“Take care.”

Self care is something that I think is amazingly important. I recently left my job as a part time receptionist and moved into a full time position as a student support officer. I was close with a few people at my old workplace, and one of them told me that moving into full time work would up my stress and it was very, very important to take care of myself, even though often I would be so tired I wouldn’t want to bother. Well, she was right.

Changing jobs was stressful. Not as stressful as I thought it would be, but definitely stressful. More stressful was that only a couple of weeks after I began in my new position, my grandmother got sick and was put in hospital and given two days to live. That was a few weeks ago and she’s still alive and kicking, which is why we call her Lazarus (for those unfamiliar with the Biblical story, Lazarus rose from the dead. My grandmother has been given her Last Rites (you know, the things you have once, right before you die) nine times now. Hence, Lazarus).

So, all the family came up. And, as with every family, there are people that relieve stress and those that add to it. Some of my family definitely make my stress levels rise.

After that little dramatic moment, we’ve had family around nearly every weekend, stress at work, assessments due at uni (because apparently I thought I could do it all. Ha!) and all of this has resulted in me being a little ball of stress.

Not that I noticed this right away, of course. I thought I was coping really well. I thought that I was handling everything, helping out to help others and acing life. And then my sister slurped her drink and it pushed me over the edge and I sat and cried in my room for like an hour. And that was when I was like, “Hmm, okay, maybe not at my best.”

It was my birthday two weeks ago, and so I decided for my birthday I would stay the night at a hotel with a big spa bath and treat myself. Except that weekend and the next the university was having graduations, so everywhere was booked up. But now, two weeks later, I’m sitting on a hotel bed. Let me tell you about it:

I had a driving lesson this morning, then went down town and picked up a few things, some bubble bath, some bath bombs, and some sweet treats. I then went home, had lunch, packed my bags and headed to the hotel (only 2 blocks from home). I got my room key and walked down to my room. I unlocked the door and stepped in.

Guys,

I was so shocked. I’m used to staying at youth hostels, sharing with at least 5 other people, the most fancy room I’ve stayed at was just big enough to fit a single bed in it. I walked into this room and it was a living room. A living room! Off the living room is the bathroom (which is made of TWO rooms!) and the bedroom! I was so shocked and so excited. I videoed my friends to show them. And, I’m not ashamed to admit, I ran and jumped onto the bed.

So, since I’ve been here, I had a bath. Now, this bath is amazing. It’s a spa bath. It’s big enough to fit three people comfortably (not that it will be). I filled it up, put in the bubbles and bath bomb and jumped in. Now, I’m not used to spa baths, so I had no idea that when I turned on the jets they would fluff up the bubble bath even more. One third of the bath was bubbles.

A. Maz. Ing.

I did a face mask, had music on, and shaved my legs. Then I got out and got all snuggled up in a dressing gown and put the tv on. I’ve ordered dinner and am in my pajamas and it’s not even 7pm yet!

And you know what, all my problems, all the stress factors feel so far away.

For the first time in weeks I haven’t been sitting and stewing over all the things I need to do at work, home and uni. I haven’t had to interact with anyone, I haven’t had to run around after anyone, I haven’t had to do anything. If I want to, I’ll do some study. Most likely, I’ll eat my dinner and fall asleep. Hell, I might even have another bath.

Now, this might just seem like I’m putting a hold on things, just ignoring problems. I mean, they’ll still be there when I go home, right?

Well, yeah, they will be. But I’ll be refreshed, calm and more able to deal with them, which means they’ll be a hell of a lot less likely to overwhelm me. I can just get in and deal with them.

Now, I’m not saying you need to go and book a hotel room. Although, if you can, maybe you should. But you do need to make sure that you take time for you. Whether it’s taking an hour out to do your nails, or have a bath, or just to sit and bitch to a friend, you need to find something that helps you feel more relaxed, calmer and more refreshed. You need to make sure that there’s a regular time for you to just check out. You can’t be switched on all the time, you’ll blow out. Everyone needs time out, and it’s so important to find it, even when there are extra people around, everyone needs something from you, your boss needs you to work overtime and you have assignments due.

