My 2015 round-up

Hello there. Now it’s safe to admit that Christmas is well and truly over. The decorations and trees in people’s houses have come down, and there’s talk of spring cleaning and resolutions everywhere you go.

In light of the New Year I feel a need to look back on it and reflect a little.

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2015 was an odd year. There were fantastic highs, and terrible lows, and not really much in between.

Let me explain.

2015 saw me finally accept I needed help for my depression and anxiety. Initially, this was a terrible situation. My anxiety was without a doubt at its worst. I found it almost impossible to leave my house without Drew. And when things got too much, I couldn’t bear to even bump into my housemates so I deliberately altered my sleeping pattern to avoid people. Of course, it wasn’t anyone’s fault, but things got so bad that every sound made my heart beat so fast. I’d wake up dripping in sweat, having been jolted awake by terrifying flashbacks to a traumatic time, and dealing with all this alongside chronic pain and third year was really very difficult. Though it was a definite low point, I’m pleased to say that things got better.

Because, what’s most important, is that I realised I needed help and made the decision to get it.

That’s a definite high point, because it was the best decision I ever made. Through a mixture of counseling and medication, I’ve managed to keep my mental illnesses under control.

2015 was also increasingly difficult with regards to chronic pain from my spinal condition and cerebral palsy. There were very bad days. So bad in fact that for a week or so my diet consisted of instant cuppa soup as getting up to cook things was just far too painful, especially when having to prepare things with my affected arm.

But, I am pleased to say that I made it through. And, in what feels like forever, I’m finally being listened to by doctors. For once I feel like people are listening. That people really do want to help. And as a result I’m seeing an orthopaedic consultant, neurologist, occupational therapist, physiotherapists, orthotists and having regular pain management. Though I know there will never be a cure for my cerebral palsy and spinal problem, I know I can look at managing their symptoms and getting the best out of my body. Slowly , and with the help of my occupational therapist, I’m learning to undo all that negative ableism that’s permeated my thoughts. I’m learning to accept that it’s okay when I can’t do certain things. I’m learning to accept that my best is more than good enough. I’m learning that I have achieved so much in spite of all these things and that I need to stop being so hard on myself. I’m finally learning to accept who I am.

It’s OK that I can’t always do things for myself. I’m doing my best, my absolute best , and that’s all I can ask for.

I certainly did my best in 2015 when I graduated from university with a BA hons degree in the summer. Those painful, long-winded nights in the library dosed up on codeine paid off. I did it, and for once I can admit that I did well. Here is a picture of Drew and I in our silly hats to prove it.

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I also got onto my MRes course at university, which is everything I hoped for and more. Fingers crossed I’ll be getting to wear that silly hat again once more!

2015 saw me getting more and more into my blogging. Blogging initially started as a way of achieving catharsis and discussing things I felt were important to me. 2015 saw my blogging continue to grow and I want to take the chance to say thank you for putting up with me! You’ve all been fabulous. You have no idea how much it means to me that people actually read what I write on here!

I also collaborated with some fabulous brands this year, which is absolutely amazing! I’d like to thank Personal Planner, Primula, Wren Kitchens, Al Porto, Ultradex, Nine to Five Heels and Stick to Stigu (just to name a few!) for the wonderful opportunities you have given me. It has been fabulous to work with you all and many thanks for your support!

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2015 also allowed me to continue making lots of friends through blogging. The summer event was absolutely fantastic and I’ve made some really lovely friends. I’m hoping that the #HullBloggers will go from strength to strength in 2016, and thank you all for being so lovely!

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It sounds a little silly but 2015 saw me get these two wonderful little things: my guinea pigs Smudge and Patch. They have provided so much joy through difficult times and I hope will continue to for as long as possible. They even made it into my doctors notes because they’ve helped with my well-being so much!

So though 2015 wasn’t the best in parts – there are some things perhaps a little too sensitive to mention on here that contributed to that – i am so thankful for the good times. I’m hoping to make 2016 much more positive now that my medication has been sorted out for everything and seems to be helping.

As always, thanks so much for reading if you have, and Happy New Year to you!

