What is this self care you speak of ?!?

I was casually indulging in a spot of kitchen cleaning, specifically the oven of doom!!, and to stop myself from losing the plot entirely I was also indulging in a bit of an Instagram story catch up sesh at the same time. So, there I was elbow deep in the oven pride and listening to the fabulous @Natashabailie talking about self-care.
If you aren’t familiar with Natasha, and I would urge you to change that, then you may not be aware that she is a great voice in the Instagram mental health community and speaks very passionately about the use of self-care in managing mental health difficulties. She can be found on Instagram or at www.mentalmutha.com
During these particular stories, Natasha was talking about the fact that whilst she strongly values self-care not everyone feels the same. She was questioning why this may be the case and this in turn got me thinking about my relationship with self-care and my take on what Natasha was saying.

Self-care hasn’t always come easily to me, in the lead up to my illness my life was completely full with work, kids, family and a never-ending stream if time filling commitments with little value. I viewed taking care of my self as selfish and it wasn’t what good mothers did because good mothers put everything in to raising the family and keeping the home.
(Disclaimer 1: I am not saying this is the case at all, it was simply a warped perception I held for some time. Disclaimer 2: despite what it sounds like, I was not raised in Stepford during the 60’s. I am not sure where this warped perception stems from)

It wasn’t until I broke that I realised I needed to work a bit more on me to be able to look after others. This is the tag line that is so often used and is absolutely right. But I’ll be honest, even now I still struggle with self-care and I don’t think I am alone in that.
So why is this the case? Why do so many people shun what seems like a dream situation – a genuine excuse to make time for yourself and do nice things?

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Self-care doesn’t have to be a mountain, don’t be scared by the idea.

In reality I think that a lot of people either don’t truly understand what self-care means and they have a very tight definition of what counts as self-care. For others it just feels too big, too scary and too time consuming. After all, if your head is full and you are feeling the stretch, the idea of trying to factor something else in to the mix can be overwhelming. Consequently, the things that are easiest to remove are the ones we take out the first. After all it is not that easy to take out work or family commitments so we sacrifice the things that will help us the most.

Even now when I have worked very hard on trying to rebuild myself, and when I have changed so many of the negative things from before, I still struggle with having the time and the headspace to tackle self-care.

Yoga for example – My friend keeps telling me of the virtues of yoga for my physical and mental health. I know this is true and I do really want to get in to it, but I don’t feel like I have the time or the headspace to start it yet. It sounds crazy but I think it is a bit like addicts admitting they have a problem before they will seek help. I need to feel ready to commit the time to yoga before I can contemplate starting it. I had the same thing with counselling. I knew I needed it for a long time, before I was really ill but I didn’t have the headspace to commit to it. Counselling is a long and hard journey. One that is worthwhile no doubt but not something you can jump in to lightly. Obviously, yoga is not the same level of intensity as counselling but the principle is the same and that I think also applies to self-care. You have to be able to commit the time to it before you can start the process. You have to believe in the value and you have to recognise the benefits.

But I do think there is a lot of confusion or presumption around what is meant by self-care. It isn’t always about finding time to go to the salon or the spa, although these things count and are very valuable to some. It can be about doing something that makes you feel good, whatever that may be and recognising its value.

For me, and this may well sound lame to some, it is making time to do some life admin or some cleaning admin. I definitely didn’t enjoy cleaning the brown gunk out of my oven but my god did I feel good afterwards. That box of oven pride had been in my house for more than 2 months and sitting beside the oven for at least a month (minus the days when people came round and I didn’t want to highlight the state of my oven) to try and encourage me to do it and simultaneously making me feel guilty for not doing it. So, to have actually had the time to tick that job off my to do list made me feel amazing.
Having a clean house makes me feel like I have my sh** together, it makes me feel like I am top of things and that I’m not completely failing at life. That is important to me but it isn’t necessarily important to others and that’s fine.

Find what is important to you and try to make some time to do it. It doesn’t have to be the glamourous stuff that is so often publicised, it may be stuff that you don’t want to admit to or that isn’t “instagrammable” but that’s ok. You don’t need to justify to anyone else what self-care means to you.
Its really not a case of “go hard or go home” either, it can be small things leading to big things or it can just always be small things.

