Running – I’m back

IMG_7451.JPGI realise that my blog has a tendency towards the tough times and my battles. That’s what has inspired me to write. But don’t get me wrong – on my good days I am on fire!!

This morning I was up early for my first run in over a year. Pregnancy wasn’t the kindest (in the sense of sickness and other ills), then birth (enough said), and breastfeeding, which means I haven’t run since last summer.

I always had in mind that I’d enjoy the first 6 months post-partum focussing on my little one, and listen to my body to know when it was ready to resume. Running has always been my go to when I’m feeling stressed. Some days I leave my worries behind without a second thought. Other days they go round and round in my head while I’m running but I find I get a new perspective when I’m out on the trail. At times I’m at my most creative when I’m out on a run and come back raring to go with fresh inspiration. Running leaves you dirty, achy and tired, but I never feel worse when I’ve been out for a run (mentally at least).

I’ve been feeling the urge to get out for a couple of weeks now. And what a morning I picked. I was out just as the sun was creeping up. It was fresher than I was expecting, damp underfoot, but I ran with squelchy toes through the farmers’ fields and footpaths behind our house. I was rewarded with the most beautiful sunrise. It was slow and steady. I stopped too many times to take photos. I didn’t run far. That was enough for me.

When I return home, the house was is still quiet. There is fresh coffee to be had, a hot shower, and facing the day with a smug smile.

I know the feeling wears off a little. I know the initial motivation will dull over time and it will be harder to get out, when the mornings are cold and dark. I’ve been there.

But right now, in this moment, I feel invincible.

The everyday truth of my anxiety

This is the hardest piece I’ve written so far. I’ve started and finished many times. Tonight I came on the computer to write about something else and I realised that I’m avoiding this piece because it’s laying myself bare and it’s not pretty. I’m not writing about the dramatic events, the poetic life circumstances, the beauty in gratitude or the pain and fear. What I’m writing about here is the mundane, everyday truth of anxiety. The ugly, low lying, creeps up on you day by day face of anxiety.

I’ve not been sure if I can articulate what it’s like to live with my anxiety. I say MY anxiety as I’m sure it’s slightly different for everyone. But I realise that I didn’t think I could articulate it because it’s not glamorous. Because actually on the face of it, it all seems pretty insignificant. There is no drama to be seen here. It doesn’t even really seem worthy of expressing. But it’s crippling none-the-less and all I have to do is write it as it is.

The inside of my head is constantly on the go. It’s frantic. This is quite honest but right now this is just some of the stuff that is going on in my head and it feels like it’s going to explode…

  • I need a new car because it only has two doors and there is no way I can continue to lift O and his car seat in and out over the front seat
  • We need to paint the downstairs bathroom as it’s still bare plaster
  • I haven’t hoovered upstairs for weeks and now with the baby I need to keep things clean
  • The garden is completely overgrown
  • We’ve run out of cat food
  • I haven’t been able to do any proper exercise for such a long time – how am I going to lose the baby weight
  • I need new clothes because I’m wearing maternity clothes that are too big for me yet I can’t fit in my old clothes
  • The cat needs more drugs from the vets
  • We need new light bulbs for the bathroom
  • I need to find a nursery for O
  • There are piles of clutter all over the house
  • When am I ever going to move out of the spare room
  • When are we going to get to go on holiday
  • I need to clean the oven
  • I want to go for a walk tomorrow
  • I need to get a card for my friends birthday
  • I need to get flowers for mum
  • I want to go out for lunch tomorrow
  • I need to copy the links off facebook about things to do with kids/how to be a better listener etc etc
  • I need to pay my credit card bill
  • I need to arrange a day to go visit work
  • I need to book an eye test
  • I need to…
  • I want to…

And so it goes on (yawn).

This may just seem like an elaborate to-do list. A bunch of pretty trivial stuff I just need to get cracking on with. And therein lies the problem. I don’t ‘get cracking on’ with any of it because the constant loop in my head means that I’m completely incapable of doing any of it, not even one single thing. I can’t prioritise. I can’t even procrastinate because the procrastination is another thing to fill up my head and worry about. Every single one of these things involves choice, and choice is difficult for me. Too much and I feel completely overwhelmed. Having to make decisions is scary; what if I make the wrong one?

