#atozchallenge: L is for Laughter

Heart of StoneThe good times … and the bad …

They say that laughter is the best medicine, but for me, for a while, citalopram was the best medicine. My doctor prescribed it for me for six months in order to get me going on the road to recovery. When I first started taking it, I was strung out. It’s a cliche, but it’s also the perfect way to describe how I was feeling. I was a rabbit caught in a car’s headlights, a deer caught in a hunter’s cross-hairs. My waking hours were spent in an anxious and obsessive blur. My sleeping hours were short and fractured. My body and brain were on constant high alert. The citalopram fixed all that – by numbing me.

It wasn’t until I emerged on the other side that I realised that as well as no longer feeling anxious and depressed, I’d also stopped laughing. One night, not long after I’d weened myself off the medication, Matt and I were watching television. I can’t remember what show it was, but I know it was a comedy. And I laughed at it. I remember Matt turning to me and saying something along the lines of, ‘That’s the first time you’ve laughed in about a year.’ It was true. And it felt good. I knew then that I was definitely on the mend. I started laughing again. I started caring again. I started picking up all the things I’d put down: looking after my body, looking after the house, reading, thinking, dreaming.

The antidepressants switched off everything – the bad feelings and the good. But that’s what I needed back then when everything was so extreme. I needed to feel nothing, to switch off my brain and calm my body, to allow myself the time and space to heal.

I’ve said before that it’s been a long and bumpy journey. On occasion it’s been two steps forward, one step (or more) back, but I’ve never been so depressed or anxious that I’ve needed to take medication again. These days I’d rather be able to laugh, even if it means also feeling down sometimes. Having said that, if things ever become extreme again, I hope I’ll not hesitate to go back to my doctor and ask for medical help once more.

And, rather than leave you on a somewhat dour note, here’s a video of the hilarious Milton Jones to leave you with a laugh instead!

Linkidinks:

An explanation of my AtoZChallenge theme can be found at Me and My Mental Health – It’s Time to Talk.

#atozchallenge: K is for Kites

2013 Jul 23 Buts_001 V2Things that help …

I’ve called today’s post ‘K is for Kites’ because, having already used H for Homes, I needed a sneaky way of talking about hobbies. Plus I haven’t got any decent pictures of knitting!

Having hobbies, and joining in with other people’s hobbies, has helped me along the road to overcoming depression and anxiety. My own hobbies are writing (I’ve already talked about that in ‘F for Fiction‘.) and Photography (I’ll talk about that in ‘P for Photography’.). I also knit – very simple things like hats, scarves and squares – and cook. In the Spring and Summer, I like to garden. I also make cards and scribble the occasional drawing. Reading is a biggie, as is playing the ukulele. Over the last few years, I’ve also done a lot of BookCrossing, Munzeeing and Geocaching.

IMG_5910Matt’s main hobby is flying kites. Whenever we go out for the day, he fills the boot of the car with them. He’s got all sorts, from stunt kites (that I make him take as far away from people as possible, just in case the wind drops and they brain someone), to massive deltas (that can lift him off the ground). The kids have a couple of kites each, but their tolerance for standing still, holding a piece of string is pretty small, so they usually give up after a few minutes and find something else to do. Like the kids, I’m not all that interested in flying kites, but I’ll happily watch them bob about and will spend ages trying to get a decent photo.

 

Sept 24 2011_033 V2webHobbies, while enriching in their own right, can be a distraction from the negative and destructive thoughts associated with depression and anxiety. One piece of advice that I only recently came across is ‘Remind yourself of all the things you’re good at and do them. Distract your brain. Give it something else to focus on.’*  I can’t stress enough how important this has been in my recovery. I am naturally analytical. If I have a problem, my instinct is to figure out a way to solve it. I read books, search the internet, quiz friends and strangers alike, but if I let myself do that to extremes, I end up anxious, and when the problem doesn’t get solved I can fall apart – some problems, no matter how much you want them to, no matter how much you try to solve them, just won’t go away, or get better. Those are the problems I have to let go, and picking up one of my hobbies helps me do that.**

Linkidinks:

*This reminds me of Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

**This reminds me of Philippians 4:6-7 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

An explanation of my AtoZChallenge theme can be found at Me and My Mental Health – It’s Time to Talk.

