Many a true word…

As you probably know, Facebook gives you the statuses you posted in years past. I look at these, as I find it interesting to see the journey I’ve been on (and yes, sometimes to get rid of the things I don’t wish to remember!)

Today this came up from two years ago:
” “You’re a crazy lady aren’t you? Keep taking the tablets”
Said in jest, actually snuck through a chink in my armour and really hurt my feelings. Sometimes I think I shouldn’t even try at small talk… ”

I remember that. It’s a frequent occurrence that unless around a select group of people I count as “Friends” rather than “acquaintances” I need to watch what I say, watch my responses. There seems to be an invisible line that I frequently cross and I don’t realise until I get that ‘tumbleweed’ moment where I realise I’ve said something inappropriate. Again.

But that’s not really what this post is about. This post is to flag up that sometimes even jokey comments said in jest with no malice can really cut and hurt.
I have been medicated for mental health issues a few times.
I have had to remember to keep taking the tablets, and I have felt the effects when I’ve forgotten. Fluoxetine can be an unforgiving bitch when it comes to memory lapses.
“Crazy” is a subjective term. Some may consider that I have been so (or continue to be so, certainly I am not “normal” and actually consider that word an insult!), and there have been times where I have doubted that reality as it exists inside my head is true. My brain lies to me and I cannot always trust it. It’s an exceedingly scary experience and one that is all too common for too many people alas.

So… such jokes are not always jokes.
We never know how sensitive someone truly is. We never know how well their armour is working, and while we can’t watch what we say all the time (I’m a true case in point there), perhaps some jokes about being crazy and needing medication are unnecessary?

Mental Vs Physical

Two recent events got me thinking.

Event 1 – I gave up the driving lessons due to the anxiety attacks they were causing.

Event 2 – I twisted my ankle.

Why is it so much easier to look after ourselves, and to let it be known that we are in need of looking after, when it comes to physical pain? Why is it so much harder with mental or emotional pain?

Admittedly sometimes and for some people it still isn’t easy and I know many who will push themselves past what is sensible and not let themselves rest and recover (not to be confused with those that push and find themselves more capable than previously expected, that’s different, I’m talking about those that don’t stop then fall over seriously broken).

With my ankle, there was a clear visible sign of hurt, for a while I simply couldn’t put enough weight on it to walk and I felt grateful rather than guilty that a friend travelled over to lend me a crutch so I could get about easier. I had to cancel some plans, and although I didn’t like having to do so (the timing sucked!), I didn’t feel guilty about it.

When it came to giving up the driving lessons, I gave myself a hard time. I’m not someone who gives up easily (any more), and having experienced the pride that comes with achieving something once thought out of reach, I am happy to work hard to feel that pride again. I know now that my anxiety is not an indicator of my ability. Having taken a long time to get to that realisation, it’s one I cling to. Nowadays, I intensely dislike my anxiety getting in the way of what I want and I’ve been known to pursue something simply because the thought of it causes anxiety (the tandem skydive I once did being a prime example of this, technically it was to raise money, really it was because the thought of it caused a panic attack so I decided to do one just to show my anxiety who was boss).

However, although I knew that technically I could continue with the lessons and eventually pass, I realised that I simply wasn’t willing to allow that much anxiety into my life. It wasn’t that I couldn’t do it, it was that I didn’t want to.

At the moment I have other things that I wish to give my attention and time to, not to mention a job I care about that I need to be on top form for, and the level of anxiety I was experiencing for 24 hours before the lessons was getting in the way of that.

I came to that realisation after I gave up the lessons however and spent a fair few days feeling like a failure and being grateful for my ever loving and supportive circle of friends understanding me and telling me what I needed to hear.

Now that I pride myself on overcoming my anxiety, my self-image took a knock when it felt like anxiety had won. It took a few days of mulling it through, talking it over with some friends to realise why it was absolutely the right decision for me and to be okay with having made it.

Look at the difference in those two paragraphs! There is a need to explain, to justify perhaps, with giving up driving. The paragraph about the ankle is essentially saying – yeah, hurt ankle, got some help, couldn’t walk for a bit, didn’t push it.

I can’t seem to say the same for a hurt nervous system. It’s not treated the same by people around us. We’re expected to push through, carry on, just be stronger. Yet few would advise someone to keep running that marathon on a twisted ankle we can’t put weight on. Is it just that there is no visible sign to point to?

