Recovering Out Loud: Managing Distress with Gotmann’s Tasks

Hello! And welcome to this Anxiety, Art and Me video. I’ve been writing a lot about mental health on my blog lately, and wanted to share some of my thoughts on YouTube as well – so here is a video in which I talk about a recent situation in which I used Gotmann’s Tasks to manage a stressful situation. I also create a page in my art journal – to give you something pretty to watch while I waffle! Thanks for stopping by!

If you’d like to financially support my channel please visit my online shop, StonetableDesignsUK, and buy one of my unique, handmade cards, bookmarks or sticker sets. Thank you!

Mental Health Monday: What Is This Thing Called Recovery? Part Three

Hello, and welcome to another What Is This Thing Called Recovery? post. This week, I want to talk about some more of the recovery themes I’ve embraced over the last year, and how they are playing out in my life on a daily basis. (Catch-up on parts one and two.)

In my last post, I talked about the umbrella themes of Hope, Agency and Opportunity. In this post I’m going to give you a brief run-down of some of their sub-themes and what they mean to me:

Turning Point of Acceptance

One of the Recovery College course facilitators often points out that he thinks this theme should be Turning POINTS of Acceptance, rather than POINT. I completely agree. I think acceptance is an ongoing process, just as recovery is an ongoing process. I’ve had to accept that I was ill, that I needed help, that I needed to go into hospital, that I was ready to come out of hospital, that I could recover, that I could take responsibility for my recovery, that I could live a satisfying and contributory life even within the limitations imposed on me by illness, that sometimes I can’t manage to do everything I want to do in the way I want to do it. Every day, I have to accept that the only certainty we have in life is that uncertainty is part of life!

Valued Identity, Relationships and Roles

Mental illness can deeply undermine a person’s identity. It did for me. Before I began to recover, I frequently questioned what the point of me was. I felt useless and burdensome. Part of my recovery has been examining and rediscovering who I am, who I believe myself to be, and what I can, and should, contribute to the world. I now know that I have to be creative, I have to make things with my hands. I also know that just because I’m able to do something well, doesn’t mean I need to do that something. The Recovery College runs a whole day course on identity which I’ll talk about in my next post, so I’ll leave it at that for now.

Purpose and Active Participation in Life

This theme is sister to Valued Identity, Relationships and Roles. Our sense of purpose and the way we participate in life comes from, and informs, our identity, relationships and roles. Knowing that I need to be creative, and that it’s okay to not do everything I once did, has freed me physically, mentally and emotionally to explore new avenues of expression and contribution. Making and selling cards, telling the story of my recovery, working on design teams … I could never have imagined this two years ago, but it’s where I am and where I want to be. Recovery has made these things possible, and these things are making recovery possible.

Support

Where do I start? There are so many people I want to acknowledge that this paragraph could end up sounding like an Oscar acceptance speech! Obviously, there’s my husband and my children, my mum, sister and brother, my amazing parents-in-law, my best friend, my church family, my online friends, the hospital staff, my GP, my community support worker, the pharmacists, God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit … I’m bound to leave someone out. The point is, I’m not doing this alone. It’s a team effort.

Self-Management and Responsibility

I wrote in quite a bit of detail about this topic in my Regaining Control – It’s Up to Me Post, so I’ll encourage you to have a read of that, but in short: I am taking responsibility for my recovery by choosing hope, by living intentionally and mindfully and by getting into and maintaining daily habits that promote wellness. I can’t really go into any more detail here because that’s what this whole blog is about! Just have a rummage through my other posts …

Choice and Information

I don’t think I’d be where I am today without all the information I’ve acquired over the last year or so. Everything I’ve learned about recovery, I’ve learned in hospital workshops, on Recovery College courses, through the wise counsel of family and friends, and through my own research – mainly via TED Talks on YouTube. It’s all this information that has equipped me and allowed me to make informed choices about my care and my recovery.

