A decade of being an anxious lady — World Mental Health Day 2020.

It’s World Mental Health Day today so there will be a lot of words around. I never know quite what to say. I can be pretty articulate sometimes but more often I’m super mumbly — especially when it comes to discussing my silly anxious brain.

I tend to keep quiet around World Mental Health Day for a few reasons. One being that in some ways, I am oddly quite disheartened by the emphasis on people speaking out. Raising awareness and speaking out is of course a great idea, but the reality is that people have to continue speaking out and this isn’t often addressed. The NHS mental health services are in such high demand (especially this year) and are so underfunded that you personally have to keep pushing, keep speaking out and try not to get lost along the way. It’s incredibly difficult to drive your own recovery forward in this way and can often feel like nobody is listening and nobody really cares. Yes, people need to speak out, and I love that this raising of awareness means I personally feel a lot more comfortable to share my experience and reach out, but it’s crucial there is someone there to listen. At times, there really isn’t and this has to change.

I also think a lot of people speak about their experience with mental illness in a much clearer way that I can. I find it hard to put into words and can get a bit waffly. So with all that in mind I thought I would note down what it’s been like being an anxious lady asking for help over the past decade. And so I don’t get too wordy along the way, I’ve broken it down into bullet points.

2011:

– Final year of undergrad degree.

– Sneaking off to have a cheeky cry in the practice rooms (I was a music student).

– Friend suggested to see a GP. Told it was deadline stress — Antidepressants from the GP

– No follow up so stopped taking medication. Drinking lots and lots of gin instead — many more sneaky cries in odd places.

2012:

– Coping better? Lots of fun with nice friends. Met a nice boy. Less anxious lady for a while.

– Got a part time job. Cried lots with fear. Quit job. Got a different job. Spent many days terrified of doing the wrong thing at new job.

2013:

– Applied for lots of ‘sensible’ Graduate jobs. Mumbled too much? No job for me.

– Started feeling weird, lethargic and faint quite a bit. Went to the GP about this (plus tummy issues). GP not sure – told to ‘keep an eye on it’.

–  Physical health fell apart. Fainting weekly with a naughty poorly tummy (nice boy says I shouldn’t call it “naughty” as it understates how horrific the symptoms were). Terrified of it happening. Started having panic attacks.

– Pretended I could carry on as ‘normal’. Got a job. Had a breakdown. Couldn’t leave bed. Scared to leave the house in case of panic attack and/or fainting.

2014:

– Lots more fainting. Fainting at home, at volunteering, at boyfriend house, in the street.

– Constant day-to-day anxiety. Scared to leave the house. Scared to be left on my own. Multiple panic attacks every day.

– Decided I couldn’t cope — went to the GP again. GP prescribed meditation and suggested self-referring to CBT

– Reached out to local CBT. Explained it all again.

– Started CBT with a nice kind man who only showed me diagrams for 6 weeks.

– Passed to a senior CBT therapist for 6 more weeks.

-Not getting anywhere so asked for more help. Added to longer waiting list for specific help — told likely 1 year wait.

2015:

– Panic attacks now when alone for more than 10 minutes. Panic attacks with no obvious trigger.

– GP again. Diagnosed Panic disorder and General anxiety disorder. Added in another medication. Then a third.

– Therapy group for tummy/fainting issues starts. Met some lovely and helpful people. Felt a bit better with physical health.

– Panic attacks only once a day (woohoo?). Still can’t be alone. Still can’t go out without someone.

2016:

– More tummy/fainting days so panic attacks increase. Went to different GP — increases medication.

– Start one to one therapy. Fourth time lucky?

– Feel heard. Feel a little braver. Go out locally if someone nearby. Sit in a coffee shop on my own for the first time in years! Panic attacks only 2 or 3 times a week.

2017:

– Coping a little better so move cities with the nice boy.

– Ask to see the new local GP. Not a helpful human. See a different GP. Very helpful human. Can see I am ‘coping’ but need longer term help. Refers me to longer course of therapy (18 months to wait).

-Managing? Panic attacks only weekly now on three types of medication.

2018:

– Can leave the house alone sometimes. Living some sort of life?

2019:

-Longer term ACT therapy finally started. Life changing.

– Very anxious but pushing more and more.

– Making hints about my mental illness online. Using a separate twitter to speak about mental health more freely.

