Project HeatherED

Live your happiest, healthiest, and emotionally wealthiest life

Tag: mental fitness (page 1 of 2)

The Writer’s Block Post (or why I’m giving my broken brain a break)

Writing is most definitely a skill. You write daily – at least, that’s the intention – and over time you become better at it. Even editing gets easier; the whole process speedier.

Persist with your practise a little longer, and eventually you find your own writing style. Something magical happens and you “sound like” you on the page.

It all sounds so romantic – and it is! When ^this^ happens, it’s the most wonderful feeling! This year I’ve fallen back in love with writing; I’m completely and utterly enamoured of it.

But like anything worth having, writing doesn’t always come easily.

Thus far I’m proud to have published here at least once a week. Oftentimes, I’ve simply shared a story around my weekly gratitudes, but I’ve kept my promise to myself – and you, my readers.

Regular posts have arisen naturally – I’m not holding myself to any publishing schedule. I haven’t needed to do so.

Writing itself makes me happy. It’s when I feel most connected with my “authentic self”; a “woo-woo” way of saying the version of me that feels most myself. Whether here on this blog, behind-the-scenes on my Google Drive, or on a scruffy piece of paper stuffed into my backpack, writing is how I sort through the contents of my mind. It slows down my thinking and brings me a sense of peace.

If that weren’t motivation enough, then there’s you – the reader. Sharing my story has created opportunities for connection that might otherwise have gone amiss. Relationships have grown – or in some cases, been rekindled – as a result of a single moment during which I felt brave enough to share Project HeatherED with the world. A world which, albeit, small, has grown exponentially, thanks to the power of the written word.

Which goes some way to explain my frustration of late at losing my publishing mojo. If you’re following along, you’ll likely be aware that I’m mid-mental meltdown. Held firmly by anxiety, and it’s close companion, depression, I’m not in the best frame of mind for making creative decisions. Writing – at least, writing for eyes other than my own – is its own challenge.

This beloved blog has therefore become something of a struggle. It feels like my broken brain is trying to break my heart, too, by keeping me from what brings me joy. I’m increasingly irritated when words won’t come, which ironically only makes things worse.

Like Keiko cat, I’m chasing my tail and getting nowhere quickly.

So after much internal debate, I’ve decided to give myself a bit of a break. Lift the pressure off. Like I said earlier, I’m not technically committed to regular publishing days or times, but I’m subconsciously setting standards. My perfectionist tendencies don’t need publication schedules to hold me to a habit. Used to writing weekly, my mind makes anything “other” feel like a failure.

Which is why I’m making a conscious decision not to publish here for the next month.
I recognise my need for clear boundaries if my brain is to relax, rest, and recover. Enforcing recovery, in a way, I hope will give me space and time recharge my mental batteries.

To do the actual work of recovery, rather than trying too hard to record the process as it happens.

It’s kind of missing the point, don’t you think?!

At the same time, I’ve literally just gone back to work. Five half-days, to be exact. I’m on “staged return”, which means I’m currently working part-time because my mental health issues leave me physically and emotionally drained. It takes a lot of energy to recover – yet another good reason to take it easy on myself.

And so I’m pressing pause on publishing posts. Just for a moment. I’ll take a few breaths, regroup, and come back better than before. I’ve a sneaking suspicion that, having decided to step back, my brain will step up a gear and find its way back to itself. I hope so. I’m kind of counting on it.

Because I love writing. Truly, I’m head-over-heels with the whole process! Beyond the mental peace writing brings, I’m creating honest, open-hearted connections with like-minded people like you. My world is bigger and brighter as a result.

Anyone who reads this blog will know how much it matters to me. It matters too much for me to ruin its magic by forcing myself to write when words aren’t forthcoming.

Which is why I’m hoping you’ll bear with me whilst I focus on recovering my mental health.

In the meanwhile, subscribe for my email updates by entering your address in the box at the top right of this page. You’ll be the first to know whenever there’s a new post on Project HeatherED. I’d also love you to connect with me over on Facebook.

I’ll be back soon to share more stories!

Heather
x

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-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.

fullsizeoutput_5e8

  • 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 Twentieth TWIG Post (or making a mental health confessional this week)

So, I have a confession to make before I get into my gratitudes.

My mental health isn’t in the best shape at the moment.

IMG_3431I’ve been able to tell for few weeks now that I’ve been sinking a little. Some signs I’ve picked up on include:

  • No motivation to get into the gym. Something pretty standard for most people, but not for me. I’ve described it as my “happy place” on many an occasion since I found it helpful for my mental health. It’s therefore ironic that the first thing to go the moment I’m a little low is my drive to work out.
  • Disproportionate tiredness. Not only do I feel super sleepy, nearly falling asleep on the bus on my way home, but my body feels physically heavy. It’s a cliche but it I’m getting the whole “walking through treacle” thing as I drag myself leaden-like about my daily life.
  • Irrational irritability. C might argue that I’m always a bit annoyed (or is that annoying?!), but I’m especially ready for a fight just now. Even if only in my head.
  • More frequent negative thoughts. I can tell in conversations I’m a bit more moody; more likely to bitch and moan over otherwise insignificant issues.
  • Getting especially teary when watching movies. Okay, so I’m a cryer when it comes to watching telly and am likely to burst into tears at the sight of a small animal or human in crises. However I’ve noticed I’ve a particular propensity to water-works of late, which given my medication suppresses my emotions in that regard, says there’s something up.
  • Inability to focus. I’m not great at paying attention at the best of times, but I’m especially scatter-brained just now. My least refined communication skill – listening  – is proving to be an extra effort.
  • A generally “noisier” brain. Prior to taking mental health meds, there was a permanent undertone of chatter murmuring away in the background of my brain. Since then, it’s been much more library-like. Yet recently I’ve heard a few rebel voices in there, piping up without my permission.

