I said to the sun . . .

I’m going to begin with one of my all time, absolute favourite quotes – “I said to the sun, ‘Tell me about the big bang.’ The sun said, ‘it hurts to become.'” (Andrea Gibson).

And my oh my, that quote just fills me with so much power and so much strength; strength that it not my own but something that I feel as though I can be apart of.

These past two months have been a whirlwind. Everything has just been going and going, and these days have been all about hard work and consistency, and just getting stuff done. It’s exhausting, but a good sort of exhausting. It’s a normal kind of being to busy to breathe kind of exhaustion, rather than my mind is going crashing through the ground. It’s a refreshing change.

Some solid, concrete steps for the future are fitting into place. This morning I was offered a new job, and it has made our future far more secure and stable. It hasn’t sunken in yet really. It will change a lot of things, in a good way.

Lately my head has been doing so good. I feel burnt out, but not because of what’s going on within, but because I am able to do so many things beyond now. I have felt so confident and content. I don’t know what has changed. Maybe it’s all the therapy work. Maybe it’s all the pushing to change. Maybe it’s just a new season. But what I do know is that I feel more me than I can ever remember.

For years I was stuck within illnesses that took over my entire world. Every decision, perspective, and moment was controlled and dulled by their graces. I was never me. I was just trying to survive, and knew only how to exist just beneath the surface.

However today, I feel more authentic to who I am supposed to be than ever. It sounds cheesy but I don’t know how to describe it. I have been trying to stand up for myself and for what I believe is important. I am talking to people I would normally be afraid of, because I can think “what’s the worst that can happen?” and actually go ahead and do it. I’m trying to stay true to my values in all situations. Anxiety, where are you at? It’s weird but enchanting. It’s amazing how much life expands when anxiety lets you push it. I truly don’t know how all these things have changed, but for now, things are wonderful. Thinking to how things used to be – to hell and back – I don’t know how I am still in today. But heck, I am so thankful for it.

Right now I am living in these days where I don’t constantly think about and dwell on bad things that have happened, and it’s such a strange, yet absolutely amazing feeling. To have my mind not imprisoned with a reel that replays the worst on repeat – it’s crazy. I still think about these things, a lot, but they are not my every thought anymore. I’m trying to build new moments and thoughts to outgrow the old. Bad, triggering songs are being replaced with songs to make new, good memories with. My psychologist and I are working on my safety behaviors, and it’s horribly difficult but good too.

The sun has told me that I can cope, that I can survive and keep living, and today I am beginning to believe her.

Let the words flow.

Art is something that I approach (or quite possibly run away from), with a solid, 10 foot pole.

Looking and admiring it is something that I truly enjoy. It brings me mindfulness and peace. Art galleries are one of my favourite places, and I have such fond memories of spending hours exploring them with friends and my husband. Visiting MoMA is a big goal for the future.

However, when it comes to the very doing of art – nope, nada, no. Not going there. The mere thought of having to pick up a pencil or paintbrush, and create something that my perfectionist mind will never be happy with, is enough to make my skin crawl. It’s annoying. I’ve got to work on that. Because art can be fun and creative and exciting. It can bring joy, and the process can be one of mindfulness. It sounds like a very healthy and therapeutic way of releasing what is bombarding within.

Day 6 – do something creative.

So, I compromised. Writing is safe for me; it’s what I’m comfortable in. I feel as though I have far more control to sculpt what I create with words, rather than with other mediums. The backspace key is well overused.

However, it is also important to keep learning, to keep trying new things; to practice using other mediums for creativity and expression. This way we can keep challenging what we already know, and keep growing through that.

I don’t really know what to call this. A mish-mash of words, and as ankle-deep into art that I’m willing to go at the moment. It is every thought and random word that was going through my head in the moment, written down in my bullet journal. I was hesitant and uncomfortable with beginning this, in case I made a mistake (spoiler – I made plenty), and in case the whole bullet journal was “ruined” by this one page. However, by the end I was kind of happy with the end result. Doing this kept my hands busy, which is always a good thing. The mindfulness that was involved was also a good bonus too!


