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.

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

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.

youre-not-a-bad-person-for-the-ways-you-tried-to-kill-your-sadness-1542763373

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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Rainy Day Rambles

I lay on the edge of the bed, my right arm lazily grazing the carpet. Slowly I closed one eye and my view changed, I could no longer see the ruffled-up duvet in front of my face. I opened it again and everything came back into view. I closed the other, with slightly more effort, and watched as the view shifted a little, just like an old slide projector.

It crossed my mind, briefly, that this is how the world works. Things shift and blur into reality and what we think we see. That without moving, even just barely breathing… our minds can alter our reality. My mind was tired and my body felt heavy. The amount of thoughts inside my cranium were literally weighing me down. If the mind is like the one-eyed trick, then surely, we can alter it?

In that instant I berated myself for thinking of it in such simple terms.

But I do this, simplify the complex. Yesterday I was so sad, unbearably sad at some points and I didn’t know why. My own voice in my own head was pointing out all the things that I should be grateful for without acknowledging the very fact that depression doesn’t need a reason. That’s a fact, that’s not a thought. My mind was ignoring the rational and instead choosing the option that made me feel guilt and shame which of course, made me feel worse. But then I guess that’s the poorly part, the defunct and damaged cells, the sticky black tar.

The friend that chirpily tells you that are so lucky, as she twists the knife in your back.

I haven’t been writing because I haven’t known how to put my feelings into words since therapy ended a little over a month ago. I haven’t wanted to write dismal posts about how I’m feeling, and yet I haven’t had the drive to read scientifically backed information about the things that your mind does when you are processing trauma in order to wrap it up in a neat little bow. I’ve seen things that I’ve thought would make great inspiration for poems, I’ve thought of whole, wonderfully, crafted paragraphs of prose whilst I’ve been starting into space – but when it comes to writing it down, the words haven’t flowed.

I need to write; writing for me is like a sifting my thoughts through thin white mesh – it sorts the jumbled from the rational and helps me to think clearly. Getting words out on to paper enables me to breathe again without the metaphorical hitch in the back of my throat – I can’t scream and rage, I struggle to cry since starting back on medication – how else can I get these feelings out?

I am angry… I am angry that I don’t have a job whilst the person that forced me out still collects his paycheck at the end of the month. I am angry at the state of politics in this country, that the medication that will keep my dog healthy will mean that we will have to be frugal with our money for as long as he lives. I am angry when I watch people I love being taken advantage of, I’m angry at people who claim to be Christians on Twitter post utter nonsense that not only attacks those that already live in the margins, but continues to shatter the concept of real Christianity, for myself and for anyone that reads their hate filled diatribe.

But I cannot get it out. I cannot express it without feeling shame, or without experiencing guilt.

I am sad that my words are once again failing me, that I can’t settle to read a book or that it takes me hours to write what would have taken me moments, because the words I need feel like they are caught up in the tar and I cannot pick them out without becoming exhausted.

I am frustrated that the first, honest, writing from me in weeks is one that is about how my depression is feeling right now, and not how it has felt in the past.

But maybe that’s what’s needed. An acknowledgement of how I truly feel, no pretty neat bows, no fancy words or scientific facts. Just someone admitting that right now, its all a bit hard and that sometimes we all feel a little lost.

Today, I need to be kind to myself. I’ll do some yoga, I’ll take a walk. I may even do some baking this afternoon. The rain is falling steadily outside, and it feels more autumnal than august should. My dog, with his medication working and fur coming back is snoring softly next to me, my husband will be home this evening and the first thing he will do is hold me. I have a roof over my head and food in the cupboards – and I am thankful, so thankful – but that doesn’t mean that my feelings and my depression aren’t valid. That doesn’t mean that I can berate myself for how I feel because it doesn’t fit into the cookie-cutter mould of what I should be feeling in order to make others more comfortable.

And maybe the words will come, maybe the tar will snake back and the heaviness will lift and what will be left will be gleaming pathways with freshly uncovered words for me to play with, but its ok if that doesn’t happen today, or tomorrow, or even this week.

What matters is my breath, in this moment. It’s the things that make my days brighter – my dog, my husband, my friends and my family. It will be hearing the rain patter on my hood or umbrella when I venture out later, and how the flour and butter feel between my fingers as I gently rub them together to make something delicious. It’s the gentle reminders that I will give to myself that this passes, it always passes and the sun will come out again. That every time it happens I come out more battle worn, but always stronger… and that that strength on some days will help others get through days, just like this one.

