PMDD Lightbulb Moments

This month is premenstrual disorder awareness month and I have teamed up with The International Association Of Premenstrual Disorders as a PMD Awareness Champion. Over the course of the month I’ll be sharing my personal experience of living with PMDD, as well as catching up with other PMDD warriors. This year’s theme is Connect The Dots and I talked to several women I’ve connected with via Instagram to find out how they connected the dots, between their hormones and their mental health.

I asked these brave women three questions which were: 

1. When was your ‘light bulb’ moment?
2. How did you connect the dots?
3. Do you feel as though you’ve found a manageable treatment and if so, would you mind sharing what that is?

I’ve included my own answers below too.

Me, Steph:

I can’t tell you exactly when I knew it was PMDD because hormonal changes have affected me my whole life.

If I look back now I can see how the most traumatic experiences in my life were either in relation to my menstrual cycle or my reaction to such experiences was exacerbated by my hormones and their fluctuating.

For me, I was quite aware of the fact that hormones played a big role in my life and on both my physical health and mood, from a young age. In childhood I had a hormone condition called Premature Adrenarche. PA is diagnosed when your adrenal glands over produce sex hormones. Adrenarche can happen in both male and females, but obviously for females and AFAB individuals, puberty means periods. A lot of my dot connecting came down to PMD’s running in my family, thus having knowledge of them from other sufferers. Since menarche my moods have been severe during luteal, so bad that I was diagnosed with clinical depression at 13 years old and prescribed antidepressants. I also attempted suicide. It wasn’t until some almost ten years later, and I got my first iPhone, that I started cycle tracking using an app. Along with my mum’s knowledge of my symptoms and their severity, we pieced it all together and it became apparent that my symptoms were very obviously cyclical.

Over the years I have had many successes followed by, ultimate failures with treatment. Many treatment options have worked for a limited amount of time, until 𝐏𝐌𝐃𝐃 comes back with a vengeance. For example I’ve tried countless antidepressants and birth control and they have all helped for a period, until they don’t anymore. I can also say it’s definitely worsened in severity and duration since having children. Symptoms have also increased, such as allergies. I’m now allergic to the hair dye I’ve been using for a decade and silver. Migraine is relentless and an attack lasts for days. Treatment wise, I have biweekly B12 injections, try to manage my sugar intake, take SSRI’s month round and use progesterone only contraception – The latter has limited success in the treatment of PMDD, but combined with other methods works ok for me at the moment. What I have found really useful is, since the birth of my son 9 months ago, I have been having intense Dialectal Behavioural Therapy. DBT involves learning distress tolerance skills, and how to dial down the intensity of emotions. Skills include using holistic treatments too such as cold therapy. I really feel DBT has been invaluable in treating symptoms of PMDD particularly.

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Lori:

After giving birth I began mapping how I was feeling along side some cbt for PTSD due to a traumatic birth experience and I started to realise every cycle I was physically and emotionally not well

Research, research, research

CBD oils have been amazing, I live with chronic pain which worsens around my cycle and impacts sleep so these help me get into a deeper sleep, SSRI’s all month too. And lastly, the fitbit app tracking my cycle to rationalise why I’m feeling the way I’m feeling (I can pretty much tell exactly when I’m about to ovulate or bleed based on my emotional state)

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Amy:

For me, it was when I stumbled across the PMDD Information page on the Mind website.

After years of various tests and being told by the doctor that I’m ‘fine’ this was huge. I ticked every single box for PMDD symptoms and I just knew that this was what I was going through each month.

I went back to the doctor armed with this new knowledge plus a symptom diary that i’d been keeping for the previous 6 months and they agreed that the diagnosis was PMDD.

Yes. But it’s just sticking to it that’s the problem! My go to treatments are regular B12 injections, keeping on top of my SSRI intake, Ice hats, pain medication, plus loads of water and trying to cut down on sugar and fatty foods (even though this can seem like the most impossible task in the universe, during hell week!)

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Jaimie:

My lightbulb moment came when the doctors kept telling me I was ‘just’ depressed and giving me SSRI’s and the pill and wouldn’t listen that I only felt this way some of the time rather than fully. Hormonal contraceptives do not agree with me and I knew there was more to it than that but trusted them that they know what they’re doing.

It took a long time but I noticed that I felt immediately relieved and lighter as soon as my period started so good old google came to the rescue and I started reading about PMDD

I felt like for the first time what I had been going through was valid and real when no one seemed to believe me or understand.

I just don’t know how bad each cycle is going to be, however I did find an SSRI useful for a while, they’re not for everyone and I no longer take them. I’ve found that taking things easier/slowing down and planning things for the parts of my cycle where I know I’ll be more positive and less likely to cancel helps because I don’t then feel like I’m letting people down or being unreliable which is a big thing for me – getting outside whenever you can works wonders too even if you don’t feel like it or it’s raining being in nature does more good than people realise

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Maisie:

My light bulb moment was when I was with my ex partner and he called me a psychopath. I was so upset and angry that I punched a hole in the wall. I scared myself with how angry I got. I was so angry that he called me that, but it made me think about what I had done to warrant that, and I thought “shit, I’m not a psychopath, but I’m not myself either, somewhere in between maybe”. It was going round and round in my head, and for a few days every month leading up to my period, I was so deeply upset, I didn’t want to be here, and it was like a cycle that I couldn’t get out of. Why am I like this? This isn’t me. But in the moment, I couldn’t see it.

