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. 

Experience

Cross-Stitch To Calm

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Two months ago, I decided to start doing a craft. I’ve always wanted to cross-stitching, so I bought myself a sewing box, a selection of threads and material, I was ready to get started. For someone who hasn’t done cross-stitching before, I found it a little overwhelming. The patterns I found were too complicated and I didn’t know the difference between a cross stitch and a back stitch.

That was when I found a brilliant book for beginners. Cross-stitch to Calm by Leah Lintz. The simple designs and easy instructions allowed me to start stitching straight away. It took me a few weeks, and I completed my first cross-stitch picture of a sun. Something I had discovered from the experience of cross-stitching was not only the sense of achievement I had when I completed a picture, but the calm that rushed over me when I was doing it.

There were two reasons that I wanted to start cross-stitching, one because my Nanna was a seamstress and made clothes. It inspired me to learn how to sew and cross-stitching was a good first step towards this. The second reason I took up cross-stitching was due to an article I read about the positive benefits of doing a craft. The article explored the link between spending some time doing an activity such as cross-stitching improved mental health. The repetitive action of stitching decreases stress levels and can have a positive effect on those suffering with anxiety and depression.

After starting the craft myself, I found myself agreeing with everything I read. Not only did I find myself sitting for hours, concentrating on each stitch and losing myself in creating a picture, personally, I felt a similar transcendence doing cross-stitching that I do whilst meditating, it’s that powerful. We live in a fast-paced world and sometimes, we think that we are resting when we’re watching TV with our feet up after a long, hard day, the honest truth is… we are not switching off. Doing any type of craft, a few times a week can have some amazing advantages on our overall health and wellbeing. Give it a try!

Experience · Life

Why I Had To Walk Away From Teaching.

Teaching has broken me.

I remember the excitement, the childlike giddiness I felt when I first walked into the classroom as a volunteer a few years ago. I loved working with the children and as I watched the teacher at the front, I knew that I wanted to do that too. Make a difference to children’s lives, teach them a variety of subjects and watch them learn and grow. There and then, I decided to spend the next few years of my life working towards my future, becoming what I thought was an important and respected job in society…. A teacher.

After a short spell volunteering, I became a teaching assistant and I loved it. In hindsight, maybe I jumped into my teacher training too fast but at the time it felt right. I had watched the teachers I worked with from afar and I knew I wanted to be them. I wanted my own class. I had the rose-tinted view, the naive dream that being a teacher would be an amazing job to have.

When I was accepted onto a teacher training programme, I was elated with happiness. I was working towards what I thought I wanted. A secure job with a lot of room for development, a job that would be different every day and a job that makes a difference in the lives of children. Perfect.

The only word I can use to describe my training year would be soul-destroying. It was difficult, exhausting and sometimes felt impossible. However, I saw the light at the end of the tunnel that everyone spoke about. “It gets easier” they would say. “Just wait until you get your own class, it’s amazing.”

The day came when I got my own class. I had landed a permanent job at a lovely little school. I had my own Year Five class. I should have been on cloud nine and I was…. but it didn’t last. I would never say a bad word about the school I was in for my NQT year. They were extremely supportive and I had experienced teachers, an understanding headteacher and an amazing mentor to lean on.

I still remember the day when everything changed. It was a cloudy day in November. I had experienced the blur of my first term as a newly qualified teacher. I was enjoying the chaotic, ever-changing life as a teacher. I was thriving in the new career that I had chosen. I was acing my observations. It was different from my training in every way. I was feeling positive, happy and appreciated.

Then that day in November came.

I can only describe it as a switch in my brain. I suddenly felt like the walls were closing in. I could feel the pressure for the first time. The unrealistic expectations were creeping in. The ‘I’ll go easy on the new teacher’ feeling was suddenly ripped away from me, the training wheels were gone.

I was expected to be teaching outstanding lessons all of the time, planning quickly and efficiently, marking the ‘perfect’ pieces of work the children had done in every lesson. With perfect handwriting, no crossing out, every single mistake to be highlighted in pink and corrected by me. If I dared to make a mistake in their books or miss a single spelling or punctuation mark it would be spotted in a book scrutiny. 28 children. On average, 5 different books to mark a week. Do the maths. It was nearly impossible. All whilst dealing with emotional, needy and challenging children.

I persevered. This is my job now I thought. I have to find a way to gain a balance in the classroom and outside the classroom. For months, I felt as if I was on autopilot mode. I was swimming in a sea of planning, marking, observations, book scrutinies, parent complaints and children’s problems. There is only so much one person can do and eventually it broke me. I shattered under the pressure and had a panic attack in the staff room in front of my headteacher (I still cringe at the embarrassment now).

I am open and honest about my mental health issues so I told the headteacher how I was feeling and she was surprisingly understanding and helpful. Occupational health were involved. Things would get better now I thought. A weight was lifted from my shoulders.

