I’m Sick Of Accepting What I Cannot Change

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It’s 7am on a Sunday and really I should be asleep, but I have been wide awake for a while now; my mind whirring and busy as it has been all week. I’ve found myself wondering and questioning things a lot recently, mainly things that just don’t seem to sit well with me. Now, I’m sure I don’t have some sort of heightened awareness of things around me; I just seem to have developed some kind of acceptance fatigue! One of the things you get taught in various types of therapy is the need to accept what you cannot change. This is all well and good but what do you do if accepting everything starts to wear thin?

Peace is accepting today, releasing yesterday, and giving up the need to control tomorrow- Lori Deschene (Tiny Buddha)

A quick look on Pinterest reveals that the key to acceptance is acknowledging and letting go of ‘yesterday’, being content with the current and not trying to control the future. It’s a fairly simple recipe that would arguably lead to some higher plane of life satisfaction. The trouble is, as much as I would love to do what I can to feel all happy and zen inside… the reality is really hard. It’s a bit like the mindfulness exercise where you allow everything to float down the river, letting it go in the process. Whilst it’s fab in the moment, mindfulness doesn’t prevent all of the crap you have to keep dumping in the river!! And if you end up in there yourself, whilst it would be great to think ‘I’d just go with it, accepting that I’m coming up to the waterfall rapidly and could well be about to meet oblivion’; you’re probably more likely to be feeling a little dissatisfied that you’re in the river in the first place!

But, is there an answer? Do you continue along begrudgingly accepting whatever is thrown your way, or do you fight it? To me, both options sound a little exhausting and it feels like there are situations where both, either or neither would be most appropriate. I found a blog by Kirra Sherman that thinks about acceptance in a different way. Rather than acceptance being a route to feeling at odds with your ‘true self’, she describes true acceptance as embracing how you feel about whatever it is that you are trying to accept, instead of just trying to be at peace with it in your head. As Kirra says, some things are too big and horrible to ‘just’ accept, but realising that can be what you need to get to a place where you can begin to let go and move on from them.

Mindfulness teaches us to be aware of the thought or feeling, acknowledge it and let it go. Whilst this can be helpful, it feels like there is a stage missing where you really consider what the feeling or thought is. Mindfulness ‘tells’ us not to engage with whatever we are feeling; but when that’s too hard, embracing that we are feeling that way and for now that’s completely ok is perhaps a better course of action. In a way, you can shelve whatever is going on and come back to it when you’re feeling resilient enough to tackle it more, rather than trying to just let it go if that’s not something that feels possible right now. Being honest with yourself and facing that you’re responding in a way that’s probably grounded in your morals, experiences and the person you are, could be more empowering than trying to accept everything that’s going on around you.

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A Message From Your Chronically Ill Friend

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I’m the friend who has to cancel at the last minute, the friend who’s always ill and often not very specific about the exact reason I’ve had to cancel… so I thought I ought to provide a bit of an explanation! 

22251271_10155262155554531_1328950934_oWe’re due to be meeting up, I’m excited, we’ve made plans… it’s going to be awesome. But at the last moment, probably become quite predictably, I’ve sent you a message to cancel… again! It’s not ok, I should have given you more notice or not even made plans if I wasn’t going to be able to keep them. The truth is, I was ready to go. I’d showered and dried and straightened my hair; spent ages picking out something to wear, got excited about seeing you but then my insides rebelled and I was suddenly too sick to come and see you. I’ve ended up spending the rest of the morning sat on the bathroom floor being sick/trying not to be sick. It’s nothing you’ve done wrong. My body just has the most awful timing.

It’s now 3:45am and I’m wide awake. It seemed like the perfect time to write about chronic illness, when it was once again impacting on my sleep. My physical health has been really kicking my butt recently. But it’s hard, when it’s been flaring up for a while, because I worry that people will get sick of hearing that I’m sick. I’m equally sick of FEELING sick too! But unfortunately it’s what’s happening right now and I have had to adapt my life to fit around my broken body until it’s feeling a little better. Being chronically ill isn’t what it looks like in films; people aren’t able to drop everything to come and look after you and the reality is that my Mumma is over 200 miles away… so when I threw up all over my own socks at the weekend, all I could do was cry a little and man up to clean everything up whilst all I wanted to do was curl up on the sofa with a sick bowl and Mum hugs.

