Not feeling confident has a huge impact on every aspect of your life and in this video I discuss how difficult it is to do most things when you don’t feel confident or capable and worry about everything too much – this is why I’ve only managed to do one video and review in the last 6 weeks which I hope will change soon!
As some of you know, I’m well known for my obsession with Christmas and in particular, Christmas decorations, my partner and I decorated the tree together this year and recorded a time lapse video of the process. Please do check us out building and decorating it at 64x speed, Merry Christmas!
I suffer from severe agoraphobia which has left me virtually housebound since March 2014, photography helps me to go out a bit more often, for longer, and keeps me calmer and here I show a flick through of the first of four photobooks that I’ve made of my best photos this year.
Knowing what to say to someone who’s feeling suicidal can be really difficult but saying something rather than nothing could be the difference between that person being able to seek help or remaining feeling alone and worthless. Here, I talk about what helps, what doesn’t, the difference you could make and the thoughts and feelings that go alongside feeling suicidal because of mental or physical illness.
Unsolicited Advice is something many of us with mental illness and long-term physical illness experience and at best it’s an irritant, at worst, it can be damaging and harmful. As a sufferer of Depression, Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Social Phobia and Agoraphobia, amongst other conditions, I receive a lot of “advice” that’s not asked for, nor wanted, and some of this has been possibly dangerous if I didn’t have the knowledge that I do.
Living with mental illness brings many different types of days, today my depression has really taken over and rather than cover it up and film on a different day, I thought I’d show you, warts and all, what it’s like to live with and how it affects me and so many others.
Hello lovelies, friends and family have been suggesting to me for the last 3.5 years to do Vlogs and I’ve never felt confident enough or had any particular desire to do it so I’ve always stuck to just blogging. However, I’m getting a bit bored currently and really want to branch out and get my voice heard just that little bit more and video posts seemed like the best way of doing this and after a fabulous pep talk on the phone with a Uni friend today, I decided to bite the bullet and record something. It was meant to be 2 minutes of me just saying Hi, but it turned into something a lot longer and a bit more informative. Please do give it a watch and let me know what you think of it. I’m hoping to use these videos to expand more on my blog posts, to reach a wider audience and to help you see the face behind mental illness and invisible conditions. The link to the post about Trichotillomania that I mention in the video can be found here.
I originally wrote this post in October last year (2016) and never got round to posting it, therefore all of the dates and amounts of time are wrong by a year. I haven’t yet written a review of the lightbox that I mention in it but briefly, it definitely helps me, it’s not a cure but it’s significantly better than not using one and it definitely helps with my daytime sleepiness and feeling low and unmotivated, it’s still really tough going but it really takes the edge off and makes things easier.
As winter approaches, a large number of people around the world start to get a sense of dread. The nights start drawing in, it gets colder, darker, cloudier and rainier, and your mood starts to lower. For most people this time of year isn’t a problem, many are looking forward to Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hannukah or Christmas, the changing colours of the leaves, Bonfire Night etc. I look forward to the festivals I celebrate amongst those but mostly, I feel dread and this year it’s been particularly early and particularly pronounced. Most people have heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), most of us have heard of someone we know having it and most of us aren’t exactly sympathetic about it. I’ll freely admit that as a long-term (10 years and counting) sufferer of depression, I didn’t have a lot of sympathy for people who only felt low for 3 months of the year when I got a jolly helping of it all year round. It sounded a bit like an excuse from people who didn’t like getting out of bed on a cold morning and didn’t fancy venturing out during the darker days. Oh how wrong I was! Despite having depression for a decade, I’ve never been particularly affected by the weather. I was always worse at Christmas but I’m as sure as I can be that this was due to family pressure, coursework deadlines and exam dates looming rather than anything to do with the light levels or temperature outside. I know this because come the middle to end of January, my depression would ease up just a little and I’d be back to muddling along as best as I possibly could. I also remember often being worse during any school/college holidays because I had to spend more time with my family and had less distraction and structure so weather and light levels really didn’t seem to be playing a part.
