A leap of faith

Warning – may be triggering.

It’s been a while since my last post.  I’ve found myself very busy managing full time work, part time study, exercise, gardening and socialising!!  Never thought I would start a post with that statement.

Last week I did something exciting and very unlike me.  I got a tattoo on my inner left wrist.  It’s a sunflower and I think it looks beautiful.  Some friends and family are horrified and think I have lost my mind (again!) and keep reminding me I have it for the rest of my life.  Really?  I had never thought of that!!  Unfortunately, I can’t tell them the full reasons for getting it done and what it represents to me.  They only know a small part of a big story so their confusion is somewhat justified.

Many of you reading this, know a little more of my story so I hope you don’t mind if I share the significance with you. Of note, I am not recommending this as a solution for everyone.  It is very much something I have done for myself.

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Yellow is my favourite colour which I’ve blogged about before: Yellow It brings to mind happiness, summer, warmth and life.  I love Daffodils.  When they break through the earth you know that winter is fading and longer days, warmth and light are on the way (although not always in the UK!!).  For me though, it has always been the Sunflower that steals the show.  Such a huge, strong flower coming from such a tiny seed.  They grow so tall and stretch up daily towards the sun.  A long sturdy stem sprouting leaves much in the same way that I imagine Jack’s beanstalk.  Eventually, the flower appears, face towards the sun and full of its own brilliance. The depth of the yellow fills you with warmth and you can’t look at it without smiling.

It seems that last year Sunflowers were everywhere…including the hospital I was staying in.  At the time I thought it ironic to have such a happy flower in a place full of people struggling to find any light in their lives.  Some days it felt they were mocking me.  Other days, they reminded me of where I was trying to get to.  Looking back with my ‘new’ mind I understand completely why they were there and am eternally grateful for their presence.

As an aside, the humble Sunflower Seed is also classed as a Superfood, contributing to numerous health benefits.  Beautiful to look at and healthy too!!

In the past one of my coping mechanisms for dealing with uncomfortable emotions has been to self-harm.  Traditionally, this had always been done with no visible signs but last year it changed and as a result I have a number of scars on my left arm.  I’m not ashamed of them and I don’t hide them.  They are part of me and remind me of where I have been and how far I have come.  For some reason it was always important to me that when I harmed, I could see the wounds and the.  Somehow, the best place became my left arm.

Following lots of therapy, I have a number of safer, and, let’s face it, more effective ways to manage emotions.  However, I also needed to think of what to do at times that I wasn’t feeling strong and felt the urge to resort to my old ways.   The tattoo is in itself a scar but is created as a work of art in a controlled environment.  It is on my left inner wrist so is somewhat hidden but also accessible to me at all times.

Each time I look at my Sunflower ‘scar’ I am reminded of my journey and how much I have learnt.  It reminds me that I am stronger than I think.  Each time I glance at it through the day I am reminded to pause, breathe and be mindful.  IF I feel the need to self-harm moving forward, I am hoping that I can use ii as a point of focus so that I can pause and remember.

I know that it will always be with me.  That’s kind of the point.  If I was able to remove it easily, I would get rid of it as soon as my mood became low.  It needs to be permanent because it tells my story.  It is part of me.  It wasn’t a rash decision…as I hope you have seen.  It’s a scar that I chose to have when I was feeling at my best.  It is beautiful and provides a focus for me on my path for me.  It’s not a reminder that I have been ill. It’s a reminder that I am here.

 

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Very Inspiring Blogger Award

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Wow.  I have just returned from a bit of an absence and found that A Bipolars Reality has nominated me for this award.  Amazing and can’t believe that this blogging has led to becoming inspiring.  Please visit A Bipolars Reality blog, a very courageous and honest lady.

So, to accept this award the rules are as follows:
•Thank and link the amazing person who nominated you.
•List the rules and display the award.
•Share seven facts about yourself.
•Nominate 15 other amazing blogs and comment on their posts to let them know they have been nominated.
•Optional: Proudly display the award logo on your blog and follow the blogger who nominated you.

