My first time taking valium for a flight

Have I mentioned yet that I’m just back from a Florida vacation? Oh, only a couple of hundred times, huh? Well, it was our first vacation in five years and so it was quite the shake up of my routine – both in terms of my eBay business, and also for my mental health.

*I just want to quickly say that this blog post is simply my experience with taking valium for the first time, of course, people can react differently to medication so please discuss any questions you have with your doctor prior to obtaining or using a prescription.*

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Photo by Anastasiia Ostapovych on Unsplash

Why was I considering taking Valium?

On the previous two occasions that I have attempted to board a plane – in 2016 and 2017 – I’ve had panic attacks so severe that I’ve had to do a runner – letting people down that I love and holding up a frigging jumbo jet while my bags were removed. Not my favourite memories ever to be honest.

So that’s probably a decent enough explanation as to why I needed some help to fly this time, and I don’t want to turn this intro into a novel, but I should probably also just point out that I am actually not afraid of flying, like, at all. Yeah, I know, but hear me out. My issue is actually that I suffer from cleithrophobia – which is the fear of being trapped. It’s like a sister to claustrophobia – which is the fear of enclosed spaces. So, I have no fear of take-off or landing, of turbulence, or a worry about terror threats, no, for me, a flight is a nightmare simply because I’m stuck in one space for an extended period of time – it would be just as intense if I was locked in a huge gym hall on the ground, or a bus, or aything like that!

Because the fear for me is of being trapped rather than being on a plane, the panic attacks start much earlier than actually being near a plane, for example, once you go through security in an airport you are “trapped” in the departure lounge, so that’s also a big trigger for me. In fact, just having a holiday booked and knowing I “have” to go is enough to make me feel trapped and triggered (I’ll write a lot more about cleithrophobia at another time, I promise).

Why did I decide to take Valium?

So, I prepared for this holiday in a lot of ways beyond just buying a swimsuit – I began a medititation practice, I started doing yoga again, and I even tried EFT with the help of my mum. I became confident that I could handle most of the journey on my own, like getting through check-in, security and such, but I still just had this gut-wrenching fear that when push came to shove, I would still be unable to board the plane.

I wrestled with the feeling for months, but eventually decided to go and speak to my doctor. In all honesty, I felt like a bit of a failure for having to go and get valium prescribed to go on holiday – I felt like it was “supposed” to be this happy treat and not something that should require pharmacutical intervention, as in, it’s not a “necessary” thing to go on holiday, is it?

My experience with my doctor

My doctor was amazing though, he helped me to see things in a different light by explaining that anxiety is a battle I face every single day, and I deserve to have a holiday, to relax, that it will overall do good for my mental health. He was also very much of the opinion that because of my previous failure to board experiences I was building the experience up in my head and it was weighing on my mind a lot – and that I’d feel a lot better once I’d conquered this fear, even if I needed a little help to do it. He also let me know that people needing sedation to fly is actually fairly common – either in the form of prescribed medication, or a few strong drinks before they board, which I’d never really thought of before!

He gave me some tablets, that were a pretty low dose, explaining that because I’d never been sedated before, I probably wouldn’t need much – but, he enouraged me to test them out before we traveled so that I’d know how they make me feel, and also be able to go back to him if I needed a higher dosage.

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Photo by Anastasiia Ostapovych on Unsplash

 

The actual travel experience

Testing out the valium actually didn’t work super well for me – it allowed me to realise that I didn’t experience any mad side-effects, but I couldn’t tell if they “worked” when it came to sedating me – I think this is because I didn’t try taking them when I was in a super-anxious state, so it was hard to measure the effect because I was already calm when I took them.

However, when it came time to travel, I put a lot of faith in the tablets, not least because my doctor had explained I could take two of the tablets, if one didn’t cut it, so I felt like I had some control over the situation. On the day, I made it through check-in and security with some deep-breathing and focus exercises, I was proud of myself, but, as boarding time approached I could feel the adrenaline flooding through my system and I was losing the ability to think rationally about things – time to take a pill.

I took one pill at this point and I would say it hit me very quickly – within 10-15 minutes – although this was on a completely empty stomach as I’d been unable to eat or drink anything that day because of the anxiety. How did it make me feel? It’s strange because it doesn’t really make me feel anything, it’s more like the abscence of a feeling. Basically, when I take valium I don’t feel drowsy, or drunk or happy, for me, all it does is turn off the adrenaline.

For anyone who has had a panic attack, you know the feeling, where adrenaline is rushing into your system, your heart is racing, your stomach churning, brain running 100 miles an hour – it’s a battle to keep your mind rational. You feel like you’re going to vomit or die and all your internal alarms are going off, yes, you can fight it, and I have, many, many times, but it is exhausting and upsetting and just a constant struggle. So for me, valium just turned off the adrenaline and with it, the physical symptoms.

I wasn’t suddenly happy about boarding a flight – mentally, I was still really scared, but my body didn’t respond with all the physical stuff, so it meant that I was much more able to control my thoughts to focus on something else, and to speak rationally to myself. In other words, the valium stopped me from having a panic response, and just downgraded the whole experience to “nervousness”, which is a vast improvement.

What happened when it wore off?

My doctor had told me that valium typically lasts 4-6 hours in the system, although it’s a little difficult to say precisely, as different people react to it differently. I decided that since it kicked in super fast for me, I wasn’t going to set a timer or anything to take another one, I was just going to see how it felt.

