Time to Talk 2018 – Anxiety Cafe take over!

I have been writing a blog on Time to Talk day for the last 4 years talking about my journey with my anxiety backpack and all I learned along the way. I thought this year I’d hand over the blog to my friends at Anxiety Cafe.

For those who don’t know my friend Kerry and I set up a ‘cafe’ for people living with anxiety to come, socialise, meet new people and try new things. We now meet weekly offering creative activities and a place to chat (Thanks to Independent Arts and funding from WightAid). Yesterday the group chatted about Time to Talk day and the importance of having those conversations, mental health stigma and how important having somewhere like Anxiety Cafe is to have conversations in a safe space.

My first observation in yesterday’s session was when I asked if anyone would come and receive the big cheque from our funder, no one was keen! I know that some of that was insecurities that anxiety brings, some of it past histories which led them to Anxiety Cafe’s door but I also know a portion of it was the nervousness of being associated with a mental health group – the stigma is still alive and well everyone!

Many of our attendees talked about how Anxiety Cafe let them have conversations that they couldn’t have anywhere else. It is somewhere where you are not judged, where you are understood and supported but most importantly you feel ‘normal’. Many of us can have conversations here that we could never have at home – even with the most understanding family and friends. I think most of the regular visitors to Anxiety Cafe feel we are the safest of spaces. Sometimes the best therapy is feeling understood, no longer being alone and feeling like no one else feels like this. All it takes is someone to say “I’ve had that too” or ” I feel like that most days”. Sometimes there are even helpful tips shared, remedies for sleepless nights, tips for mindfulness or things that helped me so It might help you. It’s somewhere you can feel normal. You can feel real, there are people here you can be honest with.

Some of us recognised that actually Anxiety Cafe is a unique place where you actually don’t need to have a conversation. You can just sit here and listen to everyone else, there is no obligation to talk if you don’t want to. That’s fine.

It was interesting to hear some of the stories of how ‘coming out’ about our anxiety was received. We all recognised the feigned interest, the ‘oh, pull yourself together, you’ll be fine’ a few of us had even found that people actually cared, told us they had got our back and even said ‘Yeah, me too’.

We also had a chat about some of our success stories – “Oh I haven’t seen so and so for a while.” “Yes they have got a job, a new partner and are back to living life to the full”, “oh that’s great”. These kind of things inspire us all that you can get better.

We have people who just come along to one or two meetings, some who have been to them all. Some who are high functioning and some who can barely get out of bed, some who have been battling anxiety for decades and some who are new to the circus. But they are all welcome.

But I’ll finish where I started, there are still people we don’t feel we can talk to, not everybody understands. We still feel judged for being ill. So I ask everyone who reads this to have a conversation today about mental health, to help make everywhere Anxiety Cafe – a safe space for people to talk about mental health. Thanks xxx

If you would like to come along to an Anxiety Cafe session please visit  http://independentarts.org.uk/anxiety_cafe/    

or visit our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/anxietycafeiow/

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Plastic Free Aisle/Isle

I’m not perfect by any means but over the last few years I have been trying to reduce my environmental impact by cutting down on single use items.

In 2017 I went on a mission against the single use cup. My slight annoyance had moved to outrage when I visited Stonehenge and their tearoom only used disposable items. I imagine that this is mainly so they don’t have to employ anyone to clear tables and fill a dishwasher. I was really annoyed that a charity that support some of our most important historic places had so little regard for the environment.

At the start of the year I had a few grumpy coffee shop employees when I asked for a mug but as the year moved on it was less so, I was obviously not the only person who was on a crusade! Quite ironically, I had visited a Pret a couple of days before their CEO took to Twitter to ask what they could do to reduce the amount of disposables. I replied maybe getting some mugs for people drinking in to use – obvious I thought? Apparently not. In their no doubt high rent shops, there just isn’t room for a dishwasher, I guess it means they would have a couple less tables. I left said Pret without a drink as they could only offer it in a takeaway cup.

