Thursday 6 February 2014

Anxiety Diaries | Time To Talk Day

Time To Change is a programme dedicated to breaking down mental health stigma, led by Mind and Rethink Mental Illness. Today marks Time To Talk Day, during which thousands of people are starting conversations about mental health, offering support and a friendly non-judgemental ear. With this in mind I thought I'd write up a special Anxiety Diaries post, touching on the mixed emotions I've been experiencing recently towards anxiety. Talking is so important when it comes to mental health, so don't be afraid to reach out and start a conversation, whether you suffer from a mental health condition yourself or know someone who does. It's #TimeToTalk

For the past few months I've been feeling ashamed, angry, irritated. I could barely bring myself to say the word 'depression' and I cringed every time I heard the word 'anxiety'. 

I didn't want to be associated with anxiety anymore. I didn't want anxiety to be associated with me anymore. It had ruined enough experiences in my past to make me angry with it, and the spark for my sudden strong anger was realising that not everyone is so receptive to hearing or speaking about mental health issues. Not everyone understands, and rather than accepting this and carrying on speaking about my experiences I decided this must mean I should be ashamed. I should shut the hell up about it. I should stop writing about it. 

Anxiety is a thief. Anxiety is a liar. It robs me of confidence and determination and it tells me I'm stupid, pathetic, incompetent. It tells me there's something wrong with me. It tells me I desperately need to change, that other people recognise I need to change and that I won't ever succeed until I change. I closed the door on acknowledging anxiety and decided it didn't exist anymore. I hated it, so I'd make it go away by refusing to think about it. 

Social situations began to exhaust me. 'Where are you working at the moment? 'When do you finish your degree?' Every question felt loaded. I began to panic about being asked anything about my life, which made me feel even angrier. 'Where are you going to live now that you're married?' 'What's your plan?' 'When are you going to have a baby?' Every time I'd scramble around for an answer I'd remember how anxiety had taken a wrecking ball to so many opportunities in the past, and I'd panic silently about how many opportunities it could destroy in the future. 

Ignoring anxiety felt like the best option. I was sick of it. I felt exhausted by it. I grew angrier. 

I've written a lot about anxiety generally in the past but I've never really pinpointed in detail what my anxiety is all about. I have work related anxiety which means I'm afraid of going to work, of holding down a job, of being in an office environment. I'm afraid of working under the direction of others, of being given too much independence, not enough independence. Of being bad at the job, good at the job, bored with the job, feeling trapped by the job. Of never reaching my potential, of never finding a 'vocation'. Of never being good enough or passionate enough about something. Of people thinking I'm incompetent, too quiet, pathetic. Sounds a little self-centred, right?! Anxiety can be quite the delusion generator! 

I worked as a Learning Support Assistant for four years from the ages of 19-23 and battled anxiety throughout. I'd panic that it wasn't the right role for me; that I couldn't discipline students properly; that teachers thought I was incompetent; that I was wasting my potential as I wasn't given enough freedom. I moved to a well paid role as a Careers Information Officer at a university last year and panic set in almost instantly. I felt overwhelmed with the workload, frustrated by being in an admin role, anxious about answering the phone every five minutes. I panicked that colleagues thought I was too shy, too quiet, not qualified enough. I felt as if I kept making a string of annoying mistakes. I felt permenantly embarrassed. 

Every evening for the first two or three weeks I came home and cried. I felt so, so sad and desperately missed my previous job. I began having panic attacks at home after work and during the day at work. My heart rate became permanently elevated, I had the shakes constantly and I would cry on and off throughout the day, always hidden in the toilets. I would clock watch constantly. Eventually my brain sort of disengaged and I couldn't concentrate on anything. I went to my doctor in tears and was signed off for two weeks. Two weeks turned into four, and then four turned into never coming back. 

I immediately threw myself into a new role as a Teaching Assistant in a primary school. Pretty much from the get-go the same anxious feelings returned, and I lasted little over a month. The kids were amazing, so sweet and engaging, but I felt useless, bored, frustrated, trapped, and as if other people thought I wasn't up to the job. I had a big panic attack on the way into work one morning and quit after being threatened with being fired for poor attendance. 

