Why learning to ignore my anxiety is having a positive impact on my mental health

ignoring anxiety symptoms

As I sit here on a half-empty Virgin train waiting to leave Glasgow Central, I doubt anyone around can tell I’m trying to stop myself from having a panic attack. I’ve put my luggage away, started typing on my laptop and even exchanged a few words with the woman opposite about seat numbers and how busy the train is.

I’ve secretly popped one of my beta-blockers to slow down my heart rate and I’ve avoided caffeine all weekend to minimise the chance of feeing twitchy and anxious. However, I can’t deny I’ve noticed the little hints that something’s not right.

I’ve been biting my lip, twisting my wedding ring and have visited the bathroom more than usual this morning. My jaw is locked shut and I’ve been grinding my teeth since the early hours.

But still, I’m the only one who knows that a panic attack could be imminent. In recent months this fact has started to comfort me. Like most people with mental illness I’ve spent a lot of my time feeling isolated. I have a constant internal monologue whereby I talk myself out of doing any social activity that makes me nervous.

The voices inside tell me I’m worthless, boring and stupid and should avoid talking to others. Why risk making a fool of myself when I can stay home alone and overthink everything I’ve ever said and done? The voices have won the fight more often than not.

anxiety mental health blogger uk

Generalised anxiety disorder doesn’t always display physical symptoms. It chips away at my confidence day by day, making me feel sick from the moment I wake up until I manage to fall asleep at 3am the next morning.

It’s often irrational. It doesn’t appear to be connected to anything particular, and things that I normally do with ease – like visiting the supermarket – can all of a sudden be too overwhelming to contemplate.

Many girly nights out have involved me hiding the bathroom of a club, silently crying and building up the confidence to go back out and pretend to be OK. I’ve burst into tears and had to leave the gym, the one place where I usually feel so at home.

So sitting on this train knowing that no one suspects the terror I’m currently experiencing is somehow, a good thing. I guess it’s a feeling of control.

I used to feel like I wasn’t in control of my body. I couldn’t stop myself feeling anxious, depressed and physically tense. I couldn’t stop myself running for the nearest exit as soon as it all got too much.

I still can’t control all of my physical symptoms – like the lip-chewing and incessant bathroom trips – but they no longer control me. I can sit here happy in my own thoughts, acknowledging each habit like an old friend. They pop up now and again, sit beside me and we have a polite conversation. “Ah it’s you again” I think to myself, and I get on with my business as they sit peering over my shoulder.

And that’s where the magic happens. In the acknowledgement of these habits. I can acknowledge them, and move on. Feel them, and rise above them. I don’t have to react to them or let them take over. I can just let them be.

Before I know it, the train has departed and I’m an hour into my journey. I’ve written a few blog posts and enjoyed the scenic views as I watch Scotland fade into the distance.

I look over my shoulder and realise that the symptoms have gone. I know they’re still lurking, waiting to make an appearance at a later date. But I’m ready.

 


 

Surviving or thriving? How I realised I was actually recovering from mental illness

surving to thriving mental health blogger

Depression is a tough subject. There’s no getting away from the fact that it’s a painful illness that affects many of us, but I want to take a moment to talk about recovery and how it can begin to happen without us realising. I didn’t think I would ever recover, but I did. To mark Mental Health Awareness Week 2017 here’s an account of how I went from just surviving to thriving.

The small things matter again

I can’t pinpoint exactly when this happened for me, but I remember vividly how difficult it was for me to see the point in doing a lot of things. Showering seemed pointless, as did cleaning, wearing nice clothes or taking pride in my home. I didn’t wear make up because I thought, “I just have to take it back off again” so I didn’t bother. This idea of having to do things repeatedly was something that really tore me up inside.

Getting a part-time job was a major factor in helping lift that feeling, because doing the same tasks everyday was essential to doing my work correctly. I started waitressing in a cafe where I’d previously worked as a teenager, so it didn’t take me long to remember how to do everything.