Am I tying it up in a neat little bow?

Maybe.


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Learning to Swim

 Photo by Sora Sagano on Unsplash 

You told me that when I fell off the rails I would do it quietly and without fuss.

Slipping, hardly noticeable.

I knew what you were saying was right, I saw the worry behind your eyes at the realisation it had already begun. But I smiled, I told you not to be silly.

I feel it now. Your words ring true in my ears as I drink the wine that numbs the feelings, as I crave the words that give me the punishment. It’s all inside of me; my small body and fragile mind keep it contained in a safe and hardly manageable existence…

But I still see the way you look at me, the gaze that lingers too long and the arms that hold so tightly. You know it’s happening and you can’t stop it because I tell you I am fine.

I am drowning, but still I smile.

Too… Sensitive.

Image by Bibarys Ibatolla @ Unsplash

Something that I feel has come up a lot over the last week or so, is this notion of being ‘too’ something. It was something that was mentioned in my writing on Tuesday and, unsurprisingly, something we discussed in therapy on Wednesday. Last weekend I found myself mentally compiling a list of everything I felt I was too

  • Too sensitive
  • Too emotional
  • Too caring
  • Too tired
  • Too disorganised
  • Too big
  • Too quiet
  • Too open minded

I also felt that I do things too much, things like…

  • Thinking
  • Procrastinating
  • Spending time mindlessly scrolling through Twitter or Instagram…

When you look at them in a list, when your logical brain kicks in, it all seems rather ridiculous. How can any of us be too anything? We are who we are – I am a sensitive, caring, disorganised and open-minded person who spends a lot of time lost in my own thoughts. Is that bad? Not…really…

And yet, we tell ourselves these things, repeatedly. Something may have been said, at some point in our lives, a throwaway comment or something that was said a number of times on a number of different days. Sometimes by one person, sometimes by a few and it has stuck. I am going to try to make this into a bit of a series, questioning these beliefs that I have about myself and trying to look at them in a more positive light.

So, as it’s at the very start of the list, let’s kick off with… ‘Too sensitive’

Whenever I feel hurt, or pain. Anytime I cry at a movie or an advert or a book (yep). Anytime I feel any emotion bubbling up inside me and it comes out as tears instead of anger, or joy, anxiety, love or confusion. Anytime I spend too much time trying to help someone else, anytime I take something in a different way than it was intended or I feel overwhelmed… I hear ‘it’s because you are too sensitive’. It’s a criticism, a flaw, something to be fixed and solved and sorted and got rid of.

Unless…

Unless we take away the ‘too’.

Then I am just sensitive.

I’m not going to sit here and say that there is absolutely nothing at all wrong with being sensitive. I have spent the majority of my life believing in it as something to work on and something to eradicate, so it would be a little hypocritical of me to say that being sensitive is great and wonderful and something to actually aspire to! But, I am learning that it isn’t all bad.

For those of us that are sensitive, everything is more intense. This can be sadness and pain, but it can also be joy. It can be that certain noises are unbearable (it’s no surprise to discover that people who identify as ‘highly sensitive people’ also usually identify as suffering from misophonia – an aversion to certain noise) but it can also be that certain sensations – touch, sight, smell and even other, different sounds can bring intense pleasure (ASMR anyone?).

However, I do understand why I was led to believe that being ‘too’ sensitive was not the greatest trait to bear. Because being sensitive is tiring and its hard, its sometimes feeling like you have no skin and therefore everything gets in. I have never told anyone that they are too sensitive – but I can understand where it comes from and that need to protect – to try and stamp out the one thing that may cause someone you love and care about immense emotional pain further down the line. Toughen up, sticks and stones, be brave, don’t let it get to you… these are all wonderful words of advice, but unfortunately they are as effective as throwing a pebble into the ocean. A sensitive person is a sensitive person, just like a person with blue eyes is a blue eyed person – it’s not something that you can change, but what you can do, is bolster.