It wasn’t until I was out the other side of those few days that I could reflect on my behaviour and feelings and realise properly that it ISNT me! I spoke to my GP, who put it down to “bad periods”.

I told them this wasn’t just bad periods, bad periods don’t make you suicidal, aggressive, or run away. Bad periods are tummy cramps and a heavy flow.

I pushed for more help, tests, anything. I was advised to have therapy for my dark thoughts, and they prescribed me SSRI’s. After I gave birth, they changed me to ca different SRRI. But the main help for me is telling my close people “it’s coming” or “it’s happening”. I find myself apologising in advance. “I’m not going to be myself for the next few days and I’m sorry”. Which makes me even more frustrated. No one that I have met so far, has ever heard of PMDD. Except a few queens on Insta! I try to explain it to people by saying “it’s like the volume is turned up full blast on everything. My emotions, the hurt, the anger.” You could say something to me on a normal day and I’d brush it off. But say the same thing to me on those few days and my world comes crashing down. The best treatment I’ve found more than telling people, or medication, or therapy, is reminding myself that it’s all in my head. Sometimes that can be hard, and it doesn’t take the thoughts or sadness or anger away, but it makes them more bearable, knowing that I am ill, not crazy. My ex partner didn’t help, but now he’s gone it’s so much clearer to see. I’m poorly. I have been diagnosed with PMDD, it’s not just in my head but at the same time that’s all it is. Finding others who are going through the same thing and trying to raise awareness for PMDD to others as well as medical professionals helps too. I felt like I was going mad, because I was told I was, and felt like I was. But it was all in my head and that’s where it stays. Like you say (sic) Cunty Carol just comes to visit a few days a week, and where I used to be terrified of her unpredictability, now I can at least say “fuck off Carol, I know why you’re here and I’m okay with it, close the door on your way out”

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Subtle break-throughs

If you suffer from anxiety, or the feeling of impending doom and inexplicable terror that comes with panic attacks, the debilitating calamity that is intrusive thoughts, the unrelenting personality shift before your menstrual cycle because of PMDD? I hear you. I see you. I am you.

If you suffer from one or all of the mental illnesses mentioned above, you will know that logic is about as far away from fear as is possible. You may as well fly a rocket to Mars and you’d be no closer to logical thoughts during a panic attack. I’ve been having therapy for five months. The single longest stint I’ve ever managed to stick at anything relating to my mental health that doesn’t come in a blister pack. Full disclosure I take the pills too, I need them, but therapy is a different level of healing. It’s eye opening, confronting and real hard graft.

During these five months I have had breakdowns, many breakdowns. I have also experienced breakthroughs. These tend to be subtler, less outwardly monumental, but I can tell you from experience they are transcendent and quite awe-inspiring when you become aware of them.

I’m going to give you an example of one of my recent breakthroughs.

I am currently waiting for several hospital appointments, one of them may end up being quite life defining so it’s pretty important. With anything of importance for me, almost always comes anxiety. Throw in a self diagnosed terminal illness via Dr Google and we’re talking full blown life limiting panic attacks. But, not this time. I got my appointment letter a few days after the referral was made, though supposed to be seen within two weeks the NHS backlog means the clinic are running two weeks behind. Where as this kind of delay would usually lead to more panic, endless overthinking and probable sleepless nights, something has shifted in me and I feel different.

My logical brain has always known that there is little point in worrying about something that hasn’t happened yet, but regardless of my knowledge I have never been able to stop myself from said worry.

Worrying about tomorrow, steals today’s joy.

After going through what I have in the last five months, being scared of my own brain and constantly coming up against new challenges in trying to change the way I think, I decided right at the beginning of my recovery that I no longer wanted to live in fear. Of course simply not wanting something isn’t usually enough to stop it from happening. But with subtle changes and a keen desire to get better, engaging and working hard during therapy sessions and opening up fully to my mental health team, I have noticed a shift. I still feel anxiety around the appointment of course, but anxiety itself is a normal healthy human response. It only becomes problematic when it interferes with our everyday lives. And in this instance, relating to this appointment….I’m so happy to say it’s not doing that.

I don’t want to waste time worrying about an outcome that I cannot predict or influence. I don’t want to fear the worst only to find out when the time comes that it’s not the worst, then look back regretfully that I had wasted precious moments living in fear.

What if it isn’t a tiger in the long grass? What if it’s just a fluffy little kitten?

I won’t bullshit you, I know I’m not always going to be able to rationalise in this way. So many factors contribute to my own personal experience with anxiety and panic, that there will inevitably be times when I falter, and times when I fall. But what I’m doing right now, today, is I’m saying no to worrying about things that aren’t within my control. Isn’t anxiety itself a deep rooted need to control our fears and possible catastrophes?

