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.

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The Importance of Being Earnest (in life and blogging, 2017)

Sorry, Oscar Wilde fans, this post has absolutely nothing to do with the play of the same name… I just borrowed the title because it fits so beautifully with my new intentions for 2017.

For the past few years I have written Happy New Year posts, setting out my aims for the year ahead, and I would have done so again. This is usually a time where I like to reflect on the year gone by and approach the new year feeling refreshed and positive. And I very much feel like I am approaching 2017 from a positive place, perhaps the most mentally healthy I have been for several years, and following last year’s struggles with depression, this is a huge achievement for me. I’m so pleased and happy to be here, feeling this way, when at times it didn’t seem possible that I would feel like this ever again.

So, on being earnest. I am interpreting earnestness using the following definition:  earnest-definition

And I am stating my earnestness today because one of my “new” goals for 2017 is to write more. I also said that in 2016, and 2015 and possibly 2014 and 2013… and, did I?

No.

But this year I absolutely mean it. I really do. Seriously. Earnestly. Because my “new year” didn’t start 2 days ago. In a way it started when I returned from Australia in August 2016, with a fresh perspective and outlook. The post-Australia, second-half-of -2016-me was energised and determined not to look back. I have since made some changes to my routine that were holding me back from worklife-balance, from having time for the things I enjoy and I have made some space. Space to breathe, space to relax, space to be myself.

So even though previous new year’s resolutions to write more have not stuck, I am hoping that 2017 will be different, that I will use the space I have created to write, express and put myself out there in a way that I feared to do so in previous years.

Happy New Year readers, let’s have a good one!

 

 

A Letter to Anxiety

Dear Anxiety,

My toxic friend, my emotionally abusive lover, we’ve had an on-off relationship for years (mostly on… but you know there were times when you weren’t there).

You know what you do to me and how you make me feel.

The intense times, the passionate times, that is when you are most destructive. You make my head spin, my heart is in pain, my breath is short, I shake, I feel as if something terrible is going to happen, I cry, I snap. You are all-consuming.

Other times you aren’t so intense, but your damage is always there. Making me feel sick to my stomach, making me feel restless and edgy, making me upset at the slightest thing.

Sometimes we even have a threesome with depression. It’s like you two hang out together. Feeding off and into each other. Into me.

But, Anxiety, I’ve lost touch with you recently. To be honest, it’s like you just walked out on me. Where are you? Where have you gone and how long for?

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want you to rush back. The last few weeks have felt so good without you.

But then… maybe I’ll start to miss you and the things you do for me. Because you are someone I go to as a knee-jerk reaction, a default setting, and in a very backwards way you are protective and safe.

But right now, I’m telling you, Anxiety, feel free to stay away as long as you like. Seriously. I love it now you’re not here.

When you come knocking at my door again, there’s no guarantee I’ll let you back in, but if I do, it won’t be for long. I might even be strong enough to kick you out.

Love,

Jo

 

Starting to communicate is hard; Continuing to communicate is harder

Hello friends 🙂

I was very touched by the response I got to the last post where I opened up about having depression (it still feels scary to write); several people personally messaged me offering support and reassurance, and every message, comment or ‘like’ was greatly appreciated.

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The thing is, since that post, I haven’t written any more about it because it is very hard to voice the experiences and feelings that happen deep within. If initially opening up was hard, continuing the line of communication seems to be even harder.

But today I’m going to try, and I am not only suffering from depression, but anxiety too. That seems to be worse at the moment. As I type, my eyelids are heavy from lack of sleep -OK, yes I was out until late, but I have also had several nights which alternate between periods of wakefulness, experiencing nausea, or periods of restless sleep with eventful, dramatic and emotional dreams.

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A recurring dream I have actually seems to suggest that there is something stopping me from communicating or expressing myself. It’s not a pleasant dream and I’ve had it twice this week already. In these dreams, my mouth is full of a material which shouldn’t be eaten, to the point that I am in danger of choking on it. The material tends to change but it has been: gravel, sand, flakes of plastic, plastic microballs (the kind you find in skin exfoliators), and a weird, thick, gelatinous liquid. I try with difficulty to spit out the substance, but if I manage to get it out, my mouth immediately refills again. In a similar dream, there was a ribbon in my mouth which I tried to pull out, but every time I pulled, it tightened round my throat.

I’ve thought about what these dreams might be trying to tell me, and my conclusion is that there is a kind of blockage between what I feel and what I express.