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Despite being poorly, I have a job! Working from home is a godsend at the moment and I would have probably needed to take sick leave if I didn’t. Again, despite the common misconception that working from home means you lounge around in bed watching tv all day; I’ve still got to go to meetings, meet deadlines and manage my wonderful team of four. It’s been flexible so I can work my hours around when I’ve got the most energy or feel the least poorly, but it’s still really hard. I have to put on a brave face and nap in my break or collapse at the end of the day needing to go to bed at 6pm… only to wake at about 2am everyday when the pain and antiemetic meds wear off, until the next dose kicks in and I can get a couple more hours sleep before I need to get up for work again. It’s exhausting and sometimes work is pretty much all I have the energy for. Plus, my week is full of regular medical appointments which can increase when I’m not very well.

Thankfully, it’s not all bad. There are days when I don’t feel so poorly and times when I am not having a flare up, that I can be a relatively normal human… even if I do have the hobbies of a 90 year old. I’m used to being poorly now and am good at adapting and listening to my body (occasionally). I have a brilliant supportive army of friends, professionals and cats of course. And life is always good when you’re under a pile of blankets, with a cat and surrounded by wool or paint.

Things I’d love to be able to tell people when I’m struggling with my chronic illness:22217831_10155262157739531_533723081_o

  1. I’m not unreliable, my health is. Yes, this can mean that I AM unreliable, but I feel as awful about it as you feel frustrated with me. I am beating myself up about it already and have been worrying about having to cancel and hoping it doesn’t mean you hate me!
  2. I really wouldn’t cancel unless I had to and it’s probably better than me throwing up on you or having to spend the whole time leaving you to run to the bathroom or being unable to do anything because I feel so unwell.
  3. Please don’t stop inviting me, I feel so lonely with my chronic illness a lot of the time. Even though I often won’t be able to come or commit to seeing you. When I do see you, it means the world to me and I have the best time ever!
  4. I still really love you! Having to cancel plans is no reflection of how much I care about you. It’s really easy for friends to drift away from me because of how pants I am, but it’s really isolating and I miss you.
  5. Please be patient with me! 
  6. I want to be normal. I would give anything to not have to have the problems I am struggling with. It massively sucks for me as well as those around me. I would definitely prefer to be spending time with the people I love than having to be at appointments, being poorly or even in hospital (as happened recently).
  7. My health is unpredictable. So I may have to cancel on you one day, but feel a little better the next and be able to see someone. I have to take opportunities when they arise, it doesn’t mean I like someone better than you, often it’s just that there’s been a little respite from being ill so I have taken the opportunity to try and have a life!
  8. Social media doesn’t always reflect how I am! Sometimes my social media can show me having a relatively normal and fun life, I don’t often post about being poorly because I don’t want to bore people or seem like I’m fishing for sympathy. I’m not the type of person who’s likely to post ‘hospital selfies’ as I often feel ashamed of being ill or embarrassed. On days where I spend 50% of the time hanging out in the bathroom or curled up sleeping, I’m unlikely to post pictures or let everyone know (unless you’re my Mum, then you tend to get a play-by-play account of my misery and sadness 😉 ). I also don’t always post pictures on the day I take them, I might be reflecting on something nice that has happened recently but not necessarily post day-to-day pictures… or I just post pictures of cats, crochet and art journalling.
  9. I’m sorry if I don’t reply! I’m a bit useless at replying to messages on a good day, but on a bad day, it can be impossible. I appreciate people contacting me and it brightens my day so much, but sometimes I’m just focusing on not throwing up on myself… so I might be a little delayed in replying to you!
  10. My illness is pretty invisible! Sometimes I might look fine, but inside I’m really feeling unwell or my mental health is difficult. Please don’t judge me by my outside appearance. Plus… makeup is a mighty fine cover up!!
  11. Let’s alter our plans so we can still meet up! Sometimes, I might still be able to see you if we can change our plans. Coming over to mine is often much easier for me. It means I don’t have to worry about driving and if I suddenly feel unwell, I’m in my own home and it’s easier to manage compared to being out and about. If I’m not well, a crochet and coffee date can be a lot easier than meeting somewhere or walking for a long time. I get really fatigued when I’m poorly and sometimes I can manage going out for the day, but it wipes me out for a few days afterwards. So, talk to me and see if we can arrange something smaller and easier, so I can still have hugs and company!

It’s now 4.45am. I’m still fairly awake, but my insides are starting to settle a little. I’m fairly sure my bloodstream must be about 50% antiemetics by now. Hopefully I’ll get another hour or so asleep before I start it all again tomorrow. It’s hard being ill. I’m sorry for being unreliable. I’m sorry I’m not better by now too. I’m sorry I don’t look ill enough… but most of all, I’m sorry I have to be sorry all of the time. I’ve not asked for this and I would give it away in a heartbeat. I’m not asking for pity or sympathy. I just hope reading this helps with some understanding that I’m being crap for a reason, and I am trying my hardest not to be.

