Infertility: Why I rejected IVF

It's been a long time - a year to be precise - since I spoke about our infertility journey. There's been a lot of thinking, frustration, jealousy... every emotion you can associate with this situation! It's not been an easy decision to make but my scientific brain will always overrule any major decision. The pro's and cons were just too much to ignore. I've decided not to pursue IVF treatment. 

Infertility: Why I rejected IVF
image via Pixabay

Why? Even prior to my diagnosis with Bipolar Disorder I knew I was at risk for some serious reactions to the massive doses of hormones and post-natal complications such as psychosis or severe depression, which yes can be managed but it puts a dark cloud on what should be a positive, happy and loving time instead of filled with anxiety and waiting for something awful to happen. Now I have bipolar disorder confirmed, these risk factors go up to a 50% likelihood of severe mental illness. The decision has basically been made for me. 

It's heartbreaking, but it's the right thing to do. I couldn't knowingly go into IVF armed with this knowledge and put an innocent life in danger. I can't help but be very, very worried that I would fall into the 50% that become unwell and I fail to bond with the baby or god forbid go into psychosis and put the child in real danger. We did consider surrogacy, but in England, it's incredibly complex and expensive. Not to mention the fact I don't think I'd ever be able to have that level of trust in someone... 

If I happen, by some miracle, to get pregnant naturally then we'll deal with that on a basis of extensive counselling and symptom management. I definitely wouldn't terminate a pregnancy unless it was medically necessary. I've been off contraception for 5 years now so it's safe to say it's highly unlikely I'll ever get pregnant on my own, but bodies are weird and I know it can happen to people. The other issue is my medication for bipolar. I'd have to come off it, which with type 1 is very risky.

So now I'm in a place of grieving a loss for something I never had and dealing with the anger towards my body for once again failing me. I still get horribly jealous of people who become pregnant, despite being delighted for them, it's a really confusing emotion to have. I'm happy to be the cool aunt in life, that's absolutely fine. 


Adventures in Psychiatry: Six Months On

It's hard to believe it's been six months since I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and started lithium and later on aripiprazole to manage my psychosis. I'm also struggling to believe I've spent six months in private psychiatric care and can't help but wonder how different things would have been if I'd remained within the NHS system. Something tells me I made the right decision, despite the massive expense. Each 30 minutes with my psychiatrist costs £140 and I've recently started private psychotherapy at £90 an hour. I shouldn't be paying for therapy as I have Bupa coverage for my anxiety, which is what I'm being treated for in terms of therapy, but they're refusing to pay at the moment. I hate insurance. 

Adventures in Psychiatry: Six Months On
Image via Pixabay

So what has all this expense given me? Having now has (significant) experience within the NHS system and now six months within the private sector I know which has served me better. I have been able to have open, candid discussions with my psychiatrist which I have not been able to do previously and in case of an emergency I can access an appointment within 24 hours. Of course, if you can't talk to your prescribing doctor you're not going to make much progress and we have built a really good rapport and working relationship which I value greatly. I trust him, and I do not use that word lightly. 

What about lithium? It has been my saving grace. Lithium kept me relatively stable throughout the mammoth task of finishing my degree last month; the pressure of which is what sent me into my first manic-psychotic episode six months ago. I still live in fear of another episode and every mood shift is filled with anxiety, hence the therapy. You could say I'm slightly traumatised by everything that happened and the effect it had on my family. I feel horribly guilty, as much as I know it wasn't my fault and had absolutely no control... ah control, the cornerstone of my life. Yep, I definitely need therapy! Life on lithium isn't anywhere near as scary as I thought it would be. It's a scary drug, there's no denying that, but I have few side effects apart from a tremor and some weight gain and as long as I get my levels checked every 3 months then it's all good. It does amaze me that after a decade of trialling drugs it took one appointment with my psychiatrist to nail it. I guess that's private care for you!

Aripiprazole is a bit more of a challenge. Not because of a massive side effect profile, per se, but it's piling the weight on and I'm really struggling to take it for that reason. It's the most weight neutral out of all the antipsychotics so I'm just unlucky that this combination has put what must be an extra 15lbs on me, but I daren't weigh myself to see the damage. Anorexic thoughts and behaviours are rampant so seeing that number will just be asking for chaos to reign once again. I'm trying my best and the drug is working; my symptoms are really reduced and I can function again. I don't live in a state of being constantly barraged by hallucinations and paranoia/delusions anymore which is so peaceful and calming. I can actually sit in silence again and have it be ok! The only other problem I've noticed is that while I was doing my academic writing boringness my ability to think clearly was really clouded and I couldn't phrase things properly. It's incredibly frustrating!

