Samhain: My plans for the year ahead

As a Pagan, Samhain is when I celebrate the beginning of a new year. Although the calendar new year inspires a natural sense of looking back, Samhain is when I look forward. It’s when I feel the greatest sense of potential and possibility, when I get excited about things to come. Instead of making resolutions, I decided to set some goals for different areas of my life.

I’ve noticed other people talking about setting a focus word for the year, a concept that feeds into all their plans and goals, and a reminder of priorities when setting objectives. After a year of experimentation and discovery, I feel like it’s time to focus. So my focus word for the coming year is FOCUS. Yes, I tried to find an alternative word that meant the same thing because I don’t like repeating words in sentence, but focus pretty much hits the spot 🙂

Writing

My first big writing goal is to take part in NaNoWriMo 2017. It’s my first NaNo and my project, 22 Cards, will be the longest book I’ve written to date. Because NaNo is all very new to me, I’m aiming for the 50,000 word target but my real focus is on enjoying and learning from the experience. My other writing goal is to publish my novella, Car Thieves, in early 2018. I’m going to aim to publish 22 Cards before the end of 2018, but I’m not honestly sure what the editing process will be like for a book of this length, so this is definitely more of a guideline than a strict deadline.

Blogging

I absolutely adore blogging. It’s an outlet for non-fiction writing, a fun way to connect with other creative people, and a great platform for sharing my photography and fiction. I’m trialling a blogging schedule in my bullet journal at the moment and aim to plan my posts more in advance, with space left for spontaneous posting, rather than just posting things as they come to mind as I’ve been doing since I moved in to this site last year.

Social media

My social media goal for the coming year is to prioritise Twitter. I’ve been using Twitter since 2008 but I started to use it a lot more actively over the last few months, taking part in hashtag games and events for writers, and spending more time connecting with the writing community. It’s been so much fun sharing my work there and meeting like-minded creative people, so I’m really looking forward to what the next year will bring.

Wellbeing

My wellbeing goal is more about maintenance than new things. I recently returned to a consciously structured morning routine involving meditation, yoga and beginning the day feeling relaxed and enthusiastic. My goal for the year ahead is to maintain this routine because it has such a positive affect on how I feel for the rest of the day and my ability to be productive and happy.

So those are my goals for the year ahead. Blessed Samhain and a happy new year to all my Pagan and witchy friends

Yoga and meditation: Reclaiming my daily practice

In my recent post about combining my bullet journal with digital planning apps, I mentioned wanting to return to my yoga and meditation practice.

My physical ability to do pretty much anything has been particularly craptacular for the last few weeks (for a bit of background to the craptacularity, please read ME and me: Living with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis), so as much as I’ve love to jump straight into half an hour of yoga a day, I know it’s not practical. Even if I could somehow force myself through an intensive routine, it would leave me profoundly exhausted and in agony for days afterwards, which kind of defeats the purpose of doing yoga in the first place, right?

So as much as my natural state of being is do all the things immediately, I know it makes sense to gently ease back into my daily practice. This five minute morning yoga routine from the amazing Yoga With Adriene is totally perfect for me right now. It’s short, simple and packed with basic moves to wake up the body with kindness – just what I need in the morning!

Before my yoga practice, before my morning coffee, even before I get out of bed, I begin my day with a short meditation. This has been a bit difficult to keep up with over the last few weeks, since Silver the kitten came to live with us. He thinks beds (and couches and floors and everywhere else) are his own personal playgrounds and humans are just big, warm chew toys, but he’s started to be a little less hyper in the mornings now, thankfully!

When I wake up already feeling calm and centred (it does happen occasionally, honest!), I set the Relax guided breathing timer on my Fitbit and do my own meditative thing. More often that not though, I wake up in quite a bit of pain which isn’t great for feeling chilled, so I turn to my favourite meditation app – Insight Timer.

Insight Timer is free (yay!) and has literally thousands of guided meditation sessions to choose from. You can search by topic and length, so no matter what I need, I can always find something that suits. I have had a few huh? moments but it makes sense that not every teacher or session will resonate with every user. If you’re new to the app, I fully recommend listening through a few guided sessions when you aren’t actually in meditation mode and bookmarking the ones you love so you can easily find them again.

This week I’ve been dedicated to starting my day with meditation and yoga, and I’m feeling the benefits already. Even though my pain levels have been pretty hardcore this past few days (guess who put their back out carrying a small box of cat food on Monday), meditation and yoga have helped me to maintain a more chilled out state of mind. I know that once NaNoWriMo starts, I’ll need all the chill I can find, so I’m grateful to have this opportunity to reclaim my routine before November arrives.

I want to make it clear that I am NOT claiming yoga or meditation are cures or treatments for any physical illness or disability. They are simply two tools in an extensive arsenal that help me to cope with the symptoms I live with, as well as to get my brain in gear for a creative and productive day ahead 🙂

Acceptance and self-care during the tough times

It’s been ages since I posted a personal update here, so I figured it was time. The last little while hasn’t been great in some ways. My health has been not so good, even by my standards of ongoing not so good health, but it took a serious dive about a week ago. The background to this is pretty much impossible to summarise, but I shared some detailed information about it here in July, so if you read ME and me: Living with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis the rest of this post will make a lot more sense.

I went from physically struggling but sort of coping to literally cannot in the space of a day. All it took to push me over the edge was a couple of nights with not quite enough sleep and one busy-ish day. This is a thing that happens and after almost a decade and a half, I should be used to it. But I’m not. A crash like this never stops being awful, at least partly because I have no way of knowing how long it will last. Sometimes it’s a couple of bad days, other times it’s a couple of bad weeks, and then there are times when it lasts for months or longer. The non-crash times are still pretty rough, but I can mostly handle those.

At the start of last weekend, I was a total mess. I couldn’t sit up, feed myself or get to the bathroom without help. Breathing was difficult because it requires energy to breathe and I didn’t really have any. I was super grateful to be able to get online for a bit and feel like part of the world, albeit not the physical world.

Over the last few days, I’ve gradually reached a point where I can sit up for a bit longer at a time, make simple food for myself once a day and potter about the flat slowly as long as I’m careful. Frustratingly, I can’t use my walking frame or canes or more than a day at a time because my arms, shoulders and upper back can’t take it. If you could see my arms and shoulders, this would sound ridiculous. I have substantial muscles that I’ve worked hard to build. They just don’t always function the way I’d like them to.

As much as I’d like to be all bright, shiny and positive all the time, it is really hard to maintain consistently high levels of enthusiasm when things are like this. I keep reminding myself that I don’t owe anyone fake smiles and I have no obligation to be an Inspirational Disabled Person or prove that I’m Trying Hard Enough, but it’s not just that. Enthusiasm is my natural state of being. I get excited about stuff. Like, annoyingly excited. I’m highly motivated and love to be productive, and it busts my head when I can’t be.