I think really, my hope was that once it wore off part-way through the flight, I would feel fine and not need to take another one – I think I still felt like I had something to prove, or that I could handle this on my own. As it turned out, I did become aware of the valium wearing off. The restlessness in my legs, the anxious wringing of hands, the increased heart rate and breathing speed, the nausea – could I have talked myself down and done the rest of the flight valium free? Maybe, but I was so exhausted from the days of worry leading up to the flight and so keen to just not have a negative experience with flying that I decided to take another pill. Again, it kicked in quickly (although by this point I did have food in my stomach!) and felt exactly the same as the first time. I think I definitely made the right decision to take another one – not least because we faced big delays when we landed and I needed my mental strength to stay calm and manage those.

So, what about next time I fly?

The news that I had managed to board a plane reached my family and those close to me, who were very proud of me and relieved about the whole thing, however, in conversation with them since coming home, there seems to be a lot of feeling that, “well you’ve overcome that fear now, all sorted”, but, erm, I have to say unfortunately I don’t agree.

We actually already have travel plans booked for next year, and while I do feel more optimistic about it all, including the plane-boarding part, I think I have to remember that I do suffer from cleithrophobia and in a lot of ways the whole airport, long-haul flight situation is the biggest trigger that I can face. Anyone who flies long-haul knows it’s a long day, but to experience intermittent panic attacks on that day just makes it absolutely brutal, and soul-breaking.

Honestly, I feel like next time I fly I would still like to have valium with me – maybe I’ll take it, maybe I won’t, but I want to give myself the option and to give myself back the feeling of control over the day. I really, really don’t want to spend 11 months looking forward to this trip and thinking I’ll be fine with the flight only to have it all come crashing down in the 30 minutes of boarding time – been there, done that, have the nightmares about it.

Yes, ideally in the long run, I won’t have to be sedated everytime I fly, but one flight does not a phobia cure, as they say… probably. I think this is a baby-steps scenario and I feel comfortable with that. I don’t feel ashamed for having to take a sedative, and I don’t feel like I need to prove myself to other people – I’m just going to take this at a pace that feels right for me.

 

 

 

Waking Up is Hard to Do

 

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I think most people can relate to that feeling of the alarm going off long before you’d like it to or to the discovery that somehow the air in your bedroom is below 0c and the reach for your dressing gown is just so, so far. Waking up can be difficult for a huge number of reasons, but today I want to talk specifically about why waking up can be hard if, like me, you suffer from anxiety and depression – and share some thoughts on how I make things easier for myself.

I’d like to preface this by saying, like I always do, that anxiety and depression are complex and unique, and just because these are my experiences does not mean I’m qualified – or have any intention of – weighing in on anyone else’s. I write these posts to share my thoughts and feelings on a subject I’ve been silent on for too long, and I really, sincerely hope they help someone else – but please remember, your emotions and experiences are valid, and are your own.

Waking Up Scenario One: Got a Big Day Ahead Tomorrow

You know the sort of day I mean: maybe you’re getting up earlier than usual, have a long train journey to go on, or are jammed in meetings all day – or heck, maybe it’s even your birthday and you have super awesome fun birthday plans.

But from the night before, anxiety kicks in and your mind starts wondering if that’s a headache coming on? Is your tummy feeling a little off? You get into bed and falling asleep seems about as easy as running an ultra-marathon; come to think of it, given the amount of adrenaline in your system right now, the marathon might be easier.

I think a lot of folks experience the whole “if I fall asleep now I’ll get 5 hours sleep” countdown phenomenon – and I think we all know how delightfully zombie-esque that leaves you feeling the morning after but, when anxiety and adrenaline are heaped on top of that, it’s pretty much a recipe for utter exhaustion and burnout the next day – which sucks if you’re destined to spend the day stifling yawns at work, and sucks even more if it’s your birthday but instead of having a good time you just want to hide under the duvet.

When I’m in this situation, I go into all out self care mode – and for the record, I’ll generally be the first to point out that mental health issues can’t be fixed with a cup of tea, but in this particular scenario, the little things really can make the difference. So, I’m laying out my outfit the night before, I’m charging my phone, packing snacks and asking Kenny to give me some support in the morning. I’ll have a bath, do some breathing exercises and crack out the Pukka Night-Time tea. In this situation I am all about trying to reduce the feeling of overwhelment – I chip away at the mountain of little tasks and thoughts flying around in my head to give myself the best chance possible of getting to sleep… and staying asleep.

Waking Up Scenario Two: Tomorrow is Going to be a Great Day

Bonus fun fact: I’m currently experiencing this one as I write this post. Oh, yay.

I’m very much a planner in life; I use Google Calendar for everything, I love the feeling of being productive and getting shit done in a day – in other words, I am not someone who is great at having un-scheduled down time. So, possibly the most frustrating of all the mental health waking up scenarios for me is this one: when I go to bed excited for what the next morning will bring, totally buzzing to get started on my work and on being creative… and then in the morning I wake up feeling like I’ve been hit by an emotional truck.

