Project HeatherED

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Tag: depression

The Break Through Post (or how I realise I’m still stuck in diet culture – and how I plan to get myself out!)

Hello! It’s been a while, right?

Well, before I hit publish, my pride pushes me to caveat this by telling you that I’m intentionally sharing this relatively unedited piece on my website. I desperately want to overcome my anxieties around writing here. I can’t think of a better way to do this than to face my fears – and just go for it.

So I’m asking you to forgive me in advance for my imperfect post – my imperfect self. I shouldn’t need to do this, but bear with me. As you’ll read, I’m working on it!

Here goes nothing.  

The Break Through Post

(or how I realise I’m still stuck in diet culture – and how I plan to get myself out!)

I gained weight this year.  For the first time in five years, I broke my hard-won “healthy” habits.

It began when we moved into our new house back in November 2017. Expected disruptions  meant I wasn’t in complete control.  Having held on tightly for so long, I was scared of relaxing my regime. What disaster might unfold?

Turns out, relaxing my rules wasn’t a bad thing. In fact, my new-found freedom around food and fitness came as a pleasant surprise! I enjoyed the novelty of an impromptu dinner out with C, or a slice of homemade cake, without having to plan for it days in advance.

Sure, I gained a few pounds, but my clothes still fit. For the most part, I adjusted to my body’s new status quo. Mentally and emotionally, I was holding it together. I felt okay.

Then it all went awry.

When my beloved cat, D, died in September, something snapped. Already home from work mid-mental meltdown, on truth, I wasn’t exactly in the best headspace to begin with. Which explains why I spiralled so quickly into a “f**k it” mentality around food.

After all, what’s the point of dieting when –  at any time – I could lose someone I love?

On some level, this way of thinking made sense. Obviously, the people – and pets – in our lives are way more important than weight. Yet logically, there’s no rational connection between grieving and eating. Emotionally, I didn’t care – I simply needed something to soothe the pain.

Because I was hurting. Badly.

D might have been a cat – a scruffy, shouty one at that – but when he died I lost more than my best buddy. I also lost my most reliable source of happiness. No matter what, D could make me smile. Whenever I looked at his face, I’d wonder at the perfection of nature; at how something so cute could ever exist! And then suddenly, he was gone.

A guaranteed source of comfort, I turned to food. It’s been that way throughout my life. Love – at least from humans – has not been so reliable. So it makes sense that I’d look for something consistently soothing: Enter my faithful friend; food.

As my anxiety spiralled, I also stopped exercising. I lost confidence standing front-and-centre in my gym classes. Honestly, I didn’t feel comfortable around anyone anymore. I withdrew. At first I took a few weeks’ break, but the longer I left it, the scarier it became. Eventually, I felt so much body shame, I didn’t want to go back to the gym at all.

I was well-and-truly “off the wagon”.

Turns out, I’ve been dieting all this time.  

Only now as I slip and slide through another weight cycle* do I realise this.

Only now am I starting to accept that I’ve lived another half-century restricting to control my weight.

* I recently learnt this  modern terminology for  “yo-yo dieting”.

Whether a super-strict version of the Weight Watchers’ plan, or basic calorie-counting to maintain my BMI, it was a diet. My “balanced lifestyle” meant meticulous meal management and pre-planned workouts to counter calories. All the while becoming ever-more disconnected; unable to even enjoy the body that cost so much – in time, money, and sheer sweaty effort. Especially time – oh, the time I’ve spent thinking about this sh*t! I’m heartbroken and exhausted even thinking about it.

Frankly, I’m embarrassed.

Yet again, I’ve fallen prey to diet culture. How gullible am I?! I can feel my Inner Critic, rolling its eyes at me as I type.

Because I’m still “in it” in so many ways! Literally and figuratively, being thin is a part of my psyche. For as long as I can remember, it’s been my ultimate – sometimes only – aspirational goal. To me, being thin is a sign of success. The logic goes: If I’m thin, I’ll be attractive, and therefore acceptable.  It’s been my personal Holy Grail.

Thinness is a physical manifestation of being “good enough”.

It’s about more than the weight (gain).

I noticed negative self-talk sneak up on me as I gained weight. Hideously ugly feelings of guilt, shame, and self-hatred abound. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you see it), I can’t ignore it this time. Years of therapy, personal growth work, and self-help have me hyper-aware of what’s happening inside.

I recognise these feelings from before. Looking back, my memories of the last time I gained weight after a loss are hazy. I’ve blanked much of that traumatic time. I don’t think other people commented on it – at least, not to my face – but I felt certain that behind closed doors there’d be whispers. After regaining thirty-plus pounds, I found myself standing on a Paris train platform willing myself to step off. To end the battle inside my mind.

For as long as I can remember, there’s a nagging voice in the back of my mind that tells me how much happier I’d be – if only I were thinner. Thing is, I’ve been thinner. I’ve objectively had my “best body ever” whilst still feeling depressed and anxious. Nothing ever changes – at least, nothing real.

It’s all superficial. I’m still me irrespective of my body size. 

Pre-Paris, I’d lost a huge amount of weight, only to look in the mirror and see myself as fat. A fleeting glance in the mirror, I saw my body was finally thin. Yet I was about as unhappy as I’ve ever been.

The disappointment – more accurately, devastation – was so utterly unbearable, I brushed it away as quickly as possible. I looked back and there I was again – fat. It felt safer, somehow, to continue to believe I’d always be big; someone who could afford to lose a few pounds. Only then could I be happy.

Back to binge-eating

Within a few days, I’d started bingeing again. I remember the first sneaky bag of cookies, eaten in secret. They were delicious. Simultaneously, sheer relief and utter disgust washed over me as I swallowed the last bite. 

I still feel confused and conflicted.

Thoughts around food and my body continue to infiltrate my daily life. Sometimes overwhelming, my obsession with appearance veers from all-consuming to an annoying nagging feeling in the back of my mind. I’m not yet free of diet culture. Perhaps, living in the world that we do, I never will be 100% free of feeling bad about my body.  

Weight gain feels so shameful; it feels like a devastating personal failure. Which is why I found myself bemoaning my body to Mum via WhatsApp this week. She says I have a beautiful body, and in the same sentence, tells me all about her recent weight loss. Apparently, pre-diet she’d been at her heaviest; a number she shared that still falls below my personal heaviest by a good stone. Urgh. 

Even with the acute awareness of body issues I have today, this hurts my heart.  I know it’s not Mum’s fault; it’s not mine either. This is a societal problem whereby we, as women, are raised to relate via this kind of body bashing.  That our weight – quite literally, the force of gravity we have on this earth – is a topic deemed interesting enough for discussion is baffling. Whilst it’s hardly a shock in a culture where thinness equals goodness, it’s still super sad. 

It got me thinking:

Do I really want to get to my sixties, like my Mum, and still be thinking about my weight?

Do I really want to spend another thirty years or more of worrying about my body? Thinking I’m not – nor likely ever will be – thin (read: good) enough?

Or would I rather get on with living my best life, irrespective of the body I do it in? Even if that body happens to be bigger than that which – in an ideal world – I’d effortlessly maintain?  

Honestly, I’m now questioning whether that “ideal world” is even mine to begin with, but this is beside the point, which is:

Do I want to be thin – at any and all costs – or do I want to be happy, in the body I have, right now?

I surprised myself by concluding I want to be happy as I am.

I am decidedly sick of feeling shitty about myself.

 

And that’s enough encouragement for me to try to find another way of being in my body – and with food – in 2019.

 

I don’t want to wake up in ten, twenty, thirty years’ time and find myself having another mental meltdown because I can’t fit into my jeans. Forcing myself onto yet another diet would be like kicking myself in the teeth when it feels like I’m already in the gutter. (And yes, it feels this dramatic.)

If not a diet, then what?

Which is why I’m exploring intuitive eating, health at every size, and body positive culture.** I’m effectively coming full-circle since heading into recovery. Back then, Geneen Roth’s books spoke of similar curiosity and self-compassion.   

Still, entertaining thoughts of giving up dieting forever scares me sh*tless. I don’t honestly know any other way of being. Even in recovery, I secretly believed that once I’d fixed my brain, I’d get “back on track” and “fix” my body. Eventually, I’d be thin.  

