Anxiety At Christmas

The festive season comes with all sorts of pressures and expectations which is a shame because these details detract from what should be a relaxing time in the company of loved ones. The ideal Christmas image leads us to think that we have to achieve perfection in everything we do; in how we decorate our homes, buying expensive ornaments and gifts, maintaining completely harmonious family ties, being a social butterfly and flitting from one Christmas party to another and immersing ourselves in an environment centred around food, alcohol and indulgence. Whilst all of these things are part of the Christmas image we are sold and look good in the Instagram pictures we are inundated with, they can also produce a lot of anxiety in the many people who worry that they cannot achieve or keep-up with this level of so-called perfection.

Christmas isn’t supposed to be about competition; who’s got the best Christmas tree or how many designer gifts someone has received but the airbrushed images we are presented with lead us to believe that there is a certain standard we have to live-up to, no matter how unattainable it really is. For many, anxiety can be produced as a result of fearing failure or worrying about external expectations. When it is expected for people to attend their big work Christmas parties, for example, fear of being overwhelmed by the hectic environment and the unnecessary pressure to do everything in excess are not a part of the conversation. So, each person who struggles with anxiety at this time of year feels isolated and alone, like no-one else is going through the same things as them.

The following can be sources of anxiety during the festive period:

  • Christmas shopping in busy areas
  • Seeing relatives you do not meet with often
  • Christmas parties
  • The expectation to be festive and merry in all of your interactions
  • Buying gifts and worrying if they are adequate
  • Receiving gifts and stressing about opening them in front of the giver
  • The expectation to indulge in food and alcohol when, for many, our relationships with these things are complex

And so many, many more situations, which others may view as tiny details in the bigger picture of their Christmas, can be anxiety-provoking.

Christmas is meant to be a time we feel the opposite of isolated and fearful of judgement. So, let’s make mental health and inclusion a part of the discussion within the bigger picture of Christmas this year and make sure that no-one feels iced-out of the celebrations.

 

If you want to hear my daily ramblings, follow me on Twitter: @RyanBInNature

 

Here are some more of my Christmas-related posts:

The Christmas Tag

Unpopular Opinions – Christmas Edition

 

Don’t feel alone this Christmas (resources about the festive period and mental health):

Support at Christmas – Mind, the mental health charity

Coping at Christmas – The Priory Group

Real Christmas – Samaritans

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I’d Be Invisible

You know when you’re asked as a kid what superpower you would chose to have if you could? The answer has always been the same for me, without doubt or question; I would chose to have the power of invisibility.

The power to become invisible at will has always been enchanting to me. Perhaps it’s because I am someone who suffers from anxiety, perhaps it’s because I am cynical and instantly see threats around every corner and a potential bully in every set of eyes. Either way, invisibility seemed a perfect superpower to summon whenever it was needed.

If I could be invisible whenever I wanted, I could drift through the journey from flat into Uni, rather than have to look at every person crossing my path and wonder about all the thoughts which could possibly be crossing their mind. If I could be invisible, going to put the rubbish out wouldn’t have to be an ordeal, wondering whether I might see someone as I walk down the stairs and panic about what on earth I would say to them. If I could be invisible, I could attend lectures without feeling sick at the thought of other people seeing me.

In short, the shame and worry and wracking fear which churn my stomach would no longer plague me if I could summon my power of invisibility at the drop of a hat.

Perhaps then I would not be trapped inside my flat fearing the threats which lay outside my door, agonising over the assassins which I am convinced lie in wait for me. Invisibility could solve a lot of problems, it would be the superpower above all superpowers for people like me.

Therefore, it follows that people like me have to reconcile ourselves with the fact that invisibility is not a superpower we can conjure onto ourselves whenever our thoughts threaten to overcome us. Instead, we set about making ourselves appear and feel invisible instead. So, the next time you see someone with their hood pulled over their face or shaking when they hand the cashier their money, do not snicker and laugh or wonder ‘what the hell is their problem?’ Have some empathy and realise maybe, just maybe, they are wishing themselves invisible in that moment too.

