Diary Entry 8: Return of the Anxiety Demons

Return of the Anxiety Demons

Did I really think that a few anti-depressants, a bit of yoga and a sugar free diet would be enough to cure four decades of anxiety?

It’s a new dawn; It’s a new day” or so the song goes.  But, unlike Nina Simone, I am NOT ‘feeling good’ this morning.  I don’t even need to open my eyes to know that the Anxiety Demons are back.  The protective barrier which I have been enjoying recently appears to have shattered during the night.

“Has my strategy stopped working already?” I wonder.  “How DEPRESSING!!”

Anxiety Demons just LOVE to get you in the morning.  They surround you while you are still sleeping and defenseless.  They poke at you with their cold hands and fill your senses with black smoke.

Your head feels like a sponge – soaking up the bleakness.  JKR Rowling got it just right with the Dementors she created for Harry Potter.  In their presence, happy thoughts go ‘pooft’.  In their place come thoughts of  death and mayhem; remorse and regret; unspeakable events and catastrophes.  In those waking moments – all of them seem very real.  AND you’ve just remembered the weird little black hairs you found growing on your big toe the day before.

So – Yes; the demons were definitely back this morning.

Although they have not visited for a while, I do have emergency procedures which I can put into place.  But I need to act quickly – and I mean within thirty seconds.  Hubby may well be snoozing beside me, but so too are the demons.  I need to get up and out – FAST!  I need to leap from my bed, jump in the shower, get dressed and then run out into the street and over to Starbucks, or Costa, or any other café which opens early.  Only then can I relaaaaaax.  Once I am out of my own head and back into the outside world, I start to feel better.   The demons dissolve and things veer back towards normality. Phew!

Quick – into Starbucks!

And if I don’t act quickly?  If I don’t leap from my bed within thirty seconds? Well that’s a whole different ball game.  I will simply lie there, paralysed, and let the demons take over.  I will feel so weighed down by my heavy thoughts that it will be hard to imagine ever getting out of my bed again.

Usually I do manage to bolt out from under the duvet – but not this morning.  Today I have been taken by surprise.  I have felt much better this last few weeks and I wasn’t expecting this.  By the time I realise how awful I feel, I have missed the thirty second escape window. The weight of my grim visions forces me into the anxiety trough – and there I wallow.

Now I will come back to this point next week because I am intrigued about why some people suffer low mood and anxiety in the morning, often with no obvious source, and then they feel better once they are up and about.  What is it that does, or doesn’t happen inside our heads during sleep?

Anyway – that one is for next week.  So for now, I reason with myself.  At the back of my mind I know this may just be an off day.  I remember that I am on such a low dose of anti-depressant that they may not be effective.  I was advised that if the effects wore off then I can simply move up to the next dose.  I allow this happy thought to chivvy me out into the day – but I don’t properly cheer up until I have an unexpected near death experience (OK I’m exaggerating but read on).

Death by ‘inhalation of parcel tape’ – that is what the post mortem would have concluded if the events of today had turned nasty.  I was packing up some orders from my online shop and, in a strange combination of events, I managed to bite off the parcel tape and, at the same time, take a sharp intake of breath.  I have no idea why I breathed in so hard but, to my horror, I felt the bit of tape whoosh into my mouth and become lodged at the back of my throat.

“Help! HEEELLPPP! I’ve inhaled sellotape! I’m choking! I’m dying!!! I’m… I’m…..well I’m OK actually…..”

Well the panic!  As you can imagine!  Which way did it go?  I had no idea whether the tape was heading down my windpipe towards my lung or through the oesophagus towards my stomach.  If it went to my lung would it cause an instant blockage resulting in rapid, painful death?  Or would it lie in my intestine for months and turn all of my cells cancerous.  What would Columbo make of it all?  Would foul play be suspected?

In any case I started to plan my goodbyes and pick my funeral music (again).  It was a somber afternoon so when I did eventually cough up the parcel tape I was ecstatic!  I was alive!  I was happy!  In the aftermath of my near demise, the overall sense of gratitude was better than any anti- depressant.

Is this a realistic approach to add to my anti-anxiety strategy?  Along with yoga and a sugar free diet, should I factor in a daily near-death experience?  Nothing too risky but just enough to give me perspective on pointless anxieties and to banish irrational fears.   Something to remind me about the bigger picture of this beautiful life?

Hmmmmm – maybe not!

Next week – What would John Steinbeck Say?



