Routine

What does having a routine mean to you?

Do you find routine boring?

Do you find it comforting?

Do you feel it’s holding you back? 

Do you find it a necessity? 

Do you desperately need it for your survival? 

For someone like me who suffers badly with anxiety, having a steady routine and therefore knowing exactly what I’m doing, is vital. A solid routine helps me to feel safe. That being said, even I like to mix it up from time to time and recognise the importance of doing this. Staying in your comfort zone is all well and good, but if I stayed in mine all the time, I’d never leave the house! Pushing yourself a little further, allows you to experience so much more and ultimately lead to living a more fulfilled life. I know all this to be true, but it’s still easier said than done.

Having an element of routine and the structure that comes with this, seems to me to be the sensible way to approach life. But I’ve always been an excessive planner, even before my mental health issues. I’m the sort of person who likes to know what’s around the next corner, both literally and figuratively speaking. Where as some people might enjoy the element of surprise, I deeply fear it!  Some might see this as a tad obsessive but then again most of you don’t have an anxiety disorder to contend with. Obviously much depends on what hardships you’ve faced in life and how many mental scars you’ve been left with.

Sports men and woman can be extremely obsessive with their routines. Some of their superstitions can seem ludicrous to most of us. Anything from having a lucky pair of socks, to lining their water bottles up in a precise order. These acts might seem odd, but we all share in having  little idiosyncrasies- perhaps to a lesser extent. Lets take an every day thing like having a shower. Without even realising it, you will automatically do things in a certain order, and it would feel strange to do things any differently.

When I get out of the shower I always start by drying my feet first and then working my way up my body, eventually drying my chest and arms, and finishing with my head. Many people may think this to be extremely odd, they may in fact do it in the completely opposite order to me. It might make more sense to dry your hair first to stop it dripping everywhere, but I’m bald on top, so don’t have that problem! Anyway what ever your preferred method is, I bet you’ve done it exactly the same way for as long as you can remember. If you try altering this routine, even slightly, it will completely throw you out of sink. It might even ruin the whole experience! The fact is we all take comfort in routine to a certain degree.

You’ve all heard of the saying,practice makes perfect’ . Having a repetitive routine can be used as a legitimate learning method, as the more you do something the more automatic it becomes. Bruce Lee puts it perfectly when he says ‘Don’t fear the man that knows how to do 10,000 kicks, but fear the man who knows only one kick but has practiced it 10,000 times’  

I’m striving to be the Bruce Lee of table tennis! I already have a half decent backhand but my forehand is slightly weaker (some might say much weaker, but I’m going to stick to slightly!) When the ball comes to this side I’m constantly having doubts about the shot. Is my technique right? Am I letting the ball drop to much? Is my bat angle right? Are my feet in the correct position? Through repetitive practice routines, my shots are improving and becoming more consistent. Hopefully one day they will be automatic and effortless, just like my backhand.

Driving a car is a good example. Most drivers would tell you that in their first couple of driving lessons, nothing felt natural, everything was like an alien concept to them, and they couldn’t imagine ever being able to drive on their own. But then, with much  perseverance and repetition, what seemed like an impossible feat, not only became possible, but soon became second nature to them. This exact same mind-set can be applied when facing any challenges. Like I’ve already said, I use it in table tennis to try and improve my game.

It’s also about taking one manageable step at a time, as apposed to giant unrealistic leaps! This is especially relevant if you have a mental health illness and you’re in a vulnerable, unpredictable state of mind. A friend of mine, who’s battled her mental health all her life, told me that when the illness is at it’s worst, her daily challenges can involve simply getting out of bed, and getting washed and dressed. I can appreciate this, as depression tightens it’s grip over you, even the simplest of tasks can take great effort. You can’t see the point of doing anything anymore- including washing and dressing. But it’s important to keep challenging yourself, however small and pointless these challenges seem. This same lady is now able to travel the country on her own, giving inspirational talks in rooms full of  people, she continues to spread much needed awareness and fills me with hope for my future. She has proven to me that anything is possible, but who knows if she’d have ever reached this stage, if she hadn’t continued challenging herself, even in her darkest hours. Somehow I doubt she would.

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!

 

 

 

 

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.