Driving Phobia and How I Overcame it

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This morning I had to do something mundane and inconvenient – I had to take my car to be fixed after it got quite a bad chip in the windscreen that had started cracking. Luckily a really lovely guy at Halfords sorted it right out and I can feel safe going into those cold, frosty winter days.

But wait. Stop. Let’s just back up a bit.

I have a car. I can drive.

There was a time, not even that long ago, when I thought I would never be able to sit in the driver’s seat. Even the thought of driving would make my heart stop and I’d get a lurch in the pit of my stomach. I would feel a strong anxiety that my body is almost feeling again as I sit here typing these words.

Fear of driving dictated decisions I made about where I lived and worked, where I visited and how I travelled. In the months after university, looking for a job in the period of austerity and recession, not being able to drive restricted my opportunities for employment and whether I would even be able to attend interviews. Fear of driving ultimately contributed to my decision to work abroad and then contributed to my decision to live in London, where everywhere was connected by public transport.

I always knew that if I wanted to return home to Lincolnshire, it would mean facing one of my greatest fears. And my fear of driving meant that I stayed away from Lincolnshire for many years, even though, deep down, I really wanted to be at home. For many years I wasn’t ready, but after overcoming other challenges in my life, I finally gathered up the confidence to confront this deep-seated and irrational anxiety that was preventing me from living the life I wanted.

So, how did I do it?

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Reading About Other People’s Experiences

My first step was to buy myself a self-help book. This tends to be something I do when I experience issues, and in this particular case it was well worth it. I bought ‘How to Overcome Fear of Driving’ by Joanne Mallon. One of the most helpful things in the book were the stories of other people’s driving fears. They made me feel as if the way I felt was normal, and in fact, that other people had fears and feelings about driving that were just as strange and irrational as my own.

My deepest anxiety connected to driving was a fear that I would do something dangerous and stupid, and that as a consequence of my own poor driving, I would end up killing someone.

That is essentially what all the fear and anxiety boiled down to.

When I had confessed this to other people (and only people I deeply trusted), they had heard what I’d said and we both knew what I’d said was kind of ridiculous. But there was nothing anyone could say that would take this fear away.

When I read the book, there was one story of a person with a similar fear to my own. This person was so scared that they would kill someone, that as they started to confront their driving phobia, they went on a 1 mile drive around the block, then parked the car and walked all the way back around their route, checking for bodies, in case they had hit someone on the way round.

When I read this, I was shocked that someone not only had a similar fear to me, but had also behaved in that way afterwards. It made me realise that I wasn’t alone and put my own fears into a kind of perspective. Having read that this person had eventually overcome their fear, it made me realise that I could do this too.

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A Refresher Driving Lesson

The next thing I did was to book myself a refresher driving lesson. It is worth mentioning here that I did actually manage to pass my driving test in 2008 (and I blame some bad experiences on driving lessons and tests for triggering my phobia), but ever since the day I had passed my test, I hadn’t sat in the driver’s seat. That meant that I hadn’t driven for about 10 years.

So when I saw the AA Driving School pull up in front of my house, which was then in Balham, South London, I had no idea how I would feel or how my lesson would go. When the driving instructor greeted me, I almost joked that I’d be OK, as long as he didn’t take my down Brixton High St. The first 10 or so minutes were hilarious as I worked out what to do with my feet – but the instructor was great. He just said we would stick to the quiet roads until I was ready. As the lesson went on, I gained more and more confidence and the instructor ended up just letting me drive, without needing to give guidance on the driving, just directions. And we did end up on Brixton High St – and it wasn’t at all as bad as I’d thought it would be. At the end of the lesson I figured that if I could drive in London after not driving for 10 years, then I would definitely be able to drive back home in Lincolnshire.

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Watching YouTube

The final stage of overcoming my phobia was how I prepared for my first solo long-distance drive. Back in 2007-8, when I was learning to drive, learners didn’t get experience of motorway driving, so before last year, I had never actually driven on a motorway. And in Lincolnshire, even dual carriageways are hard to come by. So the prospect of driving at high speeds with many lanes was nerve-wracking to say the least.

