World Mental Health day: black dogs and avoidance

It’s safe to say that I have neglected my blog somewhat of late. The reason for that will, I hope become apparent. That said, it’s World Mental Health Day today, so I felt it appropriate to write something.

For the last 3 months or so, I’ve been experiencing low mood, which has tipped into depression. I say “or so” because it came on gradually, and I really wasn’t sure where anxiety left off and depression began. At first I thought it was just a typical ADHD-type mood swing. I usually just wait for those to go away, but this one didn’t. It just got worse and worse until last week, I was crying every moment that I was alone. I cried on the way to the mental health classes that I help to run, I cried on the way back. I cried at work, for some strange reason every time I walked past the Christmas fabric and ribbon. I hardly ever cry, not even when I’m mightily fed up, so this was really strange.

It’s different for everyone, but depression doesn’t make me feel particularly sad. Instead it just washes all of the colour out of life leaving me flat and indifferent. I just can’t be bothered with anything, even the things that used to get me really excited. And the aches, oh, the aches. Stress puts the body into “fight or flight” as the brain cannot tell the difference between a physical threat, like an oncoming car/angry person that wants to hit you/sabre-toothed tiger, and a psychological one like, erm, struggling to see any hope for the future because, no matter how hard you try, nothing seems to get any easier, and being unable to see a day when, perhaps it will.

Well, that fight or flight response isn’t going to help me much in this situation. So my muscles are getting ready to fight or flee, and there’s nothing to fight or run away from, so I get more and more tense. And exhausted. I wake up, barely able to get out of bed as I feel as though I’ve already done ten rounds and dragging myself through the day just longing for my bed.

It’s not much in the way of fun and games, is depression. But all is not lost. I am, after all, an assistant psychologist, and I’d be a pretty lousy assistant psychologist if I hadn’t learned a thing or two along the way.

For a start, in this particular case, there isn’t actually anything “wrong” with me, in that, the low/depressive mood that I’ve been experiencing is a perfectly normal and appropriate reaction to what has been a very tough few years with very little in the way of let-up. I’ve been steadily losing hope, and to maintain good mental health, all human beings need hope. I’ve simply run out of cope. There is little that I can do to improve the situation that I am not already doing. Despite what that idiot Jeremy Hunt says, I’m doing all I can, and simply working through the night as well as mornings, afternoons, evening and weekends is not going to help matters. So I’m going to stop beating myself up for feeling like this.

The next step is to tackle the avoidance that commonly comes with depression. Avoidance is lovely. For those of you not familiar with the term, it’s when you turn down invitations, or avoid the things that you should do because you don’t believe that you will cope with them. Avoidance makes you feel great, in the short term. You snuggle up under a duvet and watch TV instead of seeing your friends. You feel safe, and comforted. And then you feel regret, because you might have had a good time. Your friends might think you’re boring, you get annoyed with yourself, and self-esteem drops. And your brain has had no opportunity to learn that you will, in fact, deal with the situation just fine. So you avoid again, and again, until your comfort zone becomes very small indeed, and you get more and more isolated.

So I’m not gonna do that. I’ve been saying “yes” to things. Putting in fun stuff into the diary, even if I haven’t really felt like it because, that’s another things human beings need, things to look forward to. Which is not compatible with the notion that it’s ok for people to work like slaves and have no dignity or disposable income at the end of it. (Hear that, you bloody Tory creeps, this is why every psychologist I know hates you.) For a musical version of this notion, listen to the song “Bread and Roses”, and you’ll learn why the rose is a symbol of the Labour movement. Sometimes, if there’s nothing to look forward to, you have to create it yourself.

So I’ve been doing fun stuff, and ok, so the resulting pleasure isn’t what is normally would be, it’s a bit like listening to music with foam earplugs in, but it’s better than nothing. And gradually, I find that I’m crying less, and taking more pleasure in things again.

I’ve also told a couple of people, including one of my colleagues. She saw how sad I was looking and asked if I was ok. I wasn’t going to tell her, but it came spilling out. She simply said that she was sorry I was having such an awful time, and that any time I wanted to get a coffee and have a rant, she’d be there for me. It wasn’t much, but it didn’t need to be. She didn’t try and fix anything, or offer solutions, and knowing that she had my back meant everything.

