All Posts By

James

Mental Health

What I Learned from Pushing the Prowler

Why am I making a big deal out of this innocent piece of fairly common gym equipment? Have we met? Blowing things out of proportion and overthinking them is kinda my thing.

It’s not all bad though, because I think I’ve managed to learn a lesson from all the overthinking.

Despite my hilarious suggestions that wheels, an outboard motor or a winch would make the thing more efficient to move AND a very real note excusing me from using it from a very-real-not-made-up-at-all Doctor – coach has had me pushing this thing around a fair bit recently.

Despite the fact that I am 100% he does enjoy my pain just a little bit (there is this look he gets…) I know he is doing it for my benefit. He knows best when to move me out of my comfort zone and challenge me. He did it with learning the basics and the fundamentals of lifting and this is just another step.

So what is the problem with the prowler? Underlying fear and massively over perceived threat. We talked before about failing safely and learning from failure. With my lifts I had to accept that failure was a learning opportunity and not a threat before I could progress.
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Mental Health

On Failure

Fear of failure is paralysing. It is like a neurotoxin that infects ideas and inspiration and turns them into frustration. Starting somewhere in my brain manifesting as a thought in the back of my mind. It grows rapidly infecting every part of my body with sickening writhing tendrils spreading panic until finally everything freezes.
 
The fear of failure can become so great that it feels easier to simple not attempt anything. For me this means my camera gathers dust on a shelf, my paint brushes sit dry, my guitars lay silent and my pages remain blank. I am so avoidant of this feeling I often give up at even the slightest flickr of the rising sensation. 
 
Last night I learned to fail.
 
At the gym my fear of failure is intensely physical. Within moments of the thought being born in my mind my body reacts, my breathing becomes irregular and I feel the overwhelming urge to flee. A heartbeat of doubt can become a panic attack. Legions of thoughts break through the barriers of my mind simultaneously – “I’m weak”, “I’ll disappoint coach”, “This is pathetic”, “I should quit”. When this happens I usually finish the set as best I can and take some time to compose myself afterwards.
 
Last night I went to the gym after missing a session due to illness. I was tired and probably functioning at about 60% but I knew I needed the session to feel better. I had spent the day locked in my head and I needed to get out into my body. I told coach I had limited capacity and after warming up we heading to the squat rack.
 
I felt calm as I set up on the bar. No other thoughts entered my mind. I knew how to hold and move my body to make the bar do what I needed it to do. I accepted my limited capacity and did my best taking on board coach’s form adjustments and advice. It was physically challenging, my body not yet fully recovered from a virus but my head was clear.  As we increased the weight I knew my energy was running low. My form began to falter towards the end of the sets yet I remained calm. This was usually the point where doubt would creep into my mind, panic would rise and spread through my limbs and I would put myself through unnecessary torture. 
 
And then I failed.
 
I set up well and started the squat. As I reached the bottom I paused for less than a heartbeat and I knew I wasn’t coming back up. Instead of panicking I accepted the failure. The bar caught calmly in the safety and I walked away. Coach smiled, he knew it was past time I learned to fail. I had failed safely, with coach watching on and the supports having done their jobs.
 
This failure taught me something about my squat but more importantly it taught me that with right people around us and the right supports in place it is ok to fail. To fail once is not to fail forever. There is no shame in failure, only a lesson to be learned and pride to be had for making the attempt. I left the gym stronger than I walked in last night. I’d call that a success.
Mental Health

The Bar

Before you roll your eyes and sigh at me for going all ‘gym zen’ remember I have always shared with you the ups and downs and the things that have helped me on my wellness journey.

On the 14th November 2014 I made a confession to you. I told you that anxiety was a massive part of my life and I explained how it affected me. Seven months later, just as things were getting too much, I reached out for help.

I started medication, meditation and mindfulness. I learned about gratitude, and giving and I decided to live with kindness.

With your love and support my mind became stronger, I started to forge a core built on simple values and I found a way to live. I learned to sit with thoughts and feelings and to find peace away from anxiety.

I learned to drive without fear, to answer the phone, to try new things and to live.

I’ve come such a long way but something has been holding me back. The effort I have put into my mind has not been put into my body. We have talked about my struggle with my weight before. I’ve tried to eat mindfully and to take the emotion out of food but the kgs have been sneaking on and on.

In the same way avoidance leads to anxiety in my mental health I have been avoiding being present in my body. I can meditate to be mentally present in any moment BUT I still hide from myself physically.

Remembering that I had to reach out for help at the beginning of my journey about two months again I did it again.

I found a trainer and I started lifting weights. This is what I have learned so far…

The Bar

A loaded bar has no politics, no ego, no agenda. It wants nothing from you, it isn’t selfish, it doesn’t demand, it just is.

You step up to the bar with the pure intent to move it and it either moves or it doesn’t. There are no excuses, no other factors besides you and the bar.

To move the bar you have to be present. You have to be in that moment in your mind and fully occupying your body.

It’s the most simple and simultaneously the most complex thing. Lifting is the ultimate mindful practice. If you overthink or bring ego or less than your full intent it will fail.

Learning to occupy my body has been hard because I am ashamed of it. Fortunately the bar doesn’t care about my shame and to move the bar I have to let it go of my shame.

As I couldn’t hide from my mental anxieties I can no longer hide from my physical self, the bar won’t let me.

I almost faltered in my intentions, I started googling how heavy the bar ‘should’ be for my weight and height and age. I started worrying about the numbers. If I take that nonsense with me my relationship with the bar will become complex when it should be simple.

So friends, here is to the next step in this ongoing journey. Mind and body present and focussed. Leaning into the discomfort of shame and being vulnerable and courageous enough to keep stepping up to the bar.

(Massive thanks to Nicholas for being my mentor, coach and friend in this stage of my journey and The Bar Brisbane for being welcoming and awesome).

Mental Health

An Uncomfortable Paralysis

I got up from this chair and walked around the apartment 7 or 8 times before finally settling down to write. Even now as I type I can feel the discomfort brewing. Building up, trying to take away my focus and scuttle my intention.
 
It starts as a churning deep in my stomach. A thousand butterflies swarming. Within moments it manifests as an anxious throb. Heart pounding an elevated rhythm. Hands tingling. Blood pumping and thumping in my ears. I’m agitated and unfocused. Thinking is making it worse, fueling the squirming, wriggling dread.

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Mental Health

Fourteen Months and Counting

It’s been over a year since I found the courage to ask for help.

14 months ago I embraced vulnerability and walked into a doctor’s office.

I learned how medicine could give me the shield I needed to find the space between my anixety and my authentic self.

In therapy I learned that in this space there are practices I can use to ease my suffering.

I learned what I truely believe in, I discovered my core values and built a framework to keep me aligned to them.

14 months ago I realised I was not alone.

Many of you have been on this journey with me, loving and supporting me at every step. Many of you have shared your own journeys with me. This is more than social media my friends. We have made, and keep, real connections. You guys give me energy and you fuel my desire to succeed, you are often the source of my hope. With all the paradoxical disconnection of this over connected world always remember there are hearts and souls behind the screens and devices all aching to find belonging and genuine connection.

14 months ago I realised I would be ok.

In some of the hardest months of my life, through upheaval, heartbreak, grief and loss I’ve always known I would come out of this. That the suffering would pass. That I would be ok.

