Dear S,

Image from https://depositphotos.com

It is in my nature to blame myself.

By extension, it is also in my nature to engage in unhealthy levels of self-flagellatory introspection as a means to identify a route out of an unhappy interpersonal situation. Unsuccessfully, of course. Because no amount of intellectual consideration can truly influence the behaviour of other people.

Sometimes, you just have to accept that there are things that you cannot change.

And there it is: I can’t change you.

I can’t change…

  • your negative opinion of me
  • your decision to distance yourself from me on a personal level
  • how sensitive I am to rejection (only how I react to it behaviourally)
  • how I perceived your comments and actions towards me as a personal attack
  • how your behaviour towards me ground away at the limited amount of resilience and self-esteem that I had
  • how you routinely humiliated me in front of others that I respect
  • how you left me powerless to defend myself against you, or to action changes to counteract the damage that you caused
  • how you are so protected by others in power
  • the as yet unspecified incident(s) in which I apparently caused you such offence that you felt the need to belittle and/or dismiss me in every exchange thereafter
  • the lack of recognition of my efforts to make it up to you
  • the consequences of the months and years of holding my tongue, keeping my head down and simply absorbing your shit because there was no safe place to voice my concerns
  • the post-natal depression that suppressed my resources at the time I needed them the most
  • the lost hours that I should have been with my children instead of you
  • the effect that your behaviour has had on my personal life, especially my relationships with my family
  • the guilt I feel that I allowed this to happen
  • the past.

In reading this, I can see that if the names were reversed, you could be writing this letter too.

But the difference is, you are the person in power in this relationship.

You should be better.

You will not win.

Still Trying

This is my first blog post for a little while. I have had to take some time out to fight a few demons. Restorative introspection, I suppose.

My anxiety – already increasing slowly over the last six months – suddenly shot up to a degree that I have experienced only once before. Perhaps it was the realisation that after another attempt at accessing treatment, all I achieved was being added to a waiting list for an unspecified period. The uncertainty was eating away at my resolve, as it always does. I was finding the relentlessness of life exhausting.

For several days I was constantly tense, either already shaking or on the brink of it. The slightest amount of stress would tip me over into an anxiety attack. I was having trouble sleeping and undertaking mundane tasks. I didn’t feel able to go out with the children. I couldn’t form thoughts coherent enough to write down. 

However, I think I have now reached a point where the anxiety is more manageable. I am still having palpitations a couple of times a day, but for the most part the shaking as subsided along with the sweating, rapid breathing and sleeplessness. My mind is quiet enough for me to process thoughts again. I am able to rest. I am able to exercise some degree of self-care.

I am lucky; I had another option available to me. I realised that I had a choice – I could either wait for the NHS therapy referral to come through or to access the workplace counselling service provided by my employer. I was assessed and referred within a few days and I am now waiting for confirmation of my first session, which should be within the next week or so. I still feel fearful that my manager might judge me, but I don’t have to communicate with them in the near future so at least I have the luxury of deferring that particular worry.

So I’m still not writing what I want, but for now, I have hope again.  

A Little Optimism, For A Change

It turns out that self-improvement is a time-consuming business. I am making good progress towards achieving some lifestyle changes that I have been wanting to implement for quite a while, but in doing so I find myself with very little time to write! Hopefully as the changes become part of my everyday routine they will require less planning and I will get the time back again.

I am trying not to feel bad about my lack of new content as I don’t feel I would write very well at the moment, but it still weighs on my mind.

I am in the midst of another heavily-scheduled week, but watch this space for future updates on the following:

  • Dairy free diet
  • Sustainable living
  • Therapy

It would be great to get some of my writing out of the draft phase.

How do you find time to write when you are particularly busy?

Therapy (Version 2.0): Part 1

My thoughts and observations following my assessment session for on 15/10/2019.

Covered in this session

  • Introductions
  • Identified what was to be covered in session
  • Identified main issue to be addressed
  • Established level of immediate risk
  • Next appointment time agreed.

Reflections

Wow, what a difference a change of therapist can make.

Those of you that have read my previous blog posts about therapy will be aware of how negatively I tend to approach it, but despite not having a session for almost a month I have managed to maintain my determination to get better. I’m not saying I haven’t considered giving up on therapy and going it alone – I have, whenever I feel less bad – but my mild panic attack the other day opened my eyes to how much I am struggling. I can only assume that if I didn’t have the benefit of 20 years of experience with mental health issues and various therapies that I would be in a much less functional state right now.

Back to the assessment though. It was a pre-planned phone call with a trainee therapist called Rose. She introduced herself and talked through the format of the assessment, which was undertaken much more comprehensively than for the online therapy.

Most of the session was similar to before, ie. the therapist asking for personal about the areas in which I have been struggling.

