Baby Steps…

…Back into the World!

The timeline for recovering from a breakdown is not a finite thing. It’s different for everyone. For me it’s taken a good two years (and by a good two years I mean nearly three) to get fully back in touch with the real world.

There is a buddhist saying that new beginnings are often disguised as painful endings. In my last blog I mentioned that I had lost a contract. Whilst this was very upsetting at the time it prompted me to go out into the big wide world in search for new employment. For the first time in two (nearly three) years I found myself employed in a place that was not my house. I now have to leave my safe home office and venture into the real world at least two days a week and surprisingly enough, I’m loving it!

-New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings.-- Lao Tzu (1)

I’m actually almost enjoying the days I spend not in my sheltered little office more than the ones I do. Well not all of them…

Last Monday I arrived at my place of work and had to open up for the first time. To make a short story relatively shorter security alarms AND panic alarms were set off, a fundamental piece of security equipped became irrevocably lost, causing two call-outs from two separate security companies, a whole recalibration of systems and the arrival of some mildly annoyed/amused policemen. All this happened on the same day that a kind passer-by informed me that my arse had been generously displayed to the park during my walk to work. My large M&S skin-tone knicker-ed bottom. Knickers that would put Bridget Jones to shame. Needless to say that when I got back home I had a very large sherry, a big cry and was in bed and fast asleep by 8pm. But the next day I was fine again.

So that was not a great day and one that wouldn’t have happened had I been in my home office. However, I’d take one terrible day like that if it means I get all the other perfectly lovely days I’ve had working in a place where other people are. I actually like being round people now. Even the ones that I don’t know! I really never thought this would happen. I thought that I’d be cooped up in my home office for the rest of my working life. That this would be the only way I’d be able to earn a living.

Despite all this I am glad that I’m not working away from home full-time, the days that I am working from home are really good recalibration days. The down days are as important as the up days. My advice to anyone else recovering from any kind of mental health breakdown would be to take baby steps. Sometimes it takes people two months to feel ready for the world again and sometimes it takes people five years. The important thing is to take your time and do it bit by bit. I’ve taken a couple of big steps forwards only to have to take several back again. This time I took some tentative steps and now I’m pretty excited about all my work! It’s a lovely, scary, odd, fun, tiring, but most of all hopeful feeling.

It all begins with one step

A Shit Day…

…To Look on the Bright Side

So this week has been a really shit week. It all started with cat piss. Cat piss is the worst kind of piss. Even after you’ve soaked (literally soaked) the whole area in pure bleach you can still smell it for about eight years after you’ve cleaned it all away. My cat, Nunney (I didn’t know that was a euphemism for vagina when I named her that btw) went through a phase of pissing on the kitchen surfaces, right next the cooker – hygienic. This has resulted in the cupboard where I keep MY PLATES smelling like cat piss for months on end. I finally thought we’d solved the problem by various different methods and have gone without pissy plates for about a month. But oh no, I went away for one night, ONE NIGHT on Friday and to punish me Nunney started pissing on the bloody kitchen surfaces again.

Continue reading “A Shit Day…”

Let’s Focus on the Positives…

…I hate that Chris goes away all the time, it sucks balls and not in a good way (you know what I mean). When he’s not here I get all morose and mopey, washing my hair seems like a waste of good water and eating becomes more of an optional day time activity than a necessary bodily function (I know you might be wondering why this post is called Let’s Focus on the Positives – stick with me). Chris got back from Indonesia on Thursday and I was in a pretty bad way. It’s taken me the weekend but I have managed to get my mood a little more regulated, things look better today than they have done for a good couple of weeks. But the thing is, this is Christopher’s job (and quite frankly while I’m ramping up the old freelance career it’s COMPLETELY necessary), he’s been doing it for a year and a half now and it’s about bloody time I got sodding used to it. I’m not saying that I want to be happy about Chris going away – that would be weird and quite frankly a warning sign on the whole spending the rest of our lives together thing, but in order to level out my despair at his absence I think I need to come up with a list of positives to focus on the next time he goes away.

