Pausing, One

Anxiety is no friend to logic.  You might “know” something but your body betrays you.  You feel like you have something heavy sat on your chest.  You can’t breathe deeply enough.  Your airways are tight.  Your chest doesn’t expand properly.  It feels like there’s a rubber resistance band strapped around your lungs.  You feel sick and your stomach is upset.  You obsessively and compulsively bite all of your nails down to the quick.  Tears are never far from behind your eyes.

It is the absence of peace.

In August 2015 I turned 30.  That summer I experienced a prolonged feeling of anxiety for the first time.  Lots of things happened and turning 30 seemed to bring it all into a sharp focus.  I had changed my job four months before and I suddenly realised that it wasn’t the job, it was me.  I was working long hours and was very stressed at work.  There was an altercation with my neighbour which left me feeling vulnerable at home.  I felt unanchored and a little bit lost.  I didn’t know what I should be doing for a career, could I really change?  I had spent so much time and energy (and money) getting to where I was.  Other people really want my job, it felt a bit like a betrayal to be thinking about changing careers.

I have experience (a long time ago now) of working in mental health.  So I did what I advocate, I acknowledged the way I was feeling, tried not to beat myself up about it and I was honest with my inner circle.  I also went and spoke to my doctor.  My doctor upon listening to me said he wasn’t surprised I was feeling like that, and suddenly, just like that I started to feel better.  Sometimes all we need is someone independent, someone outside, to take a look at our life and offer us some reassurance that we are not weak or crazy.  Sometimes it takes more than that and that is okay too.

It was then that I decided I needed to make some changes.  I felt like I had missed some warning signs – just in case anyone else is unclear – throwing up before you go to work every morning is definitely a warning sign that all is not quite right.

I wanted to step back, to make more time for me, to relax.  I was so tired.  Tired of being busy and doing and pleasing everybody and feeling like I was failing myself.

I decided I had to learn to say “no”.  I wanted to be more selective about where I spent my time.  I didn’t want to be rushing all the time trying to fit everybody in and making no time for me.  I wanted to do more creative things.  Mostly, though I wanted to spend more time listening to God.  Actually, learning to listen to God, discerning his will for me rather than trying to control all aspects of my life and just ask for his help when it got hard.

I wanted to know what I was being called to do.  There is a part in “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho, where the boy is being taught about the path, about how if you are on the right one then the whole universe conspires to help you and you keep seeing signs to let you know you are following your destiny.

The idea of counselling as a profession had been in my mind for a few years after a throw away comment from a friend and I hadn’t done anything about it until I signed up to an Introductory 12 week course at CityLit in January 2015.  I had really enjoyed the course but then had changed jobs and kept plugging along in “the real world” when the wheels started to come loose and I realised that actually, I couldn’t keep on.  I prayed a lot about it, and decided that I would need to get a job back in London to have any hope of being able to study part-time.

In November I put my CVs out to a few places, by December I had an interview and I was honest an open with the interviewer and she gave me some names of other places where I could apply as they were interviewing someone else.  By the first week of January I had a new job a commutable distance for part-time study.

Then the doubts came.  I wondered if this really what God was calling me to do or if I just wanted to do it because I didn’t like what I was currently doing.  I decided I would give the new place “a fair go” before making my decision.

I have been chugging along, keeping on, ticking over, I tried, I did.  But I think that that constant little nudge toward counselling in the back of my head that won’t go away is there for a reason.  I have found a part-time counselling course that I can apply for this January, it will be a big commitment – every Saturday from January to July, and it will be a scary process, going back to studying part time (at my age) and giving up some security in the job I have now, but if I have learned anything over the past year and a bit it’s that it will be worth it.  The application process for the course opens next month and closes pretty soon afterwards, they make quick decisions about who they let in it seems.

Last week I was pretty stressed with work, I guess the fact that the application process will be opening soon has also been in the back of my mind, I was working long hours again, often on my own and I experienced anxiety again, seemingly out of nowhere.  That horrible sick feeling, the feeling that I am crap at my job and making all of the wrong choices.  The feeling that everything is out of control.

