Mental Health

Dear Psychiatrist – July 2018

Earlier this year, I was sent a letter by my psychiatrist stating that it had been 2 years since our last contact and asking me to update him about how I’m doing and whether they can provide any help. I struggled with this. 2 years is a long time, especially when you hadn’t realised it had been that long and trying to put down in words how I’m doing, how I’ve changed in 24 months, has been really difficult and something that actually made me quite anxious. This might surprise many of you because I blog and vlog about it (albeit not very regularly) but those are done on my terms, they’re about topics that are important to me, at a time that suits me, when it feels right. And often, I take months or even years to hone posts and finally share them with the world. I had originally planned to write the letter the same week I had received his but somehow weeks went by and after writing two thirds of it I just drew a blank. Much as I’m always open and honest, I don’t think on a day-to-day basis about how I am. It’s a running joke with my Nana and close friends that I really have to think properly when they ask me how I am because I’m so used to either saying I’m fine or people not even asking. Seeing how I am in black and white, in polarised terms about improvement and deterioration isn’t easy and having to face the fact that I expected to be back at work and well by now, or at least well on my way there, has been really hard. I had no intention of showing this letter to anyone other than my psychiatrist, and Joe, who I got to proof read it and check it was accurate. It was Joe who suggested I should share it here. I’ve been quite reluctant and despite getting him to take it in to my psychiatrist a few days ago, I’ve just had the Word document sat open on my laptop, not quite ready to post and not quite ready to close it and file it away. It’s nearly 1am and for whatever reason, I’ve finally decided to bite the bullet, to listen and trust in Joe’s wisdom and share this here now. In some ways I think it makes me sound worse than I am but Joe thinks the opposite, that depending on what people focus on in my words, it may well give a less accurate picture and sound like I’m better than I am so hopefully you’ll read it just as it is, the good and the bad, without giving one more weight than the other. I often think that I’m so used to this now, so used to being ill, that I can no longer give an accurate picture, no longer compare to “normal”, or life before these conditions because the memory of that is so faded and distant. Hopefully it’ll give you a bit of a picture of how I am now though and another snapshot into my life.

 

Dear Psychiatrist,

Thank you for your recent letter. Sadly, there isn’t a lot to report in terms of progress or improvement. When I wrote to you 2 years ago, I fully expected to be well on my way to recovery by now but that hasn’t been the case. Having now been ill with these conditions for over 4 years, I’m starting to notice patterns of improvement and deterioration though I seem to have little to no control over these. Certain times of year are worse for me due to increased external demands and I struggle greatly when under pressure or when demands are placed on me. Having said that, I’m doing well at maintaining a mostly positive mood and keeping my depression at bay. I do my best to keep busy and keep my mind occupied with productive tasks so I get a sense of achievement and satisfaction. I do a lot of creative activities including baking, crochet and adult colouring. I am also doing what I can to help others suffering from mental illness and run two blogs and more recently a YouTube channel where I am constantly pushing my boundaries in order to create content to raise awareness, increase understanding and decrease stigma. I remain motivated and hopeful of recovery.

I am also a carer for my Grandad who has Alzheimer’s and go as regularly as I can to my grandparents’ house nearby to look after him. Despite them living in their house for my whole life and me visiting on a weekly basis, my anxiety about doing this has not lessened. For periods it seems to ease up and then comes back with a vengeance and I can identify no reasons for either the positive or negative changes. Currently, I’m feeling more capable and confident whilst at their house and am worrying for less time beforehand and it’s not as severe which is a welcome improvement. I don’t know why this has changed and sadly in the past this has always been temporary but I’m enjoying it while it lasts and trying to maintain and improve my abilities as much as possible whilst not getting my hopes up too high that this will last this time. My IBS has been exacerbated by the anxiety and fairly regularly leaves me unable to leave the flat even when I feel mentally capable of doing so. Last January, I bought a new camera and took up photography. This has been a great tool for helping me stay outside and remaining calm for longer because it provides a great focus and distraction and also requires concentration to get good shots. There are times when I can go out for hours taking photographs with Joe or my mum but it doesn’t get easier and has no consistency; almost every time feels like the first time when I’m trying to get out of my front door. I know the research says that practice makes perfect, that systematic desensitisation will work but that really isn’t my experience though I do still persevere and fight as hard as I can to do as much as possible as often as I can.

The focus of my anxiety seems to periodically shift with one aspect easing up while another gets worse so as soon as I seem to learn a strategy to reduce one lot of anxieties, another lot pops up. For the last year, I have struggled less with being outside in people-free areas thanks to doing photography but I’ve become increasingly anxious about health, getting ill and getting food poisoning. My eating habits have changed, I’m much more cautious about what I eat and have a huge fear of being around anyone exhibiting any symptoms of illness, even a cold. It’s exhausting trying to keep up with the constant changes and having to explain these to others while not even understanding them myself.

In terms of help, if there’s anything I can be offered either in my home or remotely then I’d really like to know. I stopped the therapy I was having via Skype over 18 months ago as it really wasn’t helping and I was making no progress so I’m now dealing with this pretty much alone apart from the support from a dwindling number of relatives and friends. I’m doing a very good job of getting through each day, albeit with a huge amount of difficulty and discomfort but I’m not improving, just changing and trying to adapt to each change. My Support Worker still visits occasionally and I really appreciate those visits and very much look forward to them, I really hope they can continue. Although I’m not improving, having a professional to talk to and check in with and also have a link back into psychiatric services when I’m well enough again to attend appointments is really important to me. If you have any suggestions of things I could be doing to help myself improve then I would appreciate them, I am nowhere near well enough to attend group therapy or any kind of appointments, as I mentioned before, I still struggle every time to visit my grandparents at set times and any kind of deadline or time pressure causes me overwhelming anxiety and increased IBS symptoms and attacks, but if there are any self-help tips or resources I should be made aware of then I would really like to know.

Just to make you aware, my GP has now left my surgery and I don’t know who I’m under the care of now, I’ve not met any of the doctors currently practising there. I do not want to be discharged back to their care and wish to remain under yours so that I don’t have to go through the lengthy waiting list process again when I’m eventually well enough to attend appointments and engage with services. I know you’ve not suggested discharging me, I just wanted to make it very clear that my wishes are to remain within your services.

Kind regards,

Lucy

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Queen of the Skies Cross Stitch Kit by Hanna Karlzon and The Folklore Company - Click through to read the review and see photos

Queen of the Skies Cross Stitch Kit – A Review

This kit was created and very kindly sent to me to review by The Folklore Company, who create fabulous embroidery and cross stitch kits. I’ve loved cross stitch since I was a child but haven’t done any in nearly 10 years but when I found out that The Folklore Company had teamed up with one of my favourite colouring book artists, Hanna Karlzon, I just knew I’d have to start up again! This design is available in two formats, the normal cross stitch format which is what I’m reviewing here or a tote bag with a special dissolvable plastic that allows you to sew on it as if it were aida fabric and then dissolve the plastic in water afterwards just leaving the stitches in place on the bag. I wish I’d asked to review that kit now because this design is beautiful and would look stunning on a bag!