Look after yourself whatever you’re doing,
Heather X

Med Chat

Hi there. Hope your Sunday is going well wherever you are. Today Drew and I are having our own little Christmas, complete with Christmas sweaters , ginger bread houses, crackers and all the trimmings. You’ll just have to wait for all the details I’m afraid, but I have high hopes!

If you’ve been reading you might be aware that I’ve been using medication to keep the symptoms of my depression/anxiety under control. I started on fluoxetine which worked well to suppress symptoms, but unfortunately I had disturbing intrusive thoughts so my doctor and I decided to try something different called Sertraline. I’ve been taking it for about eight days now, and so far I feel okay; still having wobbles, but able to do the things I need to without panicking/crying all the time.

Medication for mental illness can be a controversial issue.

There are people who don’t believe in using medication, people who think of it as the ‘easy option’, people who couldn’t praise it highly enough, and there are people who don’t even think mental illness is necessarily a valid illness that CAN be treated with medication.

Like most young people, I’ve always been wary of medication.

From a young age I’ve been prescribed various medications to control pain in my spine, and some of these meds are strong and come with warnings and side effects. It has taken me a long time to accept having to use them. They are not the easy option: they aren’t necessarily good for you, they carry warnings of addiction, sleepiness, euphoria…the list goes on.

I didn’t want to ever become dependent on painkillers – and I still do my best to cope without them – but I don’t want to be made to feel bad for choosing to use them on bad days.

Pain, depression and anxiety can have a seriously negative impact on quality of life. Each of them usually accompany the other; the parts of the brain that deal with each are similar if not the same.

When I’m in pain, I’m depressed. When I’m depressed, I’m in pain.

Pain makes me sluggish, tired and lethargic. Pain makes me feel guilty because I can’t do ‘normal’ things. Pain makes me feel bad because I can’t pluck up the physical strength to tidy the house or cook or wash my clothes on bad days.

Depression, anxiety and chronic pain are a toxic mix.

Before I started medication for my mental illness I was an absolute mess. I could barely leave my room; the thought of having to see my housemates filled me with horror. It was nothing they had done; it’s just the anxiety/depression would convince me they hated me and that they didn’t want to see me, or hear me, or generally be around me.

You see, depression and anxiety can whisper nasty little lies in your ear. They make you feel worthless. Empty. Alone.

I’d do anything to avoid bumping into my housemates. I’d listen carefully to make sure I didn’t bump into them in the corridor. I showered when everyone had gone to bed. I couldn’t go shopping without Drew. I couldn’t cook, and didn’t always eat. When I made it into uni (with Drew walking me in) I panicked and wound up hysterically crying and having to leave, because the thought of being surrounded by people filled me with terror.

I was not the person I am now.

I didn’t want to stop to talk to people. I wanted to hide away from everything: so I did. The majority of my days were spent in floods of tears under the duvet.

It was a terrible time.

These episodes very rarely happen since I’ve been on medication. I have off days – of course – but I can definitely function. I CAN do the majority of things I need to do.

Shaming people who take medication to control their mental illnesses is not helping anyone.

I don’t believe any one has the authority to tell me when/why I shouldn’t take my medication. You might not agree with it, but it’s not your choice. It’s mine.

Medication has allowed me to feel (at the very least) a little bit like myself again.
I’m happy most days. I laugh. I smile. I tell rubbish jokes and I love doing my makeup and cooking and eating. I love watching documentaries and playing on my ds and reading books and discovering new things. 

Depression made me forget my love for these things.

I am no longer empty. I feel like a person; I have emotions – positive, happy ones – and at the height of my depression/anxiety I was a horrible mixture of sadness, emptiness, guilt and panic. Happiness was a distant memory, and I was unable to feel it.

You might not understand why I take medication to control my illnesses. You might not agree with it. You might even claim they’re just a placebo.

But if they help me, why question them?

You don’t necessarily know what goes on in my head, or what has happened in my life. It can be a dark, miserable place. And as long as medication keeps me feeling okay and allows me to live life, I’m going to take it.

All I’m asking is that people be a little bit more considerate. Don’t judge what you don’t understand.

