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!

Just another chronic illness blog

When I got diagnosed with a chronic illness I didn’t get the same quota that you get when you’re told you have pneumonia or you break your leg. I didn’t get ‘get well soon’ cards or flowers – which I guess is a good thing as get well soon doesn’t really exist in the chronically ill community. But we still appreciate the sentiments.

I don’t get much love for my illness, I get eye rolls and people annoyed at me talking about it again, but I don’t get much love.

I get people accusing me of using it as an excuse and comparing me to people with the same problems. But not love.

I get disbelieving shakes of the head and funny looks when pulling into a disabled parking space, but not love.

I get people telling me to be positive and exercise more but I don’t get presents or hugs.

Imagine waking up one day and not being able to get out of bed, yesterday you could of ran for the bus, but today you can’t move. Now imagine feeling too ashamed to talk about it for fear of being dismissed, accused of faking, or mocked. Because that’s what living with chronic illness is. That’s what happens when people can’t see your pain. They assume it doesn’t exist or that you’re making it out to be much worse than it is.

Even your friends think you’re exaggerating, and even your family get fed up when it encroaches on plans with them yet again. When I tell people I have to pace myself or I’m not feeling too good, I literally brace myself for their reaction. Nobody ever says, it must be so hard, I admire your strength.

That’s why I write it down, and that’s why I share it on the internet with people whom I’ve never met. Because some of those people get it and they aren’t (at least not visibly) rolling their eyes at yet another post. People are happy to offer you their support for the occasional bout of misfortune, but when its ongoing nobody wants to get dragged down with it. I get it! I really do, I’m a realist, I know it’s hard for people to understand, and it can be miserable to hear about, but imagine living with it.

Imagine just for a minute that it’s you who’s sick all the time. Then imagine feeling like nobody cares. Feeling like you’re burdening people whenever you talk about it, feeling guilty for being sick, imagine how lonely that gets.

Everyone has their own battles and some people have it much worse than you or I, that’s a fact. Some people have the same illness on a different level and some people have diseases that are killing them.

What living with a chronic illness has taught me is not to make assumptions on people’s lives, to believe people when they tell you they’re suffering, and to remember to check in on your friends. Pain changes people, in different ways, sometimes it’s empowering and when you’re on top of it you feel like you’re winning, other times it’s dark and makes you wonder what’s the point of living at all if this is how you’re destined to feel everyday. It’s overwhelming and hard to explain – but by sharing my experiences with it I’m remaining sane. I’m not hiding and so that is the reason behind yet another chronic illness post. If you know, you know. 💜

View this post published on The Mighty here.

https://themighty.com/2020/01/when-people-cant-see-your-chronic-illness/?utm_source=engagement_bar&utm_medium=link&utm_campaign=story_page.engagement_bar/

No cure

Yesterday I had my first sick day in my new job. I’ve been there under 3 months. And until now, so far so good, been taking breaks on my days off, getting enough rest whilst still having a life, looking after myself, taking my medication. Then yesterday I woke at 3am feeling nauseous and it wouldn’t go away. It was bad I couldn’t sleep. I text my supervisor in the morning to say I wouldn’t be in and spent the rest of the day in bed with a full blown migraine. You know the ones where even your phone is too bright and your guts feel like they’re falling out of your asshole?

I’m home today too, the headache has subsided but the sickness is still there, I still feel weak and unwell and generally crap about myself.

You see the thing is, back in July I had a daith piercing and I was convinced it would cure my migraines. So to learn it hasn’t has really fucked me off. I also feel shit about being home. There’s no cure for migraine, just like there’s no cure for Fibromyalgia or PMDD and I have those too, but I feel terribly guilty about it. Because I’m not a skiver, I’m not a lazy bitch (unless I have a hangover) and I genuinely feel awful when I let people down.

When I first got diagnosed it was a relief, I had loads of text messages and social media likes, telling me how relieved I must be to know I’m not going mad. I was!

I had loads of sympathy messages too, but they have a shelf life. And when you have something that can’t be cured people get bored. They don’t understand why you’re still going on about being ill all the time. Everyone knows, you don’t need to keep banging on about it.

But I do need to. I need to because that’s the only way aside from the world all contracting the same illness, that people understand. It’s the only way to spread awareness and helpful tips. It’s the way I feel most comfortable explaining it and so that is why I ‘make such a big deal out of it‘ it’s not for the sympathy as let’s be honest that shit dried up years ago. It’s not because I’m craving those text messages that don’t often come anymore, it’s because they are diseases that nobody ‘gets’ nobody really believes.

