Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Fuzzy head.

I think that's the most appropriate "phrase" I can think of for this blog post.

I'm signed off work again, which was sort of expected, sort of not. After coming back from my Mindfulness retreat, I felt on such a high, it was great. I had plenty of things to keep me busy, I'd gained skills I could use for the rest of my life, whether I was anxious or not. But then it also got me thinking - what next? Coming home from the Lake District was brilliant. I'd missed my fiancé, my family and friends, and of course the cats. But at the same time, I knew what my mind was capable of. Why can't it be like that more often? There's a glimmer of the 'Old Kim' back there somewhere, but how do I reach her and make her a part of my everyday life?

It got me thinking about my life in general. Where am I? My anxiety and depression have always held me back, at school, in college, in careers. I let it control every fibre of my being, and how I act in every single situation. My mind is constantly buzzing with something, it's never calm, or still, not even for a second and it's tiring me, it's physically draining me to always live like this, when I know there is better for me out there, when I know I can have a life that I want, rather than a life I feel I HAVE to have to suit my illness.

And so things went downhill again. After everything I try to campaign for, I still feel this sense of guilt, even though I'm always harping on about how you shouldn't feel guilty with any kind of illness, physical or mental. But I do - I started to blame myself, my future was only what I'd made of it, no one else. I'd dropped out of college, I'd chosen to become some sort of recluse who fears so much in life... right? Things got to the point where I couldn't sleep, despite being absolutely flippin' shattered. I was dreaming very bizarrely, and shouting in my sleep (my poor other half got quite the earful one morning!). Then other random things were happening, like I wasn't talking properly. I was hearing a question, but I couldn't absorb it, and I'd come out with an answer that to the people around me would laugh at, and fair enough, I was coming out with ridiculous stuff! And it was difficult to just brush off... It was like my brain wasn't connecting with my emotions and vice versa. I felt angry at myself, what was going on? What have I done wrong? Why can't I just be NORMAL?! I started fixating on incredibly negative things, sometimes they were thoughts, sometimes memories. Or certain songs. And I'd find it hard to switch off, like two people were having a little natter in my brain right up until I finally managed to sleep. It made me cry, quite a lot. Sometimes there would be no need for a trigger either, which made it difficult to try and look out for. My days started to turn into sofa sessions and that's when I knew that Big Black Cloud was coming for me.

I've always said to people that the depression that I feel (and this is just how I feel!) is almost physical. First I feel tired, so lethargic, and out of energy, despite not doing anything whatsoever. Then, my legs would start to feel heavy. Like someone had tied little tiny weights on to my ankles and I was having to use that little bit more energy to lift them, just to walk. My chest felt heavy, like it does when you're about to or are crying. But sometimes I wasn't crying, the weight was just there.

One day my head was so freakin' NOISY that I just couldn't handle it anymore. I just wanted everything to shut up and sit down. I only needed five minutes peace in my head - why could I not even have that? So that's when things started to change.

Having a conversation with a loved one  can be hard, but it is necessary. I can't reiterate that enough. I understand that not all people are in the situation where they can talk to someone about how they're feeling, and I am incredibly lucky to have a fantastic support network now. My fiancĂ© is supportive, a good listener, and has a lot of patience (he's just a bugger for leaving the washing up) and it was him I knew I had to speak to. Offloading was all I needed - I didn't expect answers, I just needed someone to listen and not to judge me. And that was what he did. He didn't have an answer he just let me ramble and gave me a cuddle after. Perfect.

It was then we both decided things needed to change. Life is what you make it (corny, but relevant) and I choose to use my illness for good. I can't let it take a grip. I'm too young, I'm (scared, but) ambitious. I have dreams and goals, and I have a family to look forward to someday. I've inquired about some psychology courses to hopefully start the ball rolling on my education again. I've started volunteering for Mind as a Resource Finder, and I love the work I do, even if it's just a little. My house is starting to become tidier as my energy grows, and I'll get there.

Sorry if this post seems a bit black and depressing, but I'm fed up with sugar coating. Depression is CRAP. Anxiety is CRAP. Mental illnesses when they control your life are CRAP and there's no two ways about it. We can choose to sit and suffer, or we choose to talk about mental health - we all have it. And one of the greatest things I've learnt recently is that it's okay to have a bad day. If you want to spend a day sitting on the sofa, crying to chick flicks, eating Ben and Jerry's and staying in your onesie, that's fine. Why shouldn't you? Give something back to yourself. I've started that process of taking time out - I'm recovering after all.

So remember - it will be okay. Sending hugs to anyone suffering with the Big Black Cloud right now. x

"Every time I close my eyes I can touch the colors around me 
Suddenly I realise everything I thought was impossible is here  
And my heart sings in a world so incredible  
And everything burns much brighter"

Sunday, 5 May 2013

A Mindfulness Retreat

Finally I have the time to sit and write about my weekend away! I've been so busy, and general ups and downs have been getting in the way of me blogging, so apologies as I knew a few were interested in hearing about the retreat I went on. I am now in bed (yes, it is only 8.30pm...) with a cup of hot chocolate, a cat and some digestive biscuits, so I don't have any distractions finally.

