Maintaining your mental health

This one I hate to say does not have an easy fix, it takes some commitment and a promise to yourself to be kind.  It needs to be worked at daily if you want to stay level and in control.

It has taken me a long time to come to terms with this, in the past it felt easier to self medicate with alcohol and drugs and just ignore issues but I tell you now from experience these quick fixes do not work.  If you don’t process your pain/anxiety/stress etc then it will most likely come out anyway, potentially when you’re not expecting it and you’re completely unable to control it.  By holding it in you can become tightly wound, touchy, stressed and probably not a very nice person to be around.

Now we all have an idea of what is good for us, even if we pretend not to, we know cigarettes are bad and too much alcohol will make us feel rough.  We know if we sleep in, only eat beige coloured food and do not exercise then we’re not going to feel great or have much energy, so then why is it so hard not to do these things?

Is society stacked against us?
This is such an interesting question and to a certain extent I think yes.  I think socially nowadays it’s really tough to maintain a healthy lifestyle.  So much of our culture revolves around drinking and eating and so opting out of these things can feel antisocial (which can have it’s own mental health impact).
When you walk into a supermarket a lot of the advertising is targeted towards the quick, easy fixes and highly processed foods which aren’t great for us.  Our lifestyles nowadays are hectic, trying to fit in as much as we can, work pressures, family pressures and the general pressure of society (and social media) to live a ‘perfect’ life.  As a result we run on auto pilot a lot of the time as doing things out of routine takes a bit more thought and brain power.  With our hectic lives there isn’t always enough time or energy left at the end of the day, generally if someone offers us a quick fix its just easier to take it.
In the short term it’s probably easier not to ‘be good’. We’ve all heard the phrases ‘I’ll do it tomorrow’, ‘It’s Christmas’, ‘go on treat yourself’, ‘Don’t be boring’.  We all have good intentions but you have to be pretty strong to stick to them when society seems like it’s pretty much stacked against you.
Think though, if we’re constantly doing what we know subconsciously we shouldn’t be then our we always feeling subconsciously guilty?  I’ll leave that one for you to ponder. 
I was listening to an interview with Matt Haig the other day who was saying as a society we’re almost programmed to be slightly anxious so that businesses are able to sell us more products.  Think about it: makeup, face creams, hair products, cars, holidays the list goes on and on.  Your life will be complete when you have these things, you must need them, right?  Putting you into a constant state of unease and discontent.  
So what do you need to successfully change?
  1. Community/support
    I think it’s incredibly hard to succeed on your own, you really have to make a conscious decision to change and that can mean removing yourself from social groups which aren’t supportive and finding other like minded individuals.  I’m not sure of the stats but I would say you’re much more likely to succeed at something if you have the support of a friend or group of friends around you.
  2. Motivation
    You really have to want/need to do it.  A lot of my changes have come through health issues (so a need), my mental health is fragile and needs constant maintaining along with my gut health and so diet.  Even though my journey started as a need it has now become a want, I see the positive affects of the changes I’m making and I want to continue to benefit from them. My other huge motivation is my children.  I want to set a good example for them and make sure they have all the tools they need to be happy and healthy.
  3. Baby steps                                                                                                                            Don’t change everything at once, you will fail. There are probably a few things which will need to be all or nothing such as smoking – at some point you just have to say enough is enough – but don’t quit smoking the same day you go on a diet and join the gym!  Take it one step at a time and be kind to yourself, these are forever changes so there is plenty of time.
  4. Results                                                                                                                                           I have worked at my health (mental and physical) for a good 5 years now and it is a working progress, I don’t always get it right I go backwards as well as forwards but more recently I can see myself changing.  I feel calmer, happier, socially less anxious, freer almost.  I still have dark days and I know I have a long way to go, I’m not sure 100% is actually achievable for anyone but it’s nice to be heading in the right direction at least.
  5. Take time for yourself                                                                                                      Make sure you make time for yourself and treat yourself well, be as present as you can day to day and try to be mindful as much as possible.
I really think small incremental steps is the way forward, it’s not about, ‘in two months I’ll have lost a stone and be vegan’, it’s about adding in a short walk every other day to get some fresh air and exercise or making one vegetarian meal a week.  All of these small changes will add up over time,  Try not to get focused on big target dates, it’s all about the journey.
Stay Strong xxx

