The un-committed blogger and other guilt trips

Hey everyone,

I’ve been on a hiatus of late due to an eye problem which needed reduced screen time. Happy to say it’s a lot better now so I am hoping to pick up where I left off (that is, intermittently sharing my semi-coherent thoughts with total strangers). Ah the joy of over-sharing.

 

It’s Wednesday night, I’m wearing my Christmas Pyjamas (don’t judge, the rest are in the laundry) and I’ve just eaten a large bar of Fruit and Nut. Sometimes I think I’d like to video blog but that would involve (a) learning how to use the technology required and (b) making some more effort with my appearance (or at least putting a bra on under said pyjamas) which, after an entire day at work, isn’t going to happen.

 

If my blog were a school report, I’m pretty sure it would say “has potential but must try harder.” Thinking about it, you could say the same for many aspects of my life. Occasionally I become aware of my “failings” and resolve to address them, creating a vision of my end goal then breaking it down into small steps to help me realise the vision. Bonus points for creating a Pinterest board outlining the vision. This is what experts on time management tell us isn’t it? Small, achievable steps adding up to reaching a bigger goal.

 

I’m not about to say that goal setting is bad or that we should forget self improvement and aim for mediocre but I have to say that for the most part, my desire to improve is driven by guilt. And guilt isn’t actually a particularly powerful or healthy motivator. Guilt just leads to more guilt when you realise you can’t/no longer want to achieve a goal. Or (even worse) guilt motivates you, progress on achieving the vision begins but before you even reach half-way you’ve started planning what the next goal will be and then burn out and lose all motivation to do anything.

 

My current goals include learning to speak Spanish, planting a herb garden and blogging more regularly with the aim of making some real change to mental health care by reaching out with the blog. Wanna know which of these I am making progress with? None. I did make some progress with Spanish but as soon as I started to gain confidence I somehow ended up researching GCSE Spanish night classes and then lost interest because all I really wanted to do was learn how to order a gin and tonic.

 

I’m still not fluent in Spanish, the plant pots I bought for the herbs are still empty and the blog isn’t really changing anything at the moment! I’m still adding to my “To Do” list. This time though, I’ve giving myself permission to give up or lose interest. After all, if I achieve everything I want to achieve, I’ll only find more to do! I’ll be back (maybe soon) with more noncommittal blogging.

 

 

 

Condemned woman enjoys last (chocolate) meal a.k.a Dechox for British Heart Foundation

Some people like to run marathons, climb mountains or shave their heads for charity. Not my, I don’t run anywhere because when I do I look like Big Bird from Sesame Street (picture it in your mind, you’ll know what I mean), there are no mountains near where I live and quite honestly my hair is already quite short so shaving my head wouldn’t really be a big deal.

 

For this reason, I decided to channel my spirit animal (which is a sloth if you wondered) and raise money from the comfort of my sofa hence my decision to give up chocolate for the entire month of March.  To me British Heart Foundation are a charity who reach everyone in some way be it through promoting healthy lifestyle so we can look after our hearts or putting money into researching heart conditions in children. They’re a great organisation and I am proud to support them.  I decided that to do the challenge justice I should first have a gigantic chocolate binge on 28th February, you know, a final fling. 2 giant Cadbury bars were consumed and I felt satisfied and yet slightly nauseous.

 

It’s only day 1 and I’m tired and hormonal and thinking “why the f**k did you think this was a good idea?!”. I’ve also eaten 4 shortbread biscuits that my husband kindly bought me (so much for hoping I might lose some weight during this process!). I’ll keep you updated on my progress (and tell you how many people have been murdered in the process) and if you’re feeling generous please feel free to visit my JustGiving page to donate and a very very big thanks to those who have donated so far! I appreciate your faith in me!

 

 

The books that changed my life (And my mental health!)

I’ve been slacking a bit with my blog lately. Actually, I’ve been slacking in many aspects of my life as my energy levels are pretty low at the moment.

 

Moving swiftly on, you probably know that World Book Day is soon to be upon us (at least you’re probably thinking of what sort of character costumes you can dress your kids in for school with minimal money and effort!). I like to think of reading as my first love and I fully believe that if new book smell was a perfume, it’d be a best seller. So what better was to honour the day than by sharing with you the 5 books that have changed my life (and my mental health)?

