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.

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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.

Custard on 2015 – the year of time

Tis the time of year for reflection and making resolutions. I actually try not to get to suckered into these things. I am a believer that a new month or year is not a good enough reason to put yourself under pressure to change. You can make the decision to change at 9pm on a Sunday night in June, if you want to change it you can. But that is by the by. I’ll start again!

Tis the season for reflection and making resolutions. In 2015 I started a new job, working from home and for myself. For the first time in almost 15 years I actually had time on my hands, I wasn’t studying, I wasn’t working 60 hour weeks, I wasn’t juggling many spinning plates waiting for something to drop. I had time, and I was going to use it!

After less than one week of self employment I discovered I needed to do something with people so I started volunteering as a shop assistant in the bookshop at Quarr Abbey. I’m not a religious individual but I love books, I love people and I am open to many points of view an beliefs. If it helps and it’s not hurting people it’s good for me. I had some interesting encounters in the shop and met some fascinating people. People full of faith, people with none, people searching and people on pilgrimages. I had my beliefs tested, and I learned many things including how to refer someone for excorsism! It was also great to give something back to my community, offer my time and feel useful. I also loved spending time in such a place of peace. I gave roughly 175 hours to the Abbey in 2015. I have had to give up this role now I’m working in a more full time capacity, I miss the place.

A also volunteered at Standon Calling Festival in July – 20 hours and I volunteered for the National Trust for a number of events, promotions and training sessions plus some archiving – roughly 60 hours to that cause.

I helped out at the OCL Childrens remix in Birmingham – that was 16 hours plus some CPD sessions that they ran so 20 hours for that cause.

I also helped set up Anxiety Cafe at the Quay House My Time Recovery Centre. This was something I was passionate about helping with. Regular blog readers will know I have had my own demons to battle with in regard to anxiety and it was great to be able to give something back and help others. I worked with Kerry (who I met on twitter) who also has anxiety and depression to set up the group. Kerry needed a bit of extra confidence and someone with experience – I fitted the bill. She had the contacts and the drive to get the group up and running. We started in September and we help around 20 people a month to socialise, meet new people and be part of a group who understand the limitations of anxiety – we mainly chat about what we’ve watched on TV and Kerry’s fabulous cake. I’ve given about 30 hours to this cause.

So in 2015 I gave roughly 305 hours as a volunteer to various causes and charities.

I also wanted to give some time to myself and for me. I wanted to get back into exercise, not just in the gym, but stuff I actually enjoy. I tried Yoga for the first time – and loved it. I joined the gym but did classes including circuits (didn’t like), Zumba (loved), Aeromax (the jury is still out), DanceAtomic (fabulous), Waterworkouts (was the youngest by 30 years) and FitSteps (Strictly in trainers – what’s not too like?) I walked, I was bought a bike so I cycled, I even went on a run or two, I swam and did the occasional dance! In total I did 155 gym based exercise activities in 2015 and walked over 1 million steps on my fitbit (I bought it in the summer so can’t do the whole year). The exercise built my confidence and fitness and I can’t wait to get back to the gym next week!

So alongside all this I had lots of visits to museums and interesting places. Attended @drinksthings events at exciting London Venues. Met shed loads of new people and contacts. I wrote some blogs and some articles. I even earned a little bit of cash. I got a new, new job (in October) which I love and was worth spending time on, developing new skills and building my networks. I went to gigs, met friends, chauffered and supported my partner, spent time with family, ate some great food, built relationships and I was even a cleaner (for a day!). It was also a year of adventure – but that’s for another blog!

By the end of 2015 I was ready to have a break, my time was no longer my own (or not as much of it). But having a year of time (or 9 months as it turned out) has been very valuable for me. I got to find myself again, the person I am when I’m not exhausted, who has time to read and learn. I will probably never have a year of time again, but the lessons I have learned will go with me to the next chapter. There are things I am determined to keep doing, even if time is limited, and my sense of adventure had grown. So the plan for 2016 is to make time for the things I enjoy in my life, not just things I need.

My year of books

Last night I returned to where it all began, the tiny fold out bed, in the spare room at my parents house. About a year ago I left my job of almost 13 years and embarked on a new challenge – working for myself. The day I left my job, I drove back to my parents to join my family and friends for the family Christmas. As I began to relax, I thought of some of the things I wanted to achieve in my new life. Some of them business related, others on a more personal level. Many were things I never had time to do when I was working all the time.

Last night as the orange glow from the streetlight filled the bedroom and the rain battered on the window, I was thinking of all the things I had done since last year. There is more stuff than will fit in one blog so I thought I’d start with the books. The rest can come later.

I have always been an avid reader. I read the BBC’s top 100 reads – it took me 10 years, but I finished it in 2013 by reading the last 32 books on my list over the year. So 2013 included James Joyce, Tolstoy and finished with The BFG (they are all on the list!). I also vowed when I finished, that I was reading what I wanted for a while!

My book challenge was to read an average of a book a week for the year – 52 in total. I wasn’t allowed to purchase more than 5 books from bookshops. I must either get them from the library, borrow from friends or read from the shelves full of books in our house.

I am pleased to report I managed to complete the challenge with a month to spare, reading the 52nd book on 24th November. I have loved the personal challenge. I have enjoyed finding new books in my local library. It has introduced me to authors I had never heard of, to read genres I wouldn’t normally have considered.

I have read on ferries, planes, trains to London, Yeovil, Bristol and beyond. I have read in hotel rooms, coffee shops, my house, a campervan, in a field at a festival, on the beach and in the bookshop of a monastery where I have been volunteering.

I have been transported to the Tudor period, Oxford colleges, 1960’s Sweden, parallel universes where ghosts commit crimes and there are women who are part fish. To jail cells, sleepy american towns, Police stations, the scenes of numerous murders and on marches for women’s right to vote. To 1940’s London in the blackout, Ravensbruck, and a town that survived the plague.

I have seen good triumph over evil, killers being caught and some get away. Families smashed apart and be reunited. Marriages, births and deaths. New friendships made and old friendships lost. All from the pages of a book.

I have mislaid my glasses about 193 times!

I am just finishing my first Val McDermid novel (I never said I was reading highbrow stuff!) and next on the list is one of the British Library Classics with a Christmas theme. Mystery in White by J.Jefferson Farjeon. Well tis the Season and all that! It is the 5th book I have bought this year.

As 2015 draws to a close, times have changed again. I am back in employment in a new job that I love. My challenge for 2016 is to read 30 books and buy no more than 3. See you for an update this time next year!