The only time I feel peace at the moment is when I am walking in nature with my puppy. It calms my heart and soul. Each day we set off through come countryside and I feel the escape.
From the first step on the footpath I feel a sigh of relief. My life, my problems, my issues and my mental world is left behind. I breathe in the fresh air and the freedom away from everything seems to fill me up. The sunshine warms my face.
Toby, my puppy, runs in circles around me as he takes in all the scents and uses some of his boundless energy. He chases noises into the undergrowth, always keen and yet never to catch the noise.
I focus on one foot being placed in front of another as I listen to the wind in the trees and the sounds of the different birds. I can hear the river water flowing and it soothes me.
I prefer not to meet anyone but occasionally we come across walkers or dogs with a smile and a “Good Morning”. Even to these strangers my mask goes on and I am happy me for a moment. When it passes I can feel the exhaustion from wearing the mask, even for just those short minutes. It is like a burden weighing heavily on my shoulders.
While I walk I think about anything that comes to mind. Sometimes I think about events, people and the past. I try to think of new ways to cope in the future. I ponder decisions I must make or things I need to do. I try to be kind to myself. No problem is unsolvable in time.
Walking is simple. It is something I can do. An accomplishment and a comfort. An escapism of kinds. I can imagine I am in a story or a fairytale as I walk. I can be in a different world and body. I can be a different person with a different story. I can be the heroine or the evil genius. The possibilities are endless and abundant.
One thing I do know is that the walks are helping me. Giving me hope that if I can find some peace somewhere then I might be able to find peace everywhere in my life in this mental world.
Today I cut down some of the ever-expanding bamboo shoots in my garden. I needed to do something and decided it needed taming. Maybe I could get this plant under control unlike my thoughts and anxieties. As I cut through the thick tubes of bamboo I realised how this plant I was hacking at was in some ways like my struggle with depression.
The plant is always there, in the background of my garden. Larger than me by a few feet. No matter how much I cut it back it comes back again and again. Growing with such speed that one day there is very little and the next a bamboo forest is growing. Catching me out as sometimes my depression does.
For me this is like my depression, not only there in the background of my life but also coming back even when I am trying to do all the right coping strategies to help. I thought I was doing better but the last few days have made me realise I am not. I am overwhelmed by sadness. I keep having uncontrollable thoughts asking why I am still here. The battle is leaving me exhausted.
My bamboo plant also blocks out the sunshine with its growing canopy of leaves. This is sometimes useful for shade on a very hot day but mostly I need the sun shining rays. Sunshine make me feel alive and hopeful. The bamboo takes this away just like my depression.
Bamboo can be useful, I will be giving this harvest of bamboo to my brother for his allotment. To help grow his plants tall and mark out plant beds. My depression can be useful sometimes as it tells me to look after myself and slow down, like nothing else does. I also think after each bout I get a little stronger and more resilient, although not always feeling it at the time it crops up (plant joke, sorry).
But mostly my bamboo plant is annoying. It is so hard to get rid of. You can dig up every root and still it seems to find one to grow from. My depression is deeply rooted in my childhood, my relationships and in so much more. And even when I have therapy and deal with my issues I still seem to have more to work on in my life in this mental world.
Being stressed seems to creep up on me sometimes. I feel fine and then I don’t. I feel like I coping with everything going on but then I hit a brick wall which seems to come crashing down around me.
Recently several members of my family have been unwell in different ways and this has caused me a lot of stress. At no fault of their own but because I care. Also because I am a fixer. I am a solution finder.
It was always my job growing up to help everyone else in the family before myself. If someone else in the family is ill then I need to help, need to try to solve the problem. However this is an impossible situation to be in. I am not a doctor or a health care professional. I think it is one of the reasons I volunteered with St John Ambulance for so long in my youth and young adult years. Maybe I could learn enough to help.