But I don’t like who I am in this relentless pursuit of perfection.

Case in point:

  • It adds to my anxiety, changing how I feel about myself.
  • My insecurities grab onto any sign of “success” (read: weight loss). I develop a “superior-than-thou” persona to cover up my nerves.
  • I’m increasingly afraid of people whilst hyper-aware of their food and fitness habits.
  • I’m no fun to be around.
  • If you think I sound judgemental towards others, then you should hear the sh*t that goes around my head about me. I’m most cruel to myself.

Those of us with disordered eating issues know that the awkward, difficult, and downright mean person we seem to be on the outside is nothing compared to way we behave inside.

And I don’t want to be that person. Not anymore.

I’m thirty-four – nearly thirty-five – and this has to stop.

There are too many good reasons for this.

I have two simply fabulous young nieces who look up to me – and I don’t want to let them down. Then there’s you. If you’re reading this, then I know you’re looking for an honest insight into what it really means to become better.  And then there’s me – and I truly believe I deserve to give myself the gift of respect.  To become better.

Even if it doesn’t look exactly as expected, I know happiness feels fantastic.

 

 

**If you’re curious about these topics yourself, then I list below some of the resources I’m exploring right now, or have been useful to me thus far in disordered eating recovery. I hope these help you – let me know your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

 

The Geeky Corner

“Breaking Free From Compulsive Eating” by Geneen Roth 

My first ever book on eating disorders; the one that changed everything. A must-read. She’s a regular on Oprah and I’m sure you’ll find her in online knock-offs of the Oprah show. 

“Body Positive Power: How to stop dieting, make peace with your body and live” by Megan Jayne Crabbe. 

I’m currently listening to this on Audible and I’m really enjoying Megan’s story. She is really relatable – and I adore that her online name is bodyposipanda! Makes me happy just to say it aloud!

“The Goddess Revolution” by Mel Wells

Recommended to me by a friend, Mel reminds me of Geneen only for a new generation. You can see her in her awesome TEDX talk

Isobel Foxen Duke

Specifically, her “Stop Fighting Food” web series (free when you sign up for her email list) really hit home for me. That, and this article, are what led me to: 

“Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works” by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch

The original IE how-to guide, I’m about to embark upon this book myself. 

“Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight” by Linda Bacon

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The Back to the Future Post (or how I’m planning a mentally healthy return to work)

This morning I spoke with my line manager to arrange going back to work from the middle of next week. Just mornings, to start, and – only if they go well – then slowly building back to my usual full-time hours.

Phone calls, I find, are particularly challenging when I’m unwell. I think most people my age and younger feel the same way, though this is amplified when my mental health isn’t tip-top. Today it felt especially hard to speak on the phone. I didn’t know what to say.

When you’re mentally unwell, being asked “how are you?” takes on another level of meaning. Even when you’re physically sick, it’s sometimes hard to pinpoint how exactly you feel at any given moment. You can 10X this for someone with a mental health issue. Honestly, it feels like I have to find something positive to tell the well-meaning inquirer at the other end of the line. I find myself saying something that boils down to “Look! I’m getting better!” I can almost feel the forced smiles. Reassuring others that I’m going to be okay, when I don’t actually know this myself, is scary.

It’s over an hour since we spoke. Whilst I know that my planned return is rationally a good decision, I feel anxious about it.  Not having felt much of anything in the past few weeks, it’s unsettling to suddenly feel familiarly unpleasant sensations. The tightness in my jaw and my chest. I realise I’m not breathing properly – I’ve been holding my breath – so take a few deep lungfuls of air and relax a touch as the oxygen revitalises my brain.

For the first time in a few weeks, I’m overwhelmed. Plans to walk to the shops slowly disintegrate. It feels too much to put away the washing, to bake pretty pastel-coloured cupcakes for my nieces, even to tackle the washing up. I just don’t want to do anything any more. No, thank you.

I don’t like how this feels. I remember that this is what it’s like to have a mental meltdown. I need to stop; be still and see what comes up for me. Wait for my emotional self to catch up with the rational part. Knowing my back-to-work plan is the right thing to do motivates me to take action. I’ve metaphorically opened my mental first-aid kit, tapping into tried-and-tested tools at hand that I hope will help me become better. I’m here writing to you, for one.

Immediately after hanging up the phone, I went to take a shower (and yes; I’m aware that this is lazy behaviour at 10.30am, but I have been writing for much of the morning). I find this to be a perfect place to tune into what’s happening in my body and brain. With the sounds of the shower drowning out my self-consciousness, I talk to myself aloud, heart-to-heart. Talking myself down from the metaphorical, anxiety-fuelled ledge, so to speak. Like any conversation with someone I love, I literally ask myself questions out loud – and I answer from the heart.

To anyone else, this talking to myself would look like utter madness. It feels that way to me, too. However I’m learning to care less about what others might think. If anything helps me feel better – closer to a healthier, happier version of myself – then I’ll give it a try. Taking the decision to be completely open about being on sick leave for mental health reasons helps. It feels authentic; to be true to myself and my values. And as far as I know, so far, so good.

This week I’ve sought comfort and companionship from Russell Brand’s book, “Recovery”, on Audible. Logically, I know I’m not alone in experiencing common conditions like anxiety, depression, and disordered eating. In practise I find I need to remind myself over and again that I’m not the first to struggle this way – nor will I be the last – and books like this helps. I recognise myself in their stories – and those of others, who also find themselves in a dark place.

More than ever, I find myself drawn towards self-help and recovery stories. Right now, I need to hear tales of people who’ve come through the other side of mental meltdown. Russell is an extreme example of this.  I accept I’m a little obsessive about this stuff. C finds the whole genre uncomfortable and would rather I read something else: a bit of sci-fi or fantasy, perhaps? However I find I enjoy spending time technically on my own, but via books and podcasts, simultaneously surrounded by people who’ve walked a similar path.

These “non-experts” – “leading learners”, as described by the Fizzle guys – are especially interesting to me. With experiential – rather than academic – expertise, these people successfully manage their minds. A mental mind-field, they’ve dug themselves out of the proverbial dark hole that bit sooner than the rest of us. We keep scrabbling at the sides of said hole, getting a bit of traction, only to find ourselves sliding back.

Ahead on the road to recovery, these Leading Learners choose to turn back and offer us a hand, sharing said experience and strategies which have worked for them. As I tentatively step forward, I hope to become someone who can, in turn, offer this crucial support to someone else, whether in person or virtually, via this blog.  It’s a virtuous circle, I suppose, and one of which I’m striving to be a part.

As a responsible adult, I know it’s important that I return to work. I’ve got a mortgage to pay, a partner to support, and two kitty mouths to feed. Still, I’m scared. Not of the work itself, but of what being in work might do to my fragile state of mind. Taking time out has shown me how imperative it is that I prioritise my mental wellbeing. I’m conscious of not going back too soon and sliding backwards.

Though I’m returning to the same environment – the same job – I don’t want to return to being the same person who left, a shadow of herself a few weeks prior. I’d incrementally become disinterested, despondent, depressed. I recognise this person from previous troubled times and I’m afraid that this version of myself might be back for good.

I still don’t know why I had this mental meltdown. I’m not yet able to pin down exactly what’s not working, other than my mind. It’s a complex knot to unpick, and it’ll take time to unravel. Whilst I’d love to resolve any and all issues immediately – perfectly – first time around, I accept this isn’t how things work. I’m learning to be okay with slowing down, being patient, and creating more balance.

I’m confident that I’ve devised a sensible strategy to get back to some kind of normalcy. As the person who knows me best, I’m taking the lead on my return to work, at a pace I can handle. I know it’s a good plan; I’ve checked with those who love and understand me most. Although I’m trying to cut out reassurance-seeking as part of my recovery, it’s a hard habit to break.

So I’ve made an exception in this case because work matters, not only financially but emotionally, too. It’s an important factor when it comes to self-esteem. I want to feel like I’m contributing; like I’m pulling my weight and making a positive difference. I have to make clear here that paid work isn’t the only way to do this. It’s only one part of the bigger picture when it comes to living a happy, healthy, and emotionally wealthy way of life. Volunteering, creative work (blogging anyone?!), and taking care of those we love are all valuable ways to contribute.

