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Under the Spell of Laughter, the Whole Man is Completely & Gloriously Alive.

I’m not sure how I’m going to top my last blog post? Not that I should be trying to do that. After all, you’re only as good as your last post! To date, it’s the one I’m most proud of…well for the moment anyway! I always knew I wanted to write something of that nature but I didn’t want to rush it. I didn’t want the words to come from a place that reflected what my state of mind was at the time of writing, so it was worth taking the time to write, read, and rewrite until I was satisfied that it was ready to publish.

No such emotion or thought provoking prose this time around; more a ‘matter of fact’ piece getting back to the nitty gritty of the main subject of my website: Mental Health.

I know I have already written about a few elements of mental health in my previous blog posts, that is….. Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Panic Attacks and Health Anxiety but it’s worth covering off a few more of the other issues that I experience that come under the banner of mental health, and I have to admit that it has surprised even me now that I can see them all written down!

Social Anxiety.

This is a big one for me, probably bigger than I dare to admit. In the past it would get to a point where my anxiety was so bad that I wouldn’t leave the house. I would make arrangements to go out with friends or work colleagues only to cancel at the last minute with some lame excuse! Because, and if I was finally able to attend any social or public gathering, there would be this anxiety and fear that I was being watched or judged by other people and wondering if I would somehow manage to embarrass or humiliate myself.

In the work environment am I always quite in meetings, always with the fear and dread that I might be called upon to answer a question, give an opinion or worse, to stand up in front of people and give a presentation. Even taking the dog for a walk; I would time it so that if there were other people walking their dogs then I would walk in the opposite direction that they were going in order to avoid the ‘awkward’ meet. On the odd occasion where it couldn’t be helped, then there is this bizarre meeting ritual where you never introduce yourselves to each other as the dog owners, only the dog’s names are ever exchanged! I’ve never understood it and it can make for some weird conversations!

Over the years, my coping mechanism for dealing with the anxiety, fear and life in general has always been humour. I don’t think I’m funny at all yet somehow I appear to be able to make people laugh. This helps to calm me and lessens the anxiety. Laughter can be a potent medicine for releasing the tension, whether it is the tension of the environment or the tension within yourself.



“For a few moments, under the spell of laughter, the whole man is completely and gloriously alive: body, mind and soul vibrate in unison… the mind flings open its doors and windows… its foul and secret places are ventilated and sweetened.”

– Theorist Martin Armstrong.



Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

The term OCD has, for a long time, been banded around like some cool trendy adjective to explain someone’s ‘quirky’ behaviour. It does wind me up…just a bit!
“You really are tidy; everything is lined up so perfectly”….”Oh that’s just my OCD”. However, you never hear anyone say “It’s okay, I’m being a bit schizo today!” or “Never mind me I’m just a psycho!” because deep down people know not to use these phrases as they are what they are…..very offensive! But is OCD any different? And yet the misuse of OCD has become popular, leading to misunderstandings but done so to the detriment of those people who actually suffer with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

What Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is about is unreasonable, unwanted thoughts, fears or impulses that repeat over and over in your mind. Compulsions are where you try to rid yourself of these obsessions; compulsions done in such a manner in order to try and protect yourself from the anxiety than can be brought on, not that you’d want to intentionally bring on the compulsion in the first place! Feeling like you have no control over your own thoughts and so the vicious cycle begins. Obsessions and compulsions that can be both time and energy consuming to the point of taking over a person’s life and keeping them from functioning in society properly.

As with all mental illnesses there needs to be a step change as using phrases like OCD in general conversation only serves to trivialise what people are experiencing on a daily basis. This only serves to create more stigma and even prevents people from getting the medical assistance they so desperately require.

D Anxiety.

Look at that, I can’t even bring myself to write the full word. And I’ve left it right until the end too! I covered this in my most recent blog post even though I didn’t reference the phrase directly. It’s the one subject that has given me the most fear and anxiety over the years. To be honest I don’t think it is an age thing either even though I’m only 47 (which of course is no age at all) as I was conscious of it as a teenager. I know there is nothing I can do about it, after all it is inevitable, there’s no running from it……death and taxes as they say!

But what actually is it that causes me so much fear and anxiety? I mean, when it happens I won’t be aware of it…..I won’t even know that I did once exist!

I think that it’s all of the things to come in the future that I won’t be here to witness. I wonder about it a lot because it really fascinates me; a hundred years from now, a thousand years from now, what will life be like? How will people be living their lives? Will we go back to the moon in my lifetime? What about Mars or even other planets? Will we finally answer the question as to whether there is other life out there or are we truly alone in this ever expanding Universe? Will we finally have cures for some of the most debilitating and life threatening diseases?

When you look at our timeline as a species, it’s fair to say that we have evolved seemingly quicker over the last hundred years or so more than any other point in history; mainly because of the cumulative effects of centuries of development and communication…faster worldwide communication that has allowed us to share more knowledge and the continual building of new ideas that have been the spark that set off an explosion, so to speak, of innovation that has led to rapid advancements in medicine which has aided technological progress, agriculture that allowed the growth in population meaning that there is more brain power to make these new discoveries. Discoveries and knowledge that we are still accumulating, knowledge that people had a hundred years ago that was beyond the imagination of people a hundred years before them. And knowledge in a hundred years from now that is beyond our imagination today.

