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?


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…

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.


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!

My NaNo experience

So I won NaNoWriMo today!

I’ll be honest, I’m very glad it’s over!

I won because I’m very stubborn and apparently extremely competitive, but only with myself…

As soon as I contemplated NaNo this year, I knew I was going to take part and I knew I was going to win. There was never a question in my mind. Nothing to do with ego or anything, I just knew that I wouldn’t let myself give up. Only exceptional external forces would get in the way, and fortunately life is in the calm between storms phase at the moment (personal theory – life is just a series of storms, it’s only the intensity and frequency of the storms that change, they never pass over for good – this theory was inspired by a painting I was given with the phrase “life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain”).

I wanted to do NaNo because I used to write a lot creatively. It was one of the first things to give me a sense of pride and achievement. An infant school teacher encouraged me to write creative stories in the back of my English jotter and would mark them like school essays. I would experience that amazing “Muse Trance” where it felt that I was just a conduit for the words to flow through and when I looked at the finished product, I almost felt I could claim no credit for it, I’d just been the writer/typist not the originator of these words… I felt for a very long time that if the words weren’t just flowing like that, it wasn’t worth pushing it, just put it down and pick it up later. Sooner or later the Muse Trance would hit me and something lovely would pour out, no Muse Trance, no point wasting time on it.

I had complete faith in my ability to write good stuff. It was a cornerstone of my personality and self-worth for the majority of my life.

Then I started my Advanced Post Graduate Diploma in Integrative Counselling & Psychotherapy.

This was amazing for boosting my sense of my own intelligence and ability to learn, however it almost killed my creative writing and it’s taken several barren years to recover.

For that course I estimated that I wrote some hundreds of thousands of words in all over a period of 4 years (with an extended break near the end due to life being one tempestuous storm after another). Each term required at least a 10k word essay, a 20min spoken presentation, class notes and reflective journals on each class, and two to three other assignments of varying length. The research and thought process was immense (this isn’t including the personal counselling, the 100 client hours and supervision) and it’s no wonder my brain went on an extended vacation afterwards – even now the thought of entering into a study programme again makes me quail a little inside.

So I approached NaNo with an open mind, a lot of enthusiasm, no thoughts of quality, no pressure for this to go anywhere at all, just a desire to write the required number of words in the time allotted and see what happens. With that attitude, whatever happened was the right thing to happen and held a valuable lesson in its grimy mitts.

Picture if you will a building site with many people building things. Some are serious architects with plans and goals and focus, some think they are serious architects but actually haven’t got a clue and are loudly building their castles with no foundations, some are experimenting, some are building on previous foundations and so on… and then there’s me, over in that corner over there, see the sandpit? Yup, that’s me in there throwing around sand with glee, making lots of mess and noise.

This may go some way to explain why I felt upset and affected by some very valid views very early on in the process. There I was making lots of mess and noise, being a playful toddler in the sandpit of Nano, when suddenly I felt made aware of just how messy and noisy I was in the face of people who took this shit seriously and built structures of beautiful quality that I was utterly envious of (as I sat there covered in metaphorical writing-sand)… I felt disrespectful and immature in their desire for quality and integrity, but at the same time resentful along the lines of “don’t squish my sandcastle, dude!”

I got over it and I got their point. NaNo is many things to many people I think and just as I have got upset by people taking a weekend course and calling themselves a qualified massage person, they had every right to see people thinking they could do a month of NaNo and become a published author, the growth of self publishing on Amazon and the like had lead to an increase in truly awful pieces of writing (I can’t call them books!) being in the published arena.

I carried on playing, but I did it more quietly, I didn’t post about NaNo on my facebook status anymore (apart from a few milestones and the finish line), and just got on with it.

My enthusiasm waxed and waned over the month, my huge mindmap soon stopped being useful as a structure guide as I let my “gardening” whims take the lead.
I wrote myself into and back out of corners, tried plot and random ramblings, I had a few glorious Muse Trance moments and some sentences here and there make me smile each time I read them back. I even tried writing a scene of sexy fun times – yeah that was an excruciatingly embarrassing experience! I think the world of erotic fiction can consider itself perfectly safe from me!