Maybe one day we will get there, in the meantime, see if thinking of your mental and emotional issues as physical ones helps. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. It helps me at times.

It’s just a Ride…

So this is more of a personal post, it happens from time to time, as well as sharing things that have and do help me live with my anxiety I’m going to share with you some personal experiences as well. I think sharing that as well as what works may help to make me more of a human to you (if you read this and don’t know me, hopefully if you do know me then I’m already a human to you!), maybe help you feel better about the ups and downs of your life too. There is no magic bullet for this shit, there are always ups and down and we just get better at managing them, at riding the ride.

This is more me having a bit of a brain dump, talking things through with myself to see how I feel about it, get it out my system and figure out what to do. We are not alone with these experiences and I am not an expert in dealing with this shit, I am muddling through best I can, just like all of us – I get overwhelmed and defeated by anxiety still, it just doesn’t happen as much as it used to and I’m more savvy about what’s happening, why and what to do about it these days. However it still sucks and it still takes over me for a while.

Such as yesterday…

I knew learning to drive would be a huge challenge for me. Some of my biggest anxiety triggers are new things, not knowing what to do, not feeling in control, other’s judging me – all of which are clearly going to come up with learning to drive! These anxiety triggers are also the reason I challenge myself and put myself in situations that will be difficult for me, how can I live without trying new things, without learning, without letting go, without risking judgement? I tried that once… my life became so small, and the anxiety didn’t go away. It just doesn’t work, so now I push myself where and when I can.

The first two driving lessons my anxiety levels were very high, however, there was also a surge of adrenalin after the second lesson which gave me hope – but that’s the thing with anxiety, it can be impossible to pre-judge, a good or bad experience one time doesn’t always give a clue to how the next time will go. We have to develop a bit of a zen attitude to life when we live with anxiety.

My third lesson was yesterday evening after work. (Same as the second lesson annoyingly, which was fine)

Almost as soon as I woke yesterday morning, I felt the physical symptoms of anxiety which continued all day. My anxiety has clearly decided that it’s going to level up and now gives me the brand new symptom of chest pain. Most unwelcome! I spent the entire day feeling like someone had skewered me on a javelin feeling the pain in my spine as well as my sternum. While I can often put my anxiety to one side – like putting a misbehaving toddler in time out – as I did during my first lesson, sometimes it refuses to be ignored. I ignored the anxiety right up until the point I got asked to do something new half an hour into the driving lesson.

All I was asked to do was turn right across a quiet road into an equally quiet car park where we could look at reversing.

I started the car, started to move, then my entire system just went “NOPE”, I stopped the car and dissolved.

The entrance to the car park looked tiny (it wasn’t), turning right involved traffic wanting to travel down that side of the road (there wasn’t any), reversing risked bumping into the bollards (I’m in a dual control car, I have no doubt he’d stop it before that happened, he likes his car…).

As I type this, I can feel the fear welling up again in my throat, and actually, that’s weirdly comforting as waking up this morning free of anxiety symptoms I wonder why I ended the lesson early, why I couldn’t cope, was I just being weak and pathetically lazy? Thoughts which have tracked me my entire life as anxiety makes some of the most random things more difficult or impossible. Thoughts which have been vocalised by others not understanding how it is to live with anxiety. If just typing this brings back the fear then I can tell myself, no, I wasn’t being lazy, I was overwhelmed with anxiety. I was trying to run on a twisted ankle.

My instructor is calm, understanding, and asks if I want to call a halt at that point, that it’s fine, but I can’t do that. That will be giving in. Maybe I can’t deal with something new right now, but I can damn well carry on with the lesson. The only way out is through, I tell myself. New things scare me so lets focus on this not feeling so new. So I do. We carry on. We practise what I’ve done before. But it doesn’t work, the anxiety doesn’t back down, and now I’m frustrated that I’m struggling with what was going so well last week, I can’t think clearly, I can’t concentrate on what he’s saying, I’m forgetting the sequence and I don’t feel safe. I’m getting it right one time and all wrong the next.

I call a halt after another 40 minutes. Too much of my attention and energy is having to go on keeping myself from panicking and crying (and not being successful at that) and I just don’t feel I should be in a car if I’m in that state. Nothing is going into my head and my performance is erratic, there is no progress here and my frustration with myself is growing with each passing second.

