Word therapy…

On one of my recent insomnia fuelled drives for distraction I stumbled upon an interview that persists in my thoughts. It was Anderson Cooper discussing grief & loss with Stephen Colbert. Both had significant losses early in life. Anderson talked of wishing he had been physically marked by the experience. This is of course a reality I am familiar with. Which led to some slightly self indulgent word therapy.

He talked about how he felt it might be easier to have a permanent sign of the damage so that others may be aware of his condition. An idea I suspect he’d soon realise the error of if he actually did bear a mark of loss. He continued that he thought people should know that he wasn’t necessarily the person he should be. Tragic events had diverted him from the person he started life as. This concept felt lifted from my very own brain. Of course much thinking ensued.

When Anderson talked of being marked he suggested a scar running down his face. His reasoning being that in the wake of his mother’s recent death people had offered condolences, but also shared their experiences of loss. He found this sharing to be comforting and it’s not a thing that generally happens. The scar would show his pain & people would feel able to have those conversations. Colbert agreed in part as he recognised the feeling of his loss being a continual part of his life, whilst the world at large rarely considers it. All sentiments I relate to. I do often struggle with just how often I think of my babies when they’re rarely acknowledged by anyone else. That led me to ask myself questions I had thought settled.

I understand their reasoning, my experience just doesn’t bear it out. The look of my self harm was never a factor I gave much thought. Outside of the need to hide it from others, the visual of impact was a non issue. I never cared. Ugly scars were just a by product of a necessary thing. The pain & blood & release & expiation were essential. If mutilation was a consequence of that so be it. I don’t think it occurred to me that I had another option. Yet, now, clothed in the aftermath it does seem fitting.

If I could exclude third party reaction it would make sense. I can see a twisted symmetry in my flesh being ravaged, but still living. At my core that’s how I feel. I contributed to my destruction and then I toiled to repair the ruin. Of course, you can’t escape the opinions of others. Those who care about you are hurt by the reminder of your pain. Those who don’t know you are as often cruel as kind. Carrying your story everywhere is a complicated matter. Anderson might end up preferring the anonymity of a metaphorical scar.

The second part is harder to reason. For a very long time I wanted nothing more than to be the person I was before. It took me years to accept that wasn’t possible & several more to realise that wasn’t my fault. I still missed that fun, capable, handle it all girl. Still wondered what she may have become, but I didn’t hate the me that life had created anymore. Little by little I learned to like myself. I started to believe that might be able to take all the broken pieces & make something beautiful.

The universe had other ideas. It really does enjoy smashing me up. Each time I lost a bit making a whole seemed less & less likely. Now that I know for sure how unlikely, those other mes feel important again. I keep thinking about who I could have been. Which variation of myself was I supposed to be?

I can’t help but imagine that original version of myself would have made a shinier, happier life. That 19yr old was a powerful force. She’d have been unstoppable at forty. Even if I’d sustained the original hit there all there a still multiple variants. All these possible lys that could have existed if you subtract chips along the way. Sure, that could probably be said for anyone; I just don’t know if everyone can so clearly identify the points of impact. It makes it easier to compare the before & after.

I had made peace with the person I am. I don’t reject her now. The what if’s have simply grown louder. There could have been so much more. In the end I don’t care about the scars. I’d even take Cooper’s imagined facial disfigurement if it gave me a chance at one of those parallel lives. The older I get, the more certain I become; I want the more.

Watching the wheels go round & round…

I’m almost a year into lockdown. There were a few fun outings last year, but for the most part I’ve been home. Man alive, I’m fed up! I’ve reached the take comfort wherever you find it stage. Turns out that’s some random locations.

Old crime shows. Not flashy American ones. They’re too full of hero talk & ridiculously good looking people. They offer no comfort. What I like is late 90’s gritty UK stuff. Proper dark crimes with complicated twisted characters and very few happy endings. It probably speaks to my craziness that these are the tales I seek solace in, but hey ho.

Posters for waking the dead, wire in the blood and cracker

Tic Tacs. I’ve no idea why. A pack of cherry cola ones came free with something I ordered and now I am hooked. I’m not usually big sweetie eater, but sucking on these seems to really help my concentration. Is this some kind of regression to infantile soothing? Who knows. They’re damn tasty, so I’ll carry on.

Candles with fresh outdoorsy scents. Perhaps because I never go anywhere & I miss the world. Probably also because my cat won’t stop farting. Either way I’m obsessed with anything with a whiff of the sea or a refreshing mountain breeze.

White roses in a vase, candles, photo frames on decorative table

Lists. If it isn’t on my to do list I will definitely forget all about it. Lockdown has made this habit rather more frenzied. Every minute activity must be noted & crossed off. I think it might be a reaction to living such a restricted life. I suspect breathing will be included very soon.

Fleecy bed sheets. I’m obsessed. Bought one set on a whim and now want nothing else on my bed. They’re so unbelievably soft and warm. I’ve purchased another complete set and loads of fitted sheets. This way I can have some fleecy goodness with ever duvet set. It’s the closet thing I can get to a snuggle mid pandemic.

