Feeling Stressed

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.

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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.

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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Teacher Training Days & Back to Work Anxiety

I am back to work tomorrow. After two weeks off this causes me some stress and anxiety. Usually when I tell people this, or even hint to it, I am told I am lucky to have so much holiday as a teacher. They are right, I am. However, it does not stop the going back to work issues I face when you have anxiety and depression, plus I am an introvert.

Nervous to see everyone and yet I want to get back into the routine a school provides. However these also raise issues and questions in my mind. Will I be good enough? What will people ask? Inevitable – How am I? What if I am not good? They do not really want to know that. How was your Christmas/New Years? How are my family? This is now the count down to exams. How are the kids going to do. Have they revised. Will they understand this is important. What am I teaching on Friday/this term?

Social interaction like this is draining and causes me some anxiety too. I do not know how to respond, how much people actually want to know and usually go with ‘Good’ or ‘Fine’. Then you ask about them and get a whole story, while I give them my ‘I was just being polite’ look. This might seem rude but these are work colleagues and not my friends. And I have a difficult relationship with my family, which I do not want to explain. I am polite and friendly but as an introvert it is exhausting keeping up appearances.

Tomorrow is also a teacher training day, which means learning something. I am not always sure what. Listening to people lecture about a chosen topic, I may of already had training on or not. Often it is on things unhelpful to actual teaching in a classroom but about new criteria from Ofsted, health and safety, data and so much more, it is not exciting.

As teachers we are also the worst students, like they say about doctors and patients. We will comment (not so quietly) under our breath and be unappreciative of the hard work or genius of the speakers. Most things labelled ‘initiative’ are dismissed as ‘will be gone by the end of term’. The speakers should expect loud groans if any interaction is expected and if you dare to utter the words ‘role play’ things will be thrown. It is harsh but true. Training teachers is not a job I would out my hand up for.

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I also find the crowd an issue. In my school we have over 100 staff and when we are together in the hall for training it is a lot for me. My heart races, I fear being picked on, having to talk to people around me, asked to engage and interact on the spot.

Tomorrow morning we are going to a special auditorium as all the schools in our link of academy schools are coming together. That is three Secondary Schools, seven Primary Schools and a Special Provision School (I believe). That is a lot of people. Too many for me. I will try to sit at the back and keep telling myself to breathe. Even entering that room is hard, my first challenge is to find somewhere to sit, with people I know, but essential to help reduce my anxiety.

I probably will find it hard to sleep tonight with anxiety running a muck in my head and because I will be worried I might sleep through my alarm. Highly possible, I have seven alarms and still sleep through them all. It is so strange as anyone making any other noise wakes me up, as I am usually a light sleeper, but my alarms I can sleep through.

alarm clock analogue antique classic
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My brain sometimes triggers a migraine or pain as a coping strategy but hopefully not this time. I do feel my body plots against the things I try to do, or the things I have to do. It sneaks up and makes me stop when I want to carry on and plow through. Mostly this happens if I am not listening to my body’s pre-warnings.

Well, tonight I am trying to listen, I am trying to process it all before the morning comes, before I even attempt to sleep. I will meditate before bedtime and set extra alarms. I will list the people I want to see tomorrow. I will remember I can avoid people in a crowd, so maybe use it to my advantage. This is my Tortoise working hard on taming the Hare, even before the race has begun.

Goodnight from life in my mental world.