The best thing I did was to watch video tutorials on YouTube about motorway driving. The ones I watched were filmed by police officers specifically to teach others how to drive on the motorway, and for example, how to change lanes safely. I definitely recommend this if motorway driving is a fear of yours. It helped me to see visually exactly what to do and why.

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Driving phobia can happen to anyone and it affected my life for many years. But I’m proud to say that I have overcome my deepest anxieties and I now even look forward to driving – a way that I never thought I would feel. In the last year or so I have driven to so many places, including: Oxford, Northampton, Ruislip in North London, Swindon, Barnsley, Huddersfield, Aylesbury… and I’m so pleased that I have been able to take control of something that had actually taken control of me for so long. That’s why the inconvenience of a chipped windscreen didn’t bother me too much – because, when it comes to driving, I’m just so grateful and happy that I’m able to do something that I once thought I would never be able to do.

To end this post, I would like to say a big thank you to anyone and everyone who has ever supported me over the many years of my driving phobia, and in the last year or so when I have overcome it. And a huge thank you to anyone who ever gave me a lift or did a road trip with me – you were my inspiration.

 

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1 year in Lincoln: Life, Love and Longing

Hello readers, I’m back after a very long break – last time I wrote the city was frozen over, now it’s swelteringly hot (not that I’m complaining).

I honestly have been craving some time to write but I like to do it when I’m alone, and  – I’m not sure whether to say ‘fortunately’ or ‘unfortunately’ – I really don’t feel as if I have had a lot of alone time this year.

However, as the old saying goes, be careful what you wish for – I am now facing much more alone time than I thought I would be (but more on that later).

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I’m feeling quite reflective this evening so this blog may help me to articulate my thoughts on what has been a very eventful and “full” year. Perhaps this reflective mood is because we are reaching the end of the academic year, perhaps it is because it is almost 1 year since I made the move from London to Lincoln – either way, these two events are interconnected just as location and work are two significant parts of daily life.

It has definitely been a busy year. I’ve reconnected with old friends and made new ones. I’ve settled into a new school and, as a teacher, I have encountered some of the most challenging behaviours and attitudes that I’ve ever experienced, although I’m not saying it’s unusual in many schools around the country, just not something I’d dealt with to that extent before. In my family life, I am imminently about to become an auntie, which I’m really excited about. My dad is retiring after many dedicated years of military service. In my friendship circle, there are friends who are getting married, there are friends who have their first child; this past year has been full of many happy events, events that fill me with joy to look back on and remember. However, life is not straightforward and as well as happiness, in my family there has also been loss and heartbreak. While some people experience joy, others experience sadness, and that is the way life is. I’ve experienced some highs and lows this year and have been living at a very fast pace, so I’m thinking that it might be time to take stock and slow down for a bit now.

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Joy and Sadness  – credit: Pixarwiki

One of the most significant events of my past year in Lincoln was beginning a long-term relationship. I’ve written on my blog before about dating and being single. Well, when I moved to Lincoln I decided it was a new opportunity to meet people and began online-dating (despite my mixed feelings about this form of dating, it seems like the only way these days). I met a guy, let’s call him A. We had a lovely first date in one of my favourite bars in Lincoln; it’s got a rooftop over-looking the cathedral. We had dinner and cocktails. It was a warm August evening. I felt happy, relaxed, optimistic.

The relationship was a bit of a slow burn. It took us both a few months to fully commit to each other. But once we did, it felt like we were having a lot of fun. I loved how much he made me laugh and how thoughtful he was. Sometimes he would turn up at my house with huge bouquets of flowers for no reason. I had sometimes worried about how a long-term relationship would fit with me being a teacher because I bring so much work home. With A, it was easy and he wouldn’t put any pressure on me. He came over a few evenings a week and he wouldn’t mind if I had work to do, he said that he just enjoyed being with me. A few months ago he met my family and he was so good with them; they all loved him. We were both Harry Potter fans and we had an amazing trip to Harry Potter Studios. We planned more trips together, booked a couple of holidays together for my summer break in August. He told me to clear my diary for the anniversary of our first date and we planned to go back to the rooftop bar where we first met.

