Gosh, after all this time I’m not sure where to start. I won’t try and fit it all into one post. I’ll take my time. Slowly does it and all that.
It’s funny really. I feel quite nervous writing a post again. What’s that all about? Maybe I’ve forgotten how you do it, the sorts of things to talk about. What if all my blogging buddies have disappeared? Maybe I’ve let people down by being absent!
First off, I have really missed everyone. My blogging tribe, sober or not, have been so important to me over the past few years. My life line on more than one occasion. I want to spend some time catching up with everyone, reading their blogs and picking up with my community once more. Therein lies the rub! ‘Time’. I seem to have had very little of it recently and I have been racing through life at high speed. So much going on and days turning into weeks, months and then bam 💥 a year has passed!
This past year has been tough. I know anyone who has followed my blog will be aware of my ongoing challenges at work and the inequality and discrimination issues I had been facing. I also reduced my antidepressants last summer and stopped taking them altogether in August. Sadly, around late November last year, I entered into another period of severe depression caused by work stress. I was signed off sick from work and took almost 3 months off. I restarted SSRIs … double the dose … and began (very expensive) therapy with a fabulous psychologist. I remained totally alcohol free and hit my 2 year sober anniversary on November 16th.
I have worked so hard to get back to good health. I have read so much literature on all kinds of things to help support my therapy and progress. I’ll share some of it over the coming months. It’s been quite a journey. I’m back in work. I’m managing much better nowadays and I think I have a far better understanding of my triggers, my behaviours and my responses than I ever had. I remain on high alert, making self care a priority and ensuring I practice self compassion. I look forward to sharing some of my experiences with this WP community once more.
Oh … and I turned 50 on May 3rd! 👵🏻 (hence the title)
This is going to be the shortest post ever from me. I wanted to say ‘hello’ and let you all know I’m doing ok. I’m going to catch up on everyone’s blogs and posts over the next few weeks and then I’ll write a few of my own.
As my lovely friend @jaquelyn3534 would say … “I’ve missed y’all”
I am a control freak. Well I always believed I was anyway. Right up until 4 years ago when I had what I can only describe as a breakdown which subsequently led to my giving up alcohol.
My ‘breakdown’ – which was really just a build up of years of stress, over-worry, being busy busy busy, doing far too much, huge anxiety and poor coping mechanisms – meant that I had to let go of control. My brain and body formed a pow wow and said “this can’t go on, she cannot live this way a moment longer!” and bam 💥 they went into their own little lockdown. I still managed to continue to work (loosely) and also to drink (obviously) but I did very little else. I sometimes partied with friends and then consequently stayed in bed all the next day. I sometimes drank at home and then when I wasn’t drinking, I was lying in bed. I dragged myself into work and when I came home, yep, you got it, bed. Sometimes I’d sleep, often I would just lie there, staring into space, living inside my own head.
I turned from someone who had their finger on the pulse of every aspect of life to a person who really couldn’t care less. Where I once was the most organised, ‘in control’ mum, friend, daughter, sister and wife …. I became a shell. I totally disengaged from my life and my loved ones. I lost any grip I had on my children’s lives: what they needed; what they ate; what work they had; how they were feeling. I relinquished all control of household and family jobs and planning. I had gone from, not the proverbial ‘sublime’ to the ‘ridiculous’, but rather from ‘the ridiculous to the even more ridiculous’!
Eventually, and thankfully, I got well again. Slowly my mental health improved and I began to engage in life, take an interest and take back some control. I started a course of antidepressants and my life, though far from perfect, was better.
Then, around 2 years later, I got sober. Through sobriety and being able to reflect on my experiences from the breakdown, I learnt that it was OK to not always be in control. That sometimes plans didn’t always happen as they should and letting the unknown unfold could bring joy and happiness too. I realised I had so often ruined days out or family events by allowing the crushing disappointment I felt when my expectations hadn’t been met to cloud everything else. And for everyone else I might add! I began to understand that one of the reasons I drank was to help me feel less weighed down by my expectations and my need to control circumstances. Once I drank, I cared much less about the plan and if things weren’t going according to it. I could let it all go. It was a crutch for dealing with the anxiety and stress that comes with needing that level of control and perfection. Just like it was a crutch for dealing with so many other tricky feelings and emotions.
