social anxiety

My social anxiety presents itself all the time, some days when it’s at it’s worst it becomes extremely restrictive to my everyday life.

social anxiety
from a young age I always felt to be on the outside of the group

My major roadblock- social anxiety

 I’ve stopped pegging the washing out on a weekend, for fear of encountering the neighbours. This is ridiculous as we have good neighbours, they’re all perfectly pleasant and really shouldn’t cause me any trepidation what so ever. However the prospect of having a two-minute chat with them (probably about the weather) just to pass the time of day is so horrifying, that I simply can’t risk it.

Sadly my avoidance tactics don’t stop there, as my social anxiety starts to get the better of me. Getting the wheelie bin from the side of the house, once a week on bin collection day has quite frankly become a military operation. I tend to do it the night before when it’s dark and I’m less likely to be seen. I have to look out of the front, back and side windows before I even contemplate stepping outside. I open the back door ever so slightly and listen for a minute or two, then I tentatively stick my head out and check both ways. Only when I’m completely satisfied that no ones around, will I make my move. If this was an Olympic event I would win gold every time, I literally have it done in a flash, like my life depends on it and then I’m back in the safety of my house, taking a few deep breaths and thanking God I don’t have to do it for another week.

I began to lose my hair at a young age, in fact by my early twenties it had receded badly and there wasn’t much left. Since then I have always cut it myself and like to keep it shaved very short.

That was until six months a go when my clippers broke. As you’ve probably gathered by now, I don’t do social interaction too well. Hairdressers are notorious for being the chattiest of all people and sometimes sitting in that chair for ten minutes can feel like hours and be torturous to say the least, as they delve into your life history! Therefore I saw this as an ideal opportunity to challenge myself by taking myself out of my comfort zone. This is roughly how it went:

social anxiety

Barbers number 1– Cheerful enough but far too talkative. Constant questions tripping off his tongue, including asking what I did for a living which makes me feel uncomfortable at the best of times.

 

Barbers number 2– This one was disturbing. She was fascinated by the heat coming from my head, so much so she got the other hairdressers to come across and have a feel! This left me feeling a little self-conscious to say the least and I couldn’t wait to escape.

 

Barbers number 3– This one couldn’t understand why I didn’t cut my own hair. I told him that it was only temporary until I got some new clippers. As soon as I said that I realised I wouldn’t be able to return. Not that I would have anyway, he was far too chatty for my liking.

social anxiety

 

Barbers number 4– This one was interesting, nowhere near as friendly as the others. All the customers and staff seemed to know each other and this created a bit of a funny atmosphere. When I walked in everyone appeared to stop what they were doing and stare at me like I didn’t belong in their company. Like a scene from an old western as a newcomer enters the saloon. Hardly the most welcoming of places!

Barbers number 5– I finally found the perfect place for me, where the staff only understood a little English and couldn’t speak more than two words of it. When it was your turn they’d point to the chair and say, “sit”. When finished they’d say “five pounds” and that’s the only bit of chitchat I had to endure. Absolutely ideal! And this is the one I’ve chosen to return too.

Socially Inept?

I accept that people probably view me as a bit of a party pooper and some are probably sick of inviting me to places- only for me to come up with yet more excuses! I can even put up with being branded antisocial. But when did I get to the stage were I had this constant feeling of inadequacy? As my self-doubt reaches it’s peak, I start to view myself as a huge burden and believe that people deserve a medal for putting up with me. I need to remind myself that this is not true. How I deal with these difficult emotions is crucial. I choose to look at the funny side of my social anxiety, as I’ve tried to do in this post. Learning to laugh at yourself is such an important coping tool. You put less emphasis on your frailties, there not that important, there just something you can laugh about. Suddenly you find you have less anxiety moving forwards.

 

 

Inspirations- using positive influences

Having people who inspire you is extremely important for your mental health. My main inspirations are friends and family, however I’m also inspired by various sports men and women. There’s a lot of bad things highlighted on the news everyday. Tragic events happening all over the world and closer to home in recent weeks, with the terrorist attacks. If you’re like me and you already suffer with your anxiety, such events can influence you leaving the house, as you don’t feel safe to do so. It’s hard I know, but this is when it’s important that we also remember all the positive events taking place and I use my inspirations to help me do this.

Everyone loves a good under dog story, someone who has achieved great things against all the odds.

Inspirations- YES I CAN!

This Egyptian Paralympian (Ibrahim Hamadtou)  was told that he could never play table tennis as he had no arms or stumps to grip the bat. He proved that with single mindedness and remarkable determination, anything is possible!