I don’t often do this, but here’s a challenge: This week find fifteen minutes minimum. Make a cup of tea, some juice, whatever. And then just sit. And breathe. And drink. And everytime a thought of “I need to-” or “x needs this” comes into your head, close your eyes, take a deep breath and exhale it. Then take five deep, slow breaths and open your eyes again.

Try this. If it doesn’t work, try something else. Just find something that helps you to relax. Take care of yourself, because if you don’t, you can’t take care of anyone else.

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The Winds of Change

“The only thing that is constant is change.” – Heraclitus

Not only is that how many essays started in high school when we were doing Change as a topic, but it’s also true. Changes are constant, consistent and certain. Changes are big, small, simple and complex. We probably undergo thousands of changes that we don’t even notice. The last month or so has been a ‘period of change’ (that’s what people call it, right?) for me.

First, I got a new job. This is exciting and horrifying all at once. I’m very much settled into my current, part-time job. I know the people, the systems, what to expect. I’m happy and comfortable. My new job will be full-time, it will be with a whole new team and all new environment. I’m shitting myself.

Second, university started. I’m on my third degree – wait, it’s not as impressive as it sounds. I keep chopping and changing, so really, I’m on my third attempt at a degree. This one, I’ve convinced myself, I will actually complete. But with full-time work and part-time study, this is making me nervous.

Thirdly, at the ripe old age of nearly-twenty-four, I got braces. If you want to talk about pushing comfort zones, I don’t think I’ll be comfortable for the next year or so. If someone offers to shove a whole bunch of metal into your mouth for a few thousand dollars, definitely consider it carefully.

Since change is such a sure thing, we need to know how to deal with it. There are some changes that are easy to deal with. For example, recently my favourite Mac’n’Cheese brand changed their packaging. I didn’t realise this for months because I would walk into the aisle, scan the shelves and walk out, having not recognised my brand. After weeks of frustration (I really like Mac’n’Cheese), I decided to go with the ‘other’ brand that was there. Turns out there’s “NEW LOOK” written very clearly on the packet. I have now adapted to that change. Other changes, however, are no so easy to adapt to. Moving towns, losing a loved one, break ups, they’re all big changes, and changes that can throw us into utter turmoil.

So. How do we cope with change? Well, I cope with it like this:

Crying, trying to get out of the change, flatly refusing to change, then, after many renditions of these, finally, accepting the change. And mostly, once the change occurs, I just deal with it. I’ve moved over seas to live four times. Each time I didn’t know what to expect, where I would live, or what it would be like. I didn’t know if I would make friends, or if I could easily keep in contact with friends back home. But I just kind of picked up the routine and dealt with it. If I had to name one skill, it’s that I’m pretty good at going with the flow.

Although, I have to be honest. With me, it’s sort of like getting caught in a current. I will struggle, flail and try to get out with all my strength. Then at some point I’ll realise I’d be much better off to not do that. Next thing I’m kicked back, a cocktail in my hand, just watching the scenary going passed.

I think most people’s reaction to change is fear. The unknown is a scary thing. My new job is something I’ve never done before. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to do it. I don’t know if I’ll get along with the people I work with. I don’t know if I’ll like it. I don’t know how I’ll cope. I don’t know if it will make studying even harder.

But you know what? I didn’t know any of that about my current job. In fact, I was 99.9999999% sure I couldn’t do my current job. I was so sure I couldn’t. But I could. I can. I do. I didn’t know if I’d get along with the people I work with. And I didn’t get on with all of them, but with most I do. In fact, today I spent most of my time at work laughing and joking with people. I’m having a going-away party tomorrow and I realised how many of the people who had once been collegues are now friends. I hated my job at first. Everything was scary and overwhelming. I didn’t know how or have the confidence to manage relationships when they got confrontational. I remember the first time I got yelled at over the phone. I froze up and later cried. And cried. And cried. But now people get mad at me, and I’m like “Sure, I suck, I’m the worst, is there anything else? No? Cool, have a good day.” *click*

I think back to that time, how scared I was, how shy I felt, how everything, even outside work, seemed scarier. I didn’t use to be able to strike up a conversation with people I didn’t know, but now I can. In fact, I had four conversations about the weather with four different people today, and that’s a slow day. I can look strangers in the eye and joke around with them. I still get shy and awkward sometimes, but if the me before this job could see me, she would be amazed. And she should be very proud.