Overall: I think I'm doing well and learning to live with this condition and educating myself as much as I can about bipolar, much like I did with depression and anxiety. It's my way of coping. If I can understand the biology/psychology behind this then it feels easier to deal with. I just hope I stay in this place of stability and functionality. 

The next big test for these drugs will be on 19th when I get my results. I'm not hopeful. 

Adventures in Psychiatry: Suicide

This post carries a trigger warning. Please stay safe. 

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. This is a difficult subject, but it needs to be talked about. Suicide is all too frequent, crisis prevention care in the NHS is a catastrophe and those of us with mental illness are left to fend for ourselves. Yes, suicide can be prevented by encouraging the discussion around mental health and normalising the phrase "I'm not ok" and talking it out with friends or family, but that's only half the problem. The general public is not equipped to talk someone down from suicide without some serious ill effects to their own mental well-being. We need trained professionals to help. We need a healthcare system equipped to manage an individual intent on ending their life. 

I have my own experience with suicide attempt(s) and it baffles me I'm still alive, especially after my last attempt in 2012. I was heavily addicted to benzodiazepines and alcohol, severely depressed and could feel my body giving up. I felt like a waste of space and terribly guilty for even breathing. To cut a long story short, I woke up in the High Dependency Unit following respiratory arrest and lapsing into a coma. Three days later - after going against medical advice and leaving the HDU - I was almost sectioned and taken to the local psychiatric ward. That was when I realised that people do care if I breathe or not.

Unfortunately, I have lost many friends to suicide and experienced the sheer panic of sending out police to homes and general areas and have them sat with me while until the search was completed while I sat and trembled with utter helplessness. There comes a point where you've done all you can and you hand it over and are just left waiting, praying, hoping, begging... but how do we prevent it coming to this point? What can we do if we or someone we know is feeling like this?

1. Be aware of the signs: hopelessness, anger, recklessness, talking about death, stockpiling tablets, self-harming, poor sleep (a complete list by the NHS can be found here
2. Talking in a "judgement free zone". This will allow your friend or family member to try and talk about their thoughts and emotions without the fear of reactions or consequences. 
3. Seek support: The Samaritans, Mind or Rethink are excellent resources
4: Go. To. Your. GP or psychiatrist if you have one. Be honest about why you're making the appointment and you won't have to wait. 
5. Don't seek out a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Play the tomorrow game. Whatever you are feeling will pass, and there are people around you willing to help. You won't be a burden. You won't cause them harm by talking about how you're feeling. 

That's just my two cents on a painful subject. Keep safe, keep talking. Keep breathing. 

The University Diaries: The Aftermath

August was insane, and it's taken me this long to feel coherent enough to start blogging again! I've said it a million times but I honestly do not know how other students can continue to blog through the end of their degree! It was, without a doubt, the hardest month of my life and I can't believe I actually did it. 

The University Diaries: The Month From Hell
The Month From Hell! 

As you can see, I barely had time to breathe let alone anything else. Stopping wasn't really an option as I knew I wouldn't be able to start again. The trouble with this, having a bipolar brain, is that I could very easily slip back into a manic/psychotic episode so everyone in my care team was very alert to the situation and monitoring me closely. But really, we just had to have faith that my medication would hold me in a secure, functional position this time. It was exactly this level of work that led to my hospitalisation in May so there was definitely an element of anxiety to all of this but my trademark stubbornness overruled that and absolutely nothing was going to stand in the way of me throwing everything I had at this. That's exactly what I did... and survived! There were a few scary moments where we thought I might be slipping but watching my diet, caffeine and sugar intake managed to ease it off somewhat. So, shout out to lithium and aripiprazole for this one! 

One of the biggest achievements was completing my dissertation. Something I never, ever thought possible and even when I started my degree journey I lived in fear of the time it would come and whether or not I'd be able to handle it. So I chose my own topic, something very close to my heart, which made the whole process a lot easier than it could have been. It was still brutal; there's nothing easy about writing what amounted to 9000 words, reading very complex texts about the minute details of the brain and attempting to understand it, then put that into your own argument... eurgh! 