How did I get here?

  • I took on board the offerings of tips my therapist suggested, such as grounding and breathing techniques and practised them even when I didn’t believe in them.
  • I reminded myself that if there’s a possibility that my world might fall apart, there’s also a possibility, it won’t.
  • I take prescribed medication religiously and stick with it for the recommended amount of time.
  • I’m trying, I say trying because I don’t always succeed, to implement healthier lifestyle changes, such as getting more exercise and eating healthier.
  • I write my feelings. It’s a personal favourite in helping me to process them.
  • I try to stay more in the present moment.
  • I have an amazing mental health team that I talk to regularly, even when I don’t think I have anything to say.

I know these things aren’t easy to do, I know this because it’s taken me twenty years to even begin to start really healing. But along with the above list, I also believe that celebrating small wins is a great way to remind ourselves that even when we are not where we want to be, we are further forward than we once were.

Me this week on a particularly bad day. Reminding myself it’s just a bad day not a bad life.
Also me this week on a better day

Intrusive thoughts during the perinatal period

Some people when they hear the words intrusive thoughts automatically assume that the person experiencing said thoughts is hearing voices. Some people think OCD and others believe intrusive thoughts to be a sign that a person is bad, and will act on their thoughts.

With the exception of possible OCD, none of the above tend to be true.

So what are intrusive thoughts?

Intrusive thoughts are unwanted and or distressing thoughts that are often reoccurring. They are likely to leave the thinker very upset, distressed, disgusted, confused and ashamed.

It is thought that 1 in 5 women and mothers will suffer perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, and 57% of those will have experienced intrusive thoughts. Mental health professionals are not entirely sure why more women in the perinatal period experience intrusive thoughts, but it’s believed to be related to a variety of hormonal, environmental, and emotional factors. That said it’s a common symptom of PMADS. Typically, the thoughts that occur in the PP (perinatal period) are fears that surround our children, ‘What if I harm the baby?’ But the thoughts don’t always stop at physical harm and can relate to sexual fears too.

To be clear before you read on, suffering from intrusive thoughts is NOT a reflection on a person’s character, desires or beliefs. The thoughts themselves go against all of our beliefs and natural instincts as mothers and do not align with our values, hence the very word for them being ‘intrusive.’ We don’t want these thoughts, we can’t bear them and it’s the very reason we are left feeling as though they are ruining our life.

During pregnancy with my second child I became overwhelmed with intrusive thoughts, some of them too weird and harrowing for me to share —though in some ways I wish I felt I could share them all, then maybe they wouldn’t consume my brain— It got so bad that at just shy of 38 weeks I was hospitalised, under psychiatric care, my labour was induced and I was medicated for my mental health.

After my son was born and I was again assessed by a psychiatrist, she told me thoughts that are harmful or as mentioned sexual in nature, are the most common type of intrusive thoughts during the perinatal period. I asked her why this was, and she gave me a fantastic analogy.

You have this tiny human to care for. It’s your most important job, above any other. The thoughts that you are having are in direct conflict with your own anxieties about what could happen to your child. The thoughts are the very things you want less than anything in the world to happen.

But how do you know I’m not just a psychopath? I asked.

‘Because psychopaths don’t phone me up hysterical about upsetting thoughts, Steph. That’s how I know you pose absolutely no risk to your children.’

At this stage I felt so out of my mind I didn’t know if I posed a risk to my children. I felt like I couldn’t think straight. But Dr Pysch was adamant about this, and though it didn’t ease the thoughts initially it helped me to understand I wasn’t alone and other women and new mothers went through this too. She then went on to say (I feel like this is a big one…) the only person you pose a risk to, is yourself with your judgement about the thoughts.

I found that particular line about judgement really interesting because I realised quite quickly that it WAS the judgement that was keeping me in a cycle of constant fight or flight.

I was overthinking every single thought and if I dared speak out about my thoughts, rather than feel better, I’d worry about other people’s judgement instead. That was until I met the most wonderful community psychiatric nurse. For the purpose of this blog I’m going to refer to him as Neo (He will appreciate the reference.) Neo has changed the way I think about intrusive thoughts, but more importantly the way I feel toward opening up about them.

Maternal OCD is a mental illness that affects women in the perinatal period and includes intrusive and obsessive thoughts followed by compulsions completed in order to relieve some of the discomfort from the thought.

Ironically for me, my most intrusive thoughts were about convincing myself I had, or was going to develop severe mental illness (the irony isn’t lost on me) I first believed I was developing psychosis, I was sure I would start to hear voices telling me to kill or harm my children. This made me feel disassociated often. Despite not actually hearing voices I was convinced they were coming and I would be sat in my bedroom listening for them. I later googled intrusive thoughts which convinced me I was suffering from severe OCD, despite not having any compulsions. Another common thought for me was passive suicidality, such as thinking I could just walk out in front of a lorry. Or consume all of the insulin in my possession.

