A Delicate Balance

This is interesting… I often create little conversations between Drunk Me and Sober Me – partly because I never want to lose sight of how bat shit crazy all that stuff is, but also because it’s sort of terrifying and fascinating. It turns out I can’t go and stay with Kitten, my depressed friend, after all – my bosses can’t give me the time off so there’s nothing much I can do. I had everything lined up – flights, trains and everything else – but it can’t be done and it’s out of my control. I feel bad, obviously, but trying my best to be there for her as much as I can when I’m actually thousands of miles away. I’m asking advice from friends who know more about depression than I do, or rather people I know who have gone through what Kitten is going through. It’s so hard to know how I best support her. Part of me just wants to shower her with kind words and encouragement, but I also don’t want to cheer her on when I feel she’s putting herself in potentially really bad situations. The other part of me doesn’t want to make everything much worse by telling her OH HELL NO, GIRL. I’m desperately trying to be gentle and loving, yet honest. It’s a delicate balance to negotiate.

In a lengthy exchange, I found myself asking Kitten to read her own words to me as though it was someone else’s. It was with regards to a recent decision she made and made me think of my conversations with Drunk Me. She agreed that it wasn’t a good thing but of course the illness has kidnapped her brain and what she is trying to solve is actually the Devil’s own fucking equation. In so many ways, there are parallels with alcoholism and I guess addiction in general too. Your reasoning goes out of the window and you’re stripped of all capacity to make sound judgments and good decisions. I immediately felt oh shit did I sound harsh or did I just make her feel really stupid or small or just generally ten times worse than she already did?

I suppose honesty is the best way though, or in any case the only way I know when it comes to this. I explained that my wish is only for her to get well and feel better and if I come across as mean it wasn’t my intention. I also asked her to yell at me if I don’t get it right or support her in a way that doesn’t work for her.

What a frightening, dark and fucking awful bitch depression is though – and from within! Bet Kitten would LOVE to have the choice – albeit difficult one – that I had, i.e. something resembling at least an opportunity to STOP. I’m not at all saying that what alcoholics need to “learn” is that the solution is to stop because clearly it isn’t always as straight forward as that, FAR from it, but I would imagine that Kitten would gladly go through any withdrawal and any number of 12-step meetings if chances were she could recover.

What are your views on depression? How would you support a friend who suffers? Any do’s or don’t’s?

Today I’m not going to drink.

Monday in Eden

It’s Monday and it’s a good one. I say this in an attempt to convince myself I’m in my usual good mood. Hah! Pretty obvious I’m not, eh? Not in a bad mood exactly but feeling distinctly prickly and impatient, which is almost always the case when this she devil is hormonal. That bloody Eve and her fucking apple appetite – if it weren’t for her us women wouldn’t have to put up with this menstrual cycle nonsense or the pain of childbirth or any of that. I wonder how having children would have gone down in Eden though? You just collect them like you would a parcel at the Post Office? Or we’d all have rubber band vaginas that wouldn’t stretch too far or snap or tear? Bet Eden ladies would just have their rubber minkies just snapping back to perfect and tight and provide perfect bladder control even during the most relentless sneezing fit? Oh I don’t know, but then Eden also sounds like a really boring place if apples were considered such a taboo there. Yes, I’m a total delight this morning. Sorry Eve, I’m sure you did your best.

A recent conversation really got me thinking. Alcoholism and depression. Being challenged is very good for me, because I think I’m always right so I’ve really given this lots of thought over the past day. As usual, I can only speak for myself so I’ll have to start there.

