Living with Misophonia

misophonia

(mis-ō-fō’nē-ă), Dislike of sound.
See also: decreased sound tolerance, phonophobia, hyperacusis.

It’s dinnertime… we usually eat our meals, when it is just my husband and I, at the coffee table, sat on the sofa. It’s not that we don’t have a dining table and it’s not that we are lazy but, for me, the sofa is the most comfortable place in the house to eat. Why? Because in front of our sofa and coffee table, is the TV.

When eating, the TV provides two sources of comfort for me. Firstly, it is a distraction and secondly, it is a noise. And most importantly, it is a noise that masks the sound of my husband eating his dinner.

Now… this is not specific to just my husband. It also applies to my family, to my parents, my work colleagues, my friends and to strangers. It could be the person I love most in the entire world, who I choose to spend my days and nights with for eternity, or it could be the person behind me on the bus sucking on a sweet or eating a bag of crisps. The reaction, in my mind, is the same.

I need to get away. As far as possible and as fast as possible. Where anxiety in general will often have me ‘freezing’ in one spot, Misophonia will trigger the other fear response each and every time: flight. With a little bit of fight, thrown in for good measure.

Because what I feel is akin to rage. I am a pretty calm person generally, I have never been in a physical fight, I am fairly rational, I’d much rather talk things out that get hot-headed and fight it out with words. I don’t even really like graphic scenes in films or on TV which show people being overtly aggressive – but if I hear someone crunching, chewing, swallowing, nibbling, masticating… something happens within me and if I cannot get away or mask that noise then my instinct is to get massively angry. I have never lashed out at anyone and I hate the thought that I one day might, but all my panic sensors are up. I get hot, my breathing quickens, I cannot think straight, my words, along with my own appetite disappears and I need to get out of that situation as fast as I possibly can.

It is not simply the dislike of the noise of other people eating, it is the fear and panic that surrounds it. It is not a ‘oh, thats not very nice…’ reaction, it is a ‘I need you to stop or I will be in a heightened state of panic for the rest of the day’, kind of affair. It is frustrating, isolating, worrying and also not anyone’s fault. I know that this intense visceral reaction is something within me and that people make noise when they eat. I am intensely aware that I make noise when I eat.

I’m no expert in the causes, only the effect. Sometimes I wonder if it is closely linked to my own anxieties around food, other times I figure it must be one of the downsides of being ‘too sensitive’. I am also highly sensitive to smells, other noises (such as breathing), the energy of the people around me and in order to really feel something, I must touch it – this allows me to find its place within my mind, see its colour, feel what emotions are attached to it, and so on. I am very sensitive and attuned to everything around me, so in some ways it feels in a way, logical, that sound is one of those things.

However, I am also aware that it is very much not logical, how can it be? Just because I can hear someone else eating, does not mean any harm is going to come to me, so why does it evoke such a strong ‘fight or flight’ reaction? I once broke up with a guy over the way he ate a burger – sat opposite him, in a busy and garishly lit fast food restaurant, all I could focus on were his lips, and not in a good way. I watched how he chewed, how he spoke still with food in his mouth, I could hear the noise of him eating and I knew I could not be in a relationship with him. The following day, those images and sounds playing over and over in my mind, I finished with him. Because it is not only in the moment, these things will lodge themselves somewhere within my mind and they will play on a loop, over and over again, gaining in intensity each time. I can still vividly recall that moment in Burger King 17 years later, but I have no recollection at all of what else we did that day. I hate having hiccups, but I hate it even more if someone else has them, because that noise in my head makes me envisage them being sick – and I was a carer for a long time, I can deal with blood, faeces, urine… in fact anything the human body can throw at me, but vomit? That is a big, big no. I once spent all day cooking a four-course Christmas dinner, only to not be able to eat any of it because I had become so focused on how much food once of our guests had helped himself too, and how he was just forking it into his mouth, and talking at the same time. I wanted to stand up and scream and scream until everyone left – but, y’know, that would not have been a very good idea…

I think it is also really hard to deal with because no-one likes to be told to eat, or breathe, quieter. And why (and how) would they?! I know I am asking a lot when I ask my husband to take his bag of crisps into the next room to eat them, or to make sure there is something else going on to drown out the noise when he’s dunking his biscuits into his tea. I will tell him time, and time, and time again it is not him, because it is absolutely not, but that doesn’t make the request for silence any easier.


Some really good and useful information can be found here, whether you have this, or know someone that does. I didn’t even know the name of it until a couple of years ago, sometimes just having that and knowing that it is a recognised ‘thing’ can help work wonders.

Keeping Empathy In Check

Last month, I discovered that June 9th is Empathy Day and today it is trending on Twitter, because we should all harness this inner empathy that we have, right? We should all be more in-tune with each other’s feelings and emotions, especially at the moment, right?

I am also seeing posts on social media about empathic overload, parasympathetic stress, and general exhaustion… and I’m feeling that too.

Being empathic is a funny beast. I believe that we all inherently are, to some level, empathic. But for some of us, especially those of us that fall at the more sensitive end of the spectrum, our levels of empathy can sometimes be a little too much to manage and can sometimes even feel more like a curse than a blessing. Whilst I wholeheartedly agree with the notion that we need more kindness and understanding going forward, using the word ‘empathy’ as a way to propel us to this point seems a little too far, especially when those of us who are empathic can often feel overwhelmed or burnt out by it.

For a long time, a very long time, I kind of just took my own empathy as something that simply was. I am empathic, just as someone else might be classed as adventurous or studious. It was a personality trait that I had, I couldn’t exactly switch it off and so I just went about my business wearing my empathy on my sleeve. And so often I would feel so tired, I would feel heavy, I would feel sad with no apparent cause, or frustrated, or just very jumbled…

It has only been in the last couple of years that I have understood that I wasn’t only observing what other people around me were feeling and therefore sympathising with them, I was feeling it too, quite literally.

There was a moment when it clicked for me. I walked into a room where two people were having an argument without words. You know the type. There were no raised voices, there was no apparent anger at all, but you could hear it in the tone of voice, the words used… I entered that room and my mood changed, like flicking a switch, and I instantly felt my energy shift. I knew then that this sudden dip in my mood was not because of my own emotions. I had instantly, on walking into that room, absorbed some of the energy from either one or both of those people – and it was not comfortable. I couldn’t stay in there, this feeling did not belong in my body and I did not want it to be there.

After that moment, I began to notice more how my mood would shift around certain people and, perhaps even more importantly, I began to notice the energy of other people and how it impacted me. Most people have a pretty neutral energy I find, it’ll change depending on circumstance of course but on the whole, it makes things very straightforward. However, some people can have very powerful energy – and this isn’t always a good thing. It may all sound a little far fetched at this point, but I have met people before who have had very confusing and chaotic energy, these people are not bad to be around necessarily, but I find that I do become quite tired after spending time with them. I have also met a couple of people that have very dark energy, and these people I do find it hard to spend time around. Around people like this, I usually get a headache and a real heaviness in the back of my head. It will quite often feel like someone has pulled the rug from underneath me and I get the feeling that I would rather be anywhere else. It is not comfortable and it will usually leave me exhausted for days afterward.

