Hiatus

I haven’t posted to my blog for a while, it’s a shame because I kind of got into a groove with it last year. I’ve been feeling quite depressed about my life and not knowing what to do, or how to cope with my anxiety.

Isn’t it strange that you can have all of the coping strategies in the world, but you still manage to forget them all when you’re struggling. I don’t know if that’s just a human thing or a ‘me’ thing. But today I’ve reassessed where I’m at and what I need to do to (try) and get out of my sadness.

I find that the act of walking is great for thinking things over and making decisions. I don’t know why – maybe it’s something from our hunter gatherer days… and when I got home I felt inspired to write a poem, which I haven’t done for ages. I didn’t really know what else to post so here it is:

The restless halls of my mind are spinning.

Weaving hope into existence.

With every footstep,

I tread towards a far-off goal,

It turns to dust when I’m alone.

But out in the shimmering world,

People are laughing and shapeshifting.

I try to peek at the pages of their stories.

I turn the key to my front door

The furniture is motionless as it was before,

Everything is as I left it.

Yet everything is changed.

Avoidance is my addiction!

We all have our coping mechanisms, and mine is avoidance. It’s a shame it works so well at the time – you don’t want to do a thing, so you avoid the thing and bingo! Anxiety relieved.

Last week I was supposed to be going to a local support group for a coffee and chat. I wanted to go, I really did, but as the date loomed closer, I started to feel fearful. I had a hairdresser’s appointment on the same day, which is another thing I’m not at all comfortable with. Although wearing a mask has made that a slightly more bearable experience, as I don’t have to sit and look at myself and try not to appear anxious.

My mind kicked in with its usual avoidant thoughts and I decided I couldn’t possibly do two things that made me anxious in one day, so I cancelled it. I felt guilty as I had to book my place and so I might have prevented someone else from going.

But that’s the awful thing about avoidance, you let people down or even end up lying about why you can’t attend something. I feel like I just can’t stop myself. It’s an addictive behaviour. I remember avoiding another past group – I was feeling increasingly anxious about being there, so I decided to stop going. This sudden euphoria came over me and I started hearing a happy song playing in my head as I practically skipped down the street!

I can only keep trying to tackle it, so I’m starting to do some graded exposure with my therapist. I hope that if I start small, I can begin to chip away at it. I have been feeling very sad though as I’ve been here so many times before. I would like to believe in myself and my capabilities, but as I keep repeating the same behaviour, I’m finding that hard. I will just have to keep reminding myself of things I’ve faced in the past.

I used the image of a rabbit for this post as it reminds me of myself, I’m always making a bolt for it!

Some thoughts on resilience

My brain is feeling like a load of goop at the moment, as I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been having a flare up of my misophonia and feeling rather stressed in general.

I feel claustrophobic at home and wish I could move somewhere with my own four walls (away from neighbours), which unfortunately isn’t an option at the moment. So instead, I’ve been keeping busy, but it’s a restless busy-ness. I still place quite a lot of value on what other people think and worry about being seen as lazy.

Feeling so low has caused me to question whether going to university is the right thing for me after all. I spoke to my therapist about it, and she questioned if it’s something I really want to do or something I feel I should do. Which is a difficult question for someone like me, who frequently changes their mind. I think it’s a bit of both.

At the core of everything, I’d like to be able to help other people, and be able to earn a living while doing it. And if I’m honest with myself, it will need to be on a part time basis to fit around my health. I think I’m going to aim to train as a counsellor instead, there’s an evening class ‘introduction to counselling’ that’s starting in September that I’d like to try.

Resilience

It’s good to have something to aim for. I’m trying to believe in myself instead of expecting anxiety to sabotage anything I ever try. It always comes back to resilience (which I don’t have a lot of!)

I’ve been reading a book called The Choice by Dr Edith Eger. Dr Eger is a holocaust survivor and was sent to Auschwitz at the age of 16 with her parents and sister. Her parents were immediately sent to the gas chamber, while she was told they were ‘going for a shower.’ Later, a guard callously points to a chimney and tells her that they’re burning there and she should get used to referring to them in the past tense. As you can imagine, she goes through hell and only narrowly survives her ordeal. I can’t get my head around such barbarity and my heart aches for the people who had to live through it.

Dr Eger is an incredible woman, and says she made it through those awful times by realising that no-one could take away the freedom she had in her mind. While she was imprisoned all of her energy was spent on surviving, and it was after she was liberated that the trauma and emotion kicked in. It sounds ridiculous, but I hadn’t considered what happened people after they were freed, and how they ever processed what had happened to them.

