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

Where The Swings Used To Be

I jotted this down as a note a few weeks ago on my phone. My husband and I had gone up to Gloucestershire to visit my parents for a few days, and on the first evening we took our dog out for a short walk before bed.

If you have read my previous post, you’ll know that my teenage years were a little difficult with school and the bullying that I encountered there. This feels like a good time to share this writing… not only as a follow on from that, but also because I’ve realised that going back to a place can stir up so many different memories, emotions and even behaviours. However, I have also realised that a ‘safe space’ doesn’t always have to be co-ordinates on a map, it can also be a person.

I am very lucky, that my safe person is my husband. I realised when I spent time in Gloucestershire a couple of days ago without him, that I felt very different to how I feel when I am at home in Somerset. He helps to ground me, here in the present. He reminds me – often without words – that I am safe, I am loved and that I am not a scared fourteen year old girl any more.

I still have a lot of healing to do – but I have been with him now for sixteen years. Sixteen years of visiting my parents and not once did I attempt to bring him to this place described below – it was too painful. However, as an adult, with him by my side, with the healing that I have started to do I felt brave enough. However, as you’ll read, it did also stir up a lot of emotion.

This is unedited.

I was going to take him there, to show him the spot where a smaller version of me would sit, and wait

I never knew what for, but I knew where I didn’t want to be, where I couldn’t be, who I couldn’t face, again

Two swings and a slide, bark upon the ground. It was like a little secret area but it wasn’t a secret at all.

My mum once told the woman from the school that I could be anywhere, that I knew those alleyways like the back of my hand… I didn’t know them tonight as a woman. I lost my way, doubled back.

It was gone, all of it. I looked at the house that now stood in its place, it was established.

Nearly 20 years on and I am not established.

Bricks and mortar don’t erase a place. They don’t erase the sadness that a place can hold.

I wonder if when they tuck their children up in bed, they know that a girl once sat in this place because she didn’t know where else to go.

That she was so lost, just 5 minutes from home.

That in 20 years she would hold her husbands hand as she looked for that place, the place that is so vivid in her mind and find that it was long gone.

Just another house, in another cul de sac.

But one full of memories.


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Caterpillar


Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Sometimes I feel like I want to fold in on myself

Curl myself up in a cocoon and store myself away for use on brighter days

Its not a horribly morose feeling, there is no emotion to it – good or bad –  it’s just a feeling of not wanting to exist, in this form, on this day

It’s not suicidal, it’s not wanting to die or for this life to end in its entirety – for tomorrow, I know I will want to be alive

It’s just for today

A wish to be quiet and small and not have any influence on anything

To not speak, to not spend money, to not think or eat

Just to fold myself away

And unfurl on a brighter day

Recognition

Image credit:Kawin Harasai @ Unsplash

This morning on social media, I saw a post by a woman who achieved something wonderful yesterday; she ate lunch.

She didn’t feel that it was something wonderful, or that she achieved because, well, every one eats lunch, right? So why should we celebrate this as an accomplishment?

Around the same time I was also having a chat with a friend who suffers from fibromyalgia. He was asking me how I managed the transition between work and home, how I knew what I needed when and also, how I coped? He told me of a time when he worked and the exhaustion would be so great that he would fall asleep as soon as he got in through the door and wake up in the morning in the same clothes, even with his shoes still on, and having to do it all again…

It brought me to mind of a period of time last year when I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know what. I was depressed, quite severely so, but I didn’t think that was the sole cause of just how exhausted I was. However, I did that thing we all do, I compared myself to others and ultimately ended up feeling worse. How could I warrant being this tired? My friend worked and studied, and had 2 children and she wasn’t this tired!

My husband worked 6 days a week and I only worked 5, how selfish of me to be too tired in the evenings or weekends to not be able to do anything fun.

My parents, both past retirement age had days fuller than mine and still had energy to spare!

You can see how these thoughts spiralled…

I now know that yes, I was severely depressed. I also had undiagnosed fibromyalgia and I was taking an anti-depressant that was a) no longer working and b) a sedative, it was no wonder I was so exhausted all of the time!