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Which is why I was so shocked a couple of weeks ago when he broke up with me. Saying that he didn’t feel the same way as I did, and that he didn’t see a future with me. I asked him why he had made so many plans with me if he didn’t see a future – he said that he had made the plans to try and make himself feel more. He said he had to be honest with me. I guess things were getting too serious for him so he had to break it off now before it became even more serious.

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It feels really weird to write about all of this and pour my heart out, but I also have to be honest about how I feel and this blog gives me the space to do it. I look back on the past year and it feels chaotic, fast, stressful, fun, exciting, and exhausting. However, I can take it as a huge achievement that it’s nearly the end of a very challenging academic year and I’m still in one piece. I know that if I’d had this year early on in my career, I wouldn’t have been strong enough to get through as well as I have done. It has taken everything I’ve learned about anxiety and depression, stress and exhaustion, from my own bad experiences, to set firm boundaries and also to reach out to my family and friends for support when I have needed it. I’m so thankful for all the people who have supported me this year, including A.

However, I’m sad to have reached the end of the academic year and be facing six weeks of holiday without the person I had made plans with. I’m back to being single. Ok, I’ll probably be fine. I’ll go on holiday. I’ll go to my friend’s wedding. But now I feel as if I’ve got to do it as a “confident single person” when all I really want is to share these events with someone I love. (But – they should really love you back, shouldn’t they?)

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So I guess, the end of one year is the beginning of a new one. And from now begins my reintroduction to single life. My new trials and tribulations of online-dating and please, God, some real life dating if possible. It’s goodbye to a very challenging class and hello to a lovely mature one. It’s a chance for me to stop the fast, exhausting pace I’ve been living at and reset. Give myself more space and alone time to write and to relax. Build my confidence again so that I can become even stronger.

If you’ve read all the way to the end – thank you. I really appreciate people’s support for my blog and I hope in some way, it helps the people that read it as it helps me to write it.

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Credit: makingitlovely.com 

 

Thank you, Beast from the East

As a teacher in the UK, I often feel as if I am on a treadmill where the setting is slightly too high and I just keep going and going, a seemingly never-ending cycle of planning-teaching-marking, of getting up early, working a full day where an uninterrupted break time is a luxury, coming home and doing more work, and repeating the cycle the next day. On top of this, I don’t make it easy for myself when it comes to my home life. I put far too much pressure on myself to keep up with cleaning, tidying, washing, and find that I feel stressed when my home environment is chaotic. I also care a lot about my family and friendships, prioritising them too, but if I’m honest, do I prioritise them above my work? I really try to, but striking a balance is hard. I consciously make an effort to set myself boundaries of when I’ll work and when I’ll see friends and family, but I also find that I need time for just me to be on my own, and that is very difficult to fit into my busy schedule.

Considering all this, I very often feel myself wishing and hoping that if I could just have one day off, if I could only stop for a moment, that I would get some much-needed breathing space, that I could get off the treadmill. I often get up in the morning, longing for more sleep and wishing I could stay in bed. On my days off at the weekend, I have often packed so many plans in, almost trying to make up for the all the work I do, that it isn’t really a rest. Work hard, Play hard.

So you would think that this morning, when I got a message through from the Assistant Head that our school was closed due to the snow, that I would have been rejoicing. A day off? My prayers had been answered!

Wrong – my initial feelings were worry and disappointment: disappointment, because Wednesday is usually the “easy” day in the week for me, where I get 2 hours or so of Planning time, less contact time with the challenging members of my class and generally less marking; worry, because I left my laptop at work yesterday, as well as the fact that to complete planning at home I need access to the medium term planning on the school system and I can’t get onto that at home. A day off school, unable to do work, unable to use this time to prepare for next week… I felt like I should be happy about the free day ahead of me, but instead I felt anxious.

Feeling worried, I shared my feelings with my family, who told me to just enjoy the day. I knew I should feel like that… but I still felt underlying guilt that I wouldn’t be able to work. It wasn’t until our boss sent us an e-mail that actually told us all to enjoy ourselves (don’t do any work, and don’t check your work e-mails again!) that I started to feel better, that actually it was OK not to do work today.

So, with my gift of a free day, I did the kind of things that I usually long for – simple pleasures that made me feel much more relaxed and happy. I went back to bed, slept, caught up on some TV, chatted with family, met friends for a coffee… and we ended up making snow angels and having a laugh, walking like penguins huddled together under an umbrella as the snow came down around us.

