50. What Have You Done For Your Mental Health Today?

 

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So presumably if you’re reading this you have some form of depression or anxiety … If you don’t and you really have nothing better to do on a Saturday morning, then you may well have other issues! Hopefully however, you’re here to seek out others in a similar situation and their thoughts and ideas and it’s not simply the old adage of misery loves company and you want to wallow in the ghastliness of it all and indulge in some self flagellation. (If it’s any consolation, yup, I’ve been there.)

Let’s be clear here, just because I have had my fair share of depression and anxiety, does not mean that I don’t laugh. The fact that I often laugh at myself perhaps describes a slightly self-deprecating personality, or else I’m just trying to get in there first before anyone else has a chance to laugh at me, as I point out my flaws, foibles and find some humour in them and they hopefully then will laugh with me. Anyway, I know I have them in bucketloads, ten tonne truck loads bigger than the road gritters up here in Bonnie Scotland, the only difference being that I’m not spreading and sharing my faults today … Today is about positivity!

So my question today is as per the title, What have you done for your mental health today?

If you’re at the lower end of the spectrum, I would assume that you are up and about, (unless you’re in the States, in which case you should be fast asleep and snoring happily into your duvets).

If you’re right up at the top end, falling over the edge and hanging on by a mere finger nail, I suspect that you can’t see the wood for the trees and are fumbling and stumbling around in the fog, utterly exhausted and unable to frankly do anything. Yes, sadly lots of us have been there and have the t-shirt and full set of hospital gowns to prove it.

However, somewhat annoyingly (because it’s the absolutely last thing we want to do), we all know that to get moving and fight the lethargy will and does make it better. Believe you me, when you’re at rock bottom and someone suggests you go for a nice jolly walk around the garden, I know, you want to hit them with a shovel, but irritatingly, it does actually help. Sorry, but it’s true.

So, the very basics ….. You wake up ….

  1. Turn on the lights, open the curtains, open the windows unless you too are facing ‘The Beast from the East’ (the UK’s current storm). Turn on the radio or the tv. (If you can’t bear the news, find something else … doesn’t matter if it’s the shipping forecast. Let the light, sounds and world into your world. Don’t hide away. We’re safe in our home, but we also need to engage with the universe.
  2. Start a routine of getting up, washing, make up, clothes, making the bed, tidying the room all to be done before you start on stuff downstairs. Keeping things ordered and tidy helps clear the anxiety. ‘A tidy home, a tidy mind’ is not as daft as we might think. It’s therapeutic. Make your room a positive, relaxed environment. And yes, we do feel better if we put on clean clothes and a bit of slap (makeup) on the face …. if we slob around in a tracksuit, it’s all too easy to curl up on the sofa and not move all day. Even if the only person I’m going to see is the postman, I certainly don’t want to frighten him. It’s self discipline.
  3. Food! Eat the good stuff …. Im certainly not going to talk about kale smoothies and do a Gwyneth Paltrow on you, but eat something, even if all you can face is a yoghurt with crunchy bits in it. You cannot run on empty.
  4. Make a list for the day – essential things that need to be done (telephone calls, emails, cleaning a cupboard) plus a few things at the end that you want to do, but that can only be done when the needs are completed. (Long soak in the bath, good book on the sofa etc)
  5. One thing that we MUST include every single day is some form of fresh air and exercise. Even if it’s just washing the car, gardening, or cleaning out all the bins – it doesn’t matter. Just something, outside so we raise the heart rate and get out into the world. Get the endorphins and dopamine working for you.

For me, the most important part of the day is the very start. It sets and determines the tone for the rest of the day. By making and keeping a simple routine, it sets us up for a good solid day ahead. It becomes as easy as breathing. Slowly we can add to it, increase it and we can have our rewards (the fun things) at the tail-end of the day. First we do the things we need to do, then we do the things we want to do.

Start simple, but do start, it’s the only way to move forward.

Katie x

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49. Getting Back on The Straight And Narrow!

 

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So after a rather stressful holiday and having discovered that the reason for the anxiety was in actual fact my fault, I am now on a mission to put everything right again. Back in order. Get my life nice and straight again, just like the boxes of cereal on the larder shelves. Yes, nice and neat and tidy.

