Mental Health

5 C's To Managing My Anxiety

For the last decade, I have been suffering with crippling anxiety. As I made the transition from my teens to my twenties, my anxiety continued to grow and I started to feel like I was no longer in control of my thoughts, emotions, actions or behaviour. This year, it started to feel stronger than it ever has before. It was like I was living with an uncontrollable monster inside my head, one that was trying to destroy my life and constantly paralysing me with fear and doubt. I have been trying different methods to get rid of this life-ruining anxiety with no long-term success. I was trying to find a ‘magic cure.’ I wanted to be ‘normal.’ I wanted to be ‘anxiety-free.’ That was the problem. I was trying to eliminate my anxiety, rather than learning to manage it. I believe I have found the best way to manage my anxiety and it isn’t just one thing, it’s a combination of five different things. What works for me may not work for anyone else, but I believe I now have the right tools in my anxiety toolbox to not only manage my anxiety on a daily basis but no longer let it take over my life and jeopardise my health and happiness.

CALM

If I consistently practice yoga and meditation and give myself a little bit of time each day to unwind and slow down, it has a huge impact on my anxiety levels. Yoga has the amazing ability to change the outcome of my day. Focusing on the breath takes my attention away from my thoughts, even if it is only for thirty minutes a day. If I ever find myself overthinking, a quick sun salutation is sometimes all it takes to press the refresh button. I started doing yoga about five years ago and I still remember the first time I tried it, honestly, it has been a lifesaver during my lowest moments. I go through phases of laziness when I don’t practice and I see a big change in my mood when I don’t spend time on the mat. I need to be stricter with my yoga practice because it really does benefit my overall wellbeing. Meditation is something else that keeps me grounded. I have the Headspace app on my phone and sometimes a guided meditation is all it takes to change my mindset for the day. Yoga, meditation and finding time for self-care are all the ways I find calm in my day.

CBD

Something new I decided to try was CBD oil. I have always known about it, well before the current CBD craze that has swept the internet recently. I was always a little hesitant but decided to buy some a few months ago. I was taking it every day and felt much calmer. However, I didn’t know if that was just a placebo effect. When I ran out, it gave me a chance to see how I would feel without it. I spent four weeks without my daily dose and slowly but surely, the panic started to return, I found myself going back into old negative thought patterns and whenever I felt stressed at work, it started to affect me in a physical way, tight chest, headaches and light-headedness. I’ve started to taking it again and the only word I can use to describe how it makes me feel is zen. I know CBD oil has many benefits but for me it keeps me in a even-tempered state, it’s almost as if the things that usually trigger stress and lead to anxiety didn’t bother me in the same way…. magic!

CREATIVITY

I’m a creative person. I love art, music and poetry. I am always looking for new ways to be creative. What I have found is that having a consistent creative outlet, whether this may be cross-stitching, painting, playing guitar and ukulele or writing poetry, it has a drastic change on my thoughts, my mood and my overall anxiety level. Something that has really helped me is creating an art journal. On a regular basis, I get out my art box, which is full of paints, pencils and pastels and I just create. I spend hours, I get lost in a creative haze and during that time, I am free to do whatever I choose to do. Now that I have a job that gives me more time to spend alone to do these things, I have noticed a big difference in my health and happiness.

CAPSULES

I’ve never been one for prescription medication. I am extremely sensitive to anything doctors prescribe me, so when I can, I find natural and holistic alternatives. Holland & Barrett is one of my favourite places! What I love about it is not only can you find supplements to aid different problems in your life, the staff are extremely knowledgeable. After talking to someone in H&B, I decided to give 5HTP tablets a try. If you’re not sure what they are and what they do. 5HTP is a daily dose of serotonin (Serotonin is an important chemical and neurotransmitter in the human body. It helps regulate mood and low levels of serotonin can contribute to depression) I started taking them every day and my mood was so much better! I also stopped taking hormonal birth control (as I believed that this was contributing to my anxiety and depression, five months later and my mental health has improved dramatically, so I am 99% certain that being on the pill for a long time was a contributing factor to my decline in mental wellbeing in the last 9 years).

COUNSELLING

I’ve always been open on here about my struggles with my mental health because I think it is important, it helps to remove stigma and let people know that they are not alone. I have tried CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) in the past, twice, but it didn’t work for me. This year, I finally took what feels like the final step in my anxiety journey. I booked to see a private counsellor. I was tired of my anxiety holding me back. I had no idea if it would work but I’m so glad it did. I’ve had five sessions already and I feel like a different person. The things that have weighed me down for years suddenly feel lighter. I still find myself being anxious from time to time but it quickly passes like a cloud, it doesn’t stick around anymore, it doesn’t build and build until I have a panic attack, I finally feel in control of it and this is because of my counsellor, she’s amazing and worth every penny!