In 2017 I used 6 single use cups – down from the 100s, I didn’t think this was too bad. Incidentally all these single use cups contained milkshakes from large takeaway chains, lets not just bash the coffee shops for this. I really need to look in to a milkshake carrying device…

In 2017 I am trying to reduce my use of plastic bottles. I had the first whinge yesterday (only 10th January) in Boots. I went in for a butty as I had forgotten my lunch, normally I use a local sandwich shop but tight on time I just dashed in. I got to the counter  

Boots lady “You need to have a meal deal, it’s cheaper, you can have any drink you like”

Me “No thanks, I don’t want a drink, I’m trying to give up plastic bottles”

Boots Lady “But, it’s cheaper”

Me “Yes I know, but I’m still ok thanks”

Boots Lady “Well I don’t really understand it but ok”

I get the feeling that I was probably the talk of Boots yesterday afternoon – the weird lady who is giving up plastic bottles!

I guess what I am trying to say is that, there needs to be a lot more than a tax on plastic bags and coffee cups or a vague promise by the government that we might do something about it in 30 years time. We all need to do more to consume less. Be more aware of the impact of having plastic in everything, even our tea bags. That we give our children balloons at every event, that glitter is in everything, that we just eat and go and don’t think about the impact of that. It will take more than a slightly eccentric lady giving up plastic bottles and coffee cups. Hopefully more of us will take a stand on a small scale and make others think. It needs a re-education, so you don’t get a straw in every drink from a bar, you don’t have you fruit and veg packaged in tubs and bubble wrap, you get your milk in a washable glass bottle and we really need to work on that milkshake transportation.

So, I got attacked by the crazies

It happened, the thing I have written about here before, my biggest fear, the anxiety came back.

This time it wore a different cloak and a couple of times really scared the bejesus out of me. The thing is, that for the first time I actually saw it coming, sneaking around in my thoughts, wafting its dark cloak in the shadows of my thoughts. I thought “ah well if I see it coming then I can do something about it” and I really tried!

After living with anxiety for as long as I can remember, I have built and arsenal of weapons in my castle to defeat the beast. I know that I need to get plenty of rest and time away from my work, to let my brain process everything. I need to factor in PJ days, to watch bad TV or curl up with a book, just to defrag my brain. I need to keep order and schedule to things – the worse my anxiety gets the more stuff I forget which adds to the anxiety. I need my friends around me to offload too and I need some space on my own to manage everything – but that needs balance too. If I have too much on my own time I could basically become a hermit and too much friends and the whole ‘not getting relaxation time in’ becomes an issue. I also need to exercise, be that in the gym or a dance class, a long walk in the fresh air, even the occasional run.

The big problem this time was that I had all this weaponary but the walls of my castle (my real life) were no longer strong. I couldn’t use the weapons to the best of my ability, I tried to fight and managed ok but then the walls we breached and again I was over run by The Crazies.

The Crazies were a bit different this time – they usually are. Slightly different symptoms with every flare up. This time I had a bit of mania (that was particularly scary) and the sensory overload was almost daily. This was all alongside the usual hyper-sensitivity to everything my body was doing and the obessive overthinking.

So what caused my castle to collapse – well a multitude of things really. It has been a really crazy year it started on 7th January when we got an offer on a house and I was offered a great freelance job to supplement my part time Project Manager role. So we found a house, packed and moved all in two months. Meanwhile my elderly Grandfather became increasingly frail. A lot of the early summer was spent peppered with weekends visiting him and family until he passed away in July. Meanwhile my work was getting increasingly busy and as I wasn’t working at the weekends, my freelance work was piling up. There was little time for exercise so that was really sporadic and then no lovely endorphins to perk me up. The enemy was in sight and there was nothing I could do to stop it. At the end of July I had an exhausting morning of repeated panic attacks – my defences had been overwhelmed.

Since then there have been periods of up and down, times when I was managing fine and times where the panic just sat rising. Even when we finally managed to get some time away to relax, The Crazies were still there. Sometimes I’d get a bit of respite and a few days of quiet brain but then they came back.

Then last weekend we went off to Budapest and had a lovely weekend, I flew back to the UK on my own and I managed, and The Crazies stayed away. Although this week at work has been stressful, I can’t see that dark cloak at edge of my thoughts. I went to a gig last night with a pal as my partner was poorly and there was not an anxious thought the whole time. I woke up this morning and for the first time in months I feel creative, I want to write, I want to read again and I feel the walls of my castle re-building.

