Are you a ‘Yes’ or a ‘No’ person?

 

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Admission of the day – I have been frightened of everything.

This was never the case in my teens and twenties. I had the confidence of glorious youth, which of course, it goes without saying, went completely unappreciated.

I wonder if (somewhat negatively) that confidence was perhaps due to a lack of experience of how the world really can be pretty cruel, or if it is handed out at birth alongside the traits of being inquisitive and eager to explore, or perhaps just a touch of both.

Certainly, and it has been said before, if as a toddler, we had opted not to continue learning to walk because we kept falling down and it hurt, then life would be fairly limited; similarly if our parents had not encouraged us to eat different foods again and again, even though they might not be quite to our palate (semolina, tapioca, pearl barley and anything with aniseed … still beyond the pale however) then similarly, our world would be relatively small. But no, we experimented, tested and tried all manner of activities, foods, drinks, boyfriends, girlfriends, ways of organising our knicker drawer, varieties of sexual positions, before starting to work out what we liked, what we didn’t like and the ways that we liked to do things.

And then, ‘kaboom!’ …. We discovered one day that we were stuck with those familiar places, people and wonderfully familiar ways of doing things; not because necessarily they were the best, but sometimes simply a case of ‘better the devil you know, than the devil you don’t’. Really? Is it truly best to put thongs in one section, everyday knickers in another, and extra special, ‘these cost a flippin’ fortune and only get dragged out once a year’ knickers in another …. or should they simply go in order of colour? Is there a best way at all, or should they all get pushed in together and frankly if one remembers to even wear them, well, Praise The Lord. Who knows? Once again, it’s down to personal preference … the way we like to do things.

But back to the point in question and forgive my ramblings about knickers, when did we (or rather, I) stop trying and experimenting? Because from that moment, I became apprehensive and disinclined to try the unknown and the new. And when I lost the desire, subsequently the loss of ability soon followed. Like any good habit of course, the less you practise, the harder it becomes to do. And the result? As in human nature, we choose the easiest path. And stepping out of one’s comfort zone and trying new, alien things become all too frightening and our world shrinks.

We see others doing exciting, fun things and give a little snort of derision (in fact it’s secret jealousy teeming with fear and frustration); we can easily justify why it’s a bad idea to take a holiday somewhere unusual, excuses for forgoing that themed party (how childish and anyway, think of the cost of hiring an outfit … how unthoughtful are the hosts), we become a No Person rather than a Yes Person. And our world shrinks just a little bit more.

One of my first dates with The Colonel was cycling around London on a pair of Boris Bikes. Once I had overcome the complete panic, fear and adrenaline brought on by the prospect of being flattened by a bus, car or ending up in a waste disposal lorry, the complete joy and freedom of my hair in the wind whilst peddling through the quiet little squares of matching terraced houses with their private gardens in the middle protected by the wrought iron fencing …. Past the flower shops, the cafes, and through the parks with their splashes of vividly coloured and regimented bedding plants, past the ladies pushing their prams clutching coffees and talking nineteen to the dozen with a fellow female pram pusher. The joy was stronger than the fear. The outcome … a most successful date and an aching jaw from having smiled and laughed so much and for so long.

And back to today where kayaking was the order of the day …. visions of being trapped in upturned plastic tubs in rough torrents, unable to escape, drowning in water and fear. Actually not the case.

A double kayak, I was in front, the Colonel behind. I gave orders, (The Colonel was surprisingly content to relinquish leadership status for a short while) “left hand down a bit, right hand down a fraction”. I’d forgotten that I’d done a fair bit of straddling a lilo as a child with my sister whilst trying to remain upright for longer than ten seconds or the width of a swimming pool (whichever was the longest) I was also quite fit from all that exercise in Scotland. The claustrophobic fear as we entered narrow, low entrances into the darkness of caves almost instantly disappeared as I remembered reading somewhere, “It’s not fear, it’s actually excitement, your brain just needs rewiring”. I repeated this just the once, and suddenly the darkness and gloom gave rise to a cool, silent cave with limestone rocks reaching up high above us. Not a sound, bar the slight rippling of water from our paddles. I am in heaven. Again, the joy and excitement was stronger than the fear.

My world has started to open up, by trying new things, experimenting and challenging again, just like when I was a fearless child. I feel excited, my confidence is returning and I have at long last found a new lease of life. Thank God, it really is possible to become a yes person and start afresh. I just need the joy, excitement and the control of my breathing (and therefore my negative emotions), to be stronger than any panic and fear. I can do this.

