The mental implications of lockdown and isolating

So somehow, it’s now September and this is the first opportunity I’ve had to sit down, collect my thoughts and actually try and write something.  It’s been a tough old time heading back to work with my husband having to work away and me still having to look after my children.  I’ve felt my motivation dwindling, my patience disappearing and my positivity hard to keep hold of.  My kids went back to preschool last week and managed a day, yes just one day before my little boy had a cough, could we get a Covid-19 test?  Nope, nothing anywhere and so just when I thought things were getting back to normal, bang we’re back at home, stuck in again!  This was a big blow and I’m not going to lie pretty much broke me last week, I’ve been an emotional mess with my mental health incredibly fragile ever since. 

I’ve honestly been a bit worried about myself more recently, I’ve started to feel quite trapped and have pretty low depressive thoughts, I’ve been crying a lot and unable to focus.  I’ve also seen a return of my sciatic pain which is pretty emotionally draining as well.  Sorry if this all sounds a bit dark but I wanted to be honest about things as I’m sure I’m not the only one feeling this way.  The mental impact of everything going on at the moment and the pressure being put on parents in particular is extraordinary and I honestly feel there’s only so long the government can expect people to go on in this way.  

So, deep breath, let’s try and be a bit more positive and look at how to refocus myself. 

This is what I’ve come up with;

Step one – Find a way to give myself a bit more time/space

I’ve done this by increasing my son’s days at preschool.  This has been a difficult decision but he’s been off with me for six months now and his behaviour has deteriorated more recently, he needs the structure and I need a bit of breathing space to make the time we do get to spend together more fun.

Step two – Exercise

For me this is my Yoga, it has always helped with my focus, my sciatic pain and also my mental health, it needs to be part of my daily routine and this should be non-negotiable.  

Step Three – Be kinder to myself

I have beaten myself up so much over the last few weeks/months; ‘I’m not a fun mum’, ‘I’m letting them down’, ‘why can’t I cope, when everyone else can’, ‘I should be able to do this’, ‘why don’t I want to spend all my time with my kids’, etc, etc.  Why do we do it to ourselves?  At the end of the day we’re all doing our best and I love my kids more then anything, I know that.  I need to stop the negative chatter when I notice it and replace it with positive words instead.  ‘I’m doing my best’, ‘We do lots of fun things and the kids are happy, ‘no one is perfect and Instagram isn’t a reflection of real life.’, ‘you are good enough’.

Step Four – Stop looking at the news

Let’s face it, there’s nothing good on there!  As long as I know the rules to follow, I don’t need to know anything else! 

Step Five – Breath

So simple but most of us aren’t doing it right, we need to take time to check in with our bodies each day, in fact most of us our breathing backwards!  This was a complete revelation to me when I was told.

Take a deep breath in now

Did your chest raise and your tummy go in?  Yep that’s backwards breathing! 

When you breath in your chest should expand and your belly go out, like you would see a baby/child do.  Over the years we start to breath into the top of our rib cage and suck our belly’s in – as is socially acceptable nowadays – well this is wrong, wrong, wrong!  No wonder we’re all so flipping anxious.    

Step Six – Eat well

We need to fuel our bodies well and reduce things we know will affect our mood like, caffeine, alcohol, sugar etc. 

Step Seven – Sleep well

We need to get enough sleep to make sure we can function properly and enable us to implement all the other steps above, good sleep is the key to so much.

I’m betting most of these things aren’t relations to you, but sometimes implementing them all can get a bit overwhelming and I’m right there with you, this is not easy, if it was, we’d all be feeling great.  Annoyingly some sort of discipline is required to remain in equilibrium and so we should aim to do our best but not to set unachievable targets which are just going to make us feel rubbish when we don’t meet them!    

Look at the list above and find the quickest win, mine was finding some more time for myself by extending my sons preschool days but maybe it could be going to bed half an hour earlier, or sitting when you wake up in the morning for 2 minutes and listening to your breath.  It could be swapping one chocolate bar for an apple each day or changing one of your caffeinated drinks for a decafe.  Make it achievable and then you will feel like you have succeeded and that you’re heading in the right direction.  Small quick wins which are sustainable, that’s the key! 

