depression · mood management · parenting · Self improvement

The constant noise of an anxious brain

pexels-photo-326586

I have lived with irrational thoughts my whole life.  A lot of people are able to look back on something they didn’t excel in and think “I know what to do next time.”  For me, weeks of over-analysing and sweating over the minutiae of every word and interaction will ensue: that nano-second of what I thought was a look (it was definitely a look that said they hated my entire being) or that moment of perceived awkwardness where in fact they may have paused to think, or to…you know…breathe.

I have a constant noise in my head that is so loud recently I can barely process anything.  What if I left the iron on? I should probably check again in case last time I wasn’t really looking, I was thinking I was looking.  And actually, maybe I thought about it so much that I actually turned the iron on because it was so prominent in my mind.  I need to see that the switch is off again and then this time it’ll be OK.

It’s crept up on me this time.

The first time I really struggled with anxiety was after my father became ill, 13 years ago.  Over time I learned to manage it quite well.  Since that day though, I have never turned my phone off.  Just in case.  You never know when someone might need to contact you to tell you something awful. It is imperative that I do not miss the opportunity to hear something awful.

Great logic, that.

Edifying.

I thought I had it under control.  It started off with low mood after my husband’s MS diagnosis, which frankly is quite understandable when you realise the person you love is fading away from you and there is absolutely fuck all you can do about it.  Did you know MS actually shrinks your brain?  Atrophy, they call it.  That made the list of “Top 10 joyous fucking facts I have learned about MS.”

It’s normal to be sad about that.  It would probably be messed up if I sailed along going “hey, so he has a shrinking brain, probable wheelchair and earlier death to look forward to – it’s all good.”  If I was unaffected by the deterioration of my spouse and the vicious curtailing of many of our hopes and dreams as a family, that might mean I was a little dead inside.

But the anxiety? I thought I had this one nailed.

I’ve done CBT – I’m a great advocate of it – but the noise in my head is so relentless this time that it seems almost impossible to slow my thinking enough for it to be any use at all.  I’ve started getting dizzy spells and palpitations and I know it’s sheer panic.  That fundamental, entrenched belief that I am not strong enough, good enough, capable enough to help him through this.

He needs a rock.  I am fucking sand.

Someone has again suggested medication.  I know this might help.  I know it might quieten the noise, the constant pounding, deafening noise of questions and fear and hopelessness.  But it won’t make it go away.  It’s like building a moat with a bucket and spade while the tide comes in.

I can’t help but think:  I am like this because of my psychology.  I was raised by two anxious people.  I have learned to be dysfunctional.  I have learned to constantly question myself. One of my parents wrote “Not Good Enough” in permanent marker on my forehead (probably more of a tattoo, actually).  It should follow that the way to tackle it, for me, is through psychology.

I don’t want you to think that this is a judgement of other people’s choice to take medication for anxiety and I fully appreciate that for some people this is the safest (or the only) way to get through.

For me, it is the acknowledgement that taking a pill won’t make that “Not Good Enough” label  go away.  But many, many hours of working with a therapist might fade it…even if you can still make out the scar if you squint a bit.

So instead:  I am doing yoga every day (except today because I pulled a calf muscle and the dizziness was bad and I figured I might pass out or die and my husband is away and there would be nobody here for the baby – which when I write this down is hilarious but is a genuine thought I had). I also went for a walk in the sun yesterday.  It helped a bit.

And I am writing it down.  Writing my ridiculous thoughts down really does help.  I saw earlier what I did with the iron and I’m going to go to bed tonight without checking it because I know for a fact that as I turned it off I disconnected it fully from the socket in case some electrodes jumped across the airspace.  So it’s fine.

I might check the door again.  But you know: baby steps…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

happiness · mood management · Self improvement · travel · wanderlust

Lessons from 2017

Explore Dream Discover

I’m not going to beat around the bush: I, along with many others, will be glad to wave goodbye to 2017.

The mood in the UK this year as we navigate Brexit, the horrific squeeze on the public purse and the dying, wheezing last breaths of the NHS as it’s taken apart by our government is sombre, to say the least.  Our emergency departments and mental health services are in crisis; 1 in 200 people in our country are now homeless; the numbers of children in care and on the child protection register are soaring.

It hasn’t felt a positive place to be.  I think many have felt a bit lost this year.

And for us: In 2017 my husband (who three years ago I was climbing mountains with) was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis.

We decided to move to where we now live to give our little girl opportunities to run free outdoors, to play in the waves and clamber across rocks.  We wanted to take it easy, go on long walks together and take in the natural beauty around us.