Katie xx

Has anyone tried anything new lately? How did it make you feel? Do you think it’s possible to rewire your brain?

Are you a yes or a no person?

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Scuba Diving … With Anxiety … Really?

 

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I’m sitting here with a large fresh juice, on a ridiculously comfortable sun bed on a ridiculously beautiful beach feeling as though I’ve simultaneously conquered Everest, become the next JK Rowling and saved the human race from drowning in a sea of plastic. In a nutshell, I’m feeling a teensy bit pleased with myself.

I have scuba dived, or is it dove … frankly I don’t give a hoot.

I was a mermaid. I was a mermaid for forty minutes on a coral covered reef surrounded by every imaginable and remarkably-coloured, shaped and sized species of fish, darting here and there, feeding, playing, whatever it is that fish do, whilst they were apparently oblivious to the presence of a couple of visitors in their habitat.

I knew it would test me. Suffering from anxiety, I knew there was a strong possibility of a panic attack or six. I knew that a panic attack under water would most probably be the end of my career as a mermaid. However, on a more positive note, if I was able to control this, I would indeed have conquered my very own Everest, to say nothing of being a superhero.

A video, a lengthy instruction in the pool, lots of information later and before I know it, I am perched on the side of the pitching boat, and being expected to just drop backwards into the sea. I understand that I am safe. I know the logic, I know the drill. But dear God!

It’s like that horrendous game where someone stands behind you and you have to fall backwards into their arms with the belief and trust that they will catch you. I’ve never done it and never will do it, trust not really being my forte. However, I am now having to believe in the knowledge I have been given, the experience of having done it in the swimming pool and I simply have to have faith in myself. Flippin’ marvellous.

Ordinarily, this would have been the perfect situation for a minor meltdown. However my instructor ‘buddy’ was waiting in the sea, my husband (aka the Colonel) was watching with a look of delighted anticipation and the other group of divers were waiting for me before they could go. No pressure then. I took one final look of unadulterated terror at the man helping me, and closing my eyes, holding my breath, (both completely unnecessarily of course) and dropped backwards into the heaving dark water.

Its quite a surprise really when you think you should be dead and in fact you’re most definitely alive. Kevin, my French (and alarmingly good looking) instructor was there, as promised, and I was apparently unharmed, also as promised. Quite extraordinary.

Together French Kevin and I made our way slowly down the line into the depths, with much stopping, starting, squeezing noses (well, really just mine) and sorting out of ears refusing to equalise, alongside trying to keep the emotion under wraps. Despite the multitude of shells with goodness knows what creepy crawlies living inside them and some rather slimy seaweed all attached to the line, I was not letting go. I was beyond getting squeamish over a few beasties … I was so out of my comfort zone I’d need a train, a plane and a bicycle to get me back, for I had bigger fish to fry … I had Betty the Demon to contend with.

Finally we reached the bottom where Kevin had previously explained that we would just sit for ten minutes to adjust. Without the task of equalising to focus on, the panic started almost immediately, roaring around in my brain wanting to take over. Betty the demon is screaming with laughter, heart racing, fear taking over, fear winning. I need to escape. I need to get up, get out. I am afraid. I am desperate. Panic has successfully gripped me by the throat and my shallow, fast breathing is making me nauseous, faint, hot …

Kevin’s hand touches my arm. I hold onto it tightly. He understands. He holds me and with his free arm indicates for me to look into his eyes and mimic his breathing. It is slow, it is controlled. In slowly, out slowly. Repeat. In slowly, out slowly, repeat.

His unwavering stare is reassuring, but odd because it’s not the Colonel’s and he’s awfully close, but hell, right now he’s lucky I’m not sitting on his lap and clinging to his neck like a limpet (thank God for small mercies). My breathing is copying his rhythm, the panic is subsiding, Betty is stomping off, muttering obscenities at a lost opportunity to come back into my world and my head is starting to nod that all is getting better and I finally manage the O.K. signal.

I start to look around, I start to see the wonderful underwater world around me. And the more I look, the more I relax, and the more the breathing becomes normal. We head off, everything is slow and peaceful. Together, we point out the weird, the wonderful, the unutterably beautiful. We share the experience and though this is a normal event in his day to day life, he clearly expresses delight in showing me the glory of this unexplored world.

The corals, the constant movement, the peeping of eyes from deep within a crevice, the darting movements of the fish alongside an overall slow waving motion of the current moving everything in its path and of which one has no control, during which all you can hear is your breathing.

In slowly, out slowly. Repeat. In slowly, out slowly.

This is mindfulness, this is real breathing, this is living in the moment.