I don’t know, at this point, whether this is an empath trait, a thing that most people feel, instinct, or just an off-shoot of being at the more sensitive end of the scale when it comes to my surroundings. But I do feel that how we pick up on and perceive other people’s energies does link into how just being close to or around someone can impact our mood, and to an extent, our own energy.

Is it any wonder then that, at the moment especially, there are people who feel completely exhausted and burnt-out, but with no apparent cause? In the first few weeks of this pandemic, I felt like I was just wiped out. I didn’t feel like I could settle to anything, my thoughts felt jumbled and I struggled to make decisions. I was suffering from empathic overload. The whole world was experiencing a form of collective trauma. Suddenly everything that everyone knew – our routines, how we shopped, what we did when we left our homes, our children’s schooling, our jobs – were all thrown up into the air. Overnight we had to adapt, we had to get our shit together so that we could, at the very crux of it, survive. Here in the UK, we saw how this virus was affecting Italy and Spain and we were told that we were a few weeks behind these horrifying death tolls, we knew that this unstoppable force was coming. We watched as people panic bought toilet rolls, as governments who should have been keeping us safe floundered amongst the panic. We worried about older relatives and friends and our jobs and what this all meant long term and we did it all whilst suddenly having to be alone with our thoughts, without the distraction of work and routine.

And then the shocking images of George Floyd being murdered, and the realisation that systematic racism exists even within our own homes. That no-one, even if you consider yourself to not be racist, is truly not racist. To witness and hear what generations of people have been through and to have to hold yourself and your own culture accountable for centuries of pain and hurt and torment and know that what you feel right now does not even compare in the slightest possible way to what millions of people feel every day, is really, really hard.

People are suffering everywhere right now. Watching the news is really hard, even scrolling through social media is hard because you want to be able to help in any small way you can but all you can feel is this pain, that doesn’t even fully belong to you. It is overwhelming, it has a physical effect on our bodies when our cortisol levels raise, and we can find ourselves trapped within the ‘fight or flight’ trauma response – and usually within one of the lesser-known variations of that; freeze.

That, to me, is my definition of empathy and recently I heard it summed up perfectly by Elizabeth Gilbert:

“Empathy is “You’re suffering, and now I’m suffering because you’re suffering.” So now we have two people suffering and nobody who can serve, and nobody who can be of help, and if you knew how your empathetic suffering actually makes you into another patient who needs assistance, you would be more willing to dip into compassion. And what underlies compassion is the virtual courage, the courage to be able to sit with and witness somebody else’s pain without inhabiting it yourself so much that you become another person who is suffering and now, there are no helpers.”

I do not want to be someone that freezes in the face of someone else’s pain, but there have been times throughout my life – including very recently – where that is what I have done. Many times over the past few weeks, I have thought back to this passage of text and this interview in general and tried to face things with compassion, rather than empathy. Because empathy can become so strong that it destabilises us and renders us useless in the face of someone else’s struggles. I do feel pain for others and I do feel very overwhelmed with everything that is going on in the world right now, but I do also have the power to step back from it. I have the power to limit my news intake and I have the power to choose what I read and when I read it.

We so often hear analogies along the lines of ‘you cannot save anyone else unless you put your own breathing apparatus on first’ and (whilst I disagree with the whole notion of ‘saving’ people) this is absolutely true. Because what good is all of this desire to help and be the light within someone else’s darkness, if you are suffering as much as they are to begin with?

It takes courage and it takes strength to hold your own behaviour up to the light and examine it. And I am not saying that empathy is ‘bad’ – I firmly believe that it is a good thing to be able to empathise with someone else and to be able to help them from a place of kinship and understanding. But there does become a point where it can become too much and we can become unstuck. Do it too often and too intensely and you end up exhausted, do it without even realising, repeatedly, and you end up with burnout. Do it with one person within a relationship and you end up on a codependency spiral where you reach the point of only being ok, if they are ok. Like anything – including the good in this life – it is good to keep in check and use in moderation.

And for everything else, there is compassion.

And So It Goes

In every heart there is a room
A sanctuary safe and strong

The opening lyrics from a song called And So It Goes. I have brief recolations of the Billy Joel version, but I have come to know it through a beautiful choral version from the King’s Singers.

To heal the wounds from lovers past
Until a new one comes along

We are always stronger than we believe we are. We are equipped with these beautiful, expansive hearts that beat at around 115,000 times a day, without us even having to think about it. That equates to around 1 million barrels of blood in an average lifetime. It regenerates, restores, gives us life and keeps us going.

My heart has been broken, we tend to think that this only happens within romantic relationships but it happens with friendships too. I was around 11 when I discovered what heartbreak felt like for the first time… a friend who I had known since pre-school and her sudden friendship with a girl who would make the rest of my school life miserable.

But maybe these things do make us strong in the long run. Terrifying but wonderful things happen when we are forced to go inside of that room, that sanctuary, in order to begin to heal.

I wasn’t brave enough, not for a long time. I ignored that room, I tried to tell myself that the pumping blood and regenerating cells would help me to forget. But you don’t forget, not really. Not even if the memories are a blur and swathes of time are blacked out by your mind’s self preservation system. Your body remembers, your heart remembers and all the while your inner sanctuary sits empty.

It takes bravery to go into that space. True bravery to sit with those thoughts that you do remember. Sometimes we cannot do it alone, and that is ok. But our inner sanctuary is built just for us. Some can get there through meditation, through silence, through breath. Others find it in the quiet moments before dawn or when walking barefoot in the grass with the trees saying in harmony above. For some, it is safer when accessed at first whilst in a room with a professional, but when you find it it becomes easier to enter over time.

It’ll be different for everyone. But it reminds you of home, of grounding, or where you truly belong. It knows what serves you and it keeps it safe.

Maybe it’s a room, maybe it’s instinct.

Maybe it’s instinct, maybe it’s self parenting.

Maybe it’s self parenting, maybe it’s love.

But whatever it is, it’s a safe space. A sanctuary.

Written for the May Writing Challenge

Week 1, day 3: Sanctuary

The Journey

She had been able to see it on the horizon now for a while, rising out of the darkness like an ancient monolithic structure. At first it had seemed so far away, too far to imagine ever reaching. Back then it was tiny, and if she didn’t keep her eyes focused upon it, she would lose sight of it. Kind of like pointing out a bird against the backdrop of clouds or an insect going about its business on a hot summer’s day in front of a wall of ivy.

She knew it was important and she knew that she mustn’t lose sight of it for, somehow, it would become her destination. There were deep gorges in the landscape between them though, areas where she could see the dark clouds looming and hills that from this distance looked insurmountable. She wasn’t equipped for this, her small body wasn’t strong enough, her hair would occasionally whip itself across her face, causing her pale skin to sting and the rocks felt rough beneath her feet.

But still, she pushed forwards.

There were other people on the path. People she knew, and people she didn’t. Some of them looked stronger than she did, more confident. They looked like they had made this journey before and were coming back for another stab at it. She wondered why they would… but she soon remembered that it was never a choice.