Health is a lottery too and no one seems to be winning. At the moment these are worries people are having around me just about health. My mother’s cancer might have gone into her bladder and she has a lodged kidney stone. My brother has two cysts in his testicles. My sister-in-law had abnormal cells on her most recent smear. My one year old nephew might have early onset epilepsy, has had a series of nasty viruses, infections and an overactive immune system rash. My best friend has MS and BPD. Another friend has repeated fluid build up on her brain. I could go on.
I am trying not to worry about them all but I do. I wonder what I can do to help. I worry about how they are coping. Even without realising it they play on my mind. I tell myself not to worry, the doctors are doing all they can, they are in the right place, seeing the right people, there is nothing I can do. Yet I feel so helpless and feel guilt for not helping.
I have noticed that I then find it harder to take time for me. Each time I do I feel guilt that I should be elsewhere, helping and being useful. At home on my own I feel stuck. But I am not and I need to look after me too. Self-care is something I have had to learn and I keep having to relearn to be able to accept and then do it.
My therapist said it is no wonder my migraines have been so frequent with all this in my head. I laughed it off, but is she right? If she is then what is the solution? Not to care? Not to worry? Or to find the right coping strategies? Is there a way to process this all and not have it stress me out?
I am meditating each day, walking my dog somewhere nice, listening to nature, reading, taking time for me and yet it is never enough to quell the storm of stress.
Stress is normal and we all need to learn to cope with it. Stress tells us when we need to look at things and maybe make changes. Yet with health this is that much harder as often there is nothing more to do.
I have no answers and just more questions about stress in my life in this mental world.
My sister infuriates me. She has the ability to make me really angry. Which is impressive when I do not usually feel this emotion.
Years ago she decided that she doesn’t want a relationship with me beyond courtesy at family gatherings. This is due to a grudge she has concerning something I did about a decade ago. I have tried to apologise many times and asked to talk it out. She refuses so I have now said that the door is always open but I will not chase her anymore.
The problem is that for thirty years I was at her beck and call. I did anything she wanted, dropped everything at a drop of a hat. My actions were asking her to love me, love me, please love me. Yet she denied me the friendship or sisterly bond we could have shared.
The thing is my sister is demanding, self-righteous, selfish and unreasonable. She can also be nice, kind and very lovely to people but once she turns that is it. Never to be forgiven. She even warned my sister-in-law about this trait of hers.
After many years of being treated badly by her and through therapy I decided to limit my contact with her. I am polite at family occasions. I honour her birthday and I get her a Christmas present. I no longer regularly call to see how she is or go out of my way to visit her. I no longer help her move home for the umpteenth time or go above and beyond to help her.
She found this difficult the first times I have said no. Last Christmas she wanted me to come and pick her and her boyfriend up and take them to my brothers for Christmas. They told me there were no trains that day. It would mean me driving into London and adding about an hour and a half to my journey. I said no but showed them a hotel nearby they could stay at and get the Christmas Eve trains and even the cost of a pre booked taxi. She took this to mean I did not want her at our family Christmas. Rather than as the unreasonable demand that it was.
It is unfair to expect someone to keep trying to gain forgiveness. To keep trying to earn love. I now know that I am worthy of both and if she cannot see this then I cannot make her. I should not have to keep trying to prove my love to her.
Most of my sisters negative attention is now turned to my brother and sister-in-law. However today she messaged me and my anger boiled. She was being unreasonable but she believed she was compromising. However it is my sisters way or forever hold a grudge.
To be honest I do not know her anymore. She is my sister and at family occasions I ask her about work, I have met her boyfriend and that is about it. She blames me for this but she has pushed me away and this time I have stepped back.
I am sad we do not have the sister relationship that some have. Just like I am sad I do not have a mother daughter relationship with my mum. However you also cannot change people or make them love you.
Recently my sister told my sister-in-law that if I was ever in trouble she would be there for me. My sister-in-law replied ‘But why would she rely on you?’ This is true. I would not turn to her and haven’t in my recent depression as it is not support I would get.
