Sunshine, daffodils and lambs.

Spring has Sprung!!
Although if we are honest it’s more of a gentle bounce than a full blown leap at the moment. But none the less, the clocks have gone forward, the nights are lighter and the sun is making an appearance. Happy Days!
And they are, at the moment the days are happier and I am feeling more positive and more determined than I have for a while. Importantly I am feeling that I am in control of my anxiety rather than being controlled by it. In reality I still feel a bit wobbly, it’s an underlying feeling of uneasiness and I guess a constant reminder that the anxiety is there. It wants me to remember that it could burst through at any time so not to get too complacent and cocky. I don’t know if that feeling is something I will always have or whether in time I will heal but it is something that you can kind of learn to live with and suppress to a degree so that it doesn’t impact too much on normal life.
But I feel that I have some control over my life at the moment and I feel like I could be strong enough to get back to some of the things that I used to be able to do without really thinking. This is a really big deal for me because I have majorly struggled over the last few months with the fact that I couldn’t bring myself to do things (such as running, going to the gym, painting) that previously I had been able to do without issue. Once I became ill there seemed to be a glass wall erected in my mind, on one side was my conscious mind and on the other side was all the things I liked to do, used to do or needed to do for basic functioning. I could see them and I knew what I needed to do but I couldn’t reach them – it was awful!
I remember very vividly on one particular day that I was due to meet some friends for lunch. I was overwhelmed with anxiety and panic and it was literally crippling me. I was at home alone, with a few hours to go until I had to leave. I had tried to be kind to myself and made myself a short list of three jobs I would like to achieve before I left for the lunch. One of those jobs was to go upstairs and get a pile of washing to put on whilst I was out, but I couldn’t do it, I physically couldn’t go upstairs. My mind had taken complete control of my body and the anxiety was stopping me from being able to climb approx. 13 steps, pick up a pile of washing and come back down. It sounds ridiculous, and to anyone who hasn’t experienced anxiety or doesn’t understand anxiety then it will seem impossible that I wasn’t able to physically walk up the stairs when actually there was nothing physically wrong with me.

Rest assured that I couldn’t believe it either and it went against every part of my character. I am by nature a bit of a control freak, I like routines and lists and structure. I don’t (or didn’t) have a lot of time for the irrational and firmly believed in mind over matter. I am a determined and tenacious person (this is starting to sound like my CV so apologies) so all of this felt absolutely ridiculous but it also felt extremely frightening. To have no control over your body and mind is terrifying and I really really struggled with this and still do to be honest.

I feel that for me the glass wall is a good analogy as like I said I could see what needed to be done, it was all over there encouraging me or maybe even taunting me but I just couldn’t break through, I couldn’t get to it. When I tried it hurt so in the end I just sat there staring through the glass much like my dog does when we are outside and he is not allowed out.

I made it out to the lunch although I didn’t manage to put the washing on before I went or in fact any of the other jobs on my list. But I took comfort in the fact that I had made it to the lunch even though I was struggling so much with anxiety. But I tell you what, when I got home from the lunch there was no stopping me – I was up and down those stairs like no one’s business and knocking all the jobs out of the park. It was as if I was a completely different person, no longer paralysed by anxiety.

There were a few more similar incidences but I am pleased to say that thankfully I haven’t experienced that level of paralysis for a while, not that its been plain sailing ever since, but I must have identified ways to manage that particular issue.

I also feel as though the glass wall has come down and I don’t have such a physical barrier between myself and the things I want or need to do. That being said I still find it a struggle to achieve the things I once did. I now consider that the glass wall has fallen down and become more of a large puddle between me and those aspirations. I could get over it but it isn’t easy, I could wade through but that can be messy and unappealing. I could ask for help, and sometimes I do, having someone with you definitely makes things easier and less daunting, but it isn’t always possible to have someone with you at all times and actually I don’t want to be dependant on someone to help me do what should be basic everyday tasks.

So, I will continue to make small but steady progress in the right direction. Some days I have enough energy to take a running jump and get over the puddle and when I do I always end up feeling really good and empowered to continue. But some days I just can’t do it, some days I may dip my foot in to the puddle and then bottle it – making promises that I will try again another day and succeed. Those days don’t make me feel so good but I am learning to be kind to myself and accept that I can’t be leaping all over the place all the time, sometimes its ok to be cautious.

But with the arrival of the warm weather and the lighter evenings, who knows maybe soon I will be leaping like a baby lamb all over the place and then who knows what will be possible.