Honestly, it sucks. I hate feeling this way.

Frustratingly, my mental health isn’t entirely within my control. Sometimes depression rears its ugly head. If I’m particularly unlucky, it brings anxiety along with it and they work together to make me miserable.

What’s more, mental illness affects not only me but those around me. Even when I mostly keep to myself, the people closest to me usually sense there’s something wrong. Their sadness at my suffering only makes things worse, adding guilt to the emotional mix.

IMG_3447Yet I am genuinely grateful to be able to share this with you. I don’t want to bring you down, but I do want to be unapologetically honest here. Besides, I can’t be bothered to cover things up. It’s taking what little energy I have left not to beat myself up for my broken brain.

As you can probably tell, the tone of this post feels different to others I’ve written. I’ve worked hard to train myself to pursue a positive perspective on life. For the most part, this strategy has been successful. Yet becoming better is not a linear process. As I’ve said repeatedly, I’m a perfectly imperfect human being. I don’t have all the answers to becoming mentally fit and healthy, but I am working on it and I can promise to share the results of my experimentations here with you.

So, yeah. I’m having a sh*tty few weeks. And I’m still here, with a long list of reasons to be thankful.

This Week I’m Grateful for:

Another whole day to myself. Being fortunate enough to have more annual leave than my partner, C, I’ve spaced random days off throughout the Summer. After I heard about this idea of operating from different styles of thinking, I read a little more on the Fizzle blog about what it means to be in “CEO” versus “worker bee” mode. This meant I could declare a “CEO Monday”; devoting my day to the kind of “big picture” thinking most of us normally skirt over in the course of everyday life.

A timely reminder about a helpful way of Getting Things Done (GTD). Intrigued by the CEO-worker bee dichotomy, I took an online productivity course. I know: “work about work” – the basic premise of productivity –  doesn’t exactly sound thrilling.

Yet it’s something I’m surprisingly grateful that I spent a few hours of my hard-earned leave doing. I’d recently given up on GTD; a productivity management system proposed by David Allen in the early 2000s. It started to feel more work than the work I was meant to be doing itself. Learning from this course, the creators made it far less complex, more flexible, and easier to implement. It inspired me to tweak it for myself. Just because something didn’t work for me in one way, doesn’t mean it can’t work for me in another.

IMG_3425Treating myself to ice cream. A small – but not insignificant -development, one of the “quirks” of my eating disorder has been not allowing myself to eat particular foods when alone. In spite of being in recovery for many years now, I’m still sometimes plagued by food fears. In this case, I’m afraid of opening Pandora’s box and binging my way back to obesity.

Recognising this irrational thought-process, I keep working on becoming better. Turns out this includes buying myself ice cream even though there was no one else around to join in with me. It’s kind of like the whole “If a tree falls in a forest…” thing; if I eat ice cream by myself, does it mean I’m destined for an unhealthy future?

So when I left my local cafe last Monday on a scorcher of a day, I bought a scoop of Bakewell tart-flavoured ice cream (in a waffle cone, of course – none of that soggy wafer nonsense). I sat on a bench outside, listening to my podcast, and enjoyed every short-lived lick. De-licious! Admittedly, I do still feel a wave of guilt wash over me around this food stuff. I’m not sure if that feeling will ever go away entirely. However being able to do these things  – even just sometimes – feels like a win.

Good questions. They lead to good answers, after all. Over the past week I asked women within various Facebook groups a few questions about working whilst managing their mental health. Within moments, I was inundated with replies and within twenty-four hours I had over fifty replies. I’ve been wondering how I can use my experiences and interests to actually make a difference, and this boosted my confidence in my idea no end!

On a similar theme, I’m chuffed that my questions have appeared twice in recent newsletters, giving me a little confidence boost. It’s proof that I’m asking interesting questions that provoke conversation with other entrepreneurs,  too, which feels good. I’m finding my place in this community and it’s lovely to feel like I belong.

C being a total hero – so much so, I think he deserves his own TWIGlet list:

  • Awesome partner that he is, C took charge in the kitchen when my mental energies weren’t up to it. Having taken it upon himself to do the weekly supermarket shop, C came home with several exciting dishes planned, including this new concoction: Fish goujon tacos. Neither of us have had fish tacos before, but being fans of the ol’ classic fish finger sandwich it made sense to give the Mexican version a go. He’d even gone so far as to lovingly prepare his own salsa for us! They were yummy.
  • C has been a bit of a hero when it comes to meal planning of late. He made us dinner more than once so that I’d be able to get other things done. For example, responding to all the Facebook messages I received. Knowing how much these connections mean to me, he quietly played chef without comment, where he’d otherwise have been tempted to chastise me for spending too much time on the Internet.
  • Last Wednesday C drove out of his way to give me a lift home after work. I’d mentioned that I was feeling off that afternoon, and the next thing I know, there he was. It was a hot day, and it turned out that C just wanted to be kind to me! C even affectionately called me “wifey” as I got into the passenger seat, complimenting me on my sundress. He’s got a real talent for giving me an emotional lift.
  • C being willing to sacrifice TV time to make me happy. As we get closer to the “Love Island” final, he’s been so good about watching it real-time that I’d almost assume he liked watching the show himself…  Sitting through two hours of ITV2 catch-up sounds really trite, however it means so much to have a partner who is so kind and considerate of my needs – however bonkers –  when I’m feeling low.

