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 within this.

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 

My Story

Hello. I am a mental health advocate and like many others, over the years I have experienced various life events that have impacted my mental health.

I wanted to share some of my story for my first blog entry as this will set the scene for my future blogs and why I am so passionate about mental health awareness, and supporting those who are struggling. I also believe in discussing and highlighting the contributing factors that lead to mental health issues, and for me the most important part is knowing the professional services, options and self care practises available that will help us heal, learn and recover from our experiences. I also want to use my stories to educate others and to show people who are also struggling they are not alone, we should not have to live in shame and hide our experiences. Keeping quiet and isolating ourselves compounds our shame and feelings of inadequacy.

My story starts when I was 2 years old and my dad died of lung cancer. I have no memories of my dad, but I feel his spirit watching over me, along with my gran who was and is also in her spirit form very feisty – she may be small but she be fierce!

My mum’s mental health deteriorated after my dad’s death, as to be expected. She was left alone to bring up five children whilst running her own business. With hindsight I look at my mum during those years as being incredibly strong dealing with such adversities, but the impact of losing her husband has had huge negative repercussions on her mental health. At one stage my mum was sectioned after trying to end her life. I will never forget that day, and the months following, they have left huge scars which I still try to process. I have always held a big fear for anti depressants and other Western medication because I saw what it did to my mum when she was in hospital. I don’t believe her time being sectioned helped at all, she couldn’t communicate with anyone due to language barriers and so all that happened was that she was doped up to her eyeballs, she didn’t even recognise us when we were taken to visit her. Grief affects us in many ways and each of our journeys is very personal. There is no set timeline for ‘getting over it’ and no linear process for grief, despite what some people may think.

As a result of my dad passing away, it started a long journey of depression for my mum and difficult relationships with her children, we all suffered. At that time back in the 1970s there wasn’t the mental health support available as there is now, although now the NHS mental health service is in crisis due to funding cuts and people are being lost on long waiting lists trying to get access to therapy services. It’s a heartbreaking and frustrating situation. I have recently learnt that my mum’s own upbringing was full of trauma and oppression, she was also a child of toxic parenting which created the learned behaviour my mum has continued. For my siblings and I, we are determined to break this pattern. It has been a hard journey for each of us.

My mum’s mental health over the last few years has very noticeably declined and now we are waiting for her to be tested for dementia, along with other mental health issues. As a result of my mum’s situation, it has also impacted my siblings and I over many years. I have gone through bouts of depression, I struggle with anxiety attacks and through my own life I have had some traumatic experiences which has impacted my mental health with big repercussions of which I may share in later blogs… if I feel brave enough to reopen the locks I have placed on those memories.

Why am I sharing my story? I want my story to be told because I want to help break the stigma of mental health. I also hope that by sharing my experiences it will help to empower others to share theirs, and realise they are not alone. Over the years I have had made many amazing connections with people from all over the world because of our life experiences. We share a bond of recognition, that we are all vulnerable, some more than others. I also want to highlight some of the cultural ideologies which stops some people from opening up, for me and my Chinese heritage we are brought up to be strong, and not talk about our fears and vulnerabilities because this would make us ‘lose face’.

I am at times raw and vulnerable, but I know I am also strong and I have overcome many adversities, like you have. We don’t have to be ashamed, we should be proud we have overcome many challenges.

We are mental health warriors.