Mental Health Adventures: Confessions of a Dermatillomaniac

I’m writing this post on the back of a very shitty sleepless night, borne by a downward spiral of anxiety from somewhere deep within the pit of my brain. I’ve had a rough couple of weeks dealing with what for me is one of the biggest, and most visible, symptoms of my anxiety disorder.

Continue reading

I FUCKING LOVE COLOURING IN.

https://instagram.com/_jayrow_/

Follow me on Instagram – click the pic!

I’m 37 in less than 2 months, and I’ve got a new addiction that up until recently would have been meant for the confines of a Kindergarten or a Junior Infants class of a weekday morning. I’m addicted to colouring books. More specifically, colouring books made especially for grown-ups. I’ve called them Adult Colouring Books, but that just conjures up images of pages upon pages of boob, fanny and willy drawings, or outlines of a page or ten from Kama Sutra; although, I’m sure somebody’s thought of that already. Nothing new under the sun and all that… *goes searching on Amazon*

I may have been a bit trigger-happy with the 'click to buy' button.

I may have been a bit trigger-happy with the ‘click to buy’ button. Click the pic to see more on my Instagram!

So why is there such a fascination with Grown-Up Colouring books now? Well from my uneducated lay-person standpoint, it seems to be a branch coming out of the Mindfulness movement – giving people a chance to be ‘in the present’ (feckin’ hippies I know, but it works) and calm the mind, giving it focus and having a moment or two of time to yourself doing something pleasurable and visually stimulating in the process. A little bit of Occupational Therapy for the price of a colouring book and some markers.

From the Completely Calming Colouring Book 2 - Love. Click on the pic to head to Amazon and buy it.

From the Completely Calming Colouring Book 2 – Love. Click on the pic to head to Amazon and buy it.

Years ago in the midst of a very dark patch, I was in town and I got a notion that I wanted to colour in. It seemed that my love of stationery was a gateway drug to it; but there wasn’t anything in the way of a wide assortment of books to choose from. Either that or I just didn’t have the wherewithal to go looking for it online. So into Michael Guineys I went, bought a jumbo kids’ colouring book and a packet of markers all for under a fiver, and headed home all excited to stick my head into a bit of childhood regression; anything to alleviate the ball of twine-sized anxiety in my stomach that nothing would shake.

Stationery is Sexy AF

Stationery is Sexy AF

It didn’t last long, mostly because there’s only so many giant cartoon dogs you can colour in before you get bored. You’re engaged in a childlike activity, but that doesn’t mean you need child-centred content. This year I started to properly discover more advanced books with detailed patterns and shapes, repetitive geometrics, paisley-style prints, mandalas, and detailed cartoons of the most beautiful things in the world. I’d seen one or two books in the senior classrooms of the schools I’d taught in, given to kids who would finish work faster than the others and needed to keep themselves occupied with something a bit more challenging, and I was SO JEALOUS. So imagine my delight when I saw how huge the range of colouring books had become for overgrown kids like me.

Click on the pic to head over to my Instagram and get some colour ideas!

Click on the pic to head over to my Instagram and get some colour ideas!

So if you think it’s something you’d like to try out, I can’t recommend it enough. For so many reasons. I suffer from Dermatillomania, which is basically a compulsive skin-picking disorder, and has been the bane of my life ever since I developed my fine motor skills. At its simplest, it’s anxiety-based, and left unchecked, causes huge pain and discomfort and scarring. It’s like a mild unconscious form of self-harm, so the doc tells me. When anxious, I’ll tear at the skin on my body, face, hands, to the point where my fingers are so sore from having pulled hangnails (imaginary or otherwise) that they leave infections and swelling behind, and I’m left disfigured, bleeding and in pain. So when the chance to get stuck into something that would otherwise occupy my hands, I pounced on it like it was the last Krispy Kreme on earth. It’s the artistic equivalent of a stress ball for me, and what it saves me in disfigurement and low self-esteem cannot be measured.

