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!

 

 

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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.

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.

 

 

5-things to do when you’re struggling with your mental health

Having hit rock bottom (with a splat) several times in my life, I’ve built up an awareness of what does and doesn’t help my symptoms.  Now, before I share this list, I’m want to say: this stuff isn’t rocket science but in the middle of a mental health crisis getting out of bed is hard, let alone anything else. It’s also easy to dismiss small changes and activities that stuff that psychs/nurses/relatives tell us will help.

During one particularly bad call to my crisis team I remember being told to slow down and start breathing deeply. I wanted to scream down the phone:”Breathe?! WTF do you mean breathe?! Of course I’m bl**dy well breathing, I’d be dead if I wasn’t. I’m calling you because I feel like I want to die and the best advice you can give me is breathe?!”

As it was, I did the breathing exercise like I was told and after a couple of attempts felt much better. I still remember the name of the nurse who took my call, her nagging me to breathe made a world of difference. I’m not going to say if you get your breathing right your mental health problems will vanish, we all know it’s not like that.

So without further rambling, I give to you my list of 5 things to do when you’re struggling with your mental health:

1. Write it down: I’ve journaled for about 15 years now, my journal provides a safe space for me to vent but it also helps me track my mood and look for patterns in my behaviour. It also means I get to splurge on stationary (particularly stuff that’s shiny….I love shiny!). If you’re struggling to open up to loved ones or professionals about your feelings, show them your journal instead.

 

2. Exercise (at the right time and with the right type of activity): I do not enjoy sweating. I don’t like lycra. You won’t find me in the gym. BUT I love how I feel when those happy chemicals are floating around after an hour of dancing. There’s plenty of research about the benefits of exercise to help regulate our sleep patterns, reduce our stress and increase our energy levels. The key is finding what works for you, I don’t run anywhere but I love yoga and cycling. On the days that feels like too much, a 20 minute walk is enough to give me a boost. A word of caution- time your exercise well, during a particularly highly strung phase, my evening exercise class gave me such a buzz I was awake until well after 1am. The Royal College of Psychiatrists have a nice leaflet about exercise and its’ impact on mental health here.

 

3. Avoid excess alcohol: Yep you feel more relaxed after that first drink. Maybe you’re drinking a few drinks to get you off to sleep each night. But remember: alcohol is a depressant. It wipes out that happy chemical serotonin (which is also the chemical many antidepressants work on). So not only are you making yourself more depressed, you’re also making it more likely that your antidepressants won’t have the full effect. Drinking to excess also puts you at risk of making poor judgements calls by decreasing your inhibitions.

 

4. Use technology to help, not hinder your recovery.  I love the internet. I love being able to research, read the news and access support groups at the same time as stalking people I know on social media. I also like to go on pinterest and make boards about tattoos I will never have the guts to get and recipes I will never actually make. Social media can bring out the worst in us: never ending comparisons about people we haven’t seen since school (Wow, she looks so happy, her family are gorgeous, I’m so jealous of that car etc) or reading too much into situations (two of my friends went for coffee?! Why wasn’t I invited?! I’ve obviously upset them and they don’t want to be friends with me.)  Lets not forget the sleep destroying effects of blue light emitted from phones and tablets. At its’ worst tech leaves us overstimulated and anxious. Can’t take a break? Force yourself to let a loved one change your passwords for a week- the temptation is gone. Or make a firm decision to put the tech down an hour before bed so that blue light doesn’t impact on your sleep.

 

5. Do something to occupy your mind. Distraction is a useful tool and yet one that we struggle to use. When I’m low, an hour can feel like a week and I don’t always see the value of doing something to take my mind off things, I’d rather sit in my pyjamas and stare into space. Do something to take your mind off things: read a book, do some colouring in (I’ve got a swear word colouring book that I love, intricately colouring the worse Asshole with pencils always amuses me), walk, knit, paint your nails, do some puzzles, download a free mindfulness app and try one of the exercises. Even if you set a timer and do it for 10 minutes, just DO it. You’ll feel proud that you have and often when the timer goes off you’ll carry on with your activity. I love to read but when I’m a bit manic I can’t focus on the words so instead I like to bake cakes. When I’m down I watch Youtube videos of baby animals, also a good way of keeping little people amused if you have them.

 

What small things do you do to help look after yourself when you’re struggling with your mental health? What baby animals would you watch on YouTube (panda’s are my fave). Let me know by commenting or e-mail. Pictures of sparkly stationary are always welcome too!