I got issues, you do too…

Staying home is getting hard. My reasons for struggling may be different to yours. No doubt there will always be someone in worse situation than all of us. It’s still ok to feel whatever you feel. We’re living through a crisis that no one was prepared for. It’s perfectly normal to have no idea how to deal with such an unprecedented set of events.

A badly managed pandemic is going to mess with our heads. There’s no getting away from that. Aspects of this catastrophe might compound existing mental health issues. Such large scale uncertainty & fear may trigger symptoms in those who have never experienced them before. Please be gentle with yourself. It is totally normal to struggle with mood in extreme circumstances. It is not your fault that you find this overwhelming. It is scary to feel so powerless. Even more so to be dealing with such acute emotions in completely alien circumstances. You are allowed to be a mess. This shit is tricky, but it’s not forever.

Whilst we’re in the thick of it, it’s important to look after ourselves. Bin all the shoulds. Whatever gets you through the night really is alright. If you need routine, create it. If video calls & comfort food are your heart’s desire, do it. There are no rules. Complete your magnum opus or have a lot of long lies. Both are reasonable reactions. As long as you’re not endangering yourself or others, it’s all good.

Pale legs with green tattoo lying in bed

If you’re starting to find that you don’t know how to handle the ‘new normal’, I have a few pointers. I’ve had years of wrangling a crazy brain and unruly body. It’s left me quite well equipped for societal disaster.

It’s my experience that taking care of everyday practicalities can relieve some stress.

  • Make a budget. If you know exactly what’s coming in it is easier to juggle what’s going out. If there are bills you will have difficulty with contact companies ASAP. Most big organisations are offering payment breaks, reduced payment plans etc at the moment. It feels so much better to not have the worry hanging over you. Check what financial aid is available to you during this crisis. There are various government schemes that might help make ends meet.
  • Plan in advance. Check each day for shopping delivery slots. You can usually have two booked at a time. Some supermarkets offer priority to people most vulnerable to covid 19, it’s worth checking if you qualify. I always buy some food that needs little preparation in case I don’t feel up to cooking. Speak to your GP about how to best request & collect prescriptions. Don’t wait until you need your medication, running out is incredibly stressful. There are delivery services available for people who cannot leave their house.
  • Make lists. I love a list. When everything is swimming around in my head it feels hectic. Order resumes when I can see what I need to do on paper. Plus ticking things off is very satisfying. I make a list for each day. I spread housework, life admin & work throughout the week. Leave time to rest & between hated tasks. Prioritise what’s most important for each day. Do not freak out if you can’t get everything done. Focus on the essentials for that day. Dishes in the sink won’t hurt you. I usually make separate lists for things I need to buy, calls I need to make & appointments I need to keep. Our current situation limits those things somewhat.
  • Permission to deviate. Let yourself scrap it all if you really need to. Just don’t ditch it forever.

Most of all, be kind. Indulge in whatever makes you feel good. Eat the treats. Send yourself flowers. Drink the tequila. Keep talking about how you feel. Ask for help if you need it. Everyone is dealing with their own variant of yuck; let’s try to take care of ourselves & each other.

Margarita in cocktail glass with lime wedge

The hurting time…

Chronic illness becomes a way of life. You don’t stop feeling bad, but you do get used to it. Humans adapt. Pain becomes the new normal.

Most days spoonies deal with symptoms that would send healthy folk to the Dr. On bad days many would be considering 999. Chronic peeps, however, muddle through. Sometimes flare ups floor me. There are days when brushing my teeth is an epic feat. Others I function to varying degrees. I work & play & everything in between. Always, though, I hurt.

I pay the price if I over do it. I carefully plan routes & venues around how many steps will be required, if there is seating, stairs & so on. I pre check menus for items that won’t make me sick. Plan meals around when meds need to be taken. I do everything tired. It’s so hard to sleep & even when I do crash I wake feeling little difference.

Selfie of women’s sad face.

I found a way to work around my illness. Squeeze pleasure out of any socialising I can manage. I have become accustomed to cancelling things I really wanted to do. The list of things my body is no longer capable of grows. It’s ridiculous how sad felt upon realising I won’t jump on trampoline or turn a cartwheel again. Especially when I don’t even have much desire to do either. It’s just another limit. Another no.

I persevere. I follow Drs orders. I try all manner of suggested remedies. Acupuncture, cbd, floatation tanks, tens, yoga, the works. Some treatments help. There are medications that work wonders. Others that I need, but that cause problems. I take drugs to counteract the side effects of other drugs. It’s exhausting, but it’s my life.

Hand holding 5 pills of various shapes & colours

It is not all bad. I have privileges that many do not. My home is warm & safe. I have access to excellent care. I am gifted with skills & talents that allow me to pursue work I love. I have safety nets. I had years of being fit & well. I went to uni, got stuck into the partying & had the chance to travel a little. I’m loved. Pleasures great & small find me. My cat is the cutest. Life could be worse. I can handle this.