Cleaning down at the end of the night and making sure everything was stocked for the next day was just enough responsibility to make me feel like I could contribute something to society and be helpful to others. Once I saw the positive effect my effort had on other people I felt compelled to continue.

Hobbies are fun again

Although I maintained my passion for fitness during the worst stages of my mental illness, other pastimes didn’t appeal to me any longer. I didn’t enjoy shopping or going out with friends. I used to love going to the cinema but I often found myself unable to concentrate during a movie or would fall asleep half way through.

When I started to take an interest in blogging again, I knew I had won back some of the enthusiasm for life that had been absent for so long. In the past ten months I’ve worked on my blog almost everyday without fail. I still get tired and frustrated with all the hard work but I really enjoy it overall. I get so much satisfaction from being creative and talking about mental illness online that I can’t see myself ever giving it up.

I can spot my obsessive behaviours

Writing about my mental illness means I’ve become even more self-reflective than before. As a result I’ve been able to better judge my behaviour and spot when I’ve been acting irrationally. I used to make family and friends change their plans to make sure I could still go to my scheduled keep-fit classes. I would control which restaurant we went to to ensure I could eat a specific type of food for weight loss, and I would be very anxious if any of those plans changed at the last minute.

I quit dieting about a year ago and since then my whole outlook has changed. I have the freedom to eat what I want and it’s made me feel a lot more laid back about things in general. Now I can see that I was really just using that as a form of control and I’m trying to work in improving that.

mental health awareness week 2017

I can support others

Having depression makes it extremely hard to be sympathetic to others. I couldn’t talk to other people with depression because I was unable to say any kind words. I felt like I was the only one who felt this bad, and that no one – not even someone with the same illness – would understand.

I spent many months relying on my husband and family to assist me with everything. I needed help getting ready, going to appointments and making basic decisions, so how could I hold my own in a conversation with someone just as vulnerable as me? It wasn’t until I was working with a young girl who had depression that I realised I was strong enough to reach out and offer support to someone else.

Somehow, I’d come far enough to be able to lend a helping hand and acknowledge that someone else was in distress. I don’t know how much I really helped her in the grand scheme of things, but I was always kind and tried to listen to her issues and offer as much advice as possible from my own experience. I didn’t realise I was better until I could actually tell someone else with confidence that they would get better too.

I can ignore negative thoughts

Recently I’ve realised that I’m now able to acknowledge my mental illness and let the symptoms play out without letting them affect me too much. I know the things that make me anxious; busy places, being around drunk people, meeting new people and long journeys on public transport. I’ve figured out that I can still put myself in those situations and not crumble, and it feels amazing!

I plan ahead as much as possible and distract myself when negative feelings arise. I avoid caffeine because it makes my anxiety worse. If I do these three things then I know I can ride out the storm and come out the other end unscathed.

Are you learning to thrive in recovery? I’ve just uploaded my first every vlog, you can check it out an subscribe here!

 

Opening up about mental illness in the modelling industry – Washed Away by Nikki Dubose

nikki dubose book review

Washed Away: From Darkness to Light is a Memoir by former model Nikki Dubose. She has appeared in magazines such a Maxim, Glamour, Vogue and Vanity Fair and first suffered from an eating disorder at just eight years old.

Her childhood trauma of sexual abuse led to bulimia, various drug addictions and serious mental illness in later life. Although she boasted a high-flying career in the fashion industry, at the height of her success she was experiencing intense inner turmoil which she kept hidden from the world.

Talking about one performance on the catwalk she writes;

“As my feet carry me to the edge, I hear no sound, experience no sensation. Despite the music and commotion, I am lost in a dreamland. How long have I waited to arrive in this spectacular moment? I never imagined I would feel so numb, so vacant. Dozens of cameras pop and crackle as they capture the magnificent creature before them. I perform, but inside I feel trapped, imprisoned within my mind.”

