Nicer reality- Minature Paradise

A nicer reality    A nicer reality

Sometimes we all need to escape to a nicer reality

 Sat on a bench at the far side of the park, far away from the noise of the children’s play area; I am enjoying the stillness surrounding me. What can I see? A perfect blue sky with the occasional white cotton cloud. If I look closely I can make out different shapes, its fun to do so. This one looks just like a puppy jumping for its ball. Golden leaves are beginning to form on the trees. Birds are tweeting their afternoon songs. Butterflies are flying side by side on the delicate breeze, performing a hypnotic dance just for me. A fluffy dandelion seed floats up inches away from my face and disappears into the distance.

I shut my eyes and feel the warm autumn sunshine against my forehead. I’m concentrating on slowing down now and relaxing. Starting with my breathing, I take deep breaths in through my nose and out through my mouth, I allow myself to be consumed by the serene beauty all around me. I can feel myself totally shutting down, leaving all my troubles behind me and being one with nature, nothing to prove, no expectations, a perfect moment. It’s ok to feel small in its presence and I do feel small in this tranquil solitude.

I have a few special places I like to visit, which I call my thinking spots. Although I guess they shouldn’t be called this, as I go with the intention of completely switching off and escaping from the day-to-day pressures of life.

The places I choose tend to be out of the way, often high up at the top of a hill where there are few people around and I have the benefit of some stunning views. Your special place could be totally different to mine, a lot of people find sitting by a river bank and listening to flowing water, a calming experience, unfortunately all this does for me is makes me desperate for the loo! The important thing is you view the place as an escape, a nicer reality.

So anywhere that you can sit peacefully and be mindful of your surroundings will do just fine. Allow yourself to take notice of every little moment, almost as if the world and time has gone into slow motion and you’re suddenly aware of everything around you. Every detail from the humming insects scurrying on the ground, to the individual leaves rustling in the trees. All the small things that you wouldn’t normally notice when you’re rushing your way through life. I say take time to see the beauty of the world; it’s easy to take it for granted.

Happiness is a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but which, if you sit down quietly, may alight upon you (Nathaniel Hawthorne)

One thing you can guarantee living in England is the unpredictable nature of the weather. Now I for one like the rain (probably because there’s not as many folks around and possibly because I’m slightly odd!) but I appreciate that not everyone does. Therefore it’s a good idea to have a few spots in your memory bank. One of my favourite is in Jamaica, a place that I’ve been fortunate to visit twice in my lifetime, but somewhere I can easily go back too, just by being in a quiet room and closing my eyes.

A nicer reality A nicer reality

 

I imagine myself sat on a wall outside my beech hut, looking out to sea. It’s the end of the evening and I’m having a rum and coke before I retire to bed. Just below me on the beech, dozens of baby crabs are burrowing holes in the sand and then popping their heads up somewhere else. Like a big game of hide and seek, it’s fascinating to watch them at play.

Looking out to the stillness of the sea, a cruise ship appears as a small dot on the horizon. A distant lightening storm lights up the whole scene creating an incredible spectacle. Breath-taking and beautiful, like my own miniature paradise. I remember never wanting to leave this perfect moment.

All these places-the ones in my memory and the ones I’m able to visit regular, all help remind me that life’s not that bad. I use them as a way to de-stress and put my problems into perspective or sometimes simply as a method of cheering myself up when I’m having a down day. However busy and hectic your life gets I recommend that you occasionally find yourself some time to escape to a nicer reality.

 

Perspective, Appreciate your life

I’m fascinated by the wonders of nature. Like the waves crashing against the rocks, spellbinding and magnificent in all their beauty and raw power.

Perspective

Nature reminds me that we’re all just a tiny part of something much greater. Much greater in fact than we can ever fully comprehend. This really helps me to put my issues into perspective.

I don’t mean to sound morbid, but the one thing we can all guarantee is that some day we’re not going to be here anymore. I’m not afraid of this prospect but due to recent events and having come close to the edge, I’ve become more appreciative of life and I take less for granted. I now understand that life is less about success and more about personal experiences. After all when we do die, we can’t take anything with us.

When you’re battling your mental health it’s hard to see the positive side to anything. Even though your friends might see big improvements, it’s hard for you to notice any progress what so ever. Its easier to believe that everyone’s superior to you. But try to remember, other people have their issues too. Others also struggle with the everyday pressures of life. Nobody’s perfect!

Perspective Allow yourself to become lost in the vastness of nature. You are very significant but for once just enjoy being small and pressure free.

Look on the positive side

Last week I took a trip in to the town centre for the first time in about 18 months, the last time resulted in a panic attack. I did this with the intention of challenging myself. I was accompanied by my mother. Although I was uncomfortable to say the least, all was going surprisingly well. We’d parked in a multi-storey car park which was very busy, and I’d managed to get out of the car! Once at the piazza among the shops I was surrounded by people, some walking towards me, some coming at me from behind. A terrifying prospect for me, but one that I was coping with, although admittedly I did considerably tighten my grip on my mums arm! The next challenge was to go into a shop and buy something (some deodorant I think but that’s not important). This was to prove more problematic. I was doing Ok until the queuing stage but sadly this was all too much for me with far too many people in such a small space. I ended up hurrying out of the shop without purchasing anything.