Cute black and white lying on back fluffy belly exposed

Except when I really, really can’t. There are days when chronic life overwhelms me. Days like today, when every inch of me is sore. Keeping a brave face when you’re throwing up for fifth time in as many hours is a challenge. Every day my first sensation is agony. Aching joints. Throbbing head. Burning skin. Churning stomach. Each little movement hurts. Remaining sedentary isn’t an option either. My arthritic parts seize up. Leading to, yup, more pain.

Food refuses to stay in my stomach. Don’t eat & the acid bubbles up my throat. Attempt to line my raw stomach and the vomiting makes everything worse. I can’t concentrate enough to distract myself. Sleep is illusive. There’s no escape.

Burdening others with my misery triggers my guilt. Keeping it all in is horribly lonely. Pain relief doesn’t work. Positive thinking is way out of reach. Some days are hard. It is too hard be grateful. Impossible to hang onto hope of easier times. Today I’m just thoroughly sick & tired of always being sick & tired.

Plus size women in green leopard print maxi dress  with walking stick

All that fear and all that pressure…

I’m thinking we probably have some newcomers to the world of overwhelming anxiety. Panic is a no win kind of game, but there a few cheat codes. Since I’m an old pro and a real darling, I’m going to clue you in.

Full disclosure, none of these are a cure. Anxiety is a fucker and you should definitely seek professional advice if you are worried about your mental health. However, none of these calming hacks will do you any harm & so you can totally give them a bash. They might buy you a little temporary peace or even just knock the steam off your panic attack.

Gratitude Lists

I know that sounds wanky, but bear with me. Sometimes when I’m dealing with that grinding, slow burn type of anxiety this can be helpful. I go through things I’m grateful for in my head. It can be anything. Often I’ll do the simple I have a warm house, comfy bed, not being pursued by the mob type of thanks giving. Other times I’ll get specific about factors that mitigate whatever I’m worrying about. Either way it switches my head away from catastrophising for a minute & lets me catch a breath.

Slow Sips

If you’re wholesale panicking, slowly taking small sips from a bottle can help. It forces you to regulate your breathing, which can ease the physical symptoms of a panic attack. Thus giving you an opportunity to stave off a really bad episode.

Waves of Sound

Get yourself a sound machine app. Lying awake all night feeling scared is awful. Waves, thunder storms, pouring rain are all rather soothing. This can also be helpful via earphones if you’re feeling freaked out in a public space.

Waves on Scottish beach

Play it Out

On a similar note I like to prepare playlists of songs that I know will be good for certain situations. For instance I have calming bedtime tunes, waiting somewhere stressful songs, help me do these things that need to be done lists and so on.

Child’s Pose

I know yoga isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it does work for me. Child’s pose in particular is very helpful for chilling my body out and making my brain stop for a minute. You can access loads of good yoga vids on YouTube. It’s worth a try to see if anything helps you feel more ok.

Repeat Yourself

This probably sounds a little dumb, but it can be surprisingly effective. In moments of panic/fear simply repeating a reassuring phrase can help. I usually go for ‘you’re ok’. The repetition and saying the words out loud has an impact.

Text ‘you’re ok’ repeated on pink & green swirly background

Hide

This probably sounds even more daft. Again, it can work. Taking yourself to a small, safe space can reduce your body’s desire to flip out. I’ve taken myself into my tiny home office & given myself a minute many a time. Being somewhere that I know no one can see me or even know I am there is great for combatting rising panic.

Dark & Loud

When the world is really too much, blocking it out us the way to go. Find yourself a dark room, get comfortable and turn some beloved music up really loud. Assaulting the senses like this aids a positive disconnect from whatever is distressing you.

Write

This one obviously works for me. Getting the terror out of your head and onto the paper/screen is a lifesaver. Something about making those words concrete rather ever growing worries is hugely cathartic. Give it a try.

Still after all this time…

It’s Friday night. I’m watching Bridget Jones’s baby (again) after which I shall go to bed & continue re reading Persuasion. Probably a pretty nice cosy night in, but Bridget & Austen are red flags for me.

I always read Austen when I feel wobbly. I find the manners & gentle wit soothing. Whenever I read about Elliots or Dashwoods they seep into my dreams. Georgian heroines winning happy endings is a definite upgrade on what’s usually swilling around my subconscious. Bridget Jones offers a similar, but slightly more bittersweet comfort. Echoes of Austen, shadows of my own experience. Sadly, sans the fairy tale ending. They amount to my mixed media version of a junk food binge.

I love some good old fashioned romance, but my own Mr Darcy is not what I’m longing for. I don’t know that I’m actually cut out for the conventional vision of love. I’ve given it some good tries; satisfaction never abounds. Perhaps what I miss is just more innocent times. Younger me believed in things I can’t muster the faith for anymore. That is both freeing and, well, sad.

I feel like I’m standing on the edge. I can’t see what lies beneath. The uncertainty scares me. I’m grinding through the days. Fighting the urge to stay in bed. Backing thoughts of blood into corners. I’m teetering on the brink of that big blank something.

