If we were sat down, drinking a cup of tea and eating biscuits and you asked me how life was at the moment I would say.....
Chronic pain is kicking my butt, metaphorically and quite possibly literally. I had a couple of really difficult weeks a few weeks ago, and things have subsided slightly but I'm constantly aware of a flare potentially being around the corner. I have been having LOTS of hospital appointments, doctors appointments and tests the last couple months, it's been draining physically and mentally. It's frustrating, although some things are being figured out (after many years!!), I feel as though some things have gone backwards about 50 steps. Living in pain is becoming harder to hide, even though I still feel like I can act well most days. I’ve always been good at hiding my battles but when they become noticeable to the outside world you realise you aren’t as good at living the lie as you thought you were. I think my body is just exhausted from the last flare up which lasted for over a month. I always appreciate the moments where the pain is manageable and not in a flare, where everything hurts ALL the time.
My depression has popped back up again in the last couple weeks, out of nowhere but I'm taking it as it comes. It emerges one day, engulfing me whole and then the next day I feel slightly less in the dark. There's been a lot of random uncontrollable crying, long naps and shutting myself in my room listening to the same song over and over again. It's been fairly draining and as always with depression, it takes you by surprise and appears when you least expect it. It's up and down right now but that's okay, that's better than it being just down. There is still a fight whether you’re in the midst of it or in recovery, but it’s a fight worth fighting.
Certain aspects of life that are uncontrollable are causing me quite a bit of stress which could be why my depression has made an appearance. My anxiety has always been there but at the moment it's louder than it usually is. There will always be factors and events that happen in life which you can't control but when you have anxiety and depression, they feel 10 times worse. Uncertainty and stress are two things that make my anxiety a lot worse. I'm cautious of the fact that I'm no longer on medication so a normal (for me) level of anxiety could be amplified at the moment.
Starting an online uni degree was the best choice I could have made for myself. I so desperately hung onto the hope that my body would magically rid itself of this illness and I’d be able to go away to university like everyone else. The reality is I can’t do what everyone else can because my body is not able to. I kept putting my life on hold in the hopes things would get better instead of doing the best I could with what I had. So that’s what I finally did- I may not get the real life experience of it but I’m getting the education and for now, that is enough for me. I’m doing something for my future regardless of how may health may be. It feels good. I'm nearly done with my first year and I feel like I'm going in the right direction.
My 21st birthday is tomorrow (!!) but due to the whole up and down of my depression, I'm not as excited as I thought I would be which is okay but disappointing. I'm hoping the whole "it's your birthday" thing will make me excited tomorrow and give me a reason to enjoy the day. I so desperately want to be happy but it's not something you can force when you're feeling depressed. I've had a great day today going to lunch with my best friend and got a ton of school work done (being productive and accomplishing things really helps my depression) so I'm hoping I'll wake up feeling great. I've just read the post I wrote last year after my birthday and reading that has reminded me how far I've actually come, even if I'm having a rough couple of days.
I hope you all have a great rest of the week, whether you're taking part in this weeks festivities (pancake day and Valentines day) or not. I'm going to use this half term week to rest, catch up on school work and do lots of self care!!
Every year I spend New Years day making resolutions, that I know without a doubt, I won't stick to. And every year the same feeling of guilt washes over me come February when I realise I haven't done any of the things I had set out to do. Did you know 80% of New Year's resolutions fail by February? I mean what a negative way to start the year. I'm ditching resolutions all together this year in the hopes it creates less stressful emotions. I didn't even think about resolutions as I was lying around in bed all day binge-watching friends this New Year's day and that is a first for me.
This year I’m not going to do the usual self-loathing that inevitably comes when you realise you yet again didn’t accomplish what you sought out to resolve in the last year (hello weight gain instead of weight lose). Every year for the last few years, I have embraced New Year resolutions with open arms knowing full well, I’d be ditching them all come February/March time then suddenly remembering them come December trying to fight 12 months of “resolving” in a month. I’m not the only one who does that right?
