Block. Delete. Forget.

Block. Delete. Forget.

Two of my worst panic attacks have taken place in the air, on a plane. The first was following a major panic attack I had whilst on a weekend away in Madrid.

My panic attack in Madrid was triggered by a bad experience I had whilst I was there. I’ve never written about this before, and have only told those closest to me about it, but one year on I feel I need to put it out there. It’s long, but please stick around.

I was in Madrid with two people I believed to be my friends, however whilst drinking in a bar, they questioned me on being a lesbian. It’s hard to describe what they said without using the actual words, but it was along the lines of me going through a “phase”, that it was a choice, and how hard they found it to accept me as gay. They told me they believed that I would “go back to men”, and that they wouldn’t want their daughters to stay with me for any length of time in case “they came back as lesbians”.

Now, this was not the first time I had felt singled out like this in their company. There had been many occasions where I wasn’t invited to nights out or in, because it was them and their husbands. Many times, their partners wouldn’t come out if it were me and my partner because it was “too girly”.

My so-called best friend treated me as a bit of a joke, and I am sure she still thinks of me that way. My mental illness was growing for years as I found it hard to come out initially, and incredibly hard to deal with the pressures of telling family and friends that I was gay. It was crippling, and I found it hard to be at peace and love myself again. I am only just getting there now after my near breakdown in December of last year. There was little to no support from these friends. Although lip-service was made, they were not supportive and I could not talk to them without being subjected to another lesbian joke.

Following what was said to me in that bar in Madrid, I fought my corner as best I could, given that I was in a strange environment and it was two against one. I’d never done this before. I asked them why they were adding another layer of guilt and pressure to me for coming out as gay five years earlier. I genuinely believed of all the people in my life, my friends would understand and realise that it didn’t matter who I was in a relationship with – I was still Ellie. Apparently it did matter. They said it did alter things, and that it wasn’t the same now I was in relationships with women. This broke my heart, as I could not imagine how or why this would change anything at all.

Still, I questioned myself. I asked myself if I was being unreasonable. I asked myself if I was being harsh on my friends to expect them to accept me as gay. I left the bar and went back to the hotel room.

Waking the next morning, my friends acted as if nothing had happened. One of them said that we should laugh off what happened the night before, and I shouldn’t be so sensitive about things. I sent a text message to my girlfriend, and one to my friend in Edinburgh telling them what had happened. Both were horrified. Both said they couldn’t believe what had happened the night before and I shouldn’t have friends like that. What a relief to know that I wasn’t over reacting and that what I believed about myself was right. What a relief to know that I had such amazing people in my life who loved me back home.

I spent the rest of that final day in Madrid quietly, only interacting when I had to. I was miserable and trapped and I couldn’t wait to get home.  My flight was at 8am the following morning, so I was counting down the minutes.

At 2am, the panic attack started. I text my girlfriend and she talked me through it. I have a fear of vomit, but I had to be sick in the toilet; there was no choice. I couldn’t avoid it. I lay on the bathroom floor convulsing until I had to force myself up to get dressed and get into a taxi. Still, my girlfriend was texting me through it, encouraging me to just take it minute by minute, not to think about the future just to concentrate on what was happening around me. What did the floor feel like? What could I see around me? How many colours? I made it to the airport in the taxi, but had no WiFi connection so couldn’t stay in contact with anyone until I landed back in Scotland. I checked in to my flight using a machine, and everywhere I went I stopped in the toilet for respite. I always knew where the nearest bin was in case I needed to be sick. I waited in a toilet until I had to board the plane, listening to music on my headphones which reminded me of home.

I boarded the plane, and sat at the back by a window. I was breathing fast but had to concentrate on that to keep calm. A couple were sitting next to me. I turned away from them, held a sick bag and concentrated on my breath. We took off. I was OK, just. It was about 30 minutes into the flight when panic set in again and I had to ask the couple next to me to grab a flight attendant. I was definitely going to pass out. The couple moved to other seats and I lay down over three seats. I passed out, and woke again to the attendants offering me sugar water. It was so welcome! I had zero energy left and one sip brought me back a little bit. I lay back down and slept the rest of the trip.

