The Dash In-Between

There is a dash which represents our lives between birth and death.

This is the dash.

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My dash has one date before it because I’m still alive, or at least I think I am?

*checks pulse*

Yep, still here.

One day there will be two dates because there is no doubt, whatsoever, that I’m going to die.

I try not to worry about that too much.

OK, I’m lying through my teeth. I torture myself DAILY with thoughts of death. But then I suffer from health anxiety, innit?

I don’t fear death itself. Truth be told, living is hard graft when you are autistic and I’ll probably be glad of some eternal rest after a few more decades of life in the shit-lane. NOT that being autistic is shit. It isn’t. It’s the anxiety, that’s shit.

The thing is that death is still a bit taboo. Brits don’t like to think about death until they absolutely have to despite TV adverts encouraging us to ‘plan for the inevitable’. Life Insurance companies give away bribes gifts, like clocks, so you can watch the seconds tick away. Nice touch, Guys.

However, some of us don’t get the opportunity to plan for the inevitable because we get wiped out under the wheels of a Number 48 bus during a spontaneous sprint across the road to buy a pie or the shock of the £250 supermarket bill stops our hearts, literally. Or we succumb to some disease or other. We like to think we’re in control of our own lives but we’re not.

I’m 47 now. How did that happen? It only seems like yesterday I was snogging Nick Rhodes’ face off on my bedroom wall but thanks to an early menopause I feel like I’m in the re-make of Cocoon..

Having a biological age of 103 means I’m already down on the deal and at this rate I’ll be giving The Boy a lift to high-school on the back of a mobility scooter – which he’d probably love. Most women amble gracefully into menopause whereas I’ve been catapulted into it to find the hormone police waiting for me, truncheons at the ready.

‘ELLO ELLO ELLO! WHAT ‘AVE WE ‘ERE THEN? ‘OESTROGEN AND A FULLY FUNCTIONING PELVIC -FLOOR? WE’LL BE ‘AVIN THOSE! AND YOUR SANITY. HAND EM OVER, THERE’S A GOOD MRS. WE DON’T WANT NO TROUBLE NOW DO WE?’

Bastards.

So I’m swallowing all manner of pills and potions in an attempt to claw back a few years or at least slow the process down. It could be a lot worse. Of course it could because as annoying as my symptoms are, they are transitory and by the time I’m 50 (ish) I should be slightly less deranged. So my GP says, anyway..

With the menopause (and bits dropping off me at an alarming rate) I’m more aware of my ‘dash’ than ever. My parents are dead and mortality is slapping me in the face and, yes, it unnerves me. Someone told me that when you hit 40, it’s downhill from then on. They lied. It’s 35.

I grew up thinking that you got old and then you died. Grandma was in her 70s, as was Nan, and Grandad was a respectable 81 when he wheezed through the pearly gates…

That’s how I expected it to be.

Then the unimaginable happened…

A girl in my school died. She was fifteen years old.

Her dash was too brief.

Years later, my nephew died. His dash represented just four years. How sad is that?

My dad died aged 58 and by now I’d realised that ‘three score years and ten’ wasn’t a cert. To be fair, Dad’s dash was a happy dash apart from the last 12 months, which were shit.

I’m not afraid of death itself because I’m one of those lunatics who believe that consciousness survives death. It’s the before bit that worries me because I have the pain threshold of a testicle. I can’t even stand a deep clean at the dentist without having to be anesthetized so what chance do I have with something major?

I want to reach a grand old age (marbles intacto, obvs) where I can gracefully say, ‘Rightio, Death, I’m ready. You may take me now’. Then I want to slip into a Werthers induced coma having watched an entire box set of Ground Force and, seeing as this is my fantasy, Alan Titchmarsh can be the one to take me to heaven wearing nothing but his wellies and a smile.

That’s another thing about the menopause. One day you’re into Duran Duran and sling-backs, the next you’re craving middle-aged gardeners and comfy slippers. Or maybe that’s just me?

Death is going to happen sooner or later because none of us are immortal except for Bruce Forsyth who’s 302. We can always pay to have ourselves cryogenically frozen but it’s out of most people’s price ranges. Not to mention, creepy.

We worry about death but forget that before we were born, we didn’t exist. Get your brain cells around THAT one! We are part of something much bigger than ourselves but we’re all connected right down to the microscopic stuff that we can’t see. There is too much intricacy and beauty for it all to be random or meaningless, so says me. Our bodies become diseased or frail and eventually stop working but the essence which is us cannot die because it’s energy and energy doesn’t die – it just re-groups.

The dash represents our entire lives. We don’t get to choose when we we’re born and the majority of us don’t get to choose when we die. What happens in-between isn’t necessarily our choice but our attitude to any given situation, regardless of how difficult, most certainly is our choice. This is what our eulogies will be about. Not how long we lived, but how we lived.

In this little corner of the internet I make fun of myself because it’s therapeutic. I try to be kind to my fellow human beings even if I don’t understand them very well. My life will always require effort because I’m autistic, not to mention a nervous Nora. But I brought three amazing human beings into this world and that’s what I’m proud of and when the day comes when my dash is complete, I hope their memories of me will make their tears happy ones. Happy as in I’ll be missed. Not happy as in doing the conger round the living room shouting ‘YESSSSS!! THE OLD BAG’S FINALLY CROAKED! WHERE SHE KEEP THE WILL, BRO’S?’

None of us are getting out of this thing alive, are we? All we can do is accept death and hope that when he does come for us, he’s a friend. Most importantly, we need to make our dashes count.

“DON’T THINK OF IT AS DYING, said Death. JUST THINK OF IT AS LEAVING EARLY TO AVOID THE RUSH.” ~ Terry Pratchett – Good Omens

 

Interview: Meet and Greet Monday – Blogger: Inside the rainbow

I don’t know if it’s the done thing to re-blog a post that’s about yourself but sod it. LETS DO IT ANYWAY. 🙂

The Way of the Squirrel

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So, another Monday and another Meet and Greet. This week I have the pleasure of interviewing Tracy from the bloghttps://insidetherainbow.blog

Tracy’s blog is always interesting and is often peppered with witty and dry humour that often makes me genuinely chuckle. Her honest and bare-all posts are refreshingly grounded and regularly include nostalgic recollections that, as I’m of a similar age, often get me thinking about my own past. I always look forward to her posts and enjoy our follow-up comments-section banter.

