On this RU OK Day, I thought I could lend a hand to those not doing so well at the moment, I know what this is like because I ‘ve been there.
It stalked me day and night, it was unrefined, ugly, heavy and extremely manipulating. No, I’m not talking about one of my previous bosses (but I could be!). Instead, I’m describing my dance and fight and dance again with anxiety, and the black dog of depression. These illnesses culminated to produce a perfect storm resulting in a panic disorder, a disorder which I grew to know all too well.
In 2016 I had a rough year, just an accumulation of things too messy to go into now. The major blow was that my expectations were never met that year, and I took it as a personal failure of my own, instead of seeing it for what it was, just life. I was so attached to what I thought made me who I was that I lost myself in the process. I am trying hard these days to not attach myself to expectations, to not look at what I haven’t got more than what I have got. For want of a better cliché; the present is all we really have right here right now. I’m going to spare you’re the unpleasant details of my ride with the panic disorder because this post isn’t about that. I want this post to be of use, to be practical and to assist someone who stumbles across it in their darkest hours. I want them to know they are not alone.
When I talk about anxiety in this post you will notice that I don’t talk about the anxiety as something that is part of me. I don’t say MY anxiety as it simply does not define me, instead, I try to see it for what it is. It’s something that attaches itself uninvited and unwelcome to me, in the most public of moments and in the quietest of times. It will be with me most of the time but I am now able to tame the monster, so it sits quietly in the corner and reacts when appropriate. Because let’s face it we do sometimes need anxiety to make us aware of the danger, not often but sometimes.
I know I’m not a lone wolf in this world of mental illness, in fact, at this very moment many of my friends are suffering from similar illnesses. I have wondered is there something in the water or perhaps in the leadership of the land, certainly the media has helped us live in fear. Whatever feeds your beast, just know it’s trainable.
While anxiety and depression are common I don’t want to downplay the devastating impact, it can have on lives, I know the impact all too well and it isn’t pretty. I also know that the words of depression are bandied around all too freely to change what the word means. This isn’t helpful or useful for anyone and is probably a whole other post.
This post will hopefully give you one or two training methods to use to tame the monster. Some things work for some people and others don’t, so while I encourage you to try things out; don’t get hung up on thinking nothing works. Everything takes time and practice.
One of my favorite quotes is ‘Anything is easy to learn, but hard to master’ (Nolan Bushnell -Atari Founder)
Now I’m not out of the woods yet but I have good mental health these days, and I’m seeing myself as a pretty ok human again, which is a good thing and progress. So, I hope you enjoy trying out these strategies and seeing what works for you.
This list is simply a bunch of things that worked for me and others that I just tried. I hope it helps even just for a while.
- Exercise every day – I know it sounds like advice your GP would give you but exercise really does help. It helps with releasing endorphins and hormones that help to clear brain fog and allows us to concentrate on the physical and get out of our heads for just a while.
- Self-Compassion – Study this topic, read everything you can on it, because this is what will lift you up out of that black hole. Although at first, you won’t believe you’re worthy of self-compassion, think again because you are and you need it to get well. This is very different to self-esteem. Here is a link to someone who studies it for a living. http://self-compassion.org/
- Be Vulnerable – See it as strength and not a weakness. Every time we try to hide our hurt or our vulnerability it usually goes pretty wrong. Brene’ Brown’s books on vulnerability are a good place to start. http://brenebrown.com/
- Don’t panic about panic – If a crazy thought presents itself try not to panic about that panicked thought, let it pass.
- Stop, drop and roll – While this sounds dramatic and is a fire drill. What I really mean is use Cognitive Behavioural therapy (CBT) to rewire your brains loop. Every time a thought appears that you don’t want, re-route it and then replace it with something. Sometimes it will mean you need to clap your hands, stand up or jump. For me, it was a simple sound I would make that meant I had blown the thought away without judgment.
- Fake it till you make it– If you haven’t smiled in a while, try faking it in the mirror every morning eventually you will find it comes naturally.