#atozchallenge: J is for Joy

ShootsThe good times, and the bad times …

A couple of years ago, Matt and I gave a series of talks at our church about the ‘fruit of the Spirit’. For those who don’t know, Paul, a follower of Jesus, wrote a letter (which can be found in the Bible as The Book of Galatians) to the church at Galatia in which he said the following:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patient, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

Basically, the idea is that those who let God’s Spirit live within them will grow this fruit in their lives; they will become more loving, more joyful, more peaceful, more patient etc …

Anyway, we’d given a couple of these talks, and they’d gone well – in preparation, delivery and reception – but then we’d come to prepare the talk on joy. Joy? Joy? That happy, happy, smiley, wonderful feeling, joy? How could I talk to people about joy when I was still wrestling with an illness that had, at times, made me contemplate suicide?

BAM!

I hit a roadblock.

I almost gave up.

I said to Matt, ‘I can’t do it. It’s too hard. You’ll have to do it without me.’

Fortunately, what he heard was, ‘Help!’ and thankfully, he knew what to do. He said, ‘Why don’t you just tell your story?’

So, after much soul-searching, that’s what I did. I stood up in church and told everyone about my battle with depression and my struggle for joy. My talk is too long to recount in an atozchallenge post, but you can read it here if you like.

BlessingSo, what’s the upshot of all this? Well, through telling my story at church I learned that a lot of other people there had also suffered at the hands of depression. I learned that God doesn’t expect his children to be happy all the time and walk around with smiles on their faces. I learned that being joyful isn’t about feeling happy; it’s more about having an attitude of gratitude, about looking for the positives, about letting go of the past and letting myself lean on the strong.

Linkidinks:

An explanation of my AtoZChallenge theme can be found at Me and My Mental Health – It’s Time to Talk.

#atozchallenge: I is for Insomnia

InsomniaDear Insomnia,

Can I call you that? I’m not sure one night of sleeplessness can be called insomnia, but if our previous encounters are anything to go by, you’ll be wanting to hang around for a bit.

So, it’s been a while. Three months in fact. Last time, you popped in for Christmas and ended up staying for New Year. What brings you this way now? Oh, hang on a minute. It’s because I’ve switched my brain on again isn’t it? It’s because I’ve started thinking and writing and creating.

‘What’s the big deal?’ I hear you ask. Well, actually there is no big deal; you’re no big deal. I’ve got the measure of you, mate – you and the friends you bring with you: good old depression and anxiety – and this time, there’s no room at the inn. You see, I’ve got friends too, and they’re pretty good ones. Let me introduce them to you. First up, there’s Resilience and Determination. They’re great for keeping me going when things get tough. Another friend, Keep It In Perspective, has been very helpful in the past, and I’m glad to say that I’ve recently made the acquaintance of two really kind and gentle folk: Go Easy On Yourself and Look What You’ve Already Overcome.

Okay, you can pop in from time to time if you really want to, but I’m afraid I won’t be able to offer you a bed for the night – my home is too full already, and that’s not really your thing anyway is it? We’ll just have to sit up for a bit and have a chat over a banana and a cup of warm milk and honey before you go.

Best wishes and all that!

Natalie x

Linkidinks:

An explanation of my AtoZChallenge theme can be found at Me and My Mental Health – It’s Time to Talk.

#atozchallenge: H is for Home

ParasolThe good times … and the bad …

Home is where I lay my head.

I’ve had homes in a lot of places. For the first nine years of my life, home was a semi-detached house in a small village in Kent. I have a few very vague memories of playing with my best friend and going to school there. After Kent, we moved to High Wycombe which is the place I call home-home. It’s where I did most of my growing up and where my mum and sister still live. I go home-home as often as I can. After High Wycombe, came Bath. I studied at the University there and did a four-year tour of student accommodation. I got married there and lived in a fourth-floor flat in the city centre for a couple of years – just up the road from the Haagen Daz cafe! I also had my babies there, and we bought our first house there: a teeny-tiny terraced place on a hill overlooking the city. During my studies, I travelled a bit too; I spent six months in Israel and then six months in Salisbury – not quite as exotic! Now, I live in a semi-rural village in Hampshire, just around the corner from my in-laws and just over an hour away from my mum. We are now in our second home in this village … We moved in to our current home in October last year.

I’ve always been a homebody. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not unadventurous, but home is where I usually feel most comfortable. Home is where I go to recharge my batteries after I’ve been adventurous. Home is a sanctuary. Home is a haven.

Or it should be …

Depression, unfortunately, is no respecter of home. During my teenage years at home-home, both my mum and dad battled with it. Our teeny-tiny terrace house in Bath was where I first suffered from it, and our home before this one was where I thought I’d recovered from it but found that I still had a long, long way to go. On my journey back to wellness, home has been a place of rest and recovery, but it has also, at times, felt like a prison from which I desperately needed to escape. The trouble is, wherever you go, there you are, and there are some problems you can’t leave behind.