I still have a need to control and organise. I am,however, now able to take a step back and I can appreciate the calm sensation of letting go of the reins. I always thought I was naturally a ‘stressed’ person, a born ‘organisation freak’. That was my personality, it was who I was and it was set in stone. If the last four years have taught me anything it’s that that absolutely nothing in life is set in stone. We don’t have to continue to be a certain something or someone if it makes us feel unhappy or miserable. We can learn to function another way and ‘going with the flow’, finding positives in the unexpected and embracing a feeling of calm is who I want to be and what I want to do.
Looking back, my advice now would be to listen and pay attention to the things your body and brain are trying to telling you. There are no bonus points for being so busy you are about to break. Feeling frazzled all the time is no fun at all. Worrying excessively and trying to control for every eventuality does not mean the worst won’t happen. An outing can be just as fun if it doesn’t quite follow your agenda. It is absolutely fine to let your children eat nuggets and chips for yet another night because you are exhausted. Take that bath, give them beans on toast for tea and if their school clothes are creased … so what! If the birthday cake is shop bought and not home made … good for you! Let go of perfect, ‘good enough’ is great. I know it’s easy to say and not so easy to action, but I tell you this: the impact on your life by continuing to live this way can be devastating. Don’t take the risk. Don’t make the same mistakes as I did. Let it go!
I have been away on my holibobs. We went up to stay in a converted barn in the North East of England, just south of Durham and north of Yorkshire. We went with both sets of the boy’s Grandparents. Some may say that was lovely, others would call it brave. A few may consider it sheer lunacy. My parents and my in-laws actually get on very well and I find being away less stressful when we are with both sets rather than one. I suppose I find some free time and space for me if I’m not under the microscope. That said, it is quite an undertaking!
The cottage/barn was advertised as being on a ‘working’ farm. In reality, it was on a bit of a building site where a new housing estate was being developed. The ‘farmers’ had clearly sold all the farm land to a housing development company and all that was left was the farmhouse and our ‘shed’. The accommodation itself was lovely. Spacious and comfortable with a hot tub in the garden. The ‘village’ that was within walking distance did not really resemble a village and was pretty much deserted the whole time. All very strange. All a little random. Still, we ventured out each day and saw some beautiful scenery. The coast, long sandy beaches, waterfalls, gorgeous moors and countryside and stunning villages. Loads to do and see. Plenty to keep the over 70s and under 18s happy. Very poor WiFi which was a big negative for many but we survived.
On the first day we arrived, we unpacked and I watched my husband and his Dad grab their first beer, clink glasses and say ‘cheers’. Then my Dad joined in with his beer and the two Grandmas enjoyed a large goblet style glass of wine each. One white, the other red. There was lots of “… and relax” and ‘the holiday starts here …” type comments. I suddenly started to panic. I didn’t think I was going to be ok with this. There was a real sense of ‘group drink’ and I really bloody missed alcohol. I couldn’t ask them to stop but how was I going to cope? I began to get upset and dread the week ahead. Then, out of the blue, I considered drinking. Just for the week. For social purposes. My little addict voice told me all sorts of convincing reasons as to why this was a great idea. I wanted to relax and chill out. I didn’t want to be the dull grey person who would, in all reality, rather sit on her own, eating chocolate and drinking tea, whilst doing a jigsaw. Why not just do what the others do and enjoy it? It’s a bloody holiday for goodness sake!
Then my Dad began to irritate me a bit. Well, quite a lot actually. I always feel disloyal when I blog about my parents. I’ve said before that I love them and I know they really, really love me. They are just quite difficult at times. In different ways. My Dad is the most tricky though. He is a know it all. He has a comment on every subject and strong opinions to go with that. He’s fundamentally a misogynist as well as having other opinions that tip into the offensive and prejudiced categories. He has diluted this over the years but it’s always there. He monopolises conversations, rarely listens to others and is constantly in ‘impress’ mode. It is immensely annoying. Well, I find it annoying. I get snappy and a bit mean, which I know upsets him. We have had some huge fights and arguments over the years and they all had one thing in common. Booze. Lots of it. He would get louder and more obnoxious and I would get nastier and very intolerant. It wasn’t a pretty sight or experience.