I’ve been dealing with the muscle aches by making an effort to walk more, take hot baths and getting back rubs from my lovely fiancé. There’s only so much I can do about the stiff muscles when I’m tense all the time,  but at least I know why they are stiff in the first place.

Slowly, I’m starting to feel better. I hope that sooner, rather than later, I’ll be back to my usual self. I wanted to share my experience to let anyone else who experiences the pain of depression know that they can take action, there are things that can be done, and even if the depression doesn’t go away, life can be a lot nicer. I’m not saying it’s easy, it’s like when you first start to learn a musical instrument, everything is difficult and the sound is awful. But if you can keep going until you’ve learned the basics, putting your skills into action becomes a great deal easier.

I’ll leave you with this video that I came across when delivering the Stress Control course, I Had a Black Dog

Happy World Mental Health day!

To my Tory-voting friends – an olive branch…

This is my third attempt. I hope that it won’t be my last, but I’m starting to get a little weary. I need you to listen. Please don’t get defensive, there is nothing here that is intended to offend. You don’t need to agree with me, I don’t ask that,  just listen, please.

I understand that you feel as though you have taken quite a bashing since the general election. To you, you have had people calling you names, questioning your sanity and opinions, and accusing you of being uncaring towards the poor and vulnerable. No one likes to be treated like that. I have several friends that are conservative voters and I know them to be decent and kind individuals. We probably have a lot in common in terms of what we think a good society looks like, but we may differ in our views of how to get there. I am firmly of the belief that very few people get up in the morning, rubbing their hands with glee and thinking “I’m going to be an absolute bastard today.”

Now please try to see it from my point of view.

I have never been so upset about the results of an election in my life. I have spent several years working with vulnerable people, had my career destroyed by austerity, experienced food poverty and social exclusion, and have had first hand experience of just how difficult it is to get oneself out of poverty. Indeed, I am still struggling.

I intent to work as a clinical psychologist and that means that I have to understand the role that social factors such as poverty and exclusion contribute to mental ill-health. I know that some of these effects leave a permanent scar upon many people. I hope that I do not become one of them.

I am active in my trade union and read reports month-in month-out on how austerity is harming the most vulnerable in society. Indeed, there is much to suggest that people have died as a result of these policies.

Please bear with me, here is the difficult bit, the bit most likely to cause offence, but please take it in the spirit of an attempt to understand. I have found it hard to reconcile my view of someone I would call a friend with the idea that they would knowingly vote for a party with a track record of inflicting suffering and ruining the lives of many people. It hurts me beyond measure to believe that the goodness of people in my society has turned to selfishness and hatred.

So I tried to give the benefit of the doubt as much as could. I guessed that not everyone shares my professional interest in social factors of psychological distress, some people have only ever known lives of comfort, security, support and opportunity. I don’t blame them for that. Many people do not read Joseph Rowntree reports, after all, there are only so many hours in the day, I get that.  So I wrote a lengthy status update on Facebook, explaining why so many progressives are so furious that a government that inflicts suffering has been elected yet again to do, as promised, more of the same. (I have pasted it below should you be interested).

To my surprise, it resonated with, quite literally hundreds of people. It has been shared over 300 times on Facebook. Nothing short of miraculous for someone as social-media-illiterate as I am. I hoped that Tory voters would read it and try to understand, but all I seemed to get from that quarter were  sentiments along the lines of “you lost, deal with it, loser!” The more I tried to explain that I wasn’t seeking to punish anyone, or cast aspersions on anyone’s character; I just wanted to open up a dialogue to understand where they were coming from themselves, the more shrill the protests became. I was starting to doubt whether anyone was actually listening at all or whether I was being deliberately misunderstood. It got to a stage where I felt so unheard, I wanted to dismiss them all as the worst kind of narrow-minded, bigoted Tory stereotypes. By this stage, what I was burning to say was ” you knowingly voted for a government that intended to harm vulnerable people and you wonder why everyone calls you a twat? Deal with THAT, loser!” Because I am human and can only try and explain so much before I lose my temper.

But that really isn’t going to get us anywhere.