Shoutout to all my badass chronically sick friends, especially my Mumma, who’s the baddest badass of them all.

 

A Message of Hope In Difficult Times

Just over a week ago, the world felt like a different place. Things felt a little less sad and scary than they do today. We are in the aftermath of great tragedies both close to home, Nationally and Internationally; and surrounded by the uncertainty of an election where it feels as though many people are feeling alienated by the politicians who are meant to represent them. Looking at the world feels terrifying, there is so much hatred and suffering right now and we seem to be in the midst of so much change, that it feels really unstable and messy. People around me are hurting and struggling and it’s hard to always find the positivity and hope to get through the tricky bits to a new day. What is the use in powering through if it’s going to just feel the same? In the depths of my struggles and battles with mental illness, I have felt really hopeless at times; I’ve had times where I’ve not been able to imagine a life without my demons and it’s felt awful, to say the least. But, despite the hard times, there were always little glimpses of hope. I think Dumbledore said it best:

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In times of difficulty, it’s so important to take stock of everything around you that is good. Look out for the tiny positives, wherever you can find them because the little things can build up and grow to a much larger amount of hope and goodness. Once you start recognising the good around you, your mindset can be shifted and things can feel a little easier and more positive. When I was in inpatient treatment, we completed a task of noticing positives or negatives during the same day and reporting back to the group. We found that it was much easier for people to find negative things about their day as opposed to those who were looking for positives, however those who were trying to purposefully find something good in their day generally had a better day and noticed the little things that were good. People who were looking for negatives tended to slip into a spiral of catastrophizing everything that was happening around them and assumed their day was going to be bad anyway. Despite it just being a short and non-scientific experiment, it was impressive to see there was a difference between the two groups. Now, the effects of positivity and gratitude are

Now, the effects of positivity and gratitude are widely discussed, with examples of improvement health, happiness and wellbeing demonstrated.  Whilst looking for a little positivity or gratitude, or even trying to create a little for ourselves each day won’t fix the world around us or protect us from some of the horrible, unfair and upsetting things that life can throw our way; it can help to create the resilience and strength we need to find a way through the dark times and back into the light. These good bits of life are like the little glints of sunshine getting through, add them all up and you might find your days get a little brighter and you feel a little stronger.

We are in difficult times at the moment and it is so important to seek support from those around you or professionals if you are struggling. You deserve happiness and healthiness and you deserve whatever support you need to get to that place. Stay strong everyone.

40 Things To do When You Feel Dark And Twisty

So you’re in the dark place, but what can you do to pass the time while you’re there and ultimately help you to get out of it and back to an adequate level of humaning? I’ve come up with my go-to list of dark and twisty activities, that can be used at varying levels of commitment, motivation, energy and willingness to participate in any form of life. 

The feeling of ‘dark and twistiness’ was brought to us by the incredible Shonda Rhimes, the amazing creator of Grey’s Anatomy, who has also been described as a ‘life ruiner’ for her heartbreakingly wonderful yet emotionally wrecking writing. I’m a bit obsessed with Grey’s Anatomy, partly because I generally love most medical dramas, but also because the lead character Meredith Grey seems to channel a lot of the inner turmoil and deal with a whole lot of life shit that connects with me on a spiritual level.

The idea of dark and twistiness came to the world from Grey’s and explained the type of person in life who is generally dark and pessimistic but also has the ability to perceive a situation to be the worst it possibly can be. The reason for becoming ‘dark and twisted’ is having lived through difficult times that have in fact prepared you for the world, rather than being someone who is bubbly and positive and therefore clearly doomed to hit unhappiness and reality out of the blue. Ok, it may seem like it’s negative to be ‘dark and twisty’ but I see it as quite the opposite, it’s a kind of understanding that life is shit but actually you can be ok with that and sometimes allowing yourself to be in the ‘dark and twisty’ place means you can hit those feelings head on and deal the crap out of them!

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So, often it seems, I reach my dark and twisty max level and want to grab Stitch and spoon under my duvet until the end of time. Whilst this is a totally good use of time to just sit with the feelings, it can also be less than ideal when you are required to be an actual human. It’s important to remember that it really is ok to have real dark and twisty moments, real life is full of difficult times and the key is to be able to get through them rather than pretend they’re not real or try to do everything you can to never have them.

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So you’re in the dark place, but what can you do to pass the time while you’re there and ultimately help you to get out of it and back to an adequate level of humaning? I’ve come up with my go-to list of dark and twisty activities, that can be used at varying levels of commitment, motivation, energy and willingness to participate in any form of life.

