Thursday, 27 June 2019

What a Way to End

I’ve been away for a little bit, but mostly just stuck in my head.
On Saturday I took the last dose of my anxiety medication and have been dealing with the withdrawal process since then.  I had been in the process of weaning off the med when I decided enough was enough, so instead of taking the last step down I stopped.  Maybe not the best way to handle things but I was already feeling the effects of being on a much lower dose and decided I just needed to be done.  I’m hoping I’m through the worst of the acute phase of withdrawals, but I’ve been on this class of medication for a long time and may feel the effects for a long time as well.
I’ve come to realise that medications are not going to fix me (I know shocking that it took me this long to figure it out) and that as much as I want my symptoms to be masked by the effects of pharmaceuticals, I want my mind to be clear to enjoy life.  I have been medicated pretty much continuously since I was a teenager and until I landed here in the UK I assumed that meds were the only way to control my symptoms.  Since arriving and chipping away at the pile of pills I was taking I’m realising that I need to take some ownership and learn to cope instead of numb.  I know that things are good right now, my outside stresses are lower than they have been in a long time, and I have more support than I have ever had.  Now is the time to educate myself, learn as many coping skills as possible and conquer the beast not just lull it back to sleep.
I know I will always feel the effects of my past (both physically and mentally) but I’m done trying to hide from it behind a wall of medications and excuses.  I’m sure this sounds overly dramatic but when you’ve been fighting a battle silently most of your life sometimes making a declaration of intent to change things is important.  I’m not cured by any means, but I’m not broken either and that is a much better place to be in than where I have been recently.
Exciting isn’t it, I sure think so.

Sunday, 9 June 2019

Starting again (and again, and again)

Wow, time flies when you are trying to get healthy.  I am continuing to adjust to the NHS system and specifically the differences in psychiatric methodologies.  I have successfully gotten off of a few more meds (both psych and medical ones) and I have completed the first of a group of groups that focus on coping skills for trauma reactions. I am clearer of mind and stronger of body (and because psychiatric meds often have a side effect of weight gain coming off of them means I’m dropping some kilos as well).
I have been gifted a camera by my wonderful husband (we share but I am the one who uses it the most right now) and am more seriously pursuing the hobby of photography (I may even make it as far as the art of photography one day).  I continue to attend art studio when I can and have quite a few projects that are waiting for the kiln or waiting to be glazed.
I am repeatedly told how much better I look and act compared to when we arrived and shortly after.  I feel better and I’ll take any good days I get.  The war is not over but there is currently a cease fire within my mind that is allowing me to focus on the physical side of things a little more.  I am continuing to research my diagnoses and the treatments I have undergone and I think I better understand why I feel and react the ways I do.
I have joined the realm of social media again and through it have reconnected with some of the people who were/are so important to me and my continuing to be here.  Sometimes it’s a struggle to look back and see vague shadows of memories and be reminded of what I have lost, but it is also a chance to see if those shadows can come back into the light a little and if sparks of memory exist where I think most has been lost.  Even though it has been a couple (or more) years since I have spoken with these people and I am most definitely not the same person they knew, they have welcomed me back with virtual hugs and in many cases we are picking up where we left off.  How amazing is that?  I felt so alone for so long because the memories were gone and I didn’t understand what people were talking about and all I really needed to do was be honest and let friendship bridge the gaps.  It’s something I won’t let myself forget again.
So, as to this page, I am going to try and pick up somewhere close to where I left off and relate my experiences of being a foreigner in a wonderfully welcoming land.  I also will probably share some of my photography (at least the pieces I’m most proud of).  I’m going to be realistic and set the goal of one post per week to start and see where things go (I’m a lot more chatty these days so more may be possible).
Please let me know if there is anything you’d like me to talk about, or explain better.  Give me feedback on my photos, my writing, or on my opinions (especially if they rub you the wrong way) anything is fair game.

Monday, 1 April 2019


If you've read through any of my posts, you may have detected a common thread; I am a frequent user of both medical and psychiatric resources in an attempt to get me to a place where life is not just survivable, but maybe even enjoyable.  I am a survivor in so many definitions of the word, and I do not doubt that there have been times in my life that I have had some degree of enjoyment; I just don't remember them.