I briefly explained to Rose my history of mental health issues. I also explained that I now believe that my current struggles are related to the postnatal depression (PND) that I developed over 2 years ago and never received treatment for. My PND was compounded by interpersonal issues at work (some would say bullying). The bad experiences at work resulted in me feeling such severe guilt, anxiety, stress, self-doubt, depression and low confidence that I believe I am essentially traumatised by these events and that is why CBT isn’t right for me just yet. Rose suggested that a better path for me would be some counselling, followed by CBT once I am in a position to focus more on the here and now.

Finally, I thought, someone is actually listening to me!

In addition to immediately having more of a rappor with Rose, I also had the benefit of a few weeks of soul-searching and reflection on the last therapy to build a more articulate depiction of my current mental state. I felt I had a better grasp of what I did and didn’t want from therapy and therefore felt more in control of the assessment process. I felt that recommendations were reached with mutual input, rather than me being forced along a standard path of treatment, as if that was the only option.

Overall I felt much more was covered in a shorter time than in the online sessions. We overran the allotted time by 15 minutes but at no point did I feel rushed.

Conclusion

I found it much easier to built a rappor with Rose due to the assessment being done over the phone rather than the clunky chatting format. Her approach was friendly and quite passive (in a good way), rather than insisting on validating everything I said in a patronising manner, which is how I felt my last therapist approached things.

I feel so relieved to talk to someone that actually seemed to listen to what I was saying and understood it.

However, I am fairly sure that my positive experience has a lot to do with the therapist undertaking the assessment (Rose), so if I am referred to another therapist for the counselling then I may find myself in a similar position to the last therapy, where we just didn’t ‘click’. This may cause me some anxiety initially, but hopefully it will prove to be unfounded.

Mood at start of session: Anxious

Mood at end of session: Positive

Has anyone else had a similar experience with therapy? I would love to hear from you.

When Anxiety Bites

Warning: Post contains gratuitous introspection and bad jokes.

Today I had a full-on anxiety attack; the first in years. I experience perpetual low-level generalised anxiety related to “life”, but this was so close to becoming a panic attack – tremors, shortness of breath, literally running away from the situation… OK, so maybe it was a mild panic attack – it took me by surprise, is my point.

Reflecting on it now, it isn’t at all surprising. All the warning signs were there; trouble sleeping, irritability, disturbing thoughts. I have had a stressful week in parenting terms and I actually mentioned to my partner the other day that I needed a break. It’s quite hard to have a proper break with a newborn though, so I’m not sure what greater self-awareness would have achieved in this scenario.

On the plus side, I have something specific to discuss with my new therapist during my appointment this week, yay?

I was only half joking in my last post when I claimed that watching the documentary about “super morbidly obese” people was research. I mean, I do have a complicated relationship with food and impulse control, so I was actually curious to see whether the programme helped me to get into the mindset where I could focus more on my unconscious motivations for binging. It appears that I may have accidentally triggered myself in the process. Duh, well done me.

After six months of being off work (maternity leave, taken early just to GTFO) I am still only just starting to tap into what the underlying causes of my anxiety are. It’s going to take a lot more work to really drill down to the core issues.

My problems with anxiety have cropped up several times since my late teens, but the last time I had therapy was early 2015. So there is FIVE YEARS worth of baggage that I’m trying to sift through.

I feel that I’m an onion (not the smelly kind) and I’m having to peel back the layers of armour that I’ve built around myself just to get through life and present as a functioning human being.

So, I’m an armoured anxiety onion.

Ha, maybe my rings just need battering?

Maybe I should go to sleep.

***

Have you any tips for ways to tap into deeper motivations behind emotions and behaviours? If so, please leave a comment. I’m open to new ideas!

Therapy: A Decision

After a lot of consideration, I have come to the conclusion that CBT isn’t for me.

I started the therapy anticipating that this moment would come, but nevertheless it’s disappointing to be met with another dead end on my route to recovery.

Why wasn’t it working? A few reasons, including the time-consuming format (basically like WhatsApp), limited scope and focus on behaviours/goals.

More specifically, my behaviours aren’t actually an issue on a daily basis. After nearly two years of forcing myself out of bed to attend a soul-crushing job, I am well practised at doing things I would rather avoid. Also, I’m currently a full time mum to two little kids, so I really have no choice but to do everything I have to in order to meet their needs. Failure to do this would represent a much greater problem; luckily I am not in such a position.

So yeah, setting ‘goals’ felt a bit pointless because most of my day is taken up by small tasks that I would avoid (if I had that luxury). I live in a perpetual state of being outside my comfort zone.

I can talk the talk and come up with goals for setting myself more `me’ time or trying to reframe my negative thoughts, but the reality is that life is kinda something that happens ‘to’ me and once my little ones have been considered I have very little control of what I do or think about. Obviously I love them and cherish our time together, but it is rarely time spent in ways that I would choose. Getting to enjoy my children one-on-one is hard enough right now without trying to force in some alone time too!