The reality is, we can’t do these things together in the way we envisioned.  My husband walks a few metres before his legs start to wobble.  A 200 metre walk to the seafront is enough for him to need to spend the afternoon in bed recuperating.  He falls over when he turns on the spot.  He can’t dance anymore.  He will never run on the beach with our little girl like we imagined he would.

But there are others facing far harsher and more difficult realities than us.

I bumped into someone recently who has a son the same age as my little girl.  She told me her husband is going to die from a rare form of cancer.  An entire life together has been taken away from her, yet her resolve and her strength and her hope for a future beyond this life astonished me.

Life is painful sometimes.  It really isn’t always kind.  It throws huge curveballs and the goalposts have to shift, or they’re blown entirely out of the water and we have to rethink it all and start again.

The main lesson for us this year was this:  there is not enough time.  Use it wisely.  Life is too short.

I blinked and I’m nearly 35 and have spent 12 years in a career I don’t enjoy.  I have never lived abroad, I never did learn to play the guitar and I still don’t speak Spanish.

What on earth is stopping me?  What is stopping you achieving what you want to do?

The photos I have of my husband and I travelling together, grinning at the camera on the side of a mountain take on a whole new meaning when I look at them now.

Life is too short not to be the person you were meant to be.  Book that trip.  Go to that class.  Call that friend you wanted to catch up with.  Drop that grudge.  It’ll be too late one day.

While I feel sad and I have been angry about what has happened to my family’s future and how much our lives have already changed – it could be worse.

For now, we’re all still here.  We need to make it count.

depression · happiness · Self improvement

Rising from the ashes: surviving work burnout.

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I’ve had a bit of time out from writing to re-group a little bit after a really tough few weeks.  My husband has been unwell; my daughter has had croup resulting in a lot of worry and sleepless nights.  I was simultaneously pounded with enormous volumes of work that spilled into my evenings, weekends and days off and led to me feeling in a constant state of stress and unable to switch off at night.

I realised how frequently I’ve felt that way over the years and again am brought back to – what am I doing in this job?

I’ve been working in a really emotionally demanding and tough profession for 12 years and it’s definitely taken its toll.  As someone who sometimes struggles with keeping my head above water, emotionally speaking, it was maybe a bit of an error to forge a career working with other people’s trauma and dysfunction!

Toker and Biron (2012) point to the clear link between depression and job burnout (which unsurprisingly, they add, is found to be ameliorated by physical activity – time to get out the yoga mat).

The two for me are inextricably linked.  My wellbeing is so hugely affected by my frustration with work and my frustration with work is exacerbated by feeling overwhelmed, sad and angry with life in general.

The Health and Safety executive website reports that 12.5 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2016/17.  In human health and social work services, 192,000 people are suffering from work-related illness each year.

That’s a lot of unhappiness in our society. ( I could use this as a platform to talk about the correlation between these statistics and our current Conservative government’s dismantling  of the afore-mentioned health and social work services but that’s a rant for another day…)

One of my best friends is a psychologist.  She’s spent about 10 years navigating the minds of some of the most dangerous and disturbed people in our society.  She has an incredible way of seeing the person behind the behaviour and attempting to understand their story.  The trade-off: to some extent, her happiness.

She was once one of the most content, brave and optimistic people I knew and while her bravery remains intact, I can’t help but think the other two have been hugely compromised.  When you spend a long time looking into the darkness, it’s hard to see the light.

I’ve seen an anger that bubbles up in conversation that wasn’t there before.  She sometimes suffers from night terrors.  She is incredibly bright and has always loved a debate but recently they’ve become emotional, personal.

It’s hard work delving into other people’s pain every day.  It can rob you of your joy.  It’s definitely taken more than its fair share of mine.

I’ve become less able to give of myself to other people.  I used to volunteer. I used to spend a lot of time “rescuing” people I knew who were in crisis (not that I advise anyone do this – people are the masters of their own happiness and destiny).

I simply do not have the energy.  I’m a mum, I’m a wife, I’m a friend to an increasingly small but hugely valued group of people.  I don’t have enough reserves to do it all.

Sherrie Bourg Carter offers some advice aimed at women experiencing burnout in the workplace that resonated with me in my current situation.  She talks about the importance of delegation, reducing stress and pressure, unplugging, and saying no.  Say no, allow yourself time to recover.  (I’ve included the link to her article below).

And she also talks about finding your passion.

My job is not my passion.  This is not so much a dawning realisation as a well-cemented fact.