So this holiday, on the first night, instead of pushing the ‘all systems go go go … let’s drink!’ button, I took my foot right off the pedal. I had a bath. I read some of my book ‘the happiness project’ by Gretchen Rubin (which I highly recommend) and made the decision that drinking would only make what was already going to be challenging, much much harder to bear. I poured a cup of tea. I went to watch tv with my eldest son and by this point the grandmas had stopped drinking alcohol. They joined me with cups of tea. The evening passed uneventfully and no argument occurred. No regrets and recriminations in the morning.
It remained the same for the entire week. I took my time out when I needed it. Not always easy when the mum and mum in law want to follow you around and sit with you and talk to you. ALL THE TIME! I completed a jigsaw and in the end all adults were clambering to get pieces in. I adored being with my boys and eventually I became less snappy and I relaxed. I did it without the help of alcohol. I found other ways to get my kicks. They might sound boring to some but they are how I find happiness and peace nowadays. No longer in a wine bottle. It’s in the nuggets of a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle. Who knew? 🤷♀️
Yesterday we started packing up our caravan for a trip away. The plan was to head off tomorrow to the Cotswolds for 5 days and finally get away from the house. My husband had picked up the van during the week, cleaned it and paid for it’s storage. I didn’t achieve very much in the packing department as I was having one of ‘those’ days. Lacked motivation, felt exhausted and generally a bit grumpy. Last night we sat down after dinner and I checked emails and texts about the arrival time and general holiday details. I discovered I had missed a rather essential piece of information. England is opening up a little more from the 12th April. Non-essential shops, pubs and restaurants with outdoor facilities, gyms, hairdressers … this is all good news. Not, however, toilet and shower facilities on caravan and camping sites! Well, not strictly true: some sites will open toilets and cleaning facilities but no showers. Our site was a no facilities open at all kind of site. Oops. I missed the fine print there. Although, it wasn’t really fine print. It was quite clearly expressed on every piece of communication I had received in the past two weeks. Epic fail on my behalf. We can’t function without an on site toilet and shower facilities. Our caravan is not a fancy, sizeable outfit with mod cons such as a working shower or a toilet space you can actually fit into.
I felt a bit gutted. I broke the news to the family. I noticed a small smirk on each of the boys’ faces as they desperately tried to look disappointed that they didn’t have to go and live in a tin can with no WiFi for 4 nights. Even my husband failed to hide the relief at the thought of not freezing his backside off and having to wear a hat at night to keep his head warm (we don’t have heating in our caravan). The joy as he realised he could watch his football team play on Monday night … well, that was blatantly clear to see! Had it only been me looking forward to this trip? Was I the only one who felt disappointed about not going? Or are my family just far better as seeing the positives in whatever the plans are, no matter if they change? (I don’t actually believe that’s true …. my son’s reaction when he couldn’t go to football training last Sunday was something to behold).
I decided to apply some gratitude and reframing practice to the situation. I listed the positives about not going away and having some time (off work) at home. This is my list:
Warmth (the weather this week looks pretty chilly in the evenings and at night)
Not having to psych myself up for a day of packing, shopping, transferring guinea pigs to my parents, cleaning ….
A free day to do whatever I want today
Time this week to work on my application for re-banding my job. I have continually put this off but it’s so important I get it done.
Day trips to more local areas with the ability to come home, shower and get warm and cosy
We can still cycle and walk and explore each day. We just do it from home as our base. More facilities are open from tomorrow so we have more choice than we have had for 4 months
I can take baths
I can still practice my yoga (I’m not confident enough to practice outside the caravan in full view of fellow campers)
Being able to sit watching TV in the evenings without wearing a coat or 20 layers of clothing
Our beds are ready for us to get into at night and don’t need to be packed away in the morning
Writing the list almost put me off ever going away in the caravan again 🤣.
