Faith and hope

“Islam, Christianity, and Buddhism each have founder figures – Muhammad, Jesus, and the Buddha, respectively. And in thinking about these founder figures, I believe we must finally conclude that each brought a message of radical hope. To seventh-century Arabia, Muhammad brought the promise that anyone could find fulfillment and everlasting life through allegiance to the one true God. The Buddha held out hope that suffering could be transcended. Jesus brought the message that the last shall be first, that even the tax collectors and lepers – the outcasts – had cause for hope. And so that is the question I leave you with in this final: What is your cause for hope?”

Looking for Alaska – John Green

Faith is important to me. My relationship with God is important to me. But sometimes, in the midst of illness, that gets obscured.

I’ve read and heard stories of people who, at their lowest, felt God’s presence, and they knew everything was going to be ok. I haven’t ever been so lucky. When I feel particularly bad, I feel far away from God – disconnected, and lost. And I can’t help but wonder why.

I know it has a lot to do with my own attitude to myself. I have a problem with feeling that I deserve to be loved. Now, I believe that God loves everyone, no matter who they are or what they’ve done. And I would argue that point strongly with anyone who was questioning their own (or anyone else’s) worth. I can believe it for everyone else. But with myself, I get stuck in a cycle of negative thoughts.

This is something I’m working on with professionals, but in the meantime, I’m struggling again with feelings of inadequacy.

These days, I have ‘God moments’. They are few and far between, but they do happen. And although I am hugely grateful for the moments I get, I want more. I want to feel closer to God. Because these fleeting, ephemeral moments are something that bring me hope. Hope that things can improve. That I won’t always feel the way I do. That change is possible. And for that I am truly thankful.


Getting better

I’ve not been very well recently. If I’m honest, I’ve not been well for quite a long time. But for years, I have tried my best to ignore it and ‘get on with my life’.

How ridiculous is that? To live with debilitating and potentially life threatening symptoms, for years, and do almost nothing about it? Maybe go to the doctor once or twice, but never commit, never follow through with treatment, never give myself a chance to recover?

It probably has a little to do with the fact that being ill has been difficult for me to accept. And even more to do with the number of times I’ve been told get over it, pull yourself together, stop feeling sorry for yourself. Because the fact is, illnesses like mine, mental illnesses, make people feel uncomfortable, embarrassed, or even angry. Imagine having that reaction to a person who was suffering from a physical illness. To gloss over it, ignore it, or worse – to have a go at them for being ill in the first place. Mental health is often not discussed openly, leaving those who have problems – and let’s face it, it’s a heck of a lot of people – feeling like they have to hide away, keep their suffering a secret, and (perhaps most worryingly) that they can’t ask for help.

But things are changing, for me personally, and in general. People – famous people, politicians – are talking about mental health. Some have even, very bravely, talked publicly about their own experience of mental illness. Stigma is being challenged by some wonderful organisations. Support is being advertised. Very, very, very slowly, attitudes are changing.

And me? I’ve decided it’s time to get better. Time to engage, to try things, and to do the work that is needed. Over the past wee while, I have made a start. It took a while to realise and accept that I am not well. And even longer to believe that getting better is possible (if I’m honest, there are days when I still struggle with this one!).

So, today is the start of my journey towards mental wellness (or my version of it). Feel free to join me.

Period jokes

Hormones. It seems that we (men especially – thanks guys!) are quick to blame  them for changes in mood. No matter how much you may hate the ‘irritable woman on her period’ jokes, for many people, there is a least a grain of truth in it. PMT/PMS, pregnancy and menopause can all have some pretty unpleasant physical and mental effects. In addition, some people experience very serious mental health problems which are caused entirely by changes in hormone levels. But what about those of us who are already suffering from an unrelated mental illness?

For me, hormones definitely affect how I experience depression. My deepest lows and darkest thoughts almost always seem to come in cycles. At first, I wasn’t sure whether it was coincidence. I was looking for patterns, reasons, something to blame. But after months of seriously suicidal thoughts and feelings leading up to my period, I’ve realised that there is a pattern, and something that definitely isn’t helping when it comes to trying to recover.

So this week, I came home from my GP with a prescription for the contraceptive pill. As a gay woman, I have never really needed to consider contraception. I find the whole thing a bit odd, because it’s not something I ever thought that I would need to take. And of course, like most medication, reading the side effects was alarming – blood clots?! This would have been enough to put me off in the past, but now I feel like I’m so fed up with feeling low that I’m willing to risk it. Having committed to trying everything I can to feel better, I can’t not try this.

