic is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, it helps you to train your mind and learn how to cope when you do have bouts of depression. There’s more info on that if you click the link here.

Pieta House (available here) are fantastic as well. Reaching out and saying that you’re not feeling good and you’re having those thoughts is a big step to take, so you should be very proud of yourself. Don’t be afraid to keep taking those steps. You’re going to be okay. You ARE okay. You can always keep coming back here as well with any questions or support you need! Best of luck!

<3

Me And My Shadow – Five Years On

I tend to do lots of thinking. Well, what else is there to do when you live in your head all the time? If you’re sitting in a pool all day you may as well swim a lap or two every now and again. Most of the thoughts are fine and banal. Some are friendly, some are out of my control, some have sent me shooting out of sleep like a cannon in absolute terror, taking me five solid minutes to remember where I am, and another five to believe my mind was telling me the truth. Thankfully the latter isn’t as common as it used to be. I wouldn’t wish that kind of thing on my worst enemy. If you can’t trust your own brain, then hope is a very faraway thing.

But anyway, I digress. It’s been a fucking rollercoaster of fresh hell and insane adventures in mental health the last twenty-five months, not to mind the last five years. To put it mildly, this last half-decade makes Girl, Interrupted look like High School Musical. I spoke about my own experience with depression before in Me And My Shadow (click here to read) almost five years ago (yikes), and I’ve felt for a while that it was worth a revisit, if only for myself.

The reason for posting it publicly is to show that there is never an easy wrapped-up Hollywood ending to these things. I’d like to tell you that I found inner peace, loved the shit out of myself and had amazing life-fulfilling relationships that made me glad to be alive, and came off all meds, and lived blissfully ever after, happy as a laughing baby on YouTube. I’d like to tell you that, but I’d be lying SO FUCKING HARD.

I got worse. A whole lot worse. In every way. I still did the everyday stuff like finishing college and all that, but my soul did everything under massive protest. Most nights I stayed in, relieved to be at home where I could collapse into my dark, sad, yet comfortingly familiar little corner of my world. The thoughts of having to get it together mentally & physically to go out into the night and deal with crowds and bright lights and shoving stupid people stepping on my toes and elbowing me in the head (being short in the club is a fucking curse) was just too much to cope with.

I spent most of my alone time listening to sad music and faffing about online. I could be the life and soul of the Facebook party from the comfort of a Onesie while wearing a hair turban with sections of my face smothered in Sudocrem. It’s a good front for those of us who are mentally terrorised by the outside world. It has its drawbacks too, in that if you’re good enough with words and you REALLY don’t want anyone to see how bad you are, nobody will be any wiser. Remember: your fingers don’t get sad; you can still type happy words while crying your eyes out.

So on went this life of mine, with the usual ups and downs while I more or less navigated my way through various crises and hurdles that are microscopic looking back, but at the time seemed like I was at the foot of Everest. That was all fine, and doable, and that too did pass..but then in 2013 my mom died, and my heart and brain broke one after the other, never to be fully healed again.

It’s a strange old thing, grief. I spent the first year without Mam simply on auto-pilot on the outside, working in schools, trying to get some sort of new life together and find a place to live in town and being ‘grand’, all the while holding on to the soothing effects of various meds for dear life for fear I would collapse into a pile of tiny shards of glass if I didn’t have them. There were times I couldn’t allow myself to even take a deep breath in the classroom, in case I would break into sobs because the pain in my chest was too much. But life marched on yet again, and I eventually found some semblance of stability, which is precisely the point at which my brain joined in the fun of completely fucking me over for another twelve months.

I won’t dwell on the many adventures that me and my mind went on together, lest this piece become some sort of self-indulgent Depression Porn, which is not the purpose of this piece (you can wait for The Book for that!). Suffice it to say that when your own brain is your enemy, the world is a very frightening, lonely place. I repeated a lot of bad habits I thought I had left behind years ago. I was back self-harming, both physically and in being careless and not looking after myself, and various other bits and bobs that didn’t help. All this led to an intervention of sorts by some very caring friends who I hadn’t managed to fool, and they scooped me up and got me first into A&E, then into a day psychiatric unit. The rest is a better, albeit staggered, slightly more stable mental history.

I’ve left volumes out, because I will be writing about it in more detail in another long-term project; but also because the nitty-gritty isn’t pertinent to the piece. I guess by looking back at the original piece from 2010 compared to now, I’m showing the world that things aren’t always linear. Particularly when it comes to mental health issues. There’s no such thing as an “I lived happily ever after!” finely tuned ending when it comes to the battle for your sanity. But you know what? That’s totally okay. It is what it is. That ‘One Day At A Time’ stuff works for depression and anxiety as well as addictions. They’re all pits that can pull you back in with the slightest little knock-back. I went eight years without cutting myself, then fell off the wagon during a particularly dangerous black time last year. Afterwards, I was so angry at having broken the promise I made all those years ago, but all I could do was reset the numbers and start again. One day at a time? One minute at a time if you have to. Fuck it, whatever it takes to keep you on this earth a bit longer to give yourself a chance.