I have been in a state of 'crash' since Fall of 2015, and when all conventional treatments had been exhausted and rendered useless, we turned to ECT to try and get me back to the living.  Those treatments have robbed me of the majority of the memories since the time I met my husband, but the memories I would have gladly sacrificed prior to then are still for the most part whole.

What this has left me with is many 'faces', most of varying degrees of depression, some that appear to be happy or at the least content, and many many more lost to the vagaries of memory.

My most recent morning, 12+ hours of sleep and still not enough, my first time on my own in 20+ years and not coping well.

Self-care goes out the window the deeper I dive.  My hair is left to tie itself in knots because I could care less how I look to anyone, except sometimes to my husband, and even then it's a struggle.

Finding comfort in anything, even if slightly on the childish side (sometimes it's the child that needs the soothing).

Music, my constant companion.  Played loud enough even the noise in my head can be drowned out for a while at least.

A good day where my smile doesn't have to be forced.  My family brings out the best in me.

My most genuine smile to date; how could I not smile when my husband, my partner, was pledging himself to me?

The beginning of the crash, trying to hold on for dear life knowing how bad things get, but depression won.

A genuine smile.  Things were falling into place, I was going places, and I could breathe.

One of the earliest pictures I have access to.  A snapshot taken at the end of football (that's American football of course) practice and turned into buttons for parents to wear at the games.  I was a badass and could hold my own on the boy's team, even when it was difficult.

I've been in a lot of places and frames of mind since as far back as I can remember.  Depression has always been peering over my shoulder waiting to drag me deeper into itself.  On the days when life is just exhausting, I turn to my family, and know that despite everything they have been through with me they are still here, so I have to return the favour.

Today is Mother's Day here in the U.K. and I don't deserve the children I have been given but I thank god for them every day.

Happy Mother's Day from Newcastle!

PS:  I am going to work back to some sort of schedule working on my blog.  If there is anything of interest you'd like to hear about life here either as a recent transplant or on any topics of life please leave me a comment.  I'm also posting a lot of pictures over on Instagram if that sort of thing is intriguing.


Monday, 18 March 2019

Perceptions of Health Care

The article I have linked to caught my attention because the headline is;

Satisfaction with NHS 'hits 11-year low'

Being a BBC article I knew it wasn't total clickbait, maybe a little dramatic but I knew there was at least some research behind it.  Overall satisfaction has dropped but only by 3% since 2007, but in 2010 the satisfaction rating was 70%, so in the last 7 years there has been a fairly steep drop.  Satisfaction with GP services seems to be thing bringing the numbers down the most.  People seem to be upset by wait times for appointments and lack of resources, but are happy with the services they receive when they are seen.

Now I read the article trying to imagine what things must feel like if this is your norm and what you've been brought up in and I can see the issues that are caused by lack of funding for a system that absolutely needs government support to remain viable.  

I also read the article knowing what a for profit medical system looks like and I wish for just some short period of time people who are able to access a National Health Service, no matter what it's called, could see how good things are.  

Until shortly before we left the United States I relied on Health Insurance provided through either my family's workplace or at times based on my working.  A large chunk of our wages were taken monthly to pay the 'premium' and then every appointment and prescription had a 'co-pay'.  The co-pays ran somewhere between $10 - $50 dollars depending on what service was being used.  Regular everyday doctor appointments averaged $25 for each time I was seen, and being chronically ill I was seen a lot.  Prescriptions varied depending on the medication and whether or not the insurance company had any sort of deal with the drug company, big Pharma at work.  Testing beyond run of the mill blood work usually needed a pre-authorization, where the insurance company could deny the test even if the doctor deemed it necessary.  Co-pays for testing could run $100 or more depending on the test being done.  The insurance companies typically had hospital systems that they either ran or worked with and so they would dictate where and when tests or even surgical procedures could be done.  Many people have run afoul of this system when in an emergency they are taken to the 'wrong hospital' and their insurance will either refuse to pay for the services or only pay the bare minimum.  Many people, including our family, are forced to declare bankruptcy at some point because the amount of debt that accrues is unpayable no matter how many payment plans you set up with the hospitals or doctor offices.

