Sunday, 5 August 2018

Anniversary: five years on from hospital...

I will start this post with the same preface as the last three years "I have just written a 'status update' on my personal Facebook page to my friends and it occurred to me that I also want to say thank you to all of YOU. So I'm going to paste in what I wrote word-for-word on here. 

This isn't something I thought I would ever feel comfortable doing. I try to keep Life In Recovery and my personal life reasonably separate. Not because I am ashamed of the blog but because I think it works better if I don't use this as a platform to air my private life and that I use my past and present experiences in a constructive way to help others who may be struggling. That won't be changing.Keeping this blog, creating videos and posting little (or a lotta) bits on Twitter has been an absolutely wonderful experience. I hope to continue the work I have only just started and love interacting and discovering all of you 'out there.' This is why I felt it was relevant to post the message I sent to my friends and family to you all as well."

For the full effect (and for the new readers amongst you) you can read my first year anniversary post here, my second here, my third year here and my fourth year here.

It’s that time of year again – my unedited-stream-of-consciousness-brain-heart-soul-dump-thing to mark the anniversary of me leaving hospital. Yes, it’s 5th August and FIVE YEARS since being discharged. This anniversary post will probably be my last – those of you who have been subjected to five years of these will no doubt be relieved! I just feel that now is a good time to stop. I will always mark today in a small way, but I don’t feel the need to publicly prove how far I’ve come or keep a running reminder of so many years unwell now that I have moved so far forward in life. However, I do reserve the right to resurrect these in the future!! So…here goes…

I recently found some videos taken while in my last hospital. Two of me on a treadmill in a harness with my physiotherapist – getting used to walking and re-training my body. And a few from five years ago exactly: my discharge day – removing my name from my hospital room door and wiping down the whiteboard of my schedule of ward rounds, drug rounds and therapy appointments. I sat and watched myself grin, gurn, grimace and gnash my teeth. I watched me hobble and limp, hurt and labour, be happy and laugh, reach new heights (literally and figuratively) and achieve life goals. And if that’s not an accurate summary of those videos and also the last five years I don’t know what is.

I don’t think I’ve ever watched those videos before. And the overriding feeling was that I knew I was watching me; I remember being in the harness and I remember the day I was discharged, but that person is not the ‘me’ I am today. I barely recognise her – and that can be no bad thing. In last year’s post (or was it the one before..?) I wrote about now being me. Being myself fully. And moving so far from my unwell years that they had become a hazy and distant memory. Those twelve years are now like the mist in the early morning that gets burned off so easily by the first rays of the sun. And the last five years have been so full of sunshine that the mist has all but disappeared – leaving behind the memories, but not having an effect on the enjoyment of the day(s) to come.

In these posts, I like to look back and reflect on the past year and how far I have come. I like to take the opportunity to thank all those who have been with me; by my side, on the phone, in letters, in voice notes, in spirit, in laughter and in tears. Those thanks can never be put into words – and this measly post will never sum up how grateful and lucky I am to have had so much care, support and expertise over the past umpteen years. This year was the year I finally stopped going to hospital appointments, and that was a massive deal. I wrote a little something on Instagram about it – so I won’t repeat myself here. Safe to say it was an emotional day – one that I thought would never come; one that I wasn’t sure I wanted to come; but one that I worked so hard to reach. It meant saying goodbye to the doctor who had spent the last five years with me since my discharge – helping me find my feet (factually and figuratively) and being such an inexhaustible source of support. That was a bittersweet moment. And this year has been full of both the bitter and the sweet. Just as life – a ‘normal’ life, a full life ought to be. I wrote about that last year too I think; that when you live a full life, like a heartbeat – there are ups and downs – but that just shows you are alive. Not flatlining. Not like I had been. Not like I almost did.