I’m an alcoholic. I didn’t drink because I had a terrible childhood and I didn’t drink to cope with stress or pain or life. In fact, the times when I’ve gone through something shitty I’ve largely stayed away from alcohol because I was always terrified I’d end up feeling much worse. I had it in my head (and I don’t know where it came from) that alcohol enhances everything we feel, and so when I felt down I steered well clear of the stuff. When I look back on the past 20 years, there are two bad patches where I went through serious shit storms. Those also happen to be the two longest dry spells when I almost entirely stayed away from alcohol. It’s not a coincidence. Now I obviously know that this statement I had in my head is only half true: all alcohol does is numb and depress us, so yes, it’ll enhance how shitty or sad we feel but it can’t ever make us happier. After all, it’s a depressant so by default that just isn’t possible. It can only ever make you less happy or sadder. My number one trigger was (and is) a good mood. Booze to me was the illusion of a positive addition to life, I’ve referred to it before as glitter and that’s how I saw it when I was eyeball deep in my addiction. Crazy, isn’t it? I’d point to anything other than my BFF Sauvignon Blanc as a problem – I only saw the truth when I had no other choice and couldn’t lie to myself anymore. It was never my BFF – it was my worst enemy and it was out to kill me.

Beyond this however, I didn’t drink the way most of the people around me drink. I binge. When I start, something happens in me and I cannot stop. I either drink until there’s nothing left to drink or until I pass out – whichever happens first. And because I was really fucking awesome at being an alcoholic, I always made sure I had an ample supply. It takes over with terrifying force that I have no power over. I am powerless over alcohol and I always was.

Was I depressed? Sure – with every hangover I felt low, anxious, paranoid, vulnerable, scared and unsettled. But this was a by-product of booze when my whole system was awash with this powerful depressant. Do I feel depressed when I don’t drink? No. Sure, I have bad days and sometimes I get upset or angry about stuff as we all do, but I have never experienced depression per se. I.e. a hopeless state of feeling low and all those other things for no reason whatsoever. I’ve never cried for five hours without understanding why, which is how my friend Lopez described her depression. Another friend, Kitten, is right now battling a patch of severe depression and she is a tee-totaller. So when I refer to depression, I refer to the illness that comes from within. Not the kind we put into our system. The way I see it for me personally and my own experience is that something in my wiring means that I can’t find the off-switch when I start, and also that I am a human who got addicted to a highly addictive substance. I kind of relate to the first two parts of AA’s take on it: a physical allergy and a mental obsession. It 100% feels that way to me. AA’s third bit says it’s a spiritual malady but I just don’t know about that one. Perhaps one to explore further but it does imply pain somehow and that just wasn’t why I drank. I have never filled up that glass of wine in order to stop feeling bad about something.

But there is a link, although I don’t think this would come as news to anyone. If you ingest a depressant, you will end up feeling depressed. And alcohol is also an anaesthetic, so it would also make sense that someone might turn to it to escape depression or any other type of pain or stress.

Because I wanted to get some facts, I hopped on over to The Royal Society of Psychiatrists. This is what they say:

What is the connection between depression and alcohol?

We know that there is a connection – self-harm and suicide are much more common in people with alcohol problems. It seems that it can work in two ways:

  • you regularly drink too much including (including ‘binge drinking’) which makes you feel depressed OR
  • you drink to relieve anxiety or depression.

Either way:

  • Alcohol affects the chemistry of the brain, increasing the risk of depression.
  • Hangovers can create a cycle of waking up feeling ill, anxious, jittery and guilty.
  • Life gets depressing – arguments with family or friends, trouble at work, memory and sexual problems. 

Remember what I said? I’m always right. Oh, stop! I’m KIDDING! But this does point to how I see it: if you drink a depressant, it’ll get you depressed and if you are already depressed you might be inclined to self medicate with Uncle Booze the anaesthetic. It also makes sense that it makes us more likely to become depressed, given it affects the chemical balance in our brains – depression by definition in the biological sense is, after all, a chemical imbalance in the brain. This all makes sense to me. What do you think?

I’ve heard before about the presence of alcohol in suicides, I can’t remember the figure on top of my head now…. I’m going to look it up…. Oh damn… I wanted the percentage of suicides in the UK 2017 where alcohol was present, but I’m struggling to find it strangely. So unfortunately I can’t quote it because I simply can’t remember what the percentage I’ve heard before is, but I do remember it’s a huge number. It’s sort of logical though. No matter how much you want out, taking your own life must be 1) scary as hell, and 2) hard to put in action. But when you’ve come up with a modus operandi, you still have to go through with it and what better way than calling in Uncle Booze again to numb your senses. Alcohol is perfect for that little thing called fear, which is why we’re much more likely to do stupid shit when we’re drunk. What I can find online are some other interesting facts around alcohol and suicide though.