Finding these five different things and doing them all simultaneously has been the key to managing my anxiety. Finally, I feel free from it. I no longer walk around believing there is something wrong with me because there isn’t. The label of General Anxiety Disorder that I wore so proudly for years has been ripped from my chest, I don’t want it anymore. Anxiety is a normal part of life. Allowing it to consume you and become part of your identity like I have been doing isn’t healthy, I know that now. Letting anxiety affect your daily life and being so paralysed by fear that you don’t allow yourself to be happy is madness, yet I let it happen for years. I was blinded by anxiety but now I see everything so clearly. I’m ready for then next decade, 2020 is going to be a continued year of personal growth for me and my number one goal is to continue managing my anxiety and live a calm, balanced, happy and healthy life.

Life · Mental Health

The Truth About Living With Mental Illness.

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For a long time I used this blog as a platform to write about my life. It was a place of freedom. It was a space where I could write down the uncensored and vulnerable musings of my experiences, to share a little piece of my world with others. Then, last year, I had to step away. I had to stop sharing my opinions, views and experiences on this blog because of the profession I chose. I had to distance myself from the online world, due to my words being misconstrued and misinterpreted by others. My voice was silenced. But now I feel ready to share again. Starting with the truth about what it is really like living with a mental illness. If you are offended by swearing or uncomfortable about the topic of mental illness, then you better look away and find another blog to follow because shit is about to get real. 

If you break your leg, the immediate reaction you receive from others is sympathy, empathy and understanding. They want to know what happened, how long your recovery will be, is there anything that they can do and will your leg ever be the same again. You get a chorus of “Oh, you poor thing, it must really hurt.” People gather around to sign your cast, send you get well soon cards and hold on to you as you wobble your way through recovery.

If only mental illness was treated in the same way.

The shitty truth is. We still live in a world of stigma and denial, a world where people are forced to believe that the only way to deal with mental illness is to shut up, cheer up and take a pill that will numb how you feel. It is unbelievable that despite the fact that 1 in 4 human beings on the planet are suffering with a mental illness, it is still shunned as an unimportant inconvenience and the bottom of everyone’s priority list. Why is the idea of being mentally unwell so difficult for us to talk about?

Well, whether you like it or not, I’m going to talk about it.

I’m human. We are all human. We are supposed to feel, think, do and be. We are emotional creatures. We all cry, scream, smile and laugh. We all feel guilt, jealousy, happiness, anger, loneliness and sadness. We all want to love and be loved. Life is a mixture of darkness and light, good and bad times, achievement and failure, love and pain. We all struggle at some point in our lives. So why do we still fall silent when we hear the words ‘mental health?’ Why is there still a wall of secrecy that people feel they have to hide behind? Why do we still consider a connection to Wi-Fi more important than the connection to ourselves and others? Why, in this modern society, can we be surrounded by people but still feel alone?

Lets start at the beginning of my mental health journey… Anxiety came first. At the age of 18, I developed an anxiety disorder – GAD (general anxiety disorder). It was the beginning of a difficult journey for me, years of panic attacks, mental breakdowns but also many mental breakthroughs. Then, a few years later, my anxiety made a friend, called depression.

Living with two mental illnesses was like standing in the middle of a pair of scales, waiting to see which side tipped first.

I could feel hopeless, useless and unmotivated one day and stressed, manic and agitated the next. It can sometimes feel like I am fighting a losing battle but most days, I find the strength to win. It took me a long time to accept that I have two mental illnesses. No one wants to believe that they are sick. No one wants to be anything less than perfect in this fucked up society that we live in, I was no exception. Only when I actually accepted that what I had was an illness, something beyond my control, something that was universal and not only affecting me but millions of other people, that’s when I started to believe that no matter what, I would be okay.

I have found strength in knowing that I am not alone in my struggle. I surround myself with people I know won’t judge me, they hold me as I cry, listen as I pour my heart out and release the fears and worries that weigh me down. Those people know who they are and without them, I don’t think I would still be here.

Living with a mental illness is hard, living with two can sometimes be unbearable. There is no sugar-coating it. It’s fighting with yourself every single day. It’s trying to silence the negative voices in your head. It’s trying to get through the day without crying. It’s analysing every word of a conversation and worrying about it weeks later. It’s laying awake at night not sleeping or staying in bed and sleeping too much. It’s hoping and praying that things will get better.  It’s fighting for a reason to stay alive.

Do you want to know what the hardest part of living with mental illness is? Keeping it a secret.