The grinning Colonel was waiting for me. In truth, I don’t know which of us was the more exhilarated, the proudest.

And now the sun is dipping down over the horizon, the light is changing and the fishermen are moving slowly across the water in their narrow boats. What a day. Yes, what a day.

Katie xx

Have you scuba dived?

How did you cope? Did you find it easy or not? Any tips?

Manila …

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Taking the first steps outside of the aircraft and into the air, the heat and humidity lunged with full force into my body and lungs. A strange feeling of a pressurised osmosis raises my temperature within moments until there is simply clammy skin and a few damp tendrils of hair on my neck and a slightly unpleasant feeling of losing a little control.

For a day we walked around the city of extremes. The poverty was to be expected and yet when it is lying in front of you on the roads there is of course the instinctive want to put the world right, to scoop up the filthy naked babies and their parents from where they lie and give them some of what I, and so many of us, have.

There are families living in the dirt beside the crazy traffic, the men cooking over tiny fires whilst the women scrub at clothes in dirty buckets of water. A baby sleeps, her naked sister squats and urinates a short distance away whilst the boy plays in the dust with one broken toy. And what do I think? I think of my son’s old scooter left outside our house for the dustbin men to take away, just last week, in a sorting out of old toys and clothes. I think of the carelessness, the frivolity of our society, the excessive food, clothes and the throwaway mentality.

I see the stray dogs and cats; old, young, desperately thin and more often than not, injured. I think of the shameful cost of buying the latest most fashionable breed of dog in England. I see filth and chaos, the high rise buildings alongside the shacks, I smell the drains competing with the sweetness of frangipani, and whilst the senses are being attacked from every angle, I see two tiny barefoot women under a makeshift covering talking together.

The older one has her eyes half closed as she lies sprawled on the cracked concrete. The younger one fans her and as I pass, she looks up at me and grins widely, her lined face lighting up. “Welcome to Manila” she beams and waves a bony hand, never pausing from her fanning. I smile back at her, pause beside her, unsure, wanting to help, not wanting to offend, but she waves me on, the moment has passed and she is already chatting again to the woman, fanning away the flies from her face and making her more comfortable by creating the lightest of breezes on her skin.

And what do I wish for? I wish that in the future, in the dark days, I remember her; her smile, her dry, dusty, thin skin stretched taut over her fragile bones and I remember that my life is so very easy and sometimes it’s good just to keep a little perspective.

Katie xx

Once An Addict, Always An Addict?

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Do cravings, wantings, needings, “just give me a fucking glass of wine-ings” ever truly pass?

As I sit in the airport lounge with a cup of chamomile tea (no judging just yet, hear me out), I can’t help but wonder if that feeling of always wanting more will ever actually fade and completely disappear into the misty memories of time.

What I’d really like is a huge, strong coffee with milk, sugar and a cigarette on the side or better still, a socking great glass of the old vino plus the same side order.

But now of course I’m a grownup, a reformed character, and I am putting my health before my cravings. (Please note the slight smugness …. not an attractive character trait I’m fully aware)

Sadly the heavily caffeinated drinks are out (interstitial cystitis – don’t ask)

Too much sugar is out (negative effect on mood)

Cigarettes are out (not wanting a divorce, after all, I am on my belated honeymoon, plus vanity wins and I can’t bear the thought of actually looking like a smoker)

And my trusty friend-turned-enemy the vino and I have also had to have a teary parting of ways (err just becoming a teensy bit of a problem, plus again the interstitial cystitis).

So all in all, I do slightly feel as though I have joined a different group of society, aka, the grownups. A little late at 48 but why not use this opportunity to dig out that old cliche and say ‘better late than never’. There’s a secret part of me wanting to embrace the whole healthy living thing with total gusto and give Gwyneth Paltrow a run for her money, but she does it soooo much better than me, plus there’s the devil in me that’s also wanting to rebel. So perhaps there’s a bit of balance in my soul somewhere after all.

If only I’d just never, ever started some of these little habits that slowly and craftily have turned into big habits. If only ….

If only I had been a grownup sooner, perhaps arriving on this Earth a fully fledged adult … with all the wisdom I have now. Youth is most definitely wasted on the young that’s for sure …. oh with this wisdom, how much easier adolescence and those ghastly teenage years would have been. But perhaps it was the experiences that gave me the wisdom and I’m just not the sort of person who takes someone’s word for something, I have to jump off the springboard into the freezing water to test it for myself, and no, toe-dipping and moderation was never my ‘thing’.