The days soon turned into weeks, which turned into months and years. She kept on walking, but she became so tired at times that she had to stop for fear of breaking down completely. In those moments she sat on the ground and took deep breaths, her eyes upturned to the sky, for if she focused on her destination too long she would lose sight of it. At times it felt like a mirage, forever shimmering and out of reach. Did any of these other people ever reach it? There were times that she questioned whether it had even existed at all.

At some points, she felt a hand slip into her own as she traversed the more difficult boulders and lakes. Sometimes the hand was big and smooth and when she closed her eyes she could see him sitting opposite her in a small, too-warm, room. He asked her questions, difficult ones that had no real answer and would cause the tears to burn behind her eyes and fall heavy into the lakes that were of her own making. On other days, the hand was as familiar as her own, warm and aged from a lifetime of work and love, she looked up and saw the kind eyes of her mother as she planted the seeds that would blossom into the flowers which she longed to see on the other side. On some days the hand was understanding and calming, the one that she held in the quietest moments where the memories jumbled and the tears could no longer fall. In the solitary moments of moving ever forward the hand still held her firm, reassuring her that it would never leave her side, even if the road was longer than they both ever imagined and on other days, the hand was small, and unsure. It gripped her tightly out of fear, and she didn’t want to look down at the child holding it because she knew that her own image would cause her to stay where she stood, paralysed in the thoughts that had brought her to this desolate place.

There were days that the sun would creep out from behind the clouds, where birds would sing in the early morning silence and the lakes would run clear and crisp. She would drink from them then, filling herself with the hope and energy that she needed in order to forge forwards. Sometimes these seasons lasted for mere hours, and sometimes they lasted for weeks on end. She looked forward to these times for it was during the sunlight and birdsong that she was able to move quickly. However the clouds moved quicker still and sometimes the storm was upon her before she could even smell its arrival in the air.

She kept walking, through the storms when the wind bit her cheeks and the rain mixed with her tears. At times she felt that the sky was crying with her and there were days when it couldn’t stop.

But she was drawing ever closer to her destination…

She could see now that it was a door, standing solitary and alone. It seemed so out of place perched upon that mountain top, but she never questioned it. She assumed that others on the path had their own door for she had never seen anyone open the one on her horizon.

There were days where her feet lost their grip upon the slippery rocks and she felt that she would tumble to the ground and have to begin again. She concentrated on the ledges that she passed and reminded herself of words that she had once heard about landing on one of them and resting. She would never have to begin completely again, not now, not after all the trails the path had given her. Her small hands gripped onto whatever they could find and the muscles in her shoulders burnt as she heaved herself upwards and onwards.

When she got to the mountain top she felt something that she had not expected. She felt grief. She turned around and looked at the landscape behind her. The hills that had felt like mountains, the deep lakes that glistened in the late afternoon sun and the forests that had felt so dark and imposing as she had walked through them, haunted by voices of the past. Looking at it all from up here as the wind blew her hair from her face she wondered how it had all felt so desolate, for it was beautiful and she knew that it had been of her own creation. She took a few moments to drink in the sight before her before turning back to the door that had been her destination all along.

The birds sang their now familiar song, and the wind whistled above the landscape that she had come to know as home. She couldn’t explain it but the hands that hand held her own were now bodies around her, holding her firm and not allowing her to run back to the familiarity of what once was. She took a deep breath and reached out her hand to the doorknob…

She didn’t know where she was going now, but she knew she could face whatever it would bring.

Written for the May Writing Challenge

Week 1, day 1: Door

Rocks

She left the Elm trees swaying in the early spring breeze, picking up rocks as she walked. Feeling the smooth, calm, coolness of them as she slipped them into her pockets, one by one.

She was leaving the only home still standing, the only one ravaged by pain, rather than the Germans. How could she hope to recover this time, when once again, everything was beginning to tear at the seams?

Another rock, another weight.

She had left the notes, only two. Her words hadn’t flowed and that’s when she knew.

Another rock, another certainty.

She returned to the Elms, swaying in the summer sunshine.

Finally finding peace as she slept beneath the intertwined trees, which she had once named after each of them.

‘Against you I fling myself, unvanquished and unyielding, O death! The waves broke on the shore’

~ Virginia Woolf, The Waves

Thank you for reading.

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Suicide

It’s a horrible word, isn’t it?

Merriam Webster defines it as ‘the act or an instance of taking one’s own life voluntarily and intentionally’ and It makes it sound so… benign. Like the choice is so easy, that it doesn’t come from a place of torment, pain and questioning.

Suicide is the only option left when every other conceivable idea becomes unbearable. Break that down – every. other. option.

Every single one, anything you can think of to make your life better, every realistic choice or possible decision, even if it seems far fetched. Talking to those you love and who love you, leaving your job, going into hermit mode for a while, selling your house and moving to the other side of the world, volunteering to help those in need, cutting off all of your hair, spending all of your savings on something ridiculous… I mean, if you are thinking of ending everything, these decisions don’t seem so extreme anymore.

But none of them will work. And you know why? Because they are all so overwhelming, they are all too much. Too much to think about, never mind do. Not that it would make a difference anyway – not when your depression doesn’t live in your workplace, or your home, or your hair.

Suicide comes when all other options have been exhausted or seem too overwhelming. It comes when the pain has become too heavy that you cannot carry it any longer. When you are locking yourself away in the bathroom and sobbing your heart out because you have done e v e r y t h i n g ‘right’; you’ve sought the help, taken the pills, gone to the therapy and it is still there. It comes when the pain of living seems worse than the pain of dying.

It isn’t a selfish act, it isn’t ‘attention seeking’, it isn’t something that is done to spite others. It’s not cowardice, it is not shameful to think about, it is not terrifying to talk about.

It is a symptom. A horrible, final symptom of a horrible, debilitating illness.

When suicide hits the headlines, we all talk about it. We all talk about the person, we all say what an awful shame and an awful shock it is. And it is a shock, it is always a shock. It’s a shock because we never think that they would do it – they who ‘didn’t seem depressed’, had spouse/children/a family/money/fame/a nice house/a good job/a bright future… but depression doesn’t live in your nice house. It lives within you, it’s in your mind, in your bones, it pumps its way around your body. It becomes all-consuming, deafening, insurmountable. It becomes something you feel that you need to escape from – but how do you escape from something that lives within you?

This writing is deliberately bleak, deliberately questioning – because that is what it feels like. I could tell you that there is help out there, that someone is always listening, that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. I could urge you to talk to someone, to seek help and remind you that the good days will come again but you have to be here in order to see them. I could tell you that suicide isn’t, ever, the answer. And all of that would be true.

But that isn’t what it feels like.