– Finally feel less ashamed of being an anxious lady.

2020:

-Started new volunteering. Set up a little Etsy store.

-Spending time alone and actually enjoying it.

-Reduce medication to two. Moving forward and adding things back into my life.

-FLIPPING GLOBAL PANDEMIC. Coping. To be continued…

Of course this is only my personal experience but I think it emphasises that there is far more of an issue than people reaching out to get help. Many GP visits and short course therapies were never followed up, so I’d ask for help again and again. Even in my darkest times I remained stubborn enough to push myself to get the care I desperately needed so I kept going. I am also incredibly lucky that those around me also encouraged me and helped me get the care I need. But it still terrifies me thinking to the amount of times I have started medication and not been followed up, I’ve asked for talking therapy and it’s months of waiting to find out I’m not on the right waiting list. It’s only because I kept asking that I got to this point 7 years on where I feel a little more myself.

But not everyone is capable of pushing this much to get help, in fact it’s completely understandable that those struggling would not keep pushing and questioning their care. So please, keepsupporting your friends and family to reach out if they are struggling with mental illness or a bad period of mental health, but also keep listening. Keep emphasising the need for more mental health support from the NHS and local services. It’s too bloody hard to do all this on your own.

Lockdown Listening Part Two – My A-Z of albums new to me.

Things have changed quite a lot since I last posted. A lot of people are pretending things are back to normal and as a city centre resident, it’s been pretty damn stressful.

So I’ve yet again put my focus into listening to music whilst out and about – trying to block out the morons with noise cancelling headphones. This time I’ve been listening to albums that are new to me. Either artists I like that have released music recently, or sometimes a well recommended album that I just haven’t got round to.

So here is another list (I do like lists):

A – Anderson .Paak – Ventura

B – Bombay Bicycle Club – Everything Else Has Gone Wrong

C – Childish Gambino – 3.15.20

D – Destiny’s Child – The Writing On The Wall

E – Everything Everything – Get To Heaven

F – Foo Fighters – The Colour And The Shape

G – Ghost Poet – Peanut Butter Blues And Melancholy Jam

H – Hayley Williams – Petals For Armour

I – Iron And Wine – The Shepherd’s Dog

J – Joni Mitchell – Blue

K – Kendrick Lamar – To Pimp A Butterfly

L – Lana Del Ray – Lust For Life

M – Mos Def – Black On Both Sides

N – The National – I Am Easy To Find

O – Of Monsters And Men – My Head Is An Animal

P – Prince – Purple Rain

Q – Queens Of The Stone Age – Rated R

S – The Strokes – The New Abnormal

T – The 1975 – Notes On A Conditional Form

U – U2 – October

V – Vampire Weekend – Father Of The Bride

W – We Are Scientists – Tv En Francais

X – The Xx – I See You

Y – Years And Years – Communion

Z – Zedd – True Colours

I’m not particularly sure how I’ve got to almost 30 years old without listening to Blue. It’s wonderful. I’m also really impressed with Hayley Williams’ debut solo album. The Latest from Childish Gambino and The 1975 are definitely keepers too. Zedd not so much – I just got a bit stuck with the letter…

I may do another A-Z but not quite sure what yet. Please comment below if you have any ideas. I’d also love any album recommendations. I’m just so happy to be excited about music again : )

10 Weeks later.

Every day seems to blur into one at the moment but as far as I can work out, tomorrow is 10 weeks since the UK went into lockdown. I was following the guidance of hand washing and keeping away from people before then, but this was the point where everything drastically changed and it really hit home. I was struggling with the enormity of it all and trying to get into a routine. However, after a few super anxious days, I started to cope with the change a little better than I thought I would. Since then I’ve kept myself busy and taken care of my mental health as best as I can and it’s been difficult yes, but generally I’ve felt ok.

However, these past few days have really tested me and I can feel my anxiety rising again. If anything, I feel more anxious now than I did at the start and that’s hard to accept. And this has all come about since the easing of lockdown restrictions.