She is so competitive with me she would gloat in the fact my life was going badly but make out she was concerned. Yet all I wish for her is happiness. I have never risen to her competitiveness but she has always competed, comparing exam results and lives. Maybe it is a little sister thing? Or maybe it is because I was the scapegoat of the family so was always considered bottom of the pact. She called me the ‘runt’ of the family growing up.
She also takes everything really personally. My brother and his family moved to the Midlands from the south and she was angry they did not consult her. She cannot seem to understand that it is his family.
Recently she wanted to have my niece visit her for a weekend but expects her to be dropped down to London on the Saturday and picked up Sunday (a minimum 4 hour round trip each time). Not wanting to help with logistics of this or calculating the petrol costs and inconvenience for my sister-in-law. Then when it was my niece and nephews birthday she asked when they were coming down to celebrate it. No question of her going to see them.
All this behaviour is learnt from my mother. It is how she behaves. The world revolves around her but somehow she always becomes the victim or martyr. Living in a bubble, blind to their own actual actions and how they are really seen. It is how my brother often behaves too.
I am just thankful I have an amazing sister-in-law who has become a close friend and nieces and a nephew I adore. I am also thankful that I am not like them in these ways. They treated me badly but the result is I cannot be like them. I just need to deal with the anger and frustration I still feel from my family in this mental world.
I am scared of the Oscar Wilde quote that ‘all women become like their mothers.’ Yet I agree if it is true then it is a tragedy. I dislike my mother, she has done awful things to me and others. She emotionally abused and neglected me as a child. Told me I was un-loveable and a horrible person. Things I can understand in the situation, have compassion for but cannot forget.
As a teenager I hated her. I felt I could not be her or become her. I had to prevent that at all costs. I became anorexic, partially because my mother is morbidly obese and I felt I could not be the least bit fat or I would become her. I wanted to stay as blonde as possible as she is dark-haired. I wanted to do anything I could to not be her. My teenage brain unable to process what was happening it learnt its own sometimes unhealthy coping strategies.
However I also craved her love and acceptance. I tried to please her and I did anything she asked. I tried to prove I was worthy of her love. I came at her call and followed her commands.
I was a complete contradiction. Caught between loving her and hating her. Wanting her acceptance and also my independence. It was so much for any teenager to bear. I grew depressed, anxious and more anorexic.
As a young adult it continued. I moved out of home at 17 years old to get away. Yet I was pulled back to help and support her. Being more parent that daughter to her. Then when I was 23 years old she got cancer. I helped, of course I did. I want her love and she is my mum. Continuously being pulled back in and pushed away.
Mum is now living with cancer and has had many other medical issues alongside it. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, two knee replacements, type 2 diabetes, back pain and probably more symptoms and illnesses besides. She is disabled and unwell.
I have had a lot of therapy to be able to understand I am not her. I will not become her, due to my own experiences and characteristics. I am generous, patient and kind. I am loving and I am not selfish, self-centered or exploitative. I do not use emotional blackmail, tears or anger to get what I want. I do not manipulate and use guilt to make people follow my commands.
However I do need regular reminding of this. This week I have started a new medication for my chronic migraines. As most medications it is actually got many uses, its main use is high blood pressure but it has recently started to be used for migraines. I do not have high blood pressure but somehow my brain is triggered to think I am becoming my mum.
High blood pressure runs in her family and she has taken something for this for as long as I can remember. My maternal granddad died of his third heart attack in his 50s and my Grandmother had three heart attacks. My brain tells me I must be like them if I take this medication.
Logically I know this is not true. I have to tell myself I am not her, I do not have high blood pressure. Even if I did have high blood pressure one similarity does not make me her. I share her DNA I will have some similarities. People have commented that I look like her on occasion and I find it hard to accept that.