This is a real-life example of how things can escalate…

I’m in the shower and as I turn around I don’t particularly like the ‘mum-tum’ that I’ve acquired. I know that a couple of weeks ago I said that we needed to sort out our diet, so as I’m drying myself off post shower I decide that sorting out our diet is the most important thing for me to do today. I rush downstairs and pull all the healthy cookbooks off the shelves, grab my phone and a pen and pad and start to write some lists and plans. How am I going to make our dinners healthier, quicker, and cheaper? I start a list for quick dinners, one for cheap dinners, one that will be good for weaning, as I go along I start to fill in a two week meal plan, categorising all the meals. Then I start looking at the lists of meals on my phone from when I’ve done this before, I start adding those to the various pieces of paper that surround me. One of the recipes was from pinterest so I wonder what other recipes are on there. As I go on my phone to take a look I see a post about exercising and I remember that I wanted to start exercising again too, so I start up another list about the exercise plan I want to have. Bootcamp on a Monday, Yoga on a Tuesday, Run on a Wednesday. I see a text pop up and it’s about planning a date to visit a friend, a friend that I really want to see, so I look at my diary and realise next week is pretty manic, and the week after. When am I going to fit in the bootcamp, the yoga, the run? I see that I haven’t bought a card for another good friend whose birthday is in the diary, so I decide to add that to my food shopping list. That reminds me that I was meal planning and I go back to the books I have laid out all over the kitchen table. But I realise I’ve started way too many lists and it’s an impossible task seen as I need to do a food shop today. I go to grab a glass of water but as I do, I remember that before I went in the shower I was going to load the dishwasher, but I didn’t finish because I was worried that there wasn’t enough space for everything to fit (!) so I had decided to hang some washing up instead. I’ve left a pile of damp clothes that need hanging up because whilst getting them out of the machine I had decided that I needed to have a shower so my hair can dry before I go out. Although, I can’t go out, because the inside of my head feels intense, I feel jittery. I know I need to stay here and sort myself out. I need to categorise, prioritise, segment things into lists and order. I need control.

But this isn’t the end. This carries on and on and on. Sometimes for days at a time. Sometimes for weeks. I’m doing a hundred things whilst thinking of a million things at once. Trying to multitask, trying to juggle but it all comes down to choice, to control, to order, to my crippling perfectionist standards. I can’t do anything unless it is the perfect scenario. But there is no logic, as there is no perfection in doing nothing.

Even writing this post is hard because the thoughts are coming so quickly I can’t get them down in any kind of order. There is so much in my head bursting out I can’t keep up.

Sometimes it’s very internal, no one else can see what is happening inside my head and I retreat into myself. Other times it all spills over and I am a sobbing mess, my husband picking up the pieces of my insane standards over such trivial matters.

I’m in control hell and I crave simplicity.

I’ve actually come to a place where I’m at ease with this now, most of the time. I have coping strategies that I’d love to use my blog to share – meditation, minimalism, getting outside into nature. There are also so many facets to my mental state, and this is just one. There have been glimpses of depression and addiction along the way which I also hope to have the courage to share.

If you’ve got this far, then thank you for sticking with me. Like I say, it’s not pretty or exciting but this is it when I’m in the thick of the mundane, day to day anxiety.

 

 

 

Loss – a new poignancy

100_0041This week it’s been 7 years since my brother was killed.

The pain is less raw now, but this year as the anniversary comes around, a new emotion is surfacing. It feels more poignant now that I’m a mother myself. I can feel more deeply how devastating it has been for my parents to have their child taken. Although I’ve witnessed their pain up close, there was no way I could empathise so clearly until I became a mother myself.

No one can prepare you for the torrent of emotions that come with becoming a mum. I now know how it feels to have a little piece of you, out in the big wide world. The emotions of the big milestones which overwhelm and excite, and the small day to day events that seem so insignificant but become your whole entire existence. The relentlessness, the hopes and fears, the blood sweat and tears that you put into making sure that a small person is alive at the end of the day, every single day. That’s what you live for, for their survival. And I’m only just getting started.

7 years ago when the pain was still raw and we were still in shock, I lamented all the things that I’d lost. I wouldn’t be an Auntie, he wouldn’t be in my kids’ lives, and we wouldn’t be raising little people together. For a while, there was so much fear in me that I wasn’t sure I was ever going to be ready to take such a leap anyway. It was a very personal grief, very much about ‘I’. As the years have passed my grief has softened around the edges, we found a new normal, a new existence. But it’s back with a new force.