There have been points where I have been suicidal, where I have just wanted to escape and switch the thoughts off. I have memories of things that I cannot bear to think about anymore, but that never stop replaying in my mind. I have felt hopeless, unbearably sad, a failure, weak, a letdown. I’ve convinced myself that once they get over their sadness people would be better off without me. But there are always two thoughts that stop me –

  1. Who would find me? My husband, my best friend… I couldn’t leave them with that. With the moments and hours and days after. They would move on eventually, I know that. But I couldn’t bear the thought of them questioning themselves and blaming themselves.
  2. Those moments between cause and effect. When its too late to take it back, when the result is inevitable but the thoughts still come.

I cling onto those reasons, literally for dear life at times.

And I know, things get better. It may be little glimmers of light that dance through leaves on a summer afternoon. It might be my husband’s laugh or my baby nephew’s grip around my finger. Its a hug from my best friend, or the smell of my mum’s kitchen. Hope comes in the wind that makes my hair dance upon the mountain top, or the icy cold water that licks at my feet on the shoreline.

If I was dead, these things would be gone.

Forever.

And forever is a long time.

So, please do talk. Please do reach out. It’s not easy – my god, I know it’s not easy. No-one expects it to make sense, because these things simply don’t. Stop trying to circle the square and cope with this on your own, please. Find meaning in the small things, find reasons not to in the harsh reality of what would really happen.

But please don’t die, not yet.

Safe Travels, Don’t Die

Thank you for reading.

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Two Easy Chinese ‘Fakeaways’

Crispy Sweet Chilli Beef/Chicken.

1 x packet of beef strips/2 chicken breasts

3 tbsp cornflour

Chinese five spice/seaweed flakes/sesame seeds

1 carrot, finely sliced into batons

1 onion, finely chopped into strips

Salt and pepper 

2 tbsp ketchup

2 tbsp sweet chilli sauce (dependent on brand/how hot you like it) 

2 tspn (not tablespoon) rice vinegar 

1 tbsp soy sauce

Spring onions, to serve. 

Cut the beef/chicken in to tiny strips, tinier than you think. There will be a lot. The tinier they are, the crisper they will be. 

Mix cornflour and whichever seasoning you decide to use. I have used all of the above at different times – if you are using Chinese five spice, you’ll need quite a lot, 4 tspns or so. It’s really just to make sure you don’t taste the cornflour, spiced seaweed flakes work well – but if you only have salt and pepper then it doesn’t really matter because so much of the flavour comes from the sauce. I wouldn’t add chilli powder/flakes – the flakes would just burn at this point and taste acidic and they will also make your kitchen smell wholly unpleasant and really hurt your throat whilst frying (I’ve learnt this the hard way) 

Coat the meat in the cornflour and then shallow fry in really hot oil. Again, fry for longer than you think – you want these strips crispy. 

During this time (you may have to do them in batches and keep warm in a low oven) finely slice the carrot and onion. 

Once all of the meat is cooked and keeping warm in the oven, fry off the vegetables. 

Mix all of the sauce ingredients together. The above measurements are a guide only – if you like it spicier add more chilli and less ketchup. My husband isn’t a huge fan of the sourness the vinegar brings, so I tend to not put too much in – but you can taste it as you go along and adjust it to personal taste. 

Once the vegetables have cooked, add the meat back into the pan and then the sauce. Leave to simmer for a couple of minutes and serve with rice and sliced spring onions. 

Sweet and Sour Chicken, Hong Kong Style. 

The recipe and method to this is very much the same as above. 

Cube your chicken and mix with cornflour. You can season in very much the same way. 

Instead of (or as well as) carrots, use one whole red pepper and a tin of pineapple chunks in juice (not syrup). Still use onion. 

When making the sauce, lessen the chilli (to taste) and add some of the pineapple juice and a tbsp of light brown sugar. 

Both recipes are so similar – and also can vary so much on personal preference and taste. The good thing about making your own though is you get more than takeaway portions, and you know exactly what is in it. Each time I make these they both turn out slightly different, depending on what I have in the cupboards or on my spice shelf, but the cornflour gives a good coating to the meat in both recipes and the carrots/veg give a good mix of textures.

I hope you enjoy 🙂 let me know if you make either of them!

35 Things I Have Learnt at 35

35 Things I have leart at 35(1)

As we draw to the end of this decade, I have recently turned 35. I don’t know why 35 feels like such a huge leap from 34, but it wasn’t a milestone that I was thrilled to get to. Its the turning of time, another year gone – and it has been quite a year! I don’t feel particularly old, perhaps just a little like I have a lot left to do, more that I want to achieve. But, the start of a new decade and the passing of this birthday feels like a good time to sit back and take stock – and look at the things I have learnt up until this point. So, here goes…

1. Its ok to be quiet and introverted.

This has been quite the revelation over the past few years! I have always had it in the back of my mind that I was somehow ‘wrong’ for not being as loud or as gregarious as others. For not wanting to go out every weekend, for feeling tired and like I needed to have some alone time if I had been sociable. But recently, and really quite recently – only the last eighteen months or so, I have come to the conclusion that it is actually quite normal, and whilst I love the people in my life that are loud and outgoing, I also cherish the ones that are quiet and thoughtful, and I need to turn some of that same acceptance inwards.

2. Medication has its place.

All medication does, of course, but specifically medication for mental illness. I started taking medication in 2010 when my mental health first started to deteriorate and it did take a little while to find the correct medication and dose – but, once I had found it, I stabilised and I stayed on it until 2018 when I felt well enough to come off of it. For a few months, all was well but then external factors saw my mental health once again begin to slip and I decided to go back on to it. There is absolutely no shame in taking something that helps you and it doesn’t have to be forever, but sometimes we all need that helping hand – whether it is to ease anxiety, to sleep or simply to make things feel more manageable.

3. You don’t have to be thrilled with everything you create.

I love to write, and cook, and draw, and paint – but I tend not to do the latter two, why? Because I’m always worried that it won’t be ‘good enough’, or I’ll be disappointed in it. Part of me realises that art, in any form, is just an expression of emotion and it is all subjective. But the other part of me is somewhat of a perfectionist! I am still working on this one, but I hope that the realisation that what we create doesn’t have to be ‘perfect’ and that there is beauty in our flaws, helps me as I move into 2020 and I can once again get my canvases out.

4. It’s ok to say no.

FOMO is real! And so is the thought of ‘letting other people down’ – but occasionally we have to remind ourselves that actually, we come first. Opportunities will come again if they are meant to and if someone is truly a friend, they will understand that sometimes we don’t have the mental, physical or emotional capacity to say yes, and that is ok!

5. Social media is HARD.

The biggest struggle I have found whilst blogging is….. Twitter! And Instagram, and Facebook (the latter two I am terrible at keeping going). Before I launched my blog, I used social media like everyone else but I didn’t really give too much thought to it. Now, I use it less – because I am giving thought to it, usually ‘I need to do X,Y and Z’! Don’t get me wrong, there are huge benefits to social media, especially when it comes to getting your work out there, but I do find it incredibly tiring at times and overwhelming also, so I am trying to get into a healthy habit of having a set time to use it.