I am sure I do share some similarities. She is my mother after all. I know she is the one who inspired my love of reading and encouraged my education. She made me who I am through her treatment of me. I am a strong independent women because I could not rely on her. Most of my character traits are in spite of her rather than in honour of her.
I still see her but we do not have a great relationship. I feel less obligated to her than I did before therapy. She made me think I owed her my existence but I know this is not true. She chose to have me. I do love her and will always help if she needs it. However I go running to her less and I will say no to her demands if I need to. I stand up to her when she treats me badly and call her out for it like I never have before.
Since I started therapy I have discussed some of it with her and although she will never truly understand what she put me through she has accepted some partial responsibility. She tries harder at times to know me but she cannot ever be the mum I deserved. She does the best she can and that is all I can ask of her. Instead I accept who she is and limit my relationship with her to one on my terms.
I do not think we have to become our mothers or fathers. We can break the cycle and change the ways. If you have an amazing mother then by all means become her. However if you had a less than perfect one then hopefully learn from her and become better. I know I try to be better in my life in this mental world.
Sometimes I wonder if I am boring. I know I am an introvert and happy in my own company. But am I boring? I do not drink and go out clubbing. I do not have one night stands. I am no longer in my twenties but does that mean I am boring?
I wonder if the mundane is just too normal sometimes. I have spent a lot of time travelling, meeting people, going out but in the last couple of years I have slowed things down. I have had to for my own sake.
Being constantly busy and on the go was taking its toll and I was exhausted. Somehow I thought I had to stay busy. I am not sure what I was scared would happen if I stopped but I had to be dong something.
Now I have slowed life down and I enjoy it. But then I get that doubt sneaking in, that fear creeping up. Telling me I need to do something, I need to be busy. I feel guilt I am not helping someone or giving back to the world.
As the weekend approaches colleagues ask what I am up to. I used to dread the question if I did not have something exciting to say. Now my response is usually chilling out and taking the dog for a walk.
Friends tell me I am still a busy person and maybe to them I am. Yet to me this is going slow. Between podcasting, working, family, friends and the dog maybe I am busier than I think. Maybe this is the last of my guilt for taking the time to self-care?
I think of the people around me and I actually do not want to be at the club/bar or making obligatory visits to family members. It has been a journey finding out what I want to do. Maybe I just need to stay true to it and accept my life in this mental world.
It is said that first impressions are important. That you can tell if you like someone in just a few seconds. However is that really judgemental? And can we get away from being judgemental?
I know I try not to judge people and yet the instinct seems to happen before I even know. I then reflect and hopefully reconsider. I know through education, travel and reading I have learnt so much which has helped me break down some of the stereotypes and beliefs I might have held. Yet is it enough?
There is so much that can be judged and assumed about someone; appearance, speech, their decisions, phrases, beliefs, accents, intelligence, sexuality, cultures and so much more. We all have unconscious bias which leave us judging unknowingly. How are we meant to deal with a belief we do not even know we have?
However, I think we should strive to be as conscious as we can of the judgements we make. It is not easy to look into ourselves and really challenge these faults and yet in the world we currently live in, I think it is imperative.
So many people are feeding the world with hate. The media, groups, politicians and events around the world spark beliefs and judgement that can seriously hurt people. We need to counter this with more positive beliefs.
As a teacher I try to teach this to students and as a nice person I try to live this way. Yet I also think the work is never done. We need constant reminders to review and self-reflect on our beliefs. Why when we meet someone did we get that bad feeling? Is it justified?
Our society judges people; keeping law and order means we need to. However it is not just criminals that are judged, everyone is and by everyone else. But this can lead to stigma, which can lead to prejudice and that then lead to discrimination.
I know I often feel judged by the people around me. My low self-esteem means I find it hard to belief that not everyone around me is judging me and thinking poorly of me. From my clothes, hair and general appearance to my beliefs, status and what I say. As a child I was bullied and it has made me to aware of how these judgements can be used to hurt someone.
