Of bellies and dancing

I did it.

I went to the belly dancing taster.

Something I’ve been wanted to try for decades and never found the confidence. If ever there is a time for faking it till I make it, it’s now. I also figure what better way to regain core strength and confidence after my hysterectomy than with something so intrinsically and fundamentally feminine?

New town. New home. New life. But not a new me…. a more me. A deeply strongly confidently solely me.

This week was about being big and brave. Diving straight into that deep end. Finding a yoga class, starting the deep work with my counsellor, discussing a new project and this. Dancing. Belly dancing. New people. New place. Several things that alone make me anxious and here am I combining them.

Tonight was a demonstration raising money for some charity or other, then a chance to try it out.

The setting was incongruous – an old man’s fishermans club so I felt so incredibly self conscious with a fair amount of people sat round watching, but still I did it. I did make sure I was close to the stage furthest from any audience. 

I’d started talking to a woman outside while we waited to go in, someone who looked as nervous and as unsure as me. She was in a similar position – always wanted to try it and never before had the confidence. We agreed to look after each other. We sat together and chatted while waiting for things to get started, shared a bit of our life stories, found some similarities. 

What she failed to tell me was she knew several other people who were also turning up, so all of a sudden I’m introducing myself to several new people and being unexpectedly social! Everyone was friendly and included me in their social conversation without a second blink. 

The demonstration thrilled me with the rich vibrant colours and the flowing silky or chiffon fabrics, the glint and the ting of golden discs and the fuck your conventional body shapes sexiness.

Then it was our turn. 

I have fuck all core strength, not much balance (you need core strength for that it seems) and I swear I used to have some coordination and dexterity. Which arm goes with what leg again? Oh, we’re turning now. Oops, other way!

I felt awkward and exposed and vulnerable. 

But I also felt a glimmer of what it could be. 

The power. The strength. The confidence.

One of the women in the dance class (not the sea gypsies performance group who were also there and performed) approached me and started chatting. A mind blowing 62 years old (does not look nor act it, I want to be her), she was so friendly and made it easy for me to take down the details of the Tuesday night class (I’ll have to swap yoga to Thursdays…) and agree to go along. The lady I’d got chatting to outside is planning to go too. I made her promise.

I was checking what to wear, admitting I loved the outfits and the lovely dance lady gave me a coin belt. One I’ll wear to my first class.

At that point all the emotions came up to say hello and I don’t want to walk home alone too late in a city I’m still learning so I excused myself and left.

Laughter and tears mixing as I walk home.

I did it. And I can’t wait for Tuesday. 

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Self Care is Sexy

So I last wrote about lists and tasks and getting things done and how important that is in my fight against the Goblins of Anxiety.

And sometimes it’s not enough…

Sometimes the most important thing to go on the list is Self-Care.

Amongst some of my dearest is the saying “Self-Care is Sexy”

Because we think that self care gets a bad deal. Plus we need reminding ourselves. We’re fine with telling others to look after themselves, but frankly a bit shit at taking our own advice.

Self-care can take many forms. From a duvet day, to seeing friends, from a decent meal, to getting away for a holiday, to a bubblebath, to a nice glass of wine or steering clear of substances for a while to appropriately prescribed medications. All dependent on what’s going on, what you will allow yourself to do and what time/energy you have available.

Self care is personal, just because someone else swears by meditation, running, the gym, crafting while watching trashy telly, doesn’t mean it will work for you. You need to experiment and be honest with yourself about the results.

self-care

I really like that tree from – https://imaginethatyou.wordpress.com/ – while not everything on there is on my self-care list, I like the idea of having a “Self-Care Tree” like this. May have to do this!

There’s also a list somewhere along the lines of – have you eaten, have you slept, have you drunk some water, have you got some fresh air, have you washed – which can be handy when those goblins are running rambunctiously in our minds.

After a number of days of not getting enough sleep, heart palpitations and my digestive system shutting down to the point that I lost 4lbs in as many days, I phoned my doctor and after a chat about what was going on and what I was experiencing, received a prescription for a low dose sedative as a temporary measure.

I’ve been medicated a few times to varying degrees and for various lengths of time. And while I’d rather not, I have no problems with it. It’s like I’d rather not take paracetamol because I don’t want to be in pain to begin with. But if the pain is there, I’m damn well going to take the pills – and look at why I’m in pain and try and address the cause. Natch.

So self care then! Put on your own mental health oxygen mask first before helping others. Healer, heal thyself (then the rest of the D&D party if they ask nicely).

It’s not selfish, or arrogant, or lazy or indulgent to do self care. It doesn’t mean you’re failing.

I’m also not doing the “if you would only have an organic flax seed smoothie every morning and meditate for an hour then you’d not need medication” bollocks, because frankly shut up with that crap.