6. There is nothing wrong with liking what you like.

Whether it be a TV show, music, a certain author… I used to have playlists on Spotify that I would only listen to on ‘private mode’ for fear of being judged on my music choice if I suddenly wanted some Britney Spears or Aqua! But then I figured… you know what? I like prancing around my kitchen to cheesy 90’s pop sometimes, I find it relaxing to get in the bath and sing along to Mariah or Whitney and that’s not shameful, in fact, I figure most people do 🙂

7. Toxic people need to GO.

Sometimes it can be very hard to identify toxic people in your life, especially if you are a survivor of trauma or if you have a tendency to fall into unhealthy relationships. But my bullshit meter is getting stronger as I get older 😉 It’s not easy, sometimes you discover – with hindsight – how someone made you feel, and that it wasn’t healthy. But I am now trying to actively gauge how people make me feel, what my emotions are doing either before meeting them or after speaking to then and I am learning to trust my gut more.

8. The greatest thing you can do for other people is to hear them…

…and I mean, really hear them. You don’t have to fix them, you don’t even have to fully understand what they are going through – but if you can sit and be with them in their pain then that really does work wonders. All any of us want is to be heard and to not have our concerns brushed off as insignificant or silly. I feel that especially with anxiety, logic rarely comes into our fears and emotions and we can know that what we are experiencing doesn’t always make a whole lot of sense. Our minds are complex things and they will try and protect us in any way possible – but when we are in that space where we need protection, it is very often our child selves that are in control. All emotions are valid and all emotions have a root cause, sometimes it just takes sitting down with someone we know we can trust to talk it through in order to be able to unpick these things.

9. Nature is a wonderful healer.

We need medication at times, we need doctors, we need research and science and all of that – but nature also plays a huge, and wonderful, part in our wellbeing. From the plant-based food that we consume to the herbs and vitamins that support our health, to watching the cycle and the being of all things in nature as they die and are reborn, to just getting out and into it! I am a huge fan of walking to places and taking in the things I see along the way – even routes that you walk everyday change with the seasons and watching the seasons change is a magical experience in itself. It helps with mindfulness to be fully absorbed n your surroundings, even if it is in a town centre! But of course, the real magic for me is held within the woods, or on a windswept coastline. Sometimes I imagine the wind collecting up all my worries and carrying them out to sea, or the roots under my feet pulling me back down to earth and reminding me of my place in the great scheme of things which brings calm and stability. I could write about the wonders of nature all day, but I think this is already the longest paragraph so far 🙂

10. Trauma doesn’t just come from warzones.

For years, I dismissed the idea that I was a survivor of trauma. Years, decades even. What a preposterous idea that was – that a woman who was loved, who had a relatively comfortable life, who hadn’t been in a warzone or come from a broken home could be classed as having endured trauma. It was only last year, when I was seeing a wonderful therapist, that I realised that it wasn’t preposterous at all – and not only did he, in his medical opinion class what I went through as trauma, he classed it as complex trauma. A sustained and prolonged attack on my very being from a group of girls who would one day be my friends and the next be my attackers. How it shaped how I formed and maintained relationships as an adult. How I lived in a state of fear and anxiety for years whilst not wanting to be a burden. How my sense of self was still shaped by their words, how it had led to my ongoing feelings of being ‘too much’ and ‘too sensitive’, and I finally had answers as to why I second-guessed my own decisions constantly. C-PTSD: it is an acronym that still seems daunting, and one that means that in some ways I have a long way to go in recovery, but it is finally a name for something that has plagued me for so very long – and I no longer feel guilty for the pain that I feel.

11. Yoga is amazing.

There, that is the point… Yoga, is, amazing. Have a headache, a stiff neck, aching knees, period pain? Load up Youtube and type in Yoga for <insert ailment here> and there is a wholesome, calm, kind answer. Yes… ok, it’s not going to fix everything, we still need to have medications, therapy, self-awareness and all of that. But I can honestly say that yoga has helped my mental health and my fibromyalgia massively over the past year. I’m not flexible, I wobble in Warrior 1 at times! But having that half an hour to myself, where I know I am actively taking care of my body – even on the hardest of days – is a kindness and a safe space where I can let it all go.

12.‘You are not a bad person for the ways you tried to kill your sadness’.

Repeat this, as often as you need.

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13. Healthy food makes you feel good.

I know, its a fairly obvious one! But I am always amazed at how bad junk food can make me feel, almost instantaneously at times. It’s not always easy to notice if we are busy or unable to take care of ourselves as fully as we need to, and sometimes its really not all that achievable if money is tight and we are scrabbling together something from tins at the back of the cupboard and some wilting veg which lost its nutrient content long ago. Bulk cooking on good days and freezing it down for the harder ones is always a good shout, and sometimes I buy up the reduced veg in supermarkets and just make a load of soup!

14. People will always remember how you made them feel.

As humans, we tend to forget an awful lot – the little details of things, who said what, when exactly something happened and things like that, but when it comes to emotion, our connections are much stronger. It’s no surprise then that the impressions we make on other people, and those they make upon us, count.

15. Don’t put your tongue on the end of a battery.

No matter how much someone tells you is safe and won’t hurt. Even if that someone is your husband. Don’t do it.

16. People are infinitely interesting (and that includes you).

We all have stories, we all have experienced heartbreak, we all have dreams… I love talking to people and finding out what makes them tick. Years ago, I met a woman on the bus – she’s in her seventies, hair as white as snow and we got on so well that she came to my wedding! But the stories she tells me, of her parents, her grandparents and her great, great, greats have me itching for a pen and some paper. My Dad, a quiet and religious man has stories of road train driving in the outback of Australia, of being on the deck of a cruise ship in the eye of a hurricane and of being taught to drive race cars by Jack Brabham, if you know to ask. We all have so much tucked just below the surface! Ask the questions, ask about more than what someone watched on TV last night. We are all unique and interesting and yet we all think we’re so normal.

17. I am happiest when I’m wild.

When my hair isn’t done, when my clothes are comfortable, when I have no make-up on and I’m outdoors or with people that I can truly be myself around. Being corporate and perfectly manicured works for some people, but not for me. It doesn’t make me any better, or worse, than them. It just means I am not that type of person, and I’m finally learning that that’s ok.

18. Boundaries.

Boundaries are something I haven’t got a wonderful grasp on, yet. However, I am learning their importance – both to my emotional and my physical wellbeing. So many factors can lead to us saying ‘yes’ to things that a nanosecond later we wish we hadn’t agreed to, or getting ourselves into situations we long to escape from. Be it a fear of missing out, guilt, a sense of duty or that good old word: should. Also, I think when we have had a very low sense of our own self-worth, it does become something that we find we can bolster by being there for others or always being the one that people call on to help out. However, long term this is exhausting and basing our own self-worth on the needs of others leaves us in a very vulnerable place. I’m still working on it, but I am learning that sometimes it really is ok to say no or to take a little step back.

19. Pick your battles/stresses.

Is it going to matter tomorrow, or next week, or next month? As much as I feel that all emotions have their place, sometimes I catch myself getting upset over something that really does not matter in the scheme of things (i.e how my husband has loaded the dishwasher). Likewise, I know I have a tendency to fight for the underdog… but I’m beginning to learn that if it is going to cause me undue stress or something that is too high a price then it is time to take a step back and act at least a little with my head as well as my heart.