 

 

Welcome to anxiety land…

Roll up roll up, welcome to the ride of your life… it will appear from nowhere sometimes when you least expect it. You will feel things you have never felt before, you will hurtle from exhilaration to desperation in moments. If you enjoy feeling out of control and utterly bewildered then this is the ride for you. This ride will completely change your life and things will never be the same again. Sounds fun eh?

Sadly, for me and I’m sure many others, this is my experience of anxiety. It is a rollercoaster of emotions that I often have no control over. I am never entirely sure when I will get on the ride and then how long it will last. The great thing about it is that no two rides are ever the same so you can’t even really brace yourself as there is always at least one surprise along the way. As soon as I step on the ride I lose all control of my rational brain, my breathing takes on a mind of its own and I have an uncontrollable need to pace up and down. I can’t settle, sit down or find any peace which when you are riding a rollercoaster is not at all what you need. When the ride is going really fast my heart can be racing, my chest can be heavy and it feels like I can’t breathe, my core temperature rises and I can feel hugely unwell. Although I cannot relate to this myself, I can easily understand how others may mistake these feelings for a heart attack or some more serious ailment. If you didn’t know what was happening, then you could easily believe that this ride was going to kill you.

It all sounds a bit sinister and dramatic but that is the sad reality of anxiety. Your mind has the power to make your body think you could die!

Without treatment and support, prolonged exposure to anxiety and the physical ramifications of it can be very detrimental to the mind and body. A panic attack is both physically and mentally exhausting, your body and mind go through so much even during the shortest of panic attacks that you can end up feeling like you ran a marathon. Not to mention the psychological damage caused by repeatedly feeling out of control and wanting to run away from your own head.

Luckily for me, once I had identified there was a problem – and this actually took a lot longer than you might expect – I was able to seek support from a therapist who worked with me in the early weeks to develop a range of coping strategies that I could implement when I felt panicky or anxious. The most important of these strategies being breathing – which seems like the most unusual strategy because after all we breathe all the time. But actually, there are many types of breathing, some good and some not. The breathing I would display during a panic attack would be fast and shallow, not really taking in much oxygen leading me to feel as though I couldn’t breathe and consequently I would become more panicky which led to faster breathing and it was a vicious cycle.

The therapist taught me to slow it down and take back control, this meant slow and steady deep breathing with my mind focussing on the act of breathing in and breathing out in a rhythmic way. Ill be honest, the entire strategy was actually around mindfulness and there was more to it than just the regular breathing. But I have found that I have had to adapt some of the strategies to fit in my life and what works best for me and I think shaping strategies to meet your needs is really important. There is no point trying to do something or use something that isn’t going to fit in to your everyday life or that isn’t actually that helpful to you.

Breathing is a really clear strategy for me and definitely the first one I will turn to when I feel panic or anxiety approaching. Personally, I find that I only have to focus on the rhythm of breathing for a couple of seconds and it reminds me that I am ok and I can do this.

Management of anxiety and panic is about taking back the control of your mind and convincing yourself that actually you are ok and you are stronger than this attack.

I am 6 months in to my anxiety ride and I can report that it has become a lot better. The feelings of panic and anxiety are less frequent now (although some of this is due to situational changes I have made) and I have now find that if a panic attack is coming that I am actually able to stop it before it starts. Unfortunately, I can then sit on the edge of a panic attack for a while (much like a car whose brakes kicked in just before it fell off the cliff and is now teetering on the edge) but I take comfort from the fact that I haven’t fallen over the edge for quite a while.

I can credit this partly to the breathing techniques but also to a few other strategies such as the fact that I have finally learned to take some time and step away from situations that can fuel the anxiety. I also find writing can be hugely cathartic – not always a blog post like this- sometimes just noting down a few things that are swimming around my head. I find that anxiety thrives on the mass of thoughts that swarm my brain when a difficult situation arises, but actually if I write some of them down and remove them from my brain the anxiety can lessen and I can then start to rationalise and make sense of what is going on. However, the most important thing I have learned is to just be kind to myself. This is a part of me at the moment, no matter how much I don’t want it to be and I don’t know whether it will ever go away so I have to accept it as part of my current make up. I hope that if you are caught on your own anxiety ride that reading some of my ramblings has helped you in some way and feel free to reach out if you feel you can. I am always here so that no one feels alone on this difficult ride.

I’d like to get off this ride one day and I remain ever hopeful that it will stop at some point. I wonder if I can ever get back some of what I was before but that is a discussion for another day.

