Why I changed my opinion on taking your own life.

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I grew up for years with the personal opinion that the act of suicide was the most selfish thing you could do. I used to think everything from ‘How could you do that to your family?’, ‘How could you leave your body in that state for someone else to find?’, and ‘How could you leave your loved ones with the burden of guilt, regret and never knowing why?’. These are just some of the things I wished I could ask people who were successful with their suicide attempts. Not necessarily why did they do it, but more a case of how could they? I simply couldn’t understand how someone could be in that dire of a state, and in that much darkness, that they could legitimately not see a way out.

Having never been personally affected by a loved one taking their own life, and having never felt suicidal myself, I feel somewhat inadequate to even write about this – but mental health is something I do feel incredibly passionate about. I recently watched an eye-opening documentary on ABC titled ‘You Can’t Ask That’, where a range of suicide survivors were interviewed on all the questions people secretly want to ask. For example – how did you do it, did you feel guilty, who saved you… etc etc. For me the question of guilt was something I was extremely interested in, but in fact none of the people interviewed said they felt any guilt at all. They were in such a cloud of despair, that they honestly thought removing themselves from life was going to make their loved ones happier, and obviously rid themselves of their own pain.

Hearing survivors talk about their experience first hand was something that made me do a complete 180 on my opinion. Admittedly, I was on the path to changing how I felt about it from my own experiences with anxiety – whilst I’ve never even been close to having suicidal thoughts, I’ve had some really bad days with overwhelming anxiety where I’ve desperately wanted those feelings to stop. So I can now see how someone could fall deeper and deeper into that well of hopelessness, and can’t see a way out. Yes – everyone always says the help is there… they just had to ask. But hindsight is a bitch isn’t it?

I’ve also been reading a lot about postpartum depression, and have tonight just watched a documentary on it titled ‘When the Bough Breaks‘ – a really raw, honest view on something that affects a lot of women. I guess I have been interested in this condition as part of recovering from my issues with anxiety, and as a woman I have a natural fear that this is perhaps something I will go through should I have a child one day. The hormonal and emotional experience of childbirth coupled with sleep deprivation, existing mental health issues and lack of support are all red flags for postpartum depression, and I think the mothers who have spoken up to discuss their journeys are incredibly brave.

Hoping this post hasn’t offended anyone, I am merely discussing my own thoughts and feelings – feel free to comment 🙂

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Photo credits – dullbluelight & maxfromtax

When you’re in the throws of it…

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Anyone who has suffered from anxiety issues will tell you what a bitch it is when you’re in the full swing of a bad day, or even a bad hour. Everything feels surreal, like you’re watching your life on a stage and observing yourself going through the actions of appearing normal, calm and in control. Meanwhile in your head there’s a full theatre of chaos and panic going on, thoughts coming at you a million miles an hour with no apparent reason or excuse. All you want to do is lay in a dark, quiet room and breathe. Simply breathe.

That’s how I feel today, and though it is happening less and less through a range of coping techniques, when it does happen you inevitably feel the sadness of setback. Anger and disappointment at yourself – why aren’t I better yet? Guilt at the family or friends you’ve let down – Can I call you back tomorrow? Everything will be better tomorrow. That’s what you keep telling yourself, as you try to get through each minute without going crazy (or appearing to). It’s a delicate and difficult balancing act. They don’t tell you how hard it will be, simply taking control of the thoughts in your head before they manifest into physical symptoms – racing heart, shaky limbs, feeling dizzy and disoriented, not focusing on things… the list goes on.

I know I’m not the only person feeling like this because of how much reading I have done in the past year, trying to arm myself with all the facts. In fact millions of people all around the world suffer from anxiety and panic attacks every single day. You wouldn’t always guess who and it doesn’t discriminate. Your hairdresser, your bus driver, the woman who sells you fresh buns at the bakery. Your boss, your colleague, the cleaner at work. Odds are that at least 4 of these 6 people have suffered or are currently suffering from some kind of mental health challenge, but are carrying on with their everyday jobs – because that’s what we have to do. You cannot let it take control of your life so much that you can’t get out of bed, or start avoiding simple things like grocery shopping or coffee dates with friends. When it gets to the point that your normal routines are severely affected – seek help. Yes, it’s terrifying. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and through re-training your brain and constant practise – you can make steps towards a healthy life.

Wishing you all the best, and for myself I’m hoping that a hot shower and good nights sleep will be just the trick 🙂

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Photo credits – maison.chloeyeur & totalynoturbae

Wait, was that a real smile?

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For so long I was stuck in this grey reality, going through the motions of life without really being ‘present’. I’d turn up to work, catch up with the friends and keep up my social media appearance. Every night I’d be so exhausted from the emotional, mental and physical strength this existence required, that all I’d want to do is lay in my candlelit room at night listening to depressing music, dreading having to do it all again tomorrow. Of course, it finally caught up with me and it’s only 5 months into my ‘gap year’ that I’m genuinely starting to be excited about life again.

