Do I seem anxious to you?

“You’re not anxious, are you? You always seem quite confident.”

My jaw must’ve hit the floor, “Oh, yeah,” I replied, trying not to laugh, as I often do when I’m shocked. “I’ve had anxiety for years, I just manage it with drugs and therapy.”

This is a genuine conversation I had with someone this week after I mentioned something triggering my anxiety. I wish I could remember what I’d actually said. I’m pretty sure I only meant for it to be a passing comment, but the person I was talking to seemed genuinely surprised by it.  In the end, I’m not sure which one of us was the most shocked; them in learning that I have anxiety, or me in learning that I’m managing to control my current ‘wobble’ well enough for it to not obvious.

Admittedly, this person has only known me for a couple of months, and hasn’t yet seen me when I turn into a fidgety, muttering mess who can’t stop washing her hands and has to ask someone ‘will [insert current worry] be all right?’ more often than a two year-old asks ‘why?’.

There’s no shame in being so anxious that it stands out more than my electric blue walking frame, but it was reassuring to know that, even though I feel like I’m slipping downhill a little bit at the moment, it clearly can’t be as bad I was starting to think it might be. It would have been impossible for me to relax at all a years ago, and I couldn’t help but outwardly show how I was feeling. This, of course, made everything worse. It led my family shouting at me in public out of frustration, and me not being able to see my friends without texting them afterwards to apologise, even none of us were sure what I was apologising for.

I’d spent most of the weekend prior to this conversation either in bed with the duvet over my head hoping the world would go away, or reading aloud to myself in an effort to stop myself falling into worry-cycle. It must have done me some good, I guess.

Even though it wasn’t meant as one, I can’t help but take this person’s surprise as a huge compliment. I take this to mean that, even on days when I’m feeling ‘worse’ than normal, my self-care routine and day-to-day coping strategies are helping.

There was a time when I was genuinely concerned I’d never manage to control my worrying and hand-washing ever again, but clearly I can.

I came back from my lowest place, and knowing that is the biggest confidence-booster of all.

Mental health update for #MentalHealthAwarnessWeek2019

It’s been a while since I’ve given you an update on how my mental health is, and this week is Mental Health Awareness Week 2019, so now seems like a fitting time to bring you all up to speed.

A bit of background about my mental health

Long time readers of this blog might remember that I’ve struggled with anxiety which manifests itself as what I call ‘OCD-type tendencies’ since I was about eight or nine years old. It started out as me constantly worrying about germs and constantly washing my hands. Over the years it’s taken a few different forms, like uncontrollable worrying, worrying I would eat too much and be sick, an even more intense fear of germs that had me washing my hands before, during and after a trip to the loo and changing my clothes after every visit to the bathroom.

When I was at my worst around five years ago, I was unable to sit still and would often pace my house crying and mumbling to myself to try and quiet the din in my brain. I struggled to get a job after graduating university, which made me depressed at the same time. Some days I struggled to get out of bed. I felt worthless and everything felt pointless. The world seemed grey for a long time. I went to the doctor, started antidepressants and started therapy again.

How my mental health is as of May 2019

As of May 2019 I’ve been on antidepressants for roughly five years, during which time I’ve altered dosages and changed tablets until I found what seems to be the right fit for me. Medication was not a magical cure for me, and it certainly hasn’t taken away my anxiety completely, but it definitely has made a difference in my case. In truth, I can’t really remember a time when I haven’t had anxiety, and I’ve accepted that it is something I’ll have to manage throughout my life. I’m sure there’ll be bumps along the way, but I feel like a have a deep enough understanding of my triggers and the things that help me manage the blips, to nip things in the bud before they reach the levels I’ve been at in the past.

Up until a couple of months ago my anxiety levels were feeling pretty, well, level. I’ve not felt quite so ‘comfortable’ of late, but that’s something (in my case) to be expected, given that I’ve recently started another new job and am in the process of applying for PIP. I’m aware of how I’m feeling and I’m monitoring it. The people close to me know I’m feeling ‘unsettled’, and I’m using some of the coping strategies I’ve learned through various stints of CBT.

I’ve been in full-time employment since January 2018, and I don’t think I’ve seen a therapist since the September before that. I always used to say as soon as I got a job I’d pay to see a therapist privately on a constant basis. Of course, the support I’ve had on the NHS has been amazing, but as anxiety especially is something I’ve struggled with since childhood, I feel like being able to have support from the same person as and when I need it for as long as I need it, would be massively helpful to me.

And yet, since I’ve started work I don’t actually feel like this is something I need to do. Not yet anyway.

It’s taken a long time, and a lot of hard work, but I think I’m mentally in a good place, and have been for a while.

 

Life update: Applying for PIP, another new job and my Mystery Hip Pain returns

Hi everyone,

I hope life’s treating you well?

I can’t quite believe that we’re in April already, and I’m sure I some of you can’t either. I started yet another new job at work in March! Yep, that’s right, the girl who couldn’t get a job at all has had three different ones in under a year! I can’t quite believe it. I’m still at the same place, and it’s another temporary contract, but it’s also a step up in some ways. I feel like I’m slowly starting to get my head around it so yay, me.

It’s not all smiles and rainbows in Nic Land at the moment though. I’ve finally had my letter telling me that it’s time for me to switch from Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to Personal Independence Payment (PIP). For those of you who don’t live in the UK these are two different, non-means tested, disability benefits that help people pay for things like care packages and any extra costs they might incur because they need extra support with daily tasks. The former is being replaced by latter for reasons I’m not going to try and explain because I don’t entirely understand it myself.

