It’s been a while since I’ve written a post just about me and what’s going on inside my head, so I thought I’d write one. Actually, that’s a lie. I’m not writing this because everyone needs an update, I’m writing this because doing so would get a lot off my chest. I’m burning out and fighting back, sort of.
I’ve had a tough couple of months. May in particular was hard. I’ve been working over the last few years to be less anxious and less depressed and for the most part I was going ok. There has been the odd bump in the road, but returning to my self care routine and fighting everything usually pulls me out of the hole.
May has been hard. I’ve been suffering from burnout. The boy was ill for nearly two months and the worry and stress took its toll. I work hard, probably too hard and I’m never off from work. I start early in the mornings and work till late at night and take little time for myself. There are a few other things going on too, but essentially I’ve been suffering from emotional and physical burnout. I’m spinning too many plates, struggling to keep up and it’s taking its toll.
The boys went away for a weekend and gave me a little bit of space, but it boiled down to two short evenings. It wasn’t enough but I missed them loads; proving that I’m complicated if nothing else.
My anxiety has been through the roof, I’ve been angry at everything and everyone, I’m easily upset and oversensitive. I’ve tried to hide it all, but sometimes it spills out and without meaning to I upset people. I hate upsetting people and it just starts a weird shame, self-critical, low self esteem hate spiral which is hell on earth to get out of.
Right now I seem like a happy and normal mum. Inside there’s all that shame, self criticism, low self esteem, hateful stuff I mentioned earlier. I hate that the careless words of strangers, or indeed of loved ones can have such an impact on me. My self esteem and self worth is an easily bruised peach and I’m feeling quite bruised and battered right now.
There’s no major plan for getting me back on an even keel. I know I need to not work as much and to take time out for myself sometimes. I know I need to look after myself more. Yes, I know I could probably do with some kind of digital detox, but that’s hard when the majority of your friends are based on twitter and you don’t want to feel more cut off than you already do.
It’s half term and we don’t have any major plans; go to the park, bake cakes, make crafts, watch telly, be excellent to one another. I’m trying not to stress, I’m trying not to let my anxiety personally attack me. I’m trying not to hit full burn out again. But I’m not well. I’m ok but I’m not well. I just need a regular afternoon off, a spa day, time with friends, time where my brain can switch off from everything and time to love and laugh again. Is that too much to ask?
Having an anxiety disorder I try to manage it myself. I personally don’t like myself on medication, but I absolutely don’t judge anyone who benefits from it. Different strokes for different folks and all that. What I am very keen on is self care.
I’ve had a lot of therapy and one common thing which has come up is that I understand myself, my problems and my triggers really, really well, which is great when it comes to managing myself more effectively. Understanding and recognising when things are going to start to slide is a big help, and once they do I have a whole raft of self care tricks up my sleeve. They don’t always work, but nine times out of ten I can head an episode of anxiety off at the pass these days.
There are five recognised areas of self care, these are –
Physical – sleep, food, exercise, medication etc
Spiritual – meditation, prayer, forgiveness
Lifestyle – routine, relaxation, time in nature, setting goals
People support – family, friends, therapist, church, support group
Emotional self care – positive thoughts, writing it out, dealing with and processing emotions such as grief.
28 Self Care habits to stop anxiety in its tracks
Ask someone for help. People you love will almost always want to help you, or at least hold your hand a little.
Bake something from scratch that will make you focus on the process of baking. Most baking or cooking from scratch is process driven and needs a little concentration and consideration, it’ll occupy and distract you and you’ll have a cake to eat and share afterwards.
Be in nature, go for a walk and enjoy the fresh air and gentle exercise. Try to find beautiful things to admire, like blossom on the trees, small flowers or fluffy clouds in the blue sky. Take notice of things.
Buy some flowers. Treat yourself to a bunch of your favourite blooms. They don’t have to be expensive. Right now I have a very cheery bunch of daffodils in a jug which smell fantastic and brighten up my home.
Cuddle a human. If you have a human to cuddle, a partner, a child, a parent, a friend, cuddling them can help soothe you. A therapist once told me if you hug someone and your heart is pressed against theirs, the hug has extra love and soothing power. I’ve tried it and I think she might have been right. If you can’t find a human, a cat or dog will be just as good.
Declutter. This has two benefits, you get a tidy house and the act of physically doing something and focusing on the task is great. My anxiety means that over the last few months, my drawers and cupboards have had a lot of attention and it’s quite pleasing to live with some order and no chaos.
Do something you’ve been putting off – grasp the nettle. Sometimes my anxiety is around something I need to do that causes me anxiety. It might be replying to an email or making a phone call, or just tackling something I don’t know how or where to start. Just finding the nerve to just do it can take the anxiety away.