You said you have a migraine but really it’s just a headache, here, take some asprin”

“So and so has fibro and she doesn’t go on about it all the time, she still works, she doesn’t even take medication”

“Yeah I believe she has it, but she definitely plays on it”

“It’s just a period every woman has them, stop moaning”

If you suffered migraine you would know an asprin is about as useful as a cock flavoured lollipop, once an attack has started. If you had fibromyalgia you would know it differs in intensity depending on a whole world of factors, even down to the weather! And if you had PMDD you would know that before your period comes there’s a good chance you may have considered the fact you’ve lost your fucking mind and begged your doctor to section you only to feel ‘normal’ again when aunty Flo pops in. If your mum had it and couldn’t work, or your sister, or your best friend would you say that about them too?

Anyway – the point of this post was more for me than you, the reader. It was more about assuaging my own guilt, because guilt is an emotion that the chronically ill can’t escape. I feel guilty that Shaun had to cook his own dinner after he’d been at work all day yesterday. I feel guilty that Ciara had yet another sleep over at nanny’s because I knew I wouldn’t be able to get up and see her off to school this morning because the medication I took last night meant it probably wouldn’t of been safe for me to drive, that’s if I even heard my alarm. I feel guilty for looking at my phone when I should be resting. I feel guilty for having a life on all of the other days because if I didn’t I might not feel this shit today. Guilty Schmuilty. It’s shit. It doesn’t matter how many well wishes people send, how many ‘you can’t help being sick’s’ I hear, I still feel guilty. I know I will always feel guilty until I get to a stage where maybe one day there is a cure, or maybe there’s something I haven’t tried that will help me manage better. I feel guilty for letting my family down on days when I’m bed bound. I feel guilty for letting my lovely new colleagues down on days I can’t work. I feel guilty for saying when I feel ill. I feel guilty for cancelling a night out or a meet up. But most of all I feel guilty when I make assumptions about other people’s lives. So if I’ve learned anything from having a number of long term illnesses, it’s never to assume. You really don’t have the number of someone until you walk a mile in their shoes. The likelihood is there’s people out there with worse problems than you and me. Kindness should always be your go to option.

Do you know Carol?

If anyone’s ever referred to you as a nutter, a drama queen or an attention seeker because you opened up about your mental health, then you may have some things in common with Carol. There’s a fine line between getting a pat on the back for opening up and being called an attention seeker for airing your dirty laundry online, in public, to too many people.

Example – Carol writes a status about how she’s been battling depression for years and she wants help.

Queue 100 comments of support ‘always here for you babe’ and other such pleasantries that flurry in.

One month later after getting approximately 2 people reach out ‘in real life’ since her last status. Carol writes another one about how down she’s feeling, and how her life is becoming unmanageable.

This post only acquires 3 comments, all from acquaintances, 2 of concern, one attempting banter, by telling her to stop moaning! None of her close friends comment support.

That could well be because they have messaged her privately, and that’s the most hopeful outcome. But it could also be because they’re bored. Bored of hearing again, about how depressed she is. They aren’t sure she’s genuine, their opinion is she’s putting too much on her facebook. It’s past her depression expiry date. She’s been like this for ages now.

Your time’s up on the depression clock Carol, get better or keep quiet.

3 months later and Carol is dead by suicide. Thousands of tributes pour in, with memories of times long passed, lovely well wishes to her family and such.

Is it not the typically British view when it comes to talking about our mental health, to reach out and then be shunned for reaching out. Keep it to yourself Carol, the world doesn’t need to know. DESPITE the fact we’re still banging on about how ok it is to not be ok. It isn’t though is it?

To publicly share that you aren’t ok, is deemed unnecessary, attention seeking, desperate, and yet to publicly share pics of almost anything else, including, your dinner, dead birds, neck nominations, and those kind of ridiculous trends, to rant about anything else on your status is ok (I’m using these as a vague comparison)

The point I’m trying to make is, people aren’t always ok. Sure there is always somebody worse off but how much worse than Carol can you get? Just because one person hurts differently shouldn’t devalue the feelings of others. Just because we don’t deem Carol’s depression relevant, doesn’t mean it isn’t. None of us have the monopoly on who feels worse.

A lot of us have grown up during a time where talking about your feelings was deemed over the top, or melodramatic and yet here we are now countering it, telling our kids to open up, then vilifying someone else’s for doing just that. Eye rolling with the inconvenience of having to read someone else ‘drama’ on social media. Cheer up Carol for fucks sake!

But Carol didn’t cheer up.

I’ve been both the oversharer (no shit) and the person who moans profusely about people sharing their life stories (the hypocrisy isn’t lost on me)

In recent years I’ve tried to give myself a reprimand when it comes to being judgemental, however of course I still judge people. I just do it a lot more silently and with more compassion. We’re only human, nobody expects us not to have an opinion, but it’s important for me to try and reflect on how damaging our opinions can be when outwardly shared.

I came off Facebook for a long time, leaving only my blog open, because I battled internally about what was too much to share on my personal page when I felt at my weakest. I also took the lack of comments from people close to me as personal slights. Nobody cares about me. I’ve talked before about my insecurities so that won’t come as a shock.