The kit arrives well packed in a clear plastic packet and contains everything you need to get started apart from a small pair of scissors and an embroidery hoop, I’d personally recommend one that’s around 26cm in diameter, mine is this size and I haven’t had to move it once as the design fits within this space preventing lots of creasing and possible damage to stitching by having to move the hoop around whilst working. The kit contains Aida fabric, more than large enough to fit the design on and with plenty of space to fit whatever size hoop you have to hand, a needle (in a small plastic packet), 3 sheets of paper including the pattern and instructions, printed in colour and double-sided, and 10 different colour embroidery flosses. The instructions give clear guidelines for newbies as well as seasoned stitchers about where to begin, how to sew without using knots and handy tips about not getting show-through from dark threads and trailing colours when needed. The pattern is clear and printed just about large enough for those with most levels of visual acuity. I don’t know what everyone else’s technique whilst cross-stitching is but I always like to colour over the pattern when stitching to be sure that I know what I have and haven’t sewn which helps me avoid mistakes. I didn’t want to do this on the pattern itself so I photocopied it and have scribbled my way through that instead. The pattern is divided into 4 quarters each printed on a single piece of A4 though these are printed double-sided so unless you photocopy it, you can’t lay out the whole pattern at once and match it up. The pattern also doesn’t reach the edges of the paper which can make lining things up a little tricky, you certainly won’t want to swap quarters whilst tired or you’re likely to make mistakes. Each thread is allocated a symbol in the key and these are then shown on the pattern, all of these are well chosen and differ strongly from each other so you won’t get confused or accidentally misread the symbols and start sewing in the wrong colour. My only niggle with the symbols is the black square used for the dark grey thread as this is very difficult to colour over/around to indicate that I’ve sewn those areas and I do keep having to really study the pattern to check exactly what I have and haven’t done rather than being able to check with a glance like I’m able to with all of the other symbols and thread colours. This is a very minor criticism and will likely only affect people who cross-stitch in the same way as me. The only other difficulty is that the crossover sections on each page of the pattern aren’t totally clear, the lines for the edge of the diagram cross halfway through the symbols and these can be a little challenging to see and decipher but again, this is a minor issue and only affects the central crossing vertical and horizontal line so it is pretty minor in the grand scheme of the diagram and pattern.

All of the stitches in this pattern are full crosses, there are no quarter, half, or three-quarter cross stiches and no running/back stitch outlines either so the whole design is neatly made from full crosses which I personally prefer as I can never neatly sew partial cross stitches. The instructions suggest that you start in the very centre which is the middle of the bird and this is indeed where I started. It then suggests that you work through each quarter but I don’t work so well like that so I did the majority of the bird, then the outline of the top of the frame, then the bottom, then filled those in and then did the flowers outlining them first and then filling them in and finally finished off with the flower centres. There’s no right or wrong way of sewing, just make sure that you’ve centred the design correctly and that you double check your counting if you do separate sections to ensure that they will join up in the right places later. Having now finished the whole piece, I have a lot of thread left over so you’re given plenty of each one and don’t need to worry about running out. The darkest two colours were used by far the most and I don’t have a huge amount left but as long as you’re not very wasteful with them or trailing them across the design a lot, you definitely won’t run low on them and the others I’ve got loads left of.

In terms of mental health, cross stich generally is really good because you have to focus fully on the pattern to ensure you sew it correctly and the motion of sewing is very calming and therapeutic. This pattern is great for mental health because it’s a really good level of difficulty, it’s not so small that you can complete it in a day or two but it’s also not so big that you’ll get bored or feel like you’re not making progress. There are quite a lot of colour changes and not so many large blocks of the same colour but while this means you have to swap threads a fair bit, it also means that it keeps you interested and there isn’t lots of repetition. The colour choices are lovely and quite muted but not dull, they’re a great choice for aiding calm feelings and they’ll go nicely with lots of different décor if you want to frame and display it after you’ve finished. The design does require a pretty good level of concentration, especially the frame sections so you will need to sew on good days and those where your functioning is high. Alternatively, you could just sew for short periods of time to avoid making mistakes but still get your stitching fix. My anxiety disorders mean that I often struggle to concentrate for long periods of time and my vision is often affected which makes reading and following cross stitch patterns a real challenge, to combat this I tried to make sure not to sew when I was tired and to always sew in good light, either daylight or with a bright light near me and I double-checked all counting and regularly checked that what I’d sewn was correct with the pattern, as well as colouring over the pattern in pencil for every few stitches I’d done. This meant that I only made one mistake in the whole thing and that was just one stitch that no one would ever notice so I’m really pleased, this is the first time I’ve ever managed to do a whole project and not make a noticeable mistake!

If you photocopy the pattern before scribbling all over it like I did then it would be possible to reuse it in future and you could even change the colour scheme to create personalised projects that would match your own décor or favourite colours. Each colour only needs one skein of thread so it would be very easy to reuse the pattern and make heaps of beautiful birds if you wished. For those of you who are from the colouring community, you might be interested to know that this design isn’t an exact replica of one of Hanna’s drawings but rather a combination of two, both from a double-page spread in Magisk Gryning (Magical Dawn), her third colouring book and a photo of these can be found below. Before you ask, yes, I did spend ages trawling through all of her books to find it because I was almost certain I’d seen the image before!

Overall, I would highly recommend this cross stitch kit, it’s a beautiful design, lovely colours, and a great level of difficulty that’s not too simple or too challenging. I like it so much that I’m hoping to recreate it in future with a totally different colour scheme but for now, I’m hoping to frame this one and have it in pride of place in my flat, it’s a great reminder of what you can accomplish, even whilst very poorly. This kit would suit seasoned stitchers, as well as complete beginners who are up for a challenge!

If you’d like to purchase a kit, they’re available here: Queen of the Skies Cross Stitch Kit

Letter to Myself 10 Years Ago – Age 27 and a Half

Today I was reminded about a post suggestion I followed a couple of years ago to write 50 words to yourself 10 years ago. 50 words is nothing like enough now but I wondered how different that might look, 2 years on. I realised that 10 years ago I was in the midst of severe depression and very very ill so here’s my letter to Lucy of 10 years ago.

Dear Lucy,

You’re 17 and a half. For some reason the halves and quarters have always mattered to you. In fact, you recently described yourself as 27 and a half so it’s not something you’ll grow out of. You’re currently in hospital. You asked to go. You didn’t feel able to keep yourself safe anymore. You’re not sure at the moment if it was the right thing for you to do but I can tell you from the future that it’s one of the best decisions you ever made. You’ll meet some of the best, kindest, most normal people there. You’re still friends with some of them now. You’ll decide on a new career direction while you’re there, you’ll have a poignant conversation with some other patients and realise that your passion lies in helping people and the fire will be ignited in you that, 10 years on, is burning stronger and brighter than ever to make a difference to the lives of people with mental illness. I probably should have started this with a spoiler alert, I guess I’m wrecking all of the surprises. Sorry!

You’re struggling so much right now. You’re in so much pain. It does get better, I promise. But I know that right now it just feels like the worst thing ever and you’re wishing with everything in you that it would all just go away. You feel so alone, so misunderstood, so attacked and hurt by people around you. Some of that gets easier. You’re not alone in the future and you aren’t alone now. Let people in. Try to spend less time worrying about what other people think, I know it matters so much to you but it’s eating you up inside. Later this month you’ll be asked to create a “positive box” by the hospital, you’ll think it’s silly and you’ll only be able to write two positive things about yourself when you start but just watch what happens next, watch all of the patients and staff around you take time to write you messages, make you things, draw you pictures and give you gifts to put in your box so that it’s so full it almost won’t close. It’ll bring you so much comfort over the coming decade and it’s still kept safe now and is a treasured possession.