It’s time to leave the battlefield, regroup, and consider another tactic.

Perhaps fighting anxiety for 10 hours before the lesson, including constant physical pain, just wore me down too much. My defences are usually better than this. There’s only one way to test that theory, have the lesson earlier in the day. If that lesson goes better, then that’s how I proceed, if it’s just as bad, then perhaps driving isn’t for me after all. I’m fine with having myself at risk, that’s my choice, but I can’t and won’t put others at risk, and if I don’t feel safe in charge of a car, if I don’t trust myself not to panic, then that’s what I’m doing.

Honestly right now, I don’t know if I’d be running away from something I can do if I push myself, or stepping away from unnecessary anxiety attacks. I guess that’s a decision to consider next week though…

Disclaimer

I wanted to write a quick thing about how we are all different.

It seems my last post was read almost 100 times and as far flung as India & USA if the stats are to be believed… that’s a little scary if I’m honest and makes me feel responsible.

I’m aware that in writing this blog, in sharing my story and experiences and writing about such things as acceptance and gratitude, I may well myself become a passive aggressive meme that can be used to beat yourself up. That’s the opposite of what I am aiming to achieve.

So…

We are all different.

My story and experience is mine.

In sharing it, many have said that they experience something similar, but many will not. Many have a different experience which is just as valid and real.

What helps me may not help you (and certainly will not help some).

What I am attempting to do here is lay out a series of tools. How you employ them and what you make with them is up to you. Pick them up, play with them, feel free to change and adapt and explore, let them be a catalyst, don’t let them be set in stone.

Your recovery is your own journey and it will contain it’s own twists and turns and last as long as it lasts. Don’t let anyone else dictate your direction and distance – certainly be guided by those you trust, but I am Person-Centred trained (actually that’s not true – my course was Integrative, but I’m Person-Centred by heart), you are the authority in your life and ultimately, if you are honest and congruent, you know what you need to heal.

My anxiety is life-long. I will never be without it. That said, it doesn’t define or control me and I don’t wait for it or expect it. I plan for it, certainly, but that’s different, that’s having a safety net and I then try to stay up on the tightwire rather than letting myself fall. There are certain situations and experiences that are very likely to trigger it (going by past experiences), but I’m always happy to be proved wrong. It’s a fine balance, which I don’t always get right, but each time is a chance to learn and refine my techniques.

I believe that there are very broadly speaking two types of anxiety/depression (I know there are really many many more) – Reactive and Chemical.

Reactive means it’s a reaction to something, there’s often a root cause that can be discovered and dealt with.

Chemical means a part of us is a little wonky, a little miswired, like having a weak ankle or needing glasses.

My anxiety is chemical, my depression is reactive.

I’ve always been able to find a cause for my depression and ultimately do something about it (sometimes that has taken years however, it’s not necessarily easy! It can take a LOT of supported digging to reach the root cause), there isn’t always a cause for my anxiety. Honestly, sometimes my damn nervous system has been set off simply because there’s nothing wrong and it couldn’t cope with that!

So… ultimately, all I’m trying to say here is if you try anything I suggest here and it doesn’t work for you – don’t fret! Don’t beat yourself up. Not everything works for everyone. Explore, try something else, try the same thing in a different way.

Just keep trying something when you’re able to.

And for those times you’re not able to try anything, just be kind and see how you feel tomorrow.

With love and respect to all those struggling today.

Gratitude

Gratitude can be difficult when we’re struggling with anxiety issues, the world can be a scary place, our brain chemicals are going haywire, often our bodies are achingly tired and being aware of anything other than perceived threats can take an effort we don’t feel we have the energy for.

Gratitude can also be a spiritual tool to beat ourselves up with as passive aggressive meme’s suggest that we wouldn’t be in the state we are if only we were more grateful for what we have, reminding us that many in the world are worse off than we, so how selfish are you to be struggling? Not useful, not kind, not actually spiritual in my little corner of the world.

Your experience is your experience and someone else being better or worse off has absolutely zero impact on how you perceive and interact with the world. Also, being grateful that someone is worse off than you isn’t actually gratitude – it’s comparison –  and that won’t have a positive effect on the brain…

Yet, despite it being misused sometimes, gratitude is a good habit to get into, and this is backed up by neuroscience (SCIENCE BABY, YEAH!). It doesn’t matter what we are grateful for, it doesn’t even matter if we can’t come up with anything, the act of looking for something to be grateful for can be the trigger to a happier brain over time. Google the neuroscience of gratitude and see what you find, there have been various studies done on the matter.