Where does it come from? Why does it happen? I have no idea, but wow, I wish I did. I wish I knew how to prevent my mood doing a 180 as I sleep, I wish I could understand what’s going on inside my mind so that I could help myself… and yes, get more work done. Waking up with the ghost of self-belief and motivation dissolving faster than cheap bath bomb is a truly devastating feeling. I want to be my best self, I want to be a bad ass boss bitch, I want to live my life to the fullest – but I also can’t keep my eyes open or remember why I thought silly old me would be capable of carrying out the plans I put together the night before.

This is the scenario I still struggle to deal with most because I think the best solution is to accept the feeling, and slow down – and that does not go well with my Type-A personality.  Sure, you can tell yourself off and force yourself to stick to all the plans – but in my experience, the result is usually frustration, increased anxiety and a mood rapidly spiralling downwards. When I feel like this, everything I draw is shit, every task takes me three times as long as it should, getting a text message triggers my anxiety, and yes, of course, we can’t just all take the day off work every time we feel like this, but compromise is usually an option.

For me, it means I get the most basic “needs done” admin tasks under my belt (which usually takes me about an hour in the morning) so that I don’t freak out completely about “what am I even doing with my life?!”, and then, I curl up with a book and I read for a while. Or, if really I have to do what I have to do in a day – at the very least, I speak to myself with kindness. I am gentle with myself. No, maybe I’m not feeling the spark I had the night before, and maybe I’m not working at the pace I should be, but I showed up, I’m fighting the anxiety, and I am doing my best. As cliche as it is, that really is all you can do. Here’s another post for if you need some more support on feeling like your best isn’t enough when it comes to anxiety and depression.

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Waking Up Scenario Three: What’s the Point?

Ah, hello depression, my old friend.
This is probably the scenario we see most often depicted in TV shows, or how I imagine a lot of people picture depression – and while it is sort of cliched, it certainly does happen.You know how some mornings your alarm goes off and you know you should get up… but you don’t? Well, that is not this type of morning. On a morning like this, your alarm goes off and there is not a single part of you that thinks there’s any point in getting up.

Energy levels are so low they seem to have fallen into a deficit, self-worth is not something you can relate to and frankly, the world would probably be better off if you just stayed in bed today. This is a dark day.  This is the kind of day where eating, bathing and dressing are very real achievements (although, I’ll admit, I’ve still to earn my “I got dressed” badge on a day like this).

Giving advice on this scenario feels a little pointless, as I know when I have days like this I couldn’t care less what some woman on the Internet says, so I’ll just tell you what I do, or at least, what I try and do. First things first, I mentally re-adjust the bar and set it much lower for myself. If you are genuinely in such a bad place that you are struggling to feed yourself, then thinking about making a difficult phone call to a family member or trying to get your inbox to zero is probably not helping. I make a list for myself with actual, achieveable tasks that I can realistically accomplish – I mean, sometimes a task might be “charge phone”, but they’re still little tasks that will allow me to build momentum and possibly get back to a more rational state of mind, and if not? Well, hey, at least my phone is charged so I can lie and play Dots in bed for 7 hours.

These days are definitely the most difficult for me to “salvage”, but they’re also the days where I can come to appreciate the little things. Okay, yes, being to depressed to leave the house isn’t great – but at least I have a warm, safe home to stay in. Reading for 4 hours might not have been the most “productive” use of time, but I did learn a lot, or laugh a lot, or cry a lot – all of which can be valuable. If you’re having a dark day, please just hang in there; that’s the most sincere advice I can give.

So there we have it, just three of the many wonderful wake up scenarios that can occur when you’re battling with anxiety or depression. Maybe you’ve experienced these, maybe you’ve experienced others, but either way, I hope that reading this post gave you some reassurance that it’s not you, or a lack of willpower – when anxiety and depression are involved, waking up is hard to do.

Please feel free to reach out to me in the comments or on Instagram (@timorousminimalist), if you have any thoughts or questions about this post. Any obvious scenarios I missed? How do you cope when you wake up on a bad mental health day?

Anxiety, Depression and Shame

I was Googling JK Rowling the other day – I can’t fully remember why, but most likely it was either to look at her sassy Twitter responses or to see if I could find an interview where she finally admitted Hogwarts is actually real #stillhopingformyHogwartsletter – but anyway, I actually came across what she had to say about her experience with depression, in particular, one interview she gave in 2008 to Adeel Amini for a student newspaper in Edinburgh (I truly cannot find the original article online anywhere, or I would link it) where she said: “The funny thing is, I have never been remotely ashamed of having been depressed. Never… I think I’m abnormally shameless on that account because what’s to be ashamed of?… I went through a really rough time and I’m quite proud of the fact that I got out of that.”

Upon reading this I had a total “huh” moment. You know, where you sort of stop what you’re doing, “huh” and sit back in your chair with a puzzled expression – this most commonly occurs after checking bank balances, but it can happen other times too. I realised that it had literally never occurred to me that it was possible for ME to not feel ashamed of suffering from anxiety and depression. I know I’ve written a lot, and in my life I’ve spoken out a lot, on breaking the stigma around mental health issues and about the importance of realising that anxiety and depression are illnesses and not choices, BUT, what I realised after reading the JK Rowling interview was that I think on some level a lot of what I’ve written has actually been about trying to convince myself that I have nothing to be ashamed of, despite the overwhelming feelings of shame I actually have surrounding my own illness.

