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!

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.

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.

Forget resolutions – try personal themes for the New Year!

I have a love hate relationship with New Year’s Resolutions. I enjoy having goals to aim for, but dislike putting pressure on myself, because let’s be honest it’s easy to get carried away with a list of things that you want to change, but it isn’t always possible.

I’m someone who finds it hard to stick to a routine, particularly at the moment during Covid, where the rules of what we are and aren’t allowed to do keep changing. I live with my Mom, who usually works full time, but has been off recently for health reasons to keep herself safe – (we’ve just entered another lockdown as the cases are out of control in the UK.) So as I’m easily distracted, I have to adapt to her being around, and then again when she’s back at work.

I saw a post on Instagram which appealed to my scatterbrain. They suggested that instead of resolutions, you think of ‘themes’ that you would like to focus on. It’s easier to have some general aims in your mind, compared to the dreaded lists.

I decided my themes this year will be intention, health and connection.

Intention

I often get swept along by life, so I would like to try to live more intentionally. Instead of mindlessly scrolling on my phone, I’d like to do more of the things I find meaningful – which could be studying or simply enjoying my hobbies. Writing is one example. It can be hard for me to get into the flow, but when I do it’s a lot of fun and very rewarding.

Health

I’m pretty good at taking care of myself but having a chronic illness can make that difficult, and there’s definitely more I could be doing. I love the invigorated feeling I get after going for a walk, and I know it’s talked about a lot, but it really does help your mental health. (And let’s face it, walking is one of the few things we can do at the moment!)

Then there’s my nemesis… sugar. I have a fast metabolism so I’m usually hungry, and when I get hungry I snack on all of the sweet stuff. But then of course I get the inevitable energy crash afterwards which leaves me feeling rough. I’m not a fan of diets as I don’t think they work, but I’ll try to be more mindful of what I’m eating.

Connection

I think we’re all looking for this one. I don’t find it easy but I’m going to try and reach out to others a bit more this year. When the restrictions ease up, I’m going look for ways to meet other people. I’d planned to do this last year but any opportunity to do so in person was extremely limited. I can’t bring myself to socialise on Zoom as I find it painful having to watch myself on a screen. But if I can make a connection with at least one person then I’ll be happy.

I’m sure there’ll be plenty of times I won’t live by my themes, but that’s not the point. I want to take small steps towards where I want to be, and the beauty of it is there’s no pressure!

What would your themes for 2021 be?