Finding Etta!

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The strange thing about cycling is that it’s impossible to feel any form of depression whilst your thighs are burning, your lungs are screaming, cars and of course other proper cyclists are zipping past, as you force 20lbs of metal and rubber up a hill. Your mind is rather, occupied, shall we say.

Equally, tootling gently around the sunny London somewhat quieter streets and the pretty parks with the breeze in your face and the warmth on your back, seeing the world close up, a feeling of complete unadulterated happiness, of living in the moment totally encapsulates you.

My first trip out was to the sorting office to pick up a couple of parcels. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. According to google maps, a mere 6 minute cycle ride.

I returned home 38 minutes later, and no, there had not been a queue at the sorting office.

I saw two gorgeous old Renault 4’s (along with the Citroen 2CV my favourite ‘pottering along a French country lane’ cars) a beautiful steel grey and white whippet which I knew would have delighted the Colonel, I met a very grumpy old woman whom I had thought I was helping across the road (clearly not) and I discovered that it’s quite hilly in southwest London. I found that I’m good at indicating left, but not right (a rather wobbly affair ensued) and the problem with having a bicycle is that there are no hazard lights, so when all else fails or you’re going to do something highly illegal, you can’t just push the button and everyone knows to avoid you. Simply stopping in the middle of the road on a bike could have serious consequences for the shiny new bike and the considerably older and not so shiny me. I did it once on a mini roundabout (it was going awfully well, but then I had to do the indicating right thing, wobbled rather a lot, so stopped in the centre of the mound of the roundabout). Probably best not to repeat that one. Of course the one advantage that I have, is that when I go on my big adventure in France in August, the mini roundabouts there you go anti-clockwise so I’ll be indicating left, so no wobbling! Hurray … a doddle! (It is anti-clockwise in France isn’t it? Hang on, which way will I be indicating? …. ) And frankly, drive too close to this cyclist at your peril … and possibly mine.

I love looking at the houses, the gardens, the people, the dogs, seeing, really seeing everything. Noticing the detail. The glorious feeling of freedom.

Do you remember the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid film and the beautifully shot, idyllic scene on the bicycle with Paul Newman as Butch, and Katharine Ross as Etta, with the music of Raindrops are Falling on my Head? Well, when I’m cycling that’s how I feel. I am Etta! (Albeit not there in the looks department and I don’t have Paul Newman sitting behind me but you get idea). It’s a time of complete happiness and of being at peace with the world.

So I shall venture out again today and find my inner Etta, that simple purity of enjoying a moment in time, for loving something for what it is, happiness and peace …. unless of course there’s a roundabout to navigate.

Katie xx

What gives you that feeling? Anything else worth trying? All suggestions very welcome (apart from anything smutty or involving a vat of chocolate, or a combination of the two). X

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Getting The Anxiety Under Control

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Odd, but true …. Since the scuba diving experience (Scuba Diving With Anxiety) I appear to have control over my anxiety. (My left ear is deaf as a post, but this I can live with.)

Just because scuba diving was quite frankly an opportunity for me to impersonate a mermaid whilst jumping into the Finding Nemo film doesn’t make it any less of a moderately extreme activity. One teensy mistake, and oops, out of oxygen and poof! You’re dead. Yes, I know what you’re thinking and I agree, I’m sure there are safety procedures galore, but the fact of the matter is, we need oxygen to survive. Personally I’d put it up there in the dangerous category alongside jumping out of an aeroplane with a parachute that one of my children has sewn together.

Now, this having been my first dipping of the toe into the scuba diving world, I was unsure as to whether at 12 metres down, if trouble arises, one can just bob back up to the top or whether eardrums burst and a case of the bends follows … no clue, but in fact, my ignorance probably worked in my favour. Because, it meant that there was no option but to use breathing techniques to get my panic attack under control, and under the expert tutelage of the rather delightful ‘French Kevin’, I did.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve practised my breathing during yoga whilst down-dogging with the best of them; bottoms in the air, the huffing and puffing from neighbouring mats sounding rather like a maternity ward; but in truth I’ve only breathed on a rather superficial, shallow level.

