Love, Loss & Grief

24 years ago my partner died.

I have never written about that time, even though I journal and blog. There was always a part of me that didn’t want to bring up those memories again, the time now feels ‘right’ as this month is the anniversary of his death.

Grief is a cruel, ongoing lesson that never stops. Over the years grief changes, but it’s always with us, it leaves permanent scars. There is nothing in life that prepares us for the loss of a loved one, even if we have lost someone before. The avalanche of emotions that it brings up are all consuming, they paralyse us, make it hard to breathe. We are trapped in a living hell, trying to survive, our brains are on auto loop replaying memories and events. We are numbed by pain. We yearn to have more time with them, we shed many tears over many years.

I met Chris when I was 23. I wasn’t in the headspace for a relationship as the previous year I had run away from an abusive relationship and gone into hiding. We met through a mutual friend and found out we had lots in common. I was very defensive, still carrying mental scars from my abusive relationship and I was wary of anyone new.

We didn’t have a lot of time together, death put an abrupt end to that. But in the time we did have, I began to heal and I will always be grateful for that important journey and to Chris for his patience and making me laugh, and most importantly, making me feel safe. I don’t want to go into too many details of our relationship or that time because tears are already flowing hard as I write this.

Chris died of a brain haemorrhage in his sleep. I found out when I was Christmas shopping for his presents. I had a strong feeling I had to call him on my way home and his neighbour answered the phone, he didn’t want to tell me what had happened on the phone. He wanted to tell me in person, I started crying and asked him to say what was going on. I will never forget those words “There’s been an incident. Chris has gone”. I was sobbing hard on the escalators going into the tube station. I was shrieking, I couldn’t breathe.

The moment I had called was five minutes after his family and neighbour had gained entry into his home as no one had heard from him for a week and he hadn’t returned our calls. I went over there straight away, the police and an ambulance was also there. It was the first time I had met his sister, she asked who I was, his neighbour hugged me and said he was so sorry. I could barely garble the words “I’m his girlfriend”, I felt sick and I was in shock. We all were.

I asked the police if I could say goodbye to him, they didn’t want to let me into his bedroom because they said it would be too upsetting. A part of me wishes I had listened to them, but at that moment I had to say goodbye, it felt like the right thing to do. Seeing Chris in that way has tormented me many times over the years. That image is deeply imprinted in my mind, I don’t want to remember him like that. Someone so full of life, vibrant, charismatic, funny, kind and protective to those in his circle – now lifeless.

Chris has sent me little reminders over the years. To let me know even though his physical body is no longer here, his spirit very much is. I find it comforting and heartbreaking at the same time.

Fast forward to now and there is happier news. I am engaged.

I didn’t think I would ever get to this point in a relationship because for so many years after Chris died I had a huge fear that if I allowed myself to love again, I would lose them. My counsellor was amazing, she helped me navigate so many difficult times. Of course we all have to die at some point, but losing a partner so suddenly and unexpectedly changes you in so many ways.

Because I was so young, I used to have people regularly telling me I would be ok as I had plenty of time ahead of me to find love again. Please don’t do that. Don’t ever tell someone who has lost their partner they will find love again. You may think you are helping and giving us hope, but infact your words are incredibly cruel and can be soul destroying. For those of us who have loved and lost, only we can decide when we are ready to start living again. We work to our own timelines, you don’t get to tell us what we should and shouldn’t do. You certainly don’t get to impose your expectations onto us at any stage.

I know I am very fortunate to have found a big love again. I am grateful for that every day and it’s something I will never take for granted.

This is part of my story. Thank you for reading.

In loving kindness.

If you want to speak to someone about grief please go to the Cruse website.

One of the best books I have read about grief is by Megan Devine ‘It’s ok that you’re not ok: meeting grief and loss in a culture that doesn’t understand’.

Motherhood… or not.

“When are you planning to have kids?”

I have been asked this question so many times over the years. It’s started up again because I will be getting married next year and for many people they think this is the next step in a relationship and having kids is something that all couples will eventually do.

Not in mine.