Yet work continues to be an important part, which is why I’m trying so hard to go back to work sooner rather than later. In any case, right now I feel better about my return to work after a liberal application of the Three Ts – hot tea, toast, and telly! Sometimes I find that the best way to take good care of myself is by doing the most simple things.

P.S. I sense that I’m starting to drift off-topic, so if this particular post feels rather disorganised, then that’s most likely because it is. I hope you’ll forgive me – after all, I’m still a bit mental, remember?!

Much love,

Heather x

 

The First-in-a-Fortnight Post (or why I’m struggling to share my experience of a mental meltdown)

As anyone who follows me on Facebook already knows, I’m currently on sick leave for mental health reasons. Though there’s never a simple explanation for these things, in my case, depression and anxiety are once again on the scene.

It’s the first time I’ve ever taken time off work like this. It’s not at all like I expected.

I imagined that if I were to ever “give in” and stay home – and yes, that’s how I’ve thought about it; at least as it applies to myself –  I’d have to be at my very worst.

Emotionally uncontrollable; my life falling apart at the seams; borderline suicidal.

Closer to self-destruction than ever before. More so than even my twenty-something self who found herself standing at the platform’s edge at a Parisian station wanting so badly to put an end to her pain.

You’ll be pleased to hear that nothing so dramatic brought me to this place. I simply found myself overwhelmed and overloaded by everyday life.

Eventually, it’s like my mind simply switched off. Refused to reboot.

Long story short, I tried to carry on as normal. I briefly existed in a zombie-like state, staring at my computer screen. However I couldn’t keep up the pretence of being okay. After a meeting with my manager, we agreed I needed to head home, rest and relaxation to temporarily replace to-do lists.

Turns out that sick leave after a mental meltdown looks rather different from that of any other illness.

Unlike being home with the flu (or, more likely, a cold), being absent from work for mental reasons doesn’t mean you’re housebound. On the contrary, getting out and about is a sign of being en route to recovery. Coffee dates with friends, going to gym classes, taking long walks in the countryside.  In theory, I can do whatever I like, whenever I like, and go wherever I wish. Sounds idyllic!

Yet this is at odds with the reality, at least in my experience.  

Whilst I’m not technically limited as to what I can do, I’m mentally restricted by how much I feel I can handle. Which isn’t anywhere near as much as I’d like. Effectively burnt out, my brain seems to have gone into hibernation. Physically, I might not be tucked up in bed, but my brain seems to have retreated, metaphorically tucking itself in with a hot water bottle to wait this thing out. 

Like when a computer hasn’t been properly shut down, I feel like I’ve restarted in “safety mode”. Only the most basic programs are running , and even they have limited functionality. Sleep, eat, read, TV, repeat. 

Concentration compromised, I can only focus on one thing at a time. Single-tasking is the order of the day. This I’ve found to be frustratingly slow going. Like most women, I’m a prolific multi-tasker so it’s positively painful to have to relearn this skill – and it is a skill – which isn’t as easy as you’d think.

Even then, my brain refuses to entertain anything complex. This thwarts any ingenious ideas as to how I might maximise my time. Learning anything new (like much-needed skills in web design) falls to the wayside, requiring a depth of thought of which I’m not currently capable. 

Instead I’m forced to stick to the most simplistic, surface-level subjects. Superheroes series are proving to be especially soothing to my tired mind. I can escape into Marvel (always, over DC) movies for a few hours.

Reading about recovery from depressive illness, it turns out I’m unintentionally doing the best thing to give my brain a break:

“The answers are to find any way that you can of keeping your brain just idling, to avoid any challenging activities wherever possible and to do what you have to do in very small chunks. Best of all, be passive. The ideal would be an undiluted diet of Australian soap operas, if you can stomach that sort of thing. They allow you to sit and not ruminate – a sort of mental wallpaper, filling up the space and covering over the cracks.”

Dr Tim CantopherDepressive Illness: The curse of the strong

(2003, p.38)

 

Whilst I’ve zero intention of reviving my interest in “Neighbours” or “Home and Away”, I am partial to a bit of reality TV.  “Made in Chelsea” is currently topping the bill of tolerable TV trash, but other firm favourites include anything “Housewives”, and pretty much everything on TLC (“Say Yes To The Dress”, anyone?!).  This is one time when even C deems reality TV acceptable, though I’m saving him from the very worst of this by indulging during working hours.

On a more serious note,  I’m finding it frustratingly difficult to do the things I love most. Ironically, these are the same things that are most likely to help me heal. Take writing, for example. It’s taken me more than a fortnight to create something I feel comfortable publishing. This is the longest I’ve ever left between blog posts. Not feeling able to put words to my experience hurts more than just about anything when it comes to being mentally unwell. My throat tightens just thinking about it.

So, in an effort to overcome this particularly painful obstacle, I’ve pushed myself to publish this imperfect post today.

To give you an idea as to how challenging this has been, I started to write over a brew that C Kindly made for me before leaving for work. On a Monday morning whilst the rest of the world is working, I’m still sitting on the sofa, typing away on my Mac, unwashed in my PJs.  I finished the first draft around midday – over three hours later! Honestly, it’s taken me most of my day to create something that spans just a thousand words.

As you can tell, it’s frustratingly, painfully, s-l-o-w progress and it certainly isn’t the best piece I’ve ever written. (Those you can find here and here!)

However it’s important to me to write and share this with you. By putting my words into the world again, I’ve achieved something today for which I can feel proud. I’m not back to my best just yet, but I am making moves to counter my mental meltdown. I’m working towards become better, which is ultimately the essence of the recovery process.

In publishing this very post, I’ve taken a tiny step in a positive direction – and Reader: 

I’m grateful to have you with me. 

The Twenty-Second TWIG Post (or why we benefit by letting go of perfectionism and embracing a B-minus)

It dawned on me this week that I’ve a bit of a problem with publishing posts. 

As I write this there are precisely sixteen other articles languishing in my drafts, each in various stages of completion.

I’m the Queen of Drafts.

Behind the scenes of this blog, I’m writing more than ever. You’ll have to trust me when I say I’m writing my heart out.

Yet this clearly isn’t reflected in my rates of publications. Why?

One word: Perfectionismfullsizeoutput_609

It’s defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as a “refusal to accept any standard short of perfection”. (For anyone who lives under a rock, though even then you’re likely to worry about living under the “right” rock – ergo you already know what I’m talking about.)

In this particular situation my perfectionistic streak shows in my inability to craft my words to the level I’d like my writing to reach before I’m ready to share it with the world.

Apparently, I’m not alone in this quest for perfection. Reading Corbett Barr‘s post about how to “write epic sh*t” this week, I learnt that it takes “professional” bloggers far longer than I thought to write, edit, and publish posts.

What a relief! Knowing it can take Pat Flynn over eight hours to write a single blog post lifts at least some of the pressure off little ol’ me. If it takes time for the big-time bloggers to make stuff that matters, then it’s reasonable to expect it’ll take time for me, too. Therefore it’s probably pushing it to want to publish something long-form two or three (or more) times a week, plus put in the requisite hours for my full-time gig, and have enough time left over to take care of my body, brain, and boyfriend (in that order – sorry C).

Perhaps I’ve some rather unrealistic expectations for myself. Being a skeptical soul, I suspect it’s not only me who thinks this way.

Clearly, Steph Crowder of “Courage and Clarity” and “Fizzle” fame (in the world of  entrepreneurial podcasts) agrees. She recently wrote a Monday Motivation post in her Facebook group for female entrepreneurs about how what she terms “B-minus work” can change lives:

“If PERFECT is in your language, we gotta take it down SEVERAL notches.

Just. Show. Up. Give me your B- Work.”

Steph Crowder via Facebook

When it comes to us women (some blokes and non-binary persons, too, of course), what we as individuals deem our B-minus work – the stuff we’d label “acceptable” or at a push “good enough” rather than being ourtip-top best –  is often exactly what someone else needs to hear.

In case that doesn’t read too well, given my myriad mid-sentence interruptions, I’ll say it again:

When it comes to us women what we as individuals deem “acceptable work” is often exactly what someone else needs to hear.