If we want an equal and fair society then we have to examine our cultural beliefs and how that resonates to the next generation. Are we teaching equality when headlines single out a culture, a religion, a country, a financial status and tell us if it is right or wrong.
We need to look at this world we live in and decide what world we want it to be in years to come. None of us are perfect, none of us will always get it right. I know I am definitely working on this all the time, in my life in this mental world.
It started on Sunday, I felt the pain closing in around my brain. The muscles in my neck got tight and my forehead started to throb. A headache started to form. I rested and tried to let it take its course, hoping it did not develop.
Monday it was a migraine. My vision was blurred, my head and neck hurt and daylight was painful. I felt sick and dizzy. So I called in sick to work and got out my migraine survival kit.
This kit has developed over the years but now includes; decent wax ear plugs, a wheat-bag eye-mask, and painkillers. It is simple, basic but essential. I drank some tea and biscuits to help the painkillers go down and I went back to bed.
It is often said that ‘sleeping is the best medicine’ and mostly I agree. Yet sometimes the migraine hurts so much, that sleep is just not an option. Or after some sleep I can no longer sleep as I am just not tired anymore and instead lay in the dark. Sometimes for days.
It is so hard to describe what a migraine is like to someone who has never had them. I have known my the pain to be so bad I could not put my head on the pillow as it caused me pain. I have contemplated whether chopping my own head off with an axe would actually be less painful (I think that is also the historian in me).
Pain can make you think dark and weird thoughts, especially when laying in a dark and quiet place can actually get quite boring. Sometimes I can tolerate an audiobook or podcast on the lowest of sound settings but usually not until the pain starts to wane or the painkillers have started to work.
I have seen neurologists many times, they have described me as a complicated case. I have tried many medications and alternative treatments. I have tried herbal remedies like feverfew leaf alongside medication prescribed. Some work for a while and reduce the number of migraines I have. None work completely or for long.
Recently I was describing the migraines and headaches to the neurologist and he pointed out how my headaches are migraines, they are just missing a couple of the symptoms I describe as migraines; blurred vision and constant dizziness. So all these headaches I have been having our migraines! Explains a lots. He then asked “How many days of migraines do you get a month?”I replied “Including what I thought was a headache?”. “Yes everything” I thought about it and replied “20 days”.
Some of these the pain lasts hours in the evening or morning. Other times it lasts all day. Sometimes it stops me and I have to retreat to my room but sometimes I can continue with my day after some doses of painkillers.
This week it started Sunday and finished today (Friday), although I am in some pain still. Today I feel like my shackles have been removed and I have been taken out of the dark cell my brain has been locked within. I had Monday and Tuesday off work, as the blurred vision means I can not do anything but then went back to work. Retreating to my bed and painkillers as soon as I could. I lost my appetite, it was replaced with bouts of nausea.
The hardest thing to explain to someone is the detrimental effect the pain has on me as a whole person. Yes the pain is in my brain but it affects my mood, my thoughts, my ability to concentrate and my patience. I love sunshine, I am a Sun worshiper, until I am in this state and then I curse its brightness. This week I felt I was being tortured in a cell by my own mind and I did not know when it would end.
This might seem extreme to some but constant pain is demoralising and impairs cognitive ability. I can’t remember names of students, everyday words and history facts I would usually recall easily. I lose some of my hand eye co-ordination and become clumsy. My limbs feel prickly and tingle or they fall asleep.
Studies have shown that being a migraine or chronic headache sufferer significantly raises your risk of suicide and depression. In one US Study the risk rose from 1% to 10% from non sufferer to sufferers of migraines (US Study) and in another it tripled the likelihood (Migraine Again). Although this is believed to be due to the more general symptom of pain rather than due to the specific pain of migraine or headache suffers.
For me my depression rages during a migraine. I think the lack of control, the not knowing when it will end and the feeling like there is nothing I can do is just hard to handle. The relief when it does is like euphoria. It is like being given freedom again.