Perspective

At the time it was all about looking after myself, as I went into survival mode. But then came the feelings of foolishness and failure. I was so disappointed with myself. I’d soon gone from feeling elated, ‘look at me, look how well I’m doing’ to feeling overwhelmed and out of my depth. Later that day once I’d had time to calm down and reflect, I actually felt extremely proud of what I’d achieved. Its all about perspective. Yes I’d had to leave the shop, but I’d managed to get into town in the first place, which was a major feat in its self. I’d also managed my anxiety well and avoided having a panic attack. All positive steps in the right direction.

I recently played in my local league championships at table tennis. I got to the semi final stage before losing to the player who went on to win the event. Frustratingly, as good a player as he is, I had beaten him both times we’d played in the league and I really fancied my chances. There were people watching, not many but enough to make me feel uncomfortable and self-conscious. On the day I didn’t perform and let nerves get the better of me. But wait a minute!, twelve months prier to this I’d had to pull out of playing in the league all together and I wasn’t even well enough to come and watch the tournament, let alone play in it. Just being able to stay in this kind of environment and actually feel ok for most of the day, was and is a huge testament to how far I’ve come. Again it’s just about putting things in perspective. I actually managed to get all the way to the semi final stage which is a huge thing to be proud of!

For other people suffering with their mental health its really important that you try to put situations into perspective. Try to focus on what you’re doing well as apposed to what you’re not. You might struggle to see it at the moment but there’ll be more positives than you think.

 

 

Self-Worth, Be Proud

My Self-worth was at an all time low “I hate myself and want to die! there’s nothing you can say or do to stop me killing myself, so don’t bother trying!” This I repeatedly said to my counsellor and at the time I genuinely believed it. Thankfully I no longer feel this way, in fact every single day I thank God that I’m still here, that I found the strength to battle my mental health and that I’m finally beginning to feel better in myself. As crazy as it sounds, I’m actually grateful for my illness. I’ve discovered a whole new side to me and believe I’m a better person now, due to my recent experiences.

My journey battling depression has also been a journey of self-discovery and I quite like what I’ve discovered! I’m so much more open minded and  compassionate towards others. Sure I can be over-emotional at times. Vulnerable and fragile I certainly am, but I’m also a much stronger person than I ever gave myself credit for and I no longer view my sensitivity as a weakness. I feel I have a lot to offer and crucially that I’m worth fighting for.

Take a closer look

Building confidence and self esteem. Self-worth Several months a go my counsellor asked me what I saw when I looked in the mirror and this is what I came up with.

When I look in the mirror I see lots of things, surprisingly! It’s hard to get past the initial thought of hating the way I look, big bags under my eyes, dry flaky skin, spots everywhere, bald on top making me look at least ten years older! But when I look a bit deeper, the main thing I see is sadness. I try to mask it with a smile but it looks awkward and forced. In the end my haunted looking eyes give me away. One minute I look like a frightened little boy with all the troubles of the world on my shoulders. The next time I look I see nothing, emptiness, a distant blank expression. Maybe my defence mechanism is to completely switch off, or maybe I’m seeing someone whose lost all hope and is slowly giving up on life. Either way this vulnerable person staring back at me both scares and disappoints me.

 

I’m pleased to say that at present my perception of myself has somewhat changed. I’m not about to insult your intelligence by saying I’ve miraculously gone from hating my appearance, to suddenly liking it, because that’s simply not true. I have noticed some subtle changes though, that have made observing myself a little more bearable. Where as before, I saw emptiness, fear and confusion in my eyes, now I see more understanding and even glimpses of hope and optimism.

It’s perfectly normal to see all your flaws, especially when you’re studying yourself so intently. Even the most beautiful people will still find things they’re not happy with if they look hard enough. We are our own worse critics after all.

How easy is it to stand in front of a full-length mirror working your way from head to toe, highlighting all the things you’re not happy with. Tiny blemishes can soon get magnified into hideous deformities. Of course these are only visible to you and not to others around you. In fact some of the time, what you view as an imperfection, someone else might find to be an attractive feature.

Give Yourself a break

Building confidence and self esteemMental health is hard to live with. One of the hardest parts for me is the unpredictable nature of it.  sometimes just as you think your doing ok and moving in the right direction, something happens that completely floors you. Its like having a giant elastic band attached to you which never lets you get to your destination. When You’re climbing up the hill, you can feel it pulling you back, you can almost reach out and touch where you need to be and then suddenly your tugged  backwards and you end up right back where you started! It’s hard. It’s frustrating, I know  but you need to dust yourself off and start again. Make the most of your good days and don’t put too much emphasis on the bad ones.

I have anxiety and depression, but I refuse to let it define me, there’s much more to me than that. Don’t let your illness define you. Life is hard enough for anyone. If you suffer with mental health issues it’s even more important that your kind to yourself and manage your expectations.