When I discussed this with Neo my fear of OCD he went through a protocol of having me fill out an OCD assessment, and we discovered that yes I have obsessive and at times disturbing thoughts, but I don’t have the compulsions in the same way a person with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder might. So why did I feel as though talking about my fears meant I was constantly reassurance seeking?

The truth was there may have been an element to seeking reassurance, but for the most part I was doing what I needed to do, engaging in therapy and discussing my fears.

Once I finally opened up and said aloud that one of my biggest fears was I didn’t want to be alone with my baby because I was terrified I would have a psychotic break and murder him whilst he slept, I was not only able to then unpack this thought and see it with clarity for what it was, just a thought. But I also learned that I’m not alone, not even a little bit.

The mind plays tricks on all of us occasionally and thoughts are the perfect segue into us believing we are not good people and therefore convincing us we’re unworthy of the love we so desperately NEED to give ourselves particularly in the early stages postpartum.

If we all talked about our deepest darkest thoughts we might be less bothered by them, but there is so much assumption and stigma attached to thoughts. People believe that if you think something you must feel it. With intrusive thoughts it’s the exact opposite.

The vulnerability of a woman who has just been through childbirth is like no other time in her life, the fear that we feel is immense. I know I personally believed if I told the truth about my thoughts immediately postpartum that my children would be taken away and I would have been sectioned.

You don’t have to open up about every thought in order to dismantle their hold on you though, you can put in to practise strategies and use them for all thoughts that cause you distress.

Neo recommended a book for me to read during the early stages of recovery and it’s called The Happiness Trap and is written by Australian doctor, Russ Harris.

In the pages of the happiness trap Harris provides tools to defuse yourself from negative thoughts and the book itself centres very much on acceptance. It took me a while to come round to the idea that I would ever accept distressing thoughts, but the idea is not to engage with them, just to accept them for what they are, random mental events and words. I won’t say I’m cured, because that would be a lie, but I’m working towards how to better manage intrusive thoughts and not allow them to take over my life.

Dr Russ Harris The Happiness Trap

If you’re suffering from intrusive thoughts in the perinatal period I would urge you to talk to your doctor. I know it’s hard, you may be feeling judged and terrified, but I promise you the road to recovery starts when you learn that you are not alone with these thoughts.

Other organisations that can provide help during the perinatal period are:

Included at the bottom of this page is a link to ‘Buy Me A Coffee’ (or book, in my case) please don’t be put off by this! 
Currently, Divamum makes no money, and whilst I love writing, in order to keep growing I have decided to accept donations.
Just to clarify you are in no way obligated to make a donation and at no point will this become mandatory, it’s just there as an optional extra for anyone who would like to and all information is available via the link.

https://www.buymeacoffee.com/Divamumsteph

104 days postpartum

It’s funny how days are marked by our worst memories and our great ones, are often lost in mind with no clearly accessible date and time attached to them.

At 5am on the 11th October I woke up, eyes barely even open before I was thrust deep into a panic attack. My body wracked by the sensations, my mind reeling from the racing thoughts. To say I was devastated is an understatement, this is the first acute anxiety attack I’ve had in just under three weeks. Three weeks isn’t very long to most people, but it felt joyous to be able to think clearly for a while without the feeling of dread hanging over me. Without ruminating and catastrophizing. Without the pain in my teeth from my clenched jaw. Without the fatigue that hits you after yet another night of insomnia. Sleep when the baby sleeps… haha, if only.

What I’ve noticed though, in the fifty something days since I last updated my postpartum progress, is how hard I’ve tried to implement grounding techniques. How dedicated I have been to my recovery. I started a new contraception eight weeks ago to try and eliminate my periods, ergo reducing symptoms of PMDD. I’ve been on similar contraceptives in the past for the same reason. In this instance I have bled non stop for eight weeks. I am so run down I have ulcers in my mouth and reoccurring shingles pain, requiring more medication to combat. Around the same time I started the new contraception, I also switched my migraine medication for a slow release version and this has helped immensely with preventing attacks.

My son is now fifteen weeks old, he can hold a toy in his hand, chatter and laugh. but he rarely sleeps. His charming little face is one of the most beautiful I’ve seen, that is when it’s not screwed up like a tomato that’s past it’s safe to eat stage, wrinkly in places and as red as hell.

In the last one hundred and four days I have felt every emotion to ever exist. My days are now spent trying to wrestle a screaming baby into a car seat I’m unable to lift, and reading books about Biff and Chip with the big kid. I don’t get any opportunity to rest, which is hard when you have an illness that requires it. I’m mortified to admit some weeks it takes me three attempts before I manage a shower, and even then it’s hurried.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, I find it much easier to remember all of the hard bits, the downs, the panic and the tears and I’m very good at choosing to ignore the successes. Deeming them unworthy in their minutiae. Such as; getting the baby down for a nap on the first attempt. Watching his sister cuddle up to him or gently bounce him in his bouncer with her foot, whilst idly watching yet another episode of Bluey. The beauty in the pumpkin patch photoshoot we’d had recently, a windy autumn day surrounded by orange and forest green, the memory of the rain pelting down on our clothes afterwards, and rushing home to drink hot chocolate.