I do love going away in our van. It’s hard work to get everything ready and set up and we don’t have the luxuries we have at home but it’s a refreshing way to live. We don’t rely on technology and spend more time together as a family. There will be other caravan trips though and it just takes a little effort to ensure we still spend some quality time together whilst having a staycation. I’m quite excited to make some plans for the week ahead.
One last thing I am very grateful for. Thank goodness I realised about the toilet and shower situation before we spent all today packing up, all tomorrow morning hooking up and driving 2 hours to the location. I’m not sure any of us would have found many positives had that happened, no matter how hard we tried.
I have had some trouble sleeping this week. It’s made me tired each day and a little bit grumpy. I adore sleeping and I hate feeling tired and lethargic. Today is good though because, although it’s cloudy and a little chilly, it’s Good Friday and I slept well, albeit having very weird dreams. That’s for another post!
I often listen to bedtime and sleep meditations when I’m in bed. Hypnotic ones from a variety of apps I have accumulated. The one I was listening to last night included a visualisation technique which I found helpful. I had to observe and notice the thoughts swirling around my brain, of which there were many, and visualise a box, chest or some type of container. It could be any size I wanted; mine was fairly large. I then had to visualise all my thoughts going into the box, one by one. Once they were all in there, I put the lid on the box and put it away somewhere for the night. It had to be out of the room I was sleeping in, just outside the bedroom door or miles away if that was preferable. I stuck mine at the bottom of our garden. I didn’t want it in the house at all. The meditation guide instructed me to visualise coming back to bed, leaving the box containing the thoughts and worries until the morning, where it could be reopened and dealt with. I did feel lighter and more at peace.
She then asked me to visualise something positive that happened during the day. To focus on one thing that had made me feel good, at peace or happy and to embrace that feeling. I thought back over my day. I’ve been working in the hospital all week with a very heavy clinical schedule. It’s been refreshing to work with patients again. I thought back to one of the little boys I had seen earlier in the morning. A little 5 year old with a repaired cleft lip and palate. He had been very wary initially but I kept grinning at him (under my mask!), asking him about what he liked and enjoyed and generally joking around with him. He began to relax and at one point he looked up at me and gave me the most enormous smile. It was absolutely adorable. I felt so happy because he was smiling and enjoying the session. Thinking back to that moment and visualising his big smile and how it had made me feel was lovely. I lay in bed, anxious thoughts tucked away in my box in the garden, with a warm and fuzzy feeling inside.
I was asleep before the 20 minute meditation had ended. I woke up this morning feeling refreshed and positive and ready to take on the day. I have unpacked my thoughts from the box and some of them didn’t need dealing with. They were simply me overthinking and getting stuck in a negative thought pattern. Others can be sorted. None of them involve challenges that are insurmountable. There are now blue skies peeking out behind the clouds and if I can make an anxious little boy smile with happiness, I can do anything.
Sometimes we just don’t realise how stressed we are. I certainly don’t. Suddenly I find myself gasping for breath, drowning, going under and it’s all a bit too late to save myself. I can sense something is off kilter, I know things are mounting up and I can feel the pressure build but I don’t see the wall until I am about to crash into it. And about a week ago … I smashed into it pretty badly.
However, here I am, just a few days later and it’s like a weight has been lifted. A little battered and bruised but the air is flowing back into my lungs and there are no serious injuries. A few years ago I just couldn’t recover like this. It spiralled into chronic depression. Complete wipe out and long term after effects, including excess drinking. So what was different this time around?
In all honesty I don’t know, other than the major difference of not pouring a poisonous depressant into my body. I guess that has a huge impact. Don’t get me wrong, on Saturday, in the eye of the storm, I thought … here we go again. Disengagement, switch off, dysfunction and months of recovery. I did nothing all day. I did however take the proactive move of turning my phone off. I allowed myself a day of sleep. I set myself a target of getting up to make a cup of tea and eating something. I succeeded. Sunday, I managed to get out of bed and took a walk with my mum. I still didn’t do any yoga, any house jobs, anything much really, but I fed my family, I read and I did part of a jigsaw puzzle. On Monday, I remained under water and I kept sinking. Each time I started to float up, thoughts dragged me down again. When I am very stressed and about to crash into the wall I ruminate. I dwell on situations and circumstances I can’t change and worry about what lies ahead. I attach a story to these thoughts. This stops me hitting those brakes to avoid the wall. It prevents me reaching for my life float before I drown.
