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Monday, 5 December 2016

Sleep

When I was about 16 years old, I started to notice I was having particular difficulty sleeping. This wasn't an occasional problem. I would finally get to sleep around 4am and wake up at 7am for school a lot of the time. I took days off school purely to catch up on sleep - regardless of the fact that I was very busy with my A-levels at the time.

I think it was around this time I started abusing co-codamol to aid me. It was a drug I could get a decent amount of purely by going between different pharmacies or even by taking from the endless supply my parents had at the time. Of course, they had soluble ones and I was taking 8 at a time. You try taking 8 co-codamol in one glass at a time (please don't actually do that) and tell me how that tastes. Very unpleasant.

Despite starting antidepressants around this time, myself and my parents were quite wary of me being on too many meds for school reasons and my age. I decided not to mention about my sleep to the doctor and went for a few years with insomnia and nothing prescribed to treat it.

My mother decided to buy me some herbal Nytol tablets one day to try and help me out. They helped a bit but once I realised it was available OTC, I asked her to buy me some of the "proper" stuff, diphenhydramine, hereby affectionately known as "diph".

Once I started on the diph, there really was no going back. A few years back I did eventually go to the doctor about my sleeping problems. I've been through a few different sleeping meds prescribed for me and right now I take 2 Biquelle 50mg. But I never stopped taking the diph. Gradually my tolerance of it rose and rose and it became unsustainable to pay £5 for a packet of 16 tablets when I was taking 3-4 or more a night. When I turned 18, things changed. I had an income. I also had the internet. And eBay. I was able to find the same medication for £20 from the USA which was for 1000 tablets. Of course, having access to bottles of 1000 tablets increased my tolerance even further. My latest dosage is 6 of the 50mg capsules.

About a week ago, I ran out entirely. I've been using this since I was a teenager and now I'm suddenly without. I had ordered more a couple weeks ago but it's yet to arrive. To say the past week has been hell would be an understatement. I've always been looking for side effects or withdrawals from diph but they don't seem very widely known. It sounds like a harmless drug that no-one could abuse. It's not exactly mentioned in the same sentence as other antihistamines (Promethazine, anyone?)

It's fair enough to say "I don't need to buy some from the pharmacy to tide me over until the main stuff arrives" but this assumes the effects are only a psychological "wanting" of the drug. I should have known something would happen but after a couple of days, I began shaking. I don't mean a minor tremor (like what I already take meds for), oh no, this was so bad I couldn't hold a knife and fork and feed myself without it going everywhere. The more I concentrated on trying to overcome it, the worse it got. I can think of nothing else recently changed that would result in a change of my body's behaviour to that extent. Furthermore, I began sweating. Visible beads of sweat ran down my face despite feeling cold - and despite the weather I was out in being freezing. Again, I can think of no other reason than withdrawals.

Of course, one of the most disruptive effects of having no diph - a drug I've been taking since I was 16 - is on my sleep. Taking no diph but 2 Biquelle 50mg resulted at first in extremely immersive dreaming. The type that I couldn't differentiate between being awake and being asleep. I felt as if reality was bleeding into my dreaming. To wake up each morning was both extremely difficult to make myself do and yet also a great relief to get out of that situation.

After a few days, things got much much worse. Reality bleeding into dreams became bolder and also more realistic. An example is, going to bed thinking I had to do something the next day but finding in my dream that I went to do this exact thing that I needed to do while conscious. I found that I was unable to do the task (due to it being a dream) and that while asleep, this inability to complete the task greatly upset me.

The dreams continued, getting stranger, more realistic and upsetting. Some nights when I struggled to get to sleep, I would take an extra Biquelle. This resulted in even *more*vivid dreams, which I am currently struggling with. The dilemma is, do I want to sleep or do I not want to have horrible dreams? Unfortunately, I have to pick one and sleep is the answer right now - though if the diph could hurry and arrive, that'd be great.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Unfit for Social Groups

My interactions with people have always been curious; I've never felt like I really fit in properly anywhere and I suspect the people I tried to fit in with felt the same way about me.

I was raised with 3 brothers and 1 sister. My brothers were always closer than my sister and I always felt more influenced by them than my sister. I feel now that this was a good thing, having that mainly male influence while holding on to the female influence my mother and sometimes my sister offered me. My dad helped out with the male influence too, of course. What I'm trying to say is... I was 10 years old, playing with Barbies and listening to Linkin Park, watching the Powerpuff Girls and aspiring to be an astronomer.