The Christmas Tag

I first saw this tag the other day when Nicole Eloise did it for her Blogmas Day Two. I thought it was really fun so, even though I haven’t been tagged by anyone to do it, I decided to gatecrash the tag and do it anyway! So, without further ado, here is my Christmas Tag.

1. Do you prefer giving or receiving gifts?

I’d say that I prefer giving gifts. I always feel awkward and embarrassed opening gifts that people have given to me, especially if they watch me do it because I’m anxious that I don’t look happy or grateful enough (I have a naturally grumpy face!). 

2. Do you make and stick to New Year’s Resolutions?

I do make New Year’s Resolutions, however I have the terrible habit of scrawling them at the back of a notebook and then forgetting about them after the first few months of the year! I generally find it more helpful to set smaller short-term goals each month or week, for example. Although, New Year’s Resolutions are a bit of a tradition in my life now, so I don’t see myself not making some this year.

3. Have you ever made a snowman?

Yes, I remember making them with my brothers when I was younger and I would become overly attached to the little people I created, so much so that I would get emotional over watching them melt away. I can’t say that I have made any snowmen in recent years as the snow usually gives me a headache so I tend to bundle-up inside and watch the snow fall through a window!

4. Is your Christmas tree real or fake, and what theme do you prefer?

We have always had a real Christmas tree ever since I can remember which, with the benefit of hindsight, seems rather wasteful looking back. I actually have nothing to do with putting the Christmas tree-up or decorating it anymore; once my family stopped putting on chocolate decorations wrapped in foil, the tree suddenly became a lot less interesting to me!

5. Most memorable holiday moment?

This is so hard, primarily because my memory is terrible and I don’t remember any of the Christmases I’ve had distinctly, so there are only a few snapshots which have stayed with me. I think my most memorable moment would have to be my grandpa tucking into his Christmas dinner with a colourful paper hat on his head or tearing open his presents like a excited little boy even though he was past 90 years old! Now that he is gone, the memories of his fun-loving nature pop-up from time-to-time and remind me how much he loved a family occasion (especially if there were sweets or chocolate involved!). 

6. What holiday traditions are you looking forward to this year?

Probably seeing my dogs ripping-open the paper around their presents and then running off to their beds to enjoy their new treasure. My dogs’ enthusiasm for Christmas is hilarious! 

7. What is the best Christmas present you have ever received?

When I was younger I got tickets to see my then-favourite band McFly in concert and seeing those tickets felt completely surreal as I was blown-away that I was going to see these people that I had idolised on stage in front of my eyes.

8. What are your favourite holiday foods?

Well, I don’t have Christmas dinner, so I’d probably have to say whatever sweets people gift me (I have a very sweet tooth!).

9. What is your favourite Christmas film?

Sorry to sound Grinch-like but I actually don’t have one, although the Harry Potter films always make me feel Christmassy for some reason!

10. What is your favourite Christmas song?

Again, I actually don’t have one – I just listen to whatever my brother puts on.

11. What is your favourite thing about Christmas?

The way time feels like it stands still on Christmas Day – you feel like it is a day which completely stands alone from any other on the calendar and it seems to pass in a very surreal way.

12. What would be your dream place to visit at Christmas time?

Copenhagen, Denmark. I have been there before and I thought it was the most stunningly beautiful city, so I bet it would be a very special place to be at Christmas.

13. Who do you spend Christmas with?

Usually it would be my parents, my two brothers and my dogs and then either side (paternal or maternal) of my extended family. However, this year will be different, I think, in that my immediate family will be visiting my extended family without me this year. I find Christmas difficult mental health wise and I think it will be good for me to try and handle it in my own way this year in just the company of my dogs for the majority of the day. Although, I believe I will still be opening my presents with my parents and brothers. 

14. When do you start getting excited for Christmas?

I don’t get excited until classes at University end for me because, up until then, I am so immersed in the Uni bubble and removed from what is outside of campus that Christmas does not feel like it arrives until teaching finishes and I leave campus. I sort of get quite nervous for Christmas really, so it is a combination of nerves and excitement which start to peak around the nights of the 23rd probably.