We do this though, we all do. We minimise our own feelings by comparing them to others and we don’t just do it with exhaustion, we do it with pain and we do it with experiences of trauma – on the flip side of that, we do it with how much we manage to achieve during the day and we do it with what we achieve throughout recovery.

I understood how the woman on twitter felt this morning, because I have had those exact same thoughts. I have felt embarrassment and even shame when I have been congratulated for walking my dog, or for enduring a whole day at work. How ridiculous that I should be congratulated for doing something that millions of people – including those supporting me – do every day! And so I didn’t hear it; I didn’t hear how proud they were of me or how this was another step forward in my recovery, because I was too busy beating myself up for it.

I know now, that I should have felt proud of myself for achieving those things. Yes, my husband may not think twice about getting our dogs lead on and marching him around our local playing field every evening – but I did, I still do. I had a period of about eleven months where I couldn’t leave my house alone because my anxiety was so bad. All sorts of scenarios would play out in my head, and that was just me, alone. Add a dog into the mix and those scenarios doubled!

It’s not easy to change the way we talk to ourselves, I certainly haven’t mastered it yet, but I think I am beginning to learn just how important that inner voice is. Last week in therapy we discussed how my inner voice is very critical and also how it has almost replaced the voice of those girls that bullied me all those years ago. I wouldn’t dream of ever talking to anyone the way that I talk to myself.

But I think I do need to hear when others talk to me kindly and to learn from them that I am a woman worthy of praise. When my parents, or my husband or my friends say they are proud of me, they aren’t lying; they aren’t saying it just for something to say. These are people who I know, and trust and choose to surround myself with – I seek their counsel and value their opinions on everything else, so why would that suddenly change when it comes to their opinions regarding me?

I also know, all too well how I relate to others. If someone who struggles with anxiety tells me that they have managed to achieve a task that was difficult because of their struggles then I am proud of them – that could be from walking their dog to talking in front of thousands of people, if you have anxiety there could be very little between the two in terms of terror. I don’t roll my eyes and go ‘well, duh, 9 million* other people also walked their dog today’ because, y’know, that would be kinda ridiculous and also it would be ignoring the fact that we are all different and we all face our own struggles every, single day.

That person that talks confidently in front of thousands of people, they may have a deep rooted and overwhelming fear of gaining weight. It may be an achievement for them to sit down and eat a meal without feeling panic or terror.

That really bubbly person in your friendship group, they may absolutely hate being alone. They may achieve something just be spending some time with their own thoughts.

That polite receptionist, she may be battling depression and fibromyalgia and it could be the hardest thing in her world to work for nine hours straight *ahem*

There are literally billions of examples. On my good days I know I should be proud of myself because I am working, because I am in a good routine and I managed to eat/socialise/ sleep well etc – and it is the little things amongst that that I have had difficulties with in the past. Those little things, when I achieve them should be celebrated and acknowledged, because they are the things that keep life ticking over. The getting up, taking care of myself, taking responsibility, setting boundaries, doing the therapy, saying when something is wrong, addressing my emotions as they come up and learning how to manage them – these are all important things that are part of my recovery and if anybody else was doing them then I would be there in the side-lines cheering them on all the way.

But I need to learn how to do that on the bad days as well as the good. I need to find out how to silence that little inner voice that hisses ‘So what, you got out of bed when you were feeling crap? Let’s look at the list of things you didn’t do!” – Because that voice isn’t helpful, and it is also how no-one else thinks of me.

I am definitely still a work in progress, but I think the more I encourage  and praise others for their achievements and stop looking at them as ‘big or small’, the more that little inner voice will get the message that actually, on some days, having a shower is tantamount to climbing a mountain.

And that is ok.

{* I fact checked this}

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The Anger Vortex

adrien-converse-505736-unsplash

I have a lot of thoughts buzzing around my head today after yesterdays therapy session and subsequent conversations with friends.

