Finding peace in nature

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.

 

 

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My ever expanding bamboo plant is like my struggle with depression

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.

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.

Optimism and me

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.

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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.

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Life is exhausting, each and every day

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

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

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

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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.

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.

How do you let go of guilt and anxiety?

I saw the GP today. They have increased my anti-depressants and signed me off work for two weeks. The result is Guilt and Anxiety. The tortoise and hare are off the starting line.

The Hare (anxiety with a guilt backpack) starts to tell me I am not enough. I am letting down the students, the other teachers in my department and my bosses. It tells me I should be able to deal with all this while going to work each day. I worry about being judged by others. The panic causes me to breathe faster and my heart jumps about in my chest. My mind hurts as thoughts race around my brain, making me feel dizzy.

Many people will be judging me. Thinking I should be at school as I am not physically sick. I am not glued to the toilet, in hospital or unable to move. That doesn’t mean I do not have some physical symptoms: I am exhausted, having headaches, feel dizzy, nauseous and my whole body feels heavy. Yet I don’t feel it is enough for people to justify me being off. I feel they will judge me. Worse than that, I am judging me.

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My tortoise (logical brain) tries to reason with the hare. It explains that mental illnesses are equivalent of physical. That I am justified in my feelings and just like I could not cure my own physical illnesses, I need help and support to get better. My desperate despair will take time to get over and it is exhausting to do it. But they feel like clichés, slogans and advice I give others.

Am I letting anyone down? It is hard at school to find cover and make it meaningful. Will students miss out on having me as they will have a cover teacher instead. But sometimes our own health has to come first and I will help them as soon as I am back. How much use would I be in this state of mind? I am finding it hard to concentrate and it would be impossible to pretend to be ok for 5 hours a day in front of the children.

So, I need to show myself some compassion and let it go. I need to look after me and let the guilt go. But it is so much easier to say it. How do you let it all go? Reminding myself over and over. Will my mind just finally click into understanding?

I have learnt to be more compassionate to myself in the last couple of years. I now allow myself time to rest and recoup. I give myself time to look after my mind through meditating and reading. I adopted my lovely puppy, Toby, and I go for forest bathing walks. I have stepped away from toxic family members and that was not easy. So maybe this compassion about being off work will come too.

Maybe I just need to breathe, to give myself time and be patient with my life in this mental world.

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The Labyrinth of my Mind

Depression is a macaber beast. It is the Minaaur waiting in the labyrinth of my mind. Depression has been in my life again since September, maybe earlier. It is exhuating to live each day with a weight pulling you down.

This weekend the noise my depression seems to have been turned up to LOUD. I am not and have never been suicidal but I do have to listen to my brains arguments that I would be best dead. It is telling me that life is too hard as it is.

It is so loud that I have been unable to read, to focus, or to sleep properly. I have been drinking tea, eating too much junk and watching mindless TV. I intend to see my GP Monday when appointments resume.

I did get dressed and go for a walk with my puppy. I sat under a Yew tree and meditated. I listened to the trees and wind around me. I looked up at the blue sky and felt the breeze on my face. I hoped forest bathing would clense my soul and clear my mind. As I sat I found a bud, showing that Spring is on it’s way.

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Toby enjoying his walk at the National Trust in Runnymede.

It is hard to ignore the voice of depression but each day I will try. That is all I can promise to anyone. I do feel I am falling through an abyss, trying to crawl out grabbing any hand I can find to steady my way. Each hand I grab is slippery and I drop further down. I imagine that scene in the Labyrinth, Sarah taking the wrong door and falling through a tunnel of hands.

Image from the Huffington Post

Nature was a hand that pulled me up a little. I found hope in that bud of new Yew tree growth. These voices will quieten and I will feel more myself again. I cannot say when things will change but I have to believe it will.

“Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered I have fought my way here to the castle beyond the Goblin City to take back the child you have stolen, for my will is as strong as yours and my kingdon as great. You have no power over me.” Jim Henson Quote from the film Labyrinth

I wish one line would destroy the world of depression, like the scene when Sarah says this quote in Labyrinth. But I keep reminding myself that I am strong and I will get through this. One day, hopefully soon, depression will have no power over me.

But today this is not the case, for now depression is in my life in this mental world.

 

Toes dipped in or am I deep in the ocean’s waves?

I have been on anti-depressant tablets since late October. Lately I have been feeling blue again. Overcome by moments of overwhelming bleakness that wash over me without warning. It takes my breath away, while making me want to hide from the world under my duvet forever.

