I’m Not Shy

IntrovertThe weight loss programme my doctor referred me to last year, involved several sessions with a Motivation and Change Therapist, and during one of those sessions, we talked about how I often find social situations difficult.

I said to her, ‘The thing is, you can put me on a stage in front of hundreds of people, and I will happily sing or speak. You can stand me at the front of a classroom or church, and I will happily teach. But if you were to put me in a room with a handful of people I don’t know and ask me to talk to them, I’d just want to run for the hills. I find that kind of thing really, really, really hard work.’

And her response was, ‘You sound like a confident introvert.’

‘Ooh,’ I thought. ‘A confident introvert? That sounds interesting. I must find out more.’

So I did, and one of the things I found out is that being an introvert is not the same as being shy. Whereas introverts enjoy time alone, people who are shy don’t actually want to be alone; they just choose to be alone because they’re afraid of interaction. Whilst therapy might help a shy person become less shy, it isn’t going to fix introversion because introversion isn’t something that needs fixing. It’s a way of being. Introverts are not antisocial, and they’re not friendless loners who lack social skills. They simply have a different set of needs and preferences to extroverts. For example, introverts:

  • prefer fewer, closer friendships to having lots and lots of friends,
  • need loads of personal space,
  • need time to recharge their batteries after social interaction,
  • prefer to be on the sidelines at parties and events,
  • prefer individual activities, such as reading and writing
  • like to hang back and familiarise themselves with something before joining in,
  • often have two distinct persona: a public one and a private one,
  • avoid talking about their achievements and underplay their gifts and talents,
  • dislike smalltalk and prefer ‘meaningful’ discussions,
  • hate interruption,
  • need lots of thinking and reflecting time,
  • prefer to express themselves through writing rather than speech,
  • pause a lot and can have word-finding problems when speaking,
  • become irritable if they have to spend lots of time with lots of people,
  • feel drained even when they’ve enjoyed social interaction, and
  • can find it difficult to share their feelings.

But while introversion may look like shyness (or even weakness) on the outside, it certainly has its strengths. Introverts:

  • are excellent listeners,
  • are deep thinkers and reflectors,
  • are creative,
  • are focused and good at concentrating for long periods of time,
  • like to explore subjects deeply and thoroughly,
  • are very aware of their inner worlds – their thoughts, ideas, beliefs and feelings, and
  • can be very observant.

This is me to a T. But what does it all mean? It means that some of my ‘weaknesses’ are actually strengths. It means I don’t need to feel that daydreaming is a waste of time. It means I don’t need to feel that I’m being rude because I would rather work on my own than in a group, or feel stupid because I can’t rustle up an instantaneous opinion during a discussion, or feel selfish because I need to leave a social situation because I’m craving personal space. It means that feeling irritable is a natural response to interruption and over-stimulation. It means it’s okay for me to say no to something when it feels like doing it would be too much. It means it’s okay for me to take time out in order to recharge my batteries. It means I don’t need fixing. I’m okay as I am.

And if all this still sounds like weakness, then have a watch of this: The Power of Introverts, a TEDtalk by Susan Cain.

#atozchallenge: R is for Retiring

5367644607_cd7b43840b_zI’m retiring from the AtoZChallenge. This is a decision based upon the fact that I’ve just looked at the topics I intended to cover in my remaining posts and realised that I’ve already covered them. I’ve accomplished what I set out to do here. I’ve talked about me and my mental health – the good times, the bad times, the things that help, the things that hinder. To post any more now would be pointless repetition.

More importantly, this decision is also based upon my desire to beat the all-or-nothing attitude that has plagued me over the last few years. I’ve lost count of the number of wagons I’ve watched disappear over the horizon because I’ve fallen off and not had the strength to chase after them and jump back on. This all-or-nothing attitude was part of the reason I put on so much weight after I had depression; I’d start a diet, lose a stone, fall off the plan, give up and then put on more weight than I’d lost. In those days, I hadn’t recovered the wherewithal to be able to let go and move on.