So I thought I’d write and tell you all about it.

A huge thankyou to everyone who has helped me through the last year, even if you didn’t realise you were doing it.

Time to Talk day 2017

I’m not sure when the last time I wrote on this blog, I write a lot but not all of it gets published or it’s more suited to another thing I am working on but Time to Talk day always pulls me back to Custard on…

This year it seems more important than ever to talk about your mental health, the world seems a much scarier place than this time last year. There appears to be more uncertainty and there is so much change in the air. Whatever your political persuasion you can’t doubt that the news from the last few weeks is a little unsettling and the unknown is a scary place. Especially for people who don’t fit the traditional mould, it feels to me that we have gone back to being a minority again, and current politics doesn’t seem to like minorities very much at the moment.

I am don’t have to conform to being a mental health patient anymore, it’s been more than five years since I was discharged from the service but I still carry my Anxiety around in my handbag, always with me, just lurking. I have better control of Anxiety these days, it doesn’t creep into my every waking moment, but it still stalks my vulnerable moments, keeps me awake at night with the what ifs and the maybes. It has been hanging around my home a lot over the last few months as we are in the throws of moving house, I wonder if I can leave Anxiety behind in the loft when we move out? That would be nice, but I doubt it. I am sure it’ll climb into the box of ‘first night essentials’.

As those who have read this blog before will know, I have always been happy to talk about my mental health. It was great to have a little chat in my office today about mental health. I was saying that I was a bit stress and feel a bit like all the adult responsibilities were weighing heavy on me at the moment. My colleague was saying that she was feeling lonely (her relationship ended quite recently). Her comment was ‘well you were worrying about all that, and I was just feeling a bit sorry for myself’. Whatever your worry, big or small, I hope that you can find someone to talk too about it. Talking has been the best therapy I could have, knowing that those I am surrounded by everyday understand me and the challenges I face. Anxiety is in my bag under my desk, but it stays there most of the time, and if it gets out, the people I work with understand. I know I am so lucky to have this support, I honestly believe that it is because I have been open and honest about Anxiety, that I have been better understood and accepted in all the positions I have held.

I was pondering the other day how often when someone says ‘How are you?’ do you reply ‘Yeah I’m good’ when actually you aren’t. I have tried over the last few months, when I have struggled more to actually say ‘I’m not so great today’ or ‘struggling a bit’ or ‘could do with some support’. I’ve not said this to everyone, but to my friends I have been much more honest than perhaps in previous difficult times. I have been overwhelmingly supported by everyone, from our Anxiety Cafe group, folk at work and my friends and family. Thanks.
Keep talking. It’s time to talk, it’s time to change perceptions of mental health.

Give a girl a (loo) break

For anyone who has ever spent any time with me – especially on a long car journey or at the cinema will know I need to pee a lot more than the average person. I have had all the tests and you know, I have a reasonable urinary system but the bladder just gets irritated and then it screams to be emptied – especially after booze or juice or large volumes of liquid all at once. I guarantee that it annoys me way more than it annoys you. It causes to me to have to pee beside motorways and in hedges, know where the nearest loo is on long journeys and even on the daily commute, but it’s just the way I am. I have heard people say “oh, I never use a public toilet” well I should be so lucky!

Having lived with this condition since my teens it can have some limitations on my life and it can also cause some rather awkward conversations if you have to ask to use the loo in more unusual places. It also increases my anxiety levels and on a bad day needing to pee and not being able to go can lead to a panic attack – not fun. I decided to arm myself with a bit of support and got a little card to carry in my wallet that says “Please help, I really need to go!” I hoped it would take the stress out of some situations and also help reduce my anxiety.