It will always be different for me now. I cry for all the things I’ve lost, but more for what my parents have lost. I fear for the future, but not for mine, for my child’s. But at the same time, everything makes sense now. What it means to be human and to live fully in the face of fear. I’m not afraid any more to feel so intensely. As it’s only in the ups and downs of bringing life into the world that I’ve been able to truly understand the beautiful fragility of life and why it’s all worthwhile.

Learning to love the process

IMG_6861I’ve only published two posts and I’m already doubting myself. I’m wondering why I’m bothering to write a blog when there are so many blogs out there already, particularly at the moment those about mental health. Why add another one? Who will be interested in what I have to say? What have I got to say that’s any different? I hardly have the time in the day to feed myself anything other than mini cheddars, so should I be giving up the wee hours after little one is in bed towards writing a blog? Am I good enough?

I’ve always been an all-or-nothing person. I throw myself into the latest thing that sparks my interest. The first time was when I was in love with Jon Bon Jovi (cringe) and I dreamt of being an amazing guitarist and wowing all my friends with my talent. I’d front a rock band and make loads of money. I’d be that cool girl playing guitar. 16 years and 4 guitars later I still can’t play a single chord. I’ve been through the same thing to varying degrees with rock climbing, jewellery making, speaking Spanish, surfing, even growing vegetables. I have so much momentum and passion at the beginning, but then I reach the first hurdle, think I can’t do it and decide that it’s not for me. I then spend way too much time inside my head wondering what I should be doing with my life. What am I good at? What is my ‘thing’? What is my passion?

The thing is, I still don’t know. But it’s ok.

Part of the journey towards dealing with my anxiety was understanding what was causing this pattern. I’m a perfectionist, and I only really like doing things that I’m good at. I start with the best intentions but as soon as the initial momentum and ‘beginners luck’ has worn off I realise that it’s hard work to get better. And what’s the point in being mediocre… when all I want is to be the best. I waste a lot of time putting things off because the circumstances aren’t perfect too. They are not what I imagined in my head. I don’t have the expensive piece of kit that (I think) I need, I don’t live near enough to the sea, I only have half an hour this evening so what’s the point in practicing now when it’s not enough time, I really need to do that important thing on my to-do list so I’ll start tomorrow once I’ve got that out of the way (reality – there is always something more on the to-do list). I make excuses and I put barriers in the way. Time passes and I’ve quietly tidied the new fad away into the spare room/cupboard/loft and moved on hoping that no one will notice. When someone asks how the hobby I was so excitedly telling them about a few months before is going I hang my head in shame and mutter some kind of excuse about lack of time.

When you’re a beginner you are far from perfect, there’s no getting around that. Even if you find yourself with a natural ability for something, it takes time and consistent effort to get to where you want to be. The game changer for me has been the realisation that you have to enjoy the process rather than the end goal.

You commit to doing something over and over, some days you get a little better, other days you take a step back, some days you amaze yourself and suddenly nail it. And you carry on. But the important thing is that you enjoy the process. Even on those frustrating days when you seem to take a step back – you can take pleasure in knowing that it’s a necessary step on the learning curve.

Since I’ve been working on this my life has been less about ‘finding my passion’ but about exploring things again, each day as it comes. Funnily enough, I’m clearer about what it is that I like doing now.

Now I know that I’m interested in soooooo many things but I don’t have to give my attention to them all at the same time. It’s ok for some things to go on the back burner. I know that I will always absolutely adore having yoga and running in my life but right now I can’t give them my all. I’m making do with snatched 10 minutes here and there, self-practice at home that’s a little rough round the edges. While I used to dream of running mountain races in far flung destinations I now cannot wait to lace up my shoes and go for a gentle jog through the farmers’ fields again.

So here I am today, catching myself before I fall into old habits. I’ve got to stop worrying about whether people are interested in my blog, whether I’m writing anything unique, whether I’ll get tons of Instagram followers, or whether one day I’ll get a book deal.

For now, I’ve settled on knowing that I’m doing this for me, and me only. I find writing cathartic. It’s been part of my healing journey. I want to keep a record, for me. Hopefully through doing this daily I will become a better writer. So, each day, I write. It doesn’t matter if I’m lucky enough to have a couple of hours to sit and focus quietly while my husband takes the baby out, or if it’s a few notes quickly scribbled whilst they come into my head as I’m out and about. I always feel better when the words are out of my head and onto paper. I love the careful crafting of bits and pieces of writing, the editing of a jumbled stream of consciousness that I’ve recorded. The bad days where I feel there is so much to say and I can’t write it quick enough but it makes no sense. Then the good days where I find the flow and the words come quickly and easily as I type. The lightbulb moments when I feel what it is that I’m trying to say with a bunch of messy words. The joy at reading a completed piece. I’m taking the good days and the bad. I’ve learned to love the process and I’m so much happier for it.