Whilst being away, I completely lost my routine and structure. I lost my ‘me-time’, my mindfulness time, my time to just treat myself a teensy bit like Dresden china. And as a consequence, everything went slightly to pot. (Not the drug I hasten to add, more sort of ‘hellishly wrong’ or ‘down the drain’). I foolishly thought that as I had been so much better, that I could therefore be a little more spontaneous, let loose, …. it was a holiday for heavens sake. Oh silly little me! … that was not spontaneity, nooooo! That was sheer recklessness.

So here I am again, not exactly back at square one, but perhaps a few rungs lower down the ladder however, considerably wiser.

I arrived back from holiday utterly exhausted. Exhausted by the anxiety. I had no pattern or structure, I was now having to fit in with everyone else’s routine, and somehow that didn’t include half an hour fiddling around upstairs getting sorted out in the morning and using mindfulness over every little chore, and pampering myself. Oh no, I was being rushed from pillar to post with urgency. Stress then led to anxiety. And I’d forgotten how darn tiring it is.

The only other times I’ve felt such exhaustion was when I was pregnant. Ahhh yes, pregnancy, that blissful time when complete strangers offer you a seat on a bus or the tube. That glowing, healthy skin and radiance …. for part of the time, yes. For the rest, completely knackering. Particularly when you already have one child. I do recall a lot of bribery … “if you could just watch Tellytubbies once more, yes, just sit on the floor so Mummy can just lie sofa for just a teensy bit longer, of course you can have some more chocolate” … oh I remember it well.

So I’m back home, rekindling my routine and structure, having spent the best part of four days sleeping. Before the Colonel actually thinks he’s married a zombie, I’m back on day one of looking after myself again. And, wow I’ve slipped back into it so easily. A doddle. Easy peasy. I guess once it’s set up, it’s remarkably easy to return to.

Same pattern in the morning (apart from blog writing which I’ve left til now) – Friday is laundry day, therefore sheets etc washed … ✅

Friday is also cleaning day, therefore hoovering, polishing, bathroom etc … ✅

Doctors appointment to go over medication… ✅

Make lunch for the Colonel who is working from home due to snow – ✅ (Actually excelled myself here with latticed mini quiches so now feeling like domestic goddess).

Tennis session …. ✅ tick, bloomin’ tick. ✅ ✅ ✅

And I feel great! I’ve done my jobs, I’ve checked in with the doc, I’ve eaten properly and had fresh air (20 min walk to and from doc and 20 min walk to and from tennis as car completely snowed in), plus exercise (all that walking, plus over an hours’ tennis), plus getting out of the house and socialising (long coffee and natter session after tennis).

The Colonel is happy as I’ve left him to work in peace (yesterday he actually asked me to leave the room because apparently me fiddling with his hair was distracting him … humph! I thought ‘working from home due to being snowed in’ was another way of ‘pulling a sickie’ … apparently not. Golly … He really is dedicated.)

So, all is well with the world. He’s happy, I’m happy and normality is bliss.

Katie x

38. The World’s Strongest Man.

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What have I done for my mental health today?

We know, because we’ve had it rammed down our throats by well-meaning friends, family and professionals what we should be doing every day.

We know we should be exercising, getting outside, eating properly, keeping busy, taking our meds, seeing our therapist, doing yoga and meditation. We know that we should not be drinking too much, not procrastinating, not overthinking, not hiding in our beds waiting to feel better, waiting for the exhaustion, panic and anxiety to fade. Frankly I’m panicking just thinking about it all.

But these are just words, words that are so easy to say and yet with these endless lists of things that we should and shouldn’t be doing it’s no surprise that it all becomes overwhelming, anxiety sets in followed hot on the heels of procrastination and what then happens? Zip, nothing, nada. Back to square one on the Snakes and Ladders board again. See post Snakes and Ladders.

Frankly …… Arghhhhh!

Now apparently, the current worlds strongest man is a British fellow called Eddie Hall. He is the only man able to deadlift 500kg under strongman rules. I have no clue what the rules are, and frankly I don’t give a stuff, because that’s half a bloomin’ ton … That’s lifting up a horse or a cow with two hands.