Even writing this is giving me hope that I can start to take some small steps towards making myself feel better.  I know it’s been a long slog and we’re not out of it yet but you’re not alone and never forget to

Stay Strong xxx

Alcohol – the social pressure

A complicated topic this one, I think.  I very rarely drink nowadays and to be honest I don’t really miss it but with the Christmas season coming up and the inevitable works Christmas party on the horizon I am feeling the pressure a bit more.

I’ve mentioned to my work colleagues that ‘I won’t be drinking at the Christmas party‘ during a conversion about ‘what we should drink on the train on the way there!‘ and I was met with, ‘once you have one you’ll want to drink‘ and ‘but your so much fun when you’re drunk‘ etc etc.  Now don’t get me wrong I work with a good bunch of people and I know they respect my decision but it has highlighted to me that you are definitely going against the grain if you don’t drink.

So why is it such a taboo and why is our culture so focused on drinking as a social MUST to have fun? 

Are we just all too nervous to relax in social situations otherwise or is it just the love of drinking away the realities of the world for a few hours (was that a bit deep?).

I’ve definitely used alcohol as a way to escape the realities of my life in the past.  I drank massively to excess during my 20’s, partly due to my OCD but also partly because in our culture today it really is just the done thing.

Nowadays I don’t mind not fitting in, I know who I am and I am happy with that, I don’t need to conform but through my 20’s I was not confident.  In fact I kind of hated myself a lot of the time (thank you OCD) and so I drank like everybody else.

There’s definitely a bit of dedication involved in not conforming but still partaking in life.  It’s not healthy to cut yourself off from social situations completely to avoid drinking, especially if you suffer from mental health issues, being on your own is going to do you no favours (Obviously if you have a serious problem this could be different for you and you should get some help).

It is difficult as you can come across as being awkward or difficult a lot of the time.  I hardly drink and I don’t eat dairy so I’m never having a bit of the birthday cake or sip of the celebratory champagne and occasionally I do feel like I’m being anti social but you just have to own it and enjoy the fact that you’ll be the one with the clear head in the morning.

I’m not sure whether I’ll ever completely give up alcohol but I think I’d like to.  In the past I would have terrible memory loss after a night out drinking and that mixed in with false memory and magical thinking OCD was a very, very scary mix, especially if you don’t have a good mate to fill in the blanks for you.  These are definitely days I’d happily leave in the past.

I know this sort of memory loss can be terrifying for people with OCD but there’s no way around it other then just not drinking.  If you’re using alcohol to block out bad thoughts then I can tell you now that it’s only a short term fix and it will not work, but you probably already knew that didn’t you?

Recovery is a slow process but it’s worth it and things will start to get better I promise.

Stay Strong xxx

 

You’re not going to win everyday!

Life is full of up and downs and I think we probably all know this, so why then do we give ourselves such a hard time on the days we aren’t quite ‘feeling it’?

As a mother of two, who works part time and is studying as well I often feel like I’m not quite doing everything up to my self imposed ‘standards’.  I beat myself up if I’m not cooking from scratch or I’ve forgotten to buy the present for Jamie’s birthday party on the weekend but ultimately I just need to give myself a break.

You’re not going to ‘nail it’ every day no matter who you are I promise!  We all need to remember this, there will be days where everything goes to plan and you feel like you’re winning at life but there will also be days when nothing seems to go your way and for some reason you’re feeling a bit crappy about yourself or life.  You know what that’s OK, that’s what makes you human and the world is not going to fall apart if you have an off day.

I think it’s very easy to catastrophise the bad days and forget about the good ones.  We are very often our own worst enemies and we have to stop doing it and be kinder to ourselves, I know I definitely do!