It was a fun day, which made me embrace my inner child, playing in the snow, taking pictures of the pretty scenes, and finally just letting go. The roads here are also far too dangerous in these weather conditions, so it comforted me that by staying off school, we were keeping ourselves and others safe.

So, thank you Beast from the East, for forcing me to relax and to realise that the sky doesn’t fall in if you get off the treadmill for one day! (Even if there are huge snowflakes falling from it).

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New Year, New Decade

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Welcome to 2018, my first blog post of the year and I am very much looking forward to what this year may have in store.

I skipped my usual Christmas/New Year posts when for the past few years I have found that I become very reflective at this time, both about this blog and about wider life in general, and have tended to set myself new goals (usually writing more frequently features on my list… sadly I never manage to write as often as I want to).

However, this new year period I found myself feeling very resistant towards the “happy new year” attitude… and after wondering why I felt this way (so grumpy!) it dawned on me that there was more going on… in fact, the “new year” was being dwarfed by an impending big birthday that was making me feel very apprehensive – the big 3.0.

Having a January birthday does mean that after Christmas the celebrations don’t stop – you get to prolong the eating and drinking a little bit longer; you get a second load of presents and you get a little bit of joy in what would otherwise be a dreary winter month.

But this year I was approaching January with trepidation. The big 3.0. seemed looming and I had an urge to become invisible and let it pass me by without a word. A couple of weeks before the big day, I deleted my birthday off Facebook in the hope that people might not notice my birthday and temporarily removed the ability for people to post messages so that no one could send me a “Happy Birthday” message – for me it wasn’t going to be a happy occasion.

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This feeling of wanting to hide from my birthday was made harder by the fact I have a twin sister, who didn’t seem at all bothered by turning 30 and wanted to celebrate like any other birthday. Our different attitudes towards the day made me think about where my feelings were coming from. It’s just that, when we were younger, we would often talk about what we would have done by the time we were 30. We had ambitions, we had goals. We would think about where we would be living, what our jobs would be, we’d be married, we’d have children. The dream was of a stable, happy family life.

This is probably a dream that most people have or at least that most people of a certain generation would have, perhaps things are different now. But as children of the 90s and from quite a traditional family, these were our goals.

Comparing my real life now with these goals – they didn’t happen, not for me. I’m not married; in fact I’ve never been in a serious relationship. I have no children – and I do feel as if time is ticking. Whether it’s true or not, the notion of the “biological clock” does play on my mind because I would love to have a child (if the situation was right). I feel as if I should have progressed more in life than I actually have, that 30 is a truly “grown up” age and that I’m not mature enough; throughout my 20s I’ve been childish and now I’m falling short of social expectations. Where these expectations come from and whether they are right or wrong is a debate in itself – but feeling as if I’m not achieving what I should be makes me feel inadequate and that I’ve got some “catching up” to do.

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Many people have laughed when I suggested that I was sad about turning 30; saying that I was taking it too seriously, that the day after your 30th birthday you would wake up just the same and nothing would have changed. One friend did share my feelings and perhaps she also feels as if she hasn’t lived up to expectations.

Well, of course, the day came and my feelings had mellowed towards the day slightly. Having a twin who wanted to celebrate ended up rubbing off on me and I had a lovely day which was filled with love and good wishes sent to me from friends and family. My sister and her friend have also organised us a joint party happening next weekend, and I know it will make me happy to share the special occasion with my family and friends.

As I enter a new decade of my life, it’s time to set myself some new, more modern goals. I do dream of a stable, happy family life and I dream of being in a relationship, but you cannot force or rush these things. It’s easy to be hard on myself for all the things I haven’t achieved but I should really think about what I have achieved – and that is recovering time and again from stress, anxiety and depression which plagued my 20s, as well as travelling and living abroad which gave me amazing life experiences and made me a stronger person. In my 20s, I learnt the hard way just how important it is to look after yourself and I’m going to try and use all that I learnt to make my 30s as healthy and happy as can be.

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From London to Lincolnshire: Part Two – And breathe…

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In my last post (which was sadly over 3 months ago) I mentioned that I had recently moved “home” to Lincolnshire and that I had been relaxing before the September madness begun.