Gardening – getting out in the fresh air is almost always good, digging, planting and creating a nice spot for you to sit in the garden with a cup of tea is never a waste of time.
Get crafting. This is something you can do at home. During a very bad spell a few years ago I took up cross stitch which was great, it really focused me on something other than the inside of my head. I’ve now joined a monthly craft club and sitting for a few hours and working on creating something new gives me one evening a month which I know will be anxiety free.
Go out with friends. Anxiety can make you feel really isolated and alone. Meeting friends for a quick coffee, or going for a night out will help to remind you of the good people around you. Surround yourself with good people if you can, they can make such a difference to you.
Go to bed early. Insomnia, poor sleep patterns and anxiety go hand in hand. Sometimes when I’m anxious I won’t sleep a wink for days. Sometimes all I want to do is sleep. If you can sleep, then an early night and stocking up on a bit of precious rest can help.
Go to the seaside. I find being near water very restful. I live by the river, so a walk by the river can help soothe me, a lake is good too, but a walk on the beach, even a blowy wintery beach really calms the mind.
Have a bubble bath. Wind down with a warm bubble bath, light candles and create a restful atmosphere. Close your eyes and relax, or take a good book in with you to keep you company.
Listen to music. Music for most people has the ability to lift moods and put a spring in your step. I find some music empowering, some comforting, some makes me happy and some makes me sad. Make a playlist of your favourite songs and listen to them when you need a mood lift.
Make a plan. Having something to look forward to, be it something big like a holiday, or something small like a night out with friends, can give my chaotic mind something to focus on. Having something I really want to do on the horizon can give me something to focus on and aim for.
Meditate. Meditation, breathing exercises, yoga, all of that can help you clear your mind and give you some respite from the constant chatter of anxiety. Look on YouTube, download an app or join a class. There will be something out there that will suit you and help you find a bit of inner calm.
Mindful colouring can be great for adults. Mindful colouring books and magazines are widely available and when my mind is really racing, sitting down for an hour and focusing on colouring in can take my anxiety down a notch or two.
Pamper yourself. Give yourself a manicure, pop on a face mask or book yourself in to a salon for a treatment. It’s easy to neglect yourself, especially if you’re feeling negative about yourself. Giving yourself a little pamper can make you feel a bit brighter about things. If I’m down I will dye my hair a cheery colour and it makes me feel a bit less grey and dowdy.
Remove toxic relationships/people from your life. If someone is having a negative impact on you and your life, then you need to start taking steps to remove them from your life, or minimise contact with them. These people are often the trigger for anxiety and removing the trigger can make a huge difference to your long-term mental health.
Say no. If you find yourself saying yes to people or things because you don’t want to let people down or disappoint them, but really you’d much rather say no. Maybe you need to look at why you’re saying yes and what you are getting out of the situation. Maybe it’s ok for you to say no to a few things. It really is ok for you to put yourself first sometimes.
Sing. You don’t have to get on stage and sing, you can sing in the shower, or in a choir, or at church or a concert. Sing along to your favourite songs, let yourself go and sing, sing, sing. You’ll feel better for belting out a tune.
Change your routine. If you can shake up your routine a bit, do. Walk a different route to work. Do something different during your lunch break. Take an afternoon off and go to a gallery, walk in the park. Find something you’d not normally watch on TV that someone has recommended and give it a try. Step out from what you’d normally do and try something a bit different.
Take a social media break / digital detox. I find at times social media can be a bit overwhelming. If it’s not the contact messages, it’s checking likes, it’s feeling bad about the number of likes, and it’s comparing myself to other people and feeling inadequate. Stepping away for a day, a week or forever can be a really healthy thing to do. Sometimes when it all gets too much I delete the apps on my phone rather than deleting the account. That way I can access things if I want to, but they’re not there on my phone, throwing up notifications and vying for my attention. Stepping away for a few days can help to refocus me on the important things in my life and just gives me space.
Turn off your phone. Being available 24 hours a day is all very well and good, but there are certain times when the phone needs to be turned off or put away. Family mealtimes are a time to focus on each other. I try not to use my phone on the school run, so I can fully focus on my son and what he has to say. Turn it off an hour or so before bed and give yourself time to disconnect before bed. Plus it’ll help you wind down for sleep too!
Watch TV or a film. Turning you mind off and watching something that really interests you for a few hours is great self care. Watching a favourite film can be as comforting as putting on an old pair of slippers. Think about what your favourite film is, which film always makes you feel warm and fuzzy, or helps you process feelings of anger. Which film puts you in your happy place? Dig out the DVD, grab some popcorn and treat yourself.