So I’ve been feeling pretty down. It takes a lot for me to actually recognise that and even more to admit to it. It’s not like an all-encompassing depressive episode or anything because I still feel happy when I’m writing, or chatting to people online. I still feel inspired to take photos and have really enjoyed getting back into setting up tiny still life scenes that I can work on and photograph without having to stand up. So I’m generally OK, I think. Everything isn’t awful. I’m not falling apart in an ongoing way.

But I do fall apart in small ways. I’ve been doing quite a bit of waking up crying, avoiding mirrors and breaking down over seemingly insignificant things lately, and I’ve been struggling to process the realisation that in-person social interaction is contingent on doing things that will make me severely ill afterwards. I’m grateful that I get invited to things, even if I can’t usually go to them, and that I have friends I can talk to online, but when it comes to actually seeing people and doing stuff, most of the time I just can’t. If it was temporary, I’d be able to deal with it better. But it isn’t. It’s my normal. When I’m feeling physically less terrible I can be more philosophical about it, but when I’m feeling like this, when I get out of breath from sitting up at the computer and typing, it just makes me sad.

So I’ve been trying to strike a balance between accepting and processing the (completely understandable) sadness, and focusing on things that help me to feel less sad. I’ve been burning my favourite incense, colour-coding my notes in Scrivener with pastel rainbow shades (my NaNoWriMo project is beautiful!), drinking delicious tea, sitting on the back step and watching the birds in the garden or lying on the couch with the door open and listening to the rain.

As well as the social interaction realisation, I’ve also realised that it is entirely possible to recognise all the joy and beauty in the world while still feeling sad. Those are not mutually exclusive events, but it’s hard to stay up-beat all the time. It’s hard not to be angry with my body. And I don’t want to be angry with my body. I don’t feel comfortable with the battle/fighting language that is often wrapped about the experience of living with a disability because I am not at war with myself. I’ve learned from experience that always pushing harder and being in a state of conflict is counter-productive, that it’s healthier to find acceptance, and that acceptance is not the same as giving up. It’s just being OK with where I am now, wherever that may be, and understanding that the best way to get to a better place, however temporary that is at any given time, is to look after myself.

I recognised some troubling old patterns and coping mechanisms nudging at the corners of my mind, so I’ve taken steps to deal with them sensibly. When I feel like any aspect of my life is out of control, I start to think about not eating, as if that will fix everything. That is A Bad Thing and I absolutely cannot indulge those feelings because I know where they lead.

So yesterday, I removed everything to do with food and calories from my Fitbit dashboard because that stuff isn’t relevant right now and I’d found myself getting really stressed out every time I thought about not being able to exercise or having to prioritise accessibility when it comes to what I eat. I feel relieved now. Being able to keep an eye on my heart rate and sleep cycles, and make sure I remember to drink enough water (I am terrible at that!), is really useful, and when I’m in a place where the other stuff is relevant to my existence again, I can easily pick up where I left off.

Right now I’m working on self-care. When I have a little bit of energy, I work on character development and outlining for my NaNo project, or I scroll through Twitter or Ello, or I chat with my fellow DeviantArt volunteers. If I want chocolate, I eat some chocolate. I wear my comfiest pyjamas. I cuddle the cat a lot. I listen to my favourite music and watch trash on Netflix. And it’s good. It’s helping. It doesn’t help what’s happening in my body, but it helps me to cope with it.

I’m hoping to be able to manage a trip to the supermarket tomorrow with my husband. I know that doesn’t sound very exciting, but I haven’t been able to get out of the house for over a week now and I’m going kind of stir crazy. Also, I suck at online food shopping. It’s been a few days since I’ve used my canes, so hopefully my upper body will deal with those for a little while. I don’t have any major plans until October – a weekend of witching and indulgent food with friends mid-month and a couple of nights at a lovely hotel over Samhain with my husband – so if a supermarket mission ends up wiping me out for ages, at least I don’t technically have to be upright again for a few weeks.

In the meantime, I’m really excited about my writing projects and photographing small things, I’m enjoying my Patreon adventure (my Patrons are amazing and I’m so appreciative of their support!) and I’m grateful for all the good stuff ❤

Finally, please read the Matchstick Theory. It’s a disability metaphor, like the Spoon Theory, but way more accurately reflects how energy and ability resources are affected by external factors as well as day-to-day needs and choices.

Five things I learned from living with a chronic illness

The response to my ME and me: Living with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis post has been so overwhelmingly positive and supportive that I want to write more about living with a chronic illness. One of the recurring themes of the last thirteen years has been discovery – I’ve learned so much about myself, the world and my place in it since experiencing life from a different perspective.

It’s easy to trot out cliched advice like “Never give up!” and “Stay positive!” but life isn’t always that simple and often that advice is nothing more than  a demand for you to experience your illness or disability in the manner most palatable to society while ignoring your own needs.

Learning to truly believe the five lessons listed here was a hard-won battle for me, but with each new bit of self-acceptance came new strength and new joy. I’m not going to pretend to have all the answers, but hopefully I can offer some food for thought.

You don’t have to fit the recovery narrative.
It would be amazing if everyone who was sick or injured could follow a simple set of tried and tested instructions and get better. It would be even more amazing if this looked exactly the same for everyone and happened within a predictable time frame. This is exactly how it happens for some people, but others may be living with the effects of illness or injury for many years, or even their whole lives. Many people live with degenerative conditions, so it’s not just a case of not getting better – it’s a case of definitely getting worse. If you don’t fit neatly into the recovery narrative box, it doesn’t mean you’ve failed or that you’re weak or not trying hard enough. Not everyone gets better immediately, or at all. Your experience is still valid and you are still deserving of acceptance. That also means accepting yourself.

You aren’t a professional inspiration.
Speaking of narratives around illness and disability, everyone’s heard of the inspirational disabled person, whether it’s the amputee who climbs mountains or the gold medal winner at the Paralympics or the person who lives with a chronic illness and is able to work full-time. Apart from it being totally condescending to take an “If that person can do it, I – an able-bodied person – can do ANYTHING” attitude (yuck!), it’s also unrealistic to assume that everyone with a disability or chronic illness is affected in the same way or lives with the same opportunities and limitations. Obviously I’m not in any way trying to minimise the achievements of people who manage those big, visible, awesome things, but it’s important to remember that if you can’t climb mountains or win medals or work full-time (or at all), that’s OK too. You do what you can do. Your value is not contingent on how ‘inspirational’ you are to people who will only ever see you as a one-dimensional representation of a concept they don’t even understand.

You don’t owe anyone ‘fine’.
I tend to focus on what I can do, the things that make me happy, and all the amazing blessings in my life. If the options are “Oh my god, this is terrible, the world is terrible and everything is going to be terrible forever” and “This is tough, but I can get through it”, I’ll go for the second option every time. It’s how I cope and it helps me make it through the hard times. The problems begin when I apply this to how I communicate with other people, specifically when I try to cover up when I’m struggling or pretend to be coping better than I am. It’s OK – in fact, it’s healthy – to learn how to say “I’m having a rough time and I need support” or “I can’t manage that today, but thanks for inviting me”. You are under no obligation to explain your life in detail or to justify yourself to anyone, but you’re also under no obligation to pretend to be doing better than you are at any given time.

