I’m not alone as I wave 2016 a very earnest farewell.
It is what it is, and I hold no malice for anyone whose political viewpoints differ from mine. We are in a mess right now, and it will take resistance and love, not resentment, to put it right.
am very glad to live near the beach – it helps me keep calm…
On a personal level, I had an excellent year, on balance. I had plenty of trials. One of my babies has had some developmental issues, and naturally this has involved a lot of tears on my part, a lot of visits with consultants and a lot of groping in the dark. On top of this I’ve had my own issues with anti-depressant medication. I blogged this time last year about overcoming a terrible episode of anxiety and depression, a kind of psychic breakdown, and part of the treatment involved a prescription of Citalopram (or Celexa in the US).
I stayed on the prescription longer than I intended because (a) I felt, finally, like ‘me’ again while taking them and (b) when I initially tried to withdraw, I experienced what is aptly described as ‘brain zaps’. This wonderful withdrawal effect feels quite literally like someone has attached power cables to your brain by which you are submitted to regular electric shocks. Try driving, cooking, working, or generally functioning whilst experiencing this – you can’t.
So I thought, I’ll stay on them a while longer and try quitting some other time. Around Easter I noticed to my utter dismay that I’d put on yet more weight – over 40lbs since I started taking Citalopram – and the penny dropped. My weight has always been pretty stable, and even when pregnant I didn’t tend to gain weight easily. So I went to my GP and got advice about coming off Citalopram, and off I went.
Only, it wasn’t that simple. My GP told me to take one 20mg pill every other day instead of daily. About five days into this routine, I succumbed to what I thought was food poisoning – excruciating stomach cramps, diarrhoea, vomiting, pounding headache. A few days later, I got ‘food poisoning’ again, and again the week after… this time (after much Googling) I realised that it wasn’t food poisoning. It was just a small portion of the long list of frightening Citalopram withdrawal symptoms. In addition to terrible stomach cramps, diarrhoea, vomiting, and the mother of headaches, the symptoms include forgetfulness (frustrating), tearfulness (I cried every day, occasionally in public places, which was humiliating), acid reflux, flashes of anger (aka shouting at bewildered loved ones for absolutely no reason), brain zaps/dizziness, severe fatigue, panic attacks, depression, and so on.
Trying to maintain a full time job, care for my 4 young kids, maintain relationships, write, etc through all of this was indescribably difficult.
It took me over 7 months to withdraw completely. I had conflicting information from GPs and eventually asked a friend who works in clinical psychology for guidance on how to withdraw properly. I used a razor blade to cut the pills into microscopic pieces and monitored my withdrawal very, very carefully, upping my dosage slightly if I felt stomach cramps come on.
I must admit, I’m annoyed that I wasn’t informed about the effects of withdrawing from Citalopram. Now, I did not take antidepressants lightly – I would think that anyone who takes such medication does so because they’re in dire need – but I had absolutely no idea that withdrawing would be anywhere near as bad as it has been, and whilst not everyone experiences withdrawals to the same extent (thankfully!), I’m very concerned that this information isn’t more transparent.
I’m also concerned that I was denied CBT but prescribed antidepressants without a quibble. If 61 million SSRI prescriptions are being issued in the UK per year (yes, 61 million prescriptions, folks), then information about coming off them needs to be 100% crystal clear. No one wants to be on antidepressants forever (indeed, the weight gain I experienced, a result of Citalopram’s effect of lowering metabolism whilst increasing appetite, is both serious and common, and reason alone to stop taking the pills) and so I write all of this in the hope that perhaps it will contribute to clarity.*
Thanks to the Society of Authors for funding a research trip to Crete!
I said 2016 was on the whole an excellent year, and I mean that, because despite the slow torture of Citalopram withdrawal I had some amazing moments. I travelled a lot – Bordeaux, Crete, London several times, Belfast, Venice, and New York – and won a major literary award from New Writing North, with a compliment from the judges that made me well up. I completed my residency at the Northern Poetry Library, and my Josephine Butler poetry was exhibited at the Woodhorn Museum, Northumberland and Palace Green Library, Durham.
Venice was amazing – but cold…
I didn’t write as much poetry as I’d have liked, but what piddling amount I did write managed to find a home in some great publications, including The Compass Magazine, Butcher’s Dog, and The Poetry Review. I put a lot of time into writing a major grant application for a 2-year research project that looks closer at creative writing interventions for mental health (departing from my existing project, funded by the British Academy) – I’ll find out the outcome in Sept 2017 (fingers crossed). I also slogged at the Writing Motherhood anthology, which looks utterly fantastic and is due out in March 2017.
But above all of these was the email that hit my inbox in late September. It was from my lovely agent Alice Lutyens, saying I’d had an offer from a top London publisher for my new novel, and would I like to accept?
my publisher’s offices – very swish!
As the press release here indicates, HarperCollins is publishing the novel next June, and I’ll be publishing under a cunning pseudonym, to mark a slightly new direction in my work.
my fab editor Kimberley Young and I at the Ivy in London for the HarperCollins Christmas party. I got to meet Barbara Taylor Bradford!
If that wasn’t exciting enough, my agent also sold the book to publishers in France, Germany, and the Netherlands and the US, my German publisher is making the book one of their lead titles, AND – drum roll, please – the TV rights have been sold. I’ll give more detail on that in a little while, but I had a brilliant meeting with the TV production company at the end of November and am excited for what’s in store there.
Finally, I’ll leave you with my very best wishes for 2017, and with the cover of the Estonian translation of my first novel, The Guardian Angel’s Journal, which today is published in its 23rd language.
*I’m not advocating that anyone avoids taking medication when it is prescribed. Just so we’re super clear. If you’ve had a similar issue with antidepressants and want to contact me, drop me a line at [email protected].
**you can pre-order the book here.