IMG_3445Attending my first Fizzle Office Hours. Beforehand I wasn’t entirely sure how this would differ from the usual group coaching. It was more of a quick-fire session, by the end of which I’d made four pages of notes and learnings, so it was an hour well-spent.

An awesome annual appraisal. It was worth investing time and energy to writing-up all I’d achieved over the past year at work. A productive conversation with my line manager helped me better understand myself. It confirmed I lack confidence in being perceived as an “expert”, even after seven years in my job.  Emotionally, I don’t connect with the confidence this experience ought to provide.

Though technically negative, this self-knowledge is actually a positive revelation. Coming away from my meeting, I felt hopeful and optimistic. I’ve ideas for strategies to start to challenging this self-depreciating self-image, and good people around to support me in becoming better.

Rain – and lots of it. We’ve had buckets of the stuff after what’s felt like a desert these past few months. Opening our patio doors and being able to smell the deliciously fresh atmosphere has been a real joy for C and I. I love the sound of thunder and lightning; stormy weather somehow brings a sense of cosy comfort.

Making new friends when you’re thirty-something. After sharing with you the story of my sudden gym-phobia… and the conversation I had with my colleague that convinced me it was okay to take it easy on myself,  To be frank, social anxiety is a b*tch. I’m grateful this only really kicked in for me in adulthood. It’s made making – and keeping – friends hard work, which sometimes really gets me.

Still nervous, I met my colleague, M, for coffee and a catch-up as planned. Rather than a quick half-hour meeting, it was over an hour later before we headed back to our respective offices. We still had tons to talk about, and I’m so thankful she was brave enough to invite me out. Next time it’s my turn.

Making my first-ever home-made nachos. Memories of “Bungalows and Bears‘” nachos playing on my mind, I decided to experiment with cutting up and baking our leftover corn tortillas. With cheese, salsa, guac, and jalapeños, it made for a deliciously crispy,chewy light Friday-night meal.

Being there for my nephew’s first birthday party. Okay, so he’s too young to understand the significance of the occasion. He was mainly grumpy; overwhelmed by us overly affectionate adults. Honestly, it’s highly unlikely he’ll have any memories of the event at all. Still, I’m grateful I could be there – for him and for my sister – after having difficult family relationships in the sort-of recent past. It means a lot – to them and to me.

Speaking of which, I’m thankful for birthday cake. In fact, any cake, really. As anyone who follows the blog will know by now, home-made cake is my most favourite food of all-time. Luckily I had the common sense (read: shame) to pass on the gorgeous-looking garden centre blueberry cake prior to baby G’s party. My brother-in-law had baked deliciously moist chocolate cupcakes, each covered in a generous swirl of buttercream frosting. I ate two.

IMG_3441Relaxing in a clean and tidy home. Pulling together as a team, C and I worked hard to get our house in shape  this Sunday. It’s mentally soothing to live in a clean, calm environment. The external organisation does something to my brain, creating a sense of calm.

Finally, I’m grateful to have spent my Sunday afternoon on the sofa with C to watch a movie. Admittedly, “Dunkirk” wasn’t my choice of film, but I got sucked into the story, sobbing my way through to the end. Finding it especially hard to focus of late, it felt good to be able to concentrate because it’s lovely to connect with C over a bowl of popcorn and a healthy cry.

Until next week.

x

My ProjectHeatherED Manifesto Post (or why I believe mental health matters and my motivations behind this blog)

Last night I went to bed listening to Simon Sinek‘s “Start With Why” on Audible.  He quite literally spoke to me and rather than winding down for sleep, I stayed up past midnight writing this post.

It’s inspired me to create this manifesto; a manifesto being defined as “a public declaration of policy and aims.”

By openly sharing my “why” I hope to make clear to you, dear reader, what it is about mental health that really matters to me. Why I feel so passionately about Project HeatherED, and what’s kept me consistently publishing these past six months.

fullsizeoutput_5a8

Why Becoming Better is the Heart of Project HeatherED 

A Mental Health Manifesto

I believe we are more than our mental health.

I believe as human beings we are inherently worthy.

Our value is no more tied to our physical bodies than it is to our state of mind.

Instead, I believe that what matters most is our emotional intelligence. Being Open-minded and open-hearted, if we’re willing to learn – to improve, expand, and grow – then there’s always hope of becoming better.

I believe that it’s important to explore ways we can become happier; to maximise our mental wellness.

I believe we deserve better than a mediocre mental existence.

I believe that our dreams are not determined by any diagnosis.

We can have anxiety and be amazing.

We can feel depressed and, deep down, still dream of a happier future.

We can fight to control our our dangerous desires – be they food or fitness, drugs or drink – and also fight to feel truly free.