I happily went about thinking that SAD was a bit of a wishy-washy diagnosis for people who were a bit more sleepy in winter until I got ill and became housebound with my anxiety disorders 2.5 years ago. I’m now approaching my 3rd Winter of being predominantly indoors and I can safely say I’m dreading it. While I’m not diagnosed with SAD, it’s obvious to me and anyone around me that I have it now. This year it’s started kicking in earlier than ever, I’m normally safe until early to mid October but I’m already over 3 weeks in to feeling sleepy, drained and generally crap and this is unlikely to let up until February or even March. For those in any doubt, and for my cocky, accidentally judgemental younger self, SAD is not just feeling a bit sleepy. For me, it involves being barely able to wake up in the morning, even with my usual alarm, and usual amount of sleep, it’s being so painfully tired that I literally can’t face getting up and have to go back to sleep for a bit. It’s being cold. All the time. It’s also being awake for under 3 hours and then being so tired that I’m unable to stay awake and ending up falling asleep sat up and no amount of food, drink, or needing to go to the toilet will stave it off for long. It’s also like someone comes along and stuffs a huge bag of cotton wool inside my head that doesn’t shift for at least 3 months. Everything takes longer. It’s harder to think, harder to concentrate, harder to motivate myself to do, well anything! I also crave certain foods which I never crave the rest of the year, I just want to stuff my face with carbs, sugar, and high fat food, probably in the hopes of hibernating or giving myself energy to actually feel properly awake for once. My body just stops producing heat so that it doesn’t matter how many layers I wear or just how close to looking like the Michelin man I get, I’m producing no heat so the layers just keep in the cold. My feet go blue, as do my hands, my joints seize up and I ache. I find sitting up a struggle because I’m so tired but sleeping doesn’t help, I never feel any better so I just lose hours of my day to napping and get nothing done because I feel so groggy. Then the depression kicks you hard. Everything is so much harder and you start wondering what the point of doing any of it is. I know that I’ll be lucky if I get through half of the short list of tasks I’ve set myself each day which means each day I fail. Each day my to-do list gets longer because I’m so unproductive. Nothing helps, not eating, not sleeping, not drinking, not forcing myself to get things done. It’s relentless!
As you can imagine, I’m very keen to discover anything that might help with alleviating any or all of the symptoms. Sadly, most of the treatments for SAD are the same as for depression and are therefore things that I’ve already tried and that either haven’t worked, or have made me significantly worse so it’s not looking overly hopeful for my feeling better any time soon. The NHS website recommends being outside as much as possible (not particularly possible for me), sitting near windows (I do this as much as possible), regular exercise (again, not especially easy for me) and trying to avoid stress (yeah right!). More medical treatments include medication which I react very badly to, therapy that I’ve previously had and that there are months long waiting lists for and light therapy which has mixed evidence regarding its effectiveness so there aren’t any ideal options!
I hope my description of how it affects me will help other disbelievers to realise how debilitating it can be and that it’s a condition that has a long list of symptoms that are really difficult to deal with, I’ve certainly had my eyes opened after suffering from it for the past 2 years and entering my third! Various members of my family now also suffer badly in the Winter and while none of us are diagnosed, again, it’s very clear that they have SAD too. My mum very kindly bought me a light box which is recommended for the treatment (not cure) of SAD and I’m now using it, as is my boyfriend, and two other family members have them too. I’m tentatively optimistic about it as it definitely seems to be helping me and I will write a full review in a few weeks’ time once we’ve all had a longer chance to use it and decide if it’s the light or external factors that may be helping us. All 4 of us have very different symptoms, diagnoses and lives, as well as being different ages and genders so we should be a pretty good cross-section of people to test it. I’ll report back soon. If anyone is interested in reading more or testing out a lightbox themselves then below is a link to the one we’re all trying out as it’s one that’s cheaper than most while still being approved as effective and having great reviews. I have no affiliation with the company and will be (as always) providing a full and totally honest review, the link below is an affiliate link which means that a small percentage of any sales made through it will be paid to me and help towards the running of my blog, I never promote items that I don’t believe in and would never give false hope to sufferers of what I know, from my own lived experience, to be hugely debilitating conditions. If you get one then please do let me know how you get on with it and whether it helps you!