Diary Entry 7: Celebrating Fathers Day – When Dementia Has Stolen Your Dad

Its Happy Fathers Day!  A day to celebrate these wonderful men who do their best to bring up the next generation.  And it doesn’t matter whether they are still here in this life – or if they have passed on.  Because being a Father is about family relationships; its about the influence that men have on their children and grandchildren – and that is something that endures long after a Father’s lifetime.

So while some of us are spending the day with our Dads, others might be raising a glass in his memory.  They both count.

It sounds harsh – but I will be doing both.  Because my Dad is a bit in between.  He is ‘here’ but he isn’t.  He is still my Dad – but not as I remember him.

My Dad has been stolen by Dementia.  And he is not alone.  In the UK there are probably over 300,000 men who are suffering with this heart-breaking condition. They may not recognise their own children on Fathers Day; they may need us to put the home made cake into their mouth;  to hold a straw for them to wash down the wee whisky toast.

It would be easy to get depressed – and I often do get anxious about seeing my Dad disappear – but there is another side to it all.  A surprisingly positive slant which, for me, means that Fathers Day is probably more meaningful than it has ever been!  And here it is.

My dad was a man of his time.  By that I mean that he raised his daughters the same way a labrador might raise its pups.  In other words his priorities were based on making sure that we were warm, fed and out of harms way.  All the other crazy stuff that comes with bringing up a family was firmly left to Mum!

Warm? Fed? Safe? Job Done!

The result of this traditional upbringing was that I was always much closer to my Mum.  I loved my Dad but we had little in common and we did not seek each other’s company in any real sense.   I sometimes felt a bit sad and guilty that we weren’t closer but it wasn’t really an issue – that’s just the way it was.

Our relationship changed dramatically when Dad developed dementia.  I always thought that this condition brought about a slow decline but, for Dad, it came on very suddenly – literally overnight.

When I saw him on the Monday he was in Marks and Spencer, buying something for his dinner and chatting to the checkout girl about what he had been up to.

When I saw him on the Tuesday he was secured to a hospital bed, trying to ‘catch a rabbit’ and rambling the most bizarre nonsense.  I was beyond shocked.  There was a moment of relief when he responded positively about whether he wanted a sandwich – but it quickly passed when I watched him trying to eat it through the plastic casing.

Two years later, I still remember that Monday as clearly as the Tuesday.  On Monday he was his normal self; on Tuesday he wasn’t.  And he was never the same again.

After three weeks he had improved enough to be discharged from hospital but he was no longer capable of independent living.  We refused a care home place and opted for a care package to be put into place in his sheltered accommodation.  That required me to become part of his daily routine.  The very thought of it filled me with dread.  I didn’t know how on earth I could fit this in to my already manic days – and I didn’t know how to be the daughter that my Dad now needed.

OK Dad – lets do this!!

But life is full of surprises and, since then, Dad and I have never been closer.  Its not just the daily company and familiarity that does it – its what we do with our time together.  We get out and about and try to keep things normal.  We look at old papers and pictures.  He can’t remember what he had for his lunch but he knows who everyone is in a photograph from 1953.  And now I know them too.

His inhibitions about what to talk about are lessened so when we unearth some old love letters I realise that my Dad had quite a few girlfriends before meeting my Mum.  I never knew!  There’s lots of things I never knew about my Dad – until now!

And a lot of my emotional boundaries have gone too.

I always said that I would not be able to deal with any of Dad’s ‘toilet’ accidents but what do you do when it becomes apparent that there has indeed been an ‘incident’.  Simple! You get him in the shower and scrub him down before putting all his clothes in the laundry.

I always said that I did not ever want to see any of my Dad’s ‘bits’ but what do you do when you find him buck naked in the hallway at 2pm on a Wednesday afternoon?  Simple! You get him dressed.  You let him lean on your shoulder while you get his pants over his feet and you try not to think about the fact that his willie is only inches away.

And what about all the animals and people that Dad thinks are in his flat.  Do you deny that they are there? You may not be able to see the tramp on his sofa, the fish on the floor or the women in his bed (he wishes!).  But he can.  There’s babies in the cutlery drawer, a horse in the bathroom and his dead Mother in the porch.

Unless they are troubling him (in which case I gently persuade Dad that they have left), I just see them too.  I see the world from where he is; I sit with him amidst all the crazy things that seem so real to him.  And he likes that!

“There’s three women in my bed!!”

When your Dad can’t do his own shopping you do it for him. When his dementia robs him of his mobility you get him into a wheelchair and keep up the routine.  When he tries to get ready for his work you have a wee joke with him about how he retired 15 years ago.