Watching my son grow, though hard, has not been wholly clouded by my poor health. It’s been beautiful in so many ways, and I’ve enjoyed very much time spent with him. I can feel my confidence as a mother returning somewhat. I have my first night out coming up and I’m anxious. When my daughter was a baby I couldn’t wait to get out, feeling more than ever that I needed to let off steam. Now the only steam I’m interested in, is the steam coming from a freshly boiled kettle and the piping hot tea that comes after the boil.

My pelvis hasn’t healed, I am still struggling with walking as with any physical activity. Unfortunately, it does seem this is likely to be yet another long term problem, but we knew that was a possibility.

I use the word progress to explain how far I’ve come and it’s the reason I’m utterly disappointed when I come up against relapses like that earlier panic attack. Im devastated when Im unable to rationalise my intrusive thoughts. Yet in spite of relapses, hard days, long nights and tragically cold cups of PG tips, I’m grateful. Grateful for the support I’ve received from an amazing perinatal mental health team, from my family, and from those few close friends who selflessly and with conviction, care enough to remind me I’m doing ok.

They say it takes a village to raise a child, and there are many people whom have contributed to my progress. Thank you. And here’s hoping for another 100 days of progress to follow.

Therapy is not just for picking up broken pieces

A couple of weeks ago I had some news that really turned my world upside down a bit. I haven’t talked about it much because there is so much other stuff going on, but it’s been a struggle managing my emotions. I felt myself spiralling a bit, like I do every so often, usually when I’m due on. I decided to try and get ahead of this, so I called my GP who offered to refer me for talking therapies. I’ve had talk therapy before, many times actually, sometimes it’s helped other times not so much, but I’m never opposed to it, because I believe when you’re feeling mentally unwell you need to be open to trying things that might help. So I gratefully agreed to have a telephone appointment.

The lady I spoke to ran through a standard mental health questionnaire, then at the end she said I score mildly for depression and anxiety. I told her yes, it is mild at the moment, but I’m trying to intercept it before it gets moderate-severe. Her response was that I don’t meet the criteria at this stage for ongoing therapy. I’ve had this conversation before. I’ve written posts about it before too. I feel like this is the reason we are in the crisis we are in with mental health in this country, because we are waiting for people to be in their own full blown mental health crisis before offering them any support. I know that whilst the NHS is under so much pressure their resources might need to be elsewhere, but this isn’t a new thing; even before covid people were being turned away for not being depressed enough. Because I don’t want to die I’m not in crisis, because I’m not self harming or hurting anyone else I’m not in crisis. The sad thing is… I have wanted to die. I have self harmed and I have hurt people I love in the process of all of that. This time, this time I wanted to ask for help before I spiralled, before I lost control and needed to pick up the broken pieces of my life for the hundredth time.

Instead I got given some reading material and a thank you for my time.

This is not enough. Luckily for me. I am well aware of my triggers, I’m aware of my privilege and I have a great support network in my family. There is always the option to go private, but with my physical health being as rubbish as it is I usually need to top up care with massage or B12 injections, therapy is an added expense and when you’re down to the last penny you usually have to sacrifice one or the other. The trouble is with therapy is, it’s not just a one off cost. You have to pay this every week or every month sometimes forever and my fear is I’m one of those people that will need therapy forever. The thing with physical health is it affects our mental health too and so if I sacrifice the things that make me feel physically better, I’ll also be putting myself at a higher risk of feeling mentally worse. The struggle is real.

Life is hard right now for everyone and there will be people out there in worse situations than myself, probably not getting the help they need either. Learning to live through these times has been a colossal trek and we are all still hiking up cliffs hanging on for dear life. But mental health is not a new problem, it’s not a craze or a trend, it’s a continuous battle in the modern world, a battle that if not fought early and hard, can be and too often is, deadly. It’s a life threatening problem that we as a society have still not been able to tackle.

It’s great to post about mental health and raise awareness, open up and find solace in each other online but still this isn’t enough. Saying it’s ok to not be okay is one thing, telling people to reach out is another, neither are cures for a breakdown or social anxiety and sometimes they’re not even easy to do. I may know I’ll feel better if I reach out but doing it is a different matter all together.

So what can you do if you don’t meet the criteria for intervention but are still struggling? You can prioritise self care. You can access online support. You can reach out to family members or friends if you feel able. You can make time to read, write, do a course that makes you feel better about yourself. You can practice breathing and you can call any of the below numbers for professional support. If financially able you can look into finding private therapists that are able to support you long term. What you mustn’t do, is feel like the lack of free support available means you’re not worthy. You are. Whatever your next move is, please take this reminder that your struggles are valid. Your life still matters and you are going to make it.

To the you that feels too much.

Some days if not many, I feel like life is too much for me.

Too problematic

Too demanding

Too stressful

Too hard

Too expensive 

Too ominous

So I had a think about how I can break it down, because in all honesty I am all too often feeling as though I am one meltdown away from a psychotic break, and that isn’t a healthy way to live.

