A Word To The Wise About Antidepressants…

Since June 2017 I’ve been on prescription antidepressants. 

They started me on Sertraline but one of the side effects it gave me was severe night sweats and I couldn’t cope with waking up drenched every morning, so last September, I asked for it to be changed and they gave me Citalopram instead.

More recently, I’ve got worse at remembering to take it every single day so sometimes I’ll forget in the morning and not take it until lunchtime and some days I’ll forget entirely and miss a day. This week I’ve had a right royal memory lapse.

On Monday night, I went to stay at Toby’s new place in Surrey and I know that I didn’t take it the following morning because I forgot to take any with me. I’m pretty certain I haven’t taken it since then but I’m not sure whether I did take it the days before. So the most recent possible time I last took Citalopram was Monday morning, 5 days ago.

On Wednesday, I barely managed to drag myself out of bed but was unsure why I was feeling this way. I hadn’t had a particularly enjoyable Tuesday evening and it had been a late night. Maybe I was just tired? I had to get up because I knew I had packing for uni to get on with. I did very little and what I did manage, was done on the living room floor while binging Suits on the TV. Thursday came and I had a coffee date arranged with a close friend. Had to postpone this by half an hour because I overslept and I actually very nearly cancelled. I probably would have done if it hadn’t been the last opportunity to see her before going back to Brighton. I had a lovely couple of hours though and it really made me feel better.

‘Maybe I just needed to get out of the house,’ I thought. I was wrong.

Today was the worst day. Overslept again and had to really face the music with what was left of my packing because I head back to Brighton tomorrow! I was still feeling low and by this time very anxious about going back to uni (which I have been for a while so not entirely unexpected).

As I was packing up my bedside drawer, I pulled out my Citalopram packet and had the sudden realisation. “Shit. I haven’t taken this in days.” I took one there and then but by this point it was way too late. When I received some disappointing news concerning a family issue about half an hour later, I burst into tears and started to have an anxiety attack. I phoned Toby in a state, crying about how I don’t want to go back to uni, and how awful the other situation is that I’d had an update on. He managed to calm me down enough that I wasn’t sobbing down the phone and when he had to go back to work, I went to bed for a mental rest and a short nap.

Around 5pm, I woke up feeling calmer but exhausted. Mum and I finished my packing and then went to the home of another close friend for a farewell drink.

The point of my telling this long winded tale is that if you are on medication for your mental health, it is SO important to take it regularly and at the recommended dose. As someone who’s training to be a pharmacist, I could have told you that anyway, but living out the consequences of going cold turkey for almost a week is something truly different to learning a fact in vocational training.

If, like me, you take medication to help you live a relatively normal life, please do everything you can to maintain your medication. Set an alarm on your phone (this is what I’ll be doing from now on); ask somebody you trust to remind you; buy a pill box with days of the week on so that you can see when you’ve taken today’s dose; keep spares in your handbag in case you forget before you leave the house. And if you do want to come off your medication – deliberately! – don’t do it without talking to your doctor and/or pharmacist first and seeking advice on whether you need to reduce your dose gradually rather than going cold turkey.

There’s no shame in taking medication for your mental health, just as there’s no shame in taking painkillers for a headache or anticoagulants to prevent a stroke.

Just don’t pull a Hermione and forget about your bloody meds for 5 days!

 

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On 1st October I’ll be announcing an exciting event that I’m going to be a part of. Stay tuned!

Sunny Sunday

After a very long week, I’m glad for a day off in the sunshine!

This week I’ve been travelling to Sturminster Newton for work every day, which for anyone who isn’t local, is about an hour’s drive away from where I live. I don’t mind doing it because I know that the store I’m going to is short-staffed and they need my help, but it does add two hours onto my day (I can normally walk to work in 10 minutes) which for someone who already struggles with tiredness/sleeping/energy is a bit of a shock to the system.

But today is Sunday, it’s my day off and I’m sat in the garden listening to the new Taylor Swift album and basking in the sun! I came out here about 3 hours ago to water the flowers, and I ended up getting carried away. First, I did some weeding in the flower beds that have become overgrown after the rain we’ve had. And then I went full gardener and went on to mow the lawn, cut back the bamboo and tackle an infuriating bindweed that’s been winding its way around everything, including the shed door and the power cable leading to the outside freezer. Now I’m sweaty, grubby and very relaxed!

I’m re-learning some of the things that make me feel good; cooking has been the main thing that I’ve embraced recently, having had to cook for myself when I had the house to myself for a week. Before my family moved into our current house, we had a huge unmanageable garden, and then a flat with no garden at all. When we moved here a year ago I really wanted to make this small, easy-to-care-for garden my little project but it became a bit like going to the gym: in the moment it always seems like a bit too much effort, but then, when I do get round to it, I really enjoy it and feel good afterwards.