Maybe this is how you feel when you’re prone to crazy and about to turn 40. Or perhaps this is just always going to happen. Remission & Relapse. Almost sounds like a novel a 21st century Jane Austen would write. She’d probably find a way to lighten to the mood. Alas, I lack her talent.

Instead I’ll borrow some well-being from her work. Mansfield Park can follow Persuasion. I might even dig out the Bridget books too. I’ll take light relief where I can get. Hold my nerve. I’ve survived steeper falls than this. There’s always safe ground waiting.

Power to the people…

I’m utterly disgusted at the election results. Beyond that I am saddened & scared. English & Welsh working class voters supporting Tories is incomprehensible. To sell out hungry children, homeless & disabled people for Brexit is vile. The future looks terrifyingly bleak. Our NHS is in real danger & the most vulnerable people in our society are likely to persecuted further. I am grateful for the limited protection being in Scotland offers me. It has never been more clear that we need to be free of this rotten union. My heart goes out to all those who fear what the future brings under another Conservative government. More than ever we have to do what we can for those who will be left in need.

It’s later than you think…

I think it’s universally acknowledged that getting older is a wee bit scary. As one approaches those big milestone ages it is hard not to ponder the big questions. 39 is frightening mainly because of its proximity to 40 & all that entails.

I remember being worried in the run up to the big 30 too. Mainly because I felt like I wasn’t where I had imagined I would be at that stage of my life. That little measure of fear probably helped in the long run. It helped me make some needed changes. My thirties have been far happier than the preceding years. I believe what made that possible was time. I had time to think and plan and manoeuvre.

Ultimately, though, I’m approaching 40 still missing the crucial piece of my puzzle. However, this time I am very nearly out of time. My options are ever shrinking. That is frightening on a whole other level.

I sometimes feel like the proverbial guilty feminist when I have this conversation. Fear of ageing is often assumed to be about vanity. It’s thought silly to worry about grey hairs or crows feet. It’s assumed the desire to stay young is about adherence to sexist beauty standards. Or if it runs deeper the biological clock is referenced in demeaning tones. Ageing childless and/or single women are often perceived as desperate or pathetic. I suspect much of this is internalised, but I had to get these messages somewhere!

Balloon with sorry about my internalised misogyny

Where am I going with this? I suppose I just want to say it is ok. Things become a cliche for a reason. Ageing is scary. Whether that is because you are worried about physical changes, not achieving goals, your own mortality or a all of the above. It’s ok. Most folk struggle a little with change. It’s perfectly understandable to feel uncomfortable with the alterations you see on the mirror. It’s fine to be concerned about the irrevocable biological changes that age brings. Knowing that some opportunities have passed you by can be hard to accept. The unstoppable nature of the passage of time can be alarming.

In many ways age is just a number. Nevertheless, ageing does have concrete ramifications. It isn’t anti feminist to accept or care about them. A big part of the significance of our appearances is routed in living in a patriarchal society. It isn’t merely a shallow obsession with attractiveness; women’s ageing is not as viewed sympathetically. There are real life implications beyond aesthetics. Career prospects, financial considerations, medical and fertility issues are a big deal. Even if you just really lovely your hair and don’t want it to go grey, you’re allowed to have a wobble about that.

ly looking in mirror sign towel around body and hair

In the end the thing that makes it so worrisome is also what helps me deal with it. You can’t stop time. It is entirely out with our control. Feel whatever feel. Talk it out. Then carry right on living because it always later than you think.

You’ve got stuck in a moment…

You know how they say you can’t smell your own perfume, so you have to careful now to wear too much? I feel a bit like that about my body. Specifically, my scars.

I’ve lived with the damage for so long that I cannot judge how severe it is. Mostly, I don’t think about my scars at all. They’re not a consideration in dressing anymore. I’m not ashamed or embarrassed of what they may signify. I usually find any rudeness engendered by my patchwork skin says more about the observer than the observed.

However, every once on a blue moon I have a moment. Often it’s my own doing. I catch sight of my reflection at an unusual angle or change under different lighting and I’m shocked. Horrified maybe. Not so much at my appearance as the fact that I did this to myself.

More rarely it’s as a result of another’s extreme reaction. A gasp or frightened look stirs much more than judgemental comments. When my battle scars scare others it stirs the old guilty feelings.

Sun shining through trees

In either case it is doubt that knocks my confidence. I find it impossible to determine if my body is hideous or merely slightly disfigured. Without a clear grasp of what I have done I feel adrift. It takes me back to my days in the self harm trenches; never knowing how serious a wound was. Unable to grasp onto any equilibrium.

Am I a dramatic fool over nothing or inflicting horror on innocent parties? And which would be worse? The uncertainty shakes me. I feel an imposter. For all my proclamations of body confidence there are times when my self inflicted seams run deep.

I’m stuck in a moment right now. I fight the urge to hide. Steal myself against thoughts of splitting those seams open. It’ll pass. In the meantime I’ll have the long sleeve weather to regain my surety.

Blurry lights through blinds