You can validate emotions; you can recognise and empathise – even if you don’t share the intensity. You can talk about emotions with people – I shall let you into a little secret, deep conversations are like crack to a sensitive person! We want to get to know you, not the you that posts all the highlights on social media, but the real you. We want to tell you about the things we are passionate about and hear your stories and about your interests. If you have a sensitive child, then encourage them to talk, to write, to get all of these emotions out in a safe manner that they feel comfortable with and that will help them, so much, further down the line. Let them know that it’s ok to cry (and it’s really normal to not even understand why sometimes), help them to understand the more extreme emotions – love, fear, hate and anger, because they will feel them more than you know and sometimes they will even feel them all at once. Show them how to express themselves, teach them about boundaries and how to say no without the guilt that will come along and knock them off of their feet. Let them know that it is ok to feel everything so very deeply, that it is a gift, even when it doesn’t feel like it.

The thing about sensitive people is that they are fully aware of the fact that they have this trait, I know for example that sometimes my reactions to things can be a little off – I don’t want to say that I am ‘overreacting’, because that goes against my beliefs regarding the importance of validation and how we need to feel our emotions – any emotion that anyone feels is real and is important –  but I can understand that perhaps my husband didn’t mean what he said in the way that I took it, he could have just been making an idle comment. We know that not everyone thinks the way we do; we have spent our entire lives coming to that realisation.

But sensitive people are not weak; they are not fragile or like little precious snowflakes. Life would be very, very hard indeed if as a sensitive person I expected everyone around me to tread on eggshells and never say anything at all that may upset me – that wouldn’t be right, it wouldn’t be fair and it wouldn’t be practical. I know other people who identify as sensitive, or ‘HSP’s’ and they are some of the bravest, most intuitive and compassionate people I know – they aren’t afraid of the tough stuff, at all. In fact, if anything they kind of go towards it at full pelt because they can fully understand the implications of things that are left unsaid or un-acted upon. They are empaths, dreamers and creators. People with wonderful imaginations and an innate understanding of things that aren’t always black and white and there in front of you.

The word needs logic; we need the practical and the people that see things in black and white. These people have their own gifts and their own strengths – they can be natural leaders and extroverts, they could be the life and the soul of the party or the ones that get in and get the job done without letting emotion or feeling get in the way. They help ground people who fall into the personality types at the other end of the spectrum.

My husband and I are completely different in many ways; we both took the Myers-Briggs personality test yesterday; I am an INFP-T – a dreamy idealist, a mediator and he, well, he is an ISTJ-A, a logistician. We are both Introverts, but that is our only similarity. We have been together for sixteen years this July – so, we are living and breathing proof that opposites do attract and can actually get along together very well indeed. There is no ‘wrong’ way to be, if he was as sensitive as I am then we wouldn’t have made it through the first six months and if I was as practical and grounded as he is, then we would live in a minimalist cube and eat food for sustenance, not for enjoyment. It is not that he isn’t sensitive to things, it is not that he is cold or withdrawn and it is not that I am a simmering ball of emotion at all times or am either laughing or weeping or nothing in-between – because neither of us are those things; we just have different things that drive us, that stir reactions within us and that make us individuals.

Because it would be rather dull if we were all the same, wouldn’t it?

Further reading: The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine Aron

(Disclaimer: this is an affiliate link, which means that if purchased I may receive a small percentage – at no additional cost to you)

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The Perils of Writing What You Know (& The Perks)

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This already feels like a bit of a weird post, so bear with…

I have been blogging now for just over a month but I have been writing for years, I’m 34 and I think I wrote my first (questionable) piece of fiction before I entered my teens. I have always enjoyed writing, putting words down onto paper; creating new worlds and characters to inhabit them. Even when I am not writing, I am imagining; whether through the words of someone else, or just by myself. Reading and writing has always brought me great comfort, even in my darkest moments.

A few years ago, I joined a site where I could be completely anonymous. The nature of the site wasn’t based upon writing, but I posted my words there nonetheless and people liked them! This was the first real validation I had received outside of close family and friends. I wrote fiction and I also wrote about my own mental health – and I received comments and loves and private messages thanking me for being brave (when I felt anything but). People commented on how I had helped them, or how I inspired them. I received support on my bad days and on my good, I was able to encourage and support others. There was a nice little community feeling and for a while it was fantastic. The Blurt Foundation posted a series of Instagram ‘prompts’ – initially for pictures to be posted on the platform, but I shared the list on this site and people joined in with their writings, sharing stories of their own struggles with mental health with complete openness and honesty whilst supporting those that had also decided to join in. New friendships were formed, it was a really positive experience and it got people talking about mental health which is so very important.