Sometimes the easy way is the best way.
I adore cooking. One of my favourite things in the world is creating delicious, healthy recipes, making tasty soup or chilli to freeze for a week’s worth of lunches, and experimenting with ingredients I’ve never tried before. I even enjoy food shopping because I get excited thinking about all the things I’m going to make with the bargains I find. A lot of the time though, I’m simply not able to trawl around the shops or stand up in the kitchen for long enough to cook, so I rely on more accessible options. On those days (or weeks), I’m not microwaving a  bowl of tinned macaroni cheese as an alternative to cooking an amazing home-made pasta bake. I’m eating it as an alternative to eating nothing. I’ve started referring to food as accessible rather than convenient, and it has made such a different to how I think about it, as well as to how other people understand my situation.

You are allowed to have fun.
I’d hazard a guess that almost everyone living with a disability or chronic illness has experienced sharing a photo of a day out with their family, or talking about a party they went to, and had people respond negatively, assuming they mustn’t be that sick if they could visit the beach, go for a walk or have a night out with friends. When people respond that way, they don’t understand the whole situation. They don’t get how much pain you were in during the car journey, how difficult it was for you to walk to the place where you took that photo, how many days or weeks it took you to recover from that one late night, how much you have to sacrifice to have those happy days. Virtue is not earned through suffering and self-denial, and it’s not suddenly your fault you’re sick because you went to a concert that one time. Everyone needs to kick back and enjoy themselves sometimes – it’s good for the soul – and if someone judges you harshly for that, maybe it’s time to reconsider how much space they deserve in your life.

ME and me: Living with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis

When I posted this, I was having a not-so-great time so the tone is kind of harsh compared to some of my other posts here. I considered sanitising the language a bit after the fact but decided against it. The person I was on the day I wrote this is as valid and deserving of a voice as much as the less angry person I am on most other days.

Sometimes I mention here about being sick, being disabled, living with a chronic illness, my body not working etc but I don’t go into detail about why. This is because any time I talk in a public space about what’s wrong, I get hit with a heap of unasked for ‘advice’ and a barrage of “I read this thing about…” or “I heard about this one guy who…” or “My cousin’s next door neighbour’s friend had that and…” and honestly, it makes me want to fucking set people on fire.

That said, I like to provide context for the things I mention here, so I’m going to do that now. Even though it’s difficult as hell for me. Even though I’m steeling myself for a bunch of comments that make me want to throw my computer and then myself out the nearest window. It should go without saying that comments containing unasked for ‘advice’, an amazing ‘cure’ that totally works, or links to that one thing you read will result in you being set on fire. I don’t care how far away you are. I have my methods.

For the last thirteen or so years, I’ve been living with ME, which stands for Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (which I can just about spell without looking it up). You might not have heard of it because although it’s been around, and known about, for a long time, it is often referred to by the dodgy-as-fuck name Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, or CFS, which was invented in the 1980s by psychiatrists who liked to make money and medical insurance companies who like to save money. Referring to ME as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is reducing a complex physiological condition to one unquantifiable symptom, which is not only inaccurate but dismissive and dangerous, although it does make googling it a hell of a lot easier. Yep, I am very fucking political about this. But hey, at least some countries are making progress (please make this happen in the UK soon!).

ME is not a psychiatric, behavioural or psychosocial condition. This means that it cannot be fixed with talking therapies or any form of psychiatric or psychological intervention. Misdiagnosis is not a good thing. Frustratingly, a horrifying but much-hyped example of shocking non-science (which has very recently been debunked – yay!) informed a lot of media coverage, medical approaches and policy relating to the condition. Hopefully things will get better for those of us living with it as the medical industrial complex around the world catches up.

It isn’t currently known exactly what causes ME, although there have been lots of theories but sadly very little actual research. What IS known though, is that it doesn’t affect everyone in exactly the same way for exactly the same length of time. Some people get better after a few months or a couple of years, some people get better after a longer time, and some people don’t get better at all. Generally, the longer you’ve been ill with it for, the lower your chances of making a full recovery – although some people do.

Something that massively ups your chances of getting better more quickly, or at all, is if you can completely stop doing everything during the acute onset stage and then gradually build up activity very slowly over a long period of time (this is NOT the same as Graded Exercise Therapy, or GET, which is at best useless and at worst seriously dangerous). This is really nice in theory, but when you literally do not have the option to do this because you can’t live without money, it throws a bit of a spanner in the works. For context, I became ill 13 years ago. This year, we could afford for me to stop having a job. So yeah. There’s some cold, hard context for you.

Because there’s a lot of snake oil and bullshit being thrown around by unscrupulous shitstains who like to extract money from vulnerable sick people, because people get better at different rates, because everyone loves a recovery narrative and tends to assume that correlation implies causation, you might have heard about people being ‘cured’ by doing stuff that doesn’t make any actual sense and can’t be in any way medically or scientifically explained. This is very frustrating because it detracts from the very real need for genuine research. So instead of suggesting that I eat more blueberries, just force myself to go running (HAHAHAHA!), or reprogramme my braindoodles with magical hypnowaves, please go and set yourself on fire. Thank you.

In terms of what ME does to a person, there are varying degrees of severity. Symptoms also tend to fluctuate, so things can be “meh, sort of vaguely OK or at least not totally imploding” one day and “holy fuck someone pulled my skeleton out of my skin and ran over me with a steamroller” the next. On a good day, I feel like I’ve been awake for two days straight taking acid at the gym and during the forty mile sprint home I got hit by a truck full of sedatives and pain. On a bad day, the truck full of sedatives and pain is pretty much driving over me then reversing again, repeatedly. And the driver is throwing shit out the window at me. You’re welcome for that mental image.

There are symptoms other than crippling exhaustion and constant horrendous pain, but they’re less fun to describe. I have allergic reactions to everything and nothing, leaving my skin often looking like someone set it on fire and put it out with a pitchfork. My ability to see fluctuates wildly (muscles control eye stuff and ME is shit for muscles) so sometimes my glasses are great and other times they don’t do a damn thing. My body forgets how to do really basic things like digesting food properly. If I get a cold, it full-on kicks the shit out of me for weeks, sometimes months. My brain fails and I forget how to word (yes, I am a writer and yes, this is a massive bastard of a hurdle to get over). My balance is screwed. Bright lights and loud noises hurt (and there you were thinking I wore sunglasses all the time cause I was famous). The world is an overwhelming sensory explosion of argh. Walking is (delete as appropriate on any given day) difficult/very difficult/what the fuck are you even trying to do/impossible, and it is always painful. I have walking sticks, but to use them I need a certain level of energy, coordination and upper body strength, so I can’t actually use them when I need them the most.