  1. Open the curtains– if you can’t go out, let some of the world in. Sunshine can help you feel a little more like you can do some of life and if the weather is miserable it can help give you a good reason to hibernate and focus on self-care for the day. Open them a little way if you can’t face the whole word at once. Sitting in the dark isn’t good for your mood, let in some light and see if it helps you feel a little better.
  2. Call in sick– just because the feeling is in your head, it doesn’t mean it’s not an acceptable reason to take some time off to feel better. Sometimes it’s better to give in and accept you’re feeling dark and twisty than keep pushing through until you crash. If you had flu, you would take time to recover and mental health shouldn’t be different just because you can’t see it… well I mean if you’re only able to lie like a starfish on your bed, it’s pretty obvious you’re not doing all that great!
  3. Lie like a starfish on your bed– for me, starfishing is very therapeutic. Sometimes I will set an alarm and allow myself a period of time to just feel sad, angry, frustrated… whatever it is and take up the position of starfish face down on my bed while I feel those feelings. It doesn’t have to be done in starfish form, but giving yourself a set time to be sad can be so helpful as you give yourself permission to do it, let it out, and then in some mental way can often move on from that feeling and allow yourself the brain space to do something else.
  4. Find a new project or learn something– I’ve recently taken up crocScreen Shot 2017-02-14 at 19.01.11.pnghet. Being a massive perfectionist, I tend to hate the beginning of new hobby as I dislike being ‘rubbish’ at something intensely. Thankfully a patient friend persisted with me and taught me the basics of crochet… I’m now officially hooked! The benefit of crochet is I can do it when I am lacking in brain power. It doesn’t matter if I’m not feeling great, I can get a really satisfying feeling of making progress with a project, as well as it being fantastic as a distraction from the way I’m feeling.
  5. Watch a whole lot of Netflix-of course, other streaming platforms are available! Netflix is full of all sorts of films and tv shows etc; that can be a real escape from a difficult mood or stressful feelings or emotions. Netflix can make it easy by playing the next episode automatically for you to save brain power!
  6. Spend time on Pinterest– Pinterest can be really useful if you’re struggling. It’s full of positive inspiration, interesting ideas and tutorials and general distraction. I have created different boards to suit different purposes and emotions. Pinterest is one of my go-to distractions.
  7. Turn off your phone– when the world is overwhelming, the constant ‘on call’ nature of modern technology can be exhausting. Whilst it can be great to be available, the presence of read receipts and notifications that you’re online can mean you don’t get a break from people. If you’re feeling a little peopled out, take some time with your phone turned off, or at least in another room. It can be really freeing to not feel the need to check it all the time.
  8. Avoid social media– similarly, it can be really soothing to have a social media free day. Social media is an amazing way to connect with people, but it can also be a real stress if you’re not feeling great. Feeling the need to keep up with everyone else’s perfect lives is not only exhausting, but it’s not necessarily real! People often present their lives on social media as ‘instagram perfect’ when they may not really be as happy and perfect as they seem. Taking a social media break can help you focus on you and also help you stop comparing yourself to other people.
  9. Keep hydrated– dehydration can have an impact on mental health as well as physical health; such as causing anxiety, difficulties in focus and concentration and generally cause lethargy which can lower your mood. Keeping hydrated can help you feel a little more energetic and if nothing else, may stop you feeling worse!
  10. Morning pages-a fantastic ED nurse Screen Shot 2017-03-27 at 10.30.51.pngintroduce myself and a friend to
    morning pages. I’d never heard of them before, but now I’m an avid morning page convert! It’s a really simple process. All you need is a blank notebook or sketchbook and some pens or pencils. The idea is to write or draw whatever is in your head first thing in the morning before you do anything else. The benefit of getting ‘out’ what’s in your head, is it can help you to realise what you’re thinking and act as a healthy way to let out difficult emotions etc. Morning pages can be a really good addition to your routine or something you use when you’re feeling dark and twisty. The key is to not look back over the pages. Once the thought it out, it doesn’t need to be revisited as this can cause you to feel the same emotion again if you’re reminded of it.
  11. Blog or journal-another way to try and get out difficult feelings is to write in a journal or write a blog post. There are lots of journalling prompts on Pinterest and other sites, or you could free write to get whatever you’re struggling with ‘out’ on paper.