The soulful calling to prayer is echoing through the high ceilinged terminal and is remarkably soothing, in fact I’d go as far as to say that I’m feeling decidedly relaxed and calm. Or perhaps it’s the chamomile tea, which is still tasting a little like sucking on a piece of straw. I think however I should find out if it actually is decaffeinated and perhaps some honey might improve it …. somethings got to.

Katie xx

P.R.O.M.I.S.E.

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Make this promise every single day.

Make a commitment to yourself, your mind and body. Make a promise to put on those rose-tinted glasses that you once, where the world was a wonderful and happy place.

What have YOU done for your mental health today? Can you make this promise to yourself?

P. Prescriptions

If you need them, take them. If they’re not working, change them. Your doctor is your friend – your job is together to find what works for you. And if the doctor doesn’t work, change them.

R. Re-setting The Thought Patterns

Go to therapy, talk to a psychiatrist, talk to a psychologist, learn about CBT and practise, practise, practise every day until your brain starts to ‘unlearn’ the bad habits and learn the good. It works.

O. Outside

Get outside, get some fresh air in your lungs and find the light. Just to let you know, bright moonlight gives you 1 lux, normal living room lighting gives you 100 lux, but being outside on a sunny day gives you 20,000 to 100,000 lux … monumental difference and we need it more than most.

M. Mindfulness

Yoga, meditation, deep breathing, whatever you need to practise daily to start to control the anxiety .. Nb Don’t do the audio cds in the car. I nearly crashed I was so relaxed, and they keep telling you to close your eyes … enough said.

I. Instil proper eating habits

Invest in your body. Think you can live on processed food and feel good? Cooking is for everyone, for you and your family. If your own parents have brought you up on Macdonalds, crisps and ice cream, shoot them (Nb Yes that is a joke) or better still, educate them. If your mind and your body is out of sorts, it’s going to be even harder to get back on an even keel. (Ginger nuts don’t count as long as the whole packet isn’t eaten in one sitting.)

S. Social Interaction

Have a proper chatter and a natter with at least one other human being every single day. The dog does not count, neither does talking to yourself.

E. Exercise

Whatever floats your boat as long as it raises your heart rate and gets the endorphins and dopamine kicking in. Find something, anything that you’re going to stick at.

Make the promise that you’re going to do this every single day and see through those rose-tinted glasses …

Katie x

Are You Anxious? (Durr …)

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I have, over the past few years always done those little self-tests, usually entitled “Am I Depressed?” or “Am I Anxious?”. The problem is that similar to the ones that ask “Am I An Alcoholic?” I have a tendency to argue with the questions and then dither with finding the correct answer.

In the same way that when the doctor asks, “Are you having suicidal thoughts?” the correct answer is of course the honest one. But who knows, they may be having a bit of an overzealous day, lock me up, take away my children and throw the keys into the River Thames. But then maybe that’s just my anxiety speaking.

On the other hand, if one is a little too in control, said doctor may think that you’re fine and dandy and just having a bad day.

There have also been times when I’ve just wanted to grab them by the lapels of their shirt and roar, “Just give me the fucking pills!” But of course I’m a ladylike sort of ‘gal who wouldn’t dream of causing injury to our wonderful NHS doctors, or maybe I’m just afraid that they’ll arrest me and I’ll end up in that same cell, children back into care, keys once again in the River Thames with the addition of the ex husband sanctimoniously sneering, “Well of course this is why I couldn’t stay married to her. She’s neurotic, unhinged … frankly, mad.” Perhaps he has a point.

So back to those little self tests …. I do remember doing something similar in my teens in Jackie magazine (now I’m showing my age).

If your best friend kissed your boyfriend, would you …

a) Ditch the friend

b) Ditch the boyfriend

c) Have a grownup conversation with them both and explain how hurt they have made you feel, or

d) Ditch them both, tell the world of your woes, throw all toys out of the pram and spend the rest of your life harbouring evil thoughts about the pair of them.

Well, ‘d’ …. obviously.

Yes, I spent many an hour on a Saturday self-diagnosing my character issues, foibles and faults. And what did it teach me? Not a lot, except that I was probably a lot like everyone else, but just a little bit more. I was the hot chocolate with the extra whipped cream and the sprinkles and the marshmallows on top.

So in doing my latest “Am I Anxious” questionnaire I am being asked,

“How often have you been bothered by not being able to stop or control worrying over the last 2 weeks?”