Urgh. I'm cringing as I type because I feel so embarrassed at how the last year or so played out. I'm worried it all sounds so self-indulgent and ridiculous. I really would like to return to the workplace now, after having Cognitive Behavioural Therapy sessions and talking therapy but I'm still scared and I'm worried about how I'll feel when I get there. I applied for a Christmas job, scored an interview, and then didn't show up. I felt so angry with myself and so ashamed. Had I really made no progress over the past year? Was this really my life still? 

What if I can't cope? What if I feel so self-conscious and paranoid again? Or seem so shy and quiet and withdrawn? It's doubly frustrating because I'm really not actually that shy! Outside of work I'm pretty confident and assertive and articulate. Anxiety leaves me tongue tied which makes me feel even more angry with myself. And even when I recognise the truth behind fears, such as recognising that no job is forever and that actually, I'm not incompetent, and that worrying so much about finding a 'vocation' is exhausting, and that I really, really need an income, the physical symptoms of anxiety always seem to win. 

The worst part of anxiety is that it makes me sabotage paths to my one true dream and goal, which has always been to marry the love of my life and raise a family together. How can I possibly be a good wife or a mother if I can't hold down a job and bring in some sort of income? If I can't be an example to my children of someone who works hard? Thinking about this makes me feel so angry with myself. If I want a family so badly, why do I keep sabotaging myself?  

That's anxiety talking right there. I'll always be like this, I'll never have a job, I'll never have children, I'll never be a good wife or a good person. But, you know, anxiety can go fuck itself. On good days, days where I do my CBT homework and practice mindfulness and take things one step at a time, I can see something beyond anxiety and its beauty is what keeps me going. I see building a home with my husband, paying off my credit card bill and overdraft, gaining satisfaction from my job and raising children. I'm still working on how to get from here to there, but surely there's a way? There must be a way. There is a way and I'm the one who has to make it happen. 

 I'm looking into volunteering to get used to the workplace again, and I've referred myself for another course of CBT to tackle specific workplace anxiety. I'm developing two new blogs and pouring my heart into writing, and I've started keeping a diary again which is really helping me track my thoughts, behaviours and anxiety patterns. I've set myself the goal of doing one small thing a day, just one small thing when I'm feeling super anxious, to move me forwards. Yesterday I contacted my local IAPT team for information on further CBT sessions; today I'm developing my tarot website on Wordpress. Physical proof that I'm not in the same place as yesterday, as last week, last month, last year. 

I know I shouldn't be ashamed. So many people, too many people, fight anxiety and depression every day and there is nothing shameful about it. It is often a complicated, frustrating illness, but it can be overcome and I won't be in this situation forever. During good days, like today, I find strength in this and promise myself I am doing OK and making progress. I don't want to be so angry with myself anymore. If someone doesn't understand or has no interest in understanding, well, that isn't my problem, it's there's. Don't feel you should be silenced by stigma or ignorance. Sometimes people really don't understand or they feel uncomfortable for their own reasons. Encouraging conversations about mental health brings it out into the open and creates a safer, less threatening and less scary environment for everyone. 

 I haven't wanted to write an Anxiety Diaries post for a long time as I was determined that anxiety wasn't a part of my life anymore. But it is and that's something I'm slowly coming to terms with. It might be a part of my life forever, but that doesn't mean it will rule my life. There is no shame in talking about how you're feeling, or in asking a friend how they're feeling. I'm grateful for Time To Talk Day, as it's made me realise I don't need to be quite so angry, or quite so silent, anymore. 

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Find more information on Time To Talk Day here

Monday 13 January 2014

Wedding | Our Engagement Party

As of today I can officially say I'm getting married next week! Next week! Heart palpitations and sweaty palms aside, I found the following post hidden amongst various others on the blog I used to write before the Bluebird & the Robin. As the Bluebird & the Robin is my blog home it seemed right to include our engagement party memories on here, with all the other wedding planning fun! I can't believe how fast time has flown, and reading over this made me feel so happy and excited for the big day next Friday. 

