Why I Don’t Care for Modern-Day Self-Care

You only have to search the likes of Instagram and Pinterest for self-care and you are met with a barrage of posts about hair care, exercise, make-up, face masks, luxury bath products, fashion, jewellery and all sorts of other things that to me are less about self care and more about “treat yo’ self”.  It’s all sorts of flowery, feel good stuff that in itself is fine but is not really what self care is all about.

There are loads of self-care journals on the shelves now too, many giving writing and creative prompts for you to fill in as and when you choose.

And while these things can help us feel good about ourselves and assist in feeling happier and more positive on a day-to-day basis, they don’t really address the issues we face when we have mental health issues.

When you are in the pits of a mental health illness (for me that would be anxiety, stress and depression) disorder/illness/issue the last thing on your mind can be to pick up a journal and write or create.  Your only instinct is to survive and get through the episode and out the other side.  Housework, basic hygiene, eating and even sleep cease to be important and having someone tell us to take a bath with a luxury brand product is not helping in any way, shape or form.  When it is too much effort to even get out of bed and make a drink and see to our basic needs this is where I have to disagree with modern-day self-care.

I read something, a list of self-care “tips” when I had my anxiety attack the other day which gave really “helpful” advice such as “Get more sleep” and “Have a deep and meaningful conversation”, “light a scented candle”, and even “Close your eyes and rest for 5 minutes” and I got really angry.  If I could get any more sleep I would, trust me.  I have tried and failed and having some poncey list telling me that this will help just infuriates me.  As does the advice to have a deep and meaningful conversation, for me, when I am in desperate need of self care, talking to someone, let alone having a meaningful conversation is laughable, I just want to be left alone.  Lighting a scented candle, when I’m having a period of anxiety just magnifies the anxiety I already have so that really isn’t helpful.  And I’m sure whoever came up with “Close your eyes and rest for 5 minutes” has never experienced stress or anxiety or any other condition where being able to rest would be great if we could totally unplug our brain and our racing thoughts.

And then I started thinking about what self-care really is, it’s about being a friend to yourself, the best friend, the one who tells you, honestly, that you stink and forces you to take a shower, wash your hair, brush your teeth or do the washing up.  I’ve been there, and I have had no care for washing, brushing my hair or teeth, staying in pyjamas that I’ve been wearing solidly for a week, having no energy or motivation to do anything except lay there and avoid everything.  And I’ve been the one that has forced myself to go and shower, and it may have taken me an hour but I’ve done it, and, do you know what?  Just that simple act of standing under running water and getting clean has helped me feel a teeny bit better.

So, heres some advice.

Eat regularly, don’t worry if its healthy or not, even if it’s a bag of crisps or a few haribo at least you have eaten something.

Drink.  Water is the easiest.  Set an alarm on your phone and try to take a few sips through the day.

Brush your teeth.  Just this small act has made a huge difference to how I have been feeling.

Tackle one task at a time…if the bins are full then empty them.  If the sink is full then take your time and wash everything.  If the counters are grubby then clean them.

Change your clothes, if not everyday then at least every other.  It really feels like the greatest accomplishment.

Force yourself to shower or bath, even if its only 10 minutes, it will help.

Self care isn’t about long baths, lie ins, scented candles, journals or anything like that.  It’s about existing and really getting to the root of the problem, being your own best friend and doing what is best for you.  So, sorry to all you modern-day self-care lovers, but that stuff aint working for me when I’ve hit a real low.

Christmas – Tips to Stay Calm on The Day

Due to my Aspergers certain things can send my stress levels soaring and I can get pretty overwhelmed too if there are lots of loud noises, it’s too hot or cold, if the lights are too bright, if there are too many shiny things reflecting light, too many different things flashing, and Christmas is no exception.  I developed strategies to help me stay calm and enjoy my day, so if you find you get stressed maybe a few of these tips will help you.