Friendships and anxiety

IMG_6518Since putting myself out there with my first blog post I’ve been so touched by the lovely supportive messages I’ve received. Some from random people on Instagram (it’s great to know that people are reading and reaching out) but most importantly from my friends. I’m incredibly lucky to have a small group of close school friends (one even from mother and toddler group when I was a toddler!) and more recent friends that I’ve made since I’ve been open and honest about my mental health issues. But, during my 33 years, there was a huge gap in the middle where I really struggled to make and maintain friends.

It’s made me reflect on how difficult I have found friendships over the years and how this has gone hand in hand with my anxiety.

I’m not someone that has found friendships easy over the years. During the times that I’ve been struggling with my anxiety I’ve tended to hide away. I worry about social situations. I worry that I’m not fun enough, not cool enough, not worth hanging out with. And then I worry about the details of social situations. Even something as simple as meeting up with a good friend, on my bad days I will worry about where we are going to meet, what to wear, what I’m going to talk about, where I’m going to park, will I have enough time to get there, will they think I’m boring, what other things I could be doing with my time that are already stressing me out, opening up about how I’m feeling, will I be able to drink (as I’m only fun when I’ve had a drink). It’s an ongoing reel of ‘worry’ that more often than not over the years has led me to cancel plans, after stressing about the event as it looms on the calendar.

The unfortunate thing is that I really really want to see my friends. I actually really NEED to see my friends. I always (without doubt) feel better once I’ve spent time with my friends. But that’s exactly why mental illness is so cruel because it tricks you into not doing the things that you really need to do, and then makes you feel even worse for not doing them. It’s a vicious cycle and when you’re in the cycle you don’t realise it, and you can’t get out.

As you can imagine this has made it near on impossible to maintain new friendships. I spent most of my teens and twenties pretending that I was totally happy, confident and had an awesome life. If I hadn’t cancelled plans then the only time I displayed any honest emotions was when I’d had a shedload to drink. I’d get ‘wasted’, cry, apologise and then do it all again next time. Somehow a small group of school friends put up with my erratic behaviour and I’ve come out the other side with these friendships intact. But I’ve struggled to keep the other friends that I’ve met along the way. I’ve struggled with confidence, I’ve struggled with my own identity, I’ve struggled with perfectionist tendencies that makes me shy away from any less than perfect situation (which of course friendships, and pretty much life itself, can be). When being inside my own head is getting to be too much then I ironically internalise and withdraw. I’ve always defaulted to retreating home and only opening up to my other half. Which of course places a huge burden on them (more about that another time!) Friendships gradually falter and fade into the distance.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Since I’ve opened up about my mental health struggles some of my most beautiful friendships have been formed. When I reached my ‘rock bottom’, I sought help through cognitive behavioural therapy which really helped me understand my default patterns of behaviour, what was leading to them and how I could change them. I’ll write about that in more detail another time but for now, these are the things that have helped me build friendships in spite of my anxiety. In fact more recently my anxiety has even helped me form some friendships as a new Mum – something I never thought I’d be in a position to do.

 

