How to…

…Recover from a nervous breakdown (5!)

Healing exercise no. 5: Life Assessment

I’m going to try to keep this one as short as possible, but when one goes through a full-blown and comprehensive assessment of one’s last 25 years on planet earth it can be hard to fit into a 600 word blog – I’ll try my best though.

After my breakdown I didn’t think right, I’m going to sit down and completely review my life; the way I think about things and all my priorities, I just knew that I needed to make a few changes but this did in fact lead to a complete review of my life; the way I think about things and all my priorities. Chris had to leave for a three-week work trip which looked like terrible timing but actually it provided me with the space I needed to reassess things, to think about how I’d ended up in this medicated and unhappy situation and what I could do to avoid it in the future.

Life assessment
Taking a closer look at life!

I guess in its simplest form the main change I’ve gone through is my attitude towards stuff. I seem to like stuff just a little but too much. Since I left university my life goals have been the acquisition of stuff. Of Teco’s Finest instead of Tesco’s Own, of jewellery and expensive cosmetics and fizz every Friday and chic clothing. I went from one unhappy job to the next and tried to compensate for this unhappiness by using the funds I earned to acquire more stuff. And after making myself so unhappy I had actually made myself incredibly ill I finally thought this is fucking ridiculous!

I’m not chic! I’ve never been chic! I spent my school years wearing toe socks with flip-flops! And all these clothes I keep buying have to bloody go somewhere – my wardrobe is fit to burst and actually the daily chore of trying to extract clothes from its contents and then strategically place the discarded clothes back in the wardrobe in such a way that means I can actually close the wardrobe door is making me really angry – every day! I also wear the same make-up every day, so why am I buying purple and green Chanel eye shadow pallets which are hideously overpriced and then putting them in a draw and NEVER USING THEM!? And all Fizz Fridays has ever done to me is to give me a big fat hangover on Saturday – the one day I don’t have to think about work! And I have more than enough beautiful jewellery – I am so lucky that I have been given wonderful gifts over the years, when did I stop looking at my jewellery and thinking how beautiful it is and started thinking if only I had ruby earrings as well as a ruby necklace? And if I’m completely honest – I couldn’t tell the difference between Tesco’s Finest prawns and Tesco’s perfectly fine other prawns if I tried.

I once sat at a cafe in the middle of Amsterdam, the most beautiful city I’ve ever been to, with the man I love and had a right moody strop about how I couldn’t afford some seriously expensive and (looking back) pretty damn hideous shoes. What is that about?! And recently I’ve been trying to persuade Chris that I should have an eternity band for our first wedding anniversary because I didn’t think that my engagement ring was quite big enough and I wanted more diamonds in my life – as my Oma would say “you shtupid voman!” What a silly way to live. What happened to the person who was made happy by shells and the sea and dancing in the rain and toe socks?! Where did she go? She got buried – under stuff.

running in the sea

Don’t get me wrong I have some clothes and shoes that I love (like really, really love), and wearing them makes me feel all swooshy and lovely, but I have more clothes that I bought for no real reason and they don’t make me feel swooshy at all – they’re just clothes. And I’ve had fab days spent shopping for cosmetics with my sister and I’ve had some great experiences eating at lovely restaurants and drinking expensive cocktails but the time really has come to realise that all that stuff is lovely in its own way but that it can’t even nearly make me happy.

laughing in medieval cloak!
Definitely one of the items of clothing that makes me happy – it was a present from someone who knows me too well!

I used to strive for a snazzy watch and a big house and lots of jewellery, now I’m striving to be happy, to do what makes me happy and the other stuff will follow if it’s going to. There’s nothing wrong with ambition and striving for a comfortable life, but there is something wrong if it makes you ill.

In time I think I’ll be able to find a job that I love – or even be able to create one out of the things I love to do, until then I’m going to take the time to get back on my feet and implement the changes of my life assessment.

So I quit my job. I’ll get another one in due course but a part-time one. I won’t have money for stuff but I’ll have time for things, like writing, sewing, making and being creative. Time to walk and visit the sea… and may be just the occasional Fizz Friday.

Milly happy in the sea

All these pictures (bar the one of my giant face) were taken by the amazingly lovely and talented Dorothy Allen, just incase you wanted to know.

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#FashionFridays…

…got mental.

First of all I have to issue a severe WARNING of selfies. Normally I get Chris to take pictures of me in all my finery but he was away for like 3 weeks which forced me to do the unthinkable – stand in front of a mirror and take a picture of it, which I have thus far avoided because it makes me feel like a complete tool. I do this only in the name of humorous blogging so dear readers – please do not judge me too harshly.