So, Tracy, without any further ado, please let me ask you:

Who on Earth are you?

I am a forty-something wife, mother and misfit.

And where on Earth are you?

I live in a Victorian mill town in Lancashire. Technically, it’s Greater Manchester but historically it was Lancashire. I can live in either, depending on what mood I’m in.

So, when did you start blogging?

About five years…

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Beauty and the Menopause

I’m menopausal. Have I ever mentioned that? Think I might have done. I’m 47 but my biological age puts me somewhere in my mid-fifties. This is because Mother Nature can be a flipping cow when the mood takes her. Or maybe it’s to do with genetics? The bottom line is that the menopause changes you.

That’s why it’s called ‘THE CHANGE’.

The menopause is all about maintenance of the body AND brain. Or you can just say, ‘f**k it’ and let yourself go. That’s not an option for me because my mother and grandmother took pride in their appearance and they would haunt the crap out of me if I let myself go. Even when I was in the middle of a breakdown, I went through my routine. I just used a lot more dry shampoo because washing my hair triggered panic attacks but that’s for another blog post..

When it comes to hanging onto our bits and pieces, like hair, skin, nails and teeth, we need to work a LOT harder. We need to be aware of the changes in our body and work with them. Alas, some women are not prepared to put the work in after the menopause.

They allow their leg hair to go feral.

They neglect their toenails.

They allow their teeth to fall out.

They give up on themselves.

This does NOT have to be you.

Here are a few tips to help you stick the V’s up to looking old because if you look old, you will feel old. So grab your reading specs and get comfy.

Bathing

Once upon a time, we were able to soak in the bath for HOURS. Nowadays, we get twenty minutes max before we turn prune. No time for reading or daydreaming about Sean Bean. It’s ALL about BODY-CARE.

Menopausal skin is dry skin. There are numerous reasons for this, like lack of oestrogen, genetics, sun-exposure, alcohol and smoking. At this stage of the game you need to be moisturising the LIVING SHIT out of your skin. If you don’t, you’ll end up looking like Keith Richards, and if that’s not enough to have you sprinting to the skincare section of your nearest Superdrug, I don’t know what is..

Are you still using soap? As in, a normal bar of soap?

If so.

That tight feeling you get after using soap is because it’s removed the natural oils from your skin. If you must use soap, at least use a sensitive one with a low pH. Giving yourself a ‘lick’ with an ancient bar of Imperial Leather isn’t on. Throw it away!

When choosing bath or shower products, you need to look for moisturising ones. Glittery bath bombs? What are you, six years old? I use Sanex because it’s the only brand that doesn’t make me itch myself delirious. It’s also a good idea to ensure that you have a decent bath mat or you’ll be up the A & E with a fracture having face-planted your taps reaching for the loofar.

Oh and don’t forget to exfoliate that dead skin off!

Shaving

Obviously, I mean legs and lady bits although you may also be sporting a teensie weensie moustache by now. What can I say? Men get rogue nostril/ear hair. Women get muzzies.

A problem with ageing is that we may not as supple as we used to be. There are exceptions but mostly we start creaking like old floorboards with about as much flexibility. When it comes to de-fuzzing our legs, we can’t reach around the back as well as we could, so we end up with 6″ hairs which are a bit of a turn off. The days of girlie Bic razors (pastel shades) are gone. You are now in the Black and Decker power range and hardcore action is required to tackle your unsightly, er, premises. However, if you prefer the wild and natural look, you can save yourself time and money.

Nails

I’m autistic and struggle with eye contact so I look at the floor a lot which means I get to see people’s feet and believe me, I have seen some HIDEOUSLY BAD FEET in my time. I’m talking CLAWS, rather than nails. There are certain health conditions which cause problems of the foot but unless you are unfortunate enough to have such a problem, there is no excuse for sinisterly bad nails. If you really can’t be arsed to sort your nails out (or pay somebody to do it for you) then do us all favour and shove a sock over them.

A word about nail polish..

Is my general advice to steer clear of blues, greens and purples if you have varicose veins..

Make-up

Less is More.

When it comes to make-up and ageing, I often think of dear old Barbara Cartland. She was an amazing lady but wouldn’t you have thought that those closest to her would have advised her to lay off the electric blue eyeshadow at her age? In certain photographs she looks positively sinister! Thing is, wear the same make-up that you’ve worn for decades if you like but it will AGE you. If you find that people are stopping you in the street and booking you for children’s parties, it’s time to tone it down a few notches.

IT’S NOT THE 1980s ANYMORE, DEARS!

Look at it this way, teenagers use make up to make themselves look older. When you are older, the opposite applies. You need to wear LESS make-up to look younger.

Teeth

Now is the time that you REALLY need to start paying attention to your teeth.

As we age our teeth become worn and discoloured. Medication plays havoc with our oral health and we suffer bone and muscle loss. If we don’t take care of our teeth, we end up looking like Albert Steptoe. Sounds grim but there is much we can do to keep tooth loss at bay. For a start, brushing twice daily is a MUST. Flossing is a MUST. As we get older, gaps appear and food gets lodged in those crevices which brushing alone won’t remove. Blimey. I sound like an advert for toothpaste. But it’s true. How do you feel about last weeks bacon sarnie rotting away in your mouth? Barfarama, eh?

Thanks to receding gums, you will find that you have more enamel on show than you used to. This is something that I have noticed about myself to the point where I wonder if I should be running in the 2.30 at Goodward? Nothing you can do about this except to keep your gynormous teeth dazzlingly white. You could always offer your services as a mobile side-screen at your local cricket club. How about a Bee Gees tribute act? The possibilities are there, if only you choose to look.

There is a very serious side to gum health though…

How many of you know that gum disease can lead to heart disease, strokes and diabetes? Our hearts no longer have the protection of oestrogen so we need to look after ourselves more then ever, yes?

That’s all for today dears. Keep smiling, eh?

Creative Common Images Via Pixabay

 

 

Why Inactivity Doesn’t Help Anxiety.

Today, I’m talking about cortisol.

‘What the chuff’s cortisol?’ I hear you say. ‘ It sounds like a mouthwash!’