Nikki describes the terrifying ‘whispers’ she hears when she’s on stage, the voices in her head which mock her every move. When met with praise she ignores everyone and instead of celebrating with champagne and dancing, she rushes home to her apartment to be alone. She only wants one thing, and that’s to binge on – and then purge – large amounts of food.

To say Nikki came from a broken home would be kind at best. Her parents separated early on and her mother sexually abused her and treated her as a buddy; someone to show off to as she performed sex acts in online chat rooms and hooked up with strangers in bars. This is just one of several people who took advantage of her innocence from a young age.

With such a tainted childhood, it’s no surprise that Nikki went looking for love in all the wrong places. Her struggle to meet the demands of how a model should look only exacerbated her eating disorder as well as her constant self-loathing.

As I read the history of Nikki’s eating disorder it became clear that it was not only a way to stay as thin as possible for the modelling world, but a form of physical release that she couldn’t get elsewhere. Her mental illness ultimately led to the physical condition which consumed her life.

Having lived with a hatred for my own body for most of my life and dieting since aged 17, this topic really hit home for me. I’ve never been diagnosed with an eating disorder but I know I’ve teetered on the edge, and so I empathised with the daily rituals she went through to hide her unhealthy behaviours.

“I binged and threw up in the shower or in paper bags that I kept in my bedroom. I was the smart one; Evelin and Vitor had no idea, especially when I hid the vomit in the paper bags. My knuckles and lips began to bleed and scar again, but I covered them with concealer. Whenever a make-up artist raised an eyebrow at the cuts, I said that I had an autoimmune disease.”

Nikki talks to the reader as though we are her closest ally. Throughout her illness she felt unable to share her troubles with anyone, so to have her talk intimately and in great detail about the things she’s endured is a privilege.

Reading her words is like being inside Nikki’s head. Her writing style is brutally honest and disturbing at times, a testament to not only what she has endured but also how difficult it must have been for her to relive these painful memories and put them down on paper.

I had no idea what to expect going into this book. I never thought I’d finish the thing in just a few days and feel so utterly connected to someone I’d never met. Knowing Nikki’s story has reminded me why I started to write about mental illness online, even though it often leaves me feeling vulnerable to expose myself to the world.

Although Washed Away is about championing the possibility of recovery, it’s my no means a self-help book. I’m not sure the world needs another one of those anyway. Often those of us with mental illness know deep down what steps need to be taken, but we just can’t imagine having the strength carry them out.

This book proves that we are indeed strong enough, and that even the darkest of times will lead to light.

Buy Nikki’s book here

This post is sponsored and contains affiliate links

 

The honest truth about seeing a counsellor

whats it like seeing talking to a counsellor therapy

If your GP has put you on a waiting list to see a counsellor then you should definitely see one.

Many people brush off the notion of talking as a form of medication , and just want to take pills and power through their illness until they feel ‘normal’ again.

Medication is great. Medication can help alleviate symptoms of depression in order for you to be a little more productive, take better care of yourself and attend important appointments.

But you may find that talking about your problems is the thing you need to fully resolve any ongoing mental health problems you have. If you think it isn’t going to work for you then ask yourself; what have you got to lose?

It’s a process

If you physically recoil when you think about sharing ‘feelings’ with a stranger then this will seem like an uphill struggle from the start. I didn’t want to talk about my depression. It was mine, my burden and sharing it with others didn’t feel natural or helpful.

I learned over time that sharing my burden was a gift. The best thing is that your counsellor is an outsider.

They are not a family member who thinks you’re taking life too seriously. They aren’t a friend who thinks you’ve got nothing to be sad about. They aren’t an employer who thinks you need to knuckle down and get on with it. They are an impartial person with your best interests at heart.

I found my counsellor especially helpful during the phase when I was returning to work. She was able to give me answers to some of the questions that I didn’t have myself. Should I work full time or part time? What level of responsibility should I have? She also gave me the strength to stand up to my friends and stay away from alcohol when I was feeling the urge to abuse it.