Right now, I am well, and home feels like a happy, warm, light, open and joyous place. Should my mood dip again, and should I find myself pacing like a tiger in a cage, I shall remind myself that it’s not home that has changed; it’s the chemicals in my brain.

Linkidinks:

An explanation of my AtoZChallenge theme can be found at Me and My Mental Health – It’s Time to Talk.

#atozchallenge: G is for Guilt

GuiltThings that hinder …

Sometimes it seems as if every day there is something new to feel guilty about.

Oops, I’ve left the TV on standby; the ice caps are going to melt … No, sorry, I’m not going to set up a direct debit to your charity even if it is only for £3 a month; I’m such a bad person … Bugger, I threw that sliver of paper in the waste bin instead of the recycling box … Yes, I have eaten my five-a-day. What do you mean it’s seven-a-day now? I’m a ‘stay-at-home’ mum; I must be wasting my education. I’m soon going to be a ‘working’ mum; that means I’ll be neglecting my children. No, I didn’t manage 10,000 steps today. No, these bananas are not fairtrade. No, I haven’t grown this carrot myself in an organic raised bed that I cobbled together from reclaimed timber that was originally from a sustainable forest! No, I haven’t done the dishes. No, I haven’t cleaned the toilet. Yes, I am watching The Mentalist and mucking about on Twitter while every single person in the rest of the world is hard at work …

That’s just a little snapshot of some of the thoughts that go through my head on my less rational days.

I find guilt destructive – it’s too closely related to shame. Guilt paralyses me. Guilt makes me feel bad and lowers my self-esteem to the point where I feel I am a worthless, useless waste of space.

Yes, I need to take responsibility for my actions. Yes, I need to acknowledge my mistakes, deliberate and otherwise. Yes, I need to apologise for those mistakes and make every effort not to do again whatever it was I did that required an apology in the first place.

BUT … I also need to cut myself some slack. I’m not perfect. I do make mistakes. Sometimes I make the same mistakes over and over again. For years, I felt guilty about some of the things I thought, said and did while I had (and was recovering from) depression, and that guilt hindered my return to health. Looking back, I want to hug the woman I was and tell her that it was not her fault, that it was the illness talking, thinking and doing. ‘Just let it go, love. Move on. Don’t dwell on the past. Dump the guilt and shame. Be free.’

Linkidinks:

An explanation of my AtoZChallenge theme can be found at Me and My Mental Health – It’s Time to Talk.

#atozchallenge: F is for Fiction

FictionThings that help …

My first published short story was The Greatest of These, written in 2010 for a course I was studying at the Open University. It’s about a mother, her daughter, her soon-to-be-born grandchild and the sacrifices we make in the name of love. Not long before I started the course, I’d been wrestling with all sorts of conflicting feelings about doing what was best for my family and doing what was best for me, and along with my feelings, my experiences with depression and anxiety grappled their way out of my head and onto the page. I remember that writing it felt cathartic. It’s not completely autobiographical though; it’s heavily fictionalised, but now that another four years have passed, I can read the story and see exactly how far I’ve come.

doors
(c) Heather Stanley

I started writing fiction on doctor’s orders. She said I needed to give my brain something other than my anxieties to focus on. That was in 2006, and I’ve been writing stories (and doing writing courses) on and off ever since. One of my insomnia-tackling tricks is to mentally walk down my story corridor, opening doors and peeking in on the characters and worlds I’ve stowed behind each one. Usually, within a couple of minutes of poking around, I’m fast asleep. Sometimes it doesn’t work, though, so on those nights, I have to apply logic and remind myself that even if I don’t sleep, I’ll survive, and if it carries on, I can always take 10mg of amitriptyline a night for a couple of weeks to get me back on track. Thankfully, I rarely have to resort to that these days.

I don’t just love to write fiction, I love to read it too. My teenage years were spent riding dragons on Pern and administering Voigt-Kampff tests after World War Terminus. Before that, I drugged pheasants with Danny the Champion of the World and climbed Faraway Trees with Moonface and Mr Watzisname. I’ve solved crimes, captured serial killers, swashbuckled with pirates and been swept off my feet by Messrs Rochester and Darcy.

Fiction allows me to examine, but it also allows me to escape. Fiction helps.

Linkidinks:

An explanation of my AtoZChallenge theme can be found at Me and My Mental Health – It’s Time to Talk.