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The first time I used my card was at the Take That concert at Hyde Park this summer. I had a chat with the stewards on the night and explained the situation. No problem they said, just take it over to the welfare tent and they will sort you out if you need it. For the first time I thought “Great I can go to a festival and have a drink, just like everyone else because I won’t have to worry about needing to pee!” So off I went and bought a nice Gin and Tonic, had a good boogie and then the time came for the G&T to be evacuated. Off I went to the welfare tent, only to be faced with a huge queue of people all waiting for the disabled toilets – errrr this wasn’t supposed to happen. The panic began to rise, I stood there for a few moments to assess the situation. There were 14 people in the queue for 3 disabled toilets including 4 wheelchair users – I suspect that 14 people with disabilities are going to take considerably longer to complete their toilet than 14 abled bodied folk from a manoeuvrability situation if nothing else. So I spoke to another friendly steward and explained the situation – “No problem” she said and whisked me off to jump the queue for the ladies loos. Within a couple of minutes I had used the loo and the panic attack had been averted and I could go back and enjoy my night. I was really impressed with the staff and how helpful they all were.

However, while I waited for a free toilet I was verbally abused, shouted at and pushed by one lady in the queue.

Woman (I won’t call her a lady) – How come she can jump the queue?

Steward – She has a medical condition and needs to go quickly

W – Prove it

Me – Shows Card

W – What a load of bullshit, I could print that out on my computer

She and her friends then proceeded to talk about me like I wasn’t there and the pushed me into the cubicle when it became free. They then heckled me when I left. Not really what I wanted.

The thing that got me was, my condition is annoying but it’s the way I am, I am used to living with it. Many of the people who carry cards like mine have a much more debilitating illness like Crohn’s disease or serious bladder or kidney problems. Many of the women who carry these cards are on medication after being treated for breast cancer – it is a very common side effect after cancer treatment. I just thought to myself, how would I cope with the way I was treated that night if I had already battled with a cancer that had seriously affected my confidence?

So next time there is someone who needs a bit of help, perhaps try to understand and be empathetic. After all we’ve all been bursting for a pee at sometime in our life to the point where you feel you might explode – well that’s me every couple of hours, if I’m lucky. Go on, be a nice person, help a sister out!

Custard on Mental Health Awareness

It’s Mental Health Awareness week. It is just as important to look after your mental health as your physical health and this week is trying to focus on and raise awareness of doing checking your mental health..

Living with Anxiety disorder and compulsive thoughts for as long as I can remember it’s not hard for me to be reminded to look after my mental health. Sometimes I just need to go and have a quiet half hour upstairs, take some time out for me just to breath and feel my feet touch the ground. Sometimes I have to go out and do a gym class, have a walk or a bike ride and feel my body moving. Sometimes I have to climb into an oversized fleecy hoodie and pull the hood over my head and hide from the world. I am lucky, I know many of my triggers and I have learned the best way for me to deal with the outcomes. I don’t always get it right, but these days I get it more right than wrong.

If you feel that you are struggling then you need to go and ask for help. I was amazed by a chap I spoke to a little while ago who was more than happy to go to his GP because he found a lump in one of his testicles but he couldn’t go to the GP to say he was struggling with depression – “It’s just not their problem, I’ll be ok, I’m not going to die from being a bit depressed, I might die if I have cancer in my balls though”. There are two sad things here, firstly that there is still so much of a stigma around mental health that you are happier to go and show off your meat and two veg than talk about your brain. Secondly that people don’t think bad mental health can kill you – it really can.

There are a number of people in my life (and folk I know on social media) who are really struggling with just staying alive at the moment, their suffocating depression and thoughts of inadequacy are so great they are struggling to keep fighting the battle. I find the thought of suicide as a really tough one to deal with – I have never been there so I can’t comment from my own experience. I used to think suicide was a selfish easy way out, you know – just check out because you can’t be bothered anymore. Then leave everyone to clear up after you and live a life that will always be a little bit broken because you are not part of it. However, the more people I have got to know who have felt suicidal or have experience of suicide my views have changed. It breaks my heart to think of the way you must feel to take (or attempt to take) that most final of acts. To feel so alone, helpless, exhausted and broken that the only way you can see out of this situation is to bring it to an end. All I can say is if you are feeling like this, please talk to someone. There are so many groups out there who you can speak to or just reach out to someone, anyone and know that you are not alone. If it is too much and you make that choice to leave this world by your own hand, there will be someone left who will sit there thinking, “My phone was on, if only they’d called, I would have listened while they talked, help them know that there was someone there, someone who cared”

Just like all illness, mental health can be a simply cured for some people – taking medication that works for them or referring them for counselling sessions and a few months later they are back to full health. For others it is more of a lifelong plod along, with ups and downs along the way, hard days and days where things are more simple. Either way this recovery will all begin with a conversation.

