Exercise and me

I have never been that into exercise. I know it is important but events have put me off. I was also not very good at team sports at school. I scored an own goal in hockey when I forgot we had swapped sides at half-time. I ran into the wall as I was concentrating on my dribble in basketball, although I liked shooting and had a ring at home. At school the only sport I was good at was gymnastics. I loved to cartwheel and did them every chance I could. I used our bunk bed as monkey bars and enjoyed bouncing on a trampoline. 

But when I was twelve I had an accident at school. I was doing a cartwheel on a bench and I lost the hand hold, both knees slammed onto the bench…I remember a lot of pain. I was off school and had physiotherapy but I was always in pain after that. 

I thought I was being weak, unable to ‘push through the pain’ as PE teachers say. Yet this was not exercise pain but real pain. I had to stop regularly. I remember sobbing as I did cross-country as every step was sending a sharp shooting pain through my knees. Yet the teachers told me to keep going. No surprise that I disliked PE lessons by this point.

At 23 years old I could barely climb a flight of stairs. I finally got a doctor to take me seriously and was referred to rheumatology. Fibromyalgia was my diagnosis after some tests and a detailed medical history. I started the medication…but my knees still hurt.

I went back to the doctors and pleaded with them. I knew this pain in my knees was not the fibromyalgia but I needed proof. Finally they sent me for an MRI and found out my knee caps were not in the groove they are meant to sit in when they move.

In the space of a couple of years I ended up with keyhole surgery on each knee to solve the issue. Now things are so much better. It is amazing the difference it has made. But my relationship with exercise has been harmed so much.

Surgeons still tell me not to run as I have reduced cartilage in my knees. I have tried the gym a few times but find it boring and I feel too conspicuous. This raises my anxiety.

However I have found an exercise I like and will do regularly, dog walking. Now I have Toby I go walking a few times a week for 40 minutes or longer at a time. I love to be in nature and he is the perfect excuse as he loves it too. We take off to our favourite places and soak in the forest bathing, sunshine and green. We listen to the birds chirp and let the wind blow out the cobwebs. It is a pleasure and a joy.

I do not think I will ever be a gym goer or a runner or be on any sports teams. However finding an exercise I can do that benefits my physical and mental health has been key to me feeling better in this mental world.

Teetering on the edge

Sometimes I feel that I want to disappear for a while. It might be better described as wanting to hide under my duvet from the entire world. Without having to call in sick or explain my absence from life to anyone.

I think today it comes from exhaustion. It is my first week back to work after half term and I always find that first week back so tiring. I have been going to bed early and resting each evening but it just doesn’t seem to ever be enough. I am like a bath without a plug unable to fill up with water.

I think of all the things I should be doing each evening; marking papers, texting friends, walking my dog, admin for the podcast, keeping up with the news and so much more. Even writing that list feels exhausting and I remind myself it can all wait.

I am learning so take care of myself. Not to be selfish, something I get so anxious about, but to give myself what I need. To be patient with my mind and body. However it is so much easier to say or type that to actually do. I still feel guilt, shame and more guilt.

I should probably mention I also came off my fibromyalgia medication. I am currently having a better time with it and so wanted to try being off the medication. I have been slowly lowering it and last week was the last dose to stop, however that means I am also in mild withdrawal. This is probably not helping my fatigue.

I also feel on a precipice. On my tip toes on the edge of a cliff. One way is anxiety and depression and the other is peace of mind. I want to stay safe on the ground but the wind is keeping me on a teeter. Maybe my want to hide is a coping strategy to stop me falling over the cliffs edge.

I am trying to be calm. I have been meditating each day but I cannot seem to find the peace I have before, even last week. I feel like there is a laser light show in my mind, one I cannot control. Thoughts are so fast I cannot catch them so I have no idea their content. I crave an ordered filing system and receptionist to help me.

A big sigh, a long nap, a holiday from life and a large mug of tea. Is it too much to ask for?

Tomorrow is a crazy day at work too. At my school we have one day a half term set aside for the whole school to learn personal, social, emotional, and well-being topics. As prescribed by the national curriculum. This means as teachers we are given lessons and students to teach on different topics all day. In the past I have taught anything from managing money, sex education, to bereavement and so many more topics. I won’t know the students I will have until tomorrow and did not know the topics until today. My control freak brain was already struggling, maybe this is why it feels so on edge this evening in this mental world.

