Monday, 27 February 2017

The Thing About Nightmares and Depression

"Have you ever had really bad nightmares?"

I was asked this on a night out with friends. We discuss everything and anything on our nights out; from the new Lego Batman movie to rugby, work, books and overseas trips. Not unusually, the conversation ended up at sleep paralysis, and in turn, nightmares.

There are many ways to answer this question - a simple yes/no, a joke about how my excessive watching of true crime documentaries means I have no fear anymore, or heck, even the truth.

But I clammed up. I thought about answering. I thought about lying. I thought about answering honestly and frankly. I thought about telling them of how real my nightmares have felt. I thought about telling them about the nights I lay sleepless, too afraid to sleep. Or of the worst nightmare of them all. Of feeling trapped and suffocating and unable to wake up. Of recalling your nightmare in the middle of the day and freezing with the reminder of that real pain you felt. Or the days when it felt like I was still asleep and living through those nightmares. Of how my depressive nightmares are very different to my medicated nightmares.
About how I don't have night terrors of that severity anymore unless I forget to take my medication.

But that would involve bringing up my medication, and in the process my mental illness. Reminding everyone that I'm not quite okay. That I'm still not 'normal'.

In the end I choked on my answer. I swallowed it back down and said nothing.

I've discussed depression-induced nightmares on the blog before. It's not a new topic for me. But sometimes, when it comes to opening up in person, I clam up. I can't say the thing that stigmatizes me. That makes you look differently at me. That reminds you I am the same person who writes about their mental health online.

But then the next night I did forget my medication. I fell asleep without swallowing my two tablets which keep me sedated, pupils dilated, and sane. My routine is to take my tablets an hour before bed, fall asleep on cue and sleep throughout the night. I wake up groggy, always, but rested enough to get through the day.

But not on Saturday night. There's something about my dreams when I forget my medication. They're vivid, more real. I can recall them as soon as I wake up, like they've just happened. And they trap me. There is always a moment when I try to wake up. I can't open my eyes. It becomes a fight. I struggle to wake up but I'm trapped. I become fearful as I try to wake up. I panic.
And when I do wake up, I feel physically sick. I'm disorientated. And I can't tell the difference between reality and what just happened in my head. It's scary. I have no words to describe how scary these nightmares are because there is nothing quite as scary for me to compare them to. They keep me up at night and prevent me from waking.

Yes, I have had really bad nightmares. But I take medication to keep them away.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

5 Good Things This Week

Here are 5 of the little things that made a big difference to my mental health this week.
Forest cat

1) Taking my cat to the forest for a walk (yes, I swear) - Okay so everyone takes their dogs out for walks, but cats? Well my little Evie is not like other cats. She's affectionate and loyal and obedient. So when we were taking the dogs out to a local forest, I suggested we bring our newest family member along too. And it was awesome.

2) Feeling valued in work - Work was super busy this week, but I also loved the feeling of knowing I was doing a good job. One thing I've learned as an adult is to always and only work somewhere where you feel valued and appreciated. It does wonders for maintaining good mental wellbeing.

3) Seeing friends - I had some long overdue catch ups with my college friends this week. Between a few drinks and four hours, we had a fun night reminiscing on our university days and catching up about adult life. It had been ages since I went out for even a couple of drinks, and honestly I missed it. Not the alcohol, but the socialising. I like people.

4) Ireland beating France in the Six Nations to top the table - It was incredible match to watch, but even more fun to spend it with friends.

5) Lego Batman - As a nerd, I was super excited about seeing Lego Batman, and this week I finally got to go see it. Filled with Batman, DC and comic Easter Eggs, the film is made for fans. And I spent the film laughing out loud (and reminding myself that there was a time not so long ago when I would never even thinking about laughing in a public place) and just genuinely loving the movie.

Monday, 20 February 2017

8 things my mental illness has taught me

Mental illness comes with a whole lot of symptoms. But my depression and anxiety have also come with some life lessons. Here are eight of the key things I've learned over the past six years. 

8 things my mental illness has taught me:

1)         Sleep is not over-rated 

·         There were nights when I couldn’t sleep a wink and there were others where no matter how much sleep I got, I couldn’t overcome my tiredness. As a result, I will always try to get my scientifically recommended 8 hours sleep a night. My social life must arrange itself around this. Sentences like this one are not uncommon: ‘No, I will not stay out late tonight because I have to be up at 7am, which means I need to be sleeping by 11pm.’ I value my sleep highly these days. 