  1. Try the mindful 4-7-8 breathing exercise.  This method is really useful when you can feel the start of your stress levels rising.  Exhale as much as you can through your mouth, close your eyes and inhale through your nose for a count of 4, then stop and hold your breath for a count of 7 before exhaling through your mouth for a count of 8.  Repeat as many times as needed.
  2. Go to a quiet place for 5 minutes.  Excuse yourself for 5 minutes, set a timer and sit, doing nothing for that time.  Don’t be tempted to check on social media, reply to texts or anything else.  Just try to sit and do nothing.  Once 5 minutes is up, take a few deep, belly breaths then return.
  3. Make lists of what needs doing and when, for example : turkey needs to be in at 10, peas to boil at 2.  Cross things off your list as you do them so you don’t need to worry about whether they have been done.
  4. Delegate.  If you need the kitchen worktops cleaned then ask someone to help.  Don’t try to do everything yourself.  If you can, sit everyone down for a talk a few days before the day and explain what you expect from each person, delegate the jobs to them so they know what to do on the day.
  5. Try to prepare the veg the night before.  I always prepare the veg the night before because for me, standing in a hot, sweaty kitchen on the day battling a peeler and the potatoes is no fun.  If you can prep most of it the night before then try to.  I find that peeling the root veg and leaving in saucepans of cold water overnight stops them from drying out.  You can do the same with broccoli and sprouts.
  6. Don’t try to please everyone.  See #4.  If you are unable to get Great Aunt Mildred a drink even though she asked for you to prepare it, don’t be afraid to say that you can’t at the moment, then delegate out to someone else.
  7. Don’t wear tight or uncomfortable clothing.  Tight or uncomfortable clothing coupled with being too warm and eating too much food can cause stress levels to rise and for me to become irritable.  Instead of wearing something restrictive put on something comfortable, loose-fitting or dress in layers that can be easily slipped off if it gets too hot.
  8. Don’t eat too many sweets, chocolate or pudding.  The sugars in the foods may boost your mood for a short period of time but when you hit the sugar crash your mood can come crashing down with it.  Also, feeling too full can cause feelings of irritability that can increase stress levels.
  9. Try not to drink too much.  Too much alcohol + stress can lead to people saying things they shouldn’t, being argumentative or being short with people which can lead to friction and tension in the atmosphere.  If possible limit alcohol to the meal and sip soft drinks, water or juice the rest of the time.
  10. Make time for a nap.  If you can, try to take a nap or at least have a lie down for half an hour.  It will give your stress levels a chance to come back down and will help you to clear your head.  It will also refresh you and you will be able to continue your day feeling better.
  11. Open windows.  The air in the room can become stale and with most homes having central heating on, cooking and guests, houses can heat up really quickly.  Allowing a circulation of fresh air is certain to help everyone’s mood and stop people from feeling groggy.
  12. Try Essential Oils.  Tisserand make some lovely blends of essential oils.  I’m a huge fan of their Aromatherapy Roller Balls especially their Everyday Wellbeing Set, the Total De-Stress one works really well, just apply to your pulse points and inhale the scent as needed.  You could also try a lavender-scented candle or an oil burner with some lavender oil in it.
  13. Go for a walk.  After dinner why not encourage everyone to join you for a walk, it doesn’t need to be a long walk but a breath of fresh air outdoors can do wonders for everyone’s stress levels and can help to boost energy along with helping your digestive system start working too.
  14. Think about the things that make you overwhelmed and try something different this year.  Like the sound of tv coupled with people talking and noises from toys being played with.  Why not encourage a couple of hours with the tv off and play board games instead?

What kind of stress busting tips do you have to help over Christmas?

Mental Health And Me – An Update

This is the first update about my mental health since writing this post, and in the time between that post and this I’ve been to the doctors for a medicine review on the 22nd November.  Thankfully some of the symptoms that I had when starting my medication (Sertraline 50mg) have subsided, the sick feeling still comes and goes but isn’t a persistent feature of day-to-day life, the hot and cold feelings have gone, and the dizzy spells are getting less and less which is good.

I’ve now developed insomnia, which I do get from time to time but never like this, over the space of a few weeks I have not been able to sleep for more than half an hour at a time if at all which is really starting to get me down.  The flip side to this is that when I do sleep, I can sleep for the whole day which has happened a few times now (the latest being sleeping through the whole of sunday 25th November).

I have still been feeling anxious and still have these anxiety attacks along with panic attacks though I can not identify a reason why, perhaps if I could then I would be able to stop them?

I spoke with the dr about all of this, he said it may help to up my medication.  I’m now taking 100mg of Sertraline each day.  I still feel unable to go back to work, mostly because my concentration levels are still really low and I keep forgetting things (like when watching tv, the adverts will come on and I have no idea what I have been watching), I still can’t settle to read a book and I’m finding myself really tired even when I have had a good nights sleep.  All of these things create a frustration in me and I know I would find it difficult in work with these symptoms, and I would end up being angry at myself for not being able to carry out the tasks I need to, taking too much time over completing tasks and generally struggling with the day-to-day things I need to do.

I’m finding it pretty hard to motivate myself to leave the house or even have conversations with people.  I feel like I’ve become a bit of a hermit at the moment.  I did manage to go food shopping at 12:30am on the 21st November…the Asda supermarket by me is open 24 hours and because I couldn’t sleep I decided to put that time to good use.  The supermarket was really quiet with only myself and shelf stackers around.  I got to walk around at my own pace and pay attention to what I was buying.  Usually, if I go in the day time I run around like I’m on supermarket sweep, grabbing things and not thinking about what I need or want in order to get out as fast as I can.  This time I only bought what I needed and didn’t forget anything.