Listen to the staff. They care about you, even though you sometimes don’t realise it. They’re trying to help you. Eat the food. You’ve had an eating disorder for too long. You’re restricting yourself so much as punishment because you feel you don’t deserve nice things. It’s not true, you do! You’re so kind and caring, you put everyone else first, always, please stop punishing yourself with restricting food and self-harming. Spoiler alert again, this will get better, I can’t say if it’s permanent or not but right now, you’re a healthy weight, you no longer have a distorted body image and you haven’t self-harmed in years. The scars you’re so ashamed of currently are no longer something you feel embarrassed about or have to cover up. You’re happy to wear t-shirts and short-sleeved stuff and despite the scars on your leg that you’ll create when you’re 22, you still wear a bikini and finally realise how fabulous you look in it!

In 6 months you’ll start embarking on romantic relationships. It’s safe to say that these are not successful and some are still a source of embarrassment and shame. I won’t tell you what to do or not do, you wouldn’t listen. You need to go through all of that to realise what you want in life, to realise how you shouldn’t be treated and to eventually realise what you’re worth. Try to make sensible choices and stay true to yourself. Try not to regret anything. Take it from me, your “accidental anal” story will become legendary and the chlamydia test debacle will put more than a few of your friends at ease that their experience can’t possibly be more embarrassing than your own. All of these things make you an even better friend and when you get to my age I think you’ll be really proud of the friend you’ve been and still are.

I know you’re really struggling to stay alive right now. Even 10 years on I can still feel that ache in your chest, that desperation to find any small reason to stay alive, to not spend all of your time planning a way out that won’t involve causing yourself pain or hurt those around you. I know you think you want to die right now but years later you’ll realise that’s not true. You don’t want to die. You want to stop hurting. I don’t know how it happens, I can’t even pinpoint when, but gradually that pain does lessen. Gradually, you stop wishing for death. Get through each moment, each day, I promise you it will get better and you’ll never believe how good it is to not feel that weight on you all day every day.

You’re currently being told by a lot of people that you’re selfish. Deep down you know that’s not true but it’ll take a long while for that to sink in. Tell yourself every day that you’re not. It might just save you some heartache and might keep you more confident. You will realise eventually that you’re not selfish and you’re not self-absorbed either. The people telling you that are angry and they don’t understand your illnesses and so they’re lashing out in the hope that they can snap you out of it. You know it won’t work, eventually they realise that too, but right now it’s going to hurt like hell and you’ll spend way too many hours crying til you can’t see anymore and wishing even harder to disappear from the world. You won’t always feel that way and even though life at 27 and a half is a challenge that I wouldn’t even consider telling you about now, you’ll be helping people, you’ll be making a difference and no one will have called you selfish for a really long time.

You’re hearing voices and that’s ok. It’s terrifying and it’s something that you tell almost no one about because you’re convinced that you’re schizophrenic and you’ll get sectioned but it will be ok. You won’t get sectioned. You don’t have schizophrenia. And although you do get some worried reactions from people, no one leaves you because of it. You’re going to start hallucinating soon. You may have already started. It makes you feel like you’re going mad, like your mind is out to get you. It gets easier. You get used to it and it does stop, at least for the most part. Again, I don’t know when the voices stop, not for a while now but eventually they will and they certainly quieten and lessen over time. You’ll learn to over-power them, to drown them out or tell them they’re wrong. You’ll stop seeing hideous versions of your own suicide. The only hallucinations you’re left with in a decade are of bugs and those are only occasional and when you’re particularly tired. Quick tip – when that happens, go to bed, it’s a sign you’ve been up for way too long! You won’t be scared of it anymore and it isn’t anything sinister no matter how much it feels like it must be right now. You won’t believe this but it’ll actually help you with your future work, all of these experiences will help you be an awesome nursing assistant and they’ll help you to relate to patients and be understanding and empathetic. When you’re working in the future you’ll actually consider being grateful for these experiences because by then you’ll have learnt so much from them. I know that sounds crazy right now but trust me, you’ll get here.

I’m so sorry you’re going through this right now. I wish I could make it better, take the pain away, give you the map of how to navigate your way through it. The truth is that I have no idea how we get from you to me. If I could do anything to make this easier, I would. You’re feeling so alone, so hurt and so suicidal right now and you’re going through one of the toughest periods of life that we ever do but you will get through it, you’ll make amazing friends, you’ll choose a fascinating, worthwhile career path, you’ll do a degree that will make you meet even more fantastic friends and even the man you hope to marry one day. There will be some dreadful periods, times when you can’t see the light, when you won’t even want to try and look for it. But you’ll keep fighting, you’ll keep driving yourself forwards because that’s what you’re doing right now and by 10 years later you’ve got even better at picking yourself up, dusting yourself off and striving forwards to get what you want.

Take care of yourself, be proud of yourself and try not to fear the future, it’s terrifying, even worse than you’re imagining, but it’s amazing too and you’ll get here.

Love you,

Lucy (age 27 and a half) xxx

Radio Interview about Anxiety with BBC Radio 5 Live

Today I was woken up by a phonecall that I very nearly didn’t answer because I assumed it was a spam call. Luckily, my curiosity got the better of me and I picked up and was asked if I’d like to interviewed as part of a discussion about anxiety on BBC Radio 5 Live. I always jump at the chance to talk about mental health and raise awareness of these conditions so I agreed and you can hear my interview below. It’s available for 29 days.

Skip to 07.33 for the start of the discussion and 15.01 for my part.

Do let me know what you think!

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0b48l2m

Treasured Alps, Threatened Alps - Click through to read my review, see photos and watch my video flick through

Treasured Alps, Threatened Alps: Colour, Explore, Protect – A Review

Disclaimer – Please read this disclosure about my use of affiliate links which are contained within this post.
Treasured Alps, Threatened Alps is illustrated by Claire Scully of The Menagerie series, written by Jacopo Pasotti and published by Bergli Books, it is from my personal collection. This book has been created to highlight the plight of a number of endangered species of animals, plants and landmarks in the alps and a portion of the purchase price is donated to the World Wildlife Fund though sadly it doesn’t state how much from each book is donated. The book is expensive compared to most and therefore a considered purchase but I can honestly tell you that it’s worth the price. I’ve been umming and ahhing over purchasing it since it was published in November and I finally bit the bullet a few weeks ago and I truly love it. It’s absolutely huge at nearly 30cm square and it’s really thick due to the paper used. The book is paperback with flexible card covers with a beautiful wolf image on the front that is indicative of the content but not actually included inside the book. The spine is glue and string bound and very sturdy and durable, it’s a little tricky to get the book to lie flat due to it’s thickness but some careful pressure will help this. The 50 images of plants, animals and landscapes are all printed single-sided with information about each one on the opposite page written in English, German, French, and Italian. Each is numbered and named with a brief description of them, their habitat and the reason they’re endangered so you get to learn about each one as you colour it. The paper is bright white, thick and lightly textured, it’s really nice to colour on with pencils, water-based pens don’t bleed or shadow and I’ve even used watercolour paints with a sparing amount of water with great success as you can see in the photos below so you can use any medium you fancy, even alcohol markers if you put protective sheets behind your work and don’t mind bleed-through onto the proceeding page’s information. The image content is mostly animals but also contains 9 images of plants and 4 images of landscapes. These illustrations range from insects including various beetles and butterflies to small mammals and birds including the dormouse and kingfisher all the way up to much larger mammals including wolves and bears. There are recognisable animals that you’ll already know about as well as much less known animals, beautiful images of plants showing them like wildlife guides do or in situ as well as a few landscape images of specific areas that are under threat. None of the images in this book are duplicated in any others, although a few of the animals have been previously illustrated in other books (e.g. bear, wolf, owl), all of this artwork is original so even if you have all of Claire’s books like I do, you won’t be getting repeats!