  12. Crafting– one of my favourite self-care acScreen Shot 2017-03-27 at 11.00.57.pngtivities is craft. Whether it’s
    drawing, painting, sewing, crocheting or anything that allows me a little bit of downtime, craft is so essential to maintaining good mental health. Craft can be something that’s really personal to you. You don’t need to show anyone or need it to be perfect. It can just fulfill a purpose; whether it’s as a distraction, as something you enjoy or as an outlet for the way you’re feeling.
  13. Sleep or rest– sometimes, all you can do is rest and build up your strength to fight on another day. It’s important to keep an eye on your sleeping patterns, in case you are using sleep as a way of avoiding rather than in a more positive way. Listen to your body, it’s so wise and will let you know if you need to have some rest. When you’re struggling with your mental health, you will probably feel it physically too. Listen to what you’re body tells you it needs and think about resting as a bit of self-care.
  14. Try and read something– even if you lack concentration and can only read a page (or the same page about a million times), a little escape into a book can be a way to help lift your mood or distract you from the way you are feeling. Children’s books, poetry or your favourite classics can be easier if you’re lacking concentration and still feel like an achievement when you complete them.
  15. Surround yourself with comfy blankets/cushions/snuggly things– self soothing is a key part of distress tolerance techniques. Finding things that help you to feel safe, calm and comfortable; can really help you to feel a little better or more grounded. Experiment and find the things that help the most.
  16. Put up some happy pictures on the wall– again, pictures can really promote wellbeing and remind you of the reasons you’re getting through the hard days. Photos are also a brilliant way to feel closer to people who you’re away from, such as family and friends.
  17. Get out feelings with paint– recently my life has been all about art journalling! Art journalling is a great way to express yourself, get out difficult feelings or emotions, motivate or inspire yourself… and all the while be really creative and experimental.
  18. Throw something at the wall (ping pong balls are good)– sometimes you just need to get an emotion out quickly. Often this can lead to unhelpful or harming behaviours. But a similar effect can be gained from doing something that can feel destructive but is essentially a safe activity! For example throwing a ball at a wall, shredding newspaper or screaming into a pillow.
  19. Have a mega clear out– spring cleaning and getting rid of clutter can feel really productive and help you feel like you are doing something beneficial. Getting rid of things you don’t want or need anymore can help the space around feel more calm and help centre or ground you a little.
  20. Reorganise your room– creating a nice clear space to think in can be so helpful if you’re not feeling great, once you’ve got rid of any excess clutter, perhaps have a move around and try and find a little Hygge or Feng Sui.
  21. Go back to the films and TV that give you most comfort– most people have a film or tv program that makes you feel happier; whether it’s a classic from your childhood or a series you’ve seen so many times, you know all of the words. Revisiting something that reminds you of good times, helps you to feel calmer and more content, or acts as a bit of background noise to keep out the dark and twisty thoughts can be really helpful.
  22. Listen to music– music that reflects how you’re feeling or tries to get you into a different mind frame is another way to either get the dark and twisties out, or help you feel a little better. Creating a playlist of songs for different moods can be a great bit of distress tolerance distraction and once you have them, they can be really accessible when you need a bit of a musical interlude. Explore other people’s playlist for different moods if you want to see what other people have found helpful, that might suit you too.
  23. Eat what you fancy– sometimes a little comfort food is just what you need to nurture yourself when you’re not feeling great. Tasty food that you really fancy can be really helpful for your wellbeing and giving in to a craving can feel like a real treat.
  24. Take vitamins– when you’re not feeling great, a boost of vitamins can help you feel less run down and stave off any illness when your immunity might be low. Vitamin deficiencies can cause mental health issues or exacerbate them and poor mental health can similarly cause deficiencies. The likelihood is that difficult patches with your mental health could leave your body needing a bit of help, so taking vitamins could help shorten the difficult patches or even prevent them in the first place.