Leaving things unfinished like this makes me itch, but finishing something just for the sake of it, finishing something that is no longer of benefit, is not a good use of my time or energy. I need to be comfortable with putting down the unfinished. I need be comfortable with leaving things incomplete and imperfect. I need to be able to take a day off an eating plan and start afresh the next without feeling like I’ve ruined all my previous efforts. I need to be able to miss a day in my ‘photo a day’ journal without having to go back and fake a picture just so there aren’t any gaps in the calendar. I need to be able to leave an AtoZChallenge at R without having to delete the whole series because it’s incomplete.

Leaving things here is not a failure. It is a victory.

Right, now that’s out of the way, I’m off to have a good scratch …

Linkidinks:

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

#atozchallenge: Q is for Quiet

It is never quiet where I am.

Tinnitus is any sound a person can hear that’s generated inside the body rather than outside. In other words, my ears and my brain hear noises that aren’t really there. I first noticed it in my late teens as a fax-machine-like beeping in my left ear. I’d only hear it late at night, when I was falling asleep, and it didn’t really bother me. Looking back it was probably caused by too many hours spent listening to loud music on my personal stereo and standing too near the speakers at gigs.

A few years ago, though, it got worse. I’d had a nasty cold which left me all bunged up, and I couldn’t hear properly out of either ear. I thought my hearing would improve after the cold got better, but it didn’t. For weeks, I felt as if I were under water. I had to really concentrate on conversations, and busy places made my head spin. Eventually, I went to the doctor complaining of headaches, hearing loss and an increase in the volume of my tinnitus. It sounded as if I were sitting next to a rushing river and surrounded by people blowing whistles and ringing bells. My doctor, bless him, told me it could be caused by one of two things: a virus or a brain tumor. Yes! Those were his exact words. Anyway, he referred me to the ENT department at our local hospital who saw me fairly promptly and who happily told me, after tickling my face with cotton wool and testing my hearing in an anechoic chamber, that they were satisfied it was a virus and that my hearing should return in time.

Well, time proved them right about it not being a brain tumor! And my hearing did come back after a few months. But, my tinnitus remains the same. It’s still there, rushing, whistling and ringing. All. The. Time. But I’ve learned to live with it.

Running WaterI saw a tinnitus therapist for a while. She was brilliant. She gave me a tinnitus mask which is a little devise you stick in your ear. It plays white noise to you and trains your brain to ignore the sound and others similar to it. I also had to avoid being anywhere silent. I had to have sound around me at all times – running water, passing cars, a whirring fan, a running washing machine, a radio on low in the background – to give my brain something else to focus on, so it could learn to ignore the noises in my head. Which it did. Most of the time, I don’t notice it. It’s as if my brain has switched to a different channel, but I can switch back if I want to, and if I do, it’s there.

The only time it’s a problem is if I have a cold and my head gets bunged up. Then the tinnitus makes itself known. Loudly! Sometimes this stops me sleeping, which, as I’ve said before, can trigger my anxiety. My brain won’t switch channel, and it won’t switch off. If this happens, I have to distract my mind with stories and employ my other anti-insomnia tricks. I’ve also got a set of pillow-speakers and a play list of white noise and nature sounds on iTunes that I can listen to to help re-tune my brain. As well as that, I consume decongestants by the tonne!

Linkidinks:

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

#atozchallenge: P is for Photography

A photo taken by my sister of me and my brother taking photos. We all caught the photography bug from our dad!

I caught the photography bug from my dad. One of my earliest memories is of playing with a light meter and being mesmerized by lumpy-bumpy light-detecting bit. I’ve always had a camera, first a cheapie 110, then a couple of cheapie 35mm’s, then a digital compact and now a DSLR and an iPhone. Until I took a course in photography a few years ago, I wasn’t actually very good at it, but now that I’ve learned about the art of composition and the importance of lighting and point of view etc, I can turn out a half-decent picture.

Photography isn’t just about the end product, though, the final picture. For me, photography is about the moment, about stopping and looking – really looking – and then capturing something more than an image; it’s about capturing a memory.