I was on indefinite DLA prior to having to re-apply for PIP, and being awarded PIP isn’t guaranteed. Now I have to go through the process of filling out lots of forms about how my cerebral palsy impacts on me, and being assessed to see if I’m entitled to it. It’ll be a long process, and it’s one that I’m only at the start of.

I have some very kind and well-informed people helping me with this. I’ll keep you posted, and try and pass on as much of their advice as I can to any of you in a similar situation. I’ll admit I’m clueless on this one.

In other news, the Mystery Hip Pain that has been a semi-regular feature in my life for the last few years appears to be back with a (very painful) vengeance, and it’s fair to say I haven’t missed it. I’ve been working from home a lot more than usual because it feels like bone grating on bone whenever I move, and it keeps locking at very unhelpful times.

Luckily, I have an appointment with my consultant next week. So far, we haven’t been able to work out what causes it or why, but I’m hoping we’ll have a breakthrough this time.

I’ll keep you updated.

Love,

Nic x

 

Things I learned in January 2019

So, January 2019 was hella busy. I started a new job, travelled to London by myself for the first time, got a temporary ‘new’ wheelchair, celebrated my birthday, celebrated Rob’s birthday, celebrated two other birthdays in my friendship group and still somehow found the time to read/listen to eight books/audiobooks.

Needless to say, I’ve learned a lot, about myself and about managing my disability day-to day. Here are some things that will stick with me:

  • Yes, London is far too big (and fast) for me to walk around, but as long as I get taxis everywhere, it’s no different to me travelling anywhere else by myself
  • My Nimbo walking frame fits into the back of a Toyota Precis Plus without needing to be folded up. Not that my family will be buying a new car any time soo, but it’s good to know!
  • I really, really need to put some WD40 on the flip-out seat of said walking frame, because it’s still new and far too stiff for me to flip back up (shout out to Antony if he’s reading this for managing to sort it out for me)
  • I am getting better and managing my pain and energy levels. I’ve been working from home two days a week instead of one, and it makes a huge, huge difference. Far more than I thought it would
  • Black cabs are actually far more accessible than I thought

I hope the month was kind to all of you, too. I can’t tell you how good  it feels to be to say that I coped in London, admittedly with a lot of help from many of my colleagues. But that still doesn’t take away from the fact that this isn’t something I would’ve ever contemplated doing 18 months or so ago.

I’m still counting this an an important step in my journey.

Oh, and if any of you want to be my friend on Goodreads, here’s where to find me.

Much love,

Nic xx

#ThingsILearnedtoAccept

The above hashtag has been trending on Twitter today. I soon as I saw it I knew that I just had to contribute. The differences between how I think and feel about my disability, and perhaps more importantly, how I thought others think and felt abut my cerebral palsy, have changed drastically over the past two years since I started filming Employable Me.

It’s been a year since the series aired now (yes, really) and people still stop me in the street to tell me how watching my journey impacted them. Yes, the series ultimately led to me getting a job, but it changed my life in so many other vital ways that there is no way I could do them justice in a single tweet, so I thought I’d blog about them instead.

The only person who expected me to be at my physical best all the time was myself

Perhaps the most important thing I learned was that no one expected me to have my ‘best days’ every day. People know that there are some days that I might need to move around less than others, or stretch more. They are okay with that. I was the person who wasn’t. And by trying to keep my pain to myself; to struggle doing things on my own just because I can usually, was just making my life more difficult unnecessarily.

No one actually minds if I take stretch breaks in the office

I used to worry that people would think I was being lazy or weak if I took a stretch break in the office. No one does. They prefer it because then I can concentrate better and actually perform better because of it.

Asking for help with the little things whenever I can actually makes life easier

Guess who actually asks bus drivers to get the ramps down on the bus if they don’t offer themselves? This girl! Guess who doesn’t feel guilty about it? Me again! And, best of all, guess who can actually admit that it annoys her if they don’t automatically ask me?

I know this sounds utterly bonkers now, but I never used to feel like it was acceptable to feel annoyed when things like this happen, or when a building doesn’t have and lift or ramp, or when there isn’t a dropped-kerb on the road so I can cross without having to lift my walking frame.

I used to feel like there was pressure to just accept these things without complaint. It turns out that vocalising these feelings in a polite way actually helps people understand the challenges I face in day-to-day life and the help I, and a lot of other people in similar situations, need.

My anxiety is something I’ll have to manage for the rest of my life, and that’s okay

I’ve struggled with anxiety, that often manifests itself as being afraid of germs, since I was about eight years-old. I’ve been in and out of therapy for it since I was about 10. I used to get incredibly frustrated that it was something that I couldn’t get away from, or ‘cure’ myself of completely.

Just when I thought things were simmering down, something would happen to trigger it again, which in turn would make me even more anxious to the point where even sitting still became impossible and I’d just pace the house muttering to myself and crying because I was worrying about so many things it was the only way I could focus on one thought at a time.

Accepting that flare ups are just going to be something that happens to me every now and then takes away that extra layer of anxiety, and ultimately, makes me it easier for me to manage my mental health the rest of the time.

There are so many more that I could mention, but I think this post is long enough for now, don’t you?