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So today I thought I would express some of the anxiety I have been feeling, starting from Friday night. I’d been out with friends and had a lovely evening, but on returning home I had some sad news; my nan, Norma, has been ill for some time but just before Easter she fell and broke her hip and was hospitalised. However, during her stay in hospital her other illness worsened and there is nothing more doctors can do. Essentially there is nothing anyone can do, except wait, and keep her comfortable until the time comes.

I woke up on Saturday feeling weird and distracted, but also I had booked to attend a yoga class (which I have written about before!) I thought it might be helpful to centre and focus me and generally make me feel better. I walked to the class in the morning sunshine, no coat on for the first time this year, distracted but also feeling hopeful.

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Walking in the Spring sunshine 🙂

But when I got to the class, there were a lot of people waiting to go in, a lot more than I’ve seen there before. It was also a different instructor and I suddenly wasn’t sure about it. I sat down on the chairs outside the studio and experienced a sensation of dizziness, just for a second. This then triggered other thoughts, which I know now weren’t true; it was anxiety talking. I can’t cope with the class. I don’t want to faint. I should have eaten more before I came out. 

However, knowing this was anxiety I tried to push through it. It will be good for you. You’re here now, just go in. I went inside, but seeing all the mats (no floor space at all), outlines of all the people (not fully seeing them), I immediately turned round, out the door, and went to sit down again. I was debating what to do, and thought I would sit and wait until I felt better enough to walk home, or until I had gathered enough courage to walk into the class before it started (although I was running out of time for that).

With all this in my mind, the instructor then popped her head around the door.

“Are you on the waiting list?”

“No, I have a space, I’m just not sure if I’m going to come in.”

“Why not? Come on, I’ll see if you’re on the list, what’s your name?”

I followed, alongside her, sort of being swept along into the class.

Several other questions followed, in between them, I was answering “yes… no… mmm.” not really being given time to finish; not really being able to articulate a sentence anyway.

“Are you new to yoga? Did you get used to the other instructor? Have you done this class before?”

At one of the questions, my eyes suddenly started tingling and tearing up. Oh god, now I’m going to cry as well! 

The instructor must have seen. “Let me get you a mat, and we’ll put it next to the door, in case you want to leave… and the thing about yoga is, if you find you can’t do a move, just have a lie down!”

I was grateful for her kindness. And I did the class. I did cope with it. It did help me.

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At the end of the class, I thanked the instructor.

“Yes, there were a lot of people here weren’t there! I even felt like turning around and walking out when I first arrived!”

I didn’t believe her, but there was understanding there, and she was trying to lighten up the situation.

Even though I’m not always able to share experiences like the one above, and other (more) difficult situations, I know (as my dreams are suggesting) that I do need to find healthy ways of expressing my feelings.

I had a thought, as I typed this blog post: what is harder than having anxiety and depression?

Answer… trying to hide (even from yourself) that you have anxiety and depression.

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I really hope that I can continue what I have started here; that I can write here to express my feelings; and that I can get over the fear of expressing my feelings in general.

Thank you to all the people who have supported me with opening up; every kind word and acceptance helps me reduce the fear a little bit more.

xxx

 

 

 

 

This Blog is about ALL of me!

I’m writing again for the first time in weeks and it feels weird, a little scary, but I am enjoying the tap of my fingers on the keyboard because I have really missed it.

I have not felt able to write; there are things I could have shared but chose not to because I was too afraid.

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But maybe… maybe today will be the day where I feel I can. Because it will explain why sometimes I blog again and again… and other times there is a great empty chasm of weeks or months where I don’t, won’t or can’t write (I don’t actually know which verb to use here).

The thing is that back in October I made a huge change in my life which in the short term has been really difficult, but hopefully in the long term will have a lasting positive effect, allowing me to move forward and experience more joy out of life 🙂

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Back in October I began to accept that I suffer with depression and I started taking medication to help me with that.

(That just felt SO SCARY to write!)

The reason why I am finally sharing it on here is that this blog is so important to me; it’s as if writing is a part of me. By not allowing myself to write about the bad times as well as the good, it’s as if I’m pretending they don’t exist, as if I’m denying them. In doing so I am also not giving myself an outlet that may actually be helpful to myself (and potentially others too).

The blog is called Life Is Beautiful. And I believe that. But it doesn’t always seem beautiful. Sometimes it seems so hard, so exhausting, so painful.

Other times it is so joyful, so exciting, so uplifting.

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There are good times and bad times in our lives. And I need to stop avoiding writing about the harder times. They happen. But we get through them.

I’m trying not to be afraid of them.

I’m feeling better, stronger, and after this blog post I feel as if I can write about ALL of me, and not just the parts I think are nice for others to read, but write about the parts I am afraid to share. Because if you are afraid of something… perhaps what you really need to do is… take a deep breath… and do it!

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