In terms of mental health, this book is great, it’s really absorbing and all of the images are nature-based which is inherently very calming. All of the illustrations are drawn in Claire’s beautiful signature style, this is very detailed and intricate but don’t be put off, you can always colour over the sections rather than within each one separately and this makes the images much easier to colour. The animals images are by far the most detailed, but the plant images are a fair bit less intricate with far fewer details so there is some range in these levels for your good and bad days. The line thickness is thin throughout, just like always with her art so you will need pretty good vision and fine motor control but not perfect if you’re happy to colour over sections. The artwork is all very natural and really beautiful to look at, even uncoloured it’s just stunning and I’ve spent more time than I care to admit just poring over the pages. The pictures are huge and can take ages to colour if you wish so you can really take your time over them; many have natural stopping points for those with concentration issues who like to finish sections but on the whole these images do require a fair bit of concentration and focus. They look equally amazing coloured in realistic or outlandish colour schemes so you don’t need to feel restricted just because they’re drawn quite realistically. Because the images are printed single-sided, you can really branch out with using mediums you might otherwise struggle to use in books, the paper is really good quality and can take a lot more than most and you can easily use mixed media too with some really great effects and to top it all off, you could carefully remove your finished pages and frame them to gift or display if you wish. The images are beautiful and they really do transport you to the alps, you can practically feel the chill in the air and hear the ringing of cow bells and if you want to fully immerse yourself and gorge on Swiss chocolate whilst colouring then I’d highly recommend that too, it’s all part of the experience!

Overall, I would highly recommend this book, the artwork is beautiful, the cause is really important and best of all the production quality of the book is really high so although it’s expensive, you’re still getting a lot of book for your money and not once have I regretted the cost. If you like Claire’s work then this book is an absolute must-have!

If you’d like to purchase a copy it’s available here:
Amazon UK – Treasured Alps, Threatened Alps
Book Depository Worldwide – https://www.bookdepository.com/Treasured-Alps–Threatened-Alps/9783038690276/?a_aid=colouringitmom

Video Flick-Through

The image below was coloured with Faber-Castell Polychromos Pencils, Staedtler Triplus Fineliners, and the metallic areas were coloured with Kuretake Gansai Tambi “Starry Colors” metallic watercolour paints using very fine brushes for the honeycomb.

Four Years On, Four Years of Frustration

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Today marks four years of being signed off sick with an anxiety disorder. Each time this date comes around it feels like déjà vu. Every year I hope that it’ll be the last time I’m talking about being ill, the last time I’m commenting on the previous year in terms of struggles and symptoms and that I’ll finally be able to talk about these disorders in the past tense rather than the present. Each year, it comes around again and I feel more despondent, more panicked about my future. Every year I debate with myself internally about whether I want to write a post, whether I want to acknowledge the date, the time, the feelings that surround this. I started writing anniversary posts for my reviewing but I gave up after the first one and will soon hit my third year of reviewing and I’m not sure I’ll mark it in any way. I often feel like my words are drying up. I’m never quite sure what to say anymore, the confidence I had before has deserted me and my world seems to have shrunk ever smaller. I don’t like writing very much anymore, not because I don’t enjoy it but because I feel that I’ve become very negative and pessimistic and I don’t reckon most of you want to read that stuff, I certainly don’t like thinking it, feeling it or expressing it. I know it’s not healthy to keep it all inside which is why I sometimes do express this stuff on my blog but the frequency of my posts is much less now. I think about blogging most days but the ideas and words just don’t come. There are so many things I want to talk about, to raise awareness of, to explain, and yet most of the time I don’t even open up my laptop or pick a topic before my inner critic decides there’s no point and I give up before I’ve even started.

Four years is a long time. Four years of being ill is even longer. I can hardly believe that I was 23 when these conditions took over my life. I find it even harder to believe that I’m now 27 and still ill with what I expected to last a couple of weeks, tops! I’m glad I didn’t know this was where I would end up, I’m glad I had hope throughout that it would be a short period of time, that the right treatment was around the corner, the next prescription, after the next diagnosis. Waiting for those things was extremely frustrating but it did at least give me something to help pass the time and to work towards and to hope for. I still stay hopeful now though it’s based on far more abstract ideas and has absolutely no concrete basis to it anymore. I do believe that I’ll get better one day but I have no idea how, when, or to what extent that might be. I no longer feel that I’ll ever be free of this, that I’ll ever be able to be carefree or brave. I’m sure I’ll always be described as over-cautious, careful and restricted. But I do believe that somehow, someday, I’ll be able to work again, to not feel scared every time I think about leaving the flat or making a phonecall. When you have no idea how to achieve that though it’s not exactly a very hopeful thing to have in your life, it doesn’t help keep you going or give you something to work towards because although I believe it will be true, I don’t have the first clue how to get there or the steps to take and so I feel very lost and confused and stuck. I’ve described this period before as feeling like my life is on pause and it really does. Everyone else’s lives seem to keep moving forwards, constantly changing. And yet mine mostly seems to stay still. The anxiety wavers, it changes from one trigger to another, it doesn’t settle, but my life, my achievements, my goals, none of them have changed, none of them have been improved upon. For someone who’s as goal-focused and driven as me, this is a real difficulty and something that often leads me to have feelings of failure. As I mentioned in previous posts, I’ve had to all but give up reviewing for the last 3 months because I have no confidence and no ability to focus or concentrate. This has been a huge loss because I miss doing it, I miss having a purpose and a community to be part of and for reasons unbeknownst to me, I’ve really distanced myself from that and no longer post or comment on anything. I hardly message anybody unless I need to because I just don’t know what to say anymore. I don’t have any news, I can’t answer normal questions with anything other than truthful but sadly negative answers and I don’t want to be that person so I very much keep myself to myself at the moment. I keep trying to get back into the reviewing and at various points I’ve managed to do a bit of colouring or sort out writing a review and yet still I can’t face publishing anything. I don’t even know what I’m scared of. I can’t imagine people’s expectations of me are particularly high anymore after such a long break. Readership of my blog has plummeted so it’s not like my posts would be read by huge numbers of people. I just seem to spend all my time thinking and feeling like I’m not good enough, like no matter what I do or try, it won’t be good enough and so I give up. This is extremely uncharacteristic of me. I’ve never been like this in my life and have always been extremely judgemental of those who were like it. To me, there was nothing worse than someone who didn’t try, failing was significantly more preferable to those who wouldn’t even try and yet here I am, not trying, giving up before I’ve even begun. Yet again I’ve become a hypocrite and an embodiment of all that I dislike most. How did that happen?!