  • Talk. I spent years hiding what I was really feeling from any friend, colleague, acquaintance and even family member. Because of this my friendships, even close ones, were pretty superficial. I made out that my life was perfect (or just avoided situations where I had to talk about my life at all). Most importantly open up and be real. More often than not other people are suffering too and it’s something you can support each other through. Real friendships are based on the truth whether that’s during the good times or the bad.
  • Sometimes you just have to take it step by (small) step. During the really bad times this can be as basic as just starting from the beginning and getting out of bed. Once I’m out of bed, I’ll just have a shower. Once I’ve had a shower I’ll put some clothes on. Once I’ve got clothes on I’ll put make up on. Once I’ve put make up on I’ll get in my car. I do a lot of worrying about what might happen and when I’m in the real grips of my anxiety I have to be blinkered to very small steps to get me to the final goal of meeting someone.
  • It’s ok to say no to invitations, but be honest. Over the years I’ve become very tuned in to when I genuinely need time to myself and when I’ve taken on too much, rather than when I’m just avoiding situations. But now I cancel in advance and let people know the real reason why, even if that’s because I just have too much on or I’m just not feeling up to it. Again, honesty is so important and my friends have been so supportive of what I might need to get me back to feeling my best again.
  • You don’t have to be an extrovert to be a good friend – I worry a lot that people won’t think I’m funny or cool enough. My internal dialogue basically goes something along the lines of ‘why would they want to be friends with me, I’ll just not bother’. Actually friendship is more than just making someone laugh. It can be about emotional conversation, common interests, sharing the burdens of life, listening. The book ‘Quiet’ by Susan Cain really opened me up to the power of being an introvert and why it’s not something to hide.
  • It doesn’t always have to be perfect – I’ve always thought that if I’m feeling bad that I don’t want to drag someone else down too. Sometimes it’s ok to just meet up for a coffee and have a moan. Not every meet up has to be ‘If Carlsberg did friendships’…

 

So, be kind to yourself. Even on the bad days. x

 

Gratitude on the sh*t days

IMG_6455.JPGWhen I originally set up a blog and Instagram account I was coming out the other side of a lengthy battle with anxiety. I was in a good place and my demons had been put to bed (for a while).   I wanted to help others find the happiness I knew they could through the tools I used.

It’s easy to be grateful on the good days. On the gin-drinking, sun-bathing, holidaying, morning-running, cute baby-wearing days. It’s fun to post photos of the good times. I like nothing more than showing off being out in amazing places and enjoying the little moments of joy in the every day. I stick to my daily gratitude practice and life feels abundant.

It’s much harder to talk honestly about the bad days. The days where every single thing feels like it’s falling apart. The days when you wonder ‘why me?’ The days that are just a pile of sh*t.

I thought our tiny weeny family had been dealt a fair share of the difficult traumatic times. When my little brother was killed in 2010 it broke us, it tested us, and I did some idiotic things on the way to rebuilding strength and living a full life again. But I got there.

It’s felt however like there has been very little to be grateful for over the last month or so. Mum’s health declined rapidly over the last few months and she was finally and suddenly diagnosed with a huge brain tumour. Life continues to consist of daily 2-3 hour round trips to an intensive care unit, breast feeding in pret-a-manger and then handing my baby over to be looked after by my Dad or my husband while we do visiting shifts, making acquaintance with nurse after nurse after nurse. Hand sanitizer, plastic gloves, deciphering medical terminology, googling diagnoses and procedures. Sedation, ventilators, tracheotomies, sutures and feeding tubes. Seeing mum suffer pain, trauma, indignity and fear. Feeling fear myself.

And then I have an almost 4 month old baby boy – the lost evenings, the sleepless nights, the inability to leave the house or do anything quickly but having to eat food at the speed of light with one hand. The post-partum problems, no-money problems, messy-house problems, not-having-enough-time-to-cook-so-eating-like-crap problems. It would probably scare you to see the inside of my fucked up head on the bad days.

I have to admit that I’ve wallowed. I’ve wallowed in self-pity for a while and my gratitude practice has been non-existent. Slowly but surely my old demons have crept back up on me and wham – I’m back in the grips of anxiety once again. In pure melt-down mode. I have a default setting that leads me to focus on the negatives, what could happen, all the things big and small that are going wrong. The ‘why is this happening to me?’ question. The feeling that life has to kick you when you are already down.

Gratitude does not come easy during these times.

So this morning I had reached a low point. I went out for a walk with my baby. In my head I was fuming that it was my turn to try to enforce his nap (again), annoyed that I’d miss the sunshine today because I had to make a trip to the hospital (again). Scared because my mum had had a bad day yesterday and is still in intensive care 3 fucking weeks later. My to-do list was running through my head on an endless loop and I felt trapped.

It might sound cheesy but in that moment I realised that Orson was holding my fingers and had just dropped off to sleep. It reminded me of the gratitude practice that I hold so dear but that comes so much more easily when life is good and tends to slip away when life gets tough.

I have my health, I’m incredibly lucky to be a mother to a healthy baby boy, the sun is shining right now at this moment and I’m outside in the countryside. I can breathe in this moment and just be.

When the days are sh*t – that’s when I need to practice gratitude the most. I commit now to honour my gratitude practice on all days, as when I’m rock-bottom, that’s when I need it the most.