Pure O and False Memory OCD

I haven’t blogged solely about OCD for a while so I though it might be time.  I have been avoiding writing this post ever since I started this blog, it’s a really tough topic for me to write about as I still struggle with it myself at times and there’s always a fear that it may trigger something.

My first post on false memory OCD which I wrote over two years ago has been my most viewed post by a country mile and that just tells me how many people are struggling with this one.  It is I believe one of the most isolating parts of OCD and one which I would predict people are most terrified to talk about.  I wrote about it once with regards to my fears around driving and false memories/OCD thoughts that I might have hit/killed someone and not realised.  Today I take it a step further and talk about another completely terrifying topic the fear/false memory that you may have interfered with a child.

I would say thinking you are a murderer or a paedophile are probably two of the scariest and terrifying thoughts you could have.

OCD is very clever, because ultimately you know you haven’t done these things but because you cannot prove it 100% you spend hours obsessing over the fact you might have.  You spend hours googling things and pretty much driving yourself insane going over the same situation again and again and again, slowly withdrawing from reality.  You become irritable if distracted and are unable to function properly.  You are scared to tell anyone, as who would have these horrible thoughts and be ‘normal’ (whatever that is), and so you become more and more isolated and alone.

This part of Pure O and false memory OCD has made me think I’m the worst human alive and so scared to speak to others through fear of being judged that at times I have thought the only way out or release would be ending my life.

Pure O intrusive thoughts have made me too scared to give my niece a hug when I read her a story, scared to take my nephew to the bathroom and at times scared to bath my own children through fear that I might do something inappropriate.

False memory OCD has also played it’s evil part in this and at times has made me think I actually have acted inappropriately, which of course I now know is complete rubbish.

All this I am sad to say in the past has led me to withdraw from seeing my family and friends and made me feel like the only way out is ending my own life. The thought that I could harm some of the people in this world who I love the most has been completely horrifying and probably the worst part of my OCD over the years, hence why it’s taken me so long to write about it.

Having a thought does not make it real or you a bad person, we all have them. It does not mean that you will harm a child or do something inappropriate.
It can be extremely difficult to talk about these intrusive thoughts, particularly if they include people close to you or their children but it is unbelievably important that you do if you are having them.  Doctors are trained to hear about these thoughts and will not think you are crazy or a horrible person, they will be sympathetic and understanding, they will have heard it all before I promise you.

By talking to a professional and saying the thoughts out loud it takes their power away immediately, it normalises them as you see other peoples reaction is, just normal.

You have to believe in yourself and know that you are a good person.  You find these thoughts repulsive and so disturbing because you are a good person.  It is normal to have a negative reaction to the thought but you then have to let the thought go and not dwell on it.  This is what everyone else does because everyone has these thoughts!

I have come such a long way with these intrusive thoughts, I have gone from feeling like I can’t bath my son, to pushing myself to and ignore the thoughts, to now not even having the thoughts at all.  Bath time has actually become a fun time, splashing about and laughing.

You just have to know who you are, truly, you are not a bad person. If you know that then you will know you are incapable of acting on any of the intrusive thoughts coming your way, particularly these ones.  Work on liking yourself and you must speak to someone, I cannot stress how important this is, then you will be able to pull yourself out of the darkness like I did.

I hope by me putting this out there that it will help people in a similar position to feel less alone and seek help. This has been unbelievably hard for me to write about and has actually bought tears to my eyes but if it can help one person then it has been worth it.