I learned that in every loss and every heartbreak there is a lesson to be learned. A way to grow and a way to become stronger.

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Mental Health

To-do vs Can-do or Obligations vs Opportunities

I sat down early this morning to start work on a to-do list. It’s time to snap out of holiday mode (I’ve been back for weeks) and continue progressing some of my goals for this year.

As I started writing

– greyhound media campaign
– kindness crew and other volunteering
– rally fundraising
– podcast
– reading list
– army painting
– listening list
– videos
– apply for citizenship
– apply for Masters
– writing projects

I felt an all too familiar panic starting to rise from the pit of my stomach. Thoughts immediately began to manifest physically. Physical pain, shaking, sweating.

Anxious me is terrified of obligation. He would rather stare at a wall than make a start on something. I’m going to get trapped in apathy. Again.

I caught the panic in time to realise I needed to reframe.

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Mental Health

Bad People vs Bad Choices and Self Compassion

As I sat with a dear friend recently, who was going through a time of suffering, a simple concept became crystal clear to me.

We spend a lot of time saying things to ourselves that we would never say to someone we cared about. We tell ourselves we are a bad person and that we probably deserve our pain. Our loved ones might argue and tell us that we are good but we find it hard to listen because a complete reversal seems impossible.

In reality it’s more likely we have made a bad choice here and there. The intense self critic instantly equates bad choice to bad person.

This lack of self-compassion, or as I prefer to think of it – self kindness, can be devastating. We would never ever dream of treating someone we cared about in the cruel way we can treat ourselves.

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Creative Writing, Mental Health

Shadows

Sometimes I write in metaphor because that is how I tend to think. I was thinking about suffering and pain today and wanted to share with you the idea that it can be OK to ‘just be’ with pain sometimes.

This is how I think about it:

 

Sometimes I walk willingly into the dark. I know that the further I go the more I invite those feelings that dwell in there.

In the complete blackness waits pain, suffering and despair. The absence of light is the absence of hope. It’s lonely and it’s frightening.

But still I walk willingly towards the dark.

But I stop in the shadows. Halfway between the light and the dark.

The shadows are where I go to rest, to heal and to recharge. In the shadows I can sit next to my pain and my grief and my suffering but not be consumed by it.

From the shadows I can acknowledge pain without avoiding it but I can still feel the warmth of the light and the promise of hope.

For some of us being in the light is tiring and takes effort. The darkness is a part of us. It must not consume us but it should not be ignored.

It’s not bad to feel sadness or pain. Left unanswered they can spill into the parts of our lives where we need the light.

When I’m in the shadows please don’t worry. You are welcome to sit with me but please don’t bring a torch or drag me further into the dark.

 

Not everyone gets me when I am writing or talking like this, and I completely understand why! I’ll attempt to translate for you.

To deny our pain can be to deny part of ourselves. The reasons we have for our suffering often come from our very core values and ways of being. I reject the idea that the path to recovery is to leap around being forcefully ‘happy’ all the time. Sometimes we need time to just feel. To be sad or to grieve.

This doesn’t mean we have given up or that we are in a depression or anything negative. It means we are being courageous and vulnerable.

Being positive and open and daring can be draining sometimes, especially for introverts. The energy expended in being open can be recovered by moving back a little closer to a quieter place.

I find I personally need quite a lot of time in the shadows. Sometimes sitting close to sadness (past or present) just feeling. To remind me who I am. When I am there I welcome company but I do not need to be fixed. It makes me think of that line from ‘The Invitation’ by Oriah Mountain Dreamer –

I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it, or fade it, or fix it.

I don’t think we should ever try to fix each other. We really just need to be with each other, to make connections and to stop being ashamed and guilty about our pain.

Mental Health

Don’t Panic – Why I’m Doing the Mystery Box Rally

I was having a virtual stroll around the Interwebs when I noticed a post from my friend Claire. Her co-driver for the 2016 Mystery Box Rally had dropped out and she needed a replacement.
I knew she was entering and essentially what the rally was –

Teams will drive unknown cars along a mystery route in this unique 5 day challenge, all in the name of cancer research. The mad baby brother of Shitbox Rally, Mystery Box is smaller and shorter but no less ridiculous. You fly into the departure `location with no car and no idea of where you’re heading, but ready for an adventure.

As I read the post calling for a replacement co-driver I though to myself “I wish I was the kind of person that did this kind of thing”. It occurred to me a few short moments later that I could be! I had a quick look around the website to make sure I knew what I would be getting into and sent Claire a message.

This is not the kind of thing I would ever have had the confidence to do before. A mystery journey in a mystery car – it is impossible to do the level of planning (and associated worrying) that I would usually do even for a short drive to an unfamiliar location.

The entire thing is about raising money for the Cancer Council in Australia who fund vital research into curing cancer. This is a cause very close to my heart and to my family who have lost many loved ones to the disease.

The timing of this opportunity was uncanny. The day before I had been in a particularly challenging session with my psychologist.

We have done some great work dealing with my anxiety and depression issues and have developed a strong and varied tool kit that helps me maximise the potential in my life. My focus on mindfulness, kindness, giving and gratitude was born out of these sessions. As we have tackled more and more ‘surface’ issues we have been moving closer and closer to some deep emotional root causes of some of the ways I feel and think.

Losing my mother to cancer at age 3 had, and continues to have, a profound impact on my life. It was only in this recent session that we really got down to the core of these impacts and started looking at the ways I can move forward. 

I’ll save the rest of that story for a more detailed post in the future when I have figured out exactly how to share it properly.

Needless to say, to have had a very painful (yet hopeful) eye opening with its roots in losing loved ones to cancer had really set me up to leap at the chance to help raise money for cancer research.

Claire and I got chatting and decided to call our team ‘Don’t Panic’ and to both dress as Arthur Dent for the entire rally. We went shopping for matching dressing gowns and pyjamas and made a team photograph.13315490_1065378123520764_3757606222773116849_n

We plan on drinking tea, handing out biscuits and looking confused in our pyjamas for the whole event. This will be good for me. I will have no choice but to ‘just be’ as each day unfolds with it’s challenges and surprises. To say I am excited is an understatement.

I’ve seen videos from previous and similar events and I am looking forward to making new connections. The sharing of the experience with the other participants will be amazing. I’ll be driving Claire insane during the day in the car but we camp every night together as a group. I can see the opportunities for those filmic moment I always thought were for ‘other people’.

So now we have until September to raise a minimum of $3000 for the Cancer Council.

 

We are collecting donations at:

Every Day Hero Page

You can follow our shenanigans on our FB page at:

Team Don’t Panic on Facebook

Mental Health

Connections

“Life is a tapestry woven from the threads of our connections”

I attempted to muse thoughtfully via my usual outlet – a Facebook status update.

Recent output on this ‘channel’ had ranged from cheese and wine emergencies, failed attempts to adult and sharing of inspirational memes.( I wonder how many other people spend a great deal of time considering their personal Facebook page as a ‘channel’?) Perhaps this update didn’t quite fit.

What I thought had been a profound and a rather nice metaphor was quite quickly shot down by no less than two family members, I suspect for use of the word ‘tapestry’, in a poignant reminder that maybe social media isn’t the place for these kinds of things. People won’t always read the intention behind a message or feel that yearning for connection.