 

The Paralympic moto is ‘Yes I Can’. I’m sad to say that most of the time mine is ‘No I Can’t!’ I find myself blaming my depression for this but sometimes this is just a convenient excuse. When I’m playing sports my competitive spirit shines through, if only I could view depression as my latest opponent, maybe I could put it in it’s place! Seeing my inspirations and all their achievements gives me a huge boost and makes me want to try harder to emulate their success.

Inspirations- achieving greatness

InspirationsBefore anyone says, I know its sad to have a picture of yourself on your bedroom wall, but it does have a positive purpose. The person pictured next to me is a professional darts player called James Wade. The thing we both have in common is that we’ve won tournaments whilst battling our mental health illnesses. James is one of the best darts players in the world, where as I play table tennis in local leagues. James suffers with bipolar and had to have time away from the sport due to his illness. I too had to have a year out from playing in the league when my anxiety levels reached there highest peak and I struggled to leave the house.

James Wade is ranked number 6 in the world and is an extremely talented player, he also comes across as a really nice guy, he’s always respectful of his opponents and conducts himself well, win or lose. When I watch him on the stage he appears very comfortable and in his comfort zone, but off the stage doing interviews and even on his walk ons, I can see a lot of myself in him. Frailties such as low self-esteem, looking awkward and nervous and like he wants to be anywhere else. That’s why it’s truly remarkable that with such obvious confidence issues, He’s still able to perform to such a high standard in front of crowds of thousands of noisy fans, not to mention the millions watching on sky sports! For this reason I admire him more than any other sportsman.

Going back to the pictures on my wall. They’re the first thing I see when I get up in a morning and I use them as a really positive message to start the day. They remind me that anything is possible and I can still achieve good things despite of my illness. Whether your inspirations are well known celebrities or friends and family, doesn’t matter. What matters is that you use them as a positive influence in moving forward and becoming the best version of yourself.

 

 

Grieving process- mental wellbeing

7 Stages of the Grieving process

Shock or Disbelief can be the first reaction to news that a loved one has passed. Many people report numbness where they don’t feel anything in the first few moments. This experience can be surprising to many individuals because may not immediately sense the devastated feelings they would expect to feel with such news.
Denial doesn’t so much occur in the grieving process when the mourner “forgets” that their loved one has passed away.Denial is related to how one expresses their emotions surrounding grief. For example, a person who continually says, “I’m fine,” after a significant loss is likely denying his or her feelings.  It may also be true that the bereaved person does not know how to share their feelings with those closest to them.
Anger is not a universal emotion during the grief process. While it is not unusual to experience anger and many other feelings after a significant loss, it is not required. Some people become angry at themselves or the person who left them or simply at the situation they are left to face alone.
Bargaining refers to attempts to make a deal, often with God, to change the situation. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross noted bargaining in her observations of individuals dying from a terminal illness. Bargaining may not be so frequent when a loved one has died, but is likely present in other losses such as divorce, break up, job loss, home loss or other transition, where there is some hope the situation could be changed by an all-powerful God.
Guilt can occur when the bereaved have regrets about things they did or said before the loved one died or left them. There is a wish to turn back the clock and do some things differently.
Depression is often used to describe the profound sadness that is a natural human reaction to grief and loss. The symptoms of grief are very similar to those of clinical depression.
Acceptance and Hope. In the last stage of the 7 stages of grief one arrives at the belief that although life will never be the same again after the loss, there is hope that life will go on.

Grieving Process- mental wellbeing

Not everyone will experience these 7 stages of grief or like me it may take a long time.

A Fathers Love

On June 10th  2010 my dad died in hospital. Seven years have passed now, but it still feels like yesterday and I can honestly say I still think about him every day. The shock and devastation hit the whole family extremely hard. I had to deal with so many emotions at this time but the uppermost was complete disbelief.

I kept expecting to wake up from a bad dream and see him sat there in his favourite rocking chair, probably with a sarcastic comment about how long I’d spent in bed. It hurt me that I hadn’t had the chance to say goodbye and I was angry with God for robbing me of this opportunity. I also felt an unbelievable sense of guilt that I hadn’t told him how much I loved him. I guess that’s the cruelty of life, it all happened so quickly. He was taken into hospital with a suspected stomach infection and sadly never came out again.

I always viewed him as such a strong person, growing up I’d look up to him and even thought of him as invincible. For a long time after his death, all I had etched on my mind was a picture of him led in the intensive care unit with countless wires and tubes hooking him up to a machine. That was the only time I’d seen him looking so fragile and it wasn’t the way I wanted to remember him.

