Have You Taken Your Meds?

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One day, I decided to stop taking my anti-depressant medication. I was prescribed it for OCD and, unsurprisingly, depression, and had advised my consultant that this was what I was going to do, much to his indifference.

Coming off the venlafaxine was an ordeal. I experienced sleep paralysis, insomnia, brain zaps, dizziness, nausea and a low mood. The brain zaps were awful. It felt like someone was shaking my brain around my skull or giving me electric shocks. But the sleep paralysis, insomnia, dizziness and low mood were awful too.

It was all just awful.

Thankfully, after the longest two weeks of my life, the withdrawals stopped.

When I told my GP what I had done, she congratulated me. “Well done,” she said.

I was perplexed, and, if I’m being honest, a little annoyed. I wondered whether she had ever congratulated anyone for completing their course of antibiotics. I doubted that she had.

In the year that followed, my brain entirely free from any psychiatric medication, I had the worst time.

My head was spinning with intrusive thoughts: rapid, vicious and upsetting. They were there when I woke up and when I tried to go to sleep. They were there when at three-in-the morning when I got up thirsty. They were in the background as I tried to watch the TV. They couldn’t be drowned out by music or alcohol. They were relentless, incessant, maddening.

Eleven months later, I dipped back down into a sleep-deprived depression, and went to my GP, bleary-eyed and nauseated from the lack of sleep, begging her for zopiclone.

Instead of giving me this highly addictive sleeping pill, though, she put me on an anti-depressant which, taken at night, causes drowsiness.

That night, for the first time in months, I slept the sleep of the dead.

Nowadays, I can’t see myself experimenting with a med-free life. My brain, in its natural state, is not my friend. I need medication to temper my depression, calm my OCD, and soften my Tourette’s.

This isn’t a bad thing. I feel very lucky to be alive in a time where such medications are available. I just wish people weren’t so fearful of psychiatric medication. In my opinion, they’re there to be your friend when your brain is not. They’re not magic. They don’t cure everything. But they help, and for me, that is enough.

It’s OK to Hate Being Chronically Ill

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There are a lot of disability advocates out there promoting how disability and neurodiversity can be an excellent addition to the world, enrich our lives and be a boon to society.

This is, in my opinion an excellent conversation to be having.

After all, there is so much negative language surrounding disabilities and neurodiversity. We talk about people being “confined” to a wheelchair when they might as well see themselves as being liberated by their wheelchair. We talk about people “suffering” from autism when, I for one, do no such thing.

I don’t see my autism as an illness, it’s a condition I happen to have and it makes me who I am – the good bits and the bad.

But the same doesn’t go for my Tourette’s. I see my Tourette’s as an illness. It’s a chronic and incurable pain in the arse. I hate it. It’s done me no good. It’s made it hard to find work and keep work when I’ve got work. It’s made life awkward, embarrassing and oftentimes physically painful. It cost me one relationship when an ex decided to tell me she thought I was “putting on” my tics because I’d read about Tourette’s somewhere.

Opinions differ across the community. Some people with Tourette’s wouldn’t want to do away with it at all, saying it makes them who they are. Other people go through extensive treatments and therapies to try to rid themselves of their most problematic tics.

What I’m trying to say is, it’s all right to embrace one aspect of your neurodiversity and dislike another aspect of your neurodiversity. It’s all right to hate being chronically ill. It’s all right to love and hate your difference at the same time.

Being neurodiverse in a neurotypical world is difficult. All opinions and feelings are valid.

How Not To Meet Someone with Tourette’s

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  • Ask they why they’re not swearing (only a minority do)
  • Ask why they haven’t ticced yet (people with Tourette’s don’t tic every second of every day)
  • Say they don’t look like someone with Tourette’s (what does a person with Tourette’s look like?)
  • Ask if their condition is quite mild (Tourette’s waxes and wanes, can be quite severe for several months and then quite mild for the next few)
  • Copy their tics (this won’t make them less embarrassed, it will just make them self-conscious)
  • React to all their tics (this is just excessive)
  • Back away from them (if you’re embarrassed by the tics, well, just don’t be embarrassed by the tics)
  • Tell them to “say the bad word in their head” instead of saying it out loud (this is not how Tourette’s works)
  • Laugh when they haven’t ticced anything funny (Tourette’s is a medical condition, not a punchline)

Drinking and Mental Health

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There is one drug is the world that is, I would argue, more harmful than any of the others. Completely legal in the vast majority of countries, it makes you feel sociable when you’re shy, warm when you’re cold, and happy when you’re flat. Not only socially acceptable, but socially encouraged, it is nevertheless addictive and a cause of many a premature death.

What I’m talking about is, of course, alcohol.

It has been one month and four days since I have last had any.

I realise the counting of the days makes me sound like an alcoholic, but I just like counting. I was not, and am not, an alcoholic by any means. My body was not dependent on the substance at all. I did not get the shakes. I did not get the sweats. I did not get the cravings.

But, like a lot of people in the UK, my life entailed a lot of post-work drinks and pre-drink drinks, and it took me far too long to realise that this was no good. It wasn’t just that I was drinking more than the recommended limit of 14 units a week, that alcohol can cause liver disease, cancer, pancreatitis, brain damage, osteoporosis, and heart disease.

It was that alcohol is a furious depressant, can not only interact with anti-depressant medication but cause depression: the condition I’ve been putting up with for years.

So, I made the decision to stop: to cut it out entirely for a least a few months, and see where it takes me.