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Mental Health

Breakfast for One

I’m writing from a coffee shop, on my phone, which probably isn’t that unusual in the grand scheme of things.
However I’m here on my own, I’m not waiting for anyone. I’ve got my coffee and some breakfast and I’m feeling quite content.
The thought of dining alone, or doing anything alone for that matter, would have once filled me with absolute dread. But today I feel calm and relaxed.
I like that I can be around people. There is an energy in a busy place that is just not there in an empty apartment.

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Mental Health

Medicating for Anxiety

I started taking Lexapro, an SSRI, for my anxiety in July 2015 at the age of 35.

I had suffered from varying degrees of anxiety and depression my whole life but have always considered it to just be part of me. It was my personality. My fear, moods and hopelessness were just character defects — not illness.

One day whilst browsing social media I came across a video of Wil Wheaton talking about his anxiety.

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Mental Health

An Important Lesson

I think I have learned an important and almost costly lesson.

I don’t know how many of you see a psychologist regularly and what your sessions are like, or how those of you that don’t imagine the sessions to be.

I’ll tell you a little about mine.

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The Story So Far

Anxiety Hangover

I talked to people in a bar last night I didn’t know. I stayed after my friends left to talk so more. I did this to push myself and I think it was good for me. I spoke about kindness and people seemed to receive it well.

Trying a few fancy beers and a couple of whiskys left me feeling a little worse for wear the next morning.

You know what’s worse than the hangover headache? The anxiety aftermath.

I made some real connections to some strangers yesterday and I spoke honestly and openly about my experiences. I spoke about kindness and explained how I want to talk to people more and what volunteering I’d like to do. I got some good feedback about the way I speak.

But this morning my brain won’t give me a break. It’s replaying everything it can looking for a reason to be embarrassed or ashamed. It’s torture and it’s almost ruining all the good feelings I got from pushing myself last night.

This is part of the reason I get anxiety about doing things. Not just worry about the thing but I hate feeling like this afterwards.

So I’m going to have a cup of tea and try a meditation to see if I can cleanse this anxiety hangover.

The Story So Far

On How A Good Thing Can Lead to a Bad Place

This is a very tricksey trick of the anxious brain. You can start out full of inspiration and good intention and end up in full blown anxiety – the type that starts drifting really quickly towards depression.

I’ve been spending more and more time thinking about what it is I really want to do with my life. I am really committed to the idea of helping other people who are similar to me make that first step in getting help and living alife that isn’t dictated by their anxiety.

I’ve been joining websites and forums and filling in volunteer application forms where ever I can find opportunities. Normally I would find an excuse not to do this but I have pushed through and done it anyway.

The problem is that good intention is quite rapidly turning to frustration. I am yet to actually find something I can do. The ideas I have I am just not in a position to get out to an audience wider than my FB friends.

I’m not in a position to make a difference at work.

I’ve been listening to podcasts and reading about some really inspirational people who have made a real difference in their lives and I start to think I will never do this.

My anxious brain tells me I am not good enough to do anything more with my life. Some of the people I’ve listened to have done great work from leadership roles. Something I can’t see anyway of getting into again.

Frustration makes me want to scream. I really feel like I could be doing good but I just don’t know how. I am reaching out but not getting any answers.

I’ve caught myself feeling like this and it is really interesting how quickly the anxious brain can turn inspiration and positivity into frustration. Almost as if it just wants to fuel anxiety and depression.

Even as I write I realise I need to cultivate patience. I need to recognise the trickesy brain and have some faith in myself to find an opportunity. The brain is trying to make me frustrated so I will just give up. But I won’t let it.

Mindfulness can be like a super power but at the moment I think mine is less trained than it could be. I was quite far into this particular piece of suffering before I recognised it for what it is.

It’s is interesting that at the moment the default mode of my brain is to lean towards anxiety and depression. Self-sabotaging even good intention and positivity.

I hope with more engagement in more formal mindful practice I can really begin the process of rewiring my brain to the point where the default mode is positive!

The Story So Far

Bump in the Road

A bump in the road today dear friends.

When situations fall outside of your ability to influence the outcome all you can do is try to manage and control your reactions.

I have ways to not make things worse in my own head and to minimise any potential suffering but it can be very tricky.

The frustration at only being able to control reactions and not affect causes is a hard thing to deal with for me.

It’s hard not to fall into negative brain traps. I feel like my issues are not very high on other people’s agendas, people that should and could be helping, and it’s frustrating that in certain environments personal priorities trump the wellbeing of others.

So for now I am concentrating on not getting stuck in my own head and making things worse by catastrophizing. Hopefully a time will come when being clear headed and mindful will reveal a way to deal with the causes rather than dealing with the reactions.

The Story So Far

Doing Well

How are we all?

I am doing pretty well. I though I’d share a little observation with you all about what doing well and feeling better is like for me.

I jokingly wrote you all about being ‘cured’ the other day. I wanted to explain a bit more about what that is like.

It’s weird, I suffer social anxiety but also thrive in the right kinds of social interaction. I can have near crippling anxiety about going out somewhere but also love talking to and interacting with a big group of people.

I like telling stories, and anecdotes and making people laugh. It feels really good to be able to engage people and have them listen and make them laugh. I really enjoy the energy of that kind of interaction.

But my brain is always taking cheap shots at me. Sly little digs right when I think I am doing ok. It will tell me things like “they are laughing at you, not with you” or “you are boring people”. It happened to me last night, the doubt crept in and tried to turn me from being outgoing to withdrawn.

Feeling better doesn’t stop the negative brain cooking up these little digs but it does allow me to recognise them. I’ve probably over analysed last night which is a sign of over thinking but I wanted to explore what was going on. Sometimes the negative thoughts will shut me up and I will have days of anxiety thinking that I embarrassed myself. Even thinking about that now is causing some mild to medium anxiety as I write!

You really can’t give these thoughts any time. They start a cycle and lead to a bad place. It’s very strange that even an exploration of them to write this to you can cause some of the symptoms!

The moment of recognition where you can make an intervention is so important. When I recognise a thought from the negative brain I tell myself “this is a thought, not a fact” and let it pass. I allow myself to trust my instincts. Do people look interested? Do the laughs seem genuine? Well stop telling yourself otherwise negative brain!

I hope in the future the negative thoughts can be trained away but for now being able to recognise them and discard them is pretty great.

The Story So Far

Cured

I’m cured!

That’s not really true. But it kind of feels like it. “I’m coping with my brain!” didn’t quite express what I want to get across.

I had a psych appointment this week. I left without booking another for the first time since realising I needed help all those months ago. I will probably go back some time early next year but it will be for maintenance not for triage.

I’ve had my ‘lightbulb’ moments now. Thrice. Once with medication and twice with mindfullness, meditation and ACT/CBT type things.

When I adjusted my medicine dose I quite quickly noticed it doing it’s job. Providing a barrier or a shield that gives me the space to use other techniques to counter anxiety and depression.

Early on I learned to calm the thunder of a noisey mind and quieten the thought storms that gave me so little peace and rest and fuelled my anxiety – though meditation and mindful practice.

Most recently I’ve found the missing connection to self-compassion and brushed away the last few cognitive distortions that were stopping me living the way I want to.

It hasn’t all been sunshine and lightbulbs. I recently experienced and really suffered through a pretty major anxiety incident. It hit me pretty deep and made me feel like I had undone any success and was a complete failure.