I went, every day last week for 10 minutes to the church across the road.  I just wanted to sit at the feet of Jesus, and pour out my troubles to him and ask him for his peace, he doesn’t disappoint.  I had found this on Pinterest a few days before, and thought it may help those of you who also experience anxiety, as it helped me:

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The feeling passed more quickly this time, I have learned how to manage it better, how to acknowledge the feelings and I have learned that they will pass.  I have also learned that I need to have a positive attitude toward it, anxiety can suck you in and down if you let it.  This week I gave myself a stern talking to, I reminded myself that I am on the path and that it isn’t always straightforward, I have to push through and do hard things.  I can do that.  Paulo Coelho reminds us that:

“I can choose either to be a victim of the world or an adventurer in search of treasure.  It’s all a question of how I view my life.”

I am definitely choosing to be a positive thinking adventurer, one who isn’t scared to try new things and grab opportunities with both hands.  I am not going to give in to the fear or the anxiety.  I am on the path and I am trusting in God and my heart to lead me to my destiny, back to the soul of the world.

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Grateful for friends, and particularly strong female ones. #100DaysofGratefulnessday3

I have always been a girl’s girl, a woman’s woman.  I enjoy the company of my female friends and I have a lot of them.

I never really understood boys.  When I was very young I was too quiet, I am an extrovert on the Myers Briggs enneagram but this does not always mean what people understand an “extrovert” to be.  Certainly when I was younger I was very timid in the presence of boys or children I didn’t know, and I would get quite anxious in social situations involving peers.  In complete contrast I was always totally at home with adults or by myself.  I enjoyed solitary activities like reading and playing imaginary games, quite often on my own or with one or two friends; I didn’t like loud, boisterous group activities.  I have always been decidedly un-competitive so I never enjoyed team sports (I also wasn’t very good at them).

I got on quite well with some of the boys in my class but would never have had boys over for a playdate or been invited to boys’ houses.  This is in complete contrast to both of my sisters who both had more male friends than female friends when they were growing up and are both quite sporty and competitive.

Aged 11 I went to an all girls’ school.  I know a lot of people have a lot of feelings about single sex education, for me it was the right choice.  I would never have had the confidence to put my hand up and speak up and give answers in a classroom full of boys.  Being surrounded by a lot of women and not having any brothers it meant that I just wasn’t the best prepared for male friendships at University.  I developed a couple of real friendships with boys in my last year at university through my then boyfriend, but as that relationship ended four years later those friendships slowly died a death.

It doesn’t bother me now, I am perfectly happy to be surrounded by women.  I love my girlfriends and I am so lucky to have a lot of them.

I listened to the Sorta Awesome podcast recently when they were discussing the “ten friends every woman needs” (This podcast is good – listen!).  This was their conclusion:

  1. A friend who has made more mistakes than you;
  2. A friend who knows what’s in your freezer;
  3. A friend with whom no words are necessary;
  4. A friend with better style than you;
  5. A “Yes Man” meaning someone who supports you wholeheartedly and who adores you;
  6. A friend who majored in your history;
  7. A friend who speaks your language (they are into the same things);
  8. A friend who challenges you;
  9. A friend who knows all your passwords;
  10. A friend who is the Queen of the call you out.

What I realised from listening to this is that I might be one or two or none of these at the same time for different friends, and that’s okay.  I also realised that I have friends who fall into each and every category.

I have had discussions recently with various friends about how as you reach thirty you know who your real friends are.  You might have (like I do) an “inner” and an “outer” circle this is a fluid arrangement, some friends you can be particularly close to for a season in your life, then you might drift apart slightly for a while as life takes over and later you’ll drift back into each other’s inner circle again.  Some friends are always in one or the other, and that’s okay too, it doesn’t mean you don’t appreciate and love and need those friends in your outer circle.