Here is a text version if that’s easier to read:

The beans grew big and strong
They bloomed; nothing to stars.
Is this brain a safe place?
Is it really a flooding torrent,
Or can I plant my feet firmly in the soil and thrive?
How can there be silver linings and horrors all beneath the same sky;
All flowing through the same vein?
Soldier on and soldier on again,
And just keep putting one foot ahead of the other.
Somehow.
Leave your skin alone.
Be small and big
(Don’t overthink “big”, don’t),
All at once –
Anything and everything.
Cicadas cicadas cicadas cicadas cicadas cicadas.
To be unapologetic and unashamed,
To be vulnerable,
To be free.
Go out there and do.
Go out there and be.
Become.
Become.

There you have it, a weird attempt at creativity which was surprisingly enjoyable, and a good way to release some thoughts that are flying around your brain! It is also good practice for accepting this how they are a.k.a getting over the ridiculous, destructive perfectionism, and seeing something for what it truly is – a snapshot of the now, a work in progress.

Stretching towards good things.

For my fellow anxiety warriors out there, we all know of the havoc and the chaos that anxiety can cause within the brain. Anxiety upturns tables, throws chairs across the room, splatters of badly-tinted paint on the walls. All during events like talking to a friend, brushing your teeth, or laying in bed. Chaos! Everywhere! Anxiety is a messy creature, who tries to ruin a heck of a lot.

Although the mind is hit awfully hard during bouts (or continuous stretches of desert) of anxiety, our bodies also unfortunately take a whallopping too. The physical symptoms of anxiety are also too real; just as much so as those that are invisible to everyone else. The dizziness, sweating, shaking, shortness of breath, and heart pounding, just to name a few – are all down to anxiety walking on in without knocking, rudely exclaiming “I’m here! Are you ready for me?”


Day 5 – Stretch all your muscles.

The tension that stems from anxiety is one of the most prominent, physical factors of having Generalised Anxiety Disorder, for me personally. And this tension definitely does not help to get the anxiety to go away, in any way, shape or form. In fact, it kind of feels like it helps anxiety to hold onto the railing aboard, snuggling it in tight and close.
Whenever I’m anxious, regardless of the situation, my shoulders rise up. It’s like an automatic button, my brain explaining “You know what would definitely help in this situation? Shoulders up! Now!” A lot of the time I don’t realise I’m doing it, until I find my shoulders aching a few hours later, and I realise they have been unnaturally around my ears for way too long. There’s a reason that our shoulders aren’t attached to our ears, brain.

The hours and day after a panic attack are also prone to tension. Painful, achy tension that runs through my whole body. During panic attacks, the rigidness, shaking and tension leaves my muscles feeling not very happy at all, and the footprint of the tension continues long after the panic attack is over.
All the tension that anxiety so kindly provides, and the pain that goes along with it, means that we have a tough job to stop tension in the first place, before subsiding it’s consequences. What better thing to do that to literally force our bodies out of their tension poses, and stretch it all out?

One of my favourite things to do as a kid would be to get all stretchy and flexible and see what sort of weird shapes I could muster myself into. Backbends (or the wheel pose), shoulderstands and plough poses where my favourites. Of course I had no idea what they were called at the time, and had to Google some weird phrases to try find out their names. Writing about how I would lay on my shoulders with my hands on the ground, and stick my legs up in the air, would be a bit confusing otherwise!

I would love playing around on the lounge floor, seeing how far I could stretch and trying out different poses with my friends. It was such a fun thing to do, and playing around and being silly are things I think we all need more of as adults.

Stretching can not only be good for reducing tension in the body, but also in the mind. Focusing on how your body feels at each step, how your legs may feel light in one way, and your arms relaxed in another, all contribute to a sense of mindfulness. It all is helping us to be in the present, acknowledging what’s going on right now and how it feels, rather than thinking about something 239 days ago, or in two years.

With all this in mind, and feeling like some sort of stretching pro just waiting to turn from a caterpillar into a butterfly, I took on this task of self-care.

And it was so much fun!

I tried my hand at more shoulderstands and backbends, and basically flailed my limbs in crazy directions, doing kicks and twirls. It seemed to turn into a cross between dance and yoga?

In reflection I’ll start off by saying that the whole caterpillar into a butterfly thing definitely didn’t work out. But that’s okay, because I’m not the biggest fan of butterflies anyway (they are nice in photos or farawary, just not anywhere near me), so I’ll stick with my caterpillar status. 

Me being a caterpillar had a great time flailing along the ground, limbs in all directions, cursing at the people in the pictures who make stretching look so easy. It was a great time, regardless of how much good streching did or didn’t get done, because it was a time which allowed for movement, freedom, creativity and expression. All things which are definitely important parts of self-care.