On top of that (Ha! There’s more, because of course there is) my back is a total fucking mess due to an injury that no-one took seriously for a bastarding decade after it happened, even though I was literally in hospital immediately after it occurred (although, to be fair, making sure I wasn’t having a fatal brain bleed was kind of the priority then). My spine is bent in a bunch of ways it isn’t supposed to be and everything healed in the wrong place, so the bones are wonky and nerves get trapped all the time. Although it’s past the point of being fixable, degeneration can be slowed down and possibly even prevented with certain types of physical activity. But guess what ME makes it really difficult, often impossible, and frequently counterproductive to do? Yep. Most of those kinds of physical activity. I can still sometimes do yoga though, so yay! Yoga also helps me not want to punch people all the time, which is a pleasant side-effect.

My knees are fucked up as well (I KNOW, I KNOW), also from injuries that weren’t taken seriously at the time and that have since healed wrongly and aren’t repairable. Luckily, before having ME, I spent a lot of time in the gym and doing other cool shit with my body to make my muscles big and awesome. I am endlessly grateful that I still have the strength I have. Also, using walking sticks is incredible exercise for the upper body, if you’re ever looking for a change to your fitness routine.

Living with all that stuff, in a constant state of financial instability due to all that stuff affecting my ability to do almost any job (“financial instability” is the world’s biggest understatement, but that’s another story), and having had the misfortune to become ill just at the point when the last Labour government had decided there was no such thing as sick people and therefore no financial help was given to those non-existent people, got my brain hardcore fucked up. This is getting pretty long already so I won’t go into detail here about the effects it all had on my mental health, but it’s miraculous that I’m still alive at all and my husband, parents and close friends deserve a lifetime supply of cookies for helping keep me around (mental health services in the UK deserve to be set on fucking fire though, or possibly just given better funding).

FINALLY, and with a huge amount of assistance from advocates who I swear are angels in disguise, I managed to claim Personal Independence Payment less than two years ago. This enabled my husband and I to get a home to rent that is actually accessible to me. It also enabled me to get a blue badge for my car, which means I can park in more places and have been able to claw back a little bit of the independence that being sick/disabled/bodyfailed took away from me. The process of applying for PIP, including the degrading and quite frankly terrifying assessment, was so traumatic that I remember very little of it due to numerous dissociative episodes. Those were fun, if you like returning to conscious awareness covered in your own blood because you sliced your arms and legs open at some point during the three hours you have no recollection of. What even is time anyway, right? My braintubes are much better now though. I promise.

Here’s the kicker. I might get better one day. I might get slightly better one day and a lot worse the next and a little bit better again a few months after that. Or I might be living with this for as long as I’m living. I look after myself ridiculously well and while I will always carry a spark of hope that one day this illness will be accurately understood, treatable and ultimately curable, I refuse to keep my life on hold waiting for that day.

You don’t often hear stories from people who have had ME for years because those are difficult stories to listen to from people who fall through the cracks and don’t get to tell them. The government, the mainstream media and a large proportion of people I share a country with constantly reiterate the message that I, and people like me, are lazy, worthless, drains on resources who would be better off dead. Every time we try to speak up, that’s the noise we have to raise our collective voice above and it’s fucking difficult. Especially when you’re so fucking wiped out you actually have to concentrate on breathing because your body keeps forgetting to do it until you almost pass out then gasp for air. That’s some scary shit.

I did not do this to myself. If wanting, trying, working, fighting, needing, wishing, or anything else within my power could make this better, I would have got better the day I got sick. I was super fit, healthy and active before all this. I was working full-time, overtime and then some. I was one of those assholes who got up at 5am to go running before work, ate food-prepped salads for lunch, and could get two hours sleep and be perky as anything the next day. I was a “Wow, where do you get your energy from?” person. Yeah, you know those people. That was me. Sorry.

My life and my body may have changed but the core of my being has not. I am determined and strong. I am grateful and hopeful. Sometimes I am frustrated and a bit defensive and I swear a lot. I have always been this way. I am neither an inspiration nor a cautionary tale.

I am one of many and I refuse to be silent.

If you want to learn more about ME (please do, so you can be an awesome ally!), I recommend these links:

  • The Canadian diagnostic criteria: This is the business! No “oh well, we’ve ruled out cancer and we’re not sure what else do to with you” here. A serious, detailed, medical diagnostic tool that, although not exactly a wild read, is SO worth looking at.
  • ME Association: A helpful resource based in the UK, which offers phone and email support to patients, their families and their caregivers.
  • The Hummingbirds’ Foundation for ME: This site contains a wealth of incredibly detailed and well referenced documents. Sadly, the wonderful human who created it passed away recently, but thankfully the site remains in existence and continues to help people, which is the perfect tribute to her.

Warmth from within and without

warmth from within and without

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a miscellaneous life stuff update here so I figured it was time. As I write this, I’m curled up in an oversized armchair (bought by my 6ft 4in husband, so perfectly excessive for 5ft 3in me), listening to a station on Play Music called Beautiful Piano Ballads (Play Music stations are my new obsession, don’t even get me started), drinking chai and inhaling the glorious aroma of a chocolate scented candle on my altar, blessed by the glow of early spring sunlight streaming through the french doors. And you know what? I feel relaxed. Genuinely, completely chill for the first time in ages.

In my last job and the connected volunteer work I was involved with until late last year, this is when the busiest time of year would have been kicking off. I would have been barely coping with an insane amount of work while under a constant barrage of expectation and pressure over things that sat too uneasily with my personal values. It’s not that I didn’t deeply enjoy parts of it, but it was like when you get back from a camping trip where you were caught in a storm and your tent leaked and you twisted your ankle on the way down the mountain – even though it was exhausting and painful, you still did it again because you survived the ordeal and only remembered the amazing bits. I’m not throwing total shade on ex-volunteering-and-job because it gave me so many incredible experiences and introduced me to some of my best friends. It’s pretty fucking fantastic not to be doing it anymore though, even if leaving it behind gouged a chunk out of my heart in the shape of things that could not be made OK enough for me to continue.

For the first time in ages, the onset of spring feels like the arrival of a close friend bearing coffee and hugs rather than a close friend bearing a hastily packed parachute and the suggestion of sky diving. I’m not really a spring kind of person and I usually get my energy buzz on in the autumn, but this year is different. It’s good. I feel inspired and excited but without all the nervous twitching and insomnia that usually goes along with those things.  I feel free.

Right now, I’m writing a book. I am honest-to-goodness doing the thing I’ve said I was going to do for the last thirty-something years. I’m also learning how to write a book as I write the book so it’s not going to be a masterpiece but it is going to be a learning experience and whatever comes from it will be sent out into the world in some manner. My goal is just to finish it and to have grown from the experience. Then I will write another book and it will be better. I’ve already decided this is how it’s going to go.

Since I started on this project a couple of weeks ago (I rambled about it here), I’ve been allowing myself to write whatever comes into my head and embrace the joy of happy brainspew. I have a kind of beginning and a kind of ending and a vague idea of what might happen in between. My characters have been revealing their voices and their histories. I’ve been asking them questions and letting them answer in their own time. The next bit of the mission is to solidify their identities through mood boards, personality tests and other getting-to-know-you stuff. Once that’s done, I’ll be better positioned to understand how they’ll navigate the world that is the as-yet-unplotted story.