I know I find this time of year tough; it is cold, dark, wet, damp and the sun is hiding away. Everyone’s vitamin D drops and some even have SAD. Then you add in family, financial January and school pressures. It is a hard time of year, or is it just me?

I have been trying to use my coping strategies to help. I am meditating (almost) daily, blogging on here and trying to enjoy nature on dog walks at the weekends. I am trying to savour company with my puppy and taking in the mindfulness of a cup of tea. But none of it has been working…

I have ideas to help my students but cannot get up the energy to have any enthusiasm. I am acting ‘happy teacher’ at the front of my classroom. I am finding noises particularly annoying and frustrating. Children’s chatter, adverts on the radio and even my dogs barking at the postman/neighbour/bird. I feel heavy and achy. My feet feel like they are burning.

One big sign for me, is that I am tearful. This might not mean much to many but for me this is huge. I do not cry, well rarely and when I do it is a few tears. I am like Amanda Woods, the Cameron Diaz character in the film The Holiday. Sat trying to make myself cry, making wailing noises in hope for just one tear.

My lack of tears are from being bullied by my family for years. As a child apparently I cried a lot so much I was teased for it. Called a ‘cry-baby’, ‘melon head’ or ‘lemon head’ repeatedly and frequently. I was an emotional child but learnt not to cry, hold in the emotion. Now, I am emotional. I just can’t express it on the outside.

So, how do I know when I am having a bit of a bad patch or if I need help through a higher medication dose? When is self-help not enough? My natural instinct is to sort it out myself, to be independent and not complain. As a child I was given a list of chores whenever I was off sick. I had to look after myself when I was ill. Now I find it hard to rely on others and ask for that help. It makes me feel like a hypochondriac or being seen as someone moaning.

But how do I know when it is more than I can cope with, when to ask for help? How long do I leave it? A week, two, more? When is it ok to moan, groan and complain? When does it become too much to bare alone?

Last time I waited months and waited until I was broken and curled up in a ball. I am trying not to get back there but sometimes I do not know if I am on the brink of the cliff…

 

 

Me, My therapist and I

Today I went to my monthly therapist sessions. After three years I have gone from twice weekly sessions on the couch to monthly. Finding the right therapist was also so important. This one came recommended and I have never looked back. She gets me, like I feel few have. She has my back while challenging my perceptions of myself and the world. I never feel judged or patronised.

As most people, I wanted someone I could get along with. I wanted it to feel friendly but also to get professional advice. Being educated and intelligent I also wanted someone who would see that. My therapist often tells me the theory behind what she says and recommends books I can read to know more. To me education is so key to understanding myself and the world I live in, I am a self labelled bibliophile.

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Before I even approached therapy I had read and googled a lot of psychology to understand myself, but I got to a point where I could not get any further. I knew my childhood had affected me and was impacting my present. I just did not know how to stop the triggers and deal with them. Luckily a friend who I had confided in told me  she thought that her couples therapist would be a good match for me.

Each session we wrestle with my issues; family, friends, school, and everything in-between. Some sessions I get angry, tearful, sad while others I feel happy and proud of myself. I never quite know which emotion it is going to be, it could even be all of them. One things I do always know is it will help.

I have found my voice in that room. It has helped me really learn who I am, what I believe in, what is important to me. I have learnt to be compassionate to myself and those who are part of my story. It is hard at times, as I re-live and re-count my memories. And I am not done. I am booked in again for a months time.

It is so important to find a therapist who does this for you. The person who will help, guide and support you, in all the ways in which you need. If they don’t then try someone new. Try a  recommendation from someone who knows you.

This can be difficult with budget cuts and insurance policies sometimes in control. I have the ability to go privately and I know that I am lucky for that. Although I do also budget to make sure I can afford this, for me. I have had to convince myself that I am worth this expense just like I am worthy of having my hair cut or having a duvet day.

Today we talked about the ripple effect of having counselling, upon those around you. My family and friends relationships have changed, they have had to adapt. Some have faded or disappeared. I have had to respect others decisions to not want to discuss things to more forward. Leaving doors ajar and hope they will come back when they are ready. I am also trying to accept that some people might never change or really understand.

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So to my therapist, thank you. To those around me I hope we can adjust and change together. If not I will leave the door ajar with hope.

Until next time, this is my life in a mental world.