Seven facts about me….

1/ I’m an emergency volunteer, meaning that should there be a major incident (fire, plane/train crash etc), I get called out to assist.  Either working with victims or supporting the emergency services.  So far I have been called out twice (in 15 years).

2/ I am notoriously clumsy and have already visited A&E twice this year.  Fortunately, the most I’ve broken is a rib.

3/ I have an amazing cat called Dave.  I live in his house but have to pay for everything!!

4/ I once met Princess Diana when she officially opened the childrens ward I helped set up.

5/ With my work I have visited the following countries: Switzerland, France, Hungary, Romania, Turkey, US, Thailand, Singapore, Brazil, Canada, Austria, India

6/ I live in my dream house in a beautiful, historic city and can hear the cathedral bells on a Sunday morning.

7/ I seem to be forever single and would say that I have only had two meaningful relationships. The first lasted 6months and the second 10months.  Consequently, other than my student days, I have always lived alone (until Dave moved in and took over.

15 other Very Inspiring Blogs…..I may struggle here.  More because I find all the blogs inspiring and hate to pick and choose.  I will try my best though.  In no order whatsoever….

1/ DysthmiaBree

2/ Cee’s Photography

3/ 61Musings

4/ The war in my brain

5/ Sharktoothsweater

6/ Kate Murray

7/ The Diary of an Insecure Mother

8/ Joseph Del Duca

9/ Thai Village

10/ Delightfuldystopia

11/ SilverLiningsProject

Get well soon

Today has been a very strange day.  It shouldn’t have been, but it was.

Last night, I fell down my stairs.  My stairs are wooden and hard.  My body is soft.  I have a mild concussion (albeit self-diagnosed), grazes to my knees and elbow.  I have a huge black/red bruise across my lower back and further bruising coming out on my back under my ribs.  Everywhere hurts.  But nothing is broken and in a few days the pain will go and the bruises will fade. I can deal with this sort of thing. Physical pain?  Pah!  I laugh in the face of this.

Having told people about my accident I have never received so much attention.  I’ve been given sympathy, concern, offers of help, hugs.  I even got chocolate!!  I was advised to go to the doctors and get checked out.  Someone bought me pain killers. Take it easy, rest, don’t be a hero.  To top it all off, my mum turned up with some flowers.

All seems normal so far. And yet for me (and many others) this is a strange experience.

Last year I spent time in hospital following an exacerbation of my depression.  When not in hospital I hid away in my house, unable to face the world.  I couldn’t sleep at night, I couldn’t stay awake during the day.  I lost over 3 stone in about 6 weeks.  I was self harming and putting my life at genuine risk.  I couldn’t get out of bed, I couldn’t shower, I couldn’t concentrate.  I felt worthless.  I felt I had nothing to offer the world.  There was just no point to anything.

Yet, the sympathy wasn’t forthcoming.  I got no cards, no flowers, no chocolate.  I was told to pull myself together and I had nothing to be depressed about.  Don’t take anti-depressants, you need exercise and a healthy diet. When I had the crisis team visiting every day, my mum was concerned they were making it worse as all my focus was on being depressed.  I should be distracting myself from it.  And this was from the people who stayed in touch.  Many didn’t stay in touch.  They just didn’t know what to do or say.

So there you have it. Today was a really strange experience for me.  And if you don’t mind, I shall take myself back to bed (slowly), take some pain killers, eat my chocolate and read a magazine….how much I love this physical pain.

What if?

 

On paper my life looks almost perfect.  I know this because I have carefully constructed it over the years.  When I wake up in the morning I have a pretty good idea what I will be doing that day, and most likely the next 3 days (and weeks if we’re being honest). I have a good job and a beautiful house.  I have enough money to live pretty comfortably. I have great friends. I can just about manage my relationship with my family.  I am relatively fit and healthy.  I have 101 great stories to tell of my experiences in this life. I have a cat for affection and spontaneity.  I’m single because, quite frankly, relationships generate too many emotional ups and downs and these aren’t good for me in terms of managing my depression.  Everything is stable, consistent and safe…or at least I thought it was.