I’ve been carrying a secret for many years and it’s time I told it because I am sick of hurting and grieving.

I had a miscarriage when I was 17. I didn’t even know I was pregnant at the time.

My mum kicked me out when I was 17, she didn’t like the fact I had a boyfriend and she was furious about it. We had a huge fight, not just verbally, my mum beat me up. At one point she had me upside down over the stairs and held me by one leg and was kicking me in the head. She only stopped because I went to grab her leg so she wouldn’t keep kicking me and we ended up both falling down the stairs. My mum was screaming at me to get out, and to never come back. She wouldn’t even let me grab a bag of clothes. I ran away in tears. The neighbours had heard the screaming and shouting and their curtains were twitching, but no one came out.

I got picked up by the police a few hours later because my mum had called them and said I had beaten her up and stolen things from her. I hadn’t, but because we had both fallen down the stairs my mum was already showing bruises and so that was all the evidence they needed.

When the police had finished questioning me and said I could go I went over to my boyfriend’s and I was hysterical. I could barely tell him what happened I was so upset. His mum said I could stay with them and my boyfriend gave me a sleeping tablet to calm me down and I managed to get to sleep. In the morning I woke up with agonising stomach pains and I, and the bed was covered in blood. My miscarriage lasted for two weeks. My relationship didn’t last too long after that either.

Over the years, another pregnancy has not been possible and I don’t know if I would have even carried to full term had I not had a miscarriage. I am deeply scarred by that incident, and I haven’t been able to fully forgive my mum for that night or how my life spiralled into depression and homelessness soon after. She doesn’t even know I was pregnant, and she likely contributed to my miscarriage. I don’t see any point in ever bringing this up with her, especially not now. It won’t change anything, and I need to forgive and move on so I can continue healing. I have tried to forgive her over the years, so I can be free from this pain but every time someone asks me if I have kids, or do I plan to have kids I am transported back to that moment.

I have been told many times I would make a great mum and I should have kids. People think that’s a kind thing to say, and to be told. For me it’s a double edged sword. I don’t know if I would have been a great mum, I am far too scared I might end up becoming abusive and toxic like my mum towards her children even though I have worked long and hard to try and not be anything like her. I know I have the power to break the toxic cycle of learned family behaviour, we all do and we mustn’t be frightened to break the awful cycle.

Over the years I have also heard numerous people say you don’t know what love really is unless you have children. Again, another knife in my heart – just rip it out why don’t you?

Society imposes expectations onto women that the natural life progression is that you get married and have kids. If you don’t do either, people think there must be something wrong with you. I show love in many ways, and I don’t think it’s fair for my capacity to love to be based on whether I have children or not. I didn’t realise there was some kind of hierarchical scale and being a parent was top of the love charts. Congratulations parents – you’ve won the grand prize!

But what about parents who don’t love their children? Whenever I read about a child who has been abused or killed by their parents or care givers, it throws me into such a huge head spin. I have cried numerous times over the years and mourned for babies and children that I read about in the papers or see on the news. How could you do to that to your own flesh and blood, or your partner’s child who is not biologically yours? Having children is a huge blessing, one that isn’t an option to everyone. So many people assume that everyone can have, and wants kids. There are so many reasons why we don’t.

So next time someone asks me if I have kids or when I plan to kids, you will have to excuse me for not wanting to give you a response.

You’ve just reopened my grief for the baby that I lost, and for the baby I probably won’t ever have.

Toxic Mother + Dementia

This is a horrible blog to write and I will probably end up deleting it eventually because I am acknowledging decades of a difficult relationship with one of the most important people in my life – my mum.

Ever since I was little I have been fearful of her. She is a bully, manipulative, bitter, resentful, critical and unkind. She regularly makes me and my siblings feel ashamed, angry and upset. I used to fantasise as a child that I would be adopted and I would never have to see her again.

Society tells us that our relationship with our mothers should be something special. Mothers are supposed to be nurturing, kind, caring, protective, loving, supportive… traits that I don’t recognise or have ever seen in my mum. What happens to those of us who have toxic mothers or fathers, or both? Are we supposed to be blindly loyal and show unconditional love even though we don’t receive love in return? I have been told I am ungrateful for feeling this way and our parents are to be cherished.