I keep trying to work out a new project for myself, another goal to have, something to work towards that keeps me busy and hopefully allows me to help others even in just a small way. As usual, I’ve drawn a blank. Having little to no confidence it turns out really kills ideas and the ability to participate in things. Every time I have an idea my brain shoots it down and decides it’s ridiculous because I’ll fail or I’m not qualified or no one will be interested. Whenever interviewers used to ask me why I should be hired for the job I never used to know what to say because much as I’m a competitive and driven person, that’s never been at the expense of others and in my adult-life I’ve never had much self-confidence to be able to sell myself and would have to rely on my passion to shine through rather than being able to give specific reasons why they needed to hire me and not anyone else. Now I feel like that about doing anything. I hate “putting myself out there”, even on my own blog and social media channels, places where people have chosen to follow me because they crazily seem to want to know what I’ve got to say. I’m so worried about all of my followers changing their minds or thinking my new reviews are bad that I just can’t face posting stuff. I keep racking my brains trying to think up new things to do even just to try and get myself back in the swing of using social media again but I just can’t face it, everything seems so attention seeking and I can’t bear being focused on at the moment, I like just fading into the background and keeping my dark thoughts to myself. The only thing I’ve been able to focus on is my crochet and I’m being beyond unadventurous with that because I’m now working on the third blanket I’ve made using the same pattern which is super basic. I’m trying to be kind to myself and just be pleased that I’m doing something, that I’m being creative (ish) and actually making something that I can physically see and touch and eventually use. But it’s not working my brain at all and as someone with a very active brain I really need a different goal to focus on. I keep hoping that my desire to review and to colour will reappear, that I’ll suddenly feel motivated again and get working through the huge pile of stuff I’m meant to have reviewed months ago. It would be so nice to stop feeling so much guilt and such strong feelings of failure. I’ve never been someone to give up on anything so I really have no idea how to deal with this situation at all, it’s completely new to me.

I got my boyfriend to read this last night because my thought process had come to an abrupt end and I had no idea where to go with it or how to end the post. We both drew a bit of a blank but agreed that it shouldn’t end on such a depressing note. He doesn’t often read my blogs anymore, partly because he’s really busy with work and also because he finds it really hard to read how bad things are and see all of this in black and white. Much as I have been really poorly for the last few months and my capability has plummeted, talking to him about this post did remind me of my innate abilities to cope, to push through and to make the best of things in whatever way I can. I’m not an optimist, but I’m not a pessimist either, I try to be realistic about the challenges, the deteriorations and the difficulties but I also focus as hard as I can on the little things and those were what Joe suggested I focused on while I wrapped up this post. I find trying new things extremely challenging and get very worried about things not working out but despite this, in the past week we’ve made macarons and homemade pizza from scratch and while I struggled throughout both and nearly caused an accident because I was so jumpy, both were pretty successful and definitely things that we’ll try again. We’ve also got lots of cleaning done in the flat, something I’ve been putting off for ages and I can strongly recommend Harpic Power Plus for toilets and Cillit Bang Limescale and Grime as wonder products for getting things that were more dirty than I care to admit, cleaner than I thought was possible so that was a hugely successful and satisfying experience. I also managed to make a good impression on my boyfriend’s Grandad who is apparently notoriously hard to impress and that has just made my month as being liked and accepted by others, especially someone as important as my boyfriend’s Grandad, is hugely important to me. So, those are the things that I will try to focus on today. Anniversaries like this are always hard, especially when you have to acknowledge what you’ve lost and what you’ve missed out on and I’m looking forward to the day being over and behind me. In many ways, it’s just another day, no better or worse than any of the others but reflecting over the previous 4 years is painful and difficult and something that I usually try my hardest not to do. It’s why I normally try to stay so busy and why these past few months have been so hard now I’ve lost a lot of my ability to be and stay busy. As usual, I won’t be finishing with a hope for the year because I’ve learnt from experience that it serves no purpose and hurts if it’s not achieved. My only hope currently is that I’ll find more of a purpose for myself, more of a goal and a project to work on so that my mind can be busier and I can get back to helping people, I’m at my very best when I’m helping others.

 

***Finally, for those who were following the escapades of my cervix, I finally got my smear test results back and all is normal and fine and I don’t have to go for another test until 2021 when I shall be 30 and capable and properly adult (probably). It turns out that all of my symptoms miraculously stopped almost straight after having the test and that my body (and brain) are indeed extremely good at tricking me into thinking I’m dying of something awful when in fact there is LITERALLY NOTHING WRONG. I even had bleeding thrown in for good measure, just to make sure I truly freaked out. I’m slightly glad it all happened because it meant that I finally got my two year overdue smear test done and now know for sure that my ladybits are fine but good grief, if my brain were a person I’d have throttled it by now for being such a hypochondriac and making such an awful fuss over nothing. With a brain this powerful I could conquer the world if only I could calm it down long enough to get out my front door a bit more often! Anxious love to you all!***

Bravery, Pride and Cervical Smear Tests

Lovely readers, I’ll prewarn you now that this post will probably be full of all sorts of things where you think “too much information”, feel free to close and move on and wait for my next post which will probably be less “share-y”. You have been warned!

As many of you know, I’ve been really struggling this year with low confidence and very bad health anxiety that has been increasing week on week. Last week it got so bad and I was getting so many worrying symptoms that I finally looked into getting a smear test done at home as I’m 2 years overdue and have never had one before. A few people thought I’d definitely be able to have it done at home so I thought I’d find out and go from there. I sent Joe off to our doctor’s surgery because I was too scared to phone and ask and probably be told no. I had to wait until today to be contacted and as I expected, they don’t offer smear tests at home. At some point in the future I will write a post about all of the ways in which being housebound/agoraphobic has hindered me, from the mundane things like clothes shopping and getting haircuts to the serious stuff like not getting medical investigations or having dental appointments for 4 years, the list is long and probably surprising to those of you who’ve not experienced these conditions. I had luckily already prepared myself for being told today that I wouldn’t be allowed to have my test at home which would have been extremely difficult for me to cope with anyway but going to the doctors is significantly worse for me. My mum had very kindly offered to come over from the Isle of Wight, a 6 hour round trip, to go with me if I needed her to (I’m sure she must be very glad that I haven’t taken her up on this). I asked the receptionist what other options I had and if there were any quiet periods at the surgery as sitting in a waiting room full of sick people is extremely difficult for me (it’s actually my idea of hell but I didn’t want to sound dramatic on the phone). She wasn’t hugely helpful or understanding; this is probably the same receptionist who gave me completely incorrect information when I finally (after 10 months of psyching myself up) requested a telephone consultation to have my beta-blocker medication dose increased and refused to give me a telephone appointment, informing me those appointments don’t exist anymore. This caused me a huge amount of stress and panic and when I asked what a person with severe anxiety who’s virtually housebound is meant to do, she just reiterated the (incorrect) rules. I was lucky enough to speak to a different receptionist the next day who was absolutely lovely and so sympathetic and understanding and told me that I’d been told the wrong thing about the rules and had worried for 24 hours and barely slept or ate in that time for no reason and that telephone appointments do still exist and my medication increase had been approved. Anyway, the not so nice receptionist gave me a couple of different clinic options, all of which were getting further away from my flat (we don’t drive and my surgery is around the corner), I asked if there were any quiet periods at the surgery and she said no, it’s never quiet – this woman could really do with some teaching about sympathy and bending the truth a little rather than just scaring me silly when I’ve already said that I’m severely agoraphobic and socially anxious. She then mentioned that a cancellation had been made today with their senior nurse and I could be seen at 12.20 with enough time for the appointment to be over and done with before Joe had to go to work. I reluctantly agreed and decided that being anxious about it for the next 3.5 hours was preferable to booking on another day and worrying for significantly longer.