I’m also enjoying social media in a way that I hadn’t really felt able to in a long while. I’m using Facebook less and less because even with the wonder that is the FB Purity Chrome extension it still generally irritates the shit out of me. I still have my artist page where I post stuff relating to my writing and photography, and my FB-based writing group totally owns my soul, but I’m just not feeling the personal-connection vibe on Facebook-in-general anymore.

I’m using Twitter and Tumblr a lot more often than I was (Tumblr is basically internet crack, seriously, I could lose hours on the mobile app way too easily), and I’m posting my writing regularly on Medium. I’ve been falling out of love with Instagram since they took away the chronological feed, but I still post there and have a browse when I have time and can get the app to work without crashing. I am, and will probably forever be, attached in so many ways to DeviantArt, where I’m a photography Community Volunteer. The thing with DA is that there’s a lot of stuff I’m not into on the site, but it’s so easy to customise my experience so that I don’t see any of that stuff. I don’t see it as a professional platform but unlike people who hate the open-to-all-standards aspect of it, I adore the fact that it’s filled with people of all ages and skill levels. It’s had, and continues to have, its ups and downs but it’s a place where I learned and grew so I’m happy to support other people learning and growing there.

My new favourite is Ello. Not to sound too hipstery but I was there at the beginning when it was invite-only and was spoken of as an alternative to Facebook. It has evolved into a creative hub and I love the tightly knit community, especially the awesome writers I’ve met there. It still obviously has a long way to go and things change constantly as it finds its feet, but I feel welcome and at home there. And there’s no advertising, so the user is not the product, which is great. You should all join Ello right now. Seriously. Do it.

This has become a massive ramble so I’ll leave it there and go put my characters through the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. I hope you’re all having a good week.

❤ Tanya

Self-care printables for help with anxiety, depression, PTSD and dissociative episodes

For various reasons, including high pain levels and horrendous sleep-maintenance insomnia (when you can get to sleep but can’t stay asleep, and your sleep is highly fragmented), I have days when I struggle with anxiety attacks and dissociative episodes.

Because I want this blog post to be a non-triggery safe space for people who may have found it because they’re having headweasels right now, I’m not going to go into detail about symptoms. Instead, I’d like to share a coping strategy that helps me. This is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice and it may not work for everyone. All I know is it works for me and therefore might be helpful to others.

I use my journal to do this because I find writing with my favourite fountain pen in a lovely notebook really calming, but if notebooks aren’t your thing or you’re not in a place to start laying out worksheets for yourself, I’ve included downloadable printable versions at the bottom of this post. They’re jpegs so you should be able to open and print them on pretty much any device. They’re A4 size at 300dpi so you can scale them up or down to suit. Anyone is welcome to download and use them. I’m fine with them being shared too, but please share this post directly rather than downloading and reuploading the files. Thanks 🙂

 

Self-care and comfort

Things to do today
This isn’t intended to be a giant list of super important tasks for work or hardcore housekeeping. It’s supposed to be a list of things that help you to stay safe and comfortable, and perhaps a few things that you really need to get done. For example, my list for today includes cuddling my cat, a short yoga practice, laundry, and a quick check on my emails and social media notifications. Depending on how you’re feeling, you might want to include some basic personal hygiene tasks, or a reminder to call or chat online with someone you love.

Eat something
When my mind is imploding, I suck at remembering to eat. It’s generally a good idea to eat something a few times a day, so this section on the printable has five stars (they could’ve been boxes, but no, stars are better) so you can colour one in or tick one off every time you have a munch. Feel free to add more stars if you like – whatever works for you.

Drink something
I’m referring to water or tea here, although if the only way you’re going to consume liquid is if it’s in a sugary or fizzy format, at least you’re hydrating so don’t beat yourself up over it. It’s a good idea to drink at least two litres of non-alcoholic, preferably non-caffeinated, liquid a day. I’ve included five stars here too, but you can scribble one out or add more to suit the size of your favourite mug, glass or water bottle. If thinking about amounts of things is too much at the moment, just use this as a reminder to drink something.

Move around
I’m not talking about doing five gym sessions or five long walks in one day. This is simply meant to be a reminder to get up out of your chair if you’re able to, or stop what you’re doing and have a stretch if you aren’t mobile. If you’re able to incorporate some exercise-exercise, great. If not, don’t worry. This is about getting you through the day, not pushing yourself to the point of collapse.

Listen to…
When you’re having a difficult day, it can help to have a list of some of your favourite songs, artists, playlists, radio stations or albums to listen to. You don’t have to work through the list – it’s supposed to be there so you only have to think about this stuff once and then have a resource to refer back to for the rest of the day.

Watch…
Sometimes a favourite film or TV show can provide comfort, distraction or much-needed smiles. This is a space for you to make a short list of films or shows you love so that if you hit a point in the day when you need something to watch, you can just pick something from the list without having to start making big decisions.

Remember…
This is a take-it-or-leave-it bit, but it really works for me. Make a quick note of something that helps you to feel better. It could be a mantra like I am fine the way I am, or a reminder like I am loved, or something that you’re looking forward to like The weekend starts tomorrow.

 

Check in

Honestly, I laughed at this concept the first time I heard about it but when the shit really hits the fan, I’ve found it super helpful to ground me in my surroundings and my body. A check in is basically time you take to go through what’s happening in your physical surroundings, what you’re doing and how you’re feeling. It can take two minutes or half an hour – it’s up to you.

What time is it?
Don’t guess. Look at a clock, your phone, your fitness tracker, your watch, whatever. This gives you context for this moment in your day.

Where am I?
Try and give a bit more information than simply at home. For example, my last check-in “where” was in my favourite chair in my living room. This creates some solid detail.

What am I watching or listening to?
This gives you another bit of solid detail to ground you in your surroundings and gets you using your senses of sight and/or hearing.

What am I doing?
Resist the urge to write a check in! This is a prompt to do something to ground you in your body – eating, drinking, brushing your hair, stretching, massaging your feet etc – and gets you using your sense of touch.

What feels comforting?
A check in is a reminder to appreciate comfort, and create some if you can’t immediately recognise any in your surroundings. My last check in “comfort” was my orange scanted candle. Yours could be your snuggliest sweater, the light from your favourite lamp, the feeling of the lawn under your bare feet, anything in your immediate environment that makes you feel good, even in the smallest of ways.

How am I feeling?
This can be a one-word answer, a short sentence or a stream-of-consciousness ramble – whatever you need it to be. It doesn’t have to show progress and it doesn’t have to be filled with positivity if that isn’t where you’re at right now. It’s simply a prompt to notice what your emotions are doing and accept them.

Draw something
Seriously. It doesn’t matter what you draw or how detailed it is. It’s just a little task to do, something that gets your brain and hands working together. You can use it as a tool for expression or catharsis if you want, or you can doodle random shapes. It doesn’t matter. High-five for any Hannibal fans out there who are drawing a clock right now.