The University Diaries: My Dissertation!
My Dissertation! 
I so rarely say this but oh my word, I am so proud of myself for this one! It's probably a pile of rubbish to seasoned academics but I wrote it, a dedicated a year of my life to it and submitted it on time, just 3 months post being hospitalised in a psychotic state! *self five*

So where am I at now? I feel completely lost! It's the most bizarre feeling in the world not to have any work to do. I'm still stuck in the mentality of August and had almost gotten used to the frantic pace of my life, so to suddenly crash down to nothingness is... odd. I'm glad it's over, pending results, but I also miss it already. It gave me purpose and now I'm just floating, even though I'm under strict orders to rest and recover. I'm already looking into Open University short courses to fill my time.

So there we are! That's where I've been and by the miracle of psychiatric medicine I survived!! Hopefully, I don't have resits but I think that's just too much to ask for. We shall see. D-Day is 19th September so cross your fingers and toes for me! 


Adventures in Psychiatry: Tapering off Venlafaxine

It's been a rough week. Let's start at the beginning. On Monday I saw my Psychiatrist, who commented upon seeing me that I looked unwell. Darn. I thought I was better at hiding my depression than that. But it's true... I am struggling at the moment. My mood has been on a steady decline since I was admitted into hospital and we've hit the point where I am definitely in a depression and my mood is still dropping. Venlafaxine isn't working. This is proof, and it's time to come off. I knew this was coming but I'd been putting it off for a long time. I'd rather go through alcohol withdrawal again than come off venlafaxine. At least there's medicine to help ease alcohol withdrawal, with this you just have to taper and get on with it. 

Adventures in Psychiatry: Tapering off Venlafaxine
image via Pixabay

I've felt very unwell the past week, which I expected, but what I didn't expect was the impact the tapering has had on my mental state. I felt numb before, almost hollow. Whereas now I feel painfully alone, despite being home with my two amazing cats all the time. It's so hard to explain. I'm sleeping way too much, barely eating (but that's the reemergence of the anorexia voice) and my concentration is shot to pieces. This post has taken forever to write. No matter what I do, no matter how hard I try, there is always the road block of my mental health. It's ruining everything. Which leads us to the thought process of "what's the damn point" and I just do nothing so I don't have to endure any more failure. 

That isn't an option though. I won my academic appeal and have 7 weeks of university work to do to complete my degree. I don't know how I'm going to do it, but I have no choice. The tapering is under my control, and I have no intention of dropping my dose any lower until I start feeling at least physically better. The main symptoms are nausea, shaking and blinding headaches. I get the occasional brain zap and feel very dizzy when I stand up. Which leads us to the next problem with this: I can't leave the house. 

I've always had this anxiety about fainting in public, it's a loss of control thing and it's happened before. Now I'm feeling so physically unstable it is impossible for me to step outside my door alone. I can't even take out the recycling. I feel so guilty the fridge is empty and the cupboards are bare, all because my stupid anxiety is so overpowering I can't make the 5 minute trip to the shops. I try, every single day but I just can't do it. Even chores around the house are a struggle as I'm shaking so much. 

So what's the end goal? Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors. Last stop before ECT. I won't lie, I'm absolutely terrified. These drugs are no joke and life is going to be hard on them, but what choice do I have. We're aiming to start at the beginning of September, depending on how this withdrawal goes and if I've been clear for 2 weeks by that point. For now, I just have to try and not let this depression take me any further into the pits of hell and survive the mountain of work I have to do for my degree.  


The University Diaries: Fall down seven times, Stand up eight

Here we are again in the summer resits. I knew it was coming since I lost an entire semester to the emergence of bipolar disorder, but that doesn't make it any less crappy. There are multiple moments throughout the day when I wonder why I keep doing this to myself, but then the stubbornness kicks in and I remember why I wanted this degree in the first place. The trouble is, this time around I am finding it much more difficult to read, write and understand anything I am supposed to be doing. That's bipolar for you, or the medications I'm on... whichever. My brain isn't co-operating and it's the most frustrating thing. Nevertheless, we persevere. 

SamiWrites: Fall down seven times, stand up eight
image via Pixabay

I was meant to graduate this past week. Obviously, that didn't happen. I was invited back in March, paid the tickets, booked my gown, the family were making plans and booking time off work... it was all sorted. Then, last Friday I was talking with my mental health advisor and mentioned in passing how surprised I was to be invited as last year I wasn't and obviously I still wasn't finished... she was also confused and suggested I contact the Graduation office just to confirm everything. That's when it all collapsed. My invite was indeed a mistake and I was removed from the list months ago. Was I told? No. Did they happily take my money? Oh yes. Apparently, this didn't raise any red flags. Anyway, it's Friday afternoon and I'm meant to be graduating, or so I thought, the following Monday afternoon. I was furious. Not for me, but for everyone else that had booked time off work and were travelling halfway across the country to be there. That's the trouble with being the first to get a degree... it's a bit of a big deal to them. 