I took my beta-blockers to slow my heart rate down and took some diazepam, reserved for emergency needs like this (I’ve been given a very limited supply that is closely monitored by my doctors so that I don’t end up relying on it or addicted to it). I’m never sure how well the diazepam will work. I almost never take it and so I forget its effects and they seem to come and go in waves and it’s relatively easy for my brain to fight off the effects if I allow it so I do have to kind of give in and relinquish control to the drug and let it work; I did that today and thankfully it worked. On the walk to the doctors I could feel my brain wanting to be anxious, wondering why I was fine when I was in one of my most feared situations but the medication blanketed over that nicely and while I didn’t feel great, I kind of didn’t care about anything and didn’t feel worried. Joe had agreed to come in with me but luckily, while I was waiting I realised I didn’t really need him in there and I’d like to retain some mystery in our relationship for as long as possible that doesn’t involve watching nurses shining a torch on my lady bits, putting things up there and then taking samples out of it. I was seen late but I managed to go in on my own and the nurse was just lovely! She hadn’t been told anything about me which was a bit of a shock but she saw instantly how nervous I was and knew from my notes it was my first test and when I explained about the agoraphobia and why I was 2 years late for the test and about the medication she seemed genuinely impressed that I was even there and just got what a big deal it was for me. This is in stark contrast to much of my previous experience and treatment where I’m often dismissed, disbelieved and treated with aggression for “behaving like a child” and “making a fuss”. I ended up crying, I think with relief, and also because the meds make my brain loopy. She told me everything she’d be doing, explained what all of the different types of results and consequences could be and then chatted to me while I got my kit off and she got the test stuff ready. I really can’t praise her enough. I hate not knowing what’s going on and I’m terrified of pain and it didn’t hurt at all, it wasn’t comfortable but having people sticking things up your lady bits when you’re not in the throes of passion never is but the test itself I barely felt and whenever my breathing was getting fast she got me to slow down and before I knew it it was done! I thanked her multiple times and I hope she knew just how much her treatment of me helped because it honestly couldn’t have gone better, thank goodness for wonder drugs and wonder nurses! She also assured me that unless she wins the lottery, she won’t be leaving anytime soon and so she’ll be around to do my future tests and I’m allowed to request her so that was a huge help. I even got a sticker as I mentioned that that should be a thing given that having a smear test is way more impressive than cleaning your teeth. I think smear stickers should be a thing – “I only cried once on the nurse”, “I looked after my cervix today”, that kind of thing! Mine had a snowflake on which was apt given that it was lightly snowing here today!

So, now I have the two week wait until my results come through. I’m not feeling calm but I am at least calmer than I was. I’m very worried about what to do if the results come back as anything other than my cervix is beautiful and healthy but I’m trying to just deal with that when it comes. Today at least, I’m very focused on how brave I’ve been and how proud I am that I managed to face my fears of doctors, invasive tests, showing people my lady bits, and sitting in a waiting room with sick people. None of those fears will go away, as you know, that’s not how my condition works but at least I fought through them today to get a test done that I needed to have. The nurse even said that I should be really proud of myself and that I’d done brilliantly so that was really nice, I definitely earnt my sticker. For anyone worrying about having their smear test, please try not to, it doesn’t hurt and it’s not even that uncomfortable, at least it wasn’t for me. I have an extremely low pain threshold and often get criticised for fussing too much and making a big deal out of things when they’re painful for me rather than uncomfortable but this honestly wasn’t painful and the nurse was so understanding and going at lunchtime was great because there were hardly any people there in the waiting room. Oh, and diazepam! I wouldn’t have got past my front door without that today and my lovely boyfriend. Get it booked ladies, if I can do it then anyone without a severe anxiety disorder can. Yes, it’s scary but it’s important and you might even get a sticker if you mention it while you’re there!

Before I disappear, I just want to say a huge thanks to my best friend Katie, my superstar online friend Claire and my mum, without whom I’d not have been brave enough to go for this test today. Huge apologies to them too for way oversharing and probably boring them senseless with my ridiculous worries and fears and obsessive thoughts but thanks to all of you, and my lovely boyfriend Joe who went with me to the doctors today, I was able to get tested and hopefully I’m now one step closer to being told I’m fine and that my brain is a massive overthinking hypochondriacal mess (I hope their letters don’t comment on your brain state but you know!).

Health Anxiety - What it's like to live with

Health Anxiety

Health Anxiety – it’s something I mentioned in my last post and boy is it making life almost impossible to live right now. It’s just relentless. And the worst thing? When you’re this anxious for this long, you start getting even more physical symptoms. And what does my brain do with those? Decides I must be ill, poisoned, or dying of something. I literally have no idea what symptoms I’m experiencing are even real now and which ones are either being created by my psyche, my stress response (those ones are real) and which I’m just imagining due to being so sensitive to every single movement, noise or feeling in my body. I can’t even express how all-consuming this is. It’s like nothing else I’ve ever experienced and it’s terrifying.

Every single sensation is now worrying me, am I hungry or is it a stomach tumour? Is my appetite lower than usual? Does that mean I’ve got cancer or is it just that I’m so stressed my appetite has been suppressed? Why can’t I go to the toilet? Am I under-nourished? Sick? Or has my digestion shut down because of my stress response. My heart rate seems a bit high even though I’ve taken my beta-blockers, maybe they’re not working anymore, maybe something else is wrong. Have I eaten the wrong stuff? Is sugar causing it? When did I last eat sugar? It can’t be sugar, I’ve not had any today, maybe it’s adrenaline as I’ve not actually eaten anything yet. My downstairs bits feel funny. I don’t remember that happening before. I don’t remember being able to feel there before. Maybe it’s just a random twinge. Why am I getting repeating random twinges there? Maybe it’s cancer? Would I even know? What if it is? How will I get treatment? I’ve still not had my smear test that was due two years ago because I can’t face going to the doctors, my anxiety just won’t let me. I know I need to go, I know that finding there are changes is so much better than leaving it and them possibly developing into cancer and yet the thought of even trying to make the appointment makes me feel physically sick and my stomach ties itself in knots. I just can’t do it at the moment. I get a pain in my mouth and I’m convinced it must be an abscess, a rotten tooth or that I’ll need a filling. I religiously brush my teeth and realise I’m probably brushing them too hard and causing the pain because I’m so worried about needing dental work. My ears feel weird or I get a slight pain and I’m sure I must be getting an ear infection again. I sneeze or have a slight sore throat and I’m instantly sure I’m getting a cold or flu and that I’ll get really ill with it. Any sort of pain or weird sensation is instantly focussed on, fixated upon and blown out of all proportion. No matter how logical I try to be, no matter how many statistics I bombard myself with to try and make myself see sense, it just doesn’t work. Even when the sensations or symptoms go away, my brain just fixates on the next one. It’s so consuming that I can’t do many activities now because I just can’t focus on them, I’m too busy being convinced that I’m going to get really ill or die. I’m not even scared of dying, if I drop dead tomorrow, I’m kind of ok with that, but I’m absolutely scared senseless of suffering. I’ve felt this way for as long as I can remember. I’ve had a lot of health problems for the latter two thirds of my life, none of them have been serious or life-threatening, but all have involved a lot of aches and pains and never feeling “well”. These conditions have also meant that when I get regular viruses or infections I’m hit much harder by them and get more severely ill and suffer for longer than regular people do. For some reason, I’ve managed to develop a huge fear of suffering that has been increasing for years and made me very frightened to be around other people who are ill firstly because I hate seeing suffering and secondly because of the risk of being infected by them. The only type of illness and suffering I don’t have an issue being around is mental illness which is why I managed to work successfully in mental health and in a hospital no less.