Wow, apologies……that was waaaay deep even for me – I’ve just re-read those last couple of paragraphs and even I can see how much I digressed away from the last topic, but I think you get the idea?

Thanks for reading…..I’ll catch you all next time.


This weeks music offering is another favourite band of mine – Kodaline. Enjoy!


Is There A Secret to Life?

My simple answer to that: the secret to life is that you’re lucky to have it!

I’ve wanted to write about this subject for a long, long time. In fact, in some ways it’s probably what sparked me into wanting to start this blog in the first place if I’m truly honest. But it’s the one subject that has always given me the most fear and anxiety over the years, probably for most of my life once I was old enough to understand it that is.

Do something for me right now….just stop for a moment and breathe in, then breathe out! We all take it for granted, after all we’ve been doing it since the very first day that we came kicking and screaming into this world, but it is amazing isn’t it? Not to get too existential, but you have to marvel at the fact that we are even here at all, marvel at the world around you; nature, animals, trees, plants…even humans! And you can’t help at just being truly grateful for all of it!

In a very straight forward way, life is just for living. Life is an incredible thing, whether it’s a human life, a plant or an animal’s life. And yet, even at 47 years young, it still blows my mind…that’s before we even get into talking about the Universe and Galaxies! We’ve all been given this privilege of being here, by the most ridiculously longest odds. Odds that when stacked up only two or three generations back then you’re talking millions to one that you’re even here, and yet here you are, breathing air, looking at the sky, the stars, the trees and just being…a human being.

The point is to just enjoy it as much as you can! I know that some people can find that very difficult, some people’s circumstances find it difficult but the thing is to make sure you enjoy it because we’ve all been given this amazing gift. Make it something that others can enjoy as well and try to make them enjoy their lives. If you can help other people enjoy themselves, even it’s just while you’re having lunch with them, going for a walk or having a coffee, then that’s what it’s all about.

For me, the knowledge that we won’t be around forever is, in a strange way, very liberating because so many of us don’t know that we’re going to die, or that we don’t know when or that we don’t even have any kind of inkling that we could be dead in the morning?! Once you face the fact that we all have a finite amount of time then there is this wonderful liberation to it. You will find, as I did, that you can say things you want to a bit more and you can do things you want to a bit more. People can even say things to you that they want to because they know the context, they know that time is limited, that time is limited for us all.

Do I have any regrets at this point in my life? None! None whatsoever! I can honestly say that I don’t regret anything. I really don’t. Regret for me suggests something that you wish you hadn’t done and because you wish you hadn’t done it, then it kind of lives with you and colours your life. I believe that everything that you do is part of who you are and as long as you feel like you did whatever you did for the right reasons, for the proper reasons, the good reasons, or for at least positive reasons, then I don’t regret anything!

Does that make me unusual or odd in that respect? Possibly, but I’d like to think that everything I did, if it turned out bad or if I somehow hurt somebody or upset somebody because of it, I either had to do that because it came from a reason at that time, in that context or I’ve redressed that hurt…I’ve apologised or I’ve made amends in some way. Regret for me is not something that I hold onto. I change when I can, as I can to the circumstances that I’m in at that time.

There’s no secret to having no regrets, but I do think that you should correct your mistakes and I think that you have to accept your weaknesses. Know that sometimes you do things that aren’t the way that other people want them to be done. Whether you change them or not is up to you but accept the things that you are weak at and try to learn to live with them, own them…don’t deny that you are bad at something, just accept it or try to be better at it. Make allowances for the fact that you are bad at it and try to explain that to others.

Knowing yourself is an incredibly important part of life because it takes time and it takes an age to get to know your true self. Knowing what you enjoy, what makes you get up each morning, what gets your heart beating…that’s important and I would always tell anyone to write down what you are good and bad at, what you like…what you don’t like. What you like or don’t like about yourself and then to just accept it, because, and let’s face it, we’re all flawed, we all make errors, and living an error free life is just something that none of us can do. But we can be kind; we can be kind to people, it’s so much easier than being nasty. Actually it’s not easier, it’s harder…it’s harder to be kind to somebody but it is better. Being nasty to people for no reason, no provocation, no motive…being nasty is just a bad way of living.



“People don’t realise that now is all there ever is; there is no past or future except as memory or anticipation in your mind.”

– Eckhart Tolle


However, saying that, I don’t think that it’s possible to get to the end of your life without some regret. It maybe the fact that you never got to travel or you weren’t as successful as you’d hoped. Perhaps your life didn’t turn out how you imagined it would. Maybe you weren’t as brilliant, tall, slim, smart, rich or popular as you’d thought you’d be. Or…maybe you felt like you were just too busy, too caught up in the day to day stuff to make the most of things.

Maybe we all do have some regret, but maybe some of us manage to move on and be pragmatic about the things we can’t change while others hold onto to those things close and never let go. Maybe they can’t let go, but maybe that is also fine too.

I believe that most people have one thing in common; their regrets aren’t about work, or travel or money. They are about family, and love…in fact it is always about love.