It is time.  I need to start to make a move into a new career.  I have more than 30 years of working life ahead of me (all being well) and I can’t stay in a job that makes me unhappy for 30 years.  What a waste of a life that would be, and what a poor example to my daughter of what she can aspire to.

I long more and more for a creative outlet, somewhere where I feel a sense of purpose and passion.

And so: I’ve started some online writing courses.  I’ve started to speak to people who write for a living, in various forms, to work out where I might be able to fit.

If this strikes a chord with you, consider this a kick up the backside to look at your situation again.

What are your next steps going to be?

I’d be really interested to hear your thoughts on work burnout and how you’ve addressed or plan to address it so please leave a comment if you’ve stopped by to read this post.

 

 

References:

Bourg Carter, S (2011) Accessed at https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/high-octane-women/201104/overcoming-burnout on 01/12/2017

Health and Safety Executive (2017) Accessed at http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causdis/stress/ on 01/12/2017

Toker, S., & Biron, M. (2012). Job burnout and depression: Unraveling their temporal relationship and considering the role of physical activity. Journal of Applied Psychology, 97(3), 699-710.

depression · happiness · mood management · parenting · Self improvement

Life with S.A.D.

(Photo courtesy of http://www.barendspsychology.com)Winterdepression

Seasonal Affective Disorder.  Seasonal Depression.  Winter Blues.

Call it what you wish, it is a bag of shite.

One winter about 10 years ago I was back and forth to my GP several times for blood tests. I was constantly unwell, exhausted, irritable, unable to concentrate and increasingly fat.  I felt like an angry bear who needed to urgently hibernate lest I punch any poor human in my path.

My Vitamin D levels were low (I live in the UK…) but nothing else showed up except my symptoms which the GP decided were S.A.D.  I’ve since discovered my father suffers with it badly and my uncle has had to come to some arrangement whereby he spends 3 months abroad to prevent him hurtling into a black hole of despair every winter (either that or he’s pulling a fast one, which – if you knew my uncle – would be unsurprising).

It is a real thing though.  Here’s the NHS link for a bit more info:  https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad/

I find that from October through to March I am dragging myself through the days like a befuddled sloth.  I had a tiny lie-down on my daughter’s bedroom floor as she played  next to me earlier but realised that within seconds her chatter was becoming distant and dream-like and I was already wanting to doze off.  As for trying to focus on work: sheesh.  I find myself re-reading the same block of text about 5 times and my ability to problem-solve has all but eluded me.

I write this post sat next to a light box.  Apparently some studies have shown them to be as effective as anti-depressant medication in the treatment of S.A.D.  I do find it makes some difference, especially if I switch it on immediately after my alarm in the morning.  My husband really enjoys that…If you are going to try one out though, find one that is SAD certified and isn’t going to fry your retina.  Mine is about A3 paper sized by Duronic and at about £60 it does the job well enough.

I always try to get out of the house as much as possible in the winter.  I spent two days largely indoors last week because of boring adult-related tasks like car trouble and life admin and I thought I was going to lose my mind.  I was emotional, fraught, irritable and I felt like a caged beast.  I told my husband we were going out and I bundled he and the toddler into the car and headed to the beach in the drizzle.   Living by the coast, it is basically wet for about 11 months of the year (those are not official statistics but they probably could be).

We walked along the shore in the bracing cold watching sea gulls swooping in to land.  I took big lungfuls of salty air and let it blow the cobwebs away.

My husband has some mobility problems so he offered to stay with the kid while I scrambled around rock pools and bounded around the shore like an excitable puppy.  I took this photo during a break from the drizzle.

Drizzly beach walk.jpeg

It’s still a majestic, spiritual place to me, the beach – no matter the season.  I  went home pink-nosed and far more energised.

I spent as much time as possible outside yesterday and noticed the difference in the baby’s mood.  She was more cheerful, far less tantrumy (that’s not a word but it should be) and she went to bed smiling.

So that’s going to have to be my strategy for the next 5 months:  get out.  Every day, anywhere, just out.  If I find myself wanting to crawl under the desk for a snooze: I will get outside, even if just for a walk around the block.

This too shall pass, my S.A.D. friends.

Does anyone else out there have any pearls of wisdom they can impart about managing their mood in the winter?

happiness · mood management · Self improvement

Being yourself

oscar-wilde

(image courtesy of http://www.bagelbean.co.uk)

What a great quote that is, Oscar.