I believe a healthy mind is linked to having a healthy body, but that doesn’t always look how we’d expect.

I believe that a perfect body is one in which we feel at home.

I believe we can learn to feel truly beautiful; to become comfortable in our skin, to overcome our mental, physical, and emotional barriers to having a positive body image.

I believe that we can overcome our fears of being judged by others.

I believe that by daring to be fully ourselves – by being vulnerable – we can become better at self-acceptance.

I believe it’s possible to get to where what we think matters, first and foremost; where what others think doesn’t matter so much after all.

I believe in self-determination; in making informed choices.

I believe that we can choose to take control and manage our mental wellness.

I believe that how we manage our mental health is a personal decision; that we deserve respect, whatever we decide.

I believe that medication can play an important role in helping us feel better.

I also believe in taking responsibility for our own recovery; for our happiness.

I believe we each have our own definition of success. Knowing what we want, we can then design our own blueprint for the life we wish to lead.

I believe we choose the story we tell ourselves about ourselves, our lives and the world we live in. We have the ability to rewrite it at any moment, making it better, brighter, and more beautiful.

I believe that we can help each other to become more.

I believe that by working together, we grow in confidence, increase our emotional fitness, and our psychological resilience.

As we learn more about ourselves and how our minds work, I believe we’re becoming better, each and every day.

This statement is a work-in-progress. Still, as of this moment, I’ve given it my best shot. I think it goes some way to explain why I’m driven to contribute to the conversation around mental health.

My manifesto is also a declaration of how I strive to live my own life; how I aim to value myself and others. I do so imperfectly, of course. I regularly fall short of my own ambitious standards and that’s okay.

I, too, am a work-in-progress. My manifesto makes room for mistakes. I hope it explains why I’m driven to invest so much time and energy in this project, and why it matters so much to me.

As I’ve already said, I truly believe we can become better.

 

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 Nineteenth TWIG Post (or why it having good friends and happy cats matters more than a flat stomach)

After much debate I’ve decided to go on hiatus from the gym. This has come as a bit of a shock – especially to me! For over four years now I’ve been regularly attending classes, reliably turning up, rain or shine (or snow) at least three times a week. But over these last few months I’ve skipped several sessions, too tired to be bothered.

fullsizeoutput_596I’ve lost my workout mojo.

With nothing specifically sparking this change of heart, my immediate worry went straight to my mind. As anyone who’s ever experienced depression will appreciate, that’s one place I never wish to return to, if I can help it. Still, I don’t think I’ve felt particularly down about anything of late. On the contrary, I’m more enthusiastic about life than ever: I’ve several exciting projects on the go, we’re about to conclude our house sale, and we’re enjoying our first long, sunny Summer in the new garden.

So why this sudden turnaround?

Why does the thought of a workout leave me feeling… well, meh?

Okay, so I have to point out the elephant in the room here: me. C would be really cross if he heard me be so self-flagellating, and I don’t actually mean it, but I’m acutely aware of having gained a few pounds. I can’t deny it when I look in the mirror, even if it’s only really noticeable to those closest to me.

Gaining weight obviously doesn’t make me feel great about myself – but neither has it brought me down in the way I’d have expected. My self-worth being tied so closely to my body image for pretty much my whole life, this apathy feels weird. I don’t care as much as I think I should and I have to admit – it’s unnerved me.

Overwhelmed by this gym guilt, I reached out to my colleague, M, to enquire whether she’d be attending class this week. Since my house is en-route to hers, she’s kindly been giving me a lift home and we’ve become friendly. Moaning about my lack of motivation, I learnt my fitness pal is actually recovering from an injury. After telling my tragic tale I felt myself blush, embarrassed to be making a massive fuss over nothing. After all, I wasn’t the one who was hurt, was I?

Well, actually yes; I was hurting. The difference being that my mind was the specific cause of my pain.

fullsizeoutput_54a

Emotional pain can be as acute as anything we feel physically.

Both reside within our bodies.

Whilst our capacity to feel physical pain is limited (admittedly, it can get pretty physically painful), our minds have no depth of darkness to which they cannot sink. 

Empathising with my mental health worries, M suggested I consider taking time out from workouts. A break might help me figure out my feelings about fitness; build a better relationship between body and mind. Whilst we agreed a regular routine benefits an anxious mind like mine, it’s sometimes healthy to step back and reassess things.

There’s no rule that says I have to do, or be, anything – let alone “make up” for my lack of interest in exercise just now. At least, none other than those self-imposed rules we use to hold ourselves up to impossible standards of perfection.

M suggested getting rid of guilt by thinking about how I’d prefer to spend my time. What matters most to me? A flat stomach or having fun with favourite fluffs? Given the brevity of their time on this planet, wouldn’t I rather spend more of it playing with my feline friends?

When I look at it this way, I’d much rather cuddle my cats than spend an evening sweating in a stuffy studio. Decision made, I cancelled my class, breathed a sigh of relief, and planned to head home.

Before I logged out for the day, M suggested we catch up over coffee and immediately booked a time in our calendars. As it’s me who usually has to make plans with friends, it felt good for someone to invite me out for a chance. I’d been feeling so bad, this small kindness actually brought tears to my eyes – despite my medication making crying a challenge!

fullsizeoutput_598

I’m touched and tremendously thankful that someone has seen my vulnerability, recognised my pain, and still wants to befriend me. 