On top of that, I have an entire semester worth of work to resit. This means that not only is the word count going to be in the tens of thousands, but they're all capped at 40 so no matter how hard I work, it tanks my classification further down the toilet than it already is. This was my lowest point. I was convinced I'd wasted 4 years and £36,000 of tuition fees for what would most likely be a very weak 2:2 or even a 3rd. I cried and cried and cried. What was the point? No matter how hard I tried there was always something else ready and waiting to knock me back down. 

I submitted an appeal, purely for the sake of it and holding out absolutely no hope of a success. I've had way too much experience with this side of the university and had pretty much decided they're there to say no. A few days later, while editing my unfinished dissertation, I got an email that my appeal had been upheld! I couldn't believe it. I still can't and think I'm stuck in a dream half the time. I was given back something that depression will so readily rip away from you... Hope. I had the strength to fight again. 

Bipolar disorder is making it difficult but the 'carrot on the stick' is pushing me onwards and I'll keep fighting my way through until this is over and that degree is in my hands. 

Travel: Royalton White Sands, Jamaica

Welcome back! If you've been on my Instagram or Twitter recently you'll know that last week I visited Jamaica for 10 glorious days and today I'd like to share my experience at the Royalton White Sands Resort. 

SamiWrites: Royalton White Sands, Jamaica
Paradise: Royalton White Sands, Jamaica

Backstory: It all started a few months ago when my partner and I were looking for somewhere to go for our annual summer holiday. We had visited southern Spain and Turkey in the past, but neither of those were options this time around - the world is a big place, after all! We were stumped. There are so many options to choose from and unfortunately, none felt like 'the one'. Why am I telling you this? To prove that Jamaica is not out of reach and you can and should consider Jamaica as a viable option for your next holiday. So how did Royalton White Sands come into our lives? I calculated the average cost of our previous holidays and used that as a budget parameter, then figured we could travel further than Europe. Boom, sheer perfection and way too much excitement! 

Travel Agent: First Choice
Airline: Thomson
Total Cost: Less than £3000 total inc return flights and transfer

Flying with Thomson: As someone that was previously terrified of planes (it's a loss of control thing) I was somewhat apprehensive about such a long flight in economy, but sadly we blew our budget on the holiday itself so upgrading our seats was not an option. Nevertheless, hope came in the fact we were flying on the Dreamliner aircraft and I'm not going to lie, I was quite excited by this. Science and technology advances making the whole being stuck in a flying tube of people more comfortable? Yes, please. I digress. The flight out was uneventful, comfortable and full of excitement. Check in was a breeze, the staff were great but the food? Well... it's aeroplane food and it's exactly what you expect. My advice is to buy your own at the airport. One thing I will comment on is that Thomson did not provide anywhere near enough to drink, which wasn't so bad on the way out as we bought bottles of water before boarding but flying back we failed to do this, assuming we would be able to access whatever we needed onboard as with other airlines. The other issue with the flight home was turbulence. This isn't the fault of anyone but Mother Earth and my Lord she was in a bad mood that night. It was really scary and my anxiety got the better of me, enter panic and tears after clinging onto the boyfriend for hours. We were rerouted twice and climbed to 41,000 feet over the Atlantic to avoid the wrath of the storm below. 

SamiWrites: Royalton White Sands, Jamaica
Fish or Cat? Royalton White Sands

Royalton White Sands: This. Resort. Is. Incredible. 

I could just leave it at that! We landed at 1.30pm (-5hr GMT) and arrived at the resort some 2 hours later having been delayed at the airport for our transfer to leave, which took around 45 minutes. It was really fun, the driver talked us through the local vocabulary and places of interest. By the time we arrived we were utterly exhausted and had to wait another hour or so to check in and wait for our room to be ready. Jamaican time is slow time, so be prepared for that! They provided us with plentiful, delicious rum-based cocktails so it was tolerable to wait it out. As I mentioned earlier, this resort is all inclusive and they mean it. You are given a bracelet which doubles as your room key - which is pretty ingenious - which allows you access to all facilities depending upon what 'tier' of room you booked. 