However, for reasons unrelated to writing, my relationship with the site was never a completely comfortable one. On one hand, the anonymity allowed me to be completely open, but in being completely open you can become quite fragile. There were times, when being on the site consumed most of my time, there were relationships formed there that weren’t entirely healthy and there were times when for my own mental health I needed to step away. This was a pattern I got into throughout the years, but last year I stepped away and I never went back.

Around the same time, I also had a really difficult discussion with a family member regarding the therapy I was due to start in the winter – something that I had written got brought up in this conversation and I had the overwhelming sense that they believed that writing about my experiences and then sharing it was wrong. For months after that, I didn’t write – I couldn’t write.

I had not only lost my place to share it and feel connected with people, but I had also lost my confidence. I joined Fiverr briefly and wrote short stories for people, but there was no real pleasure in it, I wasn’t writing anything that felt true to me. It felt empty and hollow and when I got commission emails through I felt deflated, where once, I would have felt excited.

I did start the therapy though. On my second session I took my therapist a folder full of things I had written over the previous ten years – not all of it, but a carefully curated selection. I think anyone that has been to see various doctors and therapists can understand the frustration of going through the same (sometimes very difficult) stories. In my third session he told me how impressed he had been with some of my writing, he also asked me who I was writing to? I didn’t have an answer for that.

The sessions continued over the course of the next few weeks and in one of them I told him that I hadn’t written anything for months. He took this in (as therapists do) and then about twenty minutes later he asked me what my dream was, what my ideal life looked like.

“Well, I wouldn’t have to go to work…” The words escaped my lips before I had even really thought about them. Work is a weird thing for me; it is a challenge every single day. Not because of the work, but because of the toll it takes on my mental health. It is a catch 22 – I have written about it briefly here – but I know that ultimately work is healthy.

“If you were a writer, you wouldn’t have to do the job you do”

I laughed at the prospect, a writer! I hadn’t written anything of note in the last four months. “I’m not a writer…” I said quietly. “Writers write.”

You write! I was blown away by some of the things you wrote, there is real talent there…”

“Was.” I corrected him. “There was. I don’t know what to write any more.”

“Then write anything. It doesn’t have to be mind blowing, it doesn’t have to be heartfelt, it doesn’t even have to be shared. It can just be words, on a page.”

I went away and mulled this over for a few days, Friends gave me encouraging advice but still, blank screens and crisp white pages gave me the shudders. I had heard of a journaling challenge created by Michelle Chalfant who I had been following on social media after discovering ‘The Adult Chair’. It was a month’s worth of prompts designed to get you thinking about your emotions, your triggers and your reactions. I had downloaded them and looked at them briefly – but the first one, was simply ‘You’. That was pretty daunting…

I considered setting up a completely anonymous WordPress blog if I was going to do this journaling challenge. I didn’t really know anything about WordPress but I figured it couldn’t be that hard; it also gave me a good excuse to procrastinate, I was absorbed in fonts and colours and themes… writing? Ha!

But one day, I knew I couldn’t put it off any longer. So I started on the first prompt… and after that first initial paragraph, it flowed. It flowed with honesty, it flowed with heartbreak and beauty and all of those things that makes writing so satisfying. But it was honest; very, very honest. I couldn’t put it online, not where people would actually read it.

(I have covered some of those very honest subjects since, but all in one go, it was a little overwhelming.)

I also realised very quickly that I didn’t want it to be ‘a secret’. So, I went through some older writings and posted them on my blog. I made an Instagram page, I made a Twitter account. I linked my Instagram to Facebook and invited friends who I knew would get it.

I had a blog…

Shit, I had a blog. I would have to write stuff! On one hand, this was super exciting, I finally had a place to share my words again and the people that had read what I had posted so far were very encouraging. My friend had also decided around the same time to set hers up too, and another friend that had not long finished uni was making noises that he wanted more of a presence online to promote the nutrition work he was now qualified in; we went and had breakfast and joked that we were becoming ‘influencers’ as we snapped pictures of our breakfasts and talked filters and hashtags, before deciding that we wanted to create a post together about the links between mental health and nutrition. This all felt really good, really positive. I had written some new stuff, I was really enjoying the process of writing and sharing it again.