15. You have one Christmas wish – what will it be?

I’m going to take it that the wish has to be Christmas-related rather than encompassing anything bigger than Christmas Day. So, my wish would be that everyone in the world feels loved and cared for this Christmas Day. 

 

I’m not going to tag anyone specific to do this tag. Instead, if you are reading this and want to do this tag, please do! It would be fun to see as many different responses to these questions as possible.

 

If you want to hear my daily ramblings please follow me on Twitter – @RyanBInNature

 

My Relationship With Alcohol

TRIGGER WARNING: if talking about alcohol/alcohol abuse triggers you, please do not read this.

My relationship with alcohol is complex. In all honesty, I’m not supposed to consume alcohol at all because of the medication I am on but that is a rule I have ignored repeatedly, especially in this semester at University.

I think it is important to make clear that I am not a social drinker, meaning that I only ever drink alone. So, you might think it is completely normal for a 19 year old to use alcohol as a release, however many 19 year olds drink in friendship groups on nights-out as a way of having fun. I, on the other hand, drink for the sole purpose of getting drunk in my flat at night so that I do not have to grapple with the thoughts and feelings swirling around my mind. This is where I believe my relationship with alcohol becomes unhealthy.

When I make the decision to drink alcohol, it is because I want to forget about the things that are weighing me down. So, I drink strong spirits until I cannot think straight anymore. So, really I view drinking as a crutch; a way of getting through the night when I am too emotionally spent to deal with my own emotions any longer.

The buzz I get from drinking, the way it makes me feel light and removed from the person I spend the rest of my time being is difficult to ignore. A niggling voice remains at the back of my head every time I feel myself spiralling into a dark realm of thinking. It tells me to ‘just have a drink, it will make everything feel better’. That voice becomes stronger at night, especially if I’m craving sleep.

As I am writing this, a drop of alcohol has not crossed my lips for the past two weeks. I have been making a conscious effort to exert control over my impulse to drink away my thoughts. Although, it has left me wondering why I bother because avoiding alcohol has, if anything, just made me feel worse. Being sober has not brought any great epiphany to my life which the idealistic side of my personality so hoped it would.

Alcohol is a part of my life I keep secret from many people. My support worker at University knows that drinking carries a heavy amount of temptation for me and continues to warn me against it because of the conflict it holds with my medication. I was also honest about it at my last mental health assessment, not that I felt it had any effect on the outcome of my assessment. However, I keep my drinking very separate from my family, it is a part of my life that they have little insight into. Whilst they know that I drink, I have never told them the thoughts and behaviours which go alongside my alcohol intake.

One thing my destructive behaviours have taught me over the years is how to keep secrets.

 

Poems about my relationship with alcohol:

Finding Comfort In A Bottle

Finding Comfort In A Bottle – Part Two

 

If you want to see more daily ramblings from me, follow me on Twitter – @RyanBInNature

 

Resources for help with alcohol-related issues:

Recreational drugs and alcohol – Mind, the mental health charity

Drugs, alcohol and the links with mental health – Rethink Mental Illness

Alcohol and mental health – Drinkaware

Mental Health, Medication & Stigma

There is a certain stigma around taking medication for your mental health. Full disclosure; I do take medication to help me cope with my mental health and I’m tired of it being treated as shameful or weak.

Taking mental health medication is seen as proof of a person having given-up and not working to resolve their own issues. Medication is viewed by many as the ‘easy way’ and reliance on it is thought to be weak and showing a lack of self-motivation to engage with therapy and other methods of working through mental health condition.

I call BS on all of these assumptions! I reached for medication as a last resort after I had tried therapy and counselling and found myself in a desperate situation where I felt like there was no hope of me ever getting better. For many people, medication offers them a lifeline, a way to level-out their condition/s so that they can go about their lives in the way that they want to. Medication can offer someone a platform from which to build their lives but it does not magically solve all of your problems. Work is required on top of taking medication to achieve the feeling of being mentally ‘well’. So, the next time you want to call antidepressants ‘happy pills’ think again because it just shows uneducated and ignorant you are about the whole topic.