Feeling your emotions


A theme I’m finding crop up again and again in various books is the importance of recognising trauma in your body. Dr Eger found that she could only begin to process her experiences when she allowed herself to feel her emotions. She said by keeping her ordeal a secret it became another imprisonment. This is something I relate to, because I tend to supress my emotions a lot, sometimes without even realising it.

She immigrated to the US, where life wasn’t exactly plain sailing for her there either, but she went on to become a psychologist specialising in post-traumatic stress. She’s becoming a real hero of mine, and I highly recommend you check out The Choice, as well as some of her interviews which can be found on YouTube.

In no way am I comparing myself or my issues to hers (in her interviews she says neither does she with her patients, as all emotional suffering is still suffering), but she gives me hope that I have a bit of resilience in me to get through my own mental health struggles. I really would like to do some good in the world.

That was quite heavy, but I think there are a lot of important lessons in what she says, particularly to those of us who are going through tough times.

“We cannot choose to have a life free of hurt. But we can choose to be free, to escape the past, no matter what befalls us, and to embrace the possible.” Dr Edith Eger.


My experience with misophonia

Over the last ten years or so I’ve discovered that I’m intolerant to certain sounds. Sounds that other people might find a little annoying, can trigger a full-on flight or fight panic response in me.

Turns out this response to sound has a name: misophonia.

According to the website WebMD, “misophonia is a disorder in which certain sounds trigger emotional or physiological responses that some might perceive as unreasonable given the circumstance.”

Different people have different triggers, they might find chewing, breathing, tapping or even dogs barking provokes this reaction.

For me it centres on my home, as it’s somewhere that should feel safe and a place you can relax. My neighbours TV, them shouting and their dog barking triggers this sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I’m at home a lot, I mean we all are at the moment, so there’s no escape from the noise. If they decide to blare their TV for a couple of hours, there’s not much I can really do about it, as I don’t feel able to bring it up with them face to face.

My mental health has taken a nose-dive recently as they seem to have ramped up the amount of noise they are making, their TV is louder and sometimes they wake me up early in the morning with their shouting. I’ve spent the last month or so feeling on edge. I’ve bought some earplugs that do help me get a better night’s sleep, but I’m still finding things a struggle.

I’ve sought a bit of solace on an online support group. I read other people’s posts and feel grateful that my neighbours don’t throw parties that go on till the early hours, but still the panic is there. I think it’s awful that so many people don’t care about the impact they have on others.

I’ve been ruminating on whether my neighbours are trying to ‘send me a message’ that I’ve upset them in some way, but I suppose I won’t know unless I talk to them about it.

I’ve wanted to write a post for a while but haven’t been able to summon the energy for it, as my reaction to the noise has taken up a lot of energy. Would be interesting to hear if any of you can relate to this, or if you have ever lived next to noisy neighbours.

What’s been on my mind?

I’ve been feeling a bit low and unmotivated lately. I’m slowly completing the Journalism course (that I’ve lost all interest in), as I paid for it and would like to still complete it and gain my certificate. It hasn’t helped that my tutor has been harsh with his feedback – not very encouraging! Only two more assignments left, and then I’m done.

I’ve completely neglected my Instagram page, as I’m questioning my use of social media and if it’s a good way to spend my time. It’s so relentless that I can’t keep up. Even so my screen time is, frankly, horrific! I averaged about 6 hours a day in the last week. Some of that is from listening to podcasts, which I don’t mind too much, but I need to do less mindless scrolling. In a weird way, podcasts make me feel less lonely, and they’re good for learning new things.

It’s thanks to podcasts that I hear from lots of interesting, inspirational people. One person that comes to mind is Gelong Thubten, a buddhist monk who gave up his regular life at the age of 21 after having a breakdown and joined a Tibetan monastery in Scotland. Hearing him speak about mindfulness meditation and what it has done for him is very inspiring. After all the therapy I’ve had, acceptance and mindfulness make the most sense to me. It’s one of the few things that helps me come to terms with my anxiety.

I’m trying to focus on what’s truly important to me for now. I will get back into my blogging routine, but I might be a little quiet for a while.

I’ve you’ve read my other posts you might know that I enjoy an inspirational quote, so here’s one from Gelong Thubten:

“Meditation has given me a different view about happiness. You start to notice that you can make yourself happy and that it’s a moment-to-moment skill, rather than some huge achievement that happens when you get everything in your life right. It’s actually an inside work that is about making your mind strong.”

