Goals For 2020

So the 19 for 2019 was probably overambitious, especially considering the instability of my mental health. I just didn’t realise how fragile it really was until it crashed. A lot of this year is going to be about looking after and rebuilding my mental health. So this year, I’m going for something a little gentler: a handful of goals that aren’t super specific. They’re more about trying than achieving.

GET BACK TO SWIMMING – For a year, I swam almost everyday and I loved it. It made me feel really good in my body. But then the depression, the medication side effects, the fatigue, and the meltdowns all made that impossible. I was either too unwell or too physically weak. But I really miss it. It wasn’t possible during the first semester of my Masters (my anxiety was so high and I was having so many meltdowns that I just didn’t have the energy) and I’ve spent the holidays working on my assignments but I’m optimistic that this next semester will be a bit gentler and I’ll  have the time and energy to start building the swimming in again.

START WEARING MY INVISIBLE BRACES AGAIN – Again, I did really well at this for a while but the mental health crash derailed it and it was just one thing too much. I was going through so much during the day that pressure in my face during the night was just more than I could take. But my teeth haven’t completely regressed so at least I’m not starting from the beginning. I’m wearing them again and it’s uncomfortable and hard but I’m trying my best to focus on the end goal: straight teeth that make me feel confident when I smile.

COMPLETE YEAR 1 OF MY MASTERS DEGREE – Because of the way the part time course is set up, I only have one more semester this academic year and from what I understand of it, it shouldn’t cause me the same levels of anxiety as the last one, as much as I enjoyed it. I’m also kind of looking forward to the assessment because it’s an essay where you can write about anything music related. How cool is that?! All the possibilities! And that’s year one done so all things going well, that should be possible. I’m cautiously optimistic.

CONSUME NEW MEDIA RATHER THAN JUST FAMILIAR MEDIA – With all the mental health stuff, it’s been hard to engage with anything that isn’t safe and comforting. It’s been especially difficult in the last few months when my OCD has been so bad, because it’s hard to concentrate on something new when I’m trying to write everything down. I’m going to be working on that specifically but also my mental health in general this year so hopefully those needs won’t take up so much time, leaving some time for watching, reading, and listening to new things.

GET BACK TO THERAPY AND FOCUS ON MY MENTAL HEALTH – I only went to therapy sporadically in the second half of the year last year because my therapist and I couldn’t get our schedules to match up and because of certain things going on in our lives and although I don’t yet know my timetable for the new semester, we (me, my Mum, and my therapist) are all determined – furiously so – to make it work because I really need the support. Things have gotten really bad and I really, really need the support.

WORK ON NOT COMPARING MYSELF TO OTHERS IN MUSIC – This is probably the hardest one and a lot of the time, it feels unbearable to even think about. While I need to work on not comparing myself to others in general – in all situations – I figure that’s too big a task for such a difficult feeling so I just picked one area. Music has always been my happy place and I want it to stay (or go back to being or something) my happy place and it’s not, when I look at other artists and feel lost and sad and lonely and angry and bitter. So I want to work out – probably with therapy – how to focus on me and not worry about other artists beyond a practical, objective sense. This feels really, really hard so I don’t know if I’ll manage it in a year or whether I’ll even manage to start but I want to so I’m trying to think about it and figure out a place to start because I don’t want to feel all of these things. I want my happy place back.

So these are my goals for this year. It’s difficult to really even think about things like this at the moment because everything feels so, so hard that I just feel overwhelmed. I feel like everything chips off pieces of me and at twenty five, I shouldn’t feel so small. I shouldn’t feel like there’s so little left of me. I’m struggling and I don’t know how to keep going and I don’t know what to do and a big part of me wants to just give up but I don’t know how. How do you give up? Because life just keeps going on without you. I guess that’s why my main goal this year is my mental health because I don’t know what to do anymore.

I’ve Been Re-diagnosed With OCD

If you guys follow me on social media, you’ll know that this week, I posted about going back to therapy and being rediagnosed with OCD…

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I’m back at therapy! And this is one of my therapist’s dogs who thinks she’s small enough to sit in my lap. Anyway. I never deliberately stopped going but our schedules have been very difficult to align for a while, particularly with me starting my Masters, and so it’s been a good several months since I’ve had a session. I almost feel like I’ve forgotten how to do it, do therapy. But I’m back and hopefully it will help with my anxiety, which has been severe for a while now. And on that note, I’ve been rediagnosed with OCD! I’m gonna write more about this in a blog post soon but this is really good for me. I have a plan of action. It’s gonna be a long road and I am anxious about it but I feel better knowing what the treatment options are, some of which I’m already doing. So despite feeling very unwell, it’s been a positive week. It’s progress.