 

Grab your printables

If you’d like to grab the printables, click on the images below to open and download them full-size.

self-care-and-comfort-printablecheck-in-printable

 

A final note

I created these tools based on my own experiences and needs, and you are absolutely welcome to edit them to suit yourself. For example, depending on your senses you might skip the bits about watching or listening to things, or add more touch-based resources. If writing isn’t accessible to you or isn’t something you enjoy, you might prefer to speak your answers out loud or just think about them without any external expression. If you think it would be helpful to keep your worksheets to look for patterns, you can totally do that, but it’s not what I created them for. If you want to throw them away at the end of the day, that’s cool too. You do you. You’ve got this ❤

When I say I can’t

when-i-say-i-cant

When I say I can’t do something, sometimes it means just that—I am literally not physically capable of doing that thing, no matter how much I want to or how hard I try. Sometimes it means that while I could possibly force myself through the ordeal, with the help of stimulants and painkillers but still exhausted and in extreme pain, after days of bed rest to prepare for the exertion, the effect that will have on me afterwards is not worth it.

This is the effect it will have on me afterwards. I will be profoundly exhausted to the point where sitting up, walking and being in an environment other than a dark, quiet room are extremely difficult, and preparing food for myself, washing my hair and body, and getting dressed are most likely impossible. The sensation of hearing any noise above a quiet whisper or looking at light brighter than what creeps in through the crack in the curtains is physically painful. This makes any form of communication, in person or at a distance—even talking on the phone or using a computer—uncomfortable at best and impossible at worst.

I will be in so much pain that I cannot sleep for more than a couple of hours a night. That, combined with the extreme exhaustion, means that I’m running on adrenaline and very little else. This perpetual state of fight-or-flight, the feeling you get when you’re leaning back in a chair and it tips into instability, triggers constant, intense anxiety. Because the anxiety is not about anything, it cannot be talked through or effectively managed with tools that are used to reduce anxiety caused by emotional factors. It is just there. The longer it’s there, the more frequent the panic attacks and dissociative episodes become until pretty much every waking moment is one or the other, or both.

What I desperately need to do in this situation is sleep. A lot. Deep, restful, restorative sleep. This does not happen for all the reasons explained above. The longer it does not happen for, the worse everything gets until I reach a point where I can’t sleep, can’t eat, have no idea what’s going on and am absolutely terrified, all while being so exhausted I have to concentrate on breathing and in so much pain that there is no respite from it no matter what I do.

Life does not stop because of this. Things do not stop needing to be done. The world does not become quiet, dark and undemanding for me. Even when I am able to say no to everything and take the time I need to begin to recover from whatever put me in this state to start with, it does not improve in a matter of days. It takes weeks. Sometimes it takes longer. During that time, I question myself. I feel lazy, guilty, worthless, useless. I most likely have to say no to things while struggling to explain why, managing only “I can’t” or “I’d be a mess afterwards” and people generally don’t get what that means.

I have spent more than a decade with no choice but to knowingly do this to myself because I had to work in jobs that required it. Financially, I had no other option. None of this is because I haven’t tried hard enough to get better or have lacked a suitably positive attitude or don’t know how to look after myself. Trying hard and getting through things on attitude alone are all that has kept me going. I know exactly how to look after myself—the problem has been that my life has not allowed for it, even at the best of times.

Now I am lucky enough, and have sacrificed enough, to be in a position where I can say, “No, I can’t”. When I do this, it is not laziness or negativity or a lack of determination. It is a conscious choice not to live in hell. It is not avoidance or giving in to a fear of what might happen. It is self-preservation due to being acutely aware of exactly what will happen, based on what has happened, what does happen.

So when I say, “Things haven’t been great for the last little while”, this is what I’m referring to. When things haven’t “been great”, I will still occasionally have a good day when I can do a little more than I’ve been able to do on the other days, but these good days are not predictable and if I push myself too hard on not-a-good-day, I hit rock bottom again. This makes it incredibly difficult to plan things because while I might wake up one day and be able to do a little more, I cannot know in advance when those days are going to be.

For more than ten years, every decision I made was based on one question—”Can I do this?”. Not “Can I do this safely and without drastic negative consequences?”, but “Can I force myself through this somehow, no matter what happens?”. How I felt wasn’t even a factor. This became my natural state of being to the point where I forgot how to consider how I felt. Whether or not I wanted to do something didn’t even come into play. I forgot not just how to consider that, but what it meant.

I am gradually learning to think about how I feel and what I want again, to remember what those words and thought processes mean, and that they are allowed to factor in to decision making. I am slowly getting to grips with saying no, with remembering that I am not lazy or worthless if I can’t do something. I am getting better at shutting down conversations where people try to tell me, often in subtle ways, that this is somehow my fault, my doing or my choice.

I wish I was better at explaining all this, that I could do it concisely with one short sentence instead of fifteen hundred words. Or maybe I wish I was better at remembering that I don’t have to explain it, but I’m not there yet. I still live in a world that requires justifications, that says, “It could be worse”, as if only the one person on the planet who has it worse than anyone else is ever allowed to be anything other than fine. I still live in a world where the government, the mainstream media and everyone who listens to those things believes me, and people like me, to be nothing more than a waste of space and a drain on resources. It is hard not to feel anger about that, but anger requires a lot of energy and I have better things to do.

Most of the time, I am invisible because I exist behind closed doors. People do not see me unless I’m physically able to be in human company. On those days, I do not look sick. I am an expert at the casual rest stop, the undetected lean-against, the cover-up of under-eye circles and too-pale skin and the effects of my own immune system turning against my body, and the disguise of shaking hands and blurred vision. My autopilot, the detached, robotic thing that smiles through my face and says “I’m fine, honestly”, is finely tuned. For someone who prioritises honesty in almost every aspect of existence, I am an excellent liar when it comes to answering, “How are you?”. I can even manipulate myself into believing the things I tell other people. I know I do it and I do it anyway. But I shouldn’t. And I shouldn’t have to.

I’m not even sure why I’m writing this other than I need to get it out of my head. Maybe someone else who lives in a similar situation will see this and feel less alone. Maybe someone who doesn’t believe that a person can seem alright on the surface and be invisibly falling apart will see this and realise that their assumptions are flawed. Maybe I’ll read it tomorrow and hate myself for putting something so raw out into the world where people can judge me harshly and continue to believe that I’m weak, lazy and unmotivated, even though that couldn’t be further from the truth.

I don’t know. I just know that it needs to be said, so I’m saying it. I’ve said it. It is not for validation or sympathy or sad-face emoji responses. It is at least partly because this can no longer be the one thing I am willing to lie about. I am left wondering why the truth of this is such an uncomfortable, ill-fitting garment but also knowing that I will continue to wear it.

Living with a high functioning depression sufferer

Living With A High Functioning Depression Sufferer

This was originally posted on my old blog but I wanted to share it here too. These are not my words. They belong to a friend who asked for them to be shared in the hope that by opening up about the experience of living with and loving someone who has high functioning depression, even anonymously, it might help others to understand that this is not an isolated issue. Her aim in writing this piece is to break down myths and encourage those who are suffering to feel less afraid to ask for help.