Over the years I’ve kept several gratitude journals for various periods of time, and I’ve learnt a few things.

1 – Don’t wait for the perfect notebook/pen etc. Don’t think, I’ll start this when I’ve bought a nice book to write in. That’s just procrastination, you’ll rarely if ever get around to buying the “perfect” book for your journal, it’s just a way of not starting the exercise. You doubtless have some form of paper and pen/pencil lying around. Use that. It doesn’t matter what you write on or even whether you keep it. The act of doing it is all that matters. You don’t even need a pen and paper, if you’re reading this, you likely have an electronic device you can write on. Use that! By all means get a nice notebook if such things make you happy, but don’t use that as a reason not to start. Start, then get the notebook as and when you can.

1(A) – On that note – don’t worry or give yourself a hard time about finding a certain number of things to be grateful for or even doing it each day – all that means is it’s easier to give up if you can’t achieve your certain number or you miss a day. Try and make it a habit (keeping it by your bedside for example) but if you miss a day, so what? Just pick it up again the day/week/month/year after. It doesn’t matter when you don’t do it, just when you do. Of course all these things are better when done regularly, but doing them at all is more important.

2 – Writing or thinking about WHY you’re grateful for that thing works wonders if you have the energy to do this. Once, many years ago, I was grateful for a random phone call from a fellow student. I wrote that down. Then I thought about why, and realised how isolated and lonely I’d been feeling in class and how that phone call had helped me feel a little more connected and part of the group. Suddenly I was even more grateful for the call and happier when I got back to class. Writing all that down takes effort, I know. You don’t have to, just thinking about it works too.

3 – It doesn’t matter what you’re grateful for. We all have days where all we have to be grateful for is our bed/sofa, blanket/duvet. Be grateful for those things, they matter.

4 – There’s always something to be grateful for, even if it takes some searching. If you’re reading this, you likely have the first layer of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs sorted.

Maslow’s Updated Hierarchy of Needs

You likely have access to the internet and a device to access it on. You likely have a roof over your head and something to eat and drink that day. Hopefully a toilet that works. Someone you could interact with if you chose to. Clothes to wear if you wanted to get dressed. Sometimes paring back to the bare essentials is necessary, but these are still things to be grateful for. You can climb up the pyramid another day.

5 – It doesn’t matter how begrudgingly grateful you are! There are days you just don’t want to be damn well grateful! The world flipping sucks and why should you be grateful for anything damn it?! And that’s fine! Do the exercise anyway, allow the frustration and anger to be there as well. Looking for things to be grateful about doesn’t mean you have to not feel upset, sad, angry, frustrated and whatever else you’re feeling. You can feel those as well. Feelings are just feelings. We prefer some to others, but they all have their place and a right to exist. We can be angry and still grateful the bus arrived on time. We can be sad and still grateful we have a cup of tea. We can be utterly fed up with every single thing, and still grateful there’s an episode of something distracting to watch. We are manifold and we can contain many and conflicting emotions at once and that’s fine.

6 – Gratitude doesn’t have to be kept to a journal. This ties in with saying thank you to compliments. Say thank you to your loved ones, let them know as much as you’re able to how much you appreciate them. Say thank you to the bus driver or the shop assistant – why shouldn’t we be thanked for doing our jobs? Express little bits of gratitude whenever and wherever you can and gradually they work to make us feel better and the world less scary.

Thank you for reading this🙂 Whether you’re a stranger or a friend, I’m grateful you took the time and if I do know you, thank you for being in my life, you give me lots to be grateful for.

Accepting Compliments

Yes, it’s about acceptance again, sue me. It’s important.

One of the most significant things I’ve ever learned is how to accept compliments and the importance of doing so.

If you change just one thing about how you interact with the world, try this thing.

There was a time I couldn’t accept compliments, a time that I would argue, quite vehemently at times, against any compliment that came my way, trying to get the other person to see how unimportant, weak and useless I actually was.

Then someone, I forget who but I’m permanently and immensely grateful to them, gently let me know how rude that was to the giver of the compliment.