The last week I had definitely run out of motivation, enthusiasm and plot. Or rather… I did still have plot… but I was running out of words and had no desire to carry this on past the goalposts, I’m so done and over this now, move on, next project please! My 50,000 words is appallingly structured. With each passing day it was a bit more of a grind and the thought of writing was becoming a chore rather than the joy it had been, but my stubborn nature wouldn’t let me give up, my early enthusiasm had ensured I had a comfortable lead for most of the month, so I just crammed as much of the remaining plot in as I could, wrote what I could each day whether that was 5 or 3000 words and left it on a bit of a cliffhanger. They can all stay there, the characters, standing or sitting around the table in the library saying goodbye to the girl who shouldn’t have been living… (oooh, mysterious, eh?!)

I submitted the words, watched the winners video, changed my facebook icon and printed out the certificate.
I may have also welled up a little with emotion.

So farewell, NaNo 2013. I’m glad I took part, I’m proud I completed it. I may even try again next year and take it a little more seriously. We shall see. Not making any promises yet! Although if I do… several work colleagues have expressed curiosity in NaNo, and that could be a very interesting indeed!

Moving Day Thoughts.

I’m moving tomorrow. Well, pretty much, there are a couple of logisitical complications, but pretty much everything is being packed away and moved tomorrow.

I’m also in full time work all this week and on my busy week.

Of course, it’s almost impossible to concentrate and just as impossible to try and plan and think effectively. I am firmly stuck in rabbit-in-headlights mode. I apologise profusely to my husband.

I want to make this more okay for myself, I want to be able to say to me ‘look… it’s no wonder you’re struggling with this, it’s okay’ – so in order to do that I decided to write out my history of moving homes.

Going back in time from now….
– This move is because we’ve bought our own bigger non-damp-infested home, it’s a lovely move, however buying somewhere, even just 40% of somewhere is stressful. Never having bought before I have no idea of the process and am still somewhat of a NeoPhobe (fear of new things (as in things as yet unknown, not stuff that’s just been made!!)).
– The move before this was caused by being evicted from the friends flat I was subletting. I’d just started a new job and had a month to find a new home with next to no spare money.
– The move from West Hampstead to the friends flat in Brighton was caused by my breakdown. I wasn’t coping with anything, let alone organising a move and it only happened thanks to a friend stepping in and pretty much doing everything!
– The move to West Hampstead was okay actually, but living in that shared house wasn’t for me and contributed to my breakdown.
– The move to Archway was caused by my landlady’s breakdown which triggered a lot of unresolved stuff from my teenage years and my stepdads girlfriend-at-the-time.
– The move to Norbury was due to getting into drama school so exciting and bricking it!
– The move to my first rented tiny place was due to my friend lying and saying we were being evicted because she didn’t want to live with me anymore! To be fair, we aren’t suited to living together! Kinda hurt at the time though.
– The move to share with my friend was because my mum fell pregnant with my sister, I was given the choice of living with her but decided I was old enough to make my own way. A bittersweet time.
– The move to share with my mum was because my stepdad’s girlfriend-at-the-time tried to attack me. I mentioned this before, mum was flat sitting so there wasn’t space for me and I didn’t want to go back. I felt homeless for the first time – having a place to sleep didn’t mean having a home, I’d never felt that way before.
– The move to Brighton was because my stepdad wanted to pursue primal therapy here. His dad died just before we moved so it was a truly awful time for both of us and it was a couple of days before my 14th birthday which was understandably miserable and a difficult time to change schools.
– I don’t really remember moving to Beacon Lane, although it was already the fifth or sixth move in 5 years – including a 6 month stay in Sunderland when my parents split, though I was far too young to recall that. But… attachment theory would say it still had an effect on me and I’m not sure I’d argue overly much with that point, the psychopathology does fit.

Okay, moving fucks with my head. This move around, I’ve been Miss Avoidy Like The Plague. Now it’s tomorrow I can’t avoid it any longer and feel overwhelmed by the tidal wave of stuff that needs to be done and organised, packed and labelled. I still want to avoid, every cell of me is wanting to find a way of not going home and packing and thinking about it all, but it has to be done.
One item at a time I guess! Soon comes the nice part of choosing lovely new things to be in our lovely new home!
And in the meantime, the anxiety levels are to be expected…


Oops, Missed!