I always had a dual edge in terms of interests. As I grew older I didn't think it was appropriate for me to have both - I had to pick either wearing pink and listening to pop music or wearing black and listening to rock/metal, having cuddly toys or collecting snails (something I did actually do when I was 7-8). Things became even worse when it came to fitting in: I no longer had my friends because, let's be honest, we didn't like the same things. When you have someone like me who has interests that deviate from your own and someone else comes along who *does* like the same things, it's a no-brainer. No matter how nice I was, how much I contributed and how much I tried to compromise, I was simply "too different" from the group and easily replaced.

Of course, this was never the only problem. Young children can be very cruel, rarely thinking things through. If you're 7 years old and call someone names, you don't think about how it makes them feel, you just find it funny on a superficial level. When I was at primary school, in the last year or so of it, I got my ears pinned back. My parents and I thought that it would avoid any bullying at secondary school over my large, stuck out ears. The decision was made after I had already experienced bullying for them for several years (examples: being called "Dumbo" and the very original "big ears".)

My thinking was along the lines of: So, I get an operation done and they're gonna be fixed. I'll look normal and people will stop calling me names! I'll have friends again!

Not quite.

It just shifted to something else. I liked different things, I behaved differently and I attracted praise from the teachers for my work. I was the teacher's pet and I was pretty confident in my abilities. I knew I was smart; "the test scores told me so and so did my parents and teachers!" The ears were fixed, but there were a multitude of other things to get picked on for. Getting an operation done didn't get me back the friends that abandoned me, it didn't stop me from getting picked on or laughed at by entire classes in corridors. I don't think there was anything at that point to save myself from going under. I made friends with people from the years below me because no-one in my own year wanted anything to do with me. It was a struggle but I still had my confidence in myself. I thought, "this is my last year of primary school anyway, a brand new start is just around the corner!"

Attending secondary school felt like a chance to focus on my studies, get things done and keep going. Very importantly, it felt like a new beginning for me in terms of socialising. I imagined attending and finding a group of people just like me. Maybe I would find some girls that also played video games and liked science! The bubble quickly burst.

It quickly turned into something entirely different. Of course, as it was the first year, there was a focus on pairing up and meeting new people... some people were from primary school though, they weren't new to me and certainly weren't people I wanted to pair up with. I tried to cling to some of them because clinging to people who were apathetic at best to me seemed better than meeting anyone new. I shouldn't have bothered.

I also met people who had left my primary school before P7. Some seemed very well prepared to make my life hell almost immediately. One girl and her group quickly cornered me as she mentioned me being a thief and stealing something from their house when I was 6. This person had been holding that against me for years and was now prepared to taint everyone's image of me before they even formed their own first impressions. The girl always considered herself a bit of a queen bee and in all honesty, I couldn't stand her smug face myself. Why she made this decision to pick on me in our first week at school though is still a mystery to me. Maybe she wanted to get in there first and form everyone's opinions for them. I didn't stand a chance. 

In my first few years of school, I went through several groups. Some groups I didn't fit in with, some I desperately *wanted* to fit in with but couldn't and some out and out told me that they weren't going to invite me to join their special group because we simply didn't have enough in common. For the first couple of years, I just joined whatever group needed an extra member in class projects. The rest of the time I spent on my own. I worked on my own projects (actually asking on several occasions if I could just work on my own instead of in a group. I prayed for days when the class had even numbers.) I ate my lunch down in front of the school where there were trees for shelter and played Snake (primitive times) on my phone. I texted my mum while she was at work or phoned her just to speak to her so I wouldn't look and feel so alone. Sometimes I ate lunch in the toilets. Anywhere I could get away and be on my own was what I desired.

I pretty quickly realised in my first year that I wasn't as smart any more. I still felt motivated, of course, but it quickly became a case of "I'm perfectly average at most things and just not good at others." Thus the self-confidence I had in my academic abilities quickly faded. I had lost this and I had lost my social self-confidence. Oh, and any I had in my physical appearance, that was the first to go.