Regarding other people suffering from depression or anxiety, I can honestly say that not a single part of me believes they should be ashamed of this – but my own health? Yeah, there’s a lot of shame there. The time I had a very bad panic attack whilst on holiday with my best friend and had to come home? Shame. Leaving my job because I was too ill to function in the work place? Shame. Every time I’ve missed an event, every time I’ve cried at the wrong time, every phone call I couldn’t answer and every friendship I’ve been unable to maintain? Shame.

I think part of the problem, particularly when you’ve been fighting anxiety and depression for a long time, is that you start to lose track of what’s illness and what’s personality flaws. What “can’t” I do and what “won’t” I do. Did I not reply to that text because I couldn’t face holding a conversation, or did I not reply because I’m lazy? Did I not eat today because I couldn’t cope with the idea of putting something in my body, or because I was subconsciously punishing myself? It can be really hard to pick a way through and find the answers, to know when to chastise yourself, and when to be kind to yourself. Undoubtedly part of my problem is that, by nature, I don’t like the idea that I’ve “misbehaved” and so if I’ve missed a call or skipped an event, rather than take time to listen to my body and my mind as to what’s going on, I just chastise myself every time. Just to be sure.

Also, I think the feeling of shame is quite deep-rooted in me: as a child, my anxiety interfered with my ability to go to, or to stay at school on an often daily basis. My parents, understandably, felt my attendance in school was important and so that was my goal in a day, to go to, and to last the day in school. Needless to say, on the days where I didn’t manage to do this: I essentially failed. Now of course, sometimes this is the case with panic attacks, that we try our best and we’re wiped out nevertheless, but the important thing is to not beat ourselves up and to keep trying, right? Well I did, I did keep trying – through school, college, University and adulthood, I have tried and sometimes it’s worked, and sometimes it hasn’t. But despite all of this, and all the theoretical awareness I have of “not beating myself up”, when I think back to my school days and having those panic attacks, all I feel is shame. If I try really hard to put myself back there, I can feel the fear and the worry, but mostly it’s just shame. It’s the look in my parents’ eyes when they pick me up from school, it’s the crying in my room knowing that I’ve let people down, and it’s the teasing from the kids in the playground the next day. I’ve definitely been conditioned by the world around me, and conditioned myself to feel ashamed of my mental health issues.

But they say that acknowledging a problem is the first step in solving it, and while there was a part of me that was ashamed to write this post today (oh look, there’s shame again – I actually only spotted that choice in wording when I read this post back) because I suppose I feel like a bit of a hypocrite: encouraging other people to be kind to themselves while I’m over here mentally attacking myself for having the audacity to have to modify my life because of an illness, I still felt this was important to write. I’ve become so used to having an almost defiant knee-jerk response of, “it’s an illness not a choice” when questioned about my mental illness – I’ve become so used to practically shouting that outwards – that I think at some point I forgot that the dialogue I have with myself is actually more important than the words I use with other people. It’s all fine and well holding my head high in public and knowing how I want mental illness to come to be understood in the world, but it’s all a bit meaningless if behind closed doors I’m hanging my head in shame and hoping nobody notices.

Life is a journey and we are all constantly changing and growing, so my discovering these deep-seated feelings of shame is a good thing, ultimately. Now that I’m aware this is happening, I can tune in to my mental dialogue and start gently, but firmly making some changes in there. While it is painful to go back and relive memories of the childhood shame, being able to bring them to conscious levels and work on the feelings of embarrassment and guilt that come up, is a huge step in the forward direction.

Anxiety and depression are illnesses, not choices and please don’t let anyone – especially yourself – make you feel otherwise.

The Difference Between Dead Time and Down Time

Growing up, I feel like I always had a lot of ideas; always had a bunch of projects I was working on, and a list of things I wanted to learn about. I wanted to illustrate books and I wanted to be bilingual, I wanted to travel and to write and to help people plan Walt Disney World vacations (I mean, I know that last one reads sort of specific, but it’s the truth so…). In short, I never saw myself as a lounging around watching VHS/DVD/Netflix (delete as appropriate for specific life era) sort of a person. But unfortunately, that’s what I’ve become.


Living with anxiety and depression has meant that there have been a lot of times when I’m not at my strongest; when my energy reserves have been low, my mood has been all over the place and my creativity has been entirely absent. The real problem with this is that I am REALLY bad at identifying and correctly managing these issues. Historically, I’ve pretended they’re not happening and forced myself onwards regardless; bullying myself for being weak or for failing at things, I believed that willpower alone should be enough to override the depression. I believed that getting blog posts or videos up was my priority and if I was missing my upload deadlines the solution was to skip other things; things like eating, bathing and relaxation time, in order to not lose face or to feel like my dreams were slipping through my fingers. Needless to say, this did not work out so well for me, and over the years I experienced some very big crashes which pretty much resulted in Kenny making me fish fingers and waffles twice a day for a week, while I sat in the same pair of pyjamas and watch Deadly Women on repeat on Netflix and cried into my teddy bear, wondering what Candice DeLong would have to say about me. I know it sounds like I’m joking, but honestly, I’ve experienced some really bad times.

I stopped believing anyone would ever read the blog, so why write it?

