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So I’m back after a fairly long break, and I thought it’d be nice to come back with something positive. I’m still anxious, I’m still avoiding some things, but over the last three or four weeks of going to therapy I’ve been using CBT to stop rumination and I’ve practised being mindful – stopping and using my senses – listening, smelling, seeing the things around me, to bring me out of my head.

I’ve also been kind of re-patterning – hence the strip today. One of the biggest vicious circles with my anxiety has been putting things off then struggling to get them done. Basically, one of my biggest enemies has been disorganisation. You could say that anxiety is the product of a disorganised mind, but I’m not a psychologist, so I can talk about my own experiences with any certainty.

Realising that, I’ve transformed the space in the house I use as a studio, and have everything mapped out in calendars and planners, giving myself realistic deadlines and always re-checking. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still struggling with deadlines and things, it’ll take a while; but I’ve been ten times more productive because I’m spending far less time worrying about not getting stuff done.

I’ve also set myself a routine of relaxing, meditating and exercising, as well as, believe it or not, cooking. Rather than waiting till the last minute to decide what I’m eating, which usually resulted in me realising I didn’t have the proper ingredients for a particular meal or whatever and relying on fast carbs instead, I’m planning my meals, and the result is that I’m cooking much more.

All of this is stuff I’ve tried before, but at different times and without properly planning for it. This time I’m doing it gradually, but as one massive big lifestyle change.

I gave up coffee, dudes… COFFEE.

Caffeine, sugar, all that stuff that causes more anxiety, and all that stuff I rely on for comfort, which has helped me get fat, is getting cut out. I figure that if I remove the majority of anxiety-causing influences from my environment then all I’m left with is me. I can work on that. But only when it doesn’t feel over whelming. So I’m hoping that as all this stuff becomes habit, I can focus even more on the therapy and CBT and try to bed in some of this stuff.

It’s precarious – I’m aware that if something “bad” happens I could go back a few steps, but I’m hoping the routine thing will help me to get back on track if that happens.

Also, I’ve given up the citalopram… So in one sense, this strip is now wrongly named! I never wanted to stay on anti-depressants – they were a means to an end for me, and that end was getting to therapy and starting to make the changes in my life I needed. But I was left with a residual physical anxiety by the tallys, and it was affecting my libido too. I was getting to that stage of mediocrity a lot of people report on anti-D’s, where you’re neither up nor down, but in some middle place.

It was a bitch coming off them – I had a rollercoaster week last week, major highs and really, really deep lows, the worst I’ve had for a while. But luckily I could talk it over with Mitch, which meant I never felt like I was on my own.

If you’re going through something like this, I can’t stress how important it is to be able to communicate it. Even if you don’t have people close to you who you can talk to, find a therapist, or at the very least, find someone else who’s gone through it and talk to them. A lot of the difficult stuff you go through is a necessary part of the process, I think, but it can be enough to put you off track if you don’t know how to cope, or even if it’s normal.

If you’re out there on your own reading this and need to talk, feel free to drop me a PM – there’s not just me here, but all the other people I know who’ve experienced it too, and we can all offer our advice and encouragement.

So I’m left with “brain zaps”, or head spangs as a mate calls it, which I love. It’s a side effect of withdrawal from SSRIs, little brain rushes when you turn your head or eyes too quickly. But my libido seems to be returning, and the constant anxious stomach has gone – now I just get it when I am anxious. I also feel a lot more clear headed.

So I’m not there yet – there’s loads of stuff still to do, and I have no idea if any of it will be permanent. It could be that I’ll be anxious for the rest of my life and I’ll just need to manage it. Or maybe that some years of this routine will be enough to get rid of it – I just don’t know. But this time round I’m determined not to slip, to just keep going.

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First proper session of CBT this week, and we tackled the cycle of anxiety/depression/whatever. That’s it above, basically. Any of the four sectors can be the activator, and each one can lead to any other and back and forward. For me, the most obvious are ‘Thoughts’ and ‘Physical Effects’, with ‘Behaviours’ being the most obvious outcome, especially avoidance, but I think that might mean that somewhere beneath the surface, ‘Feelings’ is the area I have the most issue with.

My therapist said that my general anxiety levels are so high that even small things were being unnecessarily magnified, and advised that I get on the relaxation trip asap. She gave me a CD with some exercises on it, most of which I’ve done before. But working with a guided CD is so much better than doing it on your own – I did diaphragmatic breathing and progressive muscle relaxation then totally zoned out for the remainder of the exercises, “waking up” to hear the speaker talking about stuff I’d written down, which I’d completely missed.

I got up and Mitch commented on how chilled I seemed – more relaxed than he’d ever seen me. Which was a bit of a wake up call, as there was a point years ago when I was genuinely that relaxed a lot of the time… So obviously I need to work to bring that everyday level of anxiety down, and then work on the other stuff. So expect to see me get totally zen over the next few weeks 🙂

It has totally worked though – last night was a pretty big meeting of the Glasgow league of Writers and I managed to not feel nervous. Also I’ve managed to pull some really good art out of the bag this week, so here’s hoping…

More guest posts on their way too, by the way. Thanks to Neil for his wonderful strip the other day – you must have brought loads of visitors dude – you managed my third busiest day so far!! If you liked his strip, I’d seriously suggest to race over to his Etsy store and buy one of the few remaining copies of ‘Nine Lines of Metro’.

…and the worst about it is, I’m basically not.

Usually by this point, my stomach’s in knots, and my mind’s fallen into a vortex of negative thoughts; I’m sweating, and blushing madly, and shaking. During my lost years, I’d tell myself it was excitement about the night, and I’d down half a bottle of vodka then head out. Now, without the drink to numb the nerves, I’m often lost without any coping mechanisms other than just forcing myself through it, which is horrible, or cancelling, which is usually worse than forcing myself, eventually.

I watched a fantastic programme as part of Channel 4’s ‘4 Goes Mad’ season yesterday. ‘The World’s Maddest Job Interview’ was presented in a typical 4 fashion, but as is also often the case with 4’s programming, it was excellent and eye-opening and well worth a watch if you’re affected by mental health problems, or know someone who is. It reveals a little of the innate discriminatory attitude of employers, and something of the difficulty of knowing you’re experiencing mental health problems but feel unable to tell anyone. And there’s one or two big surprises in there too…

It’s on 4OD, and well worth a watch.

First therapy session one week today… Watch this space for updates :/

Wee bonus post for today - saw an excellent post on a Tumblr account with an image by an artist called Michael Marsicano with a little definition of the word TORSCHLUSSPANIK (check the link for details...). Anyway, it's a cracking image, an immediately inspired me to do this, which is a visual metaphor for the tightness of the stomach that anxiety causes...