Home, Lifestyle, Mental Health

World Mental Health Day: Living the (anxiety) dream.

Today is World Mental Health Day. This week I have had approximately seven anxiety dreams. And it’s only Wednesday. The irony has not escaped me.

Today is World Mental Health Day. This week I’m running a half marathon for probably the country’s most well-known mental health charity, MIND, and I’m currently the most anxious I’ve been in months. The irony has not only not escaped me but is enveloping me, like an invisibility cloak, but the cloak has a face, with a raised eyebrow, and its own personality, laughing contentedly at my misfortune. Basically it’s not an invisibility cloak, it’s the Sorting Hat. Thanks for bearing with me on that one.

In the first dream tarantulas appeared on my body; some kind of torturous manifestation of stress. They felt like dish scourers and were the size of side plates and before you ask, no, I have no idea why the tarantulas are all kitchen-themed. I could feel them under my feet, my back, beneath my hair line and the more I grabbed them by my hands and chucked them out the window the more they attached themselves to me, like Velcro, or a bad reputation.

Do I think it’s a coincidence this dream happened in September, aka spider season? No. Do I think it’s a coincidence this dream happened the night I washed my hair and left it in a scrunchy so that loose strands kept sticking to my back, my arms, my neck in an uncannily spider-like way? No. Do I think it’s a coincidence this dream – and the others, if only I had time to tell you about the scotch egg one – is happening at a time I’m busy, run-down and at risk of imploding? To quote the chef in The Little Mermaid, Non, non, non, mes poissons.

The problem with anxiety is just because I’ve got better at controlling it doesn’t mean it’s gone away. Actually, the older I get (at the wizened age of 28) the more I’m becoming convinced it’s just changed form.

I used to experience random, generalised, unpredictable bouts of fear and dread – sat in a hairdresser’s chair convinced they’d find some kind of cancer when giving me the special leave-in shampoo treatment (as if I’ve ever been able to afford the special leave-in shampoo treatment, they were just brushing it). Panic attacks working front of house for no reason (not even the time there was a terror threat and I was the one on cloakroom looking for potential bombs in suitcases and Harrods bags – that would be far too understandable). Filling up the car at the petrol station, sitting in the cinema, answering anonymous phone calls, walking to work, in the shower, in the supermarket – all-consuming, impossibly hard to recognise and even harder to solve.

I am in a position now where a lot of the time I can recognise the symptoms and solve them before it’s an issue. Go me. I spent the money I saved on special leave-in shampoo on some special leave-in psychoanalysis and counselling and worked out why my brain is the way it is. I can drive by myself now, I don’t freak out at the hairdressers anymore, I can even feel up my boobs in the shower without giving myself a death sentence. I understand the way my brain works and know when it’s misbehaving. I know when it’s a bad time for me to think about googling symptoms, I know when I need to get some fresh air and go on a run, I know when I need to sleep or eat or cry. I’m more honest with myself about when I’m struggling and spend more time saying no, looking after myself, and talking out loud.

I’m a way happier, calmer person for like 80% of the time. Now triggers for me are more circumstantial and less frequent but when they do happen they’re equally debilitating. I get anxious if I’m bored or unsatisfied or in limbo and I get anxious if I’m too busy and over-worked and burning out. What a conundrum. Working in the creative industries is a path I’ve chosen, not one I’ve been thrown into, and it’s an industry of extremes, so it’s my responsibility to get the balance right and most of the time I do. I might be working on a million projects alongside a full-time job but I still find time to eat carbs and watch Killing Eve and exercise and step on crunchy leaves so I stay sane. I’m happiest when I’m in control – whether that’s bulk-cooking vegetarian chilli or planning my week meticulously in my diary, mapping out evenings to exercise or to just lie down and contemplate the universe.