I managed to isolate this event as a single moment in time that is now gone. I discussed it with my psych and we learned what we could from it and moved on. The insight I’ve gained in being able to not dwell and over analyse is what has helped me move on.

Whilst on leave recently I decided to focus my energy applying mindfullness to eating and drinking. I’m now 5kgs lighter than my recent heaviest and still moving slowly and steadily towards my goals.

I’ve learned when to apply interventions on negative thoughts and generally walk around as a more pleasant, brighter person.

I’ve been sharing what I have learned with people and I find it massively rewarding. I’ve made new friends through reaching out and being kind and enriched my relationship with people I already knew.

I believe in kindness. To ourselves and to each other. If the world where kinder we could all suffer less.

Don’t get me wrong – I will always be an anxious person and I will always think too much. I won’t turn into a confident extrovert. None of this is about eliminating some of the things that actually make us who we are.

I strongly believe that a few simple adjustments to the way we process the world and what we put out there can make our lives better. You don’t have to be ‘mentally ill’ to benefit. Modern life places such stresses and demands on us that everyone could use a bit of relief.

I know there will roadblocks and that sometimes things will get hard again but I feel equipped to get through it.

My belief in what I have learned and the realisations I’ve had is so strong I think this is the area I want to work in. My job has always been about helping people and I stongly feel this is a place I could be doing the most good.

I don’t know how this will happen or when. I’m cultivating patience and letting this unfold naturally. It’s exciting to see where it goes.

I will keep writing to you and sharing with you. I am hoping this can take the form of some more details and some practical examples of what has helped.

I’ll end thanking you all once again. I am truely blessed to know some wonderful caring and kind people. The support you have all given has kept me going and I honestly wouldn’t be in this place without you. I value the connections we have made and hope that somehow my journey so far has been of some help to you.

The Story So Far

Despair

Good Morning Friends

I’ve not had a great week. But I have learned a lot.

Most of my mental health problems fall firmly under the umbrella of anxiety. Within the anxiety there are things caused by a lack of confidence (hair cuts, wearing formal clothes, clothes shopping etc…) and there are issues of over thinking and having a noisey mind rushing at 1000 miles a minute.

Through medication, meditation and mindful practices I have developed quite a tool kit for dealing with these kinds of issues. I can quieten my mind when a thought storm emerges. I can push myself to get a hair cut or drive somewhere new.

These things still hurt and cause suffering but I am able to minimise the distress. Self-compassion helps with this and often, for me, the healing comes fast through the sense of achievement I feel when I get through a bad patch.

I’ve tuned the tools I use to work particularly well on thoughts. A lot of anxiety being born of misfiring thought patterns this has worked quite well.

I have discovered that I lack a strong framework for dealing with feelings.

Depression for me comes not from tangible thought but from deep gut wrenching feeling.
A bad patch of anxiety feels like I am exhausted from the constant stream of thoughts.
Depression feels like standing on the edge of a gaping abyss fighting against the pull that is trying to suck me in.

Depression isn’t in my head, it’s in my heart and in my stomach and in my lungs.
I’ve hit a patch of depression the likes of which I haven’t tasted for many years.
I tried to apply all the tools I have learned to these feelings but nothing seemed to work. I tried ‘leaves on a stream’ but I didn’t know how to place a feeling on the leaf and let it drift away. I made it a thought and placed that instead. It drifted away but the feeling remained.

I tried to be present in the moment and use my breath to anchor myself. It became scary because in that moment I was present and aware but I was present at the edge of the abyss, the pull like gravity trying to suck me in.

In place of the chaos of 1 million thoughts my mind felt like a void. Where usually I would think of too many potential solutions and outcomes there was simply nothing. If a spark of an idea was born it was almost immediately snuffed out by the void.
Having learned to deal with an excess of thought I was ill equipped to deal with an absence.

I have come to recognise this feeling as despair.

This pain, this suffering left me raw and vulnerable. I spent hours crying. Sometimes for no reason, sometimes triggered by something.

I was watching Netflix and when the season ended I discovered the next season was not available. When I realised my friends, the characters that had distracted me for a few hours, were gone – I cried.

I began to withdraw. I had to work from home in case something triggered me at work. I had no real enthusiasm to do anything.

I realised that this was not right. I had been doing so well. I was in control. My mental health issues are part of me but they do not define me.

I saw my psychologist and she could tell something was wrong the moment I walked in the door. In her usual amazing way she let me talk it out and guided me to the most important observations and realisations. She taught me how to deal with feelings and emotions.

Having a language and framework to describe and understand feelings and emotions is really important. I couldn’t cope with what was going on with me because I had no way to understand it.

I came to the realisation that I was experiencing despair which is actually a combination of sadness and fear combined with the absence of hope.
With a way to describe and label feelings I was shown a technique to ease the suffering of them. Instead of the visualisation of my thought management frameworks I learned to concentrate on feelings and physical sensations.

It was really hard at first but I managed to ‘find’ the despair hiding somewhere between my stomach and my chest as a kind of snake like twisting form.
The exercise urges you to move closer to the feeling, retreating slightly if it becomes too strong but staying as close as possible. This does not remove the suffering but lets you have some control to minimise it. You have to accept it to get passed it.
Despair was too much to get close to. The abyss grew larger and darker as I got closer and I had to retreat far far away from feelings into thoughts. I began to think I was ‘bad’ at this. I had a lucky moment of clarity and saw how anxiety and depression can feed and grow off each other. I silenced the thoughts and edged back closer to despair.
As I moved slowly toward, instead of looking into, the abyss I moved closer to one of it’s parts. I sat next to sadness. I felt it and I experienced it and I let it pass. On it’s own sadness is a familiar emotion and we are often used to just being one with it until it moves on or we cry it out.

I approached my fear and did the same. This was harder as it was less familiar. Separated from sadness though it was less strong and easier to feel.
As these techniques started to work the abyss of despair was replaced by the smallest tiny spark of hope.

Armed with these new tools I went to see my GP about my medication.
I had begun to question if my medication was doing what it should be. I felt like if it was working I would not be so raw and easily tipped. I asked people to discuss their experiences with me and I was really pleased to get about 15 conversations with different people about the ups and downs of medication. Thank you to everyone who spoke to me.

Each of those 15 stories was different but it became clear it was worth reviewing my medication. My psychologist had agreed.

My Doctor and I discussed slowly increasing the dosage of the medicine and urged me to keep working with my psychologist which of course I completely agree with.
So I took half a tablet extra this morning. No side effects so far.

I still feel raw and I am still hurting but I have hope. I can develop my skills for dealing with feelings and emotions and the medication can provide a bit of a shield to bear some of the weight of the suffering.

I can’t thank you all enough. I couldn’t do this without the amazing support network I have. Your kindness fills me with hope and joy and love.

Through all of this we can all remember we are not alone. There are people who can help. We will be ok.

The Story So Far

Thanks

Good Afternoon friends. Thank you all for your support yesterday. Just a quick one to let you know today was not as bad.

I am still not doing great but I am trying to get some clarity on the major issue that is giving me problems at the moment which is my career.

I’ve been providing technical support to media students for 12 years now and I think I made some positive impacts at both the places I have done it.

I’ve set up a world class facility at my current role that I am proud of.

But it is time to move on. To what I am not sure. I still want to help people. I want to use my communication skills. I’ll try and figure it out.

