Monday, November 30, 2015

Banks and Meditations

Well, I didn’t manage to get to doing any writing as mentioned in my last blog post. Just after finishing that post I checked my emails and saw one from my solicitor. Apparently a deposit I made with her company was paid from the account of Mrs C Asher. WTF? I’d had a joint account with Caroline until more than a year ago when I put it in my name alone. My statements and my card all come with just my name. However, when I looked online I saw that on the main account page they had removed my name and left Caroline’s. I tried to change that online, but when I looked at the bit where personal details were my name was there. I therefore phoned HSBC and of course did not know my telephone banking security number. This resulted in me having to go through a series of robots before talking to a human being. I ended up on hold while my telephone banking was sorted. The human had then misunderstood me and when I finally got my problem through to her I was put onto online banking, and put on hold again. Finally I was told that this would be resolved in seven working days. And there went my writing day.

Another thing that has been using up my time is meditation. Over this last weekend I’ve spent about two hours a day doing this. I feel it is time well spent because, if I can get my mind straight, writing is no problem. When I started out setting myself a daily word count I found it difficult to get 1,000 done in a day. This went up to 2,000 in a day with the time it took me to write them steadily dwindling. If I told you how long, when I am ‘in the flow’, it take me to write 2,000 words you would start yelling at me and asking why I don’t write a book a month. It doesn’t work like that, and I’m not telling you anyway.

The meditation seems to be working. Any of you who have read my posts here or on Facebook will know that I am pragmatic and about as unmystical and irreligious as it is possible to be. I was of course very cynical about ‘mindfulness’ – about meditation. But I am aware of the plasticity of the brain and how it can be changed. I was also desperate for something effective that didn’t involve SSRIs or other drugs and their side effects. Meditation, I have found, relaxes and calms me and this lasts for some time after I stop. While I am doing it I find I can consciously cause a pleasurable relaxation throughout by body. It is also the first time I’ve found an off switch for my brain that hasn’t involved quantities of alcohol that would have a ‘health professional’ wincing. Then this Sunday something else happened.

I've been meditating using various hypnotic recordings. I just used one done by a guy called Benjamin Bonetti that was 55 minutes long. Quite swiftly I was very relaxed, so much so I couldn't feel my hands. Then, about halfway through, I had my first experience with hypnogogia while meditating - a hypnogogic hallucination. Just for a moment everything got really bright, and a blue sky appeared above me with mackerel clouds fleeing across it. My reaction was a brief panic and I switched that off as if clicking a switch. I then instantly regretted doing so because it simply felt good. I want this to happen again. Ain't the mind a strange and wonderful thing?

That’s all for now. I will get on with some writing, then some Greek reading … supposing I don’t have another email I need to react to…

Friday, November 27, 2015


Okay, time to get back to work and I’ll ease in with this blog post.

The last few months have been interesting … in the Chinese sense of the curse, ‘May you live in interesting times.’ Mentally I hit a bad spot. For one year and ten months I’ve been fighting against depression with exercise but it obviously wasn’t enough. Only when I came under a new kind of pressure and came in danger of losing something I really cared about did I realise how far I’d gone down. I actually got quite scared because I was crazy for a while, really crazy, not the jokey light-hearted isn’t it good to be a little crazy nonsense you’ll find in photo-shopped Facebook posts. It was from then that I realised I needed more weapons in my armoury for this battle. If you’ve read the posts before this you’ll see where I went – drugs first and now meditation and mental reprogramming. This is all still very much a work in progress…

So, I travelled back to England 13 days ago. Despite the above I decided that I must continue as if I don’t feel like curling up on the sofa, under a blanket, and never coming out again. Some years back Caroline and I had thought about moving. The idea was to be somewhere we didn’t have to get in a car every time we wanted to go out and do something. It never happened but even since her death the thought never left my mind. I also want a change. I’ve never lived in a town before so why not? I chose the Hastings - St. Leonards area of the South Coast because having visited it over many years (to drink far too much red wine with my editor) I know it and like it. And I mean why not take on the supposedly third most stressful thing one can do? What could possibly go wrong?

While in Crete I started looking at properties on Rightmove and the moment I got back I compiled a list of properties I wanted to look at. I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted other than a bit more space. I then visited the aforesaid editor and began looking. I had quite a stack of houses and apartments to look at but in the end saw only five. One was the kind of pad a millionaire might live in built into the top of an old school in Hastings – the highest point with a roof terrace giving expansive views all round. Another was so big another buyer was thinking of moving in a grand piano. But I chose something smaller and more discrete: a maisonette with three bedrooms, spacious but also cosy. The day I saw it I thought go for it. I looked at it a second time that day then walked out the door, got on my mobile and put in an offer, which was accepted.

Meanwhile in my house in Latchingdon I’ve been clearing out. I’ve made five trips to charity shops and the tip to get rid of accumulated junk. I’ve had a movers’ rep come in to give me a price on shifting everything. I employed a solicitor to do the conveyancing and provided all the information she needed. And of course I’ve encountered my first episode of lawyerly arse-dragging. Now there is little more I can do to push this through. I was told on one hand that it could take 5 to 6 weeks and on the other that it could take 10 to 12 weeks. I have to be patient, but also prepared to get on the phone whenever necessary. But now I must get on with other things…

First this blog post. Next I’ll open up the 50,000 words of the book I started while on Crete and get back to work on that.  