Wear comfortable comforting clothes. I have some clothes in my wardrobe which make me feel better for wearing them; an especially snuggly cardigan, a nice pair of pyjamas or a special jumper. Equally, I have clothes I wear when I need to feel confident. Clothes maketh the man (or woman), so if you need to, dig out your snuggly cardigan, or your uber-confident jacket and put them on.
Write a letter to someone. My postman mostly delivers bank statements and bills. Last year, fed up with the number of brown envelopes on my doormat, I asked if any of my Twitter followers wanted me to write them a good old-fashioned letter. Five people said they’d like that very much; so I sat down and wrote five chatty letters and popped them in the post. They were thrilled and I was equally thrilled when they wrote back. It was a lovely feeling to correspond with someone, like the good old days. What was lovely was to sit down and think of lots of nice, happy, chatty things to talk about it my letters. It helped me focus on the good and the positive. Having a pen-pal is a wonderful thing.
Tell people what they mean to you. I’m a lover. I’m always telling people what they mean to me. Friends and family get told I love them all the time. People who help me get thanked and told how much they’ve made my life easier. It’s not fake, it’s genuinely meant. Sometimes I feel like no one cares about me or appreciates what I do, so leading by example, I tell people what they mean to me. Someone has to start spreading the love, why not let that start with you?
I feel like a bit of a fraud. There are people around me with real problems making a better fist of this life than me. Yes, ok so I got dealt a bad hand, but life could be a helluva lot worse and I feel like I’m full of first world problems and petty rubbish.
Right now I’m feeling overwhelmed by life. Struggling to cling onto the safety raft, my fingers keep slipping and I keep floating away before someone grabs me and pulls me back. Drowning, I feel like I’m drowning. I’ve felt like this for a couple of weeks, I did think that it was hormonal, but I don’t think it is, not entirely. I did think it was because I’d had a big drink one night, and maybe that didn’t help, because it does negatively affect my mood. I just think I’m overwhelmed and instead of methodically working my way through everything, my brain has just thrown me into the anxiety deep end with a dodgy floatation device.
Here I am, struggling to focus, struggling to breathe, my mind racing and racing and racing. There are real people with real problems and I can’t breathe and I feel so selfish. Anxiety makes you selfish though. It makes you want to scream out and stamp your feet, it overwhelms you and takes over everything you think and do. I’m in another anxiety spiral and I’m tumbling and tumbling through it all. Trapped in the rip tide and I can’t escape it.
The self care kicks in. Pills for sleep. Pills for pain. Caffeine to wake me up. Go for a walk. Walk, keep walking, breathe the fresh air, walk, breathe, walk, repeat until calmer. Do something nice, hug the small boy, laugh together, watch the stars in the sky. Remember how small you are in the universe and how big and important you are to some people. Walk, breathe, walk, love. Be loved. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat until calm.
I used to have a general feeling that my mood, my mental health went in cycles, often dominated by the extremes of hormones rushing through my body each month. To some extent I think that’s true. It became normal for my mood to dip, for anxiety to pulse through my veins, for wild swings of rage and despair to appear and to feel the unrelenting panic of an anxiety attack. I never really mentioned this to my GP for fear they’d put me on the pill, something I’d like to avoid at all costs thank you very much.
Sometimes I found that I just was depressed or full of anxiety. Sometimes there was a trigger; maybe a comment or action by someone towards me. Something that would just edge me closer to falling into the black hole of my mental health. Swirling. Spinning. All consuming.
Sometimes there was nothing. No rational explanation for why everything was black.
I woke up yesterday and everything was black.
What I want to do is go to bed and cry it out. What I want to do is be held tight while the darkness seeps from my body, the little girl inside me wants to stop being frightened and fearful and anxious. She wants daddy to make the demons go away and to kiss it better. But I’m 38 and I’ve been standing on my own two feet for twenty years, so my two feet need to find their way out of this.
What I want to do is go to the pub and to drown the noise with drink. I want to sit and talk through the blackness with someone who knows and to laugh a little, cry a bit and go home with a grey heart, not a black one. But I can’t do that.
What I want and what will happen are two different things. It’s the school holidays, so I go to a soft play centre, the worst place imaginable if you’ve got a head full of negative noise and a heart as heavy as lead. So I force myself to go for a walk with the boy, who runs ahead laughing and chatting his head off about fire engines and dogs, and I try and focus on that, because it makes a small dark corner of my black heart glad. I make myself engage with people, because my silence and introspection achieve nothing but more darkness.
I do what I can to force myself into normal patterns of behaviour, edging slightly further back from the edge of darkness and negativity with each positive action.
But what I need, what the little girl inside me really needs, is a cuddle from my daddy to soothe the anxiety, and for him to shoo the dark demons away.
PS. I am often reminded of the artist in The Fast Show whenever I get like this, strangely watching a clip or two on YouTube can often brighten my mood. Top tips for depressives with a sense of humour there.