Well, I went away two weeks ago now - where has the time gone?! It all started a bit badly though... I went to get a train to Manchester from Norwich at around 11am-ish. My friend had taken me to the station, and as I went to open the door, the train bloody went. I didn't know what to do! I'm a very organised person, I hate things not going to plan, so on came the waterworks, the panicking, the 'everyone's going to be so annoyed with me!' attitude. All over a flippin' train!

Anyway to cut a long story short my INCREDIBLE friend and her hubby actually drove me to Manchester. I know I am really lucky to have people like them in my life and I'll always be greatful. My friend realised how much this meant to me, and how much I NEEDED to go and that was why they drove the four and a half hour drive there and then again back. They didn't get home until the early hours of the morning, but thanks to them I had a weekend I will never forget.

After staying in Manchester on the Friday night, it was up early for breakfast. I finally got to meet the lovely people I would be spending the weekend with, the other people who are also featuring on the documentary. I genuinely got on with everyone, and for me, that in itself was an achievement. We left for the Lake District a bit later, and after a two hour drive, I was in one of the most beautiful places this earth has. Having never been before, it really did take my breath away. The rolling hills, the clouds just tickling the tops, the lambs bleating all around, it was like being in the Sound of Music or something.

We started the course later that day and got introduced to Karen, the course leader. Hearing her story was inspiring - she had been an extreme sufferer of anxiety and depression for many years, and I really felt I could relate to her story. I immediately looked up to her in a way, hearing her story of how Mindfulness had changed her life completely, and how she wished she had done it sooner just so she could have made the most of life rather than letting anxiety eat away at it.

I don't think any blog post could cover what I did this weekend in terms of learning Mindfulness. But let me just tell you this - it works. Here's just a fragment of what we did in VERY basic terms!

  • Body Scan - where you lay down, and listen to the teacher guide you through feeling every sensation in your body from head to toe. Everything from a small draft on your nose, or the tickle of your trousers against your ankles. You don't move, you don't imagine, you simply live right in that second. 
  • Mindful Breathing - this one didn't work for me, and actually caused a panic attack on the second day. The reason for this though was because my anxiety has spiked my natural heart rate and I believe my body went into shock when I tried to focus all my energy on controlling it and altering it. But for other people who were with me, this gave them a complete sense of calm.
  • Mindful Walking - a massive wake up call! These days we rush from A to B not listening, hearing, feeling, sensing our surroundings. You mustn't let your mind wander (hard to do, but practice makes perfect!) and it's a great way to go outside and get some fresh air. 
And then there was Mountain Meditation.

This for me changed me. I'm not saying that this technique or this weekend cured me. I appreciate my road to recovery is long, and that's if it does ever finish, but as a coping mechanism, well... put it this way. I was so happy I cried.

Sitting outside wrapped in fluffy blankets, balancing on rocks, and the sun warm on my face, I closed me eyes as Karen talked us through Mountain Meditation. In this one, you aim to create a picture in your head but at the same time still living in the present, and feeling your surroundings. Why is this so great? Because for the first time in a very long time (I'm talking years) I had a completely clear head. I mean blank. No anxious thoughts, no depressive thoughts, no emetophobic thoughts just crystal clear. I didn't care it was only 10 minutes of calm. It was the most calm I have had since I was a little girl I believe. I felt like I was a part of my surroundings, I was a part of the earth I was sitting on, I was a part of the wind around me. I can't even explain it, how much those few minutes meant to me.

I told Karen this afterwards, and she was over the moon for me. She told me about other ways I could use it and I'm excited to put it into practice. I couldn't care if I only get five minutes of calm a day, because that to me is five minutes more than I've had in a long while!

Well Sunday eventually came, and we had to part and go back to our normal every day lives. It seemed surreal, the bond I've created with these people who I've just met. We all had ways of doing things to help keep our minds just that bit calmer, there were things we had to do and there were times when we couldn't quite cope with what we were doing, but we all understood. Nothing was a problem. It didn't matter if I had a panic attack and so, I didn't panic as much.

We have vowed to stay in touch and whilst many would probably think this isn't possible, and these things never work out, we all had a gut feeling it will. I still talk to some of them now, and I honestly believe our bond will tie us for years to come, because of what we have experienced, what we've learnt together and what we've each gone through.

I came home and realised that my life needs to change. I'm 21, and I live my life in fear, worry, doubt and some days, just darkness. I feel stuck in a loop and that my life has gone to waste, and yes, it could be the depression talking but guess what? Nothing will change unless I change it. And I'm going to. My Mindfulness Retreat taught me about living in the here and now, the present moment. What I've done in the past is done now. It's time to draw a line. And the future? I can make goals, I can work towards them but worrying about something that may or may not happen? Fearing how I'm going to feel today, next week, next month? I might as well not be here. Blunt, I know! But I don't want my life like this anymore, and I AM putting actions in place to watch it.

Having anxiety and depression can be debilitating. It puts my life on hold. It stops me living my life to the full and this impacts on the people around me that I love and care about. But now, I'm going to use my illness as a tool. It will be my weapon to help others. Something good will come of it, because I am choosing it do so.