Over the last year or so though, things swung too far the other way. I think I gave up. I stopped believing anyone would ever read the blog, so why write it? I couldn’t consistently upload to YouTube so why keep disappointing people? The language I was learning wouldn’t stick in my head, the diet plans were abandoned when I had a ‘dark day’, I pushed and pushed at the few friends I had to try and get them to leave before I ruined things… what was the point in anything. I would only fail and exhaust and embarrass myself in the process.

The more I felt I was struggling the more I tried to slow down, so the more time I blocked out for myself. I needed an hour in the morning and three at night just to veg out and watch things online, to feel placated enough to somehow function throughout the rest of the day. Then when this didn’t work, I blocked out more time. Cancelled date night, stopped cooking, stopped reading, stopped painting my toenails – there wasn’t enough time for any of that. I didn’t have enough time. No matter how many hours I sat and did nothing, I could never relax.

Meanwhile, my Bookmarks folder and my YouTube watch later playlist were overflowing. I had a notebook bulging with thumbnail sketches and planned blog posts. I would jot down jokes, or prompts or things I thought might help people – if only I would one day be strong enough to do something about it. Then, one day, as I rolled over onto the third season of Suits, and realised I’d hated at least the previous 1.5 seasons of this show I began to wonder what I was doing with my life.

I had so many ideas and so many things that I wanted to do and to give back, I really believed that I could help other people with mental health issues, but I just felt so powerless to do, well, anything about it. Nevertheless daring to hope a solution was out there, I started looking into time management and productivity methods. I downloaded approximately 73,000 apps to help me, I tried bullet journalling, we bought a white board, but nothing really helped because I was so stuck in this feeling of needing safe time, quiet time.

I tried bullet journalling, we bought a white board, but nothing really helped because I was so stuck in this feeling of needing safe time, quiet time.

Then in my reading I came across the Tony Robbins concept of N.E.T – which stands for No Extra Time – and I’m not going to lie, on the surface this sounded like a scary thing for me. I felt like I could barely function, limping through mandatory tasks like food shopping, and now, I was supposed to do multiple things at once? Seriously? But yes, indeed this is what N.E.T is about. Basically, it’s the idea that we have all this time we have to sink into things such as cleaning the bathroom, jogging or commuting, but, while these tasks engage our bodies and in some ways leave us “stuck”, they don’t actually control our thoughts. Now I, like a lot of the population, used to use situations like this to zone out, or watch something trashy, to “relax”, I thought, my anxiety meant I needed to relax – but what else could I do with this time?

What if the half hour I spend washing dishes can also be the time I learn Spanish? What if I use my bath time in the morning to check-in with myself and visualise the day ahead? What if instead of watching Suits while I eat my breakfast I read or I learn something new through a site like Skillshare – I mean, sure, I’ll miss being #LittUp in the mornings, but you know, sacrifices need to be made I guess.

I’m here today not just to say that N.E.T really works well – because I think, probably, that’s been established already – but to talk about exactly what it’s taught me, and the amazing gift it’s given me. I started by making a list of what I wanted to do with my life, in specifics (as in not just “get fit”, but “run a half marathon in 2018”), and then made a list of things that I know to be true about myself and my needs, (as in, that I am a morning person who starts the day fired up and slowly drains throughout the day) and I set about working out ways that I could match up taking care of my needs with getting what I wanted.

I don’t want to too much into the specifics of the routine I made here as this post is already crazy long, but I do want to talk about the results. I worried that I would feel overwhelmed by giving myself more to do in a day; that I would feel rushed or pressured but actually it’s been the opposite. For example, if I am out a jog and I’m really low energy and I’m walking more than I’m jogging, I don’t find myself focusing on the negativity there because I’m also learning about life in Glasgow in the 1800’s, so even if I don’t run much, I’ve still come back into the house a ‘richer’ person. I could give a dozen examples like this, all of which would be true and, for me, a huge deal, but as I said, I think the benefits of using the N.E.T. method are well established, so let me just finish by talking about the biggest lesson I’ve learned of all.

I had previously thought that all the time I had spent lounging about in front of Netflix was relaxation time, time that I needed to recharge my batteries, but I can see now that I was wrong, it was dead time. I wasn’t learning, or growing or achieving anything, but I also couldn’t relax properly because I was so wracked with guilt about wasting my life away. It’s hard to relax when you have a list of goals you’re getting no closer to, and a pile of dishes in the sink you’ve not washed in days. I kidded myself that the time was good for me, I was listening to my body and showing that I was in control of looking after myself instead of pushing on to silly levels, but I can see now that it was the anxiety talking. After all, anxiety doesn’t want us to become successful, or to take risks or try new things, anxiety wants to keep us where we’re safe and in control – i.e on the couch with a cup of tea in hand. And I let my anxiety convince me that this was for the best.

After all, anxiety doesn’t want us to become successful, or to take risks or try new things, anxiety wants to keep us where we’re safe and in control…

Now, although yes, I am tackling much more in a day, I find that by structuring things well and pursuing things I’m genuinely very passionate about, I feel fulfilled rather than overwhelmed and by achieving so much earlier in the day, by the time evening comes around I’m ready for some ACTUAL downtime. Time where there is no guilt or pressure, where the dishes are done and I can take a little time to be proud of myself for the day before getting cosy under a blanket with a good book, or actually watching a whole film from start to finish.

