I heard a quote yesterday that stuck with me. I can’t remember it word for word but it was essentially ‘Time doesn’t exist in the form we think it does. The past is just your memory, the future is just your imagination and the only real moments in time are now’. I like this quote, I think it’s a great way to remember to live in the moment, that things don’t physically exist unless they are right here, right now. This actually makes alot of sense to me. I ruminate a LOT, it’s nearly always pointless rumination over things that maybe happened 20 years ago or more as well stuff I did five minutes ago and then on the flip side I also try to predict what’s ahead of me just as often. It comes part and parcel with the other foibles of mine so generously passed to me from Meldrew. Cheers Meldrew. Anyhow, I’ve gotten to a point where I completely understand that I need to stop doing this to myself after Therapist Katy helped me to see that it’s a detrimental cycle I’ve managed to get into and still offer some hope that I can get out of the cycle myself. This is a huge thing to deal with. One, being able to acknowledge the problem exists and two, being able to recognise when I’m doing it in that moment so that I can stop. In fact that’s my biggest hurdle for this whole thing; recognising reactions and symptoms while I’m in that moment with them so that I can try to learn to take control. When you live for so long behaving a certain way it is incredibly difficult to imagine being anything different. I mean sure, it’s easy enough to recognise the differences between our own behaviour and that of someone else and make comparisons or even try to mimic a behaviour but to actually change our behaviour for the foreseeable means we need to have a different outlook to start with before we can try to amend our detrimental behaviour. At least, this how I see things progressing for myself.
Why do I get anxious? Why does my body get so tense and tight like a coiled spring ready to release? Why does my skin crawl and I get a sense of dread along with the punch of nausea that hits my stomach? Why do I endure the headaches, the muscle aches and gut issues that follow?
Honestly, I worry and stress about almost everything. I’ve always been a ‘worrier’. Don’t people always say that? ‘I’m a worrier’, ‘I cant help but find things to worry about’, ‘I just care about things’… I used to say similar things myself, I used to worry about things all the time and I considered it normal. I had a lot of environmental influences that contributed to my worrisome nature when I was growing up. I find it hard to look back on my life and acknowledge the moments and circumstances that had the greatest impacts on me, so I don’t. Not properly anyhow. I tend to disassociate myself from my young self. Sure I can say the words ‘When I was little this happened and that happened’ but in my mind I’m talking about a little girl who is almost alien to me. A young, slim, strong, almost cute girl who was studious and articulate; a girl who just happened to experience some pretty tough times. (I’m going to call her Girl for this post – its easier. I always refer to Girl as ‘That Little Girl’ in real life on the rare occasions anything about my past – good or bad- comes up in conversation. She doesn’t have a specific age nor era for the most part. She has never even had a name). In reality if I was to chat with someone else who had dealt with some of the things Girl had touch her life I would be shocked to say the least. I’d make a point of trying to understand and support them and I would inevitably worry for them. Yet when I think back to those times in relation to my youth I brush them aside with an ‘It’s no biggie’ attitude. I know that actually my experiences most definitely have shaped the person I am and do define me in many ways and I know I don’t always hide things well but I don’t feel that Girl affects me in the moment or dictates how I react to something because.. I’m not Girl. She doesn’t even come into it, that part of my life is generally completely removed from me. I do find myself feeling emotionally attached to the problems of other people especially if they are things Girl could relate to. I get passionate and angry when I feel people are failed by the support systems that are supposed to be in place for them, regardless of whether I feel Girl was supported or not. But its quite a mentally surreal place to be in, and I find it complicated to fully explain. Sometimes, on a bad day I feel sad for Girl. I feel she missed out on some things in life and I feel she grew up too quickly. When Girl was a teenager and screaming out for attention I feel frustrated that she wasn’t always understood. Thinking about Girl can set me into a bad mood from time to time but she is very much a separate entity in my head.
Which brings me back to the things in life that I get anxious about. Those proper life altering feelings of actual fear and dread and that fight or flight response is actually sparked by situations that even I can see are not things to fear. As anxious as I can get, as embroiled in the panic I become I can still see that I’m being totally irrational. That annoys me more than anything else.
So, these are my top stomach turners:
♦ My Family. I don’t like them going out without me, I don’t like not knowing they are safe at all times.
♦ The Outside. I don’t like going outside my house. I don’t like people seeing me.
♦ People. This is a big one for me, I can’t deal with a lot of people regardless of how familiar they are.
♦ My phone. Even knowing who is ringing isn’t enough to calm me enough to actually answer my phone.
♦ Walking. I feel vulnerable walking around.