- Connect – The last thing you feel like doing when you have the black dog at your heels is connecting with anything or anyone. Force yourself to connect, even just for a bit. Make yourself you for that cup of coffee with your friend, even though it takes every ounce of strength you have to get there. Staying isolated helps to feed the black dog and fear breeds on inaction. Finally, give yourself kudos for going, DO NOT BEAT YOURSELF UP.
- Get your gut sorted and eat well because there is clear evidence now that our gut is influencing our brain and moods.
- Find a GREAT GP -and I mean great. Find a GP that gets it, you might have to get friends and family to help with this one.
- Read one line at a time. If you were like me and frozen with fear and convinced I would never read again. Start with just one line of an inspiring book before bed. You can go to two lines next week.
- Focus on others – When you start to feel better, and you will, think about helping someone else out and expect nothing in return but Karma.
- Stay in the present, mindfulness mumbo gumbo, yes, I know such a buzz word, but if you’re in the future your usually anxious, and if you’re stuck in the past you’re usually depressed, so try staying present for a little while. Mindfulness is a simple practice it’s paying attention in the moment on purpose non-judgementally.
- DEEP-REST -I saw this on a meme, Depression means to have a deep rest… Slow down and rest up, there is no hurry.
- Anchor points – Have some physical and mental anchor points can be cards, a candle, your dressing gown, friends or your favorite comedian. These anchor points help keep us in the present moment and remind us we can rely on others.
- ‘Be afraid, but do it anyway’ – I have this on my pin board close to my bed – RIP Carey Fisher
- Listen to podcasts about breaking habits and about neuroplasticity, Ruby Wax has a great Ted talk on Neuroplasticity, because after her ‘breakdown’ she studied it. Here is the link https://youtu.be/mbbMLOZjUYI They have only just discovered neuroplasticity; the brain is the last frontier and there is still more to discover about this amazing computer.
- Take drugs (prescribed by your doctor), if they help. Think about them being in partnership with you to get well. They work for some, but not others. Thank goodness though for modern medicine.
- Do away with shame tell everyone you know that you’re unwell mentally, chances are they have been too, and as soon as you both discover this you will have made a new friend.
- Music -Play music while you do stuff, play music that makes you smile. You may not be able to sing along at first, but you will in time trust me on that one.
- Get some Vitamin D -soak up some sunshine (while slip slop and slapping of course), take a walk in the sunshine.
- Looking forward -Have something to look forward to, even if it’s small thing like going to the movies, visiting a friend or hearing a comedian. Just anything, even if you need to fake excitement at first, that’s ok.
- Take a shower or two -the warm water is relaxing your body that has been pent up due to anxiety. It’s also a time to practice meditation and mindfulness.
- Get back to basics – wash, sleep, eat and repeat and give yourself credit for just doing that on bad days.
- Don’t strive to be happy all the time, it’s a myth, social media perpetuates that myth; for example, people only present the best days of their lives, they don’t usually post pictures on their bad days. It is normal for us humans to feel a range of different emotions even in just one day. Happiness is fleeting just like fear and sadness, they won’t stay forever but they will be back. If you try to reach the end of the happiness rainbow you will be disappointed because you never quite get there. There is happiness in the journey on the way to the end of the rainbow though. While we are on the topic of myths; don’t strive for perfection either it doesn’t exist. Ask yourself what would it look like if I was good enough now?
- Get back to nature, garden, climb, walk, swim and tumble in nature. Nature allows us to just be in the moment, enjoy the feeling of sun, the smell Daphne and the sight of the stars. There is research that says if we take time out in nature each day then we will be more content and less stress.
- Humour– Talk to a friend who has a wickedly dark sense of humour and laugh together, even about your own self-loathing. Laughter won’t come easy but it will happen.
Finally, for friends and family, stay connected, let them know this too will pass, and that you will look after them until it does. Don’t just send the random text, follow up and check ARE THEY REALLY Ok?