It's called The Hipster Coloring Book, but don't let the title put you off. It's SO MUCH FUN. (click pic to buy on Amazon)

It’s called The Hipster Coloring Book, but don’t let the title put you off. It’s SO MUCH FUN. (click pic to buy on Amazon)

I really think you should give it a go. You don’t have to be a Salvador Dali type, there’s designs and pics out there to suit everyone. If you think a book of complicated mandalas might add to your stress levels, then there are others with simple yet adorable pics and lettering you can sweep a marker or pencil across with delight. Click on any of the pics to find the books pictured here on Amazon, or to go to my Instagram to see what manner of a colour scheme I’m chucking down on to a page.

Follow me on Instagram - Click the pic!

Follow me on Instagram – Click the pic!

Pen, pencil, or ink?

You all know the usual suspects to get hold of in any bookshop or stationery (yum) shop; Crayola, Sharpie, Faber-Castell and all those are obviously perfect to kick off your colouring habit. I got a 24-pack of brilliant Crayola markers in Heatons for under €8 (with a free blank sketchbook thank you vey much!) to start me off. I’m a markers girl myself, being a cartoon lover until the day I die, but there are some amazing colouring pencils out there if you take a bit of time to wander around art supply shops and see which ones you like.

If you want to pimp out your colouring experience, Staedtler Fine Tips are the mutt’s nuts altogether. Having explored the wonderland website of artist Johanna Basford (click the pic below to see her work), I decided to splurge on the Staedtler so when I decided to take on intricately detailed drawings and patterns, I could keep my perfectionist side at bay by staying inside the lines. Her books are an absolute treasure. They’re next on my list. Click the pic below to be taken to her website and have your mind blown.

Click on the pic to head over to Johanna's website to see all her books and the pens she swears by.

Click on the pic to head over to Johanna’s website to see all her books and the pens she swears by.

There you have it, a short and (hopefully) useful guide to get you started on the road to regression. There really is nothing like taking a bit of time to yourself and indulging in a pastime that makes you feel like a happy kid again. It’s also a lot more socially acceptable than, say, firebombing your workplace or quitting your job in spectacular Jerry Maguire-style fashion following an epiphany / nervous breakdown. Be nice to yourself; make a bucket of tea or grab a class of wine, curl up on a comfy couch with your pencil case and book of choice and GET COLOURING IN. You won’t regret it. I promise.

“We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” – George Bernard Shaw

Getting jiggly..and it’s shit.

What he said.

What he said.

I hate exercise. HATE IT. Yeah I get it, it’s good for you, Nature’s anti-depressant, blah blah blah, you won’t know yourself…fuck the fuck off! I just DON’T. LIKE. MOVING. Unless it’s to turn arse-cheeks and reset the butt-groove in the couch after a two-hour marathon. And don’t tell me that’s not an effort. You’re also not taking into effect the amount of times you’ve to lunge forward to click the ‘Continue Playing’ button, lest you end up staring gee-eyed and a paused screen for the remainder of the night until sunrise (or your bladder, whichever comes first) alerts you to the fact that you may have to vacate your trusty cosy haven of sloth, otherwise you’ll end up with some serious stain issues on the couch. Take it any further, and firefighters will have to crane-lift you and your new furniture-shaped adult diaper to the hospital so the doctors can try and separate your bloated flesh from the leather settee it appears to have fused itself to. I’m not even joking; it’s a thing. I saw it on Nip / Tuck.

It’s all well and good lauding exercise as Nature’s Anti-Depressant, but that just means that in my opinion, Nature is really shit at making anti-depressants. Gimme hard chemicals any day. Nice little pills wrapped in foil, like tiny promises of mental peace & quiet for anyone who opens them. They’re fantastic. They have the ability to stop me running, crying and terrified, into the arms of complete strangers on the footpath because I’m too afraid to walk a few blocks down the road to Dunnes. You know what else comes wrapped in foil and makes me feel better, Nature? Chocolate. Chinese Food. A kebab at 3.30am after a night of delicious gin (which doesn’t come wrapped in foil, but it sure as shit makes me feel better).

Mindy Kaling is Truth.