I’ve been taking the higher dosage of medication for the last 3 days and so far have not got any more, or bought back any of the side effects I was experiencing.  I just hope that these will help somewhat!

Mental Health and Me

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In a time where mental health is spoken about daily, by the hour and by the minute and in a time where there is, or should be greater understanding of the struggles and difficulties of others it can still be really hard to talk about our mental struggles.  And there is still a sense of shame about talking about our problems and also a worry that we will be defined by our illness or, even worse, treated differently because of it.

I’m writing this as I have recently been diagnosed with anxiety, stress and low mood, and consequently I have been advised to take a break from work and to start taking tablets to help me feel better.  I also have Aspergers which is part of the autism spectrum which means I process things a bit differently to others and certain things can cause me stress and anxiety on a day-to-day basis.  Normally I am pretty good at dealing with day-to-day stresses, whether it be too much noise, the lights being too bright, lots of things going on, lots of different things to do, worrying about whether I am doing things right, interruptions, the list of things goes on and on….  I have developed coping strategies for most stresses that I encounter and on the whole they seem to work.  Well, they have done until recently…I started to notice that the coping mechanisms that I normally implemented were not working so well…making lists and prioritising what needs to be done usually stopped me from panicking but I noticed that faced with several tasks to do, at home or work, I couldn’t work out what to prioritize and started to feel like I couldn’t breathe as there was “too much to do” and that I couldn’t complete any of it.  I found that I couldn’t concentrate, following conversations was becoming hard work, the background noise becoming too distracting and as loud as the person talking to me, even coming home to the relative silence of my home felt like sitting in the middle of a football pitch at half time.  I couldn’t read my book, I lost where I was and kept reading the same sentence or paragraph over and over, or forgetting what I had just read and having to go back a page to re-read it.  Even sleep, the one total shut off from the world wasn’t helping, I was waking up after having nightmares, sweating and gasping for breath, or lying there, so totally drained of energy yet unable to sleep as my mind just kept going over things that had happened. should have happened, could have happened, might happen…

And while all this was happening my skin was suffering too…I broke out with eczema on my face – on my forehead – right.between.my.eyebrows.  (Thank you body for giving me something else to add to my stress and worry list…).

I eventually, after months of pretending I was fine (I sort of made myself believe that if I got up and put a smile on and managed to go to work, I couldn’t be that bad and that it was “all in my head” and that it was just me…) went to the doctor.

The doctor that I saw went through a load of questions with me about my life, feelings, mood, work, sleep and eating habits along with lots of other questions.  He said that my eczema outbreak had been caused by stress and that he thought I was dealing with high levels of stress and anxiety based on my answers to his questions and how he read my body language.  He gave me a prescription for Sertraline tablets which will increase serotonin levels in my brain and make me feel better in due time.

I’ve now been taking the medication for a month or so now, originally I was on half a tablet each day which was then upped to a full tablet every day.  The side effects are not that good, I’ve felt sick, dizzy, hot, cold, thirsty, not hungry, my concentration levels are still really low, following anything on the tv or reading is really difficult and I can’t decide whether it’s the meds or the stress and anxiety still.  I have days where I really don’t feel like leaving the house or even seeing anyone and just existing in my own bubble, though I feel like that sometimes anyway because of my aspergers (though that sort of feeling comes after time spent with too many people and being a bit sensory overwhelmed…).  It’s hard to know what is caused by the tablets, what is stress, anxiety, aspergers, or me.

Sometimes I feel like I am just this bundle of diagnosis’ and it can be hard to sift through what is what to the extent it can become exhausting and overwhelming.  Sometimes I wonder if I am becoming my diagnosis/illness or is it becoming me?  Sometimes I just feel really lost in it all and wonder if I’ll ever feel “normal”, whatever that is?

I do  know that I am really grateful to my family and friends who I am able to talk to and who accept me for me.  I’m sure it can be difficult to converse with me at times,  I am not particularly good at explaining how I’m feeling either or putting words to what I’m thinking or feeling, so explaining how I feel can be hard work.  I’m also greatful that the doctor that I have been seeing is really patient and understanding, he doesn’t try to put words into my mouth, he sits and listens or will ask more questions to get a full picture of it all.

There is no shame in seeking help for whatever is going on in your mind, whether it is speaking to a relative or friend, a doctor or health worker, or anyone who you can trust.  If you notice that you are struggling with things then reach out and talk to someone.