I think the act of sharing it, for me, is very important. I don’t fully know why, but it feels like it gives the writing a sense of purpose – and especially with it being largely about mental health, that purpose is all about demystifying a topic that is not talked about enough. To have a mental health condition, any mental health condition, can be terrifyingly isolating. Over the last few weeks, I have begun to realise that the answer to my therapist’s question, was me. I was writing it to me, but not the me now; the teenage me who faced bullies every day and didn’t know how to fight back, the me who felt I had let everyone down by not being ‘strong enough’ or that ‘being too sensitive’ was a huge character flaw. I was writing for the younger me, the child me, the teenage me and I was also writing for the adult me who ten years ago forced herself into work every day whilst surviving on nothing but coffee, extra strong mints and insomnia.  I was writing for the girl who was so terrified to put food in her mouth that impassable, yet invisible, lumps formed within her throat. I was writing to a woman who always felt cold, always felt scared, and always felt overwhelmed. I was writing to the person who didn’t know how to get all of these words out, to the person who had all the words but they formed an incomprehensible, jumbled mess within her mind. I was writing to the girl that just needed comfort and that needed to feel less alone – because I knew that even though it felt so incredibly lonely, there were thousands upon thousands of people who felt the way I did.

I read some of my older posts with a view to sharing them, and I wept. There was so much pain, and also so many times where it sounded like I had it all figured out – without having the foresight to know that another blip, another illness, a difficult workplace or new anxiety was around the corner. I read some words and felt embarrassment and I read others and felt awe that even in the midst of a deep, dark depression, I had written something that had encapsulated it all so precisely. I thought of sharing some on my blog and I thought of who would read it… the words were too honest.

My mood was slipping, there were days when it all felt too much; too overwhelming…

I didn’t know why, do we ever know why with depression? It could have been a number of ‘logical’ things; I am still, seven months later, adjusting to life without medication and trying to treat mental illness and fibromyalgia holistically (I do not have anything against conventional medication and I will be writing about this in due course), I have been more sociable lately and that, whilst lovely, always makes me very tired which makes me more prone to low mood. I am still in therapy, which can be very difficult at times. My dog is sick with an ongoing and seemingly undiagnosable illness… things mount up, but of course it really could just be that I was going through a blip and it would pass.

Or, it could be that suddenly I was being open about my mental health again, and honest – not only with my words, but also with my feelings. I wasn’t just bumbling through, carrying on regardless, I was thinking about them because I was writing about them. I also was beginning to follow other mental health bloggers on Twitter and Instagram, and whilst those communities are wonderful and supportive, it is all there.

It is, like many things that surround mental health, very contradictory. We need to talk about it, we need to get our voices and our stories and our support for each other out there – we need to be able to say when we are struggling and we encourage others to do the same, but in doing that it can all feel very… overwhelming. It can feel overwhelming for those of us that share because suddenly all of these thoughts that don’t feel like our own at times, but that definitely come from us are out there and it’s not just strangers on the internet that read it – it’s our friends, our parents and sometimes even our employers. I have spent my entire life feeling like I am too… sensitive/open/honest/experimental/generous/open minded/empathic and like I should always reel my behaviour in – and therefore sharing how I feel can at times be very, very difficult; as soon as it’s out there, I want to snatch it back in. I am an introvert by nature and pretty quiet and softly spoken; I am not one to get up on my soapbox or get in to big debates – but I do believe that conversations about mental health are so very important and as someone who has been there, done that, got the t-shirt and who keeps taking it back for an exchange, I need that to all be for something! If that ‘something’ is helping just one person, then I have done what I set out to do.

So… being a mental health blogger with a mental health condition (or three), is hard. It’s hard because amongst all of it you are on your own journey and you have your own demons to slay. It’s hard because you know only too well the pain that others are going through and sometimes, that pain can trigger your own. It’s hard because it means being open about an illness that feeds off of isolation and it’s hard because that openness isn’t limited towards strangers.

But it’s worth it.

It’s worth it because it starts conversations and helps people to feel less alone and less scared. It’s worth it because it can help me to believe that all of this pain was for something, and it’s worth it because it means I get to write about something that I feel passionate about once again. I have learnt a lot in a month; I have learnt that in general, my confidence soars when I am doing something I love. That not only do I write passionately about mental health, I can also talk passionately about it to people, in person. I have learnt that in sharing my stories it encourages people to share their own and to have difficult conversations with loved ones… but, I have also learnt that there is a flip side. The flip side happens when I spend too much time on social media, or too much time analysing what I have written. It happens when I follow people back without really looking at their profile and then wake up to a highly triggering picture, it happens when I forget to take care of myself amongst it all.

Put your own oxygen mask on first, before helping others

I have learnt that there are days when I am going to have to remember that one.


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