I’ve been musing on this a lot over the past couple of weeks.  I was given a journal just yesterday with an instruction on the front to “be a flamingo in a flock of pigeons.”  What a bloody marvellous image that is.

It’s not as easy as we’d like it to be sometimes though, is it?

I thought I’d reached the stage of not really caring so much what others thought of me, but a difficult relationship with my supervisor at work the past few years has really taken its toll and opened some old wounds.  I have felt profoundly isolated and unwelcome.  I won’t bore you with the details here but it has been a hard few years where I have lost my confidence, passion and direction in my work.  I have questioned myself an awful lot.

Somebody suggested a “positive quality survey” whereby I had to ask 8 people who knew me well to list 3 positive qualities of mine.  I could not think of anything more awful but I forced myself to do it.  The responses were a real eye-opener for me.

Sometimes we can spend so long speaking unkindly to ourselves that whenever somebody else’s bad behaviour appears to confirm those fears, we seal that belief as fact.  I am unwanted.  I am not lovable.  I am not good enough.  Whatever your belief may be.  It’s confirmation bias, I suppose.  This exercise was a huge help in countering that.

My friends used some lovely words and what was more interesting is that they all overlapped in what they perceived to be my positive traits.  Can the 8 people who know me best all be wrong?  Maybe not.  Maybe – eureka moment! – I’m not actually as shit as I thought.

I have found myself crippled at times with the fear of being myself or saying the wrong thing as I’ve started my new job.  I’m having to remind myself that the former bad job aside, I have never encountered any difficulties working with other people and have always got on well with any team I’ve worked in.  Perhaps that should suggest I’m not the fundamental problem.  I tell you what is though – not being myself.  I allowed my anxiety about that relationship to cripple my ability to relax and have a laugh with people and be who I fundamentally am.

Authenticity is something we all seek in relationships, yes?  I know I do.  I don’t know why I thought my colleagues would want anything else.  I am me.  I am the only me in existence, whether I’m someone else’s cup of tea or not.

So with that in mind, when I go into work on Monday it’ll be with a new mindset.

I’m going to be a fucking flamingo.

Flamingo

happiness · parenting · Self improvement

“Didn’t we used to hang out?”: Making time for your partner when parenting

How often have you had these conversations with close friends who have kids?:

Perhaps you hear someone lamenting how their other half no longer seems to have time for them because their mind is always on the baby and they can’t remember the last time where it was just the two of them…Perhaps someone else has confided that when they go away for their anniversary weekend the thing they’re most excited about is the full 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep rather than the perceived dirty weekend away you’ve all been joking about…Perhaps you cant remember when you last resembled anything but a bedraggled, overgrown Yeti with un-brushed hair (hair just…everywhere) and you’re slowly forgetting the image of your partner naked…

And perhaps you haven’t really spoken in ages.  Not really.  Not about anything other than how work was and what the kids have been doing today and the bizarre contents of your toddler’s nappy.

Sound familiar?

I was having a discussion with some friends just this week about finding ways to live more in keeping with your true self.  Somebody posed the question as to whether or not we enable our partners to live more in keeping with what they perceive to be their true self and what we do to facilitate that.  We all shifted our feet uncomfortably and looked at the floor.

How much time do I truly invest in speaking to my husband about his goals, his dreams and ambitions anymore?  Do I really know what his passion is in life?

Right now I know he’s in a job he can tolerate; it pays OK, its not entirely boring and his boss is OK which is a good thing because he’s experiencing some poor health and she helps alleviate that stress by allowing him time off when needed.  I’m ashamed to say though,  I don’t think I know what his dream job would be.  He’s certainly never told me and I’m not sure I’ve persevered enough in finding out.

When did I last look at him and see the man behind the Dad and think about how I can nurture and be there for him as his partner?

I can’t remember.  That’s a bit shit of me really.  That needs some work.

It’s all too common a theme  – partners dropping down the pecking order once kids arrive.  It’s also a common contributing factor in the onset of postnatal depression – feeling as though you’re losing a grip on who you were before, who you are underneath and feeling as though your partner doesn’t see you anymore.  I was surprised to read that 1 in 10 fathers experience postnatal depression (Source – https://www.nct.org.uk/parenting/postnatal-depression-dads).   That’s a whole load of depressed dads who need someone to notice what’s going on and invest in being there for them.

So my challenge to myself and to you today is this:  What can you do today to show your partner you still see them as a person, and not as a parent? How can you nudge them closer to happiness?