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So, that basically explains what’s been going on with therapy (I’ll update you on all of that as I continue with therapy) but I wanted to talk a bit more about the OCD diagnosis because that’s kind of a big deal.

Back in 2016, I was diagnosed with depression, anxiety, social anxiety, OCD, and BPD. And then I was diagnosed with ASD. But in the last year, my psychiatrist reorganised my diagnoses and decided that the symptoms he’d originally seen as OCD fell under some of the other diagnoses, particularly the ASD. But recently, it’s become very clear that it really is OCD.

If you remember this post, I talked about having a massive meltdown, which triggered daily, multiple meltdowns. It was awful and one of the most difficult periods of my life, mental health wise and otherwise: dealing with that and trying to manage the beginning of a Masters. It was pretty hellish. I’m not sure when it stopped but it slowly faded and I’m now only having a meltdown every couple of weeks or so – still a bit more than usual but much more manageable.

But that really triggered something in my obsessive diary writing. My diary writing has been pretty compulsive for years: I NEED to write everything down. It’s like, if I don’t record everything that happens to me, I’ll forget who I am. It’s a constant battle, but it suddenly went from manageable to completely overwhelming. It takes up all my time or it would if I didn’t have all this research to do for my Masters. So these two things are  constantly pushing up against each other, which causes me a lot of anxiety. But the diary writing usually wins, which only causes me more anxiety, anxiety that I’m going to do badly in my Masters. And even though I know all of this, I still can’t stop writing. And because there’s more life than there is time to write, I’m just getting more and more behind. More anxiety. So I’m just a big ball of anxiety. It’s like a snowball rolling down a hill, getting bigger and bigger and going faster and faster.

It took forever to get an appointment with my psychiatrist (so the anxiety has gone on a lot longer than was necessary or fair, in my opinion), but eventually I got an appointment. And of course, the time was then changed last minute, the sudden change of plan sent me spiralling into a meltdown. So it took a long time but I finally saw him and we talked about all of this in great detail and he decided to re-diagnose me with OCD. I’m so relieved because now it has edges; it’s not some vague, amorphous cloud of stress hanging over me. A diagnosis gives me something to work with.

We talked about the treatment options, medication and therapy. Medication wise, I’m already taking the things he would recommend so that’s that avenue covered. I don’t know much about the therapy route yet. As far as I know, I’ll have to reduce the writing bit by bit, which – in itself – is going to create more anxiety. Hurray. Not. It’s the whole ‘it’s gotta get worse before it gets better.’ But now I’m back in therapy and I have an amazing therapist so although I’m terrified of even more anxiety, I know I’ll have thoughtful, compassionate guidance. I don’t know when we’ll start because, as my psychiatrist pointed out, right before a set of assessments isn’t necessarily the most productive or helpful time to do this sort of stuff. But even though I’m scared, I need to start working on this soon or every semester is going to be like this one: a daily battle of OCD versus real life. And I really, really don’t want that.

Grateful 2018

Last year, I posted on Christmas Eve about the things I was grateful for (here) and I really liked it as a practice. Since we don’t have Thanksgiving in the UK, there’s no holiday directly related to being thankful and I think it’s important to make time to think and feel these things. And I always feel overwhelmed by how lucky I am at Christmas so this seems like a good time to do it, to do this post.

My family – I am endlessly grateful to my family. They have loved and supported me through some really difficult times this year and even though that’s what family should do, I’m so, so grateful to them for doing that. I don’t take them for granted. A particular shout out to my Mum for going above and beyond. She’s my hero.

My friends – I am also endlessly grateful to my friends. I haven’t seen as much of them as I would’ve liked this year but I’ve been doing my best to stay in touch. They mean so much to me and I hope they know that. Again, a particular shout out to Richard because he has been incredible this year, supporting me as a friend and a writing partner. I’m more grateful than I can say.