♦ Driving. I feel that I’m constantly being judged, that I’m making the wrong decisions and that I shouldn’t have been given a license sometimes. I’ve even had to record my driving recently just to put myself at ease and reassure myself I do actually drive fairly reasonably.
♦ The Car, The House, My Job. What if the car wont start? What would I do without it? What if it needs expensive repairs? What if it doesn’t go through its MOT in the summer? What if the house floods again? What if someone tries to break in again? What if someone knocks on the door? What if my kids want a friend to visit? What if I lose my job? What if I have to work with someone new? What if someone is outside when I leave?… You get the idea.
Its all stupid things but I worry and ruminate and stress so much over them. What might cause an uneasy feeling for someone has my body reacting like I’m sat in a burning hut, in the middle of the night, surrounded by hungry lions with a thick forest and no idea what way to go. I try so hard to compartmentalise these things, to look at them rationally and to deal with them normally but in the midst of a panic attack, or a state of agitation I don’t stand a chance to think myself out of it. Keeping my anxiety mentally sat on my shoulder helps (https://liritkiraly.wordpress.com/2017/02/11/this-is-meldrew/) but ironically I struggle to keep it there and distance myself from it. Maybe because its so prevalent in my life at the moment, maybe because its still quite raw. Maybe because my anxiety originates from other people and isn’t something I feel I have a lot of control over. I really don’t know why I struggle so much but it’s definitely something I need to work on.
Today I’m trying something new. I’m actually sat at work right now, logged in from the office PC (I shouldn’t be. I’m breaking unwritten rules). I can’t sit still, I can’t calm down. This post is more of an experiment more than anything else. Maybe typing into the ether will calm the incessant finger tapping and fidget cube twirling that I’ve been doing for a solid hour and half. Maybe typing will allow my brain to relax enough to stop me bouncing me knee; something else I’ve been doing for a while now too. Maybe typing to nobody will calm the anxiety that I can still feel building up, getting more intense despite doubling up on my beta blockers. Maybe this page of typing will just purely give me something to look back on when I’m calmer and more collected, an insight into my own mind if you please. Its not that I’m not aware of whats happening to me right now but when I’m shrouded by this cloud it can be difficult to retain information that I can reflect on later. I can already see that I’m struggling to type more than a few words in a sentence, which is much like how I’ve been speaking. Short, direct and very quick bursts of words. I can hear the words leaving my mouth, I know how these sentences would sound if I was spilling them out instead of allowing my fingers to ‘talk’ for me. The familiar crawling feeling through my skin is as strong as ever right now. It’s spread from my skin to being a wiry expansion of rawness emanating through my gut. My arms itch, I feel sick and I just want it to stop.
I have no idea at all what brought this on, its been building for a few days and it sucks…….
…………… OK. The extra beta blockers are kicking in. my leg has stopped bouncing, my typing has slowed, my speech has slowed and quietened. the radio volume has crept down and stayed down. My head is pounding now though, from all this tension build up and I’m acutely aware that I’ve been clenching my jaw. I don’t have an urgency to get up and jig about now and I’ve even stopped randomly and viciously shaking my hands. my skin has stopped itching but it is still crawling and right now I very much want to nap – as though I’ve just had an anxiety attack. Maybe this was sitting on the verge of an attack, maybe thats why I feel deflated and tired now the meds have taken the edge off. I dont fully understand this myself and this frustrates me so much. Sigh. I wont delete this. I’ll post it anyway – in its random, raw uffish state. (Lewis Carroll penned the perfect word for this feeling; uffish. I need to remember this). Maybe it’ll help me, maybe not. maybe next time I’m wired I’ll write again, maybe I cant use this to help myself. Who knows? I sure as hell don’t.
My middle Miss attended her classmates Harry Potter themed birthday party yesterday. She trundled off looking cute in her cobbled together Moaning Myrtle finery and returned a few hours later brimming with excitement. Rifling through the hugest party goodie bag I’ve ever seen she joyfully shared the jellybean filled ornaments, mason jar mug and spellbook along with her self-made snitch and wand. After her excitement dampened a little she sat cross legged on the floor beside my chair and flicked through her spellbook, wand in hand. “REPARO!” She excitedly called out while waggling her gold, bronze and silver wand at me. “It’s a spell for fixing things!” she proclaimed quickly. “Am I broken then?” I asked slightly quizzically. She paused. I ask again with a mashup of emotion welling up into my chest. She paused for a moment more before gesturing to her head. “Is my head broken?” I asked as my eyes start to sting. “A bit Mummy.” she told me quite frankly. I forced a smile while a tear fell down my cheek, closely followed by several more.