I know this has been a little heavy, but it’s been weighing on my mind.

Have a great day wherever you are; chirpier posts will be up soon, I’m sure!
Heather x

Meds and TW: Intrusive thoughts

It is my aim to be as frank as possible on here. I think being honest is incredibly important; not only for me, but for anyone who reads this.

When I talk about dealing with mental illness and disability I do it for two main reasons: firstly, this is a place for me to express my feelings. It is almost cathartic being completely honest, because it helps me to deal with things. I used to be someone who bottled things up for days at a time, only ever expressing emotion when things got to much and I broke down in tears/lashed out in fits of anger. This wasn’t healthy and I’m trying to change that. It just so happens that this is a great way to be upfront and honest. Secondly, being honest is the right thing to do. I don’t want to lie about my experiences. On the whole, things are good right now, but when things aren’t I don’t want to sit here and pretend they are. it’s doing myself a disservice.

This post might be a little surprising/ridiculous and you don’t have to read it if it isn’t your cup of tea. You can hang on and wait until I post something else; that’s the beauty of blogging. But today I am going to be totally upfront because it is important for me.

If you have been reading you’ll know I’m currently on medication to control the symptoms of my anxiety and depression. Without this medication, I cannot function. At my worst, I couldn’t leave my room without panicking, nevermind leave the house. So yes, they have been fantastic at minimising these panics. I also cry far less than I used to: if I remember rightly it was at the end of my second year when all my assignments were due in that things got Bad. I remember having to write an essay on Chaucer’s Wife of Bath Prologue whilst taking breaks out to cry.

Seriously. It got that bad.

Fluoxetine has been one of the wisest choices I’ve ever made; I can go out, I can go shopping, I don’t always feel terrified; although of course I have bad days. But fluoxetine has been brewing some nasty little intrusive thoughts. And – annoyingly- this is the only problem I have with it.

It doesn’t seem like much, but these thoughts have been disturbing to say the least. I’ve never acted on them (if i did it’d be an absolute disaster) but it doesn’t make them any less terrifying. They’re usually triggered by seeing sharp objects; knives in particular. And i get this little thought in my head that goes ‘hey, I wonder what would happen if you just stabbed yourself with that? you know. just a little bit. You should, you really should. Just try it!’  

wow. okay.

So of course these had to stop. At first I was worried about mentioning the thoughts in case they became so concerned they decided to do something drastic (I know, I don’t know, don’t ask) but I did, and turns out they’re just changing my medication, so that’s easy enough. So long fluoxetine, you’ve served me well (sort of).

Sertraline; I hope you’ll be good to me.

I hope you’re having a good Thursday.

Heather x

 

Meds, Appointments and Pain…

…are just a few words to sum up the last few months. It’s really strange. I worked out the other day that I haven’t had a single week free of hospital appointments since I moved back to uni. That’s three months with at least one hospital appointment every week (but sometimes up to four a week).

I am exhausted.

Being perpetually tired is something i’ve had to get used to as of late, and the worst thing is I don’t know what it is that is leaving me so run down. The other day I had my occupational therapy appointment. For anyone who doesn’t know, they basically help you to ‘do’ things better. So in my case – cerebral palsy (right hemi) – they  help me to make sure my hand has ‘reached its full potential’ in terms of coordination and control. As it turns out, I have a pretty powerful grip in my palms, but I find controlling my fingers and other fine motor movements completely frustrating. I can’t pick things up with my fingers  very easily at all, or do up buttons, or cut up my food at dinner, or use my right hand when my left hand is full (getting on the bus with the change in one hand/ticket in the other/personal belongings balanced somewhere on my person is incredibly challenging).

As is the case for many with a disability you learn to adapt to difficulties, and you manage to find a way around the more challenging daily activities. This isn’t always a conscious effort, and as my occupational therapist pointed out I won’t realise I’m making these changes. The adaptations one makes with CP aren’t ‘natural’; they’re not energy-efficient or ‘easy’ movements because they’re not the movements the body is designed to do. I had always read that people with CP expend between 3-5 times more energy than those without but I didn’t quite realise this until the other day, particularly with regards to my own CP.