 

  1. Counselling for Toads (Robert de Board): The classic childhood tale “The Wind In The Willows” is brought to life by author Robert de Board as we follow Toads’ journey through depressive illness and his therapeutic journey with a counsellor. This book is a staple on the reading list for many counselling courses (but designed for people like me with no knowledge of psychoanalysis) and was recommended to me by a close friend.  To call it a self-help booklet doesn’t do it justice and the concepts of transactional analysis explored in the book are insightful and at times, unnerving when you apply them to your own inner workings. I’ve scribbled pencil notes in the margins of my copy and referred to it many times. A short read that delivers food for thought.
  2. Far from the Madding Crowd (Thomas Hardy): Hardy is like marmite thanks to his long descriptive paragraphs, you’ll either love him or hate him. Far from the Madding Crowd isn’t as dark as Hardy’s other novels but follows his ongoing themes of love, tragedy and farming set in the fictional county of Wessex. I read it in 3 days and it’s one of the few books I’ve read since. Hardy was visionary in his portrayal of strong female lead characters (oh and if I have another girl, I might consider calling her Bathsheba).
  3. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Dummies (Rob Willson and Rena Branch): There’s a huge wealth of evidence behind the use of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) for treating a wide variety of mental health issues- from anxiety to anger. This book provides a toolkit which introduces the concepts of CBT and helps the reader work through various activities to challenge negative modes of thinking. I found the sections helping you to identify the causes you really care about very helpful when wandering out of that intense period of parenting that is the toddler years.
  4. The Total Money Makeover (Dave Ramsey): Save for emergencies, pay off your debt and have enough cash to give generously to the people and causes you care about. Ramsey’s approach to financial management uses a 7 step approach he calls the “Baby Steps” and has kick started my journey to responsible financial management (including getting rid of all my credit cards so I can’t spend recklessly during a hypomanic spree!). Look him up on YouTube to hear some of his epic rants or check out his website.
  5. The White Queen (Phillipa Gregory): Coming from Scotland, my knowledge of English history is incredibly limited. Gregory’s Tudor Court novels awakened a strong interest in history for me and shone light on the original strong women who tried to control their own destinies in a male dominated world. I’ve since read many (non-fiction) books on Tudor history and feel incredibly lucky to live close to many of the locations referenced by Gregory in her novels.

Which books would be in your top 5 life-changing reads? Have you read any of the books I’ve listed above? Please feel free to comment below.

Disclaimer: There are way more than 5 books that have changed my life but I assume you don’t have all night to read my thoughts about them!

 

 

The chicken and the egg: Fatigue and mental ill health

I’m full of the cold (again!), hubby has a chest infection and the little person isn’t well either. I’m so, so tired. Yesterday I had a nap and guess what- I’m still tired. I’m taking some pretty sedating medication but come on, I feel like I’m 62 not 32. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve put my kid to bed and woken up beside her several hours later still fully dressed, make-up smeared on my face and contact lenses still in. I’ve had enough.

 

According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, at any given time, 20% (1 in 5) of us feel unusually tired. Think of how many people you know, that’s a LOT of tiredness.

 

Tiredness (or fatigue) is a common symptom of depression however there are multiple other causes of tiredness including physical problems such as anaemia, coeliac disease and thyroid disorders. You can find more information about physical causes of tiredness here. Around two-thirds of people who see a GP for tiredness have an underlying physical or mental health disorder which may be contributing to their symptoms.

 

It’s impossible to break the cycle of constant tiredness without reflecting about how and when the tiredness started. When I try to pinpoint what came first, the depression or the tiredness it seems like a chicken and egg situation: my depression makes me tired and being constantly tired makes me feel depressed.  My tiredness (and that of many others) is likely due to several factors: work, stress, sedating medication, looking after small children and underlying depression.