That other 20% though. That’s the mind number. It just seeps out, sometimes, seemingly, as a tarantula dream, and sometimes as disrupted sleep, butterflies, chewing the inside of my mouth, IBS, getting a cold, losing my voice, feeling exhausted, not being able to make decisions, procrastinating, crying or wanting to cry for no reason, nerves, nausea and general blues. All the shades of blue – the colour of the sea in Cornwall that one day of the year it isn’t grey, Daniel Craig’s eyes, the sky, the Microsoft word logo. You get where I’m at. And that’s what today is like. Ye olde Mental Health Awareness Day.

It’s no wonder, really, because after a summer of waiting for things to materialise now, on top of my actual job, I’ve got to finish one play in the next month, another by the end of the year, am performing every week, rehearsing every other, doing a live podcast in ten days and I can feel myself getting ill and it’s supposed to rain on Sunday and I have to run 13.1 miles. WHAT. At this point it’s highly likely I’m going to forget I’m getting married next year too. Someone remind me nearer the time.

However. I’m very much living the dream, not the nightmare. I’m going to be fine. I am alive. I am lucky. I have people around me who I can talk to. I have a job. I have really comfy pillows. I have time. Time to run. Time to chase a dream. Time to eat. Time to laugh. Time to make mistakes. Time to crash and burn. Time to heal. Time to work out what I’m doing and who I want to be.

Here are the little things I’ve done today and last week and the week before when I felt myself tearing up and feeling breathless, just in case it helps: I told someone. A problem shared and so on. I treated myself (to an over-priced, bad-for-the-planet, orange and cayenne pepper shot from Pret – don’t shoot me). I trod on some leaves in the park in the sun. I made a gratefulness list. I did some stretches in my bedroom (where I realised my carpet will never be free of my hair). I helped someone out. I gave myself a break.

Every day is mental health day – this one just gets special attention because we all love a hash tag. I didn’t write this blog to plug my FUNDRAISING PAGE – I wrote it because I felt like I had to. But if you’ve made it to the end then can forgive me for shoving it in your face. I’ve spent the last however many weeks and months training to run my first ever half marathon and it’s all for MIND. I’m about sixty quid away from doubling my target and raising £1000. Even a fiver means the world. Thank you – take care, talk to someone, check up on your friends and family, and get out on those leaves before they go soggy.

 

 

Home, Humour, Lifestyle, London, Mental Health

Anxiety Remedies from A to Z.

Hi friends. You’ll never guess what I got given this weekend?

(Unless I’ve told you in person.)

A cup of tea “with added perspective.” Actual bottled perspective. In my tea. Such is this modern world. It was after the best only vegan massage of my life, so for anyone who cares, liquid perspective is definitely plant-based. 

Now I love tea, and inhaling bath bombs for well over an hour had left me parched, so I downed it in one. And I like to think that the absorption of liquid perspective into my gut is the reason I suddenly feel so inspired to alphabetise my favourite anxiety remedies.

It will either be really helpful or really wanky but what else is one supposed to do with an English degree?

For anyone who has stumbled upon this blog for the first time, alongside documenting the everyday chaos of being a twenty-something chasing big dreams in shoes that don’t fit, I sometimes travel into the pretty lush territory of living with anxiety. The funny and relatable bits of incessant hypochondria and perpetual butterflies. To demystify mental health and get it all out of my head and onto paper. 

Right now I’m prettyyy good. If you don’t count the day I actually cried over spilt milk and the fact that my skin is so bad I could weep. When will the day come that I’m not queueing in line with people still worrying about their Year 9 Sats to try the new Freederm range? I feel relaxed, on top of things, happy, and less fluttery than usual.

Because, perspective…

So I thought, while I’ve got all this rationale in my digestive system, I would make a list of what gets me out of a funk, in the hope it might help anyone else desperate to be a superhero but constantly tripping up on their cape. My anxiety alphabet is a combination of things to build into an everyday routine to try and maintain a more positive outlook, as well as those in-case-of-emergency spoonfuls of sugar. Remedies for the symptoms rather than the causes but every little helps and this girl don’t have time to dig that deep today.  So without further ado…

A is for… Air

I’m talking fresh air, oxygen, space. Venturing outside, preferably with all the trees, a beach and at least one animal to rescue. Getting away from the panic zone, realising the world ain’t going anywhere, and putting one foot in front of the other until you’re back on track. 