I know that starting this new job will be hard. But I also know that I can adapt. I’ve grown up in a tumultuous house, at best. I had a hard time in school. I’ve had shitty relationships, and gone through fine weather friends. I’ve struggled badly with mental health, self-harm and suicide. And I’m still here. And if I can do it, then there’s no way you can’t.

I always wish there was a step-by-step guide to these kind of things. Going Through Change for Dummies or something. But I think it’s mostly just taking care of yourself and believing in yourself. And if you can’t, doing it anyway. After all, we can’t escape change, might as well embrace it.

 

 

 

 

Image credit: https://www.tes.com/lessons/vNa25x2u0apeIg/3-3-wind-direction-and-wind-speed

Triggers

Triggers are something that gets made fun of a lot. I think people started using ‘trigger warnings’ for things that seemed quite trivial to a lot of people, and it took the meaning away from the word. Now, if you talk about triggers, people think you’re being over sensitive. They don’t realise that for a lot of people triggers are a very real, very scary and very awful thing.

I have a few triggers. I grew up in an abusive household and have Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD). There are things that ‘trigger’ me and put me back in that mindset, the mindset of being in danger, powerless and terrified. Things like shouting, not even directed at me, just in the same area, causes me to freeze up. It become harder to breathe. My heart starts racing. I can’t think. My body kicks in the fight or flight reflex and pumps me full of adrenaline. Any kind of confrontation is the same. I sit and shake for ages afterwards. Shouting, certain gestures, even being in my childhood home, are all triggers. Unfortunately, I still live in my childhood home, something that contributes largely to my poor mental health.

Triggers don’t only come from PTSD. There are also things that can trigger mood swings. For example, tonight I was feeling pretty good, better than usual. I had a long, busy day at work, so I hadn’t had time to dwell on my thoughts. I got home and was watching my current favourite tv show. I went out to get a drink of water before bed and my little brother made a comment, something he thought was a hilarious joke, about how he and my mother were going to get me a garbage skip for Christmas.

Now, this might not make a lot of sense, but let me explain. My room is always messy. I’ve tried to keep it clean and tidy, but so much of the time finding motivation to get out of bed is too difficult, let alone to clean. I have bursts of energy and I’ll clean for a while, then it’s like getting hit in the face, and I just can’t do it. I also learnt when I was younger that if my room is messy my father won’t come in here, which means it’s safer. My bed is right at the opposite end from the door and there’s an obstacle course separating the two. In a house where I often hid in cupboards for hours to avoid him, that kind of safety is highly prized.

But why did that joke hurt so much? Well, it was like a slap in the face. I was so cheerful and happy and then BAM a reminder that I’m not good enough. A reminder that they talk about me behind my back, they make jokes together at my expense. I know all this, but it’s still not nice having it through in my face, especially around this time of year when everyone talks about how important family is. What really sucks is they wouldn’t have any idea how badly it effects me. How I went into my room and cried and cried, while they laughed. What’s worse is I don’t think they would care. I’m just being too sensitive. And that’s where the issues really come in. People don’t understand that when you have a mental illness, you’re not going to react the same to things. Teasing might just seem like teasing to some people, but to others it’s soulcrushing. It’s not being too sensitive, it’s reacting to something that really cuts deep. But because they don’t experience the same, they can’t understand it, and they don’t like it when you “ruin” their joke. They expect you to laugh along, and when you don’t, they get offended. We’re not allowed to get offended. But they are.