In trying to achieve something “perfect” there’s at least a chance however small – we could be preventing someone from finding precisely the help, advice, or inspiration they need in exactly the right moment. Okay, so this isn’t scientifically proven per say, but I’d hedge my bets that most experts would agree with me on this one.  “Experts” being used here to refer anyone half-way intelligent who might ever have said something even slightly supporting the point I’m making here.

I’m a prime example of the problem at play here. I hold myself back because I believe that my writing’s not “good enough” yet for public consumption. Note here the words highlighted – in bolditalics, and underlined, in case you missed it.

In truth, my work is most likely already good enough. Even if it isn’t when I publish a post, then chances are I’d soon know about it and can make amends. You know, I can edit, rewrite, even delete if it’s that bad – or – wait for it – I can choose to let it be imperfect. Revelatory stuff indeed.

But no.

Instead, I continue to tell myself the same self-destructive story – that I’m not good enough, and anything I do inevitably won’t be good enough either. It’s a bit embarrassing to think that, in spite of this navel-gazing, I still make this mistake. It’s frustrating and disheartening to repeat the same errors.

And so I’m trying to become more comfortable with being a B-minus student sometimes, at least when it comes to writing. Easier said than done, I’m learning to let go and release my creative endeavours at least a little sooner. Hopefully, my efforts at getting comfy with being uncomfy will be rewarded when my words reach those who most need to read them.

Speaking of which, I better get on with my weekly dose of thankfulness while my writing’s still relevant!

 This Week I’m Grateful for:

IMG_3535

Guess where I was?!

TWIG #1: A Saturday afternoon out with C. Last weekend we went to Salts Mill, a former 19th Century industrial mill which now houses art, shops, and cafes at the heart of a model village in Saltaire, Bradford. It’s . After a quick stroll and a poke in a few antiques shops, C let me loose in what’s one of my most favourite bookshops.

Whenever we visit I come home with a new book or journal. This time, I ended up with both: “The Program” – young adult dystopian fiction by Suzanne Young – and two sketch books. I plan to use the latter for creative brainstorming, free of the constraints of their linear cousin, the notebook. Of course no day out would be complete without cake so we made time for tea.

TWIG #2: My growing confidence in my business competence.

(Try saying that when you’ve had a few!)

You likely know about my most recent mental meltdown, which makes everything more difficult, as depression is want to do. However this past week helped me see I’m more capable than I believed myself to be.

I’m from a business background, academically and professionally. Yet I’m reticent to declare myself expert in anything for fear of being “found out” lacking somehow. Like many other women I speak to, I’ve a chronic case of imposter syndrome, scared to step up and risk being seen for fear of public failure.

I’ve had enough of this self-doubt. So I’m intentionally collecting evidence to prove to myself that I’m already an intelligent professional. As you’ll see, I’ve gathered some examples already this week:

  • I’ve been consulting for a copy-editor – far further along in her entrepreneurial “journey” than I, sharing my ideas around content, copy, and design for her email opt-in.
  • I asked off-the-cuff questions during a Fizzle Friday coaching session, during which I was thanked by someone I admire for my contributions to the forum.
  • Other entrepreneurs have sought me out to specifically ask for my opinion on their business issues.

All of which shows that I have something of value to offer. The more I help othersthe more I recognise that I’m actually good at this stuff. Not only have I got a ton of relevant experience to share (I sometimes forget that I’m 34, not 14), but I’m also bringing my own creativity to the table. Somewhere down the line there’s potentially a business idea there, which feels super-exciting!

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K (left & back) and D (right at the front!)

TWIG #3: This utterly gorgeous photo of our cats!  They’d jumped onto the garage windowsill to steer clear of C reversing the car. They stayed put long enough for C to park up and then take this fantastic photo.

I think it captures their personalities perfectly. Typically cheeky, D’s pushed his way to the front. (He gets away with it for being so cute.) K is that bit more cautious, carefully contemplating things from a bit further back. She lets D think he’s getting his way, but it’s her slinky self that’s  actually in charge.

Unsurprisingly, this picture received the highest number of “likes” I’ve ever received for a picture on Facebook. If I wasn’t so enamoured of this pair, I’d probably take offence!

TWIG #4: The prospect of renovating our house is becoming real! Now we’ve nearly completed the sale of our old house we’ll soon have sufficient funds to start work.

I arranged for a builder to come give us a quote. Extremely chatty (I had been warned), he was enthusiastic about our ideas and advised us on the next steps. As such, we’ve since arranged for quotes from two window companies, a structural engineer, and a kitchen company in the coming weeks.

Best by far was our visit to a kitchen designer, who took C’s technical drawings (on squared paper, using laser measurements) and created a 3D-interpretation of my dream kitchen. Excitedly, it looks almost exactly how I imagined, which feels inspiring and motivating to move forward with making our dream home a reality.

TWIG #5: Going back to the gym. After a month’s hiatus (the first in four years or more), I checked my kit fit (it did!) and went to class last Tuesday. Turns out this wasn’t anywhere near as scary as I’d build it up to be in my head. I should have known; this is pretty much always the case with anxiety.

Still, it was a relief to keep pace with classmates, finishing on a bit of a high and feeling a hundred times better after class than before. Calorie-burning aside, I remembered why kept going to the gym in the first place. I’ve booked again for this Tuesday.

Okay, so I can’t take all the credit for getting back to the gym. There’s a chance I’d have headed home, except that my colleague F had coaxed me to class. She stood by my desk, waiting whilst I slowly shutdown my PC. Though having a bit of extra encouragement certainly helped me overcome my objections to exercise, I’m still proud of myself for making small steps in the right direction.

fullsizeoutput_608TWIG #6: Being able to feel loved by my family. That’s not a poorly-structured sentence (perhaps it is, but it’s not intentional) but is a genuine expression of gratitude on my part.

This is because depression disconnects. It puts up an invisible wall. When my mind is in a mess, this barrier between myself and others is especially impermeable. It’s hard for me to show love and it’s equally difficult for me to receive it. It’s painful on both accounts.

However since finding the right medication for me, I’m experiencing positive feelings much more often. This sounds dramatic, but anything that breaks through the kind of emotional numbness depression brings is nothing short of miraculous.

TWIG #7: I rescued a frog! 

Finally, on a far lighter note, I can proudly say I single-handedly rescued a frog this evening.

I heard the tell-tale chew toy squeak that I’ve learnt terrorised frogs make, so I rushed – okay, I was guilted off the sofa by C, who sent me out in my pyjamas – to the rescue! Our two ferocious felines had cornered the poor fella. Bravely, I shielded the frog with my bare hands until C came with an old ice-cream tub to transport our new friend safety to the neighbour’s pond.

I’ll conclude my gratitudes with this – my contribution to the safe-keeping of our local wildlife population!

x

The Twenty-First TWIG Post (or why I’m persisting with writing, despite depression making it difficult)

It’s felt like a hard slog to get grateful this past fortnight.

fullsizeoutput_5ebDepression has many negative side-effects, one of the most frustrating being an inability to fully focus. Admittedly, I can be a little scatter-brained from time-to-time. It’s likely just part of my personality. However when my brain’s not in great shape, my concentration is one of the first things to go.

My decision-making capacity disappears. Though limited at the best of times, tasks take me twice as long to complete when I’m depressed. I can sort of sense this is the case, though it’s not always obvious to me. C commented yesterday that it’s taking me twice as long to get out of the shower of a morning lately. We get up and out of the house mega-early, plus it’s the school holidays (less traffic), so it’s not a big problem, but it’s definitely noticeable, which has me on high-alert

In fact, this is my second attempt at writing my twenty-first TWIG post. The first is sitting in my drafts, half-edited. Though there was – is – good stuff in there, I felt so frustrated writing it – like I was trying to force the words out. I write to communicate – not only with the world, but myself. Thus it being such a slog – feeling so damn challengingwas very telling as to my present mental state.

Contrastingly, writing this today has felt fairly easy. It’s not my most poetic of posts, but it’s back to feeling natural once more. Though overdue, I’m here now to share the small (and not so small) things in my life for which I feel truly thankful.