To love and to be loved; love is a very important thing in people’s lives, whether it is family love, relationship love or just friendship love. People should want to have that feeling of contributing to others happiness, but not just happiness but also their sense of being connected to you. That’s what life is really all about, the connections you make with other people, the happiness that you can bring to their lives and also the strength and support and the feeling of being someone worthwhile in somebody’s life….it really is a wonderful feeling.

So maybe all we can do is to live well, but don’t try to live too perfectly. We should strive to take the chances as they arrive and not to put things off. To make the most of it but to know that you can’t live each day as if it were your last because that would just be too damn exhausting.

And most of all, to remember that in the end when you have lived your life, that it’s the little things that will always stay with you; those chances that you did take, that conversation that you finally managed to have to tell someone how you really feel about them, the connections that you made with others, the people you loved and the wonderful moments that you shared.


I must just add that the youtube videos on my posts are not adverts like the other elements dotted around these pages, I do embed them myself. I love the relaxing, calming and atmospheric nature of this type of ambient music with it’s gentle, soothing, instrumental sounds. I also find that I produce better writing whilst I’m listening to it – it can be very emotive at times. Enjoy…



 

It’s Just another Random Musing Manic Monday.

Apologies, it’s been a couple of weeks since my last post. Actually, why am I feeling the need to apologise? After all, I did say to myself when I started on this writing adventure that I wasn’t going to put myself under any pressure by having to publish anything by a set date.

Truth be told, there is a reason for it. I’m not going to lie, I’ve had a bad couple of weeks with my mental health and it just feels like everything has got on top of me lately! It is bizarre how even outside elements can affect you, but affect you they do. And by outside elements I mean the world in general; the news, the farce that is the malarkey that is the ongoing diatribe that is Brexit, the seemingly increasing crime rate in knife attacks, car jackings etc. And before you all comment, I know that these elements are outside of my control and I should just accept it and move on, but anxiety has this nasty habit of not allowing you to do that.

In fact, it got so bad that I got to a point of critical mass and couldn’t take it any more, so I made a decision to mute and even remove news feeds from my social media accounts so that these issues were not preying on my mind all of the time! Worrying about what a post Brexit UK will look like, worrying about leaving the house in case something happened that had me fearing for my safety?! Who is going to sit on the Iron Throne in the final ever season of Game of Thrones? Okay, okay that last one might be a stretch, but you catch my drift right?


“My friend, I am not what I seem. Seeming is but a garment I wear — a care-woven garment that protects me from thy questionings and thee from my negligence. The “I” in me, my friend, dwells in the house of silence, and therein it shall remain for ever more, unperceived, unapproachable.”
– Kahlil Gibran


Moving on…..

On a visit to the GP last December, my Doctor suggested that I would benefit from medication for my generalised anxiety. She could see that I was none too happy about the idea, but then she started to tell me about the chemical imbalance hypothesis. I had read about this before, and I’d also read that, in the wider medical community, there is quite a bit of controversy surrounding this theory. The term tends to be used more as a figure of speech, and by that I mean that it doesn’t really capture the true complexity of mental illness as a whole. In other words, mental health disorders are not simply caused by a chemical imbalance in one’s brain. There is a lot more to it than that. Either way, I made the decision to give it a go.

If I’m honest, I thought I was being strong by not taking any medication, but the truth was I was just prolonging the pain. Admittedly, I was able to survive without medication, but with it I really believe that I am living a much more productive, satisfying and emotionally rich life.

That last sentence may seem an odd statement to make when compared to my state of mind over the last couple of weeks, but it is true nonetheless. However, just because the medication is making a difference in my life, it doesn’t mean that I’m cured. But what it does mean, and what I did notice after a couple of months on the medication, is that I’m now having shorter bad periods with my mental health rather than the protracted bad periods that I was experiencing previously. Episodic I guess you could call it, meaning that the symptoms now come and go in waves.

And for my final Muse…..

It’s Monday morning and people are arriving at work. I make my first brew of the day and start to catch up with colleagues when invariably the conversation turns to; “How was your weekend?” But why, for the most part, do we always seem to answer with the same generic response “Yeah it was great thanks and you?” I’ve often just thought about telling the truth…”Actually it was pretty shit if I’m honest. I had a really bad couple of days with my anxiety which meant I got nothing done! How about you, how was your weekend?” I like to imagine the other person thinking “Oh crap, how do I respond to that?” as you watch them try to wriggle out of the conversation because they are now in uncharted waters and you can clearly see the awkwardness written all over their face!
I can’t be alone in these thoughts…….can I?

Have a great week everyone!


 

Blogger Recognition Award – Mental Health Musings

Wow! I’m only a few weeks in and already I’ve been nominated for the Blogger Recognition Award! A massive thank you to Roger Peterson over at Mind and Love

The Blogger Recognition Award.

If you have been lucky enough to be nominated for the Blogger Recognition Award, and you accept your nomination, then just follow these few simple rules:

  • Thank the blogger who nominated you, and provide a link to their blog.
  • Generate a post about your nomination.
  • Write a few words about how your blog began.
  • Impart your own learnings and pass on some advice to new bloggers.
  • Select 15 blogs to nominate.
  • Notify each of your nominees of their nomination…I will nominate via Twitter.

Why I chose to start writing about by mental health?

I started writing about my anxiety in order to help me make sense of it all and to give me new ways to think about it and deal with it and hopefully, in doing so, that it can help others to open up and reach out, talk and maybe write about their own mental health struggles.

