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

Travelling taught me…

…a whole heap of stuff! I haven’t really done that much travelling in my life. I’ve been lucky enough to spent a lot of time holidaying and sometimes living in Europe but my travels outside of this lovely continent have been minimal thus far in my life. So I knew that my trip to Vietnam and Brunei was going to be a learning curve, just not quite such a steep one!

Okay, here we go…

  1. Never carry your passport around with you when you’re sightseeing or exploring and always leave a bit of money and a credit card out of your purse and in your hotel room.
  2. I need a giant and gold Buddha in my garden…Get holidays tree! Travel, Vietnam, what travel taught me
  3. …To go next to me pink sparkly Happy New Year tree.
  4. I need to improve my maths to avoid getting conned out of the correct change.
  5. Food is just better when it is in miniature.hotel food, vietnam, cocktail hour
  6. Being in a completely blacked-out plane whilst it shudderingly and shakily descends towards earth in a full-on thunder AND lightening storm is HORRIBLE. Fully abused the free booze in the airport lounge after that experience.
  7. The Vietnamese sure know how to make a mausoleum.Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, Hanoi
  8. Severe food-poisoning on a thirteen and a half hour flight is a harrowing experience.
  9. Air Malaysia toilet paper is proper rough…
  10. Money does grow on trees.Ho Chi Minh, September 23rd Park Tet Flower Markets
  11. Don’t look up the symptoms of Malaria and then consult your doctor about it – you’ll spend hours in A&E.
  12. Giving blood is a less traumatic experience than I remember it being.
  13. Hotel slippers are generally quite small.Small hotel slippers, Ho Chi Minh, Saigon
  14. There can be great inspiration in travel.travel writing in vietnam
  15. There can be great relaxation in travel.relaxing in vietnam
  16. I think out of all religions I’ve ever come across I like Buddhism the best.The temple of literature, Hanoi
  17. I need to take a leaf out of the Vietnamese ladies’ book and learn some self-defence.Vietnam Women's Museum, Hanoi
  18. I need to stop letting Chris take pictures of me.long-haul travel attire
  19. I’m a very lucky lady to be able to experience other countries and cultures. I have so much compared to some of the people I met on my travels and I should remember to be thankful for that every single day.Lucky lady in Hanoi, Vientam
  20. I’m not a born or natural traveler but I think I should see as much of this world as I can, to widen my mindset as well as my knowledge of the planet I live on and the world I live in.A gateway to the future.

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!

The power of…

…acceptance.

So as mentioned in my last blog post on what care homes are teaching me, my Oma is my idol, she is The Legend. But she has Vascular Dementia which is a very cruel decease because it seems that when someone in really old all they have left is their memories, their life experiences; the children they’ve raised; the adventures they’ve been on; the big achievements of their lives, but Dementia strips you of all of these things, leaving you with only a few moments of the present that disappear quickly into the misty blue hole of the mind where all other memories and knowledge have also travelled.

I LOVE visiting my beloved Oma every day but it is emotionally draining. Visiting her is a whole world of highs and lows. One minute she’s providing witty banter, the next she’s trying to remember who my mother is (that would be her daughter) and what my mother’s name is (that would be Georgina, the name she bestowed upon her as a baby). Or she’s worried about her son Stuart because she thinks he’s recently been in a serious car crash – which he was…in around 1975. That sort of thing. Sometimes I leave the care home and just cry the whole walk home, it just seems so unfair, she’s such an amazing woman who has had the most interesting life (she’s a German woman who married an English solider in 1949 for goodness sake), she shouldn’t have all that taken away from her! But she mostly just laughs when she realises who my mum is, and that it’s 2015 and that made me realise that I have as much control over this decline as she has. Neither of us can change the inevitable, and I’m not an uber scientist able to delve into the depths of chemistry for a cure, so all in all I’m just going to have to accept it.

The only thing I can control is how I feel and how much better I can make her daily life, whether she remembers it or not. That is what every other visitor at the home is doing, that is what every other resident at the home is doing. They would be weird if they liked loosing their marbles, but there is nothing they can do so they live with it, they make the best of it, the wonderful nurses there keep happy and upbeat at all times – every one has accepted that this is currently an inevitable part of growing old and are doing their best to make it as painless as it can be. And actually she’s doing okay, she has her bad moments but she knows who I am, she can’t remember what day it is or which city she lives in but she can remember what my name is, and for some reason she can remember that I’m getting married on 30th May, random woman.