  25. Spend time with your pets or with animals– Animals can be really soothing and the links between animals and improved mental health and wellbeing are widely discussed.  It can be helpful to observe that animals live in the moment, they don’t worry about yesterday or tomorrow, they are content with the here and now, perhaps showing us a different way of being. Pets can reduce stress and anxiety as well as be a comfort on a difficult day. They can be a real motivation to get up and look after them and them are good reminders of the simple things that are required in life such as food and water.
  26. Have a shower and get dressed– when you’re struggling to find motivation, self-care can fall by the wayside. Sometimes having a nice relaxing shower or bath can be another way to soothe your dark and twistiness.
  27. Take a trip in your mind– your imagination is a really powerful thing. When your head is in a difficult or negative place, doing a little mindfulness or using your brain in a more creative way can be really helpful. Take a trip in your mind to a place that feels safe or special to you, or even choose somewhere you would like to go to. Remember or imagine as much as you can using all of your senses. The more detailed the image, the more distracted or calm you could feel.
  28. Spend some time in nature– finding a way to connect with nature around you can help you find some stillness and beauty within a difficult day. Find spaces of natural beauty around you and enjoy the smells, sight and feel of the nature around you. Screen Shot 2017-04-02 at 11.18.37
  29. Look for inspirational quotes, literature or poetry– looking for some inspiration from others can help you feel more positive or help you find some motivation. Collect positive quotes etc in a journal or on your phone so you can refer back to them at times of need.
  30. Do some yoga– the process of learning and practicing yoga has lots of benefits for mental and physical wellbeing. The idea is to do what you can and not push yourself past your limit. A big part of yoga is focusing on breathing, which can really help if you are feeling anxious.
  31. Take a gentle walk– A nice calm walk to see something nice, visiting someone you care for or doing something like feeding the ducks can give you some respite from the difficulties you’re facing. Take a friend or go alone with your camera and make sure you notice the little things as you go along.
  32. Have long gaming sessions– whether you’re a seasoned gamer or have a copy of the Sims from when you were a teenager; gaming sessions can act as a real escape from difficult times. Getting stuck into building the best Sims palace you can, you might find you get sucked into playing which gives you a break from your head.
  33. Treat yourself– a little treat can help to pick up your mood, or act as a tool to manage your struggles.
  34. Allow yourself to not be human for a while without feeling guilty about it– it’s ok to not feel ok. Some days are a real challenge and can feel impossible to get through. It can be helpful to allow you to feel the way you feel without trying to fight it. Curling up on the sofa for the day and watching reruns of your favourite tv is often as good as a proper break. You don’t have to feel guilty about it, if you had flu you would take a day off work. Mental health struggles are still illnesses, just invisible ones.
  35. Reach out to friends who can support you- friends can be a really useful support network who can provide company, advice, distraction and understanding. It can be hard to explain the way you’re feeling to friends. But once they know what you’re going through, they are a great source of love and hugs which can help you feel better.
  36. Get some fresh air– even if it’s just sitting in the garden doing nothing, fresh air and a little change of scenery can help you feel a little better than staying cooped up at home.
  37. Make something with your hands to get out of your head– like baking, knitting or colouring. Keeping yourself busy can give your head a different focus. It can be really distracting to learn something new to keep you head extra occupied.Screen Shot 2017-04-02 at 12.37.25
  38. Eat something really nourishing and tasty– A simple recipe with some mundane chopping will give you a good meal and help you feel like you’ve done something for yourself.
  39. Invite over some company– sometimes being alone when you’re not feeling great is not the most helpful thing to do. Time alone can be good, but isolating yourself can make ruminating on the thoughts and way you are feeling worse. Finding friends who understand what’s going on for you can be really helpful, but sometimes just having someone with you as a distraction is enough.
  40. Ask for some more support– it’s ok to not feel ok. Sometimes you need a helping hand from someone who cares about you and can support you. Support can come from friends or family members, but sometimes you need a little more than friendly people around you. Your GP can be a good start to getting more help, they can prescribe medication or refer you to secondary mental health professionals. Sometimes it can be hard to communicate the way you’re feeling, writing it down or using a different medium such as art can help you to explain.

