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 🥳

You say too much online

You say too much! You post too much! You’re inviting trolls! Nobody cares!

All comments I’ve received in the previous month or so some from friends and family, from a place of love I’m sure, and some from friends of friends, strangers and random ‘trolls’.

The problem I have with these comments is they’re incorrect. I do post a lot of my feelings online, and there are many reasons for this. The first and most important one is, it helps me! I feel better when I’ve projected my thoughts rather than kept them in my head. The second is I guess…. validation. Validation from other mums I’m not alone when my kid is behaving like the devil spawn, from other chronic illness sufferers when I feel useless or people with similar ‘problems.’ Not everything I post is problematic though. I try and post the good too, if you only look at my feed and see attention seeking, negativity then you aren’t seeing me at all.

I do post a lot, but I also don’t post a lot. For example:

I haven’t posted what I ate for dinner this evening.

I haven’t posted that I have serious FOMO from Glastonbury and that the reason I’ve never been is because I’m so desperately anxious in huge crowds, and I’m worried my drink will get spiked or my stuff nicked.

I haven’t posted that Shaun and I had a row Saturday night and have spoken only very forced words to each other since. I haven’t told you who’s fault it was or why and that’s not because it’s another fuck up from me (FYI) it’s just not something I feel is necessary to share.

I haven’t posted that I got a new job and after countless failed interviews and childcare dramas, I’m ecstatic, but too scared to share with the world in case my new employer makes a last minute change of decision.

I haven’t posted that my insecurities are worse than they’ve ever been. That my self doubt gets so bad that some days if I text a friend and they don’t reply I can’t sleep for worrying about what I might of done to upset them, and spend all night listing all the reasons why they probably don’t want to be friends with me. Or that if I’m not invited somewhere I feel like it’s because people don’t like me rather than it being a genuine oversight.

I haven’t posted that I’m trying yet again to go on another diet because I’m still so desperately unhappy with my weight but also desperately love chips. That every time I look in the mirror lately I can’t see a face, just 3 chins. That I’m paranoid to stand at the school gates next to more attractive mums or that I’m constantly comparing myself to how I think I should look. That I’m mourning the confidence I used to possess.

I haven’t posted that Ciara wet the bed last night and I was up cradling her, whilst Shaun, (who I’m still not speaking to) changed the bed.

I haven’t posted my opinion on Love Island and yes I do have one, I am addicted to it, even though I think it gives an unrealistic representation of love and body image. Contradictory I’m aware, and I should probably boycott it, but I won’t.

Yes I am aware there’s a huge irony to me telling you all of this whilst saying I don’t post everything, but it was more for the purpose of proving my point, rather than for a reaction to the above points made.

It may come as a shock to you that I post selfies when I say I don’t like what I look like, but that’s because when I do like it, I want to share it. Maybe that’s for the validation, or maybe it’s just because I like it and we all share pics of things we like. Maybe it’s both. Who knows. More importantly who cares? According to the trolls, nobody, so no bother.

And the reason I don’t comment my opinion about Love Island online, is because I absolutely don’t feel remotely within any right to comment on a strangers behaviour publicly when I am not in their situation. Some people who know me may think that’s rich, coming from someone who’s never been able to keep her opinion to herself, but guess what? I’ve changed.

I no longer feel the need to impose my views on everyone. I no longer feel the need to put others down to prove a point or to make myself feel better (appalled to admit I used to have this mentality) but the message is the same.

We learn as we get older, and I’ve learned that it’s a much nicer feeling being remembered for being kind than it is for being the girl who has too much to say. That said, I do still have an opinion and I will always be a person who stands by my beliefs. But I want to be a person who’s also able to see things from different angles. That’s hard for someone with severe anxiety. We tend to have a one track mind and we see everything as a threat to our happiness, our safety, our loved ones and or our possessions. That’s where the comparison comes from, that’s why we spend our lives wanting what other people have, because we’re sure we’ll feel better when we get it. It’s why we try so hard to fit in with certain cliques but never really do. It’s why we’re hard to love, because we don’t admit aloud that we feel this way and people have no fucking idea why we’re acting so ‘weird’ or ‘neurotic’.

Of course I have a theory where my own anxiety stems from, but it’s not just one place. It’s a combination of factors that are unchangeable, and therefore irrelevant. All I can do now is try and rationalise better, try and be honest, even when it gets me labelled an attention seeker or a crazy bitch.

I’m posting this because I want you to understand, but if you don’t, that’s ok too. We can’t understand things we don’t seek to learn about or haven’t been through. Some people will never understand why addicts turn to their drug of choice. We will never fully understand why people act the way they do sometimes, but the reason I post so much about it is because, whilst I’m still learning, I might be helping someone else make sense of themselves. Maybe not, maybe I’m just spouting bollocks, but that’s your perception of what I post, not my intent. Whether I justify my actions won’t necessarily change your opinion, but it helps me understand myself better and that’s what this blog and my social platforms are about, ME.