Self-care is not an insurmountable mountain, it is stepping stones towards making you feel better. Those stepping stones can be as close together or as far apart as you need them at the moment. If you only manage something for you once a month or less frequently than that, its ok. And as ever with the world of social media, don’t be driven by what others are doing or feel bad because others seem to be doing it more or doing it better. People only post what they want you to see. Self-care is just that, something for yourself. Do it to make you feel better and only you. If you want to, please feel free to comment and share what you do or have done. Perhaps it will help others to identify something they could do for themselves to make a positive change.

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You don’t have to go from 0-60 straight away. Take small steps, even tiny ones will make a difference.

I’ll start you off with a few ideas that work for ME:
1) Keeping on top of the cleaning (I used the Organised Mum Method – see Instagram, facebook or this blog if you want to know what I mean www.theorganisedmum.blog)
2) Having lists of all the things I need or want to do. This stops them swimming around in my head and making me feel overwhelmed or forgetful.
3) Painting my nails – I use gel/shellac but do it at home because I can’t afford the time to make an appointment somewhere. For me having nice nails makes me feel a hundred times better.
I would love it if you could share your ideas with me.

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There’s just no pleasing some people!!

Over the past few years I have noticed that I am becoming progressively less tolerant of noise. I am becoming the annoying old battleaxe always telling people (namely my kids and dog) to be quiet and calm down.

 
Its important at this point to note that at the time of writing this blog I was sat in a kids dance class listening to the baby shark song!! Never have I wanted silence so badly and I cant think what inspired this particular blog!!

 
I think the need for silence, or just quiet, is a direct result of the anxiety and mental health problems that I have been experiencing for the last few years. My reasoning behind this is that my head feels so full all the time. Full of all the things I have to do, full of all the things that are


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Photo courtesy of whisper.sh

worrying me, full of demands and full of anxiety. Consequently, there isn’t space for anything else so I can’t handle the additional noise and the demands. Continue reading There’s just no pleasing some people!!

5 things I would tell my 21 year old self

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courtesy of notonthehighstreet.com and Google.

You know the saying “you are only as old as you feel?” well if that was true I would be eternally 21. Although not strictly true because after a particularly taxing day with the kids I can end up feeling 81!! However, generally, in my head most of the time I feel I am 21 and its definitely the age I would go back to if I could. It was my favourite age, not necessarily because of the situation I was in then, but because it felt like the perfect age – not too old but old enough to do everything (apart from retire!!)

But now with the benefit of a couple (ahem) more years under my belt, I can look back and think there are a few things I wish I had known then. So, I will share them with you and who knows if you are a bit closer to my ideal age perhaps they will be of use because let’s be honest there isn’t a fat lot I can do unless they eventually invent time travel.

Please note these are in no particular order and no tip is more valuable than another.

1) Take good care of your pre-baby body and value it. It doesn’t matter how much of your baby weight you lose and how few stretch marks you get as a result of pregnancy, your body won’t look the same. That being said, you aren’t currently at your healthiest and whilst in the future you definitely improve that situation, I would do that sooner if I was you because as I have already said it won’t be the same again after kids and you only have 4 more years until you are pregnant!! You could wear denim hot pants at least once if you get your act together!!

2) Get loads better at saying no to people and don’t feel guilty about it. In the long run it will serve you well because eventually you will have no choice but to say no in order to stay sane. It is important that you value your worth more than you currently do because there are some rocky times ahead. You will manage a lot better if you became assertive earlier on and are able to build up a greater resilience now. It will help you to recognise the relationships worth investing in and weed out those who will cause more harm than good. It will be hard and it wont sit comfortably with you but it will be worthwhile in the end.

3) Invest in better storage so that you don’t have to keep giving your clothes to the charity shop and then regretting it. If you worked on improving storage in all of your houses and also got over your issues with clutter you would have a much better wardrobe collection to chose from now. Vacuum bags and the loft are the way forward, invest in them before 2018 because they will change your life.