2)          Who my friends are

·         Yes, there were people who thought I was ‘attention-seeking’ with my mental illness. Some stopped talking to me, or stopped making an effort with me on my worse days.
·         But then there are the people who accepted me unconditionally. There are the people who stuck with me through the highs and the lows. These are the people who I could be myself around.
·         And I have made new and like-minded friends. These are people who I never would have known if I hadn’t had my mental illness. 

3)          You have to take time for yourself

·         Not all of the time that you spend on your own needs to be spent in self pity and loathing. Now that's an important life lesson I wish I had learned as a teenager. I love chilling out by myself after a long, stressful day. It allows me to practice acts of self care such as going to a bath or working through my adult colouring books. And you know what? It's entirely guilt-free! 

4)          I appreciate the little things

·         My nail varnish didn’t come out lumpy.
·         That person I held the door open for said ‘Thank You’.
·         The sales assistant was friendly.
·         My dog is happy to see me home.
·         When you are feeling down, sometimes every little thing gets to you. If I forgot about my tea and let it go cold, I’d probably shed a few tears. You might think it sounds stupid and childish, but some days it just feels like nothing is going right. And these little things can be the trigger that sets you off. So when the little things do go my way, even when I’m having a crappy day, I now smile to myself and appreciate that even one small, obsolete thing has happened in my favour today.

5)          Everyone’s mental health experience is different

·         Everyone’s journey towards wellness varies – some choose talking therapy, medication, CBT, meditation, mindfulness, or just diet and exercise changes.
·         It’s often a trial and error experience to find what works for you. And just because something works for you, doesn’t mean that it is right for everyone else.

6)         Suicidal thoughts should always be taken seriously.

·         When I first had suicidal thoughts I dismissed them. As time went on and I began to struggle, I reached out to a friend who also dismissed them.  
·         People seem to forget that suicide is 100% preventable. Don’t dismiss mental health problems. Don’t tell somebody that their pain is insignificant. And know how and where to refer someone on for help. When someone finally did take my suicidal thoughts seriously, I finally got the help I needed.

7)          What my passion is

·         My experiences with mental illness lead me to start campaigning around mental health issues, and in turn it has lead to advocacy work. I’ve become more confident; I was brought out of my shell. It’s where I found happiness. And I never would have discovered it if I hadn’t had my own personal experiences with mental illness.

8)          There is help out there. You are never on your own.
·         I felt so alone when I was living with a dark depression. I didn’t think anyone would care if I wasn’t here anymore. Only now looking back can I see just how wrong I was.
·         Sometimes the hardest thing to do is reach out for help, but when you do, and to the right people, you’d be amazed by the help you receive.

Out of the darkness, out of all the bad, there can come some good. These are just a few of the very important lessons I've learned over the years. Do you have any you would add to the list?

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

50 Ways to Yay - Yay or Nay?

Alexi Panos - 50 Ways to Yay!: Transformative Tools for Less Stress, More Presence, and a Whole Lot of Happy

I've just finished reading 50 Ways to Yay by Alexi Panos on my Kindle.

The book is described in its own introduction as “fifty inspired and thought-provoking lessons and exercises to help you break out of the ordinary and jump into the extraordinary.” It's a mix of philosophy, popular psychology and personal development; all brought together to guide you in becoming the person you want to be. Panos combines her own personal anecdotes with real world reflection and knowledge in her 50 life tips.
"There are many secrets to success and happiness out there, but very few people are actually WILLING to apply them to their lives."
When it comes to goal setting and making New Year’s resolutions, this is the book you want beside you as you make your plans. The tips are broad enough to fit anyone at any time in their life - but they are given specificity through Panos' own personal experiences that she weaves throughout. he book is easy to read. Each chapter is short and succinct, and centred around reaffirming one single point. But putting the theory into action is the hardest part, and it’s the part that can actually make a difference to your life.

The book is designed to help you focus on the little things that make a big difference. Panos herself explains in the opening; “I made this book as fun and easy to digest as I could, so that you can actually TAKE ACTION and experience the results that you’re truly after.”