 

 

Great Expectations, Staying in the present

Societies great expectations are too much for me to handle. great expectationsLooking too far into the future fills me with dread, it really doesn’t work for me. My two greatest fears are fear of the unknown- which I link with  not knowing what I’m doing, potentially making a complete idiot of myself and risking humiliation on a grand scale! This immediately transports me back to being a little boy cowering in the corner of the school play ground whilst everybody points and laughs.

The only thing that has an even bigger impact on me than this, is the thought of not meeting peoples great expectations. I think that most people who know me accept that I’m not fit to work at the moment, although some probably still struggle with the concept of me being on benefits, due to an illness/condition they can’t even see. The truth is I’m doing ok at the moment, even showing a few signs of improvement, but these slight signs of improvement result in more pressure.

Society expects me to get back into work eventually, some expect sooner rather than later. I imagine they probably think Shaun’s been given the expert help he needs now, so its about time he was getting better. I really wish it was that simple, I really wish the doubters could be in my head for just one day! Then they might begin to understand.

Getting up in a morning, going to your place of work, doing your shift and then returning back home. sounds pretty simple and lets face it millions of people do it every day. For several years I did it myself. If I could magically click my fingers and go back to being that self-assured person, believe me I would.

Whatever kind of employment you’re in involves a certain amount of responsibility, people having to rely on you. Right now you couldn’t rely on me to go to the corner shop for some tea bags! Some days it wouldn’t be a problem but on bad days I’m still too anxious to leave the house. Even at my best I try to avoid groups of people and can only manage short distances on my own. I have amazing friends and family, who always allow for the unpredictable nature of my illness. They don’t have any great expectations of me. Somehow I doubt an employer could afford m the same luxury.

So here’s what happens when I start looking too far ahead, and I warn you its not the rosiest of pictures! I have the best part of 30 years before I reach retirement age, the way I feel now, I don’t believe I’ll ever be capable of working a standard job again. These thoughts aside, I don’t see the DWP seeing it this way, they will continue to have great expectations of me. I fully expect to fail my next medical and be deemed fit for work. I have a few savings I can live off for a little while but when their gone I can’t bare the thought of having to rely on my family for financial support. Its at this point that suicidal thoughts start to enter my head again, as I slip into a negative unhealthy mind-set.

I’m sorry for seeming so negative but this is what I see when I look to the future, which is why staying in the present and concentrating on one day at a time is so important for me and the only way I can function. For people like me who become depressed when looking too far ahead, my obvious advice is to try not to, even though this is easier said than done! Nobody can predict the future, the only thing we can control is the here and now. Its pointless obsessing over things you can’t control. Its about trying to be the best version of yourself right here, right now and feeling comfortable in your own skin. Your mental health is not a quick fix and your own expectations need to be realistic. Keep challenging yourself but don’t rush it. By taking one small step at a time you might be surprised by what you can achieve.

great expectations

 

 

 

No Shame

Please don’t be ashamed of your mental health. I’m not suggesting you stand up and shout it from the roof tops, but at the same time don’t be ashamed of it.

I’ve already shared with you my high school experience of desperately trying to fit into a group but never quite achieving it. Well now for the first time in my life I actually belong to a club and it’s a big one! Its called the I have a mental health illness club, At least one in four of us are in it but for some reason it doesn’t feel like that bigger club. Every things hush-hush, people don’t want to admit there part of it. Sure there’s lots of great support groups out there but the majority of people are still hiding. I appreciate that this is completely their choice and there might be other reasons for this, such as them struggling to accept the’re ill in the first place(I know it took me a while!). But if the reason is down to shame, why be ashamed of being in the biggest club in the world?

messing around in the river

Yesterday I enjoyed a countryside walk with a friend. we came across these two above enjoying a cool drink.

we encountered much more animals than people. My kind of walk!

Compared to other conditions

A friend of mine has type two diabetes and is insulin dependant. she has to inject herself every morning and her insulin needs to be stored in a fridge. This is a very important issue when traveling long distance or going on holidays. Due to her condition she has to be extremely careful with her diet and has certain limitations. She needs to do regular gentle exercise but over exertion can be harmful. She manages her condition very well, part of this involves refusing to do activities that may be detrimental to her health. She has no problem explaining that her Diabetes is the reason for this.

My mother is registered disabled due to chronic back problems, caused by an accident at work several years a go. Just like my friend, she manages her condition well and is still able to live a fulfilled life. If someone asks her to do something which is beyond her capabilities and will be a risk to her health, she has no problem refusing, giving her disability as the reason why. I think I speak for the majority of people who suffer with there mental health, when I say Its not easy for us to do the same. I find myself coming up with the most elaborate excuses imaginable, to get myself out of situations I can’t manage due to my health. Admittedly part of this is to avoid having to explain, but its mainly because I’ve felt ashamed. My mum doesn’t have to explain, she can just say “I can’t because of my bad back” so why can’t I be similarly frank about my health. After all as I said earlier, I’m in the biggest club in the world! So millions of people will understand, and for those people who don’t, how can we ever expect them too if we’re not upfront and honest about the way we’re feeling.