So let’s start; Five Good Things About Being Without Your Significant Other:

  1. Underwear Times: I’m not talking about using Chris’ absence as a reason for wearing all the comfy but shit underwear I own (you know, the ones with the weird pattern that hold the memories of when you first felt all independent and free buying yourself pants as a teenager, but which have since gone a sinister grey colour and are weirdly faded in the gusset)  – we’re getting married, I stopped buying lace underwear a good two years ago, if you keep that sort of crap up they’re just going to expect it forever. I’m talking about wandering around the house in it. You might think, don’t I do that anyway (?) but really unless it’s pre or post coital I tend to be fully (or mostly) clothed at all times, especially during the winter. Wondering around in a t-shirt and my pants would feel weird if Chris was around and fully clothed too, actually if he was also wearing a t-shirt and his pants it would be even more weird. But wandering around the house in that state of semi-dress when there is no-one in it but you is perfectly acceptable and more than a little bit fun.
  2. No Food Consultations: There’s not the whole “what do you feel like for dinner tonight?” “I feel like curry.” “Curry? Urgh, what about cheesy pasta?” “We always have cheesy pasta.” “That’s because it’s very very tasty.” “I still feel like curry though.” There’s just “CHEESY PASTA YEEEEAAAAHHH.”
  3. Work Absorption: Generally I work all day and then when Chris get’s home I spend the evening with him but when that doesn’t happen I have my evenings open to write and email and all sorts, which can lead to more productivity…but sometimes just a lot of time spent watching cat videos.
  4. Cat Favouritism: Not that I necessarily want to be the cats’ favourite owner but I LOVE that I am (love’s not a competition…but I’m winning). Little Gusgus just follows me around like a feisty little imaginary friend, and these days I can just walk up to my little scaredy cat Nunney and give her a stroke, which has taken MONTHS to achieve. Cat’s are fickle and I know that if Chris was the one feeding them and cuddling them at night they’d like him more, but he’s not, so there.

    Cats getting in the way of work
    Computer Cat
  5. Keeping the Magic Alive: Don’t get me wrong, I would prefer it if Chris were here all the time, getting under my feet, telling bad jokes, generally annoying and irritating me, but in the spirit of looking on the bright side I do have to admit that there is excitement to be found in his frequent absence; I get all funny in my tummy when I’m on my way to pick him up from the train station or when I get the text to say he’s landed and he’s on his way home. In fact I get butterflies every time I receive a text from him. I plan lovely things we’re going to do when he’s back, sometimes I do buy a pair of pants with a bit of lace on (as long as they’re in the M&S 3 for 2 section). I have plenty of opportunities to miss him and this means a constant reminder of just how important he is to me, how much we love each other and how lucky we are that this is the case. Abracafrikindabra.Two lovers in Paris

If there’s one thing I know about my brain it’s that it is inclined towards the melancholy, so hopefully this will be part of the training to get my mood at a more consistent level of contentment. I’m not asking to bounce out of bed every morning rejoicing in the rising of the sun (although that would be nice), I just really want my first thought to be “Oh! Another day!” not “Oh. Another day.” – if you know what I mean. Onwards and upwards people, onwards and upwards!

Dot and Lucy Engagement Photoshoot

 

Oh my God I forgot one! What I fool.

6.   Sometimes I get to go too! Now THAT’S a pretty good deal.chilling out in vietnam

See, once you look for one positive, you’ll find many more!

How to…

…create good things from bad.

Sometimes I see mental health issues as some kind of weird blessing. Couple of reasons: because my bad can be really, really bad I am able to truly appreciate how good the good really is. I used to envy the people who seemed to drift, freely and lazily through life but now I almost feel sorry for them, I have the experience of extremes to draw from, and it benefits me greatly, they do not.  Also, because my fight with anxiety and depression helpfully highlighted some changes that I really needed to make to my mindset and my living and this essentially freed me from a situation in which I was completely stuck and deeply unhappy.

Somedays I feel like that, but not today. Today feels shit. Yesterday did too. Suppose you can’t suffer from depression without getting depressed sometimes – bugger.