 

Something that resonated with me was the concept of an activity roller-coaster. Going from intense, full on activity during the week to low activity at the weekend causes increased fatigue because you’ve put all your eggs in one basket then have nothing left at the end of the week leading to burnout. Whilst it’s only natural to want to push yourself and do more, trying to self-insure against the bad day that might come tomorrow by cramming in as much activity today creates unhealthy patterns. When the bad day inevitably comes, we blame our illness and start a cycle of negativity by thinking of all the things we aren’t doing today but should be (see, there’s that should word again).

 

So what is the answer? Are we doomed to live in a cycle of energy abundance followed by crashing lows of energy depletion? I sure hope not.  Careful planning of what activities to do on what day (seeing free time as time to be free, not time to do more housework), tweaking my medication regime (I’m slowly weaning off the sedating drugs**) and appreciating the need for rest even if I feel fine are my strategies to tackle the tiredness. That and the occasional bar of chocolate!

 

Got any tips for fighting tiredness? Please feel free to comment below.

 

** remember, adjusting your meds should only be done as part of an agreement between  you and the clinicians treating you.

The key to happiness is…

…low expectations and cutting out the word “should”.

 

I’m struggling with the motivation to write a blog post this week. In fact, I’m struggling to motivate myself to do anything that isn’t wearing pyjamas or eating carbs. I’m not alone, most people I know are sharing with me that they’re too tired/broke/fat/whatever to do anything right now. I should write a blog post, I should exercise, I should eat a meal that isn’t mostly sugar but you know what, I can’t be arsed.

 

If you’re still reading (congratulations, I promise this is going somewhere), I’m not about to offer you any great advice about how you can motivate yourself and there also won’t be any inspiring graphics about how if you drop your phone and smash it you don’t then take a hammer to it and break it properly, you pick it up and carry on (no shit, I’m bipolar, not completely lacking in fucking common sense). I am however going to tell you that the word “should” is a swear word and needs to be dropped from your vocabulary. I may even consider starting a campaign to remove it from the dictionary.

 

Several years ago, I was having weekly therapy sessions in a bid to sort out my slightly disastrous mental health. I was convinced that if I somehow discussed every tiny detail of my life, we’d find some small thing that started off the whole process of being mentally ill.  I’d fix it either by talking about it or inventing a machine to travel back in time and change my entire life history. Spoiler alert: neither of those things happened. I’m bipolar because, well, genetics/environment/all that stuff and I didn’t invent a time machine because I’m really crap at physics. What I did get from the experience was a hatred for the word “should”.

 

At the end of every therapy session, my counsellor would ask how I was going to spend the rest of my day. The answer tended to be the same on around 90% of occasions: “I should exercise, I should do some house work, I should do the ironing.”  Normally, she’d tell me to spend some time resting to get back into the right head space, wish me well and that we’d see each other next week. There was just one occasion when she challenged my list of “shoulds”. “Instead of saying SHOULD, you need to start saying COULD.”

 

I wasn’t sure I understood at first but she explained it like this, when you’re saying you SHOULD do something, you make it negative. You make it another item on your to do list and when you don’t do it, you give yourself a guilt trip. When you say COULD, you introduce the element of choice. You could do the housework, you could exercise or you could rest and drink tea. “Could” makes you feel like you have a choice as to how you spend your time and it also removes the prioritisation from the to do list. “Could” levels the playing field.

 

“Should” is what our parents/our boss/the government say when there is something they want us to do. Adults should exercise for 30 minutes at least 5 days a week. People who want to live longer should stop smoking. You should work overtime if you want that promotion. Now lets replace the should with could. Want some more energy? You could try exercising. Want to live longer? You could smoke or drink less. Want to further your career? You could do some overtime or you could spend your spare time developing your skills to get to the next goal. Alternatively you could do none of those things because you’re quite content with your lot and can’t really be bothered to change anything right now. Try cutting out the should for a week and see if it makes you feel more motivated (I also like to google de-motivational quotes to amuse myself in the knowledge that other people can’t be arsed today either).

 

As for me, right now I could read a book, I could unpack the dishwasher or I could have a snack. I think I’ll do all three…

 

A word of thanks: I’d like to say a huge “Thank you” to my friend Mark who provided me with the inspiration for today’s blog after hearing me complain that I didn’t feel motivated!