An incredible feat! This surely shows how strong the body can be, but also how mind-blowingly more powerful the mind actually is. His body was screaming at him, but his mind overruled it. (Until he had a nosebleed and passed out, but that’s beside the point!)My point to this is that when a wee Eddie popped into this world, I daresay his mother had no idea that in 30 years time her son would be picking up the equivalent of an Angus Cow for pleasure. But more importantly, he wouldn’t have been able to have done this the moment he appeared. His physical and mental ability has taken years to grow and perfect. He started out small. He learned what his limits were, he worked, he strived, he increased his limits both mentally and physically.

And that’s absolutely no different to us!

We start with baby steps. Steps so small they’re akin to a little hamster. Yes, I’m warming to my theme …. Hamster steps, a little scuttle here, a little scuttle there. A stop, a twitch the nose (not strictly necessary), a little regroup to evaluate where we’re at, a look around, and then off to do another little scuttle.

And we grow. And our scuttling becomes more confident. We start to walk. We start to walk with our head held high. We stride. And we grow braver, bigger and stronger and able to do more and more, just like Eddie Hall. We practise, we work, sometimes we fail, but we just get back up and try again. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but someone somewhere had to start laying the initial few stones.

So remember when you’re taking those first little baby steps, that once upon a time our mate Eddie Hall, the World’s Strongest Man, was once just like us, a teeny little nose-twitching frightened hamster.

Kx

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

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

14. Joining a Gym!

Lordy-be! I’ve joined a gym …. more specifically, a tennis club with a gym attached.

Having played a bit of tennis at school (only the B team I hasten to add), I figured that this was one sport that I would

  • a) enjoy and therefore be more likely to stick at – good idea,
  • b) be a bit social and introduce me to some new people – very good idea,
  • c) might get me a teensy bit fit in time for the summer bikini season – excellent idea, and finally
  • d) I might, with time, practice and a huge amount of effort, be able to take just one game off The Colonel (aka my husband). Flippin’ brilliant idea – pass me the forms, where do I sign?

I’ve known for ages that exercise is the absolute key to recovery. I’ve read enough blurb on the subject of anxiety and depression to know that this is the way forward. So, with great excitement I told The Colonel of my plan. He looked at me from over his glasses and raised an eyebrow. I swear I saw his mouth twitch. I think I know that look …. I bet he thinks I won’t do it, or stick to it for longer than, ooooh let’s say a week.

“Pah!” says I, “Just you wait til the summer when I’m as fit as a flea, looking like a very young and very beautiful Claudia Schiffer and am running you round the court with my newly-found tennis skills!”

“Excellent.” He says. “I look forward to it.” Another twitch of the lips and he returned to his breakfast. Fine!

So with this sense of a challenge in mind, I took a deep breath, parted with huge sums of money, was given a locker key in exchange (how generous) and jumped headfirst into the world of gym bunnies.

After a physical assessment with the Scottish version of Arnold Schwarzenegger, whom I have to admit I couldn’t understand a word of what he said (very strong on the Scottish accent front … and how many times does one say “What?” before they have you down as either completely brain-dead or worse still, taking the piss), anyway, I digress, I was then set free to join in the tennis club session.

This involved three indoor courts of mixed doubles which after one set everyone would switch around so as to change partners. Oh help me God!

I felt like the new girl at school. Hideous … anxiety hitting me like a ton of bricks. Want to run …. want to escape. Starting to sweat. Panic attack on its way ….

A smiling face bounds over, welcomes me and introduces himself as The Coach. “Thank God, you’re here!” He whispers, “It means I don’t have to play …. I slightly overdid it last night!” He roars with laughter. At least I think that’s what he said …. Another strong accent. Panic is subsiding – and before I know quite what has happened, he has sent me off to join three others.

And so I played.

My hands shook, my legs shook. I missed most balls and the rest seemed to end up either in the net, or in the net of the neighbouring court. I apologised profusely each and every time. And the reaction from the players ….. Laughter, hilarity and huge congratulations when I did something good. Quite extraordinary! What a completely unexpected delight.

Afterwards it was coffee all round. No getting out of that one and slinking away …. yet more laughter and chatter. A few questions, but nothing too taxing. It appeared that they didn’t want anything from me, they were just welcoming and happy to have another player.

I left on a high …. a complete high. I didn’t care what hormones or chemicals were flying around my body. Endorphins, dopamine – don’t care. I wasn’t trying to analyse anything at all – all I knew is that this was flippin’ marvellous and I felt fan-bloody-tastic!

I bounced around the house for the rest of the day, booking myself into every tennis session available and reported back to The Colonel.