Mindy Kaling is Truth.

Some would say heroin and meth also come with a foil accompaniment, and to those I say shut up; this is my blog where I’m ranting without fear of logic or consequence jumping in. I’m venting. You want calmly presented facts and all that shite? Go look up some medical journals and feel smug while the rest of us enjoy a good mental blowout. We’ll all behave again tomorrow. If you’re going to keep reading; suspend all realities and known benefits of exercise, and join me in my Circle of Hate.

You know what else is utterly cock-rotten about exercise? It interrupts my day. I’ve become quite used to spending up to twelve hours a day worrying incessantly about nothing and everything, while trying to write some coherent thoughts as a thousand voices roar behind me into my ears that I’m complete shit. I’m an expert at Anxiety Management; well, to be more accurate, Anxiety is an expert on J-Ro Management. It gives me full-time hours and expects me to work weekends and nights at a moment’s notice, and if I could turn in some reports on why I should never leave the house and socialise with mates again, that’d be great. It’s the mental health equivalent of that douche-bucket manager in Office Space.

IMG_6045

Also can we take a moment to call bullshit on all those exercise videos with women who don’t sweat? They can kiss my fine white Irish plus-size arse. There they are, sighing gently through The Insanity workout with only a little ‘eeek’ or ‘oooh’ emanating from their perfectly over-glossed lips in between the kind of fitness regime that I’m pretty sure was previously rejected by Navy SEALS or fucking Black Ops for being ‘A tad harsh’. All of these skinny bitches in the background behind their slave driver / trainer grinning widely and yipping in between sets as they’re tortured are the best living example of Stockholm Syndrome I’ve witnessed since Patty Hearst. Sweat? NOT ONE DROP. Oh no, not these gals. Sure, they’re lightly misty across the face, but they just look glowy and dew-fresh, like a Stephanie Meyer vampire walking around in the sunshine. In the meantime, just getting in the main door of the gym makes me look like this:

Anyway, I joined Zumba. I know it’s not the ‘in’ thing to do in the face of all things TRX and Crossfit and TR-fit and Cross-X (or whatever the fuck they’re called – are they the same thing? I bet they are the sneaky bastards), but as I mentioned in my previous post “Life As A Living Before Picture“, my lung capacity is in dire straits, and I’m tired of breaking a sweat and needing my inhaler every time I so much as open a book, so I decided to jump in at the deep end and really give them something to give out about. It seems to be working. I’m pretty sure I left half of one on the floor at my very first class. Must check with reception to see if anyone handed it in.

I would never submit you to an actual video of me trundling my sweaty way through a Zumba routine, so to get a fair idea, please watch this clip of a cartoon potato giving it socks to a dance choon.

The girls in the class are all lovely, mad eejits…and you kind of have to be. To engage in a ferocious cardiac workout like Zumba is (despite what others think, it’s fucking INSANELY tough) for a full sixty minutes in front of a full-length mirror, stuck in a body that you hate, wishing the inches away as you pound the floor, and still have a laugh with those next to you, tells me that my fellow Zumba hostages are a decent bunch of lasses. Added to which our instructor Sarah is a legend of a woman, part insanely happy Energiser Bunny, part Drill Sergeant. The best way to be when you’ve someone like me in your group.

Yes, Gillian. Yes it was. WITH DELIGHT.

Yes, Gillian. Yes it was. WITH DELIGHT.

So onwards I waddle, trying to get myself together. Some friends have told me that I’ll eventually get past the seething hatred I have for moving, and be all super-psyched about the prospect of getting up and out to burn away the calories in time. To them I say “I love you, but take a look at who you’re talking to, and revise that statement.” I’ve been on this planet a good while now at this stage, and I have NEVER, I repeat, NEVER, liked ‘activities’ that involved leaving a couch or a bed or the house when there is no discernible threat to my person from fire, flood or famine. It doesn’t mean I won’t do it, sure anyone with a toast crumb-sized piece of common sense knows that it’s the only thing that’ll shift pounds and make you feel better while you get your eating habits in order. So it’s a necessary evil in my world. Doesn’t mean I’ll be a fitness fanatic any time soon. I’ll leave that to all my fabulous fit friends who enjoy a couple of 5K runs of a weekend while I slave over a hot laptop trying to make a name for myself writing shit like this.