This Week I’m Grateful for:

  • Tap water. As the water board are currently tampering with our supplies, I’m reminded of just how amazing it is to live in a country where we’ve got hot and cold water literally on tap. Given how many people worldwide struggle to find clean water, it’s pretty damn fortunate.
  • Being able to help the people we love. Our fabulous nieces moved to their new house five minutes around the corner this week. C took an afternoon off work to help his sister, S, unpack, and the weekend prior we doubled-up on grocery shopping to fill their fridge, too. Whilst it’s an exciting move for all of us, understandably the Family B are nervous in the face of such major change. Personally, I’m just thankful that we’re able to be here for our family when they need us. It feels lovely to be in a position to help make someone’s life that little bit better.

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  • C being incredibly thoughtful and buying the Family B fresh, crisp bedding for their new home. Whilst one of our nieces told him she actually prefers her existing Harry Potter bedding (!), the littlest was over-the-moon at her Peppa Pig duvet. I tell him often, but I really mean it when I say I’m proud of his kindness and generosity of heart. He’s so sensitive to other people’s needs, it blows me away sometimes.

 

  • Constructive help and advice on my ideas from the generous, inspiring people I’m connecting with on the Fizzle forum. They’ve boosted my confidence no end, not only in my writing, but in my pursuit of creating something meaningful to help others with mental health issues live their best lives. It would be easy to get disheartened and give up, but this group help me keep putting one foot in front of another. What’s more, I’m being approached for advice and feedback from others, which makes me feel like I actually know what I’m talking about here – at least, some of the time!
  • Finding my voice to write a blog post I’m truly proud to share. After struggling to write a weekly TWIG post last week, my “Ten Things” article literally came to me overnight. It sounds cheesy, but it just kind of flowed out of me. Sometimes words come to me so easily, writing is a real joy! After consistently blogging for seven months now, I feel like I’m finding my voice as a writer and that’s genuinely exciting!
  • Taking yet another day of leave. Having more holidays than C (sorry C) and no plans for a major holiday (other than a September break in Seahouses), I’m using my leave to make a shorter Summer. I love having a three-day weekend, and having the time to sit here and write whilst watching “Made in Chelsea” is blissful.
  • C having bought me freshly-squeezed orange juice from our local grocers. There’s this amazing machine which squeezes the oranges in front of you. It’s worth the expense just to watch the machine at work! I’m not a fan of juice (empty calories), but this stuff is delicious – like sunshine in a glass!
  • Morning and evening sleepy cuddles with C. As the weather turns cooler and Autumn approaches, I’m really thankful to be able to cuddle C without feeling claustrophobic and sweaty. I sometimes forget how important the little things, like cuddles, can be. When I remember, this feels like a lovely new discovery again.
  • Starting to feel better. As you’ll have picked up from my previous post, I’ve been dealing with depression which isn’t entirely unexpected – my mental illness is predictable, coming over me in wave – yet it’s always shockingly painful.

Curiously, I’ve noticed that the initial recovery process is often more uncomfortable than being in the illness itself. It’s disconcerting, living inside a mind where – all too often – I can’t trust my own thoughts.

Thankfully, the darkness is beginning to lift. In depression I lack energy, feel lethargic, and have a general sense of heaviness hanging over me.

I’m making steps towards becoming better, the most productive being what I’d call my Go Slow” Strategy.  I’ve learnt that, rather than trying to fight this feeling, I recover more quickly if I allow myself to slow right down and accept that I have to go at my own pace. I’m nowhere near as productive as I usually am, but that’s okay. Perhaps it’s my subconscious mind’s way of telling me to give myself a break before I break.

  • Being self-aware and recognising that right now, I need to prioritise self-care. Just typing this makes me roll my eyes – it sounds like “therapy-speak”.  The phrase “self-care” makes me think of bubble baths and scented candles, yet I know on a deeper level it’s so important. It’s crucial to maintaining my mental fitness. So I’m quietly proud of myself for noticing what I need.
  • fullsizeoutput_5eaSmall acts of kindness. For example, C making me a cup of tea without my having to ask, or him taking charge of making lunch or dinner, makes such a huge difference to how I feel.  These everyday gestures are what contribute to a positive state of mind.
  • New underwear. Nothing fancy; it just feels good to wear something comfortable under my clothes.
  • Feeling weirdly “free”. Despite gaining weight, I’ve noticed that I’m becoming less concerned with how I look, and more interested in how I feel. It’s not foolproof – I’m still uncomfortable in my skin much of the time – but it’s a definite improvement and one which I won’t shout about for fear of frightening it off!
  • My friend E coming to see me in my new house. She lives in another city, so has not only taken the day off, but taken the train and a bus to get here. I’m especially grateful for her making this big effort because I know depression makes me a flaky friend. I feel lucky to have people who know and love me well enough to tolerate my not always being in the best of mental health.
  • Being a Kitty Mama. Particularly on 8 August, which is International Cat Day, I’m especially grateful to have two fabulous feline friends. Whenever I’ve felt down, the cats in my life have played a hugely important part in lifting me up. This week K jumped from the first floor and gave me a scare, but thankfully she seems to be fine and well.
  • Being able to walk to work, three times out of four this week. Walking to work in the morning is one of the easiest ways lift my energy before I start my day. It takes about 45 minutes door-to-door, which is just enough time to get my heart pumping, and listen to a podcast episode. I’m much more positive during the day when I’ve made the effort to exercise first-thing.
  • My family being (literally) closer than ever. I now have my sisters, nephew, sister-in-law(ish), and nieces, all within an hour’s drive of me. It’s exciting to think I can be a part of their lives growing up. C and I are also rediscovering who our siblings are as people, and that feels rather strangely lovely.
  • Gorgeous roses in the gardens I pass as I walk to and from work. Watching “Gardener’s World” with C of a Friday evening (yes, we’re that cool), I’m surprised that there’s such massive variation in these beautiful blooms. One of my favourite places to visit in Sheffield – the Botanical Gardens – has an amazing rose garden. As you’ll have seen, I love to take photos to use on my blog.
  • Having fun with my whiteboard. I intended to use it at work, but found that there’s not enough space on my desk. Instead, I’m using this to share my gratitudes and write silly messages for C to find.

Phew! It’s a long list, but it feels like I’m making up for my previous week’s absence.

Until next week!

H

x

The Teen Angst Post (or Ten Things I Hate About You, Depression)

By some twist of fate (or perhaps just C’s bad taste in telly), we ended up watching Mark Kermode’s Secrets of Cinema on BBC Four. Now, I’m not a fan of movie review shows. I prefer to make up my own mind about whether or not to watch something. Yet this show caught my attention because it was about the “Coming of Age” movie.

IMG_3333. Ever the emotional dramatist, my teenage self relates so deeply to the characters they portray I can’t help being pulled into their narrative. From those films I grew up watching (like “Clueless“, “The Craft“, and later, “Lost Boys“) to those I discovered and fell madly in love with in later life (most notably, “The Breakfast Club“), I’m stuck on these stories of growing up. They move me in a unique way, stirring emotions and memories long-since forgotten.

 

Like me, it seems like many of the stars in these particular films struggle with their mental health. Tragic tales of teen actors abound, many of whom find themselves in rehab before their twenty-first birthdays . Whilst some successfully recover in later life, some do not. I’m thinking specifically of talented young actors like Corey Haim, Heath Ledger, and Brittany Murphy. Despite their infinite potential, their internal pain far exceeded anything else. It’s uncomfortable to speak about suicide and addiction-related death, even on a mental health blog. However it’s important to acknowledge because their ending could easily have been my own had my life not taken a different turn.

Getting back to why I’m writing this long introduction for such a short post, rediscovering my love of teen films coincides with my own recent depressive episode. Embarassingly, and in the kind of dramatic terms we associate with teenagers (though in my experience, adults are as guilty as teens of this), I’m having a bit of a personal “creative crisis”. The more astute readers may have noticed that I’ve not yet published my weekly TWIG post, which is because I’m finding it hard to write just now.  Staring at my screen, shuffling words, I’m not getting anywhere fast. I’m putting the hours in, and publishing nothing – and it’s frustrating the hell out of me!

This weekend I decided put my writing woes aside and instead, sank into the world of a teenager, Mia, in a film I’d not yet seen. Namely, “Fish Tank” starring the fabulous Fassbender (AKA “Shark Teeth”, at least in my house).