Amazon UK – Lightbox 10,000 Lux
It’s so hard to write this post, I’ve been trying to for over 2 years but I’ve always stopped part-way through because I worry that others will view my thoughts as judgements about the decisions they may make and I want to categorically state now that this isn’t the case. The thoughts and decisions I have about this are my own, about my own life, experiences and conditions, even if someone else were a carbon copy of me, I wouldn’t advise the same so please read this as my own decisions based on my own experience.
So, when are you having kids? This is a question I’ve been asked a number of times over the years, I’m sure almost every female of my age has, it comes with the territory of being 26 and in a long-term relationship. It’s amazing how little a person needs to know you to feel comfortable enough to ask you such a personal question and sadly, answering it is very personal indeed. So, when am I going to have kids? Well, the short answer is never. In fact though, there’s no short answer and no matter the answer I’ve given to people I’m usually told I’m wrong or that I’ll change my mind.
You see, planning a family isn’t so easy when you’re mentally ill. I’ve never been very maternal or had a strong desire to have children and for that I will always be very grateful. Many people when I state this look at me as if I’ve said that I hate children and all who bear them, or that I’m selfish, or I don’t have what it takes to be a mother, to put another human being first. The truth is, I’m all too familiar with doing that, in fact, I worry a lot that if I ever had a child, I’d struggle to be left with any identity at all because I’m so giving of myself to others and I can’t even imagine how much that would be amplified by that person being my own child. Anyone who knows me would describe me as caring, someone who goes above and beyond and who gives too much of themselves, this isn’t something I’m bragging about, or even something I’m proud of, it causes me a huge amount of problems because I’m so often taken for granted or taken advantage of. Imagine how I’d cope with a child when my self-esteem is such that I believe I should always come second to everyone around me?! Deciding not to have children is not a choice I’ve made for myself, it’s not for selfish reasons, in fact the vast majority of my reasons are for that child, rather than for me.
I’ve been mentally ill for 10 years, since just before I turned 16. Luckily, I hadn’t thought a great deal before that about wanting a family and I didn’t get into a serious, long-term relationship until I was nearly 21, by then, I’d decided that I wasn’t cut out to bring children into the world and therefore made this very clear to the boyfriends I had. Sadly, this isn’t a choice that many people accept as final, I’m told I’ll change my mind, that I’ll get broody, that I’ll get over my fears. Thankfully, this hasn’t happened yet and what the people saying these things don’t realise is that I have to fight quite hard to stay firm in my beliefs. I regularly waver, I consider having a family, being pregnant, having a mini me, I want to see what I’d be like as a mum, see my boyfriend be a dad, see my parents be grandparents and so much more. But I can’t allow those thoughts to take over because for me, the idea of being a mum to my own biological children is not a sensible one. There are so many reasons for this choice, one of the biggest being that I don’t want to pass on my genes as there is a large genetic component to all of the conditions I’m diagnosed with. Another, is that I’m untreatable with medication and due to having long-term depression and severe anxiety, my likelihood of getting post-natal anxiety or depression is very high and I’m yet to find a treatment that works that would therefore get this under control. I also have a lot of very severe fears that verge on phobias including needles, vomiting, hospitals, and pain. Each of these would be difficult to deal with on their own but combined they feel impossible to tackle and I therefore do everything in my power to avoid them, including getting pregnant. Mental illness is often exacerbated or even triggered by environment and therefore possibly giving my child a genetic predisposition and then having them live in a mentally ill environment is going to make them more likely to become ill themselves, something that I’m personally not willing to risk.