No, that’s Corsodyl.

Cortisol is released by the adrenal glands in response to fear (or stress) as part of the fight-or-flight mechanism. Normally, it’s released into the body when the fight or flight button is activated, like when you have a near miss in the car or you can’t find your purse at the checkouts in Tesco. Once the danger is passed, cortisol subsides and the body returns to normal. When somebody has panic disorder they become sensitised and their fight-or-flight mechanism responds to EVERYTHING as if it’s a threat. Put it this way. I once had a panic attack while watching Mary Berry on TV. I mean, who knew that Mary Berry could be so bloody scary? Maybe it was the way she was chopping her carrots?

We’d be forgiven for thinking that we should be lying in bed or sitting in a chair all day because our bodies are burning calories without doing anything and in any case, we feel too tired to do anything. Right?

Wrong.

The worst thing you can do when your cortisol levels are sky high is sit on your arse because anxiety LOVES inactivity. Why? Because it means that it has your undivided attention. Rest is good. We need to rest but only if that rest includes sleep or doing relaxation exercises. Lying on our beds, tormenting our minds with unhelpful thoughts isn’t restful. In fact, we are KEEPING THE CORTISOL FLOWING.

We need to break the cycle.

We need to DO stuff that distracts the mind from our fruitcake thoughts.

The idea is to bring those cortisol levels down, so go for a run or a long ramble. Take a gentle walk or do some light housework. Have a potter round the garden. Don’t those weeds need pulling up? Paint a picture. Knit a crap scarf. Put a shelf up. Mop the floor. Clean a window. Whatever you fancy as long as it distracts you from your thoughts of doom.

‘I can’t do it. I have no energy’

‘I’m too tired’

‘What’s the point?’

‘Just leave me TO DIE’

The point is that you will feel BETTER for doing it. No matter how retched you feel when you start, you will feel better for doing it because you will have distracted yourself from those unhelpful thoughts. Each time you do this you are bringing those stress hormone levels down. Do you see?

The trick is not to think about doing stuff because you will only talk yourself out of it.

‘I’m too tired today. I’ll do it tomorrow’

Tomorrow will come with the same old excuses but meanwhile those stress hormones are running riot – like a room full of two year olds. Don’t think about going for a walk. Just DO it. Tell yourself that, yes, you feel like crap but you will feel better for it when you’ve been. Get your coat. Open the door. GO.

Even at my very worst, I understood that going out made me feel better. I have walked down the street retching into my hand. But I kept walking and when I got home, I felt better than I did before I went out. It works. It REALLY does. Trust Mrs Fruitcake because she knows her shit. By Mrs Fruitcake, I mean me.

Cortisol & The Mornings

Not the name of a band. I’m talking about cortisol and it’s role in waking us up..

Normally, cortisol levels rise during the early morning hours and are highest about 7 a.m. This is where you start to wake up. It’s a gradual process..

Normally, cortisol level diminishes throughout the day.

Normal goes out the window with anxiety disorders. With a lot of us, there is no gentle start to the day. Our day starts with some bastard standing over us with a megaphone, screaming, ‘WAKEY WAKEEEEEEEEEY!!’ – metaphorically speaking, of course.

See, what happens is this. Normally, people have really low levels of cortisol in the evenings but after a day’s worrying, the anxious person’s levels are sky high before they even try to sleep. We toss and turn for hours, then finally fall into anxious sleep. Then our bodies try to wake us up. Our heart rates increase, blood pressure goes up and hormones go FULL ON NUTS around our bodies in order to rouse us from sleep.

Think of it this way. The non-anxious person’s morning cortisol is the long distance runner. His pace is slow but steady only gathering momentum in the final few laps. The anxious person’s cortisol is Usain Bolt. Nuff said?

This waking state can feel really uncomfortable because we are sensitised.

THIS is why so many people with anxiety feel worse in the mornings.

THIS is why most of my panic attacks happen on waking.

I’ve found that lying in bed after waking up suddenly at 5am isn’t the best idea. Even if I manage to fall back to sleep, the chances are that I will have dreams of the ‘orrible kind. It’s best to get up and go and do something. I find that having a piece of toast and a cup of herbal tea helps to sort out low blood sugar levels.

It’s also worth thinking about what you are eating (and drinking) at night because if you are are eating a heavy meal late at night, you are asking for trouble as digesting food requires the body to work it’s arse off. The heavier the meal, the harder it has to work. Yes? However, going to bed hungry is just as bad. A well thought out snack an hour or so before you go to bed will help to stabilise blood sugar levels. By snack, I don’t mean crisps. I’m thinking more along the lines of a milky drink and a plain piece of toast.

Here, I will sneak in a little note about what you DO before bedtime. Are you watching horror films or psychological thrillers? Are you listening to upbeat music? If you are, you are ramping up the stress hormones. An un-sensitised nervous system will cope with Freddie Kruger at 10pm. At worst it will result in a bad dream but when you are sensitised, you are adding fuel to the fire, so be mindful of what you are doing in those few hours before bedtime. Think, ‘winding down’, not winding yourself up.

If mornings are worse for you, you could try exercising?

Work with the adrenalin. Go for a run and get those endorphins going. If elective sweating isn’t for you – or if you find it too stimulating – go for a walk or do some relaxation techniques. Experiment and see what works for you. Just don’t fear the sensations. Your body is doing what it should, it’s just that you are sensitised.

It won’t always be like this.

Creative Commons Image Via Pixabay

 

The Show Must Go On

I’m struggling today. I need to write how I feel because it helps me and maybe in helping myself I can help you too?

The anxiety isn’t as severe as it has been. It’s a manageable 6/10 but my numerous annoying ailments have decided to come out and play at the same time. My neck is sore. My tinnitus is driving me INSANE and I have the beginnings of yet another migraine.

I try to look at the positives. As in, I’m still alive. I wasn’t one of the 151,600 people in the world that died yesterday. I’m still here. Yet it’s like trying to drive on a flat tyre. Only in my case, a new tyre isn’t an option. The tyre represents my brain and I can’t just go out and buy a new brain. Unless Ebay have started selling brains?