I limit the amount of time I spend looking at the news or Twitter, but it’s hard to avoid the pictures of crammed beaches and tourist spots and the sheer amount of people that seem to have gone ‘back to normal’. It’s not just from the media though, locally I see it too. There are far more people around on the streets of the city centre and many people no longer move out of each others way. People are meeting from different households in nearby parks because they have been told this is ok but rarely seem to be keeping 2 metres apart. It’s really hard to see after the weeks of strength and effort people have shown for people to push things further and further. I understand that the weather is nice and people are bored, but with a daily death toll close to what it was when the UK first went into lockdown, how is this the time to just do whatever we want?

Without being too political, I definitely think the lack of clarity coming from the government makes it incredible difficult for people to work out what is the safest way to act. Therefore, people have to interpret the restrictions themselves and worryingly are often pushing them. Yes I think a lot of people are being incredibly selfish with the ‘I’ll be fine if I get it’ attitude but it’s other more conscientious people too. Even some of my friends and family who began the lockdown with caution and care are taking multiple visits to shops, garden centres and going to meet various families in their gardens because they’ve been told this is ok (my problem is not them doing this but the frequency). So I just don’t know what to think. Its hard enough for anyone to try and figure out what is a sensible response here but my anxiety is making it especially difficult to understand. I don’t trust what I’m being told anymore, but I also don’t trust my judgement, so what do I do?

The increased amount of people around where I live is making me more anxious to go outside. This is so hard to accept as a number of years ago I couldn’t leave the house alone without a very high chance of a panic attack. So I really don’t want to give in to this anxious urge to avoid everything. Then again, there is something very sensible and practical to keeping away from people who have this ‘fuck it’ attitude to the lockdown now. I hate it. I feel like I can no longer trust people to do the right thing and I find it really upsetting. I am so desperate to see my family and friends and I’m now trying to fight between the logic of being told it’s ok to see people, and the sense that it doesn’t feel all that safe. Meeting a friend from two metres away for a quiet walk in the park is very different to having family visitors to drive to meet from now on but for many people this seems to be the green light to go and see whoever they want so long as it’s outside.

It’s hard. It really is. As I said at the beginning of the post, I feel more anxious and confused at this point than I have throughout this whole mess. I seem to be spending all my time worrying about what other people are doing and even the limited amount of news I see is really damaging my mental health. All I can do is focus on me and my partner doing what we feel is best, acting with caution and encouraging friends and family to do the same. There’s so much unknown and making big changes when many factors suggest otherwise that this seems a very bad idea. When I feel I can, and the science agrees, I am absolutely going to mumble about absolute nonsense to my Mum and Dad. But I think I’ll stay out of people’s way for a little bit longer.

Lockdown Listening – My A-Z of neglected albums.

Like many people during this ridiculous and scary time, I found myself searching for a project to put some focus in and add in a bit of routine. As I fairly recently got Spotify I was getting into the habit of whacking on a playlist and shuffling my way through because it was easy. However I found myself forgetting about a lot of albums I used to listen to over and over and thought it would be a good idea to do this a bit more during lockdown.

I think part of the reason I had been neglected my very favourite albums is because it was simply too hard. If I have to pick a favourite band, I tend to go for Radiohead but the sad truth is I don’t often listen to them these days as they make my heart hurt too much as it reminds me of what I was like ‘before the breakdown’ (if that’s what you’d call it). Very recently though I’ve been introducing them back into my ears and remembering why I love them so much.

So with this in mind, and because I’m a really super-cool fun lady, I decided to start listening to an A-Z of albums I’ve been neglecting, albums that at some point were special to me and played repeatedly in my CD player.

Here is the list:

A – Arcade Fire – Funeral

B – Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago

C – CSS – Cansei De Ser Sexy

D – Death Cab For Cutie – Plans

E – Evanescence – Fallen

F – Friendly Fires – Pala

G – Gorrilaz – Demon Days

H – Haim – Days Are Gone

I – Interpol – Our Love To Admire

J – Justin Timberlake – Justified

K – The Killers – Sam’s Town

L – Lykke Li – I Never Learn

M – Muse – Origin Of Symmetry

N – The National – High Violet

O – OutKast – Speakerboxxx/The Love Below

P – The Postal Service – Give Up

Q – Queens Of The Stone Age – Like Clockwork

R – Rihanna – Anti

S – Sigur Ros – Takk

T – Two Door Cinema Club – Gameshow

U – U2 – The Joshua Tree

V – The Velvet Underground & Nick – The Velvet Underground

W – We Are Scientists – With Love And Squalor

X – The XX – XX

Y – You Me At Six – Hold Me Down

Z – The Zutons – Who Killed The Zutons?