Learning about the N.E.T method, as well as becoming aware of how I work and what I want as an individual, has meant that I am able to structure my days and make the most of my “good times”, so that when the times come that I’m sad, or I’m tired I have the ability to switch off and give myself some proper down time, rather than staring into space like some sort of zombie, shutting out the real world and my own thoughts. There is a huge difference between down time and dead time, and I am so glad that I’m finally able to tell the difference between the two and give myself the actual relaxation that I deserve.

Sneaky, Sneaky FOMO

I had heard of FOMO (or “fear of missing out”) a lot over the years as various bloggers on my feed lamented not going to Ibiza for the first Summer in 5 years, or not going to the music festival that EVERYONE was going to. I saw colleagues totally burn themselves out drinking many nights in a row because they couldn’t bare the thought of not being at the party, just in case – but honestly, FOMO was never a big part of my life.

As I think I’ve talked about a bunch on here, I was never part of the in-crowd as a kid – like it or not, that was something that just wasn’t an option for me – so growing up I missed all the parties, all the scandalous happenings, the drunken outings and the ‘squad’ holidays. As time passed, I never did go out to da club and I never did get something pierced.  I never got sunburned, never had a crazy fling, never kept up with the chart music, the TV shows or the celebrities.

Part of this, I think, was falling in with an older crowd at college – as in, they were in their 40s – and then also being in relationships with older men – all people who had done all the typical “young” stuff and had moved on – so I think I just sort of moved on too. That and the fact that as time passed, I felt I had sort of missed the boat on a lot of it: getting drunk at 18 for the first time and making a fool of yourself may be excusable and pretty normalised, but I felt it would just be a bit awkward at 25 or whatever.

So yeah, I kind of marched to the rhythmn of my own drum, I guess: I had my interests, my music taste, my Netflix list, and I didn’t really care if they were “cool”. In a lot of ways, I suppose I didn’t know what I was missing out on. Colleagues at work would initially spark conversations with me about current goings on, but after a few rounds of; “no, really, I don’t own a TV”, and “Yeah, I’ve never been on a night out”, or even, “what’s One Direction?”, and people soon gave up on me and moved on to chat about the weather – now that I can do, have you seen the rain lately? Occasionally my sister would look at me like I had three heads as we listened to music together, but other than that, basically everyone knew I was on my own path.

Now though, having started this new barista job, I am surrounded by lovely young folks who are so nice to me, and don’t seem to be giving up on me easily either. We’ve had lots of chats about what the nightlubs in Glasgow are called, what Grindr is, what the bands I listened to when I was 14 are doing now (hint: it’s not good), and why Love Island is such a thing (I still don’t get it). But, despite how nice everyone is, as time passed, I started to feel really out of it, I felt “uncool” and like I was really missing out on a lot. I started to want to keep up with the things they kept up with, I vowed to participate on the next night out and I would grimace at myself when I was just so out of the loop with EVERYTHING.

Eventually, thankfully, I had a couple of realisations – brought about by a guy at work talking about “dabbing” and the awkwardness of us just staring at each other for about 10 seconds after we realised I had no idea what that was. The first realisation was that I am older. I am 26, my fiance is 35, so of course my life does not look the same as my 20 year old colleagues’. They’re out partying and eating instant noodles (I mean, probably not at the same time, although as I’ve covered, I actually have no idea what goes on at parties), and Kenny and I spent yesterday at Dobbies choosing out compost (honestly. not. even. joking). Our idea of snuggling up to watch something does not involve the dramas of random singletons on an island (‘cos I think that’s what Love Island is… right?), we’re currently rewatching David Attenborough’s The Private Life of Plants, and you know what? We love it. While age certainly shouldn’t be something used as a rule – as in I don’t think every 26 year old is too old to hit the clubs, I just know I am – life does move through natural chapters, and I am not in the same chapter as my workmates are.

That sort of leads me onto my second realisation about why I was all of a sudden drowning in the FOMO. More than the fact I felt out of touch, and like I was missing out on things now I think it was the realisation that I am truly past the point of a lot of things happening in my life. I am an adult. I am a pet-parent. I’m getting married. I think working with all these young people who are so free made me freak out a little about the fact I’ll never be like that again. I will never be able to just “crash on someone’s couch”, I have a cat who would spend the night sharpening her claws for when I did come home. I will never use a dating app, heck, I will never have another first date. I’ll never have a holiday romance, an awkward morning after or a love affair with Aragorn (although that might be mostly because he’s ficticious). I’ll never know who’s on TV, I’ll never keep up with the Kardashians. I can’t go back and have a massive 21st birthday party, I can’t get a drunk tattoo and regret it when I’m older, I can’t… well, I can’t be 20 again.

It has to be said that I have a history with struggling to accept things like this: that my life has passed some sort of threshold I can’t go back from. I spent much of my 11th birthday in tears becuase my Hogwarts owl never arrived (I sat up half the night with my window open, waiting for it), and on the eve of my 16th birthday I had quite the freak out about my CHILDHOOD BEING OVER, prompting my mum to rush out and buy me several My Little Ponies. So, yeah, I think this is another example like this: something I just need to build a bridge and get over. Because let’s face it, I have a lot to be grateful for; I shouldn’t be sitting around feeling jelly (that’s something young people say) of my fellow baristas.