Things that stop you dreaming

I struggle with sleep. I have never been able to strike a healthy balance between too much, and too little. Over the years, with the exception of the occasional marathon sleep, I generally haven’t got nearly as much as I’d have liked to. I’ve always thought of this as something that was annoying, but just had to be dealt with. Until recently. Well, I say ‘recently’, but it’s actually been more than four years. I have gone from an average of between four and six hours, to between one and two. I say and average, because very often, I just don’t sleep. Not at all. No matter how tired I am, how much my body is screaming out for sleep, my mind refuses.

Sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture, and I can see why. After a few days of absolutely no sleep, I feel sick, disorientated, overwhelmed. Sometimes, I see things that aren’t there – sometimes I know that they aren’t real, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I am terrified, and sometimes I feel so desperate I’d give anything to make it stop. Anything.

But that does’t mean I actually want to sleep. Because… and this is the difficult part. Here goes…writing this seems a bit silly, but the reason my mind won’t let me sleep is that I have nightmares. Having spoken to other people, I’m pretty sure that these are not ‘normal’ bad dreams. I shout things and lash out in my sleep (I have been told). I wake, terrified, unable to breathe. Occasionally, I can’t move, and I see things in the dark. Sleep is not ‘safe’, so my mind fights with all it’s worth to prevent it from happening. I am fully aware that this may make me sound childish, pathetic, or even like a bit of a drama queen. That some people may think that I should just get over it. Believe me, I wish I could. This is part of my recovery, part of getting better. Something I hope to change.

In the mean time, I remain sleep deprived. And I do what I can to counteract the unpleasant side effects. I try to rest at night, even if I’m not sleeping. I try to limit negative self-talk, and stay calm. I’m working on using relaxation techniques. I try my hardest to reach out to people when things get too much for me to cope with alone. In addition, I have been given medication to help me sleep. Sometimes it works, sometimes it just means that I can’t wake properly from dreaming…which is scary. Very scary. Also, the medication causes a feeling which is very similar to a hangover the day after. It’s not a permanent solution. But it can provide a brief chance for rest, and for that, I’m grateful.

Anxiety vs Confidence

What happens when a confident person becomes ill with anxiety?
I am not a shy person. I am quiet, yes, but I would say that I’m quietly confident. I am not naturally nervous in new situations, and I can talk to anyone. I have lived and worked abroad, and moved and made new friends more times than I care to remember. I can stand in front of large groups, give presentations, talks, you name it – I can do it.

But I have a problem. A problem called anxiety.

Because the truth is that even though the above is who I am, forms a large part of my personality, it’s been almost a year now since I last felt entirely comfortable leaving the flat on my own, and recently it’s been getting worse. Groups of people terrify me and I wouldn’t touch public speaking with a barge-pole!

Anxiety is a constant part of my life just now. On a good day, I can go about my day. I am aware of the undercurrent of quietly-jaw-clenching anxiety, but I can use whatever confidence I can muster to push past to get stuff done. I function. By the end of the day, my teeth ache and my head aches from the constant tension.

On a bad day, it’s not so straight forward. Even considering going out makes my heart feel fluttery. Like a wee bird that would rather be elsewhere. But, again this can usually be pushed through with confidence (sometimes with the help of medication).

It’s when it’s at it’s worst, when I have a panic attack and then definitely I can’t leave the house until I calm myself down enough to start breathing again, when I can’t seem to find any of my own quiet confidence, enough of my own true personality, to push me past the physical and mental symptoms. This is what I resent most.

I just can’t get used to trying to do the things I used to do so easily, and the anxiety saying: ‘no…no way’. I will always resent the fact that anxiety has taken away parts of my personality over the past couple of years. I don’t want to get used to it either. I know It’s going to take a bit of work, but I’d like the old me back, please?

I think that’s why anxiety is such a debilitating illness; it can strike anyone, and strip down all their reserves. So who ever you are, no matter how confident and self assured you may be naturally, you can be well and truly knocked.

If you are being knocked down by anxiety (whether you’re confident or not!), and you’re not sure how to get back up, here are some great places to get advice:

NHS Choices
eLament – Lanarkshire Mental Health
Mind – Anxiety