Tag Archives: Mindfulness

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.  

A change is as good as a rest

When was the last time you tried something new?  Not something ‘big and exciting’ new, but just a little change to the norm.

This morning, I got a text from a friend, asking if I wanted to go to the ballet to see Swan Lake with her this afternoon.  Her husband had decided he just really didn’t fancy it anymore.   Ordinarily, my immediate response would have been to think of an excuse and politely decline.   I don’t generally ‘do’ spontaneity and especially not for a social event in a busy environment.   Today though, I knew I needed to get out and mix with people.  And I knew it was up to me to make it happen.  I quickly said yes, and arranged to meet outside the theatre.  What a great decision it turned out to be.

I’ve had a bit of a downturn this week and found myself really struggling.  At times it has felt like I was going right back to where I started, but I have continued to try all the techniques I have learnt.  It’s been really hard, especially given how well I have been doing.   Nothing has really seemed to help, but I have kept trying all the same.  Hence my decision this morning.  I could have stayed at home and not spoken to no one all day, but as tempting as that sounded I knew it wasn’t a good idea.

It was the Vienna Festival Ballet and was being performed at my local theatre.   I’ve never been to a ballet and have always wanted to.  I used to love my ballet lessons when I was younger.   I remember getting a white knitted wrap around cardigan and I would wear it all the time.  I had the special ballet bag with a separate section for my shoes.  Before each exam my mum would scrape my hair back into a bun and I would be so happy.    Despite this, I had never seen a proper ballet performance.

The theatre is about a 15 minute walk from my house so I decided to leave early and look round the shops first.  There was a sale at my favourite shop, so I had a look round and ended up buying a new dress.  I had seen it a few weeks earlier and tried it on.  It looked lovely on but it was just a bit too expensive, so having my size in the sale seemed a little too good to be true.  The market was in town so I took in all the sounds and smells, and the amazing range of goods on offer.   There was a stall selling homemade sweets, so I picked up a few bags to keep us going during the ballet.  I was running a little early, so stopped off at Pret a Manger to get latte and found a seat outside the theatre to wait for my friend.  I spent the time people watching and making up stories about their lives.  It was a lovely way to pass the time and to focus my mind on something other than the whirling thoughts.

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The ballet was just fabulous.  I loved it.  I had expected to enjoy it but wasn’t expecting to find it so absorbing.  The dancers can only be described as beautiful.  I don’t necessarily mean in the traditional sense, but the way they hold themselves and move like water.  It’s mesmerising.  On the surface, you don’t quite appreciate how much talent they have.  But the lines they create, how they hold poses on one leg, on their toes, for so long…and without shaking or wobbling.  The height of their jumps, the speed of their movements, the flow of their arms.  I’m smiling again remembering it all.

So that was my day.  One small change, saying yes, instead of no.  I’m not feeling a huge amount better, but I’m definitely not worse…and now I can close my eyes and see the dancers again.

Try it, and let me know how it goes?

Prevention is better than cure

Over the last year I have learnt so much about myself and how to manage my illness.  It hasn’t all been plain sailing but I feel I have reached the point where I can manage more highs than lows.  I admit part of it is drug therapy, but hey, I never claimed to be perfect.  My biggest lesson though is that if I don’t manage my illness then it manages me and I refuse to let that happen.  I’m the one in charge.

I have just reached the end of two hugely busy weeks, at work and at home.  The perfect breeding ground for a persistent harbinger of doom.  Time to turn up the lessons learnt and stay in control.

Fortunately, for the most part I knew what was coming so had the ability to plan ahead.  There was a major project rolling out at work for which I was managing the training (deadline Wednesday) and I was covering for a colleagues project whilst she was on annual leave.  I also had an assignment to submit last Monday for my degree course (psychology, obviously).  As with the best laid plans though, things soon went wrong.  The e-learning programme I was using waged war against me and my colleagues project hit some hurdles.  It meant me having to work into the evenings, and miss the time I had allotted for studying.  No worries though, I still had the weekend to do my assignment…or so I thought.  It soon became apparent though, that I was going to have work through the weekend to keep things moving.

The long and the short of it was that I got my assignment submitted on time, and I finished my e-learning programmes today, just two days late which had been pre-negotiated with the project team due to lack of IT support.  Each day this week I have been starting work at 8am and finishing at 7pm.  I am truly tired.