She likes Caps Lock. A lot. Like, nearly every sentence has to have at least one word in All Caps to reaffirm her point. As a writer, I always find All Caps jarring. It's the type of shouty tone we associate with Trump tweets rather than a self-help book.
"Every time we use the words "I AM" we are sending instructions to our body and mind to think, feel, and act a certain way."
In order to make the most of the book, you really need to be reading it with your journal next to you. Each chapter (or tip) ends with a Mission and Reflection to help you to apply the tip to your own life and start taking steps towards achieving your goals. But I must admit, I didn't use it in that way. While it is unique in offering Panos' own personal insight, it read more like the wise teachings of the Dalai Lama at times, and not in a way that suggests Panos is the next Dalai Lama. The tips offered were not new, it was filled with age-old wisdom passed off as her own thoughts like the below:
“Those who are happy with nothing are happy with everything.”
If you haven't read many other self-help books and want to dip your toe in the water, then this book is for you. If however, like me, this is your 25th self-help book in a year, its content is probably not worth your investment.


Find out more about Alexi Panos here.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

5 Good Things This Week

Today I am reflecting on the good things from the past seven days, and showing gratitude for what the universe has sent my way. With mental illness, its important to acknowledge that good days still occur and that the little things often play a huge role in our mental health.

5 Good Things:

1) Spent time designing and updating my bullet journal because being organised and feeling on top of things makes me happy.

2) Work was super busy on Thursday BUT I had an absolutely amazing day in the office anyway, and felt so proud of myself by the end of the day for staying on top of and managing everything that was thrown my way.

3) Went to a bookstore and lost a lot of time wandering around, discovering new books and picking out all the ones I'd love to own some day.

4) I cooked! And not just one meal. I made a healthy salmon stir fry, I made scrambled eggs and kale, I made a mean bolognese. Cooking calms me (even in a hot kitchen), and I love eating something I've prepared from scratch. Here's to more home cooked meals!!

5) I had a very chill day off on Saturday. I grabbed coffee with the boyfriend, had lunch in front of the rugby, and curled up in bed with a book and my favourite TV shows. It was the perfect way to spend my only day off in the week.

What were your 5 Good Things of the week?

Monday, 6 February 2017

Nothing Tastes As Good: the mental health take on eating disorders

Have I told you how much I love Young Adult fiction? Even better, is Irish YA, and even better again, Irish YA which tackles mental health.

How could I resist Claire Hennessy's Nothing Tastes as Good?

Nothing Tastes as Good was released last year and has already been shortlisted and nominated for a number of literary awards.

Annabel, is sent as a spirit guide to former classmate Julia. The only problem? Julia is fat, and Annabel detests fat. Acting as her inner voice, Annabel urges Julia to assert control over what she eats; a voice that caused Annabel's own demise.

Set in Ireland, the book details Julia's journey through her final year of school and Annabel's journey to get one final moment with her family. *This review contains some spoilers*

The characters were likeable. Who doesn't want a loyal and loving friend like Maria? Or a charming but genuinely nice guy like Gavin? And watching Julia grow throughout the novel made my heart swell with pride. And even Annabel. I found it hard to like Annabel at first. I felt sorry for her, yes. But I also hated helplessly watching as she tried to influence what Julia did with her own body. The part where Annabel finally realises the impact her death has had on her sister was incredibly moving, and it won me over completely to her character.
While the supernatural, otherworldly-ness of Anabel's 'ghost' can feel a bit jarring in an otherwise relateable school setting, the book has a great sense of humour and an honest, unpretty look at eating disorders.

"I don’t want to just be some cautionary tale." - Annabel

In many ways, this is a cautionary tale. Hennessy's accurate, and rare, portrayal of the mental health side of eating disorders speaks volumes about the power of the voice inside a teenage girl's head.

Annabel's guiding voice is the voice of pop culture and society telling us that being slim is beautiful. We consume images of skinny women daily; it's only natural for young women to assume that skinny is what is beautiful. And how easy it is to make young people feel like they're not good enough, pretty enough, thin enough.

However, I did feel that for people who are struggling with their own food issues, whether an eating disorder or something else, Annabel's realisation that it was her food obsession that killed her comes too late in the text. There is no questioning of Annabel's voice in Julia's head, Julia goes along with it, and readers are meant to know that it's unhealthy and wrong themselves.

I myself found this side of the text particularly difficult to read in January. Like many people, January was the month I pledged to finally get my body in shape. I wanted to eat better. I set myself the goal of exercising every single day. I have a bikini body to attain by my summer holidays after all.
But sometimes I would hear Annabel's voice in my head. Saying exercise more. Eat less.
Do you really need to eat cheese and crackers before bed? The answer is always 'yes' but Annabel's voice made me feel bad for making this choice.

For anyone with a history of eating disorders, or any mental illness, the book can be a difficult read. It's so eerily accurate that Annabel's voice doesn't always stop when you put the book down. But if you love YA for how it tackles the issues more 'grown-up' books are too scared to address, then you'll this.