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 · 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

depression · happiness · mood management · parenting · Self improvement

Three Positive Things

This is a tried and tested technique in boosting gratitude and happiness.

It was introduced to me about 10 years ago by a hypnotherapist I was working with.  I used to text my friend who struggles with anxiety every day to make her do this because I’d found it so helpful.  

She hated me a little bit.  Imagine feeling at your lowest ebb and your friend sends you a “heeeey, what Three Positive Things happened today?” message.  You’d want to punch that friend in the face.  Somehow, she still agrees to hang out with me (I did it every day for months though??).

Anyway, hypnotherapist lady set me the challenge that each day I had to write down three positive things about the day, no matter how apparently trivial or how bad the day had felt overall.  For example, I went to see her one day after a dreadful day in work where I was feeling really rather despondent.  She asked me if I could recall pausing at any point that day and drinking a cup of tea.  I could.  It was a brief reprieve from a shitty day…like a hug in a mug.  So that was one Positive Thing.

Get it? If your day was dreadful, it’s basically about finding the tiniest exception.  It’s not ground breaking, but it does help.

Stage 2 is listing three things you are looking forward to for tomorrow.  You might have a day ahead that you’re dreading because you have a meeting pending with your least favourite client…So perhaps you’re looking forward to leaving the office tomorrow when the meeting will be done and it will no longer be on your mind.

So here are today’s Three Positive Things:

  1. The baby and I paddled in the sea today and it made her giggle.
  2. My husband and I had a nice cwtch (we’re married, we have a small person, we don’t really do touching anymore because it’s a bit gross and it made me pregnant).
  3. I went for a walk along the sea front ON MY OWN this evening.  It was bliss to be on my own; the thing I miss the most being a parent.  I spent an hour strolling in the very warm summer air, taking in the smells of flowers I walked past and standing to watch the beautiful, merging shades of blue and purple as I looked across at the glassy surface of the sea.  Not a toddler poo in sight.

Three Things for Tomorrow:

  1. I am going to the beach with the girls from baby group and it will be good to socialise.
  2. I am going to buy a sun lounger so I can use the back garden during ma’am’s nap time.
  3. I am looking forward to seeing my baby’s excited face when her Daddy comes home from work (even though his status of Favourite Parent is well annoying).

Go on.  Do it.  You know you want to.

depression · happiness · mood management · Self improvement

Why I will not tickle “The Black Dog’s” tummy .

I procrastinate a lot.

I am perpetually late for all things.  I was actually 25 minutes late for our wedding.  My husband tells me there was never even the tiniest part of him that doubted I was coming (I like to think he found it oddly comforting).

Here and there I have bursts of ideas and enthusiasm but then I dither and I forget very quickly or I lose motivation and those ideas evaporate into little clouds of missed opportunity.

I also get really, really tired all the time.  I operate at one speed, which is slooooooooow.

If I was left to my own devices I would go to bed at 1am and get up at about 11am.  I would also nap.  Oh! how I would nap.

I suffer with a crippling, debilitating self-doubt that has blighted my life for as long as I can remember and has, no doubt, kept me operating at about 30% of my potential.  (On the plus side, maybe I’m actually like Bradley Cooper in Limitless and when fixed I will be super-human and quite awesome – and hopefully a little bit sexy to boot).

More recently though, I have begun to struggle to process the details of what people are telling me and I have a heavy fog in my brain where information no longer seems to flow in and out.

I decided to go and see my GP, having decided in advance it would simply be a thyroid issue.  They would prescribe me some medication and all would be fixed. Simple.

But the blood tests were all normal.

It turns out I have depression.

If I am being entirely honest, this was not a a shock to me.  I have a memory of being 5 years old and thinking how hard life was and that I didn’t enjoy being alive very much and would quite like to go to sleep and not wake up.  It makes me really sad now to think of 5 year old me feeling like that.  For the avoidance of any doubt: 5 year olds should not feel so sad they don’t want to wake up. That is never OK.

I have plugged away at life over the years with a distinct absence of joy, never fully engaging with it and always feeling that I was looking in at the world from the outside, a bit of a spectator. I have always been in awe of other people’s ability to do fun and interesting and new things…to be a certain way, learn a new skill; but never at any point have I believed I could take a bit of that for myself.

I see obstacles everywhere.  The glass isn’t half empty; there’s actually nothing in it whatsoever because some bastard poured it all away.

At my best, I bob along feeling a bit sad and tired and bored.  Along the way I have had some epic lows and I sometimes ponder on how I made it through my teenage years alive.  Upon finding my diaries from that joyous age they made for such depressing reading that I made a bonfire to hide the evidence. Prozac Nation has nothing on that tome.

Still. I have “coped.” Whatever coping is.

So what about The Black Dog?

I decided to go and see a private psychotherapist about this depression epiphany/begrudging acceptance of the facts.  She talked to me when we first met about the analogy of The Black Dog (and sent me this link here by The World Health Organisation if you aren’t familiar with it):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XiCrniLQGYc

I had seen reference to it before in the hashtags and social media posts of “others.”

I am genuinely sorry other people feel this way too.  It is really crap and it does feel very unfair.  It doesn’t feel like life is a level playing field sometimes.

However; depression is not a pet.  It is not to be nurtured and stroked under the chin.  It does not need to be patted on the head and have its belly rubbed like it is “mine” or “ours.”  I do not want it.  I did not ask for it.  It is not welcome in my house. The Black Dog, frankly, can f*** off.

I became a mum a year ago to a beautiful, funny and remarkably happy little girl.   She is my delight and she is the most special and wonderful thing that I (“we” if we’re being technical – but I grew her from scratch) have ever created.  I will not allow her happiness to be dampened by me imparting gloom.

So this blog here is my two fingers up to depression and is where I hope to create a space to reclaim my life, my happiness and the happiness of my family.

Consider it a family well being project.

This blog will be a journey to find happiness in the everyday.  This is where I will ponder on how my husband and I will raise a child who manages her feelings and life’s lemons in a way that frees her to be who and what she wants.

This is where I figure out how I’m going to try to carve out space in the world as a parent, as a mother, as a 30 something year old woman who needs to try a bit harder than some at being happy.

So on behalf of 5 year old, sad little me and to all the sad people or just “meh” people everywhere…

Welcome to The Happiness Takeover.