In the last few weeks, I’ve noticed subtle changes in my thinking patterns that have got me doing mental cartwheels of joy. I’ve caught myself not thinking or worrying about my anxiety issues, and while that sounds silly – if I’m thinking about not thinking about anxiety, then aren’t I thinking about anxiety again? Well yes, and no. It’s different now. For a good year it was all I thought about – it literally consumed my thoughts every hour, if not every minute of the day. I’d wake up assessing how I felt, I’d walk to work wondering how long I would last before starting to panic, I’d try and hold myself together all day until I could get out and escape to the safety of my bedroom. If I had plans that night I’d try and stay calm until I got there, then spend the entire time feeling like shit because of how exhausted I was and looking forward to just being in bed. But even in bed I couldn’t escape my mental state – I’d meditate to try and get to sleep, and then some nights wake up with a racing heart trying to catch my breath at 2am. Anxiety was with me constantly, sitting on my face and refusing to let me live my life in peace.

But as I mentioned, lately I’ve caught myself not thinking about it. And this has made a world of difference. I can actually read a book, watch a movie, talk to family or friends and take the dog to the beach, and actually just live in the moment, not worrying about whether I might have a panic attack or where I can escape to if I start feeling anxious. This is an amazing feeling and something that I don’t expect everyone to understand. I couldn’t even go into a grocery store or drive across a bridge 3 months ago without feeling sick in the stomach, worried about panicking which naturally leads to a state of panic. The cycle of anxiety is vicious, and comes on so quickly that you barely have time to put your coping methods in place. I can genuinely say I feel like my storm is starting to ease though, and I’m beyond excited. I’ve actually booked a trip to Bali in a few months with some friends which is something I feel like I deserve. After the hard work I’ve put in to overcome my challenges, I think a cocktail on the beach is well overdue!

The happiest people seem to be those who have no particular cause for being happy except that they are so. (William Ralph Inge). 

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Photo credits – katie.one & sandra.cumplido

Mental health: Baby steps, not a race.

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As you might know I’ve written about mental health before, and my struggles with anxiety and panic attacks. I felt drawn to write this blog tonight after talking to one of my close friends today, who has also been going through their own set of challenges. In fact when I think about it, 9 out of 10 people I know – be it close friends or family, have all opened up about their struggles with mental health. From anxiety, depression, stress, avoidance tendencies, loneliness, low self-esteem and health issues, almost everyone I know has been or is going through their own mental barriers to happiness and good health. So what’s the catch? Has today’s modern society simply become too difficult for us to manage? Or are we just more open about what’s going on inside our complex, crazy minds?

I think it’s a mixture of both. Yes, the modern world is now full of new stressors that human evolution is yet to catch up with. From technology overload, family breakdowns, threats of terrorism, nuclear war, increasingly extreme weather patterns and many more modern stressors, our bodies are subject to a wide variety of anxiety-inducing events than ever before. I personally believe that our mind’s are still only equipped to deal with the basic, ingrained worries that have served us for millions of years – worries over seeking food and shelter for our families, and threats from animals and the elements. Basic, caveman worries. Today we are faced with constant, varying levels of stress in everything we do from the moment we wake up, and I’ve noticed a definite increase in my loved ones simply not being able to handle it.

BUT, on the flip side – mental health stigma’s have definitely taken a big hit in recent years, with many celebrities and public figures opening up about their own challenges. This increasingly open dialogue about the range of issues created in our minds, has paved the way for people to express how they feel and seek help where possible. Yes, it is still hard to open up because it’s scary to admit to ourselves that we might need some guidance, let alone admit it to our family and friends. The workplace culture of long hours, eating lunch at your desk and unrealistic deadlines that I came from last year was a massive contributor to my anxiety issues, and I know many people feel the same but are scared to admit it. We don’t want to look weak, or get hauled into HR to discuss our performance, or worse – get fired. But we can’t keep working ourselves into the ground either – at some point, your health has got to come first and I’m so glad I finally accepted that. As I found in my case, acceptance is one of the most important steps to managing your issues. Yes there are days where I’m angry, sad or frustrated and think WHY ME? But the days where I simply acknowledge my anxiety is there, sitting on my shoulder not hurting anyone, are the days where it is so much more manageable. Learning to love yourself for who you are, instead of beating yourself up over it is very important in the healing process.

To all of my family, friends and readers I want you to know that you are not in this alone. More people than you realise are going through their own set of mental challenges – the trouble is that their ‘issues’ are usually invisible and well masked. We all learn ways of coping, hiding and avoiding but sooner or later the wall crumbles and we’re forced to pick up the pieces. Start the healing process now I say! Talk to someone, open up to whoever you feel safe with, practice meditation, exercise, eat healthy, get out into nature, light a candle and write in a journal – DO WHATEVER YOU NEED TO DO. I’ve tried it all, and can honestly say a good balance of all these activities and a positive attitude makes a hell of a difference. Just remember it’s not a race – there will be setbacks and days where you feel like shit, but just persevere with baby steps.