I’ve booked my mum to come and babysit and tonight we’re off on a date night.  It’s very last minute but very overdue and necessary.  I thoroughly intend to find out what my husband’s true passion would be if time and money were no obstacle – and then I want to work out how I can support him to get there.  It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of replicating the relationship you grew up witnessing.  I hope we can keep that at bay by talking to each other and not forgetting who we were before – and who we still are underneath.

What tips do you have for keeping your relationship with your partner in focus after having children?

 

 

depression · happiness · mood management · Self improvement · travel · wanderlust

Lessons borne of wanderlust: making it count in the everyday

Three years ago today, I was a proper smug bastard.

Social media reminded me this morning that on this very day in 2014, I was looking at the truly awesome sight that is Machu Picchu, in the flesh. That mandatory photo popped up on my timeline: me grinning to camera above the site with Huayna Picchu towering majestically over me in the distance, kissed with mist like something from Last of the Mohicans.


It was a truly epic and liberating time.

I had wanted to go to South America for about ten years.  I mentioned in my first post how I have always felt a spectator on fun and this was definitely one example where, as the years went by and the dream failed to materialise, I stopped thinking it would ever be me.

When the captain announced we were landing in Lima airport, Peru – I cried.  I can’t even describe that feeling.  It was the same feeling I felt on the train up towards Machu Picchu, watching the Inca sites etched into the hillsides as we wound through the valley.

“I did it.  I did it.” Ten solid years of yearning, of longing, of imagining but not quite believing.  But I did it.

I recently had to do some timeline work as part of my psychotherapy (the task of chronologically mapping out your sadness for dissection by another person!).  I identified those four months as being the happiest in my life.  As well as sharing incredible experiences with the person I love, there was something about the newness and the freedom of everything that was profoundly liberating.  Every day we woke up and said “what do we want to achieve today?” and we achieved it.  There was not one single day wasted and not one day I would do differently.

I could bore you to tears regaling you with tales of the things we saw in those months: the other-worldy Uyuni salt flats where balletic flamingos danced through lakes of red and emerald green; the glint in a caiman’s eye as we reclined in a river boat in the Amazon basin, where howler monkeys surrounded our cabin each morning in their own, unique jungle dawn chorus; the bustling, vibrant and incredible nocturnal metropolis that is Buenos Aires;  kayaking around icebergs and trekking over glaciers where we sipped whiskey with ice from beneath our feet; swimming with sea turtles in a secluded, perfect bay (the fisherman’s secret) off the coast of Brazil; sitting with a beer on the Arpoador as the sun went down on another sunny, perfect day in Rio.

Those memories flash across my mind and I am there; in awe, in wonder, with a heart so full I could burst.

But it wasn’t just the sights we saw, the people we met, the food we tasted.  Every day was a goal, every day was something to be accomplished. Every day was a choice.

Clearly, when there are incredible experiences laid out before you like the most wonderful of smorgasbords, this is an easier task.  When I wake at the moment, it is invariably raining, dark and my head is pounding with exhaustion.  I live in the UK.  I currently do a job I don’t enjoy.  It isn’t a South American honeymoon.

But what can I learn from it?

Achievable goals spur you on.  They can help you create adventure in the every day.  They allow you choice.

For the final week my daughter and I spent together before I went back to work, I made a list of places I’d like to go with her each day.  I was so conscious of that time slipping by and so when we woke up each morning, it was with a purpose.  I don’t know why I’ve stopped living like that.  I’m going to make a fresh commitment to ask myself this cheesy but very appropriate question when I start my day:

What is my purpose today?

And I think I’m realising that sometimes it really is OK for that purpose to be time out.  As a society we are bombarded with messages and phone calls and alerts and calendar invites and news feeds, all telling us where we could be, should be.

Some days while we were away, we took a day out to amble slowly through cobbled back streets and look at local art in the markets and allowed ourselves time to be and to immerse.  We took it in.  Sometimes, I carry my daughter in the baby carrier and a flower catches her eye, or the wind on her face delights her so she leans backwards to catch the breeze, laughing.  These moments happen when we slow down.

Just because there is somewhere I could be, that does not mean that I should be.  If we need to say no to something because we need amble along the cobbles that day, that is OK. That is healthy.  That is a good thing.

Which leads me to the other question I intend to ask myself :

What do I really need today? 

I am not very good at the latter.  I am learning though.  I might talk some more about that in my next post.

I don’t quite know where this will take me, but I think…probably nowhere bad. Somewhere better.

And on that note, I promised myself I would read a magazine in the bath tonight so I need to go and do that.

Sleep well. x