I have my wonderful fiance who is just honestly like the other half of me, I have my beautiful fur-baby who I love more than I would ever have thought possible. We own our awesome flat, I’m lucky enough to be studying again and at 26 I can finally use a can opener with at least some competence. With so much to be thankful for, it’s time to let go of some things too – and to accept I’m the outsider at work, and that’s actually okay.  So here’s to propogating aubergine seeds, shopping for a new matress, listening to Bach and still not having a fucking clue what dabbing is.

Minimalism Means Muffins

I’m not 100% sure where I’m going with this post if I’m honest; I’ve changed the title 11 times and normally that’s a sign for me that I’m not sure enough to write whatever I’m trying to write, but I’ve had the idea brewing at the back of my mind for a while and figured it was about time I try and commit something to paper, erm, web page. So, a lot has changed since I started embracing a “less is more” way of living – a lot of things that can be easily quantified or explained a la “oh my gosh, there was floor under all those clothes?!”, but some other things that are potentially even more palpable for me as experiences, but at the same time, a lot harder to pinpoint. This post is about two of those things.
 

 

So, guys I’ve been making muffins. Like on multiple occasions. I know, right?  Baking for me is one of those things that I always see myself doing (and for some reason I always tell employers I do when they ask me about “me outside work” at interviews – what’s that about?), but I actually never do. I guess it always falls below the other tasks in life like work, cleaning and making “proper” food, because apparently “brownies aren’t a nutritionally balanced dinner”, pfft. Even in terms of hobbies, baking falls way down on the list for me; something about the idea of dragging 18 utensils out from the back of cupboards, and then reaching for all the ingredients – about 50% of which will have now expired of course – and then after it all, I have to clean up, are you serious? Yeah, somehow reading a book with a huge mug of tea and a blanket just seems more relaxing somehow.

My muffins – because I’m only competent enough to make one kind, you see – are banana based, and one day, I was working at my laptop at the table and I noticed the bananas in the fruit bowl were really past it. Huh. Those would be good to go into muffins, or else they need to go in the bin. Then I literally just turned my head to the right – didn’t even have to move off my chair – and I could see we had flour, oil, etc. I could picture the mixing bowl’s location, the baking tray – heck, I even knew where my apron was. And all of a sudden I stood up from my laptop and I made some muffins.

Normally, I plan baking like a week in advance, warning friends and loved ones not to call that day BECAUSE I’LL BE BAKING, only for it all to end up in a frustrated mess starting as soon as I lay the scales out on the counter. Normally it seems arduous and like it takes hours, and now, suddenly I’m that person that just “whips up” some baked goods in time for Kenny coming home – I mean, just the one type of baked goods really, but you know. Could this spontaneous muffin spawning be related to minimalism somehow?

Another thing that happened is my return to the world of lasagne making. I’m not a great cook, I’m not even really a good cook, but I am competent, especially with simple recipes, but guys, can I make a lasagne? No, no I cannot. Every single one is either too dry, or to saucy, or the béchamel is sweet or something else weird. I actually gave up altogether a couple of years ago because I got so frustrated and it legitimately made me feel not so great about myself – I’m the daughter of the world’s best lasagne maker you see, although I could be biased there. Anyway, one day recently, I woke up and I wanted lasagne, big time. I went to the store and I’m peering into the ready meals cabinet, having resigned myself to something sub-par and preservative laden, and suddenly I think, “no, I’m going to make a lasagne for dinner tonight”. I Google a recipe on my phone and standing there in the store, I’m able to recall what ingredients I have, what size dish I’ll use, and exactly what’s on my schedule for the rest day – so I know how to time this out. I was so calm, so able to make this split-second decision, whereas normally with my legitimate anxiety issues and my not-so-legitimate lasagne angst this would have had me in cold sweats and ready to hide under the duvet. Long story short, I made a lasagne, my béchamel vanished altogether (?!?!?!?!) and we ate dinner at like 9:30pm, but you know what I did after dinner? I didn’t cry. I didn’t apologise 8,000 times to Kenny for making us eat so late because I had some weird whim. Nope, I cleared up and then I reached for my cooking notebook and made some notes re: my discovery of vanishing béchamel. I stored the leftover pasta sheets, calm in the knowledge I’d be reaching for them again soon, and I went on with my life. Could this be a minimalist thing?

Erm, yes I am aware that all of the photos in this post are in fact of pancakes, but I didn’t take photos of the muffins ok? So these are banana pancakes instead. Close enough.

It’s very hard to see how muffins and lasagne would be related to it all if I look at the big picture, but I think when I break it all down it becomes pretty clear that all of this was a direct result of my adopting a more minimalist lifestyle. Everything from the fact I could actually see the fruit bowl on the table to know that we had bananas that needed using – rather than finding some furry blue unidentifiable shapes in a bowl under the clutter three weeks later – to knowing what ingredients we have and where they are, to not being so hooked on some trashy Netflix show that I feel I don’t have time to make a lasagne. I could make notes in my cooking book, because I could FIND the cooking book. I didn’t end up a frustrated, sauce covered mess while cooking, because I had my apron to hand and I wasn’t multitasking 17 things so I actually remembered to put it on.

