8 May 2019

Just beecause: why you don't need a permission slip to practice self-care

 Hello world, it's me again. In truth, my head has been feeling especially foggy these past few days, so I'm writing this with no certainty that it will ever see the light of day! Nevertheless, this morning I decided to open my laptop and here I am still typing. Just because... Just because. 

Full stop. No explanation needed. At first glance, "just because" is a bit of a paradox. When you say, "because", it's a bridge leading on to the rest of a sentence. It's safe to say that the English Literature student within me is having a field day: "okay, what's next? Don't leave me hanging!" Well, let's hope those monkey bars are more strong and stable than our Prime Minister, because that sentence is going to be hanging a lot more from now on. At least that's the intention!

A couple of years ago, I wrote about my longstanding struggle with over-analysis, specifically negative over-analysis (NOA). For as long as I can remember, every decision I make has been given far too much screen time; where one line would do a chapter soon follows. If I say "basically", be prepared to bring out the popcorn and put any immediate plans on hold. Don't get me wrong, I love writing. I love talking and  it's quite possible that 'rambling' has become my USP

Nonetheless, there's a difference between rambling and over-analysis... and  perhaps that's where the  literature student may need to take a back seat (unless bedtime reading is involved, obviously!)
One all the things I learnt from CBT in 2017, "action over analysis" held the most resonance and this wasn't because I was good at it; quite the reverse. I was the girl with a whole Ark of anxieties - not even a mouse could fit in - and NOA was calling all the shots. In the world according to NOA, nothing was ever 'just right'. Imagine you were choosing between 200 varieties of apple in your local supermarket, or picking a paint colour from 51 shades of 'off-white'. Now, apply this to every single decision you make and you have a small glimpse of life with  anxiety.

Just over one year on from CBT, I have become significantly better at challenging over-analysis. The ark is more of a rowing boat and there's thankfully far more room for my animal friends (less time worrying in isolation means more time for doggy cuddles!) Yet there's one thing I still spend far too much time overanalysing: self-care. In the time I've taken contemplating self-care, I could have had a bubble bath with every Lush bath bomb in Bath... and quite possibly Bristol too! 

We often talked about self-care during CBT, as a key challenge for my mental health lies in self-worth (a lot of this is rooted in my diabetes, which I talked about here and may do more in the future). After so long convincing myself that I am less worthy than others, NOA can deliver an oscar-winning speech on "reasons against self-care." From connecting with others in the magical MH community online, I know how common this is (turns out we're not unicorns!) So how do you overcome it? How do you silence over-analysis? 
You act. You practice self-kindness, whenever you can and in whatever little way you can. I spent so many years convinced that I could analyse my way out of over-analysis, but it turns out you can't! The only way, as CBT made unequivocally clear, is "action over analysis." The only way, as I've come to think of it recently, is saying "just because". No justification needed! On that note, I wanted to share some of the self-care steps I've taken this spring; little snapshots that NOA was determined to bury away, but by sharing on here are a way to say "sock it! Self-Care is here to stay." 

22 April 2019

Snapshots from Spring and What it means to be an Earthling #EarthDayEVERYDAY

Happy Earth Day my fellow earthlings. 365 days ago, I wrote about the importance of making "earth day"our every day. The twitter birds can caw #EarthDay 'til the (Insta)cows come home, but we must never lose sight of our 'why'; the hearts behind the hashtags; the reason we care as much as we do. This may sound sentimental and, I'll be the first to admit, daffodils won't be saved by dancing with them (as much as I relate to Wordsworth). Nonetheless, I do believe that emotions play a key role in the future of our planet. Quite simply, we have to care. 

"Whenever I ask professional conservationists what first 
Inspired them to get involved in the protection of the 
Environment, they invariably mention either a book or a place."
- Dr Robert Macfarlanenature writer & ecocritic   

Ever since I was little, I've loved the outdoors. I love exploring, I'm fascinated by the littlest details of a tree or flower. I read books such as "the hidden language of trees" for pleasure and "Landscape and Literature" was my favourite module at University - it's how I discovered the genius Robert Macfarlane! In a recent Instagram post, I talked about my woodland happy place - my whimsical 'Luna Wood' - and how it embodies the things I treasure most. We can pretend that magic is the stuff of fairytales, but we only have to look beyond our screens to know it exists. Nature is proof that magic exists. Nonetheless, we currently risk losing it to  myth and we cannot allow this to happen. This is where I truly believe that individual connection is key. We cannot save through apathy. 
I've consciously been spending more time away from social media recently and making time to get outside, whether it be fighting past the brain fog to join my family for a dog walk, or heading for the bus-stop ten minutes earl to stop and smell the roses horse manure (After a decade of horse-riding, there will always  be hoof prints on my heart!) 

This bank holiday has been markedly screen-free and I cannot tell you how lovely it's been. I had a difficult evening on Friday with withdrawal side effects (see last post), but getting outdoors has done me the world of good and made me more grateful than ever for nature. During the darkest days of anorexia, I was a habitual 'speed walker' and rarely noticed the little things, so I really took a moment to do that this weekend and took some photos to record it.

