27. Normal is Good

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On social media, everyone is seemingly very, very happy. All of them (apparently) enjoying a blissful existence of beautiful, laughing children on sun drenched beaches with parents exclaiming how they are having a ‘Proud Mummy moment’ (urghh!) as their daughter number one, two or three (or perhaps all) have been accepted to Oxford University, meanwhile their gorgeous hubby has just swept them away on an eye-wateringly expensive safari trip as pictures of distant lions are thrust into our inbox. Similarly in the press, flawless models and celebrities pose outside the popular London nightlife haunts, with glowing perfect skin, no cellulite (God forbid), spots or a muffin-top to be seen. Everything looks so darn perfect and so darn predictable.

However, we also know, that this a totally air-brushed version of what the truth is. And yet, when it’s constantly thrust down our throats, we do start to believe it.

It’s human nature and it goes without saying that it makes us look at our lives slightly negatively. Jealously creeps in, slipping and sliding its way into our minds until the green-eyed monster makes us just a teensy bit dissatisfied and disappointed with our own lives. Our ordinary trips to the supermarket, our jobs, our daily mind-numbingly dull and endless chores of housework and whinging children frankly all seem just a little bit … meh!

Is it however to be expected and the norm to be wandering around in a state of euphoria? Of course not.  I don’t see the average person going around the supermarket or at work with a constant grin on their faces. In London they would be avoided like the plague. Up here in Glasgow they would probably be sectioned.

How many times do we say, “Everyone else is happy, why can’t I be happy? Why can’t my life be like that? I would be happy if my life was like that? Depression and anxiety suck!”

And yet, these people, these apparent friends of ours are simply wanting us to believe that their life is a constant holiday in the Caribbean.

However ….. What is the truth? The truth is that the husband has been having an affair, they both have a drink problem and child number three has just been expelled for selling weed. The safari holiday was a last ditch attempt to save the marriage, escape the mistress (who has now turned into a bunny-boiler) and in actual fact, those were the only two lions that they saw after seven hours confined in a 4-by-4 with three bellyaching kids, no WiFi and two of the three missed it anyway.

So now we know the truth. Now we can choose to either accept what is being thrust daily in our faces and believe it, or take it all with a little pinch of salt, give a smile, move away and instead, start concentrating on our own lives.

So now, instead of wishing for a perpetual smile and asking myself every day if I am happy, I shall ask myself, “Am I ok?”.  If the answer is yes, then that is good.  That is normal, and normal is good.

I will ride out the inevitable storms in the knowledge, that they will end.

I will relish and delight in those fleeting moments of total joy and happiness.

And for the rest, for the average day-to-day life of simply living, I will enjoy the feeling of peace and of normality. Because normal, is good.

Kx

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26. Having a Hobby, or ‘A Thing’

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I’ve never much liked the word hobby. It’s always tended to conjure up images of groups of 80 year olds sitting in a draughty church hall doing crochet, undoubtedly wearing large polyester floral skirts with elasticated waists and discussing the merits of their husbands vegetable patch ……

I’ve had single girlfriends who have secretly joined Salsa evening classes, until a few weeks later they can’t talk about it enough. Worse still, they have tried to coerce me into joining them. Err, no thanks! Raving about the liberating joys of learning something new and meeting different people. Why on earth would I want to do that?

Why would I want to risk making a complete fool of myself, standing on the edge of a roomful of Fred Astaires and Ginger Rogers, whilst nobody picked me to have as their partner. Oh nooo! Besides, I had friends. Why would I need any more? My own little random group of friends, strangely however from the same middle class background with the same dress sense, likes, dislikes and thoughts as me. Was this a coincidence or had I subconsciously chosen friends because as they were like me, therefore they were deemed safe and I could therefore trust them?

However, that was in the old days, the bad days. Those were in the negative days. To be honest I was not only just a teensy bit narrow-minded but also somewhat uneducated. I knew nothing! Not that I know an awful lot now, but perhaps I am slightly more open to ideas. And of course, this was before I discovered my ‘thing’ (autocorrect just put in ‘thong’ rather than ‘thing’ which has made me smile, childish I know … I’m sure I discovered thongs a long time ago!). I don’t have a hobby, I have a ‘thing’.

