I’ve Finally Realised Something

I’ve finally realised something.

In an ideal world, I would wake up early, naturally, with a delicate stretch and make my way downstairs for a healthy breakfast. I would spend the entire morning doing something productive – writing, cleaning, exercise, maybe all three – and then have a healthy lunch. The rest of the day would be easy. Maybe I’d continue working; maybe I’d prepare a gourmet meal; or maybe I’d catch up with friends. I’d go to bed, nice and early, knowing my productive day had been worthwhile.

But we don’t live in an ideal world. That much is clear.

If the day I just described is familiar to you, then I am genuinely happy that you are making the most of your time at home.

However, there is a lot of pressure on people right now to be productive. The message appears to be that any time not spent working towards a goal is time wasted.

I’ve finally realised that this is not the case.

I have been feeling extremely guilty for not coping well during the UK’s lockdown. I haven’t been productive. At all. I’ve been sleeping a lot, rarely leaving the house, and I have a pile of work I need to get through. (You can read about it in a bit more detail here). I’ve seen people across social media shaming people for not making the most of this time at home and it got to me. When the UK first went into lockdown, I put a lot of pressure on myself: I have all the time in the world to complete my assignments, so they have to be perfect. I’ll be able to write and publish a blog post every day. I can update my writing portfolio. Maybe I’ll even start running and finally get in shape.

But the reality is much different, and that’s OK.

We are all faced with so much uncertainty right now that it is completely natural to feel anxious or down. These are scary, unprecedented times; no one knows how to cope in this situation. Just getting through each day is something to be proud of.

I’m still going to try, obviously. I’m going to attempt my assignments, hopefully get some exercise in every now and then, and try and look after myself.

But trying is more than enough.


What are your thoughts on this? Do you think we need to be productive right now, or is trying enough? Leave a comment and let me know!

How Are You Coping With Lockdown?

The last few weeks have been tough. Really tough.

Not just because the UK has gone into lockdown (although that hasn’t been easy), but because of how easy it has been for me to slip into old, unhealthy habits.

Before this awful pandemic took over our lives, I had finally got to a place in my life where I could say I was doing OK.

Now, OK might not sound like much. Surely I want to be better than OK?

But for me, being OK meant that I had reached a constant after years of uncertainty; I had good days and I had bad days, but, generally, I was doing OK.

Notice the past tense?

It’s difficult – really, really difficult – to feel OK right now. There is so much uncertainty throughout the UK, and among the rest of the world. Everyday I watch the news and see the numbers rise: how much longer do we have to live like this?

I’ve found myself slipping into old, unhealthy habits. Things I used to do when I was battling the worst of my anxiety and depression.

I sleep. A lot. I sleep at weird times, during ‘sociable’ hours. I sleep the day away, because I have nothing else to do.

I rarely get dressed. I’m not going anywhere, so what’s the point?

I don’t leave the house. Now I know we aren’t supposed to leave the house, but in the UK we are allowed to leave the house for exercise as long as we adhere to the rules of social distancing. But, more than that, I haven’t left the house at all, not even to sit on the front step.

Now, obviously, it is OK to be struggling during times of such uncertainty, but I really don’t want to go back to that place.

So I’m going to try.

I’m going to try and sleep at a regular hour, even though just typing this is making me want a nap. I’m going to get dressed, even though I don’t see the point. I’m going to get some fresh air, even if it’s just from sitting in the front garden.


How are you all coping with the current situation?

Job Hunting and Anxiety

Job hunting is a daunting process. Do I have the right qualifications? Enough experience? Am I what they’re looking for? Are they what I’m looking for? Financial pressure. Applications. Resumes. References. Interviews.

Now add an anxiety disorder; a little voice that will accompany you through the already daunting process.

Are you what they’re looking for? What if you don’t get this job? If you don’t get this job then you probably won’t get any job. What then? Your degree will have been for nothing. What if you do get an interview? It’s not like you’ll be able to go through with it. You know you can’t talk to people, especially one on one. They’ll never hire you. And don’t get me started on references! Who would want to give you a reference? Your tutor certainly won’t since you spent all of university an anxious mess. I wouldn’t even bother applying. In fact, don’t bother. Actually, no. You need the money. But who would hire you?

It’s a constant cycle of negative thoughts, from the first search of the job site to clicking ‘send’ on the application.