My therapist – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I am so grateful for my therapist. My depression has been brutal this year and there were more than a few moments where I had no idea how I was going to survive (I say that like it’s over and I’m not sure whether it’s over or not). I absolutely wouldn’t have made it through that without her.

Song Suffragettes – If you don’t know what Song Suffragettes is, prepare to have your musical life changed. It’s an organisation in Nashville that focuses on boosting the up and coming female songwriting talent and they have weekly shows showcasing these awesome women. I was lucky enough to join them on my last trip to Nashville and it was definitely the best day of my year (and one of the best in my life). Everyone involved is so lovely and they are doing such important work. Check them out on Twitter here.

Claire Wineland – I’ve written about Claire quite a bit (here, herehere, and here if you’re interested) but she’s been on my mind a lot. I miss her – her presence in my life – more than I know what to do with but I am so grateful to have had her at all. That doesn’t make me okay with what happened (not at all) but I am grateful. She was an incredible human being and she’s still helping people even though she’s no longer here.

Flowers – This is a simple one but having beautiful, colourful flowers around improves my mood and improves my day. In a year that’s felt very dark and colourless, having flowers in the house has made a noticeable difference to my day-to-day life.

My bullet journal – Having somewhere to organise my thoughts and my life has been so helpful. Up until now I’ve never had a system that really worked for me so this is a big deal. I’ve written more about it here.

Lauren Kaech – I discovered Lauren on YouTube earlier this year and I have found her videos and her attitude really inspiring. I talked about her in my post about social media favourites and she makes videos about her experience of living with an eating disorder. And while that’s not an experience I can directly relate to, there are aspects that I can. She talks about facing the things that scare you, the realities of happiness, and a whole host of recovery related topics that apply to anxiety and depression as well as eating disorders. I’m so grateful to have had this in my life this year and at my very worst (in the very worst of my depression), looking forward to her videos got me through the day and kept me going.

Swimming – I’ve written a whole post about this (here) but I wanted to include it here because I’m so, so grateful for it. Almost every morning, I get up and go to the pool and do something that makes sense. Even if the rest of the day doesn’t, that does. I’m also really proud of myself for keeping this up for six months, especially given how bad my depression has been.

Taylor Swift – Miss Swift was on my grateful list last year and the reasons are all still relevant. But this year, I got to see her live (twice!) and that experience was so much fun in the middle of a really dark place. I felt all that weight lift for a couple of hours and that is a big deal. I’m also really grateful to her for voicing her political opinions (breaking her career long silence on the subject) and encouraging young people to vote. In the twenty four hours after she made her Instagram post on the subject, 65,000 people registered to vote, which is just incredible. It made me really proud to be a fan. I don’t think I can say more than, as always, I am grateful for Taylor Swift.

So there you have it. I could write more – there are so many things to be grateful for – but I’ll stop there. I’m wishing you all a safe, happy, and healthy Christmas and I’ll see you in the next post.

My Experiences with Therapy

Going to therapy hasn’t always been easy. I feel so, so lucky to have such an amazing therapist now but I had a lot of difficult experiences before I started seeing her. So I thought I’d share some of those experiences. Maybe they’ll be helpful.

After many, many appointments with my GP, I was finally referred to the local NHS Wellbeing service but the session didn’t go well. At this point in time, my anxiety was so bad that I couldn’t talk to people I didn’t know. I just couldn’t. Answers to questions would form in my mind but I couldn’t force them up my throat. So I sat there, in tears, while the doctor tried to get my Mum out of the room and told me he ‘wouldn’t’ help me if I didn’t talk. I don’t want to rant but I WAS STRUGGLING WITH A MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEM. I wanted desperately to be able to talk about it but I couldn’t. I don’t remember much about that appointment but I do remember standing in the street afterwards, shaking and crying and screaming and swearing. I couldn’t understand why no one was helping me when there was so clearly something wrong.