Hello Anxiety, my old friend,
Has come to mess with me again,
Because anxiety softly creeping,
Got it hooks in now I feel like weeping,
And the visions that it plants into my brain
Still remain
Within the sound of silence.

Apologies to Simon and Garfunkel for rewriting their lovely lyrics! The song pretty much fits as it is, but I felt like messing with it.

Yesterday, anxiety hit me full force. I guess I just ran out of the energy needed for keeping it at bay, and managed to completely engineer an afternoon designed to give me a panic attack!
I managed to misunderstand texts from my Mum, leading me to believe that we were going to meet in town midafternoon. Hanging about in town is not on my list of Fun Things to Do, so although I got some photo inspiration for our new home and bought a couple of things I needed, I also failed to buy my favourite Empress Grey Tea (out of stock) and failed to buy the dinner I’m cooking tonight, plus town is busy and full of people who don’t know where anything is and keep getting in my way and then when they weren’t in my way I was in someone elses…. so I fought the rising panic attack and got the hell out of dodge, feeling guilty for bailing on Mum – then of course I find out later when Mum rang me wondering what the hell all my messages were about, that I was completely mistaken and could have just gone straight home and had a lovely afternoon!

The adrenalin echoed around my system for the rest of the evening and today I feel the “hangover” that comes the day after a high hit of anxiety. It’s only quite recently that this has become a symptom for me. I honestly don’t recall this adrenalin hangover before a couple of years ago. Whether my adrenal glands are just a bit more vicious these days or my system more sensitised to it or I’m just more sensitive to the signs of it and take notice of it? I don’t know. But my cope levels are low today, a hug from my dear friend C reduced me to tears, although I noticed I shook my head violently when she encouraged me to just let go.

I know what’s going on, it’s just the mortgage and housemove. We’ve been within spitting distance of a completion date all week and being in limbo has always been worse than being in hell… I hate the not knowing… you have to try and prepare for every eventuality when in Limbo… when the shit has hit the fan then you just have to deal with a shitty fan… much easier!

I’m coming up against the part of me that doesn’t trust the world. The part of me that remembers the world being tugged out from underneath me and turning upside down on me and I just have to cope and adapt best I can… the first time that happened to me, I was 11 and learnt my Mum was never coming home again.
Over the next decade, it happened several times. Homes and relationships (of parental figures, not mine) were given and taken without a seconds warning, I sometimes started the day in one bedroom and ended it in another. Not often. But often enough that I learnt not to trust the world. Not to trust the feeling of being safe. The place that should be safe, the place you live with a parental figure (I use that term because it was my stepfather who was my sole guardian since I was 11, although he was a father to me as he’d been in my life since I was 2.5) that home had been invaded and destroyed by a bad relationship he had. I fled that place in terror after she tried to attack me and went to live with Mum where there was no place for me as she was housesitting at the time (plus, I turned up with no warning and a bag of random crap late at night when she was with her boyfriend… you can guess how welcome I felt!)

So… yeah… with this big life change and responsibility comes up some big old stuff to be felt and examined. I’m about to take a step up in life, this is how it feels. I have a (for me) well paid job that I enjoy and get a lot of satisfaction from and that I feel enriches my CV and improves future job prospects. I have a marriage that is stronger than ever having come through some rough waters. My self confidence and belief (current anxiety aside!) is at an all time high and finally having a home of our own… even if it’s a part ownership and only 40% is really “ours”… feels like we’ve finally climbed a rung on this imaginary social ladder and we are higher than we used to be.

Looking at the paragraph about the world kicking me in the teeth, it’s no wonder that I fear this happening again. That paragraph is a very rough light account of a few things from that time… it’s by no means an exhaustive list and life didn’t stop kicking me in the teeth at 21… indeed the 12 month period during which my marriage imploded and I was made redundant felt pretty toothkicky and that was within the last 5 years!

Having written this, I feel better about feeling so overcome with anxiety. I am dealing with it, there’s pretty much a constant running commentary in my head at the moment, talking me down, reminding me that ultimately everything is still okay, I’m okay, we’re okay, this will pass and I just need to keep moving through the seconds. Every second brings me closer to the answer that I want, so comfort and distract as needed. Keep doing the things that make me feel proud of myself and keep checking in, keep catching myself, keep asking these questions and keep taking note of the answers.