The Samaritans tell me:

The link between alcohol misuse and suicidal behaviour is well established. The risk of suicide is up to eight times greater when someone is abusing alcohol. Alcohol can reduce people’s inhibitions enough for them to act on suicidal thoughts and it can increase impulsivity, change people’s mood and deepen their depression.

The Oxford Academic has published a paper called ‘Association Between Alcohol Misuse and Suicidal Behaviour which states as follows:

Intoxication and psychological distress

Alcohol has a biphasic effect on emotion, with low doses often ameliorating negative affect, but higher doses producing central nervous system depressant effects (Hufford, 2001). Many adults and adolescents believe alcohol can be used as a form of self-medication, but unfortunately this effect reverses itself at higher levels of intoxication (Pihl and Smith, 1983), and can precipitate suicidal behaviour. Borges et al. (2000) found that alcohol’s effects were mainly on suicidal ideation and unplanned attempts rather than planned attempts, thus lending more evidence to the theory that acute intoxication is more significant, in relation to suicide, than chronic abuse.

To me, this underlines that alcohol is, ahem, very VERY bad for us. Sorry to be flippant – these are terrifying facts. If we are not depressed it’ll hugely increase our chances of ending up there, and if we already are it will make us even more unwell and much more likely to act upon dark thoughts. It numbs our senses. Scary shit, no?

The question still remains as to whether all alcoholics are depressed. Personally, my drinking days were dark – my reasons for drinking may not have been to self medicate but Oh Ehm Gee do I know what it’s like to feel like death both inside and out the next day! Because I don’t feel that way when I don’t drink is why I’ve come to the conclusion that the low mood, anxiety and everything else I felt with my hangovers were a direct result of the alcohol. Sober Me can be in a morning grump or, like now, a little ratty because I’m hormonal, but in general I don’t feel low or any of those things. Never have. Research and studies seem to point to how alcohol gets us depressed and/or increases our risk of developing clinical depression, as well as showing evidence of alcohol and drug use as a form of self medication. I can’t, however, find anything to suggest ALL alcoholics drink to drown their sorrows. Unless of course you look at what addiction is: relieving the discomfort of the previous drinking session or hit, which may or may not take the form of a low mood. We’ve become dependent on it – physically or mentally or both. Habit also has a lot to answer for. And of course, chuck in the reasons we tell ourselves we have to drink. I fucking celebrated the neighbour’s cat’s birthday – I always found a reason to propose a toast. If there wasn’t a reason I invented one – cue aforementioned cat.

So much to make sense of I suppose. What do you think?

This is turning out to be very long, but there’s one thing I really wanted to tell you so please bear with me for a short while longer… Yesterday I was heading out for a run. I love running in the rain but not in a sky fall where it comes down so hard you can’t even see. Well, 20 or so minutes into my run, the heavens opened. I was already hormonal and in a bit of a shitty mood so I needed the endorphins going, there’s no better way to get me feeling really good than a long run. So I actually got really pissed off, or rather, disappointed because I needed that run. Muttering to myself, I stood under the nearest tree for a while and then sprinted across the fields hunched as the heavy rain whipped the shit out of me. As I got back to “our” end of the park it suddenly stopped. I was SO annoyed and completely drenched. And then I looked up and saw the most perfect rainbow and it felt like it was some higher power telling me to get some perspective. It seemed to end roughly where hubby’s gym is and that’s where he was at the time, my very own pot of (heart of) gold. I pulled myself together and felt instantly happier. It honestly made me feel all light and happy inside and as though it was a sign. Silly perhaps, but sometimes we get just what we need exactly when we need it and in that moment of hormonal aggro and being soaked to the bone, I needed a rainbow.

rainbow.jpg

Today it isn’t raining so I’ll be heading out for the full hour.

Today I’m not going to drink.