Is it more acceptable to be blackout, than blue?

I’m pleased to say that my dry January of 2019 was a success, not a single drop of alcohol entered my system for the whole month, even when temptation reared its head. I haven’t stayed sober in 2019, having had a few social events where an open bar and want to let loose have taken over.

Having abstained and indulged in alcohol this year I’ve come to realise a few things about myself:

  • I drink when I’m anxious, I drink heavily when I’m anxious, as someone with severe anxiety I’m anxious a lot;
  • I drink so I have an excuse to act out of character and a bit wilder than usual, alcohol gives people an excuse to let their inhibitions free – say what they like and do what they like all under the guise of ‘sorry, I was drunk;’
  • I still have blue days when I’m sober;
  • Other people will have a bigger problem with you not drinking, than you have with not being able to drink;
  • My social life revolves around beer and wine;
  • My nationality influences my relationship with alcohol greatly, and people expectation of it.

Circling back to the top of that list, anxiety, particularly social anxiety is a big problem for me.

Crowds freak me out. People freak me out. Life freaks me out. Since I was a teenager social situations fill me with dread, not because I dislike them but because I am convinced that people don’t actually want me there. 

You could probably link this back to an early childhood memory of mine, where I distinctly remember my two closest friends at the time running away from me under the pretence of play, often leaving me in tears on the other side of the playground, feeling rejected and abandoned, having spent a few minutes running after them – my small stature and naturally non-athletic ability rendering me fairly easy to leave behind. This memory has stuck with me throughout my life, and resurfaces when I experience similar moments in my adult life almost two decades later. 

As an adult, I realise that social events are necessary if you want to avoid becoming a hermit. Particularly when you live almost 400 kilometres/200+ miles away from home, away from your closest friends and family, away from the comforts, and the routine you had spent years crafting and altering to suit your needs.

However, like most people I’m still marked by the memories of my past, I still fear rejection from my peers so often find myself appearing rather defensive or cold as a means of protecting myself. In order to counteract my anxiety in social situations, I drink – because drinking is a socially acceptable coping mechanism, staring at people awkwardly from the corner, wide eyed, like a deer in the headlights, is not.

Even when you drink until you drunk dial your exes and wake up with hangover that feels like a 4am hotel fire alarm, realising that the pharmacies are shut and wanting nothing more than to crawl up and die, this isn’t considered as odd; when compared to saying that your anxiety is kicking your arse, your fight or flight is having a domestic in your brain, and you’re finding it difficult to breathe.

The month I didn’t drink was hard. I didn’t have a social crutch, and it was noticeable. People noticed I wasn’t drinking, and people questioned it. Part of the reason I chose to do ‘dry January’ was because it was a pre-existing premise, so I thought it would removed at least some of the questioning, but it didn’t. I still found myself explaining that the reason for my choice to not drink was because I wanted to see how it affected my mental health, which made for a very awkward set of conversations, because mental health still carries a very negative stigma which often makes people feel uncomfortable.

Another thing I realised in my month of sobriety was that the blue days didn’t disappear, as I was hoping they would. I hoped that not drinking would be the cure all to my depression, an easy fix if you will. Unfortunately, there is no easy fix to depression. It doesn’t go away overnight, and is something that many people struggle with throughout their lives.

I did however realise that drinking when I was blue exasperated my negative thoughts and feelings, turning pale false spring skies into the depths of an inky ocean, the monster within it spiralling in my mind and tormenting me until my emotions leaked out of me like waves crashing against the shore line in the midst of a tempest, toppling unsuspecting (relation)ships and swallowing them whole, with no remnants left behind.

I’ve suspected this correlation for a while but never really addressed it, the fear of being ostracised from the social circles which I’m desperately trying to infiltrate due to my loneliness has blinded me somewhat from this reality. However, following an unexpected visit from a friend last week, a spontaneous trip to Amsterdam, and a string of sunshine days following I have been able to see more clearly, and I hope this clarity will allow me to tackle life’s obstacles head on, from the root. Disregarding the opinion of others, and the societal expectation which I am supposedly meant to adhere to. I live for me and only me, I care for the people around me and who are in my life, but ultimately I take centre stage in my reality. 