The therapy session was a really hard one – we talked a lot about anger, and my reactions to experiencing and observing it. It’s an emotion I struggle with, especially towards certain people and when I do feel anger it doesn’t really go anywhere, I kind of numb it down or find myself excusing other people’s behaviour. It’s something that I really need to try and work hard on because those feelings must go somewhere, and my therapist even suggested that it could result in feelings of depression and anxiety, so, yay! I bought myself a copy of Bessel van der Kolk’s ‘The Body Keeps the Score’ on my way home, so hopefully this will help me to see what happens to those emotions and encourage me to express myself more freely.

We also spoke about my issues surrounding smallness and safety – this is one for a much bigger writing and one that I don’t feel emotionally ready to broach just yet. But it was a very difficult conversation because it’s again something that there is no real, clear cut, answer to. These are behaviours and ways of thinking that have been ingrained over the last 34 years, they are impossible to resolve within 16 hours of therapy. They run deeper; I just need to arm myself with the tools within these sessions to be brave enough to face them head on…

There was also talk of the bullying I experienced at school – this is where things become really difficult for me because I don’t remember a lot of it, I remember certain incidents, certain insults, certain days, but I don’t remember anything tangible. My mind has done that thing of blacking out a lot of things in order to protect itself but my body, my reactions, my deeply ingrained thought processes – remember. I remember feeling scared for years on end, of feeling small and worthless and like every day was a struggle. I remember feelings of humiliation, of ‘not being good enough’, of wanting to hide and to shut everything off. I remember very vividly the first time I thought killing myself was the only way out, I was 14.

A month into my therapy sessions with my current therapist, we touched briefly on this period of my life and very gently he told me that what I experienced day, after day, after day was traumatic, he had brought the word ‘trauma’ into the room and no-one; no therapist, no doctor, no teacher and no parent had ever used that word before. But it was like suddenly, he opened up this door… I have written sentences before like ‘I was bullied, but most kids are bullied at some point’, that dismisses pain, and I was doing that to myself – repeatedly. I was bullied, yeah, big deal, shrug it off. But no, that type of dismissal needs to end in order to allow recovery to begin. What my therapist did by bringing that word into our sessions was to validate my pain, to put a reason behind why I struggle with the things I do – trauma is massive, and the impact it has on a person’s life is immeasurable.

As my session was wrapping up yesterday, he asked me for the name of the worst of the bullies, and then he asked me “Are you angry at her?”

And I replied honestly, “No.”

Because I’m not, I explained that as an adult I can understand that when children bully other children it is because they need to feel superior – and this can come from a place of deep inferiority and pain.

He smiled. “But you weren’t an adult when she bullied you; you were a child, experiencing your own pain…”

And I realised he was right, even in my worst moments of pain – in child and adulthood, I have never had the desire to make someone else feel bad. In fact, I swing rather too far the other way if anything. But still, the anger isn’t there, not really, it’s more sadness for the things she took from me – the confidence, the carefree childhood, the good grades that I still have to make explanations and allowances for in every job application I make. I suppose the one thing that does cause me the most distress is knowing she is a mother now. Not because of the person she is – I’m sure she’s a completely different person as an adult. But because that feels like the cruellest theft of all; if I didn’t have to deal with all of this trauma, if I hadn’t been fighting depression and anxiety since I left school, if I didn’t need medication to get me through the day for years on end then maybe I would be a mother now too.

Maybe.

But then maybe I wouldn’t be me, as I am now. Maybe if I hadn’t wanted to leave my home town and those memories so badly, I wouldn’t have met my husband. I wouldn’t have met my closest friends or been a version of a mother to our rag-tag collection of adopted dogs. Maybe I wouldn’t have developed the compassion I have; maybe I wouldn’t have found comfort in writing or found a sanctuary in nature, maybe I would be a completely different person.

Two days ago I replied to a girl on Twitter, someone I don’t know. She had posted that she was in her mid-twenties and she felt like depression had stolen her life. She wasn’t married, she had no kids, she was just trying to survive – and I told her that honestly, it doesn’t matter. Those things will come, and when they do she will have a much better understanding of herself and that will serve her and her future family well in the long run. I meant it; I meant every word because that is what I tell myself.