I wasn’t able to attend my grandmas funeral due to my anxiety issues. My immediate family know the reason for this but other friends and family were simply told I wasn’t well on the day. In truth I would never have coped in that environment, a building with only one exit, makes me feel totally trapped, not to mention all those people in such a confined space. I weighed up all the pros and cons and eventually came to the conclusion that me freaking out and having a major meltdown right in the middle of the crematorium, was not going to be very helpful to anyone! Instead I had a close friend take me to my grandmas favourite park and I was able to say goodbye to her in my own special way. We did this whilst the service was taking place.

I’m getting better at giving my mental health as a genuine reason why I can’t do certain things but I accept I still have a way to go. Its not easy but when you start sharing you realise there’s so many people just like you, suddenly you feel less alienated and you might even make them feel better too! Remember showing vulnerability is not a weakness, other people will gain strength from your courage in coming forward.

 

 

 

 

living with anxiety

In my last post I talked about panic attacks. Todays post is all about preventing things from getting to that stage by managing your anxiety.

There’s something soothing about walking through the trees in my local park. I find it a useful stress release

 

If you’re like me and you suffer from social anxiety, it’s easy to fall into the trap of becoming totally isolated and disconnected from everything and everyone around you. Your home becomes your sanctuary and the only place you feel completely safe. You refuse to answer the front door or the telephone and pretty soon you’ve succeeded in cutting yourself off from the rest of the world.

Suddenly even the simplest of tasks becomes an ordeal and can result in mental exhaustion. As your avoidance behaviour gets worse you become reliant on family to do your shopping for you, even if you live on your own there’s always online supermarkets, so you really have no reason to leave the house.

Even though staying in like this may help you to feel more secure in the short term, in the long term it can only be detrimental to your health, both physically and mentally. Lack of interaction with people is likely to add to your depression. The longer you avoid going out, the harder it will be when you have to, and you’ll find your confidence will diminish rapidly. I’m no expert but I have experienced how this feels and know that the problem can quickly escalate and get out of control. In my opinion this is the time when you need to motivate yourself to keep going and challenge yourself daily. There are lots of ways you can do this but at the same time keep yourself safe.

Cancelling plans with friends might seem like the best thing to do, but then you find yourself sat at home feeling sorry for yourself and wishing you’d gone! Believe me I’ve been there several times, and the annoying thing is things are never as bad as you imagine them to be, so you’d  probably end up having a good time.

Gradually as I’ve become more accepting of my illness I now choose to involve as many people as I can. This means I have to face fewer awkward questions about my health. Believe It or not in the past, such harmless questions as ‘How are you?’ ‘what you doing with yourself at the moment?’ ‘are you still working at such a place?’ ‘ married yet?’ ‘kids?’, such questions have led to me having more panic attacks than anything else and are still the main reason I avoid going into the town centre or anywhere busy I might risk running into someone from my past. I’m not ashamed to admit that in the past I’ve hidden myself behind shop signs and park benches, just to avoid having a conversation with an old work colleague.

An easier and less drastic solution is to have a well rehearsed script of answers at hand.  For instance when I’m asked what am I doing with myself at the moment? I say that I’m a full time carer for my disabled mother and that I work part time for a hypnotherapy company. None of this is a lie; it’s just an exaggeration. My mother is disabled and requires plenty of support from me and I have a friend who’s a hypnotherapist and on occasions I have helped him out by distributing promotional leaflets.

Another question I’m often asked by friends is Are you getting any better? to which I reply that I’m trying my best and that I’m getting plenty of help at present. This appears to be a satisfactory response as I rarely get any follow up questions.

Much of my apprehensions come from fear of the unknown. Not knowing what’s around the next corner and not having a clue what’s expected of me. I find a good way to counteract this is to plan, plan, and then plan some more! Although you can’t plan for every eventuality, you can limit the number of surprises you get along the way. This can involve going somewhere at a certain time of day, when you know it’s going to be much quieter. Planning the route that you feel most comfortable with. For example when I’m in company I enjoy walking in picturesque surroundings but if I’m on my own this becomes extremely daunting and I much prefer to stick to the main roads. That way there’s plenty of cars passing by and I feel there’s less chance of me being attacked.

I often go out when the weather’s at it’s worse, if it’s raining I instantly feel more relaxed because there’s less people about on foot and less potential threats to me.

It’s human nature to worry about things, some of us just happen to do it more excessively than others! The fight or flight response is our bodies natural reaction to danger and goes right back to caveman times, when they had to respond quickly to life threatening situations. For those of us who find our anxiety getting out of control and ruling our lives, what’s the solution? Well there is no easy answer to this but I would suggest trying to slow down a little and put things into perspective. I’m now able to do this (some of the time!) and I put it down to discovering mindfulness. Using the breathing exercises and meditation techniques really helps calm me down. Allowing me to feel grounded and helping me focus on being in the present. When I have too much going on in my head, the overload of emotions can easily result in me having a panic attack. Being able to switch all this off and just concentrate solely on my breathing is of great benefit.