Did I mention that most of my posts are drafted whilst breastfeeding…?

Anyway, this lack of autonomy will be resolved in time and I know it. But presently I consider that my problems are more emotional than behavioural. I can fight against my ‘flight’ instinct, but am not sufficiently equipped to manage the emotional fallout. I have an emotional resilience issue. And the result of this is my negative emotions spilling out into other areas of my life.

I only had a couple of sessions of CBT, but after each one I felt frustrated, confused, triggered – worse, basically. When I raised this with my therapist she made impractical suggestions like ‘go for a walk’ or ‘have some alone time after sessions’. I personally felt that the issue was predominantly her manner and/or the format.

BUT… rather than giving up on therapy completely, I am going to try getting referred for a different type of therapy next to see whether a change in format and focus will help me to find a more practical approach.

Wish me luck?

Therapy: Part 2

My thoughts and observations following my second CBT session on 20/09/2019.

Covered in this session

  • Wellbeing check
  • Discussed goals
  • Discussed incident where I met up with work colleague
  • Homework set
  • Feedback on session given
  • Next appointment time agreed

Homework

To add goals to my planner and to review/complete the CBT diagram based on my meeting with my colleague (thoughts, feelings, behaviours).

Reflections

I wasn’t feeling particularly positive about the session after the last one went badly, but as I have promised my partner that I would do my best to engage with it I tried to remain open-minded.

During the break between sessions I had struggled with the goal-setting homework as I felt totally at a loss to identify what changes might improve my mental health, so I plucked a few generic ones out of the air – goals that on an intellectual level I thought were probably pitched right. I then emailed my therapist to explain how I had struggled to devise them. I needn’t have bothered; during the session she told me that the goals were ‘great’ and that we would discuss how I get on with them at my next session. Again, she missed the point.

At this point I felt pretty overwhelmed and upset as I really expected that she would discuss how I might go about meeting my goals rather than skip over them so quickly, but I guess there just wasn’t time..? It was very disappointing to receive no advice about how to achieve the goals I had set. This was quite triggering for me as it is essentially what my manager did for two years at my job, before I left to go on maternity leave. I would have pressed the therapist for more support/guidance, but at the time I was giving her the benefit of the doubt (I wasn’t sure if she was going to come back to it)… But then we ran out of time anyway.

The next item on the agenda was to discuss the meeting I had recently had with my colleague, as I had felt pretty low afterwards and realised that it was probably a good example of a situation that I struggle to process. However, rather than offering any advice, my therapist’s reaction was to 1. Offer empty platitudes about how hard I must have found it and 2. Turn it into homework, to be discussed next time! Not exactly what I was after.

Overall I was disheartened that more wasn’t covered in the session. The therapy format seems to be too introspective, with little practical advice. More time was allocated to risk assessment and providing feedback on the session than to addressing any issues I was actually having.

Frustrations

I’m not sure if the problem is me or the therapist, but we just don’t seem to communicate very well. I find her input either vacuous or patronising and considering I have actually attempted to articulate my concerns to her, she doesn’t seem to understand where I’m coming from at all.

Once again I finished the session feeling worse than at the start. I was (and still am) confused about how the therapy will progress in future sessions and at which point it will be determined that the sessions have run their course. A new experience for me is a sense that I might get dropped by my therapist! I fear that as the therapy is ‘outsourced’ they will be wanting to get me ticked off ASAP to keep their statistics looking favourable. This is the opposite situation to when I was paying for sessions privately and was anxious that the psychologist was working too slowly. I’m never happy, eh?

Conclusions

I was left feeling more lost at the end of the session than ever. My misgivings about the type of therapy and this therapist in particular continue to weigh heavily on my mind. I think I need to evaluate the potential worth of continuing with this.

Mood at start of session: Anxious

Mood at end of session: Frustrated/Deflated

Has anyone else had a similar experience with therapy? I would love to hear from you.

Do Compliments Undermine Conversations About Mental Health?

Recently – or more specifically, since giving birth – I have experienced a strange phenomenon.

I keep having conversations with well-meaning people, both friends and strangers, that leave me feeling quite confused and frustrated.

The general structure of the conversation goes like this:

[Friend or stranger coos over my baby]
Friend/Stranger: How old are they now?
Me: About X weeks/months
Friend/Stranger: How are you feeling?
Me: Ok…quite tired…
Friend/Stranger: [interrupting] Well you look great, not tired at all!

So what is wrong with this exchange?

Well, I’m not really the type to talk about my feelings readily – certainly not with strangers – but I will be a bit more open with very selective friends. However, as these conversations keep happening, it has struck me how much harder it is to be honest about how I’m feeling after such a comment. The compliment is almost dismissive of concerns that may have been expressed before it; presenting as ‘happy and well’ is all that matters, not how you actually feel.