When people ask how you are and you respond with ‘I’m fine.’ You’re not fine. You just don’t want to burden those around you with your pain. You don’t want people to judge you. You don’t want to feel the stigma of others. It shouldn’t be this way… but unfortunately it is.

Living with a mental illness is like living in a cage that you can’t escape. It’s messy and complicated. It’s also fucking painful. One day I can be on top of the world, smiling, laughing, sharing positive pictures on my Facebook feed and the next, I could be crying hysterically, clutching my chest, forgetting how to breathe.

My disorder is not a decision. I am not choosing to feel this way.

Sometimes it takes all of my strength to get through the day. My biggest achievement on a bad day might be having a shower and getting dressed. Over the years, I have learned that running away, hiding from my own feelings, smiling and pretending I am okay to please others, only makes my illness worse. The most important lesson I have learned is:

You can’t stop the waves from coming, but you can learn to ride them.

Now, I ride the wave, I feel every emotion no matter how strong it is and wait for the storm pass. I speak up and no longer feel ashamed. I am choosing to blog about my struggles, I am choosing to write poetry about it, I am choosing to be a mental health ambassador to not only help others but help myself.

The only way we will see change is if we fight for it. It was time for me to speak up. Be one voice among the many that will play a small part in that change. 

milestones

Reaching A Mental Health Milestone

beating butterflies

During the past few years, I have struggled with my mental health. I have General Anxiety Disorder (GAD), which means I constantly worry about everything and experience high amounts of anxiety for no reason at all. It took me a long time to accept that my anxiety was part of me, something that I couldn’t erase, something that couldn’t be ‘cured’ with a prescription of pills from the doctor.

A few months ago, when I reached a dark place with my anxiety and depression, I finally admitted to myself that I needed help. I would go days without leaving the house, I would sometimes sit and stare into space, pondering on the bad things that have happened in my life or bad things that ‘could’ happen in the future. I felt like I was trapped by my own mind, it’s a horrible feeling and I wouldn’t wish it upon anyone.

Having an anxiety disorder is unpredictable. You may go through periods of time without any anxiety at all and then all of a sudden, it’s back and suffocating your thoughts like a dark cloud. I thought I was strong enough to battle my mental health issue on my own and convinced myself that I was ‘in control’ and my anxiety would get better over time, but it didn’t.

I had tried all of the ‘self-help’ options and nothing worked. I was crippled by anxiety, always worrying about the future or feeling sad about the past. I reached a dark place, where I thought medication was the only option for me to proceed. Then, a shining light appeared and everything changed for me. I found the strength to ask for professional help. It was a waiting game but I finally got on the list for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

I have to be honest, I was sceptical at first. I had convinced myself that my natural way of thinking, the negative way I approach life and every situation couldn’t be reversed. After a few weeks of therapy sessions, I started to notice a change. I had unconsciously started to think more about my ‘unhelpful thinking style’ and started to rationalise with the voice in my head when negativity surfaced. The great thing about CBT is that it strips back to the bare bones of how you think, how this effects your behaviour and how you can change this in the future.

David, my therapist was amazing. He was honest, critical and helpful in our sessions. Always sending me home with ‘homework’ to do, such as thought diaries and weekly schedules, he discovered what my triggers were and how to remove them from my life. For me it was during my alone time that I experienced more anxiety and more depressive thoughts. The answer for me was to always keep myself busy and distract myself by colouring, reading, doing yoga or simply doing some meditation.

Ever since I started CBT, I managed to pull myself out of the depressive state that I found myself in for months, started to fight against my negative thoughts and made small changes in my life that were going to improve my overall wellbeing. I am going to do yoga as often as I can, learn how to meditate, practice mindfulness and make sure I find time to relax each day. I’m going to still have bad days and now I realise that it’s okay to feel sad sometimes and it’s normal to worry, as long as it doesn’t take over your life.

I feel like I am reaching a mental health milestone. I have learnt in the past few months that anxiety cannot be ‘cured’ it can only be ‘managed.’ I have discovered that if I give attention to my anxiety and say to myself that I am mentally ill or there is something wrong with me, it only fuels my negativity and it will probably erase any progress that I have made.

I feel like I have reached a pinnacle of understanding. I accepted my anxiety was a problem, I asked for help and now I no longer feel alone on this journey to achieve a positive mindset. I have a long way to go but I finally feel like I can see the light at the end of a dark tunnel of worry, insecurity, anxiety and doubt. Like a butterfly, I feel free to go anywhere I want to go and do anything I want to do. I want to believe in hope instead of fear. I want to see the glass as half full instead of half empty. My anxiety will never ‘go away’ but I’m confident that I’m now in control of how I think, how I feel and how I behave.