A lot of the things I am experiencing today are not actually anxiety symptoms. I’m 47, therefore it’s natural for there to be wear and tear, especially as most of my jobs were heavy manual work. I’m only five foot one with a small frame so I’ve put a lot of strain on my body over the years. What can I say? You do what you have to do to put food on the table.

Due to my autism, these little annoyances become amplified and it has to be said that anxiety, while it doesn’t cause them, DOES make them feel worse. Stress hormones affect the bones and joints and I’ve always noticed that when I go through a phase of increased anxiety – my aliments are worse. Obviously, the answer is to address my anxiety and all these other things should start to improve. This doesn’t mean that I don’t feel pissed off though. I’ve forgotten what it is to feel ‘well’ because it’s been that long since I felt that way. Another thing that pisses me off is that I never appreciated good health when I had it. I used to hear older people say, ‘You don’t appreciate good health until it’s gone’. Too farking true, me dears.

I get it. I’m middle-aged, post-menopausal and slightly mad. How can I expect to feel like I did in my twenties or thirties? I’m lacking the necessary hormones for a start. My body is crumbling like Cheshire cheese. I’m getting older and let me tell you that it comes around TOO DAMN FAST. It seems like yesterday that I was snogging Nick Rhodes on my bedroom wall. Now I can see 50 waving at me (hopefully) and with that comes the realisation that I am well over half way through my life, if the three score years and ten is to be believed? Sobering thought, eh? Enough to make one want to pissed, only I can’t drink because I have ANXIETY.

Another way of looking at it and probably THE best way is not to mourn my youth but to thank my stars that I have a decent amount of life to look back on. Health wise, that is.

I lost my friend to cancer last year. She was one year older than me with so much more to give, especially to her eight year old son. When I think of what she went through it makes me guilty about whinging on about stuff. She’d have given anything for my problems to be hers instead of the cancer which was invading her body at an alarming rate. However, if you are reading this and thinking that her death should have been enough to make me ‘get a grip’, then my friend, you have NEVER experienced anxiety disorder because it is an illness. I’m not talking about the normal anxiety that every human being experiences, like the nervousness before a job interview or those few seconds after you hear a loud bang. I’m talking about the kind of anxiety that’s debilitating and destructive. It’s a very real illness. Just not one that can be seen. It’s effects, however, are visible to all. If you look close enough, you will see the fear in their eyes. You will see the tremor in their hands. You will notice their inability to be still. If you are sensitive enough, you may even smell their fear. These are the outer signs of a body that’s fucked up due to stress.

Thankfully, I know that recovery from mental illness is achievable for most of us and if it can’t be cured, it can definitely be managed to give quality of life. That thought acts as a light when my skies are dark. Another light comes in the form of my children. A funny text or a phone call from my eldest boys. Or today when I woke up to a dark inner sky. A sleepy voice said, “Cuddle me mama?” and some of those dark clouds lifted. Not enough to make all of this sodding crap go away but enough for me to have the energy and will to keep fighting it.

If you are struggling with anxiety, know this. You will win some battles and you will lose some but you CAN win the war. It really isn’t about how many times you fall down but about how many times you get up again. I know you are tired. I know your soul is weary but KEEP GETTING UP. Even when your legs feel so heavy you don’t think they can support you. THEY WILL. They are STRONGER than you think. YOU are stronger than you think. Rest if you need to but then you must get back up.

Life is a show and we must get on with it as best we can because this isn’t the rehearsal. There never was one in this show called ‘Life’. So, do that pile of ironing, even if it you do it sitting down and it takes you ALL DAY. Walk the dog. Hoover up. ON WITH THE SHOW!

The show must go on
I’ll face it with a grin
I’m never giving in
On with the show.

The Show Must Go On ~ Queen ~ Brian May

 

My Anxiety Arse-Kicking Kit

I’ve had anxiety all my life. Right from when I was born. I think I actually clung to the walls of my mother’s foo-foo screaming ‘WTF IS THIS?! DOES THIS THING DO REVERSE? AND WHAT’S THAT FURRY STUFF? I’M NOT READY FOR THIS CRAP!! MAYDAY!!! MAYDAY!!!

Or something along those lines…

I’ve had generalised anxiety disorder and health anxiety for years so I’m becoming somewhat of an expert in this particular area. In my quest to rid myself of this illness, I have scoured the internet for self-help tips. Some things work. Some things don’t but I’d like to share with you a few of the things that have worked for me in the hopes that YOU can find some respite from this SHITTY ILLNESS.

Here is my anxiety arse-kicking kit…

Podcasts

The clue is in the name. Anxiety Slayer gives you the tools to help calm anxiety, stress, PTSD, and panic attacks. It was started in 2009 by Shann Vander Leek and Ananga Sivyer. These ladies are incredibly supportive and help to take the fear out of anxiety with their wealth of knowledge via comforting podcasts and articles. They can be found here.

The Anxiety Coaches Podcast

Another great anxiety podcast hosted by Gina Ryan, who it has to said, has THE most calming voice in the entire universe, except for ‘Whispering Bob’, who’s voice can put people into a coma. It’s super informative. After trawling through these 3oo plus podcasts, there will be NOTHING you don’t know about anxiety!

Herbal Tea

There are literally SHIT LOADS of herbal teas on the market but Chamomile, Lemon Balm and Valerian are the ones that work the best with anxiety. Always check that herbal stuff doesn’t faff about with any medication you are on, as in, interactions. Herbs are incredibly beneficial but are also greatly underestimated. For instance, I took St John’s Wort once. Like an idiot, I took more than the recommended dose. It was just a herb, right? What could possibly go wrong? Then I went out and drank ONE glass of wine. The next thing I remember was waking up in bed with just my bra and pants on. I have NO recollection of what happened in-between. Such is the power of herbs, so respect them, yes?

Magnesium

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Magnesium is THE original chill pill but food processing strips this mineral out of our food, therefore many people are deficient. Magnesium plays an important role in biochemical reactions all over your body. To put it bluntly.. if we become severely low in magnesium we are in the poo poo. Stress depletes magnesium so it’s an idea to supplement our diets when struggling with anxiety. You must first check with your GP or pharmacist that magnesium will not interact with any medication you are taking. Unsurprisingly (to me) many people’s anxiety has miraculously disappeared after a few months of taking magnesium. This is because low magnesium levels can actually the CAUSE anxiety symptoms in the first place. Who knew?