In my last post I talked about suicide and how I deal with those feelings. Triggers are different. They’re often unpredictable and difficult to avoid. They hurt. People judge. It sucks. But being aware of triggers is very important. There’s not a lot I can do when someone around me yells. As I said before, it makes me freeze up. I have learnt that repeating the phrase “It’s okay, you’re safe” outloud to myself does help, but that’s only once the trigger, or what my brain sees as the threat, has been removed. Dealing with triggers is something I’m still learning about. I recently got the book The Body Keeps The Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk which was recommended to me by a psychologist I was seeing. She thought it might help with the triggers, learning how the mind and body stores the traumas. I haven’t started reading it yet, but when I do, I’ll make a post about it. I’m hoping it will be good, that it will help.

As always, I feel a bit better after writing. Still crap, but that seems to be the norm at the moment. Probably due for another medication switch up, but that’s another post entirely. So, I guess this is where I say goodnight and settle down to sleep.

Goodnight.

 

 

 

Image credit: https://www.concealedcarry.com/safety/should-you-modify-your-carry-gun/

Depression and Suicide

Suicide is something I think about a lot. I’ve had bad depression for most of my life. I didn’t start getting any kind of treatment until I was nearly eighteen and most of the coping I’ve done on my own. It’s not something that’s easy to talk about. It’s not something people want to talk about. I’ve tried to bring it up with people I’m close with in the past, my mother, friends, etc. but it’s amazing how quickly they want to change the subject. If you ever want to test someone’s thinking speed, bring up mental illness and they’ll have a topic within seconds.

Something that I hate is the taboo around talking about mental health. It’s something I could go on about for ages. Recently a friend of mine brought up the fact that she had been at a fast food drive through and the girl serving had self-harm scars. She asked us, two other friends and I, if we thought the girl should keep them covered. I wanted to say no. No, she shouldn’t have to keep them covered, she shouldn’t have to feel ashamed of them, how does that help?! But it’s confronting, and I know that I keep evidence of self harm covered up as much as I can. I recently had someone notice something I had burned into my ankle and it’s like this wave of “Play it cool and lie” came over me. I don’t want people to know I self harm, even if I haven’t done it in weeks, months, years. I don’t want people to know because it makes me seem weak, and because I’m ashamed of it.

Shame. That’s a big thing with mental health. And I don’t mean “Oh, isn’t it a shame…”, I mean that horrible, burning shame that you carrying around with you. Because people can’t know. They can’t know that you cry yourself to sleep. They can’t know that you hurt yourself. They can’t know that every day you think about whether it wouldn’t be better to just rip the bandaid off and end it. And this shame that forces you to keep it all in, also convinces you that not only to people not want to know, they don’t care. It turns the rational thoughts of “It’s confronting and they’re struggling to respond” into “They don’t care about you”.

I can remember confiding to my mother once that I didn’t think anyone cared about me. She told me that I had convinced myself of that. I didn’t have to. If you were to ask me who in the world cares about me, I would answer “Nobody”. Not to be dramatic, not to be attention seeking, or self pitying, but because I truly don’t believe it. I can rationalise, I can tell myself that of course people care, but that is what I have to convince myself of. It’s not that I’ve talked myself into believing that no one cares, or that I’m alone, that’s like an inherit thought. That’s just how I feel. I can sit here and go through people I know in my head care. My mum, my sisters, my friends. But could I honestly believe that they care? No. That’s mental illness.

Mental illness is exhausting. Not just forcing myself to get out of bed, to go to work, to smile and laugh and pretend, that’s actually easy compared to just existing with myself. At work I have distractions. People coming and going, things I have to do, problems to solve. That’s the easy part. The hard part is when I’m trying to fall asleep at night, or when it’s quiet and still and my thoughts can just do their thing.

Mental illness is isolating. I work in an office with a lot of people. I would see at least a hundred different people a week. I see friends regularly. I live with my parents and my little brother. I have people around me all the time. And I feel so disconnected from them, I might as well be on a different planet.

