A Woodland Walk

I walk through the woodland, an excited puppy running around my feet. Headphones placed in my ears, a voice tells me to slowly breathe in and out. Each muddy step feels like a journey in a novel, a wander through an enchanted forest. I feel my heart beats growing faster, so I focus on the breeze as it swirls through the leaves above me and across my face.

The raindrops feel refreshing as they fall around me. I watch as they flow down the leaves to the woodland floor. Each droplet has a journey, a destiny as it tells a story washing fears away. I look at the many greens and browns that surround me. Degrading autumn leaves fallen are beneath my feet, the puppies paws disappear into the squelching mulch.

The ground goes up and down as I follow the path into the depths of woodland. My mind turns inside and I feel the pain within. In this woodland I am alone in its peace and the loneliness closes in. I can feel each scar and wound left on my heart. Damaged over and over by the loves and losses of my life.

environment fallen trees forest graffiti
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Thirty-three years of heartache; wounds, scratches, bruises and stabs. Betrayals, insults and losses have taken their toll. My heart feels battered like it has had a long career as a boxer. Round and round of fists until hearing the bell ding. Family, friend and lovers leaving their marks. Stabs, although no longer a seeping wound they have left deep scars.

Sometimes I feel these scars will never heal completely. Memories cannot be erased and self confidence is hard to regain. The wall of protection around my heart is concreted in place, yet lately I see the cracks appearing. I feel my heart calling from it’s locked box, yearning to be free. Screaming out for another love to nurture it like it has never really known.

I enjoy my solitude. I like to take my dog walks bathing in nature. It is like I crave my space and time with me. However, I also wish for someone to share this life with me. Supporting each other. To share a cup of tea. Friends are amazing but a love is something transcendent. A love not to cure-all, but to provide additional forces in the fight for our lives in this mental world.

man and woman having a tea conversation
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Life is exhausting, each and every day

Life is exhausting! Getting up each day and living is very tiring. Having depression and fibromyalgia makes my body ache and feel so very heavy. Weighted down by feelings of numbness and sadness.

Sleeping through my seven alarms, I scramble out of bed. I take my pills and brush my teeth. Brushing my hair seems like a marathon of effort, mile after mile of strokes until it is up and out-of-the-way. Dragging any clothes I can find, onto my limbs. Choosing what is comfortable, closest and clean.

I feed the bunnies and the puppy, as the kettle boils to make tea. A travel mug and breakfast bar in hand, I head out to the car. The door slams and I feel my world get small, Volkswagen Polo sized. With the radio on I navigate the traffic, focused on everyone’s moves as the world swirls around me.

person holding coffee filled mug
Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

I park at school and get through the day. I travel back in time as I teach, jumping from Norman England, to Nazi Germany, to Tudor Britain and to many more. Grounded with my feet in what I know, the past. The day ticks on and my mind pushes everything else away. In some moments I even feel echoes of my passion for teaching. That feeling which seems to escape me most of the time, it feels like a reminder of a long-lost friend.

The students leave and I feel as empty as my classroom. My mind fills with clutter, memories of laughter float around. I am back in the car and fighting rush hour traffic wanting to be at home. Encapsulated in my car I listen to soothing music as I breathe my way home, in…out…right…left…home.

Greeted by an excited puppy, I can’t help but smile. He races upstairs, with energy I wish I could steal. Behind him, I drag my feet up each mountainous step. Stripping off my hard protective shell of the day I can climb into my safe pyjamas. The kettle goes on to feed the tiredness that is growing.

The sofa envelopes me as the tv noise fills the space in my head. The sounds push any negative thoughts aside, for now. My puppy curls up on my lap, giving me all the warmth and love he can. I wish for the simplicity of his life, the peaceful day of  sleep with food and drinks provided.

bed cute dog female
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I look at the kitchen as if it might spontaneously produce a dinner. Preparing my meal for one feels like making a banquet for a King. I need the energy to breathe but I know I need to eat. A sandwich, toast, ready meals or maybe I will just order in. Someone else can make the effort while I use up my reserves just making it up the stairs.

I climb into bed as early as possible, beneath the duvet I feel warm and safe. Camomile tea and an interesting novel to calm my mind. Meditation, mindfulness or just music to sleep by. I hope tonight sleep will be easy to find. I hope it will replenish the fatigue and exhaustion of my life in this mental world.

A snow storm of pain and anxiety.

I do not like snow. I mean I do not mind it to look at, from inside. It is pretty and it glistens. I do like seeing the way it sits on tree branches. But that is it, that is where my like ends. Aesthetically pleasing but nothing more. I would love a picture of the snow much more than ever being in it. For all my fantasies from the books I read, I never wanted to go to Narnia.

There are several reasons that it gives me anxiety and makes me shaky. Firstly, I broke my arm a few years back in the snow. I slipped at the end of my garden path. One minute I was standing and the next I wasn’t. I knew it was broken before the X-ray. It hurt so much but it repaired as broken bones do.