Back to now though. This health anxiety is just crippling. I can’t face going to the doctors to have any of my fears allayed and I often wonder if that would even help because I swear that at the first sign of a new symptom I’d be back at square one again. I’m also so scared that they’d find something that I then have no idea how to cope with treatment for, it hardly even seems worth getting investigated if I then can’t get treated for whatever hideous thing it might be. And I realise just how unlikely it is that there’s anything wrong with me, but still, the worries are constantly there. Today I found out that the most common cancer in women under the age of 33 is cervical. Oh joy! I also know from research that almost all of the female cancers, at least those affecting the lower half of the body, have very few noticeable symptoms and that those I may experience are remarkably similar to IBS symptoms which I also suffer badly from, especially when my anxiety is this bad. I can’t tell you how useful that is when trying to talk yourself down from being convinced you’ve got every disease under the sun. I’m sure that half of the symptoms I’m now experiencing are because I’m focusing so much on my body that I’m getting phantom symptoms from sending too much of my attention to those areas. It’s just doing me in. I’m sick of feeling so on edge, sick of feeling so out of control, sick of feeling like I’m going mad and sick of being convinced that I’m going to die some horrible, slow, painful death. I just want my brain to calm down, chill out and focus on something a bit less morbid than my own death or illness.

Anyone who thinks anxiety is a walk in the park clearly hasn’t visited this particular park which is currently frequented by wolves, big cats, and a whole heap of horrid diseases trying to kill me off at every turn. I have such a strong urge to give up, to stop even trying and to just give in. I don’t even know why I feel like that, I know it wouldn’t help. But I’m so tired. So tired of the thoughts, the constant stream of worries and then symptoms and the desire to research it but knowing that’ll almost certainly make me feel worse. I’m tired of fighting, of dreaming about it, of never being free. I’m tired of all of it. It’s been almost 4 years of fighting with my own head, fighting against each and every new worry that comes up, trying to adapt to every change, to every loss. Having health anxiety and worrying that I might lose even more functioning on top of all of that is nigh on impossible to cope with and means that I spend a lot of each day on the verge of crying because I feel like I’m falling apart. Part of me knows that this will probably pass, or at least ease off, just like a lot of the worries I’ve had throughout this period of illness. But I also know that the anxiety is becoming more and more ingrained and it feels like it’s taking a bigger hold with each passing month. It scares me so much. I don’t want this to become who I am. I have always been determined to be separate from my illnesses, to have them but not to be them. I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be able to say that of the anxiety. It feels so intrinsically linked to who I am now. Most of the time I can differentiate between thoughts from the condition and thoughts of my own but when the thoughts from my condition are so overwhelmingly frequent, so loud and so awful, it’s hard to know where my own thoughts begin because there seem to be so few of them now, there simply isn’t room for anything much other than health anxiety and the occasional worry about going outside.

After my last post I’d hoped to be back to reviewing quite soon. I hoped that expressing how I’d been feeling would help it lessen and in some ways it has, I definitely feel less alone but sadly my health anxiety has just ramped up and up, day after day. My mum came to visit for the weekend and we had a lovely time and I managed to go out with her on two days and take lots of photographs and do lots of walking outside seeing loads of nature and very few people (my idea of perfect!). But still, even while I was out, I was getting twinges, random stabbing pains, wondering if I’d need mum to take me to the hospital. I’m at the point where I’m so frightened that I’m asking people random, really personal questions to find out if what I’m experiencing is normal or likely to be the cause of my premature death. I hate what this is turning me into. My social phobia is ramping up because I know I’m becoming obsessive about this and I’m terrified I’ll bore people or alienate myself from the few people remaining in my life. But I know that I can’t keep this inside as it feels like it’s eating me alive.

I’m not really sure where this post has gone or where it’s ended up. As usual, it feels like a rambling mess and I’m hoping I’ve pulled it miraculously out of the bag and written something at least partially coherent. I’m guessing it’s a heap of negativity and for that I’m sorry but I also can’t even begin to sugarcoat this and I always promised I would never do that, that I’d tell my story, tell the story of so many of us with mental illness, warts and all, with all the worst bits left in. So if this has left you feeling bleak or despondent then I guess that gives you a snapshot into what it’s like to be inside my head, to live a few minutes in my life and I can assure you that it’s infinitely worse when there’s no cause, no end in sight and no tab to close. I hope that sooner than I think, I’ll be feeling a bit brighter, a bit more hopeful and a little less plagued and that I’ll be back with some more positive posts that at least end on a lighter note. I’ll try to edit my photos from the weekend down enough that I won’t bore you all to tears with shot after shot of the same deer or ducks, that’s about the only task I’m managing to do whilst this poorly and I’m still sticking to my showering every day routine. Everything else is pretty much out of reach but I’ll try to get back on with my small tasks project and see if I can achieve a little more than showering and deleting photos. Writing this has been a bit helpful and some of the physical symptoms have eased off a bit which will hopefully sink in to my anxious brain as proof that they’re stress-induced. Huge hugs to all of you who are feeling this way or even just a little bit this way, you’re all warriors to fight this fight every day and I hope it gets easier for us all soon, we damn well deserve it!

Confidence Crisis

Lovely readers, I’m so sorry for the radio silence this year, it’s certainly not been intentional and I’m working hard to try and get myself back in a position where I can be blogging and reviewing again because I miss it and I miss you guys! I’ve had a lot of stuff going on in my personal life and change never does me much good, especially when multiple things are having to be dealt with at once. It’s also a really rough time of year for me, I’m never well at this time of year so it’s unsurprising that I’m so badly affected currently. I thought it was going to last just a couple of weeks and I did manage to write and share a review in early January but since then my confidence has completely deserted me, my words have disappeared and my motivation has been non-existent. None of that is conducive to blogging. I did manage to record and share a couple of videos which can be found here, but that’s pretty much it. I’ve not even been doing anything that’s not blogging. I’ve just been spectacularly unproductive. In some ways, I wish I’d realised how long this would last and just written off blogging for the last 6 weeks and got on with something fun or at least distracting. Instead, I’ve spent the whole time spending way too much time asleep and in bed, scrolling through Facebook aimlessly and watching crappy television for more hours than I care to remember or admit! My flat is dirty and untidy, I’m not showering often enough, I keep missing meals and the thoughts going through my head are much darker than usual and very much swirling around the I can’t be bothered and what’s the point sort of level. My focus is completely gone, my memory is dire and I just don’t know where the last 6 weeks have gone, I can count on one hand the number of meaningful or useful activities I’ve done in that time, even when I really start lowering my standards of what classes as productive, I’ve done next to nothing for weeks!