The Story So Far

This Is Me

me
I tried not to make eye contact with myself as I brushed my hair this morning. I don’t like to look at myself. I am not proud of what I see.I knew from the second I opened my eyes this morning that I felt sad and I knew it would get worse when I saw myself. I had ‘that look’ about me.

I anchored my thoughts on my breathing. Cool air in and warm air out. I felt my feet in my boots. I felt the metal of the keys in my hand. I was present in the moment. I was still sad.

I counted my blessings. My beautiful wife, my comfortable home, my privileged life and understanding friends. I was still sad.

I forgot to brush my teeth. Back to the bathroom. Don’t look. This is crazy. I made myself take a photo. This piece of writing already in mind nearly 12 hours ago now. I didn’t know how it would come out but I knew how I would start. I was still sad.

I didn’t have the energy today to practice passive acceptance. I felt like I could not mindfully sort thoughts from facts. As more and more people banged on the door and passed through my office panic and anxiety started building up inside me. I had to leave.

I sat outside and breathed.

I met a friend and talked. But the relief lasted the length of the conversation.

Another friend reached out over the internet and it was nice to be thought of.

Another friend gave me my biggest laugh of the day and thoughts of penguins.

I hope that tomorrow won’t be sad. I do however know that despite the progress I am making with my therapy and the wonders of my blessed life – some major things need to change.

And I’m scared.

The Story So Far

F*ck That?

Even the F*ck That guided meditation isn’t helping me right now. I do find mindfulness and meditation to be really really good tools but sometimes it’s really hard to let the things that upset me just go. It’s hard to be the person that makes the adjustments in every situation. Passive acceptance only gets you so far when at work you just get hurt over and over and over again.

I feel like I’m stuck in the part of the poem I shared a while back. I walk down a street, I see a hole, I fall in the hole. I should be avoiding the hole and walking down a different street.

The Story So Far

Of Fevered Dreams

I’ve been sick all this week with an achey feverish headachey thing.

Being sick is a real ‘at risk’ time for anxiety and depression issues. It’s hard to not feel down and it’s also hard to get perspective on things.

I found myself with a lot of time but feeling too yucky to do anything. Couldn’t read or watch TV or go on the computer without headache getting worse. Sleeping worked for a few hours at a time but I would wake up with a sore back from laying down too long.

I always tend to catastrophize when I am not at work about my colleagues reactions to my absence. I still answer emails and do what bits of remote work I can but I always end up imagining everyone is mocking me about being away. I had only been back at work one day from a few days holiday before I got sick so I made it worse in my head. I managed to invent a situation where they just made me redundant.

When I am well I am learning to intervene when negative thoughts start creeping in and using mindfulness and meditation I can usually nip the catastrophizing in the bud before it gets too damaging. Being unwell I have found it harder to make the techniques work.

I was lying awake the other night around 1am a million miles down a rabbit hole where I lose my job and can’t find another one. I was feeling really awful but recognised finally that I was essentially torturing myself with thoughts not facts.

I started a meditation technique I have described to you before. You visualise a stream that leaves float gently down. When you have a thought you place it on the leaf and let it float away.

It started well. Thoughts of colleagues and conspiracies floated gently away and I felt the anxiety easing.

And then the stream burst into flames and became a river of lava. The leaves became chunks of rocks and the thoughts on them tiny devils. The sky melted into the lava letting out waves of hot steam whilst the devils pranced and played.

I had relaxed enough to fall asleep and the fever had taken over. The devils all looked like the daemon model I had painted the previous weekend. It wasn’t so much scary as it was just plain weird. I eventually woke drenched in sweat what turned out to be a few hours later.

This was just one of a number of weird dreams from the last week. Another I was driving my Dad’s car along the spine of a skeletal dragon and in another I was trying to cross a bridge without offending local tribes people who took incorrect bridge walking as a cultural insult.

I’m feeling less bad now but still not 100%. I’m a bit paranoid about making other people sick but will try to go back to work tomorrow if I can. Between poor mental and physical health I am almost entirely out of all kinds of leave which makes me worry.

Finding it hard to be positive right now. I had been doing well with my mental health and I realise that it is not the best time for taking stock whilst being sick but I can’t help but feel a bit lost and displaced.

The Story So Far

Men with Pipes

I awoke this morning to knocking on the door. Still mostly asleep I glanced at the time – 6.57am.

I did what any other hero would do. I hid under the covers. Another knock. As I wake up I begin to realise the knocking is not entirely unexpected. A shape moves past the bedroom window.

Men have arrived. Men with pipes! I dart out of the bedroom grabbing my dressing gown as I leave.

I jump into the shower noticing how cold it is this morning. As the hot water warms my head my brain slowly spins up to pre-caffeination cognition levels. This is enough to remember that men with pipes are coming today to move the gas bottles.

I exit the shower and wrap myself in towels and dressing gown. I should speak to the pipes. Or the men. They might need tea.

As luck would have it a pipe is making it’s way from the road past the front door. I fling the door open and issue a merry ‘good morning! you are looking coppery today!’.

“Oh hi, we did knock, we are moving the gas bottles. Do you need the gas?”

“NO, SIR, FOR I AM PREPARED AND HAVE ALREADY SHOWERED AND THAT IS PROBABLY WHERE I WAS WHEN YOU KNOCKED NOT HIDING IN BED HOPING YOU WOULD GO AWAY WOULD YOU LIKE SOME TEA I’M HAVING SOME AND SOME TOAST BUT I DON’T HAVE ENOUGH BREAD FOR ALL OF US”

Nailed it.

The Story So Far

Caving in to Big Follicle

Regular eye-listeners will know that I’ve been cutting my own hair since about 2000. For a couple of years at Uni one of my house mates used to cut it with clippers for me and for about 6 months around 2010 I went to the same hair dresser as WifeFace.

I tell people the reason is that hairdressing is a scam to relive us of our hard earned $$$ and that practitioners of the dark art are just shills for Big Follicle.

The more deductively gifted amongst you could probably figure out the real reasons. Going for a haircut pretty much became the poster child for my anxiety. You get stuck in a situation you can’t leave, you are obliged to engage in small talk and someone is paying attention to your appearance in minute detail.

I don’t want people looking at me, I don’t want a discussion about how I could wear my hair, I can’t perceive a way that it could be cut that would make me happy with my appearance.

Years of avoidance made something that should have been an hour of mild discomfort into something huge. I’ve messed up my home haircuts plenty of times (too short, guard fell of being the usual) but that risk seemed favourable to having to drive to a strange place and figure out what I am meant to do to get a haircut.

As this was such a visible and tangible issue I recognised the value of trying to get it sorted. My therapy has been going well and the mindfulness and meditation techniques I have learned have eased the suffering I have been putting myself through.

When I first visited my GP I noticed that around the corner from his office was an ‘old school’ style barber shop. “No appointments, walk and sit down and wait your turn” is written on a large friendly sign.

Two boxes ticked, I know how to drive here, I know I don’t have to phone up first and I can just go in and wait my turn.

I had to see my GP this week for a follow up on my Mental Health Plan (you can access up to 10 sessions with Medicare rebate but have to review after the first 6) so I decided I would see him and then go for a haircut.

I emailed my psychologist telling her that if I turned up on Friday for our next appointment without professionally cut hair I would have some explaining to do! She replied and reminded me to breath. I was now in the position where I was probably as anxious about ‘failing’ as the actual haircut.