Remember also though that being anxious about certain things can be helpful. If the caveman hadn’t been anxious about the approaching dinosaur, he wouldn’t have lasted very long! Sometimes our fears keep us safe.

 

 

Panic Attacks

Although its fair to say I’ve always been an anxious person I only began suffering with panic attacks about five years a go.

Around this time I had just started a new job, looking after people with learning disabilities and challenging behaviours, at the time I had no idea how severe these behaviours were or how I was likely to respond to them. For the first two weeks I was away from the home taking part in mandatory training days. Ninety-five percent of which involved learning how to defend yourself and how to safely restrain people who were trying to cause you harm. By the end of the fortnight my body was already battered and bruised, just from the staff role-play and I was feeling decidedly uneasy about my first shift.  I lasted less than two more weeks and during this time I had some truly horrendous shifts, which have stuck, in my mind.

On my very first day I was locked in the kitchen by the staff for my own protection! Whilst in there what seemed like world war three was breaking out in the rest of the home. People were shouting and screaming, furniture and chairs were being thrown around. At one point I heard a big crash, which turned out to be the television smashing against the wall. I remember thinking what the hell am I doing here.

Later that day one of the residents was kind enough to spit in my face and tell me he wished I were dead. This was totally new for me, I’d worked in care for a long time and never had anyone take such an instant dislike to me.

One thing that was repeated several times in training was that if your ever alone in a room with a resident, always make sure you position yourself closest to the exit. Towards the end of the first week I made the cardinal mistake of forgetting this advice. In a desperate attempt to build some report with one of the residents, I went to look at his video collection at the far end of his bedroom. At the time I was just really pleased that I’d finally found a way to relate to him but in doing this I stupidly put myself in a vulnerable position. Before I could react he had his arm across my chest and was slamming me into his bookshelf, it took two members of staff to prize him off me. I came out of it quite lucky, with just a small graze to my back but as you can imagine, such a violent incident did shake me up. As bad as it felt I recognised that it was my own fault though and I could have avoided it happening. This made it easier for me to accept, I would just have to be more careful in the future.

The final incident upset me more than anything had so far and turned out to be the final straw. Even though all the residents were in the home due to their challenging behaviour, the youngest called Damien really stood out to me. He was autistic and had more severe learning disabilities than the other residents. He lived in his own little fantasy world where his favourite cartoon characters were his best friends. He was much like the people I had previously cared for. We immediately hit it off and he responded really well to me. I felt sorry for him though, he appeared very young and vulnerable in this environment. That is why I found the incident most unsettling. It all started when somebody broke the glass that sets the fire alarm off, which apparently was a regular occurrence. At the time I was sat in the dining room with Damien, having helped him to make himself a sandwich. On hearing the alarm he became extremely agitated. Before I knew it he had thrown and smashed his plate against the wall and was storming out of the room. I hurried after him but didn’t catch him in time, as he went into the lounge and slapped one of the girls hard across the face. She was just sat on a couch minding her own business at the time and I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing, it was like someone had flipped a switch in his head.

Inevitably the situation escalated as the other residents began to lose their temper. The boss had me take Damien to his room and lock the door for our own safety. But the truth is I didn’t feel safe, this young man who I had earlier felt sorry for, was not that innocent after all. During the whole event I felt totally powerless and I’m ashamed to say I completely froze. I handed my notice in at the end of the shift and didn’t return.

 

Shortly after this I got another job in care, working in a day centre, very similar to what I’d done before, I even knew some of the service users. This should have been a comfortable job for me but in the end I didn’t even last the morning. All of a sudden I couldn’t be a carer anymore. I had lost all my trust in people, everyone seemed like a potential threat to me and I was convinced I was going to get attacked. The fact that there was a door code for the safety of the members was also a big issue. Suddenly I was back to being locked in again, trapped. I felt like the walls were coming in on me and suddenly there were far too many people for such a small space. My chest began to tighten and I couldn’t breath. It was very strange, I could see staff members were talking to me but I wasn’t able to hear a word they were saying. By now my heart felt like it was beating out of my chest and I was gasping for air. All that was important to me was that I got out, I didn’t care how ridiculous I looked, I was just desperate to escape. I frantically tried to open the door but I hadn’t been given the code yet. I’ve never felt so small in all my life; I’ve never felt so afraid, I was certain I was going to die. This was the first time I had a panic attack.

 

Gradually over the last five years my anxiety levels have worsened, the attacks have become more frequent and much more random. Taking place in shops and supermarkets, on public transport and in many other social situations.

My home became my cage, as I was too scared to face the world!

 

Even in my home I would panic about having to answer the telephone, not knowing who was on the other end of the line. I even became fearful of opening my mail.