I never cried for my dad, not at his funeral and not anytime afterwards. At the funeral people who barely knew him were crying. I remember thinking there must be something seriously wrong with me. Was I some kind of emotional cripple, not to have shed a single tear on this day, of all days?This lack of reaction allowed me to continue to function properly and make sense of things. Inevitably I took on the role of chief organiser. At least this way I felt I was being in someway useful.

I was happy to be the strong one for as long as my family needed me to be. I believed I would grieve in my own time. The sad truth is I’ve never properly grieved for my dad. I’m desperate too, but don’t know how. I hope people realise, this doesn’t mean I love him any less. I miss him terribly every day and still feel a large emptiness, which will never be filled.

One thing that helps immensely with the whole grieving process  is that I’m able to wear his necklace. Every morning when I put it on I say ‘Good morning dad’ and tell him what we’ve got planned for the day. Every night when I take it off, I tell him I love him (Something I wasn’t able to do when he was alive). I take great comfort in knowing where ever I go, he goes too, and I’ll always wear his chain with pride.

My dad grew up as an only child in a strict family. I don’t know much about this stage of his life, as he didn’t like to talk about it, even with my mother. What I do know is he was treated harshly and unfairly disciplined, He was rarely praised and constantly put down, which is a lousy combination! Being a parent never came that naturally to him, which is not to say he wasn’t a great dad, but he did struggle with the emotional side of things, almost certainly because he didn’t receive it from his own parents. So we didn’t get much in the way of hugs and kisses or that much in the way of approval from him, but we had our mum for that side of things. We did receive a big cuddle from him every New Year. I know he loved us unconditionally, he just showed it in different ways. To put it simply, there was nothing he wouldn’t do for his family. Having worked a fifty-hour week, most weekends he would find himself taking me to Table Tennis tournaments all over the country. We were often setting off as early as four o clock in the morning and not getting back home until late Sunday evenings. Even though I know that deep down he had very little interest in the sport. All he ever stipulated was that the guesthouse had a bar. As long as this was the case, he wouldn’t moan about anything. We could drag him off to anywhere in the country. I actually think he enjoyed some of our weekends away, especially twice a year when we got to go to Blackpool. Mum would come with us and we would stay in the same lovely little hotel on the sea front. Dad particularly liked this one because there was always a live music act on and he loved nothing more than listening, whilst unwinding with a pint in his hand. It was always nice to see him so relaxed and contented.

When he wasn’t away with me he spent much of his spare time watching my brother play cricket. This involved sitting on the side-lines, in often freezing conditions, and cricket can be a long game! If he knew it was important to us then it would be important to him too. He showed amazing commitment to his family.

Dad had no time for misbehaving kids; in fact they frustrated the hell out of him. He would soon lose his patience and blame the parents. He put it down to lack of discipline and found it unforgivable when they failed to control their kids. In his eyes there was no excuse for this. In contrast when we were out with our parents we always behaved impeccably. If in a pub or restaurant we would sit quietly and not move a muscle until we were given permission. Whether out on a bus or in a supermarket shopping, whilst other kids were screaming and being disruptive, we would remain quiet and as good as gold.

Although he never smacked us, he had a certain presence and a way of looking at us that would immediately demand his respect. You could call it respect or you could call it fear but either way we were terrified of the consequences of misbehaving, especially in public.

As long as we abided by his rules, he was actually a lot of fun and I have many happy childhood memories of him playing in parks with us, taking us swimming and clowning around on the beach on family holidays.

Dad saw Christmas, as another chance to show us how much he loved us, he always managed to make it a magical time. Even working on a shoestring budget we were always spoilt with sacks full of presents. He embraced the opportunity to bring the whole family together for a big slap up meal. We would all wear party hats, pull crackers and play silly games, and he would relish being the host.

As a child I wasn’t always able to relate to my dad but I always felt greatly protected by him. It’s only as I grew up into adulthood that our relationship became much stronger. We discovered we were very much on the same wavelength and had the same dry sense of humour. We both took high delight in winding my brother up, in particular about his beloved Manchester Utd. He used to refer to us as Laurel and Hardy, as we were like a comedy duo. I’d prefer to think of us as two peas in a pod.

I was able to see him in a completely different light as he used to take me to the club for a pint and a game of snooker. This soon became our Saturday teatime ritual. After a few beers he would let his guard down and I got to see glimpses of a more sensitive side. Every year in the weeks surrounding Christmas, I would become his drinking buddy in the house as well. He would wait for my mum and brother to go to bed and get the whisky bottle out. it was round about now that the philosophical dad would come out. He would look up at the night sky and start musing about how vast the universe was and pondered where we all came from. I learnt how fascinated he was with all the stars.