Grey fleecy bedsheets

John Oliver. The man is a marvel; smart, funny & genuinely decent. I’ve been rewatching old episodes of Last Week Tonight and finding interviews on YouTube. It boosts my sense of well being to know good people exist in the world. If they can make me laugh out loud all the better.

John Oliver laughing

My sign is vital, my hands are cold…

CW: Self Harm

Lately I’ve been having regular checks for the heart rate thing. The nurse who took my blood & vitals last week was really familiar. I had that strange I’ve definitely met you feeling, but also knew I didn’t know her, know her. I couldn’t place her at all until a loud clatter startled her. Her sharp intake of breathe shot me back in time.

She was the nurse I stunned with my self destruction in this same hospital many years ago. She either didn’t recognise me or correctly judged it best not to indicate that she had. She was friendly & kind, but the sound of that inhale shook me. I was back there, covered in blood & guilt.

I can so clearly remember walking into that triage room. Concisely explaining why I was there & seeing the doubt in her eyes. I could tell she thought the large towel on my arm was overkill. I knew she was weighing up how to nicely dismiss me. I was too tired to do anything other than unwrap the makeshift dressing & expose the truth.

Foggy picture of cars outside hospital. Words ambulance only painted on ground

The inner layers were blood soaked & the final one stuck to the wound. When I yanked it off with same the lack of self care that had led me to that room, she gasped. An entirely involuntary expression of what; shock? disgust? fear? I couldn’t discern, but I knew it wasn’t good.

The speed that she whipped through the triage routine was more about her discomfort than mine. I had long lost my objectivity. I sought treatment as a means of calling a halt to that cut. I had given up seeking enough. I knew that enough was a lie. When I looked at my arm I really couldn’t tell anymore if it was any worse than anything else I had done to myself. It was just another failed attempt to carve out some peace.

Peace that I knew was never coming. I already felt stupid & ashamed & so horribly guilty. For all the usual reasons and now also because it was obvious I had ruined this women’s night. She hadn’t bargained for my level of determined self loathing; I’d upset her. I felt selfish for not being more clear. I shouldn’t have allowed anyone to be caught off guard.

I wanted to be better. Do better. I wished I could give this nurse & everyone else the explanation they needed. I yearned to be somewhere else. I didn’t even want to do this anymore. My blades had long since lost efficacy. I could never cut deep enough. Never shed enough blood. The quiet I needed was evermore elusive. I was desperate and so fucking tired. Yet, I still couldn’t stop.

As I waited for her to finish with my blood pressure I was stuck in the past. Mired in the dread. Reliving the experience of having my arm stapled shut whilst already planning the next assault. Knowing I couldn’t escape the nagging voice in my head that insisted I must cut. I must earn any rest. I had to atone for sins I wasn’t able to articulate. I had to release all the fetid emotion with my blood.

When I left I felt blessed. And cursed. Blessed that I was wrong. I did escape. I have hushed that internal need for penance. Cursed because I still haven’t silenced it. There will always be triggers pulling me back. Days when my scars itch to be opened. You can’t play with fire & not get burned. The magic is remembering I know how to make it stop. I just have to wake up every day and choose this new, better life. Easy, right?

Black and white photo oh plus size woman looking at scarred arm

Help me if you can, I’m feeling down…

Are you losing the plot yet? I fear I’m getting there. Lockdown is getting harder. If like me you already have less than perfect mental health, you may be closer to the edge than most.

I’m with you. I’m finding all this time alone is churning up lots of issues I would prefer remain undisturbed. The isolation is leaving far too much room for pondering big issues. Existential questions that I couldn’t answer before the world went mad & are even more confounding now. I swing between Groundhog Day dread and being on jangly high alert. Trying to break the monotony of another day home alone by sorting your underwear drawer is a tiny bit depressing. My already racing heart attempting to burst right out my chest every time my noisy neighbours thump really isn’t fun either.

Am I doing anything that matters? Am I running out of time & is this pandemic melting huge chunks of what is left? Can I continue to makes ends meet? Am I doing enough for those who can’t? Can I get a Tesco delivery slot or my prescription? Will I ever get rid of long covid? Will all my loved ones get through this unscathed and will we ever be permitted to be in the same room again? This shit is only the tip of the iceberg. Beneath the surface are all the intrusive thoughts and fears of catastrophe.

Image of iceberg above & below waterline. The sea is vivid blue.

I say this with the knowledge that I am in a privileged position. I have security & a support system that many do not. Too many people are living in situations that are perilous in every possible way. Accessing even the most basic of assistance is getting harder. Half a carrot, a handful of tuna & frubes will not feed hungry children (if you don’t understand this ref, read this & try to control your rage). When you can’t rely on the system to ensure kids don’t starve you can bet that mental health services are in distress. A fact that has been keeping me awake at night as I worry about my own mental wellbeing.

With that in mind I wanted to share some resources. If you don’t feel you can wait to reach the top of an nhs waiting list one of these may be helpful.

Theses organisations offer reduced cost therapy.

Arbours Association

Frontline Therapist

Problem Shared

The Guild of Psychotherapists

Dedicated to Change Project

The Spark

Sandyford Glasgow

Most universities & colleges offer counselling services. If you are student it’s worth checking out what help your institution can give. Many also offer low cost therapy with students training in psychology disciplines.