So an unexpected side effect of mental illness has been the effect it has had on my dress sense. A mixture of chronic indecision, tiredness, chemical imbalances and a certain feeling of “I actually really don’t give a shit” has led me to realise on one or two occasions that I’m dressed a little strangely. However, once I have the outfit on I can never be bothered to go through the effort of changing it, so I thought in the spirit of my current share offensive I would document these occasions for your reading pleasure.

Example No.1:

#FashionFridays

Now I’m not altogether sure what’s going on here. I look like a confused but thoroughly modern art teacher. What’s with the stripy socks? The only redeeming thing about this outfit is that I wore it to a therapy session, which proves that I am at least I’m still dressing for the occasion.

And then came this:

#FashionFridays

To which all I can really say is WTF? If you’re wondering why my legs are such a questionable colour – it’s because I’m wearing beige woollen patterned tights. I don’t even know how I came to own such tights!? They make me look like a biscuit coloured dead person. And I got that cardigan in the sale in Tescos, now up until recently I haven’t been able to go to Tesco without having a minor panic attack – which clearly explains how I ended up acquiring this particular item of clothing.

And now for the Pierce de Resistance!

#FashionFridays

I think what really makes this outfit is the accessory:

#FashionFridays

Even Gustav is looking at me like “what on earth are you wearing?” The best thing about this outfit is that I’m wearing it now! I just put this picture on Facebook and my mum rang me and said “you’re going to have to change that outfit if you want me to come to town with you today!” But it’s really really comfortable. And besides it’s on now. And besides besides I have no idea what else I could wear today (the afore mentioned chronic indecision). And besides besides besides this dress is made of 100% neoprene which everyone knows is highly effective at warming one up with continuous static shocks on a cold November day such as this. So I’m afraid it’s just going to have to stay on.

#FashionFridays

Not sure I can get away with taking my accessory with me though. I’m holding him like a bouquet. A cat bouquet. Now that’s a good wedding idea…

How to…

…Recover from a nervous breakdown (4!)

So I’ve covered medication (although I have to say that the jury is still out on that one), therapy and cat therapy and now I’m on to…

…Healing Effort No. 4: Exercise

Anxiety and Depression has made me hesitate to leave the safe confides of my little home, I gather this is a normal reaction; the stupid, primeval part of my brain perceives that I am in danger and informs me that I should be scared to go into the outside world, which is bloody unfortunate because it’s actually the most important thing in helping me out of this stupor – catch 22. But luckily therapy has educated me about how my brain works and I’ve decided that if I want to get better I’m going to have to take control over the stupid part of my brain and leave the house for some well-needed exercise. I’m not talking like a 5k run, I’m talking a little jog or a nice walk in the fresh air. Baby steps.

But its harder than you’d think, for example I’m writing this blog now and the words aren’t flowing as much as they normally do, the Citalopram is disturbing my sleep and last night was a particularly bad night – but despite not much sleep I know that if I went out on a little jog now it would help; help me feel better and help me write better, but the truth is I’m scared, scared to go outside. Sometimes when this happens I decide yoga is a better idea because I can do it in the inclosed space of my little living room. And it does help, yoga is great for getting the energy moving around your body and for settling your mind, I usually finish with a meditation practise and feel much better afterwards – better because that’s the effects the movements of my body have on my mind but better also because it’s a sense of accomplishment to have gotten my depressed behind out of bed and moved it around a bit! But I often find that by the evening I’m a bit jittery and  bit panicky and scared of the big old nothing that I’m always scared of. I may be tired because of lack of sleep but I have nervous energy roaming around my body that I don’t know what to do with and the result is a crying, flappy handed, shaky mess.

This is a further exasperated by… now this feels a little bit difficult to share, but I also seem to have developed a bit of a verbal tick- yay.