I don’t always hide my tears from my girls. I don’t always hide my panic, fears or dull moods from my girls just as I don’t hide excitement or contentment from them either. I used to. I used to try and hide every emotion that I didn’t think was favourable: sadness, guilt, great excitement, nervousness. I wanted to at least feel like I had some control over those emotions even if it was only to mask them and I wanted to protect my family from what I was feeling at the same time. Needless to say I wasn’t especially successful at either plan.
My amazing girls are 11, 10 and 8 years old and they are very observant little people. Lying to them is futile and sends them a clear message that I’m ashamed of having head troubles. I am not ashamed. I may not want to willingly share my state of mind with everyone but if asked about it I won’t lie to anyone. If the girls were struggling themselves with anything I’d want them to feel they can just ‘be’ in their own home and around people who love them. I’d want them to feel they can openly and comfortably say ‘I’m not feeling amazing today’ and know that’s okay. Its only fair that I afford them the same honesty and lead by example. I won’t lie, I don’t share every minute detail – I personally don’t feel its entirely appropriate but I’m open enough to tell them I’m having an off day or to be honest about how I am doing if they ask.
It hasn’t been easy trying to be this honest with my family, in fact it took having a meltdown and sobbing into Miss Middle’s shoulder for twenty minutes straight while bear hugging her for no reason other than feeling overwhelmed to make me revaluate my relationship with my mental health and my family. I’ve taken this approach its lifted a lot of pressure off me. I have to work hard at not regressing as thats my go to reaction but it is definatly worth the effort. I can relax and live moment by moment on an off day and when the girls look at me with caution and knowing concern I can move forward with them rather than forcing a false mood and pushing them away. Most importantly the girls understand enough to know they’ve done nothing wrong and that overall I’m okay. I think its made our relationships a lot stronger.
Some time ago I stumbled upon a bunch of illustrations by Toby Allen that instantly resonated with me. His quirky, sketchy characters almost seem to jump off their pages and I felt drawn to several of them.
Toby Allen is a talented artist who gave bodies, faces and limbs to mental disorders and set free a bunch of oddly cute characters into the ether. For me, before reaching the height of my own problems these little characters brought some comfort. There’s something about these monsters that I find relatable and logical. They seem to fit perfectly in their ‘roles’ as far as I’m concerned and you know what? Having an image, a physical appearance to give to my own disorder was one of those initial catalysts that ignited something in me and led me to a point where I could admit to myself I wasn’t managing my life quite as smoothly as I probably could have been. A small step forward is always a positive step, maybe not as grandiose as a leap (which actually would have been worse for me than doing nothing a few months ago) and still a huge progression on being stagnant.
Fast forward a few weeks and past some pretty big advances to a therapy session when Katy – the therapist – suggests I name my anxiety. Some of her other patients have named their problems and it can help distinguish between the usual thoughts and feelings and the less familiar ones. I thought about this. Alot actually. My anxiety leads me to literally over-think almost every situation I face, so… I worked through a pile of thoughts and concluded that it was 1) worth a try, 2) probably *not* going leave me living life with two separate personalities and 3) actually maybe not all that different from giving the monster a face. Content with my reasoning I set to spending a further couple of days trying to pick a name.
Katy had suggested ‘Bob’ when she mentioned the idea. Yeah… Bob. Now, I did consider this name for a few seconds because my Trev calls me ‘Bob’ as a pet name when I’m being forgetful (which happens to be all too often by the way!) but for that very same reason I couldn’t use it for my space invading invisible monster that had taken up residence enveloping my brain in its puffy, cottony padding that was threaded with explosive veins of electric charged tinsel. Because of that I allowed my thoughts to lead me onto the likes of ‘Fred’ and ‘Ginger’ plus a multitude of other names I didn’t think worked. I kind of got to a point where I felt that I was playing a fruitless game and started to fail to see any point to this task when it hit me! My anxiety is crotchety, mithering and grumpy not entirely unlike that well known TV character Victor. I hate the name Victor… But Meldrew, now that seemed to work.