My therapist gave me a simple task to complete with my right hand; I had to place plastic pegs into holes on a board. This wasn’t a trick and there was nothing sneaky going on: it was just a simple, easy activity.

But not for me.

As I tried to gain control of my fingers to pick up the pegs I dropped them. I then struggled to get the pegs at the right angle if I managed to pick them up (very awkwardly). My elbow was pointing outward, my wrist was curled under, and my whole posture changed; I was so, so intent on completing this activity my head felt like it would explode. Everything about my body was fixated on trying to complete this one little meaningless task, and it completely exhausted me.

and, most of all, I felt like a failure because I couldn’t.

I’ve never done these tasks before, and I’ve never seen an occupational therapist until this year. Treatment was mostly focused on my leg (physio, the occasional neuro and consultant) and my walking, as I had an operation to enable me to do so when I was very small. I think my hand just got a little bit left out on the way, and as a result I’m finding all these tasks impossible and ridiculous and a little bit of a shock to be honest.

Of course I’ve always known I haven’t had good control over my hand, and I often deliberately avoid using it because I drop things and have in the past been made fun of for it (kids, eh). But this exercise drove it all home to me.

It’s hard to live with a brain injury. It’s frustrating when your body doesn’t behave in the way you want it to. And it’s tiring, because not only is it physically taxing but mentally frustrating.

We had a long discussion about Everything, and it was so refreshing because I felt like she really understood me. We discussed the fatigue, and really it’s probably a variety of things combined into one; med side effects, pain-related tiredness, depression, anxiety, CP…and for now that’s something I have to work through. I need my medication. I can’t just stop doing things. And unfortunately neither my pain nor brain (ha!) can switch off for very long.

But most importantly what my therapist made sure I knew was that it is okay. It is okay to feel this way. It’s okay to take rest days, and it’s okay to have a break.

Living with a disability isn’t easy.

It is not okay however to make myself feel bad about all this, and feel bad about the fact I’m tired, or think of myself as a failure, or less than worthy. Because those thoughts just add fuel to the fire.

Having the depression and anxiety on top of the CP/spinal problem really doesn’t help (and I spend a lot of my day feeling sad/empty/guilty/horribly anxious as it is) but I do not need to add to these feelings.

I am not a failure, because I will learn how to do things differently. I will thrive, because I’ve already come this far without the help.

Getting used to everything is taking time, but I think I am getting there. It’s just going to take time.

I am sorry because this is a really rambling, ridiculous post, but (as always) many thanks for reading if you got this far. It means a lot.

Take care of yourself whatever you’re doing; we could all do with a break every now and then.

Heather x

 

 

Happiness is…

  1. wrapping up warm in the crisp, cold weather, 2. frothy coffee the first thing in the morning, 3. meeting new people and putting names to faces, 4. sharing tapas and laughter and drinks with Drew, 5. that bubbly, lovely feeling you get when sipping on cava, 6. cosying up under blankets and watching rubbish tv, 7. knowing your best friend is coming to visit, 8. feeling Happy and not Sad, 9. feeling like I’m getting somewhere with hospital appointments, 10. slowly starting to feel at peace with taking meds and everything else.

I know it’s all going to be okay.

Heather x

Learning

It may be a cliché, but it’s true: you do learn something new everyday. With every new day I’m learning more and more about myself. I’m learning that thought things may be difficult, I can find a way to work through them. I am learning that I am resilient if I give myself the right conditions. I am learning to try and accept the things I cannot change; I’m not being pessimistic, but realistic. I am giving myself time, and this is something I’ve always struggled with.

Part of my problem living with both my physical conditions and my mental illnesses is I don’t cut myself any slack. Though I know I’m technically ill – and that I can’t necessarily help it – I’m always beating myself up about things. I’m always wishing that I could do more, that I should push myself  and just deal with the consequences later. I know this isn’t productive as it’s a really destructive habit but it’s hard to accept that sometimes you need to do things a little differently to get by.

But, I think things are starting to change ever so slowly.