Most of the time when we feel like opening up, or at least in my experience with it, we may just need to sound off and maybe it’s a cry for help, but predominantly it’s more about finding someone who gets ‘it’ rather than it being about seeking the attention of strangers in a bid to win the ‘who’s more depressed competition’

If you struggle to open up, when you finally do find the courage, hearing comments like ‘oh bore off’ ‘she/he’s such an attention seeker’ ‘drama queen’ and so on can be really damaging.

Of course we could all work harder to remain positive, to accept that life could be much worse and to moan less about trivial things, but we would also do well to listen more. To care more. To find a bit more compassion, and remember that mental illness whatever it stems from, whether it be trauma, a chemical imbalance, addiction, as a reaction to a personal circumstances, injury, WHATEVER it is still just that, an illness. Desperate people do desperate things, waiting until someone’s dead by suicide to give them the shout out you feel is obligatory on Facebook, is categorically too late. If they’re reaching out now, assume it’s genuine.

I’m also in no way implying we’re complicit in someone’s depression or suicide by not responding to their statuses or stories on social media. I simply mean – if you’ve got nothing nice to say, say nothing. And if you care about someone, let them know.

That was a rather long winded attempt at explaining the above 2 lines, but I hope it sinks in. Stop telling Carols everywhere to open up, then shaming them when they do.

And finally, if you are worrying about what you should be saying or doing. Don’t! People will judge you whatever your choices and actions, even the good ones, so just be yourself and keep talking about how you feel, because it’s your truth, and I’m almost certain, there’s someone out there who needs to hear it. ❤️

Frank Bruno

On Saturday the 2nd March I had the pleasure of attending an evening with Frank Bruno. Being an avid boxing fan I was excited to hear about his bouts against the greats, such as Mike Tyson and Bone Crusher Smith, and of course his amazing win of the title against Oliver McCall. When these fight’s originally occurred I was very young so didn’t watch them first hand, I do however remember Mike Tyson Vs Frank Bruno 2. Purely because it was strange to have this on in my nan’s house, but there she was up late in all her glory on the date of 16th March 1996 with a Tia Maria in hand, watching this brutal rematch that would see Frank defeated a second time by the animal that is ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson. Hearing Frank speak honestly about these fights often with huge respect for the other fighters was fascinating. Even after the grudge match with Lennox Lewis, Frank regarded him with respect. He also talked about current fighters such as Chris Eubank Jnr and Tyson Fury.

But for me, the most fascinating, heart wrenching and humbling part of the evening was hearing Frank talk about his battle with Mental Health and how he started the Frank Bruno Foundation, in a bid to ‘knock out’ the stigma that still surrounds mental health today. Frank spiralled into a depression after retiring from the great sport and following the break down of his marriage. He was victim to phone tapping and harassment from the media that made him feel as though he was ‘going mad.’ He was eventually sectioned for the first time in 2003. For years following this he suffered a long and debilitating battle with mental illness and described it as his ‘toughest fight.’ When asked how he overcame his demons, Frank’s reply was ‘I haven’t, but I fight very hard, I use fitness and determination to keep me going.’ I think that’s a really important message for anyone who thinks mental illness is some kind of excuse or elaboration, and believe me, sadly those people do exist. I urge those people to read Frank’s latest book Let Me Be Frank and then decide if you still feel this is some glorified publicity stunt. This is a man who has battled with some of the toughest men in history, but found battling with his mind so much tougher. You have to admire his strength and determination as well as his courage to speak out.

After the show on Saturday we had a photo opportunity with Frank so you can imagine my excitement. I patiently awaited my turn, thinking in my head of something to say, it was probably going to be the one and only time I got to speak to him so I wanted to say something memorable. Frank talked during the evening about his battle with antidepressant medication and how he was now 4 years medication free, I wanted to tell him about my own battle trying to withdraw from the same type of drugs, but there wasn’t enough time. All I was able to stutter when my turn came around was ‘Frank, I’m so excited, shit, everything you do for mental health is amazing’ and I truly meant it. For someone in his stature use his voice to promote health and well being for people who suffer mental illness is truly commendable. We all battle demons from time to time but we tend to put celebrities on pedestals or misunderstand their motives. Frank now has his own charity in The Frank Bruno Foundation and that charity works hard to really help sufferers. He makes no excuses for his illness, blames nobody for his failings and refers to his dad as his ‘hero’ it was a truly inspirational evening and I felt privileged to have been there, obviously I paid a premium for that privilege but it was worth it. It’s a night I will probably remember for the rest of my life. I think I may have found a new hero myself.

His parting line after being asked ‘ Who hit you the hardest Frank?’ Was ‘The Taxman.’ What a legend.