Even talking about making new friends feels a bit uncomfortable. In our modern Western society it seems we’re conditioned to feel embarrassed about our having needs. Yet it’s in our nature to need human connection.

What’s more, as adults we meet fewer new people in general so making friends becomes even harder. Hence whilst I’m sure social anxiety will creep in when it comes time for that coffee, I’m thankful for the chance to  get to know my new friend.

This Week I’m Grateful For:

*The velvety texture of C’s hair when it’s just been cut. Running my hand the wrong way up the back of his head, it feels soft and spiky against my skin. For the next week it’ll look that bit too short, but it’ll feel fantastic. C has what he himself describes as Chinese hair: straight, dark and ridiculously dense. Unlike the majority of his peers, C’s got a full head of hair. – something for which we’re both grateful!

*Still another new dress from the Fat Face sale. It was meant to be two dresses, but it looks like perhaps my credit card has been saved by the other selling out. Oh, and a cardigan. You never know when I might need one.

*A mid-week Paperchase binge. Aware I’m nervous about the impending office move, my colleague K asked if I fancied a trip to town to treat ourselves to some new stationery.

She returned with lunch boxes for her little girl, whereas I came back with a whole new organisational system (in co-ordinated pastel shades, of course).

IMG_3383

My former desk buddies have returned home after seven years.

Given this chance to change my work space, I’m re-decorating. Going for more grown-up vibes, I plan to update my vision board.  To help me manage my mental health at work (where it inevitably sometimes gets stressful), I created my board to remind me of all that I have in life which brings me happiness.

I’ll be working on this for the next few weeks, collecting new inspirational quotes and images, and updated photos of all those whom I love. Next weekend it’s my nephew G’s first birthday, so I’ll take new photos with him, my sisters, and maybe even C. Our nieces will soon be moving into their new Sheffield home (it’s even got a treehouse!), so I’ll be able to add their pictures to the pile.

I have to admit, it’s kind of exciting, which leads me perfectly onto my next thanksgiving.

*Coming into work of a morning and finding postcards left  on my desk. Turning them over, I found a message from K bestowing positivity, love, and luck for our move. I’m so lucky to work with such kind-hearted people, and it’s times like this when I’m reminded to be thankful for my job.

fullsizeoutput_588

I found these on my keyboard. I think I can re-home them on my vision board. 🙂

*Building confidence in my business skills. Taking advice from those further down the road success, I put myself “out there” and offered my help for free. Volunteering to read, review, and feed back on other women’s work has taught me so much about my own strengths.

Creating anything of value takes confidence; something I sometimes admittedly lack. However helping other women make their businesses better actually helps me – and myideas – feel more worthy. It reminds me of the point of pursuing my passions and gives me hope that I’m moving in a positive direction.

*Being brave, I switched on my webcam for my first “Fizzle Friday”. I was anxious about asking my early-stage questions, given that most participants in these weekly coaching sessions are so much further ahead in creating their businesses.

Yet I need not have worried. Not only did Corbett reassure me that I’m on the right path,   but combining his comments with others’ feedback will help me make constructive, positive progress in the coming weeks.

*Freshly-squeezed orange juice. It’s impossible to ignore its delicious scent when walking into our local grocers. I have to admit – it’s incredible! I can’t recall when I last drank anything this good. We’ll definitely be keeping our refillable bottle to go back for more.

*Guido’s chocolate flapjacks. How the topping stays Nutella-like runny – never going hard – I don’t know. Honestly, I’m not sure I want to know! Still, they’re totally treacly and utterly umptious. Served in tiny fairy cake cases, they’re slipped into a paper bag, the flapjacks’ sheer stickiness turns it transparent.

*Magazines as my weekend treat. Ever since I can remember this has been one of my most favourite pleasures. Popping open the plastic, I love to smell their glossy pages packed with promise before anyone else has touched them. Odd, but true, I’m afraid.

*An extra day off this week. Whilst I’d prefer proper holidays with C, his lack of leave means I’m taking some time off work alone. Still, I’m feeling rather smug about having several extra-long weekends over these Summer months.

*C and I have booked our September staycation in Seahouses, Northumberland once again. Wearing waterproofs to wander across the sand to Bamburgh Castle, browsing the shelves at Barter Books, and cosying up in a pub sharing a bag of crisps: These activities may sound rather dull but for us, it’s one of our happy places.

*An unexpected visit from a rather smiley, sticky little boy, and his equally messy mother. My sister and my nephew, baby G, came for lunch today. I’m definitely biased, but I’m 100% convinced that G is the happiest, loveliest child in the Universe.

x

The Eighteenth TWIG Post (or how I’m happy despite having felt unwell this week)

I’m trying something a little different with my TWIG post this week.

I think I’ve been trying to do too much.

So rather than overloading you, I’m simply getting grateful. Instead I’ll share another story around becoming better in a separate post. I hope you’ll join me then, but in the meanwhile here goes…

IMG_3340This Week I’m Grateful for:

*Working with people who care about me.

Kindness is under-rated in our society, and yet it makes a massive difference to our quality of life. My anxiety now rarely shows its face at work (which is a gratitude in-and-of itself). However on the odd occasion it makes an appearance – like this past week – I’m thankful to have colleagues who make the effort to understand and accommodate my “quirks”.