What I didn’t realise fully was that September really would be MAD, and October… and November…

I feel as if the last few months have been an absolute whirlwind; they have pushed and tested everything I thought I had learned about a) teaching and b) managing my own struggles with anxiety and depression.

I guess any kind of major life change will do that to you. And I have to remind myself not to be too hard on myself, that I haven’t actually been here for that long and that on the whole I have settled in well, made friends, joined a new choir, and also made great strides with conquering what was once a somewhat debilitating fear of driving (there is a whole blog post I am planning to write about that!)

Changing schools is always difficult, getting used to a new way of working, new colleagues, new class of children, new expectations from leadership… and I am really pleased to say that I am enjoying my new position, that I couldn’t really have asked for more supportive colleagues who have made me feel so welcome. My class on the other hand… whilst the majority of them are lovely, there are a few who do challenge me and I’m not ashamed to say that they have occasionally brought me to tears at the end of a draining day where I have felt that I have failed or let myself down as a teacher. This is where I have to remember not to be too hard on myself.

Moving back to live on my own is something I really wanted to do and I don’t regret the decision to live on my own at all. I think it’s important for me to come home after work and know that I have this space to myself. However, this might sound silly, but I am really struggling with managing all the household jobs on my own, like cooking, washing, cleaning, shopping… I know that’s not a lot and that people do these things every day… but for some reason I feel like I can’t manage to do it all. I think it’s also to do with changing schools and having trouble with a new school routine. I end up taking marking home with me and working for about one and a half hours every evening; I then can’t do the other stuff I need to because I’m so tired. It feels like I’ve spent the last 3 months being tired and feeling as if I don’t have time to do anything well; I am just doing lots of things in a substandard way.

It got to the point a few weeks ago where I had been so down on myself for all the things I wasn’t doing, as well as not sleeping enough, not having any time to myself, that I actually started to feel like I was losing my grip on reality. My head was no longer clear, it was just full of noise. On reflection, most of this was probably a lot of self-criticism.

I quickly realised that to nip this in the bud, I was going to have to change a few things. Sleep more. Cut down on alcohol and unhealthy foods. Have some me-time. Stop putting myself down. Think more about the things I have done, rather than everything I haven’t.

I’m feeling better. For the last few days, I finally felt I had the headspace to sit down and write this. But I know that although I have settled in well here, I am having a few struggles to find a new work/life routine that works for me.

I’m hoping that I’ll figure it out soon, and I’ll keep you updated in the next blog post. In the meantime… I’m going to remember to be nice to myself, and when everything feels too much, to stop, take a moment, and breathe.

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From London to Lincolnshire: Part One – From City Commuting to Country Cycling

Hello friends. It’s been a while. I’m going to blame it on dodgy Internet connections which meant I struggled to find a private space to write for about a year. But I’m back and ready to fill you in!

I have recently moved “home” to Lincolnshire from London and as a teacher I have kind of a luxury in that I have the six week summer break to settle in to my new place, refamiliarise myself with the way of life “up here” and generally relax before the September madness begins.

One way I decided to get acquainted with my new adopted city of Lincoln and the surrounding area was to get out on my bike to explore. I found a cycle route called the Water Railway, so called because the tracks follow what used to be a railway between Lincoln and Boston, which seems to have been finally closed around 1980 (although don’t quote me on that… I’m no expert). If you do the whole thing from Lincoln to Boston, you will cycle 31 miles – not something I think I could achieve even if I wanted to. Luckily there are many stopping points along the way and I decided to choose Bardney as mine, which is 9 miles from Lincoln, making it an 18 mile round trip (and slightly more to get back to my house which, I might add, is right at the top of the hill near the Cathedral).

I started the main route from Waterside South and it was pretty straightforward… all you have to do is follow the path. It runs alongside the River Witham and is more or less flat, perfect after navigating some of the steep streets of Lincoln to get there. Along the Water Railway there are also many places to stop and rest, as well as historical signs, some of which I read, and some of which I just cycled past as I was keen to get to my destination. However it would be good to take more time over it if you were particularly interested; there was information about each place along the path (including Washingborough, Fiskerton Fen, the Five Mile Bridge, Bardney Lock) as well as information about the old stations and ferries that would travel along the river to Boston (taking six hours each way – according to one of the signs I took the time to read).