Think about it. You’re basically saying, “no you’re stupid and wrong in thinking I’m [THIS GOOD THING], how dare you think that!”

I’ve been on the receiving end of that, we all have surely, and it hurts. Don’t know about you, but it makes me not want to give another compliment, makes me shut down a little, sometimes it even makes me dislike that person a little bit more.

How gloomy is that?

We open ourselves up a little to give compliments, we make ourselves a little vulnerable to say “Hey you, I think you’re a bit of awesome” and it hurts when that is slapped down. It can feel like a slap. Someone was nice to us and we just slapped them. You wouldn’t do that physically (I hope!), so why do it verbally?

We don’t have to believe compliments to say thank you to the giver. If we really struggle to accept compliments in general or that one in particular then think of it not as accepting the compliment but as simply thanking the other person for taking time from their day, for using some of their energy to be nice to you.

All you have to say is Thank You.

That’s all.

(If the giver happens to be someone you can’t stand and you’re trying not to encourage their attentions then find a reason to be elsewhere “and on that note, I need to be over there doing that thing now, good bye” or change the subject, maybe practise the British thing of insulting through politeness. You still don’t need to reject the compliment and often it won’t discourage them anyway, it will just make them try harder, the opposite of what you want.)

So why? Why change your behaviour, why is this so important?

Because over time it will and does have an effect on your subconscious. Gradually the praise sinks in, becomes easier to believe, we think better of ourselves over time and our relationships with others improve almost immediately.

It’s nice to give a compliment and have it accepted – we feel we’ve made a difference to that person, and that in turn makes us feel better (no such thing as altruism!).

Accepting compliments makes the world a better place.

For what it’s worth – you, hey you reading this right now, you know what? I think you’re a little bit of awesome🙂

You’re welcome.

xxx

Acceptance – Part two

Already I’m thinking, who the hell am I to blog about Anxiety issues like I have something to say that will help? How fucking arrogant, get a grip and crawl back under your sofaduvet.

But I just bought myself a GISHWHES t-shirt that states “don’t listen to the demons” so I’m not. I’m going to blog anyway.

I have something to say because I’m someone who lives with an anxiety disorder and for the most part manages pretty fucking well, thank you. There have been times when it’s overwhelmed my life, there have been times when I’ve beaten it into submission by the force of my paddington bear stare. Most of the time we wobble about in the middle somewhere. I’m aware I’m about to head into cranefly season which is one of my most ridiculous phobias, so I really have no higher ground to stand on as once those flappy little fuckers hit my workplace it will be panic attack city for me for a few weeks and apart from getting myself signed off work (again!) there really is little I can do about it. So please don’t think I’m writing this from any sense of doing better than you. I’m not.

I started to cope with my anxiety when I accepted I had it.

That’s the main point of this post – Acceptance.

It’s hard to accept things we don’t like, to accept feeling like shit, feeling weak and tearful and lost and confused.

But if we don’t, we waste energy on trying to hide and deny it. That leaves us with less/little/no energy to actually deal with our lives and do the things we need and want to.

In worst case scenarios we can numb it with substances or activities that can be harmful or detrimental to our health and lives. Perfectly understandable and I’ve done this myself – it much easier to focus on the physical pain I caused myself than the mental and emotional pain that I didn’t know how to process or express (or even that I had a right to feel what I was feeling). Much easier to numb it or transmute it into something physical and understandable.

Thing is, it doesn’t go away. This shit hangs around forever and resurfaces every now and again. The toilet analogy is very fitting here.

If we accept it, we can start working with it.

An easy sentence, it’s not easy I know. But honestly, it’s not really more work than all the effort that goes into hiding or denying it, it’s just working in a different direction.

The hard bit is believing you’re worth that work, and that where the anxiety/depression/etc has it’s hooks because it will tell you you’re not worth it. If you were, you wouldn’t be feeling this way in the first place and you’re trapped in an endless catch 22.

Accept you’re worth it and accept your state of being as it is right now and let go of trying to change it.

It is what it is.

You’re worth loving regardless of how you’re feeling and coping right now.

Keep reading that. Try and accept it.

(image from ruthiedean.com)

Dusting off

So I’m dusting off my old blog.

Been a while, please excuse the dustbunnies (don’t feed them, it only makes them cough) and don’t look in the corners, that’s where I hide the bodies.