Earlier this week I had my eyes opened.  It was in one of those pesky therapy sessions where they help you relax and then drop a bombshell.  Perhaps it was this lack of excitement and opportunity that was now feeding my depression?  What if I could shake things up a bit?  What if I started to make some changes?  What if I started a relationship? Obviously, the thought makes me a little hot and sicky, but seriously, what if I did start a relationship?  What if it actually worked out?  What if it didn’t? Would it actually be that bad? Or, could it actually be as good as it sometimes looks?  The thing is, I won’t know until I try.  

What I do know is that on my current route, my future self will be asking ‘What if I had?’.  That somehow seems scarier that asking now ‘What if I do?’

How about you?  Are there any ‘What ifs?’ you can apply to your life?

10 steps to beat the beast

I recently had a relapse with my depression.  It was quite a scare as I hit some lows that I had hoped were history.  I knew what triggered it, but that didn’t help at all.  What did help though was still managing to implement all I have learnt over the last few months.  Not only did I get the ‘positive’ from implementing them, but I got it from knowing that I was fighting back.  I would love to say that after 3 days I had got myself back to the top, but the reality was more like a month.  Even then it was still up and down. 

I’ve been pretty good now for an entire week and thinking that we may have beaten that beast.  To celebrate I thought I would share some of tips.  If you have tried any of these, or have some new ideas, then please share.

1/ ‘It won’t last for ever’ 

As awful as it felt at the time, my logical brain kept telling me that it was a ‘blip’ and would soon be over.  Experience has proved this so it’s the one thing I hang on to.  Some days I would just tell the logical mind to get stuffed, it was talking rubbish, but other days the message did get through and that gave me strength to keep going.

2/ ‘Just do it!!!’ 

I have mentioned this golden rule before, so no matter how low I felt I always tried.  I didn’t want to do anything and all my efforts were focussed on staying in work (I’ve been back for over 4 months now and don’t want to go off again).  As soon as I got home I would want to crash into bed exhausted and weekends were a bit of a bed fest, just to recuperate from the week.  However, each day, I would make myself do something, regardless of how I felt.  So, on my weekends, I would make myself get up and shower, even if that was all I would do.  When I got in from work, I would make myself have a bit of toast or something before heading to bed.

3/ ‘Be social’ 

I am less than social at the best of times, but I know it’s important for me to feel connected to people when low.  This is a really new concept for me and I am only just getting to grips with it.  However, I’ve learnt enough to know I have to try and keep connections.  I have a great friend living round the corner who has a 6month old baby.  If I hadn’t seen anyone for a few days, I would make myself text her for coffee and baby cuddles.  Whilst there, it was a great distraction and I would feel a little better for an hour after getting home.  Seeing the simple thrills experienced by Chloe really touched something in me and helped take me out of myself a little.

4/ ‘Mindfulness’  

For some reason, even though I enjoy mindfulness, I didn’t want to do it this time round.  It sounds ridiculous but I really fought it.  I managed it at the weekends, but during the week I felt too tired to sit and do nothing for 10 minutes???  As I started to get better, I managed to motivate myself to do this more often and little by little I could remember and feel the benefits.  When I couldn’t manage a meditation, I did try to be mindful in other ways, such as in the shower, or in the car, so all was not lost.

5/ ‘Stay hydrated’  

Dehydration makes you lethargic, tired, irritable and lacking in concentration.  Sound familiar?  I am awful at staying hydrated, but really tried to drink as much as possible so that I wasn’t making things worse for myself.

6/ ‘Be happy’  

OK, so this is a bit of a challenge, but if you really focus and think back, I am sure most people can find that one tiny thing that happened during the day that made you smile…or at least think about smiling.  For me, this was most often my cat Dave.  When I am low, he’s gorgeous, loving, affectionate and always by my side.  However, as soon as he gets hungry, it’s all about him again.  I wouldn’t necessarily laugh, or even smile, but a little part of me would feel happy and grateful to have him and his funny little ways.