My current adventure

I feel I might be turning a corner. It could be the fact I have been on half term or maybe it is real. Either way I somehow feel that my depression maybe lifting. I worry this is just one good day and I need consistently good days to truly believe.

However, I also think I have been working to look after me and relieve some stresses in my life. I have reduced my stresses at work by dropping my middle leadership pastoral position. I have set a clear financial budget to help relieve the stress and anxiety money gives me, especially with the pay cut.

I have been walking, enjoying nature and meditating regularly. Trying to appreciate the beautiful world around me and inside me. I have been ‘tidying with joy’ and declaring my gratitude each day.

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I have been accepting of my emotions. I have been trying not to judge them, acknowledging them and letting them go. Writing on here to let the voices of worry, stress and processing out of my head. Blogging has helped me sleep better, alongside a mug of camomile tea each night.

This might all seem so mundane, people keep asking when and where is my next adventure. I usually have my next holiday booked but not at the moment. I love travelling and still want to go to so many places. I love exploring new countries, seeing new beautiful places and meeting new cultures.

However, at the moment my adventure is finding out more about me and exploring my mind. On the outside it might look simple and maybe even boring, but to me it is an exciting time. Sailing into the depths of my mind. Navigating this ocean of emotions and sadness in this mental world.

 

Just keep breathing

Breathing is something we just do. Our brains communicate with our lungs and it just happens. It is so essential we do not have to think about it. Yet when our brains are stressed they can lose some control of how to regulate our breathing.

As a teacher my most important advice to my students preparing for exams is to breathe. When the invigilator says “Start” before you open that exam paper take two deep breaths. Steady those nerves, give your brain oxygen and calm the mind. A stressed brain is not going to remember as much as a calm one.

Thinking about how you are breathing is important, it allows us to take back control of our breathing from our brains. We can decide how our breathing will go.

I have found this increasingly key as I suffer from anxiety and depression. Overwhelming emotions can be accepted and moved on from with a few deep breaths. I feel during meditation the world seems to slow down around me, alongside my deepening breathing. I can find a calm within the storm of my emotions and stresses.

I am not saying breathing solves everything, far from it. But from someone who is a control freak, it can bring me a sense of control over something when the rest of the world seems uncontrollable. When my own emotions seem out of control taking back my breathing seems to help.

Breathing can be done anywhere, I often take a couple of deep breaths when teaching a challenging class, or when I am driving, or when my puppy will just not lay down and sleep. You do not need an app or advice on how to do it, you already know. I do use Calm to help guide my meditation but for a quick ‘gain some control breath’, it is all me.

I admit I do not do the ‘in through your nose and out through your mouth’. I just cannot seem to ever get it right and I do not like to breathe through my mouth, too noisy. However, I do not think it diminishes my own breathing practice.

Scientifically a deep breath can boost the oxygen we are being supplied and therefore has a physical heathy benefit. Yet, psychologically I think the impact is even greater.

So just breathe, give your brain time to process life in this mental world.

Money makes the world go round

Everyone has an experience with money and I don’t think anyone I know anyone who likes it. However, money is a fact of life we all have to deal with, from counting pennies as a kid to paying bills as an adult.

But money scares me a little. The power it has on our lives. Money does not bring us happiness but it can sure help to make us feel comfortable. Money is not more important than our health, but we have to pay for medical care. Even on the NHS paying prescriptions and things you cannot get on the NHS, like I pay for my private therapist and a chiropractor.

Without money life can be bleak. However I also think that happiness gained from money plateaus after we have the essentials we all need; home, water, food, warmth and a few comforts.

I think my fear comes from my childhood, as probably most of our relationships with money were formed. My parents were not good with handling money and they also had very little. They did not seem to budget and ended up with loans they could not pay. I remember sitting in the car as they went into offices or banks to discuss loans. I do not know their full situation as this is just from my childhood memories and I am sure they did the best they could.

However, I also remember the arguments, lots of arguments about money. I am not sure my parents really argued about anything else. I have no idea who was right or wrong, probably both and yet neither. I just remember the family never having enough money and the arguments.

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I also have no judgement on my parents as I find it so hard to stay in budget with my own money. You would think seeing my parents would make me meticulous about looking after my money. But no, I think it might be because as soon as I earnt my own money, it was always gone on things my teenage self felt I needed. I could never keep up with my friends but I tried and having my own Saturday job helped me to have my own money for the cinema or a new top. I could finally buy clothes that were not from a charity shop or car boot sale. I felt so grown up.