On Monday evening I chose to not drown. I chose to avoid the wall. I’d crashed just days before, I couldn’t do it again. I didn’t think I’d survive this time. I had to give myself a break and some time. More time. I did my yoga session (thanks to the encouragement of my lovely yoga buddies), I made some decisions about how best to reduce the spiralling thoughts and how to stop the endless stories dragging me into places of darkness. It’s not easy for me and there is no magic wand. I have realised that too much stress is a huge trigger for my depression. Work, relationships breaking down, parenting, a pandemic, lockdown …. it was too much. If I don’t learn to reduce the pressure I am going to forever be driving into walls or being sucked under the water. Only I can do this. I have the power to say enough is enough. I am not a passenger in my life. I have choices and I need to make better ones.
15 months ago I made a choice to remove alcohol from my life. It was the of the best decisions I have made. Now, I need to continue to make more good decisions. To say ‘no’ when it’s needed and to reduce stress where it is preventable. I am not out of the woods, not by a long shot. I am however driving more slowly, looking out for trees in my way and using my brakes to avoid any walls. And if I do crash, I can survive it. Here’s to floating and not drowning.
I am aware I have slipped off the radar a little recently. I don’t post very often but I do try to read and keep up with my blogging community, their posts and comment where appropriate. I haven’t done that for a week now and thought I best say ‘hello’ and check in!
I continued to struggle with sleep and anxiety for the best part of the week and found the UK lockdown number 3, home schooling two teenage boys and working from both home and the hospital quite triggering in terms of stress levels. Many of my husband’s family all tested positive for Covid last weekend, including his dad and sister. It seems as though his mum and 91 year old Nan have avoided it somehow, which is great news! On Wednesday I felt physically sick from tiredness, stress and headaches so I made the decision to call ‘time out’, have someone else cover my clinic and go to bed for two hours. After I woke up, I made the decision to get a handle on my anxiety and stress before I ended up sliding downhill into depression. I worked a little, sorted out a laptop from school for one of the boys to use (and stop him use he kept missing online lessons) and did a yoga session. Then took a long bath!
Since my melt down on Wednesday, I have picked up the regular yoga again. I have taken baths every evening and read a novel while lying in the soap suds. I have emailed relevant people at work to,yet again, raise the issue of my pay and treatment, and I have included my union rep. I am carrying out a skin care regime morning and night and I love it. My skin feels so hydrated and my eyes are no longer puffy and sore. I walked 4 miles yesterday and today. I have managed two nights of 7hrs uninterrupted sleep and I already feel the anxiety lessening. Relationships at home are still fraught, especially with the added pressure of 4 of us trying to work and live under one roof. No space and a lot of tension. But, here’s the thing. Focus on reducing anxiety over all and when I feel less anxious, I can handle my home situation more sensitively and I am less reactive. It’s true what I have been told, look after my own well being first and then deal with the other stuff.
Ditching the sugar is unfortunately remaining more challenging than I would have hoped. It has to almost be completely removed from my diet for me to succeed because, as many of you will know and understand, there is no ‘moderation’ in my world. Once I start with the sugar, it takes over and becomes my next addiction. It simply proves to me that, should I ever wish to try alcohol again, I would never ever stop at just one drink. I might manage one the first night, but within days it would be far more and with increasing frequency. It is not worth the risk. I never want to go back to the torment and trauma of the first steps in giving up. I’m not sure I’d ever succeed if I tried to abstain again!
So, my friends, I am using every tool I currently have in my box. I hope my tool box is actually like Mary Poppins’ bag, bottomless. I’ll keep discovering and adding different things that help and support me. Using my bottomless bag, these periods of anxiety, stress and overwhelm should feel easier to deal with, have less impact on my mental health and not throw me quite so violently off course. A magic shield and a bottomless bag of tricks … what more could a girl ask for!?