This year I could talk about all the mind-blowing things I have done, the achievements that bizarrely keep coming and the over-eager excitement I have for the future. But for me, the most important part of this year – and the one that marks out this year especially – are the people who I have lived my life alongside. The people who I have let in, and who have let me in in return. These people – my friends and family – have made this year lovelier than I could have expected. And lovely is the word. Love-ly. Full of love in all its forms. And as I reach the point in this post where I talk about the thing that means the most – you – this is the point where the tears have come! So, as I sit here, with an old episode of Bake Off to keep me company – with tears streaming down my face – I want to say thank you. This year, despite all the incredible milestones and giant leaps forward in my work/uni/inner and outer life, things have not always been the easiest. There have been hard choices, heartbreak, headaches, hellos and hasta la vistas. I have moved on, moved forward and moved house. There have been tears, triumphs and tests. But through all the ups and downs, the times I thought I was falling to pieces, the “you’re not going to believe this…” and the “I did it” moments, the stresses and the successes - there was always someone to share those times with and always someone who wanted to share their moments with me too. Always someone to call, always someone to come over or visit, always someone to toast with/toast to/hug/laugh with/cry with/cry for. This last year I made a concerted effort to open up, share the bad and not just the good, say “this is me”, say “I like you”, carefully choose who I surround myself with and put a lot of time into my friends – and that has meant that my world has grown and ballooned, rather than narrowed and shrunk. I always thought I would be someone who valued ‘quality’ over ‘quantity’, meaning that I would have a smaller group of people to go through life with – but the quantity of quality I now have amazes me. If you are reading this, it is because you have added some quality to my life. And for that I am blessed. I am excited for the times to come and the lives we will lead. Even if our paths cross or diverge, lead away from each and then back – know that you make a difference to those around you. Know that you can have a positive impact on someone’s life so much more easily and effortlessly than you realise.

As I look back – on five years of healthy life, and twelve years of ill-health – I get flashes of faces, snippets of memories and twinges of pain. I know that there will be things that sometimes ache, things that will never completely heal but that will throb and tingle like old scars are wont to do, but I also know that I will never be beaten, never be alone, never be empty. I will always have the good memories as well as the bad. I will never unlearn the lessons that were taught to me in times of pain and darkness. I will live my life in the light – having known the blackness and never be afraid of the dark. And I will be me. Whether that is me being sad, being silly, being soppy, being sarcastic or being sensationally ecstatic.

Ronan Keating – that poet – sung, “Life is a rollercoaster – just gotta ride it”. But it’s not just about passively riding it. It’s about queuing to get in (waiting patiently or impatiently), measuring yourself up to make sure that this is the ride for you and you won’t fall out of the contraption, strapping yourself in, having your crew sitting beside you and in front of you and behind you – while you all scream and laugh, be afraid and be excited, get nervous and get sick. That’s what life is. It’s about living it out loud; in all it’s stomach-crunching, white-knuckle-inducing, when-will-it-begin, hair-flying, stop-start, loop-de-loop, “I want to get off” moments; it’s “Ooh, look at the view”,  “Actually, this is quite fun” and “Let’s do it again” times. That’s how life is a rollercoaster, and that’s how to ride it.

With love, thanks and countless other emotions

How to get in touch (and all that social media stuff)

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Month In Review: MAY 2018

This Month In Review will be a shorter one, as I am not in a head/body/soul-space where I can really sum up May, but I also don't want to miss a post. Sitting on the balcony of my new flat - surrounded by trees and with a cuppa, I felt I would regret not writing at least something to mark May. A month that was more emotional and significant than I could have predicted.

Word/quote of the month: "Black Holes and Revelations"

This may mean more to some than others, being a song lyric from Starlight by Muse and also the title of an album of theirs. It has always meant a lot to me - but in May it became painfully apt for many reasons.

May was a month of exams - marking the end of my second year at university. And while they were stressful and I definitely had moments where I struggled - other happenings almost eclipsed them. And that is saying something. 

Some of my favourite people went through a lot of difficulties in May (and still are), and I was there to support them. And when my time came to need support - I found I had plenty of shoulders on which to cry (both metaphorically and literally). And while it is never a happy moment, it is an honour to be the one people go to to lean on, and a wonderful thing to have people you yourself can rely on too.

While April was a whirlwind, and a month where tissues and issues were in force, May was similar. And although only some of the April issues were still 'active' during May - there were a few more to complicate matters. And add some bumps in the road.