Waiting times for appointments seems to be a universal issue.  It was not uncommon to wait months to be seen by specialists, and appointments with primary care physicians could run 2-4 weeks at times (my last PCP office was amazing and if it was an urgent type appointment would usually get you seen yet that week, but this was not the norm).  I spent 4 years trying to be seen by a pain management doctor and because they are so rare I never even made it on to a waiting list.

Since I have arrived here I have been referred to and been seen by pain management, it took 3 months to be seen but that sure beats 4+ years.  I am able to see my psychiatrist on a fairly regular basis and have not gone more than 6 weeks without seeing her, I am also seen by my CPN in between those appointments.  I have been seen twice by a GP, one appointment was scheduled within a week of calling and the other took 2 1/2 weeks, I will be seen in the coming week and again it was roughly 2 1/2 weeks between contacting them and an appointment being set.  I have been seen twice by a pharmacist to tweak my meds, twice by nurses for blood work, and had a telephone appointment with a GP when there was some concern with my lab work.  I have support people who come in 4 days a week to help with different issues and I go to the chemist once a week to pick up my medications which are prepared into a medi-box to allow David to not have to do it for me.  I have also had one hospital admission, and two tests to assure that my heart vessels were not clogged because I have a weird variant on my ECG.

Because we are foreigners here, on David's student Visa, we did pay for our access to the NHS, but it was a one time fee that covers the full four years of his student status.  He also paid for a prepay card for my prescriptions which will be a yearly expense.  All of this has been covered by these two fees and that is something that would never have happened in the United States.

I am not saying that the NHS is perfect or that there are some major issues with it that so need to be fixed so it does not collapse, but it is a whole hell of a lot better than some of the other systems out there that will literally bleed you dry.


Monday, 11 March 2019

A Different Perspective

Hello All! My name is TheStudent, and I am TJ's daughter. I've been working as an editor for many of the posts that go up here, but this week I am writing to you all while my mother helps to host some of our family friends.

As many of you could probably imagine, I love England just like my parents. I have since I was little, and have been fortunate to travel there on two different occasions now, with a third trip coming this summer. A big part of why I love to visit England is because I love studying history, especially when I can get to the historical sites themselves. In England, especially in the Northumberland area, there are dozens of historic sites within easy walking distance. That is an amazing opportunity for exploration, and I am very excited about the chance I get to explore again this summer.

However, much like both my parents before me, I am looking for bigger and better adventures that are peeking over the horizon. Currently, I'm a history student who is also seeking licensure to become a special education teacher. I still live in Colorado while I'm getting my bachelors, but after seeing my parents make such a successful transition to living in England while my father gets his doctorate, I am giving consideration to making the transition myself. Part of my journey this summer is going to include looking at degree options for my masters in special education overseas in England.

I am hopeful for what my future holds, but I know that even if I don't go to England for education, I will find some way to experience life in England for longer than a week-long vacation. My love for England is much like my parents, and I am hopeful that sooner rather than later I will be there, with my parents, for my next adventure.

Monday, 4 March 2019

Idle Hands

I don't remember growing up and being very artsy.  I made the required projects throughout elementary school and may have even attempted an arts class as late as middle school (age 12-14) but always felt I was terrible at it so I tended towards choir to get my requisite credits.  After David and I married, and while the kids were young, we became involved in a Native American dance group. There, I learned (with lots of help from the group's sponsors) how to sew and bead in order to make our regalia for the events we participated in (I am unable to find any pictures of any of us in our regalia).  Since then, I have turned to arts and crafts as part of my mental health support as well (while inpatient, there is almost always some degree of 'art therapy', even if it's just pages printed out to colour and some crayons).

One of the great things I stumbled on here in Newcastle is an organization called Chilli Studios that is close by (I think I shared the link in my last post), and it does all formats of art, including a choir (I was searching for a community choir when I stumbled upon the website for Chilli's).  Right now, I am mainly participating in the pottery/ceramics days but once I figure my schedule out a little more I will try to get more involved.  I brought home my first piece on Wednesday and am thrilled that I have 4 or 5 more pieces in line for the kiln, so they may come home soon too.  Here are some of what's coming.