Individuality and Creativity

I’ve touched on this already, but I think it’s worth saying that recovery is a very individual process. We are all different, so everyone’s recovery nitty gritty is going to be different. What helps in my recovery might not help in yours. Not everyone is going to find purpose, meaningful occupation and a sense of utility through designing and making greetings cards, but I firmly believe that everyone is creative – it’s God-given. It’s just a matter of finding the time, energy, support, materials, inspiration, channels that you need … not a tall order then!

Seriously, though I’ve come to realise that loss of creativity is one of my mental illness early warning signs. About a year before I became really ill, I stopped creating and struggled to write anything. That should have rung alarm bells, but I didn’t know then what I know now. Anyway, my creativity came back slowly. It began in hospital with fine-liners and colouring books, and continued with zentangling and then with card-making and now with writing on this blog, design team work, planning, journaling, bible journaling, scrapbooking and making YouTube videos about it all. As I have recovered, I have become more creative, and as I have become more creative, I have carried on recovering. Creativity isn’t just about arts and crafts, though; it’s about problem solving and health management and work and, well, the whole of life. Creativity is an approach to life.

Spirituality

I’m not going to go into detail about Spirituality here because I’ve got a whole blog post planned on the topic, but I will say that I believe we are all spiritual beings, that there is more to us than flesh, blood and bone, and that we need to nurture this facet of ourselves. My faith has played a big part in my recovery, and I believe that God has been with me throughout. It’s important to me that I don’t dress up my struggles to make them more presentable and palatable to the world. I don’t want to share my stories as if they are complete, all wrapped up in pretty paper and tied with a flashy bow. Recovery stories are messy and difficult to contain, and so are faith stories. My recovery story and my faith story are intertwined and inseparable and require a lot more room to tell properly, so stay tuned!

So that’s it: a whistle-stop tour of some common recovery themes and the part they’re playing in my life. Next week, I’ll be back with a post about mental illness and our sense of self. Until then …

Thanks for reading! xxx

You can read more of my Mental Health Monday posts here.

Anxiety, Art and Me [04]: A Balanced Life

Hello! And welcome to this Anxiety, Art and Me video. I’ve been writing a lot about mental health on my blog lately, and wanted to share some of my thoughts on YouTube as well – so here is a video in which I talk about The Nine Pillars of a Balanced Life and how it’s helping my recovery while doing something arty for you to watch. Thanks for stopping by!

If you’d like to financially support my channel please visit my online shop, StonetableDesignsUK, and buy one of my unique, handmade cards, bookmarks or sticker sets. Thank you!

Mental Health Monday: What Is This Thing Called Recovery? Part Two

Hello! and welcome to another Mental Health Monday post! Last week, I shared some of the recovery concepts I’ve embraced over this last year. In this post, I’m going to talk about some of the details and how I’m manifesting recovery in my daily life.

First-up, there are a few posts that have already addressed some of this, so I’ll link them here and you can have a read if you like.

Probably the simplest thing would be to tell you just to rummage through this blog, but I want to try to distill it down for you! This week, I’ll talk about some common recovery themes and add a little detail as I go.

Hope is a central aspect of recovery and, the Recovery Movement goes so far as to say that recovery is probably not possible without it. Hope is what sustains motivation and supports the idea that an individual can live a fulfilling life even with the limitations caused by illness. I find hope in the everyday – in birdsong and blue skies, in the sound of the sea and the smell of fish ‘n’ chips, in the laughter of my loved-ones and the paint in my pallet, in the rising of the sun and the setting of the same. I keep a gratitude log and, every day, I write down a few things I’m grateful for. I surround myself with sights, sounds, smells, sensations, colours, work and people that nourish me, and I remind myself that I’ve made it through difficult times before, and that God is with me. This too shall pass, and I’ll be all the stronger for it.