But yesterday… before therapy, I was angry. Not at a person, but at depression itself. At what it takes from us, at how it affects things you wouldn’t even consider. I was frustrated at my part-time hours, my low income and my levels of exhaustion. I was angry at myself because I was feeling agitated by the sound of my husband eating his lunch, I was annoyed that on my day off I had to spend four and a half hours of that getting the bus and going to therapy – a) because my anxiety prevents me from even driving and b) because as much as I like my therapist I would rather spend my days off doing something else – but mostly, I was so pissed off that the people this illness affects are some of the kindest, gentlest, most creative, sensitive and wonderful people I have ever met. Suddenly, all of it seemed so very, very unfair.

But that anger didn’t go anywhere.

So, things are linked, behaviours are repeated and ingrained, feelings feed off of each other and thoughts are constantly expanding and becoming deeper.  When I got home last night I was tearful, and exhausted, but I think I was also one step further on in my recovery. I am learning all the time, I feel like I am picking up chapters of a book but sometimes they are out of sequence and make no sense, but one day they just might – and one day, the comfort that I offered to that girl on Twitter will ring true for me too. Until then I suppose it is a matter of keeping on with the reading, the talking and learning how to be kind to myself, which is sometimes the hardest thing of all to do.

Until next time my loves Xx

Image credit: Adrien Converse on Unsplash

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Turn Around

Image by Yogendra Singh @ Pexels

You tried to outrun it, didn’t you?

You tried to speed ever onwards, not looking back. Through relationships, and jobs and sweet amber liquid that tasted like how you imagine silence might sound.

The bridges that you built in haste with shaking, trembling hands stood firm, they didn’t crumble, they didn’t fall. They held your heavy, fast footsteps as you cleared each one.

It was working.

It was messy and it was band aids and it was hard. But it was working, wasn’t it?

Until it wasn’t.

Until it gained speed behind you. Did it pick up it’s pace, or did you slacken yours?

I suppose it doesn’t really matter, it was going to catch up with you eventually.

Because you can’t outrun fear my love. You can’t outrun that little knot of fear and loneliness and emptiness that a small child once grasped with both hands and couldn’t let go of.

You need to take a deep breath, turn around and take it from him now. It’s heavy, so be careful.

Be brave.

And then you can walk the rest of the way, with a small hand in yours and the loneliness, at least, will subside.

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Making the Bed

Photo credit: Jen P @ Unspalsh (talesbyjen.com)

I make my bed now.

I make it, because it serves me. Its my place of rest and of calm. It holds me whilst I sleep and before that, whilst I relax and read and meditate.

I make it, because it’s important. It was never really important to me before. It was just a place that I poured myself into after yet another tiring day and dragged myself out from, bleary headed in the morning. I didn’t waste time making it, I threw a cover over it maybe, if I remembered, just in case the dog got up on it whilst we were at work, but that was all. It was all effort, energy I just didn’t have.

But something has changed, something is changing, within me. I can feel it.

When I moved into where I live now, I moved in with my then boyfriend and his dad, miles from my hometown. A few weeks later, his dad decided to move in with his girlfriend (nothing I had done, we get on well, it was just the natural progression of things) In doing so, he left us with  a house full of his stuff that he couldn’t take with him because he was moving into a tiny cottage.

14 years later, he took his stuff. And we took the rest to the tip.

What was left, was our spare room. It was green – but not a nice soft green, it was green. It had pink carpet that had never been properly fitted around the outside of the room and that sat upon another pink carpet because the previous occupants had never seen the importance of underlay. A defunct – and probably dangerous – night storage heater was under the window. Damp snaked its way into the room from the corners, various pins and nails adorned the walls that someone had very kindly thrown filler on about 25 years ago and painted over the top.

We closed the door and ignored it, probably for another 6 months or so. I wasn’t very well, life got in the way – we’d poke our heads in and look at the green and grumble that we probably should paint it, but… yeah, not this weekend.