As always (and this week I’m definitely talking to myself to),
STAY STRONG xxx

Anxiety

I think anxiety has been part of my life for as long as OCD if not longer. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt completely relaxed, always questioning myself and my abilities, always thinking I’m not good enough and trying to please others. I naturally put myself down and the other day I even talked my boss out of promoting me at work because I didn’t think the people I would be managing would respect me enough to see me as senior! I’ve also noticed recently that I hold my breath, all the time which I’m currently leaning is terrible for anxiety.

I have created so many negative patterns over the years – similar to my last blog with the self defeating thoughts – that I’m surprised I’m still surviving to be honest.  I’ve even been tempted to give up this blog a few times as, “I know I’ve never been good at writing and who would want to read what I have to say anyway”.

I’m pretty sure a lot of my issues – particularly the breathing ones – stem from when I was young. I had terrible teachers at primary school, a terrifying father who
I just wanted to please all the time so that he wouldn’t loose his temper and just no good role models to show me good habits.  So here I am at 34 trying to wade through all the sh*t. Letting go of things which are very deeply rooted, some maybe even completely hidden from me still seems like an impossible task but I’m slowly trying to chip away at it day after day.

I’m guessing we’ve probably all got a bit of baggage stored up somewhere, if you’ve managed to get to where you are in life without any then you’ve done extremely well and please let me know the answer! Some people I think are calmer and find things easier to let go of or flow over them (this is what I’m working on). Other people probably don’t even realise that the reason they loose their temper so quickly or grind their teeth at night is probably rooted in something subconscious. Some people simply don’t want to face their issues and other perhaps can’t or don’t feel strong enough to.  It’s definitely not an easy road that’s for sure.

My ‘baggage’ for want of a better word started to make me ill; OCD, anxiety, UC, so I didn’t really have a choice but to look at things.  I am trying with this blog, therapy, diet, exercise, breath work and meditation to work through my issues but even I’m scared to open some of the doors to what I know is going to be horribly hard. There’s also a fear there particularity with the OCD that I will get pulled back in and that is absolutely terrifying.  Some days I feel like I’m clinging on and I might slip back, other days I feel strong and can face exposing myself to my past. The journey is long and bumpy but somehow I have to stay on it.

So I started this post about anxiety and how I feel like it’s connected to my breath, I’m currently going through a book, ‘And Breathe’, by Rebecca Dennis, which I would highly recommend as I believe it has helped me already. Just understanding how breathing properly can help you control your emotions and anxieties when they hit is the most fantastic tool.  I have been feeling more energised and positive just by doing 20 minutes breathing practice a night, it is nice to feel a little bit more in control and to have the energy and motivation to want to cook more healthily and exercise more.

I hope you’re all doing well this week,

Stay Strong xxx

Subconsciously self-defeating

Have you ever heard the phrase, ‘You’re your own worst enemy’?  Well I’ve definitely got that one down.  I’ve become so good at it in fact that I now do it subconsciously!  It wasn’t until very recently – whilst going round a supermarket – that I could hear myself saying:

‘You’re really stressed out’

‘I feel so anxious’

‘Why is this so hard?’ 

‘Don’t look at anyone, head down and just get what you need’

Of course if you then add in all the OCD thoughts on top:

‘That looks a bit like blood’

‘That person just knocked me, what if I’ve caught something from them?’

‘I had a bad thought when I picked that carrot up, maybe I should put that one back and pick another one?’

‘Are the ingredients in this going to give me cancer?

you get the gist, completely exhausting.

So basically I go round day after day giving myself a hard time and pretty much setting myself up to fail from the outset.  My mind is constantly telling me that I’m not good enough, I can’t cope and that I’m feeling anxious.  I really don’t stand a chance and to top it off most of the time I’m doing it without even realising!

When I realised I was doing this I did try to turn the phrases around and speak more positively and kindly to myself but of course I have to notice that I’m doing it before I can be proactive about it.

