Today marks my thirty days off medication.
Having been on it for the better part of two years, you can probably imagine how difficult (or terrifying, if I’m being completely honest) it was to stop relying on something to help me get through the day. It was suddenly up to me, on my own, to find a way to keep my moods high and my anxiety low.
This past year, I’ve been rating my moods in the column of my journal. ‘One’ is the day from hell, where I haven’t managed to slip a toe out of bed and suicidal thoughts begin to plague my mind. I’m grateful to say that it’s been almost five years since my last ‘one’. ‘Five’ are the days where I am numb. When I have no emotion, good nor bad. Where I’m there, but not really there. ‘Ten’ is the day where everything is perfect. Where not even for a split second does anxiety or panic or fear of ANTs (Automatic Negative Thoughts – where you literally feel like ants are crawling around your brain) enter my mind. I haven’t found one of those yet, but I get pretty damn close at a ‘nine’. But a ‘nine’, I decided when I came off my medication, was going to be unattainable. It would be just as out of reach as that ‘ten’. Turns out I was wrong. Not once. Not twice. But FIVE times! In these thirty days, my mood has only dropped to a ‘six’ once and has reached that unattainable ‘nine’ five times.
Upon realising this, I began to think about all the things I’ve done differently this month compared to last month. All the things I’ve done differently this year compared to last year. Having an incredible support system is half the job done, I discovered. Surrounding myself with people who pull me up instead of kicking me down; who are understanding and compassionate; who are there when I need them and know when to push me to talk about things and when to let it go. I had cut out the volatile relationships in my life and now the universe has replaced them with healthy ones. Healing ones. My small circle of trust is now filled with people I could, genuinely, without worry or regret, trust.
But what was it that helped me deal with the other half of the battle? The half that I was in control of, and not the people around me? Allow me to break it down for you:
- Getting out of the house at least twice a week.
As someone who works from home, getting away from my desk and out of the house is actually a difficult task, especially as everyone else I know is on stricter work schedules. Now, I make sure to schedule in at least one coffee date or culture related event (a movie at the BFI, an exhibition at a gallery, exploring the British Museum), and have one writing day scheduled in Starbucks per week. It gets me out of the house, into the fresh air, and away from the confines of my room!
- Cutting back on the caffeine.
With the exception of the days I’m sitting in a corner of one of my local Starbucks, tapping away frantically at my keyboard, pausing every few minutes to see what’s happening in the world around me, I drink very little caffeine now. I may have a mug in the morning, or maybe a can of coke in its stead, but otherwise I stick to water and iced tea nowadays.
- Addressing issues as and when they appear.
I used to be the first person to say ‘I’ll deal with it later’ when a problem arose, normally pushing it away in hopes I’d never have to think about it again and shoving any emotion related to it as far down as possible. Not anymore! Now, I stop. I think. I deal with the problem as well as I possibly can. I confront the emotions. I talk to someone about it. I acknowledge it. No more pent-up emotions!
- Understanding that it’s not always my problem.
Sometimes some of those issues aren’t actually mine. A family member is in trouble and there’s nothing I can do to help. A friend is in crisis and there’s nothing I can do to help. I usually get so emotionally involved in a situation, that the problem becomes mine too. I hurt right along with the people I care about. One of the best releases ever has been understanding that, actually, this problem isn’t mine. That although it may affect me a little in the long run, it’s none of my business! I can be here to listen to you, people, but I’m not making this problem.
- Taking the time to write up a To-Do List.
One of the biggest problems I have is feeling like I haven’t done anything all day. The best way to rectify it, I’ve discovered, is to take time out of my day to write up a To-Do list and tick things off as and when I’ve done them. I also hang on to those lists instead of throwing them away afterwards. It feels like a waste of time when you first start, but when you look back at the end of the day, or week, or even month, you realise how much you’ve achieved, as small as they may be. You replied to e-mail? Go you! You sent back that package that needed returning? Hooray! You put up that blog post for the week? You’re a star!
- Watching things I wouldn’t ordinarily watch. Reading things I wouldn’t ordinarily read.
When you’re watching or reading the same things over and over again, you miss out on 90% of the extraordinary creations being released into the world. Don’t get me wrong, you can’t read and watch every single thing that comes out into the world, but by branching out and exploring new roads, you learn new things. Eleven years ago, I stopped watching Hindi movies. I decided I hated Bollywood! All they did was copy Hollywood movies. Now? I think I’m converted. Half my Netflix watch list is Hindi movies! I almost missed out completely on discovering films like Dangal, October and Kapoor and Sons, all because they’re coming out of Bollywood. The same goes for books. FairyLoot has introduced me to so many new and wonderful authors, some of whom I’ve even befriended, and it’s made me a better writer for it!
- Accepting that it’s okay to take mental health days.
There are still days where I struggle with this. I go to take a mental health day – to focus on journaling or put together a jigsaw puzzle or do something creative like painting or colouring – and all of a sudden that voice burrowed deep into my brain comes out and screams at me. You’re useless, you’re a failure, you’re lazy. From time to time the voice wins, but when I fight back and go ahead with my mental health day anyway, I’m always better off for it.
- Say ‘yes’.
A few months ago, a girl I went to school with got in contact and suggested we meet up. At first, I was hesitant. We hadn’t ever been close – she was a friend of a friend that occasionally hung around with us. What if I hadn’t anything to say? This month, I decided to say ‘yes’. Before we knew it, coffee turned into drinks and drinks turned into food and the sun was ready to set before we finally accepted that we needed to call it a day. It was one of those ‘nine’ days I was telling you about. Sometimes letting go of the fear we harbour and saying ‘yes’ is all we need to make an average day practically perfect. You never know what life is going to bring so say ‘yes’ to as much as you can while you can! Trust me on that!
Come join me on cloud nine, people. Lame joke, I know, but you know you found it amusing in a weirdly sweet way!