 

Resolutions in reverse: 5 small things for a happier, healthier 2018.

Happy New Year! You’ve survived Christmas, eaten your body weight in chocolate (well done- that’s an achievement) and drank more alcohol in the last month than in the other 11 months of the year combined. What better way to kick ourselves when we’re down than by making a long list of resolutions to change our lives for the better.

Thanks, but no. Not me. I’m so sick of making resolutions which see me either deprive myself (chocolate, looking at you…), rob me of my already stretched time (gym three times a week, nah, I’ll slob in my PJs after work instead) or are frankly unrealistic (declutter my entire house by January 31st…only if I divorce).

Instead of promises that’ll be forgotten by February 1st, this year I’m going to do 5 small things to help me feel happier and healthier. Tip: don’t do them all at once, you’re destined to fail that way! Choose one small thing you feel will make the most difference and start there.

5 small things for a happier, healthier 2018:

  1. Just add (2 cups of) water. I love tea, I drink gallons of it. On a work day my body is at least 75% tea. What I don’t love is dehydration: headaches, tiredness, poor concentration and dry skin. I’m not giving up tea but I’m adding in a glass of water first thing in the morning and one herbal tea after my evening meal. Bonus points for putting the glass of water beside your bed the night before so you don’t have to get of bed to fetch it in the morning. Rehydrate first thing, avoid headache later.
  2. Sort your outfit the night before. Morning. My least favourite time of day. Why didn’t I iron that top last night? Where are my work shoes? H lo reduce the morning rush by laying your outfit out the night before. Clothes, shoes, underwear, EVERYTHING! Looking like you’ve got your s**t together by arriving at work smart and polished: priceless.
  3. Pack a snack. If like me you get a food mood when you haven’t eaten for a few hours, it’s worth always having a snack in your bag. Low blood sugar is linked to anxiety and increases the chance of you having a panic attack. It’s hard to grab a healthy snack from the corner shop so instead take on me with you. Rice cakes, fruit, nuts, you name it. Pack it and bring on the smug!
  4. Take 15 minutes to do something you enjoy EVERY SINGLE DAY! I know, you’re cold/tired/bored/sad/busy and can’t possibly fit anything else in. Making time to do something you enjoy resets you mentally and boosts your self esteem. Here’s the best bit, it doesn’t NEED to be healthy. Wanna spend 15 minutes drinking tea and eating biscuits? Do it! Fancy a 15 minute phone call to your bestie while drinking a small glass of wine? Go for it! How about 15 minutes to read a chapter of that really trashy novel whilst wearing your PJs? Nice! Do something for you every single day. Not only will you enjoy it at the time, you’ll also have something to look forward too when your day isn’t going so well. And of course if you DO decide to do something healthy for 15 minutes (power walk, meditate, eat an entire bowl of fruit) I won’t judge you.
  5. Say no. Small, powerful, a complete sentence. “No” might well be the most underused word in the English language. Unless you have toddlers of course. That small word can make a big difference to your life if you tend to take on too much and end up overstretched. I do, especially at work. “Can you just…?”  Or “While I’m here…” No. No, no, no and no again. I’m an adult and I’m responsible for my emotional and physical wellbeing. If I’m already stressed and doing one extra thing is going to make my day even worse then I’m gonna say no. And maybe if you start saying no to some stuff it frees up time to say yes to stuff you actually WANT to do!

I hope you’ve enjoyed my resolutions in reverse. Like I said earlier I don’t believe we should kick ourselves when we’re down so choosing the darkest, coldest and poorest month of the year to launch into a programme of reinvention is never going to work. Like the story, the tortoise wins every time.

The Unwanted Christmas Gift

No, it’s not socks, you’re going to have to read on.

Here I was, sitting in a small consultation room whilst the psych took notes. It had taken 4 months just to get this “emergency” appointment and like many much-anticipated events there was relief that finally it was happening.

The psych eyed me from her chair, a petite woman who spoke calmly and quietly. She seemed nice. Still, I was terrified of her. I hadn’t actually met her before today’s appointment which added to my awkwardness. Thankfully, she “had already read all the notes” sparing me some of the gory details.

