I just had a very interesting session with my sparkly new counsellor about anxiety and physicality. I think most of us recognise our own physical symptoms of stress and anxiety – for me it’s super tense shoulders, holding my jaw tight and grinding my teeth, a quick heart rate, overheating, a sore stomach and a buzzing in my ears. It’s all the little things that our body does to prepare us for fight or flight. But in situations of prolonged anxiety I don’t know what I can do about it.
Today I was given some small things that might help. My counsellor was saying that fight or flight is the body’s way of protecting you (think back to cavemen times) and it can be triggered to deal with different levels of emergency. At some point in my past (I think I can pinpoint when) my red alert has been triggered and my body has responded in kind. Something more recently has reminded my body of that trigger (so back to the caveman – the grass is moving – last time it did that it was a snake, so surely it must be again) and so it is reacting with the same fervour again, but this time unnecessarily so I need to give my brain information through my body to help it realise there is no current danger.
For example, keeping both feet on the floor (instead of crossing one leg over the other when I sit) tells the instinctive part of my brain that I am grounded, not preparing to run, and so I must be safe. Breathing exercises not only increases oxygen but again, are a signal to my brain that I must be calm if I can breathe slowly. Apparently we mirror how those around us are feeling, even other animals, so hanging out with my cat while he is super stretchy and just chillin’ will send signals that I’m safe and can relax too.
The instinctive part of the brain takes over when adrenaline is released so rational thought it much more difficult (hence making mistakes and not being able to spit sentences out). So all this stuff, it’s simple and so straightforward but sometimes it just takes someone else to point out the obvious. When I’m in a blind panic or during a prolonged state of tension, I just can’t see the way out, but she’s reminded me that I do have techniques – I’ve just not been able to see them through all the red mist.
It’s been a long time since I wrote. I thought that, since my therapy had finished, I would end my blog there but I’ve had a few people ask me to carry it on, so hi! Here I am, back again.
Looking back on the therapy I’m now more convinced than ever that I didn’t have BPD. I think I have been depressed but maybe my main problem is a non-specific anxiety disorder. I’m fighting being labelled and put in a convenient box.
Recently I’ve been really, really struggling with my anxiety. I did a play a few months ago and the director was a real bully (to everyone, not just to me and maybe it was more that he just lacked empathy) and I found it really triggering. I started feeling dread in the pit of my stomach every time I had to leave for rehearsal. I was down, despondent and really full of adrenaline (in a stomach curdling way). My heart rate started to rise, I stopped sleeping and I started to panic. I found it hard to learn my lines because every time I looked at my script, I could hardly see because I felt so afraid. I didn’t feel able to stand up to him because he was the sort of man that, when you retaliated, he would store it up and keep mocking you for it later. It was a miserable experience – luckily the rest of the cast were great and kept me going but I need a break from acting now.
The dread I felt about rehearsals started seeping into my life generally and anything I had to do (going into work, meeting friends) started causing some sort of raised heart rate. At work, my hands were often shaking and I felt any slight mistake I made was catastrophic. I was basically living in fear constantly. It was exhausting. On a rational level, I could tell myself that mistakes were’t the end of the world, that my friends were friends for a reason and that I was doing OK but my body wouldn’t calm down, even when I was asleep. The advice in my family is often ‘have a drink to calm your nerves before you go to sleep’ but I was getting hangover ‘fear’ even after just one or two glasses of wine, which made things worse.
It’s finally beginning to ease now but really, I have no way of tackling such anxiety apart from talking about it with my partner and friends and knowing that it won’t always be like this. Also knowing which people trigger it and doing my best to avoid them. I hope that on the surface, I still seem OK and I can carry on functioning but living with anxiety is tough. I guess I’m writing all this to say be kind to people – you never know what’s going on underneath or what being unkind could be doing to them.
It’s been a long time since I’ve written and I feel like it’s been a big time for me. After two consecutive massive mood dips, I’ve made a lot of choices about what I want to aim for, what is going to make me happy in my life. Plans are in place, some not exactly implemented but certainly, I can feel things are changing and I feel like I know myself better. I was a bit lost until the last few weeks and I’ve felt torn between two selves. Now I feel more confident as to which is actually me.
And I think what’s given rise to all this thinking is that today I had my very last therapy session in the Schema Therapy model. Having not really got on with my last individual therapist or with the workings of group therapy, the lady I’ve had for the last few months has been immense and has sensitively yet forcefully brought me through some traumatic memories and has helped me put a plan together to keep my ‘healthy adult’ close.
- Talking to people about my feelings. With her help, I’ve picked out four people who feel safe to talk to and who I think won’t judge me by my worst self, so I no longer have to rely on therapy. It should also help me let people closer.
- To remember that my punitive side is not always right and I need to want to tackle it and not always fall back on the critical voice in my head.
- To try new things and discover what I like. Connect to the moment when I detach.
- Exhaustion from doing too much makes me depressive. Doing too little makes me feel worthless – find a healthy balance. Saying ‘no’ is OK.
- Things that happened to me in the past are not my fault. Don’t let the past ruin the now.
And I’m confident and ready to move on and stop relying on having therapy and ‘problems’ to fall back on. I can be my own person without these things.
So there we have it – one journey over and another beginning. I was never massively convinced that I was comfortable with the ‘borderline personality disorder’ label to start with (I don’t mean as a disorder, I just wan’t sure I fit too many of the symptoms – or maybe I was just missing the anger I still associate with it) – now it doesn’t feel like me at all. I know where my flaws lie, what my triggers are and what my behaviours are when I’m struggling or scared and I have enough faith in myself and the people around me that I can keep getting stronger and happier.