It was a great place to see wildlife and, along the way, I saw (in no particular order): a hedgehog, a heron, some swans, cows, possibly a kestrel, some martins, dragon flies… this might not seem that special but it was to me, after cycling to work in London and not seeing anything natural (except perhaps an urban fox if you’re lucky).

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There were also several artistic sculptures and pieces along the path which I suppose are there to add interest, as it could otherwise get quite dull; after all, you are more or less cycling miles along what seems to be a straight and relatively even path. One of my favourites was some metal cows, and when I passed it on the way back, there were real cows on the opposite bank.

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One of the most interesting parts of my venture along the Water Railway was my stop in Bardney, particularly at Bardney Tearooms. I admit, I really didn’t know much about Bardney before I cycled there, but I knew I would find a cafe there to stop at. What I didn’t know was that Bardney Tearooms appears to be housed in the old station building and there are what seems to be the original station signage on the front and the old gate which would have been opened out at the level crossing. Inside, the tearooms were very quaint and had a kind of 1940s feel (possibly there was some wartime memorabilia but I might be making that up).

 

 

After stopping there for a cheeky ice cream I decided to head back to Lincoln. I found it somewhat easier on the way back as I had more of an idea of the distances involved, but I was also cycling into the wind which made it harder. Finally, when I came off the Water Railway at Waterside South, I had the ascent to the Cathedral Quarter and admittedly, there was one street where I got off and pushed (but according to the map, the gradient was more than 1 in 7, if you know what that means)!

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After being used to cycling in London alongside the traffic, it was really nice to get out into the open and cycle for a long stretch. In London I would always cycle with a high-vis jacket and helmet and I’m not going to stop doing that as I think they keep me safe, however at points I did feel a bit silly wearing it all, because you could probably get away with not doing that on the country paths. The advantage of London is that it has properly marked cycle paths and I was worried initially that it wouldn’t be as safe in Lincoln, however to my pleasant surprise, some of the busier roads had off-road cycle paths and crossings that you can cycle over when the light goes green. At Bardney Tearooms I also picked up a detailed map of Lincoln which has a key for each road according to its safety for cyclists.

So hopefully before I return to school in September, I will get another chance to try out a cycle path in Lincoln. I hope you enjoyed this blog post and I look forward to writing many more now that I have Internet 🙂

A Celebration of Wellness

I’m currently on a train to Lincolnshire, travelling to my brother’s wedding, and instead of doing my usual train journey thing of eating followed by sleeping, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to grab a few minutes of quality writing time.

You see, there is something I have been meaning to write about, but I kept refraining from putting pen to paper (or letters to screen?) because part of me didn’t want to jinx it.

It is, essentially, a celebration.

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A celebration that I am in a good place, and I’m not going to take that for granted. Because I know that not so long ago I was in a terrible place and wondered if there would ever be a way out.

I feel so much better and, having felt stressed, angry, sad, irritable and all other shades of depressed for so long and not really known it, I now feel generally calm, happy, strong, rational, clear-headed and excited about the future, and have done for several months.

In my experience of managing mental health, I once read somewhere that it is a good idea to write down what it feels like for you when you are well. There might be a few reasons for this; one idea is to read it when you are down to reassure you that you can feel well (because when you are in the throes of mental illness it may feel like you will never feel well again). Another good reason for doing this is that you are able to identify how your body feels and what your emotional state is like when you are feeling good, and, by comparison, to recognise when you aren’t feeling so good. This kind of personal understanding of your own reactions and moods can be extremely helpful if you begin to feel ill again; you can then take steps towards wellness before it becomes worse.

So, what brought about this change in me? I feel so different, I almost feel younger (which must be a sign that I felt this hopeful and happy at a time in my past; I’m thinking of my final year at uni where everything seemed to come together and I was excited about graduating and what the future would hold).

It didn’t happen by accident, that’s for sure. It’s not like I woke up one day and was like, Oh, I feel well again! (which is kind of what happens after a few days of having the flu).