 

The irony is, this blog took me a number of weeks to complete because of my own dark and twistiness. My way of managing it was to think of some of the ideas within this blog as well as reaching out to those around me to help. The feeling of overcoming a patch of greyness is amazing. It’s hard to imagine getting through it, but when life begins to brighten around you, you may not even remember the depths of where you have climbed from. 

Lists Against Fears

THE NEW YOU.jpgWhen you’ve been in some sort of treatment for a mental health condition for a number of years; it can be rare to be presented with a new idea that you’ve not seen before. This isn’t to sound arrogant as if I’ve had all of the treatment there ever was… not at all. But rather, there are some similar ideas and techniques that come up more often than not. Whilst a lot of these traditional, go-to ideas are great, it can feel a bit hopeless if you’re just being given the same old. I’ve always had a belief that if what you’re doing isn’t working or really helping, then you need to keep trying until you find something that works! Sometimes it feels this is a real weakness of community mental health support. There’s a limited scope for overstretched teams to provide care that’s tailored to the individual and it can feel like professionals try and shoe-horn you into their own method of working… and discharge people who don’t progress within the parameters of what’s available.

Recently, I worked with a locum practitioner who gave me some new ideas, things I’d never tried before. I was a bit dubious about some of them, as they were out of the normal CBT based ideas I’d been given in outpatient treatment. The number of times I’ve had to write a food diary, compare it to my meal plan, write down my thoughts and then counter them with alternative thoughts; is probably too many to recall now! For so long, that has been the treatment. There’s been very little creativity. I’m not criticising the professionals I’ve worked with… totally… but I am saying there could be a little more variety in the kind of work offered to outpatients regardless of the understandably challenging lack of resources. So, back to my locum practitioner. One day we were talking about the importance of having my weight monitored. It’s something I’ve always hated and battled against. Partly due to OCD rituals surrounding getting a perfectly accurate comparative weight (yes… something I know isn’t really a real thing but that’s not the focus here haha). So being a regular argument had with the team, we began for a moment to have the standard backward and forward about being weighed. I was told why I needed it done and promptly replied with all of the counter arguments I could. It wasn’t really going anywhere and it was reminiscent of conversations already had.

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So she stopped us and pulled out a piece of paper, telling me we were going to think of a different way of tackling this. I was anxious and stressed and not very receptive to a new idea. She told me that we were going to write a list of thirty reasons why it was good to be weighed by someone from the team. We titled it in a positive way, not limiting ourselves to it being ‘ok’ to be weighed but going fully for it and using ‘good’ and specifying it would be done by the team. Already my brain was feeling a little frustrated that loopholes were being firmly avoided! It was a challenge, I definitely protested that there was no way I could think of one reason let alone thirty. But gradually with a little persuasion, the list began to take shape… the options could be sensible, off the wall or completely ridiculous. Here are a few we came up with:

  • People will stop nagging me to get weighed
  • Meg and Bert (my labradors) get weighed at the vets and enjoy it, so I can too
  • I can smash my scales into a million pieces because I don’t need them now
  • It’s just measuring my relationship with gravity
  • Good to give my scales a break/holiday/weekend break
  • Maybe I’ll enjoy it

And so on…

The list turned out to be a powerful tool. By the end of thirty reasons, I had been through fits of laughter, completely relaxed and actually if I had been weighed straight away… I probably would have been fairly relaxed about the whole situation. By finding thirty reasons that it was good for it to happen, I had a whole list of evidence to counter the negative thought processes that were going on in my head. I had a list of reasons that were quite motivating and I had something that could make me laugh and remind me that perhaps the whole process wasn’t too scary after all. I’ve realised that writing a list to counter my fears can be used in any situation that I’m worrying about or anything I’m struggling to be able to do. And the best thing… if at thirty you still feel anxious, you can always write thirty more.

I’m Not My Illness

1915591_10153469695764531_6650731733394304643_nI was recently tagged on Instagram to post twenty facts about me that highlight me as a whole holistic being rather than just a mental illness. It really struck me as something important that perhaps we could all benefit from. Day to day, we all fit in with the lives we ought to be leading… the roles we have; which isn’t a bad thing of course! But how often do we stop and take stock of the whole person we are and really give ourselves a bit of a pat on the back for some of our achievements.

Mental illness can shut you off within a bubble of appointments, working to recover, speaking to others who are unwell or even just fulfilling a role of a sick person or a recovering person. No wonder it’s a bit exhausting. Then there comes pressure from the outside world to be a good student, daughter, sister, work colleague, partner or any of the other roles we have! There’s certainly nothing wrong with working hard to be the best person we can in all aspects of our lives, but it’s ok to not be perfect at everything. If you try and keep all the different plates spinning at one time, you can just end up losing the lot… or even yourself along the way. I guess it goes back to the good enough principle that I often harp on about… but anyway, I seem to have gone on a bit of a tangent.

I am in recovery from a mental illness (which I still have), work in a mental health setting, blog about my mental health, have friends with mental health problems who I support… but I am more than an illness or a supporter of others with mental illness… and here are twenty interesting facts about me. I found it really helpful to write these. It made me smile at points, feel grateful at others and above all feel a little proud even though it makes me squirm a little to say that. I really encourage you to have a go… even just to think of five things about you that are not related to your illness. It really is a helpful exercise.