But no more, this year is going to be different. I’m not going to set any resolutions, not even my usual ‘lose weight’ one because I am sick of feeling like a failure each year. Of course, I’d like to lose weight and get healthy- I mean as healthy as a girl with chronic illness can get. But it’s not going to be my sole focus for the next 12 months. I’m not going to start a Pinterest board full of inspiring weight loss pictures, healthy dinners and heart pumping circuit workouts. Because what does it do? What in reality does feeding myself with the notion that who I am right now is not good enough do? It not only damages my self-esteem but makes any progress that I have made in the last 12 months seem unworthy. Progress which can't been seen in numbers on a scale but can be felt mentally. Whilst I believe there are plenty of people that can set resolutions and stick to them, I think for the majority of those in the mental health community it can be self-destructive. Even an attainable resolution like exercising 3 times a week can quickly become damaging when you realise life, anxiety, depression or chronic illness gets in the way of achieving that goal.
There’s this pressure that comes from society that every year there is always some resolutions that we can do to better ourselves. What if our only resolution was to be who we were and grow as a person as we experience the next year? Life is happening every minute of every day and we sure as hell can’t always be working on ourselves when we’re trying to live our life. It feeds into this idea that we need to be focusing on bettering ourselves or changing our lives to have a successful year. I didn’t achieve any of my new year resolutions but I did achieve many things (all of which I mentioned last week). None of that was in any goal I had set but my goodness they’re all accomplishments I can be proud of.
This year, I'm going to focus on simply living and enjoying myself. I've spent so many years forcing myself to become something I'm not or do things I don't enjoy, that I'm finally realising just making it through the year is one hell of an accomplishment in itself. 2 weeks in and I feel better for the fact that I haven't yet stepped on a scale this year, I haven't exercised for any goal other than when I want to and I haven't denied every piece of chocolate for the fear I won't be losing weight.
My usual goals of losing weight, becoming tidier, learning a new skill or changing something about myself have gone out the window. My only goals for the next year is to help more than I've helped in the year just gone, make a difference, live each day in kindness and love myself (by far harder than any other goal but one I'm determined to work on). I want to reach the end of 2018 feeling like I've done everything I could to help those around me. If you can have any goal this year let it be kindness. Kindness to yourself and your pain, kindness to those struggling around you and kindness to a world often in despair. Imagine if everyone ditched the usual resolutions that we're made to believe will make us better people in society's eyes and just tried doing better instead? Be a better friend, be a kinder person (including to yourself!!), be more confident, be gentler, be proud. Be anything you want but don't be that person that feeds into the guilt society makes us feel for being a part of that 80%.
Happy New Year everyone!! I hope you all had a fantastic Christmas and a great time ringing in the new year. I had every intention of posting Monday night but as usual life got in the way so here I am a day late- I will eventually stick to posting on a particular day (goal for 2018 maybe?;).
Whenever we tend to reflect on the year just gone it's easy for our minds to jump straight to the moments that weren't so great, completely skipping over the moments that were bloody brilliant. Our minds are so used to beating ourselves up that we think of the failures before we think of the achievements. 365 days is, in reality not as long as we think and in the midst of living life we tend forget about the goals we made all those months ago on January 1st. Then comes December and we feel like we've failed for not seeing those resolutions through. For me this year certainly went by in a flash and sat here today, I can't remember a single goal I made this time last year but that doesn't mean I didn't achieve big things!
I started this blog and although it's been rough to keep at it at times, I'm so glad I did. I turned 20, a birthday may not seem like an achievement but when depression and suicidal thoughts had convinced you, you wouldn't make it another year, it's a huge one. I walked a 25km charity walk, which tested every physical and mental strength I had but was easily my proudest moment of 2017. I started an online degree in something I love. I came off all my anti-depressants mid-year and have stayed off them. I got another part-time job. Those are just the big moments, there were many little things a long the way. If you're struggling to see how amazing you were this year, write down a list of everything you did and you'll see just how much you achieved in a short amount of time. It's important to take the time and celebrate your achievements, no matter how big or small they may be.