So today I made a decision! I’m absolutely happiest when I’m creating things. I like reading, and drinking wine in front of the telly really can feel blissful, getting dressed up to go out for cocktails can be fun, but really I am my most excited, content, joyful when I’m in the zone and making something from not much (mostly just thoughts – and sometimes a bit of old curtain). The only problem is my slightly malfunctioning brain; instead of waking me up in the morning and saying “go forth Milldred! Create things of such wonderment that people will laugh at you until they’re blue in the face and you’ll bloody love it!” It says, “oh look, it’s the day-time, we don’t like that do we? No, let’s stay in bed, shall we? Yes. You know it’s really not safe out there, you’re better off in here, with the cats…and Facebook.”

old curtain for making new things!
Wasn’t lying about the bits of old curtain…

But I’m taking charge! I’m going to create something, anything, at least one thing a day. And by saying to my brain every morning, ‘back off you old grouch, we’re making knitted pom poms today and we’re going to like it, aren’t we? YES.” I’ll be able to take back my mood and turn the day into a positive one, instead of a negative one. It can be anything; a blog; a short story; the chapter of a book; a tea cosy; a table runner; a great opportunity; a treacle tart (sounds like a good one for tomorrow). And I’m going to challenge myself. I mean for starters I’m already trying to create a whole self-employed business thing out of thin air (also a great deal of passion…but mostly thin air – if it keeps everyone else alive I can work with it). Yesterday I sewed part one of my bridesmaid dress for my best friend’s wedding (it’s currently see-through, part two is the slip – would be bad if I forgot that bit). I’ve signed up to do a craft fair, to try to sell some the nonsense I make, because I love the idea of the things I have so much fun creating going into someone elses’ home and becoming part of their everyday lives (plus I have my half of the mortgage to pay). I’ve never sewn a shirt before so I bought a cheap pattern and some £2.99 a meter cotton and I’m going to try to make a shirt, probably going to turn out really badly but at least I will have tried and you can’t get take-two without doing a take-one. Today I’ve created this blog post, tomorrow I’m going try to pitch some freelance articles and create an opportunity to get my work published.

creating one thing everyday
And I did make a pom pom today!

Once I’ve gotten out of bed to create one thing, who knows what other things might present themselves during the day? I’m taking charge! And I urge anyone else who’s pesky brain is keeping them down to do the same. And I’m going to need picture evidence of all that is created…

create one things every day, knitted pom pom
Now there’s one for the craft fair
create something new every day, knitted pom pom
Not bad…POM POM

By the by I shall be posting a daily picture of whatever I’ve created every day on my social media so follow me on Instagram or Twitter for the #createaday low down!

How To…

…maintain a relationship through mental illness.

It’s no secret that Depression and anxiety are tough illnesses to bear, but not least for your family and loved ones. Any illness puts strain on any relationship – man flu could (and most likely does) break up the most solid of partnerships. And when your partner is lying on the floor rocking back and forth with tears streaming down their cheeks and asking you to section them, I can understand why that might be a tough thing to take.

Wedding guest outfits

Two weeks after I first had to leave work due to mental illness Chris went away for three weeks on a work trip. It seemed like terrible timing, however, looking back on it now leads me to think it was actually exactly what I needed. I heard a stupid song not too long ago, probably written by a stupid man, the lyrics of which dictate that “you’re nobody ’till somebody loves you”, which I have to say it utter codswallop (euphemism). Love helps, it really does, but the love of someone else can only go so far, love for oneself has to do the rest.

The three weeks I had without Chris gave me the perfect opportunity to work on me, spend a little time with myself and get comfortable with who I am. And it was nice! I think one of the best things you can do for any relationship is make sure you’re happy alone, because if you’re not, the likelihood is that no one will be able to fill the gap you already have within you. A partner can stop you feeling lonely, but may be not stop you feeling alone (I have a feeling that might be a song lyric?)