That’s when I realised problems are unavoidable, but I have the power to stop reacting to them and start tackling them with a clearer head. 

Most of the demands I speak of, I put upon myself. I am not able to meet the unrealistic expectations of my own making. However I am able to lower my expectation all together and treat myself with more kindness. Celebrate the small successes and work a little harder to focus on a solution based outlook.

Stress is part of life, but it doesn’t have to be the soul dictator of mine. The only reason it sinks it’s claws deep into my psyche is because I feed it with my adrenaline fuelled responses. I am highly sensitive and I am emotive but I don’t have to let my overriding emotion be stress.

Life is hard. It can be. It is. Though treating myself with disscontempt seems to come easy. Why is that? What can I do to change how I view situations? Could I perhaps allow myself more time to process difficulties? I think considering the amount of time I spend feeling like I’m climbing Ben Nevis it’s possible there’s room for improvement on my processing techniques.

Expenditure is essential to the cost of living, but it doesn’t have to be essential to my happiness. Material things are not that important to me so why do I always feel like I am missing out when I can’t afford stuff? Maybe because I spend too long comparing myself to my peers instead of accepting like our thoughts, opinions and lifestyles, our budgets are different.

I don’t believe a positive outlook will automatically grant you a positive life. What I have learned over time is the people I have come across with bigger problems than my own, people facing harder challenges and worse health, all seem to be more optimistic than I am. So maybe, I’ll try and count my blessings more often and throw away the curse that is negativity. I gain nothing from it and it gains everything from me.

My whole life I have felt as though I am too much for some people. It has taken me 30 (and then some) years to accept, they are just not my people. I’ve been battling with the ‘too’ instead of accepting just being me. It’ll come as no surprise to my family and friends that I feel this way because I’ve felt for a long time like I’ve been told I’m….

Too loud 

Too dramatic 

Too sensitive 

Too outspoken 

Too fiery

Too wild 

Too intense 

Too blunt 

If I had to describe myself now I would still use a few of the above words, but I would drop the too and I’d try and rephrase, because nobody has the right to tell me I am ‘too’ anything.

Yes as I mentioned, I am highly sensitive, but that makes way for empathy, for compassion. I care, not too much, there is no too much. I am caring, and that is something the world needs more of. It’s ok to care. In fact it’s good, until it isn’t, and you care too much about what other people think. I don’t want to do that anymore. 

Yes I am fiery, but only when it comes to things I believe in, I am passionate and I am driven by things that excite me. They are not the same things that excited me 10 years ago. Now I am excited by books, and words, and art. I’m excited by flavours and food and Sundays in bed. Safely replacing 10 jägers and a scrap outside the kebab shop. I’m excited AF when my daughter comes home with a bronze star or shares her sweets with her little best mate.

I am blunt, because I can’t fake anything. It’s funny really that I’ve been coined a ‘drama queen’ because my acting skills are fucking awful. My face will say everything my mouth forgets. If anything, I might be ‘too’ honest, but only because I genuinely believe honesty is always the best policy, and my sensitivity, believe it or not actually makes me quite a good judge of character. I don’t have the time, and I DEFINITELY ain’t got the energy to pretend. 

I WAS wild, now I am about as far from wild as a candle flickering into winter giving off vague scents of unwashed hair and 2 day old pyjamas. I am the opposite of wild, providing the opposite is not chilled. No, I’m not chilled, because I worry. I worry because I care. I want to be better. I want people to see me for the better person I am because I deserve that. Are you still with me?

I am still intense, because once I start speaking I really spill my guts. My opinions are emotive, and I have no façade. I do not hide myself behind pretence. I am intensely vulnerable and I am open. 

This can be a blessing and a curse. I overshare, but I also over love. I know if I was advising a friend on these qualities I would tell them both are ok.  

I am a complex mass of physical pain and panic. Of memories I’d rather forget and a future I’m desperate to control. To panic is to care. To be aware of your faults isn’t heroic or admirable, not really, but owning them and trying to fine tune them takes effort. And effort itself is admirable. 

I have had struggles, but they are not worse or more severe than those of others, they are just mine, they are part of me. They shape me, and I have no doubt. Not one speck of doubt, that I am a better person because of them. 

I am not too much. 

I’m just me.

You can also read this blog here at House 21

Acute Anxiety.

I can’t tell you why I’ve been feeling anxious lately, not really. I could guess a few contributing factors but I don’t know why it feels so bad, or why when I’m led in bed at night things I did 15 years ago pop into my head and I can’t get them out. Or the fact that I can be stood in the post office queue and have to walk out leaving my parcels on the counter because my mind is in flight mode. Or why I wake up at 4am crying. Why I feel like I can’t breathe.

I can tell you that intrusive thoughts (like those in the above pic) are fucking awful I can be there one minute planning my next holiday or working on the laptop and the next – bam ‘why did you do____ (insert all and any life mistakes here.)’