When we got around to it, it took us a whole week. The walls were worse than we had anticipated, the floor needed repairing. Paint to prevent damp takes forever to dry… we bought curtains and realised they were the wrong size, I was also coming off of an anti depressant medication I had been on for 8 years so was prone to bouts of tears, or irritability or worse, nothingness.

But when we finished, it felt wonderful. The walls are now a soft grey, there is carpet – actual proper wool mix carpet, with underlay! It’s not fully finished – we’re being a bit picky about a lightshade and we still have a mirror and pictures to go on the walls, but it’s now our bedroom. And it feels so peaceful.

It feels peaceful, because it’s not full. There is space to move around the bed, to stretch or perform yoga if so inclined in the morning. There is nowhere to pile clothes up on, the walls are light, the curtains thick and heavy. The bed is in the centre of the room, ready, waiting to give its support.

I have a candle by the bed which smells of smoke and amber. I light it when I’m reading before bed and it soothes me. I only have to have a small inhalation of it now and my racing thoughts calm, I’m reminded to take slow and deep breaths, I am reminded not to panic, that I am in a safe space, that nothing bad is going to happen here.

Meditation has definitely helped – I try to meditate in the morning when I wake and at night before sleep, usually in my bed but sometimes also in the bath. It is a daily reminder to find some quiet and some calm – even if it is just for ten minutes it is time that is put aside just for my well being. It has become a part of my routine, just as making my bed before I leave the house has become something I don’t even think twice about – it goes alongside drinking my coffee and putting my make up on – and that feels good. It feels like I’ve done something to take care of something that takes care of me.

Because taking care of myself is important.

And the realisation of that, is what is changing.

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High Functioning


Photo by Carlos Ruiz Huaman on Unsplash

I’ll be honest from the outset here, this writing at the moment doesn’t have a neat little tied up ending, I don’t have the answer to the questions I am going to pose.

Still with me? Good! Because I don’t think I am alone in having these experiences or thoughts…

I was first diagnosed with depression and generalised anxiety disorder back in 2010, but things had been a little rocky on and off for years before that. However, a diagnosis can help with certain things. It can help with getting proper, professional help like medications and talking therapies. It can help when it comes to issues around work, and it can help when you finally feel brave enough to admit that something is wrong, to have that support and to know that there is an actual medical reason behind all of these feelings.

For the first year after my diagnosis, I crumbled, big time. It was like I had been holding all of these ribbons attached to helium balloons, but they were getting too much, too many. Once I admitted there was a problem, I let them all go. There was relief, but then panic, and then the frantic and desperate struggle to get back what I thought I had lost.

I am lucky in that I have a wonderful husband and supportive friends and family, because for just under a year I couldn’t work. I could barely leave my house alone because my anxiety had got so bad – so, I applied for benefits. I live in the UK and our benefits system here is at best, negligent and at worst, dangerous. As someone who was struggling with basic day-to-day functioning and feeling suicidal about 75% of the time, dealing with the Department of Work and Pensions was a real battle. It was confusing, it was demoralising and it was overwhelming. When I finally had a workplace assessment (because the opinion of your qualified GP in this instance isn’t enough) I was told that because I could walk unaided, because I wore clean clothes and because I kept eye contact throughout my assessment, I was fit for work.

Now – this is nine years ago. I would like to think that the system has got better at recognising how debilitating mental illnesses can be, however, from what I have heard and read, I don’t think a huge amount has changed.

Anyway, my parents and my husband on my behalf, appealed the decision. I was in the appeal room for 10 minutes before one of the panel looked at me and then back at the paper in front of him in disbelief. He looked at my mum and told her to take me home and take good care of me, the decision of the original assessment was overruled, there was no way I could work.

This decision bought me time to heal, which I was very grateful for. To be exact, it bought me a year. I was told that the particular benefit I was claiming (Employment and Support Allowance) was only eligible for twelve months, after that I would have to find work or be put on to a different benefit where they would ‘encourage’ me to find work. But at that moment I didn’t care, that particular nightmare was over, I could go back to just fighting with my mind for a while at least.