Breathe 

Slowly realising the first two on my list make it look like I’m writing a First Aid training manual. Totally feel like I’m in Casualty. Anyway. Integrating deep breathing into your daily routine, and not just when you’re feeling overwhelmed, is vital. Your brain the oxygen and it’s a good excuse to play sleeping lions IMO.

Cleanse

Clean clothes, clean sheets, clean skin. However wanky it sounds, it’s a simple and effective way to calm the hell down. Also easy to build into a routine and good for the soul innit – dare you to put on some whalesong at the same time. Feed back and tell me if it’s too much. 

Distractions

Anything to get you out of your own head and doing something that isn’t beating yourself up (or googling symptoms.) This might be cooking if you’re not me and regularly burning water or playing the piano… For me right now it’s getting competitive on my boyfriend’s playstation. It feels good when the biggest thing you’re worrying about in the evening is capturing an escape pod on Battlefront. There’s a sentence I never thought I’d say. 

Exercise 

I’m very rubbish at exercising frequently. I struggle to run unless someone’s legged it with my Krispy Kremes and I’m pretty sure Pilates gave me a hernia. But there’s literally nada better for raising your endorphins, Lena Dunham swears by it and she is the gospel, and it sure as heck feels good when you get your donuts back AND look 0.5% more like Jessica Ennis.

Friends: your Anxieteam.

The people who will listen to you and get you through it. Because you’re never alone. I overshare because I lack a filter but my goodness I’m so grateful for the people who at a moment’s notice will sit on Skype and feel their boobs to assure me I’m normal. Find an Anxieteam and create an emergency WhatsApp group who’ve got your back. 

Gratefulness

Feeling lucky can often be enough to snap you out of the blues. Even if it’s sitting in bed with a hot chocolate at the end of the day and being grateful you didn’t burn your tongue on it (just me?), jotting down in a notepad the good things in your life is grounding and builds a positive state of mind.  

Hot drinks

My mum taught me that at times of real stress, sipping a hot drink is distracting and calming. She is bang on and this is one of my ultimate faves. It also completely justifies stocking up on Teapigs.

Ink

Writing. It. Down. It’s not for everyone but materialising worries makes me rationalise them, break them down, see them for what they are. Which is mostly my imagination. Which one should reserve for Antonio Banderas fantasies and nothing else. 

Joy 

Being happy about the little things in your life. It lifts your mood, your perspective, your values. Also finding things you are happy with about yourself. I’m guilty of placing more value on Tupperware than my own brain and I’m working on being happier with who I am, even if that means accepting I may always gag on my toothbrush. 

Kindness

Be kind to yourself. We all have that little voice in the back of our heads, more poisonous than the primary school bully who stole your gel pens. Time to be a bit nicer to ourselves. Having anxiety does not make you weak or stupid. It makes you brave, strong, unique. Remember you did good today going underground/having that blood test/doing that presentation. Time to toast yourself with some wine and wotsits. 

Laughter

Laughing is the best. I started listening to the My Dad Wrote A Porno podcast and it is the most hilarious remedy ever. Twenty eight minutes in and I nearly weed myself on the tube three times yesterday. Someone needs to tell Mary Poppins that an adult analysing his dad’s erotica is without a doubt the sugar of the twenty-first century. 

Mindfulness

Not gonna lie. Still haven’t quite got the hang of this because if I focus on the present I mostly see pigeons, chewing gum and recycling bins. However I do try and be mindful in the shower (when I’m not checking myself for all forms of cancer or pulling hair out the plughole). To train my brain to focus instead of wander. I’m including this as motivation more than anything. Perhaps motivation should have been my M word. Hm. 