Sometimes an inner truth or truths can be revealed to you, slowly at first - growing bigger gradually. Coming more into focus as time goes on. Getting stronger and stronger. Being pointed out by too many people, or being brought into sharper focus too often. Until suddenly you have a moment of 'Revelation' and then your world seems a different place. And you can't go back to how things were, and you can't pretend you didn't have that moment. And you can't close the floodgates, or paper over the cracks, or try and repaint the lines; because the lines have been blurred for too long, you have been drawing, re-drawing and holding the line for too long and you can't keep it up, and the cracks have become too big to fill and the gates just won't stay shut on their own.

And then you have to decide what to do. And you have to make decisions you may not want to make. You have to be deeply honest with yourself (and with a carefully selected few confidantes). And you have to do things that don't feel right (in fact they can feel downright wrong), but they are things that protect you, and put you first, and will help you in the long run. And however difficult they feel to do - you know that you must.

But you also have to feel. Feel all the feelings. The proper stuff. The stuff that makes you want to curl up in a ball and never uncurl. The stuff that feels like it's killing you, or crushing you, or choking you. The stuff that makes you literally double over in pain and grief, and countless other emotions. But this is the stuff that makes you human; that makes you an emotional person; that makes you empathetic; that makes you wise; that makes you real; that makes you honest and true; that means you are brave; that means you are alive and living. And that is who I am. That is me. And that is what I have done. I have not been in denial. I have not buried my thoughts and feelings. I have not retreated to a safe place and repressed everything. Because, boy, that would have been easier in the short-term! And I will be glad - eventually - that I have done and felt all these things and that I will have come out the other side. I will be glad that I was congruent, integrated and honest. I will be glad that, despite feeling all that and struggling, I have managed to be present and enjoy certain things in May. I will be glad that I have not let everything be in shadows, and that I have done what I have absolutely had to, and needed to do, for my future. And I will be glad that I have protected myself, and put myself first.

Black holes are described as: a region of space having a gravitational field so intense that no matter or radiation can escape. I think we all can feel like there are black holes for us. Things that pull us in. Things that require a lot, or all, of our energy and time. Things that we can't escape from - much as we may try. Whether it is a career, a pursuit, a person, a degree, a hobby - they may feel like black holes. Something so powerful that obliterates other aspects of our lives, or something that we let have power over us. But good news fellas, recent research shows that the stuff that goes into black holes may not be lost forever. So just remember that when you feel you are being pulled towards something, or when you are giving all your energy to something - it is going somewhere - it still exists - it isn't a hopeless outpouring. 

Healthy meal/food of the month: Wedding cake

Because I don't want May 2018 to be remembered as a doom-and-gloom-filled month, my food has to be wedding cake. I had two weddings (in the space of two days) this month and they were so lovely and significant in their own ways. These weddings marked a step-change in lives, a public outpouring of love, a statement of togetherness and a joining of families. And what could be more beautiful than that. There were tears, late-night bacon sandwiches eaten on dance-floors, best man speeches, signing of registers with shaking hands (mine in one case - not the bride or grooms!), fruit cake galore, champagne sprayed and love shared.

Healthy thing to do: be me, take some time off and away, and remember April's healthy thing

Lesson of the month: School may be out, but I'm still learning

I learned far too much this month, both in and out of school. And I can't really sum that up. So that is my lesson. We keep on learning. We never stop. And it's never an inappropriate moment to revise, relearn, teach yourself, be taught and remember.

Goal for the next month: Re-gain my sparkle, and happily reflect on year two of university and all that I accomplished in that year.

How was your May?

How to get in touch (and all that social media stuff)

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Month In Review: APRIL 2018

Word/quote of the month: Sometimes there are no words...

This month has been hard to sum up in a quote - so that is my quote! As you may know by now, I tend not to share too much on here, and like to keep specifics limited and private. The aim of this blog is to share hope, short-cuts, recovery lessons and provide information to anyone struggling or suffering. With all that in mind I think this month has shown that when aspects of your life are imploding and/or exploding you can still carry on and get the essentials done despite feeling like giving up or wanting to regress back to childhood.

April was a month full of stuff. Fun stuff, tough stuff, work stuff and personal life stuff. It is hard to convey just how messy and demanding this month has been across many fronts. I have had to face things I would have rather not, I have had to deal with uncertainty in significant areas of my life, I have made decisions that will change the shape of my future life and I have had to do this with a background of university deadlines and exams. And I have made it through. And I have done that by myself, but also with the support and love of those around me; and for that I count my blessings.

