Category Archives: Anxiety

A day in the life of #BlackDogRunner (10 February 2015)

The following recounts my experience of 10th February 2015. It was written as part of the ‘Day in the Life‘ project, which aims to capture the ordinary daily experiences of people living with mental health problems. You can read more stories on the project website.

“I wake up. Half-an-hour before my alarm. I’m exhausted. Another poor night’s sleep. It’s my own fault. I had an upsetting chat before bed. That guarantees a bad night.

I think about going for a run. I know it’d help my mood. It might even help me wake? Oh, it’s too late now anyway. I go to the toilet. Most people wouldn’t mention such things. But for me – with my IBS – that’s half-an-hour gone. So now I’m running late, despite waking early. Was that even today? Why are mornings so hard!?

I have breakfast, get ready, and… hang on, what’s happened? I must have been daydreaming. I’m running horrendously late now. I can feel the anxiety surging. My chest’s on fire, my head’s pounding. I make a run for the next train… I think I’m going to make it. But the ticket machine’s out of order……

I get the train afterwards. I try to do some mindfulness medication. But I’m feeling too agitated. I get off and start walking to work. I’m quite wobbly. And my legs keep jerking. That might be the pregabalin; my new anti-anxiety drug. It causes involuntary muscle movements. Which means I’ve been even more clumsy than usual. I dread to think how I’d be feeling without it. At least the sun’s shining. I’m going to try to focus on that.

I’ve arrived at work. A whole two hours late. I feel so embarrassed. I’m currently working part time, due to my poor mental health, but I’m not that part time. I greet my colleagues. They’re a lovely bunch. Apparently I’m not looking well. ‘Decidedly peaky‘. One of them offers me water. It’s nice that they care.

I decide to start with lunch. Al desko, of course. Food always cheers me up. I wonder about eating one of the office biscuits. I then eat six. I’ve been binging a lot recently.

I’ll ease into work by looking at my ‘professional’ Twitter account. I get anxious thinking about ‘real’ work, so I’ll wait ’til I’m feeling less wobbly. I write some emails. It’s nice to feel I’m achieving something, even though it doesn’t really count. I’ve become terrible at replying to emails recently. I think it’s something to do with the anxiety.
I write an email to arrange my leaving do. I’m quite sad to be leaving. I’ve worked here for over seven years. But it was a mutual decision. My health has been too poor to continue.

A friend comes for a chat. She has chronic fatigue syndrome. We used to chat about stigma. Nowadays she talks, and I shake my head in dismay. She moaned about work on Facebook and management dragged her through two months of disciplinary hearings. I really feel for her. She was doing so well, but the stress caused a relapse. Today she’s been told that she ‘only has herself to blame‘. So I guess we’re back to chatting about stigma.

I return to my desk and work. The proper stuff now. A few hours go by. I spend most of it writing and rewriting the same few sentences. Writer’s block. Not ideal when you’re finishing a PhD.

It’s 6pm. Another friend is leaving the office. We walk to town together. She’s been going through some tough times. I listen. When did I become a listener? She’s really grateful. And that makes me happy.

On the way home, I try to catch up with my online friends. There are new messages from seven different people. I chat to four of them. Not bad, I think. But I’m feeling pretty exhausted.

I get home and greet my partner. It’s always so nice to see her. I heat up dinner – it’s a relief to be having left-over’s. We eat while listening to music. Food, conversation, music. Three of my favourite things. It’s the first time today that I feel relaxed. I should do this more often.

I head to the toilet, in quite a lot of pain. The more the anxiety, the more the pain. Then it’s 30 minutes playing a video game, before bed. Today seems very ordinary. But, looking at the positives, that’s a huge improvement on November.”

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A day in the life of #BlackDogRunner (07 November 2014)

The following recounts my experience of 7th November 2014. It was written as part of the ‘Day in the Life‘ project, which aims to capture the ordinary daily experiences of people living with mental health problems. You can read more stories on the project website.

“My alarm goes off. I feel like someone’s whacked me over the head. I’m always pretty groggy, but today’s worse. I slept badly. Sleep’s so important to my mood. A bad night is a bad sign.

I’ll have to wait for my brain to boot. I grab my phone, check the news, scroll through Twitter. 30 minutes goes by.

Dog Tired - it can take a while for the morning 'brain fog' to clear
Dog tired: it can take a while for the morning ‘brain fog’ to clear – until then, I have no idea what my mood will be

Yikes! It’s Friday, I need to work!

But first I need the toilet. My tummy hurts. It always hurts in the morning. I have irritable bowel syndrome. I sit on the toilet and wait. Another 30 minutes goes by. Damn irritable bowl.

I’m feeling pretty stressed. An hour’s past and all I’ve done is visit the toilet. Depression does that; steals time.

I’m supposed to go running. I need to keep up my running. But it’s raining. And I’m not sure I can face it. Running helps with my anxiety. But I’ve got so much work to do. I better just get on with it.

I post a tweet. I get a sympathetic message, that’s nice. Doesn’t get me anywhere though. Stop procrastinating!

The kitchen’s a mess. There’s no clean bowls or spoons. I wash some up, put on some porridge, and stack the dishwasher. I’m relieved that’s done. How would I cope without it?