It’s been a really enjoyable experience which I often tied In with my daily wander outside. Yes a lot of them did make me nostalgic and a little bit sad, but almost all of them reminded me why they because so important to me in the first place. And I absolutely loved singing/shouting along to Evanescence word for word and annoying my lovely boyfriend : )

The most ridiculous week.

It’s coming to the end of the most ridiculous, scary, frustrating week I’ve had in my 29 years waddling around this earth. Whilst I was aware that the Corona virus was heading to the UK I’m not sure I was quite prepared for what was going to happen.

I’ve been wanting to write something about the past week for two reasons, one, because I feel the desperate need to help people feel less anxious and two, because by writing about difficult situations, I tend to help my brain work through thoughts and feel a little bit more in control. But this is something beyond what I can really cope with right now and it wouldn’t make much sense. I’m not sure putting pressure on myself to write something right now is helpful either.

I’m currently just trying to muddle through each day. Luckily I now have the new animal crossing game because I am a big child, so I can escape to my nice little island. I’m baking. I’m colouring. I’m reading. Occasionally having a good cry and a scream. Maybe a bit more baking? And lots and lots of cuddling my bunny.

For now I will just try and cope with the day to day and then when the time is right will figure out some words about all this mess.

Be safe, keep away from people and wash your bloody hands!

The New Year fear.

I’ve never been one for New Years resolutions really. As a teenager I would scribble a few things in a diary about how the new year would be amazing when I got nice hair, became super thin and had all the friends, but since then I find the whole ‘new year, new me’ thing very daunting. Silly too, but mainly anxiety-inducing.

We are a few days into the year now and the fear of making this year count has thankfully settled a bit from New Years Day. However, I often can’t help feeling overwhelmed by how much I need to push my anxious self this year. As I introduce more and more back into my life, the anxiety obviously increases, and in theory, so should the feeling that I’m moving forward. In reality though it doesn’t quite work that way. I always feel like I’m behind what everyone else is doing. But who on earth are these people I’m comparing to that have their shit together and are doing all the things? Maybe it’s because I’ve spent most of my twenties in a worry cave hiding from anything that could provoke a panic attack. Maybe it’s because I’m turning 30 this year and don’t feel anywhere close to being a grown up. I don’t know, but I can’t seem to be kind to myself!

If I did make resolutions it would be simply, to be kinder to myself. Simple in theory, but bloody difficult in practice. I am trying though. I got a new toy for Christmas called an Apple Pencil and I’m going to try and use it to draw and scribble nice things without immediately convincing myself it’s awful. We shall see.

Fingers crossed that mine and your 2020 will be broadly fine.

No news is good news?

Ive sat here staring at the screen for a good half an hour. I want to write a blog post I really do, and it’s making me quite panicky that I can’t seem to find anything to say. I keep scheduling time in to write for my blog, but I suddenly find myself tidying the flat or watching the latest episode of Ru Paul’s Drag Race. I guess I’m trying to avoid this anxious feeling that nothing I have to say would be worth a read.

It’s an odd one really as I have a lot going on in my life at the minute, but I can’t seem to focus on one thing for long enough. I’m still making cards, baking, and generally making a mess so I have a creative outlet, but words don’t seem to be my friends at the minute.

Words are hard. Hopefully they’ll like me again soon.

One Zentangle a day – My 6 week challenge

I love learning new crafts. I always see something on Instagram or Pinterest and think ‘that looks great – I’ll have to try that’. One problem with this is that I’m a massive perfectionist, to the point that I’m often pretty mean to myself. If I start something new, I want it to be the best thing anyone has ever seen in the whole world after one try. I look at someone else’s work and if mine doesn’t compare, that’s it, there’s no point doing it anymore, let’s give up. This is far from ideal as I often can’t get past the feeling of not being good enough to actually improve. I seem to forget that I’m doing this for my own enjoyment, for a new hobby, and often comparing myself to people who have spent hours practicing and crafting something wonderful. Therefore when I got a Zentangle book structured as a one a day course, I thought it would be a good idea to challenge myself to actually learn something, and stick with it long enough to see if I like it. And this is what happened 🙂

The book I got as a birthday present last year is ‘One Zentangle a day’ by Beckah Krahula. The Idea of the book is to learn the new skill of Zentangle through fun and relaxing daily exercises. Each day introduces you to a new ‘tangle’ (pattern) and how to apply these to what you have learnt so far. To begin with it starts basic, which is exactly what someone who hadn’t really heard of Zentangle before needs. It introduces you to what pens and equipment to ideally use and how to divide your square of paper or ‘tile’ using a ‘thread’ (a line to divide up the square).Now obviously I’m not going to include all 42 or so drawings as that would be an incredibly long (and dull) post to read, but I thought it important to include my starting point and then various point a long the way.