Realising the gravity of the situation and understanding fairly smartish that I HAD to deal with something deeply uncomfortable, and potentially life threatening, I didn’t faff around with pretending to blow on a little piccolo, oh no, I took on the entire brass section of the orchestra. I was no longer Katie, wife of the Colonel, cake maker, gardener and peacekeeper, I WAS KING OF A SODDING GREAT TUBA. I huffed, I puffed, deeply, slowly, deeper, slower … all I could hear was air moving in and out. I focused, I concentrated, I breathed.

And erm … I hate to say this … but it worked.

We’re talking less than ten minutes.

A bit like going out for a walk in the fresh air when you’re feeling a bit blue does make you feel better (even if you want to hit the person who suggested it with a shovel). Annoyingly, it does work.

Why is it annoying? Because it implies that my depression and anxiety have been ‘in my head’ if you’ll excuse the pun. And they haven’t … It’s a disease, a proper disease in which medications, therapy and doctors have had to intervene. So how does something so basic as breathing beat every pill hands down?

You see, the breathing and focus took over the fear. The breathing and focus were stronger than the panic. The breathing and focus won.

So when being in a tiny cramped minibus with a low ceiling and a claustrophobic panic attack found its way crawling up again, I started blowing on my tuba again. (The Colonel did look a little quizzically at me, I can live with that and the deaf ear). Minutes later, all was fine. The moment had passed. The rest of the journey was unremarkable, not particularly comfortable but frankly no more so than for anybody else. I suspect that it’s also slightly a case of having done scuba diving, taking a bath with a mask and snorkel on is simply child’s play.

There have been a couple of other moments since, and again blowing on my tuba has each time, more and more quickly reduced the anxiety to nothing, no more than anyone else has on a day to day life.

It works.

It’s hard work fighting a war with yourself, your mind, but we’re so much stronger than we actually give ourselves credit for.

Remember, it has to be done with gusto … passion … intensity. Put down your piccolos, pick up your tubas and remember, the purpose is to make the breathingand focus win the battle against the panic and anxiety. Give it a go … a really loud, pushing out a baby, blowing on a tuba go. Happy days!

Katie xx

What’s Really Going On In Their Life?

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One of my indulgences in life is not to have a personal trainer, a dietitian or haircuts every six weeks, but to once a year, employ an accountant. Not quite so glamorous and perhaps not quite what you were expecting, but I’m nothing if not practical. My justification of this ‘indulgence’ is simply based on the fact that I don’t have Sky Tv or Netflix, go for regular massages, manicures, pedicures or any other types of cures.

You see, I feel no shame in not spending six hours of my sodding life trying to fill out a sodding tax form that I don’t sodding like, don’t understand, is badly worded and each and every times results in tears, tantrums, a minimum of two phone calls to the bank and four phone calls to the tax office helpline which takes, oh yes, a minimum of 20 minutes to get through before you can actually speak to an actual human being.

(And breathe) …… I’m sure you understand.

The last time I did a tax return, I finally had to beg the unfortunate man to stay on the phone whilst he and I filled out the last four pages of the form together which probably accounts for why it takes 20 minutes to get through to a person in the first place … because of people like me, but I’m guessing therefore that I’m not alone in doing this.

So now I have the lovely James. The lovely blue-eyed, twinkly-eyed James, whom, with his wife, has the perfect set-up of a life together in a beautiful riverside village not far from London where in their garden beside the swimming pool is a little cream painted wooden office where their employees come in each morning and presumably James and his wife simply tumble out of bed and head through the garden to their little office, via the pool, clutching a hopefully not too soggy piece of toast and begin their day. It’s all rather idyllic in my mind, and frankly as James always looks rather chirpy, I’m guessing I’m not too far off the mark.