Mental Health problems are still a huge taboo and we really need to get better at talking about our ‘stupid brain’ (as I call it) and it’s chemical imbalances and all the other stuff that affects our thinking. We need to get better about noticing changes in our brain, personality and other triggers just as we are all told to check our boobs and balls for lumps and bumps. We need to look at ways of preventing bad mental health – making sure we eat well and exercise (which will obviously help our physical health too) but also taking some time out to feel our feet firmly on the ground, to build confidence and try new things. Learn to celebrate the little victories and not to sweat if things don’t quite go to plan.

Essentially we all need to learn to love ourselves a little bit more and ignore our ‘stupid brain’. It took me a long time to learn that, and my life has changed because I am learning to be more forgiving and say “It’s ok to feel like this, how can we work around it” rather than punishing myself for not being able to do something that others take for granted like doing the shopping or getting on a bus.

So start looking for lumps and bumps in your brain and may that lead to bad mental health and then please keep talking, always. You are too important to someone to be convinced by a stupid brain that you are not.

Custard on – Visit York!

I decided a few months ago that I wanted to visit the beautiful city of York again – it was time to plan an adventure. It had been 20 years since my last trip to the city, as a student on the verge of Sixth Form we all attended a residential trip to York University to spend a week pretending to be students!

I also quite fancied going by train and looked into travelling First Class with Grand Central Rail. Sadly due to a slight mix up over holiday dates I ended up on the standard class Virgin East Coast Route instead, but the trip from London Kings Cross was lovely. It took around 2 hours and the scenery as you passed through the country was beautiful, much helped by it being a cold crisp day.

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The beautiful York Station

York is an ideal city to arrive by train as pretty much everywhere is within walking distance, even with my backpack I made it comfortably to my hotel on the other side of the city centre (The Novotel if anyone is interested) in around 20 minutes. I also racked up 60,000 steps on my fitbit over the 3 days I was there which makes you feel a lot less guilty about eating a cream tea in Betty’s!

I asked on twitter for a few suggestions of what to do, eat and see while I visited. In return one tweeter asked me to tell people how great the city is and how it was very much open for business after the floods – so this is the blog!

I was aware of the flooding that had hit the city over the Christmas period and as I walked through town you could see the river levels were still high (but now at a more than safe level). A few buildings still had their Christmas decorations up, and I felt sorry for the staff and owners that have been left to pick up the pieces after the flood. In fact it wasn’t until I sat down to write the blog I looked at some photos of the flood damage – blimey half the city was underwater! However, I can say it didn’t impact on my trip at all.

I was given a warm welcome everywhere I went. York is my ideal sightseeing city as I love Museums and Churches of which there are loads! I really enjoyed my visit to the York Castle museum and the National Rail Museum was well cool, Queen Victoria’s train toilet on show!- I won’t go into it here as I think there is another blog in it with my heritage hat on. The views from the top of Clifford’s Tower were amazing and then to top it off despite my slight claustrophobia, acrophobia, general fear of the unknown, anxiety and panic attacks. I decided to climb the 275 steps to the top of the Minster tower! What an experience! I also wandered the museum gardens, over bridges and through lanes. Had a trip round the Treasurers House and sat in quiet contemplation in no less than 8 churches (I love a good Church).

 

I also had some delicious food, from my wholesome Veggie breakfasts at Bicis Y Mas, Nepalese food at the Yak and Yeti, Thai cuisine at Khao San Rd. Spring Espresso did lovely tea and cake and of course you can’t visit York and not go to Betty’s! It was lovely to see so many independent shops, restaurants and coffee shops thriving in York.

 

So please go and visit York, it’s open, it’s friendly, it is packed full of local places to eat and drink, tons of culture, and you can do it all by train, bus and on foot. I had a great few days and I can’t wait to go back and do all the bit’s I missed.