While I do have very sensible, logical, and robust arguments against having my own children, as I mentioned before, this doesn’t stop me from wishing it were different or regularly contemplating the idea. You can probably imagine that when people then ask me when I’ll be having children or why I don’t already have them, it’s a difficult topic to talk about. You all know that I’m very open and honest and I’m happy to have difficult conversations but most people aren’t prepared for this when they ask these seemingly innocuous questions, they don’t think about the people who can’t have children, those who are trying but not having success, those who’ve lost children, or those like me, who would love for life to be different but have made the difficult choice to not have children. Most people around me don’t understand this, most people who want kids say they wouldn’t let anything get in the way, that having kids is everything to them and even in my situation they’d still have them but you can’t possibly say this because you’re not me, you haven’t lived my life, you’ve not walked in my shoes and you don’t think about the world in the way that I do. So many people think I’m wrong for making this choice, that I’m selfish, but I’m making the right choice for me because I believe it would be selfish to allow my desire for children and to be a mother to take over the fact that I’m pretty sure that I would be bringing a disadvantaged child into the world, that I would be giving them a very difficult start in life based on mine and my boyfriend’s genetics and that I don’t want to risk that or risk feeling guilty or responsible for the rest of my life. I don’t want to make my child or children suffer and I can’t put myself through the fear or worry of knowing that it might, let alone try and get through the ordeal of pregnancy or giving birth that I’m so not cut out for. Living life with anxiety is extremely difficult, I can’t even imagine trying to do that whilst looking after a child, I’d just obsess over everything, worry over every cough or sniffle, and probably never let them out of my sight; we all know how much new parents worry, add an anxiety disorder on top of that and I’m not sure I’d do anything other than worry and panic.
However, this doesn’t necessarily mean that I won’t be a mother. I do believe that I have a lot to give, as I said before, I’m extremely caring and I would love to look after and nurture a child, but I don’t want to be biologically related to them. I really hope that one day my boyfriend and I might be able to foster children and possibly even adopt if our circumstances change and become more stable, it’s certainly something we’re working towards. I think we’d make great parents, even with my health problems, because I’ve learnt so much compassion, understanding and awareness. I’ve learnt to read people, to understand emotions and feelings and the issues that can arise if we go through adversity in our childhood and more importantly, I’ve learnt a huge amount of skills and techniques to identify those issues and change or improve them. It’s these things that make me think I could be a great mum, an understanding foster carer who could help guide a struggling child, to help them find themselves and become who they want to be and to get them back on the path to a better, happier life. I think I could love and care for a child whom I have no genetic or chemical bond with because I want to help, I want to offer a safe and stable place for them to call home, I want to be a person in their life who will never leave or knowingly let them down. There are so many children in the world who are crying out for homes, for parents, for love, and I feel that I could offer that, I just can’t for my own biological children, the world doesn’t need a mini me, it doesn’t need an extra child or two of mine, but it does need people to help those already here who are struggling and that’s where I think my place is. If I believed in God, or a higher power then I guess I’d describe it as my calling though it’s not half as dramatic or profound as that, more a realisation over the years that while I can’t face creating and bringing up a biological child, I have far too much love and care in me to never be a parent. I don’t feel that I was born to be a foster carer of an adoptive parent, not like I do about working in mental health and making a stand about that, but I do feel drawn towards it, towards helping those who’ve not been given a great start in life and to try and make that better with them. I don’t know if it’ll ever happen, I don’t know when or if I’ll ever be stable enough health-wise or financially to be able to even consider fostering, but the hope is there.