So this is what I wanted to share. Some snapshots of spring from Victoria Park in Bath, where I am continually reminded to keep the tonic glass of nature half-full. While these are only snapshots -  the live-action moment is beyond any screen - I do feel they capture this sense of just being. Being mindful, not mind full. By focusing in on the tiny details we can so often forget, I found beauty in tranquility and the magic of what is. No 'to do list' needed. On that note, I'm going to end my rambles and let Nature do the talking. To paraphrase Ronan Keating, she says it best and I need say nothing at all... Nature has enough lyrics for all the Grammys in the world!  
“Sometimes, if you stand on the bottom rail of a bridge and 
lean over to watch the river slipping slowly away beneath you, 
you will suddenly know everything there is to be known.”
- Winnie the Pooh, A.A.Milne   


16 April 2019

Finding the Words

Ever since I was little, words have been like a friend. Whether it be reciting poems/ the first Harry Potter parapragh by heart, or retreating to the pages of my beloved books, words were the silver lining to any storm. When I was diagnosed with diabetes, - yes, you guessed this, Harry Potter featured! However, in reality Hogwarts was a drop in the ocean (albeit a very big one). From Jill Murphy to Jenny Dale and extra helpings of Roald Dahl, I was like Matilda in Mrs Phelps' Library. Where are the books please?

I grew up on stories and, to this day, they are a comfort blanket like no other. Whatever storms come my way, the silver-lined spine of a book is always there - as JK Rowling said - "to welcome [me] home." More than this, I loved creating them. My old piano teacher still talks about the stories I wrote while my sister had her lessons. During the school holidays, my dad would create story prompts and spend all day writing. At the grand old age of 24, this love of storytelling shows no sign of stopping. As I spoke about here, storytelling lies at the heart of my Instagram and Etsy; each of my crochet creatures has their own SPEWcial story to tell. I am a whimsical Ravenclaw through and through and it's such a huge part of beeing SOPHIE. 

Yet in recent weeks, I haven't been able to find the words. My lack of blog posting is a visible sign of this, alongside my reduced frequency of Instagram Posting. Nonetheless, these are physical symptoms that can be dealt with. Are they frustrating? Hugely, but they are nothing compared to the mental muteness. Behind the screen, a 24-7 mind-fog has seen my thoughts washed away like a current. At the dinner table, I find myself floundering. I feel my thoughts turn to brain fog and can't engage with the conversation like I used to. 

Beyond words, I have forgotten to put my card back in my purse (RIP Peter Rabbit 50p, I needed bus money!) I have put milk in the mug cupboard and mugs in the fridge... I've been brought back to the mental fog of anorexia, only this time the cause isn't restriction. I was hesitant to write this, but if there's one things I've learnt through my mental health journey, it's that you never find safety in silence. When in doubt: talk. What's more, perhaps someone will read who has experienced similar? If it can shine a light for them - or even myself - isn't it worth sharing? 
So that brings me onto the subject of this post - the cause of the mental fog and why I've been more distant from social media.  In fact, briefly mentioned it on IG Stories last night, as I was conscious that been posting a lot less and wanted to offer an "explanation" (in hindsight, no explanation was needed, but hindsight is a wonderful thing!) In the past few weeks - or months, come to think of it - I've been in the process of changing medication I won't specify names, as what works for one person may not work for another and vice versa, but will say it involves anti-depressants that I take for anxiety. If you do want to read more about medication and mental health, The Blurt Foundation covered it brilliantly in this post

For the best part of two years, my current medication worked well and definitely helped my engagement with CBT. Nonetheless, around a year ago I started to get more side effects, as if I was withdrawing from it - from what I've read, I think this is called 'loss of efficacy' and can happen after a period of time (note: I'm not an expert, so please talk to a doctor if you have any questions). This isn't the first time I have switched medication, but it is definitely the most challenging experience so far and I knew this would be the case - one of the known drawbacks to this particular medication is the withdrawal process, so it has to be reduced very slowly. 

In June last year, I attempted to do a 'fast-track' withdrawal while in hospital and, long story short, realised very quickly that this would never work. I can only describe it as a five day hangover-to-end-all-hangovers and knew, inpatient or not, there was no fast-track. I needed a window of a few months to gradually reduce my medication, step by step, until I reached a point when I could taper it with another. Thankfully, the one I'm switching to can be introduced earlier than most. 

After months deliberating the best time to start, December came and I decided 'now or never' After suspending my PGCE place for 2018-19 last September, I'm not currently studying and my  paid work/volunteering is spread throughout the week. What's more, I hope to start my PGCE this September, so this is really the best window I'm going to get - unless you can point me in the direction of a magical Narnia Window, which has the power to turn 6 months into 6 minutes and possibly introduce some talking Beavers/Fawns along the way... (no apologies for this whimsical turn - it means the Ravenclaw dreamer is still there!)  
I am currently in the final stretch and can almost see the finish line. Hopefully, before the season ends, so too will this chapter of "The Medication Journals" (she's going to have her friends call her Valerie MJ). Yet like many races, the home strait is the hardest part. For me, this has materialised in brain fog and lost words. At the start of 2019, one of my unwritten resolutions was to get back into reading, but right now I simply don't have the concentration. As I've already mentioned, I'm struggling to blog and even instagram captions can feel like a dissertation... I probably don't help myself by making them the length of a dissertation! A bit like this and every other one of my posts...

Which brings me onto the last paragraph of this post - and I solemnly swear on the soul spine of my harry potter books this will be the last! It's okay if I can't find the words. As I've been reminded by some magical people on Instagram, it's okay to take a break.  It's okay to press pause on posting and, when I come back, say as much or as little as I need. When I began writing this post on Sunday (who listens to Uncle Vernon?), I just wanted to put pen to paper serif to screen again. I didn't have a title, let alone a plot. I was simply finding the words as I went - wherever they went - in the hopes they may find others and possibly resonate with them too. So if that person is you, thank-you.

 The things we lose have a way of coming back to us 
 In the end, fnot always in the way we expect
- Luna Lovegood, Harry Potter

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