Having the GP appointment first really helped. I knew I could rely on the Doc for a pep talk as he completely understood my anxiety having some mild variation of some of my problems himself. As luck would have it he was sporting a fresh haircut for the exact place I planned on visiting. He talked me through the exact process (walk in, say hello, turn left, sit on the bench, ask for “short back and sides”) and told me where I could move my car too to avoid getting towed from the medical centre car park.

I finished with the Doc and drove around the corner to the complex the barber is in. I walked up and snapped a pic of the outside and posted it for you dear friends.

As it happens I was about 6th in line. Two people in the chairs and 4 waiting ahead of me. The wait was torture. I was able to chat to two of my good buddies that understand my brain on my phone as I waited and they helped keep me calm (thanks boys). A guy in the line left for a while and came back with sushi and coffee (he did not bring enough to share) and this spiked my anxiety about whether he retained his order in the line.

I didn’t actually care if he was before me I was more anxious about there being a ‘thing’ if I stood up and he said it was his turn. I checked with my friends who both agreed if you walk out you lose your place in line. Especially if you don’t bring enough sushi for everyone. Mr Sushi leapt up and grabbed his original place in line.

I had been debating whether to tell the barber that I am a crazy person but decided against it and just asked for a short back and sides. The small talk was empty but not torturous. The guy was too distracted with the radio breaking to strike up a ‘real’ conversation. I would have preferred to have made some kind of connection but I realise I can’t make a friend at every single place I visit.

The haircut is neat and looks better than my own efforts. It was cheap and I think I can easily go back again.

I had some other things to say but I might write to you again at the end of the week.

I’d like to encourage anyone who has been feeling anything even remotely similar to things I talk about to speak up. The support I have had both professionally from my GP and psychologist and from friends and family is making my life better. I feel like I reclaiming my sense of self one small step at a time. No-one should have to suffer and there are ways to ease it and live life that are super easy to learn if you are willing.

The Story So Far

Mindfulness in Practice

Today was not bad. After a breakthrough last night my stress and anxiety levels where considerably lower when I went into work.

I felt a lot more able to engage and was able to talk and joke around with some colleagues. I got some mundane bits of work done and out of the way and was feeling pretty good.

I was chatting to a few people online at the same time. Mostly about games stuff, arranging matches talking about hobby – that kind of thing. I noticed myself feeling quite happy and noted the contrast to where I had been only days before.

Then my brain took a cheap shot:

On a bit of a high are you? Running around chatting at people online and off are you? Yesterday you started the day in a pit of despair. Today you are manic. You Sir, have bipolar disorder.

Put.On.The.Brakes.

I recognised the critical thought for what it was. I noted it, and moved on from it. I ignored the urge to start researching bipolar and how mania is defined.

The thought actually tried to sneak in while I was typing something to a good friend. I actually told him straight away that I had spotted it.

It was really cool to be able to actually recognise the thought for what it was. My brain wasn’t going to let me just have a better day without some kind of catastrophizing. Through mindfulness and self-compassion I was able to not give the thought time and hurt myself by plunging into a thought storm, researching and clinical self diagnosis.

I feel it’s noteworthy because I am certain that only days before I would have spent the rest of my day diagnosing and analysing.

The Story So Far

Leaves On A River

I’ve been maintaining radio silence these last few days because I have not been doing very well.

I have been unwell with some flu-ish bug and I have been unable to silence a million thoughts all trying to be heard at once. For days and days. It has been exhausting.

By acknowledging my problems and trying to think about and understand them I have unwittingly opened a floodgate of sorts.

I’ve written in a notebook ever facet of how I feel and every factor I think may have played a part in it. In an effort to learn why I think the way I do and how I formed the pathways in my brain I’ve ruthlessly examined every flaw and behaviour with a scrutiny so clinical it’s almost cruel.

Examining what I thought to be relevant things broke a seal that let out a million other things. Every moment I can recall being embarrassed, every missed opportunity, unkind word – spoken or heard, every bad decision and mistake waiting for it’s turn in the spotlight of my mind.

The tide was overwhelming. I tried to plug the hole and was left with stress and panic. Quietly sobbing, not able to rest due to the noise in my own head.

I made a really big mistake in my enthusiasm to ‘rewire my brain’. I’ve been reading and learning about self-compassion (will put a link in the comments) and I managed to play a trick on myself that negated everything I had learned.

When you learn about self-compassion you think about how the things you tell yourself when you are being self-critical or judgemental are very unkind. The examples often given are thoughts like “I am no good” – “I am worthless” or “No-one likes me”, things of this nature. I don’t feel like that. I don’t feel worthless or bad or un-liked so I assumed I wasn’t being unkind to myself.

Self-compassion urges you to treat yourself like you would treat a good friend. If a good friend was asking for help I would not have questioned them every waking moment, interrogated every thought and motive for validity and not given them a moments rest. Yet I did this to myself thinking I was being clinical and looking at an end game of solving my problems.

I want to be unbroken so I can be a good husband, a good friend, a good son, a useful employee, a good sibling. I feel like the ‘outed’ (Hi, my names is James and I have generalised anxiety disorder) broken version of me is failing in all of those things in which I most, with my very core, wish to succeed.

This is pretty unkind of me. I would not accuse anyone else of these failings if roles were reversed. I am now aware of the trick of my brain, I have yet to learn how to be kind to myself in this regard but I at least know it should be on the agenda.

I’ve spoken before about the storm of thoughts and how it can work as a tool sometimes. Well turning it inwards has amplified it so much it is affecting my ability to function.

At my psychologist today I talked through my week’s work in self analysis, explained some things I think I had missed before to help her get a sense of me and told her how distressing the thoughts are. She helped me understand much of what I wrote above about not practising kindness towards myself. She was surprised at what I had put myself through in a week and told me to pause the forensic self analysis for now.

As is always the way time seemed to run out so we concentrated on a mindfulness tool to ease the thoughts and to be able to rest and relax with the promise that we would deal with the tricks of the brain and kindness next time.

We started an exercise that begins with concentrating on breathing. I felt myself relax. Suddenly a thought slipped through. A question I wanted to ask but hadn’t. I remembered something about work. I opened my eyes and noticed the clock. One by one thought after thought invaded and as I tried to hold them back I was struck with the sudden visualisation of a tidal wave about to engulf me.

I choked back tears of frustration as I blurted out “I can’t make it be quiet’. I looked up fearing I would see annoyance or worse pity. I saw understanding and kindness. We talked about what went wrong and she decided to dedicate the next session to honing this technique and making it work.

By way of homework she directed me to some audio that you can use to guide you in this method. A voice encourages you to breath deeply. Emptying your lungs completely and letting them refill on their own. In your mind you picture a stream. For me it gently babbled shallow over pebbles, sunlight dancing on the surface. Along the stream floats leaves. Any thought you have you place on the leaf and allow it float away. When a thought catches you and distracts you as soon as your realise you acknowledge it and place it on a leaf.

“Booo hisss” I hear you cry and I may have done so too if I hadn’t been so desperate for relief.

The first thought to interrupt my stream was of work. My office floated away. Unfinished jobs around the house floated away. A space ship from a game I want to play this week stole my attention for a moment before being sent on it’s leafy way.

The voice urged thoughts such as “this is stupid” or “this isn’t working” to be placed on leaves. I smiled because it was working. I felt the anxiety meter in my mind dropping back from the redline it had been at for days as thought after thought after thought floated by. 15 minuted later the audio ended and I didn’t feel bad.