20. If you can change something that’s making you anxious, do it.

My therapist and I once spoke about the anxiety I felt over decision making – especially when it comes to food. I was telling him about a particular instance where we were going to get an Indian takeaway, but in the end, it became so stressful for me to choose between two dishes that we neglected the whole idea – and he looked at me and said ‘well, why not just get both?’ Now, obviously, this does not – and can not – apply to all things. But at that moment it felt like someone had flicked a switch, I could get both and the problem would be solved! Indian food freezes, after all, it’s just another meal. In fact, having both together made me realise how much I preferred one over the other. If the problem to an anxiety-inducing situation is easy – do it!

21. You can’t fix people, you can only love them.

Codependency… what a tricky little bugger that is! I learnt the hard way that you cannot fix people. Recovery and stability must be something that comes from within. I have written about it in more depth here and also here, but it is an ongoing process of realising that you can only do so much to help others.

21. You don’t have to have a reason for having something nice.

I am not financially well off, and I work very hard for the money I do earn. However sometimes it feels like that hard-earned cash then goes on the most mundane of things – food, vets bills, life insurance – blah blah blah. I think sometimes we forget that we are adults and if we want something nice, be it some tickets to a show, a bottle of nice wine, or a new top, we can actually treat ourselves and buy it. We are worthy of these things and it is ok to treat ourselves with the money that we have worked hard for.

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22. …but rewarding yourself is also important.

Sometimes you need something special though. It doesn’t have to be something bought, but we all do things in our day to day lives that are hard, anxiety-inducing, or that we agreed to three weeks ago and now our social engagement meter is in the red! Recognising achievements (even if they seem small or insignificant to others) is vital for our own self-worth and wellbeing. Be it a long soak in the bath, an hour extra in bed with a good book, a nice dinner or, really, whatever makes you feel good – we do need to reward ourselves for the things we do and the energy we put out into the world.

23. You cannot control the emotions of others.

Very much along the same vein as not being able to fix others, controlling the emotions of others is impossible. We are all complex little beings and what seems like a big deal to Person A may be completely insignificant to Person B. Our histories, our experiences, and even our genes play a huge part in our emotional reactions to things, and no-one can be expected to know the intricate details regarding the root cause of someone else’s response. To try and control how someone else feels would be like pouring water into a colander whilst expecting it to fill up and overflow. Control how you react to others, sure, but to expect someone to feel (or not feel) a certain way, because it is how you would react, is only going to cause frustration, from both parties.

24. It’s ok to be cross at those you love (still learning this one).

This is a tricky one for me. It’s based in guilt and also my fear of losing people and abandonment and it’s something that has been discussed a lot in my therapy sessions. But apparently, it’s ok to get angry and frustrated at those you love, it doesn’t mean that you don’t love them anymore

25. Positivity can be toxic.

I have written about this fairly recently. Positivity is wonderful, I think we can all appreciate that, but there does become a point where it stops being wonderful – and that point comes when it actively invalidates the very real emotions that someone is experiencing. We all get angry, upset, frustrated, lonely, jealous and have unkind thoughts about people at times – and you know what? That’s quite normal! We cannot be positive all the time, we need to address the difficult emotions and really feel them, not brush them under the carpet and ignore what they are trying to tell us or where they come from. This faux positivity can be hurtful and also quite dangerous and I am definitely not a fan of having it rammed down my throat by people who have never experienced the devastating lows of mental illness. Of course we would all love to be happy, shining beams of light 24/7, but in reality, that’s not possible and I feel that acknowledging that removes so much of the guilt of how ‘blessed’ and ‘grateful’ we all should be feeling. It’s ok to acknowledge that life can be a bit shit sometimes.

26. Online friendships can be as important and fulfilling as the friendships you have in ‘real’ life.

I have always – since the days of dial-up – talked to people online. As an introvert who can find face to face social situations exhausting at times, I have found that online friendships can be wonderful. When my mental illness was really at its worst, I struggled to leave my house, but the connections I had with friends online kept me going and even at times kept me safe. I still have some really good online friends – some I have gone on to meet in person, some I hope to one day and some I probably never will, but I still value them all as wonderful friends and I know that my life would be duller without them in it.

27. Rest days are essential…

…and they are a form of productivity in themselves. Allowing yourself some time to recharge and recuperate is not selfish. Sometimes we need that time today in order to be a better, more productive, less grouchy, more focused, less anxious person tomorrow.

28. The harder the therapy, the more effective it will be in the long run.

I have had various therapies over the years, including group therapy, CBT and CAT. But my most recent, the second round of 34 Cognitive Analytic Therapy sessions, was by far the hardest emotionally. We delved deep, deeper than I had gone before. We talked about the hard stuff, the stuff that was only now beginning to creep forward tentatively into the light of my consciousness. We talked about shameful coping mechanisms and the origins of my very worst fears. Some sessions we laughed like old friends and in others I sat and silently wept opposite him as he asked me ‘where I had gone’. However, within that room, I learnt so much about myself and so much about the reasons behind my behaviours. Throughout the course of 34 weeks I ended a codependent relationship, I started my blog, I endured a harrowing job and then found the confidence to leave. I dealt with my brother in laws cancer diagnosis and my fathers’ ill health. I discussed openly, for the first time, my dreams of being a mother and also the obstacles that stood in my way. I truly saw myself, for the first time – and as much as I would like to say it was an enlightening and revealing moment, it was also fucking terrifying. But, it helped me move forward. It helped me recognise my own strengths and it allowed me to deal and process and begin to leave things in the past. It gave me names for things that have plagued me for years and it gifted me with coping mechanisms, but most importantly it has allowed me to bloom, without fear, into the whole person I was so needlessly frightened of being.

29. Labels are effective and useful, but they don’t define you.

I used to be against labels, completely! How dare you define people with one word when we are all so magnificent in our individuality… yeah. I still believe it, to a point. But I now recognise that labels also have their uses. They help us to identify what is actually wrong with us and, especially with the case of mental illnesses, they help bring us comfort that its not ‘all in our heads’, that there is a medical and very valid reason for what we are going through. They also help when it comes to obtaining help and support and they help with opening up discussions about subjects that can be difficult to broach. I still don’t believe they are perfect, they can sometimes be so broad that they can prove ineffective in certain circumstances, and it can be very easy sometimes to define ourselves by the labels that are put upon us, when we are so much more than what they depict, but they do have their uses.

30. Inner child work is so important.

We all have one, that little being inside of us that holds onto our firmest beliefs about ourselves and the world around us – whether they be right or wrong. I ignored mine for a long time, and I am still guilty now of doing it at times. Meditation has helped me connect with her, but there have been times – especially during therapy – that she was so frightened and lost, that as an adult I didn’t know how to help her. I talk of ‘her’ like a separate entity, but of course she is not. She is at my core, she is the wise and quiet soul who drives my gut instinct, but also the flighty and nervous child self that makes me fear and lash out at times. Re-connecting is a tentative process, but in recognising where our fears and so many of our emotions come from I have realised how important it is to rebuild that bond and allow her voice to be heard.