Something clicked.

The wistful, twisted emotional discomfort I felt as I put myself into the shoes of the film’s protagonist did something to unlock my creativity.

I was suddenly and randomly inspired by the heart-wrenching poem at the heart of another fantastic film, “Ten Things I Hate About You“. This movie is a little more of the rom-com, albeit more of a black comedy than most. Still within the realms of teenage angst, it somehow epitomises my relationship with depression, which developed during my teenage years and has become a kind of internal frenemy.

A tongue-in-cheek nod to the aforementioned poem, I’ve penned the following ode to depression:

My Ten Things I Hate About You, Depression

I hate the way you shut me up. Quite literally – my tongue feels swollen to twice its size and I’m unable to speak without slurring my words.

I hate the way you slow me down. I crawl through the days, zombie-like, whenever you’re around. My legs leaden, I drag myself along, going through the motions.

I hate the way you steal my mind. Frustratingly, you make me forget my words. You leave me hanging mid-sentence, embarrassed; you make me look stupid.

I hate the way you make me numb. In trying to keep me safe, you shut me off from any kind of emotion. Even – or perhaps especially – the good ones, which only makes things harder for me.

I hate the way you steal my sparkle. I don’t feel like laughing when you’re around. You drain the fun out of me. You steal my sunshine.

I hate the way you make me selfish. I care so deeply about others, and yet with you, my attention is entirely consumed. There’s no room for anyone else; just you and me. You’re an emotionally abusive partner. You’re my frenemy.

I hate the way you make me cry. And it’s never about anything in particular. Sometimes, at the end of a movie when I’ve spent the past two hours living someone else’s life, I don’t want to come back to mine. So I cry.

I hate the way you isolate me. You make me lie to friends and family when you convince me to cancel plans last-minute. To keep me “safe”, but from whom? You encourage me to push away the people I need and love most. You make me afraid to try to make new friends.I hate the way you make me lonely.

I hate the way you make me disappear. I’m a ghost hovering on the edges of my own life when you’re around. I float on the edge of my own existence. Like watching my life unfold from behind soundproof glass. Sometimes, it feels like I’m screaming and no one can hear

But mostly, I hate the way I don’t really hate you.

Instead, you make me hate myself.

We’re tied so closely together, you and I. I can’t quite trust myself when it comes to knowing how much of what I think is me is actually you, and how much of what I think is you is actually me. So I assume the worst of us both.

Reading this back to myself aloud, it has a certain kind of power. A strength that’s simultaneously sad, but also truthful. It feels like an authentic account of depression and I. The opposite of a love letter, I suppose.

There’s even something strangely satisfying about being able to capture something intangible – like depression, which is really just a state of mind – and pin it down in words. It reminds me of the Victorian butterflies on my living room wall, pinned and frozen in time. Beautiful, in a macabre kind of way.

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Writing on Depression is my Emotional Entomology

Perhaps I’m invoking my perpetual moody teenager in this piece. You know, the sixteen year-old goth who comes out whenever I’m in the company of my parents for too long. She’s definitely in here somewhere. After all, my Mum’s literally only just stopped buying me gifts in varying shades of black (seriously).

Still, I think I’ve nailed how insidious my experience of this particular form mental illness can be: taking me over, throwing a tantrum inside my mind, causing chaos in my internal world.

Thankfully, I’m starting to feel the fog lift. Depression comes and goes, I find, and it’s often only a matter of time before it comes to pass. Though it hurts like a b*tch in the meanwhile.

In a way, it’s because of this cyclical nature that it feels even more important to acknowledge how my present state of mind massively impacts upon on who I am and how I navigate the world in any given moment.

Think of it like the grown-up version of going through puberty. An adult adolescence of sorts; an eternal version of the emotional turmoil you feel as a teenager. It’s invisible, embarrassingly uncomfortable, and affects absolutely every part of my life experience to date.

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The Confidence 101 Post (or what we can do right now to build self-belief)

Having  self-confidence has to be one of the most – if not the most – commonly-cited challenges to living our best lives. Courses and classes abound on the subject, yet it continues to be an issue for even the smartest, most successful among us.

Inevitably, it’s harder still to believe in ourselves when we’ve got mental health issues. On top of the usual challenges that thrown at us in the course of the average day, we’ve got bonus bullsh*t echoing around in our heads.

I mean, we only need look at this dictionary definition of self-confidence to see where our problems begin if we’re also conscious of managing our mental health:IMG_3231

Self-confidence: “[a] feeling of trust in one’s abilities, qualities, and judgement

Sounds great – an ideal state of being  – but feeling self-confident is the complete opposite experience of anyone who’s ever contended with depression and anxiety. For me, when I’m in the former mindset, I search the recesses of my mind to find proof-positive of my failings. In the latter, I can’t even think about the future without feeling utterly petrified.

Whichever way I turn I’m mentally tying myself up in knots, setting into motion a vicious cycle of self-criticism and doubt, chipping away at what little confidence I had in the first place.

I’ve been musing on this and here’s my two-penneth, for what it’s worth.

What we need is to build a base level of self-belief that’ll carry us through those days when we’re just wrecked with worry. From my experience, mental health doesn’t deteriorate overnight; it creeps up, worming its way insidiously into my mind until I’m no longer certain of what’s me, and what’s it working through me.

Hence I’m proposing we pursue a slowly-slowly-catchy-monkey approach to creating genuine confidence.

I’ve come up with a plan, people! Let me explain.

My theory is that if we embed a few healthy habits into our regular routine, we’ll become more resilient and better able to handle situations where our confidence is challenged. We’ll be building our emotional strength and will have that “bounce-back-ability” to overcome whatever barriers to self-belief are put in our way.

So here’s a few simple strategies that have helped me to become more confident and start to reverse the spin on the vicious cycle of poor self-esteem. I hope they’ll do the same for you, too.

HeatherED’s Three Things to Start Building Self-Belief

#1: Make decisions up-front.

IMG_3396In my experience I’ve found that my confidence grows the more I experience success. Hence this first strategy is all about creating enough head space for us to learn how to handle moments of self-doubt. As is the case with taking good care of our bodies, it requires time and energy to establish a healthy emotional fitness regime.

Our brains are literal thinking machines.  We humans do a lot of this thinking malarky. Adults apparently make around 35,000 decisions each day, and the more decisions we have to make, the quicker we reach what’s called “decision fatigue”; explained in the New York Times as “the deteriorating quality of decisions made by an individual after a long session of decision making.” It seems even thinking about thinking’s pretty exhausting.

This got me thinking: how can we free our minds from minutiae that doesn’t matter? I suggest that we front-load our decision-making. How, exactly? Well, by making as many choices in advance as possible, minimising how often we need make choices, and reducing repeat decision-making. This way we’re saving time and energy that we can instead invest in the more important stuff of life.

Ways I’ve reduced decision fatigue include pre-planning packed lunches, advance booking gym classes, and sticking to my morning routine. I find that when I’m mentally “wobbly” my conviction in my own capability wavers and I become stuck in indecision.

Sometimes, when we’re in this mentally dubious place, dithering over daft decisions, then it makes most sense just to rip off the plaster and choose something – anything – and move on. Ironically, it’s only in the choosing that we can get out of a sticky spot and move forward.  In life there’s often no “right” decision. By not deciding,  we’re just wasting what little energy we do have on stuff that really doesn’t matter.

#2: Get grateful.

If you’re reading this then you likely already know how I feel about gratitude. Read any of my TWIG (“This Week I’m Grateful”) posts and you’ll soon get the picture. IMG_3239

Starting a daily gratitude practice sounds cheesy, I know. For anyone uncomfortable with the idea of navel-gazing, this is going to be a bit of a hard-sell. However I cannot state strongly enough the positive impact this one strategy has had on improving my own confidence. 

As a result of getting grateful – actively looking for all those things I already have to be thankful for, and consciously stating this for myself – I’m happier, healthier, and emotionally more fulfilled. It’s not magic; it’s simply self-awareness and showing appreciation for what I have, in the here-and-now.