Everything does have a logic to it, it may not be a logic that makes rational sense to a rational brain, but it will make an emotional sense if you sit with it and note it honestly and without judgement.

And hopefully in 48 hours, I’ll have the date I need to start planning and moving forward.

Catching myself

So this morning I catch myself.

Within two seconds of waking up, I’d had a sinking feeling and thought ‘oh no’

That feeling and thought started dragging me down immediately, before pushing back the duvet even, started up feelings of resentment and frustration, resistance and stubbornness. A sense that I want to push back against whatever I have to do today – in this case, go to work and run some staff training – but with no real foundation under it.
Not really.
My job is fine, I enjoy it and there’s nothing going on there currently that would cause anxiety or cause myself to not want to be there. There has been some work stuff in recent months and there may be some kind of emotional hangover from that, but here, today, there is no reason that going to work should make me feel like this.

Catching myself, I questioned the feeling, looked at the day ahead and decided the feeling had no place in the reality of today.
That doesn’t make it go away, but it makes it a bit easier to ignore it, in order to get through a staff training session for example. There are times when the best thing to do is to bracket away your feelings in order to get on with a task.
Plus, for me, this gives me a sense of pride as for most of my life, my feelings have run roughshod over me, screaming too loudly and flashing too brightly for me to be able to focus on anything else, I treated myself harshly over what I perceived as my weakness and failure and lack of self-control, so to be able to bracket them away for periods of time now in order to focus on being at work or other stuff reinforces my (still new, but gaining strength all the time) image of myself as a Strong Coper of Life’s Stuff.
There’s got to be a better phrase/acronym than SCoLS for that…

The feeling is there though and so it deserves respect and space and gentle investigation… Bracketing away feelings only works when the feelings know you’ll come back later when you have time and a safe space to attend to them.
Like making a promise to a child.
If you’ve broken promises in the past (no matter how insignificant they seemed to you at the time), then you won’t be trusted in the future. So if you’ve promised youself that you’ll reward yourself, get back to this weird feeling, look at why you dislike small dogs, whatever it may be, and you haven’t… well, that part of yourself that you made the promise to will trust you less than before, and each time this happens it has an effect.
You need to build up trust with yourself, so start small, promise yourself things that you know you can deliver on and do it! No matter how silly or small, it’s the concept here that’s the important thing.

Make yourself a promise right now and keep it. Doesn’t matter what the promise is, just matters that you’ll keep it.

Your feelings are like a small child. They have logic and consistency, just not one that’s always apparent to us without a fair amount of searching.
I often think of the insides of my head as a toddler. It helps. It’s the same part of my brain pretty much that I label as anxiety brain, it’s just anxiety is an amorphous thing to try and open up a dialogue with, so when I’m looking to actually understand and talk with that part of myself, it helps to label it as a toddler.

In writing this I’ve just realised that when I’m labelling it Anxiety Brain, then I’ve decided it has no right to exist at all (hopefully I decide this after some investigation!) and I’m just ignoring it until it goes away! Perhaps there’s some link to having to just wait out a toddler tantrum? I’m not a mother, so only going off on a metaphor here!

Anyway, when I see that part of myself as a Toddler, then I don’t expect too much from that part of myself, I treat it with love and respect and understand that I’m the Adult here and need to look after the toddler regardless of how the toddler might say otherwise! It’s easier to be gentle with myself when I think this way, and one thing I’ve learned from twenty years of anxiety issues is that anything other than gentle doesn’t work! Certainly not coming from your own self.

“Hello feeling, what’s this all about then? Where have you come from and why are you here and what do you want?”

And if you ask yourself things like that too, don’t think you know the answers! Be ready to be surprised, be open to finding out it connects back to years ago, or that conversation yesterday or that slow buildup of stuff where one thing is petty but now there’s many things and a heavy weight. If you’re new to this, it gets easier to tell where your truth is and when you’re kidding yourself, but the key is to be gentle with yourself. Treat yourself as you’d treat your bestest most beloved person who’s going through stuff and needs an understanding friend.
Be your own understanding friend.