Day 1After learning the initial three tangles and dividing up the square, this is tile became a combination of three tangles.

Day 3This shows an attempt at having a background and foreground, with the much darker black sections creating depth.

Day 7This is one week in and is the first one I remember thinking wasn’t terrible… which is progress for me! I particularly like the diamond shapes towards the right, which look a bit like they are coming out of the page. That’s the idea anyway.

Day 13I almost didn’t include this tile as this was around the point that I thought ‘I’m awful at this, what’s the point, I’m giving up’. It’s supposed to be an attempt at ‘deconstructing’ the pattern so it looks like loose threads at the edge, but I think it just looks a bit of a mess.

Day 17After a couple of grumpy, wanting to give up days, I scribbled this and was a bit smilier. Its quite chaotic and messy but I like that. Thank you brain for not giving up at this point 🙂

Day 20I could almost go as far as to say I like this one. I tried to make it look like a window. I think the pattern on the right side looks a bit like Christmas baubles but never mind.

Day 22Just over three weeks in, I haven’t given up yet and I have a new favourite. Maybe this Zentangle stuff is quite fun to do after all.

Day 27At this point I remember trying to overlap my tangles a lot more to bring the whole tile together. For this tile I thought of under the sea, I’m not sure why really.

Day 30

This was my first attempt at using a recognisable shape instead of a thread. I went far too heavy with the pen at the bottom but the patterns themselves enjoyed drawing.

Day 33‘Zendalas’ looked flipping terrifying when first glancing through the book but quickly became my favourite things to draw. This was my first dabble with Zendalas. I forgot to add any shading, but the shape itself is there and has provided a great starting point.

Day 34My second and proceeding attempts at Zendalas were far more enjoyable. This one is quite angular and spiky but they all vary so much even when starting with the same basic shape. At this point I started to post a couple on Instagram too so I was clearly feeling more confident.

Day 40At the end of the book I started to loose focus as I wasn’t so interested in using colour as instructed to in the final few pages. My challenge, my rules? Anyway, after a few days of Zendalas I thought I would start drawing whatever I felt like to finish the challenge.

Hopefully you can see from these glimpses taken roughly three days apart that some progress was made with my tangling (that’s what the proper people call it). More importantly though was that I didn’t stop. The structure of having a challenge seemed to push me through the point of giving up so that I could start to get the hang of it and actually enjoy myself. I got the most enjoyment out of the Zendalas and now often do these on cards for family and friends. It’s really difficult not to listen to the part of me telling myself I’m not good enough at it, but I’m glad I’m learning to push back against this anxiety a little. The regular practice makes me feel like I’ve actually learnt something new rather than just ‘having a go’. It’s something I now do regularly and hope to continue in the future. Until I find something new to distract me that is 🙂

Ten years – what on earth happened?

I’ve been seeing a lot of Twitter/Instagram/Facebook posts over the past two or three weeks from people finishing Uni or there A levels and getting ready for the summer. It is wonderful in its own way, but oh my word it makes me feel so bloody old! And with that, comes the inevitable – what on earth have I been doing with my life?

This time ten years ago I was finishing my first year of University. Honestly, I’d spent my entire first year second guessing why I was there. The course was exactly what I had wanted, but I constantly worried that I knew so little compared to those around me. I had made a couple of friends, but was mainly terrified of all the bigger boys and girls so felt very left out. I’d got involved in societies, but was so anxious at any event that I would generally drink far too much and sit and mumble in the corner. Every week ended with me thinking I’d have to drop out/change course/hide away for the rest of time.