You can find online support here:

Samaritans

Mind

Calm

Age UK

Women’s Aid

Beat

The Mix

Childline

There are also local services across the UK, a bit of google research may lead you to affordable (or free) help in your area. I know that none of these options are perfect, I wish I had the answer. In the absence of a complete solution I hope these options might be helpful.

As always when discussing mental health it is important to state that I am not a professional. Please seek advice from your GP in the first instance and contact emergency services if required.

You wear it well…

We have a new strain and new lockdown. Infection rates are rising. As are long covid cases. I can attest that the long term symptoms are a struggle. Now is not the time to get lax. Please stay home as much as you can. Wash those hands every opportunity you get and wear a damn mask.

With a mask you can show that you care about the welfare of others and make a statement. Facemasks don’t have be boring, go for it!

I have a Sara Conde and I love it. Handmade, three layer with a nose wire. It’s super comfy & she has the cutest prints. Who wouldn’t want all these beautiful boobs on their face?

I’m a loud & proud feminist, so this amazing design from KultKutie Handmade rings my bell. If you want to support the sisterhood & public health, this is the way to go.

The advent of masks has scuppered our lipstick game. If you’re missing a big bold lip, KhaatiMeethiLondon has got you.

Fuck the Tories can do no wrong in my eyes. This lyrical beauty gets your point across with a little humour. Three layer with a filter. You’ll feel safe & sassy.

If like me you are prone to losing things DearSoho have the cutest fix. Chains that will up your cool factor and ensure your face mask is always at hand.

Rainy days & Sundays…

Always get me down. Today is both. Although if I’m honest it doesn’t have to be either. There are days when I just wake up sad.

There’s no reason outside all the reasons that existed when I went to bed. No trigger, no resolution. Everything just feels pointless. If I burn a piece of toast I am utterly useless. If someone doesn’t call it’s because they hate me. Then I know I’m over reacting and I hate myself.

My thoughts get stuck in a loop of painful circumstances. All the things I cannot erase or redo. I inhale all the blame and forget to exhale the guilt. So, it lives somewhere inside me. Dormant, but never extinct.

Maybe tomorrow I will be ok. I’ll return to regular levels of coping and carry on. Or this woe will continue to spew. It could be weeks or months of life coated in depressive ash. I never know.

There is no cure; other than keep going. Hoping this eruption isn’t the big one. Putting faith in my ability to outrun the thought of diving right into the burning mess.

Next Sunday could bright. Or the one after that. There will be days to breeze through again. I just can’t feel it right now.

Dead roses in a vase and their shadow

Build me up…

It’s been ‘ugh’ for a while now and I’m in danger of wallowing in a big puddle of woe is me. I’m making efforts to feel better. I started by tackling my inbox and then tried to clear some light housework. Ticks on my to do list helped me feel less useless. Now seems a good time to build on that by counting my blessings.

So, today I am grateful for,

My big comfy bed (& no one snoring, farting or otherwise bothering me in it).

My fridge holds soups & fruit juice galore. My stomach only wants these & the occasional bread product.

My demanding little purr ball.

Black & white cat with his eyes closed having his ears rubbed.

Excellent new Jim jams. They have pockets and are so soft I keep stroking myself.

Ly is taking mirror selfie. Smiling & wearing pink jammies

Hot running water.

The sick & ridiculous humour of the Small Town Murder podcast.

Small Town Murder podcast logo

A plethora of supportive & loving people.

All the perfect little ones said people have made.

The writings of Sara Pascoe & Barbara Trapido

Free and accessible healthcare. Big love, NHS.

Red love heart and NHS in white letters

The freedom to drift in and out of sleep as needed.

The phone steriliser relieving covid related iPhone anxiety.

Messages of love from my big muffin.

Text message with sad alien face

Lemon & lavender scented heat pads.

A room festooned with beautiful blooms.

Various bunches on flowers in vases. Sunflowers , roses, lilies, berries, gladioli

The September Issue…

Autumn has always been my favourite season. The drawing in of the nights & cooling of the air used to be welcome. These days this time of year is more complicated.

All of my babies were due in August or September. As the weather changes I am beset with anniversaries and reminders. People who were pregnant with me throw birthday parties. I quietly mark dates I had hoped to celebrate.

This year my orbit is congested with pregnancy announcements creating a perfect storm of emotion. All are depressingly familiar. I’m sad and lost. I don’t know how to find a purpose big enough to fill up my life. Each time I begin to believe I’m approaching acceptance I’m overtaken with this stale grief.

It’s so heavy and I’m so tired of dragging it around. I want to be able to move past this, but there are too many ghosts. A million tiny pricks. Triggers lurk everywhere; always something to yearn for. Even in my happiest moments I’m aware of what’s missing.

I can’t comprehend ever making this ok. Yet, I don’t wan’t to be this tragic old bitch. I’d like to stick all my consolation prizes together & collage myself a happy enough ending. I’m scared I’m not sufficiently good/strong/grateful to make do & mend.

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

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.