And tennis is my thing.

It’s my focus … for several hours a week, I think completely and utterly on one thing. I do something completely alien to me which is to concentrate! I’m pretty sure Roger Federer isn’t serving for the match whilst stressing over what to buy his wife for her birthday or whether Trevor the plumber is going to turn up that day. During those hours I have no negative or anxious thoughts, and that is becoming so regular that it’s becoming a habit. A good habit. Betty the Demon Depressive doesn’t get a word in. She is silent. I am not feeding the beast, so she is wilting. Simples.

It’s my sport …. it’s exercise which means endorphins, dopamine, serotonin start leaping into action, boosting my mood. They are real and they work. The exercise has helped my skin; it makes me drink more water which helps every organ in my body. I can wallop a ball with such force that all my frustrations fragment and disappear. Despite being a skinny bird, age is cruel thing and where bingo wings, muffin tops and love handles once were, muscles are appearing. This makes me more confident and the Colonel’s glasses steam up more … both of which are positives in my book. (The latter perhaps needing to be kept under control from time to time).

And finally, it’s a part of my routine and structure …. It’s one of my daily tasks. It gives me a sense of purpose and control with my life, mind and body. I need routine and structure more than most people. Without it, there’s always the fear that I really might end up doing nothing all day and hiding away in my little home, wrapping my bingo wings around me with nothing to talk about.

And finally, it’s my social interaction with the world. I have new friends. Friends who are different from me. Friends of different ages, backgrounds and cultures. I have no one to hide behind, no children, husband or alcohol. I have learned from them that being yourself is good. We talk nonsense mostly, laughing about nothingness. We laugh, we tease, we tell each other our woes and our joys. We put the world to rights. They don’t judge me and I don’t judge them. They are quite simply, fabulous.

So, if anyone out there is even just starting to think about having a new ‘thing’, then my advice (without being preachy … what right have I?) then don’t overthink it, just do it!

Don your very best floral, elasticated skirt, head down to the church hall and start doing it …. Crochet, tennis, salsa, Ethiopian basket weaving – whatever floats your boat. But you’ll end up with considerably more than just a new hobby. You’ll have a whole new part to your life. A very, very good part.

Kx

18. Let the Battle Commence!

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If you want to beat anxiety and/or depression, you have to be prepared to have a fight. You have to want to fight.

It’s going to be a battle and it’s the hardest of all battles, because what you are battling or rather, who you are battling is actually yourself, or a part of yourself that has secretly grown and grown whilst you’ve unknowingly fed it.  Because every time you have given into it, it’s army has grown in size.

So it’s stronger now than you could possibly have imagined. But you too are strong, aren’t you?  Because you now have the Army, the Navy and the RAF at your disposal.  You have the knowledge and the support which equates to all three forces on your side.

It’s going to be a battle which you will hate. You will hate every moment of it. You will be out of your comfort zone. You will feel exposed and vulnerable. You will hurt and want to give up. You will want to retreat to the warm safety of your home.

You will have to be prepared to put everything on hold and live a slightly different life for a short period of time whilst you starve the beast. You will have to do the things that you don’t want to do and yet these are things that are normal activities. But Betty the Demon Depressive is sitting there wanting you to fail. And if you give up, if you fail, then you have just fed the beast, fed Betty, making her stronger, building her armies.

With anxiety and depression we have to fight. We have to get up, do our jobs, engage with the world. Do our exercise, do our yoga, our mediation, whatever it is that we know helps us. We know it’s hard …. whoever told you life was easy?! It’s not, and it’s doubly difficult if you battle with anxiety and/or depression.

But, if you succeed you will hold the flag up high. You will hold your head up high. You have achieved. You have won! Betty is insane with rage yet withering in her defeat. Just like the witch in the Wizard of Oz when she has the bucket of water thrown over her …. surely we’ve all seen that scene?!

Yes, tomorrow she will try and come back, but just you have that bucket of water at the ready. Just you be prepared for another fight! Of course it’s tiring, but now that you’ve done it once, you know what to expect…… and the best news is that Betty is now weaker. Each and every time you fight her, she becomes weaker.

And you’re strong, right?  Yes!

Battle on McDuff and attack this week!