No 

It’s okay to say no sometimes. Put yourself first. A lot of anxiety comes from the pressure of not letting anyone else down, worrying what people think, committing to too much, piling on the pressure. It’s okay to say no to drinks one night and just go home and order Dominoes. As long as you order extra garlic bread. 

Own it 

For me, realising I’m having a bit of a crazy anxious moment is the first step to sorting it out. So owning anxiety and then learning how to handle it makes you feel a whole lot better about progress. It’s very difficult to treat when you’re in denial but easy to get help if you recognise it, and definitely, definitely, not something to be ashamed of. Own it gal, wear it like Louboutins and it won’t trip you up. Unless you suck at heels. Then own it like Uggs. 

Projects

Motivation. Creativity. Something to take pride in. That’s yours. Whether it’s colouring or couch to 5k, if you have something on the go it builds your confidence, helps you discover a new side of yourself, gets you out of your own head, introduces you to new people, and makes you happy. Writing this blog has become the best downtime activity I could have wished for with the exception of caramel nibbles and Twitter stalking. 

Questions 

I worry about irrational things, like  having cancer, or constantly losing my phone/purse/mind. Treating this rationally helps to separate the logic from the fantasy, to conquer them. Useful questions: “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” “How likely is that?” “What can you do to make you feel better?”

Room 

Make room for anxiety in your life. It’s probably not going anywhere anytime soon so just shift a bit of space around to accommodate it. The less unwelcome it feels the less intimidating is and the more manageable. Secondly find a room, somewhere, that makes you feel happy, comforted, and anxiety-free. Mine is my lounge. It’s full of candles (I’m so bloody middle-aged) and there are Nobbly Bobblies in the freezer RIGHT. THERE.

Smells 

I’m a bit obsessed with nice smells at the moment. Aforementioned candles. Also linen spray. They are very comforting and oh my god I’ve turned into my grandma. Abort. Abort. 

Treats

Treat yourself gang! The other night I rang my mum upset because I was worried and beating myself up for not feeling better after a doctors appointment and basically drowning in despair. Good old madre told me to go to sleep then wake up and treat myself to something the next day because, yes, I’d been putting up with a lot of shit, in my body and in my head, and I deserved a break. As a culture we probably don’t do this enough. It’s about working the hardest and competing to be the most exhausted or stressed. This is not cool. Living in London is lameeee sometimes. So’s being a girl/being 25/paying rent. Time for some rewards just because. Who’s with me?

U-turn

I was going to say underwear as it sounds all sassy and life-changey but when I’m anxious I can forget to put underwear on so it’s not really a thing for me. My U-turn is recognising something that’s making you miserable and instead of just putting up with it, side-stepping the hell away and changing your life for the better. I ran away from real life this time last year and flew to Australia and it was the best decision I could have made. 

Variation 

Now don’t get me wrong – I love a routine. But I also get alllll the fear if my life starts to feel too mundane. So mix it up a little so you don’t feel trapped. That could be switching up your packed lunch or doing stand up comedy. Either way it’s exciting, it’s plucky, and at the very least people around you will get crudite envy. 

Water

It’s good for everything. It should be on every list. There is nothing better beginning with W except maybe ‘wishes that come true’ and ‘wizards’ but neither of those exist in our world. So water, water, water. 

X-tremes 

Pushing yourself towards the healthy kind of adrenaline rather than the adrenaline that wakes you up in the morning with all the fear. It’s realising you can do anything if you put your mind to it. For me this was climbing a mountain and riding a rollercoaster with a loop in the same week. Neither of which I thought I could do. Literally rock and roll. But it could be smaller – like jumping into a swimming pool, dancing in the rain or trying olives. 

You

You got this. Be proud of who you are. Anxiety doesn’t define you and won’t stop you doing anything. It’s just finding the path that’s right for you to do it your way. 

Zzzz…

Total cheat but Z is for sleep. Sleep’s a tricky one as sometimes stress and anxiety = hello insomnia. But I still live by the rule that everything feels better in the morning (except pizza digestion). Starting a new day afresh is the way. 

Thanks for reading mes amies xxx xxx