My second attempt at therapy was a bit better. I started Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) with a really lovely therapist. She was very patient and very open to working around the anxiety that kept me from talking. She was also happy to have my Mum in the room: it helped my anxiety and meant she could provide information. Slowly I started to trust her and started answering questions myself. But it was exhausting, bone achingly exhausting. As hard as we worked, I didn’t feel like we were making any progress and it was too hard to go through that to make no progress. I really liked her and I could tell that she was a really good therapist but the approach wasn’t right for me. I found the format too rigid. In simple terms, CBT is about breaking down your problems and then trying to create change in those areas. I felt, and still do feel, that my problems are too murky for a short stint of CBT. I know now that many of my problems originate from my Autism and the fact that it went undiagnosed for so long but even with that knowledge, the difficult things still feel overwhelmingly huge. I can see CBT being useful for a specific anxiety. For example, we tried to work on my anxiety around making phone calls. But I think the reason it didn’t work is that it wasn’t an isolated problem; it was a piece in a much bigger puzzle. I don’t think you can solve that sort of problem if you don’t know what’s causing it. Plus, being rational about what you’re struggling with in the controlled setting of therapy and being rational when it’s overwhelming you are very different things. CBT sort of assumes that you can still apply the skills you’ve learnt in therapy regardless of how you’re feeling, which can feel impossible, especially if you live with really powerful emotions. But maybe that’s just my perception.

The next thing we tried was Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR), recommended by a family member. In the few months between finishing CBT and starting EMDR, my anxiety had sky rocketed so starting a new therapy was really hard. It was so bad that I actually never spoke to the guy I worked with. But despite that, and my difficulty with eye contact, communicating with him was easier than it had been with previous therapists. He was fantastic. He accepted my difficulty speaking and suggested writing on a whiteboard. I considered that and it felt possible so that’s what we did. He asked me questions and I replied, scribbling as fast as I could. It worked. And to take the pressure off, we would spend part of the session on the floor, playing dominoes while he asked me questions. I felt absolutely safe there. It was incredibly strengthening to have someone accept my anxieties as they were, to have someone recognise that I wasn’t just being difficult, that I was genuinely struggling with something really hard. And although it didn’t turn out to be the right thing for me, the sessions are still really important to me. For several months, we worked hard. We tried. I felt supported. And even though I didn’t ever speak, I did once sing for him and he almost cried. That was a pretty big moment.

After that, I didn’t go to therapy for a while. There was a lot of life stuff going on and there just wasn’t the time to find someone new. But I did start seeing a new psychiatrist. He prescribed me Phenelzine (which I’ve previously written about) and we spent a lot of time trying to figure out what was causing my problems. I guess it was a type of therapy. We went through my history and analysed my emotions, trying to find a diagnosis. The medication helped and we managed the side effects but it still took a long time. When my university said that they couldn’t help unless I had a diagnosis, I pushed for this and in January 2015, I could finally put names to the issues I was struggling with (apart from the Autism diagnosis which came several months later). My psychiatrist recommended Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) so we started looking for another therapist.

My current therapist is the first one we met. I just knew she was right; me and Mum walked out, looked at each other, and said, ‘she’s the one.’ We did meet another one but my mind was made up. And we were right. She’s amazing. I’ve been seeing her for three years now and I’m so grateful to have that safe place. DBT suits me much better. It’s based on CBT but, as the Mind website says, it’s “been adapted to help people who experience emotions very intensely.” They both help with changing unhelpful thoughts and behaviours, but DBT also helps you to accept yourself. It’s about a balance between acceptance and change. That really makes sense to me and always has.

In the beginning, I needed my Mum in the room with me and she would answer all the questions. We’d always talked about everything so she knew pretty much all the answers. But over time, I felt more comfortable there. I needed Mum there less and less and eventually I started doing the whole session by myself. Three years later and it’s really, really important to me. It’s a huge part of who I am. It’s not easy; it’s really hard work and I often come home exhausted, sometimes falling asleep on the sofa afterwards. But it’s really satisfying to talk things through, to make connections, to see change happen. I’ve talked about things that I never, ever thought I would talk about and I’ve worked through things I never thought I’d let go of. That’s so huge that I can’t really comprehend it.

So that’s my therapy journey. For me, it’s DBT that works but I’ve seen the others help people too. You need to be ready, you need to find the right approach, and you need to find the right person. It’s not easy but it is worth it.

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The Blurt Foundation Selfcareathon 2018

About half way through April, I discovered that The Blurt Foundation were running a campaign all about self care on social media, encouraging people to be kind to themselves with a series of prompts. Then, if you wanted to, you could post a photo of what you did under the hashtag, ‘#blurtselfcareathon.’ I scrolled through and came away really inspired; with all the stress in my life recently, I could definitely benefit from some self care.