I only had two questions: what is wrong with me? how are we going to fix it?

“You have bipolar disorder.” It wasn’t unexpected but I still burst into tears. It had taken a year to get this diagnosis, lots of watching and waiting for me to become ill again so the psych team could see my symptoms first hand and decide what the hell was wrong with me.

It was a chain of out of character behaviours and events that led to bipolar first being mentioned. I’d felt like I was “flying”, over my depression and making up for lost time. Yeah I got over excited at times but thought of it as a good spell away from the crushing lows of a major depressive episode.

My husband would say I was “on one” when the early exercise sessions, overcommitting myself at work, not eating and sleeping for only a couple of hours at night happened. I’d spend more than usual (including buying a box of Emma Bridgewater mugs in what may be the most middle-class hypo manic episode ever), be louder, drink more and flirt more than usual (my normal social anxiety would be replaced with a ride or die party girl). Hypomanic me was fun. More confident, more creative, more productive than ordinary me.

Of course, there was a flip side. I’d burn myself out to the point of exhaustion then end up in bed for a week after pushing myself to the limit mentally and physically. The first hypomanic week felt great but as it rolled on I’d get anxious, paranoid and demanding, afraid of my excess energy and that I would end up doing something stupid like buying the Mercedes I’d been eyeing up for ages. For the most part, I was able to curb my behaviour at times, surrendering my credit cards to my long-suffering hubby and taking the pills the GP prescribed to make sure I got a few hours of rest at night. During the times I couldn’t curb my behaviour, the feelings of shame and guilt about my actions and behaviours added to the inevitable low after the fall, fuelling a negative cycle of hate and depression.

What a shitty Christmas gift I thought. Although we knew what it was, it wasn’t so easy to decide what we were going to do about it. The goal (apparently), is to avoid hypomania for as long as possible. The more episodes of hypomania, the worse the prognosis that things could progress to a full blown manic episode. Right now, I think bipolar could be the gift that keeps on giving and not necessarily in a good way.

Christmas a.k.a how to relapse in 24 hours

What are your plans for Boxing Day? Roll out of bed to eat leftover Quality Street whilst watching a boxed set? Hitting the sales for some bargains that maybe you don’t really need?

I’ve decided to blog today because I need to talk about how one day of excess can trigger a serious mental health relapse. Every year I think “It’s just one day, I’ve got this, I don’t need to stick to the rules.”

So instead of sticking to a routine, eating well, moderating my alcohol intake and doing some exercise, the day tends to unfold like this:

Get up at ungodly hour with excited child and slight headache after having too many gin and tonics the night before.

Skip breakfast, crack open a bottle of something bubbly around lunch time.  Extra points for drinking in ridiculously hot kitchen prepping lunch so dehydrate quicker.

Eat huge Christmas dinner, washed down with more fizz and some wine too. Screw sleep pattern by having  ridiculously long nap in the middle of the bloody day.

Get up in the early evening, not hungry but squeeze in some Quality Street/leftover roast potatoes/cheese and biscuits. Put a film on, crack open some gin, get tipsy and chattier than usual and reward self with another few drinks, go to bed at ridiculously small hours of the morning, sleep badly because you have heartburn and slept too long during the day.

Bonus points for: making a mental list of ways you’ve messed up previous Christmases/missing relatives who are no longer with is/looking at social media and berating self because everyone else seems to have their shit together.

So although I thoroughly enjoyed spending time with my family, eating gorgeous food and sampling some of the amazing gins I was gifted, today I need to be a little more responsible and manage myself better. That means eating regularly, not drinking today, going for a gentle walk and remembering that one day doesn’t have to start a downward trajectory.

Can someone remind me of this post on December 24th next year?!

Sunday Funday?

It’s Sunday! Instagram says it’s #sundayfunday, facebook shows all of your friends out with their kids, doing Parkrun** or watching sport. What if Sunday isn’t such a Funday after all?  Sunday can mean a sleepless night worrying about work, thinking about all the stuff you didn’t do this weekend.  The ironing isn’t done, we can’t eat at the dining table because it’s buried under paper and my kid hasn’t brushed her hair since Friday. I’m a failure at life- waaaaah!