In many ways, this has been a torrid month, but looking back I am almost glad of the tough times - for they are what makes life what it is. They are the very problems that I always wished I could deal with when I was unwell - the real life stuff that gets thrown in your way to deal with. I have always said that I never want to live a flat-line kind of life - that the way I want to live will always be like a heart-beat; with ups and downs. This month definitely had all the highs and lows of a very healthy heart-beat! And while I would never wish for troubles, it does make the good times all the more sweeter and I can see the light at the end of the tunnel as we move into a new month.

Healthy meal/food of the month: Salad.

Nothing beats a decent salad. And with warmer weather comes my craving for salads. Give me a bowl of mixed leaves, some extras like green beans/grated carrot/avocado or all of these and then top that with tuna, falafel, chicken or salmon and I will be a very happy girl. You can see evidence of my love over on Instagram - which features photos and simple recipes to sate any salad lover. My body has also been craving fresh and colourful foods lately, so I have been making sure to listen to my body and give it what it wants and needs. Don't assume that a bowl of salad can't fill you up and is merely rabbit food!

Lesson of the month: Realising your worth.

Yes, this is another 'not new lesson'. But another that was brought home again this month.
I think we can often devalue ourselves, and accept things into our lives based on that lower valuation. But then sometimes things happen that make us realise that we may be able to do better in an aspect, or aspects, of our lives. Whether this is attracting a more supportive/fun-loving/kind/*insert appropriate synonym* group of friends, finding a new job or a myriad other things.

This month I was reminded that I can sometimes pursue things that aren't the best for me, accept things into my life that devalue me or put my energy into things that aren't 'worth' it. I am my number one biggest enemy and critic, and that has been brought into sharp focus in recent years, when speaking to others and getting comments that 'jar' with how I really feel about myself. I think this is very common. However, there comes a time when you sit up and realise that you *can* do better or that there is no need to 'settle' or put your energy into something (or someone) that isn't giving that back. It isn't about having overblown or bloated standards, it's more just about HAVING standards.

This month has also reminded me that there are many people and many things worth investing in - myself among them. Moving forward, I will not be accepting anything less than I feel I deserve, and I will not be putting my energy into anything that doesn't make me feel good or move me closer to a happy, healthy and fulfilled life. *BIG STATEMENT THERE* I am sure I will falter and stumble, but I know that the people in whom I have confided and shared my issues with will be there to place an arm under my elbow to help me up if I need them to. And that is a wonderful feeling. And leads me up onto my next category...

Healthy thing to do: Opening up.

Last month I wrote about communication, and this month features communication again. People who are reading this who know me will no doubt not be surprised that this has been a big thing this month. People who don't know me offline will no doubt have had their own problems with opening up - as so many of us do. The saying, "a problem shared, is a problem halved" may not always feel true, but it can certainly lessen the burden and provide support. I, like so many, am not a natural sharer of my innermost problems. In recent months I have been making a conscious effort to reach out to people when I need it, and ask for help or support. Something that comes far from naturally to me. I think people who are the natural carers or go-to people of others tend to be the worst at sharing their own stuff and asking for help - and that can be damaging. I have discussed this many times, for example here and here.

This month I have (again) been reminded that I have some of the most wonderful friends. But this month I have (entirely unplanned) shared some of my deepest, darkest things with people who I would have never expected to. These organic 'dumps' all happened in the space of less than a week with three different people, all about the same thing. While it caught me off-guard and proved a little de-stabilising at the time - looking back I am so pleased that it happened the way it did. Clearly the things going on my life at the time had raked up things and I needed to share that, but didn't know how, as other parts of my life were going a bit crazy and my usual 'go to' people were not around. But through a series of weird happenings and conspiracies of coincidence the issues were brought up and out, but in a way that I could just about manage. And while I have not addressed the underlying 'stuff' I now know that there are a few more people in the world who can take the darker, more traumatised parts of me and still see me the same way after - a big concern when dealing with tough topics.

So a problem shared may not be a problem halved, but it is a problem shared - and that is a start to coming to terms with issues in your life and seeking peace or a resolution. I highly recommend being a little more open with those around you who you trust.