The rooms are perfect. We booked a luxury double room with a balcony that overlooked the pools and had an amazing view of the beach. There is a king size bed; sofa bed; a free mini bar that was stocked daily with soft drinks, Red Stripe and water; a TV; air conditioning; walk-in shower and a wardrobe with a safe. Wifi is free and service never dropped. You also have access to Royalton Blue Waters, the neighbouring resort for even more pool options! 

SamiWrites: Royalton White Sands
At Dips! Royalton White Sands

There are 3 adult pools at Royalton White Sands, one is adults only and includes the swim up bar, and 2 child-friendly pools which have an awesome water slide/water park feature I was more than a little jealous of! There is also a beach right on the resort! I cannot describe just how amazing being poolside was, especially considering the level of service. At the previous all-inclusive resort we visited in Turkey if you wanted a drink you had to go and get it, but not in Jamaica! They have staff everywhere checking to make sure you're good and if you need anything. It isn't bothersome at all and really nice to not have to get up, or out of the pool, if you want a drink. While I'm on the subject of the staff, I cannot rate them highly enough! Special shout outs go to: 

  • Steve, Winston and Ryan at the Martini Bar
  • Paul at Opa, the Mediterranean Restaurant
  • Shane and Peter at Dips
  • Jamica at the Executive Desk in the Lobby

SamiWrites: Royalton White Sands
Martini Bar: Royalton White Sands

The food was amazing. There are 5 restaurants which spanned all cuisine and also a buffet restaurant which exceeded my expectations beyond measure. Dietary requirements and allergies were taken seriously and there is absolutely something for everyone. My favourite is a tough call between the Japanese restaurant, Zen - the only one which requires 24 hours booking notice - and the steak restaurant, Hunters. The bars were just as exceptional and so was the entertainment! I loved the martini bars and by far the highlight of the entertainment was the Michael Jackson tribute act. 

SamiWrites: Royalton White Sands, Jamaica
Michael Jackson Tribute Act: Royalton White Sands

In conclusion, it was the best money and the best time spent living our best life! I even made friends with some local cats so y'know that makes any place a winner in my book... I could fill post upon post with pictures but I will be posting more on my instagram so be sure to check that out if you want to see more of Royalton! 

We will absolutely be returning next summer! 


How to prepare your cats for a holiday!

As you all know by now if you're on my instagram, like, ever... I have two cats and they're way too clever for their own good. Lily, the older cat is teaching Leo bad habits and so I have had to come up with some strategies to combat this when it comes to holiday time. Anyone with cats can tell you, if cats know something is up, they'll hide and it's impossible to catch them! 

So here's a few handy tips that might help you have a less stressful holiday prep: 

Tip 1: Close. The. Bedroom. Door.

I cannot stress this one enough. The hardest place to try and fish a cat out of - ha - is under the bed! I do this about 10 minutes before we leave for the cattery. Reward them with a toy to keep them occupied, this works better with Leo than my lazy older cat Lily, but it's worth a shot. Once they're not able to hide in any impossible places, you can pack their food and bedding. Then it's a tag-team effort (with Lily at least) where I essentially have to grab her at the first opportunity I see then my partner will open up the carrier for me. It sounds awful, but it's much less stressful than me trying to force her out of her safe space under the bed! 

SamiWrites: How to prepare your cats for a holiday!
Tip Two: Find the best cattery you can! 

If you have to put your cats into boarding, like I have to, then really do your research and shop around. It took me a good few years to find somewhere that both I and the cats were happy with. Yes, the state your cats are returned to you in is the deciding factor on how they coped in that particular cattery. Just because they have space doesn't mean you should immediately book them in. Go and visit. See the other cats and check whether they are happy. Do a background check. To me, it's no different than leaving your child somewhere, but perhaps I'm weird like that. If you're local to Brighton and the surrounding area I have a recommendation, so drop me a message and I'll be happy to tell you about it! 

SamiWrites: How to prepare your cats for a holiday!
Tuxedo-cat, Lily!
Tip 3: Pack home comforts

Again, I have found this to be really important. Cats have amazing noses, so pack some t-shirts or bedding that they always sleep on. This has really helped Lily as she is far too bonded to me and used to be incredibly territorial. Over the years, she has learned to 'swear' less and does not lash out anymore as she has her 'room' which smells of home and then another part which her cattery carer is permitted to enter as it is not 'hers'. This has been a huge breakthrough in the amount of stress she experiences and we have worked closely via email to remedy any situations that arise, which has only happened once in years. The home comforts also provide reassurance that they haven't been abandoned, which was a major concern with our more recent rescue cat, Leo but he has coped very well. 