There are a few things I did, and am still doing, which have helped me to feel so good in myself:

  • I stopped taking the anti-depressants. Obviously, this may not work for everybody, but I realised that since I had been taking the pills, they had made my moods more erratic, and I had never had a feeling of being well. I had the dosage changed several times and nothing seemed to work. In the end, I decided I didn’t want them any more. I had actually felt better without them and thought that I would see how it went for me and if I needed something else, I would try that. It’s been a year now, and things have just got better and better. Obviously, if things had not improved, I would have probably tried a different type of pill. I’m not advocating coming off the drugs as a cure, I just had a personal feeling that they hadn’t helped me. I think it’s important to listen to your body in these situations. If you need them, take them; I know many people who have taken anti-depressants and it has worked for them, it just didn’t work for me.
  • I gave up caffeine. This one is so simple, but it had the most amazing affect! I started drinking decaffeinated tea and coffee instead of the usual kind, and it didn’t take long for me to notice a difference in my moods and general feeling of well-being. I’ve always been pretty sensitive to caffeine and had avoided coffee for a long time, but cutting it out completely was probably one of the best things I did to feel well again. Now, if I drink it by accident or when there’s no alternative to decaf, I instantly feel the effects on my body. To me, the effects of caffeine on my body mimic those of anxiety (fast heartbeat, feeling a little nauseous, feeling angsty) and are just unpleasant. Without it, I feel so much better, less anxious and highly-strung.
  • I had therapy. I did the NHS CBT counselling and it gave me some practical short-term strategies to manage anxiety and depression, but it didn’t go anywhere near deep enough for me. I saw a private counsellor instead. It was in central London, it was pricey, but it was an investment. I knew in the very first session that this counsellor was going to be a great help to me. I went to see her for around 9 months, every week to start with, then every two weeks when I felt better. Did I enjoy going? No. Did I always want to go to the sessions? No. But I did it because I knew it would be good for me. And it was.
  • I joined a choir. I feel like a member of Glee Club… I joined a choir which sings the cheesiest songs but it’s so much fun. Every Monday night, I go to the local Salvation Army Hall and sing classic pop tunes, such as ‘True’ by Spandau Ballet and ‘How Deep Is Your Love’ by The Beegies and Take That! It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, and part of me is a little embarrassed, but the other part of me has so much fun I don’t care. I also feel part of my community and I meet other people so there are lots of good things about it. Plus the instructor makes me laugh from beginning to end. It is definitely good for my soul.
  • I stopped overreacting to little things. In hindsight, I can see how stressed and irritable I was, because little mishaps and annoyances used to upset me beyond belief. Now I often find myself laughing in the face of adversity. Sometimes I have to stop a negative or stressed thought in its tracks and consciously decide not to engage with it. It works. Don’t sweat the small stuff. It’s not worth the negative effect on your body and mind.
  • I stopped bringing so much work home. I realised that when it came to work, something had to give. It was a choice between my health and my job, and my health had to take priority (because, without it, I wouldn’t be able to do my job anyway). As a teacher, it is easy to take work home and the hours can stack up if you don’t notice. So I set myself some boundaries, made sure I stuck to them, and I really noticed a difference. I now feel like I have a much better work/life balance, which I once thought was absolutely impossible.

These are some of the main things I did which have helped me become a happier person in the last year or so. There are other little things which all add up, like making more time for friends, getting enough sleep, and maintaining a healthy diet.

There are so many parts of your life where changes can be made: your diet, your social life, your exercise, your work/life balance, your sleep patterns, and even if you start working on improving just one of these life areas, everything else somehow begins to fall into place too.

I am just so grateful that in the last year or so, I have made some amazingly positive changes in my life and feel so much healthier, happier and stronger. There was a time when I didn’t think this would ever be possible. I still get my moments of anger and sadness, that’s human, and they are just moments, not stretches of days or weeks like they once might have been.

I’m grateful to all my friends and family who supported me through this time, but also for my own strength and perseverance which got me through and I’m writing this partly in case I do ever feel down again; to tell myself, that yes I am strong and I can feel well and I can overcome depression and anxiety.

So, here’s to the future, and to finding strength, health and happiness.

happiness-is-the-highest-form-of-health