We landed. The relief was so immense that I cried. A text message came through from my girlfriend saying she was waiting for me, along with my friend who had driven her there to pick me up. I managed to get off the plane and over to Arrivals, where I burst into tears at seeing her, and couldn’t stop. She carried me to the car, and my friend was there – I cried. They had brought me a blanket, hot water bottle and water to make me feel better in the car. They took me home, and I vowed never to leave ever again.

It took me three days to get over the panic attack. I couldn’t eat, was too anxious to talk to anyone and couldn’t go to work. I was also too scared to sleep in my bed as it took me right back to the bed in Madrid. I had to sleep on the sofa with the television on all night, and my girlfriend set up a bed on the floor so she could be with me. We woke up in the night, watched random films and fell back to sleep. Finally, I was able to eat a rich tea biscuit and things returned to relative normality.

What of my terrible friends? I have never spoken to or seen them again. I cut them out of my life completely, because poisonous people do not deserve anyone’s time. It took me a while to come round to this way of thinking. My girlfriend, Mum, sister, aunties and friends convinced me that people who make you feel inadequate are not friends. I haven’t missed them once in the year since it happened. In fact, I feel better about myself and my life since they’ve been away.

A month later, I was diagnosed with anxiety, panic disorder and PTSD as a result of the incident in Madrid. It affected me deeply, and I was ill for a while. I am now in a completely different place mentally. I am still on medication, but I love myself, and I am not ashamed of who I am or what I have been through to get here. I work on bettering myself daily, and will never be afraid to disconnect with people who dull my shine.

I’m now happily married to the woman who helped me through all of this, have real friends who love me for who I am, and a family that have my back whatever I choose to do with my life.

I’m still afraid of flying, though. More on that next time!

no-longer-anything

This blog post is dedicated to Sharon, Louise, Alice and Marilyn who told me to tell them to “Get tae f**k”.

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The Dreaded Phone Call

The Dreaded Phone Call

This blog post in no way reflects or refers to my current place of work. The following has been gathered from personal past experience, and by speaking to others who have had, or still have, the same experiences.

phone-fear-300x300

So you’ve woken up, you feel horrendous, and you know you can’t make it into work. But not going into work means you have to phone in to work. Talking to someone on the other end of the line and telling them what’s wrong is a terrifying prospect. For many with a mental illness, this also means lying about what’s wrong; an added layer of anxiety.

So you go into work and are ineffective because you are unwell. Or you phone in, and spend the rest of the day feeling guilty, questioning what you said and whether or not anyone believed you. You then return to work sooner than you should do, and sometimes worse because of the effects this has had on your anxiety.

I’ve emailed and text into work before, and been pulled up for not phoning in when I should have done. Why do I email? Because I am already feeling physically or mentally ill enough to be off sick, so I’d rather delay speaking to anyone until I am fit enough to do so. At the point of being well again, I am strong enough to explain my reasons, particularly if they were related to my mental health.

In 2016, why aren’t places of work more flexible with this, particularly with those who struggle with mental health? I can think of a few reasons:

  1. Trust, or lack of it. Phoning in lets the manager hear the employee speaking, and explaining why they are off sick. Managers may gauge from this phone call whether they believe them or not.
  2. The phone call can discourage people who are not genuinely unwell from phoning in.
  3. Open conversation can develop, to discuss any support needs or to reassure the employee.

My question is, should employers offer an alternative way of contacting their managers should employees request this due to a mental illness? I believe so.

I asked some social media followers what they think.

Female, 26:

I consider myself to be a trustworthy, hard working employee; yet I feel severe guilt when I need to phone in to work sick. The stress and anxiety would be greatly reduced if I were able to text my boss, and if she understood why I was contacting her this way.

Male, 34:

I feel physically sick at the thought of phoning my supervisor. Not because we don’t get on, or she doesn’t understand my [mental] illness, but because when I am having a dark day, the last thing I want to do is explain it verbally. I just go into work, or invent a physical symptom.

Female, 32:

I mainly feel OK phoning in sick, but there are days when my anxiety runs too high and I feel like I can’t do it. It goes one of two ways: I either just go in and am completely unproductive, or I phone in and then criticize myself for the rest of the day on what I said. Being able to text would be awesome for my anxiety.

Female, age not given:

My worry is that if I text in, people would think it was too easy for me to take a day off and I would [take advantage]. Which isn’t the case, but do other people know that?