7/ ‘Move your body!’  

Again, not so easy, but if nothing else I would make myself do a few stretches, particularly at the weekends.  The days I was at work, I used way too much energy as it was, but on a weekend, I just needed to keep the blood circulating.  So, going back to 2, I just did it.  5 minutes of gentle stretching just to get me moving again.  I would feel better afterwards, but wouldn’t be able to resist the pull of my bed.

8/ ‘Moodscope’  

I track my mood every day on moodscope.com.  This is even more important to me when I am low.  I know the score isn’t going to be great, but by going through the words, I can think a bit more about how I feel.  Some days I would manage to feel a little pride, because I had managed to get through the day without giving up.  Other days I would just feel ashamed that I was so useless.  Some days I would be irritable, whilst others I would feel downright hostile.  The day I scored ‘A Little’ for feeling Active was a real breakthrough.  Without doing moodscope, I wouldn’t have these marks of progress.

9/ ‘Be honest’  

For the first time ever, I was honest with friends and family as to how I was feeling.  Not in any detail, but I didn’t put on the mask.   I didn’t want them to come over or call or do anything.  I just needed them to know I was low.  Having learnt and developed so much I felt it was important to be honest. The only exception to this was work.  Work got the mask of happiness and it always will as long as I can manage it. 

10/ ‘Go easy on yourself’  

Depression is shitty enough on its own without beating up on yourself as well.  The hardest part for me was to stop beating myself up for being useless.  Some days I couldn’t manage anything and I would feel absolutely hopeless.  But, in the same way my logical head could tell me this wouldn’t last, it was also able to tell me go easy on myself.  Remember this is an illness, it’s not you.  If you really can’t get up to do your stretches…then you can’t do them.  Big deal, we’ll try again later or tomorrow.  Or we’ll do half of them, or even just one, or even just walk down the stairs.  

Self-Compassion

No, you haven’t entered into a netherworld, this is about ‘Self-Compassion’.  What is this strange term that I hear you ask?  Well, take a seat and let me explain 🙂

When I was in hospital last year, I attended a course on self-compassion.  I attended with the obligatory cynicism, and indeed, managed to get through the whole course maintaining this cynicism.  I was so proud that I hadn’t been brain washed into self indulgence.  Self-compassion is the realm of those who believe they are worth a damn.  Those self-indulgent people who chose to look after themselves and sometimes (shock of all shocks) put their needs ahead of others.  Like anyone could ever persuade me this was a good thing.

Except that now, many months later I finally get it.  I actually get it, and I am trying to do it.  And I’m getting there.  I still feel a bit guilty, a bit self-indulgent, and sometimes a bit silly, but I get it and I’m trying it.

Let’s take a step back and explain.  Self-compassion is about allowing yourself to be treated in the same way that you treat others.  Allowing yourself comfort, from others and from yourself.  If a friend told me they were feeling low, I would drop everything to help them out.  I wouldn’t think twice about it.  I would want to provide them the comfort and support they needed at that time.  If they needed to talk I would listen.  If they needed comfort I would hug.  Turn the tables round to me though and you have a different story.  I would never call for help.  I didn’t deserve help.  I was wallowing in my own self-pity and needed a good kick to get me out of it.  I was weak and just needed to (wo)man up.  No-one would want to listen to my misery anyway.

Reading this back now makes me feel sad, although these thoughts can still inhabit my mind from time to time.  I’ve been seeing a counsellor for years and really thought I was opening up to her.  I thought I was allowing her in to help me and I was paying her to do so.  The payment was important as this was a business transaction and not someone putting themself out for me.  I thought we were doing good work and she was certainly, for the most part, keeping me on an even keel.  But I realise now, that I was just telling her things, with a general feeling associated with it.