Having a panic attack is a terrifying experience and one that I now try to avoid at any cost. This can quickly result in not wanting to leave the house, feelings of inadequacy, severe confidence problems and lead to a deep depression. Eventually I got to the stage where I couldn’t function properly and all these irrational fears were becoming disruptive to my life.

The experts will tell you that nobody has ever died from a panic attack. This is true but doesn’t offer much comfort when you’re having one! Things that can help are being with someone who understands and will try to get you to a quieter environment. Trying to use mindfulness to return yourself to the present and focus on slowing your breathing down( see the looking after yourself post). Use of pressure points (something I’m not an expert on but it might be worth looking up). Once you’ve been able to breath easier, repeating a positive mantra in your head may also reassure you that you’re going to be all right. Breathing into a paper bag is a tried and tested method which will stop you from hyperventilating. I believe it’s something to do with getting some of the carbon dioxide back in, but don’t quote me on that!

In my next post I’m going to talk about more ways of managing your anxiety.

 

Beating The Bullies

High School Trauma

When I started high school, the first thing that struck me was how tiny I was compared to everyone else. Over two thousand students in a building that itself was enormous in comparison to my previous junior school. I remember being overwhelmed by the enormity of it all. I also remember feeling lost and alone, as I wandered round aimlessly with a little map in my hand, not daring to ask anyone for directions and not having a clue what I was supposed to do.

Don’t I look a smart boy!

 

The only hope I had was to try and make some friends and to do this quickly. I would be much less vulnerable in a group, safety in numbers and all that! I really tried hard to fit in but I was far too nervous and it seemed like everybody had already grouped off together.

My best plan was to try and blend in and attempt to make myself invisible to the world. Would it be possible to accomplish this feat for five years? Sadly the answer to that was a resounding no.

Right from the beginning I was easy prey for the bullies. Being weak, fragile and highly sensitive is not a good combination. I was much smaller than the other kids and being on my own, I stood out like a sore thumb. My tactic of staying quiet and keeping a low profile was quick to backfire on me. I soon got the nickname Steve Davis which I hated! But it was to stick with me for the rest of school. Steve Davis was a snooker player who was well known for being extremely dull and boring.

I was given several other derogatory names such as Mr Puny verse and my personal favourite FA cup ears! And so began an excruciating time for me, where everyday was like a living hell!

Its hard to believe just how cruel and vindictive kids can be, unless you’ve experienced it first hand like me. The name-calling and intimidation was relentless and I had to endure periods of physical abuse including being thrown down an embankment into some tennis court netting, which resulted in a broken nose. Not to mention being used as a human punch bag. I had my dinner money stolen and once I had stopped having the school meals, I regularly had my pack lunch tipped on the floor in front of me.

Another incident, which stuck with me, was being cellotaped to my chair and stabbed repeatedly with a compass. This resulted in my mother making an appearance, which achieved very little, making me look even weaker. If anything it caused the treatment to get worse.

I’ve chosen to block out a lot of my time at high school as the majority of it is still very painful, but one more day stuck in my memory, as it involved the worst kind of bullying, humiliation. I had adopted my usual position, sat alone in the corner of the playground, counting down the minutes until the end of break time, whilst desperately trying to keep out of sight of the bullies. Unfortunately today was not to be my lucky day,  I  was forced into the middle of the playground by a lad who although the same age as me had a much bigger physique than most kids in our year. He had already been showing off tensing his muscles in front of a large group of female admirers, having them feel his biceps before he rolled my sleeve up and made me tense my arm in front of them. Then he proceeded to completely ridicule me, he had all the girls giggling and I was left feeling extremely small! Not content with this, later that day in the classroom he challenged me to an arm wrestle. I refused of course, but a few of his mates told me if I didn’t they’d be waiting for me outside the school gates. In other words I’d get my head kicked in. Everyone gathered around to witness my humiliation, he let me use both my hands to give me a sporting chance. Of course he still managed to beat me! Next came the inevitable laughter and name calling. This time I couldn’t stop my eyes filling with tears, until I was finally saved by the arrival of the teacher.

After that day I became extremely self-conscious about my body. I started believing that the only solution and the only way I’d get any respect from anyone, was to get bigger. I soon became obsessed with this and from then on, every birthday or Christmas present I asked for was related to building my body up. All my spending money went towards exercise equipment, from Dumbbells to Bull workers, leg weights, ab- pumps to pull up bars. I even got my self a toning belt, which resulted in me burning my belly! I bought myself books on bodybuilding and was constantly looking up new exercise regimes.

This obsession continued throughout high school and even into my working life, things didn’t get much better. If I was starting work at 8 o’clock, I would get up at 5.30 so that I could do an hour and a half workout with my Dumbbells before setting off. On arrival I would go straight to the staff room and examine myself in the full-length mirror. Still not satisfied with how my arms were looking, I’d quickly get down on my hands and knees and do some push-ups before everyone else arrived.

Even to this day, I prefer winter to summer so I can remain covered up and even to this day if I see a group of women laughing in a corner I presume they’re laughing at me.