And when he cries in front of you for the first time ever – you cry too.  Because, at that moment, you know he’s not confused; it’s worse than that.  He’s having a moment of realisation; he knows that something is horribly wrong with his world.   And he is terrified; he needs you to stay close to him and be in this strange world with him.  He needs you to comfort him and and make him smile again.

My Dad’s dementia has been as much of a journey for me as it has for him.  And it has made me a better person.  I have found a level of patience, tolerance and optimism that I never knew I had.  I have had to slow down to my Dad’s speed but, instead of making me stressed, it has actually made me calmer.  I hope I have always been a kind person but caring for Dad has filled me with compassion and the overspill goes out to everyone in my life.

Dad has now gone into care but this has not lessened the time or love I give him.  Today, my Sister will come over from her home two hours away.  We will bundle Dad into his wheelchair and rattle him over a mile of potholed pavements and into the town.  We will sit in the centre and have an ice cream.  We will watch the world go by and, yet again, I will feel grateful that I  have this incredible, albeit belated closeness with my Dad.

You may think that Dementia has stolen your Dad – but has it really?  Maybe it’s given him back to you.

Happy Fathers Day!



















Diary Entry 6: Three Oms! A return to yoga!

Entry 6:  Three Oms! A return to yoga!

So, I’ve been meaning to go back to yoga for ages but, as we know, making time for ourselves is usually bottom of the priority list.  If you are busy working, caring for an elderly parent and worrying about everything in the world then it is unlikely that you will be saying ‘Om’ anytime soon.

Unless you embark on a sugar free diet – in which case you will urgently need something to counteract the rage and despair.  Oh yes, the sugar withdrawal symptoms have been so terrible that I would have happily agreed to an induced coma; just until the worst had passed.  Sadly, medical ethics have not yet reached that point so it was easier just to drag myself back to yoga.

I am no stranger to this mode of exercise and I have dabbled with it many times over the years.   Strangely though, I find that yoga only works for me when my state of mind is already at peace.  If my head is in ‘tumble dryer’ mode, yoga makes me cry – not because of a failed ‘salute to the sun’ but because my mind cannot deal with being ‘quietened’.  It makes sense when you think about it because a quiet mind must surely be a target for anxiety demons; it is a beautiful empty space into which the horrors can pour.

I have spent many Shavanasa sessions in tears, which is a shame because it all starts so well.  The golden ball of light; inhaling the white energy and exhaling the black.  There is the deep sense of self and that shroud of calm when the yoga teacher whispers for us to ‘let things go’.

And then it starts to slide.  The golden ball begins to fade and I get my breathing all wrong.  I inhale the black energy and exhale the white.  I stop ‘letting things go’ and, instead, I torture myself with bleak thoughts about;

  • the time I pushed in front of an old lady in the Supermarket because I was in a hurry AND in a bad mood (horrible person!)
  • The time I attended a friend’s wedding and had my photo taken with someone’s husband – him biting one end of a very short cocktail sausage and me biting the other end.  The resulting photo was met with stony silence (cheap flirt!).
  • The time I didn’t check on my Dad properly and he lay helpless on the floor until 3am (useless daughter!).

So, despite the risk of revisiting these shameful events, I returned to yoga this week.  And it was fine!  Was it my new anti-depressants that kept the demons at bay?  Or was it the steely resolve that has set in while I do battle with the sugar cravings?  Either way, I got the best from the session. I was too unfit to get my forehead on the floor in ‘child’s pose’ but I felt surprisingly upbeat and, dare I say it – CALM!!

This emerging sense of ‘Zenity’ has been assisted by new developments in the sugar free diet.  You may recall that I was struggling to produce anything healthy or tasty but all of that has changed.  My new ‘Nutribullet’ has saved the day.  While Hubby has continued to turn out dahls, pates and crudites, I have been turning out smoothies like there’s no tomorrow.  Every conceivable vegetable has been turned to mush and consumed with great gusto.  I have taken on a superior edge, smug in the knowledge that the national ‘5 a day’ target for fruit and veg consumption, has been smashed.  I can picture the cells of my body enjoying the equivalent of a spa day.  Each part of me relishing the glut of vitamins and minerals.

I taste better than I look – honestly!

Admittedly, the excess beetroot gave me a shock when I first visited the lavatory but my screams about ‘blood in the stool’ soon give way to giggles when I realised where the colouring had come from.  Hubby also took fright when I absentmindedly blended a whole onion into his smoothie mix but, by and large, we are starting to feel the benefits.