Here are my friends every woman needs (there might be a bit of overlap with the above list):

  1. A friend whose advice and help you will accept because you trust their good judgment.

I have a particular friend who does this.  I always respect her opinions and I feel better about scary things if I check them through with her.  She is a more grown up version of me, slightly more together financially and slightly ahead of the game in every aspect, always has been.  We lived together when we both had our first proper jobs after university and when I got my handbag stolen she could lend me money from her savings (!) to pay for the lock change, as obviously, I was maxing out my overdraft every month.  Recently, as I was stressing about shopping for my wedding dress (I hate shopping and pretentious places in equal measure) I texted her for info on where she went, because I knew it would be good.  She responded with the info, but more than that, followed up with (because she knows I hate shopping and pretentious places in equal measure) “They served us warm white wine in plastic glasses and the woman who did my alterations had no teeth and a fantastic smoker’s cough”.  I booked my appointment immediately.

  1. A Questioner.

I am interested in people; I ask them a lot of questions, I prefer “interested” to “nosey”. I always thought I would never meet anyone who asked as close to the wire questions as me, and then I met Madge.  I love it.  She is interested in everything and she makes me think about my decisions and my actions.  She makes me examine myself and that is no bad thing.  It’s a great sounding board because she’ll often make you think about something slightly differently.  P.S. Read her blog, she’s incredibly funny and regularly has me snorting into my Tupperware at lunch (work, I only get 15 mins so I eat in front of a screen out of plastic, it’s depressing).

  1. A friend who tells it straight.

I appreciate this quality, the most likely candidates here – my sisters.  They will be (brutally) honest.  It’s refreshing and important.  It’s needed, you know where you stand.  Plus, they can also show you a different way of thinking.

  1. A friend who is able to have what my school girls and I affectionately refer to as “D&Ms” or “Deep and Meaningfuls”.

We used to have a lot of these when we were at school, navigating the perils of the Union Bar, Apple Sours and exactly what black top to wear with our jeans and velvet jackets on a Friday night.  Undoubtedly, some of these conversations were fuelled by alcohol, as they often have been in later life with other friends, but these are conversations which enrich you and make you grow emotionally.  You are vulnerable, you share, you talk, you laugh, you are close.  I have had these with all of my friends at some points and still do.  I have talked about a couple of my friends who helped me through a particularly hard time before.

  1. A friend who is at the same stage as you.

As I mentioned in another blog post it’s important to have friends who empathise with a situation, not just sympathise.  So for example, I love it when my new mummy friends have other new mummy friends that they can talk about baby and kid stuff with.  It’s not that I am not interested in this, or that they can’t talk to me about it – I want them to share (I am learning for the future!) but I recognise that I have no point of reference, so I might not be particularly helpful on every occasion.  Equally, when those friends are busy with things like that you need other friends who can meet you on a whim after work and discuss your broken heart at length.   If you are the only single person in your group, you need other single friends.  Everything in its season.

  1. This is totally overlapping above but – a person whom shares your passions.

I have a few friends I talk to about faith.  One of them I used to work with, we are very similar in a lot of ways.  She’s catholic and I am C of E but we do enjoy a God discussion.  Also, I have friends who are fellow avid blog readers, friends who I can talk books with, friends who you can discuss TV shows with, or sports you like, or anything really.  Friends who like the same stuff as you are important – you need someone to geek out with.  I am very proud of the fact that I have introduced a lot of my friends to Grey’s Anatomy (and anything by Shonda). This means that we can catch up and be suitably outraged/overjoyed at the latest plot twists.

  1. A friend who makes you feel young and mischievous.

This will always fall to one of my oldest friends Chick.  She can make me laugh like no other, and definitely brings out my usually hidden goofball.  I am more relaxed and make a lot more jokes when I am around her.  She makes me less serious and I love her for it.

 

Of course I go to all of my friends for fun, for advice, for emotional support.  They are a group of strong, worldly, educated women.  They work hard, raise families and do interesting things.

These women inspire me, they push me, and they love me.  For that I am extremely grateful, and I love them fiercely.  I hope they know it!