It gets worse. The job market is extremely competitive, and rejection emails are common. Now, I know rejection is part of the process, but the little voice in my head sees rejection as confirmation.

See! I was right. I knew they wouldn’t hire you. I don’t even know why you bothered applying. Don’t even bother checking your emails next time, we know it’ll just be another rejection. Although, it’s probably a good job they rejected you now. At least you won’t embarrass yourself at an interview.

Now that I’m coming to the end of my time at university, and my current job relies on me being a full-time student, I’m in the midst of job hunting. Unfortunately I’ve had a few rejections (lack of experience, I was expecting it) so that little voice has been extremely loud for the past few months.

I’m trying to organize some volunteering/work experience in a relevant field, so fingers crossed I’ll have some luck there – I’m trying to be positive!

Has anyone else experienced this while looking for a job?

They Said I Should Lie

It’s common for someone with a mental illness to feel ashamed. There’s absolutely no need to feel ashamed, and this is something I fight against on a daily basis – in my ‘real life’ or through writing – but sometimes it can’t be helped. I think it’s our job as fellow sufferers (and, you know, fellow human beings) to try and lessen that feeling of shame. We need to show people that having a mental illness is valid, and real, and okay.

It can be difficult, however, when a mental health professional doesn’t feel the same way.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve encountered some amazing people during my mental health journey. I can’t deny, though, that not everyone I’ve met along the way has been all that helpful.

The one that will always stand out for me is a professional I encountered during my mental health struggles in secondary school. Overall, this person was incredibly kind, but there is one situation that always comes to mind where I was left feeling shamed.

Long story short, this person encouraged me to lie about my absence from school. They said I should tell people that I have been having stomach problems, and that’s why I haven’t been able to get to school. Apparently, people wouldn’t react well to me being mentally ill, so I needed to tell everyone I had to be in close proximity to a toilet.

Now I’m pretty sure this person didn’t personally believe that there was anything for me to ashamed of, so why did they encourage me to lie? Maybe they thought it would be easier for me? Maybe they thought the other kids at school wouldn’t accept a mentally ill classmate? I’ll never know. But someone in that role encouraging a teenager to hide their mental illness from the world is just contributing to the stigma that surrounds mental health, and it needs to stop.

I chose not to lie, by the way, and my friends were supportive and loving and I’m incredibly grateful for them. Anyone who wasn’t that way isn’t part of my life anymore, and I’m better for it!

5 Things That Improve My Mental Health On A Bad Day

Here are five thing that I find helpful when I’m struggling with my mental health. I just want to say that while these work for me, they may not be right for everyone, and that’s okay! Let me know what works for you in the comments!


1. Sleep

Dealing with a mental illness can be extremely tiring, especially if you experience the physical symptoms that come with anxiety/panic attacks. I find that having an early night, or even just a good nap, can really help me recharge and get ready to face the day. It might sound obvious to some – and I guess it kind of is – but I used to avoid going to sleep because I thought it would just make time pass quicker and I’d have to face my anxiety much sooner. In reality, being tired just heightened my anxiety and made the situation worse!

2. Saying No

When I’m struggling with my mental health, I like to give myself a few days to rest. More often than not, giving myself these few days means that I’ll have to say no to people when they want to make plans. In some cases, when I’m feeling particularly low, I’ll cancel existing plans. It’s important to put yourself first and do what you think is best for you and your mental health!

3. Finding A Distraction

While I think it is important to face your mental illness, I believe a distraction can be a good way of coping when things get particularly tough! If I’ve had a panic attack, for example, I like to give myself a bit of time to recover. This will usually include reading a book or watching Netflix. My favourite distraction is Harry Potter (book or film, I’m not fussy). I think it is the perfect form of escapism and gives me the time I need.

4. Talking About It

Even though it can be a scary prospect, talking about what you’re feeling or what you’ve experienced can really help! Whether you talk to someone in a professional capacity or a friend/family member that you trust, talking can help you process and deal with your experiences. If you aren’t ready to talk, or if you don’t think it will work for you (and trust me, you aren’t alone in thinking that), try getting your thoughts down on paper.

5. Being Kind To Myself

This is something that has taken me a long time to put into practice, but be gentle with yourself. It’s okay to have a bad day. It’s okay to need time to yourself. It’s okay to cancel plans. I recently had to take a day off work because of my mental health, and I spent days berating myself because of it. But why? I needed that day to recover and recharge so I could go on and do the job to the best of my ability; something I probably wouldn’t have done otherwise. Always be kind to yourself!