I used to take a supplement but frazzled my brain with the carbonate/ citrate argument. What’s the difference? Well, I’ll tell you. Basically, carbonate is cheap and ‘orrible whereas citrate is more expensive but easier on the stomach. Problem is, the tablets tend to be the size of horse pills and I had a few ‘near choking’ episodes until I bought a pill cutter. This sorted out the choking issue but the rough edged tablets didn’t slide down the ol’ clackeroonie without me feeling like I’d swallowed cat litter, NOT that I’m prone to doing so. Haven’t got a cat for a start. Anyway, I gave up taking them. HOWEVER, I’ve recently discovered magnesium oil – so the problem has been solved. 🙂

Matt Haig

Matt Haig writes fantastic stories but some stories are more important than others. Reasons To Stay Alive is one of THOSE books which has the power to save lives. Matt knows about anxiety and depression because he’s lived it. This is his story of how he came through crisis and kicked the arse of the illness that almost destroyed him. GPs would do well to advise people to read Reasons To Stay Alive before (or alongside) the obligatory medication. If you are struggling with mental health, READ THIS BOOK!

Humour

If there is one thing that fear can’t stand, it’s humour. It’s like Harry Potter waving his wand and giving it some Expelliarmus – which by the way is a disarming spell. That’s exactly what laughter does to fear. It DISARMS it. Humour is THE most important part of my anxiety-arse-kicking kit. I watch funny films. I read funny books. I listen to funny people. Most importantly, I take the piss out of my anxiety. Laughter is therapy.

And it’s cheap.

Relaxation

Relaxation is important, whether it’s having a doss on your bed or basking in the summer sun with a good book. Here’s the thing though. It’s hard to relax when you have anxiety because of the stress hormones. Imagine drinking six Red Bulls, five espressos and swallowing a pack of Pro Plus, THEN trying to relax with a good book. Not going to happen. Why? Because you’re buzzed off your kahunas – that’s why. THAT’S what it feels like to have my degree of anxiety.

You need to do techniques that relax your body, such as deep breathing exercises and mindfulness. Breathing is important. I mean, obviously, because NOT breathing equals being dead (or unconscious) but I’m referring to shallow breathing which exacerbates anxiety symptoms. Breathing dodgers like me can keep this shit up ALL DAY LONG. This is why I’m a regular at A & E innit? Having hyperventilated myself into the MOTHER of all panic attacks.

Keep reminding yourself to B R E A T H E.

Mindfulness

I was wary of mindfulness at first. Staring at teabags wasn’t my, er, bag but I think I was taking things a bit too literally? Mindfulness is about being in the moment. So often with anxiety and depression our minds are in the past or the future. Rarely are they in the present. We exist, rather than live. I have had so many moments stolen from me due to this illness and it’s obviously regretful but there is no point in dwelling it because that in itself takes me away from the here and now, innit? Mindfulness has been scientifically proven in reducing anxiety so what are you waiting for? Be at one with your cheese sandwich. 🙂

All these things have helped me in my fight against anxiety. I hope they can help you too.

GO FORTH AND KICK YOUR ANXIETY’S ARSE!!

CC Image Via Flickr

Mumisms: Things My Mother Used To Say

Parents have a language all of their own. Some phrases we understand, like ‘NO, YOU CAN’T’ and ‘I’M GOING TO COUNT TO TEN’ but there are other things we haven’t a clue about because they don’t make sense. You probably find yourself using the same lingo with your own children because it’s ingrained, innit? You wake up one day and you’ve gone from relatively cool to OH MY GOD, I AM MY MOTHER! It’s a rite of passage of Motherdom, along with droopy boobs and incontinence.

My mother, bless her, had a plethora of phrases that I’d like to share with you readers..

Number 10

‘Gone For A Burton’

Meaning: A reference to a person who had died or an item that was broken.

First heard at the age of 7 when I limped into the kitchen with a broken strap on my brand new sandals. Mum took a puff on her fag and said, ‘Well. That’s them gone for a Burton then.’ I didn’t know who or what this ‘Burton’ was. Richard Burton was big at the time so it could have been him. All I know is that I cried PROPER TEARS over those wretched sandals because in those days, money was short and I knew I wasn’t going to get another pair anytime soon. *sobs*

Number 9

‘Clod-Hoppers’

Meaning: A rough, unsophisticated countryman.

Since the early 19th century, in the UK and USA, ‘clod-hoppers’ were also the name given to ploughmen’s boots.

Mum used to refer to my eldest brother’s 1970s platform shoes and work-boots as ‘Clod-Hoppers’. My brother would often be greeted at the door with, “And you can take those clod-hoppers off as well, Matey!”

Number 8

‘Getting On My Wick’

Meaning: Annoy me; get on my nerves.

Usually heard during weekends and school holidays, especially Wimbledon fortnight. Alone, my brother and I were tolerable. Together, we were little shits.

“You two are getting on my wick. Go to the park!”

Number 7

‘You’ve Blotted Your Copy Book’

Meaning: To do something that makes other people trust you less.

In our case, it was any minor misdemeanor at home or at school. Ink and blotting paper were still a thing in the 70s so I took it quite literally until it was explained to me…

Number 6

‘Away With The Fairies’

Meaning: Not facing reality; in a dreamworld.

Where Mum thought I always was…

Number 5

‘Guts For Garters’

Meaning: A threat of a serious reprisal.

“If you come home late, I’ll have your (varying expletives) guts for garters!”

This saying probably originated from the Middle Ages where they liked to disembowel people and stuff.

Number 4

‘I’ll Give You..’

This one was where, whatever we said to Mum, she would turn it back on us.

Me “I’m bored”

Mum “I’ll give you I’m bored!”

Me “Yeah, in a minute, Mum.”

Mum ” I’ll give you in a minute!”

Me “Why?”

Mum “I’ll give you why”

You get my drift?

The variation on ‘I’ll give you is I’ll give it you.

Or on hearing me WHISPERING an expletive..

“I’LL BLOODY WELL GIVE IT YOU IN A MINUTE, MY GIRL!”