Mental health issues are something even those of us with them struggle to comprehend. For people who haven’t personally experienced mental illness – and there are more of us than one might think – it must be hard to imagine. Not able to totally trust your mind to tell you the truth is, well, a mind-bending concept. It’s also pretty scary – to the point where many people choose to deny its existence rather than have to face the fact that, as Clare Eastham states so well in her book, “We’re all mad here”.

Fortunately for me, I have colleagues who try to understand. They care enough about me to make this effort. They accept that sometimes, I simply need to be alone. The world is too overwhelming. Like a turtle, I hide inside my shell until I feel safe enough to come back out and rejoin the world. What comes off as anti-social behaviour is usually my needing to take a little time away from the noise of open-plan in order to quieten the raging inside my mind.

I’m most grateful that they can “see” me, the person. It’s a real testimony to sensitivity and character of the people I work with that they can appreciate that “Heather” is the person I am underneath; the one who experiences these mental moments, as opposed to my being mental, per say.

*Being able to do what’s best for my health.

It’s not always easy to admit to feeling under the weather, but it’s even harder if it involves mental illness. For me, there’s usually a slow build-up to break-down that I can miss the early-warning signs of impending doom. Oftentimes, it eventually comes out as physical illness; my body literally acting to stop me in my tracks.

At times like this, I’m thankful that I work for a public-sector organisation that generally supports its people in taking the time to get well. Whenever I’m ill it’s a reminder to appreciate this anew. I know it’s not the case for many people, including C who works in a private company where taking sick days is penalised when it comes to bonus time. Particularly in light of my mental health, I count my job – and colleagues – as a blessing. Not everyone can choose to prioritise their health without worrying about the consequences at work.

*My partner, C, going out of his way to take care of me.

Being the sensitive soul he is, C picked up on my being out-of-sorts way sooner than I did. As such, he’s been extra lovely to me this week.

Examples of some small acts of daily kindness which make life much easier for those of us who have “wobbly” mental health include:

  • Cooking the dinner when it’s clearly not their turn.
  • Taking on more of the housework, which includes the intellectual (thinking) and emotional (feelings) work. Many women – myself included – unthinkingly shoulder the brunt of this without realising how tiring it can become (there’s definitely a future post in there!).
  • Keeping schtum when we zonk out on the couch in our PJs when we get in from work to watch a marathon of mindless TV (and I know this is not just me!)IMG_3341

My most favourite thing C does for me is making my supper cup of tea without my asking, simply because he knows I think it tastes better when he makes it.

Small kindnesses like this are often taken for granted in long-term relationships. We get used to them as they become habitual and routine; they’re just “what we do” for each other. Yet they’re often the things that mean the most when one of us is feeling off-colour, and so I’m focusing on feeling thankful for the small stuff – because they’re actually pretty big.

*My cats being so glad to have me home.

B.C. (Before Cats) sick days had been a mixed blessing. On the one hand, being ill generally necessitates some degree of discomfort. It’s either something painful or gross, and it’s usually some combination of the two. On the other hand, there’s daytime telly, extra tea and toast, and the rare opportunity to skip the shower and spend a whole day in my PJs. Still, there’s always that post-Doctors lull whereby the day’s officially more than half over. All the best terrestrial telly is over and you’re stuck watching re-runs of “Housewives” on catch-up.

Cats, however, have the unique ability to make a sick-day into a good-but-gross day. It’s hard to feel sorry for yourself when you’re in-demand. Sitting next to D on the carpet to play with the feather toy made me feel so much better.  Making my cat happy makes me happy. Later I fell asleep on the sofa under the watchful eye of my buddy-boy.

Even just thinking about the fact that there are two creatures – mini-panthers – living in my home, wanting to hang out with me, tickles me. Such simple things can make me smile and totally change the tone of my day.

 *Love Islandtherapy

IMG_3360With my anxiety making a reappearance this week, it’s been a blessed relief to tune into the goings-on of this group of tanned twenty-somethings. It’s pure hedonism for this thirty-something with my mega-mortgage, a full-time office job, and the general gripes of  grown-up life. I’m only slightly serious when I say I wish I were holed-up in a Spanish villa for the Summer, my only responsibilities being to glam up, play Club 18-30s-style games by the pool, and partner up with whomever takes my fickle twenty-something fancy. #abitjealous? #100%!

Allowing myself this form of escapism is a literal holiday for my mind.  For some unbeknownst reason, this nightly dose of junk telly takes me out of my head for a while. It’s mental freedom –  exactly what the Doctor (Alex) ordered.  It’s proving the perfect remedy for an over-active brain which is why I refuse to feel guilty or ashamed of my love for the Island. #loyal

*C taking one for the team.

Let’s be clear about what I mean here: He removed the sun-dried frog found on our back doorstep and didn’t make me do it. There’s technically no proof it’s the result of either cats’ midnight madness but I have my suspicions that a certain kitty with a K might be to blame…

For some reason, the dead frog creeped me out way more than the three beautiful blue tits left for dead on the hall carpet. I can pick them up no problem (and I actually have a slightly macabre fascination with doing so). Something about the slightly shrivelled, sticky-looking amphibian corpse just grossed me out, so I was glad that C did the manly thing and “removed” it with the brush and shovel.

*Rehoming a pair of 1930s tulip vases.