 

 

Lent and Reflections

Lent is a time for reflecting; for those of you that don’t know Lent is the time that immediately precedes the Easter celebration in the Christian calendar.  It is a period of six weeks when Christians are encouraged to “fast” or “give up” certain things, which could be chocolate, television, social media etc and also to “do” more – give more financially, give more time, be more prayerful.  It is about waiting and preparing for everything to be made new in the risen Christ.  Essentially, it’s about re focusing and then continuing your work as a Christian to make “on heaven as it is on earth” a reality.

The Lent course this year was around communicating: how we as Christians communicate with others about our faith and the example we set etc.  I completed a few exercises; one of which was entitled “What makes it difficult to talk about your faith?” we were encouraged to talk amongst ourselves in a small group and write examples down.  I completed the Lent course by myself and not with the small group as I simply couldn’t commit to it with the starting of my new job.

This was an easy exercise for me, here are my fears when I discuss my faith with others:

  1. That people will make snap judgments about me and what I “must think” or “must be like” as a Christian;
  2. Fear that people will think I am not very intelligent.  What I mean by this is the fear that people will think I do not question or have doubts, that I believe some “story book” as the truth and that I am therefore not very clever.  This could not be further from the truth, I have lots of questions and doubts and constantly read around the subject of theology;
  3. Fear that people will think that I think that I am better than them, or that I think that only Christians can be good people (um, no.) or that I think that I am a really good person and that they are somehow lacking.  None of this could be further from the truth.

So those are my fears, however, actually, when people ask me and I tell them, honestly, they don’t (seem to) think these things so I guess it’s just my fears and anxieties talking.  So many of my friends have messaged me or text me to say nice things about my posts on here, or to ask questions, and everyone has been kind about my faith, so I plan on continuing to be honest on here and not hiding this part of me away, because it’s a pretty big part of who I am.

 

How I deal with Stress and Anxiety

The short answer to this is: not very well, unless you consider good coping mechanisms are eating chocolate and buying things, in which case I am ace at stress and anxiety management.

In all seriousness I am trying to get better at this after a pretty anxious period last year and I thought I would share some of the techniques I employ in case it could help you or others you know because a lot of people find it difficult and it can have a negative impact on your mental health, which is not cool.

So I often do the following:

  1. Remind myself about the bigger picture. If this is a work situation I often remind myself that “no one died”. Excellent. Thankfully, this has always been true.
  2. Acknowledge anything that I have done which has contributed to the situation.
  3. Don’t continually beat myself up about 2; it has been done, now let’s try and rectify it, whilst reminding myself constantly re 1.
  4. Think of solutions that could easily be accomplished to better the situation.
  5. I like to write down what happened and what I can now do to try and resolve it.
  6. If there are no obvious solutions/or it is not a particular incident but just a feeling of stress or anxiety I might write out my feelings or acknowledge them in my head. You can’t help how you feel, so again, don’t berate yourself a la 3.
  7. Talk it through with a friend. You need someone who is both sympathetic but also someone who won’t let you wallow and run away with yourself.
  8. Pray.
  9. If you are not religiously inclined some “quiet time” could also do the trick.
  10. Remember that if it involves other people they are likely not as annoyed/angry/upset about it as you are worried they are.
  11. I hear that Headspace is a good app which I plan on trying.

We all deal with stress and anxiety differently. If you think the way that you are dealing with it (or not) is overwhelming you, or affecting your day to to day life then you should talk to your doctor. You shouldn’t think that it’s a “first world problem” or “insignificant”. If it is bothering you then you need to see if you need some more structured help with how to manage it.

Your doctor is not going to judge you, your friends and family won’t either. It does not mean you are “crazy” or “weak”.

If you think that someone is living with stress and anxiety to a level where it is affecting them, then talk to them about it, let them know they aren’t alone!

I strongly believe that one of the best ways to love each other is to let others know they aren’t alone. If you can’t relate, or empathise, then pass on information, link people in with other writers or services or support groups that will be able to help them. Let them know that just because you haven’t had the exact same experience that it doesn’t mean they are alone!

Feeling alone is pretty terrible. Let someone know you are there and that you care, even if you don’t understand. It’s better to do this than remain silent because you’re worried you’ll say the wrong thing!