It meant a wollop on the backside so at this point I’d fly out out through the back door flicking Mum the V’s from inside my coat pocket. She rarely caught me but I would ALWAYS return to find my Jackie mag cancelled, damn it.

Number 3

‘Because I Said So’

That’s why.

Number 2

‘The Pits’

Meaning: the WORST possible person, place, or thing.

In this case, my brother’s bedroom.

Mum to Dad “His bedroom is the bloody pits! Records as coasters and unidentified life-forms in cups? That’s it. I’m on strike!.”

To be fair, it WAS a pit. We’re talking MAJOR BIO-HAZARD here.

Number 1

‘I’ll Swing For You’

I think I have the album somewhere. Or is it Swing When You Are Winning? Anyhoo. Initially I took this literally and pictured Mum having a fun time on the swings in the local park. I thought this was DEAD FUNNY, albeit highly unlikely. However the imagery didn’t match her frowny expression, so I came to realise that it meant that I’d done something wrong.

WHOOOOOPS!

Often, a minor expletive would be inserted for dramatic effect so it became “I’ll SODDING well swing for you” Later on I came to realise the origin of the phrase came from HANGING, as hanging was still in fashion in my mother’s day. Mother saying she’d ‘swing’ for us meant that she’d murder us and be hung for her crime. However, she would never have actually murdered us. She wasn’t fast enough for a start. She came close several times – especially during her menopausal years when she was a bit, well, psycho.

Sometimes this phrase was used in jest but mostly we knew we were in deep poo if we heard it and we’d suddenly be incredibly helpful – like doing the dishes without being told or tidying our rooms, including Bro’s ‘pit’.

Occasionally, I catch myself muttering ‘Because I said so’ and I start twitching and have to go shout at some crisp packets as self-punishment. My mother may have passed on her early menopause to me, but there is no way I’m talking like her as well. Why? BECAUSE I SAID SO!

*twitch*

It pays to be as literal as possible when you have an autistic child, trust me. Saves time. Maybe you recoginse a few of these from your own childhoods? Feel free to share!

Next time, Dadisms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hello, It’s Me..

Everybody remembers the last conversation they had with a loved one before that person died. It doesn’t matter if the conversation was in person or via the phone. It was the words, spoken, or unspoken, that stay with you.

Princes William and Harry were holidaying in Scotland with their father when they last spoke to their mother. Diana was in Paris but as always she found time to speak to the two boys who were her life. On the 30th of August, she phoned her sons. William and Harry both remember this last conversation as being too brief because they were eager to be doing other stuff. They were 12 and 15 years old, behaving as young boys do. They were not to know that in a few hours time, the mother that they loved so much would be dead, having literally been hounded to death by the paparazzi. That last phone call haunts them and I understand it because I’m haunted by my last phone call with my own mother.

Death.

Death is tricky. Sometimes you get prior notice that he’s coming for a loved one. If death is inevitable, then surely this is the best scenario because nothing is left unsaid. The living can carry on in the comfort that they got to say goodbye and the dying can let go knowing that there was nothing left to say. That’s the kind of death I want. To leave on my terms. However, Death so often takes our loved ones without warning and there is no opportunity to tell them one last time how much you love them. They are simply, gone.

Death gave no warning about my mother. Not to us, anyway.

The last time I spoke to Mum was the night before she died. I’d been in hospital having an exploratory procedure done under general anesthetic and I’d not been home long before she phoned to see how I was. I was still woozy from the anesthetic and I just wanted to sleep, so I fobbed her off and told her I’d speak to her the following morning when I felt better. That was the last time I ever spoke to her. How could I know that her kidneys and ultimately her heart would fail on her before I woke up the next morning?

Mum hadn’t been ill, except for a “bit of a tummy bug” which she’d mentioned in passing that week. The ‘bug’ turned out to be Bronchial Pneumonia. If she was suffering, nobody knew, because she didn’t say anything. That was the kind of person she was. She didn’t ‘do’ illness. Illness was an inconvenience which interfered with her hair appointments. She couldn’t be done with it and in the end, her stubbornness was her undoing.

What happens in these circumstances is that you replay that conversation over and over in your mind. You don’t remember the other conversations you’ve had with that person. You just remember those last words. You rewrite the script or at least you try to because you feel cheated or guilty or both. You feel like you are the worst person in the world because of that last conversation and you’d give anything to be able to go back in time and do it differently. To this day, I don’t remember if I told her I loved her. Normally, I would have, as I had ended every other phone call, but I was semi-sedated. I most probably did because I ended every conversation the same way. The problem is that it was often like reciting the Lords Prayer, as in, something that you say without actually thinking about it. You know?

My mother was no longer at the end of the phone but that didn’t stop me dialing her number. I needed to hear her voice and I knew where I could find her, for a little while longer, at least..

Hi, this is Jan, I’m not here at the moment but leave a message and I’ll get back to you.

I lost count of how many times I rang number to listen to this message. Even though I knew that the phone was ringing out into a house which was no longer a home, it didn’t matter because it was still her voice and it comforted me.

Given the chance, our last conversation would have been very different. Then again, there is a belief that things happen for a reason. What if I was to go back and hear something in my mother’s voice which alerted me to the fact that something was wrong? What then if I was to intervene only for the outcome to be that for the rest of her life she was frail and dependent on others? If you knew my mother you’d understand how much she’d have hated that. I do think that as hard as it is to lose someone, if we look hard enough, we will see a blessing in some form or other. Sometimes we just need to look at things from their perspective instead of our own.

It’s unrealistic to treat every conversation as if it’s the last you will ever have. Life gets in the way and with the best will in the world there are always going to be occasions where we have to cut conversations short. However, no matter how brief a conversation may be, there is always time enough to say the only thing that really matters.

“The news of life is carried via telephone. A baby’s birth, a couple engaged, a tragic car accident on a late night highway – most milestones of the human journey, good or bad, are foreshadowed by the sound of a ringing.” Mitch Albom ~ The First Phone Call From Heaven

Mind, Shut Your Mouth

 

Would you like to know what my mind is like at night?

Pull up a chair. Get comfy and we will begin…

**************************

I’m dreaming. Yet another night terror. The third tonight. I try to fall back to sleep but I can’t because the dream was horrible. The harder I try to push the thoughts away, the stronger they become. Then, I notice that my arms and legs are tingling…

Oh my God. I feel weird. Weirder than usual, that is.