Tip 4: Zylkene

I swear by this stuff. It's like magic. I only give it to Lily as she's such a neurotic little fluff, but the effect is astounding. It's drug free, and you can get it either from your vet or online, which is generally cheaper. I start giving it to her about 4 weeks before we're due to leave so it has time to really settle into her system. You can also use Valerian spray and Feliway, which has less of an effect on Lily but your can is probably going to respond differently to all sorts! 

Tip 5: Don't stress.

Cats are very perceptive and learn to read your body language. If you're anxious about the flight, or boarding them, as I used to be, then they will pick up on it and start instinctively migrating to their safe places or just be more prepared to dive to it as soon as anything changes. Leave packing until they're safely boarded if at all possible. We board Lily and Leo the night before so there's plenty of time to get the cleaning and packing done without the fear of stressing them out. It makes the experience a lot nicer for everyone! 

Do you have any helpful tips? Leave them in the comments! 


My Top 5 Essential Items For A Jamaican Holiday

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ICYMI, I'm going to Jamaica in exactly 7 days and could not be more excited!!!! I was looking around trying to figure out if I was missing anything important when writing one of many lists in preparation for such an epic adventure into paradise.

SamiWrites: Top 5 Essentials for Jamaica
JAMAICA! Image via Pixabay 
So here are my top 5 essentials:

1. First Aid Kit

While there aren't many nasties lurking in the Jamaican wildlife, I read way too much about the dreaded "40 leg" to take any chances, and sea urchins are another slim possibility of causing a painful accident so it's best to be prepared! I bought a pre-made first aid kit from Boots, and also pack:
  • antihistamines
  • antiseptic spray
  • antiseptic cream
  • anti-diarrhoea tablets
  • re-hydration sachets
  • anti acids
  • thermometer
So that's my basic first-aid kit whenever I travel, with the addition of the pack from Boots. It would be nice to not have to claim on travel insurance if we can manage the problem in the hotel with the right stock already there! Some might say I'm over cautious, but I'd rather go that way than end up in a hospital in a foreign country. 

2. Battery Packs

During my reading I also learned that power outages are somewhat par for the course, so if there happens to be an extended period of time when we're without power (such as a particularly nasty storm hits) then it would be nice to still have access to the outside world so spare batteries are an absolute must for me. I have: Anker Power Bank Astro E1 5200mAh  and cannot fault it on the price or how much you can charge with it!

3. Mosquito Spray

You may well be saying, "well, duh..." but I wasn't sure what the flying vampire situation was over in Jamaica and yes, you need the strong stuff. It smells awful but it's better to deal with that than Dengue Fever. Personally, I swear by Jungle Formula but you might have another product that works better for you. Thomson also blogged about this very topic!

4. USD

Tipping is customary in Jamaica and US Dollars are the preferred currency, and yes apparently this includes all-inclusive resorts. If they reject your money it's no big deal as you can just change the currency when you get back home. Depending upon the type of resort and length of time you're there, I'd estimate up to $20 a day in tips alone, with extra thrown in for excursions and tipping the driver that takes you to and from the airport.

5. Waterproof Camera

I don't know about you, but I'm a water baby, and now there are cameras that won't die underwater this is just an epic opportunity for some amazing pictures. The only waterproof camera I knew of was the GoPro, which vastly exceeded by budget! After asking around, a scuba-diving friend of mine recommended APEMAN Action Camera Underwater Camera  to me for a fraction of the GoPro cost! I can't wait to use it and see what shots I can grab.


The University Diaries: Road to Breakdown

So today we're going to debrief the major incidents that went down during my final semester at Sussex University. How I wish they were better, but alas it just wasn't meant to be. That or life really hates me. I'm still undecided on that one. I hope this serves as a cautionary tale for anyone considering or in university and has pre-existing mental health problems. Learn from my mistakes, please. 

SamiWrites: Road to Breakdown
The University Diaries: Road to Breakdown
Image via pixabay

I guess the biggest mistake I made was to succumb to the pressure of my dissertation. That alone is enough for the strongest of individuals, but on top of assignments and exams it was above and beyond what I could tolerate. I panicked, in every sense of the word, about failing and wasting £36,000 of tuition on a crappy degree. That figure does not include maintenance loans by the way... an undergraduate degree has cost me about £50 THOUSAND IN DEBT. But I digress... Essentially, the biggest problem was my memory. I was so exhausted and overwhelmed that I couldn't retain any information whatsoever. This just compounded the existing stress and triggered an emergence of old coping mechanisms, namely our good friend alcohol and my personal demon, bulimia. My mind was craving an escape and at this point I was propelled, compelled, into anything that would relieve the torment for even a moment. 