So… we fast forward nine years. Before that year on ESA was up, I was working permitted hours in a care home doing night shifts. After that, once the time benefit of the allowance had expired, I was a waitress, then I worked in retail, then reception roles… I had to. It was all part time, but if I didn’t work, we couldn’t afford to eat, it was that simple.

Over the course of these past nine years, I have had blips. I have had quite serious blips and there have been times when my mental and physical health have taken a real nosedive. I have had moments where all the worst feelings of anxiety have come back and hit me like a freight train, I have had times when I have been suicidal, I have had times at work where I haven’t been able to stop crying because the depression has been too much. I have got home from work and cried so much that I had to be sedated with one of the Tamazepam I keep stashed away in case of an emergency because I felt so overwhelmed. I have hidden self-harm scars underneath uniforms and pretty dresses.  I have gone to work in the morning after sleepless nights, I have been exhausted, I have been medicated and unmedicated, I have gone through medication withdrawal – timing the ‘worst’ week to co-incide with annual leave so that I could just ‘keep going’.

And I have worn a mask.

I have smiled whilst my heart has been shattered into a thousand tiny pieces. I have made small talk whilst the voices in my head hiss at me that I’m worthless and boring and ridiculous, and I have told hundreds of people that ‘I’m fine’ when I have been anything but.

And I know that others do the same, every single day.

We do it for many reasons. I can’t speak for others, but I know that for me I couldn’t go through the whole benefits system again; when I need that help, when I am struggling and finding work and routine difficult, that is the time when it all feels too much. I also know that work helps in the long term – routine is very, very important. Seeing people is important, having conversations and laughing with work colleagues and going on nights out is important, as is earning money and having some sort of independence. This is all part of living and if I tell myself that I cannot do something because of my illness, then it gains more power and it has already taken enough from me.

What all of this has done though, has made me what is referred to as a ‘high functioning depressive’. To meet me, you wouldn’t know I suffer so much with my mental health. I have had conversations with people who look at me in disbelief when I bring up the D word.

One, quite telling, marker that has become apparent recently is a form I have to fill in every week. I am currently going through a 16-week course of Cognitive Analytical Therapy and every week before I leave, my therapist gives me a form to fill out on the day of my next appointment. Its very short, 9 questions to be completed by ticking a box. You can find various versions of them online by searching ‘PHQ-9’ in Google. I tend to score roughly between 18 – 24, depending on how my week has been. The highest score, the score that tells your healthcare practitioner how severe your depression is, is 27.

But I am, to all intents and purposes, well. I work, I socialise, I laugh with my friends and family, I read, I have started a new venture recently (this blog). But I am, most weeks, scoring as ‘severely depressed’.

And I am. I know it in quiet moments, I know it during those first few moments of waking up and the final few moments before going to sleep. I know it when I am exhausted from spending time with the people I love and I know it when the sound of my husband’s breathing or chewing makes me want to scream. I know because of the invasive thoughts that I have, I know because of the little voice in my head that nags, I know because I ruminate too much and I take pleasure in too little. I know, because I don’t get excited about things.

But you wouldn’t know, because I know how to hide it.

And I don’t think I am alone in this. We all have things that we become very good at hiding – ‘high functioning’ doesn’t just prefix depression – it prefixes anxiety, alcoholism, autism and even sociopathy. It can be dangerous though, it can be exhausting, and it can be very isolating. I am – as I have said before, very lucky. My closest friends know, my husband and my family know and I have wonderful support, but even with support, depression is prone to make you feel isolated.

It does work both ways though – it’s kind of like a vicious cycle with perks. If I wasn’t so adept at wearing this mask then I wouldn’t be able to work, I wouldn’t have routine which does improve my mental health in the long run. We sometimes need to force ourselves into action in order to generate action – call it bloody mindedness, but on days where I can appreciate the sun on my skin and the wind in my hair, I know I am fighting this beast for a reason.