Hormones are also the devil when it comes to anxiety. People often underestimate their power to make you feel off kilter seemingly for no reason. Anxiety can manifest into physical symptoms such as stomach upset, fatigue, tension and or cluster headaches, increased flare ups in other conditions eg in my case fibromyalgia.

I’ve spent this week convincing myself why I should keep putting one foot in front of the other. (With a little help from my friends) I’m not exaggerating when I say somedays I can’t see the wood for the trees, and the urge to disappear is overwhelming. I don’t want to feel like this, but it’s exactly the out of control response that is anxiety’s sole purpose.

Fight or flight, our bodies natural response to intensely stressful situations. Some say they also freeze in these situations. When I’m anxious I find it hard to retain even simple information. I can become irritable as the panic overwhelms me and overly sensitive to noise, smells, touch. A literal sensory overload.

Here I’ve included some things that have helped me this week. They are by no means a cure or substitute for medical advice but they have helped me go from ‘I don’t want to be here anymore’ to ‘let’s get through today one step at a time.’

Fresh air is free and highly underrated. My natural response is always to take to my bed when I feel depressed or anxious. To block the world out and keep myself safe in my sanctuary, but this week I’ve fought that urge, it wasn’t without difficulty and I took some convincing from my friends and mum, but I got outside. And the results were almost instantaneous. The blustery air helped calm me in a way that lying in bed shaking just wasn’t doing.

Phone a friend. This one is always really hard for me because I hate talking on the phone and the idea of speaking to people when I feel like this is all consuming. I worry what they will think of me and I know I’ll cry because crying is my autopilot response, but on Monday I dragged myself and my daughter to my friends house and for a few hours I felt completely relieved of the demons in my head. It was a great distraction. Choose friends you know will understand if you need to offload.

Crying is a completely normal reaction to an anxious situation- let the tears come they release oxytocin and the likely hood is you’ll feel a little better afterwards.

Distraction is a great therapy tool and never underestimate its power. Some people say you need to face the problem head on and I’m sure in certain circumstances that’s true but to get through an acute phase of anxiety I find it particularly helpful. I do a lot of reading so choose the kind of things you read based on how you’re feeling. If you’re anxious a chic lit book maybe more suitable than a psychological thriller.

Finally my last and favourite – Swear!! No I’m not joking. Science somewhere proves that swearing aloud can’t reduce stress levels. So chuck it in the fuck it bucket and call it a prick for good luck. You can read this blog over on House21 also!

Tired and Needy – the follow up to Love For Lockdown.

I wrote a post a little over a week ago about my love for lockdown. I still love lots about it, like the family bubble and not having to worry about the outside world. In fact I still love it—full stop! Buuuuuut, I’m also losing my shit a bit. I’m still worrying about stuff that isn’t on the scale of importance to most people.

Like it’s a rollercoaster, right?

Up, down, plateauing and plummeting.

I struggle with life under normal circumstances I don’t ‘cope’ well on a daily basis. Well some might say I do cope well, and others think I’m mad.

— Balance

Writing is my salvation but I have to admit there’s little inspiration flying about my gaff, so I’m losing my creative flow and my anxious mind is finding room to fill up the creative space instead.

If you suffer from anxiety you may relate to some of this. Or you might think I’m a nut job. I am.

I have a brain that understands rationale but doesn’t practice it.

I have a desperate need for reassurance and it’s exhausting to be honest: it’s exhausting for me, it’s exhausting for my friends, my family, and  it’s exhausting for my husband.

Years of therapy and we’re no further forward in killing the bug that is my insecurity.

I know where it comes from – I don’t need a £50 an hour shrink to tell me about it (again).

I know it’s not rational or reasonable but I genuinely can’t help it.

I can’t help how I feel inside my head sometimes. I say sometimes, because it’s not all the time. Sometimes I am content, it can be fleeting, but it does happen.

I am one of the first people to harp on about getting the help you need when you need it for your mental health, but I have had help, lots of it in abundance, and variety.

I’m not fixed, because you can’t ‘fix’ people.

I manage better, better than I did 10 or 15 years ago, but my neediness and insecurity hasn’t dissipated, it probably never will, because it’s part of me.

It’s in my makeup to worry, fret & overthink.

During this lockdown I’ve occupied my days with all sorts of filler. Some of it has been really pleasant and some of it has been unintentionally damaging. The trouble is you don’t always know which is which until it’s too late and even things like reading books and watching TV can play a whole heap of havoc with an anxious mind.

If you too are feeling tired and needy I can only reiterate the importance of having a mental clear out! You’ve probably heard this a lot during the span of Coronavirus. I’ll say it again anyway.

Take time to find things that bring you small wins.

—Something that makes you grateful.

—Do something you enjoy like painting your toenails or going for a walk.

—Cook something exciting.

—Phone a friend.

—Be wary of what you’re watching and reading. I love nothing more than crime thrillers to read, but sometimes they get inside my head and it can create a state of heightened anxiety without me even realising it.

—Pick something you love about yourself and focus on it for a little while.

—Cuddle your kids and remind yourself you’re doing your best.