How to help with the bad days

  • I know on the bad days it’s incredibly hard to think positively so maybe do some prep in advance for when they hit.
  • Write a list of the good things in your life so you can read it through when you’re feeling low
  • Make a list of the things you have achieved and if you do something that makes you feel good write it down so you can re visit it when you feel down.
  • If you’re fatigued/burnt out then allow yourself to rest and don’t feel guilty about it – I’m terrible at this – you are allowed some down time.
  • Talk to people, I’m sure they will have a much better opinion of you then you do of yourself on a bad day, they’ll help you remember how amazing you are.
  • If you’re feeling mentally low then get out of the house and get moving, exercise can normally help shift a bad mood.
  • Don’t look on social media and compare yourself to others – this is a highlights reel which is not achievable.
  • Socialise – loneliness is your worst enemy and will only make you feel worse
  • Know what makes you happy and do it even if you don’t feel like it, this is exactly what I do when I feel low now.  Even if I don’t feel with it mentally I make myself physically go through the motions, so I’ll go for a walk, eat something I enjoy, talk to someone, socialise with friends, exercise, eat healthily, write blog post.  Basically all the things I know help me and eventually one of them will start to work.
  • Be kind to yourself – give yourself a hug, you’re doing great.  

I have had low periods for as long as I can remember and some times they last for several days but you know what I’ve learnt from experience, they always, ALWAYS pass and if you do the right things they’ll pass quicker.

I hope today at least you’re all having a good day,

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

Breathing

So I’ve done Yoga for many years and for anyone who’s done Yoga at all you’ll be aware that there’s normally a bit of meditation involved and some deep breathing and to be honest I normally find this part a bit dull.  I’ve also been on courses where I’ve learnt about the importance of breathing to get through fight or flight and all about the parasympathetic nervous system and the sympathetic nervous system and how to balance them, I’ve learnt about heart math and it’s benefits and I’ve even blogged on here for over two years about how important breathing and mindfulness is but it wasn’t until today whilst listening to a Happy Place podcast with Rebecca Dennis that the impact of my breath on my entire life really hit me.

A good few years ago when I first met my husband he used to say to me quite often:

‘You’re holding your breath again’

Now, I just used to find this ‘pointless’ information annoying but today it REALLY hit me that this is actually the root of all my issues.  This is why yoga and meditation when I do them actually help me A LOT.  I hold my breath literally all the time, I’m doing it NOW, whilst writing this post, I can feel myself doing it!

I honestly think this is going to change my life.  I have been doing my meditations more (admittedly not everyday) but even that is starting to help and I am definitely going to continue with it.

Just stopping now and listening to my breath, its not smooth its not even, I’m surprised I’ve lasted this long to be honest!

I am sure I will need to do some work on what has caused me to hold my breath in this way but at least now I am aware of it and I can move forward.

Hopefully this will help someone else too,

Stay Strong xxx

 

Mindfulness

So what feels like years ago I said something along the lines of,

‘I’m going to give mindfulness a go because I’ve dabbled in it and it seems to work’. 

So it was actually Oct 2017 and to be honest I haven’t really got any further along my mindfulness journey which is incredibly disappointing.

Recently I’ve been feeling incredibly stressed and anxious, my stomach problems have been getting worse and I’ve felt quite out of control – which I HATE – I don’t seem to be able to find a diet which suits me and I am struggling to think clearly as my mind fog comes and goes.  Even sitting myself down to write this blog post has been a challenge but I know it is important that I do.

So also about a year ago I downloaded a mindfulness app, it has a feature that lets you put in an alert so that every day you get a reminder to do just 5 minutes (initially) of mindfulness meditation, should be easy right?  Every evening I see it pop up on my phone and every evening I just ignore it and carry on with whatever I am doing – I obviously have no time for that.  Writing this now I know my husband is going to give me a hard time about this, I know alright, insert rolling eyes emoji here.  I also know he only does it because he loves me.

We are very self destructive as humans, we almost rebel against the things we know do us good.  We know we should eat well, exercise, drink in moderation, not smoke or do drugs, we should meditate and sleep for 8 hours each night etc etc.  So why don’t we do these things?  Is it because we think it makes us boring?  I know personally when I start  trying to do all these things I feel very overwhelmed and you have to be very determined as no one else seems to be doing them so there’s very little support.