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courtesy of shutterstock.com

4) The guy you are with now, he is the one for you. He always has been and he always will be. It will be tough at times and you will need to work hard so be prepared for that. Don’t make any changes to your timeline but if possible throw caution to the wind and holiday more because once the grown-up stuff like mortgages, weddings and kids happen it becomes much trickier. You have the potential to have an amazing life together and he is the best person to ride out the rocky times with so don’t lose sight of that. You will both be big picture people so try not to get too hung up on the small here and now stuff.

5) Overall life would be easier if you could make some sort of tangible plan for your career rather than this sort of see how it goes approach you are working on. It may seem difficult at the moment because all the avenues you are pursuing are dead ends. But although you don’t realise it now, this is the easiest time to make changes and try new things. The path you are on will see you ok but it is not the most direct route and you won’t end up where you hope you will. That degree you have just achieved, you can ride on its glory for about another 3 years but then it will wear off so you might want a backup. Again, this is the best time to do it, because its difficult to study and renovate a house or raise these babies you are adamant about having at 25. Finally, don’t forget the reasons you picked a degree in Psychology and Criminology, these are areas that you are deeply interested in and that truly fascinate you. In 12 years’ time you will regret not pursuing them and you will be actively seeking ways to break back in to that field. I mean I guess you will because I definitely haven’t got to that age yet (cough cough).

Its easy to look back now and think I wish I knew then what I know now, but there are many experiences that I have lived that have shaped who I am now and my life. I cant change things and honestly I probably don’t want to change things (not the big stuff anyway – there are probably a few questionable outfit choices I would like to remove from my history) because the impact would be too great on my current. But I will do my future self a favour and tell them now to try and be happier and more present in their life. Things are tough and it can be a real battle to get through some days, but these challenges are shaping you and your future. Use this learning to make the next 12 years the best ones yet so that the “5 things I would tell my 33-year-old self” blog will be even harder to write.

And finally, I have one last final bonus life tip, possibly the most useful piece of information I can share to anyone reading this, particularly anyone nearer to 21 than I am – DO NOT EVER mix wine, vodka and tequila, it does not go well. Most importantly, DO NOT EVER EVER do this the night before your wedding. You will still have the most amazing day, but you will be paler and more jaded than you hoped. Plus everyone buys you drinks on your wedding day and if you are hungover you will not take full advantage of this!!!

Maternal mental health matters – it does what it says on the tin!!