Agency is another aspect of recovery. It refers to people having a sense of control over their lives and their recovery. It’s about people taking control of their own problems and the service they receive. It is about self-management, self-determination, choice and responsibility. Realising that I could be in the driving seat of my recovery was a big turning point for me. My wellness wasn’t solely in the hands of the medical professionals – I could make decisions for myself and direct my care. This has manifested itself in a number of ways, from telling my doctor and pharmacist that I wanted two months’ supply of medication at a time, rather than one, to feeling okay about resting and not doing things that I know will tire me out thus making me more vulnerable to unhelpful thinking. I don’t go to church every Sunday because sometimes I need to just be on my own and recharge. I don’t often go out in the evening because staying home and journaling is more nourishing and revitalising than going to a connect-group or the pub. If I’ve had a busy day, I write ‘rest day’ in my planner on the following day and then stay home. I say yes when I want to say yes, and no when I want to say no. Having a sense of agency is empowering – it says that I am the expert on me, and I know what I need, and I don’t need to feel guilty about making sure that my needs are met.

Opportunity is the third main aspect of recovery. It links recovery with social inclusion and people’s participation in wider society. As a general rule, those of us with mental health issues want to be part of communities: to be valued, to contribute and to have access to the same opportunities as everyone else. I realise that what I wrote about Agency makes me sound like a bit of a recluse, and in many ways I am, and always have been. I’m your classic introvert: likes people but finds interacting with them draining and needs a lot of post-socialising down time to recover. However, there are times when I want to stay home, but know it will do me good to get out, so to maintain a balanced life, I go to church most weeks, I try to get to my husband’s gigs once in a while, I go to parties with the proviso that I might only stay an hour, I meet friends one-to-one or in small groups for coffee and a chat. And I enjoy it! I’m always glad I went. I feel included and part of the world around me.

As far as contributing goes, I’ve cut back. Before I was ill, I was a busy bee. I was heavily involved in church: co-running a monthly craft club, administering the church website, occasional preaching, delivering all-age talks, teaching Sunday school, leading an Alpha Course small group, singing in the music team, co-leading the youth group and running a toddler group, and while all of those things were enjoyable and fulfilling in their own way, my life was very skewed. What with looking after my home and family as well, I didn’t have much time or energy for what figuring out what it was I actually wanted to do with my life, let alone actually doing it. If one good thing came out of my recent episode of mental illness, it’s that it made me stop, drop all my commitments, and take stock. And, very, very slowly, I’ve taken back some of my church-related jobs: I still help with the craft group, I still manage the church website, and I sing, once a month, in the music group. That’s it. It’s a healthy level of contribution for me at the moment. This last year has also given me the time and energy to figure out how I really want to contribute to the wider world. Right now, that’s arting, crafting and making greetings cards – spreading a little joy – creating papercraft projects for a couple of design teams, and sharing about Recovery on my blog, YouTube, Facebook and Instagram. I feel as if God, through the gradual unfurling of my creativity and recovery, is slowly unfolding new meaning and purpose in my life.

So that’s where I’m at the moment. I hope you’ve found something helpful here. Next week, I plan to write on some more recovery themes and how they’re playing out in my life.

Thanks for reading! Back soon. xxx

You can read more of my Mental Health Monday posts here.

Planning Out Loud: W/B 21May 2018

Hello! Welcome to my weekly Plan With Me video in which I get the coming week all decorated and set-up and my appointments, events and tasks planned out in my bullet journal. Thanks for watching! xxx

If you’d like to financially support my channel please visit my online shop, StonetableDesignsUK, and buy one of my unique, handmade cards, bookmarks or sticker sets. Thank you!

Mental Health Monday: What Is This Thing Called Recovery? Part One

What springs to mind when you hear the word recovery? Perhaps it’s that room they wheel you into after you’ve had an operation. Perhaps it’s getting your breath back after you’ve run a race. Perhaps it’s a road rescue truck, towing a conked-out car.

Recovery is one of those things we usually don’t think about until we need to, until we’re ill, exhausted, broken.

When I had post-natal depression in 2005/6, it was all about getting better and getting back to my old self again. I never really considered that there might be more to recovery than that – maybe that’s part of the reason I was so vulnerable to depression this time; I didn’t make any real changes to my life once I was better the first time. But thanks to the mental health unit I was admitted to in 2017, and to The Recovery College, I’ve learned that recovery is about much more than just getting back to the way I was before, and it’s not about being rescued.