I want to have a good relationship with my mum and over the years I have tried many times to establish one with her, but she isn’t receptive to it. She will accuse us and our partners of doing terrible things which we haven’t done, she will say the most hurtful and spiteful things regularly and then get angry if you become upset. My heart breaks and I always feel so conflicted when I am in her presence. I wonder what happened to make her behave the way she does – someone so destructive who has to tear down everyone around her and likes to argue.

I had a horrible childhood, it was full of arguments and beatings. My mum kicked me out when I was 17 and for the first eight months I managed to have places to stay but they were only temporary and I outstayed my welcome and eventually ended up with nowhere to go. I remember being at the benefits office waiting to see if I could get any support and a group of old men looked at me and told me to fuck off and go back to where I came from. I ran away from there in tears. It was a really horrible time in my life and I ended up in squats, wandering the streets or hiding out in parks. Life on the streets as a 17 year old is really frightening and dangerous. I have blocked out that period.

I didn’t speak to my mum for five years after she kicked me out. I didn’t want anything to do with her but I was talked into getting back in touch with her. I sometimes wish I never had.

I know my mum has been mentally unwell for many years, and it’s this reason that makes me want to try and help her. I look beyond her angry, bitter and hateful exterior and inside I see a hurt child who is unable to navigate her own toxic childhood. She is trapped in the past, in a psychological prison of her mind. I try to ignore the years of hurt she has inflicted on everyone, but there comes a point where we really can’t keep going on like this.

Earlier in the year during lockdown my mum was diagnosed with suspected dementia. It has brought out an even darker and more difficult side to her toxicity and it can at times be unbearable. Sometimes when she gets the dementia rage episodes my anxiety kicks in and I feel like I am having a heart attack. It’s so hard to not be affected by her behaviour, we try to calm her down but it’s of no use. She will rant for hours and go into a foul mood and bad mouth everyone. I don’t want to be around her but I know I have to be there, even though it hurts so much. I have to put all my years of pain aside and try to be kind and compassionate, for her sake and my family.

Caring for a toxic parent really is an act of unconditional love. But there comes a point where that love is going to break you and it very nearly has. We pretend we’re ok because we don’t want to admit how bad things really are, or acknowledge how bad they could become. There have been so many times when I have walked home from my mum’s in tears because of her behaviour.

We have to keep going somehow, put a brave face on things. Why would anyone want to put up with so much abusive behaviour? There have been times when we want to give up and turn our backs on her. But what would happen then? She’s our mum – we can’t do that. I pray that we have the strength to get through this.

I’m sorry mum that I have written this blog. I don’t know what else to do.

Lessons & Healing

One of the kindest things we can do for someone who has opened up to us and talked about how they are doing is to let them discuss and acknowledge their feelings. To hold space for someone without imparting our own experiences on to them and trying to tell them what they should do.

Your true nature is luminous

People who tell us we have to let go and move on have no idea how hurtful and damaging this can be to someone who is experiencing pain, anxiety and grief.

We are not ready yet to move on. The pain is very real, we are raw and vulnerable.

Other people don’t get to impose their timelines onto us. We will heal in our own time and it’s not a linear process.

I had this happen quite recently. I almost argued with a friend who told me I have to move on because in their words “the only person you are hurting is yourself”.

I know I have to move on, please let me live and learn from my lessons. I need to understand my journey, not be pressured by others to heal in a timeframe they think is suitable. Don’t force me to run when I have only just started walking again.

With loving kindness

Exercise, Wellbeing and Me

My fitness journey over the years

I used to be strong and fit.

I say used to because at one stage my social life was going to the gym twice a day, six days a week. Over the last couple of years I have barely done any exercise.

I used to exercise a lot because it was so important in helping manage my mental health. It’s no coincidence that over the last couple of years my mental health and overall wellbeing has been at its worst. This year in particular has been tough and that’s without adding Covid-19 into the equation.