Despite what I thought, I don’t miss it at all. I still go out. I still make memories with my friends. I still have half-hour friendships with strangers outside bars. It’s just that I do it holding a Diet Coke in my hand (yes, I know, not the healthiest of drinks, but whatever).

I cannot deny that my mood has stabilised since I’ve quit the booze. I’ve also lost a few pounds, and am far more productive than I was: reading and writing much more.

In some ways, it’s socially unacceptable to be teetotal in the UK. Drinking is so engrained in our culture, so celebrated as a way of life, that people look at you baffled if you are drinking just a fizzy drink on a night out.

I should know: I was a bartender for two years. People here like to get sloshed. A lot. If someone said they just wanted a Diet Coke at eleven p-m on a Friday night, I would be taken aback, and probably give them that shit for free, because soda costs bars pennies and if someone is not contributing to our drinking culture, then that’s only a good thing.

I’m planning on having a drink on my twenty-sixth birthday in July. I plan to savour the taste, feel the warmth extend to my heart and have it (most probably) go straight to my head. I won’t fall off the wagon: moderation is the way forward for me. I have had too many depressive episodes for my liking. If quitting the booze will help them subside, or better yet, disappear, then that can only be a good thing.

Nevertheless, I’m sure that quitting alcohol won’t “cure” me of my depression. I also need therapy, healthy hobbies, a direction in life, exercise and the right medicine. It’s just one step in the right direction: one step that so far, I’m very glad I made.

Things People Actually Have Said to Me About My OCD, Autism, Tourette’s and Depression

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  • That a vitamin could cure my depression
  • That I couldn’t be autistic because I was in a relationship
  • That I couldn’t be autistic because I used to work in a bar
  • That I couldn’t have Tourette’s because I used to work in a bar
  • That I was ‘putting on’ my Tourette’s because I had read about it somewhere and was imitating its symptoms
  • That my OCD was a ‘good thing’
  • That everyone is a little bit OCD
  • That everyone is a little bit autistic
  • That everyone gets depression
  • That if I really understood my Tourette’s I would be able to control it
  • That I should just “think the bad word in my head” instead of saying it out loud
  • That I should just ‘calm down’ when having a literal tic attack
  • That my depression was ‘all in my head’
  • That I didn’t deserve my depression 

Most People Don’t Swear but I Do

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Whenever I meet new people and I have to explain that I have Tourette’s, I make sure to explain that I am an anomaly.

Firstly, I’m a woman and Tourette’s normally affects males.

Secondly, I got Tourette’s in my twenties and most people get it when they are aged six to seven.

Thirdly, most people with Tourette’s don’t experience coprolalia – the compulsion to swear – and I sure as hell do.

In this sense, I am a walking, talking, yelling stereotype of the condition, because most people with the condition just equate Tourette’s with yelling out curse words. And I yell out curse words. A lot.

In some ways, I feel I’m letting the Tourette’s “community” down (hate that word – it’s not like we’re all in the same WhatsApp group or anything) for being so sweary. A lot of people with the condition have it quite badly and don’t ever utter an expletive involuntarily, and they have to live their lives explains that only 10 to 25 percent of Touretters swear involuntarily.

It’s a statistic I make sure to repeat as often as I can, because I don’t want to be purporting the myth that all Touretters swear involuntarily as I walk around swearing involuntarily.

In some ways, because I fit the media stereotype of Tourette’s, my life is easier. I don’t have to explain what I’m doing because my Tourettic symptoms align with people’s preconceptions. Instead, I just choose too, deciding to explain Tourette’s as thoroughly as I can, from the blissfully ignorant strangers I meet in bars to the people “whose cousin has Tourette’s too”. (Seriously, I’ve heard that sentence so much, I’ve come to believe everyone has a cousin with Tourette’s.)

I guess it’s my way of “doing my bit”. I’ve got this thing, and I’ve got it forever. I might as well tell the world about it.

No, Tourette’s is Not Necessarily Indicative of a Touretter’s Emotional State

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This. Is. So. Annoying.

So often, whenever I’m ticcing, people will ask me/automatically assume that I’m ticcing because I’m:

  1. Anxious
  2. Stressed
  3. Somehow distressed

In some ways, this is a natural assumption, as if I am yelling “FUCK!”, “I HATE YOU AND YOUR EYEBROWS!” or “MOVE IT, LADY!”, it would be natural to assume I am not in the best of moods.

And it cues a barrage of questions: “What’s up?”, “You OK?”, “What’s the matter?”.

Yes, they’re just being nice and concerned and I’m just being grumpy about it, but nevertheless…This. Is. So. Annoying.

People with Tourette’s tic every day. They tic when they’re happy, sad, jealous, envious, excited, relaxing, stressing, washing, sleeping, eating. It’s the condition that doesn’t stop.

Yes, certain people with Tourette’s find that certain moods will cause them to tic more frequently than normal.

For instance, sometimes, if I’m tired or relaxing, I’ll find myself letting my tics loose. Occasionally, when I’m overwhelmed by a busy environment, I’ll find myself ticcing a little more. But that’s about it. Mostly, whenever I’m ticcing, I’m, well, fine? I can be in the best of moods, at peace with the world, on top of the world, and be ticcing like a clock.

Tourette’s is so fucking complicated. No one really knows what causes it. No one really knows what makes people tic. No one really knows why the medications used to treat it actually work.

Ticcing isn’t indicative of someone’s emotional state. All it is indicative of is that they have Tourette’s. So, if you ask me when I’m ticcing when I’m ticcing, I’ll say it’s because I have Tourette’s. It’s as simple, or, rather, as complicated, as that.