“I played!” I grinned. “Very, very badly, but I played …. and they were lovely. Everyone was lovely to me!”

“Of course they were.” He said. “They were always going to be lovely to you, because you are lovely.” A gentle smile from The Colonel and I throw my arms around him with a teensy tear threatening to roll down my cheek. He understands. He understands everything.

Kx

13. The Commitment of Exercise!

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Everything I read, everywhere I look, the advice is to exercise …. Not sadly just for the first 3 days in January (which is usually my attempt at a New Year’s resolution of being a new healthy version of me), but as part of the structure and routine of one’s life.

Structure and routine are not, and have not, ever been a part of my life. I’m an all or nothing person. When I drink, it’s to excess. When I exercise, it’s until I pass out with low blood sugar issues. If I’m happy, I’m just a tad too frenetically ecstatic and when I’m feeling down, I start googling the best places to die in Europe. (A slightly extreme example, but that’s my point).

I friend recently, and very kindly, gave me a pot plant. An Amaryllis to be specific. Now, I’m a pretty good gardener with RHS qualifications coming out of every known orifice, and yet, give me an indoor plant and frankly you can give it a fortnight. It’s the routine and commitment of remembering to water it, feed it and generally look after it that I struggle with … quite how my children have survived I’m not entirely sure.

Consistency is not part of my genetic make up or perhaps more likely, not one of my life skills.

So, what exactly is it that is so valuable about taking exercise?

Some of the best information I’ve found comes from HG (Helpguide.org) who have a collaboration with Harvard Medical School and their findings are pretty conclusive. Do go to their website if you have time – it’s brilliant. In short …..

  • It releases endorphins, powerful chemicals in your brain that energize your spirits and make you feel good.
  • It promotes all kinds of changes in the brain, including neural growth, reduced inflammation, and new activity patterns that promote feelings of calm and well-being
  • Exercise can serve as a distraction, allowing you to find some quiet time to break out of the cycle of negative thoughts that feed depression.
  • Regular exercise can have a profoundly positive impact on depression, anxiety, ADHD, and more. It also relieves stress, improves memory, helps you sleep better, and boosts overall mood
  • People who exercise regularly tend to do so because it gives them an enormous sense of well-being. They feel more energetic throughout the day, sleep better at night, have sharper memories, and feel more relaxed and positive about themselves and their lives.
  • Studies show that exercise can treat mild to moderate depression as effectively as antidepressant medication, but without the side-effects, of course. In addition to relieving depression symptoms, research also shows that maintaining an exercise schedule can prevent you from relapsing.
  • Exercise is a natural and effective anti-anxiety treatment. It relieves tension and stress, boosts physical and mental energy, and enhances well-being through the release of endorphins.
  • As well as releasing endorphins in the brain, physical activity helps to relax the muscles and relieve tension in the body.
  • Physical activity immediately boosts the brain’s dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin levels
  • Evidence suggests that by really focusing on your body and how it feels as you exercise, you can actually help your nervous system become “unstuck” and begin to move out of the immobilization stress response that characterizes PTSD or trauma.

Other mental and emotional benefits of exercise

Sharper memory and thinking. The same endorphins that make you feel better also help you concentrate and feel mentally sharp for tasks at hand. Exercise also stimulates the growth of new brain cells and helps prevent age-related decline.

Higher self-esteem. Regular activity is an investment in your mind, body, and soul. When it becomes habit, it can foster your sense of self-worth and make you feel strong and powerful. You’ll feel better about your appearance and, by meeting even small exercise goals, you’ll feel a sense of achievement.

Better sleep. Even short bursts of exercise in the morning or afternoon can help regulate your sleep patterns.

More energy. Increasing your heart rate several times a week will give you more get-up-and-go.

Stronger resilience. When faced with mental or emotional challenges in life, exercise can help you cope in a healthy way, instead of resorting to alcohol, drugs, or other negative behaviors that ultimately only make your symptoms worse. Regular exercise can also help boost your immune system and reduce the impact of stress.

If you’ve managed to read through that lot, then your levels of commitment aren’t too bad …. I think that’s enough information even for me!

I’m feeling inspired …. and now just have to dig out the trainers and do it …..

As for the Amaryllis, it’s looking a little flaccid. The children are alive and kicking however ….

Happy Monday!

Kx