This was a special time that just dad and I shared and these are the memories that will always be most precious to me and help me with the grieving process.

Looking back, there’s so much about my dad that makes me smile, I could easily write a full book on him. I will try to sum it up briefly.

He was one of the most honest people I knew, he would tell people exactly what he thought, whether they were ready for it or not! This painful honesty could at times be construed as tactless, but at least you knew where you stood with him.

In over thirty years of marriage I never heard him and my mum have a cross word with each other, he loved to spoil her and would do so with constant romantic gestures. Even though he liked to adopt a tough guy demine he was secretly a big softy at heart.

As a child my brother broke his leg. He was given exercise regimes to assist with his recovery. Every night dad would get home from work and take him to the local swimming baths and help him with his exercises. Over time he could visibly see improvements, as the leg began to strengthen, until eventually he was able to walk again.

If my dad was still around today I think he’d find my illness extremely difficult to comprehend. He hated seeing any of his family suffering but I think he would especially struggle with the fact that with depression there is no obvious fix and he wouldn’t know how to help.

Right up until the end of his life dad was still protecting us. He didn’t want us to see him ill in a hospital bed. He made my mum promise to keep us away. It’s  testament to his character that even when in pain and at his most vulnerable, he was still able to put his family first.

Irrational Thoughts- How to overcome

Every Day Challenges (Irrational thoughts)

My depression and anxiety lead to me having many irrational thoughts. I’m going to share with you a passage from my journal I composed a few weeks a go. At the time we had workmen in the house fitting a new bathroom, my worst nightmare! Things like this badly effect me. My home is usually my safe zone, but having strangers in it for any length of time leads to me quite literally being petrified. I had to strategically plan my toilet trips to the down stairs loo in a desperate attempt to avoid running into anyone. I was left feeling like an intruder in my own home!

Irrational Thoughts

I went away with my mum for a few days but when we returned the work was nowhere near complete. Worse still on the Monday it was mums volunteer morning at the hospice and I was going to be left alone. I decided the lesser of two evils was to go with her. I didn’t like the prospect of sitting in a room full of folks having to make conversation, but it was better than the alternative of getting under the work men’s feet. Here’s word for word what I wrote at the time.

At least the suns shining, it’s not such a bad day to die, if this is to be my time. That’s what was going through my mind 10 minutes a go, walking down the road from the Kirkwood hospice, with potential threats to my life at either side of me. I wasn’t scared but at the same time felt distinctly uneasy! I just prayed that if this was my time, it would be over quickly and relatively painlessly, maybe a swift knife to the chest or something along those lines!

I’m now sat in a café in Moldgreen, I feel uncomfortable and extremely self-conscious, but at least it’s safe in here. Safer than out there anyway! As usual I have picked a spot in the darkest dingiest corner, as far away from prying eyes as possible. This will be ok for the next three hours. It turned out I couldn’t stay in the hospice with all those people and I couldn’t stay at home either! so here I am in the middle of plan C. It’s not ideal, I haven’t been out on my own for this long for some time and I’m feeling very vulnerable. Writing this is passing time and if I can some how keep hidden for another hour, I will attempt to walk back. The world is a scary place and I’m not equipped to cope. I wish I was normal, I wish I wasn’t such a freak!

Another problem’s just occurred to me. I need the toilet and I’m going to have to walk past a table of students to get there. Oh my God, what am I going to do now! Maybe I’ll be able to hold on until they’ve gone, I’ll have too, there’s no way I’m walking past them! How ridiculous, I think I’d rather wet myself than walk past people who are probably to engrossed in their conversations to even notice me!

Somehow I’ve managed to get back to the hospice unscathed, and bravely come in to join the group. I’ve even found a corner seat again. Maybe if I keep my head down writing folks might leave me alone. Apparently there’s 40 people in the room, to me it feels more like 400!

Monster Or Not?
   

Outside of my house I feel extremely small, as I let my irrational thoughts take over!

 

 

For 12 months trying to sell my house was an extremely stressful time for me. But once I’d sold it, people thought that I’d miraculously become a different person over night! Well I have news for them, I’m still depressed, I feel just as anxious as ever, just as lost and afraid. It almost feels like one of my main excuses for being such an emotional wreck has gone but I’m no closer to being able to cope. I was very confused about what to do next. I needed a purpose, some structure, a set routine, something to work towards, and then I started to write this blog.