I was still tagging on to any group I could find. I would lurk behind them at break and lunch to make it look like I wasn't as much of a loner as I was. Everyone knew the situation though and none of the groups invited me in. Around this time, we were all adding each other on MSN Messenger and having group conversations with people from the school. I would add them and hardly ever speak to them but they would still invite me to these massive group conversations with about 20 others from school in there. Then some of those people added me and again, no speaking, but inviting each other to group conversations. I met some people this way - all older - and some I spoke to online quite frequently. Some even invited me out places. I felt very cool being invited out to these places with people years older than me but it didn't last very long before they also realised we had nothing in common.

I was about 13 and became friends with girls that were similar to me perhaps in not their hobbies and interests but their manner. We stayed friends for a while but grew apart - the fact that we didn't have much in common to begin with also aided in this. I found it a little bit difficult to fit in with anyone since I had long started to dress like a "goth" or "emo" around this time. Very OTT dress-style... a style not many shared. This was also around the time I started to actively hurt myself; anything before this time was just a little bit of nipping or poking myself with sewing needles and whatnot. I never purposely drew blood or left scars. I graduated to using the nail clippers to remove small areas of skin and using shaving blades to create superficial wounds. Nothing was particularly noticeable and no-one pointed it out.

Around the time I turned 14, I met even more people online from school that were older. I even "internet dated" one or two (this consists of not actually meeting up or holding hands physically, just saying "I heart yewwww" on MSN). I did meet one person, however, who I ended up *properly* dating and he remains the only person from this period of time that I still have left.

As time went on, I joined another group. We had classes together and despite the others being very different to me, we found common ground in the strangest of places and stayed best friends for a year or two until the classes changed around again. Looking back, I recognise several "friendships of convenience": people becoming friends with me purely because we have to sit together or because they need another person to fill up their group. Once the classes change, I was cast out. This was happening gradually anyway and there were several upsetting events (being excluded from activities for whatever mundane reason) which made things crystal clear to me.

I've always felt people spoke about me differently to how they would someone else. For the longest time I felt like there was something wrong with me - like they were speaking about me as if I had some kind of disability, as if I had something stopping me from being fully immersed with them in what was going on. I never felt like I was on anyone else's level, like they thought I just wasn't right for the "role". In all honesty, it drove me insane. The worst thing was, because this was happening with so many different people over so many years, my thinking changed. There would be a voice in my head telling me "so many people over so many years treated me like I was a bad person and that many people can't be wrong." I don't think this helped my case. I was unaware that this focus I had on there being something wrong with me was probably affecting how people viewed me to begin with. No-one wants to be friends with the girl who breaks down crying in the lunch hall screaming "why is it never enough?" because despite studying her hardest, she only got a 65% in her history test.

I was back to moving between groups. I had almost given up at this time. I had some casual friends. I did my GCSEs. I did alright but I was certain I could have done better and this gave me something else to beat myself up over. Around this time is when things really started to plummet for me; I was tearful all the time and had to train myself to smile through it and to not let it be that obvious. I came home during break or lunch time to cut myself, to overdose on prescription meds or partake in other self destructive behaviour. My social skills were in tatters and my attendance fell to under 30% as I was doing my A-levels; I couldn't look people in the eye, beat myself up for saying the wrong word or drawing attention to myself and would rather completely miss out on something than make a scene by attending (I skipped a biology mock exam for A-level because I was too embarrassed to walk into the exam hall 5 minutes late when everyone else had already sat down.) I would miss some days due to an unrelated illness and be too anxious to come back and ask someone to lend me their notes.

I should come back to that group I mentioned who surrounded me in first year and called me a thief. Some girls left that group, one even apologised to me a few years later for what she took part in but there were a few core members that kept that hate going right until (and probably after) I walked out of that building for the very last time. Looking back, I'm sure anyone would agree that I was probably one of the easiest targets you could get. Calling me names or intimidating worked well even when I was with other people; I was rarely (if ever) defended by others and when I was on my own, the intimidation of an 8 stone self harmer who already hated herself was far too easy.

I still think back to everything I experienced. The intimidation, the mind games and name calling that went on for years will continue to echo in my head until the day I die. I'm alive today thanks to a multitude of medication which, in essence, is stopping me from thinking about it. To think of it is to let it bounce around in my head for even longer. To think of it for even longer will make me tear myself apart... physically and mentally.