But, if I was going to do this, then I was going to write my story. I don’t want to preach to anyone or make any sweeping generalisations…I want to make it personal, so that when others read it then hopefully they can make a connection and see themselves in what I am writing.

My Message for New Bloggers.

Write. Rewrite. When not writing or rewriting, read. I know of no shortcuts.
—Larry L. King

Stay motivated. Others cannot motivate you, only you can do this. Motivation is very much intrinsic and comes from deep within yourself…you have to want to do it, to take action. But in doing so you will inspire others and hopefully they will make that connection to something deep within themselves.

And my 15 nominees are:

Mommin’ in the Real World

MH Crisis Angels

The Mental Health Awareness Project

Navigating Darkness

Beauty Beyond Bones

Debatably Dateable

The Patchwork Fox

The Social Pariah

Not Quite Carrie

OneMoreLightLB

TimeToTalk

For the Sake of Good Taste

The Wildflower Hippie

Horribly Human

Old Cove Road

Blogger Recognition Award

 

Those Words You Said…I’ll Never Forget Them.

This week was going to be my next ‘Random Musings’ piece, but to be honest there is nothing ‘random’ about what I’ve decided to write about today. For this week’s post I want to step away from writing about Mental Health for just a brief moment and talk about a different subject; loss.

I choose to do this now as it is coming up to the 10 year mark when I lost my Father-In-Law Norman to lung cancer. Actually forgive me, but from here on I’m not going to make any more reference to the phrase ‘Father-In-Law” because, for me, he was far more than that…he was the closest I ever got to having a Father, and for that I will always be truly thankful and will cherish the 18 years that we had together.

GrandadHe was a wonderful man. To me, he always seemed to be someone who never put a foot wrong, always running around doing everything for everyone else but would never ask for anything in return…just a smile and a thank you every once in a while, that was reward enough for him.

I’m going to share something with you now, a specific moment in time that will stay with me for the rest of my days, something that I’ve not told anyone since the day it happened…mostly because I know how emotional I would have got if I tried to tell someone before now.

It was April 11th 2009; it was a Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday. By this point Norman had been in the hospice for a couple of weeks. I hadn’t done a lot that day, just pottering around the house waiting to go and visit him.

At about 3 o’clock I left the house and made the 30 minute journey to St. Giles in Whittington, Lichfield. Alison, my Mother-In-Law, was already at the hospice as were a couple of Norman’s friends, one of whom had worked with him in his early carpentry days. They had come to the end of their conversation as I walked into the room and I was introduced to them before they made their goodbyes and left.

Norman and I exchanged pleasantries and I sat down whilst he finished his semolina. A beautiful bouquet of flowers had been left and Alison began to unwrap them. There was no vase to hand so she disappeared out into the corridor to go and find one.

It was a moment later that Norman gestured to me and patted the space next to him on the bed. I got up, walked over and perched myself on the edge. I just assumed that he wanted something, more semolina, some water maybe? He pointed to a pillow so I picked it up and placed it behind him so that he was more comfortable and upright in the bed. As I sat back on the edge of the bed he took a hold of my hand and in a hushed tone he said to me “I want you to do something for me….take care of the girls for me”.

He nodded, I nodded, we both smiled at each other then I hugged him.

Alison appeared a few minutes later and arranged the flowers in the newly found vase. We chatted some more until the time was approaching 6 o’clock so we decided to set off and left with the usual “See you later”.

The path to the car park ran alongside the building and straight passed the room that Norman was staying in. As I got level with the window, something happened that to this day I cannot explain. I stopped, turned toward the window as if someone had called my name; I shrugged it off and took a few more steps before stopping again. I turned back again toward the window and after a few seconds I just found myself smiling…..smiling as if I had just been reassured that everything was going to be okay.

Norman passed away a few hours later.

Grief is a hole that cannot be filled. But over time it will shrink enough so that you won’t fall in every time you take a step.
Oh, by the way…..these are the girls he was talking about, my three beautiful daughters. I know how very proud he would be of the young women they have grown into.

They are my tether to this world and everything valuable in it.

Loz-Liz-Emz

NES_Bikes
Here he is test riding a couple of Harley Davidsons.
He finally settled on the beautiful red Sportster 883 on the right.


I’ll leave you with an incredible track from Hammock’s 2018 album ‘Unversalis’.
The track is called ‘We Watched You Disappear’.


 

The Symptoms are Real but the Thoughts are False.

This week I am definitely going to give you a trigger warning as I am going to describe some of the physical symptoms of health anxiety and how it has affected me personally.

*** So here it is – your Trigger Warning!!!

From the start I have to note that, until I did my research, I had no idea that health anxiety was a ‘thing’, that it was in fact another sub-genre of mental illness.

It got to a point in my life where I would wake up every day and think “What the hell is wrong with me today?!” It first started in the early 2000’s when I was working away from home. I just assumed that it was because I was not eating regular, healthy meals due to the stupid hours that I was working. It usually ended up being a vending machine snack during the day, then the heavy, rich hotel food in the evening…oh and the odd pint of Guinness!