Mental illness is tireless. It’s like trying to swim against a rip. You push all your energy into just staying afloat, but it doesn’t let up. It just keep pushing and pushing and pushing and pushing and eventually you have to make a choice: do I keep swimming or do I sink? Which one is easier?

For the people around me, it’s easier that I keep on swimming. That effects them less. No one wants to have to deal with a suicide. Think of what that would involve. Police. Medical staff. Funerals. Getting rid of possessions. Having to tell people that hadn’t heard.

For me, it’s easier to sink. It would be so easy to just end it, just to give up. There are methods where it’s just like falling asleep. No more tears, no more heart stopping panic attacks, no more terror, no more depression. Just sleep.

So why don’t I end it? Well, firstly, because it’s biologically ingrained in us to survive. Go to the edge of a cliff. You’ll feel your palms and the bottoms of your feet start to tingle and sweat, your stomach will clench, you’ll tense up. Your body is literally fighting to keep you alive. It’s really hard to override that instinct. Secondly… Well, no, I think that’s the only reason. I haven’t got the energy to override my human nature screaming at me to stay alive, even though I’m miserable.

Now, you might be thinking, why don’t you do something about it? That’s one of the things people say if you do force the conversation upon them. One of my friends, who knows quite well I’m medicated and have seen psychologists, said that once and I wanted to slap my palm against my forehead and say “Oh! Of course! Why didn’t I think of that! So simple! I’m cured!” but I didn’t, because I’m not an asshole. I do, in fact, do things about it. I go bak to my doctor to reasses the medication I’m on whenever I feel like I’m getting worse. I want to see a psychologist, but I work with all of the ones in my city, and have no way of getting to another town to see someone else. There are psychs in training at the uni I can see, but I don’t want to be the one that turns them off being a psychologist. That’s not entirely true, I just want to see someone with experience, someone who has gotten people through this kind of thing before.

I also have management strategies for when things get bad. I have specific songs that I put on that make me feel happy. I go for walks. I distract myself. But those don’t always work. If it’s late and I’m trying to get to sleep, and all of a sudden all I can think about is how much I’d rather be dead than anything else in the world, what then?

Well, then I get up and blog. I put on one of my happy songs (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sywP3aVNUpY), I cry and type until my head pounds, my face is wet and my wrists are all crunchy from being held wrong. Then I check the time and realise I need to be up in a matter of hours and I don’t have time for this shit. Then I sign the blog off, post it and go to sleep.

Goodnight.

 

 

 

(Image credit: https://leisurethings.wordpress.com/2014/01/28/lets-talk-depression-and-leisure/)

Treat yo self!

I’m a big believe in self-care and self-love. I’ve spent so much of my life hating myself and not taking care of myself, and it’s such a waste of time! It’s also super draining. During my teenage years I’d look in the mirror and cringe. I hated what I saw and who I was. I always wanted to be someone else, someone I thought was better. Now I still have days when I don’t like who I am, there are things I’d change, but I don’t hate myself. Most of the time.

Today I took myself on a date. As I (half-jokingly) said to my friends “No one else will, so I might as well do it!” After all, if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself! Really, I’d had a fight with my parents. It had greatly upset me and I needed to get out of the house. It was raining, but I pulled on my boots and a jacket and went out. I started feeling better immediately. I love walking in the rain, especially around trees and grass. Out in the open I felt like I could breathe better, like I wasn’t trapped. I walked into town and went to Spotlight, a craft store. I walked around in there for a while, then went into K-Mart (incidentally, one of my favourite shop). There I decided to buy myself a set of water colour paints, some brushes and an art book. It wasn’t expensive, but it’s something I’ve thought about buying for a while. After that I went down to the cinema and watched The Girl on The Train (great flick!).

By the time I got home again, I was feeling calmer, happier and more peaceful. Comparing that to my mood when I left – tearful, strained and anxious – it was a great improvement.