Is it possible that the elderly couple at the bus stop are just simply waiting for the bus? Why then do I view them as such a great threat, why do I genuinely believe them to be carrying weapons! So much so that I have to cross over the road to get past.
Is it possible that the work van parked on the corner of my street, is just parked up whilst the work man has his lunch break? Why then do I think He’s waiting for me to walk past so he can bundle me in to the back and kidnap me! so much so that I have to find a much longer alternative route.
I see a garage door slightly open, light on in the garage. Is it possible they’re doing some work and want a bit of fresh air, maybe they’ve simply forgotten to close the door. But that’s not what goes through my head, instead I convince myself that someone’s in there spying on passers by and they’re going to jump out and attack me! Again I can’t risk walking past and so I find an alternative route.

Later when I’m sat at home I see these scenarios as what they are, totally irrational thoughts on my behalf. I feel foolish and embarrassed that I’ve reacted in this way, but it’s hard to stop, as at the time the threat seems very real and very frightening!

But imagine for one minute that monster approaching you isn’t a monster after all. Imagine that they’re actually scared of you! You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, someone may not be as intimidating as you first think. Think about how you’re coming across to them. A friendly smile or a ‘hello’ and suddenly their face changes, as relief hits home. It turns out lots of people have confidence issues, especially when they’re walking on their own. Not everyone’s out to get you. Their shifty looking exterior could easily be misconstrued, maybe they’re feeling vulnerable and don’t want to give any eye contact. On the other hand they might be standing tall and looking you straight in the eyes, portraying an ultra confident person, when deep down who knows what’s going on. They could be petrified!

 

 

 

 

Challenge Yourself- Small Steps

Challenge Yourself

Shoot for the moon, even if you miss you’ll land among the stars!

Challenge yourself to get the most pleasure out of life.

 

 

Personally I think it’s important to face up to your demons and test yourself daily. Whilst doing this you need to continue looking after yourself and be accepting of the limitations caused by your mental health. It’s all about finding the right balance for you.

My daily challenges can include, walking to the corner shop on my own, going to the supermarket with family, picking up mail from my old house, forcing myself to have a social chat with a friend, answering the telephone or front door. These last two might seem a bit trivial to some, but they can be the most difficult, especially if I don’t know who’s on the other end of the line or behind the door. Its the fear of the unknown that often prevents me from being able to do this. My home is my sanctuary, but it’s so easy to become trapped. Don’t let isolation become your friend. I’m all for protecting yourself and keeping safe, but not if it means you’re sacrificing experiencing life.

‘ Action may not always bring happiness, but there is no happiness without action’ (Benjamin Disraeli)

I’ve began visiting the town centre twice a week with my mother, even though I’m always extremely anxious on the day and in the build up to it, I still force myself to do it. To be honest with you, at present I don’t enjoy any part of the experience, but I view it as a necessary infliction. If you’re like me and you fear busy places, I don’t think there’s any harm in avoiding them as much as you can. However in life you can’t guarantee avoiding places such as town centres, indefinitely. There will be times in the future when you have no choice. I attempt to make such times less stressful by remaining well practiced, so there is method in my madness!

‘ Live all you can; it’s a mistake not to. It doesn’t matter what you do in particular, so long as you have had your life. If you haven’t had that, what have you had?’ (Henry James)

Challenge Yourself Small Steps

Just keep putting one foot in front of the other!

 

 

In previous posts I have mentioned attempting to walk further distances on my own, this of course is dependent on how I’m feeling on the day. As well as distance, I also challenge myself in other areas such as:

  • Slowing down- It might sound a simple thing to do but for me it’s not. Due to my anxiety I tend to race from A to B in record speed, all so I can get back to the safety of my home. The walk itself should be a pleasant experience, I just need to remind myself to take my time and appreciate the journey.
  • Keeping pace- If someone’s in front of me walking at a slower pace, I will slow down to avoid catching them up. Equally if someone’s behind me walking faster I will quicken up. Allowing someone to walk past me is a huge challenge. Sitting on a bench and having several people walk past me is extremely daunting but something I try hard to achieve.
  • Being sociable- When I’m out walking with my friends I’m a completely different person. I always smile and say hello to people passing by, on occasions I might even enter into a conversation. When on my own walking past the same people in exactly the same kind of location, I don’t say a word! Shoulders slumped and head down I don’t even risk eye contact with them. This is providing I haven’t found an alternative path or crossed the street. And so I challenge myself to keep my shoulders up and my head high and acknowledge fellow pedestrians. This of course is easier said than done and completely depends on the day.

Just like anything, if you do something regularly enough, the task will become easier and less intimidating. Often the anticipation is far worse than the actual event. Repetition is the key, pretty soon you’ll look back and wonder what all the fuss was about in the first place!

 

 

 

 

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