Tag Archives: Positivity

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.

 

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?

 

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.

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?