May 2012

There was a moment yesterday, having been handed an envelope containing an amazingly generous cheque, contributed to by a group of mine and Chris's greatest friends, that I was asked to give a little speech. Of course, I couldn't think of anything and resorted to repeating everything Chris had said, in the same order and with the same wording... typical! Put on the spot and I couldn't think of what to say. Of course, about ten minutes later I realised what it was I'd wanted to say, but alas the time had passed. So I thought I'd take to this here blog and type up my 'speech' instead.

Twice last night I burst into tears due to the realisation that we have the greatest, most generous, supportive, loving, kind friends you could wish for. There's no better feeling than realising you have a whole garden full of people who love and support you and want you to be happy. I've known most of my close friends since school, and have also been fortunate to pick up a couple more since then, from uni and various other places. And I must say, if my friends are this amazing then I sincerely hope I'm a good friend in return, because they're all bloody brilliant! I'm definitely guilty of not always making an effort to organise regular meet-ups and it's stupid because when I see them I immediately think 'these guys are hilarious- I need to make more of an effort!' 

There's my beautiful Maid of Honour, Alice, who is more like a sister than a friend, having been introduced when we were little and having stayed besties since (although we once fell out over a Sylvanian families fridge. But let's not go there..!) Not only is she super organised, an excellent baker and a brilliant shoulder to cry on, she's also funny, quick thinking and absolutely beautiful. I know I can trust her to sort my hair out on the big day... and that's all that matters. Jokes! She might also come in handy for the dessert table... I'd like to say thank you to her for always having my back, and for sharing so whole-heartedly in mine and Chris's happiness yesterday. I can't think of anyone more suited to the role of MOMFH ;)

And then there's Zina and Lucie, my two bridesmaids who I know I can rely on to help me get this wedding thing sorted! I've known Zina since we were eleven and I think it's safe to say that neither of us can quite understand how we're now suddenly 23?! Insane! Practical, straight talking but always kind hearted, she's taken care of me when I've been through bad patches and the stack of notes she's kept from our school days always provide a nice trip down memory lane! Zina was partly responsible for getting me and Chris together after I told her to tell him I liked him over MSN (those were the days!) I seem to remember typing A LOT of expletives when she informed me he felt the same way... And Lucie, my uni neighbour who basically got me through the whole horrible year when I thought a history degree was for me! The best cook, and the most adventurous, proactive, determined, positive, busy person I've ever known! And of course the inspiration behind my 'what would L do?' moments :p

Of course I could go and on about all my other friends, but I figured I'd stick to the bridal party or I'd be here forever! I love them all and there isn't a single bad egg amongst them ;)

And Chris's friends. This is the bit I really wanted to say in my little speech, as I've wanted to say it for a while but haven't had the chance. I can't imagine how awful and awkward it would be if your fiancĂ©'s friends disliked you or if you disliked them. So thank God Chris has amazing friends! Together they challenge any gender stereotypes about men always treating women like crap, as they all seem so gentlemanly and they're all friendly, welcoming, sweet guys. I was so nervous when I first met some of Chris's friends at his 18th birthday meal, because I really didn't want them to hate me, and I can be really shy when I first meet new people so it took me a while to come out of my shell around them. And now I can't shut up around them! 

We really couldn't ask for better friends, and that's why, upon opening the envelope to see a card full of our  friends' names and an extremely generous cheque to kick-start our wedding fund, I started to cry. And that's why I just had a little cry writing this blog post. And that's why I know our wedding day is going to be the BEST day of our lives.


Baci e abbracci, 

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Sunday 12 January 2014

Wedding Worthy Beauty | Body Care

I'm getting married in 12 days! That's less than two weeks, people! I figured a great way to prevent falling into wedding planning meltdown (believe me, it's easily done) would be to write up a series of beauty based wedding posts. What could be more relaxing than chit chatting about beauty products and snapping photos of bath time treats?! 