—Most importantly, be kind to yourself. It’s a tough time for all of us.

You’re not wrong for feeling how you feel. You can’t help it, but you can try to do little things that reinforce the positives. I’m trying to take my own advice today. I’m trying to do a few small things that help me feel better about myself and the current situation. Some days are all consuming and it’s ok to fall apart every now and again.

Feeling guilty about it won’t help. Instead try and concentrate on what’s needed to put yourself back together again.

I won’t profess to own the secret to a positive mindset, it’s something I battle with daily, but it’s also something that really does work if you can get the can of it. Positive minds attract positive vibes.

A Decade Of Lessons

The last 10 years

Well, it’s been a testing decade that’s for sure, but it’s also been the most amazing pilgrimage of self discovery I’ve ever been on.

I feel like the last decade is where I really became an adult and anything before was part of my youth.

In 2010 I was glassed in a nightclub in an unprovoked attack whilst out with friends, and it shook me beyond measure and took me to a place I didn’t know existed. I’d been in fights before, been given a slap when I probably deserved it, in my teens, I’d even (believe it or not) been hit with a bottle before, but it hadn’t shattered the first time and this was on another level. This was in response to me just being out having a laugh with friends, and it could have left me blind. Thankfully, physically most of the scars are on my décolletage and not my face (though I do have a dent in my skull) it could have been a lot worse physically.

But despite keeping up appearances, mentally I was scarred beyond recognition. I was scared too just by the weight of the attack, but in being scared I got angry.

I went ‘mad’ for want of a better word. I was wild. Following that night every time I went out I braced myself for a row and alcohol only fuelled that self destruction. I got in more rows and fights than I’d ever had before. I rowed and physically fought with my then partner, and when I ended that relationship I continued down a rabbit hole of hell.

I did some messed up things and 2013 saw the catalyst to that phase of crazy.

I lost my job, almost my house, and I was alone. Friends had given me a wide berth and my nights out were spent with people I didn’t even really like and who only hung out with me for some drama or entertainment.

I’ve always had a need to fill the shoes of the life and soul of the party, but I’ve filled them by acting like a fool. Being the loudest, the craziest and the wildest person in the room.

I met my now partner at the end of that year. I saw the new year in in Ireland with a good friend and it was like something just clicked, an epiphany if you like, and I didn’t want to be that self destructive, unemployed mess, that I had become.

I got a job, a pretty good one, and from there life has progressed at a steady pace. The following year I was shaving my hair off for charity and raising thousands of pounds. I’ve had some backslides, like being diagnosed with Fibromyalgia and it’s affect on my both my physical and mental health. Having a baby wasn’t an easy feat for me, and it can be hard work just being ‘normal’ most days, but I’m surviving it, and thriving too.

Last year my mum nearly died from a freak fall and I can say with certainty, I’ve never been as scared as I was then. It puts what’s important into perspective.

Nowadays I don’t feel like I’m falling from Beachy Head every time I wake up. I don’t want to hide for a week after a night out anymore, and I don’t wish I was dead. Even on the bad days, I’m glad to be alive.

I still feel like some days I fight stigmas and a bad reputation, but it took me a long time to make it, so I guess it’s only normal that it will take me a long while to break it, too.

That being said, my future is bright and I’m lucky. All the people in my life are in it because they want to be and contribute in some way to helping me be and feel better. So I’d say, despite all of that drama, this past decade has been pretty spectacular and I’m looking forward to the next one. Taking nothing for granted is my only resolution.

Happy new year 🥳

5 things not to say to someone with mental health problems.

1) But why are you depressed? What have you got to be depressed about.

Maybe nothing. Why have you got a cold when it’s warm outside? Getting the message? Things that seem trivial to some are huge for others and maybe there’s not a specific reason. Remember it’s a chemical imbalance, an illness like any other.

2) It could be worse, you need to think yourself lucky.

And you Karen, need to shut the fuck up. We know it could be worse. It could always be worse. But honestly, that’s irrelevant and unhelpful.

3) You just need to ______ (insert unsolicited advice here) go to the gym, eat better, go out more, lighten up. Etc etc.

Again, unhelpful and bordering on offensive. A) We may have already tried what you mention or B) We may not feel able or ready to tackle these ‘small’ things yet.

4) Chin up, cheer up, smile…

Suck a dick, eat shit…. see where I’m going with this?

5) At least you haven’t got____ or you’re lucky to have_____

Don’t state the obvious. This is the reason many people feel unable to speak out, in fear of being ridiculed or not taken seriously.

These things may seem obvious, they may seem a bit pedantic but to be frank, they could save someone’s life. In my experience someone who is really suffering mentally needs the opposite of what these words convey. They need a listening ear and empathy, not an I told you, you should… or a chin up! The age old saying sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me, doesn’t apply to people with depression. All it takes is a little bit of rephrasing on your part. Nobody expects you to walk on egg shells but try to put yourself in that persons shoes and ask yourself if you would find the above 5 things helpful to hear in your time of need. If the answer’s no, stop saying them!