I am proud to relay my progress to the Doctor when I attend my one month review.  I hope she is impressed when she sees that I am not relying on the pills for my emotional well being; that I am embarking on other physical and mind based developments.   I tell her that my anxiety has definitely lost it’s edge and that the main thing I am struggling with is the remorse at taking thirty years to deal with it.

I skip out of the surgery with my repeat prescription. I have another appointment in four weeks time but I feel like I might be cured by then.  From what I can gather so far, treating Anxiety is a breeze!

Or is it?

Next Week – Return of the Demons

Entry 5: Detox Foot Pads – Draw Badness Through Your Sole

Entry 5:  Detox Foot Pads – Draw Badness Through Your Sole

As you know, the quest for inner calm is never ending and, fortunately, there is no shortage of mad treatments out there.  I love them all!  I will try them all if I get the chance!  And on that front, I have exciting news.  As the first of many trials in my anti-anxiety strategy, I can introduce you to my new purchase; the ‘detox foot pad!’

Let me explain the concept.  In simple terms, the footpad is intended to aid restful sleep and to draw inner badness out through the soles of one’s foot!   Put a special pad on and leave it overnight.  Toxins, heavy metals and other terrible things will be drawn out through the soles of the feet leaving you on the road to purity.

It sounds simple, but it also sounds unlikely – even to me who is a mug for this sort of thing. Surely, at a physiological level, we do not shed this level of badness through our skin.  A wee bit of sweat maybe – but heavy metals?  Anyway, despite having a science degree, I have never been one for letting common sense get in the way of good health.  I may be a little cynical but I also feel really excited about getting these pads onto my feet.

Is it bedtime yet?

The day drags but finally it is bedtime.  Hubby looks unconvinced when I tell him about the detoxed world that awaits but, as ever, he has been forced to participate.  We get ready for bed and, with gleaming eyes, open the box of foot pads.

Being a modern woman, I am not normally a fan of instruction leaflets but I do not dare waste any of these little beauties.   I scan the user information and note that we will be able to see the results very quickly.  The foot pads will be brown with filth in the morning – our filth – although we should not get too excited.  Like all expensive, faffy, health things we must use them for ‘a period of time’ to see and feel any ‘discernible effect’ in ourselves.  I can live with this though.  At £26 for a two-week supply, it’s not a lot to pay for a good cleanse – not really……!

And so, with value for money far from my mind, I eagerly tip out the box.  It contains fourteen foot pads, each in their own separate pouch and with an adhesive plaster to hold it on.  I open one of the pouches and the first thing I notice is the horrific smell!  Like old fish wrapping.  My Goodness it certainly catches the back of your throat but anything good for you always smells bad right?  On checking the ingredients I see that it does indeed contain shellfish!  And quite a lot of shellfish by the stench but I’m sure the manufacturers know what they are doing – don’t they?

Merciful Lord – is this a Detox Foot Pad or a rank fish?

After gagging and getting used to the smell, we stick the pads onto the soles of our feet, climb into bed and await a miracle.   Right away I feel much more chilled.  I wake a couple of times in the night but, instead of the horrors which usually invade my nocturnal mind, I feel drowsily peaceful when I think about all the badness just oozing out of me.  Even the thought of it is nice and ‘mind over matter’ is half the battle isn’t it?

When morning dawns, Hubby and I are keen to compare foot pads.  They are absolutely rank!  And I mean RANK!  They are just as brown and disgusting as the box promised and mine is the worst.  Whereas Hubby’s pad is brown and ‘moist’, mine is positively weeping and swimming in gunk.

I don’t ever want to face one again.

I undertake some belated research and find that there is not much scientific evidence to support their use – not that we should always need it, but I would have hoped that some lab tests would have revealed something exciting on a sample used pad.  Apparently there are no such test results.   Requests for further scientific data have, thus far, failed to emerge from producers and proponents.

The only claim, which I have been unable to explain, is that, over time, the level of filth on the footpad is supposed to decrease and this outcome is backed up by some users.  So how would this reduction in pad gunk come about?  Do they work after all?  Hmmmm – I leave the jury to decide.

In the meantime, the quest for inner calm continues! It’s time to go back to yoga!

Next Week – “Three Oms”

Frantic Mind 4: You are what you eat!

Entry 4:  You Are What You Eat!