Ridiculous question! … ‘Bothered’ indeed …. I am bothered by a fly bashing against a window pane, I am bothered, anxious and stressed when I am out of the house that someone is breaking into the house, and when I am in the house, I am worrying that the axe-wielding murderer is already in the house and about to do his axe-wielding thing. Therefore, obviously, I have far more important things to be worried about than whether or not I am bothered about being bothered about worrying. You get my point? Crystal clear I think….

“How often have you been bothered by becoming easily annoyed or irritated over the last two weeks?”

I suppose the fact that the iPad has been thrown across the room probably answers the question, there is little point in continuing and a trip to the doctors is now the only answer, but only of course if I can be absolutely certain, and of course I can’t, that the axe-wielding murderer is nowhere in the vicinity and the doors and windows of the house are firmly locked.

Of course, he could be in the back of the car ….

Katie xx

Ps. Anyone else have these thoughts?? Or am I truly mad?

Confidence and Wisdom

 

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Last night, being ‘teenage children free’, the Colonel and I went out to supper. A short drive took us to a rather trendy gastro-pub which has appeared at some point within the 20-something years since I previously lived in London.

High ceilings, wide Victorian sash windows and wooden floors gave a feeling of space and light, and old kitchen cabinets and tall bookcases straining under the weight of hardback books lined the walls. There were oversized glass jars filled with lemons and limes and a shelf filled with open pretty boxes filled with dog biscuits at canine nose level, complete with water bowl to the side, for those visiting with furry friends. I must say that had our dog not tragically departed from this world recently, whilst she may have been somewhat straw-filled between the ears, she could smell food from a mile away and with a propensity to be greedy, would have ‘wolfed’ down the lot in one sitting. (Excuse the lame pun … assuming that this is where the verb originates …. to wolf). Suffice to say, our gastro-pub emanated the kitchen of a rather hip and cool wealthy friend in the country.

Located in ‘The Tonsleys’, this rather fun place is surrounded by little ‘two up, two down’ Victorian cottages, pretty as a picture, set on a hill, yet once being sneered at for being the poor man’s Fulham, and horror of horrors, south of the River! They now however come with a price tag which will make your eyes water, legs tremble and the need for a stiff drink at said watering hole …. particularly when you realise that the money tied up in these dolls’ houses of bricks and mortar will buy you a socking great pile of a mansion (apologies for ghastly word but you get the gist) anywhere out of London, and a rather natty little castle if you head to Scotland, complete with acreage and no doubt some highland cattle thrown in for free.

I digress, apart from one gentleman well into his sixties and with his rather charming Heinz 57 of a dog who spent his time belly crawling towards the dog biscuit shelf (the dog, not the man), the average age was in fact pretty much on a par with us.

There were of course the mid to late 20-somethings looking terribly young, appropriately Sloaney if the word still exists and perhaps noisier than everyone else, either due to bad hearing or, more likely, in an attempt to display more confidence and bravado than they actually possessed.

The remaining men and women were relaxed, smiling, comfortable in their own skin sorts. And therein lies the reason for this post, this drivel that I have put upon you to set the scene for something so minor and trivial and yet …. not.

For, during the 12 years or so that I lived in this city, I never once felt comfortable and as though in any way, shape or form I fitted in. I have always been pretty hopeless at lighthearted small talk, finding it tediously superficial. Cocktail parties I habitually arrived beyond fashionably late and left as soon as I had done the necessary schmoozing. Quite why I ever went I’m not entirely sure.

However here I was, in this large room filled with strangers and yet I felt as though my presence was warranted. I was justifiably allowed to be a part of this. I fitted in. Don’t take me to the party … I am the party! A little extreme to make the point, but I’m hoping you’ll understand. Having been dealt the cards depression and anxiety, to grab life by the proverbial balls is not a habit I have tended to partake in, as the challenges in life seem to be far harder than for the average mere mortals! We are uniquely different, and let’s not forget, that the harder the challenge of course, the greater the prize.

I have in my 48 (God forbid) years at last experienced enough of the good, the bad and the extremely ugly to have the confidence to not just walk in as though I own the joint, but to actually believe that I am worthy, more than worthy to be here.

I may have been an outsider in the past but time more than just a healer, it is a wonderful thing. During ‘time’ we have experiences good and bad. The bad give us wisdom, “the ability to cope” rather prolifically said Michael Ramsay (Archbishop of Canterbury many, many moons ago in a BBC interview), and the good experiences give us confidence.

But to have these experiences we must be warriors and face life with hope, optimism and courage. We can never be sure what the future will bring, but it will, whichever way it pans out, either give us confidence or wisdom, and athough nobody ever told you that life was going to be fair, if at the very least, you gain one of these two attributes, well, you can’t say fairer than that.

Katie