It’s only since my hospital admission, and subsequent treatment, that I have really understood what letting people in means.  And when I talk about letting people in, I include myself.  I’ve shut myself out of this as well.  It’s not about remembering past experiences and saying how awful or great they were.  It’s remembering past experiences and remembering how you actually felt at that time.  Sad, helpless, proud, ashamed, inspired, happy, worthless, worthy….the list goes on.  And experiences do generally involve a huge mix of emotions, some of them even contrasting.  

So, with encouragement, I have slowly started connecting with some of these feelings, and sharing them with close friends and family.  I don’t mean just rushing everything out…but if they ask how I am, I stop and think, and try to tell them how I am actually feeling.  And no one has run away from me, or told me to stop wallowing.  I haven’t gone as far as letting them comfort me but we are taking steps in the right direction.  I have to be honest, thinking about and identifying emotions is one of the hardest things I am having to do.

The other change I have made is that I provide myself a little comfort and try not to feel guilty.  I booked a day off work when I felt things were getting a bit much, and spent the day watching movies.  I even made popcorn and really indulged….or at least as much as a novice can.  I couldn’t help feeling a little guilty and self indulgent but I would remind myself why we were doing this (‘we’ being my old and new self).  I make myself a list of ‘healthy’ activities each day, and make sure I do them in an effort to take care of myself and maintain my health.  If I don’t do one of them, I don’t berate myself and wallow in guilt, but think about how I can fit it in the next day.  I went to a jewellery shop and bought myself my first ever piece of ‘proper’ jewellery, just because I could.  I wear and notice it every day.  It reminds be to be kind to myself and start to believe that I might actually be worth it.

So, how does this resonate with you?  Are you a doubter, believing this is the realm of self-indulgence?  Or are you an advocate and implementing some self care and spoiling?

 

Websites to inspire, encourage and make you think

Have you ever logged on to WordPress only to check the time 5minutes later to see that actually 3 hours have passed?  How on earth did that happen?  I frequently find this happening, not just on WordPress, but on a variety of other sites as well. 

I like to think my browsing history is at least a little educational, maybe inspirational.  Here are my top 10 (in no particular order).  Let me know what you think.  You will probably find some sites that you are more than familiar with, but hopefully you will find something new 🙂

  1.       www.moodscope.com

This is a site for mental health and one I use every day to track my mood.  It encourages users to ‘measure’ their mood on a daily basis.  You are presented with 20 adjectives and have to assess each one for how you are experiencing it at that time: Very slightly or not at all; A little; Quite a bit; Extremely .  There are 10 positive adjectives (E.g., Inspired, Active etc.) and 10 negative adjectives (E.g., Anxious, Irritable etc.).  Just tracking your mood on a daily basis has been shown to have a positive impact on mood.  The site tracks your scores in graph form and allows you to make notes on what you were doing that day etc.  I find it a brilliant resource and have used the graphs to demonstrate to my doctors how I have been getting on.  Highly recommended.

  1.       www.ted.com

TED is a global phenomen of inspirational talks and lectures all filmed for our viewing pleasure.  The longest films are around 20mins with most falling under this.  I am frequently awestruck by some of the speakers on here and the whole range of topics these talks cover.  Politics, Chemistry, Physics, Maths, Technology, Children, Winning the lottery, Happiness, Psychology, Ecology, The Future, Motivational, Inspirational… It’s overwhelming and you could easily get lost for hours.  For a better feel have a look at this one.  Note the audiences reaction and the date it was recorded:

http://www.ted.com/talks/jeff_han_demos_his_breakthrough_touchscreen

  1.       www.upworthy.com

This is a site with a similar theme as TED but the videos are based more on real life scenarios rather than speakers.  The videos are also much shorter.  Some of them are beautiful and make you smile and remember that there are some very special people out there. Others make very uncomfortable viewing and make you question your own actions and attitudes.  The one I have linked here is something you may want to show your teenage daughters.  It’s quite frightening and clearly demonstrates that very little is real in the beauty industry.

http://www.upworthy.com/see-why-we-have-an-absolutely-ridiculous-standard-of-beauty-in-just-37-seconds?c=reccon1

  1.       www.tinybuddha.com

This is my number one feel good site. The tag line is ‘Simple Wisdom for Complex Lives’, and that is absolutely what it delivers.  Each day delivers a new selection of inspiring blogs, each provided by users of the sites.  The blogs cover ‘love & relationships’, ‘change and challenges’, ‘healthy habits’, ‘mindfulness and peace’….you get the picture.  There is a discussion blog and then my favourite part, the fun and inspiring section.  Beautiful pictures, cartoons and images with inspiring words.  The site is a real haven of loveliness.