It’s been a few years since the last break down. Life with someone who has depression, but is high functioning, can be an emotional rollercoaster. It’s not that every day is a battle to get them out of bed, or that they spoil the good things by being anxious or depressed. It’s not them being down all the time. It’s not any of the things people think it is. It’s not even the stuff people often talk about with mental illness. It’s admitting you’re ill, hitting rough patches and talking it through with close friends. It’s dark and largely unseen. So I want to explain, for my benefit in getting these thoughts down, reading through them and opening up a little, but also for those who have a loved one who is a high functioning chronic depression sufferer.

My partner and I have been living together for the better part of a decade now and those years have been filled with a lot of love and a lot of laughter. He’s a funny person who is social and gets excited about things.  He likes books and binge-watches TV series with me. We play games together and go for walks. He doesn’t take the washing out of the machine or put his socks in the basket. It’s a normal relationship in almost every aspect, but in the background there’s a shadow. Sometimes referred to as the black dog, or the cloud, this shadow isn’t cast on every day. I’m not having to push him through that black shadow and he isn’t taking antidepressants or suffering regular panic attacks, but it’s always there at the back of my mind.

An unexpected bill might make it descend or a pile of work added to his week, months of late nights being social and having fun, or working late. It could simply be a few weeks of being physically unwell, having a cold or something that breaks his routines or adds pressure. There are rarely many signs. He will get short with me, not want to go out or play a computer game, or he will skip a meal or two, but generally he keeps going. For those who don’t know him extremely well, what happens next can be completely unseen.

Depression hits. With high functioning depression, it’s often not a can’t-get-out-of-bed situation. Its not just feeling off or really emotional. It can be drinking and drugs, or a suicidal break down. It’s 24-72 hours of emotional turmoil. It’s a sudden, and often unforeseen, critical break down. It’s a breaking point in the person’s head and they’ll have bottled it up for so long that it breaks hard. Then, as long as they have the support they need, as long as someone catches them as they fall, the light turns back on and they start to fight through the depression and anxiety. They push through the harsh words, the regret and guilt, and they may weep over their actions. But to the outside world, especially if the person living with high functioning depression has a good support system in place, things appear to go back to normal quickly.

What is it to be a high functioning depression sufferer? Well, there’s no standard type. They often tend to be the people holding down good jobs. They may have degrees and can be very intellectual. They might live seemingly perfect lives with stable relationships and a nice home. They are the “normal” ones with a good sense of humour. They often do well in work. They have friends and a family.

But they hide big dark issues, such as a tendency to hide money or work or relationship problems. They rarely disclose to others their feelings in any situation, not even telling lovers how they feel. Sharing positive emotions can sometimes be as hard as sharing negative emotions. They often have borderline drinking habits, or low level drug habits. They self-loathe, though they will often make humour of it. They rarely see personal achievements and can be very critical of themselves. They will throw themselves into work, even to the point of being workaholics, and yet those who know them well will see that they can find elements of the work that they seem to strive in difficult or a slog.

These behaviours aren’t uncommon but because the person is “doing great” to the outside world it’s always a “shock”, “out of character” or “so unexpected” when they break. Often it’s the headline after a train jumper, or a celebrity suicide – “it was out of character”. But for those living with someone who suffers from this it’s rarely entirely unexpected, though no less devastating. For years the people we love who battle depression will have episodes and for those who are high functioning these episodes can be the result of a relationship break down, financial crisis or a family crisis. Or they can be the cause of these issues.

Sometimes it’s hard to separate cause and effect. What was a minor financial blip turns into major debt as they try to cover up their fear of inadequacy and hide their “failures”. They start off drinking wine after work then one day they’re standing on a  train station platform with an empty bottle of vodka. Sometimes the things they do can make situations worse and other times it’s simply a terrible situation to begin with. It’s why PTSD and  the like don’t affect everyone in terrible situations and for some the symptoms and signs go unseen for so long until one day it’s too late.

The scary part is that catching them before they fall isn’t always easy and, devastatingly, not always possible. Knowing the signs helps and can literally save a life. The person will often become less communicative and less confidence. They may become work-obsessed or very focused. They might be a little more evasive and moody. But generally the symptoms and signs that a break is coming are brief and can be missed. So how do you deal with that, knowing that someone you love is at a higher risk of suicide or a violent or sudden break down?

It’s hard and support for you is as important as support for them. While it’s great to encourage them to get help, and getting medication and treatments such as CBT can make a difference, they need to want help and sometimes they are just too ill in the moment to recognise that. Helping them through to a point where they see they need help takes time and strength and a lot of love.

But you need support too, friends or family you can confide in, people you can call on. Knowing the services that are out there, like charities and emergency services, is important. Don’t be embarrassed or scared to use them – it’s what they’re there for. The emergency service personnel are often trained to deal with situations where a person may be a danger to themselves, and charities and medical services can provide emergency treatment or even just a conversation that can talk someone down in a dangerous situation. Using these resources can help and encouraging your loved one to have contact numbers to hand might help to.

When my partner had a break down, it seemed like a normal day. He had a normal work schedule and we had our normal routine. But that day he just couldn’t. He walked to the door but could go no further. He wanted nothing more than to just disappear. So he tried to. When it happened, we kept it between close friends. We told ourselves this comparative secrecy was because we didn’t want to risk his job. In reality, I was scared that the shame and regret he would have felt if people knew might have pushed him to the edge again.

But I learnt that day that our experience wasn’t unusual. I learnt how seriously the police take a phone call from a panicked member of the public concerned that a missing loved one is suicidal. I learned what measures are in place for emergency mental health assessment and I learnt that I wasn’t the only person to go through this, even within my circle of friends. That day I realised that while, for his sake, keeping it quiet might have been best, talking about it with those I trusted actually might be my only solace at a time when my best friend hated himself and his life so much he was willing to escape it one day, but the next would bottle it all up again and put on that mask, pick up his briefcase and go into work like nothing was ever wrong.

It’s up to those who know their loved one is still ill to be strong and constant for them. I sat in a mental health ward waiting area and in an emergency nurses office while he discussed what he may or may not have taken, how he was feeling and if he still felt suicidal. I let him talk through his options with a professional and tried so hard not to cry when they suggested overnight hospital care. I talked to a doctor for him when he started to feel embarrassed and I shared elements of our private lives with people I’d never met before in a cold white room while they scribbled notes.

But we survived. We got help. He had an appointment to see a mental health therapist who specialised in one-on-one treatments, CBT, hypnotherapy, meditation and relaxation methods. But the journey back to “normal” took time. To those who don’t know him well, it was a few weeks off work with stress, a case of over-worked-and-a-bit-tired. Those who helped us in the days after though, they spoke with us both about their experiences and we realised then that “normal” was just a mask that we put on every day.

Ultimately this is quite a scary and seemingly lonely experience. But there are lots of people out there who suffer from mental illness and those who are high functioning are actually quite common. There are support networks, social media groups and charities that can bring people together. Breaking down the taboos of mental illness is the best way forward but this is slow going, myths remain and sigma surrounding the unhealthy life styles that these illness can lead to often force the issue further under the radar.