I need to stop trying to ‘fix’ people

I realised that when people talk to me about their problems, I end up trying to fix them. It comes from a good place, in that I just want to help them not feel sad anymore, but that might not be what they need. Maybe they just need someone to listen and witness how they feel.

Because it’s not like people don’t ever think about solving their own problems. It’s happened to me a lot in the past. I’ve had a family member tell me excitedly that they’d read an article in the paper about how CBT cures anxiety, and had I tried it? If only it were that easy! As much as the government wishes a short-term round of CBT was a wonder cure, for many of us it doesn’t really scratch the surface. But that’s another blog post altogether.

It makes me think about gender stereotypes too. Women are meant to be emotional and supposedly talk about their feelings just to share them. Whereas men only talk about things if there’s a problem to be solved. I don’t fit into that stereotype at all, I’m more of a strong silent woman!

It’s not to say I won’t ever give someone advice if they ask for it, but I’m going to try and make the effort to be more thoughtful in the future. Does the person just need someone to listen compassionately?

It’s not like I’m even talking to a great deal of people right now anyway! Lockdown is still trundling on and I don’t think I’ll be seeing much normality until at least April. I’m someone that copes pretty well on their own, but it’s even getting to me now. I need a new routine, or something different to happen! The UK has had one of the strictest lockdowns in the world and yet one of the worst death rates. I so wish the government had handled things differently. I won’t go on as it makes me feel angry!

I hope that wasn’t too much waffle, and that you’re all doing well.

Never try and fit a round peg in a square hole

As the title says, never try and fit a round peg in a square hole – it just doesn’t work!

I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. I’m not very good at knowing what I want to do with my life. I thought that perhaps writing was ‘the thing’ to do as a career, as it was something I could do from home.

But I don’t think it fits. I think I was just trying to force it, as it suited my life of being at home and not challenging my anxiety. I want to be out in the world. Don’t get me wrong, I love writing on my blog as a hobby, but as soon as I introduced the idea of it becoming a job it sucked the joy from it. Suddenly my blog wasn’t ‘good enough’ to be professional.

It’s not just the writing either, it’s the self-promotion you need to do on social media. I’m not a fan of the algorithms that insist you need to be posting constantly. It’s something which, to be frank, I hate.

Last week I had a bit of an epiphany. I love learning and I’m fascinated with Psychology and mental health, so I’ve decided I’ll do just that. I’m going to enrol onto a fast-track A-level so that I can apply to go to university in 2022 and study Counselling Psychology. It feels exciting! I made a decision, (which for someone as indecisive as me is an achievement), and I just want to go for it!

Not gonna lie, there are always going to be niggling (huge) worries about my mental and physical health, but I know I can access support to manage it, so I’m trying not to let that stop me.

I’m going to give my blog a makeover too. I’d like to write a bit more about chronic illness and share some of my poetry alongside my musings about anxiety and mental health. It feels nice to be excited, as I’ve spent such a long time being numb.

Small moments of happiness

I’m still plodding on with life but thought I’d share a nice experience I had. I went for a walk yesterday (everyone’s top lockdown activity) and had a moment when I stopped to appreciate my surroundings. It was a cold crisp day, and the sun was shining. As I walked along a tree-lined street, a dark cloud passed over and it started to snow gently. The sunlight ahead made the snowflakes sparkle, it was quite beautiful.

Even though it was a route I’d walked many times before, I still managed to see something new. I love it when quiet little moments like that pop up on my walks, whether that’s the beauty of nature or the times I see a cute little dog trotting along in its winter jacket. It makes up for the times I felt fed up with walking.

It reminded me of the self-help book Resilient, by Dr. Rick Hanson. In it, he suggests that when you’re feeling good or are enjoying yourself, that you should try and amplify it to embed it in your brain (or words to that effect!) – “Mental states become neural traits.” So that’s what I did on my walk, I tuned in and tried to ‘turn up the dial’ on my feelings of happiness and contentment.

It’s a lovely thing to do, as it’s all too easy to focus on feelings of boredom or frustration at the moment. We need all the happy moments we can get!

“Whatever positive facts you find, bring a mindful awareness to them—open up to them and let them affect you. It’s like sitting down to a banquet: don’t just look at it—dig in!” Dr. Rick Hanson

I’d love to hear from you, have you had any small moments of happiness that you’d like to share?