Turn on my computer to work. My tummy hurts. And I feel sick. And tired. Oh, and low… The brain fog must be clearing. I feel really really low. Wish I could go back to bed.

Not sure I can face work. My illness has put me so far behind. Now it’s crunch time. Two months left on my contract. How will I cope with unemployment? The anxiety’ so bad.

I can’t work like this. I’ll eat my porridge and distract myself with Twitter. The porridge is nice. I’m usually in too much of a rush. Definite bonus of working from home. Some nice and supportive comments on Twitter. But it’s no good, I’m feeling desolate. This is the worst I’ve felt in ages. I lie on the sofa.

What’s happened to the time? What’ve I been doing? My partner is up, she’s working on the table. It’s so nice to have her around. But it’s nearly lunchtime and I’m running late. I’m meeting a friend. There isn’t time to shower. I wash my face, clean my teeth, and run.

Why am I always running? Normal people don’t run in the street. I must look so strange, in my shoes and coat.

I meet my friend. She understands depression, thank goodness. It’s so much easier, not having to pretend. It’s a while since we last caught up, she seems much better. I’m happy for her. It’s nice to be distracted. We talk about work. And how we’re both about to lose our jobs. Don’t get ill, that’s what I say.

The time has flown, it’s time to go. The food was horrible. I’m feeling even sicker. I’ll treat myself to a coffee. And one for my partner too.

I’m home, my partner is happy with her coffee. She has such a lovely smile. But where has the time gone? I’ve got so much work to do! I’m really anxious. I take a diazepam, sit down, and drink my coffee. Then I start work.

The diazepam’s made me sleepy, but I’m less agitated. At least I can concentrate now. I really need to finish this by the end of today. It’s dragged on so long. Hours pass, I barely move, the work gets done. Hyperfocus: the upside of ADHD.

I send it off. It’s mid-evening. I need the toilet again. I hadn’t noticed. Hyperfocus: I’ve been embarrassed by that before. Another 30 minutes goes by.

It’s Friday night, my partner’s stopped working, we treat ourselves. Pizza takeaway and Scott and Bailey. The pizza’s yummy. Good food always lifts my mood. But it’s not enough tonight. I’m so tired. And low. I’m finding it hard to follow.

We’ve watched two episodes. It’s best I go to bed. I’m desolate. Days like this are best abandoned. I take another diazepam, and give my partner a hug. She smiles. She has such a lovely smile. I’m so lucky.”

‘A Day in the Life’ is a chance for everyone with mental health problems to share their story

Picture the scene: You’re perched on a chair. Lights shining in your eyes. Camera focused on your face. Over a million people will hear your answer.

‘So, tell me about your depression?’

That was me on Monday, being filmed for today’s appearance on BBC Breakfast.

(Edit (03-Nov-2014): the clip is now available online)

I was there to promote ‘A Day in the Life‘; a groundbreaking project that aims to collect the stories of the daily ups and downs of ordinary people with mental health problems.

I’ve often talked about my desire to give a voice to ‘those silenced by stigma’. It’s a reasonable aim, only slightly let down by being a) highly egotistical and b) frankly impossible. I’m just one man telling one story. But that’s what makes ‘A Day in the Life’ so different, and so exciting. It doesn’t matter who you are, how loud you can shout, or how ‘interesting’ your day. This is a chance for everyone with mental health problems to share their story, not just strange men who run around dressed as dogs.

My medication causes sweating at the best of times. But when I'm nervous - such as when there's a camera pointed in my face - it can get even worse...
My medication causes sweating at the best of times. But when I’m nervous – such as when there’s a camera pointed at my face – it can get even worse…

When the chance came to help promote the project, I was hence unnaturally keen. What I hadn’t realised was there’s a huge difference between offering to help, or even agreeing to an interview, and the reality of opening your home, and your soul, to a national television audience.

As a scientist, I’m fairly used to public speaking. I’ve spoken to rooms of researchers. Halls of doctors. I’ve even done a sciencey stand-up routine. In a comedy club to a paying audience. OK, I admit, that last one was terrifying. Luckily they were very friendly (in other words, very very drunk).

But when the time came, none of that was remotely useful. I wasn’t talking about science. This wasn’t the safe world of facts and evidence. It was just me. #BlackDogRunner. And I didn’t even have my mask to hide behind. So I did my best, but I found it hard. And in the time that’s followed, I’ve been very anxious. Anxious that I said something stupid. Anxious that I’ll appear sick and sweaty. And anxious that the kitchen will look… well… pretty much like it did on the day. But then again, I can’t think of a better way to promote a project that’s about the unpolished reality of life with mental health problems…

About ‘A Day in the Life’:

A Day in the Life‘ aims to capture what the ordinary daily experiences of people with mental health problems living in the UK. Taking part involves sharing up to 700 words, on four specific days over the coming year. The researchers are particularly interested in anything that made that day better or worse; about worries and comforts.

The more people that take part, the more influential the project. So if you experience mental health problems, please please consider signing up. The first day is FRIDAY 7th NOVEMBER. And what thing tends to make my Friday’s better and more comforting? Takeaway pizza!

Click here for further details and to sign up