500 days: brain zaps, the blues and vino medicino

I’m 500 days sober today. 500 days since I put down the wine and picked up a life.

And, wow, life has grown immeasurably in that time. I’ve completed some of my best professional work, become vegetarian, started a Masters degree (organisational psychology, since you ask), launched a fashion confidence blog (@awomancalledgeorge https://www.instagram.com/invites/contact/?i=vqai3xs20xnk&utm_content=ov6rnfc), presented D&I seminars, done a podcast and spoken candidly about life as a 40-something woman in law. But, by far the biggest change is that the sun started to come out again.

I first experienced depression in 2018. It came and went but then I suffered a burnout-induced breakdown in 2019 which led to prolonged, seemingly endless, depression. Whenever I talk about this, I often get, ‘but you’re so bubbly/confident/happy’ in reply and I guess that’s the biggest lie of depression – that you must look depressed in order to actually be depressed. Yet I looked perfectly well, I continued to function (until I physically couldn’t) and I kept on keeping on. But behind the facade, I was falling apart and a glass (or two…) of wine became my go-to. It quelled the demons, switched off the negative internal chatter, forced me to log-off and helped me fall asleep (but notably, not remain asleep. 2am? Bing bong, bouncing brain time). So whilst the doctor was prescribing anti-depressants and therapy, I was supplementing that with vino medicino.

I spiralled downward. On the surface, I had my shit together but in reality, I didn’t want to do it – any of it – anymore. I was scared (really scared…) and knew something had to change. And whilst I fire-sold most of the other harmful aspects of my lifestyle (stress, poor diet, lack of exercise, time-starved, not living to my values), I knew alcohol was the final thing that needed to go. So, 501 days ago, I had my last drink.

Man, those early days were tough, especially as this wasn’t my first try at the alcohol-free rodeo. I re-read every bit of quit-lit, tried hypnosis (thanks https://jerseytherapy.com), and sea-swam like there was no tomorrow. And as the weeks turned to months and then the months turned to a year, the internal ‘go on, have a drink, you deserve it’ narrative quietened and the clouds started to part. I began to feel like ‘me’ again.

Fast-forward 500 days and whilst it’s still one day at a time, I don’t think I’ll go back to it. I feel genuinely well; a wellness that you can only appreciate when you’ve been really very unwell. In fact, I feel so well that over the last few months, I started tapering my dose of antidepressant until a week ago, I stopped taking it altogether. It’s the first time in nearly four years that I’m medication-free (I’m not counting the HRT – that’s literally lifeblood for a 47-year old woman!).

Coming off medication hasn’t been easy* and, as I write this, I’m experiencing significant brain zaps (https://www.psychiatrist.com/pcc/depression/brain-zaps/) that are often seen with SSRI withdrawal. But whilst these physical side-effects are unpleasant, my underlying mood remains balanced and positive. I’m excited for the future in circumstances where, three years ago, I found it hard to conceive getting through the day, let alone looking forward to anything further. Now, there’s clarity to my thinking and a confidence in my own skin and my place in the world. And crucially, that is how I really feel, it’s not some alcohol-softened high.

Yes, I occasionally miss a glass of red by the fire or the recklessness of a wild night out. But not enough to outweigh the long-term, truly fulfilling state of being 100% present, 100% of the time. But best of all, the depression has lifted. The sun’s come out and life is good.

500 days? Worth every damn one.

*it’s not something everyone has to, or wants to, do. I assumed I’d be taking my 100mg maintenance dose of Sertraline for the rest of my life and there’s no shame in that. Who knows, I may need to go back on it to maintain my ‘norm’ if this withdrawal doesn’t work. But for me, at this particular moment, coming off it is an experiment worth taking. I need to see if the lack of alcohol and the other lifestyle changes have given me enough scaffolding to go it alone. If it hasn’t, I’ll re-start the meds again, no biggie. And there’s no judgement from me of anyone taking long-term medication – if you had a headache, you’d take a pill so if an SSRI makes you feel well, keep at it, you absolute rockstar. ⭐️

One Comment Add yours

  1. Roy McCarthy says:

    Brilliant George, and braved and inspirational of you to put it out there. Here’s hoping at least some others in a similar starting position get to read this and take strength from it.


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