Today's post is on wedding worthy body care, featuring the products I've been using to whip my skin into tip top condition for the big day.

First up is a selection of bubbles, scrubs and gels that have become firm favourites over the past month or so. Soap & Glory is, in my humble opinion, one of the best high street bodycare ranges available in the UK. I'm a huge fan of pretty much every product I've tried from them and The Scrub Of Your Life (£7) is brilliant at sloughing away dry skin. It's particularly good at smoothing bumps on the back of the upper arms, something I struggle with during winter. My skin feels super soft and moisturised after using this and it takes pride of place in the bathroom as my number one scrub. 

I've developed a slight obsession with Jenny Packham's Salonniere range, which debuted at Boots as a 2013 Christmas range. The Body Wash and Bath Creme, available as part of the Salonniere Bathing Collection (£10) share the same delicious rose scent as the Hand Cream, and both Body Wash and Bath Creme are a rich gold colour which makes any bathing experience feel a touch more luxurious than usual! My skin feels soft and smooth after using these and the scent is so relaxing. Perfect for when I'm feeling frazzled from non-stop wedmin...

I don't care what anyone says, wedding planning is stressful at times. Trying to juggle and coordinate multiple suppliers, sift through all sorts of logistical requirements as well as trying to create a day that people enjoy (and most importantly that you and your beloved enjoy!) isn't always an easy task, and I have had a number of sleepless nights spent tossing and turning while creating mental check lists of wedmin tasks still to do. I received an adorable travel sized Aromatherapy Associates Revive Morning Bath and Shower Oil as a Christmas gift and boy, does it wake you up! The zingy citrus scent works wonders at perking me up in the mornings, lifting my mood if I'm feeling stressed or tired. 

I've been a loyal user of Soap & Glory The Righteous Butter (£10.50) for years. In fact, I think it was one of the very first Soap and Glory products I tried upon their release. I've remained faithful for good reason: this stuff is incredible! From the fresh, sweet scent to the richness of the cream and the way it delivers an intense moisture boost without being sticky or oily, this is my holy grail body moisturiser. It works especially well when applied to still-damp skin, and I love heaping on a generous amount before bedtime. The tub lasts absolutely ages, making it a total bargain. 

However, my Righteous Butter addiction doesn't mean I never stray in favour of a new discovery... Sanctuary Spa Relax Cocooning Body Butter (£9.50) has been a favourite since I stumbled across it a few years ago. It has a comforting sweet, creamy scent and it moisturises well without feeling at all cloying or heavy. I'm also a huge fan of Champney's Distant Shores Body Butter, which came as part of their Distant Shores Travel Collection (£12), especially when I'm in the mood for a lighter, floral scent. Whenever I apply a handful of this I'm transported to an image of a tropical beach, white sand under my toes, waves lapping at my feet... *sigh* This will be the body cream that makes it into my honeymoon suitcase! 

Another Jenny Packham Salonniere goodie, the rose scented Hand Cream is an absolute must for getting my hands into great condition prior to the big day. I'm usually awful when it comes to remembering to apply hand cream but I'm a girl on a mission at the moment! I know there will be plenty of pictures taken of our wedding rings, and therefore our hands, and I want to show my bling off with pride, meaning hand TLC is a top beauty priority over the next 12 days!

What's that, I hear you cry, another Soap & Glory product?! It only hit me last week that I might want to pay my feet some attention as I really, really love my wedding shoes! Which means smooth skin and freshly painted nails are a must. I've been slathering on a layer of Heel Genius (£5.50) before popping on a pair of socks at night, letting the gel cream get to work while I (try to) snooze. My heels feel much softer while my feet in general appear much more presentable, so I'll be continuing my tootsie pamper routine right up until the wedding. 

Over the next week or so I'll be posting my wedding worthy hair care, skin care and makeup picks, in between last minute wedding planning! Are there any products you love reaching for before a big event? I'm always open to recommendations! 

Baci e abbracci,
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