January was a new start. I had that new term excitement and I was looking forward to the topics I was teaching. A few weeks into the New Year, I started to struggle again. I was constantly being watched. My books were being closely scrutinised every week. Stress was affecting me in every way. I wasn’t eating, I wanted to sleep all of the time, I was struggling to concentrate, my memory was deteriorating, I had constant headaches and my stomach problems were back again. My anxiety levels were through the roof and I couldn’t do anything to change it.

In March, I handed in a resignation letter to my headteacher. I wanted to stay until the end of the academic year but I knew teaching was not for me after all. There was too much pressure, expectation and scrutiny. I started to lose my enjoyment of teaching. My depression returned and I was struggling to motivate myself to leave the house in the morning to go to work.

Then, two weeks ago, another panic attack. This time, worse. I had a mental breakdown infront of my mentor after school. I had reached my lowest point. I had to make the decision to walk away. Telling the children I was leaving was the hardest part. Seeing their teary faces made me feel guilty. However, I knew I had to go.

Now people keep asking me what my next step is. But to be honest, I don’t want to think about it at the moment. I just need some time to recover, time to heal, time to find my way back to myself. I need to focus on being mentally, physically and emotionally well again before I decide to climb on a different career ladder.

If this journey has taught me anything, it is that in life, having a good physical and mental health, enriching relationships and time to do things that bring you joy are much more important than money, jobs and professional success. Life is defined by the moments that bring you happiness. It is your choice to walk away from something that is not meant for you and if you do, I promise… it will set you free.

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Summer Issue Of Zest For Life – OUT NOW!!!

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Thank you for following my blog Another Beautiful Rhyme! If you have been reading my posts, you will know that I have my own positive lifestyle magazine called Zest For Life. I’m incredibly proud to announce that the third issue of Zest For Life is now online and free to digitally download.

The summer issue is packed with lots of great articles! Topics such as mental health, music festivals, summer dates and great books to read. There are also some delicious summer smoothie suggestions and horoscope readings for the months of August and September. A lot of hard work, imagination and planning goes into making this magazines. I would love it if you could all head over to the Zest For Life site and read it! Click on the magazine cover above to be directed to the third issue 🙂

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Reaching A Mental Health Milestone

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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.

 

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New Year, New Adventures

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At the beginning of every year, I set myself new goals to achieve, list a few things I want to change about my life and reflect on the year that has passed. This year, I hope to change the direction of my career, spend more time doing the things I love and improve my health and wellbeing.

The first day of January set the tone for the new adventures I want to have this year. Me and my boyfriend took a trip to Vienna to celebrate New Year. We were only there for two days but we had such an amazing time, it has consumed me with wanderlust to visit as many places as possible this year. No plans are set in stone as of yet, but we hope to go back to Dublin to celebrate our six year anniversary in February. We also want to take a trip to London in the spring and Barcelona in the summer.

I’m focusing on improving my wellbeing this year, both physically and mentally. I can be lazy at times but I really need to start pushing myself to be more active and choose healthier food options. I finally realised at the end of 2015 that my mental health needed to be addressed. I’m starting therapy in the next couple of days and I hope to be one step closer to an anxiety-free life.

I’ve also been contemplating a new career choice for a while now. From the moment I enrolled on a Creative Writing course, I wanted to work in the industry. I pictured myself working in an office 9-5, writing all day and getting paid to do it, nothing seemed more wonderful, but now I have experienced it, even if it is only for two days a week, I have changed my mind.

I feel strongly that if I lived in London, I would be working for a big magazine or working in a publishing house, but there’s no point in talking about the what if’s. The fact is, I don’t live in London, I have exhausted the opportunities where I live, I’ve been on so many interviews and failed to get any further, I have spent the past few years building up a writing portfolio, I’ve done internships and worked for free. I finally found a part time job where I write and get paid for it and it hasn’t made me happy like I thought it would.

I no longer feel the burning passion inside of me to write for myself. All I seem to do at the moment is write articles and blog posts for other people. It’s been a long time since I wrote a short story or a poem, or even attempted to explore another novel idea. I thought by turning my passion into a career that it would be make me happy, but now I realise that this career choice is the root of my unhappiness. I feel unfulfilled, bored and insecure about where I am right now in my career, something needs to change.

For the past six months, ever since I taught at the local hostel, I have been thinking about a career in teaching. Something sparked in me that day and I haven’t been able to shake the feeling. Maybe that’s what I should be doing? I don’t know. All I know is that I don’t want to spend the rest of my life in an office, staring at a computer screen. I want to be challenged, do something new every day, inspire other people’s lives and feel like I have a purpose.

That’s what I’m struggling with right now, my purpose. I thought I knew what I wanted and who I wanted to be but now I’m starting to doubt myself. The choices that I make this year will effect the rest of my life, which is why I’m holding back on making a decision until I am certain of what I actually want. I know this year will be a challenging one but I want to enjoy every moment of it. I want to travel to places I have never been, I want to start writing stories again, I want to push my fears aside and start seeing every obstacle as a chance to start a new adventure.