Thankfully it got so much better. I finally started to make friends who were like me (and who still put up with my silly ways today :). I got used to what the course wanted from me and started to enjoy it – even to the point where I stayed on to do a Masters degree. The whole time though, I was trying to balance being a ‘normal student’ with being anxious of everyone and everything. I thought I’d got the hang of it to an extent, but then during my masters year I started to get ill. Then a bit more Ill. And then things really fell apart. The anxiety brought its friends depression and panic attacks, and I ended up having a nervous poorly-person breakdown.

This anxious,poorly mess all kicked off around 5-6 years and every day since then I have had to focus all my time and effort into trying to recover and move things forward. I’m writing all of this today because I constantly feel the need to defend myself, to put what happened to me in my twenties into perspective and try to remind myself that I am not failing. I am forever feeling guilty for not doing what a normal twenty-something would do – not hitting the marks that you are ‘supposed to’.

So when I get a message from an old friend out of the blue asking how I am – what the bloody hell am I supposed to say? I’m broadly fine? (Elis James and John robins quote there of course). Worse than that is the ‘what are you up to these days’? I am pretty open and honest about my mental health with my friends and family, but how am I supposed to answer someone I’ve not spoken to in months without lying or sounding disinterested in talking to them? ‘Well I went to the shop on the tram by myself today which was a big deal for my anxiety so I was very tired and came home and had a nap’… It really is difficult to hold on to the friendships that are still there, but only just. I really don’t know what is the best thing to do in this situation and how on earth to explain myself.

Nobody’s experiences throughout there twenties are the same, but when your life is essentially put on hold for you mental and/or physical health, it can be pretty hard to not feel like you are lagging behind. However, I know that the feeling you aren’t doing things right is not just a pressure for anxious people like me, but something that is felt by even my most sensible friends. It’s horrible to think that in some way you are getting it wrong.

So twenties are hard. I hope that all the people posting about finishing school/uni have a slightly more straightforward time then me but whatever happens I hope they don’t feel as guilty as I do about getting it wrong. Ah well, I’m 30 next year so I’m sure that will bring its own new set of worries! :/

My being brave plan.

Hello 🙂

I’ve been scribbling again. I’m trying to improve my fancy scribbling (or modern calligraphy if you’re an adult) and decided to combine it with my therapy.

I’ve had a number of not very helpful talking therapies in the past. However, one thing that did come out of a past session is how helpful I find things that are written down when I’m anxious. Like a note from past me 🙂 When I’m struggling with panic or general anxiety, I often find it difficult to focus my thoughts on what I need to get myself out of such an anxious headspace and do something to help myself. It’s one reason I really find it difficult to be on my own – I rely on the help of others to tell me what to do. When it was suggested I make a ‘crisis plan’ of numbers to call and things to do, I thought this was a really good idea but wanted to take this a step further. So this is my interpretation – ‘my being brave plan’.

I’m sure it’s not a new concept at all, but there’s something about having all of my help in front of me that can really move me forward. The individual sections are quite unique to me but it has different sections to set out what help I might need and is a general starting point.

The first section ‘things that might help’ is basically anything I ever need in an anxious or panic situation. I find what makes me feel better varies so much so setting it out into individual sections helps me focus what I need. Sometimes I need a quick walk, other times a cuddle with my giant cuddly cow (he’s called Mr Moo and he’s super soft). Sometimes a bath, other times listening to a podcast whilst I do puzzles. Having it written down in front of me means I’m not lost in thoughts thinking ‘what should I do’.

The second section is ‘things that don’t help’. This is not to try and be negative, but to be aware of things I might be doing which will make me feel worse. I know that when I panic I often try and solve every problem in my life immediately and try and make big plans. This section is just note to myself to pick up on when I’m doing this.

The next section is for me to write down words or phrases that I find positive and helpful.

The final two sections come from the crisis plan outline I was given. For me it involves listing helpful phone lines for really bad times, a list of friends I can message and a list of helpful websites. Obviously this section will be very varied from person to person but I’ve put a link to a few of my more general choices for contacts/websites below.

https://www.mind.org.uk/

https://www.samaritans.org/

https://themighty.com/

https://www.blurtitout.org/

The idea of writing everything down like this might seem completely pointless to you, and that’s fine, but for me it provides a little bit of clarity when my head is overwhelmed trying to work out how to make myself feel a little better. If you think it would be helpful please use this as a starting point and have fun scribbling and doodling knowing that you are helping future you.