 

This cycle of negative thinking is easy to fall into but much harder to climb out of. When the negative self talk starts, it’s tempting to plan how you’re going to get out of that cycle and achieve all those things you didn’t get done. This is not the time to start a project. No planning how you’re going to lose the extra stone in weight, land a job you love and get rich all whilst looking gorgeous and being hilariously funny.  I’ve spent so many hours scheming how I’m going to get there. How I can improve myself so that when I reach all of these (frankly unachievable) goals, my mental health issues will magically disappear and I can sail off somewhere hot on a super-yacht whilst sipping a large cocktail. If I could just push myself a bit harder, work a little harder, stay up a bit later then surely I could achieve everything I want and more?! What really happens is that I set a series of unachievable goals, fall at the first hurdle and the negative talk becomes a shout.

 

Somewhere down the line, you have to hit the stop button. The quest to “have it all” or “reach perfection” is damaging and unsustainable. I’ve identified that (for me) perfection is the enemy but how can we stop it? Ironically I sometimes feel completely paralysed because I know if I *start* something, I’ll have to do it perfectly. Sometimes it’s easier just not to start. Procrastination means I don’t have to face imperfection. I’m going to write more about this in the coming weeks as I attempt to find a way to let go of my deeply ingrained perfectionist tendencies and embrace the middle ground.

 

So instead of worrying about what you haven’t done and planning how you’re going to take over the world, take your finger off the button and have a Sunday Funday.  Do something small to care for yourself and start your week the right way.  My ideal Sunday Funday involves fun with my family then sitting down on the sofa (probably in PJs), with a blanket covering me and reading a really good book. Tell me a little about yours?

 

**I’m sure other runs are available, I wouldn’t know as I never run anywhere.

 

 

Happy World Mental Health Day (and a rant about mental health in the workplace)

Happy World Mental Health Day 2017. I’m slightly grumpy as I wrote a nice long post then my internet broke, also I’m still receiving random parcels following a hypomanic episode last week which almost certainly means a very large credit card bill! Seriously, WTF did I even order?!

 

Anyway, moving swiftly on, the theme for World Mental Health Day 2017 is mental health in the workplace. A sensible choice given that $1 trillion is lost every year from the economy due to mental illness. I’ve been on the receiving end of some pretty poor treatment at work due to my mental health (ex-manager who told me I just “needed to pull myself out of it”, I’m looking at you).  I’ve also had some wonderful employers and colleagues who’ve done kind things like invite me in for coffee (just so I don’t feel excluded from the team, no work related chat allowed), sent me cards and helped me with a gradual return to work rather than going all in and risking relapse.

 

Working full time in a demanding job isn’t always great for my mental health and there’s certainly frustration on my part that I can’t put in as many hours as my colleagues (I try to take a lunch break each day- even just 10 minutes and try and leave work within 20 minutes of my official finish time). Yes there are times when I go home and straight to bed, or avoid opening my emails because anxiety girl decides there is bound to be a message from my boss telling me I messed something up/forgot to attend a meeting/am fired, despite no evidence of any of these things!

 

Like physical illness, mental illness reduces my resilience so I have to take it easy to avoid the merry go round of getting better vs. burning out again. For me, work by far outweighs staying at home, I need the human interaction, I need to challenge my brain, I need the structure of being somewhere for 9 hours a day otherwise I’d get lost in a sea of spending my days in pyjamas and probably drinking endless cups of tea (who am I kidding, I DO drink endless cups of tea).

 

One thing is for sure, opening up to my colleagues about my mental health problems has largely been a positive experience. Sometimes people will tell me their own experiences, or offer me words of support. What helps most for me is when people ask me how they should respond to my mental health issues rather than avoiding the subject during conversation. It lets me joke about it (not always politically correct but I don’t mind calling myself crazy, the problem is when words are used with a negative implication), or when someone asks if I’m tired, allowing me to own up and say “Yeah, shit nights sleep as my anxiety is bad” makes a huge different because putting up a front is tough work.

 

So here’s to happy, fulfilled, healthy work! Keep talking and take care of each other.