Self-awareness and self-esteem are intrinsically linked, so this is where a regular gratitude practise can help build confidence. The better we know ourselves, the more compassion we’re likely to find for ourselves when we fall upon hard times.

How you go about this can be tailored to the individual. I started by writing lists in my journal – in classic self-help style, jotting down three things I felt thankful for about that day. Gratitude made its way into my Tony Robbins’-inspired priming ritual on the walk to work, becoming a habitual practice. These days, anyone who follows me on Facebook (hint, hint!) gets to see me share my daily gratitudes.

However you choose to do it, the more you find to be grateful for, the more confident you’ll likely feel. It has cumulative impact, lifting mood incrementally. As we see ourselves living happier lives, we rack up the positive achievements which ultimately boosts our self-belief.

#3 Be a copy-cat.

When my mental health isn’t in its finest shape, I can’t trust myself to know which way is up, let alone feel confident enough to make important decisions. Rather than forcing myself to try, if all else fails then I’ll turn instead to someone I do trust and instead copy them.

If in doubt, I role model it out!

(Ack! So cheesy I made myself cringe!)

I’ve followed this “fake it ’till you make it” strategy for building self-belief before, particularly in recovery from disordered eating. I lost touch with what “normal” eating even looked like, so I’d watch those around me and quite literally copy them.

The “someone” we choose to imitate matters a lot with this strategy. It’s got to be a trusted friend, partner, or family member. Someone whose judgement you believe to be reasonable, rational, and whose approach to life is generally balanced and healthy, particularly in relation to whatever issue we’re looking to address.

IMG_3395Looking around me to see whose attitude to food most resembled that I wished to have myself, I chose to emulate my little sister, C. That Summer, if she was having baked potato with beans and cheese for dinner, then so would I. If it was okay for her to say yes to an ice cream on a day out, then I accepted it might be okay for me, too. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but in my case it meant more than that. It was a way of becoming better and building confidence in myself and my body again.

Deferring to someone else in this way is a short-term strategy to self-confidence. Still, in my experience it’s been really helpful to pull myself out of a mental rut. I might have heard the playground taunt of “copy-cat, copy-cat, sitting on the doormat” in the back of my mind, but it helped right my path and restored at least some of my self-belief around food.

And that’s it. In sum, we can become more confident by applying the following simple strategies:

  1. Make decisions up-front.
  2. Get grateful.
  3. Be a copy-cat.

Having practiced this stuff, I know it works for me but there’s always more to learn. I’m looking to grow in this area, too, so I’d love to hear from you:

What helps you become better at building self-confidence?

What are some of your strategies for strengthening self-belief? 

Share your thoughts with me in the comments.

The Medication and Me Post (or why medicine is part of my toolkit for mental fitness)

Okay, so…

PinkYellowRose_090718This is a potentially difficult subject to discuss. It’s one I’ve been thinking about posting on for some time but held back, unsure as to whether it’s helpful or counterproductive to share my views. Unsure, I’ll leave it with you to make up your own mind as to whether my opinion on this subject is of interest. As such, I promise not to take offense if you choose to skip this post!

Medication, and the whole concept of medicating for mental health reasons, is a hugely controversial subject. Scientific evidence exists to support both sides of the argument; namely, those who believe medication “works” in terms of making improvements to mental health issues and those who don’t believe it’s a medical issue in the first place.

Yet despite the plethora of research, there’s nothing concrete to say which perspective on medication and mental health is “right”. Are those in favour of medicating for mental illness correct? Can we treat a broken brain – objectively-speaking a bodily organ much like anything else – with modern medicine? Or should we reconsider our Western obsession with finding chemical solutions to what might be considered a natural (albeit an uncomfortable) feature of the human condition? Not being a scientist, I can’t say.

Given that lived experiences of mental illness vary so much between individuals, it’s hard to prescribe solutions that’ll work universally. Hence the issue of medication becomes incredibly subjective – to the degree that even medical professionals aren’t best keen to take on the responsibility of whether to medicate or not on their patients’ behalf.
“It’s entirely up to you”, say most doctors before printing and signing any prescription, “whether to try medication or to wait for talking therapies, or both.” Respected medical bodies, such as the NHS on their web pages and in the media, generally suggests a combination is more likely to be effective. Yet even they don’t stand confidently on either side of pro-or-anti-medication the fence.
Ironically then, the decision around whether or not to “pop a happy pill” is often placed in the hands of those very same people whose minds are causing them issues in the first place. In the name of “patient care and autonomy”, we’re asked to choose a path for our own recovery at a time when many of us feel unable to trust our own judgement around simple things, like what to eat for breakfast. It’s no surprise then, that decisions made around medicating mental illness often prove ineffective and it takes a long time to get to where something works.
WildFlowers_090718For me, it took me over ten years to even try medication. Though once prescribed something years back, I took one tablet, got scared, and threw away the package.  Prior to my more recent foray into medical intervention, I’ve tried most other readily available therapies for my broken brain, with varying degrees of success.
In brief:
  • I’ve seen almost as many different therapists as I have fingers to count,
  • I’ve read a mini library’s worth of self-help books, magazines, and websites,
  • I’ve attended support groups, as well as trying to create my own mini peer support meet-ups,
  • I’ve tried online courses,
  • I’ve bought meditation apps,
  • I’ve written pages and pages in my journals,
  • and of course, there’s the good ol’ methods of ignoring and indulging my afflictions.
Why wait so long to try a pill, then? A reasonable question to ask, but I’d seen and heard of people whose mental health deteriorated as a result of taking pills.

I was afraid. I couldn’t bear the idea of it being any more painful inside my mind than it already was.

Emotionally, I was already such a mess. Dragging myself through my days, I was at least getting by, albeit so miserably sometimes I wondered how long I’d be able to stand it. I didn’t believe I could cope if medication made me worse, whereas I’d coped thus far. I hedged my bets with the devil I knew, so to speak.
PurplePansy_090718Fear held me back from medication. Yet in the end love helped me move forward and give it a try. I realised it was never about medication alone. The right combination of people, circumstances, and my own increasingly positive, rational mindset came together to make medication a manageable method of mediating my mental fitness.
An incredible CBT therapist helped me find the inner strength to decide what was right for myself – based only on my experience and my feelings. A fantastic doctor spoke of medication in such rational, and yet positive terms, he made it easy for me to trust that I stood as good a chance as anyone that it might work. My ever-patient partner, C, stood by, nervously waiting to see what repercussions there might be, but choosing to overcome his fears around mental health meds, standing by me nonetheless.
As it happens medication turned out to be my missing puzzle piece. Taking a mild dose of Prozac helps me feel like a better version of myself: a happier, more positive, and generally more peaceful kind of Heather.
The endless chatter inside my mind was turned right down almost instantly. The exhausting, rebel-rousing thoughts that led me to behave in self-destructive ways stopped bothering me quite so often. At long last, I had the mental space to regain the energies I needed become better. After years of working on recovery, reading self-help, dedicated to self-development, and making positive change, the marvels of modern medicine seemed to bring all the pieces together into a coherent picture of a perfectly imperfect person.
As expected, medication isn’t a guaranteed cure-all in the case of our minds. Our brains being such complex organisms it makes sense that chemical conditioning alone will only do so much. It’s almost impossible to understand how our minds definitively work, even for the most intelligent among us.
What’s more, I’m fortunate that the medicine’s side effects are minor for me. Most people have to try several different tablets before something has enough of a benefit to outweigh any potential problems they might cause. My first fortnight felt a little disorientating at times as I got used to the internal quiet. Then the excitement – sheer exhilaration – of living without the “black dog” hanging over me, as Churchill put it, was such that I became hyperactive.
PurpleHydrangea_090718I still get moments of giddiness now and again, but after years of depression it’s rather a relief to know I can feel such joy. After all, this could be my “real” personality without the shadow of mental illness looming large – who knows?! Other than this, I’m relatively restless, toe-tapping and sometimes kicking C in my sleep (or so he says), but all things taken into consideration I’d settle for these minor irritations over perpetual gloom, doom, and self-hatred any day.
My experiences lead me to lean towards the camp of those in support of trying medication for mental illness. Provided it’s taken under suitable medical supervision, and the person has appropriate emotional support in place, I’d certainly give it some serious consideration. It worked so well for me that for a while after first starting my pills, I felt sad because I wished I’d tried it much, much sooner.
Yet discussing this with C at the time helped me to appreciate how medication will always be a bit of a gamble. It’s rather like the “chicken or egg” dilemma, in that I’ll never know whether my becoming better was down to the pills in and of themselves. It’s likely to be a combination of timing, mindset, chemical alchemy, and the blood, sweat, and tears I poured into my recovery those ten years prior.
Having build up my own mental fitness over many years no doubt added to my arsenal of weapons against my mental demons.  And still I sometimes wonder whether I’d be writing at all had it not been for the tiny green-and-yellow capsules that sit on my bedside table.
FluroPinkRose_090718
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Let me know in the comments or over on my Facebook page.