It is a relief my friends I can tell you. I felt as if I was getting closer to being unable to work or function. I was beginning to withdraw due to lack of perceived progress and a fear I would lose you all.

I’m still broken, I am exhausted but I have my stream and my leaves and I think I can be kinder to myself.

The Story So Far

Down But Not Out

So I woke up feeling sick, felt obliged to do some work and then got upset over something.

Far too upset. Whilst I had some awareness that I was probably more upset than I should be I wasn’t really feeling clear enough to stop the un-useful thoughts.

Being upset made me more upset. I’ve thrown myself into learning about therapy and psychology and have been really excited about being able to get better. To find myself sobbing over work was such a disappointment it just got worse and worse. I felt like I had gone backwards a thousand miles. It’s been quite a pathetic day.

Now I am still feeling really low but I understand being flu-ish isn’t helping. I have no idea what to do about work but I am going to try to be kinder to myself about my progress.

I’m feeling ashamed for being ‘weak’ and sad because I don’t know how to fix everything.I know I have to give myself a chance though.

If I can’t be kind to myself I won’t be able to be kind to other people which means I won’t be able to maintain my core values.

I know this is just a blip and tomorrow or later I’ll be feeling better.

The Story So Far

Waaaaaaah

Having to take a reaaaaaaally deep breath. Woke up feeling like death this morning so called in sick.

Got some emails from a student I have been helping all week and he was still having problems so I dragged myself out of bed to the computer. Manage to figure out what was going on and got him an answer (despite having to stop for bleurgh breaks).

Made a cup of tea and was poking around the Internet only to find another student publicly posting a big rant. I won’t go into details as I don’t want ‘drama’ but it really hurt. I put so much into helping these guys and all they have to do in return is show a tiny bit of respect and comply with the really simple rules.

Probably over-reacting because I feel under the weather but just feel completely deflated by it.

waaaaaaah

The Story So Far

Autobiography In Five Short Chapters by Portia Nelson

Chapter I

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost… I am hopeless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

Chapter II

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in this same place.
But it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

Chapter III

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it there.
I still fall in… it’s a habit… but,
my eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

Chapter IV

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

Chapter V

I walk down another street.

The Story So Far

6 Minutes of Gut Wrenching Bleurgh, A Packet of Mints, The Water Cooler and Having Too Many Thoughts

6 minutes is the drive time from my work to the offices of my psychologist. It’s pretty much a straight line with a bit of turning right at the end.

6 minutes was the time I spent trying to breath in the way that makes it less like I am going to do a sickinmymouth whilst trying to make it up the road in one piece.

6 minutes made me realise that despite my concerns regarding the legitimacy of my issues there is clearly some things that I need to work on.

I am not a confident driver. I didn’t drive at all at home in UK so have only been driving for about 7 years. I’m not a danger on the road but I really like to know where I am going. Driving to a new place to me is terrifying. I had been to the psychologist once before but had been driven by WifeFace. Even though I had studied the route in advance and was using google maps navigation it felt horrible. By the time I reached place I was feeling quite low and sick in the stomach.

When I get anxious sometimes it turns into a kind of sad feeling. I feel alone and isolated and unhappy. One of the ways I try to combat this is to have some kind of human interaction. I was early to my appointment so I went to a shop and bought a packet of mints. I asked the lady how her day was and had just the smallest of exchanges. Nothing with any real depth but it made me feel a little better.

As I waited in the waiting room for my appointment I realised my mouth was dry and I was really thirsty. I spotted a water cooler near the door. Next to it was a pile of plastic cups.

But wait, says my brain, what if that is not for customers? Perhaps it is staff only and they had no where else to put it? What if it is for you but you turn the tap thing on and it won’t turn off. What if when you stand up to get a drink the lady at the counter thinks you are coming to talk to her? Why don’t you ask if it is ok to grab a drink? If you do ask and it is ok you are going to look stupid! If you do get a drink can you take it in with you? Can you see a bin?

I remained thirsty and my appointment began.

It went really well today. I brought up my reaction to the questionnaire from the last session that I felt had shown there was nothing wrong with me but I quickly made the connection to how bad the drive down had felt. We talked about a number of useful things but the real take away for me was the realisation that I have too many thoughts.

Over thinking is a real problem for me (see the water cooler). Today the psychologist really helped me see quite how much of a problem it can be in certain situations. I realised that what is a key technique for technical troubleshooting is a source of anxiety for ‘normal’ thinking. When solving a problem at work I have a rapid succession of thoughts and asses each one until a potential solution arises. I pause to test the solution which either works or I carry on thinking. There is some kind of order to this – starting the process in the most likely area expanding outwards until eventually reaching a conclusion. In a finite closed system like a piece of broadcast or production infrastructure this works. In normal life with infinite possibilities it rapidly becomes less useful and more consuming.

I am going to work on identifying when I am using the wrong type of thinking and try to control it. It was a connection I had never made before and I am looking forward to the potential of a quieter mind.

The Story So Far

Mental Health Update

Morning Friends,

Mental Health Update incoming. If that’s not your cup of tea there is a picture from last night of some tiny spaceships and this morning there was a pic of my breakfast. If I have to I can easily get you a cat pic. If you need a link where X happened and Y will shock you then I probably can’t help.

Yesterday I had my first ever appointment with a psychologist. I was incredibly nervous but went in almost excited to get started. I did have a lot of worry about maybe this is too much – I don’t need it or the medication and I should just stop being rubbish and suck it up.

The first appointment is really about the psychologist getting a picture of where you are now and filling in some background information. I talked a lot, some of you probably know I am prone to rambling and talking at length once I get going. I was trying to make really sure I got across all the right information.

From what I could tell she seemed to be ‘getting’ what I was saying. I told her what reading I had done around certain techniques and therapies and she was very positive there are things she can teach me that will help.

We did a questionnaire where you have to answer ‘does not apply’ ‘applied some of the time’ ‘applied all of the time’ regarding some statements over the week just gone. It had things like “I feel worthless”, “I was short of breath”, “interruptions made me cross”. It was designed to take a snapshot of you in terms of anxiety, depression and stress. It takes you answers and compares them to the rest of the adult population (not sure how) and gives a rating from mild to moderate to severe.

I was meant to answer quickly and not over think it but it still sent my brain off on a weird adventure. I actually felt embarrassed seeing all the things a person could have been feeling in the last week and kind of felt ashamed for making a big deal over what seemed to indicate mild anxiety and moderate stress.

This put me in a weird head space. I had a message from a good friend after my appointment asking how it went. Initially all I could answer was ‘I don’t know, can’t process’.

I don’t want to be ‘sicker’ or have any of the extreme symptoms, of course not. But now one of my biggest fears of medicating for no reason is playing on my mind.

I am confused now that what I thought was anxiety might just be stress? Anxiety seems to require some quite full on physical symptoms that I simply don’t experience.

Did I turn too quickly to medication having being ‘anti’ my entire life?

On the plus side we talked about the physical nature of the ‘fight or flight’ response and how it can misfire in modern humans. Going to the hairdresser can trigger the same response as ‘there is a tiger in my cave’ etc… I knew some of this already but it was nice to have it explained. The psychologist showed me a breathing technique that is a trigger to bring the body out of that mode and into a relaxed state.