31. I am stronger than I believe, and so are you.

To coin an overused phrase – we have survived all of our bad days up until now, and some of those have been days that we never thought we could get through. They may have exhausted us, they may have made us curl up into a ball and weep, they may have left us numb, angry, confused and heartbroken – but we survived them, and we are still here fighting.

32. It’s not a big deal to stop reading a book halfway through.

I’ve done it, I’ve plowed through unenjoyable pages because I have thought that its what I should do, especially with books that have received much critical acclaim. I have wondered why I haven’t ‘got’ it, I have come to the conclusion that in the next chapter it must all begin to make sense, but you know what? It never has. It doesn’t make you a bad person, an unintelligent person, or a weird* person to not get the ‘hype’. It doesn’t make you a terrible bookworm if you can’t finish a book. Life is too short – and there are so, so many amazing books out there, why waste time on one that isn’t fitting with you right now? You might come back to it in five years and love it, you might not, but reading is such a wonderful gift – spend it wisely, on books you adore.

33. * It’s ok to be weird.

Do whatever makes your little heart happy, seriously. A good friend once described me as ‘an eclectic mix of a Daphne du Maurier heroine, with a touch of Tank Girl and a healthy dose of Ray Mears thrown in for good measure’ – and if that isn’t a bizarre mix, then I don’t know what is. Your weirdness makes you interesting, it makes you unique and it will make you happier in the long run. Embrace it!

34. No-one is perfect.

No-one, not even if they appear to be. We all have our flaws, we all have our worries and our insecurities, we will all have upset someone at some point and made bad decisions. Everyone fucks up occasionally.

35. It gets better.

If it’s hard at the moment, if the tears won’t stop coming or the numbness is all-consuming. If you are stuck in a routine, or a job, or a relationship that is damaging your soul, then please take comfort in the fact that nothing lasts forever and even the darkest days come to an end. Sometimes we have to be so completely in darkness to see the tiniest glimmer of light – but with time, and patience, setbacks and sometimes a lot of hard work, I promise, it can get better x

Disclaimer: Whilst some of these points are points that I can now acknowledge and recognise, it doesn’t mean that they are always easy to put into practice. I’m working on many of them and trying to forgive myself when I don’t always succeed.

Thank you for reading.

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Happy Holidays… but why its ok if they’re not.

Autumn is a magical time of year. Everything turns golden, the heating comes on. People don’t look at you strangely for wearing big chunky boots with your pretty dresses… the best mornings are full of blue sky and steam that rises from inside your lungs when you breathe. You get to smell woodsmoke in the air, cook stews and casseroles to come home to. Leaves crunch under your feet or the mud squishes underneath your wellington boots as you meander through woodlands that smell of damp and earth and allow you to feel completely grounded and at one with nature.

It is also the prelude to December… I was born a week before Christmas and I normally look forward to that special week – full of family and friends, twinkling lights, good music (Smith & Burrows’s Christmas album will always be a favourite), amazing food and of course the presents, although I’ve always been much more of a giver in that respect. It’s wonderful…

Until it isn’t.

Until the tiredness snakes its way into your bones, or the kitchen gets too hot whilst you are cooking what feels like your eleventh thousand Christmas dinner. Your bank account is looking sorry for itself, you’ve forgotten to buy your husbands aunties cat a Christmas present (true story), you need to write a heap of cards for the neighbours or people at work, you need to have dinner with your extended family and you know that the noise of eating, the amount of food, the anxiety around getting it ‘just right’ and the feeling of being too full are all triggers to your own issues with food. Maybe you count on work as a distraction and routine to keep you sane and the thought of an enforced holiday scares you more than you would like to admit. Perhaps you are breaking bread with people that don’t understand your sexuality, maybe you would love to be spending your day with a loved one but can’t because you need to spend it with family who don’t understand. There is alcohol, so – much – alcohol, and that can be incredibly hard for so many reasons. It’s not an easy time. Last year I wrote on another platform about how we can never fully understand how hard Christmas can be for each other and this year I’m feeling the truth of that even more so. It could be the first Christmas without someone, or the last Christmas we know we’ll have someone with us. And it’s merry and jolly and bright because it’s Christmas… but in reality, it’s not at all jolly and bright… it’s hard, and it’s a struggle and that is ok.

It’s ok because it is ok not to be ok. It’s ok to find all of this too much – all of this preparation and buying stuff and thinking about food and making arrangements with people you haven’t spoken to for the last 11 months. It’s alright to go to a quiet place and just sit and do nothing, or to cry, or to scream into a pillow. It’s healthy to get the lead on the dog and whisk him out of the door faster than his paws can touch the ground because you just need to get out and away and breathe the fresh, cool air into your lungs for 10 minutes, by yourself, for yourself.

These few weeks are stressful. They are stressful for people who seem to have everything together and they are stressful for people that let us all know about it when they don’t. Most of us still have to do the everyday stuff – going to work, keeping ourselves healthy, care giving, paying bills, looking after kids – and then we have this big day looming on the horizon which everything has to be perfect for, which we need to be perfect for.

But we don’t. Not really.

Because it’s a day.

Just a day.

Take it hour by hour, remember to breathe. Meditate, go for a walk, sleep. Look after yourself and be considerate to those around you.

The season of goodwill to all men.

That includes yourself

❤️
Main image credit: Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Thank you for reading.

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How to Help a Child With Anxiety

I was an anxious child. I think I had experienced little flashes of it throughout all of my childhood, but it was when I moved up to senior school that anxiety really got its teeth into me.

I was quiet, and sensitive – and sensitivity hasn’t always been seen in the most positive of lights. I would feel overwhelmed by noisy and crowded spaces, I’d like to plan ahead and I was – and still am  – an overthinker and a perfectionist. We also lived in a church building, which in many aspects was wonderful, but it did make me ‘different’ amongst my peers and it did pose its own challenges with regards to the overthinking; I’d imagine the building being set alight whilst we were sleeping or someone getting in to the building during the day and hiding until my Dad did his nightly checks.

You’d think then, that when a friend asked me for advice last week regarding his daughter who is experiencing severe anxiety after moving up to secondary school, I’d be a fountain of experience and knowledge and be able to give real, practical advice, having lived through it myself… but instead, I kind of drew a bit of a blank. I empathised of course, I gave some small words of advice about what could help anyone with anxiety, but it was only when I went away and thought about it and talked to my friend who works in mental health about it that I could really come up with some actual, relevant advice.

I think that this is for two reasons, firstly, I experienced all of this anxiety in the mid-nineties. We simply did not have the knowledge or the resources to deal with children’s mental health at this point in time. My experience was very much, go to school and deal with it for 6 hours, 5 days a week. My parents tried their best to help me, but without the resources and the education there for them to access, it was at times both frustrating and agonising. Secondly, I don’t remember whole years of this time period, or rather, I remember a few standout moments from when I was 10 or 11 to when I left school at 16, the rest is very blurry and jumbled up. I was bullied throughout my time at secondary school and this has had a long-lasting effect, even to this day. Just because the memories aren’t there, doesn’t mean the feelings within my body, my reactions to certain things and the way I have learnt to process this – what I now can recognise as complex trauma –  aren’t.

