We do have a choice

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It’s been a crazy few days with last minute Christmas preparations and social activities, plus some family troubles. I’ve been stressing like normal, trying to get everything done and make sure everything is perfect as we host our first Christmas. Expectations and pressure that I place on myself. Worrying about the problems that have been surfacing, doubting myself and feeling a little jaded. Because we’ve been so busy, self-care has slipped to the bottom of the to do list, and I realised this morning that it’s been three days since we got out for a proper walk, or since I just sat with my breath.

So in the middle of all the drama, chores and activities still left, we’ve been out for some fresh air today and I’ve just given myself 5 minutes to breathe and be mindful.

Now, stepping back from all the craziness, I’m reflecting over the year and realise just how lucky I am to be in this place right now. We started the year hugely excited (and scared shitless) about welcoming a new little one into the family. David was unemployed having been made redundant just before Christmas and we weren’t sure what the future held. I entered into motherhood, just as David was facing his biggest challenges as an existing father. I became a mum, at exactly the time I nearly lost mine. To describe this year as an emotional rollercoaster is an understatement. It’s a bit of a cliche but it doesn’t matter about all the presents, all the food, whether the house is a state. We’ve got family around us and after this year, it’s a miracle that’s the case.

My mind was wandering to the word ‘choice’. I’m mindful of how much I’m letting life happen to me at the moment, and how I’m in danger of coasting through what I think are obligations and living a life of others. Not being true to myself.
We can’t chose the things that happen to us but we can chose how we act or react, what we prioritise, the things we tell ourself in our thoughts every day, whether to be grateful. My mum has had an awful time in terms of her health this year. And she’s been dealt some pretty tough times in her life full stop, but she’s bouncing back and getting stuck into life again. Others I know are going through really horrible times and I can give up on them because of things they’ve said and done, or I can chose to support them no matter what.

So there are new beginnings just around the corner. I’m setting my intentions now to prioritise self-care above everything else next year. To me, that means being grateful, meditating and getting outside. This is what makes me the mum, wife, step-mum, daughter and friend I want to be, in this one life that I have. Gone are the days of setting big challenges and goals. This is all I need to prioritise.

And so, with choice in mind, I’m logging off of social media and blogging for the next week. It happens to also be my birthday in the middle of Christmas and New Year, so I’m going to enjoy much needed family time, and time for lots of self-care too. Relax, regroup and replenish.

For those who are struggling right now, life might not be great, you may have suffered huge loss or be not feeling quite right even with huge abundance. Remember – this will pass. Hold on tight, don’t give up and be kind to yourself.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everyone, see you on the other side!!

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