Life Without Anxiety Makes Me Anxious

I had my first panic attack at fourteen – I prayed that I would never experience anything like that again. At fifteen, when I dropped out of school, mid GCSEs, I longed to be back in a classroom. At sixteen I got my first prescription, and couldn’t wait for the day that I got my last. When I was seventeen, I had to withdraw all of my university applications, and I cried, and I cried, and I cried. At eighteen, watching all of my friends start new lives in new cities, I ached to get better.

Why, then, does life without anxiety make me feel so… anxious?

The first time I had this feeling was bizarre, to say the least. I was at university and about to do a presentation for the first time in around six years. I had had several sessions of hypnotherapy (check out Hypnosis if you like) to get me to that point, but I still held the belief that I couldn’t do it. I just knew that I’d get to the room, get set up, and completely fall apart with anxiety.

I was right about the anxiety, but wrong about the cause.

The first twinge of anxiety started on the journey there. I read over my notes, made sure I had everything in order, but I had the same thought running through my mind, over and over; why wasn’t I having a panic attack?

I slowly typed my username and password into the computer, each key bringing me closer and closer to my biggest fear. What was wrong with me? Why wasn’t I crying, hyperventilating, running from the room?

As I set up the presentation and picked up my notes, anxiety settled in the pit of my stomach. I wasn’t going to have a panic attack. I would have to present.

I realized something about myself that day. I was so sure that I would have a panic attack, and not have to go through with the presentation, that the reality of being able to face my biggest fear caused a new layer of anxiety that I have never experienced before – I was anxious because I wasn’t anxious.

I was used to hiding behind my diagnosis; I used it as a crutch. Oh, you want me to do a presentation? No, thank you. I actually have panic disorder. Did you know? Well, now you do for next time!

Panic attacks were my “normal”. I had gotten so used to experiencing anxiety and panic in certain situations that I actually expected a panic attack to occur, and when it didn’t occur, I had no idea how to handle it. What now? Am I supposed to do the thing? The thing I’ve been avoiding for years? Really?

Of course, anxiety and panic attacks are not that simple. One successful presentation doesn’t guarantee another (I found out just how truthful this statement is not that long ago), but now I have to face my new “normal” of giving things a go.


Has anyone else experienced anything like this? Let me know in the comments if you can relate!

Paranoia

My previous posts in this little series (Depression, Panic, Anxiety, Anorexia and OCD) all contain elements of personal experience. I did a little research along the way, but, for the most part, these are very personal accounts of how these disorders can manifest themselves within an individual.

This post, however, is a little different. I have experienced mild feelings of paranoia as a symptom of anxiety, but I have no personal experience with the disorders most closely linked to paranoia. I’ve done research on http://www.mind.org.uk to try and gain as much of an understanding as I possibly can without experiencing these conditions firsthand. This post is simply a product of curiosity, research and a creative university assignment.


Paranoia is the groping of a dozen hands. They rip my clothes from my body and tear through my skin. They gouge through my flesh with their fingernails, exposing my every thought and desire.

I know they’re watching me. They think I have no idea, but I’ve always known. They’re everywhere I go now. I saw one, just this morning. I was waiting in line for my coffee when I saw her. The teenage girl behind the counter, with thick black liner and a nose ring, and dark roots giving away her natural colour. The dark bags under her eyes highlighted the bored look on her face, and her gaze always landed back on the clock on the far wall. She took my order and asked for my name. I couldn’t let her know that I know. I had to ignore my rapid heartbeat; trembling fingers; laboured breaths. If I gave her a fake name would it give me away? They can’t know that I know, so I gave my real name. I walked to the opposite end of the counter and waited for my drink. I looked at every face in the café, trying to work out who I could trust. There was a man, maybe in his early thirties, that kept glancing in my direction. He wore a shirt and tie with the sleeves rolled up. Smart yet casual. We made eye contact, and he smiled. Could I trust this man? He looked away and took his phone from his trouser pocket, his fingers moving quickly across the screen. Rapid heartbeat. Trembling fingers. Laboured breaths. The corners of my vision began to blur and all I could focus on was the phone in his hand. Who was he texting? I frantically looked from customer to customer, desperately searching for answers. A young woman sat alone, shredding a napkin with her fingers. Her gaze alternated between her phone, resting on the table next to a mug of coffee, and the door. Her phone screen lit up with an incoming message. Rapid heartbeat. Trembling fingers. Laboured breaths. The man was texting her. They were talking about me.