So, suffice to say for the last few years James has been doing all the hard work for me and I now simply telephone him with the figures, send him a cheque and he does the rest. The result, I don’t have to battle with the tax office, make endless phone calls, cry, behave like a brat, and James does it in a nanosecond, happily receives my cheque and then goes for a lovely swim in his beautiful pool. Win, win I’d say.

With my various anxiety issues (yawn) I still intensely dislike making telephone calls and naturally therefore procrastinate telephoning even the lovely James, but this year we were getting dangerously close to the deadline so needs must, and I thought happy thoughts and dialled his number.

Now usually once I’ve bitten the bullet and made a call, I wonder what all my fuss was about and berate myself for having procrastinated, but this time James was offhand and cold. I’d even go so far as to say verging on rude. I was upset. I was irritated. I only want kind, gentle people in my life otherwise my demons (aka Betty) start paying me a visit, and she is not the sort of visitor anyone wants knocking on their door.

I therefore, being overly sensitive, took James’ coldness to heart and then somewhat predictably to the absolute extreme, as is my default setting, and vowed that next year if I was going to pay someone to help with the finances I’d darn well pay someone who was going to be gentle, friendly, ask me how my day was and generally smooth my naturally ruffled feathers, (clearly no doubt that I really can be quite the spoilt princess) rather than someone leaving me feeling more anxious than usual and as though I had done something wrong, upset him, not asked him enough about his wife …. “Manners maketh man James” I wanted to remind him. I’m glad I didn’t.

I received an email a month later. James was dead.

Apparently only a few days prior to my speaking to him, he had been diagnosed with a brutal type of cancer, had a couple of weeks later gone in for surgery, and a few days following that, died from septicaemia.

I am ashamed to admit that at the age of 48 I still hadn’t learned to put aside my own self-obsessed thoughts and instead think and ask if he, James, was ok during that strange and final telephone call, rather than to focus, yet again on myself, my own feelings and me. Yes, me, me, me. I’m so, so sorry that I never stopped to think for a moment and ask.

We just never know what someone else is truly going through, do we?

Sleep well my twinkly, blue-eyed friend.

Katie xx

De-Cluttering …

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I just remembered this and thought for anyone wanting a fresh start, it might help. It certainly helps with depression and anxiety! That’s for sure … just one drawer at a time …

Part 1 – Recognising The Problem

Very early on in my relationship I remember cooking lunch for The Colonel (my then boyfriend, now husband) and it was, as per usual, chaos ….

I recall him quietly observing the scene in front of him, looking at the wonky, dusty pictures with those little black thunder bugs that somehow find their way behind the glass, the piles of ironing that I had tried to hide behind the sofa, the pretty, distressed cream and rusty paperwork tray spilling its guts onto the work surfaces, the sink overflowing with every pot and pan and then, at me. What I had thought of as scatty and endearing was in fact to him, frighteningly chaotic.

“I think we have a problem” he said quietly …. Not exactly “I think we have a problem Houston” in a Tom Hanks sort of way, but in my little world, it was quite frankly as momentous as that. This could be ‘the deal-breaker’.

Now, some may say that he should have accepted me for who (or is it whom?) I was – The problem was, that I didn’t really like the person that I had become. I in fact wanted to change, but I simply didn’t know how or indeed where to start.

“Oh!” I said.

“Wait!” I said.

“I have a plan!” I said, by now rather excitedly. He was looking a little nervous, and annoyingly, somewhat unconvinced.

“You, my darling, gorgeous man are at one end of the organised spectrum, not saying that you’re, you know, anal or anything, God forbid! No, just seriously beyond tidy! And truth be told, that’s where I would like to be ….. not anal, obviously, and let’s face it that’s never going to happen in a month of Sunday’s.” I snorted with laughter at this and then remembered that this was no laughing matter, this was a serious, grown-up conversation, so carried in a more restrained fashion, perhaps even verging on an ‘eating humble pie’ sort of way “And I appear to be at the other end of that, um, particular spectrum.”

He raised an eyebrow.