This is a “grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference” thing. Apart from I don’t believe that God grants me this wisdom, I believe it is within my power and learning to teach myself acceptance; to grow from my experiences and be able to congratulate myself when the choices I make come good and learn from the choice that come out badly. My stepdad always says “the luck you get is the luck you make yourself” which has always stuck with me. I really do believe in fate, I believe opportunities are put in our way but I believe that it’s up to us how we utilise these opportunities, how we recognise them and benefit from them – that is the luck we make. I want to take responsibility for my own life; for the good and the bad – it’s all within my power. And I learned all this from visiting a care home full of some very confused but lovely old people. These old folks are teaching me an awful lot – just wish they knew it!

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

“I’m giving you five minutes to get out of my house!”…

… “Mabel for the last time this is NOT your house!”

So I have an icon – the ultimate idol of my life. She is my 89-year-old Oma (Grandma – she’s German) Mimi Gertrud Crosbie. She’s the best woman I know; she’s funny, smart and sharp as a tack; she’s had amazing life experiences and always offers the absolute best advice; she has wonderful sayings and the thickest German accent you’ve ever heard despite living in the UK for over 65 years; she is epic, just epic.

She has Dementia and after years of increasing her care package at home (up in Cheshire) to try to keep her safe the decision was made that she should move to a residential care home here in Cardiff. It was sad to take her away from a home she’s lived in for 58 years but for me in particular it was a source of great excitement to have my role model in life living only a 10 minute walk away, instead of a five-hour drive! And as my time is more my own at the moment I have been able to visit The Legend every day – which has resulted in a lot of time spent sitting in comfy chairs, knitting, drinking tea and eating biscuits whilst completely surrounded by old people. Those who know my habits, hobbies and idea of fun would say that this suits me perfectly and they’d be right, however, spending this much time with those in the winter of their lives is teaching me rather a lot, so I decided to write a blog on what I’m learning.

So one of the major life lessons the residents of my local care home are teaching me is the art of the comeback. I think in general we’re loosing our ability to deliver a scathing, argument ending comeback. We swear more and resort to that, or we use weird colloquialisms like “yeh? Well…your mum!” instead of just responding with a clear, concise and well constructed answer to offensive behaviour. For example, a few residents at the care home believe that the home actually belongs to them, I am going to call them Mabel and Edith (lovely names – I thought about it and decided to change the names of those I spend my days with as I thought it was a more sensitive approach to take). On the first night Oma was in the home I was getting her ready for bed in her room which left Chris in the communal sitting room with the other residents (he dresses like an old man already so he fitted right in). During this time Mabel shouted at him “Right, I’m giving you five minutes and then you have to leave my house!” One the lovely nurses said “Mabel, you know that this isn’t your house”. But this wasn’t really good enough for feisty Mabel who went on to shout at Chris about taking liberties and invading her space and how she paid for everything, etc. To which Edith piped up with “Oh Mabel, just stop being so rude.” And that shut her right up! Which got me thinking, what if instead of saying “your mum!” (I don’t know if this is just a Welsh teenage boy comeback but I’ve always found it rather amusing) to people who are rude to us, or “well fuck you too!” what if we just said “just stop being so rude”? Might that not make the person being rude think about their behaviour? That they’re not being offensive to offensive people, they’re not sticking up for their own rights, they are just being rude. Perhaps that would be a changing point in their lives?! Perhaps the next time they think about shouting at someone, or dropping litter in the street, or posting profanities on social media sites they’ll think hang on, am I being rude here? And instead they’ll say “Good Morning” to someone, find a bin and share a picture of a really cute cat. All because of a good comeback!

Also my Oma  has always been great at comebacks and being surrounded by old people trying to tell her what to do is exercising this particular skill, for example, the other day I found myself sitting in a room full of really old people watching a bald Michael Buble wannabe singing old school hits to them (he was actually pretty good). At first my Oma had decided she didn’t like this man and insisted on shouting to me (I was sitting in a spare chair a little way away) “He’s very loud but not very good!” But after a while the familiar tunes started to do their wonderful work and she started tapping her feet and hands to the beat. The lady sitting in a wheel chair next to her said “sit still dear!” to which she replied “I will sit still, when I’ve stopped moving!” Perfect. Just perfect.

Dementia, what care homes are teaching me, my oma, dementia care

I didn’t think that I could learn so much from a care home but comebacks aren’t the only thing I’m picking up. Next week: The Power of Acceptance.

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