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.

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.

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.

Anxiety warriors

I’m all for being a strong woman, but battling anxiety is a concept that I need to let go of. There’s a lot of talk in the mental health community about being a ‘warrior’, which is kind of cool, (I’m picturing myself wearing Vikings-style makeup and waving an axe around,) but sometimes fighting can be counterproductive.

Because let’s face it, these warrior battles take up a lot of energy, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t have much of that right now. Instead of charging into battle, try to put down your weapons and let anxiety do its thing. Observe how it feels and notice the thoughts going through your mind. There is a lot of power in accepting things as they are.

You can still be a badass warrior, but pick your battles. Consider when it’s a good idea to push yourself and when to retreat. It can be frustrating, because I forget this all the time and fall back into bad habits.

I started overthinking. I was wrapped up in worries about the third lockdown currently underway here in England. How would I manage the next few months without going anywhere or seeing anyone?

But I realised that I’m thinking too far ahead, my inner warrior is pacing for battle, when what I need to do is focus on the here and now. So that’s what I’d suggest to anyone reading this – take life one day at a time. Sharpening your axe in preparation for a fight may feel productive, but it takes away from the many good things in the present moment.

Keeping with the theme of Vikings, I was looking at some Norse proverbs and quite liked these:

The unwise man is awake all night, and ponders everything over; when morning comes he is weary in mind, and all is a burden as ever.  

Poetic Edda

Not every cloud which darkens the day brings rain.

Heitharvega Saga, c.7

How to stop being your own worst critic

I’ve been thinking a lot about self-image and how I give my more ‘negative’ traits more attention than the positive ones.

What is seen as negative will vary from one person to the next, some of us struggle with body image, and others might be critical about aspects of their personality. I know I get very preoccupied about how I’m coming across to others, I worry that I’m too quiet, or too anxious, which then makes me feel more anxious! It’s easy for these thoughts to spiral and before you know it, you’re making absolute judgements about yourself.

Stop assigning meaning to the judgements

This leads you to believe things that are exaggerated or distorted. Dr Ronald Alexander wrote in Psychology Today: “The object is to stop assigning meaning to these self-judgments, because once you start to give them weight, they begin to weigh you down… Often, the rational mind will string together a series of distortions. Instead of simply noticing “I am shy,” the mind will generate the thought, “I’m shy, which is why I’ll never find a romantic partner; my shyness makes me unattractive.” https://bit.ly/39vWNlp

This is a pattern that I’m noticing a lot; I attach meaning to all kinds of things. I feel anxious so that means I’m going to lose the plot and end up making a fool of myself. My neighbour didn’t say hi to me today, it’s because he dislikes me and doesn’t want to talk to me. It makes me feel so much worse!

It’s not about lying to yourself either, but simply seeing things for what they are. For example, I’m a socially awkward person, and I could try and tell myself that isn’t true, but I wouldn’t believe it. Because it is true, and there’s nothing wrong with that! Using mindfulness techniques is a good way of gaining some distance from your thoughts, and hopefully making it less likely that you’ll jump to the judgements.

Spoiler alert, I have loads of things to offer the world – and so do you

Instead of judging myself, I wrote a list of everything positive I have to offer other people. It’s a good exercise for anyone that struggles with self-judgement and I highly recommend it. It can be anything, examples of situations that you felt you handled well, what you like about how you look, things you appreciate about your personality. You might be surprised at what comes up.

Journaling for anxiety

Does it ever feel like the universe is trying to tell you something? My counsellor told me about the benefits of journaling, and then a Youtuber I follow said how much it helps his mental health, followed by a lot of mentions on Instagram too, so I thought OK universe I’ll start writing!

I used to journal last year, but I gave up with it as I often do with these things, so I’m hoping to be more dedicated this time. I write on my laptop, which might not be as romantic as writing by hand in pretty notebooks, but I don’t have to worry about anyone else reading my secrets! I used to have a hand-written diary from my teen years, which I decided to shred as it made me cringe. (Think lots of wittering on about my crushes)!

Get your worries out of your head

If you’re a worrier then you’ll know all about the thoughts going around and around in your brain. It’s exhausting. Writing your worries down is great because it puts them into perspective and allows you to challenge your way of thinking.

I have a fear of losing control, so if I have a trigger come up – like not being able to sleep and then panicking that I’ll make myself ill, I write it down and rationalise what will actually happen. Yes, it might feel unpleasant, but I always settle down into a better sleep pattern eventually and start to feel better.