What Is This Thing Called Recovery? was the third Recovery College course I attended. As it happens, it was almost a year ago to the day. Over the course of three-ish hours, we dug into the concept of Recovery and what it means with regards to mental illness. We looked at what clinical recovery is – the amelioration of symptoms – and we looked at what personal recovery is, and that’s what I want to focus on in this post: personal recovery.

With illnesses such as depression and anxiety, you might say that someone is clinically recovered when they no longer feel depressed or anxious, but for many people with long term mental health issues, some or all of their symptoms may never go away completely. And even depression and anxiety can linger in lower levels for years. Does that mean that all these people can’t recover or be in recovery? If so, what hope do they have? Well, one of the many turning points in my recovery was realising that personal recovery is not about the the amelioration of symptoms; instead:

A person with mental illness can recover even though the illness is not ‘cured’. Recovery is a way of living a satisfying, hopeful and contributory life even with the limitations caused by illness. Recovery involves the development of new meaning and purpose in one’s life as one grows beyond the catastrophic effects of mental illness.

– Bill Anthony, the father of the Recovery Movement (1993)

When I first heard that, it blew me away, and I knew that my recovery had to be about growing beyond the catastrophic effects of depression and anxiety, about developing new meaning, new purpose, and about living a satisfying, hopeful, contributory life, even though I might still be experiencing the symptoms of depression and anxiety. I realised I didn’t have to wait to be cured or fixed before I could get on with my life – I could start living again right away!

Moving on: one of the actvities we did on the course was to come up with as many words as we could to describe recovery. I jotted them all down in my bullet journal. (Click on the image for a closer look.) See how positive, exciting, hopeful those words are? And they were all suggested by a bunch of people living with mental illness. I think that’s pretty amazing!

Anyhoo … throughout the course, many more quotes about recovery were shared, and you know how I love my quotes, so here are a few more:

 

Recovery is …

… a journey, not a destination.

… about having a satisfying, fulfilling life as defined by the individual.

… not fixing what’s broken; it’s finding wholeness, meaning and purpose.

… a reconnection to self, others, nature and spirit.

… a willingness to forgive, openness to reconciliation, a search for peace.

And here’s the biggie, the one that this blog is all about, the one that’s defining my recovery:

Recovery is not managing illness; it’s discovering wellness.

I know this post is a bit thin on details, but I just wanted to share the concepts I’ve embraced over this last year. In my next post, I’ll talk a bit more about how I’m manifesting these concepts in my life.

Thanks for reading! Back soon. xxx

You can read more of my Mental Health Monday posts here.

Bible Journaling Out Loud: An Introduction

Hello, and welcome to my channel! In this video I talk about my recovery from mental illness and the part my faith is playing in it. I also tell you why I’ve started Bible Journaling and invite you to watch as I create my first entry. If Bible Journaling is not your thing, feel free to skip this video and come back for usual my Plan With Me, Journal With Me and Crafting Out Loud videos. Thanks for watching! xxx

Mental Health Monday – Choose Hope

Over the last few Mental Health Mondays, I’ve written a lot about the things I learned on the Recovery College’s Holding the Hope course, so you’d be forgiven for thinking I’d written all there is to write on the subject, but oh no … there’s more! Last year, I also attended a second course on hope. It was the bitesize version of the first, and provided a good refresher of all that I’d already learned plus a few extra helpful ideas. One of the benefits of writing these posts, has been that I’ve gone over what I learned a year ago and reminded myself of all the things I’d forgotten or internalised. Internalising ideas and getting into wellness habits is a good thing, but sometimes I fall out of good habits because I don’t remember why I started doing them in the first place! But that’s a side note – on with today’s post …

I’ve called this post Choose Hope because that’s what I learned to do as a result of going on it. Often, we hear things like: look on the bright side, every cloud has a silver lining, or think positive, and it sounds so simple, but as anyone who’s suffered from depression or anxiety can tell you: simple is not the same as easy. Being positive is a choice, but it can be a very difficult one to make, especially when your brain’s chemistry is on the fritz. But what I’ve learned is that it’s okay to start small, to start with seemingly insignificant things that lift your spirits even the tiniest amount.