Why am I dusting this off?

Because some people I know are having issues with anxiety and it occurs to me I have things to say about that. I have experiences to share, advice to pin up on this virtual wall (take all advice like a pick’n’mix, just take your favourites, there’s no one answer, we have to find our own favourite sweets and create our own blends, and just generally offer support and love to share for anyone struggling with the inside of their own head.

Coz I know what that’s like.

So I’ve gone through this blog and removed the crafting stuff and left anything to do with mental health, including my own breakdowns and struggles during the time this blog has been active (oh dear sweet reader there have been so very many more!) – maybe there’s already something there helpful for you?

This is just something to get me back to this so I will leave you with my favourite poem.

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things

The things about phobias…

…At least for me, is not only having to deal with the overwhelming flood of crap from my nervous and endocrine systems, but also having to deal with the social aspect.
This post has been brought to you by the single solitary crane fly in the pizza place last night.

The scene – a very popular busy and crowded Italian eaterie. Six people, my husband and myself and two other couples are sat round a table celebrating my husband’s birthday.
I’m quite good at ignoring flappy, flying things. I’m not phobic of most of them. So much so that I’ve experienced the start of a panic attack which died instantly on realising the flappy thing in question was a moth rather than a crane fly. I know all of this is in my mind but that doesn’t mean it’s under my control…
A crane fly is investigating the hair of both the female friend sat next to me and the lady at the table behind. I become aware of this at about the same time as everyone else. The subsequent batting at hair makes the chaotic flapping of the detested creature even more erratic than usual. It’s almost a game for everyone else, I can feel the panic rising.
Unfortunately, the seating arrangement is triggering another of my panic triggers – that of not being able to escape. I feel trapped, both the crane fly and at least 4 people are between me and escape.
I murmur loud enough for my husband to hear, either the crane flies goes or I need to….
He knows, he understands, he’s on the case. However the place is crowded and noisy and it’s not that easy.
I resort to the only tactic left to me – if I can’t see it, I can pretend it doesn’t exist. I curl away into the wall, hide my head in my hands and concentrate on breathing and pushing away the thoughts that I’m nearly 40 and one fucking insect that is among the most pathetic of insects shouldn’t affect me this way. I wait to be rescued feeling ashamed, trying to react as little as possible, conscious of not wanting to cause a scene, not wanting to have to explain myself, of how I must look to people. I hear someone say it’s gone.
Then comes the moment that breaks me. The moment I think the crane fly has landed in my hair, the thing of my nightmares, and I’m shaking, tears spill down my face and I tighten and freeze, all I can hope is someone will take pity on me and free me from this hell.
It was a misunderstanding in the end, someone who doesn’t know me that well, didn’t realise what was going on for me having a joke and ruffling my hair. Hubby did come to my rescue and stopped them.
I was left with the social aspect though…
Shaking, in tears, ashamed and embarrassed, I had to get over that as quickly as possible in order for the celebratory feeling to return. While I couldn’t quite bite back my annoyed response at the usual rational sentences thrown my way as if I’ve never heard them before:
“They can’t hurt you”
“more scared of you” (actually I dispute that one…)
etc etc etc
And I respond, “yeah, coz logic and rationality play such a big part in phobias…” forcing a smile to try and counter the bitterness of my tone as I’m forced to be rational less than five seconds after a ridiculously huge surge of hormones has flooded my system and while every nerve is suggested I flee.
The next five minutes are so are spent consciously being as polite and social and amusing as possible, reassuring any who catch my eye that I’m okay really – and while that is technically true, it’s not what’s felt. It’s consciously forced until slowly my body and mind accept it as the truth.
Throughout this time, my understanding husband holds my hand across the table.
I still felt guilty for breaking the atmosphere, and feel responsible for restoring it. On top of the phobic reaction, this just feels extra unfair!

Chat

Trying to buy more ethically

This year, I decided to try and be a bit more ethical with my festive present buying.