Tonight, I am sat at home writing this with a cup of tea by my side and Devon Sproule and her soothing tones in the background.  I am relaxed and calm and looking forward to the weekend and re-charging.  How on earth did this happen?  It happened because I focussed on prevention rather than cure.  Rather than jumping in head first and dealing with aftermath, I set up some preventative strategies.

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Prevention 1 – Where possible, plan ahead

I knew these two weeks were going to be full on, although hadn’t appreciated quite how much.  I didn’t make any social plans during the week as I knew I would be tired and need time to recharge.  I got up to date with all house hold chores ahead of the game.  I made sure I had healthy food and snacks in the cupboards…along with a small supply of chocolate.  I gave myself permission to leave things in a bit of a mess and did it matter if I left the washing up for a few days?  In all honesty, we’re just really talking mugs here, I as I haven’t been great on the cooking front.  On Wednesday I felt I needed a bit of distraction and headed out for a quick meal with a friend, something that I would most likely cancelled if pre-arranged.

Prevention 2 – Mindfulness

Strangely, the times I need mindfulness most are times I am most likely to put it off.  However, I made a deal with myself to keep it up, just 10minutes a day.  Looking back, it’s amusing that I would think to myself I didn’t have the energy for Mindfulness.  I didn’t have the energy for sitting in a chair with my eyes closed and breathing??  I kept it going though and I really felt the benefits in terms of being able to slow down my mind.

Prevention 3 – Self-talk

It’s just for two weeks has been my main mantra.  Each time I felt those nagging negative thoughts coming through I would challenge them straight away so that they couldn’t take hold.  Will I remember this in a months’ time?  It’s not your fault that the programme isn’t working.  You’re doing the best that you can.  You are going over and above what is required.  No-one is saying you have done anything wrong.  People are congratulating you for your efforts and achievements.   I trawled through my twitter feed which is heavy on positive thinkers. There was one tweet which came at the perfect time.  It read ‘You’re amazing. Remember that’.  It a generic tweet not addressed specifically to me, but at that time it might as well have been.  I read it, smiled, took a big breath and back to it.  I refused to let negativity get a hold.  (Like I say, I’m taking my meds and I’m able to do this)

Prevention 4 – Take a break

No-matter what, I would set my alarm for 45 minute intervals all through the day.  At the end of that 45 mins I would get up and walk around the office and top up my water.  If possible I would pop my head outside for a breath of fresh air.  At the weekend, I made a deal that I would do 2 hours ‘work’ in the morning and 3 hours of study in the afternoon.  For lunch I would go for a walk to town and wander round the market, grab a coffee and a magazine so I wasn’t all work.  I also picked a film to watch in the evening.  If I’m truly honest, despite the work, I found it a pretty cool weekend.  I didn’t feel like I should be working whilst I was taking time out and so was actually able to relax.  Giving yourself permission to relax makes the relaxing a whole lot easier.

So, that was my preventative strategy and it worked.  I’m relaxed with a sense of achievement and breathing a few sighs of relief.  In the back of my mind there is a little voice telling me that I will ‘crash’ in a few days but I’m not planning on letting that happen.  I’m going to keep up with the preventative strategy, give myself a few days rest (without guilt) and then get back to it.

Choose Your Attitude

Have you ever woken up and just hated the thought of the day ahead.  Maybe you have a long day at work, a hundred and one errands to run, a hospital appointment.  Whatever it is, it’s just going to be awful.  You know it.

But does it have to be this way?  You might not be able to change what happens, but you can definitely change the way you approach it.

A few years ago, at work, I was introduced to the ‘FISH Philosophy’*.  It had a significant impact on me and my approach to daily life.  I’m not perfect, I can’t do it everyday, but I do it when I can.  The Fish Philosophy was born from observations at a fish market in Seattle in the late 1990’s.  Working in a fish market has to be high on the list of worst jobs.  It’s dirty and smelly.  Your hands are frozen from packed ice.  You have to get up at stupid o’clock everyday.  You are on your feet for hours.  And you don’t get paid very much as a result.  However, if you visit the Seattle fishmarkets, you would find this hard to believe.  It is high energy, everyone is smiling or laughing, games are being played with customers….it feels more of a playground than a workplace.

Much research was carried out in the market place to discover what the secret was and they came up with the following:

Be There

Be there, is pretty much about mindfulness, before we had heard about mindfulness.  It’s about being in the moment and observing your surroundings and the things and people around you.  It always makes me laugh in the office when I pass someone in the corridor.  They’ll say ‘Hi, you alright?’.  By the time I answer they are already round the corner and out of hearing range!!  If you’re going to be there, Be There.