Within the good, there is also the exceptionally hard. The moments that really make you wonder how you're going to survive the rest of the year. The moments that will feel like the world is crumbling around you. They happen every year no matter how strong you are or how much you try to control the things around you, painful things happen in the middle of ordinary life and it hurts. This past year I was hopeful for health to finally come my way but I started the year in hospital and have ended it with countless specialist appointments, trips to A&E, tests after tests and a pretty awful health scare. Even though there have easily been over 50 blood tests, numerous medication trial and errors, hundreds of doctors appointments (I wish that was an exaggeration) and thousands of tears, but there has been laughs that outweigh the sobs, hope given, strength gained, and support received in many ways. Despite all the pain, I count myself lucky in so many ways and although I don't feel this way everyday, for the most part I'm thankful for the struggle. It has only made me fight harder than I knew possible, endure excruciating pain day after day and ready to tackle 2018 the only way I know how- fighting.
As important as it is to acknowledge all the goodness the year had to offer, it is comforting in an odd sense to look back at the hurt, too. Comforting because you see just how much crap you fought through and realise you're 10 times stronger than you imagined. Give yourself some credit for getting through the year in one piece, it's not always an easy journey.
I'm feeling optimistic about the year to come, a feeling that is quite new to me to have at the start of a new year. I have so many incredible things to look forward to the first half of the year- my 21st birthday, my best friend having her baby(can't wait!!), a trip to Amsterdam with my friends, my mum's 50th and going to my dad's in April with my cousin. So much stuff to look forward to and to focus on.
2017 was a big year of growth for me and I'm excited to see what the next year has in store. I hope however you may be feeling about the New Year, that you've it in a great way.
What were some of your achievements this year?
What are some things you're looking forward to this year?
The holiday season is a time filled with many happy things- family time, delicious food, parties, presents, travelling etc. but all those things can feel incredibly difficult if you’re battling mental illness.
I love Christmas, ALL of it, the cringey music that plays everywhere you go, the silly jumpers you wear, decorating the house and everything else that screams Christmas. But living with depression and anxiety has often times taken away that love and wished for it to be January as soon as possible. It’s hard knowing you should be happy and joyful but your mind is dark and struggling. Holiday seasons are actually when I find it most difficult. My anxiety feeds into this constant pressure of having to be happy 24/7 just because it’s Christmas. That’s not how life works and depression lives in your mind whatever time of year it is.
Last year I was in a completely different mental state than I am this year, I was struggling to see the light at the very long tunnel and it took everything in me to “celebrate”. The fact is Christmas is filled with chaos in most families, mine included and I think even someone who isn’t struggling with mental health can find it hard to be around all that craziness for so long. But with mental illness, there’s the added pressure of your mind, constantly spinning and trying to make it through everything without retreating to your dark room for days or experiencing the overwhelming anxiety is an huge task.
These tips don’t mean everything will feel easier, and for some they may not work but after several years of experiencing Christmas with that black cloud raining over me, I’ve learnt some coping mechanisms along the way.
1) Don’t apologise for needing space. It is completely normal to need time to yourself, whether it’s an extra long shower or going to the food shop on your own. I crave alone time so much to be able to keep my depression and anxiety at bay. Being around people so much during the holidays has at times driven me to lock myself in my room, turn all the lights off, put my headphones in, blast the music and have a long cry. That however is not a good way of coping, I’ve learnt to know when I’m getting to my limit and I give myself alone time to calm down. We all need space, but don’t feel guilty if you need more because of what is going on in your mind.