**Warning** Minor meltdown occurring alongside insomnia. Slightly dramatic post coming up.
Why can’t I find the courage to make the changes I need to? I’m really stuck and feeling trapped and I tell you, it’s not a great feeling. Not. One. Bit.
I’m not even sure what changes I need to make. I just know work has to change. My marriage has to change. My mental health and approach to life has to change. My attitude stinks and seriously must change. But how do you do it? How do you stand your ground. Set your boundaries. Overcome fear, guilt, anxiety? And here is the big question. What if the change you make is not the right one? Am I going to end up with years of regret and “oh shit, why did I do that?” mental torture?
See how tangled I am? I can’t even blame alcohol. I am now unsuccessfully self medicating this period of angst with sugar so I guess the old Claire lives on! I feel weighed down by so many emotions that I can’t move or breathe freely. Maybe I am just incredibly selfish and expect and want too much from life. The world is in the middle of a devastating pandemic and here I am, Miss Self Pity, wondering why my life is the way it is. First world problems.
I have so many lovely things in my life and I know I am incredibly lucky. I need to revisit practising gratitude and kindness as it really helps me feel grounded and focus on what is important. Hopefully, in time, I will find the courage to make the changes that are needed. Frustrated is no doubt how many of us feel right now. My frustration is off the scale. I’m getting sucked into ‘stinking thinking’ mode (thanks for the term Collette!) and stinking thinking never leads to good things.
Well, now I’ve offloaded all the swirling thoughts in my head into this post I feel a little better. No answers or solutions but that’s ok. To anyone who stuck with this one until the end, big thanks (and it begs the question, ‘why?’). I’ll give sleep another go. It’s evaded me so far tonight but maybe now it will come. A problem shared and all that …
What a crazy, crazy time this has been and looks set to continue. I haven’t posted for a while I know. I’m hanging on by the skin of my teeth, white knuckle riding life (or so it feels at the moment). It’s a roller coaster that’s for sure.
I finally broke up from work for a week last Friday. I really needed to finish and stick that ‘out of office’ on. The stress was gradually building day by day. More and more to do; colleagues off sick with stress, Covid or isolating; people making big mistakes under just too much pressure. I could feel myself losing control so my leave came at the perfect time. I have to say, so many people seem really low and down at the moment. It’s no wonder with everything that’s happened and continues to happen. Now people’s Christmas plans have been upended at the last minute and the UK has a new strain of the virus that is spreading faster and is fairly unknown. Another huge test of people’s resilience and strength.
For me, my plans remain the same. We had decided to stay home just the four of us. We will meet my parents for a walk as long as it isn’t raining and not see my brother or my in laws until this shit show is over. I know vaccinations are happening but will take time and my gut tells me this will get worse before it gets better. So, I’m hiding out. Protecting myself, my family and other people. I did venture out on Saturday. Just to the local shopping centre and I hated the experience so much, I turned around and came home. Too busy, people not really paying attention to any guidelines and I felt unsafe. I’m not prepared to take unnecessary risks. I have to work in the hospital. My husband teaches in one school and my children attend a different school. We have to do those things. No point adding additional risks into the equation.
I haven’t been doing my yoga regularly or getting out for walks, runs or cycling. I can tell I’m going slightly stir crazy so I do need to begin my routines again. It’s so easy to fall out of step. I know how much better I feel when I keep up my own self care. I am so grateful right now though. Grateful that we have a warm, cosy house. Food in the cupboards and the fridge. Thankful that we can keep in touch with family and friends via messages and video calls. It’s the small stuff that makes me happy now. Interestingly, I have just noticed on by sobriety app that I hit 400 days without alcohol today. That’s quite something. It doesn’t feel like that much of an achievement anymore. It’s part of my life and I never want to go back. But not that long ago I wasn’t able to get through 4 days without booze so it is something to be proud of. I won’t take it for granted. I know I would not have coped with any of the challenges this past year has thrown up if I’d been drinking (and likely actually throwing up!). I would have been a mess. Now I feel like chaos happens around me, mostly out of my control. I can watch it, experience it and remain calm. Knowing and believing, this too shall pass.