“Ok. Fair enough, I’ve completely fallen off the end of the scale into the big, black pit at the bottom,” I grudgingly admitted but then continued on with renewed gusto, “however, if you could shift just a teensy half a fraction up the spectrum towards me, would you help me get this all in order and start again? I NEED to do it. I WANT to do it. By the way however, nothing, I repeat nothing is to be colour-coded or chronologically ordered.”

I think I could see his lips twitch, but could have imagined it. “Where shall we start?” he asks.

Part 2 – The Process

We started with books. I had literally hundreds of wonderfully trashy romantic paperbacks, some fabulous history books, gardening books galore and the occasional self-help book (which I tried, and failed to hide). Most I’d read and some I hadn’t. They were all fairly battered, the majority being secondhand and of course covered in the habitual layer of dust. A bookshelf, emptied onto the floor, cleaned within an inch of its life and whilst it was empty, hoovered behind and underneath – that hadn’t happened since I’d moved in. Clearly the spiders had been very happy. Then, one at a time a good book would be dusted and put back on the shelf. A rubbish book, a book I’d never read and frankly never would, would go into a cardboard box and finally a pile of ‘I’m not sure books’ would sit beside me for a final decision at the end.

The start was difficult. The colonel was fantastically understanding and patient although from time to time had to pull out the odd Jackie Collins from under my jumper where I’d attempted to hide them. The first box was filled and then more and more as we worked through the house, through all the bookcases that I had inherited in the last forty-odd years. That’s a lot of books. That’s a lot of boxes.

The car was full and a trip to the charity shop ensued, double parked as we carried them in to the wide-eyed surprise of the volunteers there; perhaps they thought we’d robbed a library. Driving away, exhausted, very teary – an end of an era. A change. Scary. Getting back home ….. Dear God – freedom. Total freedom. Half empty shelves. Space. This is bliss. Exhilaration. I want more – I want more of this feeling. Laughter and pure joy. And so it began.

Some things were more difficult than others. It meant making decisions which was not my forte. But I can, in all honesty, say that there is nothing, absolutely nothing that I’m pining for or that I miss and wish I didn’t got rid of. Also, it’s incredible how quickly you forget what was actually there in the first place.

Slowly but surely I cleared up my little cottage. Some days it was just a case of clearing out one drawer. A kitchen drawer or cupboard. Just emptying it, cleaning and chucking out the tin opener that my mother gave me when I was a student but had gone a bit rusty, or the three chipped wine glasses that had gone cloudy, never matched and frankly I could buy a new set of four from Ikea for the cost of a cheap bottle of plonk if I really needed more. It was cathartic. It was therapy on a major scale. It felt so darn good.

I found my wedding list from my previous marriage, all the letters from the guests, everything to do with a marriage that was no more. Why was I hanging onto the past? I didn’t want my house any longer to be a shrine to the past. I wanted to move forward. Those were the more difficult days and once the colonel had seen I was on a roll, he left me to it, so I could spend as long as I wanted dealing with the past, putting it behind me, moving forward.

It was liberating. As the cupboards emptied, the nic-nacs on the tables and every visible surface became clearer too as I realised that it actually wasn’t necessary to cover every windowsill and table with ‘stuff’. More space and less stuff meant easier cleaning. Easier cleaning meant less time doing it, so more free time. More free time meant more time to organise and sort and clean … and, live. The more I did, the easier it became and the more I enjoyed it. It was like the endorphins that one gets from exercise. I was happy, very happy, very organised and had started afresh. I had finally moved away from the past and it was good, seriously good.

I’ll still use every pan in the kitchen when I’m cooking and sometimes the Colonel will ask why I have to have three lipsalves, a handful of hair bands and a tube of Crabtree and Evelyn hand cream in every room in yet another pretty little pot, and I’ll call him anal and he’ll call me an untidy, scruffy bugger and we move on, giggling and chatting as together we cook, and clean up ….

☀️☀️Kx ☀️☀️

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

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