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Be Mindful.

And all change… So, I was suffering from panic attacks, anxiety and depression and started taking an SSRI called Escitalopram. I did notice a rapid change and I did lose the panic attacks and much of the anxiety. However, then there were the side-effects. I’m not going to to detail them here - you can go look them up yourselves - suffice to say they were unacceptable. I read up on the full gamut of these, how long it can take one to get off the drug and the possible withdrawal symptoms. I didn’t like what I was reading at all.

So I quit.

I was taking 10mg a day for 13 days. The next day I took 5mg saving the next quarter pill for the next day, but in the end I threw it down the plug hole. To then counter what I expected to happen to me I started on mindfulness, meditation and relaxation recordings. I didn’t have much hope for these and expected to just have to grit my teeth and get through. However, I was very surprised. My first 10 minutes of ‘Headspace’ removed the feeling of stress from my guts. A free Paul McKenna relaxation recording put me into something near to a trance. And I felt good afterwards.

There are other things I’ve been doing which have probably helped too. I’ve been drinking an awful lot of tea and the caffeine doesn’t help with anxiety etc. I reduced this intake to zero on the first day. I instead drank camomile and peppermint tea - both of which have positive effects on the whole depression fuck up scenario. And I’ve continued, considerably reducing my caffeine intake.

In retrospect I see that the SSRI probably brought me up enough so I could use these techniques. Withdrawal has consisted of night sweats - the opposite of one of the side-effects which was feeling incredibly cold sometimes - and maybe other symptoms I can’t really distinguish from my previous problems. I wake in the morning with panic attacks and anxiety but these have been reducing over the last three days. They go once I get up and get moving. A session with headspace of some other form of meditation usually clears the last of it. 

I’ve also been thinking of the reasons behind my recent fall. Sure, the death of my wife Caroline pushed me right down, but I didn’t realise how far down until I came under pressure to do more than just get through each day, and be more than just a survivor. I realise I’ve been on the edge of a precipice for the best part of two years. 

But also there’s something else that has occurred to me. For a good portion of my life I have been a heavy drinker who sneered at unit limits (I still do really) and would often binge. However, age has given me the two-day hangover, and drinking doesn’t go well with being depressed. I had to stop for months after Caroline’s death because drinking took me down and then I dropped lower still with the hangover. The hangovers and depressive effects have been building in me an aversion to alcohol. I am pretty close now to giving it up completely. But here’s the rub. I’ve lost the crutch that was alcohol and this in itself can be a cause of depression, anxiety and panic attacks. And what about smoking? This was another crutch I used. In the last two years I’ve become a vaper. Sure I get the nicotine but you get more than that from cigarettes…

Anyway. I will continue with the mindfulness/meditation. I’ve realised I do not want to get on the drugs bandwagon. I will control my mind and I will not let it control me.

Go steady out there. It’s dangerous.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Go Drugs!

So, I didn’t wait until I got back to England to start on the antidepressants. I got tired of feeling like shit and decided I must do something about it now. Past experience of depression has led me to believe that my problem is the usual one i.e. lack of serotonin. When I had before I tried everything but going to the doctor. I tried St. John’s Wort, B vitamins and stuff like that, but what really worked was 5-htp (to quote: a metabolic intermediate for the biosynthesis of neurotransmitters like serotonin, melatonin and tryptophan)  Anyway, I’ve been reading up on various drugs and their effects and from what I read it struck me that the newer SSRIs were pretty good. Also talking to someone who deals with prescribing them helped me come to a decision.

From this person I was talking to I got the name of an antidepressant she thought best for my problem; escitalopram. I wrote this down on a piece of paper and went to see a doctor in Koutsouras. He checked me over and then sorted out a prescription for me. I even got to use my health card and reduce the cost. I got the drug I suggested and Xanax to deal with the worst of the panics. He also lined me up for some blood tests and a heart check which I haven’t been able to get to yet.

On the first day I took half a Xanax, which very quickly started to work on the tight stressed feeling in my chest. In the evening I took 10mg of escitalopram. Now, subsequently, I have heard from people that it doesn’t work for them, or it takes months to work, or you get worse before you get better. Others told me that it kicked in in a few days or, usually, 10 to 14 days. I felt better immediately on the next day. The stressed feeling was coming down and when I had a sleep on my sofa I woke up for the first time in a while without panic attacks. Whether this was still due to the Xanax, or the other drug working, or due to the fact that I felt good about actually doing something, I don’t know. Don’t care much either.

The next day I felt slightly shaky in the morning, as if from too much caffeine, but that quickly passed. While in the local town of Sitia, waiting in a hairdresser’s for someone, I suddenly realised I felt good. I felt calm, confident, no stress, no anxiety or nerves. Later this transformed into a euphoria. Everything looked brighter and I seemed to be seeing my surroundings more. I in fact felt a little manic, a little high. Later I went down a little but not much.

In subsequent days the panic and anxiety left me. I’ve felt a little low on occasions but I think this is more due to some present circumstances than the chemicals in my brain, or maybe I haven’t been on the drug long enough to lose the depression yet. I don’t know. We will see. In the mornings I feel quite sleepy while in bed and often during the day too. When I get up and have some tea I feel a little shaky too, but briefly. Last night was my first 20mg dose so it’ll be interesting to see what occurs. 

Go drugs!