A positive attitude causes a chain reaction of positive thoughts, events and outcomes. It is a catalyst and it sparks extraordinary results. (Wade Boggs).

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Photo credits – inkandarte & ourmoodydays

When you can (finally) see the light

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If you’ve been through some difficult times but are finally starting to see a reprieve from the storm, then congratulations. It takes a great deal of mental strength, patience, time and setbacks to see a way forward from whatever you’ve been dealing with (in my case, managing what has sometimes been overwhelming anxiety). My personal storm has lasted about a year, but was probably building and building for many years prior before unleashing with a furious intensity. I can now finally say that I’m starting to see the light at the end of this tunnel, and learning ways to manage the thoughts that can rapidly descend into full blown panic.

Everyone is dealing with their own set of issues, and more often than not issues that cannot be seen on the surface. Sometimes I think that more obvious and visual issues would be easier to deal with, but then I remember that we are all on our own journey and have our own challenges to overcome. For too long I was hiding what I was really going through, pretending I was okay but barely functioning. On the inside I was in turmoil just trying to get through a day at work without freaking out and running to the bathroom, where I could at least be alone if a panic attack came on. I don’t think my colleagues had any idea of the extent of my anxiety, and how it was making simple tasks seem like huge hurdles in my mind. I’d go to bed thinking about work, dream about it, wake up in the middle of the night gasping for air and dread the next morning where I’d have to face it all again. I knew I was rapidly spiralling out of control, but I couldn’t see a way out from this hell. It was only when I nearly fainted at my desk one day from the overwhelming panic running through my body, and dizzily made my way outside for fresh air that I knew something needed to be done. And so I quit my job, somewhere I’d been for four years after doing a degree just to get there. I quit my life as I knew it, and silently moved home without really telling anyone the truth.

I expected things to get better from Day 1 of freedom, but I was a fool. It’s now been 4 months and I’m only finally starting to feel better, after going through some really stormy days where simply getting out of bed was a challenge. I’ve recently started working again, something that in my eyes seemed like a huge hurdle to overcome. I couldn’t imagine going back into a workplace, meeting new people, learning new systems and maintaining my cool, but I’ve done it and I’m proud. Of course, some days are still really hard and sometimes anxiety descends on me with no warning or apparent reason. This is what’s so frustrating about it – not having any obvious trigger can make simple tasks like going grocery shopping or driving seem like a trap. You live in constant fear of feeling anxious, wondering when it will hit you. Will you have an easy escape? Will you be in front of people? It’s not easy changing your mindset, working on different thinking patterns and focusing on your breathing to bring you back to ground, but it IS possible.

I’ve read everything there is to read about anxiety issues and armed myself with the facts. Panic attacks can’t kill you – yes, the physical symptoms may seem life threatening (tight chest, tingling hands and feet, racing heart, dizziness), but they are just the body going into flight or fight mode when it senses danger. For people suffering from anxiety though, the body is constantly going into this flight or fight mode for no reason – and this is the crux of the issue. For anyone reading this and feeling the same, I would say try everything you can. Meditation, exercise, cutting out caffeine, talking to somebody, slow breathing practise.. the list goes on and I’ve tried them all. I think a combination of healing techniques, mindfulness and motivation has slowly led to a change in my thinking. I know there is still a long road ahead but at least I can say I’m committed and I’m going to get through this, and so will you 🙂

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Photo credit – rose_and_heart

Letting the leaves float away…

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Having been meddling in the practice of mindfulness for the past few months in an attempt to reduce anxiety and stressors, I’ve come across some nice little exercises that with (regular) practice actually do help. I’m particularly enjoying one I was shown this week, which uses mental visualisation to help move anxious feelings and thoughts along;

You’re standing by a stream, watching the water flow by.  On the surface of the water are many leaves, floating down the stream.  No one leaf has any particular significance–they all just float by.  The leaves represent the many random thoughts that flow through your mind in a day.  Now visualise that your intrusive thought, or worry, is one of these leaves–watch it float past and disappear.  There’s no need to focus on that one leaf–just let it float on by, out of your sight and out of your awareness….

And so it goes on – as you assign a leaf to any thought or feeling that is worrying you and simply imagine it floating down the stream, you can definitely notice the tension leaving your body. I like to do any of these meditation or mindfulness practices in a quiet, secure place where I can completely relax – laying on the cool floor under a fan is particularly tranquil. It’s about your own journey though, so you need to find the right space and energy that works for you – whether it’s sitting on the beach at sunrise or a balcony at dusk. Find your peaceful place and zone out, even if it’s for a couple of minutes every day – there’s no excuse for not making time for yourself.

“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.” ~Amit Ray

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Photo credits – zeebachi & templeofleaves