  1.       www.open.ac.uk

This is site for the UK based Open University.  It’s had to become one of my favourites purely because I am studying with them at the moment.  However, if you are interested into furthering your education, I would definitely have a look at the site and see the huge range of courses that are available, regardless of location.  All courses are managed as distance learning with materials provided to you as hardcover or online resources.  I am halfway through my first module and loving it.  The course materials are great and all the additional resources available on line mean that you may never be bored again!!

  1.       www.redonline.co.uk

We all need a bit of fun and escapism, and this is it for me.  It used to be a magazine delivered to my home once a month, but in honour of the environment, I now enjoy it online.  I’ll be honest, it’s a magazine for women, containing articles and information about things (some) women like: Fashion, Beauty, Food, Travel and Home & Interiors.  One important difference from other similar magazines, is that it proactively promotes strong, successful, inspirational women.  And it doesn’t do this by knocking men or comparing women to men.  It celebrates women as people in their own right.  A real pic’n’mix to whilst away some time.

  1.       www.getsomeheadspace.org

I’m a strong supporter of mindfulness and this is the organisation that first brought it to my attention.  You won’t find peaceful images of beaches, stones and clear blue skies.  Headspace clearly promotes itself as Meditation for Modern Living.  There is a lot of information on the site about mindfulness and a variety of resources to help you understand and explore mindfulness.  The main component is certainly the ‘app’ they have developed to help make mindfulness more appealing and accessible.  There is a free 10 day taster, and the meditations are the best I have experienced.  They are ‘presented’ by a guy called Andy Puddicombe and it is obvious this is where his expertise lays.  If you want a quick explanation of mindfulness, you can find his TED Talk here: http://www.ted.com/talks/andy_puddicombe_all_it_takes_is_10_mindful_minutes

  1.       www.frictionlessliving.net

This is another lovely little find.  The concept is that less is more.  I see it as applying the principles of mindfulness to all areas of your life…reducing the noise all around you.  In his own words: “Frictionless Living is dedicated to recognising how we can all embrace a little simplicity and creative thinking to make life richer, less complex, more rewarding and definitely more friction-free”  A common theme across the site is our reliance on ‘things’.  We think having things will make us happy but the reality is that they often end up burdening us.  The car that gets stolen, needs a service, insurance, flat tyre etc.  It aims to help you identify those things that are really adding to your life so that you can move away from those things that take from your life.

  1.       www.huffingtonpost.com

I am a late starter to Huffington and haven’t yet appreciated the scope of it.  What I do know, is that when browsing other sites, particularly twitter, a majority of the articles that are being shared are from ‘HuffPo’.   I have never yet been taken to an article that I have not enjoyed and I never leave the article without looking at other content on the site.  It’s completely addictive and very well written.  In terms of the type of content it deals with, it seems the skies the limit.

  1.   www.wordpress.com

This list obviously wouldn’t be complete without a mention of our host.  I was pointed to WordPress by my therapist.  He realised how well I was able to communicate through writing and suggested it as a potential outlet.  I had a look, created a basic site, and wrote a short post.  I didn’t understand blogging at all, and was amazed when I suddenly got likes, and then followers.  It has made such a huge difference to my life.  I have ‘met’ some amazing people and learnt even more.  My only request would be that if anyone has any tips for personalising a site then please let me know.

 Enjoy your browsing and feel free to add some recommendations of your own.

I dare you…