I went round a friends house yesterday and out on the floor were two cakes and a bag of cookies and then the conversation was all about trying to loose weight.  What is wrong with us?  Does it just take a bit more effort and therefore we can’t be bothered?

Anyway I digress, this post was supposed to be about mindfulness meditation.  So this week when that notification on my phone pops up, an much as I know I’m not going to want to I’m going to try and take that five minutes and tune in with my body because I owe it to myself.

I will let you know how it goes, stay tuned and of course as always,

Stay Strong xxx

 

Hangry

So the definition of Hangry for those who aren’t sure is:

‘bad-tempered or irritable as a result of hunger’.

Now this is definitely something I’ve been ‘suffering’ from over the last fortnight.  As a result of some intolerance testing I had done (because of my Ulcerative colitis) I was advised to eliminate dairy, wheat, gluten and reduce my intake of some other foods like oats and soya, honestly the list was pretty substantial and very overwhelming.

I hadn’t really expected there to be a mental backlash from these tests, in fact I was expecting to feel quite positive about the outcome, maybe there would be something I could work on to improve my health?

However what I actually experienced was:

  1. The initial depression which hit straight away from having to eliminate so many foods.
  2. Having not seen a dramatic improvement, there’s an element of feeling like I’m making huge sacrifices for very small benefits, very discouraging.
  3. It’s super disheartening when you go out as you can’t find anything to eat and the thing you normally end up having is something you don’t even want just so you can eat something!
  4. but the one that has hit me this last week is the anxiety.  I believe this has come as a result of constantly feeling hungry and unsatisfied and therefore too much adrenaline being released into my body.

When your body feels hungry your adrenal glands release adrenaline to keep you going until you can eat again.  It boosts heart rate, blood pressure and energy levels which is great in an emergency situation but if this is happening constantly throughout the day you’re body doesn’t know what to do and you are just in a constant state of anxiety.  

My anxiety hadn’t been up at that level for a long time, I had no patience, I was teary, snappy, feeling overwhelmed constantly and like I couldn’t cope, getting out was really stressful and to be honest I was feeling like I needed to go to the doctors and get myself on some medication as I couldn’t seem to get my head sorted.

I hadn’t felt like that for years and so I went and ordered myself a big meal full of all the things I shouldn’t eat as a last attempt to feel better and you know what almost instantly my head felt clearer, my stomach not so much unfortunately but yesterday I had to prioritise my mental health and as a result today I actually feel human again today.

It has been incredibly scary for me to feel so out of control after having a good handle on my mental health for a good few years now, I really need to be more careful before making big changes and just removing things from my diet, I have definitely learnt my lesson.

Mental and physical health is such a balancing act, food and eating well is a huge part of this, the last fortnight has been a scary reminder of this.

Stay Strong xxx

It’s all about balance

So I’ve chatted about my UC (ulcerative colitis) a few times on this blog, I’ve suffered with it for most of my life along with my OCD.  My diet has always been a bit of a balancing act for me and like probably with most people if I eat a lot of ‘junky’ type foods I know I’m going to suffer the next day.

For a while now I’ve removed lactose from my diet which has helped but more recently I’ve been advised to remove all dairy, wheat, egg and gluten, wow!  This really hit me hard, I already knew how hard just removing lactose was but I had found ways to make it work but then to have to remove two entire food groups and lots of foods I really enjoy – like cheese – was a real blow. It took me about two weeks to actually start to get my head around it, I really thought before the tests that I would feel positive afterwards and that they would give me something to work towards but actually surprisingly that isn’t how I felt at all.

So over the last month I’ve bumbled through at home and I do think I feel slightly better HOWEVER there has to be a balance for me because of my mental health.  One of the hardest things about cutting out lots of food groups is that it makes going out for lunch, dinner etc incredibly difficult, in fact I find most of the time there is only one thing I can actually have on the menu and even then I normally have to remove the sauce (the nice bit) to make it work.  It makes me not want to go to restaurants, to eat food that I don’t even want.  I know how important getting out and socialising is for my mental health so where does this leave me?  Well to be honest currently I’m not sure, this is the conversation I’m having in my head today.