For me today, I’ve learnt this feeling, below its stubbornness and resentment and ‘fuck off I can’t be arsed’ness, is loneliness. Fairly pure and simple. I miss my husband who’s away working and has been very busy now for a few months. But not just alone in the flat loneliness, a connection loneliness, even when we have been together we’ve rarely connected like I now know I needed to. Not a blame thing, just a thing, both of us wrapped up in our worlds of work and stuff, both of us busy with things that felt more important at the time.

Now I realise I need that and he’s technically not even in England, but just beyond in Cowes on the Isle of Wight.
And of course this adds to the general weight of frustration and helplessness that built up in me since the end of may. Today I miss him so much it almost feels like I’m grieving.

It’s also a symptom of the mindset that makes me push everyone away and not open up when I’m slipping like this. I don’t like the inside of my head at these times, so that makes it even more difficult to open up and share it.

“Here, come share this thing I really dislike!” When is that ever an appealing invitation either to receive or to offer?

Being a hardcore introvert, my first instinct is very rarely to reach out and meet up with someone. When I’m struggling and slipping, that hermit tendancy is even more pronounced. Even when I’ve been telling myself for the past couple of weeks that I need to see more people while Hubby is away, I’ve done the bare minimum with people who understand my concept of “Anti-social socialising”
Even with Hubby and I promising each other to keep up the contact during the dreaded month of August when he’s always away working the entire month, it easily slips from both of us.

I tell myself I’m fine, I like my own company, I find it restful not having to think about others, being able to do whatever I want, watch my own rubbish on the telly, eat cheesecake for dinner if I wish, and all that is true… but even if it goes against my first instinct, I need to remember to reach out to people more often than I think I want to.
I suspect this won’t be an easy lesson to learn.
But as I want to tell everyone else who lives with anxiety, be gentle, keep aware, and listen to yourself. There are always more onion layers to peel back, more petals to unfold and more connections to discover. It’s a lifelong journey into how we work and why we are what we are and editing our operating manual 🙂

What’s the point of this post?
I guess that we are able to catch ourselves. If you are prone to immediate thoughts that colour your whole day, that you can catch them and that may alter how your day goes.
I’ve still been feeling fairly crap as I go through today, but finding moments to reflect and write this on my phone has helped me through without embarrasing myself in the work place. Has allowed me to text my Hubby and make sure we skype chat later. Has got me to the place where I’m okay that I’m not okay.
And that’s better than nothing…

Watching the Darkness

I have a friend.

The kind of friend where you say, we can never not be friends coz we know too much about each other.

I have a fear about this friend.

I fear that one day, while in the Dark Place, the lure of resting and leaving it all behind will be too strong. That one day, maybe under the influence of something, a single decision will take my friend away forever.

I’ve had this fear for a long time. I don’t mean to sound all up myself and mysterious here. It’s not as if it’s the first thing I think in the morning and the last thing at night. Days, weeks and months go by where this fear is forgotten and dusty in a corner of my mind but every now and again, when she struggles and slips and falls, this fear falls too and for a while it’s all I can see.

This last week, I faced my fear. Something happened. My friend is still with me, but only through the quick reactions of a stranger. A stranger I will never know anything about, but for whom I have a gratitude too great for words. A single split second decision to step forwards off the curb, a decision made for reasons unknown to even my friend, she doesn’t know why she did this and it could have taken her life. The quick reactions of a stranger stopped her, pulled her back and enabled my friend to be able to later talk to me about it.

When my friend struggles with the Dark Place, she withdraws from me. I almost always know something is going on (almost because I’m sure there are times I’ve not been aware of), there’s usually enough subtle little signs that something is wrong – texts sent by mistake, conversations not finished, replies not sent, plans to meet cancelled over the course of a week or two, but I never have enough information to know what is going on. I have to wait. I tread that fine line with social media where I keep in enough contact to remind her that I’m here, but I don’t turn into a nagging stalker adding to the guilty pressure and just making things worse. Always there’s the wonder about whether there’s a magic phrase that I could type or say that would make it all better and if the fact I can’t find this phrase makes me a bad, uncaring and selfish friend.

I know there’s no phrase really. Doesn’t stop me wanting one.