Hope can be found in all sorts of places. Hope can sound like birdsong, or a dog’s bark. It can taste like a hot cup of tea or a spicy curry. It can feel like a cool breeze or a warm blanket. Hope can look like a smile or a chink of blue sky. It can smell like freshly cut grass or freshly baked bread.

One of the activities we took part in during the course was to look at our own lives and the things we have achieved, both big and small. Here’s what I wrote:

  • Today I have: hung out the washing.
  • This gives me hope that: I will continue to make progress.
  • This week I have: spent time in my craft shed.
  • This gives me hope that: it’s okay to try things that still make me anxious.
  • This month I have: been on holiday
  • This gives me hope that: I can face and even enjoy the things I was previously scared to do.
  • This year I have: been discharged from hospital.
  • This gives me hope that: help is available and that I am able to accept and respond to it.
  • In my life I have: recovered from post-natal depression.
  • This gives me hope that: I will recover from this episode of depression.

Hope can be found in our achievements, in challenges we’ve overcome. It can also be found in the achievements of others, in stories of courage and perseverance. It can be found in music, movies, books, quotes, stories, games, art …

When I came home from this course, I wrote up my notes in my bullet journal and created a Choose Hope spread where I began to write down all the things that gave me hope at the time. Here’s a picture of it:

Over time, this spread expanded into a whole book which I named my Wellness Toolkit. If you’d like to have a look at how this development took place, I’ve made some videos about it. You can find them on YouTube:

As always, I came away from this Hope course with a bunch of inspiring quotes that I’ve referred to so much I have them engraved on my brain. My favourites are:

Hope is like a road in the country; there was never a road, but when many people walk it, the road comes into existence – Lin Yutang

The grand essentials of happiness are: something to do, something to love and something to hope for – Allan K Chambers

When hope is hungry, everything feeds it – Mignon McLaughlin

That first quote especially has stuck with me because I am so grateful to all the people in my life who not only held the hope for me when I couldn’t hold it for myself, but who also walked my hope into existence alongside me. You know who you are …

Well, it’s late and my ‘wind-down’ alarm has just gone off, so I shall leave it here for today. I hope that you’ve found this series hopeful and helpful. Next week, I’ll be moving on to talk about Recovery and what it means to me.

Thanks for reading! Back soon. xxx

You can read more of my Mental Health Monday posts here.

Mental Health Monday – Soul Space

It’s been a while since I wrote a Mental Health Monday post! I’ve had a lot on recently – school holidays, design team work, bespoke card-making, spring fayre preparations, overwhelming tiredness – so something had to give, and that something was my blog. Things are a little quieter and more routine now, so I should have the time to write more frequently. That’s the plan anyway …

Today I want to talk about the nitty-gritty of my morning mindfulness, meditation, prayer and reflection habit. It goes something like this:

  • 08:00 wave the kids off to school.
  • 08:05 meditate using the Headspace app.
  • 08:15 pray using the Pray as You Go app.
  • 08:30 reflect using the Simple Abundance book and my journal
  • 08:45 stretches
  • 08:50 shower …

The first thing I want to say is that I don’t really draw a line between mindfulness, mediation, prayer or reflection. It’s all one and the same to me – perhaps different facets of the same jewel. I often start my morning habits with a simple breath prayer such as, ‘Here I am, Lord (in breath) I am here (out breath)’ or ‘You are in me (in breath) I am in you (out breath).’ These prayers not only acknowledge God and invite him into this special time, but they also anchor me in the present moment – my mind is fully engaged in the here and now. It’s not rushing away into my day or ruminating over yesterday. Which brings me to the main aspect, benefit and challenge of mindfulness – being fully present.