Play

At the fish markets, fish weren’t passed to people, they were thrown…and you had to catch them.  This obviously didn’t take the form random attacks, it was all part of the experience.  There was a small podium that customers could stand on to catch the biggest fish.  What can you do to implement play into your day?  It could be a random game of eye spy with the children in the car (or even your partner or friend).  How about picking a word of the day, and try to get people you interact with to say it? When I was a childrens nurse, working nights, I would leave some empty syringes lying around (without needles) for the children to fine.  They knew if they found one they could fill it with water and squirt me.  One of the parents once told me that they always knew when I was working as they could hear the laughter coming from the ward.  I nearly cried.   Be creative and have some fun J

Make their day

I was in a shop today and one of the assistants stopped me to say how lovely my dress looked.  I am still smiling about it now.  It made me feel so special and I was so appreciative that not only did she like my dress, but she had made the effort to tell me.  Such a small gesture, with such a huge impact.  Why don’t we do more of this?  A little tip: If you implement ‘Be there’, are you are more likely notice something to ‘Make their day’.  Let a car out of a side road and smile.  Pay special attention to the cashier.  The best thing is, that by making their day, you will also make your own.

Choose your attitude

We don’t always have control over the things we have to do, and most of our lives involve things that we dread or just bore us.  Choosing your attitude is a bit like acceptance.  You can’t change what you’re doing, but you can choose your attitude whilst you’re doing it.  Choose to do it with style and panache and a smile on your face.  Whatever it is, is going to happen.  You can either choose to be miserable whilst you’re doing it, or choose to be happy, or confident, or engaged, or anything else you want to be.

So, that’s the FISH Philosophy for you.

What can you take from this?

* http://www.charthouse.com/content.aspx?name=home2

The pursuit of happiness

I have been doing a lot of reading recently.  I love reading and have so many old favourites that I go back to time and again.  This week I have picked up a long lost favourite: The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff.  The book explains the Philosophy of Taosism through the childlike world of Winnie the Pooh.  For any lovers of Pooh Bear, I would absolutely recommend it.  A beautiful, insightful and loveable read.  I’ll try not to provide too many spoilers.

 ‘The Bisy Backson’ is the chapter I reached today and has struck a real chord with, particularly when combined with a post by the wonderful Dysthmia Bree ‘Why does everyone have to be happy all the time’. 

Both readings talk about the pursuit of happiness.  DB beautifully illustrates this pursuit and how it seems a never ending path.  Just when we think we have found it, whatever ‘it’ is, it slips from our fingers again.  ‘It’ is always just within our sight, but always around the corner.  We don’t give up though, we always keep trying.

I remember wanting my first car.  I absolutely knew that once I had it all my problems would be solved.  I would have freedom.  I could go where I wanted when I wanted.  I would be happy.  My mum did the proper thing and explained that it would be a drain on my finances and a responsibility and I would have to look after it and so on…but that was a parents job, to take away the enjoyment part of it!!  That first day I got the car did indeed live up to expectations.  I was so excited and drove round to see all my friends and show them how happy I was with my new car.  The next day, I was still happy….but I had to fill it with petrol and spend more money and whilst I was still definitely happy, some of the sparkle had started to slip.  Several more tanks of petrol, ‘dry’ nights out and a wash or two later and the car was just one more possession that was now diverting happiness away.  If I am truly honest, my happiest period was in the few days running up to the purchase.

What has Winnie the Pooh got to do with all this?

“ “What do you like doing best in the world, Pooh?” asks Christopher Robin

“Well,” said Pooh, “what I like best –“ and then he had to stop and think.  Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called. “

And this is the crux of the matter.  It seems that mostly, we are so desperately in pursuit of things that will make us happy; we fail to appreciate what we already have.   And I don’t just mean possessions, I mean everything: friends, family, health, work, hobbies, environment, nature, weather.  The list goes on.  We are such ‘Bisy Backsons’, we don’t stop to see it.  We are running from one thing to the next without appreciating the experience.

Benjamin Hoff explains this so much better than I could: “What could we call that moment before we begin to eat the honey? Some would call it anticipation, but we think it’s more than that.  We would call it awareness.  It’s when we become happy and realise it.  If only for an instant.  By enjoying the Process, we can stretch that awareness out so that it’s no longer only a moment, but covers the whole thing”

So over to you.  What was going to make you happy?  What have you learnt about being happy or holding onto happiness?