Goal for the next month: Settle, sun-bathe and celebrate (didn't quite manage that alliteration...)

This May is going to be another mammoth one. I have exams, weddings and am moving house. So I am hoping to be all settled in my new home by the end of the month, having got some sun and rest (come on English weather!!), while having said goodbye to my second year of university.

How was your April?

How to get in touch (and all that social media stuff)

Friday, 13 April 2018

Wellbeing Basics: Laughing

“Laughter is the best medicine” – one of life’s essential mottos, and more true than you might realise. Laughter boosts your immune system, helps your mood, diminishes your perception of pain and, when shared, can strengthen and create bonds between us: and that’s just the tip of the iceberg…So here’s a piece explaining why we should value our ability to laugh, and why it’s one of life’s most vital (and healing) ‘basics’.

Why is laughter the best medicine?

When we laugh, we release ‘feel good’ endorphins, our ‘happy chemical’ serotonin and also increase the oxygen supply to our vital organs. This creates a general sense of wellbeing, not only in our brains, but throughout our body. Having a proper laugh can affect blood pressure, raise our heart-rate and generally ease tension and stress. Laughing also boosts our immune system – studies have shown that ‘happy thoughts’ can release neuropeptides which help fight stress and illness. I made a video (a long time ago) talking about some of the other health benefits of laughter, including helping combat pain and boosting your (and others’) mood. I also talk about how sharing humour and laughter creates a sense of community and strengthens relationships with others. All in all, there are truly miraculous benefits to laughter.

…but I don’t feel like laughing…

This is a hard one to crack. If you don’t feel happy or relaxed, then the chances are, you’re less likely to want to have a chuckle. However, I would make sure to have some tools on standby for when you need a good giggle, but aren’t in the mood. Does a particular film get you laughing? Do you have a friend who can always, always, always make you roar? Now’s the time to put that DVD in, or call up that friend. You’ll find that once you start laughing, it’s very hard to stop! 

(caveat: obviously, if you are experiencing symptoms of depression or really struggling to summon the desire to laugh – you should speak to a medical professional and/or consider some sort of therapy. I am by no means suggesting that laughter is a cure-all, just a great and natural mood-booster)

Okay, okay – I get it…I should laugh more. But how do I add more laughter to my day-to-day? 

Here’s five ways:

Films/TV Shows:
Do you think a particular comedian or actor is comedy gold? Does one particular TV show tickle your funny bone? Keep a stack of DVDs nearby or record them on TV, so that you can guarantee you’re laughing within minutes.

Other people:
Finding someone who shares your sense of humour, who you can be silly with and share a laugh is so important. Spend time with your favourite people and you’ll find that you all benefit from shared humour. Laughter is infectious – use that fact to your advantage!

YouTube videos:
There are millions and millions of funny YouTube videos, perfectly designed to make you laugh. Does slapstick humour get you going? Does a cat ‘talking’ make you giggle? Do you find video ‘pranks’ that go wrong make you laugh? A fan of innuendo bingo..? The world is your oyster online, so get googling and you’ll be sure to find a video that you can watch during your lunch-break that makes you laugh.

Go to a comedy club:
One of the times I’ve laughed the most (that “I-can’t-breathe-my-face-is-going-to-crack-my-stomach hurts-I-think-I-broke-a-rib” feeling) is when I went to the Comedy Store in London. I highly, highly recommend a night of stand-up or improv to inject some laughter into your life.

Spend time with children or pets:
I find I’m always laughing or smiling when I’m around little ones and furry things. The cute and adorable things they do never fail to amuse me. If you don’t have a pet or a child to hand – borrow one! You’ll do your friends a massive favour by offering to walk their dogs or babysit their children, and you gain a lot too!