Now as an adult (apparently) I try to be more careful. My bills come out at the beginning of the month. I try to budget and I love a good spreadsheet. However recently I took a pay cut to help my stress and mental health. It was the right choice but it does mean I might need to keep a closer eye on the budget and take out some of my luxuries.

The pay cut has stressed me out and has me anxious about living and not getting into anymore debts. Yet I cannot change it and have to move forward. I remind myself I am on a good wage as an experienced teacher, although living alone does make things costly.

Anxiously I have balanced my spreadsheet and now comes the challenge – to stick with the budget I have set. Somehow I feel I have already failed, before I have eben started. I cannot seem to believe in my own ability to do this. How do some people find this so easy? I admire people who put money into their savings account no matter what, I am jealous even.

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For me money makes me feel like I have failed even before I have begun. Like I will be told off or find myself in trouble. My mum was always worried about bailiffs and she had promised they would never come to her door as they had her parents. I think I feel that fear and I do not know how to let it go. I feel ashamed I cannot just be better at this. I have an A Level in Maths, it was my best subject in school. I can do the maths ,yet I do not have control.

I also know I am an emotional buyer and my amazon account is littered with purchases on a whim. I hope they will make me feel better and it is always something I feel I need. But the parcel only bring guilt and anxiety in the end. Don’t get me wrong I have never even had a letter threatening the bailiffs. My fear might be irrational and inherited but it is real in my life in this mental world.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

To teach or not to teach? That is the question.

I am often told, ‘Teaching is a calling’ and to some extent I agree. You do not get into teaching for the money, that is for sure. The hours are long and the pressure can be high. You can be shouted, sworn and even spat at sometimes, by students and sometimes by parents. My pay is dependent on students results and it does add an extra pressure.

However, it is a steady income, above average salary, with long and frequent holidays. You can see students learn, progress and achieve. I have helped students though bereavement, abuse, physical and mental illnesses and more. Support them as they deal with learning difficulties. Inspire them to enjoy my subject, history.

Every job has its highs and lows. In teaching this can frequently happen in just one day. I understand the demands of the job. The emotional ties to wanting the best for your students. Leading to late hours of planning lessons, researching new ideas, preparing resources and marking, marking, marking. It is no surprise that media headlines show that teachers are leaving the profession at the highest rate ever recorded (Huffington Post).

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I went into teaching to help students who might be having a similar childhood to mine. Even when I told a teacher what my home life was like, I was not believed. My mother worked at my school and she was very well liked. Do you believe the angsty teenager or the parent, who is also a friend? Behind closed doors she was different; emotional abuse, gas-lighting and neglect. I was made the family scapegoat and bullied by my siblings too. I did not know all the terms then, but I knew it was wrong. Although I believed it was all my fault.

As a teacher I want to save all those unheard ‘child Becky’s’ out there, yet I never can. I was programmed to be our family resucer and I can help and support my students. But I have had to accept that I can not save them from their lives. I can; report what I see to social services when needed, I can teach healthy lives and relationships, provide emotional support, teach resilience, model survival, recommend counselling and even make recommendations to parents. I am a pastoral manager within the school to be more involved in doing all these things. But I cannot save them.

Not only due to the fact I am not their parent, but also the restrictions on social services and the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services. Both overworked and understaffed, so they are putting out fires. They have to prioritise physical and high urgency cases. So the mental or emotional are left dropping down the list. I am sure this is not the whole picture and I have simplified their struggles, but I do know this is how it feels to me.

I say I have to accept this but I am struggling, I find this so difficult. This failure to save them all then triggers my childhood feelings of worthlessness and not ever being enough. Their stories set off memories of my own. I empathise and relate to their lives as they happen. I wish I could do more for each one but I am not their parent or from social services.

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Currently I am suffering with depression. I can not seem to shake it and have had to have two different periods of time of school/work. No single case has caused this but an accumulation of seven years of teaching and supporting young people and feeling like I have not saved one. I am not even sure what I mean by ‘saved’.

I am now re-evaluating my life and my choices. Do I keep teaching? Is it just the pastoral side, do I just drop the management role? Is it our catchment of high social care needs? Do I try a different school? Do I teach private or sixth form only? Do I do something completely different? Is this the time to decide? So many thoughts, going around and around in my head. Who do I turn to for advice?