You’ve been here a trillion times before. They are just sensations.

But this is different. It feels different.

A wave of nausea sweeps over me and my body feels icy cold. My rational mind is fighting with the fear and somewhere in-between is a song with it’s verse stuck on repeat.

World shut your mouth, shut your mouth
Put your head back in the clouds and shut your mouth.

You know the GP has told you that the tingling is Spondylosis. You’re catastrophising!

Yeah BUT I’ve had no tests. It could be a brain tumour or MS. I’m partly deaf in one ear. What if it’s not normal hearing loss. What if it’s a tumour?

World shut your mouth, shut your mouth
Put your head back in the clouds and shut your mouth.

I see myself in a wheelchair and feel the surge of stress hormones as they perceive the imagery as a real threat.

This is unhelpful. Breathe!

I remind myself to breathe from my tummy and I feel calmer for a minute.

BUT the tingling is STILL THERE!

World shut your mouth, shut your mouth
Put your head back in the clouds and shut your mouth.

World shut your mouth, shut your mouth
Put your head back in the clouds and shut your mouth.

How would I cope with a brain tumour?

It has to be a brain tumour because I keep forgetting stuff.

That’s part of the menopause, you loon.

Yes, BUT…

But what?

It COULD be?

I force myself to remember things. Things I know I should remember, like my name, my kids names and what I had for tea.

I can’t remember what I had for tea! I CAN’T REMEMBER!!!

See! It IS a brain tumour!

No, it’s not!

I have migraines!

Yeah, since you were 23!

How would OH cope with me having a brain tumour?

The Boy wouldn’t cope without me.

HOW WOULD HE COPE WITHOUT ME?

How would I tell my lads?

I start to cry and my breathing becomes shallow. So shallow that it physically hurts to breathe. Then my entire body shakes uncontrollably..

World shut your mouth, shut your mouth
Put your head back in the clouds and shut your mouth.

Oh this MOTHERFUNGLING SONG!!

It’s ear-worm because it was the last song you heard on the radio. Think yourself lucky it wasn’t Justin Bieber, eh?

World shut your mouth, shut your mouth
Put your head back in the clouds and shut your mouth.

Use your distraction techniques, you KNOW what to do!

OK, I’ll think of countries and go through the alphabet.

Atta girl!

A Australia

B Brain Tumour

Oh ffs

World shut your mouth, shut your mouth
Put your head back in the clouds and shut your mouth.

What if OH has a crash on the way to work. I’d be on my own. I COULDN’T COPE OMG!!

What if he didn’t have a crash?

YES BUT..

Or what if he had one but wasn’t hurt at all?

YES BUT..

What is it with you always killing people off?

World shut your mouth, shut your mouth
Put your head back in the clouds and shut your mouth.

Mind shut your mouth, shut your mouth
Put your head back in the clouds and shut your mouth.

PLEASE.

JUST STOP!

They are just thoughts, fruitcake.

They can’t hurt you.

It’s 3.30am. The stress hormones have gone feral. You know this. Fear is LOUDEST when the world is at it’s quietest. You know this. BREATHE!

I’M TRYING TO F**KING BREATHE!

Try harder!

Keep trying. Keep doing it over and over and over. These sensations will pass. They always do.

Yeah, but this time it’s different. THIS time, I’m REALLY ill.

Mind shut your mouth, shut your mouth
Put your head back in the clouds and SHUT YOUR MOUTH!!

****************************

Dawn approaches and the room gets lighter. Oh the RELIEF that night has passed. The thought clouds my mind that the days will start to get shorter soon and I will have to endure this crap for longer..

Daytime is easier because there are distractions. At night, it’s just me and my mind. I glance over to OH and resent the fact that he is sleeping soundly. I feel like elbowing him in the ribs to wake him up but I don’t. Instead, I look at him and whisper ‘You lucky git’. Because I am aware of EVERYTHING. This is when I feel that I am the ONLY person on the planet. Yet I know that I am not because there are thousands of us fighting with our minds. I want to put my arms round each and every one of you because I know how hard it is.

Exhausted, I fall into a dream, so fragmented and bizarre you’d think I was on some kind of hallucinogenic drug trip. Yet I’m not on any drugs. It’s because the stress hormones are flooding my body. I know why it’s happening. I’m a bloody expert when it comes to anxiety. It’s just that fear overrides rationality.

Sleep brings little respite for me unless I manage to get those magical two hours in before midnight but anybody with insomnia knows that a nighttime hour feels more like two, three or even four. Night time is different to day time. No distractions, see, and the silence only amplifies the mind chatter.

My mind is tired. After five years of panic disorder, it’s exhausted. My instinct is to fight but I have to accept all this for what it is. Just thoughts. My thoughts are NOT reality. If they were, I’d be in deep shit. My body is reacting as if they are but it’s up to me to change that by changing how I think. For a few months, my sleep was better. Not great but bearable so I know I can achieve it. It will just take time and instead of fearing another night, I need to accept whatever comes. You drown faster when you struggle, right? If you float, you have a better chance of surviving. That’s what I need to do. Float.

I have done my best to describe what happens to me at night and this is by no means a one off. Nor is it the worst case. I’ve gone for somewhere in the middle. But this is only about half an hours worth. Can you imagine hours of this shit? I hope you can’t because anxiety disorder is something I wouldn’t wish on anybody. If you can identify with any of it, I feel for you and you need to know that you are not alone. There are thousands of us in the insomnia club.

“The night is the hardest time to be alive and 4am knows all my secrets.”Poppy Z Brite

 

Coping With Anxiety Relapse

GUESS WHO’S BACK.

BACK AGAIN.

So, after a few months of relative peace from my ‘hardcore’ symptoms of anxiety disorder, I’m back on the wheel of fear. I have relapsed, again.

We’ve just done the holiday thing and my anxiety has been gathering momentum over the past few weeks. One, because I am autistic and change makes me cranky and, well, hols are ALL about change. Two, my unhelpful brain was reminding me that I was mentally unwell during last years holiday and I ended up in A&E the week we came back.

Yes, me old mate, Fear, showed up and was constantly reminding me of how bad I was and, ‘You know what, Trace? This time will be EVEN WORSE!