Giving my anxiety a name alongside a body has believe it or not proven to be such a big relief for me. I spent alot of time over the next couple of weeks reiterating this new found being and giving it a life (as such) which was hard work at times I won’t deny it but was worth my effort because at some point along the way my head clogging cloud became a character on my shoulder. Now this might sound crazy (it has already been established I’m a little bit nuts after all and it shouldn’t come as too much surprise) but these days I now have this defiant character riding about on my shoulder (in my mind’s eye) like a pirates companion, muttering those familiar insecurities into my ear rather than completely engulfing my mind. It’s not fool proof, it takes effort to keep Meldrew there and not allow him to become that brain duvet once again and those mutterings aren’t always ignorable but small steps, right? *Wink*
I can’t win for losing. Work is a simple job where I have no authority yet am working overnight in an empty office, in an empty building for the most part. I arrive ten minutes late with permission and stick around well past my finishing time for free almost every night. My job is alright, I enjoy it for the most part but I find it very stressful at times and I’m not really sure why. Today I tried to do the right thing and compensate a driver for a mess yesterday. I thought I was doing the right thing, yet within no time at I get call from the second in command. They seemed appeased by my logic and reminded me to continue toward being ‘fair’. Okay, great… I’ve always thought myself fair in my job, always thought I was balancing things as best I can so to continue is easy. Maybe I didn’t seem to take his words serious enough. Or maybe those words weren’t forceful enough because a very short time later I get a call from the top boss. Joy. Sometimes I feel as though I may as well just not be here. But the problem then lies in finding a job where I am wanted, or at the least needed. The social anxiety mean that the chance of me making it to the end of an interview whilst keeping my shit together is slim, then there’s the actual job. While I may be competent within a new position I worry about the people and if I could cope with them and the stress my fear would inflict? When I stop to think about it I am relatively happy in my job, my boss has kept me despite the obvious need and he’s not a bad person. I do really struggle with my feelings of inadequacy, my feelings of being disposable and my fear of failure though.
Hi! So my chosen title of this post is a little more ambiguous than I guess it could first seem. Yes, I’m Vanessa; Ness to most people I meet in life. And much of the time just recently I do feel crazy. Crazy about my family, crazy for pralines and cream ice cream and not quite so crazy about my job. To top off my cupcake of craziness I have mental health issues. I’m fortunate, I don’t have issues as severe or challenging as some people, but I do need medicating from time to time. This is one of those times.
I have such a good life. I should say that to start with, to remind myself more than anything really. It’s this fact that makes my tiny yet gargantuan problems seem so pathetic to me, I mean life is genuinely good. I have three girls with beautiful souls and cute faces. I have a supportive, kind and generous partner who truly loves me and who has stood by my side for over 13 years. We rent a fairly okay house in a location considered ‘Prime’ with food in the cupboards and we both recently learned to drive. We even have a cheap old car. We both work part time, earning enough to tread water and still have equal time with our girls whilst not needing to rely on childcare. Throw the pets into the mix and I’ve got it made, right?
Why then, have I suffered several relapses of depression over the years? Why the ‘stressed’ diagnosis I’ve had in the past? ( I hate that one.. everyone is stressed from time to time, aren’t they?). Why am I currently being treated for anxiety disorders? I cant make sense of it all in my head and the more I try, the more everything jumbles up. It could be said that I’m searching for perfection and struggling with my mediocre achievements, but I don’t see it myself. I’m not an especially material person, I don’t need ‘things’ to be happy. Maybe it’s because my Mum died in 2010? Hmmm…. that was a catalyst for an episode it’s true, but I moved on from that period. I miss her and it hurts but in a good way (if there ever was one), in a normal ‘pang’ of emotion that evokes joy as much as sadness. I’d struggled periodically for years before then so I can’t say that’s the whole problem. Periodically…. like SAD? I’m not convinced. I’ve had harder times over winter and my mood has frequently been notably lower over the winters but I wouldnt say that I behave out of the ordinary there either. My dark childhood? OK, that wasn’t peachy but nothing like some children endure. No where near. So where does it come from? Genetics maybe? There have been a few cases of mental health issues in my family – ranging from mild depressions to schizophrenia amongst other problems. I can’t really say much about that. I’ve very little knowledge about the science in it. Maybe my physical poor health has marred me? This I could see as being a reason. With UAT and PCOS hormone imbalances are common – with symptoms often mistaken for mental health issues and vice versa. This could be a plausible explanation. Could enviromental conditioning be a catalyst too? Seeing issues around me and having them ‘rub off’. Seems unlikely to me, I’m not that kind of person, I don’t consider myself impressionable – not to that degree anyhow. I like logic. Logic and answers and proofs give me comfort; calms my mind and means I’ve spent so many wasted hours trying to understand my mental health and how to get control of myself.
It’s time for me to focus on the good in life, learn to drift over the bad and learn from myself. Time to become my own therapist and hopefully move forward from this period in my life with the tools to live the rest of my life calm, content and fear free.