Watching the creepy crawlies emerge from the soil while I’m weeding, or concentrating on not tripping over the lawnmower cable, leaves no room in my brain to worry about life things. It’s nice for my head to have some quiet time away from the anxieties that are often buzzing around up there.

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It’ll be an early night tonight ahead of working the bank holiday Monday tomorrow – in Salisbury thankfully!

Happy Bank Holiday Weekend!

The Fast 800

I’ve changed my diet in an effort to improve my health, and I’m really enjoying it!

A few years ago, having suffered with IBS related problems and had little-to-no answers from the gastroenterologist I went to see, I picked up a book called The Clever Guts Diet. Written by Dr Micheal Mosley, a doctor and science journalist, The Clever Guts Diet teaches about the importance of healthy bacteria in the gut; the major role our gut plays in our general health; and the kinds of foods that will help to enhance the good bacteria and keep away the bad. It’s about three quarters information backed by science, referencing real peer-reviewed studies, and one quarter meal planning/diet advice for anyone who wants to ‘reset’ their gut health. I never ended up following the reset programme but I did pick up a few tips that I tried to integrate into my life and diet. (Including the wonders of Turmeric which I later wrote my first uni essay about!)

Mosley is most well-known for his groundbreaking book ‘The 5:2 Fast Diet’. The basic principle of which is that eating 500 calories on two days of the week, and eating ‘normally’ but healthily for the other five is a great way to lose weight and improve your health.

Fast forward 6 years to last December and Mosley released another book, accounting for more up-to-date science and bringing together his previous works into a new programme called The Fast 800. It consists of 3 phases and you can start with any of them depending on your goals. Phase 1 is The Very Fast 800 – a rapid weight loss phase where you stick to around 800 calories a day for anywhere between 2 and 12 weeks (again, depending on your goals). This can help not only with weight loss but with losing visceral fat and reversing the insulin resistance I talked about in my last post. (Mosley’s book The 8-week Blood Sugar Diet documents how he reversed his Type 2 Diabetes through diet and without medication. As a Pharmacy student I will definitely be touching on that again, but that’s a topic for a different blog post!) Phase 2 is ‘The New 5:2’, which is the same principle as it has always been, but recommends 800 calories on your two fast days. This is still low enough to make a difference but high enough to keep you feeling fuller for longer and experiencing fewer hunger pangs/cravings. The third phase is simply a Mediterranean-style diet, including fresh vegetables, lean meat and fewer refined carbs (which are broken down to sugar in your blood stream very quickly). Mosley says you skip straight to phase 2 if you don’t have much weight to lose or even straight to 3 if you simply want to live healthier.

Why am I regurgitating all of this? Because, after doing a lot of research, I decided it was worth trying for me. I bought myself a copy of The Fast 800 Recipe Book and have been attempting the first Very Fast 800 stage for about a week and a half. I haven’t stuck religiously to it – I enjoyed a celebratory cheesecake slice when Toby passed his driving test, and shared Nando’s with a friend when she was having a rough day.

I’m referring to it as a programme rather than a diet because if I use the word diet, I get a look that says “You’re too young/skinny to be dieting”. Really, the word ‘diet’ just refers to what you eat, not necessarily to losing weight or eating a particular way. I’m changing my diet to include and exclude different things that I haven’t done before.

I’ve lost around 5lbs and I’m really enjoying the recipes – both making and eating them! At the moment my routine is looking like this:

Breakfast: a nutritious smoothie containing fruit, full fat yoghurt, oats and other ingredients – around 200 cals. Usually an apple to go with it.

Lunch: I’ve been meal-prepping; making a meal big enough to serve 4 on my days off and splitting it into 4 lunch boxes for the coming work days. I like pairing whatever protein-rich main I’ve made with some green veg such as broccoli and green beans. (You’re allowed to add those in abundance without including them in calorie counts! Yay!)

Dinner: A lighter meal, as I’m not always hungry by this point and don’t want to spend a lot of time cooking and end up eating too late, as this is famously bad for your sleep cycle and digestion. One of the breakfast recipes has become a dinner favourite of mine; poached eggs with spinach and mushrooms. I literally cannot poach eggs, so I fry them in olive oil instead. It’s designed as a breakfast but I love it as a light evening meal.