My name was called. It was the teenage girl again. I looked from person to person; from the teenage girl, to the smart yet casual man, to the young woman that sat alone. They were working together. I couldn’t let them know that I know, so I reached out with a quivering hand and accepted the drink. The teenage girl told me to have a good day.

I was back on the street when I realised. The teenage girl told me to have a good day. Did she know something? Was something going to happen today? I glanced at the takeaway cup in my hand. She must have put something in my drink. I didn’t see her make it. It’s the only plausible explanation for the glances, the texting, her asking for my name. Rapid heartbeat. Trembling fingers. Laboured breaths.

I binned the drink without taking a sip. They think I have no idea, but I’ve always known.


OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES:

OCD

OCD is an uncontrollable urge. The urge takes over my entire being. I can feel it in my fingers, through my chest, down my legs and in my toes. An urge to flick switches and to check door handles. Every number must be even, unless it’s a multiple of five, then I can relax. I have to sit on the left side of the room, sleep on the left side of the bed, and walk on the left side of my companion. Such little things, simple tasks, that take over my mind and body. I need to do it. Bad things will happen if I don’t turn the tap tight enough, or lock the front door, or if I leave the volume on twenty-three.

OCD is an ambush of troubling thoughts; a mental whirlpool of worry, doubt and fear. Intrusive thoughts take up residence in my mind. I desperately try and evict them. I beg for them to move on, to find another home, but they threaten me with violence. I’ve tried changing the locks and barricading the door, but they always come back.

OCD is time. Hours and hours spent fixing my obsessions and giving in to my compulsions. Hours wasted. I don’t leave the house because it’s easier to keep the door locked. I don’t wash my hands so I don’t have to check the tap. I can’t leave the oven on if I don’t turn it on in the first place. I don’t have to live through the odd numbers if I stop all clocks on the even.


OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES:

Finding My Place On The Shelf

Have you ever walked into a room and felt off? You can’t put your finger on it, but something is different. Maybe something has moved; a vase two centimetres to the left, or the TV remote from the armchair to the mantel. You can’t pinpoint what exactly, but something feels out of place. Even as you sit down to watch the television or read a book, your eye can’t help but flit from corner to corner, endlessly searching for the offending object so you can put it right.

That’s what depression feels like to me. Controlled by medication, but always there in the back of my mind. I manage to carry out daily routines, but at the end of the day the misplaced vase becomes my focus once again. I feel out of place, but I can’t explain why.

I no longer have the crippling sadness that depression brought me before the medication. Before the medication, and for some time after, I struggled to get out of bed. I didn’t want to shower, and I rarely washed my hair. Did anyone care what I looked like? I certainly didn’t.

Now my depression manifests itself through a feeling of emptiness. Instead of feeling sadness, I don’t feel very much at all.

Are those my only options? Crippling sadness or emptiness?

I would love an explanation. I would love to push myself two centimetres to the right, back to my original place on the shelf.


I would love to hear if anyone else has experienced something similar while trying to tackle their depression. Let me know in the comments if you can relate!

Anxiety

Anxiety is nausea. It’s a churning in the pit of my stomach. A tingling sensation seeps across my fingertips and through my toes. They are completely numb. I take slow, deep breaths, in and out, in and out, trying to calm the urge to vomit. My head pounds with the same rapid rhythm as my heartbeat, and I grit my teeth against the pain. Sweat starts to drip from my pores, coating every inch of my skin in moisture.

Anxiety is chaos. I can’t think straight. Every thought I have is quickly replaced with another; quick flashes of colour, sound, dread. So many thoughts try to fight for my attention. Thick black chords of jumbled words, phrases, memories, and predictions weave themselves around me. Friends making plans without me. Stumbling over words. Injections. Waiting in the airport. Driving too fast along the motorway. Public speaking. Being late for work. Being too early. Forced into awkward conversation with a stranger. Phone calls. Bad things will happen. Self-doubt. Embarrassment. Loathing.

Chaotic thoughts swirl around my brain, and I’m helpless to stop them. I brace myself against the wall in front of me, trying to place enough pressure on my palms to distract me from the onslaught of thoughts. I focus on the pain, and let it ground me in the present.


OTHER POSTS IN THIS SERIES: