Running on Emergency Power

So yes. I have survived February. But you know what? It was pretty rough.

I know it’s ironic that someone who goes on about how taking care of your mental health is important went and let herself slip, but there we are. I went off my medication in November because it wasn’t working (I thought). I thought it was just the winter blues. I thought if I ploughed through it would get better. Then February hit, and with it a new wave of job insecurity and I just couldn’t anymore.

So I got help. I went back on my medicine, I dropped back on work projects, and I hunkered down. Now it’s a few weeks back on medicine and a holiday starting this weekend and I think the worst of it has passed and the sun is both metaphorically and literally coming back out. In the meantime in between though, it is very much like running on emergency power. You eat, sleep (somewhat), get dressed and go to work. You try not to be a monster to the people in your life. You have to remember that it DOES get better.

Having lunch in the park with some sun does help lift the spirits a bit.

Life does continue on around you in all this, and I’m glad I was dragged out into the public on occasion and made to talk to other humans. Some cool things did still happen. In the lab I got to see a 14,700 year old human skull that they think was used as a ceremonial drinking bowl.  Some days this job is unreal and I love it.

Some more of the things I’ve been working on are finally being made public, and that’s pretty nifty. (Even if the photos of myself are a bit naff.) The cetaceans project is still in progress, though on the back burner to the Toxodon one. Also, they finally put a 3D model of Hope the Blue Whale online! On one hand, working on high visibility projects is an honour and is amazing work. On the other hand, working on high visibility projects is ABSOLUTELY TERRIFYING if something goes wrong. And just a behind-the-scenes secret – something will always go wrong. You just have to hope the time you budgeted in for the snafu is enough. And that it doesn’t snow.

And snow it did! The Beast from the East came through Britain and froze everything. Normally it’s just the north that gets the snow dump, but this time around, Colchester and the surrounding East Anglia got an absolute blizzard on and off over four days. Trains were cancelled, buses weren’t running, and grocery stores ran out of random food supplies. It was a wild week, and then just gone by Monday. It felt like being back in Idaho for a bit.

Outside of work, M and I went down to Brighton to visit friends in the month. It was rainy, but it was really cool from what I did see. I’d love to go back in the summer sometime. On the way home we also found a display of Roman remains dug up in a motorway service station, displayed between the toilet entrances and the fast food seating. Truly an English phenomena. Snuck a bit of America in though. Five Guys are opening up in all the major towns and cities here in the UK, and I think I’ve gotten M hooked on the new Colchester one. Bwahaha.

Also in Colchester – did you know that Twinkle Twinkle Little Star was written here? The house is still privately owned, but you can see the plaque on the front of it. That and the Pizza Express down the road has conspicuously themed their restaurant around the rhyme.

We may have walked by at like 10 at night, humming the tune like creepers.

If the pizza didn’t give a hint, any plans of my Year of Monthly Challenges hit a complete standstill when Depression snuck up. Snacks were eaten when snacks were offered. Somehow I still managed to lose another 1.8 kg (3.9 lbs), so that’s nice. However, February was survival mode, and March is healing mode, so we’ll just jump back on this 30-Day Challenge Bandwagon in April when I’m a functional human being again.

Anyway, I’m off to see my family and friends in Tennessee for nearly three weeks, and I’m so excited! I imagine that’ll likely be when you hear from me next, so speak soon. 🙂

— Kate


Changing Your Postcode Will Not Change Your Life

I love you all dearly, but we need to talk. I’ve heard from so many friends about how jealous they are about me coming to England and how they wish they could just come over here and travel the country, or even backpack through the whole of Europe. And you know what? That’s fantastic! You should totally do it if your budget and/or constitution can handle it. However, it really bears mentioning that when you do this you cannot expect it to magically make whatever life issues you are having better. This isn’t to say I think anyone is delusional about life at all, but going abroad seems to be a similar trap to losing weight.

“When I get to my goal weight then I’ll be more confident and fall in love.”

“When I’m skinny I’ll go for that job I’ve always dreamt of.”

“When I’m not fat anymore I won’t get depressed so easily.”

Sound familiar? Well, I’ve heard similar things about moving far away from home too. It seems to be a default behaviour that we all fantasize about every now and again – running away from our problems and starting fresh in a new place. And in a way you can. However, you’ve got to face those demons first and learn from what’s making you struggle before you move on to bigger and better things.

Studying or living abroad will not mean that you’ll feel more confident if you’re already mentally beating yourself up. It may even tear you down further before bringing you back up again. Nothing is quite so humbling as realising how other people see your country, regardless of whether or not you’re proud of it. It’s also incredibly difficult at times to be confident that you’ll even manage to stay after the fact when you’ve suddenly got to be better than all the EU or else get (quite literally) deported once your student visa is expired. There’s no going back to mom and dad’s for a few months until you land a job.

Studying or living abroad will also not mean that you’ll suddenly become brave and beautiful and exotic and have people falling in love with you for being foreign. I get this jokingly from a lot of my friends, asking if I’ll find them a British Boyfriend. Ladies, there is no Mr Darcy or some stereotypical man in posh dress waiting to sweep you off your American sneakers. There are men that are anti-America, pro-America, or don’t care, and the only differences you’ll find between the American and British men (and I mean this in the best of joking intentions of course) are that the ones here will sound funny to you (and sometimes hard to understand) and make cultural references to things you don’t get. That’s it. I may be letting the cat out of the bag, but people from other countries are in fact, just people and you should be dating them because you like them as a person and not because they say loo instead of toilet. Dating and falling in love will still be scary, and you won’t get off the hook any easier being somewhere far away and new. Though resorting to genial stereotypical teasing about your respective countries is always a fun perk. 😉

Finally, studying or living abroad will not mean that your depression or anxiety about life will get better. In fact, there will be days when it may just make it worse. Not understanding (and then failing at) societal norms or just having a moment of homesickness is rough. Rougher is having to just barrel through it because you can’t give up and go home. If you can make it through though, I do think this one will help your worldview. It may not make the depression or anxiety go away, but you’ll develop tools on how to better deal with it. Also, SAD lights are your friend when you aren’t seeing the sun enough in the winter. Seriously.