I have realised that there is no point in me hankering after the person I used to be, I’m not in that position anymore and the scales certainly tell a different story. Instead my focus is on who I am now and what changes I can make to fit my life in this moment so I can get through each day.

So for the last month I have started exercising again and I’m finally putting to use some of the fitness equipment I ordered back in April – I’ve had a rude awakening of how unfit I am. I was embarrassed at how easily I gas out so I had to give myself a pep talk and be mindful of some important lessons:

⁃ Start small. I’ve started with tabata skipping so I have active and rest time that I do in 4 minute blocks. As I get fitter my active time increases, along with the number of blocks

⁃ Be consistent. I’m starting off with a minimum of twice a week training sessions, 3 or 4 sessions is ideal

⁃ Train outdoors where possible. It feels good to be outside in the sunshine (will grab it when I can!)

⁃ Include resistance and strength training in addition to my cardio

⁃ Increase my daily steps. I’m happy to be able to get back to the 10,000 mark the last few weeks, during lockdown this had dropped to about 1,500 a day and quite a few of those mainly consisted of trips from the lounge to the kitchen looking for snacks!

⁃ Intuitive eating. I am usually a big comfort eater and will eat my feelings. I’m being a lot more mindful of only eating when I’m hungry and being more aware of what I am eating (my crumpets & kettle chips consumption has been greatly reduced)

⁃ My training plan also includes mind training so I have started journaling and meditating again and I check in with my therapist as and when I need to

⁃ Reducing my time on social media and muting or blocking key words and accounts. This has been so important the last few months, there are so many angry and bigoted voices in the social media space, it was really starting to get to me

⁃ Daily gratitude. There are so many things to be thankful for

⁃ Find joy in each day. I have been taking a lot of pictures so I have reminders. They’re mainly of my cat at the moment

⁃ Be kind. I often berate myself when I’m not doing well at something. I don’t need to beat myself up about any of my goals and what it takes to get there. If I fail at something it becomes a lesson and it means I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and wasn’t afraid to try something new

I am learning to accept myself for who I am and what I am capable of in this moment. I also thank my past self for helping me get to this point in my life.

A reminder to always be grateful I am here #semicolonproject

Lessons to my Twenty Something Self

Aged 21

Hindsight can be a wonderful thing.

I was recently involved in a conversation about what advice would you give to your younger self, in particular to people in their 20s. This question has lingered with me for some reason so I thought I would expand on some of the lessons I wish had known at that time. Twenty years on I am still working on some of these!

1. Don’t place your worth on external validation from others. If you always need to be told you are great, amazing, kind etc. There will come a point where you feel empty and worthless. Knowing your self worth comes from within, harness and develop it yourself – that is true strength and courage

2. If something or someone feels off, always trust your instincts. The few times I have ignored my inner alarm bells it has got me into some really difficult and traumatic situations

3. You cannot change the past so don’t let it take up too much space in your head. This is often easier said than done, we create a lot of self suffering from replaying situations we cannot change. Learn the lesson and try to move on ASAP

4. What thoughts, experiences & emotions can you challenge, accept or let go?

5. If you feel uncomfortable, you are entitled to walk away. You can set & reset your boundaries at any time, don’t be afraid to let people know what they are

6. Not everyone will get you or even like you. That’s totally fine, you don’t need to beg people for friendship

7. Live for the moment. Look to the past for lessons but don’t dwell there. We can plan for the future to some extent but allow yourself to be flexible and work to your own timelines, not ones that other people think you should meet

8. Don’t hold a grudge or be vengeful. Be big enough to acknowledge the part you have played and what lessons have presented themselves to you. Have the humility and grace to understand that your side of the actions are not always the right way

9. Don’t allow your judgement to be clouded by the opinions of others. Trust your own mind, and develop your own morals & values. Remember that people may not always tell the truth about you either

10. When someone shows you their true colours, believe them and take appropriate steps to protect yourself

11. Try to find small sparks of joy in each day

12. Let people know you care. Our time on earth is limited and precious

13. Grieving for loved ones will always be with you. We never get over grief, however over the years we learn to live with it and the pain does lessen over time