If you’re experiencing similar thoughts or feelings to those expressed in this post, it’s okay to reach out for help. You can find information about what mental health crisis services are available, how they can help and their times of operation here: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/guides-to-support-and-services/crisis-services/useful-contacts/ 


 

Wobbles and blips

On Thursday, I had a bit of a wobble with my mental health, and with my journey to improve it.

Following a large work event, myself and my colleagues went to a bar to unwind and celebrate a job a well done, a combination of anxiety, sleep deprivation, and not really having eaten anything all day resulted in myself becoming blackout drunk. I woke up the next morning having lost my phone and parts of my memory.

I’m too embarrassed and ashamed to ask what I did in those blackout moments, but whatever it was I deeply regret.

Over the past few months, I have been actively trying to avoid excessive alcohol consumption, after connecting it to heightened feelings of depression and suicidal ideation, especially when I am already feeling low.

Despite alcohol acting as a temporary break from my reality, once its effect have worn off I am left in an emotional pit of despair, catapulted back into the reality I was attempting to escape. Even though I know this in hindsight, I still have blips which blind me from common sense, resulting in situations like Thursday.

When I drink in excess my mind sets itself to autopilot. I’m unaware of how much I’m consuming until it’s too late, and I lose control of my reality, with my mind slipping somewhere else entirely.

When I drink like this I’m often in a situation where I feel uncomfortable, such as crowded or unfamiliar places where I feel out of place, this causes me to feel on edge and triggers my anxiety. In these situations I use alcohol to drown out my anxious thoughts and fears, and also to fit in with those around me. If my peers are drinking, I often will too. It’s unhealthy but in that moment it’s a mechanism to cope.

I think its a fair assumption that most people have a desire to fit in and be a part of a community, to be liked, and to be wanted. In order to do this we follow the status quo of whatever situation we find ourselves in, so that we are not ostracised or rejected, this can sometimes lead us to do dangerous or harmful things at our own expense.

I am not holding other people accountable for this desire, I have my own free will and am in control of my actions, but although I know I shouldn’t feel the need to change myself to fit in with others, it is often easier to assimilate, particularly when you are already different.

Throughout my existence, I have often heard that it is cool to be weird, that normal is boring, and having a brain that isn’t wired quite right is just a fun quirk.  An example of this being the portrayal of the ‘manic pixie dream girl’ in film and television, which often romanticises mental illness as a plot device for the protagonist to fulfil his role as the saviour.

In reality mental illness isn’t fun, quirky, or cool. It’s exhausting. I would love to have a normal brain; one that isn’t damaged in anyway, that’s chemically balanced, that isn’t deafeningly silent on some days, and an carnival of chaotic thought on others. I would love a brain that is calm and works in harmony.

However, I know that in my present state this isn’t a possible reality for me, there isn’t a quick fix that magics away my problems, some nerdy guy in a vintage band t-shirt isn’t going to swoop in and save me. If I’m going to survive I’m going to have to save myself.

I’m going to have to learn to control the wobbles and blips and to identify there causation, but I also need to accept that I’m human, and humans are flawed. Some days I’m going to have bad days, and that’s okay. I’m going to have wobbles and blips, and that’s okay. I’m not perfect, and that’s okay.

I will keep trying to identify my problems and also continue to work to overcome them. It’s a process of trial and error, but I hope that one day I will learn to control the darkness and the fragments in my mind.


If you’re experiencing similar thoughts or feelings to those expressed in this post, it’s okay to reach out for help. You can find information about what mental health crisis services are available, how they can help and their times of operation here: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/guides-to-support-and-services/crisis-services/useful-contacts/