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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.”
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.
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, thank goodness, and that’s partly due to our wonderful National Health Service, partly due to all the support I’ve received from my awesome friends and family and partly due 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, and looking back over it is like looking at a map of all the journeys I’ve been on over the last few years – so I’ve decided to keep it and use it to talk about my recent experience of mental illness and my current journey of recovery … plus whatever else pops into my head.
Catch you soon!
Love Natalie x
“There’s a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.” Leonard Cohen.