If you’re feeling a bit wound up today, or if tension is breathing too close to home, definitely give stretching about a try! I’m no expert and don’t know much about it, but one thing for sure is that it is fun, and how can you possibly take yourself too seriously while pretending to be a caterpillar?

Social media & cookies.

Social media is both a blessing and a curse, all rolled into one super powerful, itsy-bitsy, hand-held rectangle. Since social media’s uprising has become such an influential part of our current day, it can be hard to find a good balance between how it can enrich our lives, and how it can deplete them.

Social media is like jam. A sweet, fruity, strawberry jam. A little dollop on your toast is great for breakfast, but if you stick your whole hand in the jar, you will just be left with a handful of jam and unable to do anything else, well, because, your hand is covered in jam. Think Winnie the Pooh and his honey pot. Actually, that’s a much better analogy. Whether social media is your jam or your honey, it’s best to find out how it best works for you, without creating a mess.

Day 4 – Clean up your social media feeds.

To be honest, social media can be like kryptonite for my anxiety; fueling a rush of unbearable flames. Seeing how seeming “perfect” everybody’s lives look is an easy way to ruin a day. Comparison is the thief of joy after all. Although logically I know that Instagram, and other social medias of the likes are usually highlight reels, it can be hard to accept this as fact. When you feel your deepest lows, and encounter mundane everyday problems, being surrounded with apparently flawless and magnificent lives, can be overwhelming and harmful to self-esteem.

Something I am very guilty of, and am trying very hard to change, is the amount of time I spend mindlessly scrolling on social media. Notice the word mindless; if it were mindful instead I would be a very happy chicken! However, I waste so much precious time doing nothing on social media – it filling in the gaps in my day. I am working on replacing this time with reading, practicing mindfulness, playing the ukulele, talking to my favourite humans and of course, writing too. It is a much lighter feeling, to not be constantly bearing the weight of comparison, and reflecting my lows with other’s highs.

beach, beautiful, blue

The mental health communities on social media can be quite a mixed bag. If you dip your hand it, it can be quite a surprise as to whether it’s a community that seeks to support, or one that seeks to hinder. A friendly nuzzle from a rabbit, or a harsh bite from a crocodile. A pretzel or some goopy mayo. You get the picture. As somebody who spent many teenage years lost in an eating disorder, browsing Pro-Ana websites, it’s actually really scary to think back about the harmful content that is out there. In some communities, it’s almost a competition to see who is “sickest”. In others, it’s a wonderful group of people who share openly and honestly, yet also support each other in the process. It is important to remember that ultimately you are in control of what forms of social media you follow and engage with. It isn’t rude, horrible or dismissive to not interact with something that doesn’t serve you. They can do what works (or quite possibly doesn’t) for them, and you can do what works for you. There is a hugely diverse spectrum of mental health communities on social media. You just have to dig through a bit sometimes to find the ones that bring you up, rather than the ones that leave you feeling torn down. Here on WordPress is a fabulous place to start.

However, in saying all of this, social media is not all one burnt cookie. It can also be a perfectly crisp, chewy, chocolate chip cookie too! The information that can be accessed, the ideas that can be shared, and the connections that can be made are all invaluable components of social media. The community here at WordPress is just one example of how social media can enrich and enlighten us; it was such a joyful surprise to find! Social media can also be a space for creativity, and the sharing of it, whether this be through art, writing or photography just to name a few.

My aim for the way I use and engage with social media is to use it with clear intentions, and in a way to build myself and others up. I am aiming to spend less time mindlessly on social media, and more time with purpose, and with purpose comes passion. Lately I have been making sure I unfollow any accounts that do not help my recovery, which I’m trying not to feel bad about, as well as engaging with people who I look up to, and who I admire. Balance really is everything.

 

A morning routine for a bundle of nerves.

As you have probably gathered from this little corner of the internet if you aren’t a stranger – I am a little bundle of nerves, all squishy and squeaky, and sometimes even am an entire, complete, mess. The mess part usually happens when I’m Wednesday-deep in a week-long bender of panic attacks, whereas the wild bundle of nerves part is my general, day-to-day state of being.