When I’m feeling anxious I find myself saying “My name is Milly” over and over, which I have to say makes me feel completely mental, like straight jacket mental, but I can’t seem to help it. But this weekend I went on two very long coastal walks and on Monday walked all the way round the Welsh Heritage Museum (one of my favourite places, bit put out that I wasn’t allowed to wear my cloak but it was raining and my mum said it would ruin the velvet – killjoy) and I found that my ticks completely calmed down, I was even able to walk into a busy pub and watch a truly terrible rugby match without the hint of pointlessly affirming my own name, and whats more I enjoyed it! I enjoyed watching that rubbish game in a funny coastal pub full of farmers. That’s the amazing result of a whole lots of sweat and steps! Its like some weird form of special magic but then I guess even when it’s not fully working the human body really is quite magical.

walking for anxiety and depression
Scarf Wind Battles

So Saturday: long coastal walk, Sunday: long coastal walk, Monday: long historical village walk, Tuesday: 10 minutes of yoga, Tuesday evening: popping beta blockers and by the way, did you know that my name is Milly? I know that living in the middle of Cardiff I can’t really go on a long coastal walk every day (more’s the pity) but I do live right on a park which I could schlepped myself around. Not only did this weekend of lovely excercise calm down the more embarrassing symptoms of my mental health but it completely cleared my head, not of thoughts, just the fog that they were shrouded in; I finally decided where I’d like to go on my honeymoon – a decision I haven’t been able to make for over a year now, I also made a very important employment decision and I started, for the first time in all of this to feel truly content, and perhaps more astonishingly, hopeful.

walking cure for anxiety and depression

Medication hasn’t done this for me, it’s made me groggy, forgetful, skinnier and sleepless –  but I’m not a doctor and I’m sure (/I hope) that my chemical imbalances are being, well, balanced. Therapy has definitely helped me on this path – it was my therapist who told me to get out of my house and go walking, and to look outside of myself; to wonder where the other people are walking and what their story is, to think externally instead of internally. And Gawd love ’em my cats have offered their own unique form of faeces related exercise.

walking for anxiety and depression

So go forth! Put your hand on that front door handle, take a deep breath and get going! And don’t forget to congratulate yourself for a job well done at the end of it.

I think I’m going to go on that jog now…

running for anxiety and depression

How to…

…recover from a nervous breakdown (3!)

Healing Effort No. 3: Kitten Therapy

I should start by introducing my furry therapists; this is little Gustav:

Cat Therapy
Little Gustav

And Noori is his mum but I couldn’t get a picture of her on her own because she’s a little shy so I can only ever catch her when she’s sleeping with her baby:

cat therapy
My Little Floppsy Bunnies
cat therapy
If you want to learn how to relax, learn from some cats

Reason why cats are good for you no. 1 (it’s an unlikely one): You have to clean up their poo. Cleaning up a cat’s bodily functions is a highly distracting task and therefore it brings my thoughts outside of myself. I find depression and anxiety to be relatively selfish illnesses, I’ve been only able focus my thoughts inwards and have been internalising everything – nothing much has existed outside of the internal twisting of my own unbalanced mind – but now I have something that needs cleaning up after, feeding and loving, it has drawn me out of myself. I’m also notoriously terrible at looking after myself, Chris goes away a lot and whilst he’s gone I live off porridge and frozen pizzas or I just don’t eat (he’s the cook of the family) but I’ve found that in looking after these little cats I’m looking after myself better too. When they eat I eat, when I prepare their food I prepare mine. In a way we’re looking after each other.

Reason why cats are good for you no. 2: They are hilarious. Nothing is as funny as watching a kitten get so freaked out by its own tail that it falls off the bed it’s lying on! That sort of thing can’t help but make you happy! Plus they do things silly things like fall asleep on their faces, or on computers instead of nice soft beds:

cat therapy

They are vastly entertaining and oh so easy to love. They have at times been the only thing able to force a smile onto my lips.

Reason why cats are good for you no. 3: They inspire gentleness. I am very hard on myself. My mama always says no one is as hard on me as I am. Lot’s of lovely people have offered the advise of being more gentle with myself in order to facilitate the healing process but it’s hard to break the habit of a lifetime. However, Gustav and Noori require gentle, loving care and I’m finding that the care and affection I bestow on my new wards, has taught me to be a little more gentle with myself too. These lovely things deserve care and cuddles and tickles, so surely I do too (not the tickles – I hate tickles). Plus every good Welsh person knows that the only true healing power in this whole silly world is a really good cwtch – so it’s doing wonders having two furry things around the house that are pretty much always up for one! Plus there is nothing so calming and relaxing as stroking a sleeping cat – unless you’re allergic.