The stuff I’ve been going over with my therapist recently is so hard. I guess that we’ve finally come to the crux of the matter and it’s taking a lot out of me to tackle it.
It’s funny because I pride myself in being open about my problems and so, hopefully in turn, helping other people to be more open about their’s. But today’s session showed me how much I’m actually in denial about what’s happened to me at points in the past – or at least refuse to accept the realities of it. I can write about things but maybe that’s actually a way of distancing myself – making rational sense of things rather than actually internally tackling things and being emotionally honest with myself. And I’ve spoken about things in a way I thought was brave and honest with people who are close to me, but actually I think I’ve just emotionally blunted myself and said what I thought I was being encouraged to say, without really feeling it, without knowing what I was saying on any deeper level than my mouth moving. Maybe I thought I needed people’s reactions to make it all real when actually I needed my own. I’m a bit worried that it’s not real at all. That my memory has made it up.
Today we did some imagery and memory rescript so that we could put a different slant on my experience so that next time I access the memory, it’s not as damaging. I was taken away from the moment and into my emotional happy place. And, while I ended up in floods of tears, part of me was still some distance from it all, thinking ‘imagine what things would have been like if this rescript was real’ and finding evidence for why my memory was all screwed up anyway or for why I might have been the one at fault. I was already thinking of ways I could write it down and deny it. I’m supposed to feel angry as well as sad – the only person I feel angry at is me. Still.
And here I am again, writing to you guys, when maybe I should be out walking and finding a way to be at peace with myself and my past. But I don’t feel at peace. I feel ashamed and a bit afraid. I feel like I might not be being truthful. Mostly, I feel exhausted and a little shaken.
But maybe that means I’m actually ready to start the real healing process?
I’m so proud of all the progress I’ve made with my mental health issues – I lead a mostly happy, healthy life, bar the odd anxiety attack and the anorexic voice that whispers in my ear (but gets quieter every day). I’m so proud of all the women I see around me who have made the same changes – who fight for the life they deserve, and there is often no harder fight than the ones in your own mind.
This year’s pledge for International Woman’s Day is #BeBoldForChange. Because I write openly about mental health issues, people often open up to me about their own problems. Every day I hear amazing stories about people who have dared to change – who’ve given it everything they have to break a bad habit or thought pattern, to accept a compliment and fight down a negative thought, who’ve accepted that some days it’s OK just to get through it still breathing. I’ve seen women juggling jobs and families, whilst coping with severe anxiety and carrying on despite just wanting to curl up and sleep. Or run away and hide from life. I’ve spoken to people who’ve reached out and asked for help when their condition has become too much for them to cope with alone. All these are amazing achievements that are battling for change and acknowledging an inner strength that can only make women’s positions in society more powerful.
And I also want to thank those who enable these changes. I’ve had some amazing carers and therapists, all of whom I know must have helped so many women find new reserves they never knew they had. There was Barbara who, when I was hospitalised, taught me to confront the other patient who was bullying me – she showed me I was strong enough and I was worth it. There was Leanne who helped me acknowledge my abusive past relationship and helped me see that it was not my fault and that HE was the weak one – that I was punishing my body because of shame and fear but that I was strong enough to live my life without needing to do that. And now there is Kris who is working on keeping me safe and happy – who is guiding me through memories that are holding me back and allowing me a space to grow and push myself to get everything from life that I deserve. These women – and thousands of others like them – have been bold for me and countless others when we’ve been too afraid. But they’ve passed on their strength and knowledge so that we can dare to be bold too.
Keep helping each other grow. Keep daring to be different. Keep fighting for change – you’re worth it.
Just wanted to share this image:
Aside from proofreading and editing, I work part-time in a stationers so that I’m not on my own all week. Yesterday an older lady brought in a book to be photocopied about depression. The pages she wanted copies of stated that the main cause of depression was ‘choosing to feel that way’ and it included suggestions on how to ‘cheer up’ – and this book was allegedly written by a doctor. Terrifying!
I could imagine these copies being passed on to a child in an attempt to help but causing more harm than good. Which got me thinking about motivation to recover from mental health issues, because, however much we might all hate hearing it, recovery has got to come from within ourselves. It’s horribly hard work and an immensely daunting and lonely prospect. But, aside from looking at the triggers and root causes of our problems, we’ve got to find the reasons we want to stay healthy for. One of the very first motivations I had to fight anorexia was to have the strength to lift up my (then) baby niece. What keeps it at bay now is that my general quality of life is better without it and I don’t want to let the people who love me down (sometimes these motivations can still wobble a bit but they are always there at the back of my mind). I think these are similar for my depression. I was at an assessment last week and was asked what stops me from carrying out any suicidal plans and I was ashamed to admit that it was imagining the distress of friends and family finding my body. But I was told not to feel ashamed of that reason – whatever keeps you safe is good enough.
But what about the people who can’t find a motivation to get better? I must admit that I feel frustration at people who don’t seem to try to help themselves recover (so maybe I am like the lady I mentioned at the beginning). Maybe my frustration comes from a lack of understanding or empathy, maybe it’s because I’m trying, so why aren’t they? Or maybe it’s a bit of jealousy – that I’m not longer in that dark but comforting place of low expectations – that I’ve failed by letting go for the sadness.
But I also feel sad for the people who are searching for reasons to recover but they aren’t quite concrete enough to hold on to to help pull them out of the void. What can we do for these people? How on earth can you help people who are too afraid to let go or feel they don’t deserve to be happy? I get a lot of people coming to me for advice on mental health because I’m open about it, but I can feel so useless at helping.
So I’m interested – what was it that made you fight your issues – what advice would you give? And I know that outside factors play a huge part and you can’t just wish yourself better and bang there you go, but what keeps you wanting to try?