It started with intense nausea that would work its way up my body and into the throat. The sensation was like a fire burning in the centre of my chest and the feeling that I had swallowed barbed wire…..both sensations at the same time! I have to say that of all the physical symptoms, this was the worst. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy! I couldn’t sleep because when I lay flat it was worse. It got so I was scared to eat, scared to swallow because it was so damn painful.

After several visits to the Doctor I was finally sent for a chest x-ray where I had to swallow a barium compound prior to the procedure. The outcome was that I had GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease. I was put on a treatment of acid reduction tablets for several months. I genuinely believe that there is a connection between GERD and anxiety, although recent studies show that the jury is still out on that one.

The thing was, I hadn’t being paying attention to my body….I mean, why would I? But from the point of being diagnosed I did become more aware, I was looking for the smallest of sensations, sensations that I would never have entertained before! I became preoccupied with every new symptom, wondering what on earth could be wrong. And this only served to amplify the anxiety more and to further increase the fear and the worry.

Over the years health anxiety has sent me to both A&E as well as to my GP. After several hours of waiting and multiple tests later, I would eventually be reassured by the Doctor that the ECG results showed that my heart was fine, even though I could feel and see the palpitation ‘blips’ on the print out. That my bloods were fine and my kidney and liver function were fine also. But this reassurance was only temporary as the cycle of new negative thoughts and physical sensations would start all over again.

In a previous post I described the ‘noise’ in my head, but this was also true of my body, it was very noisy! Noisy with uncomfortable physical symptoms which were both unexpected and unwanted.

There is a difference between anxiety attacks and panic attacks, and it’s all about the length of time. Some of the symptoms might be similar across both, but during a panic attack the symptoms were far more intense and would spring out of nowhere and would last, at their peak, for about 10 to 15 minutes. Then within an hour or so, both my mind and body would be back to something resembling normal activity. However, with generalised anxiety, the symptoms would be there for far longer.


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Okay, for this next part I hope that you are sitting comfortably and still awake because here we go…..oh and also, tick off all of the following that have ever applied to you – as these are the other physical symptoms that I have experienced over the years:

Muscle tension – up and down both arms, across the chest, upper and lower back, neck, scalp and shoulders. In fact, the tops of the shoulders have always been an early trigger warning for me that an anxiety episode was approaching in that once I started to feel the intense ‘burning’ sensation then I knew it was time to take action…even if it just meant walking away from the current anxiety inducing situation in order to breathe and re-focus.

The tension in the arms was an interesting one. After a couple of GP visits I was told that it could be carpal tunnel syndrome as I was presenting with the same symptoms, i.e. wrist pain, numbness and tingling in the fingers, forearm pain when clenching fists. I went for 6 weeks of physio on 2 separate occasions but after a subsequent GP visit I was told that it was all related to the muscle tension brought on by the anxiety.

Always, and I mean always, the chest pains were the most scary because your brain would immediately go to the worst case scenario and I would end up with another visit to A&E, only to have the same tests carried out again and to be given the same reassurances that everything was okay.

So, on a visit to the GP a couple of years back I took the opportunity to reel off every symptom that I had been experiencing up to that point, from crawling sensations in my calf muscles to a popping sensation in my sternum, along with all of those already listed above, to be told that is was anxiety; it was all related to the generalised anxiety!

My GP would go on to tell me that these were all normal and harmless bodily sensations, but because I had worked myself up into all of these doom and gloom scenarios then I would believe that they were are all symptoms of something much more terrible which, in turn, only sought to worsen my already heightened anxiety. I was giving my imagination all the room it needed to create these tall stories and as I began to imagine the worst, then my body’s alarm bell would be set off producing all of the anxiety symptoms it could muster.

And once again this is where the subtle art of distraction would come into play, to distract me away from all of the negative thoughts.

Because, at the end of the day…..the sensations and the symptoms were real, but all of the thoughts were false!

Until next time, take care! 😉


I’m a big Ludovico Einaudi fan, his music is just incredible…so I’ll leave you this week with my favourite track ‘Four Dimensions’ from his 2015 album ‘Elements’.


The Subtle Art of Distraction.

In my last post I wrote about the ‘fight or flight’ response and how I needed to break the cycle of thinking that there was something wrong; feeling anxious and then experiencing the symptoms of anxiety. How I needed to recognise the trigger events that would kick off the anxiety and to reassure myself that there was, in fact, no danger at all. And finally, how once I could do all of that then I could start to deal with the symptoms to counteract the fight or flight response and being able to cope with the anxiety.

I was asked a question early on which has always stayed with me…I was asked to describe the moment immediately prior to having a panic attack, not the actual ‘event’ itself or the physical symptoms, but what was I feeling right before it happened?

It was an odd question to ask? Why? Because panic attacks can and do happen suddenly and seemingly for no apparent reason. You don’t have time to assess the situation to be able to recall every detail, but hindsight is a wonderful thing once you can train your mind to take you to that place.

bucketholes.pngThe feeling that came to mind was being so thoroughly overwhelmed. The only way I could analogise it was a bucket filling with water. At a certain point the water reaches the top of the bucket and spills out over the edge. That was the feeling, the feeling where everything emotionally and physically had built up to a point, a tipping point if you will, where it just became too much and something had to give!



“Use your senses fully. Be where you are. Look around. Just look, don’t interpret.