Anyway, I don’t want to rant and ramble at y’all all night, so I’ll keep it brief. Basically, we’re all a little cracked and chipped in this world and nothing will make it better but ourselves. Doesn’t matter where in the world you are.

— Kate

to be gorgeous and high and true and fine and fluffy and moist and sticky and lovely...

When was the last time you did something for the first time?

Still no visa, but I’ve found a new contact to try. Anyway, a different ramble. So there are interesting problems when it comes to leaving the country. A major one I never thought I’d run into? Licensing differences in medicine.

I’ve never been particularly avoidant on the fact that I deal with depression, and there’s no need to start now. I know there will be other people in this situation that are trying to decide what to do. My main problem is that I’ve failed other antidepressants in my life and finally found that bupropion worked for me. I’ve been on it for the past 3 years and in the meantime have added good diet and exercise into my routine to help bolster my mental health. However… While in the United States it’s licensed to be given for depression as well as a smoking-cessation aid, it’s only licensed to stop smoking in the United Kingdom.

“But Kate, why don’t you just switch to another medication?” you ask. Well, this would be medication #4 for me, so honestly I’d rather just try going off it entirely instead of playing the “Try the Medicine” game again so close to leaving. I’ve spoken with my doctor and they’ve given me a weaning schedule, so I should be off and okay by the time I catch the plane. It’ll be fantastic if I can actually just stay off medicine, but if needed I can still have medicine shipped over for a year or go on something in the UK. A lot has happened to me in the last three years, and I have faith in myself that I can handle it, and if not that I can ask for help.

My doctor recommended making a list of the top ten things I recognize as depression symptoms, and another list of the top ten things I can do that will make me feel better. These will always be personal to me, but if you are someone who deals with this too, it’s a great idea honestly. I decided to write mine out on here so if nothing else I have somewhere to fall back on and find what helps keep me sane. Take it as a starting point for yourself if you’d like, by all means.


Ten Things to Do When Depression Strikes

  1. Call a friend. Go out in public. Go sit in a space with other human beings. Just being around other people forces me to stop feeling mopey and instantly evaporates the lurking feeling of isolation. Bonus points if you have the wonderful people in your life you can just talk out the feeling with until it passes, but if not you can always journal. Just getting the feelings into word form can make a difference.
  2. Go exercise. Walk, jog, swim – whatever is easiest to get to and gets you off your bum. I try to nip this in the bud by going for evening walks every night and catch up on my podcast news in the meanwhile. You get some exercise to make yourself feel better (especially if it’s your only major accomplishment of the day) and podcasts are excellent for shutting off that nasty little voice in your mind until the exercise effects kick in.
  3. Write out a schedule and stick to it. Having structure in your life isn’t as exciting as a grand spontaneous adventure, but having a checklist of what you need to do every day can greatly lower the heavy weight of apathy that tends to strike in the morning. Don’t torment yourself though – make sure you put in at least one thing you enjoy and look forward to.
  4. Can’t get ahold of friends? Don’t have any friends available quite yet? Get out of the house and do something, anything. Being a student is useful because there is nearly always something going on. Go to movie night. Learn to kayak in the pool. Heck, go play bingo. Get out, socialize, and stay busy!
  5. Eat well. Don’t restrict yourself to carrot sticks and salad, but eat something green every day. Cutting out excess amounts of grease and sugar makes a world of difference in how you physically and emotionally feel. I must repeat though – DON’T RESTRICT YOURSELF. Allow yourself some comfort food if you’re having a rough day, but limit it to 2 cookies instead of a sleeve for example.
  6. If your depression is being triggered by high stress, have some alcohol IN MODERATION. Yes, it’s a depressant, but at least for me it takes the anxiety down a good ten notches and the world just feels like a better place. If that’s not an option, tidy. Especially when you’re doing things that are more abstract, sometimes having an organized fridge is incredibly satisfying. Having a clean environment in general is good for coping, even if you are a clutterbug by nature. Sort it into boxes and enjoy a visually appealing living space while knowing your stuff is not being sacrificed to do so.
  7. Set silly goals and rewards. Make a list of things to be done and stick a reward at the end of each. Did you take a shower and make your bed? Have some of your special tea for breakfast. Finish the readings due by the end of the week? Go watch that movie you’ve been meaning to.
  8. Challenge your perspective. Convinced you aren’t really good enough to be where you are? Dissect the question and make a pro/con list if you want. Think you’ve irreparably annoyed someone you love? What did you do and what is actually the more reasonable response? Try to get in the habit of seeing life as an adventure and when the worst thoughts crop up about a situation, if you can’t think of a cheery result, at least think of a more realistic one.
  9. Volunteer. Help a stranger. Make your friend’s day. The phrase that giving is better than receiving is one of the truest I’ve known. You appreciate what you have more and seeing the smile on someone else’s face knowing that you instigated it is amazing.
  10. Change your vocabulary. Just little tweaks of your words are surprisingly powerful.

— Kate