So, what do you think? In this age of technology, should we embrace other forms of communication for situations where using the telephone can cause someone with anxiety more harm than good? Should this be open to all, or just to those who specifically request an alternative means of communication due to a mental health condition?

I think I would feel far more comfortable knowing that if I was having a bad MH day, I could text my line manager and have an open discussion when I was back at work and feeling stronger. I would love for some employers to embrace this way of thinking, and I firmly believe better working relationships based on trust and understanding would develop.

Let me know what you think in the comments. Keep being mindful, and please don’t be hard on yourself if you have to phone in sick. We all deserve the time it takes to feel better again.

 

Bring on the Night

Bring on the Night

sleeping and thinking

Does this look familiar? Even now with mindfulness practice and CBT, I still struggle occasionally with getting a good night’s sleep. For me, falling asleep is generally quite easy, but I know for many this is a problem. I tend to wake up at 3am and allow my thoughts to run away with me which really causes problems.

So how can we stay mindful in the dead of night, when there is very little to focus our attention on?

Throughout therapy, I’ve been working on some techniques to help alleviate this problem. The first I identified was that lying in bed and worrying had become a habit. If I woke up in the night, it was normal for me to start worrying about something. In fact, one night I noted that I’d said to myself “I’m not worrying about anything – there must be something I can worry about…” Habits are hard to break, so the easiest thing for me to do to start with was to remove myself from the bed and bedroom completely, as soon as the unhelpful thinking habits started.

Luckily we have a huge comfy sofa, so when this happens I can take myself into the living room and cozy up on there. Even the walk through to the other room takes my mind out of that negative space. Sometimes I make a cup of (caffeine-free) tea, or I read a book, or I watch TV. I always put the lamp on, which creates a sense of being back in the land of the living instead of in a dark and lonely nighttime. I always fall back to sleep on the sofa. It doesn’t happen straight away, but I don’t clock watch or worry about not getting enough sleep. I distract my attention with something on TV and suddenly the alarm is going off and it’s morning.

Another technique which I’ve tried, and which works, is mindful breathing.

The primary focus in Mindfulness Meditation is the breathing. However, the primary goal is a calm, nonjudgmental awareness, allowing thoughts and feelings to come and go without getting caught up in them. This creates calmness and acceptance.

Source: http://www.getselfhelp.co.uk/mindfulness.htm

This technique allows the mind to calm and stop its focus on thoughts and feelings which distract you from sleep. A particular favourite of mine is to count your breath backwards from 1,000. The in breath counts as 1, the out breath as 1.  It is important here to only focus on the breath, how it feels as it goes in and out of your body, and what changes it brings to your body as it does so. Along with counting, I will never reach beyond 900 before I am asleep again.

Why not try The Worry Warrior’s technique too:

I’d love to hear which techniques you have used to get a better night sleep while struggling with anxiety! Please leave them in the comments.

Hokusai Says by Roger Keys

Hokusai Says by Roger Keys

When I started discovering mindfulness and Buddhism practice, this poem made so much sense to me and helped me through some really tough days. I hope you enjoy it, and get as much out of it as I certainly have.

 

image

Hokusai Says

Hokusai says look carefully.

He says pay attention, notice.

He says keep looking, stay curious.

He says there is no end to seeing
He says look forward to getting old.

He says keep changing,

you just get more who you really are.

He says get stuck, accept it, repeat

yourself as long as it is interesting.
He says keep doing what you love.
He says keep praying.
He says every one of us is a child,

every one of us is ancient

every one of us has a body.

He says every one of us is frightened.

He says every one of us has to find

a way to live with fear.
He says everything is alive —

shells, buildings, people, fish,

mountains, trees, wood is alive.

Water is alive.
Everything has its own life.
Everything lives inside us.
He says live with the world inside you.
He says it doesn’t matter if you draw,

or write books. It doesn’t matter

if you saw wood, or catch fish.

It doesn’t matter if you sit at home

and stare at the ants on your veranda

or the shadows of the trees

and grasses in your garden.

It matters that you care.
It matters that you feel.
It matters that you notice.
It matters that life lives through you.
Contentment is life living through you.

Joy is life living through you.

Satisfaction and strength

is life living through you.
He says don’t be afraid.

Don’t be afraid.
Love, feel, let life take you by the hand.

Let life live through you.