Whatever works. As long as it doesn’t actively harm you, or others, go for it. If there are things that absolutely must get done, get what support you need to do them. Push anything that can be pushed back by a period of time, and treat yourself.

Henry and Liza

I’m not normally quite this prolific, but I’ve been in need of distractions lately. This isn’t a personal post as some of them are, but more a general pondering that was sparked by randomly coming across this song again –

There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza, There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, a hole.

Then fix it, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry, Then fix it, dear Henry, dear Henry, fix it.

With what shall I fix it, dear Liza, dear Liza? With what shall I fix it, dear Liza, with what?

With straw, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry, With straw, dear Henry, dear Henry, with straw.

The straw is too long, dear Liza, dear Liza, The straw is too long, dear Liza, too long.

Then cut it, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry, Then cut it, dear Henry, dear Henry, cut it.

With what shall I cut it, dear Liza, dear Liza? With what shall I cut it, dear Liza, with what?

With an axe, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry, With an axe, dear Henry, dear Henry, an axe.

The axe is too dull, dear Liza, dear Liza, The axe is too dull, dear Liza, too dull.

Then sharpen it, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry, Then sharpen it, dear Henry, dear Henry, sharpen it.

With what shall I sharpen it, dear Liza, dear Liza? With what shall I sharpen it, dear Liza, with what?

With a stone, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry, With a stone, dear Henry, dear Henry, a stone.

The stone is too dry, dear Liza, dear Liza, The stone is too dry, dear Liza, too dry.

Then wet it, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry, Then wet it, dear Henry, dear Henry, wet it.

With what shall I wet it, dear Liza, dear Liza? With what shall I wet it, dear Liza, with what?

With water, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry, With water, dear Henry, dear Henry, with water.

In what shall I carry it, dear Liza, dear Liza? In what shall I carry it, dear Liza, in what?

In a bucket, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry, In a bucket, dear Henry, dear Henry, in a bucket.

But there’s a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza, There’s a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, a hole

——

It occurred to me that this song is actually a pretty good analogy for anxiety and depression. 

Not being able to sort things out yourself, asking for help but not taking it, circular arguments justifying the position of stagnation. Helpful advice from people that sometimes actually doesn’t help or is turned aside (sometimes with good reason, sometimes not). 

In the lyrics of the song I always felt I could sense the growing frustration of both characters as Liza’s advice is constantly thwarted and Henry’s problems aren’t accepted.

When we speak up about our fears and restrictions sometimes we don’t want help. We want acceptance. Helping can (intentionally or not) sound like “can you just be better so I don’t have to deal with this please.”

Not all the time.

But sometimes.

And the helper doesn’t get to choose when.

It can be agonising for the one struggling if the helper is someone they care about as often we don’t want to upset or offend them by being negative about their well meaning offer.  We want them to be reassured that they are in fact helping us, so we try and hide the fact that we are still in the same place. This all takes yet more mental energy.

Then it gets complicated.

Acceptance says, “yes this is rubbish and you’re still worthy of love and attention and time.” Sometimes help can be given after enough acceptance. Sometimes not. Sometimes acceptance can even condone the state of doing nothing. There is no perfect list of instructions here.

There wouldn’t be a song if Liza sat down and said something along the lines of, “wow, stupid bucket, that sounds really shit, shall I put the kettle on?”

But maybe that’s what Henry needed.

Easy to forget

It’s easy to forget how powerful the grip of anxiety is.

How despite all the measured deep breathing and rational calm talking, it refuses to lessen it’s grip on both mind and body.

How it feels like a spear through my chest. A physical weight and pressure in the centre of my chest both external and internal, through to my spine. Or maybe it doesn’t. Maybe it feels like a balloon slowly expanding and taking up the space where my heart and lungs should be, making it hard to breathe.

It’s easy to forget how laboured my heartbeat can get at times, feeling like a knackered horse struggling to get up a hill, it’s erratic beats doing nothing to soothe and reassure.

It’s easy to forget that the words in my mind at this time aren’t real. Aren’t based in fact, but are my own fears and insecurities reflected back to me. They swell in my throat making casual socialising almost impossible to navigate.

It’s easy to forget that we can find evidence to anything if we look hard enough. Easier to accept the words spoken so passionately and evocatively. Best protect yourself against what is to come… it’s hard to keep fighting against the words when the physicality accompanying them doesn’t fade…. surely if your rationality and logic was correct you’d feel better by now….? And so it goes on.

Times like this, the dark and scary part of the ride we are all on, just hold on, remember to breathe and wait. Just breathe, that’s all that’s required today. It doesn’t last forever.

But it’s easy to forget.

Reset

I feel as if I have a reset button at the end of this week.

I’ve not planned past Friday (bar a few obvious essentials of having care and food).