When people talk to me about my mindfulness practice, they often ask: do you have to empty your mind? My answer is no; the clue’s in the name … it’s mindFULLness. Mindfulness is about being fully present in the moment, letting our thoughts go and simply being. I know … easier said than done, right? Our brains are programmed to think; they’re programmed to figure out how to overcome challenges and threats – perceived and real. It’s our survival instinct. And our thinking brains do not shut off just because we live in a relatively safe environment. In fact, our brains will take any challenge and try to figure out how to deal with it, no matter how minor. Maybe your co-worker has commandeered your desk while you’ve been on annual leave. Maybe one of the kids in your child’s class has headlice. Maybe your local supermarket has run out of bread. Our brains see all these things as threats and try to think of solutions in the same way they would if you’d just spotted a sabre-toothed tiger lurking in the bushes. OK, your reaction might not be as extreme, but if you’re suffering from anxiety or stress it might well be. Your brain might not be able to tell the difference between a sabre-toothed tiger and a co-worker, and you’ll experience your Flight or Fight response as if they presented the same level of danger. At the height of my anxiety, my brain was like a game of Whack-A-Mole. Threatening thoughts would pop up in my head, and I’d try to bash them back down, but as soon as I got rid of one, another would pop up … over and over and over again. I just couldn’t stop them, and they grew and grew and grew until they were all-consuming. But it wasn’t just in my mind. Thanks to adrenaline and cortisol, it was in my body too. Imagine the stress and the strain and the wear and tear of living in code-red-high-alert 24 hours a day, seven days a week for months on end. Anyhoo …

Now, however, when threatening thoughts pop into my head, my response is much calmer. I acknowledge them for what they are – just thoughts – and let them go, like leaves floating away on a stream, or clouds floating across the sky. As my husband says: you can’t stop the birds from flying over your head, but you can stop them from nesting in your hair. (He’s very wise!) As well as letting thoughts go, I also turn my attention toward whatever it is I am doing: cooking, painting, walking, breathing. I feel, taste, smell, hear, see. I fill my senses, and therefore my mind, with the present moment. And all this I do without judgment. I don’t label the thoughts as good or bad, and I don’t criticise myself for having them. My mind wanders. That’s what minds do – forever on the lookout for danger and opportunity. It has taken months of practice to be able to be mindful in this way. Thanks to the Headspace app, just ten minutes of practice a day for over a year now has started to hone my mind. Like any exercise, the more you do it, the better you get.

I almost always do my Headspace meditation before using the Pray as You Go app because it prepares me, settles and opens me for a focused time with God, just listening to his music, his story, dwelling in his love. As my mind inevitably wanders during this time, I remember to gently, and without judgment, return to prayer, to allow my mind to be filled by what I hear – not thinking, wrestling, studying, rationalising, struggling or striving, just being still and knowing and not rushing away in thought or in action.

I’m reminded of a verse from the Bible: Acts 17:28.

For in him we live and move and have our being.

After the day’s PaYG prayer, when I’m ready, I move on to the daily reading from Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Joy and Comfort. This is a kind of doorway into the rest of my day, a time to read, reflect, re-engage my thinking brain. I’m very much enjoying the challenge of this book. Some days, I find myself nodding in agreement. Some days, I find myself holding the polar opposite view. Some days, I find myself amazed at how the author seems to be writing my life! Everyday, I find something to chew on, to mull over, to note down in my morning journal and take with me into the day.

Reading this back, it sounds a bit as if I think I’ve found the secret to never being depressed or anxious again. I haven’t, and I know I haven’t. I’m still a Work In Progress as much as the next person. I think what I’ve found, though, is both a tool, and more than a tool. My time in the morning, is my Soul Space. As an artist primes her canvas for the paint to come, I prime my soul for the day to come. This ordinary, sacred time is to my life, what primer is to paint – the same but different. My Soul Space trains me and hones me and reminds me that everything in my life and every moment of my life is spiritual and sacred. My Soul Space is a reminder that God is always with us, and it is God with me. My Soul Space is a time of alignment and refinement as well as stillness and silence. It is both preparation for and part of my walk with God.

To finish, I’d like to leave you with this thought from Brother Lawrence (1614 – 1691):

I have abandoned all particular forms of devotion, all prayer techniques. My only prayer practice is attention. I carry on a habitual, silent, and secret conversation with God that fills me with overwhelming joy.

There is nothing new under the sun …

Thanks for reading! Back soon. xxx

You can read more of my Mental Health Monday posts here.