Mornings with anxiety are not often pretty. Instead of rolling out of bed and dancing around with some small, singing animals like in a Disney movie, you might kind of topple out of bed, with a mountain of panic about the day ahead rising in your chest. Sometimes I wake up with my heart pounding, my hands and feet numb and with pins and needles, feeling dizzy. It’s weird; like being awoken mid panic attack.

Having a good morning routine has helped me to manage my anxiety immensely in the past, however I also know that I can do better. A set plan of action, or plan of attack, depending on how you look at it, for the morning, has about an 80% chance of making your day just that little bit better and more bearable. This isn’t a scientific statistic, in any way, but I have found that my immediate actions when I wake up have a definite influence on how my day progresses.

Day 3 – Create a new morning routine.

early, morning, mountain range

Here are some ideas that help bundle of nerves me, to cope with mornings, and what helps to ease our good friend anxiety even just a little bit.

Eat breakfast. This sounds like your mum, teacher, and a Wheatbix advertisement all rolled into one, but it’s true. Your body needs fuel to give the day all it needs, and your brain needs fuel to keep recovering. It’s tough work! We cannot expect our bodies to live a good, whole life, when they have nothing to sustain them. Eat some food with lots of nutrients, or eat some food that makes you soul happy. Either way, simply eating something will help, an awful lot.

Get up. Get out. It seems as though every time I want nothing more than to stay in bed, hiding in our room all day, that this is quite possibly the worst thing I could do. Shock horror! Listening to your head telling you to isolate yourself, that everyone hates you, that you don’t deserve anything good, and all that palava, all day long, isn’t going to help you to feel better. It’s rubbish, and it’s just going to make you feel like so. Hop out of bed, and drag yourself out to the mailbox or into the garden, literally anywhere, aside staying in bed. Written from past experience of many miserable days, I promise it will help.

Shower and get dressed. Showering and putting on clothes for the day makes it feel as though the day is official. That it’s here, and that I can’t hide from it! Because I got dressed already! I feel more able to tackle the day when I’m not in pyjamas, and I’m also less likely to hide away from the world too (bonus points).

Do something for you. Having something to look forward to and be excited about, regardless of how small or trivial it seems, is so important for when the going gets tough. Your morning could include planning something fun for later in the week, talking to somebody you care about, having a delicious breakfast (yes, breakfast is definitely something you can get excited about), or even just reading a chapter of a good book. The mindfulness that may accompany this part will also do very nice, very sweet, massaging to those pesky little claws of anxiety.

Mornings can be wonderful opportunities and bright nightmares, all rolled into one. Yet they are also incredibly powerful, because they set the foundation for the rest of the day. What do you do in the morning, which helps you?

Water and living.

Let’s begin with the truth.

The self-care task for today didn’t go quite as planned. 

Day 2 – drink at least 2L of water.

I definitely didn’t manage to drink 2L of water today. Perhaps only about half, at a stretch? However, all those little droplets that didn’t make it into the perfect 2L don’t really matter.

I’m trying to believe that what matters is that I’m trying. That what matters is the work and effort we put in, rather than gaining the idealised, planned end result.


Something that I’m realising far sooner than I expected into these 30 days of self-care, is that it’s as much about banishing the idea of perfection, as it is about self-care. I was hoping to complete all 30 days perfectly, but that is wishful thinking. I guess that learning to accept imperfection as good and right, is a form of self-care in a way.

A few years ago, in the depths of the eating disorder, the monstrous voice in my head (which is also my own voice; it’s tricky to explain) made me severely limited my hydration. I made up rules about much water I was allowed to drink, and at what time, and it was incredibly harmful. The fear of the water “sticking” in my body, and never leaving, was overwhelming and intense. I never want to go back to that place.

During this time, I was alive, but I wasn’t living. I was on the brink, on the edge of living, and I wanted so badly to not be alive. I starved myself of water, energy and nutrients, and these were the darkest, most isolated years of my life.

Having not enough water is disastrous for both the mind and body. Our bodies are composed mainly of water, and each of our cells relies on it to function. Essentially, water is necessary for all that we do, and without it we cannot be who we are. We wouldn’t be, at all.

Today, water helps me to survive in more ways than one. Not only does drinking an adequate amount help me to live and recover, but also water in other forms has proved more healing than I ever could have expected. Swimming, the rain, the little creek running by our house; it all helps to replenish and radiate peace.

A little message to everyone reading this – please take care of yourself today. Drink water, eat, sleep, go outside, talk to someone. All these little things can make a massive difference. You deserve to not merely survive, but to live too.