I have vague thoughts of getting health and fitness back on track – motivation became subzero in the last few months. I’ll have to think about finding somewhere else to live and ponderings of rediscovering the “me”ness of me. But that’s all they are. Vague thoughts. The planning and execution of which will happen after Friday. After the big red button is pushed.

Any scifi/fantasy watchers out there will doubtless have seen a storyline involving the wrong version of a character – maybe the timeline got corrupted, maybe a transporter beam went awry, they got pulled in from a parallel universe or a spell went awry – and we as viewers know that this version is wrong, that for order to restored, for everything to be right again this character needs to be replace by the correct one – by the end of the episode the reset button will be hit and the wrong character will be replaced by the one we love. Then all is right with that world again. We know this. We expect this. We root for this.

But for the “wrong” character, all they know is they exist and they have to die. They may or may not agree with that, they may or may not know. But they stop existing.

This is the only way I can explain how I feel this week. Of course I know that I’m not going to stop existing. Surgery and general anaesthetic is scary but I don’t have a not going to wake up again fear. That’s not what this is, and I don’t mean to overdramatise things. But I do have a weird nebulous existential feeling that on Friday everything changes. I will go to sleep that afternoon. I will wake up sometime later that afternoon and everything will be different. I will be different. Irrevocably changed. There is no putting back what is taken (not that I want it anyway, it’s defective and needs to go).

The me that exists now, typing this, will not be the person who returns home at some point next week.

And as much as I have literally signed up for this. It’s an existential fear that just won’t quit.

See you on the other side…

 

 

Toddler brain

My anxiety can often be like a toddler having a tantrum.

I write this in full acknowledgement that I’m not a parent. But I’ve been around enough toddlers to see them melt down over the most random of stuff. And my anxiety does that too.

Unsurprisingly my anxiety is in storm force mode currently. It’s whirling around trying to find something to focus on. It’s amazing what you find when you’re looking for it.

Thinking of my anxiety symptoms like a toddler has helped me develop coping strategies.

1. Logic and reason. I can see parents shaking their heads already. Yes. This rarely works. But it’s always worth trying first. Acknowledge what’s going on and what’s being felt. Make a show of checking for monsters under the bed. Acknowledge not finding any. The reasons why we are safe. Sometimes it works. I can talk myself down. Often it doesn’t and we move on.

2. Love and hugs. Treats. Blankets. Time off. Bubble baths. Wine. Whatever this is for you. Yes it often involves spending money which sometimes means it can’t be done. It involves time which we don’t always have. If you can, give yourself a treat you won’t give yourself a hard time for later. Totally guilt free. Get cuddles from someone who won’t try and fix anything. Talk to yourself to find out what you need and deliver it. Be your own nurturing loving parent. After all we still love our toddlers even when they are throwing a tantrum and sometimes cuddles stop the tantrum. And sometimes they don’t.

3. Distraction. Ooooh shiny! Mindless TV, games, craft projects, books. The trick is something entertaining and engaging enough to keep the attention but not difficult or stressful. Again they his takes time which sometimes we don’t have so…

4. Time out. Sometimes we just have to get stuff done. We’ve tried everything else and it’s just not working and the job has to be done, the bills have to be paid. Sometimes I have to put my anxiety on a virtual naughty step and just let it cry it out. Breathe through it, wipe those sweaty palms and do the job. Later, when there’s time, there will be a prize. And it can be anything you like (that is feasibly within your ability and budget to get) because you’ve had to tough it out.

This are my coping strategies. Yours may vary 🙂 these work for me. They don’t go in order. I don’t go from 1-4. Often I know which one to pick but sometimes I don’t. Sometimes a tried and tested technique fails. Sometimes they all fail. But only sometimes. Like with toddlers, consistency is important, following through is important. Don’t promise yourself a treat and don’t deliver. Don’t have a treat then give yourself a hard time over it!

The toddler in our heads may not grow up. But at least it won’t become a teenager!

It begins

2016 sucked, 2017 will be much better – was the general hopeful statement over the festive season and each time I swallowed back my reaction with a variable amount of success and thought, no, not for me, not for a while, roll on 2018, can I have a Tardis please, can I just fast forward to the bit where everything is okay again and everything is healed both physically and emotionally. Can I just skip over this bit?

But of course it doesn’t work that way. We walk the slow path, step by step, making what choices we can with each one and hoping each step is moving us in the right direction.

2017 sees me undergoing both marriage separation, something that’s only recently entered the public domain, and major surgery – subtotal abdominal hysterectomy to remove numerous small and one large fibroid.

Both these things clouded my head before I was able to be open and honest about them and that incongruence hurt me almost more than the events themselves. At least I’ve been able to be honest in recent months.

I then had three months of limbo. It gets tiring fixing the smile on your face and answering, no date yet, in answer to well meaning acquaintances. Knowing they can’t see the frustration because they don’t deserve it.