My PHQ-9 score will fluctuate. At the moment I am scoring high, but we are emerging from winter and it is a time of change and growth, which can be tiring and overwhelming. At some periods I settle around a 14-16 and in really good times I may even dip down to a 12! But right now, I am and have been for a good while, high functioning.

And so, to the ending, the dreaded inconclusive bit. There is something I want to make very clear at this point; this isn’t a call to arms to keep going, to ignore the pain you feel and plough on regardless. Please, don’t ever do that. Depression is serious, it’s not something that can be ignored. If you are feeling depressed, then I urge you to seek help. I wouldn’t be here now if I hadn’t acknowledged what was happening. I have been on medication, I have been to therapy and I have confided in friends and family. My employers know about my mental health and I do know, on really bad days, what to do in order to keep myself safe – and sometimes, when the blip stretches on, when my mood is increasingly becoming lower then it is time to pause. Its not shameful to have depression, or anxiety. It doesn’t make you weak and it doesn’t mean you have failed.

In the UK, these helplines may be useful:

Samaritans: 116 123 (24 Hours)

Rethink: 0300 5000 927 (Mon to Fri, 9.30am to 4pm)

Men’s Health Forum: www.menshealthforum.org.uk

Until next time my loves, stay safe x

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The Mountain

Image by Bruno Moretti @ Pexels

I was going to write yesterday. I had a whole day at home, a whole day to myself – I was looking forward to getting stuck in to a few hours of tapping away, but I didn’t…

It’s been a bit of a funny old week. I had some annual leave to use before April, so I took those days to visit family, see some friends and babysit my new born nephew so that my sister in law could have a full night’s sleep. I went to therapy, I did some housework – all pretty normal stuff… but on my final day off, yesterday, I crashed.

It sounds bizarre to get to the end of 6 days off of work and claim to be exhausted, but I really was. A migraine had decided to pay a visit on Tuesday and knocked me off kilter a bit. My head still felt heavy, my eyes felt sore – thanks to my fibro, even the bones in my fingers ached.

And I just felt so, so, sad.

I had no real reason to, but then depression doesn’t need a reason, all it needs it for the defences to slip a little. Some visualisation may help here – I found this writing on my phone last week, I remember writing it not all that long ago…

I think of my depression as a physical entity. A dark, thick, slow oozing, tar like substance – and yes, sometimes it does have a face. It lives in my mind; it lives in all of our minds, even yours. And it waits… its very good at waiting.

Sometimes, a lot of the time, it doesn’t do anything. In some people’s minds it’s just this tiny speck. Perhaps it oozes a little at a job loss or when getting divorced or when someone dies… but it recedes eventually. On its little exploration, perhaps it’s realised that the mind of its host is intact; serotonin, dopamine – all of the brain chemicals are strong, working as they should. Synapses are functioning, thoughts are being processed and words are being heard, taken in and acknowledged. It gets back into its place and there it remains, licking any wounds – no dark corners or cracks to find a new home in.

But for some of us… on a brief venture out, perhaps it sees something else. Perhaps it spots a couple of broken synapses, a crack here or there, perhaps the serotonin pot is low. So, it oozes and seeps a little further…

And once it’s gotten into the cracks, once it has left its black sticky mess, it’s there for good. Sure, medication helps, it replenishes the pot of serotonin, the synapses start rebuilding and working… but there are still traces of black, even if it has receded for now…

It’s got the lie of the land though, it knows the weak spots. A few broken nights’ sleep, a stressful period of time, a hurtful comment, a bad memory… It’s not so much venturing out anymore but oozing through old paths, finding familiar routes.

So, after a busy few days, days that were really lovely but threw my routine out of order, my mind was tired. Depression had snuck out of its hiding place and was seeping its way down familiar paths. The heavy feeling in the back of my head is, for me, always a giveaway that it is up to its old tricks.

But I knew something, and I knew something very important.

There was a reason for this.