14. You can’t do everything and please everyone. You will find this exhausting

15. Pay as much attention to your mental health as you do your physical health

16. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, when you do, be aware that some people may be uncomfortable with what you say. Don’t let this deter you, it takes time to find your tribe and you will find them

17. Be kind to yourself and others at all times. Don’t let other people’s actions harden your heart

18. Help people without the expectation of them returning the favour, although be careful people don’t start to abuse your kindness

19. Never lose hope and always have faith in yourself and what you capable of

20. Don’t be afraid to fail. There are many lessons to be learnt and it’s where some of our biggest growth happens. When we fail at something it allows us to start understanding who we are

If you have any lessons you would like to share I would love to hear them. Namaste.

Lockdown Lessons

I have struggled to journal or blog since the covid-19 lockdown.

My brain seems to have come to a grinding halt in some aspects but is also filled with noise and anxiety from around the world. I can’t help but think about all the lives lost, people unable to say goodbye to loved ones, domestic violence figures rising globally, healthcare and essential services workers putting their lives on the line for us, people losing jobs, businesses closing down… the list goes on.

My days swing between being mildly productive (I am not bothered about finding side hustles, learning 5 languages whilst also getting a ‘beach body’ during this time) and trying to maintain a positive mindset to days when I feel like I have been hit with a sledgehammer and I struggle to get out of bed. My head hurts, my heart hurts – my soul hurts.

I have been trying to restrict my time on social media because I find the noise overwhelming but I still get drawn in. I have found myself consoling strangers (along with many others) as they share their stories of loss and heartbreak. I wish people from around the world Happy Birthday as they share their lockdown stories, I get angry with the government. I share pictures of my cat with people who are feeling sad and who have asked for pet pictures to help cheer them up. I write stupid tweets about my addiction to crisps and crumpets in the hope it may make someone laugh in a world of millions of strangers who are also angry, hurting, scared and many are feeling lonely.

The pandemic has taught me the importance of living in the moment, allowing myself to take each day as it comes. We can’t look too far ahead, there are so many things out of our control. I have been asking myself what events or thoughts can I challenge, accept or let go.

I hope people are going through a journey of reflection, self development and healing so we emerge wiser and kinder.

My faith and hope has always got me through tough times. I hope we make it.

Penny for your thoughts

I’m an over thinker.

I have been told this numerous times and I am aware of it and yet I can’t stop over thinking or worrying. I have been speaking a lot lately about self suffering as part of my healing process, how my thoughts lead me back to the past too much, which of course I cannot change. I also think too much into the future and so I worry about the what ifs, would could and what may happen. I worry about losing people I love, I worry about people I don’t even know. Seeing so many homeless people fills me with great sadness and I feel helpless that I can’t do more to let them know that people do care about them.

I have always been a day dreamer since I was very young. Being deeply unhappy as a child will do that to you. I was bullied as a kid at primary school, it started when I was 6 years old. The kids would call me horrible names because of how I looked, the boys would sometimes beat me up. I used to come home from school crying and sit in a wardrobe and hide under piles of clothes and wished I could be somewhere else. The tears are flowing as I recall these painful childhood memories. Scars run so deep. How many of us have unresolved issues that started from our childhood? How do we get to work through them all?

To get me through a difficult childhood, I used to day dream that I would be adopted and I would be allowed to have lots of pets. I would write fictional stories and imagine that I fought monsters, could fly like Superman and saved the world. I became a class clown in the hope the other kids would find me funny and want me as their friend instead of someone they could bully. When that didn’t always work, I then discovered I could physically fight back. The boys stopped beating me up soon after that. The name calling still continued, but I also learned to answer back.

As an adult, I am still fighting monsters, but now they exist in my head. Occasionally they turn up as people too. I have been gently challenged recently to turn my ‘monsters’ into my allies by following the Buddhist practise ‘feeding your demons’. https://www.lionsroar.com/how-to-practice-feeding-your-demons/

I am currently in the process of building my army of allies.

I don’t know how long it will take for me to stop over thinking. I regularly have to tell myself I am not my feelings, I am so much more and I have more control than I think.