Patients and doctors never take the step toward medication lightly. The journey to finding the right medication for your needs is a hard one in its own right. Often you have to trial a medication for a few months, see if it makes you better or even worse, then face the possibility of trying it all over again. The added stress of the medication having negative side-effects makes the process even more disheartening, scary and confusing. So, no, medication is not the easy option or a sign that someone cannot be bothered to work on their own self-improvement. In reality, a person’s trials and tribulations with medication can be really bloody hard in itself.

Other people pile shame on those who, like me, take medication. They say that medication is harmful, ask why we would subject ourselves to it and tell us to try a myriad of different natural alternatives. Now, I’m as big a fan of yoga and colouring-in as the next person but assuming that we haven’t already tried all of those things or that our conditions (which you know barely anything about) could be suddenly cured by these activities is insulting. The individual taking the medication knows their mental health the best, so do not try to shame them by pretending that you know better what they should and shouldn’t do. Some people find that medication works for them, others find that mindfulness and other techniques are great for them, none of these options should be shamed or stigmatised. Let people deal with their own health in the way they see best.

 

Another post I wrote about this topic can be found here: BEING ON AN SSRI

 

For daily doses of my ramblings, follow me on Twitter: @RyanBInNature

Protecting Factors – What Saves You?

TRIGGER WARNING: SUICIDE AND SUICIDAL IDEATION

It was not until very recently that I heard the term ‘protecting factors’ but immediately it made sense to me. I was having a mental health assessment and I admitted to having suicidal thoughts on a regular basis. The nurse then asked me what stopped me acting on those thoughts and attempting suicide. I asked myself this question and was slightly embarrassed to give my honest answer. However, I knew the truth and this was that my dogs are what stops me from acting on my suicidal impulses and thoughts. I felt embarrassed about saying this out loud to a mental health professional because human relationships with pets are so often trivialised and I thought that they wouldn’t take my bond with my dogs seriously. I thought that giving this answer would leave them to believe that my suicidal ideation could not be that strong in the first place – none of which is true.

Instead, the nurse told me that my dogs are what is called my ‘protecting factors’. They act as a release valve for my stress because playing with them is uplifting. They comfort me when I am low by nuzzling and cuddling me, letting me know that I am not alone. When I get anxious about having social contact with humans, they remind me I am capable of having a functional relationship because of the ways I have bonded with them. When I think about leaving this world, they tether me to it because I could not bear to leave them; my desire to protect them and watch them grow-up are what, at this moment at least, is still keeping me fighting for life.

The World Health Organisation works on the definition of ‘protecting factors’ as being those which “enhance the likelihood of positive outcomes and lessen the likelihood of negative consequences from exposure to risk.” They use this definition in relation to physical as well as mental health risks but ‘protective factors’ are always seen as what stops an individual’s situation from escalating to a dangerous or drastic level.

So, I would encourage you to think about what your protecting factors are, especially in the lead-up to the festive period which, for me, always adds extra stress onto my shoulders and makes my mood dip because I am hyper-aware of the fact that I am supposed to be happy. Hold your protecting factors dear and be grateful for their existence and what they mean to you. Feel free to share what your protecting factors are in the comments below!

 

Information And Resources About Managing Mental Health At Christmas:

Christmas and mental health – Mind, the mental health charity

Coping at Christmas (5 ways to look after your mental health) – Priory Group

Depression At Christmas Guide – Mental Health in the UK

 

Some Related Blog Posts Of Mine:

How Mental Health Stigma Has Hurt Me

Six of the Most Harmful Mental Health Narratives

Antidepressants and Nightmares

A quick Google search about the relation between antidepressants and nightmares/graphic dreaming brought-up claims that SSRIs (a form of antidepressants) have been found, in some studies, to increase the number of nightmares and vividly of dreams a person experiences in their sleep. Now, I am certainly not a scientist or psychologist, however I do know that lately my dreams have bordered on seriously disturbing most nights recently. I am also on antidepressant medication.

The frustrating thing about dreams is that they appear outside of our control; how are we supposed to suppress something which preys on us whilst we are semi-conscious? It’s like being chained to the inevitability that I will be forced to watch a horror show with me as the main character the vast majority of times I go to bed.