Express how you feel

I’m a very introverted person that tends to bottle up my emotions. Sometimes I don’t even realise I’m doing it. I’ll have people remark that I seem so calm and laid back… (Thanks, poker face!) So, for me there’s nothing more cathartic than to have a bit of a sweary rant in my journal, complete with CAPS LOCK and exclamation marks!! I’ll reassure myself sometimes too, it’s quite nice to take it as an opportunity to be a friend to yourself, as I know many of us don’t have people that we can open up to.

Life goals

Your journal can also be a good place to keep track of your life and where you want to be. I often write down things I want to remember – affirmations, coping thoughts and strategies. “I do not base my self-worth on the opinions of others,” is a good one. And you can keep track of what you’ve written and see how things have changed.

Some people like to journal before they go to bed, as they find it helps them get out their worries before they sleep. I like to write each day whenever I feel like it. That’s what’s so good about it, it’s your free space to write whatever you like, whenever you like.

Three things I wish I knew about anxiety when I was younger

Medication isn’t a quick fix or a cure

I know that medication can be a controversial subject, and I go back and forth about whether I’d like to give it another try myself. It doesn’t help that my first experience wasn’t great. I was only 17 when I first went to my doctor about my anxiety – he immediately put me on antidepressants and diazepam! He told me that everything would be great, and my family would notice a big change in me. But that just wasn’t the case, I didn’t feel much different and the diazepam just made me dizzy, so I came off them after a couple of months.

Now the doctor was obviously at fault as he gave the impression that the medication would ‘cure’ me. They aren’t a quick fix or a cure, but they do help a lot of people, so it’s really down to the individual. If you think they could be a part of your recovery, try to manage your expectations and do your own research. Don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor about any concerns or questions you may have.

Therapy might not work the first time around

To get the most from therapy, it depends on a few factors:

Are you mentally in a place where you can open up and practice the techniques you’re learning? Are you and your therapist a good fit? Is the therapy itself right for you?

I once had a counsellor that I just didn’t get on with from the start. When I told her I’d already had a lot of therapy, she seemed pretty annoyed by this and said “what do you want me to say that’s any different” and “you shouldn’t be using up these resources,” which made me cry!

Please don’t be put off by this though! I’ve had some wonderful, knowledgeable therapists who I’ve made a lot if progress with. So, don’t despair if things aren’t quite right the first time round, you can request to see another person or try a different type of therapy that suits you better.

There’s no shame whatsoever if you need ongoing support. You do what you have to do to feel better – if you’ve been suffering for years then it stands to reason that it will take time to heal.

There are more people out there with anxiety than you think

When I was younger, I thought I was weird for having anxiety. I’d shake on my way to college and feel sick. I just didn’t understand what was happening to me. But I wasn’t alone, as so many young people experience anxiety, it’s just knowing where to find them as not everyone feels able to talk about it.

I think it’s brilliant that here’s so much more support and awareness out there now than when I was a teen. You don’t have to isolate yourself, reach out to support groups, online communities or anxiety charities. There have been times when being around people was the last thing I wanted, but it ended up being the best possible thing for me. When I first spoke to another social anxiety sufferer at a support group it was an incredible feeling – there were people who understood exactly how I felt. I wasn’t so weird after all.

Do you need to keep searching for a ‘cure’ for anxiety?

I love solving problems. If there’s ever something bothering me health-wise, or if there’s a thing that needs fixing, I’m straight onto google. I research the problem and all its possible solutions so I can formulate a plan. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t always a bad thing, as it means I’m proactive and end up learning a lot of information about the most random things! But sometimes the research can go too far.

It comes to a point where whatever you learn, it never feels like enough. The buzz of looking for answers, the quest for that nugget of wisdom that will fix your life, can actually distract you from the important knowledge you already have. Sometimes you need to stop the search and put what you know into practice and give it time! There’s always another self-help book or breathing technique out there to try if you feel your current routine isn’t working.

The true wisdom is in taking time to digest the information, being present, and using it. It’s an important lesson that I’m only just putting into practice myself. I think a part of me will always feel restless, so I need to reign it in to be satisfied with my life. After all, we live in a society that gives us the message that ‘more’ will make us happy. More stuff that we don’t need, more friends, more money. So I’m taking this opportunity to say no – less is more!

Take the time to think about what you already know, slow yourself down and sit with it for a while. I never really realised this before but the search is exhausting. It inhabits a large part of your mind and attention, so it feels great to just let it go. I’ve got my plan now, and although it’s hard and takes effort to put it into practice, that’s what makes it so worthwhile.

“Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” Oprah Winfrey