#amrecovering: f is for fuel

There’s a lot of gumpf on the interwebs about what foods we should and should be eating, but we all know that a balanced diet is what we need – everything in moderation and a bit of what you fancy does you good. Variation is the key to getting all the nutrients we need for heart, mind and body health. I’m trying to reduce the junk food – cake, crisps, chocolate, biscuits, ice cream etc – in my diet, and increase all the good stuff (see photo). Some days it’s easier than others, especially for a life-long comfort eater like me. But I’m getting there.

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#amrecovering: e is for ease

I saw this saying in a bullet journal spread by @bossgirlbujo ages ago, and it’s stuck with me ever since. It’s not about avoiding difficult situations, or not challenging myself, or not confronting things that need to be confronted; it’s about not making life harder for myself. If there’s something that needs to be done there’s probably an easy way and a hard way to do it. There’s running head-on into things like a bull in a china shop, and there’s easing into things like slipping into a warm bath. I’m learning that the second is a better way for me and my recovery.

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#amrecovering: d is for distraction

Distraction is one of those things that often appears in lists on how to reduce anxiety, but allowing oneself to be distracted always seemed a bit absent-minded to me, but I’m actually finding that it’s the opposite. It’s being present-minded, allowing whatever I’m doing to distract me from the unwelcome thoughts floating into my head. It helps me let them float right out again. I suppose it’s letting what I’m doing distract me from my thoughts rather than letting my thoughts distract me from what I’m doing.

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#amrecovering: c is for compassion

Back in February, when I was in hospital, I attended a workshop on compassion. We explored what it is and what a compassionate person might be like. At the end of the workshop, the psychologists told us to try applying what we’d learned to ourselves. Not that we should try to be more compassionate towards others in this instance, but to try to be more compassionate toward ourselves.

When you have depression or anxiety it’s easy to be critical of yourself, but we were encouraged to talk to ourselves in the way we would talk to our best friends. We’d never tell our best friends that they weren’t good enough, or that they were lazy, or rubbish or stupid. Instead, we’d encourage them, we’d build them up, help them to see their strengths and good qualities. I found this really helpful and now to try to catch myself when I’m nagging or berating myself. I can often be found talking to my reflection in the bathroom mirror and saying: come on, girl; you can do this!

“Life shrinks and expands in proportion to one’s courage.” Anais Nin

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#amrecovering: b is for boundaries

Over the course of my recovery, I’ve found boundaries more important than ever. I’ve learned to say no to things I don’t feel up to doing. For example, when I was just out of hospital a friend popped by with some flowers. I really appreciated the gesture, but I didn’t invite her in for a chat. I just couldn’t face it at the time. I felt guilty for quite a while afterward, but I knew I’d done what was best for me at that moment, and I knew my friend would understand.

There’s that saying about airplanes: in an emergency put the face mask on yourself first and then put one on your child. It’s become a cliche, but it’s true. If you want to do a good job of looking after other people, you have to look after yourself …

“Hope is the little lump of coal that sets the fire burning again.” Anon.

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#amrecovering: a is for agency

I’d never really considered the need for agency (or even what agency was) until I started attending workshops at the Recovery College. I guess I’ve always trusted the medical profession to make me better – whatever my illness. But it was once I realised that I could be in the driving seat of my recovery, that I started to make real progress. There was a time when I was so ill I needed someone else to make decisions for me, but that time passed, and I became able to make my own decisions once again. If I ever become that ill again I now have a crisis plan that makes my wishes known. So even if I can’t speak for myself, the doctors will have a good idea of how to go about helping me.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all.”

Emily Dickinson

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#amrecovering: be still

I bought this mug in April, about two months after I left hospital. It reminded me of something I felt God had said to me while I was in hospital: Be still and know that I am God (Ps 46:10).

Throughout my illness I prayed constantly, begging God to make me better, to take away my anxiety. At the height of my illness, I kept asking why, why wouldn’t he help me? But the moment I went into hospital, all that stopped. It was as if God was saying: hush, be still, stop trying, rest … which was also what my consultant said to me. As a result, I did stop. I even stopped praying, and I felt a sense of peace I’d not felt before. I believe that’s when my healing started.

Deep down, I knew God didn’t mind that I wasn’t talking to him; it was like there was a companionable silence between us. Later, the words of the hymn ‘Dear Lord and Father of Mankind’ began to play in my mind … just one phrase: till all our strivings cease. This has stayed with me ever since. I later found out that the word ‘still’ in Psalm 46:10 is better translated as ‘without striving’. I know there are things I need to do to stay mentally healthy, but I know I don’t have to strive to do them; I can rest in them with a sense of ease.

