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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I like to think of myself as an optimist, hopeful and as Monty Python said ‘always look on the bright side of life’. I like to see the best of people and I do not like to give up on anyone.
However, when you have depression this is harder to do. Part of me wants to remain upbeat and hopeful of a better day ahead. But another part of me is telling me it is all doom and gloom.
I am a realist and I know that the world can be awful. I have seen, experienced or read about some of life’s darkest moments. I am a history teacher so death, war and disease are in every one of my lessons. I have felt some very dark emotions and experienced abuse. However, I also know many people have life so much worse, it is all relative to our own experiences.
So how can I be optimistic when the realist in me sees the world for what it is? Well, through all my pain and sadness I also see kindness, love and joy. I find it hard to not see them in the world. In children, in nature and in human stories. To be those are the emotions to look for and dwell upon. Seek out the moments and remember them.
When I am sad or lonely I try to go for a walk and see nature. Nature is neutral in its emotional state but it’s beauty can evoke such joy in a human heart. I watch my puppy play and bound with the happiness of freedom. The trees remind me that year in and out they will remain, growing silently with other footprints around their roots. Somehow their longevity is uplifting and inspiring.
Near where I live is one of the oldest trees in Britain. It is a Yew tree called the Ankerwycke Yew and it is believed to be around 2,000 years old. This amazes me, this tree has stood here from sapling to towering tree for longer than the years past since Jesus. Through eras, wars, heartache, peace, storms, religious changes, inventions, and so much more. It has no idea what is happening but it continues to grow and give shelter.
This tree has not done anything special and yet it is significant. It is possibly under which Magna Carta was sealed by King John. Possibly under which King Henry VIII proposed to Anne Boleyn, triggering the English Reformation. It is where I walk my dog. Without eyes it has seen so much, bearing witness to history whilst being history itself.
When I was in Cambodia many trees have grown around the ruins of temples. It is like nature wants to take back the land, it is almost disrespectful of the ruins. However it is also amazingly beautiful and somehow it feels so right that it should take them back.
Maybe it is the wonder of nature and the world that keeps me optimistic. Whatever it is I will hang on to my optimism. If a tree can thrive for over 2,000 years I can make it to tomorrow in this mental world.