I used to feel so guilty spending money on things like that. I felt like every cent I earned had to go into savings or something ‘important’. Then I realised: This is important. Taking care of yourself, doing things that make you happy, spending money on yourself, it’s all okay. I have a nice little lump of savings and it shouldn’t make me feel guilty to spend ten dollars on painting gear! If I was dropping hundreds of dollars every weekend, yeah, maybe a little excessive.

It’s okay to treat yourself to things. If you put in the hard yards and earn the money, then you shouldn’t feel bad about buying something you’ve saved up for (provided bills are paid first!). There are some things that I’ve bought ‘just because’ and they still make me happy. Some things are just junk, but it brought me joy at the time, and I don’t regret that. Part of taking care of yourself is knowing that it’s okay sometimes to spoil yourself. Go to a salon, have the more expensive cocktail, buy the blue AND purple nail polish. Treat yo self.

 

Image credit: candy.com

The Battle for Bed Sheets

As anyone who has ever shared a bed knows, there is nearly always a battle for more bed sheets. I’ve shared beds with my sisters, my friends, and partners, sometimes single beds, sometimes double beds. Space hasn’t been that much of an issue, but the sharing of bed sheets is.

The other day I was having a Down Day, which is what I call it when depression starts to win in the battle with me. As I was thinking about life, death and mental illnesses, I realised how similar The Battle for Bed Sheets is to the battle against depression.

When I sleep I pull the blankets around me as I roll from my back onto my stomach, effectively cocooning myself. Also not leaving a lot of spare blankets. This is fine when I’m sleeping alone, but as soon as you put someone else into the mix, I become a “blanket hog”. It got to a point with my ex-partner that we would have separate quilts because both of us were blanket hogs (although he was worse, just saying).

If you imagine the scenario with the blankets representing Happiness and the person I’m sharing a bed with being Depression, then it looks very similar. I try to roll over and surround myself with Happiness, while Depression wants to take it all for itself. Unfortunately, in this scenario I can’t get separate Happinesses for us to have, we have to share.

I’ve spoken about depression before, comparing it to a little creature. I like to picture depression as something physical, because it makes it seem easier to fight that way. Picturing it as a problem, like bed sheet sharing, helps me put it into a different perspective. A friend of mine once said that he always says “I have depression, depression doesn’t have me”, because it makes him feel like he has control. This is just a different way of coping with it.

I’ve recently been having a lot of Down Days. This happens sometimes, I start to lose the battle, I lose grip of the bed sheets and lie alone in the cold feeling resentful. It’s often very tempting to give up completely, to relinquish the bed sheets and accept that I’ll have to sleep in the cold. It seems easier than having to pull the sheets back and fight to keep them. But then you lie there, cold, miserable and isolated and you remember why you’re fighting.

You’re fighting because bed sheets are warm and comforting. You’re fighting for all the people willing to share their Bed Sheets with you (in this case I mean happiness. Although, possibly also literal bed sheets). You fight because when you win and get those sheet back then you’ll feel satisfied and accomplished. And every time you win a fight you get to add that to your Achievement Pile, and the bigger that pile gets, the harder you can fight because you have a whole pile of wins that remind you that you can do it.

Mental illness is a difficult battle, something that people often don’t know that you’re fighting. I know a lot of people who think that when they ‘lose’ to depression, whether that means they failed a class, they lapsed back into old habits, they self-harmed or whatever it is, that means that they’ve failed. Set backs like that can seem like a failure, like you’ve given in, but they’re just set backs. It’s not the end, the battle goes on and you can keep on fighting.

If you’re having a tough time, there are lots of resources available to you. I’ll list some below:

https://www.beyondblue.org.au/

https://www.lifeline.org.au/

https://www.sane.org/

https://www.mindhealthconnect.org.au/

www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au

Remember, if you or someone else is in danger of hurting themselves you can call the emergency line (000 – Australia, 911 – USA, 999 – UK, etc). You can also take them, or yourself, to the emergency department at the hospital.

 

Image credit: http://www.prevention.com