When Chris got home we went through a bit of an adjustment period. He wanted to help and tried to be understanding but it was hard for him to comprehend it all and it was hard for me to communicate with him. It was a bit of a mess really, not an oh-my-giddy-aunt-this-is-never-going-to-work-out mess, but a we-need-to-make-a-few-changes mess. So I wrote him a letter (time-honoured and much underrated communication form). I did a few drafts, I made sure I was explaining myself clearly and I gave it to him to read alone. After he read it he came downstairs and gave me a big kiss and we’ve had very few miscommunications since!

A Parisian Kiss
I am aware that I look like a dwarf in this picture

I decided on a letter because I’m a crier. I cry a lot. About every other day I burst into tears, either for good or no reason, it matters not. Chris is kind of used to it now but I have been told that the sight of their spouse crying has a somewhat panic inducing effect on many loving partners. It’s like what happens to me when someone poses me a maths question; I panic, I can’t actually focus on reason any more, it feels like numbers are shouting at me, it’s stressful. So I took tears out of the equation (evil things) and instead of me explaining myself through sobs and snot, I did it in a way that Chris could take as much time and space as he needed to mull over my point of view.

And it worked! He has been the most amazing support system since (not that this wasn’t always his intention). The other day I text him to say that I didn’t think I could get out of bed because I didn’t know what to do and he text back straight away with the best advice – to do just three small tasks one at a time; to get out of bed, to make myself some breakfast, and to do some yoga and then the day will have begun and I’d know what to do. And it worked. I told my therapist about it this morning and she said “he’s a really good fiance isn’t he?”

Yes he bloody is.

My fiancé with our gorgeous cat!

How to…

…holiday with anxiety and depression!

The world's fluffiest cat
Cat’s help, obviously

In mid December I was feeling really good. I felt that I had my darkness mostly under control and I hadn’t had to pop a propranolol for a while. I was feeling hopeful about the future and ready to set to work as a freelance writer in January. Life was looking up, and then something weird happened, I completely fell apart. On the 22nd I took to my bed with wild crying eyes, begging Chris to come home from work because I just couldn’t be alone. I was so scared, and of what I just didn’t know. Until I realised it was Christmas – I was scared of Christmas. What a fucked up situation!

It’s not usual that one is scared of Christmas but when you break it down it is sort of frightening; bright and often flashing lights everywhere, copious hugs and awkward hellos with distant family members who you’d rather not have to touch at all; the stress of watching someone open your present when you’re really not sure if you’re going to get the genuine “thanks!” or the not so genuine “oh, thaaaanks”; the stress of indeed getting the “oh, thaaanks” when said parcel is eventually exposed. And, I just have to be brave and say this…I hate Christmas dinner. It’s just a bigger Sunday lunch! I feel like Christmas calls for the kind of meal that you don’t have once a week, it’s special, it’s one day out of 365, what about a nice truffle risotto? Or a tasty Beef Wellington? Fondue! Just something that you don’t have every week for the rest of the year. Perhaps I should just change Sunday dinner to a weekly Fondue and then Christmas dinner really would feel like a treat. Although you would probably have to roll me to the table because after a year of weekly fondues I would indeed be a very large Milly Marble. And really good at solving countryside murders – obviously.

So what did I do? I took it easy actually, I took it all in my stride, not anyone else’s. At first I felt stupid and guilty for not being able to enjoy a time of year I usually relish and look forward to but that kind of emotion really did not help the situation. So I took time out from the festivities when I felt I needed to. That and I made sure a glass of fizz was always within reach. Dear readers I would love to tell you that alcohol didn’t help but alas, that would be an untruth.

So when Christmas was over, I breathed a sigh of relief as we drove away from the Uk and on to Switzerland, on a skiing holiday, for the New Year. I haven’t been able to go skiing for about 2 years and being spoiled as I am and used to at least one annual trip to the snow, I was really looking forward to getting back out on the slopes. But when I got there I found that I was racked with guilt. Holidays seemed to be things for people who work and I don’t have a job. But my sister put it quite succinctly when she said “but you have been working hard, you’ve been working hard at getting better and that’s a pretty full-time job.” It took me a while but I did eventually settle into the idea that just because I hadn’t been working in a 9-5 job, I did deserve a break, or at least I definitely did not not deserve one, if you know what I mean? So I let go a little bit. I counted my blessings and tried to enjoy them.