2) Exercise. This is advice I rarely dish out because I am no athlete or exercise regular but having 30 minutes to sweat it out or stretch is out really does help. I almost didn’t include this because I used to HATE people telling me to exercise (such a catch 22 with chronic pain) but it does usually help- not always but 90% of the time it does. I take a walk around the woods with my grandma’s dog and just in those 20-30 minutes, my mind is quiet and I do not have to navigate family discussions about so and so. Even a 10-minute yoga/stretch in your room can help calm your breathing and help you feel less overwhelmed.
3) Have a time out. No not the kind you put your children in but a little mini time out from a situation that is bringing on anxiety helps to calm your racing mind. Sometimes it’s an uncomfortable dinner conversation or an argument has broke out and you just feel like running away- I’ve been there, SO many times. I excuse myself or say I’m going to the toilet and I go sit in another room and listen to one song. One song is a good amount of time to refocus my mind and reassure myself that whatever is making me anxious will be okay. I usually always listen to the same song when I’m in an anxious situation but pick something that calms you and just sit there taking some deep breaths. Take as many time outs as you need and know that it’ll be okay.
4) Talk to someone if you’re really struggling. It doesn’t have to be any of the family you’re spending time with, if you’re feeling that huge overwhelming feeling that it’s going to hit or that familiar emptiness creeps over you- reach out to someone!! It could be anyone who you trust, or even a chat line that supports those with mental illness. A five-minute conversation can make you see things differently, calm your fears and lift off some of the weight on your shoulders or simply a hug can make you feel comfort. It’s hard talking to someone any time of year but I always struggle around Christmas because I don’t want to bother any of my friends or upset anyone with my gloominess but 10/10 times, they have welcomed me with open arms and just listened. Cry, vent, shout, scream, whatever you need to do to release the built up emotions.
5) Use any learnt coping mechanisms. When I had CBT, I learnt a lot of useful techniques to manage my anxiety in stressful situations. Now they were mainly centered around travelling and going out in busy places but they can apply just as well to sitting around the dinner table with 30 family members (stressful for anyone;). I learnt helpful breathing techniques that would help the madness in my head. Focusing on breathing in and out on a specific number of counts takes your mind off what is worrying you. Another useful one was thinking of the worst thing that could happen, the best outcome (sometimes this one isn’t needed) and what was most likely to happen. In the early days of using this technique, I had a worksheet that I would always carry with me but now I can do it all in my head without having to see it written (seeing it written use to be the only way I would manage to believe the worst outcome was highly unlikely of happening). For example, I used to be anxious about going on the train so using that technique, the worst that could happen was the train crashing or a bomb going off (sounds extreme but it was a VERY intense worry I would have), what was most likely going to happen, I take the train and safely get to my destination. It sounds ridiculously simple but it helps to rationalise the fear in your mind.
6) Don’t feel guilty over what you can’t do. Guilt has consumed me for many years over things I’ve had no control over but even more so during the holiday season. I feel like I’m instantly letting friends or family down if I don’t go shopping or ice-skating, or sit down with the family every lunch and dinnertime. Guilt is not an emotion that is easily fought off but know that sleeping all day or not going to dinner is nothing to feel guilty about. Sometimes people make you feel the guilt and other times, it’s all because of your mind convincing you of something. Remind yourself you are doing the best YOU can, not the best anyone else can do but the best that you, in your currant state, can do. And that is simply enough. Don’t beat yourself up over things you didn’t do, there is always more time to do the things you want to accomplish. Simply by fighting you are giving yourself infinite chances.
If all the above fails, grab some chocolate and go watch your favourite film because sometimes all you need is a little extra comfort and relaxation. Mental illness is hard and often times an uphill battle but don’t let the false idea that you have to have it all together this time of year keep you from enjoying yourself when you can. Take it day by day, I know December can feel like the longest month with all the festivities but it will pass by quickly and the fight might feel a little lighter come January.
Hey there, I'm Jasmine, your average 20 year old working as a nanny and play assistant. Maybe Tomorrow follows my journey living with mental health issues and chronic pain, all whilst trying to have some fun along the way.
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