#atozchallenge: E is for Eggs

EggsThings that help …

Mmm … eggs. I love eggs. I love them fried, poached, boiled and scrambled. They’re a good source of protein, and although they do contain cholesterol, the latest advice from the British Heart Foundation is that there is no limit to the number of eggs you can eat each week!

I’ve been following the BHF’s So You Want to Lose Weight for Good guide since September last year and have so far lost over 3 stone (20+kg). Eggs have always been part of my diet, but I eat them more regularly now. (Two eggs count as one portion of protein.) Losing weight has had a majorly positive impact on my health, both physical and mental. I am so much fitter and can do so much more – like walking my daughter to school without any back pain and without breaking into a sweat – and I feel as if I’m starting to get to grips with all the food/weight/body-image issues I’ve been wrestling with since I hit puberty, but I’ll come to those in another post …

Eggs contain tryptophan, one of the building blocks of protein, which plays a roll in mood. According to the British Dietetic Association, studies have shown that adding pure tryptophan to the diet of people with depression can improve their mood. You can’t buy tryptophan supplements in the UK, but you can buy eggs!

A quick google of ‘health benefits eggs depression’ takes me to Top 10 Health Benefits of Eggs which tells me that:

“Eggs, being rich in vitamin B12, can help improve your mood and keep stress at bay. They also contain other B vitamins such as vitamin B6 and folate that promote mental and emotional well-being. In addition, egg yolks are a good source of lecithin, which works as a mood stabilizer. Eggs are also believed to help treat depression due to their high levels of the amino acids methionine and cysteine.”

Sounds good to me!

Linkidinks:

An explanation of my AtoZChallenge theme can be found at Me and My Mental Health – It’s Time to Talk.

#atozchallenge: D is for Duvet Days

Duvet DayThings that help …

Some days it feels as if the sun has gone behind a cloud and is never going to come out again. Some days the most I achieve is getting the kids up, washed, dressed, fed and to school on time. Some days it’s just all too much.

It’s on those days I have a Duvet Day. I dig out a DVD box set, curl up on the sofa, snuggle up under my blankets and switch off my brain. Once upon a time, I would have seen that as giving in, admitting defeat, being lazy, wasting time, but now I think of it taking much-needed rest and allowing myself to recover. Sometimes keeping going is exactly what I need to do, but sometimes it isn’t. Over the last few years, I’ve learned to listen to my body and my brain and most of the time I’m able to do what’s right for them. Happily (and perhaps unsurprisingly) my need for Duvet Days is growing less and less and less …

Linkidinks:

An explanation of my AtoZChallenge theme can be found at Me and My Mental Health – It’s Time to Talk.

#atozchallenge: C is for Cognitive Behaviour Therapy

CBTThings that help …

When I was first diagnosed with depression and anxiety, my GP told me to speak to my health visitor and ask for some Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT). This was in 2006, and I’d never heard of CBT, but I asked anyway because I would have done anything to get better.

‘Sorry,’ said the health visitor, ‘we used to offer CBT, but since our funding was cut we can’t anymore.’

I remember thinking ‘Typical!’ but at the time I wasn’t all that bothered; I was just relieved that my doctor had put me on antidepressants. Six months later, I was off the medication and feeling a lot better, but it’s been a long and bumpy journey back to good mental health.

Moving on to 2014 …

Not long ago, when my daughter developed some school-related worries, I bought What to Do When You Worry Too Much – A Kids’ Guide to Overcoming Anxieties, and it was only once I read it myself that I realised I’d unintentionally been giving myself CBT over the last few years. The book’s advice on how to beat your worries amounts to the following:

  • Think of your worries as plants. If you nurture them, they will grow. If you ignore them, they will die.
  • Lock up your worries in a mental strong box and only air them at an agreed Worry Time.
  • Use logic. Think about what is really true rather than what you’re afraid might happen. Remind yourself that bad things don’t happen very often, but if they do, you’ll survive.
  • Imagine your worries as a bully who sits on your shoulder and whispers in your ear. Tell him to ‘Buzz off!’ Tell him he’s lying. Flick him off your shoulder and stamp on him!
  • Get active. Burn off your worry energy by moving your body.
  • Breathe deeply and relax with a favourite memory.
  • Remind yourself of all the things you’re good at and do them.

My worries revolve around sleep. It was lack of sleep and an obsession with my baby’s sleep that triggered my depression and anxiety in the first place, and if I have trouble sleeping now, those old feelings come creeping back, but by unwittingly doing my own version of the above, I have armed myself with weapons to use against them. I only wish I’d learned about them sooner.

Linkidinks:

An explanation of my AtoZChallenge theme can be found at Me and My Mental Health – It’s Time to Talk.