– Roger Keyes

Antidotes to Anxiety

Antidotes to Anxiety

I saw a quote this week which said that appreciation is the antidote to anxiety. Ever since, it’s had me thinking – what have been my antidotes? My anxiety has definitely improved in the last few months, but what have I done to make this happen?

  • Being present

Easier than it sounds..! If you practice mindfulness already then you’ll know how hard this can be. I keep reminders on my desk at work, in my car and at home which nudge my mind into remembering to live in the present. Even a post it note can do the trick, as long as you know it is your reminder to stay mindful.

I also note my thoughts and feelings when I notice they are there. By gently saying “thought” or “feeling” to myself when I notice them, and changing my focus of attention to whatever is happening in the moment, I don’t follow them which is what my anxiety feeds on.

flower
Seeing this in the car reminds me to come back to the present
  • Saying No

This is personal to me, because historically I have had such a hard time doing this. I am a people-pleaser, and will do things for other people at the jeopardy of my own happiness or well being. This also covers making decisions which involve other people, for example choosing what film to watch in the cinema. The first challenge was making decisions for my partner and I, which felt uncomfortable at first but I now feel more at ease doing this, without feeling guilt. I am now working on saying no to things I don’t want to do socially, with no excuses or panic.

  • Keeping a Gratitude Journal

This is something I decided to do myself after reading that appreciating the good rather than dwelling on the bad is a habit we should all be getting into. I use the journal app Day One on my phone, which means I can update it whenever I feel like it. I use this to journal every day, but just before bed I make a list of three things I am thankful for that day. It means I go to sleep with these thoughts in my head, and I feel happier.

3 things
My daily gratitude journal puts things in perspective
  • Swimming

On Friday 18th March, I took part in the Sport Relief Swimathon. I signed up for the 5k swim challenge back in January, just after starting therapy.

When I went back to work in February, swimming gave me a focus on something other than anxiety. It gave me a feeling of being me, a feeling of achieving something that existed outside of the office. Before diagnosis, the only identity I had for myself was my job title, and the only thing which seemed of any importance to me was whether my work was done. Now, I had something else which mattered.

When I get in the pool after work, I literally feel the weight of the day wash away. I have also started using it to practice mindful meditation. I count every length, and if my mind wanders easily I count every stroke, timing myself each time. All I think about is getting to the end of the pool, before starting again. Once I’ve finished, I head home and feel amazing. Not only because I have exercised, but because I’m not worrying about work. At all.

swim
Half way through the 5k
  • Smiling

Sounds strange, but when I feel stress or anxiety, I try and smile. It eases my mind and helps me relax. Along with some appreciation for what is good in my life, smiling goes a long way. Try waking up with a smile too. It seriously works.


I think as long as something works for you, keep doing it. There are so many ways to divert your mind from those anxious feelings, but remember that you can’t get rid of it completely. Don’t be hard on yourself if you have an anxious day, I still have them and I just try to ride it out, wake up the next day, and start a fresh. Oh, and don’t forget to look at your Me List if you need to.

Meditation Hurdles – The Top 10

Meditation Hurdles – The Top 10

This week in Tricycle’s Meditation Month, I asked if people minded sharing what their biggest hurdle was to consistent meditation practice, and how they manage to overcome it (if at all!)

Here are the top 10 answers I received:

  1. Distractions

    Emails and to do lists are my biggest hurdle. I have a daily reminder on my phone to alert me to meditate at my preferred time. When it shows up on my phone it helps me let go of my distractions and sit.

  2. Finding the Time

    I remember to choose quality, not quantity. This morning I had a lot to do so I took 5 minutes. Some days I take longer when I have more time.

  3. Hot flushes

    That will yank one out of meditation like nothing else! But I have found breathing through hot flushes, provided I’m wearing clothing that’s not too hot, has helped me deal with them.

  4. Chronic pain

    I know from when I did have a very regular practice in the past, consistent meditation helped me deal with the pain better. I’m recommitting myself. Difficult emotions are also hard – I just left an abusive relationship so I have lots of those.

  5. Disruptions

    I’m OK if I get a routine going, but I have difficulty handling disruptions to my routine; for example, travel.  I now try to treat meditation like brushing your teeth, I have to do that first thing every day, so I hope that will encourage my new habit.