I don’t know about you, but over the years I have really perfected my facade of emotional stability. I am lucky enough to have remained quite functional even in some pretty dark times, but presenting as something you are not to be more socially acceptable is generally not a good thing.

Today I met up with a friend from work for the first time since my little one was born and we had a very similar conversation to the example above.

While it was nice enough to see them, I felt that their compliment totally undermined any potential discussion of my mental health. They were aware that I have been struggling lately (in fact, this was the reason for them meeting up with me) but when they told me that I looked well, I felt like I couldn’t really contradict them. I felt that to do so would be akin to rejecting their well-intentioned compliment and may cause offence. I mean, how should I respond to that? – “Well thanks, but actually I feel like crap and hate myself like 90% of the time”??

I don’t think that would go down too well.

So, the effect of the compliment is essentially for me to not speak up about my mental health issues. Which is bad, right?

Don’t get me wrong, this is very much one of those ‘first world problem’ scenarios, but our society is currently experiencing a perceived mental health crisis, so maybe it’s worth considering?

Is it just me? Or am I actually making a valid point here?

Eight Reasons Why Parenting With Anxiety is Hard.

Anxiety has an annoying consequence of making regular life activities harder or even downright scary. Add a couple of feral lemmings into the mix and the results are terrifying.

If you’re wondering what could be so bad, here are some real life examples of anxiety-inducing parenting stresses:

  1. The responsibility. A pretty obvious one sure, but it’s a biggie. Being responsible for the wellbeing of someone else when all you want to do is hide under your duvet is hard. Just don’t read the news, ever, or you’ll never leave the house.
  2. The social interaction. Yes, you absolutely have to speak to other people, or even seek them out on purpose. Whether it’s a medical professional, health visitor or (the worst) other parents, there are times when it is simply unavoidable and actually in the best interests of your child. Don’t even get me started on social anxiety of toddler groups – because evidently misery lives company. Clearly there is nothing you want to do more when you are stressed and sleep-deprived than publicly argue with your toddler about the morality of snatching, or negotiating their participation in ‘singing time’ before dragging them out to the dulcet medody of their tantrum with your free arm (newborn is in other).
  3. The lack of hygiene. Nappies aside – given the choice, would you wish to spend your time around little people who like eating everything from fluff found under their bedroom rug to their own snot? Me neither.
  4. The lack of a schedule. Time for kids works on a more relative level than we are used to. For example, pooping exactly two minutes before you are leaving the house, being sick exactly one minute after being passed to a kindly relative and being asleep/awake at the exact opposite times you need them to be. You can plan your days until you are blue in the face, but don’t think for one second that the reality will be anything like you are imagining. If you are the type of person that gets tummy pains at even the idea of lateness, I recommend just throwing away your clock and winging it.
  5. The lack of control. No, you may not poop/have a shower/do anything in peace. Self-care is now a distant memory. Just face it, you are no longer in control of your own destiny. Young children operate on a different plane of existence and there is no changing this. Suddenly, you appreciate the little things so much more.
  6. The lack of logic. When the toddler years hit, you may find yourself stuck in an argument with a small person who was insistent that they wanted to go to the park during nap time, but now they would rather lie on the cold floor and nap than put their shoes on to go to the park. Also, beware possible arguments about how you don’t actually influence the TV schedule, or the forces of magnetism (when applied to toy trains).
  7. The lack of personal space. My partner has to ask special permission to hug me now, because having two kids constantly touching me is so overwhelming.
  8. The inability to relax. From storming into your room at 3am demanding cuddles, to suddenly running down the dark hallway towards you like a crazed animal while you are watching TV, you are always at risk of nearly soiling yourself. For mothers of breastfeeding infants, it’s the constant threat of them biting your nipple without warning that keeps you up at night.

So whatever your triggers are, parenting is sometimes likely to feel akin to immersion therapy.

The good news is, your child is probably one of the people on the planet that you can spend time with without it being too socially draining. Plus, they love nothing more than hanging out with little old you!

Also, while parenting may contribute to anxieties in the present, it can also be a reason to feel more positively about the future.

Honestly, I don’t think I ever really considered the future at all before I had kids as I never felt sure that I had one. But now, no matter how hard the day has been, I always look forward to tomorrow (even if it’s just because today is over!).

Writer’s Block

Hello world, how’s it going?

I’m working on a few different posts at the moment but can’t seem to find my flow to get them past the planning stage. I thought I was starting to find writing a bit easier but perhaps I was just having a temporary rush of inspiration. Can’t write the blog posts or poetry either.

My anxiety levels have been heightend the last few days though, so I wonder whether that might be a factor? If so, that would be kind of ironic because depression makes me very prolific!

I’ve also been very tired though, so I won’t jump to conclusions just yet.

What are your strategies for coping with writer’s block?