I think we probably all need to be a bit kinder to ourselves, I mean if we can’t be kind to ourselves then what chance do we stand and yet I bet most of us are our own worst critic.

I am going to try and think of 5 things each night that I like about myself and when I look in the mirror I’m going to try and look at the things I do like about myself rather then the things I don’t.  Trying to change the habit of a life time is not going to be easy though, so many things happen without me even realising.

Why are we so hard on ourselves anyway?

Over the years I have found that in general people don’t want to hear good things, it almost feels like you’re boasting if you say ‘well my relationship is great and I love my husband very much’, people just don’t want to hear it.
People seem to like to moan and then moan to each other about each other, what
is with that?
Society seems pretty broken when I think of situations like this.  It takes a very secure and happy person to be truly happy for someone else and I don’t think many people are there themselves so how can they feel it for other people?

We all need to work on our happiness and be a bit kinder to ourselves.  Maybe try saying some of the following to yourself.

  1. I deserve to be happy
  2. I am in control of my own happiness
  3. I am blessed with wonderful family and friends
  4. I possess the qualities needed to be successful
  5. I am beautiful
  6. I love myself and who I am (generally a really hard one for people with OCD  but so important for recovery.)

I hope they help, as always

Stay Strong xxx

 

Money – A complicated relationship

Money is something that I have a very complicated relationship with, I’m guessing I’m probably not alone in this.  Like with food it’s one of those things in life that you can’t just avoid or ignore, it’s part of life and you have to try and have a good and healthy relationship with it.

We were never rich growing up but there was always food on the table and a warm bed to get into at night.  We didn’t have nice holidays or new toys all the time and we were the family who had to  walk and bus everywhere whilst the neighbours turned a blind eye and got into their cars to travel, quite often to the same place we were heading but that was OK, it definitely could of been worse and I don’t want anyone feeling sorry for me.

My relationship with money actually took a very dark turn when I was 18 and I travelled to New Zealand for a gap year.  My gran had very kindly paid for the flights and I was going to be staying and volunteering at a local school so I didn’t think I would have to worry about money.  I had saved about £700 in my bank account from working weekends as a waitress at a local pub and to me that was a lot of money, I’d be fine and for the most part things were fine.

Once the summer holidays came the people I was volunteering with wanted to travel to Australia, off we went and again I didn’t really think much about 3 weeks away.  About half way through the holiday I completely ran out of money and I became reliant completely on the people I was travelling with, this was not good.

One of them made me feel like the smallest piece of dirt every time we had to get lunch or pop into a supermarket and she had to contribute a bit extra to help me out.  I’m not talking about big posh dinners now, I’m talking about a pot noodle or a sandwich, literally enough to survive on.  The other – who was an ex boyfriend – basically made me feel indebted to him and like I had to get back with him and be with him to justify what he was giving to me.  I felt so grateful at the time that he wasn’t leaving me penniless, I probably would of done anything he asked.  It really was one of the lowest points of my entire life and I wish I could of been stronger but at the time I just wasn’t.  My OCD was bad and my life experience was just non existent, now I look back I was scarily vulnerable and it makes me so sad.

Fast forward to when I came home and off I went to university, because isn’t that what every teenager does?  I still had no money and was in a terrible mental space because of my OCD.  I remember one winter I didn’t even have money for shoes and so wore my flip flops, man it was cold.  I used to eat rice, frozen veg and tinned tuna every day as it was all I could afford.  I eventually dropped out of university as I was spiralling downhill very quickly and pretty much moved in with the aforementioned ex.  I’m sad to report that it took me about 5 years to start to build myself up again after going through multiple toxic relationships and jobs.

There are probably many issues I need to deal with from this situation but for now I’m focusing on the money.  I guess it is unsurprising that I now have an obsessive relationship with money, checking my bank account a lot and keeping spreadsheets of every transaction.  Of course this behaviour is not healthy for me and I’ve reached a point currently where it is completely unnecessary.  I shouldn’t have to look at my bank account all the time and so I am going to try not to.