For now, I will be open to my lessons and focus on being present and ground myself so I can enjoy what is now.

I am not my anxiety.

It’s good to talk. Opening Pandora’s Box

In a former life I was a Samurai*
*This may be a small fib, it’s Photoshop.

“It’s ok not to be ok”

This is the headline that is often used to break the stigma of mental health. It’s a simple and powerful statement, however for those who do have mental health issues (of which there are 200+ known diagnosed conditions) we know there are many complex layers that sit under this comment.

Whilst it’s encouraging to see the various campaigns breaking the stigma and raising awareness about mental health – at the same time we need awareness that if we are asking someone to open up and talk, we may want to give ourselves a check in to see if we have the mental capacity to deal with what someone may tell us. How we respond to someone opening up to us can either help or actually harm (unintentionally) their wellbeing. We are asking people to potentially disclose information they haven’t even told their family, friends or even their employer for fear of being judged. Maybe that person is having therapy, or they are in so much pain they are unable to acknowledge what’s going on. They may have buried their emotions to the depths of hell because that’s where they want it to stay… because at times we do feel like we are in emotional hell.

Opening up and talking about how we’re really feeling can be frightening.

We are revealing a part of our true selves. We’re being asked to drop the mask. You are asking us to put down our armour and allow ourselves to be raw and vulnerable. When this has happened to me, on the days when I am not consumed by anxiety and I am able to have rational thoughts, I will have various questions running through my head when someone asks me…

“How are you doing?”

  • Do I lie and say “I’m fine”
  • Can I be honest?
  • How well do I know this person?
  • Can I trust this person?
  • Will they be able to cope with what I’m saying?
  • Do I know if they have experienced the same thing?
  • Will they use this information against me in the future?
  • Will they judge me?
  • Is this going to affect our friendship / work relationship / relationship?
  • Do I feel safe with this person?
  • Can they help me?
  • Will I frighten them or freak them out?
  • Do they possibly have a mental health issue?
  • Will my comments trigger them in some way?

Those are some of the questions I have – tick where applicable. Trust me when I say there are more. 

Because of what I have gone through, I will always have my armour on.

No matter how much self development work I do, hours of meditation, mindfulness or therapy sessions I have, I keep my armour on because it is essential to my wellbeing. I do it not just to protect myself, but also because at times I may want to protect others from hearing my true thoughts, some of them are really dark and scare me. Can I share them with someone else? I think everyone wears some form of armour. We have to. However we need to be aware that because of this we are at times too guarded and our defence mechanisms can be triggered too easily. Some people are so hurt they are literally firing arrows at people who are actually trying to help them. Do we run away or do we stand there and let them project onto us? Let me grab my shield, I’ll stay if I can but I also don’t want to be your regular verbal punching bag.

In Buddhism we are taught the way we see others is because they are mirrors of ourselves. I also believe that our perception and ability to process what people are saying is limited and also guided by our own experiences and understanding. We have unconscious biases that influence our opinions and decisions. The miscommunication that can arise from this can have some serious consequences. It doesn’t matter how spiritually enlightened or how tough we may think we are, we all have our vulnerabilities and need to protect ourselves. That’s survival.

I know that if I am asking someone to open up their Pandora’s Box, I do need to mentally prepare myself and be fully present for them and not let my experiences or opinions get in the way, and this is something others need to consider. If you can’t handle what you are hearing, can you imagine trying to live through it?

We meet many people on our journey through life. I am blessed to have a tribe who get me and vice versa, but there are plenty who haven’t and so for that reason, over the years it’s another layer of armour that I have developed. 

It’s ok not to be ok.  

We also need to have hope and faith that one day we will be.

Resilience, Adaptability & Anxiety

My lesson in resilience

This year has started off with a lesson in resilience and adaptability which has actually come from my cat and observing how she responds to trauma. 