Solutions

So what’s the answer? I wish there was a simple way of beating the bullies. I hate the thought of kids suffering the same kind of daily harassment that I did, its arguably even worse now with the introduction of social media, the horrible treatment can be even more relentless. If you’re a little different school can be tough but after your school time is up, being unique is celebrated and will get you much further in life. I’m also well aware that bullying doesn’t always stop at school but can continue into adulthood.

You need to find someone (an adult) to talk to. maybe you have a school counselor or even a favorite teacher that you can open up to. Its very hard I know, but the treatment you’re getting is not fair, so please don’t just put up with it. Remember bullies are very insecure people, if there calling you names its probably just to draw attention away from themselves. Another great idea is to have a good outlet. At the start of my second year I came up with the idea of a lunch time table tennis club. With the help of my head teacher and some extra fundraising, we were able to buy all the equipment we required and my idea became a reality. Table tennis was my savior. Suddenly I had a safe place to go every day, where a teacher was always present to overlook proceedings. All of a sudden lack of friends was not an issue, I was making more than I knew what to do with!

I’m not saying you need to come up with anything as drastic as that but sometimes when you’ve tried everything else, thinking outside of the box is the only way to go. maybe there are existing lunchtime groups you can get involved with, finding people with similar interests to you. Anything to stop you becoming isolated and an easier target. One thing I haven’t suggested is standing up to the bully. In my case there were too many for this to be an option but if there’s one main culprit then standing up to him or her might work.

Its important not to be a victim for the rest of your life. I’ve already shared how body image remained a problem for me. As well as this I do have a nasty habit of planning conversations with friends in a desperate attempt not to seem boring. when you’ve been called dull every single day throughout school, sadly you start to believe it! Its true, certain events from your childhood are bound to have a profound effect on you but they can also make you stronger.

 

 

Looking After Yourself

In this post I’m going to discuss managing your mental health and include some of the methods which have worked best for me. This is not to say they’ll be for everyone. For more creative people than me, art and music therapy may me of benefit. The important thing is finding the coping tools that work best for you.

Reading and Writing 

I find reading a fictional book to be helpful. I can soon get lost in the story line and forget about my issues in the real world. A good film or favourite television program can have the same effect. I’ve always been uncomfortable talking about my emotions and instead found writing things in a journal to be equally beneficial. I’m finding writing this blog to be very useful too. As well as it helping me continue to work through and understand my own illness, its also given me a purpose and its keeping my mind occupied which is essential at the moment.

Sports and Fitness

Any type of exercise can be used as a great coping tool. I like to keep myself fit and its a fact that when you take part in physical fitness, chemicals are released in your brain that make you feel good and therefore will help to boost your self-esteem( that’s about as technical as I get! ). Hence the saying Healthy body Healthy mind. If your a competitive person it can also give a goal to work towards. For example I got myself a pedometer, which measures how many steps you take when you’re out and about. I always try to beat my record from the previous week, which gives me more of an incentive to leave the house. 2500 steps equates to one mile, which means if you do roughly 66,500 steps you’ve completed a full marathon!

Walking in the countryside and the peacefulness that comes with this is a great aid for switching off, completely unwinding and being one with nature. There is no better therapy than this for me. Its always been important for me to feel in control. Exercise helps me to take control back of my body and this in turn can give me the confidence to start taking charge of other situations in my life.

I enjoy playing numerous sports and I use each of them as a way to escape from the every day pressures of life. Its amazing how great it feels to smash a golf ball down the middle of the fairway or kick a football into the roof of the net. As well as the obvious benefits the exercise brings, I also find sports to be an effective way to release tension. I’ve played competitive table tennis in local leagues for several years now and I find the camaraderie and strength you get from being part of a team, to be immeasurable. you’re trying to win, not just for yourself but for the other lads too. I had to have a little break away from the league due to my illness but I’m happy to say I’m back playing and everyone’s been fantastic. I’ve been made to feel valued and significant, all of which has increased my self-worth.

Talking Therapy

I have received both counselling and psychology sessions. I started the process very tentatively, I found it extremely difficult to open up to a stranger. I also felt undeserving of the help, like there were people much more in need than me and I was potentially taking up their space. For the first few weeks I was very defensive and looking for hidden agendas in everything Nancy said to me. I spent half the time attempting to convince her I was ok and the other half apologising for being there. Over the years I have become a master of repressing my feelings. Bottling up emotions has always seemed the best and safest option and therefore its become the norm for me. I now know that this is extremely unhealthy. In counselling sessions you have to be prepared to be stripped bare (figurately speaking). To open up and share some of your inner most feelings takes time and only works if you have complete trust in your counsellor. It took me five months to get to this stage. This might sound a long time but with my trust issues, Its a miracle I found anyone I could open up to at all. Once I began to share things, all of a sudden everything just started pouring out of me. I was able to be completely honest including talking about my suicidal thoughts. Just to be able to tell someone that I didn’t want to be here anymore was such a massive relief. Every time I got something off my chest, it felt like a huge weight had been lifted.