This is the piece I brought home.  I hoped it would be a good size for pillar candles and it's perfect.
This was the first piece I made and I used a coil build method for it (this is something David and I studied when we researched the early Southwest Indian Tribes).

This fairly big piece is my most recent effort.  It is a slab built vase that I used a roller tool to make the patterns, cut out the shape for the sides, slightly hardened the clay (we use a hairdryer for this) so it would be able to stand up, and once I had the shape I wanted cut a custom piece of clay to act as the bottom and joined it all together.  I'll work on the glaze this week and then decide if I want to bring it home or put it out for sale.
This is a collection of the pieces that were constructed this past week (mine is in the front left corner) and was posted on the Studio's Instagram page.  I think we did pretty good.

This is a fun set that I made a few weeks ago and is in the line for the kiln.  It will be a tea mug for David and a place to rest either a tea bag or tea spoon.  I can't wait to see what it looks like finished.

(So I'm a little behind on this one, but it will still be our first ornament since moving here.)

These next photos are a set of boxes that I have decorated using repurposed boxes, washi tape, and packing tape to seal it all up.  They are just catch all kind of boxes, and so far I'm okay with the results.  I have set aside a couple of boxes that I'm going to try and make a set of memory boxes from to hold all the little things I've collected from our travels.


In our small town in Colorado there was a company that did group facilitated painting nights.  So, using provided materials, stencils, and some gentle guidance, you could come in with a group of friends and walk out with a treasure.  Both of the times I participated were around Halloween so that explains the topics of the paintings.  I enjoy painting but I struggle to let myself just do it and not nitpick and berate myself through the whole process.  I have it outlined on my calendar to try out the watercolour sessions at the studio; I just keep chickening out.

When things get dark I tend to pull out pastels and try and visualise the crap circling my brain.  So I have lots of pictures that are NSFW, but that did help in the short term.

I've always liked taking photos (better to be behind the camera and not in front of it, lol), but never really thought of it as making art.  Now that I'm somewhat obsessed with taking pictures of all the cool stuff we come across and really trying to make them look good, I think it is a new art form for me that I look forward to experimenting with.

So I would not put myself in the category of fine art in any of the forms I've tried, but I'm learning (slowly) that if I enjoy it, and it is helping me work through something, that is all that matters.  I am still my worst critic and I'm sure I always will be, but hopefully I can turn the volume down on the critical side and acknowledge the compliments I'm receiving on the things I'm creating.


Monday, 25 February 2019

Welcome to Our Neighbourhood

You've seen the inside of our place so I thought I'd give a brief tour of the neighbourhood we live in.  When we moved here I had some apprehension about moving to the big city since for the past 20 years or so we have lived in small towns or fairly rural areas.  My husband did a lot of research online looking for good student accommodations that would be at least partly furnished, close to campus, and would be close to doctors and hospitals (just in case).  We had a friend in the area who was willing to check out potential locations so we could see beyond the online hype and make sure the flat was as good as it seemed.  The flat we are in now was our second choice after our first choice was rejected by the letting company. Thankfully, this flat has turned out to be perfect for us.

We are in an area that is sometimes referred to as Heaton and sometimes Byker (we are kind of on the border between a couple of areas).  Even our mail is split between the different names.

Our little corner of Newcastle Upon Tyne is close to all the services I need (and some I had no idea existed), but far enough from the city centre so it doesn't feel overwhelmingly big. We are 0.4 miles from the Molineux Street NHS centre that has my GP (General Practioner), Psych, and pharmacy all in one building (the building also houses a Walk-In Centre, Dentist, Physio, Pain management and a whole list of other things I'm probably forgetting).  

Google estimates an 8 minute long walk and I would say that's about average.  If I'm walking with David it doesn't take nearly that long, and if I'm by myself it's probably closer to 10 minutes to get there.  The art studio (Chilli Studio) is just a bit farther at 0.5 miles but tends to take longer to get there (I average 12-15 minutes to get there).  