It’s when things stop going okay after you think you’ve gotten it all under control that can cause a lot of despair in people. They feel like they’ve failed. But look, shit happens. Whether maintaining good mental health, or recovering from mental health issues, these things are a constantly evolving (and devolving) process. People love loose ends to be tied up all clearly explained and resolved in 30 minutes with commercial breaks, but that’s just fiction. The only thing that marches on consistently, not giving a fuck about where you’re at in life, is time. So let that do the straight-line thing, cos nothing else in life or the state of your mental health is going to behave that way.

So take comfort. If you’re falling down just when you think you’re doing okay, you’re actually still doing okay. It’s just a bump. I swear on all the Gods that people believe in, and on all the laws of nature. You know how I know? Because I’m still here, and so are you, reading this and getting a headache, for which I apologise. Time has passed since you felt a hell of a lot worse, so you’ve got an advantage straight away. That’s how I judge my progress with this Shadow of mine. If I compared how I am now to how I was when I wrote the original post, there’s actually very little progress made. But fill in the space between with all that happened in my life (none of which is unique to me, we all grieve), then I realise how lucky I am that I’m still above ground. So onwards I march. I really hope you do too. But don’t do it alone. I had a treasure-trove of people around me, and that’s the only reason I’m able to sit and type this in any coherent form. Pretend you’re a friend asking you for help – would you be annoyed and tell them to feck off? Speaking from experience, it is incredibly profound and liberating to actually say the words “I’m not okay.” The dynamic that they set off can be, quite literally, life-saving. Get it done.

Oh, and one more thing: FUCK HOLLYWOOD HAPPY ENDINGS.

When Great Trees Fall

In the six months that have passed since my mom left this world, I’ve experienced some of the most drastic changes in my own life that I’ve ever witnessed, not least because I lived with her for six years beforehand. Once the rug is pulled from under you in every way, you realise you’re on your own. Your one true anchor in this world has cast off, and your only options are to sink or swim and find ways to cope and survive. You pick yourself up and try to move forward with this great big gaping hole in your chest that threatens to suffocate you and make you feel like you’ll never know happiness in any form ever again. But you have no choice, you’re still here. Wherever she is, she’s okay now. I’m left here without her, trying to make sense of this whole new dimension where part of me is forever absent, and a blank page entitled ‘Jen’s Life’ that I’m expected to fill in without her helping me or nagging me to get going.

So onwards I go, head up, marching on, saying yes to new things and really starting to enjoy the future I appear to be carving out for myself. Most nights while I’m sleeping, she pops in for a visit. She’s standing there, exactly as I knew her; she’s smiling, giving out to me and nagging me the way she used to, demanding ice-cream because I had eaten some that day and thought ‘Mam would have LOVED some of this.’ She can hear me, her deafness is gone, and we have great chats about what in the name of God I’m up to THIS week. At one point I was getting married (only in the dream, I can assure you) and I was standing there on the morning of it dressed in my gown and all that jazz. She stood there in front of the mirror with me and said “It’s not you, though, is it?” and I said “No, you’re right. I don’t want this at all.” Her reply was vintage Mammy Ronan. “Well, you know what to do then. Go make the calls.” Which I did. Metaphorically and physically. Life kicked off in many weird and wonderful ways after that. I had made a promise to her the night before we buried her, (well, one of many promises, but they’re between me and her) and it was that I would do my best to live an awesome happy life, and embrace any chances that came along which would make me happy. The act of making that promise alone kicked off something in the cosmos which I can’t explain – all I know is I haven’t had a minute’s peace in the last six months because I’ve been doing so many things and seeing so many people. I’m truly grateful. I don’t know where Mam is in general, but I know where she is most of the time where I’m concerned. Looking over my shoulder, making sure I keep my promise.

I found this poem by Maya Angelou, hence the title of this blog post. It’s about the significant loss the death of a parent leaves behind, and it hits home more than any words that I use ever could.

I love you Mom.

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Partners in crime until the very end.

When Great Trees Fall

When great trees fall,
rocks on distant hills shudder,
lions hunker down
in tall grasses,
and even elephants
lumber after safety.

When great trees fall
in forests,
small things recoil into silence,
their senses
eroded beyond fear.

When great souls die,
the air around us becomes
light, rare, sterile.
We breathe, briefly.
Our eyes, briefly,
see with
a hurtful clarity.
Our memory, suddenly sharpened,
examines,
gnaws on kind words
unsaid,
promised walks
never taken.

Great souls die and
our reality, bound to
them, takes leave of us.
Our souls,
dependent upon their
nurture,
now shrink, wizened.
Our minds, formed
and informed by their
radiance,
fall away.
We are not so much maddened
as reduced to the unutterable ignorance
of dark, cold
caves.

And when great souls die,
after a period peace blooms,
slowly and always
irregularly. Spaces fill
with a kind of
soothing electric vibration.
Our senses, restored, never
to be the same, whisper to us.
“They existed. They existed.
We can be. Be and be
better. For they existed.”

                                                               Maya Angelou