Be aware of the silent presence of each thing.
Be aware of the space that allows everything to be.
Listen to the sounds; don’t judge them.
Listen to the silence beneath the sounds.
Touch something – anything – and feel and acknowledge its being.
Allow the “isness” of all things. Move deeply into the Now.”
– Eckhart Tolle


So the next question was asked…what does the bucket represent? Damn these questions were good! It meant I had to think and think really hard. The bucket and the flowing water represent me, my life. It’s filling up with everything that’s going on in every moment of every day. Okay, then how do you stop the bucket from filling up and overflowing? Easy, just turn off the tap! No, you can’t do that, you just said that the flowing water represents your life. Well…the next logical step would be to put holes in the bucket, but not too many holes or else the bucket will never have water in it!

Then the next question came, which was pretty obvious when you think about it, but one that I just could not answer in that moment…what do the holes in the bucket represent?

I came away not having given an answer, but I was asked to go off and think about it. It was a couple of days later and I’d woken up around 3am, not that I’d been asleep for long anyway…but that’s a topic for another occasion. I recall picking up my phone and opening the notes app and after typing in a single word I went back to sleep. I awoke a few hours later and I did that ‘muscle memory’ thing that we all probably do now in this digital age, and I reached for my phone to check emails and social media accounts for the latest news, posts and comments. But when I opened my phone the notes app was still open with one word on screen: Distraction.

Distraction? Why I had written that? Then I remembered the bucket…the holes in the bucket represented distraction. The thing is, I already had the answers, in fact I was already doing these ‘distractions’…I just needed to be asked the questions in such a way in order for me to realise and to make the connection to these ‘healthy’ distractions that I’d been doing for so long.

So what were these distractions? Well…I like to read, watch a film, a television show or a sports event. I love listening to music, going for a walk at lunchtime, taking the dog for a walk…these were all relaxation techniques that I was already doing but now I needed to make a new association, in other words not just doing them, but to use them as tools to help me reduce the stress and anxiety. Eventually I would come to learn that these relaxation techniques would not only lower my heart rate and reduce the physical tension in my body, but would also decrease the negative thoughts and the worry. I just needed to add a few more relaxation tools to my regime.

Deep breathing is a favourite of mine, once I got the hang of it and stopped getting dizzy…being able to focus my attention solely to the breathing process in order to clear my mind.

Visualisation is another great technique in helping me to let go of the stress and anxiety. I use my imagination to take myself away to a calm and happy place. It also relaxes my body and allows my mind to feel as though I am actually there. And the beauty of these relaxation techniques is that they can be done at the start of the day, the end of the day or at any point in between to relieve anxiety and to let go of the built up tension and stress experienced during the day.

I have read though, that ‘distraction’ techniques can be more about avoiding your anxiety symptoms, that you are misleading yourself if you think that by not noticing the symptoms then they won’t bother you…and that by avoiding them this will only lead to more, not less, mental health issues.

I make no apologies, but that is just not true. For me personally, the distraction techniques work and work really well! And that is the nature of mental illness; it is very personal, it is going to be different for everyone! Okay, my anxiety still gets the best of me and some days it can be a struggle, but once I accepted it and learned to work with it instead of against it, then my life improved greatly.

I’ll sign off this week by leaving you with one of my ‘distractions’, and that is music. I’ve just finished watching Ricky Gervais’s new Netflix show After Life. It’s six episodes of sad and funny, but it’s the music that really got me. I’ve found a new band called Hammock, a two member American duo that create atmospheric music by combining orchestral arrangements with electronic beats, piano and droning guitar.

There are several of their beautiful ambient tracks in the show, namely ‘The Silence’ from their 2005 album ‘Kenotic’, or ‘Together Alone’ from the 2012 album ‘Departure Songs’…but my favourite track is not from the show and is called ‘Tremendum’ from their most recent 2018 album ‘Universalis’.

I’ve included it here for you to listen to…..just put your headphones on, kick back, relax and make the ‘Now’ the primary focus of your life.



 

The 3 F’s – Freeze, Fight or Feck…Ruuun!

Ha! Okay, okay, maybe the above title is a tiny bit misleading….it is of course ‘Fight or Flight’ with some ‘Freezing’ thrown in for good measure, but I got your attention. Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way making light of my mental health or anyone else’s for that matter, after all it affects a great many people and should be taken seriously, but at the same time I don’t want this to be all doom and gloom. If we can have a smile and a laugh along the way whilst dealing with our own issues and overcoming the stigma, then I’m up for that if you are?

So…for blog post number three; in fact for the next few blog posts, I feel that it’s now time to get down to the nitty gritty of what mental health, and more specifically anxiety, means to me.

***NOTE – I’m not sure if I should write this comment or not, but I’ll do it anyway and add a possible trigger warning for you the reader…..you know, just in case?

Just from looking at me, you would say that there was nothing at all wrong with me. But that is the thing with any mental health issue; it’s unseen, it’s hidden from everyone. When I think about it and if I’m being truly honest with myself, I have battled with anxiety and panic attacks for a good 20 years or more, but no one knew or suspected anything. I kept it to myself. I fought hard to always look normal. I never let on that anything was ever wrong, a skill I’d acquired over a very long time! (No ‘Taken’ movie quotes here!)

