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


Essay Week

Blood, sweat and tears have been spilled, but the word count has been reached and the grammar has been checked. The module one essay was turned in Monday morning and I’ve been trying to recover since. Have finally gotten to the tail end of whatever gunk I caught, just in time to start a new module. The lesson learned from this? I should never, ever become an ethicist. If it’s not practical and real world work, I’m out of my element. Needless to say, it’s not been an exciting week of traipsing the English countryside for me, though if the weather isn’t too miserable I may go check out Abbey Park this weekend. The Weather Channel is predicting only a 20% chance of rain Saturday, but trusting the weather forecast here that far in advance is lunacy.

Aaaaanyway… I was lame and did not go out for Bonfire Night. Instead I wrote on my essay and watched fireworks in the distance from my flat whilst hacking up a lung and going through obscene amounts of camomile tea. Actually, I watched fireworks go off for the next 3 nights after and got the most spectacular text from it:

I mean, I feel it'd be a reasonable excuse.
I mean, I feel it’d be a reasonable excuse.

For most of the week it was some variation on this grumbling, but somehow between the frantic bouts of inspirations and the frequent breaks for Buzzfeed articles a miracle happened and a paper appeared. From this point I’m just choosing to not think about it any more and start focusing on the next looming deadline – presentations.

Back home, it seems that my parents have gotten SNOW already, and tonight the weather is threatening -20 to -40 F with the Arctic chill sweeping through the North American continent. I will take drizzle any day over that, thank you very much. In fact, I’ve gotten to the point of walking outside without a jacket when the sky is grey because “it doesn’t smell like rain outside” and it’s accurate. I’m impressed with myself.

Oh! Speaking of dying, I got to visit a real-live NHS doctor’s office this week. Was actually just for the routine check up I booked before coming down with plague, but that’s life for you. Of course, this is only one clinic in one city, but I was really impressed with the service. At the front desk I signed in through a touch screen that told how many patients were ahead of me and then sat down in the waiting room. In the room was a scrolling marquee that would chime whenever a patient was to be seen with their name and the room they should go to on the screen. When it came to my name, I walked to the room and was greeted by a friendly nurse who took my vitals and asked what I needed to be seen for. She updated my prescription and even helped me out with it because there’s no direct version of it here in the UK. (Definitely check your medicines before studying abroad for this!)  It felt really weird just walking out of the building after without talking to the front desk about billing. It felt even weirder filling the prescription. It literally consisted of me handing over the paper, the pharmacist finding the pills and putting the data in the computer, then handing them to me. No insurance fuss, no dread over what the final bill was going to be. Granted, I didn’t have to pay for my medicine in this case, but not all medicine in the UK is free. It’s a complicated system, but it’s still much clearer and less dread-inducing than medicine in the US.

Otherwise I’ve been more resident than tourist, so I tried to get a few photos of just everyday things around town that stood out in one way or another. Some of the things that get me the most are the food products. Sometimes the food is exactly the same as in the US, sometimes it’s arbitrarily renamed, and sometimes you’ll find something completely unique. I’ve learned to not go into the shops for groceries with any preconceptions.

I’ve also been really missing my fuzzball kitty and I’ve been told he misses me, though it seems Mom and Dad have been excellent cat keepers thus far as he’s snoozing behind their heads on the couch in the evenings. It made me sadder to see this poster on a street coming home, but it gave me some faith in humanity to see what people had added.

Lost Cat Poster

My kitty, safe with the parentals, looking surly as usual.
My kitty, safe with the parentals, looking surly as usual.

And to end this fascinating blog update, there was this weirdness I ran into today walking to the Fees Office on campus and laughed harder at than I probably should have. There were no gardeners in sight and though overcast it wasn’t raining. However, it looked like someone just kinda thought, “Meh, this is good enough for now,” and just walked away from it. Maybe it’s just the adjustment of living with what feels like a ‘meh’ mentality here from most people, but I found it hilarious. I dunno.

"Meh, this is good enough for now."

I guess if I’m laughing at a lone lawnmower it’s probably time for me to get some sleep. Hope all is well where you are, and I hope to write again this weekend!

— Kate

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