This week (w/c 30.04.18) is maternal mental health matters awareness week. It is a week designed to put a greater emphasis on the importance of supporting mothers and promoting awareness of the various networks available to anyone who feels they may be struggling.
Motherhood can be a very lonely place and not just in the early days. This combined with the considerable stigma attached to maternal mental health can leave many mothers feeling ashamed of feeling anything less than grateful and ecstatic at all times. Some may feel that they will be judged or worse that they will be punished for admitting that they are finding things difficult. All around them are people who seem like they are doing a better job or those who look like they have their sh*t together and it can lead a mother to feel that she is failing in some way. But instead of reaching out, they will carry on as best they can and suppress their true feelings. To the outside world they will look like they are coping and like they are doing a fantastic job (which most probably they are) but inside they are being eaten away by feelings of inferiority, loneliness, anxiety and stress to name but a few.
I am writing this from experience, I have felt and sometimes still do feel many of these things. Initially I thought that my journey may be quite different from others but in actual fact it probably isn’t so I want to share it to help those who may be in a similar position.
My baby, like so many, was very much wanted. Being a mother was the ONLY thing I ever knew I really wanted and I absolutely couldn’t wait to get started on my journey. The birth of my daughter marked the start of the greatest job I will ever have, but like so many of the things in my life I had placed certain expectations on how it would feel and what it would be like. I’ll be honest, many of those expectations were influenced by the media. In actual fact it wasn’t at all, there was no glamour, not too much in the way of excitement and often a fair bit of loneliness. But I was lucky in that I didn’t suffer too much from poor mental health as result of becoming a mother.
However, at about the 5 month point I ended up caught in the middle of a very difficult family situation which had a very negative impact on my mental wellbeing. I see that as the starting point for the position I have found myself in now. Since that point there has been a variety of difficulties that have chipped away at my resolve.
Now don’t get me wrong, in that time there has also been a lot of wonderful times including the birth of my second child. However, I don’t feel that I have ever had the time to rebuild my resilience and consequently each time I encountered something difficult, my mental wellbeing was knocked down further. Then instead of taking time to address and deal with my response to this, I metaphorically filed it away in what a lovely friend referred to as my “wardrobe” and closed the door. Each time something happened it would go in to the wardrobe and I would continue as normal. As a strategy it seemed to be a good one and I genuinely felt like I was coping, it was a struggle at times but overall had someone asked me how I was I would have said that I was doing well. Except it turns out I wasn’t, and one day I encountered a difficult situation at work, I tried to put it in the wardrobe and the doors burst off spilling the contents everywhere. It was mess!!! A great big, ginormous, humongous mess all over the place taking on the form of anxiety and panic attacks. My resilience was no longer, it had been chipped away to nothing and it is from that point that I have had to rebuild.
And that is where I am now, at the point of rebuilding. I have made some major life changes including giving up my career and finally being brave enough to go for counselling. I am not certain what stage I am in my rebuild, mainly because I don’t know what recovery looks like. I struggle with not knowing if this is what I am going to be like from now on or if I am still healing. It is something I have to deal with and come to terms with.
Becoming a mother didn’t cause my mental health difficulties but being a mother has been a big influencer in my mental health journey. Being a parent is very difficult and does come with a great deal of responsibility which in turn causes a great deal of pressure. But I am certain that had I not been a mother when I found myself in this position then my struggle would have been harder. Those two beautiful, innocent, dependant and amazing human beings have always been my purpose and they were my incentive to keep going and to start the path towards healing. I had to get up and function every day for them. I had to drag myself out of the mire. I had to learn strategies to control the panic when I was around them.
This kind of responsibility and pressure is not always helpful for others and I can fully understand the struggle that some people will face with the fact that they have to be a parent when all they want to do is curl up in a ball and cry. But for me they gave me the incentive and the safety net that I needed. I will be eternally grateful to them for all that they have inadvertently given me during this time.
I had an unpleasant meeting with an occupational health nurse (another story for another day) who suggested that I couldn’t possibly be as ill as I was suggesting because I could still function on a day to day basis and look after my children. Little did she know that I had to battle gigantic demons to get out of the door just to do the school run. But I did it because I had to and if I had to go anywhere else I would take a child with me as my safety net. That was what worked for me, but it may not be for everyone. Having a child with me meant that I had someone else to focus on, I had a job and something to do in situations where I would normally feel exposed and vulnerable. It also gave me a reason to escape if I needed to “im sorry but we need to get home for teatime, bedtime etc” “sorry we just need to pop to the loo” etc etc. I had to function for my children but I needed my children in order to function.
So occupational health nurse I would suggest that you need to do some more research in to mental health because there is no set way to act and behave when you are struggling with a mental health issue. And much like in parenting, you often do whatever you need to do to make it through and that’s ok. It worries me that there are perceptions like these floating around amongst health professionals but again that is for another day.
My experience with maternal mental health may be different to the norm but what it maternal mental health matters means to me is exactly that – maternal mental health does matter and whatever shape or form your mental health takes and whatever path you found yourself it is all valid and important. The purpose of this week is to highlight the importance and prevalence of mental health issues amongst mothers so that we can all support one another. Remember just because someone looks like they have their sh*t together doesn’t mean they do. Don’t be disheartened if you think others around you are doing a better job, chances are they are or will be fighting their own battle at some point. Equally just because someone looks ok doesn’t mean that they are and actually they could just be waiting to for someone to ask them if they are ok so they can finally unburden themselves. So if you feel you have the capacity (and its ok if you don’t) to support someone who may be struggling then why not be the person to ask if someone is ok, you could make a world of difference to them.

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.

 

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.