Happy couple on a sunny ski holiday

And I stopped putting pressure on myself to enjoy things that I felt I should, for example New Years Eve – I have always hated New Years Eve but always felt that if I treated it as any other night and went to bed when I felt like it, I would be missing out on something but I actually had the best New Years Eve I’ve ever had. We went to watch a band in a local bar at about 5.30pm, who were so bad that they managed to clear the entire place, when we got up to leave the guitarist said that we couldn’t go because we were the only ones left and that if we agreed to stay he’d buy us another drink! He then gave Chris the tambourine and we all joined in with the last couple of songs until the poor musicians really did have to admit defeat and pack up. Then we went home, I changed into my special New Years Even lounge outfit (stretch waist band), we had a great meal and then watched a Julie Walters documentary at which I laughed until I cried and then at 11pm we all went to bed. At 12am the fireworks woke me up but then I went back to sleep and we got up nice and early to catch the first lift up the mountain whilst everyone else nursed their New Year hangovers. Gloat.

My glamorous New Years Eve outfit
My glamorous New Years Eve outfit

This holiday season was a lesson in letting go. Opening up to the way I was feeling and just trying to be okay with that, by doing that I naturally let the better feelings in and the bad ones sort of seeped away. It did take the entire holiday to learn something I wish I’d know on the first day but now I know for next time – roll on honeymoon!

family ski holiday fun

How to…

…Recover from a nervous breakdown (6!)

Healing Exercise No. 6: Lists

I have become an avid and devoted list maker. I cannot fully describe to you the feeling of ticking off items from a list – it’s almost as good as hearing the pop of the first champagne bottle at a party. It feels me with a warm, oozing but triumphant glow. I have always been a bit of a list maker, because I like structure, but I am now fully committed to the task and it’s revolutionising my life.

Depending on how I’m feeling the lists vary. Sometimes I know things that I want to do the next day so I make a lot of lists entitled ‘To Do Tomorrow’ but then often I wake up and know it’s a bad day and the list changes to look a little more like this:

  • Get up
  • Shower
  • Get dressed
  • Make the bed
  • Empty dishwasher (this one is pushing it)

And other days I wake up and it seems to be a good day so they look more like this:

  • Buy cat food
  • Hoover
  • Sew table runners
  • Sort out cupboard over microwave
  • Yoga
  • Knit a hat

Either way it’s important to do only what you can feasibly manage, and on the days when it’s a real chore to get out of bed, ticking off that list feels just as good as when I tick off ‘Knit a hat’ and where depression and anxiety are concerned it’s important to be encouraging and gentle with yourself. You wouldn’t punish yourself for struggling to get out of bed with a cold so why would you punish yourself for struggling to do it with depression? Every tick is triumphant, whether it’s having gone for a run or made the bed – you have to congratulate yourself for living life with a mental illness and, when combined with other healing exercises, eventually the bad days will come fewer and further between.

This is hard for me because I’ve always been really tough on myself but this is where mental illness is teaching me things and techniques to lead a better life with or without it. When I’m over this and off antidepressants and not nervous about going out in public, I’ll still be being kinder to myself than I was before (which will ward off more mental illness episodes in itself), I’ll have gone through a wholly improving reassessment of my life and priorities, I’ll know more about myself and what I want. I’ll be more understanding, more able to help others, more experienced and ultimately a better person from going through this than I was before I broke down. There’s something to be said for re-building a life, because you have the luxury of experience and hindsight to utilise when it comes to building things back up – so ultimately you’ll be building something better, more stable, stronger.

Perhaps this is just one of those good days, but I’m starting to feel finally ready to put the last few bricks in that building.

Todays List:

  • Write blog
  • Publish blog
  • Wash sofa cushions (cat wee)
  • Take duvet to dry cleaners (cat wee)
  • Sew a top (Christmas present)
  • Go to Ikea
  • Go to Lidle
  • Be happy

Autumn style, list making, getting on with it