At an antiques fair this weekend we lucked out by finding a pair of blue vases that fit perfectly with the style of our home. We’re still uncertain as to exactly how we want the house to look – I’ve painstakingly planned it on my Pinterest, but C’s yet to agree to the exact shade of Farrow & Ball blue I can use in the lounge.

Rather than sticking to any particular “look” or style we’re going instead with what we love. Definitely wanting to reinstall some of the house’s original 1930s features, we’ve also been on the look-out for items of the same era which appeal to our taste today.

For me, my taste is rather eclectic. I’m enamoured of angular Art Deco, an element of Victorian taxidermy, and masses of mid-century modern furniture. As the sale of our former home is almost final, the prospect of redesigning our forever home feels ever more real. I’m excited to have our own house and the opportunity to make it entirely us.

*Lemonade ice lollies.

Like all the other kids, C sent me off to the ice-cream van this weekend with the money to buy myself an ice lolly. Within moments of it being in my sticky mitts, I proceeded to down said popsicle, remembering how satisfying it is to bite through the ice. Frosty splinters stuck to my tongue, melting into delicious lemony numbness. On what was a ridiculously hot day, this was a small piece of sugary heaven.

*A chance chat with a charming child.

IMG_3369A young lad sat himself down – uninvited – at the same picnic table where C and I were eating lunch, resting his shaved head on folded arms with a sweaty sigh. Catching sight of a sparkly earring immediately got me thinking of the kids from“Shameless”. I planned on ignoring the interrupting, focusing instead on my food.

Moments later, his grandmother appeared with drinks and ice cream. I relaxed slightly: She looked like a nice lady and indeed she was, making friendly conversation across the table. I showed an interest in what they’d been buying at the antiques fair and the young lad sprang to live.

Showing me what he’d bought that morning, he spoke so thoughtfully, and with such intelligence, for what was clearly his passion.  He’d spent his hard-earned pocket money on militaria: a late twentieth-century army helmet, a WW2 artillery box, and an incredibly creepy baby’s gas mask-slash-cot.

C and I both rather fell enamoured of this lad. Noting his intense seriousness about his subject, he’s probably on the autistic spectrum but is also the most interesting and engaged young man I’ve met in a long time. Whilst I was drawn to his passion and enthusiasm, C could relate to being a similarly thoughtful kind of kid. It was a pleasure to meet him.

I absolutely adore kids and – for the most part – they seem to like me, too. I get so much joy from hanging out with my loved one’s offspring, it sometimes makes me question whether we ought to seriously consider having our own.

Yet when I come home to the peace and quiet – when I can sit here on my laptop typing away with no one to think about other than myself – no one I’m responsible for in that way – then I’m also grateful for that, too.

x

The Worst Summer Ever Post (or my experience of living with acute anxiety)

Two years ago I experienced the worst bout of anxiety in my life. It started with my (not unreasonably) becoming upset at what I later learnt were massive, allergic reactions to flea bites which appeared all over my body. Thanks to an unfortunate combination of humid weather that Summer, and Frontline’s failure to work in an area overpopulated by cats, not only was I in physical pain but I was also hurting mentally.

IMG_3018Much like my body, my mind itched and burned. I felt like there was always something irritating me; prickling just under the surface. As I scratched my brain trying to figure out what was causing these hideous hives, I tied myself in knots with worry. It wasn’t long before this grew into a series of regular panic attacks. I recognised them from their occasional appearance during my university years, only this time the anxiety was on a whole, new, nasty level. Not only did I feel sh*t, but I then developed obsessive tendencies which made my anxiety all the worse.

OCD for me was an incessant need to check and re-check, assure and reassure, and then start again because I couldn’t trust my own judgement.

It was unlike anything I’d been through before. I was permanently tired, it was so mentally draining.

As is often the case with mental illness, mornings especially became nightmarish. Waking up already dreading the day, the first words to run through my head -before I’d even really opened my eyes – were “oh God…” At the time I couldn’t imagine not feeling that way at the start of the day. Frequently C would have to coax me to the car, me frantic, late getting out of the front door.

Simultaneously crying and trying desperately to keep my mascara from running (“waterproof”, my arse!), I’d drag myself out of his car and into the office. It hurts my heart to say it now, but C would sometimes have to literally push me out of the car door so he could get to his work.  I know for a fact he felt terrible about it. It was a hellish time for us both. For me, worse still than how I felt was knowing the effect I was having on the man I love, and yet feeling utterly hopeless about being able to stop it.

Once in the office I wasn’t much better. At least, not until the day got going and I was able to imitate some semblance of normalcy. For the best part of a year I couldn’t speak first thing for at least a half hour. It took time to choke out even simple words like “hello”. “How are you?” would send me into meltdown. Some days I cried for an hour before I opened an email.

I mistakenly believed that I had to push myself to keep going in. No matter how much it hurt – both myself and those around me – I felt pressured to keep showing up. Like many people who are mentally unwell, I was afraid of what other people might think were I to “give in” and take time out. Buying into the rumours, I was terrified that being signed off for “mental health reasons” would somehow blacklist me as a hopeless case.  I had a sinking feeling that, if I were to stay home from work, I might never go back.