At the end of 2019, my beautiful cat Missy went blind. She is 17 years old and I love her to bits. The vet checked Missy’s blood pressure which was high and had made her retinas detach due to the pressure on her eyes and one of her eyes was filled with blood as it had haemorrhaged. The vet said due to her age it was highly unlikely she would regain her sight. I was heartbroken. Missy was also diagnosed with kidney issues so is now on a special renal diet along with having to take blood pressure medication every day. When we got home from the vet, Missy jumped up onto her armchair and went to sleep.

Seeing how Missy has adapted so quickly to being blind has been astonishing. I am in awe of my cat and how she has taken this traumatic event and got on with her life. Of course I can’t find out how this has affected her mentally as we can’t talk about it. But she is carrying on as before when she could see. The only difference is that we speak to her a lot more now so she knows we are nearby so she doesn’t get spooked. As soon as we stroke her we get loud purrs. What’s even more amazing, is that two weeks on from Missy’s diagnosis she has gained a little bit of her eyesight back.

Observing Missy has made me think about human needs and behaviour. Are we able to adapt and bounce back so quickly after such a traumatic event? Speaking from my own experience, I certainly haven’t. Is this because we don’t always act on or trust our instincts? We often complicate our lives by overthinking things. We hold on to some emotions from past events for far too long that it ends up damaging us. Of course I can’t compare my life experiences to what Missy has gone through as I haven’t gone blind and she has never had her heart broken from a relationship, although she has probably broken a few of the local boy cats hearts by spurning their attempts to get to know her. She smashes them up ninja kitteh stylee – that’s my girl! Looking after Missy has made me think about our ability to deal with life’s setbacks, how we process it and bounce back.

I studied Sociology and Economics at college, unfortunately I never got to finish my A levels as I became homeless after the first year and had to drop out of studying (I will save those stories for another time as that has also contributed to my mental health issues). However it hasn’t stopped my interest in human behaviour, social economics and its impact on what motivates us. 

A great example of human motivation is explained in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Abraham Maslow wrote a paper in 1943 on ‘A theory of motivation’ and developed a classification system which reflected the universal needs of society. At the very base level are physiological needs such as food, warmth, water and sleep. As we move up the pyramid we progress into safety, belonging, esteem and end with self actualisation.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

I look back at my life and can see very clear patterns where my needs have been severely impacted that it has resulted in periods of mental illness. My anxiety started as a child, I didn’t know what it was then. All I knew was that I was always fearful, I worried a lot, had regular stomach aches and my chest would hurt so much at times it felt like my heart would explode. 

One important thing to remember is that anxiety is a natural response from our body to stress. It’s ‘normal’ for us to feel anxious when we are going on a job interview, a first date, speaking in front of an audience etc. It’s part of our fight or flight response and it’s our body’s safety mechanism to alert us to potential danger. We don’t need to run away from sabre toothed tigers anymore, but we may need to run away from dangerous situations or people. 

Anxiety is a key part of other disorders such as phobias, obsessive compulsive disorder, separation anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It’s also known for people who have anxiety to also suffer with depression, they can occur separately but the two are closely linked. Anxiety can be a symptom of depression or depression can be triggered by an anxiety disorder – thanks guys, talk about the bromance from hell. 

What can we do to minimise our anxiety symptoms? I have various self care techniques that includes journaling, meditating, breathing exercises, yoga, massages, mental health apps (I use Aura and Mindshift) and aromatherapy. One of my must haves is Bachs rescue remedy.

One of the hardest parts of acknowledging my recent anxiety disorder was accepting the fact that I need medication and also therapy. I have never been a fan of Western medication, but my anxiety symptoms have been so bad that all my self care techniques have not been enough to keep the anxiety under control. When it comes to mental illness and medication, there is something known as ‘pill shaming’ when someone disapproves of you taking medication as in their opinion it makes you weak and they think it’s something you should be able to just snap out of. I also have to be truthful to myself and acknowledge that I felt a bit ashamed of needing medication. I was judging myself and ignoring my need to accept help in whatever form it may take.

Some people say I am too open talking about mental health. To those people, I am not asking for your judgement. I am asking you to listen, to allow us to be heard as that is an important part of our healing journey. Please don’t shame us into suffering in silence.

If you would like some resources on anxiety you can go to:

Anxiety UK