Throughout this time, I thought I was doing a pretty good job of covering up how much I was struggling. It turns out, I’m not half the actress I think I am. Though the flipside of that is that it’s quite comforting to realise that even when you don’t tell your boyfriend of 6 years that you’re feeling crappy, he can work it out from your subtle behaviour changes (including less nagging about cleaning and tidying). I always put off telling people that I’m worse or struggling more as I’ve previously documented on this blog. I hate admitting it to myself, let alone anyone else and it doesn’t properly sink in with me until other people around me know about it and then it’s a real wake up call. I tend to wait weeks, partially to be sure, and also because I spend that time in denial, before telling anyone but telling them usually leads to at least getting a bit more help to drag myself out of the pit I’ve inadvertently ended up in. I never learn though and always leave it ages before telling anyone or properly asking for help. Normally, my depression is pretty under control, it still sneaks in whenever it can, I still get horrible dark thoughts creeping in regularly but I’m able to dismiss them and get on with being productive and busy and that generally drowns it out. Recently though, that’s not the case, the depression has really ramped up in intensity and it’s crushed my confidence, my motivation and drive and has also made me unbelievably tired and pessimistic, which isn’t like me. On top of this, my anxiety is just on fire! For a while I’ve been noticing that as soon as one worry lessens, it gets replaced by another. This isn’t something I’m consciously doing and it’s currently something I have absolutely no control over but as soon as one thing becomes easier, less worrying, or goes away, another worry comes straight on in behind it and replaces its space. All of the things I was told by my psychiatrist, by therapists and that I learnt in my psychology degree, aren’t working. I was always a huge proponent of the idea of systematic desensitisation, the idea that the more you do a specific thing, the less it will make you anxious and the more used to it you’ll get. The theory is all completely sound, the research backs it up, but my experience is absolutely not showing it to work. No matter how many times I visit my family or don’t get food poisoning or don’t get an IBS attack when I’m out, I never consistently feel better about being in those situations again. I go through phases of things being a bit easier and then much harder but these seem to come and go like the weather with no rhyme or reason and no logic or pattern that I can decipher at all. No matter how much CBT I try to use I just don’t calm down or get over the thoughts. I’m a very logical person, I know the likelihood of my worries coming true (at least the ones I’m aware of rather than the residual feeling of fear for no reason that I so often experience now) but knowing these things won’t happen doesn’t stop me feeling intense anxiety each and every time I have to do something that my brain has decided is anxiety-provoking. I make no medical sense and no one around me, me included, has any idea why I’m like this or what to do to make it better. I was told a few years ago by my psychiatrist that I needed to stay outside for at least 6 hours for my anxiety to calm down and that then being outside would get easier. I’ve done this a number of times since then, in various places and with varying levels of success and yet I’m still severely agoraphobic, unable to even take my bins outside most days and suffering IBS attacks and extreme anxiety about going to places locally that I’ve known my whole life. It’s just doing my head in.

To top all of that off, my brain has decided to become hugely worried about germs and food poisoning. My mind is honestly a living hell right now. My brain is almost constantly fixated on worrying about getting ill with a virus or getting food poisoning. I’ve even considered going vegetarian (not an option long-term as my diet is very limited already due to dislike of a lot of foods and many vegetables being IBS trigger foods) so that I don’t have to keep worrying about meat being off. My partner is an ex-chef, we both know a lot about food storage, prep and just doing a good old sniff test, and yet my brain just can’t switch off these worries and once it’s decided that something is a “risk”, it just obsesses and even causes me physical symptoms because I spend so many hours worrying. Sometimes I just can’t eat the food because I’m so worried about it making me ill even though I logically know it’s absolutely fine. I’m pretty sure that part of the reason I’m so scared of getting ill is because I’m worried about getting so ill that I’ll need medical treatment and that invariably involves leaving the house. I’m increasingly worried about getting a serious health problem that I currently can’t imagine being able to receive treatment for because going out is so difficult for me. No doctor will just drug me up to the eyeballs on Diazepam for the foreseeable future while I get whatever fictitious disease my brain conjures up treated or cured. I hope that if I ever did get a serious illness the fear of it being left untreated would take over the fear of going out and getting treatment and that I’d be able to go and deal with it but part of me thinks that’s just wishful thinking and isn’t exactly likely. I hope I’ll never have to find out but I spend a huge amount of my time at the moment worrying about getting all sorts of conditions and diseases and trying to work out how I’d deal with it without just imploding.

So that’s where I’ve been at since December. I’ve realised that doing nothing and sitting around feeling sorry for myself isn’t working or helping at all; not that it’s really been a choice but still, it’s not helpful. So I’m trying my best to do little tasks that are productive and make me feel better in the hopes that they might spur me on to do bigger and better things and if not, well at least the small tasks I’ve done are done. I started earlier in the week by turning my mattress because for the last few weeks I’ve been getting backache and my tummy has felt twisted when lying on my side in bed, turning the mattress has really helped. I also changed my bedding at the same time. It took me an hour to do all of this and I had to change the duvet cover the following night because I was exhausted but I now have clean sheets and a comfy bed again and this also meant I had to clear up the things that were being dumped on my bed and also that I’ve made myself shower every day so I’m not getting my sheets dirty quicker than necessary. Some days these showers have been 2 hours before I go to bed but still, I have at least showered every day for 4, possibly 5 days, I forget when I started this. I’ve also done 3 lots of laundry, one each night when Joe’s gone off to work his night shifts and put those up and taken the previous day’s load down so it can be replaced with wet stuff. Yesterday I was feeling really low and rubbish and completely unmotivated but my head was just buzzing from too much screentime and I felt like I was going mad, eventually I got so fed up that I went and did some washing up and then hoovered most of the flat while Joe cooked dinner. There are still thick layers of dust on any above-floor surfaces and I’m sure there are other grim discoveries to make that I’m currently just trying to ignore but my floors are mostly clean, my bed is welcoming, my laundry is done and I’ve been clean for a few days in a row. Given how dreadful and unproductive I’ve been feeling, that’s pretty huge progress really and more in 4 days than I’ve managed in over 6 weeks! I’m really trying to make this stick and hope that even though my mental state is completely crap currently, at least my surroundings won’t be so bad and won’t be making me worse anymore. I’m hoping that I might even be able to slowly work through some reviews and finally start getting back on track with that because I’m dreadfully behind and don’t want to just give up like this.

So yes, that’s where I’m at. Not a good place to be at all and I’ve got no idea when the anxiety might start shifting or the depression easing off a bit but I’m hoping that my goal of doing a small task or two a day is at least achievable (possibly with help and encouragement from Joe) and will start making me see the difference I can make to my surroundings and stop me feeling quite so useless and unmotivated. I’m hoping the confidence might journey back to me after that!

P.S Apologies if none of this made sense, seemed to change writing style throughout (it was written in a few goes rather than all at once like I usually write) or doesn’t sound like me normally. I don’t write well when I’m this ill and I’m too distracted to be able to properly edit or read through it to check it makes sense so this is raw and as it came to me. Future posts are unlikely to be like this so please don’t desert the blog just based on this post, I felt I needed to get all of this out and explain to you all what’s been happening for me but it’s far from the standard I would normally hope to produce, I hope you understand.

Time to Talk Day 2018 – Video Post

Time to Talk Day 2018 – Today is the day to get the conversation started about mental illness in the hopes that we can keep talking about it all year. Too much stigma, embarrassment and shame still surround mental illness and this needs to change. Talking about it isn’t difficult and here I suggest tips of things to remember and how to get the conversation started. You never know the difference it might make, the impact it could have and the change you could be making to someone’s life.

#timetotalk #timetochange #mentalillness #mentalhealth