The Ninth TWIG Post (or how I’m defeating my fears by choosing love)

After taking an extra-long May Bank Holiday break, having to go back to being in the office – even for just two days – felt like the longest (short) work week ever. This was amplified by my shockingly sharp slide into a state of depression. Heavy and dark, it felt like someone had thrown a thick Winter blanket over my head on a hot Summer’s day. With lethargy, hopelessness and despair tugging at my sleeve, it took all of my energy to get through the day. Slowing down to where my body felt like lead, walking to the bus stop took an extraordinary effort. Even  being outside in the sunshine felt painful.

Even to me, this description sounds overly dramatic, but I intentionally use these words because that’s exactly how it feels. In my experience, depression is incredibly dramatic and makes me behave in a seemingly self-centred way, which only adds to the feelings of shame that come with being afflicted by this negative mental state.

Waking up the next day with only a mild anxiety hangover as proof of the previous day’s drama, I started thinking about how different my emotional life is today. Most days, I wake up happy, without worry, and believing that I have future that’s worth living for. If I were a religious person (which I’m not), I’d cite this as miraculous; the polar opposite of my experience living in depression for most of my life.

I’ve learnt that our mindset is a choice.  It’s a choice available to all, and we can choose to change at any time. By choosing to have a positive and optimistic mindset, by practicing choosing love and happiness over fear, then this is the state in which I find myself most of the time.  I’m a different person because I’m making different choices. 

Reminding me how awful life feels with depression, this week I’m thankful to have had the opportunity this week to prove to myself how emotionally resilient I am.  Still, knowing for certain that these particular feelings would pass – that I can have a few “wobbly” days and return quickly to a state of  happiness and joy – is still a miracle to me.

So, in this spirit of renewed appreciation, here’s my thank you list to the Universe for this week!

This Week I’m Grateful for

Zebra

Getting up close with a herd of zebra, like you do.

  • Being a zoo keeper for the day again! After an incredible experience taking care of the giraffes last year, my Dad kindly gifted me another day as a keeper at Chester Zoo. Working alongside the rhino team, I had the opportunity to get up-close and personal with some of the world’s most endangered species. I had the privilege of hand-feeding two rare Bongos, of which there are just 150 of these beautiful deer-like animals in captivity, and only around the same number in the wild. I also got to hang out among zebra, and make friends with a rhinoceros named Benny, who happens to be the same age as me. Scratching a rhino behind the ears, I had to wonder – how many people in the world are lucky enough to be able to say that?!

    Heather&Bongo

    Feeding a rare Bongo (I hadn’t heard of these before either) with cabbage.

  • Having a super short working week.
  • Being committed to fitness as a lifestyle. Determined to re-establish my exercise regime – regardless of how many times it’s been disrupted of late – I went to the gym after work on Friday. I appreciation of how crucial working out is to my mental and physical fitness, so whilst I don’t want to go to the gym in the moment, I do it anyway. I felt good about acting in my own best interests, and doing the next right thing.
  • Publishing my Week One Role Model Challenge (RMC) post. Unusually for a blog, it’s a long-form article and I was inspired by Tim Ferriss to have confidence in my own style and the readers would come. I’m really proud of it as it’s so authentically me, I didn’t care whether or not people liked it because I like it.  I was therefore delighted to get positive feedback from readers. It made my day!
  • Having the confidence to take up the feminist cause. This week I came across a man whose attitude towards women at work was positively prehistoric. Grateful not to have to work alongside him myself, I was acutely aware of the young women who do. This drove me to speak out today so that other women don’t have to put up with this kind of sh*t in future. Now in my mid-thirties, I feel capable of standing up to misogyny. I’m proud to have the emotional strength to handle any fall-out from complaining about the immature behaviour of a grown man.
  • Being with a man like C, whose kindness, compassion and consideration for me, and others, seems to be above and beyond that of most ordinary humans. Despite terrible toothache (resulting in a painful extraction – ouch!), he put me and my he my (mentally) fragile state ahead of his needs by cooking us chilli for dinner, boiling my breakfast eggs for work, and downloading a superhero film for Thursday night movie night. I suspect he even made me my supper cup of tea (because tea always tastes better when someone else makes it). These seemingly small individual acts of love helped massively to get me out of a depressive state and confirm for me that he’s my hero – just don’t tell him I said so!
  • Receiving an invite to my nephew’s first birthday party! It’s not for a couple of months yet, and I’m already excited to be part of his first birthday celebrations.
  • Making plans to spend more time with my sisters over the next year. Already having spent more time with them this past year than I have for most of my twenties, as I’ve said in previous posts, I really appreciate the chance to get to know each other as friends.  We’re creating experiences and memories together, which is priceless.
  • Writing all Saturday afternoon. Having this time to myself to write was a real treat. Borrowing C’s mega computer, with its clinky-clunky noisy keys, I really enjoyed getting into my “flow” and accomplishing my goal of publishing my latest blog post.
  • Fitting into my leather jacket. Okay, so this is a slightly superficial gratitude, but bear with me here. Not having put this on since last Summer, I was afraid it might be too tight for me after letting go of the super-strict food and fitness regime I’ve lived by for the past four or five years.  I’m proud of myself for seeking greater balance, and as a result I’m happier and more relaxed. As a consequence, I’ve gained a few pounds and in all honestly, I’m not entirely comfortable with that. It’s brought back painful old stories of my being not thin (read:good) enough. Slipping on my jacket to find it fits fine helped prove to me that being a little heavier doesn’t equate to my being fat.
  • Receiving my Psychologies magazine in the post. Arriving this weekend and as if manifested by magic – this month’s issue features the very topic of working on rewriting our stories in an empowering way.
  • Rediscovering Brené Brown via her TED talks this weekend, it feels like the Universe is working to bring me that I need as I came across her work at precisely the right time.  I needed to hear her message about vulnerability being a sign not of weakness, but of courage and strength. I bought one of her Kindle books after the Universe called me to action. Feeling inspired by her videos, and debating whether to buy her book, my Kindle appeared on the bed out of nowhere – I’ve not read on it in weeks! I take this to be a sign from the Universe and went with my intuition to invest in her work. After all, buying a book is never a bad purchase.

    StreetMarket13May18

    Sunny Sunday at the street market

  • A sunny Sunday morning at a local street market. In perfect pottering weather, C and I visited a new local street market for the first time. Collecting a ton of business cards and ideas for our creating a terrarium for my garden living room, I came away with a tiny knitted turtle (to live on my desk), home-made cake and C bought some local art. We also ate delicious Caribbean street food, and I even had peanut butter and jelly gelato for dessert!
  • The pleasure of a good charity shop find. We bought a green glass vase and a small ceramic pot for under £2.50, which perfectly fit with my vision for our garden room. I filled the vase with bluebells from our garden, and it looks beautiful.
  • A glass jellyfish paperweight ornament. It sounds bonkers, but it’s a truly beautiful find.
  • Tea and cake on our patio of a sunny afternoon.

    HerbGarden13May18

    Our herb garden and my very first attempt at grown-up gardening!

  • Filling my home and garden with plants. Neither being an indoor or outdoor gardener by any means, I adore being surrounded with greenery and thus am taking steps to become more of a horticulturalist. This weekend I began to realise my vision of a plethora of plants overtaking our back living room by buying its first few potted plants. This room we refer to as the “garden room” because its French doors open up onto the garden, and I’m excited about bringing a bit of the outdoors in.

Let’s hope for another week of sunshine!

x

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