IMG_3032It took a long time for me to recover from this particular episode. From the bites alone, my skin took a few months to start to heal. The house took us at least a month of exhausting, repetitive, after-work cleaning routines to get it back to normal. My mind took months to feel something like my own again. I was prescribed anti-anxiety tablets to be taken three times a day for several months to restore my “fight or flight” response back to something resembling a regular reaction to stress.

Unfortunately, it’s only in retrospect that I can see just how unwell I had been. In my last round of therapy with a rather special NHS therapist I finally understood what happened. I’ve since been able to articulate to C what I felt at the time; he regretfully says he should have seen it coming – especially as he’d through similar experiences with a previous partner.

However it isn’t so easy – mental illness is cruel that way. From the outside you seem to be alright much of the time, and yet you’re incapable of decision-making. I’d be processing millions of pounds worth of payments at work, and would break down over whether to have cheese with my beans on toast.

What I hope he now knows – and indeed anyone else going through something similar – is that it’s almost impossible to see a mental breakdown coming until it’s well and truly here. It’s an incremental process whereby those closest to us are also often unable to see it happening. Still, it’s important to remind him – and others – of the role they played in my becoming better. Testing their patience and kindness often, I look back and feel lucky, knowing so many lovely people genuinely care for me.

Even so, I wish I’d had the wherewithal to be able to see that I needed help sooner. Specifically, I needed someone to help me to allow myself the time, space, and patience to recover. I dug my heels in and insisted I kept going “as normal”, despite being anything but. Well-meaning colleagues tried to persuade me to take time out, but I couldn’t hear it. Sadly, in my anxious state of mind I wasn’t able to differentiate between a suggestion and a recommendation. I felt blinkered to anything other than what was most obvious.

 

It took longer than necessary for me to recover, but I did recover and I’m here telling you this tale in the hopes I can help someone else become better, too.

To give this story it’s sort-of happy ending, I’d like to share some of the lessons anxiety had to teach. Despite the darkness around this particular life phase, there are still several positive take-aways I’d like to share. Thankfully, there always are.

Regular readers of this blog may have been a bit thrown by the tone of this piece. If so, I hope this will bring you back on board. As you know, my becoming better sees me looking for gratitudes in just about every area of life. As such, I’ve come up with the following:

IMG_3037The best of things I learnt from the worst of times

#1 Never give up. If you look around you’ll see that us humans are capable of awesome achievements. Whilst mental illness undoubtedly sucks a**, it’s possible to come out of this period of time. Not only this, but it’s true that our struggles shape who we become and the influence we go on to have in the world. Had I not had such a sh*tty time with anxiety, I’d not be writing this blog, which brings such happiness and joy to my life today.

#2 Trust in the inherent goodness of people. Given half a chance, most will do their best to be kind and supportive. You just have to give them a chance, forgiving the stupid mistakes we all make as we fumble through the mental health minefield. My mind told me that people were only being nice to me because they felt they “had” to do so. Yet my mind wasn’t well, and so why was I listening to it?! Instead, I could have taken others by their word, accepted their help, and felt grateful, rather than guilty.

#3  If you can’t make a decision, then don’t. Ask for help. Like I said, when you’re mentally unwell – however that may look for you – it’s only rational to place your trust in those whom you believe to be more emotionally stable than yourself just now.  The pressure to choose often threw me off, proving the last straw in a day filled with last straws. If you’ve got people you love and trust around you, then let them love you and trust them to help you choose what’s in your best interests for now.

#4 Act. I implore anyone in the kind of mindset I was in to take action and do something – anything – other than stand still, and to do it as soon as possible. It doesn’t matter how small the action to begin with – small is good; it’s a great start. Just don’t let it go on without trying to change the situation, and if you can’t see how, then ask for help. It’s everywhere if you’re looking for it – so look!

#6 Take your health seriously. No matter how much you love your job, your family, your home, it’s no good if you’re falling apart. Before you can truly live, you need to make sure you’re at your mentally most fit, and doing that might mean taking time out from regular living. Whether it’s a visit to the doctor, regular therapy, a holiday, or being signed off sick for a while, it’s worth considering all available options and leaning on whatever help you can get to decide what’s best.

#7 Also, consider how much you’re willing to tell your employer about what’s going on for you. Despite having my manager present during times I was falling apart, I’ve never formally gone “on the record” with my own mental illness. I feel embarrassed admitting to it, but I’m still nervous as to what the implications may be. However I’ve known people who’ve sworn by it as having helped them to get back into work after some tough times.

#8 Finally, a practical tip: Always go for the prescription flea treatment and buy from the vets. Seriously. It’s worth the extra money and effort it takes to go pick it up every few months. We spent weeks – months! – spraying the house with Indorex and vacuuming like crazy people (literally) to get rid. Whilst it did the trick in the end, it was exhausting. Add this to the pain of being bitten, fear of sleep, and shame at being covered in ugly blisters, coming home from work to clean the house top-to-bottom over and again was truly testing.

So that was my most terrible Summer. Pretty sh*t, if I say so myself. What’s most sad to me is that C and I spent that time together, and yet apart, lost in our own minds. Changing the past isn’t an option, and in truth, I don’t actually regret it having happened this way. What I learnt that anxious Summer ultimately played an important role in my becoming better. In time, I hope I can use my experiences to help others live happier, healthier, and emotionally wealthier lives, too. Or at the very least to remember not to scrimp on their pets’ flea treatments.

« Older posts

© 2019 Project HeatherED

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