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.
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.
On Saturday I got a Daith piercing, this is a piercing which is rumoured to help relieve migraines. It pierces the innermost cartilage fold of your ear.
There is no medical evidence that it works. The Migraine Trust have a comment on their website saying this trusted neurologist from Dr Fayyaz Ahmed. However, many websites and people in the community of sufferers seem to believe it has helped them (Example).
Maybe it is acupuncture, maybe it is placebo or maybe there is a science we do not know. However, when you are suffering migraines for several days a week and none of the medications seem to be working, maybe it is worth trying.
I searched for a reputable piercing establishment with not only good reviews in general but for this piercing in particular. I found a shop in Reading, far enough from where I teach to not bump into a student and also with good reviews. Urban Piercing, I would recommend them if you are looking for someone too.
I booked an appointment…although nervous about the pain. I have not had a piercing since I was twelve and I was having the lobes pierced. That is all tissue so a completely different experience, yet I remember that not being too much fun. I remember being nervous and worst still having to experience the pain twice, at least this time it is just one side.
I took a friend for moral support and arrived to have the piercing. I chose to upgrade the jewellery to something a little prettier, being that once this is in it is unlikely to be coming out again.
The piercer was lovely and he put me at ease. We chatted as he thoroughly cleaned my ear, marked the spot and prepared. Then I laid down and waited… I admit it hurt but not as much as I thought it would. It was more like pressure and some uncomfortable pain than a sharp pain I had expected. After a little bleeding and more pressure as the ball was put onto the ring and it was done.
At this point I will also note that the Shed cafe next door is excellent and I felt I had earned some cake and tea after this. We loved the environment and the vegan chocolate slice cake was so amazing. It was just the reward I needed.
It will take a three to six months to heal as it is cartilage. I also need to kept it as clean as possible to prevent infections. I also cannot sleep on that side until it is healed. So it does take extra care while it heals, like any piercing.
I am also not expecting an instant cure. I will have to monitor how things go and get back to you. I actually think if nothing changes then I have a prettier ear and if it helps then that would be a great bonus. I felt it was worth trying if there is even the possibilities of less migraines in my life in this mental world.
I was watching the Bake Off’s special editions for Stand Up 2 Cancer and they kept saying one in two of us will get cancer in our lifetime. 1 in 2! I feel this is huge! Every other person! If it not me it is you, my best friend, my siblings, my nieces, my nephew – I find it hard to process this.
Cancer is this horrid word which encompasses so many different types, severities and survival rates. My mind went straight to 1 in 2 people dying of cancer. But that is not what this statistic is saying. The Stand Up 2 Cancer website actually says that 2 in 4 survive their cancer and hopefully by 2034 this will be 3 in 4.
Also, I feel I should know better, my own mother is living with cancer and has been for about a decade. She has ovarian cancer. I remember going to see the doctor with her when the results from the biopsies from her hysterectomy were back. The hospital had called and wanted her in first thing the next day, my mum asked if it could be later in the day to miss rush hour traffic. Oh the naivety, she had no idea that if the consultant secretary rings and wants an appointment first thing the next day that it is probably not great news.
The words Stage 3 were followed by surgery and chemotherapy. The cancer had spread to the lining of her abdominal organs. However they did say of all the ovarian cancers mum had the best and rarest. Why? It was slow-growing. The best of all the evils. And she had probably had it growing in her for a decade before it was discovered. Her many years of womanly problems now explained.
After 5 years it was back and resulted in more abdominal surgery. However complications with infections in her bladder meant she could not have chemotherapy. They gave her medication to stop the hormone production which was feeding her cancer. It seems to be working, they say she is their best case-study. Either shrinking or staying the same her cancer is confined to her abdomen and seems to be under control.
That word ‘cancer’ is so scary though. I think I have assumed for many years I would get it at some point. My dad’s parents died of cancer; Granddad of prostate and Nan of pancreatic. My mum has it and with one in two getting it I think it is becoming more likely.
But getting it does not mean dying from it. There is a lot more treatments these days and more research being done. Survival rates are growing and more people can live with it. I remember explaining this to my own father after my mum’s initial diagnosis. Understandably all he could hear when he heard cancer was death, it is all he knew as both his parents had died of it.
As a history teacher I sometimes wonder how many people died of cancer but no one knew that is what it was. Though history there would have been no reason or not enough understanding to do an autopsy In medieval times it was discouraged by the Church. Yet death records, like this one from during the 1665 Great Plague show ‘cancer’ listed as the reason so they understood something. But then it also lists ‘suddenly’ as a reason.
The American Cancer Society write that the earliest descriptions date back to the Egyptians and it is believed that humans have suffered with cancer since we first existed (Cancer.org). So why does it scare me? I am not normally worried about ill-health; I have fibromyalgia, I have had three surgeries, migraines and mental health issues. I have suffered pain and trauma. Yet maybe it is the unpredictability and the higher chances of dying of it than the illnesses I have had so far.
I do not feel I fear death and yet I have so much I wish to do. I do not feel I am done with this life. Maybe it is a fear of missing out on this life? It is so hard to know and yet I get anxious thinking about cancer. I wonder if it is the control freak in me unable to stop my cells going out of control and developing abnormally leading to cancer. Yet I am now vegan which claims to help reduce cancer, although it is so hard to know the truth and I still feel it might not save me.
Save me! From something I do not even have and might not get. I tell myself you can only worry about what is here and now. Yet I worry about cancer. My cousin had leukaemia and he was 12 years old. My friends brother died of having a low immune system after lukaemia aged 21. I am not sure I have a story for 1 in 2 but everyone has more and more stories of people with cancer.
I remember going to the wards with my mum and them always being crowded and filled with so many patients at various stages of treatment. I remember my mother confiding in me that she was scared she might die. Facing our own mortality is not easy. How many of us will die of old age in our own beds. Is this even possible anymore?
When my mum was going through all this she told me she never expected to grow old. She is still only 57 years old now and was in her 40s when she was diagnosed. She worried about never seeing us (her children) get married, have children and be happy. She has fulfilled some of this with my brother now married with children and my sister living with her boyfriend. And I am happy even if she can not see how as I am not in a relationship (issue for another time).
However maybe I have taken on this belief. Will I grow old? Retire? Withdraw on my pension? It is hard to imagine but I think my belief goes beyond that to I am not sure I am destined to be old. I have never been lucky with my health and so I feel the odds are never in my favour (small link to the Hunger Games).
I have no answers and no predictions. No epiphany or vision of my future. I do live each day as it comes and maybe it is also why I cannot see a future. There is so much more work to be done; research and treatments which is helped by the Stand Up 2 Cancer campaign. I will be donating and hope you do to.
I felt I needed to get these worries out of my head and into 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.