As you can see, it’s not a simple question, and it certainly doesn’t have a simple answer, it’s one of the most personal questions you can ask a person and yet so often it’s asked by strangers, in an offhand way, catching you off guard and giving you no chance to fully explain what you want the people around you to know and understand. I’ve always told people that I don’t want children, it’s easier that way, it means that I get the comments about changing my mind or being selfish but it’s easier than having to listen to people try to persuade me into having children that I don’t want, and it’s certainly easier than trying to explain that I have to work very hard to stay this strongly against having biological kids because I wholeheartedly believe that it’s in my, and theoretically their, best interests, that giving up the idea of having children is as far from selfish as I could possibly be and is actually me trying to be selfless and put them first, ahead of me. I’m not religious and therefore I don’t believe that any of this is God’s plan or destiny or anything pre-determined like that, I don’t believe that it’s God’s will for me to have children or that I’m deviating from the path set out for me, I’m using my free will to decide that procreation isn’t for everyone, we’re already in a pretty sorry state thanks to the sheer number of people populating the planet and I don’t want to contribute to that, I don’t want to add to that burden, or make myself ill, for the sake of carrying on my genes. I don’t need to be related to my children in order to be a parent or a mother, I don’t need to give birth to them in order to love them and protect them. I know that if I become a foster carer or adoptive parent, I might be in the firing line for judgement from those who might believe that I can’t possibly love my children quite as much as those who’ve birthed them, that it’s not the same if they don’t look or act like you, that you don’t have the same bond if you’ve not parented them since birth, but I simply don’t believe those things to be true and as with all of the other things I’ve received judgement about in my 26 years, I’ll fight the stigma, I’ll fight to be understood, because I may not be a mother yet, but I’ll fiercely fight as if I am one.
Today is World Mental Health Day and I’ve been umming and ahhing for days about whether I was going to post anything. The theme this year is mental health at work so I kind of opted myself out of writing anything because I don’t exactly have much to say on the matter having been out of work for 3.5 years specifically because of my mental illnesses. But, it seems like a wasted opportunity if I don’t write anything. I’ve been very good at opting out of writing things recently, I’m never quite sure what to say and then my anxiety takes over and decides that anything I might say isn’t worth saying and that no one will read it and if they do they’ll be bored or judge me or even unsubscribe from my blog and so the urge to write quickly dissipates and I go back to my reviews, watching tv or feeling a bit lost and unproductive.
I wanted to write something today because even though today is the one day of the year where the mentally ill are most celebrated, most accepted and most listened to, our mental illnesses still work their hardest to crush our spirits, silence us, and even make us feel like we’re not part of the accepted mentally ill group. That’s certainly been my experience today and has been for any awareness days or special events for at least the last year. I fall very nicely in the box of mentally ill and therefore you’d really think that today is the day I get to stand proud, shout from the rooftops and use my blog to do what I set it up for 3 years ago, to raise awareness, increase understanding, and reduce stigma. But instead, all day, I’ve felt a bit rubbish, quite low and I’ve been spectacularly unproductive. It’s 10.30 at night and I’ve not even showered or got dressed, I can’t even remember the last time I shaved my legs (it’s literally been weeks) and I’m surrounded by used mugs, bowls, plates and an empty crisp packet. You’re probably now either judging me or feeling sorry for me and wondering if I’m getting worse again, the truth is, that I’m not. I’m fairly stable currently and about the best I’ve been in the last 3.5 years but this is often my reality, I’m not tidy, I don’t have the capacity to be, I don’t keep on top of all the things I should and I’m a truly terrible housewife. Mental illness doesn’t switch off for our awareness days, we don’t suddenly become capable, functioning human beings if that isn’t our current norm, in fact today, for me, has been worse than any other days in the last few weeks, I’ve been doing a great job of showering every day, of clearing used crockery out of the lounge and getting at least a few bits done for reviewing but that really hasn’t happened today and I’ve only just realised that it’s probably because it’s WMHD and I’ve not known what to write about.