I think I understand maybe some of why she can’t be in contact with me at these times. I’ve thought a lot about this because it can feel so hurtful at times and because I know this isn’t about me at all. Despite my best efforts not to, my fear overwhelms my ability to remain non-judgemental and in my desire for her to be well and happy, I can’t help but worry about the decisions being made. Despite my psychotherapy training and my best efforts, we are not counsellor and client in this respect and there are very good and strong reasons why counsellors cannot and should not counsel their friends and family. I think I do judge the decisions that get made at these times, but I don’t think I – and I dearly hope I don’t – judge HER as a person. Although I recognise that it might be impossible at times to separate judging the actions from judging the person.

I’ve had my own journeys in dark places, I’ve made enough of my own decisions while there that I hope can give me the empathy I need to come to a place of better understanding – we soothe our pain the best we know how at the time. That is at the bottom of our actions and reactions I feel and sometimes all we know and all we want is shutting out or numbing the pain with things and people and situations and objects and stuff. Numb it in this second, and this one, and this one, and this one. And so it goes on.

Ultimately, I want her to face and feel her emotions because I honestly believe that’s the only way through and out – and how fucking scary must that be for her? I’m basically shoving her in front of the end of level nasty with no weapons or armour at all then slamming the door shut on her escape route. No wonder I get avoided at these times!

Because we are so close and I know so much about her, it must be so much harder for her to ignore the emotions that are threatening to engulf her. At the very moment she is needing to consider the most base choice we all have – the choice whether or not to stay alive – here am I coming down firmly on the side of living and through my own fear I am constricting her from considering the other choice equally. And I know through my counselling training how important it is for both sides of this choice to be considered, just as I know I will never be the person my friend is able to do that with.

And it hurts. Of course it hurts. I’ve had that weight in my chest over the last week, it’s more effort to breathe, I stop every now and then while the emotions have their way with me. My friend, my close friend, my Sister-Friend is hurting in the worst way possible and I can’t do anything. I’m kept outside behind a pane of frosted glass, I can’t touch, I can’t hear and I can barely see what’s going on for her, I just know something is. All I want is to take her from that Place, wrap her up in love and nurture, keep her safe until she’s strong enough to walk forward again but I also know that to do that, or to attempt to do that, would also disempower her, take away her choices and ultimately, all her decisions need to be her own or they mean nothing. She can’t choose to keep living because she’s kept away from the decisions that may end her. She can’t choose to keep living because those around her tell her too. She has to want to, has to feel it’s worth it.

And that’s something I can never help her with.

And lastly, regardless of how much pain this causes me, this isn’t about me. Never was and never will be, neither the route into the Dark Place or the path out of it has anything to do with me. This isn’t meant to be a self pitying post “wah wah my friend is hurting wah wah see how good a person I am by how much I suffer over this” because that’s just martyrdom bollocks. But my feelings are real and as such they deserve and need a place in the world. Where my feelings don’t belong is on top of everything else that my friend is trying to hold up right now, she doesn’t need or deserve that extra weight. By allowing, accepting and giving my reactions – all of them, even the selfish ones – a space and the time they need via this blog post, I hope to then keep them out of my interactions with my friend so I can concentrate on what she needs right now. Even if that is space and silence from me.

If she does read this – if you are reading this, petal – know this exploration and it’s publication to be read by friends and strangers isn’t about making sure you know my feelings, it’s not some passive aggressive way of making my hurt known to you – I know you know this already, I know it’s already a weight for you and I wish I could relieve that somehow –  it’s my continuing quest to lay myself open and congruent and transparent to myself and others, to lay out emotions like a picture at our feet to be examined in the hope they become less scary in the day. I believe truly and honestly that only by shining a light on the dark corners of our mind can we move forward, and how can I ask anyone else to think about doing this if I don’t do it myself? So here I am, shining a light on a part of my mind that’s dark and confused. I’m not sure this post is wise actually, I fear causing harm by it. But I’m going to do it as I think by doing this I uphold my principle of being open and honest. I just hope I’m right with that and I’m not just being a self pitying whiner.

I just need to explore this somewhere and like previous posts on anxiety and the like, I refuse to believe this is an isolated situation and that by blogging about it, by being open and honest with the contents of my head, maybe someone somewhere will find some comfort here that they aren’t alone.