Back then even I didn’t think that there was anything wrong with me. I thought that it was just normal to be this way, dealing with everyday life and all the curve balls that would be thrown my way. I didn’t know any different.

With anxiety my mind had gotten into the habit of holding on to fear, letting the emotion roam freely and allowing it to control me, instead of letting my body deal with it in its own natural, evolutionary way. How was I ever going to get my fear response under control? It had become so I was afraid of being afraid and it felt like I had absolutely no power over it!

I now understand why these emotional responses like fear and anger exist. Ten thousand years ago, if I was walking through a forest hunting for my next meal and I’m suddenly confronted by a ten foot hairy arsed grizzly bear then I’m going to react to the danger accordingly and do one of three things; freeze on the spot, turn and run like hell or stand and fight. This is the good ol’ fashioned fight or flight response.

We have this million year old device of ours, the brain and it is designed to keep us alive. However, in today’s modern society, there really isn’t a requirement for the fight or flight response. It shouldn’t suddenly overwhelm me whilst I’m sat at my desk at work. It shouldn’t stop me from leaving the house. It shouldn’t stop me from cancelling plans right at the last minute to go out socially or feel the sudden urge to move quickly away from a particular situation. There certainly isn’t the need for the physical symptoms associated with the fight or flight response when I’m about to give a presentation, attend a job interview or take an exam; the increased alertness, the faster heartbeat, the sweating, the shallow breathing, the tense muscles, the dry mouth, the butterflies in my stomach…all preparing me for a threat that just isn’t there!

So why I was not allowing my body to get out of the fear and return to a normal state? I would get trapped in my own panicky thoughts and create all kinds of worrisome scenarios, panicky thoughts that would become repetitive, obsessive, over analysing one outcome after another. All these symptoms of anxiety were and are very uncomfortable and I just ended up believing that something was really wrong….thoughts which only further increased my anxiety.

I would get anxious about getting anxious, overthinking everything like it was some end of the World scenario and then experiencing fear of fear…and so it would go around and around in this vicious circle of thinking there was something wrong, feeling anxious then suffering the symptoms of anxiety. This was occurring even though there was no obvious source of threat or danger, so I would use my imagination to find one…”What do people think of me?”, “What if I make a fool of myself in the meeting?”, “What if I give the wrong answers in the interview?” and so on. I was creating reasons to be anxious and coupled with the physical symptoms only somehow proved to me that I should therefore be anxious…and around it would go again!

Somehow I needed to break the vicious cycle. I needed to recognise the symptoms of anxiety and to reassure myself that these symptoms were not evidence of something being really wrong. Once I could do that then I could start to deal with the symptoms to counteract the fight or flight response and then tackle the anxiety head on.

Next time on “Mental Health Musings – A Brummies Perspective”…..well I won’t give it away, so just a clue for now. It involves putting holes in a bucket!

Thanks for stopping by and stay tuned for more…


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Above Picture: Glendalough, Upper Lake, County Wicklow, Ireland 🇮🇪

Random Musings #1.

So my first blog post is up. I did it! I’ll admit here and now that I’m no wordsmith and grammatically my writing is probably all over the place but I’m genuinely excited about sharing my Mental Health journey with you guys. And to all you wonderful people out there reading this right now – well for a start a massive thank you…but please do feel free to get in touch with your hints, tips and advice on writing styles, structure and content.

I’m very much new to all of this. I have so many things that I want to write about that I can’t get all of the thoughts out of my head and written down on paper quick enough. This in itself can cause me anxiety as I get overwhelmed at the sheer amount of ‘stuff’ in my head that I want to share with you all.

Okay, so this week there is no specific subject that I want to write about. In fact, I may even pen more of these ‘random musings’ posts where I just ramble on for a bit and see where my brain takes me? I know that I want to write about something, in fact I want to write about a great many things, but I know that there will be times where I’ll struggle to know what that something will be.

Will I have to delve into the deepest, darkest recess of my brain for the perfect topics to hold your attention? How about my hobbies? Nah, you don’t want to read about my vinyl collection or the habit forming art I have acquired of tsundoku where I’m buying more books than I can read! So, how about I just write about my feelings, my actual feelings about my general anxiety? Would that be so wrong? Would that be so absurd? No…I don’t think that it would be.

I’m hoping that by writing about my anxiety it will help me to make sense of it, even to give me new ways to think about it and hopefully that can help others in the process. Anxiety, in fact any Mental Health illness, by its very nature, is immensely personal. Anyone can write a blog post full of generalisations and hope that it will apply to everyone that reads it.

I don’t want to write for everyone. I want to write about what makes me unique, otherwise it will feel like I’m just getting lost in the noise of it all. But, at the same time, I don’t want people to think that I am lecturing to them when I write about my anxiety. I want people to be able to let their guard down because I truly believe that when this happens, you the reader will be more open, more vulnerable enough to see yourselves in what I write? Oh man, I really do hope that this is all making sense? Well I did warn you all….I did say that I would ramble on a bit didn’t I? Ha!

At the end of the day I don’t want my anxiety to rule me.

Because, do you know why? Life is just too damn short.

I’ll sign off for now as I want to have a think about my next topic? And besides, it’s Saturday afternoon…so time for a few Guinness and to catch up on a movie or two.