So I decided that I was going to visit the Brighton Artist Open Houses which are open during December weekends as well as their traditional May weekends during the Brighton Festival.
It was also a way of getting over my anxiety about visiting Open Houses.
I’ve wanted to visit Open Houses for as long as I’ve been living back in Brighton, a good decade now! But I’ve never quite managed it. I am an avoidant anxious person, I am fantastic at avoiding things that make me anxious. So fantastic in fact that I often don’t even realise I’m doing it, the process has become quite unconscious. Each April, I would have every intention of visiting Open Houses, each June I would realise that I’d missed it again.
Buying festive gifts gave me the reason I needed to force myself to think about it, a reason to be there and a reason to leave again and move on if there was nothing there I wanted to buy. This gave me a reason to not be anxious. From time to time I need carefully thought out reasons like this, it’s soothing.

There have been many benefits to doing this…
I have discovered parts of my City that are closer to each other than I realised, this project has connected my City up to itself like never before.
I’ve walked down streets I’ve never walked down before, I’ve explored more of my city.
I’ve seen beautiful hidden grottos behind walls and hedges I pass frequently.
I’ve met and chatted with some of the many creative people that reside here.
All of those points above have resulted in me feeling more a part of where I live.
I’ve also seen truly spectacular works of creativity and wished I had an unlimited budget, ah the things I would have bought for you had money been no object!
I have found gifts for people that I would never have thought of getting for them, but once seen, had to be bought. Of course, I don’t yet know how they will be received.

It’s had it’s downsides though…
The aforementioned anxiety did linger, and that awkward feeling you get when you’re the only customer in a shop is magnified when the “shop” is also their living room…
Not having asked people what they want leaves the gift giver vulnerable. It brings into stark relief how well (or not) you know people… stripped of the high street stores, of the latest game/gadget/perfume etc what does this person like? Am I bad relative/friend for not instantly knowing what piece of arty craft work or ornament they would like?
WILL THEY LIKE THIS?!? The biggest anxiety of all! And of course, I don’t know the answer to that yet, and wanted to get this blog done before knowing the answer, this post is about the process, not the result.
I was brought nearly to tears a few times, standing in a strangers house, looking at items and feeling utterly lost about whether that would be a good thing to get or not.
I learnt not to mention that I also make things, it did seem to sour the atmosphere somewhat but when pressed to buy cards when I’ve made over thirty this year, it was hard to know what else to say!
It’s physically demanding as you’re walking between the houses that are sometimes a mile or so apart. In December, this can be tough going, and using a car won’t necessarily be better as parking in Brighton residential streets on a weekend is often a nightmare!

I have learned from this experience if I’m going to do this again…
You have to be prepared to change your mind about who is getting what. Several times, I have looked at my list matching people to items and I’ve swapped things around. This item here? This is suitable for 4 people on my list, so when I see THAT item there, which is perfect for precisely this one particular person, then things get moved around a bit. You HAVE to be okay with this.
START EARLIER – Brighton has Open Houses in May, probably a good idea to have a mooch around then, not as if these presents will become too old to give and it’s very doubtful that the recipient will have bought one themselves (which can happen with more common items). Trying to buy everything (especially with postage dates) in December is putting a lot of pressure on yourself. Going round Open Houses takes a lot of time and you need to give yourself more time to get it done. I was averaging about 5 open houses per day, after that I was too exhausted to think properly and knowing myself, knew that I wouldn’t achieve anything positive if I pushed myself any more.
Have some ideas – have categories in mind – food stuffs, natural beauty, bags, jewellery, something with angels, something this colour, etc etc. Each house has a list of the stuff inside, and it means that before even going in, you have some idea who on your list this will cater for (and whether that will mean moving things around)
Be prepared to fail – you might not get things for people. Some are easier to buy for than others. Anything you get is a positive step for buying ethically and supporting local artists/small businesses in your area.
It’s possible to buy more ethically online. There are many small artists etc selling their wares online. Not all of us have the time, energy, opportunity or inclination to potter around Open Houses. Facebook has actually been a good source of small artists businesses as many people will promote their friends, and I’m positive that asking your friends lists would supply you with many individual people to buy unique and unusual presents from.

Lastly, I do want to make sure I admit that I didn’t manage this with everyone on my present list. For some, I couldn’t find anything that I was happy with in the Open Houses, and I did enlist the help of my Mum for a couple of final ideas for my siblings. I did take a wander a couple of times along my local high street and will easily admit that Superdrug and WHSmiths filled in some gaps. We can only do what we can do. This time of year is often pressured enough on people, so there is little sense in needlessly increasing that pressure on ourselves.

Will I do this again? I’d very much like to. Let’s just see how well the presents are received first!

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