If you recognise yourself in these words, then know I empathise with some of your pain, it’s a damn fucking scary path to walk when someone we love is confused and hurting and we can’t do what society and culture insists are the only ways to help. It’s a dark and unmapped path for a large part, but there is literature and theory out there that may help us all to understand a little more, to develop awareness of how to help them rather than try and alleviate our own fears and pain. Find a safe place for your feelings that’s away and secure and contained, do your best not to judge, either them or yourselves in this. We struggle with this because it’s hard not because we’re failing.

And I need to keep reminding myself of that.

Taking the stabilisers off my brain

So it’s been a while since I posted about anxiety and mainly that’s because mine has been under control thanks to citalopram. It is difficult to have a good awareness of anxiety when I’m not actually experiencing it, and the meds do seem to cut me off from that part of my experience even more then usual. (I’ve discussed this in previous posts)

However, my brain is freewheeling again, I came off the meds just before Christmas. Hello Unmedicated Brain! Been a while…

I did it according to my doctors wishes, I cut down slowly from 20mg a day to 10mg a day to 10mg every two days for specified amounts of time, then I stopped when I knew that I had nearly two weeks off work for any withdrawal effects to do their thing before I went back to work. Not that I really felt any… I was a bit grumpy and short tempered at times but not hugely and as soon as I noticed I was able to control it (apologies to my mother in law for a bit of grumpiness on Xmas Day!!)

So… is there any difference… is there life after meds?!

To be honest, apart from continuing to be a bit more short tempered than when I was on the medication (and generally that’s not noticeable unless you’re listening to my thoughts), no, there is no discernible difference. For me, I knew it was long past time to come off the meds because I kept forgetting to take them. I was starting to get quite worried about the effect I was having on my brain chemistry by not keeping up a regular schedule of med taking. This to me was a big sign that I didn’t need them anymore and shouldn’t be on them. But I’m a good girl with medication (or try to be) so I adhered to the doctors wishes and took far longer than I wanted in coming off them. I did see his wisdom in staying on them while I got used to a new job, and certainly the meds helped me negotiate a slightly tricky “constructive criticism” phase about 6 weeks into my new job.

I’m very glad to be off them and I hope to last more than six months this time! I guess I have a six month marker in my brain and when I pass June this year without needing to think about going on meds, I will be very glad. There is a small part of my brain that fears now I’ve started going on anti-depressants, I will fall over at ever increasing intervals until I just stay on them forever. An irrational thought you say? Hello, have we met?? Being an experiential learner, I won’t believe that I can survive longer than six months without meds until I have survived that long 🙂 rational be damned!

However, the signs are good… my new job is a lot more relaxed and enjoyable than my last, it’s still challenging, but I have a lot more gratitude and appreciation from the people that I am helping and supporting and that matters and counts more than I have words to say. Almost every encounter I have with the Visually Impaired Veterans that I now support gives me a warm expandy feeling in my heart and a big smile on my face. This adds to the “psychic armour” (for want of a better term) that protects me against the world, it adds to the feeling of worth that I have and I can honestly say I LOVE MY JOB! I love it so much I don’t even mind (much) getting up before 6.30am!

(and if you DO know me… you should know just how much that statement means!)

So…. what’s the point of this post?

I guess this is just checking in with myself post meds. Seeing where I currently am on my personal Path through life, noting that it’s currently a good place and marking that.

From spending several months last year on meds, I have gained more awareness of my cognitive processes. In the month since coming off meds, I’ve been able to note my mental responses and once aware of what I’m thinking, I’m able to take control of it – switch from a grumpy irrational response to a calmer one for example.

How do I feel about meds – the same way I feel about painkillers or nytol – they serve a purpose. Taken correctly and not abused, they can help to gain and keep control, help do the things that need to be done and smooth the rough edges. However (according to me), none of these things are meant to be taken permanently and it’s better if they don’t need to be taken at all. But if they do… then take them, use them, it’s what they are there for and there is no shame or guilt in that. Just use them properly and make sure they enhance and improve your life and allow you to do the things you want and need to do otherwise… what’s the point?

In my case, the meds got me through a really difficult work situation and allowed me to keep going when every anxious bone of me was begging to run screaming for the hills then fall over. They allowed me to go through the soul crushing process of finding a new job in todays difficult work climate and get through the first few months of a completely new work environment.

I thank them for that.

And now I look forward to seeing how I do without the stabilisers on my brain and I hope that it’s a very long time indeed (or never) until I need them again.

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