Isn't university supposed to be the best time ever??

Desperation took hold and I turned to study drugs. It had been a very long time since I'd engaged in something shady but again, I was desperate and flat-out didn't care what happened to me anymore as long as I finished my degree with everyone else and came away with a 2:1. HA. What a dumbass. As I mentioned in my previous post, the cocktail of drugs I was taking on top of my prescribed medication is more than likely what catapulted me into psychosis and mania. By March I was so highly strung I could have exploded at any moment. At some point, something snapped and I left the house. That's the last thing I remember. I was reported missing and discovered in a hotel by the police a number of hours later. I don't know what happened and I don't want to. 

Since that incident I was psychotic and moving between hypomanic states and suicidal depression. I'd lost the battle and needed help. Mercifully a moment of clarity sent me to the right place and within 4 appointments with a psychiatrist I was admitted into hospital for the first time since 2012. I didn't submit my dissertation, nor did I do any assignments or exams. 

I still get to graduate, however I will have to attempt to submit the exams in July/August alongside my dissertation and any extra work they want me to do. It's not going to be easy. I'm genuinely terrified about what will happen this time. I want to do well. I want to succeed. I want to be proud of myself. Everyone I know got their classifications yesterday and came away with firsts. It's like a knife in the stomach. That would have been me if my mind hadn't collapsed and I'd been a clueless idiot about the symptoms. Things could have been so different... 

Alas.... my journey with Sussex isn't over just yet. 


Adventures in Psychiatry: Bipolar Affective Disorder

Well, once again it's been a minute since I uploaded anything. I'll explain more about the chaos that reigned with my final semester in The University Diaries series, which shouldn't be too far away hopefully... No. Today I wanted to vent/talk/debrief about my new diagnosis, Bipolar Type 1, and what led up to such earth shattering news. I'd grab some popcorn because this has been a real shit show. 

SamiWrites: Bipolar Affective Disorder
Bipolar Drug Cocktail: Venlafaxine, Lithium Carbonate,
Aripriprazole, Propranolol, Lorazepam

I'm not too sure when my downfall into bipolar hell first began. I'd been showing hints of bipolarity for years but whenever I mentioned this to an NHS psychiatrist (this will become a relevant factor later in the story) it was dismissed and chalked up to a non-existent personality disorder. From the beginning of the year life was fuelled by a crazed anxiety and fear of failure. It was dissertation write up time on top of exams and assignments. I just could not cope, or keep up. I don't think I'd ever cried more in my life than those first few months of the year. In my desperation I turned to study drugs, which in hindsight may have given my brain the tools to flip the switch into full blown mania. So March rolls around and I'm meant to be handing in my dissertation... ha. After 3 nights of no sleep and definitely losing my grip on reality my mind finally slipped away from me. At 1pm on deadline day I had to make a frantic call to my specialist mentor because I couldn't leave the house and was having extreme panic attacks that I just didn't have the energy for. To cut a long story short, I didn't hand in my dissertation and I collapsed with exhaustion. 

In that same month - I think? - I now know I had my first manic/psychotic episode. Initially I thought it was a dissociative episode brought on by stress, which is perfectly plausible. I have no memory of what went down, but I've been informed that I was reported missing and found in a hotel. Obviously, I was freaked out and went to my GP who referred me at my request to Elysium (ex The Priory). In her own words, despite the seriousness of the event, it would be "several weeks to months" before I saw an NHS psychiatrist and I needed answers literally right god damn now so I apologised to my bank balance and prepared for a situation I hadn't been in for a very long time - by my track record with mental health services anyway! 

So appointment day rolls around the end of that same week and I'm trying my best to stay calm and remember that this doctor is a person and not some god-like deity that will pitchfork me straight into hell if I say the wrong thing or look at him funny. Time was also a huge pressure. I had a very expensive hour to explain why I was there and put it into the context of ten years of mental health history he didn't have. Then get the answer from him and make sure we both understood and agreed. Well, it went beautifully. He is the best psychiatrist I could ask for and I do not begrudge the fee one bit. It was when I was attempting to give cliff notes of my history he started zoning in on my mood and response to medication, which combined with my family history, led him to believe that I had been living with undiagnosed bipolar disorder for some time. I was shocked, hurt, sickened and terrified. What scared me more was the suggestion of lithium. He offered me three drugs, two of which were almost a dead-cert to pile the weight on whereas lithium is more neutral... apparently. It's also the most commonly used and one of the few psychiatric medications where you can adjust the dose and see the response in blood work, which is what sold me. Anything to limit the guess work you always have with these drugs!