I wonder if I had been different, would things have been easier? If I listened to the music I was supposed to, liked the films I was supposed to, spoke like I was supposed to, looked like I was supposed to... would I be sitting here writing a blog entry about my social experiences many years ago? Would I be the person I am today? Would I be someone better or someone worse? Maybe things would have been even worse. It's difficult to imagine. I both wish I had never gone through any of that (and that no-one ever has to again) and also think of how miraculous it is for me to still be here. 

It's very important to remember I've come out the other side in (mostly) one piece.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Memory I

These days I can only imagine how difficult things must be for teenagers. When I was at school, while we had social media and everyone was pretty obsessed with it, it was nowhere near the point it is now. Bebo was something everyone used, Facebook was rarely used, Twitter was used by even fewer people and Instagram (as well as Snapchat) didn't even exist. MSN Messenger was the main communication service and so between that and Bebo there was a ton of drama. If someone didn't like you, they blocked you on either service or teamed up on you with their friends. There were instances of unflattering photos being taken of people and put up on Bebo for people to mock. When there were only two places for people to bully you, it could be very easy to just "turn it off". I guess kids these days don't get such an easy option - they have 10s of programs and websites to contend with when someone has it in for them.

Of course, I have no idea what it's actually like these days for teenagers because I neither know one nor am one anymore. I suppose I wanted to write about some of the harassment I had to put up with *in person* when I was younger. While I'm quite open about the fact that I was often excluded from the little "cliques" of girls back then and subsequently psychologically and verbally abused, I have never really mentioned about some of the more physical issues I had to face.

When we took our exams, we were in with another class from a year below or above us. The girls were seated in one room, side by side, with boys from this other class. Thus, I found myself seated beside this boy from a year below me for these exams (which took 2 weeks at a time and seemed to be biannual.)

I can't remember how it started or what led to it but there were more and more "incidents". By this I mean physical contact. Physical contact without my consent. I was not interested in this young boy and he knew this... but it didn't stop him putting his hand up my skirt on numerous occasions. Sometimes, he would place his hand on my chair so that when I sat down he would be able to cop a feel. Other times he would grab my hand or arm and not let go. On at least one occasion he attempted to kiss me - with his friends watching and laughing of course. It was all a big joke. A big joke at my expense and one that upset me greatly.

Of course, when you're already so emotional all the time, it's just another thing to add to the list. Another thing you deserved. And the psychological effect was not lost on me - I was well aware what he and his pals were implying. They were of course referring to the fact that I was such a disgusting human being that no one in their right mind would want to seriously be with me or kiss me or even hold my hand. That's what they wanted to hammer home in my mind and they certainly did a good job of kicking a dog when it's down; I believed very deeply what they were implying because, as was my mantra at the time, "if so many people think that, it must be true."

With 20/20 hindsight, I think "I should have said something." I told my friends, of course, and I made visible efforts to get him away from me but I never spoke directly to a teacher about it and it's one of many things I deeply regret. However, it was embarrassing at the time - this boy was younger than me and smaller than me, yet I would take the long way to classes sometimes to avoid having to go past him. In the corridors waiting outside classes, if I had to stand near him or even walk past him, he would fondle me (or try to.) I felt like I should have been able to handle him, like he was just a kid to me and that I should have been able to make him stop.

I didn't.

I did start arming myself with a protractor for defence: If he tried anything, I stabbed him. I had him black and blue and bleeding but he wouldn't stop. The only time things started to ease up was when he lost interest. I'm not sure why... it could have been that as the years went on, I went to school less and less and had an attendance of under 30%. Perhaps he got tired of looking for me.

There were so many things happening back then and I was so embarrassed by the whole thing (people referred to him as my "boyfriend") that I didn't want to cause a big fuss over it. I wanted to avoid any drama and I wanted to avoid people whispering about me for it (I did a great job of making them do that by myself).

It's very sad to remember things about my school years that I've repressed over the years. Some things are unable to be dealt with in this day and age and so the only way to move on is to forget. Forgetting doesn't erase it from history though. I feel like with my many medications that I've been insulated from memories like this in order to stabilise. Eventually I want to remember everything that happened that upset me so I can deal with it mentally. I want to make sense of some senseless things. I feel nothing but gratitude towards the medication but sometimes it feels like the real problems haven't yet been tackled - but they're waiting to be.