I’m afraid this post doesn’t really have a point, I don’t have a message to get across today, nothing huge to blow your mind or make you think differently. I just very much feel that I should write something and so this is it, rambly, messy, confused, very much like the inner workings of my mind. I can’t even keep my email inbox tidy, I currently have 82 unread emails, many dating back months! I’ve read all of them but I mark them as unread when I can’t deal with them immediately so that I don’t forget to deal with them later only I then get overwhelmed by how many there are, feel guilty that I’ve taken so long to respond to people or worried that I’ll offend people if I don’t want to review their books or can’t because I get so swamped. It’s such fun being an anxious person! On Thursday last week I was interviewed by BBC Radio 4 for You and Yours and the interview was aired yesterday. I told almost no one that I was doing this because I was so nervous about how it would sound. I was told by those I did tell that I should be announcing it on my blog, on my Facebook pages, emailing family, but I just couldn’t. To me, that seems big-headed, and I was terrified that I would sound awful and people would judge me and I didn’t want that so I said nothing. When I was listening to the programme I was sat colouring trying to keep myself calm and remembering to breathe. It was actually pretty good in the end and I’m really pleased with the reaction I’ve had from people since so it was most certainly worth doing but it’s a shame I had to feel so bad ahead of time. I don’t remember much of yesterday after the interview because I was still so wired and keyed up that my brain was all mushy and I couldn’t concentrate on anything I was doing well enough to actually commit it to memory, this is the story of my life, it’s why I was so worried about the interview itself because when I’m anxious I don’t know what I’m saying, my filter goes and I don’t remember things well so I could have said anything and I wouldn’t have known!
I don’t even cope well with good news most of the time, my body just gets flooded with adrenaline and I don’t know what to do with it. I end up pacing around and flapping my hands a lot, I can’t sit still and will keep getting up and sitting down, wiggling my feet, making weird noises, rocking, anything that gets some of the nervous energy out. My partner got offered a new job last week that we’ve been desperately hoping he’d get for months. I was so excited when he phoned to tell me, it was better than Christmas (and I really love Christmas!) but within an hour I was worrying that it would fall through or that he’d fail his medical for some unknown reason or that they’d just rescind the offer. He’s got his medical tomorrow and we should know very soon after that if it’s all going ahead and then he’ll finally be able to sign contracts, I’m hoping that will calm me down and my condition will stop making me think the absolute worst. I don’t even believe those things will happen but my conditions really do and so I’m forced to sit and think about the possibilities and how we’ll deal with them and what we’ll do if he hands in his notice and then ends up jobless. It’s exhausting and relentless! Anxiety doesn’t let you just be happy. This is the best news we’ve had in months, possibly years, I should be on top of the world, but instead the anxiety creeps in and takes over my thoughts. It’s really no fun.
However, in happier news, my “anxious eyes” (previous readers of my blogs will know that this is how I describe my visual hypervigilance) meant that when I went for a walk with my mum at the weekend, I was able to find some fly agaric mushrooms that we’ve both wanted to see our whole lives, hiding in some brambles that we were able to photograph. I even found a discarded horseshoe, almost entirely buried in mud which I’ve “rescued” and brought home to wash and clean up and add to my “collection” of objects from walks, it currently joins a deer antler that I found a couple of months back. I did have a panic attack whilst out because I found a spider crawling on my hand and then another on my cardigan later on but apart from that I managed well and had lots of lovely chats with my mum. Being outside is so good for me when I’m in natural places, it’s just so difficult trying to keep the anxiety at bay, I jump at every noise, I get stressed out by insects or animals getting too close to me, I hate coming across dogs which I’m terrified of, it’s a really difficult juggling act of being desperate to be outside the four walls of my flat and trying to do deal with all of the ridiculous things that being outside makes me anxious about. The photography definitely helps but it can also be frustrating because I don’t have a good attention span when I’m anxious and therefore I can get bored or move on from a subject too quickly before getting decent shots; I nearly threw things in frustration when I couldn’t get my camera to focus on most of the mushrooms we found and just ended up giving up and trudging about a bit.
So there you go, I’m not quite sure what this post has turned into, it’s kind of an update, kind of an explanation and a bit of awareness raising too. I’ll leave you with the link to my radio interview and some pictures of the mushrooms I found with my mum. A snippet of me speaking can be found at 00.43 and the actual interview can be found at 09.19 minutes in. Do let me know what you think of it!