So to all those who love a good calorie burning session in whatever form takes their fancy; rock on, you mad, jammy fit, well-toned bastards. I’ll stick to flipping the bird at my workout gear and undressing my couch and fleecy blankets with my eyes. In the meantime, I’ll still continue to venture out to Zumba on a regular basis to engage in a fat-threatening habit that may, if I stick with it and remain consistent, actually be responsible for me needing to invest in smaller jeans and taking longer to use up my inhaler, as opposed to taking longer to, you know, GET UP A FLIGHT OF STAIRS.

Better keep at it, so.

Grrr.

Life As A Living ‘Before’ Picture

mac mass

Lads, I’m overweight. And I’m not happy about it.

Now before y’all start with the polite usually expected cries of “Would you goWAY out of it, sure you’re only a tiny thing, shut up t’fuck or I’ll slap the fringe off you..” (I have very colourful friends) and all that shite, let me say this: I’m not fishing for reassurance, or platitudes. Well, not this time anyway. The fact is; I’m very overweight for my height, and I know this because of science. So there’s that. Also, I’ve come to realise a few things in my thirties. I’m very aware of my mind, and my body, and how fucked up the relationship is between the two. It’s basically Sid and Nancy up in here, but without the stabbings and heroin overdoses. For now anyway. Fuck knows what’ll happen in my forties.


(Self-portrait. At least my arse is smaller here.)

I’ve never been particularly obsessed with chasing the Body Beautiful, unless it was on a 6ft plus hunky man-beast covered in tatts who had a thing for shorties with big bums (I’m sure there’s a magazine or website that deals with that). I guess when you’re as far away from society’s idea of female perfection as I am, it’s quite liberating really. I can’t try and dress the same as a woman who is 5ft 8in and 8 or 9 stone and still expect to look my best; all I can do is become the most happy, confident, sexiest version of myself that I can be. There’s no danger of looking ‘almost but not quite’.

tess holliday

(Tess Holliday – Goddess. I wish I had a tenth of her self-confidence. Click on the pic to find out more on how awesome she is)

I looked elsewhere for style icons and role models, and I found that my soul did little happy skips whenever I saw unbelievable looking women of all shapes and sizes rocking alternative styles and particular the 50’s and Rockabilly era. They mixed raven-black hair with shots of savage daring splashes of fantastically slutty fire-engine red lips, nails and scarves, or went cartoon-style with hair colour and wore daring, almost drag-style make-up, with eyebrows that should have had their own acting agent, so dramatic were they one and all. And the best thing? ALL shapes & sizes of women looked fucking awesome in this stuff. Curves were celebrated, as were slim figures. It was just about being a self-confident, striking, sexy woman, whatever shape you were. It was perfect for me.

Until I became uncomfortably overweight, then nothing felt right.

Apart from being only 4ft 9in, I was never skinny. It tormented the shit out of me during adolescence, as did my height, which I now realise was because at that age I always thought I was going to get a growth spurt and stretch like a string bean like everyone else on the planet seemed to be getting, the jammy bastards. That’s the kind of thinking that a lack of knowledge about genetics and general laws of physics will get ya.

I would grumble and grouch every few years about my shape without doing very much about it, and I was lucky enough that I didn’t digress very much from a certain point on the scales. When I entered my thirties, I really enjoyed my shape. I liked that I had curves, I joked about my sticky-out bum, but secretly liked that I had something to work with. I was smug as anything when the big booty craze kicked off and all the Kardashians ran around swinging their badonka-donks in people’s faces. I was totally fine with being both petite and plus-sized. But in the last year, there’s been a slow and very definite creeping up of pounds happening that I’ve only truly realised in the last two months. It’s not that I hadn’t noticed, it’s more that I was ignoring the changes that were happening because I didn’t care about what I was doing to myself. There’s that wonderful mind / body toxic relationship again.