Yet I have also had good memories in the snow, I was a nanny in Switzerland, I played in the snow with the girls and was sat in a jacuzzi surrounded by snow. But I was warm and it was sunny.

adventure cold cross country skiing dawn
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The biggest problem I have with the snow is the cold. Cold sets off my Fibromyalgia, it is my biggest trigger. The chill when you step out of a bath can set it of, so you can imagine what snow does. The cold seeps into my bones. Last year when it snowed I had a duty outdoors at school then a walkabout (helping teachers with behaviour issues) around the site. Although wrapped up I still got very cold and it triggered a flare up that lasted weeks.

I do try to prepare, I wrap up warm and wear my snow boots. As soon as the temperature starts to drop I wear my thermal leggings and socks under my normal clothes. I avoid outdoors where I can. This year I even asked my mechanic to pump up my tyres as I did not want to try to do that in a cold garage. I just know it would result in me being in pain. Hands, wrists and legs are my biggest pain zones.

beautiful beauty blue eyes bonnet
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I also feel judged by people around me. I have to explain how I know what is best for me to avoid certain situations, or to explain my growing anxieties.  Today I had to try and explain, to a collegue, how being outside as I have to move around to being outside for a longer period was different and so could cause my pain. It makes me question my own belief and knowledge of my own condition.

My anxiety does also heighten as a precaution and of course the cold might not cause a flare up. However, do I want to take the risk? We all know that pain is not nice, dealing with it is mentally draining and physically exhausting. Especially when it could last for so long afterwards.

However, I also have to be aware that the fear of pain can cause pain itself. I know this too and so try to avoid this as well. Pain is so subjective and psychological. It is not just physical. Pain can be the bodies reaction, a defence mechanism as well as a result. Not because ‘it is all in my head’ but because our brains are clever and they know the best way to get what they want. To save us or control us, pain is a tool the brain uses.

I have often said ‘pain is my game, it is my life’. As a fibromyalgia patient I am in pain everyday, to varying degrees. I have studied it, lived it and tried to understand it. This does not mean I know everything, far from it, pain still trips me up and surprises me. Mine is also subjective to me. However, I have always believed that ‘knowledge is power’ and by knowing my pain, the best I can, does help me control it as far as possible.

So back to the snow. I know it is not going to kill me. It might not even cause me pain this time. But I know I will deal with it each day, as this is my life in this mental world.

 

Worrying about Worrying

It seems like an oxymoron to say “I am worrying about worrying people”. I know the people who care about me will worry about me. I know it is normal for them to worry about me, as they love me. I would and do worry about them. But that does not mean I do not try to mitigate the amount of worry they have about me.

I keep the deep and dark thoughts to myself. When struggling with my mental health or unwell physically, I hide away from the world. Look after myself, in my world. Usually under my duvet with my puppy keeping me company (he is currently next to me, dreaming).

My Sleeping Puppy
Toby asleep – always a cutie

Does everyone else feel this way? I know I find it hard to ask for help. I am used to being the strong independent type. I am used to relying on just me. Being single and not always having a supportive family has left me posing as super woman. I have great friends, the absolute best, but in the past friends have left. So, it is hard to say with 100% confidence that they would to stay through the worst of a person.

If I was to say “I need help”, I would feel I am admitting that I am not the strong independent woman everyone thought. I am weak and helpless. I know it is not as black and white as this, logically I do. But then in these recent times, I actually feel weak and helpless. So maybe, I am not the strong independant woman I thought I was and want to be.

I also feel that when I am asking people for support, I am asking people to care about me. This brings me back into the ‘I am not worthy of love’ cyclone of thoughts. Leading to my belief that I am not worthy of the support and so I shouldn’t be asking in the first place.

tornado on body of water during golden hour
Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

How can I feel worthy of someones worry? What is even on the criteria for that?

It gets even harder when I know a friend is also going through a hard time. Adding to someone else’s burden is even more difficult. I feel I should be the support beam, not the earthquake that could make it all collapse. My own problems should be pushed down the priority and others needs are to be put ahead of my own.

These are the circling thoughts in my mind. No answer, no solution just problems. Here are my thoughts, just trying to find the logic within the chaos of my life in this mental world.

Looking well and living with invisible illnesses

Today I interviewed Jonny Benjamin MBE, for the podcast I co-host (The Mental Health Book Club Podcast). In part of the interview we spoke about people’s perception of mental illness, that he ‘looked well’ so must be better.

This is the problem with an invisible illness, people assume if you do not look sick then you are not sick. I have done it, I think we all have. To see someone get out of a car parked in a disabled bay who ‘looked well’ mentally question if they were ‘really disabled’.

But I have an invisible illness, actually I have several; Fibromyalgia, chronic migraines, depression and anxiety. This means that I may look well. I can still dress, clean my teeth, take a bath and smile when I need to. Not every day, but those days I usually stay at home, where you will not see me. Unless you deliver takeaways, are my lovely postman or an Amazon delivery driver.