So, what would have helped me back then? What advice did I go back to my friend with and if you have an anxious child – whether there is bullying involved, or not – how can you help them?

Acknowledge the Anxiety

For so many years people seemed to believe that mental health issues would magically disappear if they weren’t talked about. That somehow, if we didn’t acknowledge them and the damage that they cause, that they would just go away. That talking about them was somehow indulgent and self-absorbed. I can assure you, none of this is true.

What acknowledging anxiety does, is rather wonderful, for it helps to take away some of its power. Anxiety thrives on the unknown, it feeds off of ruminating thoughts. If, as someone with anxiety, you are able to sit down with someone you trust and talk about what is worrying you then that is half the battle won, for it gets it out.

Of course, talking can be a pretty big thing in itself when anxiety has dug its claws in. How do we make it make sense? We know that it is rarely rational. That so many people will, and perhaps have, told us ‘not to be so silly’, or have brushed it off, or even laughed at us. The best thing that you can do with someone with anxiety, is just listen. Don’t judge, don’t try and fix it, just listen. Very often, within that safe space of being able to talk about it and have these words heard, we can come to our own conclusions about how to deal with what is happening, or sometimes just giving our thoughts the space to come out means we can hear them logically when they aren’t all clamouring over themselves to be heard. Philippa Perry wrote a wonderful book, which was published earlier this year entitled ‘The Book You Wish Your Parents Had Read (And Your Children Will Be Glad You Did)’ in it, she talks about how validation is so, so important. That just acknowledging what a child feels can (rather literally) work magic. Instead of brushing what a child is telling you off, a different response could be ‘I understand how that could be upsetting, what do you think would help?’ this then opens up the subject for discussion, whilst also keeping the child in control of their feelings and emotions which will, in turn, enable them to better process these ‘difficult’ feelings as they encounter them again throughout growing up and into adulthood.

Observe How the Anxiety Presents Itself

This will be different from person to person and sometimes it will manifest in different ways for the same person. Anxiety can make you feel so restless that you can’t sit still, so fearful that the only way you feel you can deal with it is to be angry, or so numb and scared that it mutes you. Dealing with difficult emotions can cause some people to overeat, and it can cause some people to not eat at all (the lump in your throat? that knot in your stomach? These are very real feelings.) Anxiety can be as much physical as it is a mental, illness.

Image credit: Blossomedcherry.com

Anxiety may keep itself at bay all weekend and only come to the surface on a Sunday night. Or, it may be more prevalent on a Saturday when the week has come to an end and our thoughts start to ruminate. Anxiety sends us into ‘fight or flight’ – giving us an adrenaline rush which can make us appear sometimes manic, fidgety or forgetful. It’s also exhausting, sometimes the safest and most desirable option is to just go to sleep and black it all out.

Anxiety isn’t always a frowning, worried look. It could be any behaviour that seems out of character or alarming, especially before a big event. However, for some (like me) just the school environment with its noise, atmosphere and constant busyness could cause anxiety.

There are some great meditations out there for children (check out Insight Timer, completely free and with a huge library of mediations, music and even stories) but sometimes sitting still could be impossible. If there is restlessness or a huge adrenaline rush – encourage exercise or get outside, go for a run or go into the woods and jump about; scream, cry, pretend to be wild animals! Getting the cortisol out, is good and will help someone with anxiety rebalance themselves and be able to gain some control over their emotions in a calmer, more manageable way.

Encourage the Flow of Words

I have never been a big talker, even in therapy, I have felt at times that I have talked ‘too much’ after talking for an hour. But still, I love words, I love reading and I love creating worlds. Encourage your child to write and then even if they can’t say the most difficult or distressing thoughts out loud, then they could at least write them down. Writing is an amazing tool; it allows us to process emotions in a calm way, which no-one else has to see if we don’t want them to. It also allows us to keep some of these feelings on paper, so that when we go back and read what we have previously written, we can see how far we have come.

If your child doesn’t like the idea of writing about themselves, encourage them to create a character. This character could be based on them and have the same fears, but this character may also find ways to overcome these fears. Or, it may just be a really good insight into your childs mind (if they are happy with you reading it). Writing may also serve as a precursor to talking about it, if we become comfortable with the language used then we are more likely to slowly become comfortable with talking about it.

Allow Your Child to Be in Control

This can be hard – so often we, as adults, just want to swoop in and make everything better. But anxiety can sometimes make you feel like you have no control, and we need to retain what we do have. A good example of this would be coming up with a plan of what your child thinks may help when their anxiety is getting worse or when it is at its peak.

You could use a 1 – 100 scale, or even various emoticons, eg 😊 all the way along to ☹ but at each point allow your child to have input as to what it feels like and what may help stop it escalating. For example, at a level 50, they may find that they are fidgety and unable to focus, but getting some fresh air and going outside may help calm them. Or at a 100 (with 100 being peak anxiety) they may be able to tell you in advance what will help, so that you can be better equipped to help them when communication is hard, or even impossible.

Image credit: https://ccp.net.au/suds-thermometer/

It’s not foolproof and sometimes it can be very hard to remember or acknowledge what we felt whilst experiencing a panic attack or complete numbness, but sitting with your child and helping them work through these stages (even if you have to adapt them as time progresses) and allowing them to make the final decision over what steps you take will help them feel they have control over what can feel like a terrifying situation. It will also give them tools that will help later in life when it comes to dealing with difficult emotions.

Be Kind to Yourself

Having a child with anxiety isn’t your fault, it doesn’t mean that you have done anything wrong and it doesn’t make you a bad parent. No-one expects you to have all the answers, its ok (and perfectly normal!) to feel angry and upset at the situations that mental illness puts us into, and just because at times you may feel helpless it does not mean that you are.

However, you do need to look after yourself. Supporting someone with anxiety can be exhausting – we all absorb energy and we all, at different levels, empathise. At times, I think we have all wished that we could bear someone else’s pain for them – but, we can’t. What we can do though, is make sure that we are strong enough to help them carry the burden of it, and that includes keeping ourselves healthy.

Never be afraid to get help from your local GP. Just because you go there presenting with a mental health issue, it doesn’t mean that they will go for medication as a first (or only) resort. There are various therapies available and, if you can, its usually wise to let the school know of the situation aswell. Very often they have procedures in place to help children suffering with emotional or mental health issues.

There are also usually support groups available for carers and those who have children who are struggling with anxiety, along with other mental health conditions. Your GP or local mental health unit will have information about these.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, and it’s worth noting that I am not a mental heath professional. I have lived with anxiety for the majority of my life, and whilst I have learnt of things that do help, these can take years! If you have any other suggestions regarding what may help, please do let me know in the comments ❤

Useful Websites

https://youngminds.org.uk/

https://www.kooth.com/

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Main image credit: Mikael Kristenson on Unsplash


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