So, to my Tory-voting friends. I don’t hate you, I don’t think you’re an idiot. But I would like to understand why you voted for the party that you did. Because I don’t like to think that you want to give the vulnerable a kicking simply for the sake of it, but it’s my belief that lives will be lost as a result.  Maybe you didn’t understand the extent of the suffering, or believe that there could be a food bank in your village. Maybe failure is something that you think doesn’t happen to you or your friends. Maybe you didn’t have time to read the whole manifesto. Maybe your dad always voted Tory and so do you, maybe your parents supported Labour and you want to distance yourself from them. Maybe you believe that austerity is the only way forward and human suffering is an acceptable price to pay. Maybe there are as many reasons as there are Tory voters. I’m trying to understand because that is the only way things will move forward.

But, by the same token, please try to understand me. I am an aspiring psychologist, I’m trained to sift through studies and evidence, to consider biases and to appreciate them in myself and others. My opinion is formed by the evidence that I see, hear, read and experience. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me, indeed I would be disappointed if they did. But I do expect reasoned discussion. I would like it if people explained, not justified, but explained the reasons behind their political stance rather than just yelling that I have no right to question their opinion. Maybe I might learn a thing or two, I’m quite open to that.  I will be much less frustrated and ranty myself if the points that I raise, like the cost of human suffering and the criticisms of austerity are actually acknowledged and discussed, rather than the stony silence/straw man arguments/deflections/name-calling or sarcastic memes which are, sadly, the more typical responses that I have got thus far. If you behave like that, I will start to doubt your rigour and the strength of your views. If you are undecided about something, say so. Don’t dismiss me for pointing out that there might just be something that you haven’t considered. If there is an issue that you are not sure about and I can point to a link, or a study that explains, please let me know. I’ll do the same. I don’t know where you are coming from unless you tell me.

It’s not enough to tell me to “deal with it”. If there are innocent lives/future life chances at stake, I will do all I can to defend them in whatever way I feel I can. If you are of the opinion that to make an omelette, you need to break a few eggs, be gentle: those “eggs” could be a friend who is present, or one of their loved ones, and you may not even know. Don’t blame people for feeling scared and angry if their lives and wellbeing or those of their family or friends are under threat. You would feel the same. I would like to think that you would be furious, stamp your feet and do all you can to protect them too.

I would like to think that we are not so very different after all.

 

 

My original facebook post…

there’s a few people who cannot understand the post election angst/anger etc. Let me enlighten you.

Not everyone lives in a lovely cosy bubble where work is well-paid, homes are secure and there is enough food on the table. Many of us have, or seen the people we care about, struggle with crappy zero hour contracts, abusive employers, disability, mental health issues, insecure housing and unemployment. Many of us have seen our hard work, aspirations, hopes and dreams go up in flames as a result of the Tories’ policies, and for us it’s not likely to get any better.

Some of us are likely to be your friends, or people you quite like and identify with, people that you know are kind, intelligent and hard-working who have kept silent about the fact that we can’t always afford to eat properly, or heat our homes, for the sake of retaining some small scrap of pride when we realise that our pay doesn’t cover the basic cost of living. When you see us socially and we’re all smiles, but sit there only eating a starter or drinking tap water because we’d rather do that than not see you at all.

Some of us are scared for our futures and the futures of our loved ones, for good reason. We either have lived experience that informs our opinions, and/or we keep up with research into poverty and inequality in the UK. Some of us work with the victims of “austerity” on a day to day basis. Some of us are extremely disappointed that people would vote for a party that has such a verifiable track record of kicking fellow human beings when they are down.

If you do not have this experience, lucky you. But take it from someone who does. There are a lot of people with every bloody right to be angry.

 

 

 

Viva, viva glam!

Viva Glam 1….the colour of defiance.

If I hadn’t left my phone’s SD card adapter in my dead computer, I would upload a picture of my new lipstick, Viva Glam 1. Instead, this will have to do

For those of you that don’t know, viva glam 1 is a lovely warm red lippy by MAC. It was the first proper grown up lipstick that I bought, at the age of 35.

I had this idea that in my 30’s, I would be one of those women who always wore awesome lingerie, silk camisoles, nighties and matching underwear every day. I still have the silk sitting in my project box (I somehow never get round to making camisoles what with tents, doublets and the like), I seem to always end up wearing one of the Terry’s old T shirts in bed, and while it’s true that I have a few matching sets of underwear, they never seem to be in the clean-and-washed drawer at the same time. I have come to the conclusion that women who always wear matching underwear buy 50 pairs of identical bras and pants, and when they have all worn out, replace the whole lot with another 50 pairs, probably in the same colour.