So I am left feeling a bit embarrassed and a little ashamed. Maybe the side effects of the Lexapro just threw me really hard. I’m starting to doubt my ability to self asses how I feel. Is this all some very complex form of my standard avoidance technique? I’m avoiding just ‘sucking it up’ by framing it as a mental illness?

Whatever it is or isn’t the self reflection leading up to therapy has clarified a few things in my mind about my life.

I know my career does not satisfy me. In my personal life I need to be more motivated.

I have another appointment on Wednesday and I will talk about how I felt after the first one. I think there is value in learning the mindfulness cbt/ACT skills whatever happens.

If I did get this horribly wrong, I am really sorry folks.

The Story So Far

Over sharing?

I’m having some doubts regarding my ‘social media strategy’ in terms of my anxiety/mental health issues. I’m wary of overloading you with updates. I’m also particularly aware that I don’t want to complain too much or seem to self-indulge in the lower points.

Having said that I feel like it would be a bit artificial to present only the up points without the contrast of the low.

So… Today was not great.

Since the really obvious side effects of the medication in the first week faded I assumed all of the side effects were over. Whilst I don’t feel spacey or headachey anymore I have a constant mid to high level nervousness that is physical, I feel it in my chest and stomach, but has none of the usual mental worrying attached.

Whilst it is good that I am not worrying about anything in particular it also means that my usual coping mechanisms don’t work. There is nothing to distract from. Being constantly on edge is just wearing me out. It’s hard to get to sleep at night so I am also just really tired.

I managed two and a half days back at work but had to leave today as it got a bit too much. I’m really quite disappointed in myself. I did keep working when I got home but it still feels like a bit of a failure.

I think I celebrated the end of SSRI side effects a little early and need to remember that I’m not even at the timescale where the medicine will actually be working.

To end on a positive note I’ve been reading about mindfullness and ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) and can see that in some ways I have already been using some of the tools associated with these ideas. I look forward to exploring it a bit more.

I’m trying to keep calm and remember that what I current feel will pass but it’s really hard to not be disappointed when I stumble.

The Story So Far

Second day back at wor…..

Second day back at wor….. Just kidding. I’m not going to bore you all with daily updates on my mental health. I’ll give an update on Friday after my appointment. Hopefully we can return to sneezing on roundabouts and picking up poop anecdotes sooner rather than later.

The Story So Far

1st Day

First day back at work today and have been cruising along at have-to-talk-in-front-of-a-room-full-of-people-and-have-not-prepared-and-am-completely-naked levels of anxiety since some time yesterday afternoon.

Had plenty of repetitive work to get on with so managed to pass the day.

Had conversations with my boss and my boss’s boss (now boss doesn’t look like a real word any more) both of who were incredibly supportive and kind.

Looking forward to the anxiety fading, hopefully soon.

The Story So Far

Meds

Morning friends,

It’s been a week since I went to see a Doctor about my anxiety problems and a week of taking medicine for it.

The first day was actually pretty amazing. The relief of having the appointment out of the way and it going really well was massive. I took the first tablet and felt a bit foggy for a couple of hours but was otherwise fine. I was even able to go out in the evening with friends to an unfamiliar venue and have a really pleasant evening.

Things went a bit downhill from day 2 onwards. I’d spoken to the doctor, pharmacist and read up on the Internet about side effects so I would know what to expect. I was however not really prepared for how it would feel.

Nausea and headaches are easy to explain but the weird foggy spacey feeling is harder to put into words. I wasn’t able to concentrate on anything and felt like my mind was drifting off. Part of it was like forgetfulness but not quite. More like I have the thought but I just can’t access it at the moment.

It was not pleasant and I did not want to be around people or attempt to drive whilst feeling like this so I stayed home from work.

Another side effect of this kind of medicine is that it can actually make the thing you are taking it for worse. This was really weird and I had a few ‘anxiety incidents’ with all the physical symptoms but none of the worry. I did get anxious about booking my appointment with a psychologist but Alana helped me with that.

I started to worry that people would be able to tell I was being spacey and returning to work became a source of anxiety. I arranged to take the whole week and was able to get past that issue.

By Wednesday the side effects where worse in the morning but fading into the evening. I had some friends come around for some games of 40k in the evening. I almost cancelled because I was worried I would be too spacey to play and they would notice but they are good guys and I knew they would understand. The games went fine and we had a good laugh playing. This gave me a massive confidence boost about interacting with people.

By Thursday morning the fog faded a few hours after taking the tablet and I was able to do some painting. I had not had the concentration before to even try so this was good. I find hobby really relaxing and therapeutic. The process is calming and it’s nice to have a tangible result at the end of it.

Friday I was getting stir crazy so waited for the morning fog to lift and went to spend the afternoon at the nerd shop. My friend works there so we had lunch, played a game and I had a good chat. Walking into the shopping centre did give me a minor anxiety thing but I just put my head down and pushed through it.

So now I’m feeling pretty good. The fog has already lifted this morning, the nausea and headache is mild enough to almost not be there.

The next big steps are going back to work and the appointment with the psychologist next Friday. I hope the side effects of the medication are going to be worth it.

I’ll end on a thank you to everyone, family, old friends and new for being so open and supportive. Couldn’t do it without you all.

The Story So Far

Damn you Wil Wheaton

It’s been a while since I was honest and open and super personal with you my friends. No long essay this time just a note that it took a video from Wil Wheaton to convince me to go see someone. Wil Wheaton REALLY annoys me (mostly on TableTop) but he hits so close to home in this video that I almost fell off my chair. Damn you Wil Wheaton, damn you.

The Story So Far

Confessions of an Anxiety Sufferer

I think my friends list is friendly enough for me to be saying this amongst friends (I’m giving myself a point for every time I use the word friend or friends).

Some of you may know I have a bit of a problem with ‘doing things’ I get weird anxiety issues about making or answering phone calls, driving to unfamiliar places or even socialising with friends (SIX POINTS). Some times it gets so bad I cancel plans or don’t do something simple like drive to the shops.

It’s not crippling but it can be enough to ruin a day or just make me feel generally unpleasant in the stomach. The weird thing is that on a good day I think I am actually quite good at social stuff, even public speaking etc…

I had a bit of an episode today.

I haven’t left the house much this week as I have been spending the last week of my holiday finishing of all the hobby stuff I wanted to do. I needed to pop out today to pick up some supplies so I went over to the shopping centre.

All good, I’ve been there plenty of times on my own, it’s close and apart from nearly always forgetting where I’ve parked the car it’s usually a non-scary event free trip. Today I was feeling extra chirpy and even asked the man in the nerd games shop to show me a demo of a miniatures game. I played a game with him and headed home.

I started spray painting a board I was making for my X-Wing game and I ran out of paint. I knew I needed to go to Bunnings but suddenly the weird anxiety kicked in and I really didn’t want to go.

This time I pushed on through got out there and bought the paint (I even got asked for ID – “Are you over 18” – “I’m 34!”)

On the way home I felt pretty pleased with myself for doing it and also being outgoing with the games shop man.

It feels weird being proud of going to a couple of shops and not hiding in the house but some days it really does feel like a victory. I think telling all you friendly friends (EIGHT POINTS – I’m allowing friendly now) is another step on getting this stupid thing under control for good.

I still feel a bit weird now but then I am quite a bit weird.

FRIENDS FRIENDS TEN POINTS WIN!