PenguinMy memory is rubbish. I only have a few childhood memories and those are fading. I’ve forgotten so much, but photography helps me to remember. For the last year, I’ve been taking a photo every day and publishing it on blipfoto. It’s been a way to record the good things that happen, not just for me, for my children as well. One of our favourite things to do is snuggle up in bed and look through our photo albums. The kids love seeing themselves as babies and hearing about all the silly things they did, the cute little words they made up. Sophie’s early years are a blur to me – the years I had depression – but sitting there with her and laughing at the pictures in her album reminds me that it wasn’t all bad; there were some wonderful moments too.

Wonderful MomentsLinkidinks:

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

#atozchallenge: O is for Opinions

Opinions.

I have them.

For a long time though I didn’t. Or rather, I did have them, but I couldn’t trust them. Depression, anxiety and losing confidence often go hand in hand. They did for me. I’d always been confident, but once depression hit, my self-esteem hit rock bottom. I found it hard to make decisions, to hold conversations, to stand up for myself, to put across my point of view. I doubted myself all the time with regard to pretty much everything. It’s taken a long while to recover from having my judgement corroded. Even now, I sometimes find myself wondering if I’m just being irrational. Its been hard to trust my thoughts and feelings again, but there have been a few things that have helped (and still help) me in this regard:

  • Journaling – Putting my thoughts, feelings down on paper, helps me keep them in perspective. For me, journaling is a form of prayer. It’s a way to hand things over to God, to share them, to ask for help and then move on. Once written down, my thoughts are no longer swirling around my head, getting bigger and bigger and bigger.
  • Honesty – I have a codeword that I use when I’m feeling irrational or down. All I have to do is say it to Matt and he knows that I need a little extra support, a little extra space, a little extra leeway. (Somber Scribbler wrote an excellent post about loving someone with depression. It’s well worth a read.)
  • Reminders – It’s easy to forget the things I’ve got right, the things I’ve done well, so having reminders around me is really useful: photographs I’ve taken, stories I’ve written, scrapbooks of adventures, letters of encouragement, thank you cards, two beautiful children …
  • Refocusing – It’s easier to focus on the bad stuff than on the good stuff, but I’ve learned to push away negative thoughts and turn to positive ones instead. I actually have a mental broom with which I sweep negative thoughts and memories from my mind.
  • Getting out and about – When my self-esteem is low, the last thing I want to do is mingle, but leaving the house and being with people actually helps. Volunteering at school and church makes me feel useful and helps me see what I’m good at.
  • Friendship – I have some lovely friends, and the fact that they seem to like me makes me feel better about myself.
  • Studying – Learning new things shows me that I’m still capable and not a washed up waste of space!

ScupperedLinkidinks:

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

#atozchallenge: N is for Natalie

Me
Image by Heather Stanley (c)

I’ve suffered from depression. I’ve suffered from anxiety. And the shadows they have cast have been long and cold. But, I am more than my mental health problems. This is easy to forget when the black dog is bounding around the house, so I’ve decided to use today’s post as a record of all the other things … the good things … that I am.

I am Natalie.

And, in no particular order …

I am also the wife of the son of a preacher man, the mother of two amazing children, my parents’ daughter*, a daughter-in-law, a sister, a sister-in-law, an auntie, a niece, a graduate, a lapsed Biochemist, a post-postgraduate, an ex-science teacher, a published writer, an editor and publisher, a happily-amateur photographer, a youth and children’s worker, a toddler group leader, a singer, a ukulele player, a follower of Jesus, a speaker, a walker, a listener, a friend, a volunteer, an introvert, a storyteller, a tutor, a mentor, a perpetual student, a parent helper, the best cook in the world (according to my kids), an excellent driver (most of the time), a teenager at heart, a creative, a reader, a thinker, a dreamer, a story scavenger, a survivor.

The photo I’ve picked for today’s post is of me and my daughter. It was taken about 8 years ago, just before I started my descent into depression. Once upon a time, I found it hard to look at because it reminded me of all the time and experiences my family and I missed out on while I was ill, and it reminded me of the woman I had once been – strong, confident, capable, happy. But now, when I look at it, I only feel the tiniest twinge of sadness. Now, she doesn’t seem so different from the woman I am today.

(*I am my father’s daughter. I inherited my analytical mind and my keen sense of justice from him. I am also my mother’s daughter. I inherited my love of words and my capacity for volunteer work from her.)

Linkidinks:

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

#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.