In fact I am going to try and not look at my bank for a year!  

Yes that’s right, one whole year.  Personally I will be amazed if I can do this but man I would love to so I’m going to try.  I will keep you posted.  

It makes me sad that so much of modern life revolves around money, we can loose so much of ourselves in the quest for it. It can give other people significant power over us and make us feel unworthy and less than.

Writing this blog post has been tougher then I thought and it’s bought up more issues then I expected but I’m glad I’ve managed to make a start on unpicking some of my yucky past.  I hate looking back as it makes me so sad but if I don’t how else will I heal?

As always,

Stay Strong xxx

Brain Fog, Cured?

Just over a year ago I wrote a post on Brain fog.  It is something I have suffered with for a long time and something I was slowly trying to unravel the cause of.  Having done a bit of research into it, it was starting to become quite obvious why I suffered from it but trying to pin point exactly the changes I could make that would clear my head was a lot harder.

I’ve mentioned a few times on here that I have Ulcerative Colitis and I am convinced there is a link between my brain and gut health and so my mental and physical well being as well.

A few months ago I went for some intolerance testing (I wrote a blog post about this at the time) initially it felt all very overwhelming and I still haven’t managed to implement all of the suggested lifestyle changes however one change which I have pretty much (about 95% of the time) implemented is removing dairy from my diet – this seemed like the easiest initial step as I had eliminated lactose for a long time already.

Get to the point!  I hear you shouting.

So I have recently noticed that I very, very rarely get brain fog anymore, I’m not saying it’s gone completely but considering I used to get it EVERYDAY this is MASSIVE for me.

I should probably mention that I have also started taking a probiotic drink for gut health around the same time as eliminating dairy.  I personally believe that both changes will be improving my gut health by reducing inflammation and so in turn improving my mental health.

I am delighted that I am now able to focus better on things.  I feel more
involved in life and not like I’m constantly watching it go by from behind a fog.  I also have more energy and want to do things which is HUGE for me.

I realise that I still have work to do and that I still struggle some days but I am getting there and I am starting to work out what works for me which is great.

Stay Strong xxx

OCD – Responsibility

I expect there is an official term for this type of OCD but I’m not aware of it.  Basically it’s intrusive thoughts which occur when asking other people to do things for you.

for example: Say I asked my husband to go and pick something up from the shop for me, I would then have intrusive thoughts about all the things that could potentially happen to him on the way or whilst he’s there and I would then feel responsible for those things: I asked him to go, he’s only there because of me. Therefore I am responsible for anything that happens to him during this time.

This is another way OCD can isolate you very successfully, not only are you scared to go out yourself because of your OCD thoughts and anxieties, but you also become scared to ask anyone to help you in any way in case something happens to them, making you feel more and more alone.  OCD is such a bully, it wants you to be alone and suffering in your mental torment forever.  It can also make you come across as indecisive as you internally struggle with whether to get someone to drop the kids off at school or pick something up from the shops on the way home.

Unfortunately I don’t have an easy answer for this one either, sorry.  You just have to be stronger than it somehow.

  • Distraction is probably a good method, ask someone to do something and then do everything you can to keep yourself busy.
  • Having the knowledge that the other person has their own free will and that you cannot control everything.  I think that’s a big one with OCD and anxiety, you have to accept that you cannot control or know the outcome to everything and actually you probably wouldn’t want to given the choice.
  • Practice your mindfulness, be in the moment now and not in the unknown future worrying about things that will probably never happen.
  • Ride it out, anxiety can only be at it’s peak for a limited time, your body cannot sustain it for too long so breath and know it will pass.
  • Don’t catastrophise – which you obviously have if you’re in this situation.
  • Talk to someone, it could even be the person you’re worrying about.

Hopefully some of the above can help, I work on these things daily and slowly things get easier but it’s a long old road and some days it’s definitely tougher than others.  Remember you’re not alone and as always

Stay Strong xxx