The truth behind living life to it’s fullest – By Sandra Skelton.

I am a huge believer in the idea that you only get one chance at life and that it is not a dress rehearsal. To ignore that will only bring you regret of a life wasted. It took me a very long time to learn the truth behind those statements and with that knowledge I share my journey with you and the reason why I love my life today!

The last year of my life has been a difficult one in so many ways. Waking up and not knowing where you are or how you got there puts a totally new prospective on your life. Just over six months ago I fell and fractured my skull which led to a bleed on my brain. I now live every day grateful that I am still here, I so very nearly wasn’t. That however, brings many thoughts and feelings to the forefront of my mind the major one being my life as a parent. Those who know me really well will know I wasn’t always a great mum. I am however blessed with the knowledge that my two girls probably won’t agree with this statement! My eldest daughter suffered the most (now your Diva mum) and grew up with 666 tattooed on the back of her neck. It took me far too long to realise the importance of good parenting and because of that my girls suffered, but I am blessed with the knowledge that it is never too late to make amends.

It’s ok to tell it how it is and share it with the world. My girls have proven to me time and time again that it makes you a better parent to speak out about your struggles and always try to find the positivity in every situation that life throws at you. There is nothing better than being a mother or grandmother but you don’t have to have gained an A star in either, in order to be loved!! We live and we learn, just keep going, you will get there.

Believe me! I did and I was crap!!!

Diva mum’s rule.. be one, love one and learn from one. It is what life is all about 😘

Sandra Skelton – AKA Divanan

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!

Mindfulness

As a rule I’m not very good at mindfulness. I don’t practise it anywhere near as often as I should. I know it’s proven to work for millions of people and I am trying to warm to it, but I’ve always been a bit skeptical assuming it borders on hippyish and that’s just not me.

However I realise now I’m wrong and actually it can be as simple as getting outside for ten minutes a day and taking stock.

Today I sat by the river working on my novel and applying for yet more jobs. Feeling absolutely exhausted with corporate bollocks and rejection. I’ve been attending interviews like it’s my full time job and I’m starting to take the knock backs personally.

If you know me, you’ll know I take everything to heart and have a real complex around rejection. I decided instead to try and be rational. Give myself some time to take in the beauty of today. I know it sounds über cheesy and it’s not what you think. I don’t chant mantras or meditate (not that there’s anything wrong with those things, it’s just not very me) instead I just sat watching the river, listening to the running water of the weir and gave myself a bit of a pep talk. I always try and be thankful for the big and small things in my life. Like I have a roof over my head, a beautiful family, we don’t live on the bread line (even if we are always skint) and it was important for me to remind myself of these things today. I am a professional, I will find a job that suits me soon, it’s just taking longer than I anticipated but that’s ok.

Mindfulness is about being present, focusing on your surroundings and calmly accepting your feelings. So that’s what I did and I felt all the better for it! I was only sat there an hour, it gave me just enough time to write a synopsis and edit my copy to 3000 words. It was also enough time to feel like I’d had a break, got outdoors, took in the fresh air and got a bit of ‘me’ time in. The sunshine helps and maybe I wouldn’t of made the effort to be mindful if I’d been stuck indoors, but I plan to, going forward to get in a few minutes of mindfulness everyday.

Hamster Wheel

Do you ever feel like your on a hamster wheel?

Round and round you’re turning but you still can’t seem to heal?

You’re doing what they say, talking and moving, eating drinking.

But you’re still not able to stop your mind from over thinking.

Intrusive thoughts they grow, as if from a planted seed.

They are watered daily by you, even given feed.

You want to stop the cycle but you’re not sure how.

You try to spread awareness but it doesn’t seem to help.

You feel like you are failing, as a mother and in life.

But you’re so not failing, I wish you could see.

How strong you are getting through everyday and going about your routine.

People don’t seem to notice, but don’t do it for them.

Do it for yourself, write a journal, grab a pen.

Whatever makes you feel better is an improvement, an act of self care.

Don’t let other people’s opinions ruin your hard work.

They aren’t you, they’re not there.

You’re doing so amazing, I wish that you could see.

To others, to me, just how strong you seem.

Anxiety Behind The Screen!

My experience with anxiety is, or at least has, been a parody of Prozac Nation. Have you ever watched it? It’s a film with Christina Ricci, I recommend it to anyone who feels like they’re going insane. I’ve learned over the years to control it better. I function these days for the most part, and it’s rarely all consuming as it was during my first panic attack.

I remember that day like it was yesterday, I was 14 years old, and maybe unsurprisingly, it came on after I’d been hacking a bong full of hash. But it wasn’t the stoned feeling that was scaring me and making me panic. It was every wrong thing I’d ever done in my life come back to haunt me in those moments. It was all the things that I couldn’t undo, couldn’t unsay. Teenagers do a lot of questionable things during adolescence and I was no exception. Those things now enveloped me and choked me as though I was dying. I was so swamped by thoughts of my failings I couldn’t breathe. I was physically trembling and my heart was beating so fast it’s a wonder it didn’t pop out of my chest.

