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.

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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.

 

#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?

2019: A new year, a new job and a new wheelchair on the way

Hello everyone, and Happy New Year. I actually meant to write this post way before now, but those of you who’ve been reading this blog for a few years will know that New Year is a massive anxiety trigger for me, what the all the pressure to become a better person, achieve more, eat less chocolate, blah, blah, blah; so I decided to lie low on social media until all the fuss had died down.

Anyway!

Things have been pretty busy in Nicland over the last couple of weeks. My family and I made it through the festive season without any arguments, I finished in one role at work and started another, I officially got another year older (happy birthday to me) and I have a new wheelchair on order.

I’m not sure how long it will take for my new chair to actually arrive, but I’m already thinking of new names, and wheelchair services has give me new wheels and brakes on my current one to tide me over.

2018 was a busy one too, and in amongst it all I said goodbye to my walking frame Ivy and am now the proud owner of an identical one called Netta. It took me a long time to settle on a name for this one, but people at work helped me choose and now I’m pretty pleased with it. She moves so smoothly compared to Ivy, whose wheels were starting to hang by a thread, that I feel as though I have to practically jog to keep up with her.

In other news, I’ve also renewed the domain name and re-mapping on this blog too, so it looks as though I’m sticking around for a while longer yet!

1am

It’s 1am and here I am, unable to sleep for what must be the third time this week.

I have no idea what’s keeping me awake tonight. One night, it was feelings of ‘What am I doing with my life?’ another time it was because I wanted to write. Last night pain decided to climb into bed with me and make getting comfortable impossible, but today…
It’s been one of those weird days today, where I haven’t felt unwell exactly, but I’ve not been myself either. I could tell things would be like that as soon as I woke up because I felt anxious to my tummy. All churn-y and whatnot.
I’d already planned to work from home, which was probably a blessing. I sort of feel like I’ve been in a daze all day; not down the grey pit of depression, but not fully engaged with life either.
I suppose I’m probably just over tired. I think I should try sleep now. I hope i can. I’m sure things will feel better in the morning…

Taking annual leave for the first time

This week I did something for the first time: I took annual leave from work. It was…weird.

I wasn’t originally planning on taking any leave this early into my six month contract; I didn’t feel like I’d really ‘earned’ any yet. However, the end of the financial year was approaching and I needed to use some up – so I booked a couple days off.

The act of requesting leave was an odd mixture of exciting and scary. I was expecting the former but not the latter. It was hard for me to reason with myself that having annual leave is an important part of working life. It isn’t all that surprising, considering that before this job came along, I had convinced myself that I would never, ever, get to call myself an employee.

I’ve adjusted my body clock to working hours; getting up on time and going to sleep early enough that I’ll still be able to function in the morning, but, to be honest, I’m still working on accepting that I’m worthy of a job. I had to fight the urge to check my work e-mails approximately every five minutes.

This weekend is Easter weekend. Here in the UK that means that we don’t work on Good Friday or Easter Monday. I feel completely different about this. The rest of my team are off work too. This feels okay. It feels like I’m ‘allowed’ (by my own standards) to relax this time. I was holding myself back before. I know that.

I also know I need to work on that. This is an important step in my working life. I hope there are more to come.

Weekends and mental health

When I was unemployed I looked forward to, and dreaded weekends.

I looked forward to them because all of my family and friends were employed, so weekends meant I could spend time with them. Plus, for two days a week it felt like it didn’t matter that my body clock was a mess because lots of other people would be staying up late and sleeping in. I felt like everyone else. For most of it.

The hardest day of the week for me it the five and a half years I was jobless wasn’t, as you might think, a Monday morning. By the end of it I’d reached the point where I mostly slept Monday morning (well, most mornings actually) away so that I wouldn’t be as lonely.

Sundays, especially the afternoons and evenings, sucked way more.

Everyone would spend it complaining that they didn’t want to go to work the next day and I couldn’t wait until I could say that sort of thing too, even if I didn’t mean it. I hated knowing that another Monday was about to go by without a shiny new job for me to go to.

Now, after two months of working, I look forward to weekends because I feel like I’ve earned them. Sundays don’t suck any more, and I haven’t quite reached the point where I have that ‘Oh poop, it’s Monday tomorrow’ feeling. I’m sure that will come in time though.