I have started researching the options out there, knowledge is power. Should I start to apply? Then anxiety hits; interviews, meeting people, telling my Headteacher, letting people down, abandoning my current students, new curriculum, new friends, new students, moving house and so much more. Can I go through it? Will it help?

I keep thinking ‘what would I do if money was no object?’, apart from the luxury holiday I would take. I think about writing, getting into publishing, retraining as a counsellor, doing my Masters and so many other options. Then reality kicks in and I know I have bills to pay. I need a good regular income as I do not have anyone to lean upon. I having no partner or family to support me and nor would I expect this from someone. I have great friends, but none are rich and I would not expect support like this from them.

Today I have no answers, I will continue to research my options and maybe I will apply for a few. I will keep going through these thoughts and hopefully I will find some answers. Hopefully I will make a decision about my life in this mental world.

I’ve no love for the Drama Triangle

I am trying to escape from a triangle, it is known as the Karpman Drama Triangle or the Dreaded Drama Triangle. The triangle has it’s three points; Rescuer, Persecutor and Victim. It is a social model conceived by Stephen Karpham in 1968.

The Dreaded Drama Triangle consists of three roles: Victim, Persecutor, and Rescuer
The Drama Triangle (powerofted.com)

In my family this triangle has been playing out without me knowing it. My mother often played the Victim and she lives the mentality of a victim, however she was a persecutor to me. I am the victim of her abuses and so I should be the victim. However, as her scapegoat I was not allowed to be the victim and so I became everyone’s Rescuer.

This leaves me running to the rescue of my family, no matter how big or small the problem. I do not know when this started but an instance that comes to mind was when my Granddad died.

I was fourteen and I remember going to the hospital to see, the once stocky veteran of the Second World War, a man who wore braces to hold his trousers up over this enlarged beer belly. He was now a tortoise like creature, without his shell wrapped in the clean white sheeted bed. He had pancreatic cancer and he died.

After his death I remember everyone else’s tears and thinking ‘I have to be the strong one’. I refused to cry and stayed strong for everyone. No one specifically told me this but I felt this belief like this was my role. It was like a rule I had to follow and I am a stringent rule follower. I remember, I was able to not cry until I was in his funeral, two weeks later.

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My role was cemented, Rescuer I was and Rescuer I am. Today anyone has a problem I am your girl. I will suggest solutions and support its implementation. I am at my best in this mode of operandi. Maybe I even crave it, I became a teacher to save children who might be in the situation similar to the one I was in as a child.

My therapist alerted me to the Drama Triangle in one of our sessions. We were discussing a nightmare I had experienced a few nights before. I now know I need to stop rescuing my family. Then I break the triangle and take back control, then they can no longer persecute me and make me a victim.

Easier said than done, of course. I want to help and the urge is fierce. Also, I like the fact I am a nice, helpful, generous person. I have to tackle with the idea of saying no against a key part of my identity. I need to gently remind myself that things are not black and white, I can say no and still be the kind, generous, helpful person I want to be.

It is a true self-care to say ‘No’ at times like this, because if I give into it and rescue it always bites back. My family members are unable to be grateful, they believe it is to be expected and so cannot be sincerely thankful. I am then hurt and feel unfulfilled by the process. If I cannot find a solution then I feel ashamed and a complete failure.

So anyway I play the game I seem to be burnt at the end. Therefore, I need to break the cycle of this triangle and be free of the pain it brings. However, in the short-term holding it in affects my health and increases my pain. In the long-term it will make things better, I hope.

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I am finding holding back hard at the moment. My sister-in-law is struggling and I want to be there for her, I am. The issue is not this but the fact some of their issues are my brother and I want to fix him to help. I want to tell him some truths he won’t like. But I know doing this is my Rescuer wanting to help my sister-in-law and protect my nieces and nephew. Would it help? The short answer is no.

With narcissistic traits, like my mother, he would not hear me. He would resent the fact comments came from me, the family scapegoat. His ego would be wounded and so he would lash out at me and probably his wife, maybe even his children. So I know I need to stay out of it, I need to walk away.

I will help my sister-in-law but I need to listen and support her. I do not need to be her rescuer. She does not expect me to find and implement solutions. But to be her friend, her sister 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.

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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.