For about two years following that first panic attack I was quite severely mentally ill. I had nightmares, I had obtrusive thoughts and my poor mum couldn’t leave the house without me phoning her every twenty minutes. Every time she did go out, I had convinced myself she was going to die and the fear of that was beyond what my young mind was able to rationalise. I was out of my depth, popping antidepressants like sweets and using everything in my power to numb the constant noise inside my head. I often wondered then if I was some kind of monster. If I had a kink in my armour that made me mental. If I deserved to feel so helpless and desperate every moment I was awake. I lost friends, my relationships with my family suffered and I feared everything.

Now I’m in my thirties plodding along with a bit more self control and the strength to be open (at least on paper) about how I’m feeling. That doesn’t mean I feel any less though. For example I have a hormone imbalance and when I’m feeling a dip, like now, I get a bit introvert. I actively avoid people and places. I don’t have any patience for small talk and I get irritated easily. Sounds like a bit of PMT eh? But it’s not just a bit of PMT it’s my life. The school run for instance is a nightmare for me this week. I’m really struggling with it. I don’t have a good network of school mum friends as yet and I feel like I have to keep part of myself, this part, hidden. For fear of judgement. So I avoid talking to people. I know you may think that’s silly but whether you believe it or not, there is still a stigma around mental health, especially mum’s with mental health problems. I’m trying hard not to take medication at the moment for other reasons, but yesterday morning, given my hormonally anxious state, I took a Valium to enable me to get through a meeting. I was sat in Pret A Manger drinking decaf coffee with sweaty palms and a knee twitch that I couldn’t stop. It worked (The Valium) and I did some self care by way of talking myself round. I don’t sit there chanting to myself or anything, I just try and focus on something else and remind myself there’s no reason to panic.

Some days it isn’t as easy as that to shake off those feelings of impending doom, even with the aid of a tranquilliser. The mind is a scary place, followed by you’re body’s reactive physical symptoms, you really do feel like you’re dying sometimes. I’ve had days where I’ve felt so out of control I’ve wanted to run away. Before I became a mum it was easier to hide. We all know the mental health service is practically non existent, extremely under funded and under resourced. You only have to try and get an appointment with a counsellor to realise how unlikely it is you’ll ever receive said appointment. All the more reason for us to be more mindful of each other, to look after ourselves. To learn new techniques to manage our symptoms. Of course intervention will in some cases, always be necessary, but there’s a lot we can do to help each other and ourselves too.

    Listen – Ask someone how they are and actually listen to the answer. Check in with your friend who’s gone a bit introvert. He/she might not reply straight away but they’ll know you care, and in times of anxiety that can be a real comfort.
    Practise Self Care – It sounds so cheesy doesn’t it? Self care! Breathing exercises and all that bollocks, but for some people these are a ritual that does the job and kicks a panic attack where it hurts before it’s taken hold. Cut yourself some slack too, rest when you’re stressed and do some feel good things, even when you don’t feel like doing them!
    Ask for help – I know I’ve given the psych services a bit of a bashing, but you don’t necessarily need a qualified professional to help you through a period of high anxiety. You might just need a friend. Tell someone. I am guilty of not doing this because it’s something I feel stupid for feeling, so although I’m able to write about it now, actually talking aloud is still a struggle.
    Don’t play it down– In doing so you’re lying to yourself too. You deserve to feel safe and if you don’t it’s ok to say you don’t.
    Think rationally– I know you must be reading this last one thinking, if it was that fucking easy I wouldn’t be panicking. But I don’t mean during an attack (well, then too if you can) but I mean the rest of the time. Tell yourself over and over again when you’re not in the midst of an attack why you don’t need to worry and why you’re not going to have another one. Psychosomatic!

I’m not an expert and everyone’s symptoms of anxiety will be different. I’ve said before and I’ll keep saying it, mental health doesn’t discriminate. There are hundred of different types of mental illness but they will all meet over lapping symptoms. We are each at risk of having some period of depression or high anxiety during our time on this earth, so we need to work together to educate people and ourselves. We need to mean it when we go around saying it’s ok to not be ok.

When you see this pic of me, perfect make up, fresh hair….. What do you see?

Do you see a happy girl?

A girl with her shit together?

Confidence?

If you answered yes to any of the above you’d be wrong. I got up this morning and it took me an age to feel like I looked ‘ok’ I’m not feeling my best at the moment.

I have no job so deffo don’t fall into the ‘shit together’ category, and my confidence is under par. My anxiety is bad, I’ve had about 4 hours of broken sleep and I’m tired. So fucking tired.

Moral of this post: Don’t assume. All is never as it seems. Looks are deceptive. You never really know what’s going on behind the screens.