March Mantra

I don’t know about you, but I have always found the idea of having a ‘mantra’ a bit too optimistic for my liking.  ‘Live every day as if it’s your last’ is all very well, when you’ve had a great night’s sleep and don’t have a to do list as long as your arm. ‘When life gives you lemons, make lemonade’ is much easier when the lemon isn’t your tree straddling your neighbours’ garden.   ‘When the going gets tough the tough get going’…going, gone!!!.   They are all very positive and constructive and all of that but are they realistic?

I recently saw a new one, for me at least, ‘Never fearing.  Always facing’.   I thought it was fabulous.  A bit like the whole ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway’….without feeling the fear.  Then I thought about it a bit, and thought ‘Never’ and ‘Always’ were a perhaps a little too definitive for my liking.  Then I thought about it a bit more and thought that actually, if you moved the words around a bit you could write my mantra.  ‘Always Fearing.  Never facing’.  It was perfect, and seemed to sum up my life quite well.  And then I just thought ‘how sad’.

This has been stuck in my mind for a few weeks now and I have been desperate to replace that sad mantra with something a bit more positive.  At least one I can work with at the moment.  I don’t want to climb mountains or swim oceans, just to get by, day by day, until I am feeling a little stronger. 

And here it is.  It’s not new, it’s not original but it is what it is.  And that’s it….

’It is what it is. Deal with it’.   

For me, this represents acceptance of a situation and moving on with it rather than ruminating and worrying.  When the car breaks down, it doesn’t mean that the world is against me and things always go wrong and this just isn’t fair and is the worst time in the world.  It’s just that the car has broken down.  It’s inconvenient, but it’s happened.  This is why I pay for roadside recovery.  Let’s use the time I’m waiting for the recovery vehicle, to practice mindfulness.  OK, so that last bit might be a tad optimistic, but you get the picture.   All the worry and self-flagellation gets me now-where, so why do I do it?  The time spent worrying usually outweighs the time it takes to fix it.  It’s time to move forward.

So this is my March Mantra.  How about you?  What will your March Mantra be?

All about choices

I was thinking today about motivation and how hard it is to find it these days and I suddenly remembered something a friend told me about.

Life is all about choices.  Taking no action is a choice.

I remember when she first told me about this, I thought it was a bit odd as lots of things in my life are kind of dictated to me.  For example, I have to work as I need to pay my mortgage.  I have to take pills to manage my illness.  Whilst some of these things might be true, I still have choices.  I am fortunate enough to be able to choose the job I have, I have chosen to take on a large mortgage, I have chosen to take the pills in order to get better.  I started practising this choice thing and it was amazingly liberating.  It is amazing how many choices we are subjected to each day, invariably starting with ‘To snooze or not to snooze’.  I had never thought of this as an actual choice…more like a need for another 10 mins in bed.  Thinking about it as a choice though can make it much more significant.  Normally I automatically press snooze, barely even waking.  As I am rushing to the office later on, I start beating myself up..why did I hit snooze? why am I so lazy? why don’t I have self-discipline?  The list can be endless.  But, when I turn it into a conscious choice things work out slightly differently.  It becomes an issue of a bad choice rather than being a bad person.  I wish I hadn’t chosen to snooze.

By making choices, you are putting yourself back in the driving seat.  You are in control as you are making the decisions.  Lots of posts talk about feeling a loss of control, and this is a really simple way to start taking it back.  Are you just going to stay in bed today or will you choose to stay in bed as that is what you feel you need?

Try using it on one or two key areas of your life that you want to work on.  For example, if you are trying to lose weight and you absently eat another biscuit, you can beat yourself up about it later.  But, if you stop to think and choose to eat the biscuit, you are more likely to enjoy it because you have given yourself permission to have it.  Equally, if you choose not to eat it, you can congratulate yourself on that choice and are less likely to miss the biscuit.

Not all choices are perhaps so easy.  Sometimes both (or all) options can appear unappealing but it still comes down to choice.  A common theme on here seems to be around medication choices.  They all have side effects and all the options seem as bad as each other.  Do I want weight gain or migraines? Migraines or drowsiness?  How do you make that choice? Sometimes it’s easier to ask someone else for their opinion and just go with that.  You might go for a drug because you know someone else has taken it.  You might do a full risk/benefit analysis and work out which is best statistically. The key thing is that you accept that you own your choice.  You have chosen this medication over the others and you have taken control.

This sort of thinking is closely related to my favourite practice of mindfulness…making a conscious choice means that you are present and experiencing that moment.

I would love it if you gave this a try and let me know how you get on.  Remember, if you don’t try it, it’s your choice 🙂