Yesterday was one of ‘those’ days. The night before I barely slept (perhaps slept for four hours in total) and my anxiety was running wild. I kept convincing myself that the shadows on the wall were people/scary things (yes, I know it’s totally irrational) and the usual narrative of ‘nobody likes you, you’ll get nowhere, you’re worth nothing, everything is terrible and you deserve it’ was circling around my head. It  was just a terrible, teary, ridiculous night. And as is usual after a night like that these feelings continued into the morning. I woke up feeling pretty low, but this sadness descended into complete emptiness and before I knew it I was crying uncontrollably on the floor.

I know. It really was quite a scene.

I was due in a seminar in the morning and the thought of missing it made me feel horrendous. Yet I knew I was no use to anyone unless they wanted to witness someone crying for the whole three hours of course. Drew – being the lovely person he is – tried to calm me down and convinced me to stay at home. I felt so incredibly guilty about it, but for the first time, I didn’t really put up a fight. I knew I couldn’t go in – there was no point lying about it – and suddenly I realised it will all be okay.

It is all okay.

As I suspected, the department were completely and utterly lovely about it all. They’ve offered help and support to help me through the remainder of my MRes course and no, despite what my anxious-brain thinks, no one hates me. No one has bad feelings towards me. They understand and are there to help.

And sure enough, after my day off yesterday filled with guinea pig cuddles and animal crossing and cups of tea in bed, I am feeling a lot better today.

Living with mental illness is a constant battle with yourself. it’s a constant struggle with your emotions. It’s knowing you’re not well but desperately trying to fight it. It is a constant, uphill battle.

But I can work through this. And I will.

Today is a more positive day. I cleaned out the guinea pigs and fed them tomatoes and carrots and gave them cuddles. I’ve even washed up some crockery and tried to tidy up the living room which is something I couldn’t face yesterday. I’ve had a frothy coffee (my Tassimo coffee in the mornings is such a treat) and I’m planning to bake some banana muffins.

Today can be a good day if just cut yourself some slack. You’re human; you are no superhero (although of course you are always magical and wonderful).

I hope you’re having a happy Tuesday whatever you’re doing. If my banana muffins prove successful, I’ll try and get a recipe up for you all. Cross your fingers for me!

Take care of yourself,

Heather x

It has been quiet…

…over this way and for that I apologise. It hasn’t been the easiest of weeks, and I’ve had a little bit of a blip in terms of anxiety and depression. This morning I didn’t even want to leave the house. I can’t work out whether it was too noisy or I’d overfaced myself with tasks (I’ve given myself a lot to do recently) but I hate having these little blips. I constantly forget I still HAVE anxiety and depression. I seem to think it should be completely gone and I should be over it and I should get on with my life but then it hits me and I feel like I’m back to square one. I’m exhausted (I think it’s related to the anxiety/depression) but I keep having to schedule naps in and I’m still tired afterwards. It sucks.

I guess I should give myself a break but I can’t help but think I should be getting on with my life now. Making myself feel bad isn’t helping, and I know that, but I feel like I’m stuck in a rut and I’m finding it difficult to get out.

Next week is my induction week for my MRes course I’m starting this month. I’m excited, but feeling very apprehensive as I have so many hospital appointments on the horizon and I don’t want my health to get in the way of my degree. I feel like I’ve had enough with that last year, and I’m currently on weekly appointments for pain, will be having mri scans, occupational therapy, physio and a meeting with an orthopaedic surgeon and orthotist. It’s getting to be a little intense, and it probably isn’t helping my anxiety.

Sometimes I’d just love to have a magic wand come and wave everything away; wave this constant pain away, wave the irrational thoughts away, the sadness and the guilt and the self-loathing away, the sleepless nights, the appointments…I guess all it boils down to is that I’m just not feeling my best currently. I’m hoping things will improve soon and that I’ll be able to stick to some sort of blogging routine. There’s so much I want to share with you all.

As always, thanks for reading, I’m sorry this hasn’t been the most cheery of posts.

I do hope you’re having a good Wednesday whatever you’re up to, and I hope to return soon with soon with something a little happier.

Heather x

tiredness associated with pain away, wave the Bad Thoughts aware, the irrational