Particularly in the last four to five months, I think I was probably in a bad depressive phase. Looking back on it with a clearer mind, I would eat lots of food at really odd times because my sleeping pattern was fucked, like I would cook a dinner for myself at 2.30 in the morning and devour it like it was my last meal on Death Row. I also developed a sweet tooth which I never had before; I could put away a Wonka Factory-sized amount of Kinder chocolate in a single episode of House of Cards, and not even taste it. All my serious stresses and anxiety and financial worries and personal issues all got drowned out by the sound of me chomping on carbs and sugar and cans of full-fat Coke. Who’d have thought that none of that would solve my problems??

I’ve found myself coming out of the fog of what was a pretty shit time, and not without some baggage. Unfortunately for me, that baggage was an extra 2 stone trying to find a way to get settled on a body that essentially had no room for it. Being under 5ft, every extra pound looks like 2. I took a good, long, hard look at myself cosmetically, and physically. I weighed myself for the first time in aeons, and nearly died of shame when I saw the number staring back at me. I’m not going to tell you what I weigh; that’s not important, and also it’s all relative. All you need to know is that it’s not a number someone of my height and build should be carrying if there was a history of heart problems and blood pressure issues in their family.

Suddenly lots of things made sense to me. My asthma had been a lot worse in recent times, which hadn’t been a problem when I first moved into town because I walked everywhere around town. Come March / April of this year, I was finding myself out of breath and needing to use my inhaler by the time I made it upstairs and in the door of my flat. I didn’t feel like me, like I was wearing a layered-up fat suit under all my clothes and I couldn’t relax in myself. I was overheating all the time, the slightest exertion had me sweating and breathing like Tony Soprano. I know – I’m a sexy fucker. Calm yourselves, lads.

(Nerdy but life-saving. Click pic for the Buzzfeed’s take on the joys of living with asthma.)

When the opportunity arose to work in Dublin covering social media for the International Literature Festival, I went for it all guns blazing. However, I’d forgotten one very important thing. Dublin city centre is fucking HUGE, and all the festival events were spread out EVERYWHERE. Timings and street layouts meant that you could head back to Limerick on The Green Slug in the time it would take to try and get a bus from one place to another, so walking – correction, brisk walking – was the order of the day. Suffice it to say that I nearly collapsed and died a few times and arrived at various cool artsy events looking like I was about to go into labour. That inhaler earned every penny that week. It was also the reality check that I needed to be able to admit to myself that yes; I had gotten fat.

So here I am now, all pudge and no pride. I’m angry that I left myself go as much as I did, but I also know that I couldn’t do anything about it until now. My mental health is stronger than it has been in quite some time, so it’s a good time to kick my own ass and make small manageable changes to fix myself. My self-esteem is in the gutter at the moment because I don’t like what I see in the mirror, or how I feel physically, but I’m dealing with that. I find the whole process easier if I can treat it as a kind of project; taking the personal stakes out of it and looking at it from an outside perspective. I guess that’s why I’m blogging about it too. Like I said at the beginning, I’m not fishing, I’m very realistic about the fact that I’m unhappy with how I look and feel, and that I can look and feel better if I make a good solid plan…and revitalise my big sticky-out bum 🙂

I think I’m writing this in the hope that maybe a few months down the line, I’ll look back on this post as a shiny, upgraded, fitter version of myself and remember what it felt like to be standing at the foot of a mountain (already out of breath and sweating, I’ll bet), and getting ready to start the climb up to where I could be happy in myself and a whole lot healthier. I’m not looking to be skinny; like I said before, I LOVE being a curvy girl. I’m just not healthy or happy in my skin at the moment. I’m sharing these thoughts with whoever’s reading this in order to unburden my soul and take ownership of my current situation by laying down a marker for myself. So, in a way, this is my ‘Before’ snapshot. When will the ‘After’ one be posted?

Who the fuck knows – I mean, they still sell Kinder eggs in shops don’t they? Bastards.

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.

IMG_5107

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!