But you are not alone. There are lots of us out there and we can support each other. We know what it’s like, how someone’s refusal or inability to open up can be maddening. We know those fears when someone you love is down and won’t talk to you. We know that little worried voice that says they might have an episode and that you might not be able to reach them to help. Being honest and opening up, both with your loved one who suffers and with others, helps. It helps you to see there are more people on your side. It helps them to see the love, respect and time you have for them. It shows them the safety net that’s there. Whether a lover, a parent, a sibling or a friend, someone with high functioning depression needs that person who knows, who can work through each issue with them. Talking about it might not make it go away but it doesn’t hide it, and hiding it is the most dangerous thing to do.

It’s been a few years since my partner had his worst episode. It was traumatic but through it we grew closer. He sought help, he’s getting better and we communicate more. I don’t stop worrying but I don’t hide away. I live every day and I don’t let that worry stop us planning our future, booking holidays and starting to watch a new series on Netflix together. But when he doesn’t answer his phone or he is very late home from a football game with his mates, a trip to the pub or a normal working day, I won’t lie – there’s a bit of me that gets scared. It’s an illness like any other and as yet there’s really no cure, just treatments, so we take each day each day as it comes.

Self-care journaling

When shit goes down, I suck at looking after myself. It’s not that I’m bad at realising that I’m Really Not Ok™ (although it sometimes sneaks up on me) or being aware of what I need to do to help myself feel better. It’s not even that I’m bad at doing that stuff. I’m alright at doing it for a day or two, or doing some of it regularly, but I’m terrible at doing all of it in an ongoing way, which is what I really need to do. I basically become This Is Fine Dog.

thisisfinedog
By KC Green on GunShowComic.com (the original is at http://gunshowcomic.com/648)

Without getting into a whole medical history, cause that isn’t what this post is about, the route of medication and/or therapy does not work for me. I know this because I’ve tried it, lots of it, for years, and I swear to gods if anyone comments telling me I haven’t found the right medication or therapist yet, I will reach through the screen and tip a cup of coffee all over their keyboard. Not everything works for everyone even if it works for you, OK? Right. Onwards.

Actually accepting that I deserve to dedicate time and energy to not living in a constant state of physical and mental collapse took me a long time. About 35 years. I don’t like to casually throw words like ‘recovery’ around because I’m wary of unwittingly suggesting that doing some stuff that helps me with some things is a cure for anything. So, to make it clear, I have developed coping mechanisms that help with some things I experience and techniques that keep me out of my holiday home in Rock Bottom. Unfortunately my tendency to reach “I’m not entirely imploding right this second so I’m completely alright and can return to not giving a fuck about myself again and it’ll all continue to be OK” is strong and I reach that point over and over again.

As the result of some Pinterest browsing I found myself reading about self-care journaling and since I love an excuse to hoard notebooks and a reason to write (and I need to get better at not treating myself like crap), I decided to give it a shot. I’m going to talk about my own self-care journal, but this is most definitely not to only way to do it or the way that will work best, or at all, for you. It’s just what I’m doing and I only started this week so I’m not even sure how it’ll go in the long run.

There are no photos here of my journal because one of the most important things about it (again, for me – there are plenty of photos of other people’s self-care journals out there) is that it is completely personal and not for anyone else to look at. That said, I’m happy to share some of the content in text form, so here goes.

Make Time For
These are things that are good for my mind, body and soul but that I’m bad at making time for because of the stupid little voice in my brain that likes to tell me I don’t deserve to make time for anything that doesn’t benefit other people in some way.

  • Creativity (photography, writing, painting, making things)
  • Learning (online courses, books, documentaries, new skills)
  • Spirituality (study, ritual, connection to nature and the divine)
  • Self-Care (relaxation, exercise, healthy eating, pampering)
  • Connection (spending time with, and talking, to people I love)

Morning Routine
I have been meaning to get this sorted for the longest time. I have a terrible habit of turning on my phone while I’m still in bed and reading emails before I even get up. Because of various physical and mental health issues, mornings are  really not good. I often wake up in a lot of pain, already in stress’n’panic mode, so it’s super important to me to have a routine that helps deal with those things.

  • Conscious breathing (being still and focusing on my breath)
  • Drinking water (I’m not sure why but this helps me wake up)
  • Affirmation (more on this in a minute)
  • Yoga (not a full session, just a little bit of good stretching)
  • Morning blessing (including lighting candles and incense on my altar)

If you’re interested, my morning blessing is a sweet little elemental one I found somewhere ages ago and fell in love with.

Air to inspire
Fire for desire
Water my healer
Earth my church

Spirit to guide me
Along the way
I call upon you
To bless this day

I don’t have any caffeine or look at any screens until after my morning routine. I’m not even going to pretend that’s easy but I’m pretty sure it’s worth it.

Monthly Goals
Because part of my problem is that I get a little bit too focused on achievement and productivity, I don’t want to set goals that involve doing something a specific number or times or on certain days. I choose things I want to do once or at some point or a bunch of times, and am totally not stressing about doing them every day at 3pm or whatever. November’s are…

  • Start the day with reading instead of the internet
  • Go for a walk in the forest
  • Watch a documentary on a subject I know nothing about

I also have a section on this page called How Did It Go? that I’ll come back to at the end of the month and fill in with some thoughts about how doing these things made me feel and how they helped me. And I will not beat myself up over not managing to do them all as often as I’d like!

Weekly Affirmation
I may change this to monthly, but for now I’d like to have a different focus every week. This week’s is I deserve to experience unconditional joy. On this page, I also make a quick note about why I chose the affirmation. This week’s note is I need to remember that I am allowed to be happy without having to earn it. Happiness, fun and positive experiences should not be contingent on achievement, success and productivity. It’s easy to say the words but not so easy to truly mean them. This is a tough one for me but it’s important and it’s something I’ve struggled with since forever.

Weekly Logs
These are pages for making short notes on specific areas. It’s not a habit tracker as such, which I know some people love for this kind of thing, but part of looking after myself is specifically not tracking, assessing and evaluating Things I Have Done. It’s simply a place where I can record experiences I’ve had, somewhere I can look back to when I’m a mess and need an easy reminder of things I can do to help myself feel better, and a gentle prompt to do things that are good for me and think about why and how they help. My weekly logs are divided into…

  • Creativity
  • Learning
  • Spirituality
  • Self-Care
  • Gratitude
  • Inspiration

Life has held some pretty big changes for me recently and while these are good changes, they haven’t been easy changes and still aren’t. I’m flitting between Yay! I love the feeling of potential and possibility and Oh my gods, what the hell am I going to do? followed by a bit of I’m just going to sit here and cry for a while about a thousand times a day so I’m doing my best to focus on actually trying to do good things for my mind and body, and being open to ideas and inspiration, without always looking at the next step.

I was talking to my husband about how I struggle to be kind to myself unless I’m also being useful and he said, “It’s like putting on your own oxygen mask before you help someone else with theirs. You can’t do anything for anyone if you can’t breathe”.

❤ Tanya