  6. My Own Expectations

    I am my biggest obstacle. Wanting to do a “full sit” (40 min) plus 25 min of pranayama (breath work) before, and some yoga, keeps me from feeling I have the time for my practice. Recently, I have set the bar low. 7 minutes to start, increasing 1 minute a day, with just 5 minutes of pranayama. It makes it accessible and gets me back in the routine.

  7. Am I doing it right?

    For me, it was always lack of time and lack of direction – I felt unsure about what I was doing when I sat, was I doing it right? I overcame this by choosing a length of time that seemed manageable (10 minutes to start), a time of day that was tied to routine not actual time (I sit before breakfast, no matter what time that is) and seeking support. Joining a local insight group has been a great comfort, and I told my friends and family about my plan to commit to daily practice and asked them to help me if I started to lose motivation. 1 year and 2 months in, daily sitting now feels natural and habitual.

  8. Doubt

    Sitting is no problem when life is smooth sailing, it’s sitting when life is stormy that gets me. I start to doubt my ability to change and grow, and in a self-fulfilling prophecy I then start avoiding the very things that lead to growth (like sitting, healthy habits, avoiding substances etc). I’ve grown more aware of my patterns, which helps me notice them and not get sucked into them… still a work in progress!

  9. Clock Watching

    Have I been sitting long enough? When I use a timer I find myself distracted by thinking it should ring soon. I stopped using a timer and now just sit for however long is right for that moment. Sometimes it’s 10 minutes, sometimes 40, but I’ve let go of worrying about it. However long I sit is right for me.

  10. The Imaginary Hurdle

    The biggest hurdle is thinking there’s a hurdle to overcome – just do it – 10 minutes a day – be consistent and the “hurdle” will soon fade away.


Personally, I sometimes find it hard to get up early enough before work to sit. However, when I don’t practice, I really notice it later on in the day! I also have a habit of self punishment when I miss sessions which I am really working on. This week, if I’ve been running late, I’ll meditate at my desk – even 10 seconds of breath work is enough before I kick start the day. It doesn’t have to be obvious either, just some mindful breathing with a cup of tea.

Keep up your practice, and rest assured that you aren’t the only one who faces meditation hurdles. 😌🙏

Pizzen

Pizzen

I promised pizza in this blog, and so I will now deliver. This is a Morrisons ham and pineapple.  What a specimen!

But it’s not just the pizza I’m here for. This weekend, I practiced mindful eating for the first time. I read about this in Thich Nhat Hanh’s book The Miracle of Mindfulness. If you haven’t read it, I thoroughly recommend it.

In modern life, it’s often really hard to practice mindful eating because of all the distractions we may have around meal times. Television, music, even negative discussions can lead us to be absent from the moment of eating and enjoying our food. How often do we eat our food and remember every bite? How often do we have a snack, and only savour the first and last bites, because these are the ones we take notice of?

So on Sunday, I made a pizza and ate it mindfully. I know it’s not the most sophisticated meal to try this with, but just go with me…

It felt so strange at first; trying to notice every sensation from how warm the pizza was, to how it smelt and the texture as I put it in my mouth. Once in the mouth, noticing how the texture changed, the temperature, the different flavours. Finally, when swallowed, how it felt once it was gone. Every bite I tried to do this. Obviously, being a beginner, my mind wandered and I had to gently bring it back quite a few times to the act of just eating. I found that I was full quicker, as I was eating slowly. I also enjoyed the meal so much more, appreciating each morsel as I usually do with my final mouthful. Eating in silence was also a very positive and reflective experience, which I didn’t think it would be.

If this sounds bizarre, why not try imagining it in the classic Buddhist way of enjoying a tangerine! Probably a nicer image than me and my pizza.

Of course, I won’t always be eating alone and neither should you (it’s worth noting that I did not eat the whole pizza to myself…) It is possible to practice mindful eating with others, but I would switch the television off to do this successfully. Thich Nhat Hanh also suggests steering conversations away from anything which may cause discomfort to you or others; this will only cause them or yourself to be away from the present and not able to enjoy a mindful meal. Positive conversation and regular reference to the food is the best way to ensure a truly present meal. Once I’ve tried these techniques out, I will write again and see if it’s as easy as its sounds!

So, for now, I’ll just leave you with this. Have a great week everyone! 😌🙏