Ruby Wax, humour & being mentally ill.

Having a good old laugh and discussing mental illness are two things that don’t really sound as if they fit together well. Kind if like chives and tea. Naturally, mental illness is a serious topic, as the repercussions and impact that it has on millions of lives are immense. Part of the discussion, and the work to reduce the stigma of mental illness, involves these illnesses being taken seriously, as they are often dismissed as being “all in your head.”

Yes.

Mental illnesses are located in the brain.

Correct.

The symptoms of many mental illnesses can affect different parts of the body too, but the brain is the central hub, sending all the signals flying.

Now why does that mean they aren’t seen as real, progressive, or harmful, as an illness with it’s spindly roots growing in an arm? Or maybe in an ear? Or perhaps a throat?

This all reminds me of the wise words from the wonderful Albus Dumbledore –

Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?

(J.K. Rowling).

Day 1 – Watch a TED talk and be inspired.

Today, I watched the TED talk What’s so funny about mental illness? by Ruby Wax. I picked this one from browsing through the mental health section on the TED website, which I definitely recommend having a flick through! It looks like there are heaps of pretty good ones there. I picked it because it was categorised as both humorous and courageous, and what a beautiful combination that sounded like!

bloom, blossom, botanical

And, wow. You know how sometimes it’s like the universe knows what to put in your way, for you to stumble gracefully (or sometimes trip, falling flat on your face), upon?

This banana peel was Ruby Wax’s TED talk.

One of the key messages I took away from it (and there were lots!), was that there are different ways to discuss mental illnesses, and to work to reduce the stigma around it.

As mentioned at the start, often discussions surrounding mental illness as serious, precise and humorless. And rightfully so, in many spheres. There is still ample work to be done to get people to listen that no, it’s not “just a bad day”, and no, being told to simply “just smile”, probably won’t solve it all.

However, Ruby Wax talked about mental illness in a way that was engaging, energetic, vibrant, and overall, was just plain funny. It was also informative, lighthearted and relatable. The fact that she used humor to portray her message meant that it seemed a bit less scary, and a bit more open for input, shared experience, and insight.

Lately, I’ve been trying to expand the tone I use to write about mental health with, however, it has been hard. Usually I write with a serious tone, as I would always be afraid that writing about it all in any other way, would somehow come across as being disrespectful or wrong. However, I am coming to realise (with the help of the lovely Ruby Wax now too), that it is okay to discuss mental health in different ways.

Using humor can make talking about mental health less daunting, and potentially more approachable. Something I’m trying to work on, is using humor (or trying to) more in my own writing, about my own experience with mental illness. However, it is also important to note that the humor needs to be used in a way that will help propel forward the discussion surrounding mental illness, rather than contributing to the stigma of it. This is why I am so hesitant and afraid to be venturing into putting “funny” and “mental illness” in the same sentence.

Overall, the TED talk by Ruby Wax has inspired me. She is both pretty rad and pretty brave, to be sharing her message with the world so openly and with such great vulnerability.  It has inspired me to keep talking, to keep doing, to keep bashing down the stigma with one long, pointy stick at a time. The stick can be traditional, serious and straightforward, or it can be a little curvy stick, with flaking bark and maybe a caterpillar or two. Both sticks are good, for destroying stigma is a darn good thing.

Introduction — 30 Days of Self Care

It’s January! And that makes me so happy and excited! Although changes for the better can be made at any point in our lives, I’m a sucker for new year’s resolutions, and for making positive changes at the beginning of a brand new year.

I began this year with many resolutions to shape all 365 days, and two of these have been to continue working on my mental health, and also investing time and energy into this little blog, to help it grow into a positive space that promotes mental wellbeing.

Therefore, when I stumbled across the 30 Self-Care Challenge by Want For Wellness, a little ping noise rang in my brain, because this will help me to work both on self-care, which is an important part of mental wellbeing, and also to help with blogging consistently.

Self-care is something that we can all work on improving, and especially when mental illnesses are hitting down hard; self-care is of utmost importance. The three components of self-care in this challenge are the mind, the body, and the soul, as each of these is essential for good mental health. All three aspects of ourselves deserve love and care.

Tomorrow I’m beginning the self-care challenge for 30 days, because this is a year of good things. A year of hard work, of change, and of becoming. How do you practice self-care?