Forgive me if I seem a little jittery today.  Apparently it’s withdrawal symptoms caused by our new sugar free diet.  My week has been reduced to gibbering misery and I am convinced that the experts are correct – sugar is not a ‘life giving force’; it is a drug!  We crave it and we behave badly when we are caught in its cycle.  We encourage others to engage in its consumption and we refer to ourselves as being ‘bad’ when we have too much.  Crucially, as with all drug addicts, we wail and beg when it is taken away from us.

I read somewhere that my body would ‘thank me’ for embarking on this healthy path.  In reality, my body seems to be absolutely bloody furious about it.  My soul is tortured; my eyes are like saucers and, whilst I can’t see the axe sticking out of my head, I can certainly feel it!

The inner peace that comes with giving up sugar!

The atmosphere at home is tense.  There is an unusual air of mistrust between Hubby and I because both of us suspect that the other has been cheating.  Granted, it was me who started it by accusing him of foul play.  He dismissed me with a flick of the hand and an animated gesture towards the kitchen cupboards.  His point being that, having watched me empty the house of every last grain of sugar, there was nothing left with which to cheat.  I merely snapped back that I was not his keeper and that he had plenty scope for drinking a bottle of maple syrup ‘on the outside’.

In response, he stated that I had the same opportunity for a secret sugar binge but I merely highlighted my current suffering – clearly brought about by my strict adherence to the sugar ban.  In injured tones, he asked why I thought he had strayed and I admitted that my suspicions were based solely on the fact that he is showing no physical symptoms of sugar withdrawal.  No headaches, no shaking and no endless lament about how badly he wants a doughnut.  Given that I am prepared to leap from the window to end my agony, I find his painless transition to a sugar free life, very hard to take – or to believe.

Perhaps it is just the green monster that is spoiling our relationship this week. Despite me looking ‘knowingly’ at him with narrowed eyes, I do trust Hubby to stick with the plan because he has always been incredibly supportive and co-operative with any of my mad ideas.  I think I am simply jealous that he is finding it so easy and that, if anything, he is even more enthusiastic about giving up sugar than I am.

As an example, he skipped off to the shops and returned with a variety of ingredients and a programme of ‘delicious but healthy’ recipes.  I have always found the notion of such recipes to be something of an oxymoron but, yet again, he has proved me wrong. He has baked butternut squash muffins which are spicy rather than sweet – they are mouth watering.  He has blended avocado and coconut milk to make a bizarre, but yummy, ice cream! And, my goodness, we even have a tray of sugar free chocolates in the fridge – made from butter, raw cacoa powder, desiccated coconut and shredded lime rind – scrumptious!

No sugar? No problem!

What an amazing man; an unbelievable sweetheart.  I have tried to match his love and skill with my own delectable sugar free dishes, but I am floundering.  My paprika roasted almonds were ‘OK’ but they did not have any paprika on them because it all dropped off after roasting.  Don’t ask about my Sprout Curry because I have nothing to say – it went straight in the bin.  And what about my pumpkin seed cereal?  Fine if you like charcoal in the morning.

With desperation, I fell upon the fail-safe dish of the sugar free world – Hummus.  This merely brought myself and Hubby closer to the brink of separation when he returned from the supermarket with dried chickpeas instead of the tinned ones I requested.  I accused him of being the only person in the world who didn’t know that dried chickpeas are a shitty, irritating ingredient to work with.  He questioned their popularity and widespread availability but I dismissed this and suggested that the dried chickpea market was reliant on ‘first time buyers’ who did not know any better (which of course is complete fabrication).

Well, despite suffering from Anxiety, I am still an optimist and, indeed, it is this drive for something better that often keeps me going.  In this case I decided to work with what I had and to use the ingredients at hand.   I soaked the dang things overnight, I simmered them with the timer set for 90 minutes thus losing all value for money with the cost of electricity. I kept a lid on my frustration by fussing with the rest of the ingredients and getting the blender ready.

Do yourself a favour – go and buy the tinned version instead!

If only I had focused on that instead of leaving the kitchen to engage in some final whining about dried chickpeas being a b*stard. Maybe then, I would have noticed that the water in the pot was running dry instead of being alerted to this fact by the smoke alarm.

A casual observer would have concluded that my consequent rage about spoiled hummus was ‘disproportionate’.  I would have to disagree.  Under the circumstances, I now know that the first few days of a sugar free life are mentally unstable and dangerous.

I won’t be thwarted though – I will merely seek calm in another form.

Next Week – “Detox Foot Pads – Draw Badness Through Your Sole”