When depression first came along and knocked me off of my feet completely, I had no idea why. I was in a happy relationship, I was building my home, I had a job that I wouldn’t say I exactly loved, but it wasn’t terrible, I had friends, I had (and have) a lovely family – but it happened anyway.

Years later and I have spent countless hours unpicking why with various therapists and I have a pretty good idea of the ‘reasons’ behind its emergence, but it’s not always black and white. I have got to the point where I accept it as something that will never fully go away though – which, may sound defeatist, but I would rather hold that acceptance and know it to be true than feel devastated every time I feel my head heavy and laden with black tar.

I knew yesterday that I had overdone it. Heck, I knew the day before that I was pushing it – so, it should have really come as no surprise.  But it is still a horrible feeling; it’s horrible in its familiarity, and also in the various unknowns – how long is it going to stick around for? How much is it going to affect me this time? Will it bring any of its friends along for the ride – my anxiety, or uncomfortable feelings over food, or the guilt that washes over me so ferociously that it feels like drowning?  It’s horrible in how it makes me feel muted, washed out, like I am living in greyscale whilst everyone around me is in full bloom. It is horrible in how it affects my words – the consumption of them becoming harder as I lose focus and the production of them feeling like a confusing tangle, boring and inefficient and worthless.

There are words that remain in my mind on these days though, they are like a little glimmering reminder and they came from a friend of mine about three years ago when I was struggling through a rough few days. I can’t remember how exactly he constructed them, the exact forms they took on that original journey into my consciousness, but the gist of it goes something like this…

When we fall, on these bad days, we don’t fall all of the way down.

We have climbed such a great mountain; this long and winding and twisting path, full of rocks and steep in places has been hard and has at times felt insurmountable – but we have done it, and we have reached the peak. The good days are at the peak – the moments where you look at your family or friends or your children or your spouse and the love feels like it’s going to overwhelm you, those brief moments where the wind catches in your hair or you look up at the stars blanketing our world and it all feels so magnificent, the days when you get home from work – exhausted but happy and you realise how far you have come. These moments (and many more) exist and every time they happen they bolster us and they push that tar back a little, perhaps they even manage to erase a little speck here or there.

And so we don’t fall all the way down to the bottom of the mountain, we fall just off the top and we land on a ledge.

Sometimes that ledge feels like a further drop than others – sometimes it takes us a few hours to scramble back up whereas sometimes it might take a few days, but we always do it because we know that we can.

Yesterday, the ledge I landed on wasn’t far from the top. By the time night fell I was sitting back on top of my mountain – tired and a little shaky from my tumble, but not too damaged. From here I can see the view in front of me, a few clouds and shady areas are dotted across the landscape but right now the weather is fine and I know that the sun beating down upon my back is recharging me and giving me the strength to carry on this path that I have chosen, because we all know that once you conquer one mountain, the next one looks so very tempting.

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My Little Ball of Unease


Photo by Mikhail Elfimov on Unsplash

My little ball of unease has come and found me this morning.

He crept in. Past the thin material of my dress, through my skin and past my ribs. He’s found his old familiar home, nestled himself there and put the kettle on, right at the bottom of my ribcage.

He’s in for the duration.

Today he will stay, perhaps tomorrow too.

He makes my voice not sound like my own and my body unattractive from every angle. He makes me conscious of every noise, every movement, every overheard laugh and every tone of voice.

He ramps up my thoughts, gives them a nitrous boost. They’ll be overworked today, over analysing, over complicating, over thinking. They’ll be exhausted once my little ball of unease has packed his bags and wandered off again. He paves the way of his other friends to gain access…

My little ball of anxiety.

My little ball of depression.

Unease weakens the defences, so that they don’t have to fight too hard to get in.

They aren’t far away, over the peak of that hill, or hiding around the corner down that lane. Sharpening their finest tools, polishing their boots in order to stamp all over my heart.

All the work I have done in order to keep them at bay, unease has seen to that for them.

Every time I hope it won’t be as bad as before.

And sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes Unease decides he isn’t too comfy nestled down there and takes himself off somewhere else.

Perhaps he’ll do that today.

I pray that he will.

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