Saying that there are the in-between days, days which mean I am up and in life but not feeling great. It could be post migraine symptoms, depressive episode or my anxiety running a muck. Days I go into school (work) and have to smile and teach even when I want to run and hide. Those days I might ‘look well’ and be able to act ‘well’.

I just think we should remember that we do not know what is behind closed doors. We cannot assume people are well and healthy because they smile at us. I know I have got very good at acting well, I can fool even my best friend for quite a while. For when I am ready to share and ask for help.

I even have trouble with bathing; pre-verbal childhood trauma which has led to an illogical fear of water. But I make myself keep clean and bath as society expects. Also because no one wants to be the person who smells.

My parents wash occasionally and brush their teeth even less frequently. I have had to ask my mum to brush her teeth before we go out. So I do have a fear of smelling or having bad breath. So I learnt no matter how I felt I was to look ‘fine’.

My mum is someone who is always feeling worse than you are, ever. I was not really asked how I was and looked after when I was sick. If I was off sick from school I was given a lost of chores to do. Mum also likes to moan about her many illnesses, she is ill. She is living with cancer and also has high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type two diabetes, mobility issues and is morbidly obese. So she does have a lot to complain about, but she has been moaning even before she had all of these.

It was like my illnesses were not real. Therefore, now as a grown up I have had to learn to ask for help and show people how I am really feeling. To no longer just say ‘fine’ all the time. It is ok to say ‘I am not ok’ without seeing a moaner, another mother linked fear of mine. I am more open about days I am not feeling well but doing what I need to do, work.

I think I fear too much sympathy. That look that people give you when they feel so sorry for you. I hate it, it makes me feel ill. I am a strong independent woman. I do not want to look weak, I am a perfectionist, and I am stubborn. But I am also learning that I need to be open to help and support. To be honest to break down stigmas and let people learn about the real world to me and others who also suffer.

So here I am, sick but well in my life in a mental world.

 

Uncomfortable, necessary and embarrassing…

WARNING: Female health issues mentioned (the squeamish may want to avoid or they might know more about the vagina than they wanted to)

Today I had to go to my routine smear test, every three years in the UK. For the those that haven’t had the pleasure, or can’t as they do not have a cervix; this is a routine scraping of a ladies cervix to check for ‘abnormal cells’ which could be early cancerous or HPV.

Why am I talking about this? Well, as you can imagine it is not the most comfortable experiences from the onset. Preparation has to go into this appointment; being clean and tidy is just polite. Then your name is called from the waiting room, here I always feel my first words should be “sorry”, it seems natural to say this to the person whose job includes scraping the insides of ladies.

The nurse at my GP practice is lovely. She talks, almost constantly, which helps ease some of the embarrassment. First came routine advice to reduce my risks of ‘abnormal cells’;

  1. No smoking – Tick for me. I have never even tried it (my uncle died of lung cancer when I was 12 and my nan smoked like a chimney – enough to put me off).
  2. Reduce Alcohol – Another Tick, feel like I might pass this test! I do not drink due to the Fibromyalgia medication, plus it always fed my depression.
  3. Avoid having many sexual partners – Well, how many is too many? What are we talking here? I joked at this point, “no problem here, no one is interested at the moment”. The nurse gave me a stern look and told me I was probably better off as there are few good men.

This question also led to the nurse telling me about another lady she chatted to whilst in the stirrups. This lady had been mocked by her friends as she had been dating a man for 5 months and had not slept with him yet. The woman was asking if this was SO strange? I am not sure my nurse is an expert, but I said, “Waiting 5 months, must be a keeper”. The nurse told me off, raising the issue but sometimes the waiting can be like a challenge to men. She advised waiting for a ring on that finger. I changed the subject by removing my pants and jumping onto her examination bed. It really does change the atmosphere of a room.

For me her anecdote this made me think; how long do people wait? What is expected of us as women/men? I am not currently dating anyone but have heard of the; 3 date rule, 5 date rule, just on on the first date rule and who cares rule. Thinking back my self-esteem was low as I became attractive to the opposite sex and so I let the guys lead, although never on a first date did I go all the way.

I think the main problem I have with this story is the judgement her friends had. To me there are no rules and people should do what they want. But then do we know what we want and do we do it? I know I often was following the lead of others instead of my own desires. This doesn’t mean it was non consensual just I didn’t know what I wanted. I was desperate for someone to love me that sex became love. The old ‘actions speak a thousand words’ for me became ‘sex says love’. I was wrong, I am happy to admit it now. After years of therapy and beautiful hindsight slapping me around the face.

Now I feel more worthy of love I take less sh*t from men and so would be able to know my own wants. But even then, there is the pressures of keeping the person, pleasing them, and wanting them to like you. A relationship is a mixture of two peoples needs, wants and desires, which is why it can be so hard to navigate. although always remember ‘No means No’, something I repeat to teenage boys at my school worryingly often.

Ok so smear test over for another three years. Uncomfortable, necessary and embarrassing – sounds like loosing my virginity, but that is a hilarious story for another day in this mental world.