I’m not endorsing this particular programme, nor am I actively encouraging anyone else to try it. I’m simply sharing my experience because I’m finding it both rewarding and fascinating. I do urge anyone who fancies changing their lifestyle for health reasons to do a lot of research (using real scientific studies and not just reading articles from Cosmo Magazine) and consult a GP, Pharmacist or Nutritionist if you need professional advice. In a week or so I’ll provide a further update on my thoughts.

*This post is not endorsed or sponsored by The Fast 800 or by Dr Michael Mosley*

Reality Check

I wrote this on the 31st July and have thought about whether or not to post it. I’ve decided I shall. I’ve left the post as it is so when it says ‘today’, it refers to the day I wrote it…

“This morning I did an at-home blood glucose test and realised it’s time to make a change. (Trigger warning: depression, weight loss/body image)

During my first year at uni – in fact particularly during the second half of that year – I found myself feeling particularly depressed. I take Citalopram for depression anyway but with medication and my own coping mechanisms I manage usually to remain on an even keel. However, from about February, up until the end of the academic year, I stopped doing things I enjoyed, like exercising and reading; my motivation was at rock bottom and I was missing about 50% of my lectures. I spent most of my time laying in bed, watching Netflix and eating cookies, or just sleeping the day away. I couldn’t be bothered to cook most evenings so I bought reduced microwave meals from the M&S garage down the road.

‘But you ran a 10k!’ – yes, I did, which I signed up for at the end of March, thinking that a big goal like that would help me get back on track. To be perfectly honest, it didn’t. I did the 10k and I loved it and was so proud of myself, but before I arrived in London that day, I was totally unprepared! The only thing more powerful than the voice in my head telling me to give up and call it off was the voice telling me what a loser I’d look, having hyped it up and written about it, only to chicken out. Fake it ’til you make it actually worked on this occasion I guess.

Since I’ve been home, I’ve been in a much better place. I’m working full time again and while that’s tiring, I really do love my job and it gets me out of the house five days a week which can only be a good thing. Having found out on the 11th July that I did actually pass my first year at uni, I’m feeling much more confident about going back. (Yes, dropping out did cross my mind back in June). But the effects of those sedentary few months and the comfort eating that came with it have stuck around.

Those who have known me for a few years will know that I’ve always been slim. Since the beginning of this year, I estimate to have gained about 2 stone. (Estimate because I don’t weigh myself very often and don’t know exactly how much I weighed a year ago, but I can make a good guess.)

Now please, please don’t misunderstand me. There is nothing wrong with gaining weight or being the weight or size or figure that I am right now. I don’t look at myself in the mirror and hate what I see. Nor should I! My personal issue is that after being a certain way for the first 21 years of my life, and then for that to change in the space of 6 months without me really noticing until now is weird for me. My body now is not what I’m used to. And I’d like to go back to what I’m used to. Basically, I don’t feel like me. I hope that makes sense.

From a health point of view, most of the weight I’ve gained appears to be visceral fat – the kind that manifests around the abdominal cavity and therefore surrounds important internal organs such as the liver and pancreas. This type of fat is also linked to insulin resistance, which can be a precursor to Type 2 Diabetes. This is where that blood test comes in. I’d been doing some idle reading and research on this area and knew that it was possible to buy an at-home one-time blood glucose testing kit (which is NOT a diagnostic tool!) and figured I’d have a go. My blood glucose level is sitting somewhere around 110 mg/dl (milligrams per deciletre). Normal levels are considered to be below 100mg/dl and 100-125mg/dl is considered pre-diabetic. While this is all super interesting and possibly a bit concerning, I am obviously not a doctor (or a pharmacist, yet!) and I’m definitely not in the business of self diagnosing. The instructions in the kit suggest that if your blood-glucose is above or below the normal range, that you repeat the test in 10 days time and if the result remains the same then you visit your GP for proper diagnostic testing.

I’ve been telling myself for a few weeks that I should change my diet but because my weight wasn’t bothering me that much, I’ve put it off and procrastinated. Until this morning, when I realised I could really be putting my health at risk by not taking action against my poor diet.

I’m writing this so publicly, partly because writing at all helps me to process and – as with the Vitality 10k earlier this year – I’d like to hold myself accountable, which I struggle with unless I feel like I’m accountable to someone else.

This blog, when I created it, was all about sharing my journey with people I love and people who don’t know me at all. This part of my journey is about self-care, self-love and the desire to be the healthiest version of myself.

In a future post I will write about some of the specific goals I have set myself and the way I’m going to achieve them. Plus, look out for an unrelated but exciting announcement coming soon..!

Much love xx

(Disclaimer: Most of my research has been from Dr Michael Mosley’s literature and from Diabetes UK. Please don’t take my word as fact and if you’re worried about your own health, go and see a pharmacist or your GP.)”