Incidentally, I am praying again, but in a different way, a more meditative way … I don’t feel I need to always verbalise my thoughts to God. He already knows what I want to say; I just need to listen.

“Hope shines brightest in our darkest hour.” Anon.

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Long Story Short …

I’m back … again.

It’s been a heck of a year.

Long story short: I’ve had severe depression and anxiety and at the start of this year, I spent nearly six weeks in hospital because of it. I’m a lot better now, partly thanks to our wonderful National Health Service, partly thanks to all the support I’ve received from my awesome friends and family and partly down to me doing a lot of bloody hard work.

I almost deleted this blog, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it – I’ve put a lot of work into it over the years, and it’s something of a treasure trove for me – so I’ve decided to use it to talk about my recent experience of mental illness, my recovery journey, how I’m discovering wellness and whatever else pops into my head. I might post some of the arty crafty stuff I’ve been working on, and I might even try writing some stories again. The possibilities are endless …

I’ve been posting on Instagram for a while. You can find me there as @crafting.out.loud if you’d like to see what I’ve been up to. I’ve also put a few videos on YouTube. You can find me on Facebook too.

Catch you soon!

Love Natalie x

“There’s a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.” Leonard Cohen.

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#52librarybooks: Are You Watching Me?

Screen Shot 2016-06-06 at 13.22.14I should have written this review a couple of weeks ago when I finished the book, but I got sidetracked by zombies again. Anyhoo … Are You Watching Me? by Sinéad Crowley was Book 6 of my 52 Library Books reading challenge. It’s the story of a young woman, Liz, who has a past she’d rather forget and who reluctantly becomes the face of the charity she helps run. Soon, she finds herself the object of a fanatics affection and the centre of a murder investigation. It’s also the story of a less young woman, a police sergeant called Claire, who has just returned to work after maternity leave and finds juggling a baby, a husband and a case more difficult than she thought it would be.

I quite enjoyed this book, but I think I’d have to shelve it under ‘OK’. It’s well-paced with plenty of tension, so it kept me turning the pages, but I found both of the main characters a bit too angsty and a bit too cliche for my liking – Liz especially suffers from the Too Dumb To Live trope. I also guessed the twist fairly early on which damped the ending a bit. The general consensus on Goodreads is that Sinéad Crowley’s first book is better, so I’ll probably give that a go as this one was almost my cup of tea.

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#52LibraryBooks: The Day of the Triffids

The Day of the TriffidsBook 5: The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

I think this story might have been where it started: my love of all tales apocalyptic. As a kid, I remember watching both the 1962 movie (Not in 1962 I hasten to add!) and the 1980s TV series. I was totally gripped by both, but until a couple of weeks ago, I’d never actually read the book. Shameful!

So, it goes like this: there’s a dazzling meteor shower; almost the whole world goes blind as a result; society collapses; carnivorous plants literally stalk the land; plagues spread like the plague, and a handful of survivors have to … well … survive.

I love this book for so many reasons. It’s very much of its time. It was written in 1951, and you can feel the Cold War breathing down your neck as you read. The changing gender roles of the period are also discussed – overtly and covertly. The narrative voice is very 1950s British; it put me in mind of Ian Flemming’s James Bond books. But what I really love is the whole ‘Do the ends justify the means?’ choices the characters have to make, because, for me, that’s what apocalyptic stories are about. They’re about maintaining our humanity (the good parts at any rate) in the face of extreme adversity. When the rules and norms of society are stripped away, what do we become? Who do we protect? Who do we save? How do we decide who is ‘them’ and who is ‘us’? And should we? And then of course there are the titular Triffids, which are basically plant zombies. Attracted by sound, they trudge relentlessly toward their blind victims, dispatching them with their venomous stingers and then waiting for their bodies to decompose so they can digest them. You could write a whole PhD thesis on the symbolism of triffids/zombies (In the 1950s they pretty much represented the Soviet Union.), and I’m sure someone has, but when I read about them the one thought that goes through my mind over and over again is that, today, triffids/zombies = consumerism. As a race, we’re mindlessly chomping our way through this planet’s resources (and people), and most of the world seems blind to it.

Fans of The Walking Dead might enjoy this book – there is a lot (and I mean a lot) of similarity between the plots, but that’s not a bad thing; 1950s Britain and 2010s USA are very different places, the people who inhabit them, however, are not …

“Zombies are all the things that will not lie down and die, the truth we cannot repress, the thing that will rise up until it overwhelms us all. Whatever you want to forget is stumbling, dead-eyed and open-mouthed towards you.” Naomi Alderman

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