It’s awkward as hell

Everyone reacts differently to awkward situations. And if sitting down to tell a complete stranger about your inner turmoil isn’t the worst kind of awkward, then I don’t know what is.

Some people laugh, others chat nervously, but I sat in silence. Going into that claustrophobic room, crippled with anxiety and depression was the absolute opposite of what I wanted to do during that period of my life.My body downright rejected it and I had to force myself to enter.

I spent most sessions staring at the floor. I avoided eye contact. I gave one word answers. I said “I’m fine” constantly, to try and fool the woman into letting me out of the painful scenario. My muscles tensed to fiercely that I was physically exhausted from every session I completed. But I completed them.

whats it like seeing a counsellor therapy depression

You have to commit

As difficult as my weekly meetings were, I never missed a single one. Even when I felt like it wasn’t helping, or that it was making me feel worse, I kept going. I knew that this kind of treatment was hard to come by so I didn’t want to lose my place in the programme.

I slugged it out even when I didn’t want to. Part of being depressed means that a lot of the time you don’t have control over your actions, and you might not be able to show up every week. I get it. Sometimes leaving the house just isn’t an option.

But if you can find the will to go then I urge you to do it, and do it consistently. If you show up regularly – even when you don’t want to talk – it lets your counsellor take note of your mood and your ability to cope. This is all helpful information that can be used to track your progress, even if you feel like you’re not progressing much at the time.

You need to be honest

Having a mental illness is draining. You often walk around pretending to be OK for days, weeks or months at a time because you think it’s what you’re expected to you. You tell employers you can cope with extra work, you tell friends you’re happy on a night out, and you tell your partner your just having a bad day because you haven’t been sleeping well.

It’s a vicious cycle where you use so much energy putting on a brave face for everyone that you have no strength left to truly take care of yourself.

Talking to a counsellor is an amazing opportunity to actually tell the truth. Be totally honest. Tell them that you dread getting up in the morning, you hate your job and you don’t want to socialise with anyone. Tell them you can’t find enough hours in the day to wash your hair and match up your odd socks. In fact, these small tasks are so overwhelming that you sob uncontrollably at the thought of doing them.

Nothing bad can come from opening up about these thoughts. They are more than just thoughts. They are symptoms of your illness, and once you’ve got them off your chest I guarantee you’ll feel the benefit. Trained professionals understand them in a way that your friends and family might not be able to and that is an invaluable tool in your path to recovery.

Do you have any experience with seeing a counsellor?

 

 

What are the best hobbies for depression? Read my top 10 tips

what are the best hobbies for depression

You’ve been diagnosed with depression and your doctor has told you to get a hobby. Once you’ve restrained yourself from screaming in said doctor’s face, I advise you calmly leave the building and take yourself home for a lie down.

Being told this by your GP can feel extremely patronising. Do they think we can just knit our way out of depression? Take a photography course and all is well again? It’s not that easy and I’m 100% on your side with that one.

But there are a few hobbies that are worth trying out on those days where you can find the energy to try your hand and something different. I’d love to know if you’re willing to give some of these a go…

1. Yoga

Doctors will regularly recommend yoga for those with depression, and although it’s not for everyone I personally find it very helpful when I’m finding it hard to relax. I wrote about it in more detail last year when I started going more regularly to help ease my symptoms when I moved away from home.

2. Running

It might sound like your idea of hell, but many people claim running has been a major factor in their recovery from depression. I took up running after going to fitness classes for a year or so, looking for a new challenge to test my abilities. Although I don’t enjoy it as much as other forms of exercise I can see why many enjoy the solitude and fresh air that comes with the hobby.

3. Walking

If running seems a little too advanced then I highly recommend trying walking instead. Either alone or with a friend, the benefits of walking are well-documented and can give you a sense of achievement on days when you feel unmotivated.