Look after yourselves and have a great weekend everyone!


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The First Step is the Biggest Step

I guess the most obvious question to ask me is…okay why now? Why do you now choose to write about your experiences with Mental Health? And you would be asking a really great question so I’ll answer it as honestly and as truthfully as I can.

I want to share my story; not to put the spotlight or focus on me solely, but to show how a single moment, one simple step of reaching out for help changed my life for the better. For anyone else reading this, for you to understand that you are not alone in this battle. My mental health issues are still very real, still very relevant, but ones that I am dealing with on a daily basis. I am proud of where I currently am; proud that I took that moment of clarity, took that step to reach out.

This is my simple story, the start of my journey. So many people are dealing with Mental Health issues but are hiding it. Let’s break the stigma associated to Mental Health. Embrace your anxiety. Take a deep breath, focus on the here and now and be in the moment.

As you can see from the below, my attempts at writing an anxiety journal over the past couple of years have been somewhat unsuccessful to say the least, but I’ve finally given it a go. I hope it can help you?


16/01/2017.
This is going to be my first ever attempt at creating an anxiety journal.

Never having created a journal of any kind before, it was difficult for me to think about what I was going to write about? So, I went and did some research in order to understand a) what anxiety is and how it affects each of us individually and b) how to tackle the symptoms and get myself better?

As I say, I’ve never done anything like this before, that is, expressing emotions and feelings or trying to describe my current state of mind. After all “I’m a man” I thought, ”I don’t do things like that”! This was and is the wrong attitude to have… I know this now. I guess I just didn’t want to admit that there was something not okay with me!

23/01/2017.

17/02/2017.
Well I’m clearly not having much luck with this am I! As you can see from my previous entry I only got as far as the date. But then again, I have been attempting to write this whilst at work which doesn’t really help.

28/12/2017.
Ha!, well this was a good idea wasn’t it!
Maybe I could try harder in 2018?!


20/02/2019.

Wow! I’m sat here as I type with a wry smile on my face as I realise that it’s been just over 2 years since I attempted to put my thoughts, feelings and emotions down in written form.

The problem was, and still is, where do I start? I’ve never done anything like this since my English GCSE days back in 1988. I’ve always fancied a go at this writing malarkey but for whatever reason, either through the personal attribute of laziness or the habit forming phenomenon that is procrastination, I just never got around to it.

I’m sat here thinking way too much about this, so…I’m just going to go for it and pick a moment in time and then go from there. Let’s see where this written journey takes me?

That moment in time was September 12th, 2017. I’d flown to Ireland 5 days before to visit my Mom and Sisters. Mom always said to us that once we were all old and ugly enough to fend for ourselves she would move back to Ireland. That was almost 20 years ago now. I have visited many wonderful places in Ireland, but my “happy place” to return to time and time again has always been County Wicklow, and more specifically, Lough Tay (also known as Guinness Lake) set in the incredible and beautiful Wicklow Mountains.

So there I was, stood on the hillside looking out across the dark peaty water of Lough Tay to the mountain of Luggala when I started to feel that all too familiar overwhelming sensation of impending doom, fear, heightened alertness, being totally on edge, nausea…closely followed by increased heart rate, sweating, tingling sensation in the hands, shallow breathing – I was about to have a panic attack!

Even to this day, I’m still struggling to work out what the specific trigger could have been? I’d had a good night’s sleep, albeit Guinness induced, but I woke up in a good mood, looking forward to the day ahead. I was in a safe place for crying out loud; after all I was in my happy place. What could go wrong?!

If I’m being honest here, I think it had been building to this point for some time. I’d had several panic attacks before, which, on a couple of occasions, had ended up with me being admitted to A&E as I thought I was having a heart attack due to the chest pains.

Now that I really think about it, the one thing that I was struggling to do was to just “be in the moment”. I wasn’t able to enjoy where I was; the scenery, the Sun on my face, the beauty of it all…..none of it! Why? Noise! There was a noise, even though all around me was quite. That noise was coming from me, from inside my head…a busy noise like hundreds of people all talking over each other.

There was no one about, I was all alone. I now had to dig deep and remember what I’d read about in order to focus on quelling this overwhelming wave that was crashing over me.

Taking deep breathes was my first plan of attack. Breathe in through the nose for a count of three, hold for one second, breathe out through the nose for a count of four, hold for one second then repeat. Then, whilst trying to focus my attention to my breathing, I’d learnt about grounding techniques so I started to count the rocks and the trees. I was about to go for the “count as many things as you can see that are a certain colour” game, but immediately my brain went “GREEN…count everything that is green!” REALLY! GREEN! Do you know where I am stood right now?! However, it was enough to distract me and put a smile on my face.

That was the first time I’d ever stopped myself from having a full blown panic attack and for want of a better word I felt a sense of achievement, but also anger at the same time. Anger at myself for having put up with this for so long!

And so it was, in that moment on the Irish hillside that I’d decided that enough was enough, I needed help, I needed to reach out and I needed to, no…I wanted…to finally understand and admit to myself that it was okay with not being okay.


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Above Picture: My ‘Happy Place’ – Lough Tay (aka Guinness Lake) County Wicklow, Ireland 🇮🇪