Reason why cats are good for you no. 4: I’m no longer alone! With my fiancé off gallivanting around Asia (okay, working) and with me taking a little time off to try to get back on my feet, I could be very lonely, but all of my days and nights (we practise communal bedtime…that sounds weird) are spent in the company of these two beautiful creatures. Today I just couldn’t catch my breath so I took a propranolol and ran myself a nice relaxing bath. Gustav did some investigation of the water activities and decided he didn’t wanted to actively participate, so he settled himself in the door way and looked at me with his huge eyes, presently Noori came to join him and they both kept me company while I soaked myself calm again. Granted I could do without some of Gusgus’ knitting help but I can’t deny that it is a) vastly entertaining and b) ridiculously cute.

cat therapy
I was knitting a hat on circular needles and he popped up through the middle!

So you could sum up my advise thus far on coping with mental illness in three words; medication, therapy and CATS!

cat therapy
Writing desk cuddles

Next week: the benefits of exercise and fresh air – even when reaching for your front door handle makes you change your mind and reach for the beta blockers instead.

Click here and here to see the previous two blogs in this series.

How to…

…recover from a nervous breakdown (2!)

Firstly I’d like to thank all those who supported me in my last blog post, I received many emails and messages of support and understanding which really means a lot to me. I was a little nervous about sharing – I really shouldn’t have been. Thank you.

So, I’ve covered how I’m medically trying to get better and now I’d like to discuss non-medical remedies to my depression and anxiety.

Healing Effort No. 2: Therapy

As mentioned in my previous blog post I have been in and out of counselling since teenagehood (I’ve decided that’s a word) and it’s always had a temporary effect; I felt rubbish driving to the appointment, great driving away from it, but rather blurry in-between.

Initially I attended a more ‘talking-cure’ NHS counselling and found it incredibly useful. Talking to someone completely objective about my feelings and actions, who knew my situation only from my perspective was hugely cathartic in itself, in fact I would recommend that everyone do this at least once a year – try to find a professional though, I’ve tried it with strangers and they really don’t get their part in the whole thing. Anyhoo my mood and attitude improved and I felt roughly together for a time, but life has a way of presenting further challenges…

During university I put a lot of pressure on myself (something I have a habit of doing), pressure which I struggled to stand up under and which caused feelings of anxiety. My GP advised Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) – group classes to be precise – which I hated. In my opinion the gentleman leading the classes was a complete arse and if there is one thing I’ve learned about counselling it’s that no one is ever going to learn anything from someone they think is a complete arse.

By this time I’d met Chris (nice) which brought unending joy into my life – it also brought the fear of imminent death. Chris is wonderful which of course, leads me to assume he’s in constant mortal danger. To which the next woman I went to see for counselling said ‘so?’. Interesting. ‘But I don’t want him to die. If he dies I’ll want to die. I literally don’t know how to live without him’ I answered (LeAnn Rimes style) to which she replied ‘If he dies, he dies – you’ll get over it, eventually.’ What this sensitive lady did teach me was breathing techniques to try to calm any feelings of anxiety and they do work. Breathing is good for you, who knew?

These days I’m going to see a lady who conducts a form of hypnotherapy – which is not as weird as the pictures the word evokes in your mind. Basically she’s a master of relaxation and practical thinking as well as practical exercises. She’s explained what happens in my brain to make me feel the way I do and how to combat those feelings. I listen to a tape every night when I’m going to sleep which helps me drift off (I have a habit of lying in the dark and over-thinking things to the point of genuinely believing that the world will probably end in the next 48 hours – terrorism is normally the reason), I write down three good things about every day . I write them down at night so that I go to sleep thinking about the positives not the negatives and I can read back over the past weeks and realise that they haven’t been all that bad – there are good aspects to every single day, even the ones where you can’t think of any reason for getting out of bed. I’ve also stopped listening to the news as much (in the same way that no news is good news it seems that all news is bad news – terrorists).

I know that some people find the idea of sharing their thoughts and issues with people they know let alone professional strangers quite daunting, in fact it can be easier talking to strangers rather than people you know. I’m an open book so I’ve never found it all that hard to share what I’m going through, especially if they’re being paid to listen to it, but even if you’re a closed book I’d recommended revealing a chapter or two to a paid professional. It’s worth a try. Even if you’re not keen on forking out for therapy (I am as tight as they come – it’s an ongoing family joke – I hold on to money like 6 month olds hold on to long hair) think of it as an investment in you, if there is one thing worth investing in, that’s it.

The one thing I’ve definitely learned about therapy is that it’s work. You have to practice new techniques and thinking strategies in order to get better, but I think that end-game is worth the effort.

I was going to go on and talk about my own formulated brand of counselling – Kitten Therapy – but with pictures alone that deserves a whole post of its own. Look out for that one in the next couple of days!