In April I was detained at home during a psychotic episode. It took 6 men to restrain me. I must have fought with some sort of primal life-or-death urge because I ended up very bruised! I was sedated and sent home the following morning as I was seeing my psychiatrist the following day. It was then that we added aripriprazole to my cocktail. I am not a fan of this drug, however we're after weight neutral so I don't spiral into an eating disorder relapse like quetiapine sent me into... vile times. I think exhaustion took over for a little while as I was still having symptoms but physically unable to really do what I wanted/felt compelled to do. 

Fast forward to May; mania and psychosis took complete hold of me. I was paranoid, hallucinating and very much a danger to myself. I have no memory of what happened, when it started, anything.. It's like I just woke up and then the lights went out again. I was rushed to my psychiatrist by my mother and boyfriend, and somehow, I really want to know what wizardry he used, he convinced me to come into hospital voluntarily. I don't remember the first 4 days of the 7 I was there, but I do know that it was not the horrific experience I had in the NHS acute ward and I felt very safe and cared for. The staff were amazing, the food was great - there was always a safe option to have - and not once did I feel like I needed to escape because I was scared of the other patients. They managed to stabilise me, including managing the lithium toxicity I somehow ended up in, and I was able to go home as planned. If I was an insured patient, he would have admitted me for at least a month but as I am a self-funding patient it was not possible to stay that long.

So here we are, in June. I'm still recovering from everything and trying to accept that I inherited the one condition I feared the most. It explains why I've struggled through my degree and while it does offer the chance of real stability, now the monster has been identified, it's a life sentence and I'm not ok with that just yet. I'm still graduating in July, and have an amazing holiday to Jamaica to look forward to. It'll be ok.... If you made it this far into my ramblings, congrats! Now I'm free of my degree, nearly, I'll be much more active on here again. 

Until next time! <3 

The University Diaries: What's the point?

I haven't posted in forever for a variety of reasons, but for now, I really need to vent and this was what this blog was originally created for so strap in. 

A long time ago, I thought that going to university and getting my degree would solve literally everything. Ha. What an idiot. Here I am in the final semester of my degree, where chaos reigns and I am desperately trying not to lose my shit. 

Image via pixabay
Over the past couple of years, it has become abundantly clear that I did not escape my addiction entirely unscathed. Four years ago, almost to the day, I nearly died from a toxic combination of alcohol and benzodiazepines which I had been using daily for months on end. My body simply gave up and I stopped breathing. I keep asking how long it took for them to get me back but they won't tell me. All I have is a picture of 6 arterial blood gas marks in my wrist, which is horribly bruised. I was taken to the high dependency unit and I promptly discharged myself, against medical advice, obviously. My theory is that I have a hypoxic or anoxic brain injury which seems to be affecting my memory and visual processing, which in turn is destroying my degree from what should have been a strong 2:1 to a mere 2:2. 

I cannot describe just how devastating this is and I'm having a really hard time accepting the reality of the situation. The damage is done and there's nothing I can do about it. What really hurts is that I spent so many years and accumulated a disgusting amount of debt for a degree that offers me very little in return. I work so damn hard and it's just not being reflected in my grades. I wanted to do a masters and go onto PhD but with my undergraduate degree being such a shitshow.... why bother?

So now I'm stuck. What do I do with my life now? I'm still not anywhere near well enough to hold down a full time job and I have so little to offer.... how the hell do I justify my existence if I'm just sat here doing nothing worthwhile? That degree was my ticket out of hell but apparently I have to stay. I don't know what to do and it's really scary. I'll fight to the bitter end, that's for sure, but for what... I don't know. Depression won't beat me. PTSD won't beat me. Addiction won't beat me. Anorexia won't beat me. I'm not going down like that. The thoughts are getting stronger though and I am getting tired. 

What the hell can I do with a 2:2 in Medical Neuroscience? Answers or suggestions welcome because I'm really stuck and drowning in a tsunami of dissertation and assignment deadlines. 

Samantha Nicholls. Powered by Blogger.


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