  1. I grew up in Suffolk, in the middle of nowhere. In one house we lived in, you could see the sea from my bedroom window.
  2. I have a younger sister who means the absolute world to me and I don’t tell her that enough.
  3. I always dreamed I would be a vet; I worked in a Vet practice for years and spent almost a year working as a receptionist during my gap year which I loved so much. I learnt that it’s ok to not reach the place you (and others) always expected to and that actually you can find an even better alternative that you never knew you would love more, if you can let go of what you can’t reach and change your path.
  4. I was scratched by a monkey when I was little in a zoo in Holland (sadly no gruesome scar) and I was bitten (or is it pecked?!) by a when I was a bit older… yet I still love animals!
  5. The first time I ever went on a plane was to fly to Borneo with a group of relative strangers as part of a Blue Cross Fundraising trip (13 hour flight!). I trekked through the jungle and spent some time with an NGO working to rebuild forest areas for Orangutans; I got to see a mum with her baby in the wild. It was the most amazing experience of my life!
  6. Not one to take things by halves… I also chose to complete my first proper sailing trip (after being on a yacht for an afternoon) by taking part on a leg of the tall ships race. We wanted to win the best entrance into Kristiansand at the end, so tied our underwear to the rigging and did the Macarena… it definitely turned heads.
  7. On the same trip a couple of us were invited to the United Arab Emirates Navy’s afterparty… some of the officers were challenging people to blow on a conch shell and I was the only one to do it… we were then invited back to their cabins for drinks but I politely declined!
  8. My Dad’s side of the family were a circus family… thankfully my Grandad was the last family member to actually be involved but it’s exciting to be from a family of performers!
  9. In face my Great Aunt Flo was a Hollywood wardrobe mistress in 50’s-60’s who worked with stars like Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren and Marlon Brando.
  10. Perhaps that’s why I wanted to be an actress when I was little. Although the furthest I got was village panto (I know all the panto versions of classic Christmas songs!), local drama competitions and school plays!
  11. I have had classical singing training, I’m a top A Soprano… and currently sing with the Church choir where I lower the average age by about 30 years!
  12. It’s a bit of a fluke that I got my job as a Media Worker for a non-profit. I can thank a wonderful friend who believed in me and a company who gave me a chance to prove my worth! I absolutely love it and am so glad to actually be a paid writer!
  13. I have 13 piercings and 3 tattoos… thinking of the next one(s) to get
  14. I have been successfully living without an appendix for the last couple of years
  15. I can horse ride and enjoy jumping. I did once break my coccyx falling off a friends horse but am proud to say I got up off the ground and back in the saddle with my broken arse!
  16. I have a blue Burmese called Stitch, who I had reared as a sickly kitten… which perhaps explains his love of cuddles and slightly needy personality. I wouldn’t change him for the world!
  17. I have a bright orange Vespa that I rode for years before I passed my driving test
  18. I am in to my 5th year (second choice of degree) of being at Uni and hope to finally get my undergrad this year!!
  19. I once asked a famous footballer to spell his name as I had asked him to repeat it twice, still not heard it and assumed he was just being rude/awkward
  20. And I’ve had lots of interesting jobs… I was a waitress, leisure professional at a hotel health club, volunteer at a livery yard/cattery, training sessional and copy editor for a national charity and am now loving being a Media Worker for a mental health non profit!

If you got to the end of that list… you’re a hero! Why not try your own?

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Panic Can Be Silent

Today I panicked. It had been building up I think, ethics deadline, work, uni work… I’m on top of it but it’s scary and there’s a lot of it. There were definite vulnerability factors… My asthma had been a bit bad yesterday and I had an awareness I might be getting ill, I was tired, it was raining so I drove and I was worried about parking anyway. I got to uni… With my carefully planned schedule and there were no spaces. Of course… Circling around… Still no spaces. By this time my plan was falling apart and I wasn’t going to get to my lecture in time and I most certainly couldn’t walk in late.

So I panicked, the term so far at uni getting on top of me a little, the car park wasn’t really the issue but it was the catalyst. I don’t really panic visibly… You might not realise if you looked at me. My panic exists as a frozen feeling inside. Like the moment someone tells you bad news and all the blood drains from your body and you can’t move or really breath or do anything. Like when you miss a step on the stairs but lasting for minutes on end. Every horrible scenario rushing through my mind and feeling almost a little detached from myself, like I’ve curled up within myself and I can kind of feel what’s going on but in a detached almost drunk way. I’m there and it’s horrible but I can’t really tell anyone. I want to curl up and close my eyes and for it all to be over. I’m filled with ultimate doom, everything bad has and is and will happen and I’m frozen with fear that I can’t fix it. I had to go home, I couldn’t find an alternative, there was no answer. I was done.

It’s frustrating, I could have found somewhere else to park and turned up a little late, but in my mind that was rude and unacceptable and it was safer to just not go at all. I felt like an idiot, an hour or so later and I was fine and kicking myself for my unnecessary reaction. It’s hard when you have a moment where anxiety takes over. But I guess rather than beating myself up about it, I thought that actually I’ve been doing really well, have been to all my other contact time and done all my work. Gosh I won’t be the first or the last to ever miss a lecture, I’m a conscientious student and I work hard and will catch up on the work. I also have been doing really well and I have an anxiety disorder so it’s understandable that it’s going to appear every now and again, nothing bad happened and I survived. It’s just a blip I can overcome. 

I hope sharing this helps someone else to realize their not alone and that this crazy head stuff happens to other people too!