Well, having failed on the lingerie front, I decided, at the grand old age of 35 to actually buy some decent makeup. I don’t wear it a lot, so I thought that I might as well. The nice thing about decent makeup (I class decent makeup as something Debenhams or Selfridges might sell, rather than my previous Superdrug special offer efforts) is that a nice lady applies it for you so you can see if it actually looks any good before you fork out for it. I find that I save a lot of money this way. In an attempt to find the perfect red lipstick, I once ended up with 10 rubbish lipsticks that looked great in the tube, but turned dark pink when actually on me. It was a revelation to find that foundation and concealer actually came in colours that blended into my skin, rather than made me look like a geisha.

The first MAC lipstick that I bought was my final attempt to buy that perfect red. The nice lady tried it on me, even showed me how to apply it so that I didn’t look like Frankenfurter from Rocky Horror. I went home with a spring in my step and a red lippy in my bad. The end of my quest.

More makeup from the same brand followed, I found that I only needed a few key colours, and could finally ditch all the crazy stuff that languished in the bottom of my massive makeup bag. I bought a small, stylish makeup bag to keep my posh makeup in. It had a little mirror on the inside. I even bought a matching washbag. I felt grown up.

And then some scrote nicked the lot along with my luggage while I was on a train.

I probably don’t need to tell you how furious I was. For weeks. I was so angry, even more so because I knew no one would be interested in second hand makeup that probably only suits someone with the same skin tone as me, and that it had probably ended up being chucked in a bin somewhere. Although I don’t wear makeup usually, I was angry that my choice to wear it or not had been taken away. I do wear it for performances, and was lucky that I could replace at least the foundation and one of the lipsticks in time for the gig.

There wasn’t much in my luggage, just my makeup, washbag, spare socks & pants, a top that I had had for ages and loved and a novel that I had nearly finished. Nothing that would be of any value to anyone else. But when I worked out the replacement cost of everything, it came to about £250. Which was gutting. I mean, just think about even some of the contents of a washbag; toothpaste, £2.50; deoderant, £3.00; tweezers, £1.50; moisturiser, £3.00; you’re up to a tenner for just four commonplace items. And then you have shower gel, afro comb, scrubby spongy thing, hairpins, etc etc…

Over the last few months I have managed to replace most of it bit by bit (I didn’t bother with the socks and pants). I still need a new wheely suitcase and the washbag/makeup bag is cheap but serviceable rather than pretty. Most of the makeup is back, except for the lipstick that I got in the States, but the one thing I was finding hard to replace was my Viva Glam lipstick. For some reason, Debenhams in Bristol never had it in stock whenever I went in, and that is the only place to get MAC cosmetics round here. In the end, thanks to a gift card birthday present, I ordered it online and picked it up in store today on the way home from work.

I have Viva Glam 1, the circle is complete. And luggage-theiving scrote, you may take my luggage, but you will never rob me of my favourite lipstick.

Visit to the Wyndcliffe Court sculpture garden

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The longer I live in Chepstow, the more creativity I find around here. Last week, I attended the opening exhibition of the Wyndcliffe Court sculpture garden. Wyndcliffe Court is a beautiful Arts and Crafts mansion, two of its residents are artists/sculptors that I have modelled for recently. Amazingly there was respite from the wintry weather, and it was a bright and sunny evening.

When I have loads of money, I want an apple shaped garden          bench/shelter just like this one…apparently you can have it with a steel roof.

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There were a couple of these dragonfly sculptures around too, appealed to my steampunk sensibilities!

I’ve got cufflinks!

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I’m sure that without Barry’s fabric shop in Birmingham and the Red Cross shop in Chepstow I just wouldn’t have any clothes…

I’ve been after a nice white shirt for a while, and hate sewing the things (song of the shirt, anyone?), so was delighted when I found one in the Red Cross earlier today.

But there are no buttons on the cuffs, so what’s a girl to do? Luckily I still have lots of supplies from a jewellery-making phase; cufflink blanks, some lovely beads that I got in Venice…and some araldite!

 

My new favourite place

Sitting reading a magazine with the sun shining through the trees. There’s only me here , birdsong, peace and the odd insect that goes by . This is a nice place, I feel grounded here, balanced. Downhill is the path that I have come up by and uphill is the path that I have yet to take. But for now, I’m just sitting in the sun.

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