4. Drawing

This is a pastime that was always encouraged when I was a child, and I can see why. It’s good at keeping you distracted without the use of TV or video games and it’s a great creative outlet.

5. Blogging

Obviously I’m biased about this one! I started blogging a few years ago when I was unfit for work and felt the urge to be creative. You don’t need to write about depression; write about whatever pleases you and do it under another name if you don’t want anyone to know it’s you.

what hobbies are good for depression

6. Journaling

If you still want to write but not necessarily hit ‘publish’ online, then journaling could be for you. Grab a notebook and just explain how you’re feeling. I know from experience that trying to explain or even experience emotions when you have depression can feel like an impossible task. There are lots of good advice posts and prompts available out there to get you started.

7. Cooking

After years of restricting my food intake and binge eating junk food, I’m learning to enjoy all types of food again for their health benefits. I feel at my best when I’m eating lots of fruit, vegetables and some sweat treats for good measure (Oreos are food for the soul) and cooking plays a big part in that. I like the satisfaction of cooking a meal from scratch, especially if I know it’s going to make me feel good.

food-salad-healthy-lunch

8. Reading

I think people who want to ‘get a hobby’ often forget about the simple joy of reading. It’s basically free (remember those places called libraries?) and most people can do it. There are a million different genres be it fiction or non-fiction, self-help or fantasy; there’s sure to be something to keep you occupied.

EXTRA BONUS TIP! When you want to read but you can’t concentrate (a common problem with depression) then listen to podcasts.My current obsessions are My Favourite Murder, Desert Island Discs, Pro Blogger, Ctrl Alt Delete, Generation Why, Unsorry and Standard Issue Magazine.

9. Gardening

The thought of tackling an overgrown garden might be a bit much, but some light weeding or planting some flowers in pots could be a good idea. This is something that you can dedicate 30 minutes to everyday and see progress over time, which should give you a sense of achievement.

10. Play an instrument

If you can already play an instrument then why not set aside some time to practise a few times a week? It’s a good way to create some focus for short periods of time and gives you a physical and creative outlet. Also find singing along to my favourite music has the same effect.

Have you found a particular hobby that has helped ease the symptoms of your depression?

5 things you shouldn’t feel guilty about when you’re depressed

depression guilty blog mental health

Depression and guilt go hand in hand for many people. Let’s get one thing straight; you’re not to blame for your mental illness! Just like you wouldn’t be to blame if you contracted pneumonia or developed arthritis. The mind and body are open to injury and it’s nothing to feel guilty about, but I know from experience it’s not that easy. Here are some things you definitely need to think about…

Receiving gifts

I was thinking recently about how painful it was for me to receive birthday and Christmas gifts just after I was diagnosed with depression. Being unable to work meant I couldn’t really afford to buy for others, and I felt like I hadn’t earned the right to be given gifts or celebrate at all. My friends and family wanted to do anything to make me feel better, and giving me presents was their way of showing that. I know it’s really hard but try and accept any gifts you are given and see it as a symbol of support from those who care. If you’re someone who is struggling to buy gifts for someone check out my recent gift guide.

Taking time off

One of the main reasons I took almost 4 years to recover from mental health problems is that I struggled on at work for months without taking any time off. I didn’t realise just how serious my condition was – or that it existed at all – and so I continued to put myself under immense stress during a time when I should have been resting and allowing my mind to recover. It wasn’t until I finally did get signed off work that I realised how bad my symptoms were and that I would need months to recover. It’s natural to feel incredibly guilty about this but unfortunately it’s the only way for many people to recover.