There was a time when I thought that nightmares were a feature of childhood, something we all grew out of eventually and consigned to our distant pasts. This seems an incredibly naive idea to me now. Is it not logical that if you are emotionally distressed day in, day out, then this would seep into your experience of nighttime too? How could the problems you face in the day not transfer into how you feel at night?

Although, it does seem rather unfair. My mental health issues preying on me when I am most defenceless does not exactly seem like a fair contest. At least when I am awake there are some avenues of distraction I can attempt to take, whereas at night time my entire mind is the playground of these disturbing, graphic storylines.

Also, somewhere I remember reading that most people do not dream in colour, which is a statement that amazed me. From what I can recall, I always dream in colour (I don’t know if this serves to make my nightmares worse or not though).

Please leave your experience of dreaming/nightmares in the comments below and feel free to share any knowledge you may have about the correlation between nightmares and antidepressants.

 

CONTACT ME:

Twitter – @RyanBInNature

 

A Mental Health Update

Recently so many mental health issues have reared their heads and spun out of control in my life that I thought it may be useful for me to write about them all in a blog post to see if that helps me not feel so overwhelmed by my emotions.

TW: TALK OF SELF-HARM, DEPRESSION AND SUICIDAL IDEATION

Firstly, the feeling of hopelessness has been following me around for weeks. Like my shadow, it has shown me darkness in every moment or situation I have been in. Hopelessness has fed on my fear that no matter what I do my life will always be controlled by my mental health conditions which I will never have the power to make better. I have despaired for hours on end about how I cannot see any light at the end of the tunnel and I have lost faith that one day I may be free of all the negativity which constantly weighs me down. I’m starting to believe that my mental health is a life sentence.

My anxiety has been running wild lately. Without the energy to tame it, the beast has chained me to my flat and isolated me from everyone. Even when I do manage to creep outside my front door and brave the wider world, it haunts my every step and tells me that I should sprint back inside before something terrible happens. Almost everyday I wake-up feeling nauseous and ill because of my anxiety. Butterflies in my tummy remind of the dangers which could lurk around every corner and the worries in my mind paint the world to be a very dangerous place.

Partnering with my chaotic anxiety, my OCD has flared-up again. Intrusive thoughts have taken on a graphic hue and I cannot look at certain people without the thought of them harming me flashing constantly across my mind. My OCD informs me that everyone is dangerous and that I am vulnerable to being attacked every second of the day, so I am left scared, vulnerable and confused even in my own home.

Self-harm has crept its devious way back into my life. Yet again, I have to keep my arms covered by long sleeves so no-one can see the evidence of what I do to myself. The loathing I feel towards myself has yet again manifested itself in violence and I feel like a defenceless pawn in self-harm’s twisted game.

I have been at the brink of thinking that life is no longer worth living. However, I sought help and went to speak to my local mental health team with the faith that, once they heard what I had to say, they would know how to help me. Instead, it turns out that I left the centre with a couple of numbers written down on a flimsy piece of paper and the encouragement to self-refer myself to a charity, as if this was something I had not already tried. This felt like a kick in the teeth. They ignored my request to review my medication and, although I have a final review appointment booked there, I have no enthusiasm to return to their service again after this experience. Finding no help available for the one place you hoped may give you some answers is so deflating it is almost too painful to think about.

The atmosphere of University has only been exacerbating my problems. Everything feels worse in the context of this high-pressured environment, in which I am surrounded by people to compare myself unfavourably to. I look around and see people able to move around without being heaved down by the weight of anxiety and depression, then self-loathing fills up my body and soul again with a vengeance.

 

 

CONTACT ME:

Twitter – @RyanBInNature

 

Is The Internet Poisoning My Mind?

Life takes on a different sense of touch
When my eyes are not grazed,
Or pricked by poisoned pixels
Invading my mind via osmosis
From a scarily familiar screen.

Expecting The Worst

I surprise myself
When my ink does not make me gag;
To enjoy an impression of my existence
Is a call to confidence,
Harking from deep inside my soul.

It’s strange how very menacing
A morsels is to consume
If it hails from the fibres
Of your own energised hands,
Bearing the weight of your fingerprints.