I hate to feel like someone who is always complaining or thinking ‘woe is me’. However I think awareness of this debilitating illness and the wider affect it can have is important. I have had migraines for as long as I can remember and so I do not think they are going anywhere. Maybe my brain is just wired in the wrong way. I am being referred to a Neurology Department in London to consider Botox for Migraines but I will contemplate that in June when I get to my appointment.
In the mean time I take each day as it comes and hope for brighter clearer headed days ahead in this mental world.
In honour of International Women’s Day I wanted to reflect on one of the most inspirational women I have known. I know lots of fantastic women ,who battle illness and adversity in a man’s world. When I teach history I try to include all the women in history to show our important place in society. But one has always stood out to me.
From my childhood one lady was a constant inspiration to me, my Nan. She was an amazing woman and I loved to hear the stories of her life. Born in the 1920s she was the fourth of eight children. She was training to be a concert pianist until she met my Granddad and her teacher made her pick between boys and the piano. Full of teenage hormones as she was, she picked my Granddad. She always played the piano though, even in the underground stations during the Blitz. I still think of her when I hear Beethoven 5th Symphony or anything classical really. I loved to hear her play.
She remembers seeing Mahatma Ghandi when he visited London in 1931. She seemed to truly believe in equality and love. She talked about living near the Kray brothers and cycling down their street to go visit my Granddad when they were courting. She seems to have lived through so much history.
She went on to join the Women’s Army in WWII and supported a Canadian Airbase in the south of England. She stayed truthful to her engagement to my Granddad, even when Canadian soldiers proposed. She felt she needed to actually help at a time of when her country was at war.
Her family home in Lambeth was also bombed during the Blitz in London. Leaving just the porch and outside toilet, the only parts her father had built. She spoke about loosing every family photograph and her grand piano. It really helped show how material things were just that, memories and keepsakes were much more important to her.
After the war she married my Granddad and had three children of her own, although also suffering many miscarriages in the ten years between my aunts and my father’s birth. Whilst bringing up her own children she also fostered babies and toddlers. She seemed to have so much love to give. She was kind and thoughtful. She listened and cared. She was my sanctuary away from my own mother.
Although to my knowledge, she never did anything to change what my mother was doing, she helped me survive. She taught me to try to accept mum as she was. That anger only festered in myself and hurt me. That you could box up emotions and hide them away to get by. She also gave me hope that I would grow up and be able to move out and away from her one day.
When she died I was 16 to her 82 years old. I felt like my world had collapsed. I knew she had to let go, she was in so much pain from the pancreatic cancer she had to endure. Yet I felt so alone. My support, my love, my surrogate mother was gone. My heart broke and although I put on a brave face I fell into depression.
To have lived through so much change in the twentieth century. Maybe she is why I love history so much. She taught me so many lessons in life. Most importantly she taught me to be a kind and thoughtful person. I think of her everyday in this mental world.
Last night I woke up about 4am. I had dreamt of school, specifically my GCSE students failing to understand one of our harder papers. It is all about historical interpretation. In the dream I was trying and trying to get them to understand. Trying to find new ways to explain it and help them understand.
When I woke up I then could not get back to sleep. I was worrying about if the students did understand and how I could help them. Each time I tried to clear my mind and focus on my breathing I was left with thoughts of exam skills and not being good enough at my job.
I tell myself this is not true. I am a good teacher and I care about my students. I will find a way to help them understand. However in the morning not at 4am. Yet the thoughts still came and kept me awake.
Eventually exhaustion let me sleep. However I am left with this tried and sad feeling that I am not enough. I feel the need to explore new ways and solve this problem, even though it was a dream. My students have not expressed a lack of understanding and although their exam questions are not perfect they are improving as we head toward the summer exams.
Why is dream state me so hard on me? Is it my subconscious that is truly worried? Welcome to dream me in this mental world.