The best advice I’ve been given about social anxiety and avoidance

Everything in life involves other people. It’s just how we are as humans – social connections are important. It’s why I think social anxiety is so cruel, by avoiding what you fear, you avoid the ability to live your life.

Despite this, I have managed to reach out to others, even if it’s just been in a mental health setting like a support group. It’s always seemed easier that way, as I felt I would be understood by others who have their own mental health difficulties.

I was thinking about the advice people have given me over the years and thought it would be good to share it here. It really helped to give me a different perspective.

Quietness can be a powerful presence

The first lot of advice came from the 18 months I spent in group therapy. I usually took a back seat within the group and found myself listening to other people’s stories and I would occasionally chip in with advice.

I voiced my frustration in the group one day and said: “Sometimes it feels like no one would notice if I didn’t even show up as I just sit here without saying anything. I almost feel like a ghost.”

They assured me that wasn’t the case, as when I did speak, they noticed and valued what I was saying as it was often thoughtful. One person said they wondered what was going through my mind. The therapist added: “You might feel like your quietness makes you invisible, but it can actually be quite a powerful presence that is noticed when you’re absent. When you do speak up, people notice.”

It stuck with me as it shows that there is value in being quiet. Of course, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work on expressing yourself, but it’s fine if you’re not a chatterbox too!

You either avoid, or you don’t

Next came from the social anxiety support group I used to go to. I was talking to one guy about avoidance, and how we used it as our main coping mechanism. I said that I often overanalyse myself and think about how small my life has become as I avoid so much.

He replied that it didn’t have to be so complicated. At the end of the day each time your fear is triggered, avoiding it is a choice. You either avoid something, or you don’t. If you’re sick of avoiding things, then you can choose not to. He then started laughing and said: “one day the earth will be swallowed up by the sun, so it won’t matter anyway!”

I guess you could argue it’s a simplistic way of thinking, but I kind of like it. When something crops up now, I’ll think: “well, are you going to avoid it or not?” The key is to not beat yourself up about it. There will be times when you feel like you need to avoid, it’s a coping mechanism, just try to balance it with facing things too.

Many people feel socially anxious

Finally, I’ve noticed that most people will have some understanding of social anxiety. I’ve mentioned it to quite a few different people, that I’m shy and socially anxious – they probably noticed it for themselves. What surprised me was that they can often relate. I’ve lost count of the times where people told me they feel like that too, and that’s from people who you would never guess!

Social anxiety disorder is obviously different from being a bit shy, but I found it reassuring that people could understand where I was coming from. And it helped me frame it in my mind: social anxiety is normal. It makes it easier for me to accept.

So there you have it, I hope you found my examples helpful or thought provoking. What’s the best advice someone ever gave you?

Finding things difficult

I’m sorry if this post isn’t very useful or informative, I do try to put thought into what I write in the hope that it helps someone else, but today I just need to vent.

I’m finding this lockdown very difficult. It’s the second major ‘lockdown’ in the UK. I hate to say it, but the first time around it was a bit of a novelty. It gave me an excuse to stay at home without needing to challenge my anxiety, I spent a lot of time in the garden as it was spring, but now it just feels relentless, like there’s no end in sight.

Last year I had plans to socialise more, to try and get used to spending time around other people, and now I don’t know when that will happen. I know there’s always online socialising, but it just isn’t the same, and due to my living situation, I don’t have much privacy, so I feel uncomfortable about being overheard. I feel claustrophobic. My mom and all the neighbours are off work and are always around which bugs me. I struggle a bit with noise sensitivity, and TV noise, dogs barking, people shouting gets a bit wearing. I found myself browsing Rightmove (a property website), looking at detached houses that I can in no way afford, which as you can imagine, made me feel much worse!

I’ve been on lots of walks and while I now know my town very well, I’m sick of that too. I feel bad about moaning, as I know I’m very lucky that my mom and I have our health and a roof over our heads. I suppose I just need to keep plodding on, as when the summer comes around restrictions will be relaxed somewhat, and there may be more opportunities for me to get ‘out there’.

I’m starting to lapse into being disorganised again, it’s funny how old habits have a habit of sneaking up on you. I have bursts of energy, I’ll buzz around the house, getting different chores or hobbies done, and then I’ll crash. Fatigue is always lurking when I sit down to relax. I think I need to get a handle on it and start writing down a plan for each day.

I’ll leave it there for now. I just felt like I needed to write things down. I know I’m not the only person struggling with the current situation, so I’m sending love to anyone else finding things difficult too.