This time. YOU GONNA DIE! MUHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

He’s a right vile git, is Fear. He’s like a really shit relative who you would like to get arse-probed by hostile aliens. Did I say that out loud? Anyway, as I was packing our suitcases, Fear spotted his chance and flung himself back into my mind…

Didn’t I send you packing a few months ago, you little arsewipe?

Yeaaaaah but I told ya I’d be back to bugger your life up again.

So it’s fair to say that I was ramping up the stress hormones BEFORE I inflicted myself on Northumberland. Then I started with some tingling in my arms and legs but I didn’t Google it. Nor did I log onto any anxiety forums. Been there. Done that. Had the breakdown. There was NO WAY I was going down THAT wormhole! I’m used to tingling in my hands and feet but not entire limbs so I made an appointment to get checked out. GP checked my heart out and said my blood pressure etc was fine. Seemingly I wasn’t about to keel over. Then she asked me to turn my neck to the left and right and noticed that it sounded like a pepper grinder. Yep, it really does sound like that.

‘I’d say the tingling is due to a touch of spondylosis.’

Spondywhatus?

‘Wear and tear, Dear.

Great. I’ll just add it to the ever increasing list of old codger ailments I already have ffs!

This comforted me for all of about half a day because to my deranged mind it was a new symptom to deal with and Fear lost no time in reminding me that doctors can get things wrong and it’s actually a brain tumour. Of all my imaginary illnesses, I’ve yet to do brain tumour in any great depth and the little arsebiscuit knows it…

The holiday started off well enough but as the week wore on sleep became an issue with night terrors and waking up at hourly intervals only to fall into yet another Stephen King/Quentin Tarantino inspired dream. Wednesday night was the worst with NO sleep at all. I lay there and could feel the cortisol surging over me. Wave after wave. I felt sick and my bowels were playing up so I was plonked on the loo at 4am. This and I was MILES away from home, although, I did happen to know where the nearest hospital was. You know that your life is particularly shit when instead of admiring the beauty of the surrounding area, you are hanging your head out the car window looking for the nearest A&E!

By Thursday morning I could take no more and I asked, no, BEGGED to go home. OH didn’t argue. We just packed and left. As soon as I was on my way home, I started to feel better and guilt hit me harder than a right hook off Rocky Balboa. Only we couldn’t go back because that would have totally sent The Boy’s brain into a twizz and that would have made things SO much worse.

So I felt the familiar feelings of despair.

I had ruined the holiday with my shit mind.

At that moment, I hated anxiety with EVERY ounce of my being.

For the next few days, I lay in my pit and moaned (to dead people, mostly) that life is shit and what’s the effing point if all there is for me now is this?

Relapse is like crawling your way up the mountain. You can see the summit. It’s within touching distance. Then some git swipes your feet from under you and you fall back down, taking a few head shots along the way. You lie there in a tangled heap wondering how you will EVER find the energy to start climbing again?

BUT YOU DO.

Relapse is about learning.

It’s part of recovery.

What I’ve done is to work out what I’ve done differently. It’s about taking back control, innit?

When I had my nervous breakdown, I lost a lot of weight. I looked like a walking bone, if you can imagine a bone wearing Converse boots? So to get the weight back on, I ate chocolate. A LOT of chocolate. I also started having a beer. Only a couple of pints at the weekend. Real ale, mind, none of your poncy lager..

The symptoms started to creep back in but I IGNORED THEM.

On my holibobs, I went from a couple of pints at a weekend to one and a half pints EVERY night. Also, by now, I was eating enough chocolate to put myself into a coma.

Here’s the thing…

Chocolate contains CAFFEINE and CAFFEINE is a humongous NO when it comes to anxiety. Especially when you are SO sensitised that someone farting two streets away can trigger a panic attack. Chocolate (and all foods high in unrefined sugar) leads to a greater release of cortisol, adrenaline and epinephrine – giving you ‘sugar spikes’. You are INCREASING the stress hormones, therefore, increasing your anxiety symptoms and their severity.

Alcohol also raises levels of cortisol and I downed seven and half pints in a few days! Way to go, fool!

Recovery from panic disorder takes a LONG time and even though I was feeling better, the stress hormone levels were still raised – just not high enough for them to be a major problem like they were before. Because I felt OK, I stopped doing what had helped me to get better.

I DID THIS. *smacks wrist*

So I’m back off the chocolate and the alcohol. I’m listening to my body and I will slowly make my way back up the mountain. It might take a few months but I have faith that I’ll get there and instead of looking at what happened on holiday as a negative, I choose to see the positive side and not beat myself up about it. After all, it was only a few months ago that I struggled to leave the house unless it was for a trip to the doctors or hospital.  I think I did well to manage four days in a strange place, no?

If you are struggling with anxiety, SCRUTINISE your lifestyle and see if you are adding fuel to the fire. Write everything down and see if you can eliminate the triggers. Sometimes, relapse just happens but it’s certainly worth looking at what you are eating, drinking and doing and by doing I mean social media, TV and adrenaline boosting activities.

Once you start to feel better, you’re not recovered. That’s where I made my mistake. You need to manage your condition and that means to keep doing the things that make you feel better, so diet, relaxation, meditation and staying away from the world’s drama. This doesn’t mean that you can never have caffeine or alcohol again as once your body becomes desensitized, the odd drinky-poo won’t hurt you. For now, listen to your body. It really is trying to tell you what it needs and doesn’t need.

When it comes to sleep, aim to be asleep at 10pm because any sleep you get before 12pm is worth four hours as it’s the restorative phase of sleep. I have been making sure I’m in bed for 9pm and asleep by 10pm all this week and I do feel better for it.

Most importantly, try not to see relapse as failure. Negative self-talk like, ‘I’m never going to beat this’ and ‘What’s the point’ will only help to keep you in a funk because depression and anxiety go hand in hand. I know how hard it is to try and think positively when you’re flaying around on the floor but think of Rocky who took an absolute battering from Apollo Creed but REFUSED TO STAY DOWN. Anxiety will try to go for the knockout but it’s up to us how we respond to it’s punches. Ultimately, WE have to take back control.

Keep going. I promise, you WILL get there.

Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but rising every time we fall. ~ Confucius