Being seen ‘out’ when you’re unable to work

I was talking to a friend recently who has been signed off work with anxiety, and she was expressing concern about visiting the hairdresser whilst on sick leave. Essentially she was worried that she didn’t have the right to be out doing things in case it got back to her employers. Remember this; the reason you’re off sick is because you are unable to work. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re unable to get on a bus, go to the supermarket or go to the hairdressers. For me, work was actually contributing to my illness so it was essential that I stop doing it immediately. Going to the gym on the other hand, was easing some of the symptoms, lifted my mood and helped me get to sleep at night. Going out and doing the things you’re comfortable with is so extremely important to your recovery and should not be avoided for fear of ‘being spotted’.

Forgetting important dates

Did you know that depression is linked to short term memory loss? Don’t feel bad if you forget that you made plans with someone yesterday or you can’t remember what time your doctors appointment is. Before I was diagnosed with depression I was finding it really hard to remember what I’d done from one day to the next, especially at work. I ended up relying on a stupid amount of ‘to-do’ lists which were synced up to my calender and my phone and it all got very overwhelming. It’s totally normal to forget things and it doesn’t make you a bad person.

Eating convenience foods

Whilst living on Pringles and Pop Tarts isn’t the best advice I can offer you, there’s certainly a bit of wiggle room when it comes to eating the perfect diet when you suffer from depression. If like me, you’ve struggled mentally with dieting for most of your life then the will power to resist eating processed foods whilst fighting a depressive episode will be non-existent. There is a lot of great information out there on what foods are helpful in terms of brain chemicals and blood sugars, but don’t put too pressure on yourself to eat well all of the time. That just comes with a whole other bag of problems that you don’t need, so eat as often as you need to satisfy your hunger and try to incorporate fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats as much as possible.

Not convinced? Check out this helpful post I found called 5 ways to overcome guilt in depression.

10 positive intentions for a better state of mind

positive intentions better state of mind fiona mental health

How do you shift from victim to survivor?

How do you cope with the life-long repercussions that result from being abused as a child?

This is something that Lisa Cybaniak has dealt with personally, but over time has learned to value her own existence and prove to her abuser that she isn’t a victim of her painful past. So much so that she now coaches others on how to overcome their past, have a positive outlook and have improved self-esteem. One thing that she believes strongly in is the power of positive intentions. Here is a an excerpt from her latest blog post on the subject:

“Positive intentions are a great and simple way to begin shifting your mentality. You can begin by using one intention per day and repeating it whilst you get ready in the morning. Eventually, you should try to find time to meditate each day on several different intentions. If you have instantly giggled at the thought of ‘finding time’ each day, then I’ll gently remind you that shifting your mind set begins with you. You are worth it, and you deserve this. People always make time for the things they really want to do.”

Here are 5 positive intentions that worked for Lisa:

1. I am a strong, vibrant man/woman who deserves the best life has to offer

2. I see the beauty in every part of my day, wherever I am and whomever I’m with

3. I have survived my past and am proud of my accomplishments. I honour past accomplishments and recognise new ones as they occur

4. I will recognise opportunities to grow, and take them

5. I am worthy of success and abundance

positive intentions

This got me thinking that maybe I should start incorporating positive intentions into my own daily life. Although my blog is focused on mental health I do try hard to make this a positive place and avoid negative talk as much as possible. So here is a sneak peek at a few of the positive intentions I want to start honing in on to improve my mental state.

  1. It’s OK not to do it all

2. You are stronger than you think

3. Do good things and good things will happen

4. Don’t be afraid to fail

5. What’s for you won’t go by you

I’m going to write these down and look at them every morning. I also like to put positive thoughts in my notes app on my phone, so that whenever I open it to type in a reminder I catch a glimpse of them. It’s a great way to subtly reinforce the words without having to do too much work. To read more about the positive intentions that Lisa has used to overcome negativity read her blog post in full HERE.

A final note from Lisa:

“These are all suggestions to get you started. As you begin with these intentions, you will gain the confidence to adjust them, and add to the list, to suit your needs. This is just a step along a path to shifting your mentality. If you’d like help along your journey, visit Life like you mean it for more information on the wide range of services Lisa offers. Better yet, book a complimentary call so we can chat!”