 

But it was meant to be perfect…

For as long as I can remember,  I have fallen foul of the expectation that a situation would be perfect because that was I how I had imagined it in my head. I often had dreamt up beautiful perfect scenarios where special occasions would resemble that of a movie scene, perfectly behaved children, lots of love and laughter, absolutely no arguing, whining, moaning or fighting. No one running off, no one kicking off and everyone having fun. Idyllic scenes, instagram worthy scenes – utter perfection. We have all been there I am sure, dreaming of these wonderful scenarios. But how often does that actually happen???

In reality, I would imagine the answer is very rarely – not in the real world anyway. But time after time and disappointment after disappointment, I still find myself imagining that the next time will be different, the next time it will play out like it does in my head. I feel confident that we will have learnt from the mistakes that were made last time the dream was crushed, and this time it will be perfect. Invariably, as I’m sure you can imagine, the same thing happens – I imagine something to be perfect and it fails miserably. Not because anything terrible actually happened but because it was impossible to live up to my aspiration. The only thing I don’t seem to learn after each occasion is that the common denominator in all this disappointment is my ridiculous perception of what real life actually is like. Not just real life with children but real life in any situation. Perhaps I have watched too many films, looked at too many magazines and too much social media – my perception of real life is warped and maybe I am in denial.

Except, I am not in denial at all. My rational brain sees it all, realises everything and does eventually kick in when it all comes tumbling down in to a heap of crushed dreams and disappointment. That makes it sound all very dramatic and in reality, it is not me lying in a heap on the floor sobbing and screaming why! In fact, it is usually me just getting frustrated, angry and a bit shouty. It may then culminate in a bit of a blow out, a stomp to another room, a bit of crying and then lashings of mum guilt for how I reacted and behaved.  It is at this point that my rational brain comes back and reminds me that it was just a dream and ultimately it was unattainable.

Over the last 6 months whilst I have been coping with my anxiety, I have been constantly battling with the loss of my rational side of my brain when an anxiety attack occurs. I have always prided myself on being rational and in control, and unfortunately the anxiety and panic attacks have been eating away at that side of my brain. In fact, this has probably been the single hardest thing to come to terms with throughout my illness and the thing I have fought hardest against.

Counselling helped me to realise that this is a normal response during times of anxiety and it also helped me to realise that my need to control everything is actually quite damaging to my mental health and something that I need to work on managing better. It is something I have been pondering for a while and although I think it will be slow progress I do feel like maybe I am starting to learn to let go a bit.

Yesterday was Mother’s Day and this would have been a prime opportunity for me to build up my expectations to insurmountable heights and then come plummeting down when reality kicked in. But instead I took a more reasonable approach to the day, after all I have young children who can’t be expected to behave perfectly at all times although some of the time would be good though!! I opted for a relaxed day at home, no expectations, no pressure to be anywhere at a particular time – no real plans. Do you know what? It felt good, really good. There were no major dramas, no tantrums – from me or the children and everyone had the flexibility to do a bit of what they wanted.

 

Was it instagrammable? No probably not. Was it the stuff they make films out of? Highly unlikely. Was it perfect? Well actually for me it was, for my current situation and frame of mind it was exactly what was needed.

And the key to achieving the perfect day? Well its quite simple, aim for the achievable and you wont be disappointed. Who wants to live like the movies anyway?!?!?

No journey worth taking is smooth and straightforward.

Unfortunately mental health conditions are not straightforward, they don’t come with an obvious path to recovery. The path can be very bumpy, hard to navigate, unstable and you can often feel like you have made a wrong turn and are heading backwards.

At times you may not be able to see ahead, it can look bleak and impossible. You can be surrounded by darkness and it feels insurmountable. You may feel alone, lost, clueless, hopeless and desperate. Each footstep feels impossible and you don’t want to keep stepping forward in to the darkness, after all who knows what will be ahead.

I have been at that point, I have been stood on the path battling feelings of hopelessness and wanting to give up. I had my own personal reasons for continuing along, for not giving up and giving in to the anxiety. I navigated the challenges and now I have made it to some firmer ground feeling a bit more secure.

But I don’t want to take it for granted, I don’t know what the rest of the path looks like. It could be a perfectly paved yellow brick road but it could just as easily be a thin dirt track up a mountain with falling rock. But I will share my journey with you and the reality most likely will be that it will be a combination of both. But sharing will help me to navigate, and it is my hope that I can provide some reassurance and comfort to anyone else who may find themselves along a path they don’t know how to navigate.

Feel free to comment or message with your own experiences or to reach out in times of need. I can’t provide medical or psychological advice but I can offer a kind ear and some of my own experiences.

Thank you for joining me.