As I need a secure place to rest and recuperate from the surgery, I couldn’t even begin to start sorting out a new life or deal with separation. And so, apart from some vague decluttering and a deed poll to return to my maiden name, not much changed. And the emotions were easy to pop on a mental back shelf for later. There is a frustration about having to plan for everything and nothing, being held in limbo but there’s also a safety because nothing can change.

Then the letter arrives. The date is known. And the reality crashes in.

My first reaction is a bigger declutter. I spend the next day divesting myself of as much stuff as I can. Anything I think can raise pennies is offered for sale. A new life costs money. Money in the savings account is security, options. Anything else is donated to a nearby charity shop or chucked in the bins. I feel clearer. Lighter.

I let people know my date, discuss plans with close friends offering help, work out options and schedules with them – it’s important to me that anyone offering help doesn’t feel used or sidelined. I read as much of the hospital information as I can deal with, I put dates in my diary and I start lists.

What to take with me. Who can be around when.

A post surgery groceries list.

The obligatory crafting list.

How to keep my strength and immune system top notch.

Perhaps not surprisingly I wake today feeling ill. Sore throat, snuffly nose. So it’s a day of rest. And a day to let the emotions speak up.

I’m scared. While I need and want this surgery, while I’ve been waiting for this for months, I’m terrified of it. My anxiety disorder relies on experience to calm it down. I have no experience with which to quiet the whispers in my head. Only practical tasks. And there’s only so many of those I can do.

I’m scared of waking up attached to things. My anxiety can be triggered by a feeling of being trapped, the thought of being connected to medical equipment and not being able to get out of bed (not that I’ll be wanting to anyway, but anxiety isn’t rational) is terrifying.

I don’t like not knowing when I’ll be home. I want to plan for it. I want to plan for everything. It makes me feel safer.

I’m scared of what will happen to my.body after. I can’t carry on the way I am, I am usurped by invaders and they cannot stay. But will things return to normal and my control after? Will my body be mine again or will it be changed? Will it kickstart menopause? That’s the big one. I’ve been told it shouldn’t but bodies are complex things. Will I stop looking like a pregnant egg?

21st April feels both very close and ages away as I face this next step in getting rid of Freddie and whatever comes after.

Freddie

Hi, I’m Tania, I’m 42 at the time of writing this and on some as yet unknown date in 2017 I will be having a partial hysterectomy.

I had never heard of fibroids before September 2016. It’s safe to say I’m uncomfortably familiar with them now. I know the different types, the different placements, the different treatments. I know which ones I have and why the number and size of them render any option but a hysterectomy pointless.

I also know why all my attempts to eat healthily and exercise were having little effect on my belly. I am the about the size I would be if I were 5 months pregnant. That’s how many and how large these little blighters are.

Although I’d been feeling a little uncomfortable I could rationalise it that I could still get out of bed, go to work, so therefore I fully expected to be told to just get on with it and they’d eventually go away in ten or fifteen years. These things thrive on hormones that eventually fade from our system. I didn’t like the thought of having them but I didn’t have the extreme symptoms Google kept finding for me so I told myself not to expect anything. The referral was to stop me bothering my gp surgery, that was all.

So it was a shock to leave Worthing hospital having put myself on the waiting list.

When “hysterectomy or nothing” was bluntly stated by my gp surgery I imagined that such a procedure would immediately dump me into post-menopausal womanhood. A place I am not ready to go. I saw it as the end of my life as I knew it and the start of a phase that I wasn’t ready to start. We all know that phase is coming as women, but there’s a rough timestamp on it, and I haven’t yet met anyone who is eager to bring it forward.

Something else I’ve learned is that it doesn’t mean that. Once I’ve recovered, I can go about my life as normal. Just minus the home of a couple dozen fibroids (the largest and most troublesome of which I’ve named Freddie. Naming things helps.).

Having never seriously wanting kids – and not seeing that changing in the next few years – it’s not a problem to consider a hysterectomy in those terms. Although it’s one thing to make that decision myself and another to realise that choice won’t exist in another 12 months. I still don’t want kids (I love them, I also love giving them back), but I want that to be my choice. And soon it won’t be. There’s a weird ass unexpected grief in that. I’m not mourning the loss of being able to have children as the loss of that being my choice.

I want the surgery. I’m uncomfortable and it’s not easing. It’s slowly increasing and I still have months to wait. I’m also very scared. This is major surgery. Abdominal Surgery. Weeks of recovery time. And that’s keeping away from the lists of possible complications that I’m not going to read. Apart from having my stupid toenails removed because genetics insisted they kept fucking up the simplest job, I’ve never had surgery. Never stayed in hospital. I’ve not even broken a bone. And here I am facing having an entire bit of me removed.

So this is me. This is me writing about it because that makes me own it. Makes it somehow easier to deal with. If it can be written down, it can be dealt with.

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.

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.

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