In counselling you have an environment were you can feel completely safe. Your able to share what ever is on your mind with the knowledge that it will stay in the room. So how ever cynical you are about talking therapies, please don’t dismiss them as an option cause you might be pleasantly surprised.

Medication

For a short time I needed sleeping tablets but now I’m just taking my antidepressants. It took me a while to come to terms with needing long term medication. In the past I wouldn’t even take paracetemol for a headache! But I soon realised the tablets are just a necessary fix and its no big deal really. It did take a while to get on the right medication, I tried a few that disagreed with me but now I’m on the correct tablet and dosage for me. If you’re struggling with your meds remember to persevere, they do sometimes take a while to get into your system and have the desired effect. Other than that be honest with your doctor about how your feeling.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is the ability to be and remain in the present. Being aware of your body and mind and your environment in that exact moment. Its not as easy as it sounds, the human mind naturally wanders off and its very difficult to concentrate on one thing at once. That’s my understanding of it anyway but I’m far from being an expert and I’m new to practising the mindful meditations. I practice them for twenty minutes every day in a quiet space with no distractions, this might not be easy to find for some people but it is necessary. Due to my limited knowledge on the subject I’m not going to advise but I will recommend a book called ‘Mindfulness for dummies’ or you could always look up the therapies on line. What I will say is the various breathing exercises been a huge benefit to me and recently even helped to bring me back from having a panic attack.

Positive Mantras 

If I had a pound for every time I’ve been told to be kind to myself and take one small step at a time, I’d be a rich man! You might get sick of people saying these things to you but the reason why its repeated so often is because its actually great advice! I now have a few additional methods which are giving me the positive reinforcement I need right now. I have a mantra which I repeat every day, even more so when I’m in situations that make me anxious. Some of the most common ones are listed below.

  • I am what I am
  • Action conquers fears
  • I am enough
  • This too shall pass
  • I love and approve of myself
  • Keep calm and carry on
  • I breath in calmness and breath out nervousness
  • Keep your head up and your heart open

Obviously these are just a few, it’s what works best for you. You might want to invent a completely new saying that’s unique to you. When I’m stressed I repeat the phrase ‘nil nil and all is well’, when I’m about to start a game of table tennis and the umpire says nil nil, I manage to switch off all other distractions and just focus on the job in hand. This inner calm has proven helpful when trying to accomplish any given task.

One big thing I miss about my counsellor is the constant reassurance she gave me. Helping me realise I was on the right track, that I wasn’t a bad person and actually had a lot to offer. The way I’ve chosen to emulate this is by writing positive reminders that relate to different situations. For example if I’m about to go out with friends and I’m feeling anxious I look at a certain page in my notebook, which emphasis that I’m well liked and good company, that I’ve no need to rehearse or force conversations. Instead I should just be myself and go with the flow. These simple scripts help me to continue to leave the house and manage my every day life. As time goes on and I continue to be more assured and comfortable in my own skin, I will need to read them less and less.

Graded Exposure

If you have somewhere to go or just want to get out for a little while, the first thing to remember is there’s no shame in asking someone to go with you. everybody needs a bit of a prop from time to time. If the only way you’re leaving the house is to be accompanied then so be it, its better than staying in and feeling sorry for yourself.

Sometimes if you picture a full length journey somewhere or focus on a task in its entirety, it can soon become overwhelming. Therefore a good idea is to break things down into more manageable segments. This is where Graded exposure comes in as a really productive tool to help you get your independence back. In my case I had a carer who took me out. If you haven’t got this option or find yourself on a waiting list, a close friend or family member will do just fine. For a long period I didn’t leave my house on my own due to my anxiety levels. First and foremost I wanted to be able to get to the local shop on my own to get necessities and avoid having to rely so much on other people. The shop is a ten minute walk away (I don’t drive). We split the journey up into 6 checkpoints. For the first few weeks we kept repeating the journey together but then eventually I managed to meet my carer at the first checkpoint. Over time I was able to go further distances on my own until eventually I achieved my goal. I have achieved larger challenges since including getting to the local swimming baths and playing table tennis in the league. All of which I have done through graded exposure.

Gardening

This interest is an unusual one for me to include in this list. Unusual because until the last couple of years I hated it. It was a chore I could well do without! But I now see it as an important distraction for when I’m having a bad day with my depression. The back garden is a quiet secluded spot were I can practice my mindfulness and feel completely safe. There’s always plenty to do planting, weeding and generally tidying up and making the area look nice. Its a perfect place to go when I’m feeling sorry for myself and it nearly always brings me out of my slump. Plants are very similar to us in many respects. If they receive plenty of love and nurturing there happy and they blossom.

 

Finally but not least give yourself a break and celebrate your achievements how ever small they might seem. I met a friend the other day and he was buzzing because he’d just got a big promotion at work. I was delighted that I’d managed to walk in Aldi by myself and buy a loaf of bread, an equally huge achievement for me! I wasn’t going to mention it cause it seemed insignificant in comparison but I did and he was really pleased for me. We celebrated both together.