Kx

9. Have You Tried Yoga?

Today I enrolled in my first yoga session. Dear God. I’ve just become one of the yummy mummies, but by walking into the mirror-clad room, not so yummy I notice. (I’ve read that Yoga is very good at increasing your GABA levels, but more on that later …)

Quite what happens after two children and hitting forty I really don’t know but frankly everything seems to have dropped further south than Antarctica since I last put on my gym kit (actually that was school so perhaps hardly surprising). Soon I’m going to be needing some sort of a bra-like contraption to lift my buttocks off my calves …. particularly in comparison to our yoga teacher.

To age her is nigh on impossible as the lights in the room are low and therefore apparently soothing. She’s all hoopy earrings, long bouncy hair and wears what appears to be a leatherette thong over her leotard. I feel a little over-dressed and overwhelmed. I’m also rather glad that I’ve not brought the husband (aka The Colonel) with me for moral support. He’d be both giggling and drooling simultaneously. I also hope we don’t have to listen to whale music …. ah, yes clearly we do.

Her body bends in ways that bodies frankly shouldn’t and yet somehow watching her grace and elegance as she moves from one position to another in fluid motions is quite mesmerising.

Everyone is concentrating and calm with only the sound of (supposedly) soothing water and whale music. The water is making me need the loo and the more I think about it the more I need it.

“Focus your mind” she says in a soothing way … I’m trying not to think about what I’m going to cook for supper rather than the loo. Concentrate! “Breathe” she says. You try bloody breathing when your legs are behind your ears. “Find your inner wisdom” she purrs. Inner bloody wisdom – it’s all I can do to clench my buttocks to prevent an involuntary escape of air from my bottom.

She’s moving around the room, adjusting everyones legs and arms. She’s coming to me …. oh right … not so gentle and calm now is she, as she pulls my arm higher towards the ceiling and moves my leg further out – my balance is going … I start to wobble, and in the process grab something – it just happens to be her.

Her hoopy earrings have now attached themselves to my hair and it takes a few seconds to restore order. My muttering apologies are snappishly hushed amid the whale music and, red-faced for the remainder of the class, I leave, sharpish. There’s a class later in the week with someone called George. I think I might give his class a go instead.

* * * * * * * * *

Just in case you’re interested, I’ve been doing some research on GABA from The Boston University School of Medicine and University Health News and masses of other articles and they all come up with pretty much the same conclusions ….

GABA

Gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, is the brain’s major inhibitory neurotransmitter to prevent overstimulation and therefore promote calm.

Researchers have found that three sessions of the exercise a week can help fight off depression as it boosts levels of a chemical in the brain which is essential for a sound and relaxed mind.

Scientists found that the levels of the amino acid GABA are much higher in those that carry out yoga than those who do the equivalent of a similarly strenuous exercise such as walking.

The chemical, GABA, is essential to the function of brain and central nervous system and which helps promote a state of calm within the body. Low GABA levels are associated with depression and other widespread anxiety disorders.

The Top 4 GABA Deficiency Symptoms

1. Depression

2. Anxiety, panic and PTSD

3. Insomnia

4. Drug and Alcohol Dependence

8. Getting Some Order!

A new 40 something friend of mine recently confessed that many years ago she had suffered from post natal depression. Her own mother (who is a no-nonsense, tough old bird and one of the kindest and wisest women I know) gave her daughter some very simple advice. She told her that if she could do nothing else that day, then she should simply clean a cupboard.

And whilst this is a very simplistic suggestion, she nailed it. For that is what her daughter then did. She could do very little, but she did clean cupboards. And it was the start of her recovery.

That simply, easy task which involved nobody else, could be done in her own time, in her own space and gave her the tiniest lift of achievement and satisfaction. Her body was active, she listened to the radio, her mind was calm.

Every day was a battle from the off, but that task when completed meant that she had beaten her own “Betty the Demon Depressive” just for that day. She had won a round with Mike Tyson. And that is what it’s about, it’s about fighting Betty every, single day and not giving in to her, for that simply ‘feeds the beast’ and makes Betty stronger.

So, if all else fails …. turn on the radio, empty a kitchen cupboard and get cleaning! It’s therapy!

Happy cleaning!

Kx