Do I go and meet my friends for lunch and eat something I’m not going to enjoy or stay in and have a more enjoyable lunch but not see my friends?  This dilemma is coming up more and more for me and it’s tough.

So do I put my mental health or physical health first?  Of course we know that neither can work without the other and so I need to find a balance, not sure where that is yet but I’m working on it.

life is all about balance, anything done to the extreme is normally unsustainable and life isn’t black and white.  We’re all looking for that quick fix but unfortunately life doesn’t work like that.

If anyone else is experiencing anything similar and has any advice then please comment and let me know and as always,

Stay Strong xxx

Yoga

I cannot speak highly enough about yoga, I flipping love it!  I have done it for years just as a hobby really but it’s benefits for me are huge.  It relaxes me, improves my mental head space, it gets me more in tune with my body, it also helps with my Ulcerative Colitis, it strengthens my body and improves my flexibility, the benefits are endless.  If you’re struggling mentally for whatever reason or actually even if you’re not and you’ve never given yoga a go then you should really try it.

More recently I haven’t been doing as much exercise in general (this includes yoga) mainly because of a lack of time and energy (having just had a baby recently) but I am just starting to feel like I can get my head back into it and I have been bringing myself right back to the basics.  It’s amazing how much you can forget, even the small things like how to breath properly and hold your core muscles. The foundations are so important – in everything not just yoga – you have to put in the time and effort at the start to make sure you reap the benefits at the end.  Like with mental health recovery it is a marathon not a sprint but boy is it worth it in the end.

Mental Health after pregnancy

So I’ve just checked and it’s been a fair old while since I’ve posted on here.  I’m disappointed because this blog is really important to me but I’ve decided to be kind and forgive myself as the reason is I’ve just had no time to focus on it.  I have a newborn who seems to be allergic to sleep and therefore I’m trying to catch up with that in any free time I get!  My sleep is really important to my mental well being and therefore it comes first.

So shes currently having nap so I thought I’d go for it and see if I can manage to get to the end of a post.

So newborns and mental health, where to start?  This is my second child and so I knew a little of what to expect this time around but it still takes a massive toll on your mental and physical health no matter who you are and so if you’re someone already suffering from a mental health issue then it can really throw you off track.

I’ve found control and structure to be so important in my mental health recovery, things such as: eating well, getting enough sleep, socialising, exercise and routine are so important to incorporate into my daily life and when you have a newborn (and in my case a toddler as well) your self care can really go out of the window.  Some things for me have slipped this time around (this blog included) and at times it has been tough.  She still wakes up 3/4 times a night (at 7 months!) and an extended period of time with broken sleep can really takes it’s toll on, well, pretty much everything.  I am lucky that I have a lot of support from family but even so there have been days where I’ve just had to push myself through with will power.

There is a good side to all the madness though (and this is something I would never have believed prior to having children) and that is that I’m so busy that I don’t have time to dwell on OCD thoughts at all.  They come into my head and I honestly don’t think of them again, there just isn’t time.  I have never known anything better at grounding me then my children.  Yes there are other mental issues I am processing such as my anxiety and worry but I almost feel like they are slightly more ‘normal’, everyone seems to have some sort of worry/anxiety and so I don’t feel quite as abnormal for having them.  They’re still completely rubbish but I find other people are able to relate more easily to them and so when you’re chatting about them you don’t get the blank faces where someone is trying to understand why you think you ran over something on the way to meet them and have then completely forgotten about it, stupid intrusive thoughts!

Anyway, I have still been noting a few ideas down over the last few months so hopefully I can manage to write a bit more regularly now.  If anyone has any requests for information on coping strategies or OCD topics or pregnancy or post natal related OCD then I am more then happy to share my experiences so just say in the comments.

but for now,

Stay Strong xxx