‘Self care’ is a phrase that has many people rolling their eyes at the moment. It’s become associated with brands encouraging you to buy luxurious bath products and with Instagram photos of cosy days under a duvet, ignoring all responsibility. And yes, taking time out from your life can be a form of self care but it’s often not that quaint. It can be clearing out all the glasses that have accumulated next to your bed, forcing yourself to eat enough even when it’s the last thing you want to do, or dragging yourself to the shower to get cleaned up. It can be going through your receipts so you know how much money you have left in your budget for the week, or counting out the pills you have left so you don’t run out at a crucial moment. Self care grew from minority groups taking ownership of their health, when society dismissed their concerns. We aren’t helpless when it comes to improving our wellbeing and whether you do that by taking a day off to escape and binge watch a TV show or by researching and reaching out to alternative practitioners because you feel your health isn’t being taken seriously enough, it’s an important point to remember.

Although I didn’t complete the challenge in the traditional sense, I thought I’d share a couple of the prompts and what I ended up doing, whether I posted about it or not:


Letter

“I’ve only just discovered @theblurtfoundation’s #blurtselfcareathon; I’m very late but I’m so excited to join in. The prompt for today is ‘letter’ so here is me, saying goodbye to my childhood bedroom on Tuesday morning: I left a letter I’d written under a loose floorboard for a future resident of the room, asking them to look after it for me. Saying goodbye was really, really hard, but doing this helped a little bit.”

If anything falls under self care, it’s this. This was something I did purely to help me get through a really stressful time. I definitely want to write more about this in it’s own right but it’s definitely relevant here.

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Small Steps

“My new room doesn’t feel like mine yet and I don’t think it will for a while but today I took the first step toward turning it into a safe space for myself. Blue walls and cream carpet to remind me of the beaches I grew up on. There’s a lot left to do but it’s felt really good to start. // Small Steps – Day 22 of @theblurtfoundation’s #blurtselfcareathon.”

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Song

For the first time in a while, I picked up my guitar and it felt really good.

Support

I didn’t end up posting this as part of the challenge for whatever reason but I think it counts. My therapist and I have taken to celebrating big milestones with cake, specifically from Lola’s Cupcakes (they make the most amazing cupcakes): this one was for three years in therapy. It feels like a lifetime and no time at all. We’ve worked through some really hard moments and started to explore things that I never thought I’d say out loud. That’s a huge deal. My therapist is incredible and I’m more grateful to her than I could ever say.

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Boost

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been to several gigs (pictured: Megan O’Neill and The Shires) and they’ve all been really cool in their own ways. Live music gives me a boost unlike anything else. It reminds me of my dreams; it helps to refocus me; it makes me feel alive.

Hug

There was a prompt specifically dedicated to animals but I couldn’t resist including the kittens in more than one post. I see them everyday after all. And pretty much every moment I spend with them is self care; they have an instant calming effect on me.


This was definitely a positive experience, trying to work the prompts into each day. Self care is something that’s so personal and so we have to figure out what works for each of us. As I said earlier on, it isn’t always pretty or glamorous but taking care of yourself doesn’t have to be a chore. Something like this is a good reminder to try different things, fun things, things that fly in the face of conventional advice. Hopefully you’ll find something that helps but the act of searching is also an empowering one: choosing positive steps is healing.

Moving Forward and Looking Back

A few months ago, my therapist moved to a different office and as much as she tried to smooth the transition, it was hard. It didn’t feel real; I felt like I was just waiting to go back to the old office. But last week, for the first time, I walked into the new office and it felt normal. It felt right.

A part of me does still miss the old office. A lot happened there. So this is a little tribute to the old office and my armchair there. A lot of different versions of myself sat in that chair. Depressed me, joyful me, panicked me, hopeful me, hopeless me… That room saw a continuum. It was the setting for a lot of important conversations. I said out loud things I never in a million years thought I’d share. I processed an Autism diagnosis, I talked about the people I’ve lost, I played each new song I’d written, I cried when I was too depressed to talk, I talked about giving up, I talked about changing the world, I even took my cat and her kittens.

That place will always be special but I’m getting used to the new one. I’m learning how me and my emotions fit into that new space and I think they’re starting to.