Do you make time to laugh? What do you find really funny? Has your sense of humour changed? Are you struggling to find things to laugh at right now? Let us know…

How to get in touch (and all that social media stuff)

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Month In Review: MARCH 2018

Word/quote of the month: "Work hard, play hard"

This has been the month that was.
That was full of work, full of fun, full of friends and just plain full-on. The last three March-es have been similar in that they have had potentially a little bit too much going on in them. Last year I spoke about burning the candle at both ends - which you can watch here, and the year before that I spoke about balance which can be found here. Leaving aside the fact that I don't seem to learn lessons very quickly (!) I think this is a problem with the modern world where we try and cram too much into our days and nights. We can often feel guilty for not constantly working or moving forward, we can often feel that we need to stay busy to cover up insecurities, we can often feel like we 'need' to be doing 'stuff' so that we aren't left with our own company and we can often feel like we just can't say no, or are too tempted so we say yes. Whatever the reason, I think it's worth remembering that it's just as important to take some time out as to be busy. It's important to be able to switch off and just be.
If we are relentlessly pursuing something, always reaching, always planning the next five activities, then we can forget to enjoy the now. Plus, it is very easy to burn out. I decided to take a couple of evenings off this week, and feel so much the better for it. Having had something on every night for weeks and weeks, and my days filled with studying and work, something had to give. And I didn't want it to be my health or my sanity. So kids, the phrase of the month may be: work hard, play hard - and boy is it fun to live by that...but maybe we should also add rest and relax to that, so that we can enjoy the work and the play for longer.

Healthy meal/food of the month: SOUP

It's been cold - bitterly so. We have had blizzards in London and the weather has made us all want to hibernate. That means one thing, and one thing only, is the perfect lunch: soup.
Nothing beats a bowl or mug full of hot soup with a hunk of bread to dip in. I always like to have a home-made and good quality veg or chicken stock on hand to make my own soup; but shop-bought is equally pleasing and comforting (and more convenient at times).

Lesson of the month: Communication is key

Not a new lesson, but one that keeps cropping up lately, so I think it is worth noting down. This month (and the last couple) have continued to test my communication skills, and show the importance of them. Whether you are struggling with family issues, arguing with a friend, trying to keep in touch long-distance, giving a speech at work, doing an interview or trying to get to know someone or something...communication is key. Obviously communication goes both ways - it's awful when just one party is making all the effort or you're banging your head against a brick wall, but I think it is so important to be able to say what you feel and think and tackle issues head on.

Bite the bullet and say you don't agree with someone. Swallow your pride and admit you don't know what is going on. Tamp down your fear and ask that burning question.
See something silly that reminds you of a friend? Send them a voice note or a picture. Miss someone? Tell them! Want to see someone more? Ask them to hang out! Intrigued about an opportunity? Ask someone who knows! Worried about something? Try and get to the bottom of it! Avoiding an issue? Think about how to solve it!

They say your vibe attracts your tribe, and this month I have been reminded again just how awesome my tribe is - and I've been spending a lot of time with my friends. I want to keep them in my life. And  to do that you have to put in effort, even when things are a bit tough, or when you're busy, or stressed. As I said earlier, communication needs to be mutual - so, having said all of that, sometimes it is important to know when you're flogging a dead horse - sometimes it is the wiser, healthier and better choice to let things lie. Reserve your energy for the people who, and the things that, reflect your energy back; and are positive influences in your life that make you feel good. Don't pour your energy and time into something or someone that won't do the same for you. It's a hard lesson, but an important one to learn, and something I've spoken about a lot - here in May 2017 and here in October 2017.

I think the ultimate lesson is: however scared or worried or bored or complacent or angry you are - making yourself communicate and connect with those around you is really important. It can be healing and enlivening, it can shift and change your world for the better. You are in charge; you pick who and what you want in your life; say what that is, and I think you'll be happily surprised by the result. And don't accept less than you deserve or less than you want from life. Communicate what that is - and the chances are, you will get it, or attract it, or make it happen.

Healthy thing to do: RELAX

As I have intimated - it has been a whirlwind of a month, and I am in desperate need of some relaxation time - I think a lot of us are. I even wrote a blog post on it in March. So if you're interested in reading more about the art of relaxation and how important it is to have time out then read it here.
March can often be a month where people get run down, ill and depleted. Taking time to relax, and prioritising some 'down time' can help re-centre an re-balance you and send yourself the right messages.

Goal for the next month: Revision, rest and regaining the gym

April is revision season, so I can't escape the fact that I'm going to be chained to my computer/desk/revision notes. However, I learned a lot last year about factoring in breaks and getting some exercise too, so that is the goal.

What has March held for you? Any lessons learned?

How to get in touch (and all that social media stuff)