These two are in opposite directions from each other, so that I take a left turn for the studio and a right turn for the medical building.  Both walks are relatively easy with not much in the way of hills between here and there. The worst part of the walk to the studio is having to cross a bridge that is very busy, so it's really noisy, but even that isn't too bad.
Looking right, up the road

Looking left 

The next great thing in this area, that we visit a couple of times a week, is our local grocers.  For most of our weekly shopping we use the local Morrison's, which is also about 0.4 miles from our flat, so when traveling empty-handed its about 8-10 minutes to get there. On the return with our bags full, it does take a little longer, but still not more than 15 minutes at our slowest.  Our Morrisons is huge, at about the size of the Walmart where we lived before, but this is almost all food stuff.

David will also stop on his way between campus and home at smaller stores to pick up something essential for that evening's dinner.  We both carry bags with us at all times just in case we need to pop in and get something so we don't have to pay for a bag (single-use plastic bags are not used in larger stores and there is a nominal charge for reusable bags depending on size) just to get something home.

As a quick run in, run out and to get a very random assortment of products, Wilko can't be beaten.  It's kind of like a high-end dollar store.  The prices are very reasonable, and while the quality isn't top shelf, it's decent, and you never know what you'll find if you spend any sort of time wandering the aisles.  So far Wilko is the main shop I can handle on my own without having a huge panic attack, because it's not as crowded and not as big, but I have my eye on Morrisons and I will conquer it.

Something I didn't imagine we would come to claim but this is our go-to pub, that serves decent food, has vegetarian options for David, and is quite reasonable.  It is basically next door to Wilko and not even a parking lot away from the GP surgery, meaning it's perfect.  It's called The High Main, but it is part of a chain called Wetherspoons, so there are lots of them with each having unique characteristics but being basically the same.  

There are multiple historical markers throughout our area mainly marking spots that relate to the coal mining that was done right under our feet early on in Newcastle's history.

Most neighborhoods we travel through have play areas for kids that can be used for multiple sports (but my guess is they are mostly used for football practice). The one closest to us has basketball hoops as well.  There are more traditional playgrounds for younger kids that have some very cool activities beyond just basic swings and slides. 

The park we walk through to get to the city centre has exercise equipment along the walking path with things like an elliptical machine and multiple ways to work out your abs.  Down along Quayside they have a similar set of equipment, but their equipment looks much newer.  I keep telling myself that I will go check it out, but for now walking through the neighbourhood is plenty.

This gate is at the very end of our street, and is closed most of the time, but if we leave the flat at just the right time we will find groups of mums (and dads too) dropping off their children to the school that is through there.  Such a beautiful schoolyard and during the day you can see lots of blue dots running around in the field (bright blue is the colour of the jumpers the kids wear as part of their uniforms).

If you exit the flat via the backdoor our gate opens into an alley, this lineup is what you will find.  We are amazed at how much easier and accessible recycling is here, and this group shows that.  The little blue bins are for glass, the big black bin with the multi-colour sticker on it is for recycling everything else (cans, aluminium, plastic bottles, etc), and the next big bin is for all of the things that don't seem to fit in any of the other categories.  This makes keeping up with and taking care of the recycling so easy; other nations need to get on top of this too.

At the end of our row of houses these pretty little flowers are already growing so well.  It's hard to believe that February is not over yet, but new growth is coming through.

This ring of flowers is in the green space around a high-rise set of flats and I can't wait for it to finish coming in, it will be beautiful.

Coming up the path from the studio at the end of the row of houses directly behind ours this famous face will greet you.  I haven't been able to find out a whole lot about Mr. Shakespeare and how he came to oversee our area, but you have to admit he is pretty cool looking and some serious work went into arranging the bricks into his likeness.  I've been told that during the Summer there are people who gather in the grassy area here and do yoga at least once a week, so I'll keep my eyes open for that.

In one of my earlier posts I talked about one of the reasons for not being interested in driving is all of the roundabouts.  This one here is outside of the Morrisons and is the smaller of the 2 that seem to be right on top of each other.  I had hoped to catch a shot of when the multiple busses will work their way around this at the same time with cars weaving in and out, but this is what I got.  Even without busses coming through there is way too much going on and I'm thoroughly impressed by anyone who can drive these things on a daily basis.

There is so much more I could show you all within an easy walk of our flat.  We have all of these amazing things at our disposal and we aren't even in the middle of the city.  We have found our perfect little nook of Newcastle Upon Tyne and we will stay here for as long as possible. 

More to come soon.  Cheers!