I feel this may not come across that clearly, like I said, it’s harder to draw an arrow pointing to it and say “result of minimalism”, but for me, the connection is as clear as day and I honestly, truly, would not have believed before I saw the results for myself that learning to adopt a more minimalist lifestyle would have opened up my mind and my mood and my opportunities so much that I would feel like I had the time, or the ability to make muffins – as silly as I’m sure that sounds. I feel more in control of my own time and my own mind; there is no “chore I should be doing”, there is no Netflix running in the background to distract me. I feel like I’m really starting to see the effects of my hard work to “live lighter” trickling down into real world results, and I like what I see. Now, does anyone have a good lasagne recipe they’d like to share?

A Simple Way to Help Fight Daily Anxiety

There are a million posts like this on the internet, and, generally speaking I’m not that into posting ‘tips and tricks’ for anxiety or depression because I feel like they’re complicated illnesses that a) there’s unlikely to be a ‘quick fix’ for and b) I’m probably not that qualified to give out advice on the subject, BUT, I had to share this idea…

And what makes this one different? Why share this one? Well it provides almost instant gratification, doesn’t require any prep work (or require you to happen to own a full set of healing crystals, or live next to lake you can swim in…), and I think it’s pretty risk-free, you don’t like it; you stop it.  

With my anxiety, I definitely need to feel organised and in control – I make lists, I catalogue eyeshadows, I have a Spreadsheet for what I eat in a day and one that lists all the bras I own, but sometimes, I end up feeling like I’m being controlled rather than like I’m the one in-control but I still need to track things, I need to make that list. (And yes, it would be great if one day I could tame that need and not feel so out of control if I haven’t planned for something, but honestly, one battle at a time…)

So every night before bed I make a to-do list for the next day – I’ve done this for as long as I can remember. Now when I’m ‘well’ this list will consist of bigger, more impressive things like:

– jog 4 miles in the a.m.
– work 10am – 7pm
– dinner with Dad after work
– going to the cinema @ 10pm

You know, normal life stuff. And then, when I started to get mentally worse recently, I adapted the to-do list so it looked more like:

– get up before 9am
– wash hair
– eat either breakfast or lunch
– text someone

Really simplified right? I thought I would set myself super achievable goals and that would allow me to easily tick them all off and feel really accomplished and proud of myself, gold stars for me. But let me tell you, when you deliberately write a list of four ridiculously easy things to do in a day and then, because you’re so unwell you can’t do any of them… that is not a healthy or a good feeling. I was going to bed every single night feeling more like I was failing, like I was falling further down into the depression  BECAUSE CLEARLY I COULDN’T DO ANYTHING SO WHAT EVEN IS THE POINT. Seriously, for every one thing I managed to tick off the list, there would be three or four I just couldn’t face (sometimes, for days at a time), and those to-do lists would just rub that in my face, day after day.

So it was time to regroup and try and find a way to still make those lists without those lists making me crazy and I remembered something I’d learned on a training day in some job or other (you know, the sort of days where there are ‘team games’ and ‘creative exersises’ *shudder*) and the tip was actually given as a tool to motivate staff when you’re running a particularly difficult shift, but hey, it applies here and the idea is… to write a done list.
So simple, and so widely used by people in all sorts of settings, it’s potentially not that surprising that it would help manage daily anxiety, but what’s interesting to me is that it doesn’t seem to just be a tool to help me cope day to day, it actually seems to be improving my overall mood. Having the list to look at at the end of the day is cheering, but having a week’s worth to look back at lets me really see how all the little pieces come together. Sure I only managed to study for 2 hours a day instead of 3, but you know what – that means I’m still 14 hours closer to achieving my dreams than I was at the start of the week.

It also helps me plan my time for the week ahead (because yes I do still need to have a rough plan of my time or else I just feel so lost). I can see realistically what I was achieving each day and I can be more gentle when structuring the week ahead – it means I can see I can usually study for about 2 hours a day, so I plan for 1.5 and then I’m proud of myself for doing more, rather than planning for 3 and ‘failing’ every day. 

One thing I would say is that I think these lists are pretty personal – and of course, completely relative. For example, here’s my list for yesterday:
– Managed to cook dinner
– Managed to text my sister to say good luck for her interview
– Managed to do some programming
– Managed to listen to my body and sleep when I needed to
– Managed to speak on the phone

So… for me, that was a pretty alright day actually, based on how my life is at the moment, but clearly to almost anyone else this list would look ridiculous: ‘I mean okay, so you managed to take a nap, stuff your face, mess about on your phone and what even does ‘some’ programming mean? Did you call the doctors? You know that’s important. Did you eat anything before dinner? You know you need to eat…’ and so it could go on. One thing I’m really learning with my mental health is how personal the journey is. My done list is (usually) for my eyes only and that way I can choose to attach only positive feelings to it. I’m learning to measure success by my own standards and to notice all progress, not just significant progress and sometimes even though the people around us might only ask because they care, it can be hard having to say over and over again; “well no, I … I didn’t actually manage to do that today…” and have them look shocked – that always makes me freak out about why I didn’t do it. 
Every journey starts with a single step, and the journey to mental wellness is no different, it’s just that while from the outside, the first step might be “eat breakfast each day”, depending on your starting place your daily achievements might be “was able to consider eating today, and was able to open the fridge”, and there is nothing wrong with that. Even the smallest step is a step in the right direction and so I think the done list is a great idea as long as you remember to count everything you’ve done as an achievement not just the big stuff, and you know what it’s okay if all that’s written down some days is “kept breathing” because I know that sometimes, that can feel like a battle in itself.