Yoga For Your Mental Health

Do exercise, they say. It’ll be good for you, they say.

We are entire beings. We are mental, physical, and spiritual beings- all three parts that make up to a whole. So if you’re healthy physically, it’s going to give you a better chance of being healthy mentally too. And this is is basically what it comes down to when you hear talk about physical exercise as being as effective as medication to treating mental health conditions. There are plenty of statistics and articles out there if you’re interested in learning more, but when you’re in the thick of it, and are really suffering with mental health problems, what does doing exercise actually feel like? And what often gets forgotten?

Disclaimer alert, I am an exercise fan. While I was at University, running was my meditation. A way of letting off steam. As you’ll know if you’re a runner, there is nothing better to clear the mind of chatter and the body of tension than a good old run to some d’n’b.

But when I developed severe depression and crippling anxiety, I was faced with a bit of a problem… I basically couldn’t exercise without setting off a panic attack.

For me, my anxiety was (and still pretty much is) closely linked with my heart rate, adrenalin levels, and my breathing. When any of those got even a little out of control… BAM! Anxiety attack. And then, like an over-sensitive smoke detector, once activated, my anxiety never quite calmed down before the next shock rolled in. A car alarm goes off outside and BAM! A knock on the front door and BAM! Someone shuts the fridge downstairs a little too hard and BAM! I sneeze unexpectedly and BAM! It was a little lot ridiculous. For weeks, about 50% of the time anxiety had me trapped indoors,  unable to face the overstimulating world of outside. And the other 50% was taken up by an exhaustive and all encompassing depression. As you can see, anxiety and depression, as the two opposite end of extremes, are quite the team.

But still, do some exercise, they say. It’ll be really good for you, they say.

Let me tell you, whatever they say, doing exercise when you are struggling with anxiety is not a productive way to spend your time.

I did actually attempt to run, quite a few times. But you can just imagine… heart pounding, heavy breathing, rapid motion, and the outside world? It didn’t end well.

After that, I stopped leaving the house altogether, and basically didn’t leave bed for a few months, either because I was too exhausted, unmotivated, or too wound up and terrified by every tiny thing. It got to the point where I couldn’t watch films, because anything too exciting or surprising would set me off, and let me tell you, there isn’t much of a market for the unexciting but feel-good films out there. Even wildlife documentaries got a bit much at times. Those giraffes can be savage.

After a few months, I began to slowly venture out. Normally at night so it was nice and quiet, and with Rich by my side. By this time the medication had begun to take the edge off, and I had been to a few therapy sessions (which I definitely spent the first few sessions just crying uncontrollably at). But with the therapy, the medication, and a gentle self-meditation practise, I was finally able to leave the house. And the first thing I did was to go with my housemate and signed up for the local gym.

At first, I have to say it didn’t go too great. I kept having to stop on the treadmill or bike after a couple of minutes minutes because the rhythmic pounding or my heart beat got too much. And then there were all the television screens everywhere, screaming excitement, and advertisements for Exciting! new protein shakes, and the constant yet somehow still unexpected sound of heavy weights being dropped. Even worse, I might run into someone who knew me, which resulted in me running in the opposite direction because I basically just couldn’t hack the excitement/nerves that got set off by social interaction.

But the gym also offered group exercise classes, and although the sound of Body Pump or Abz Attack sent me into a cold sweat just saying their names aloud, there was also a Gentle Pilates and Yoga class advertised.

I went along, not really knowing what to expect but hoping at least that I wasn’t going to get yelled at by a spandex wearing muscle man, grinning manically, and bouncing the equivalent of a humpback whale in weights above his head to some pounding club bangers.

From the moment I sat down, looking around a little unsure, cross legged on the mat, I felt like I could finally let my guard down. It helped massively of course that everyone else in the room had their eyes shut (including the teacher). The music was soft and lulling, the lights were down low so I felt safe and hidden, and I was even comfortable being in my baggy pyjama t-shirt (I hadn’t quite managed to find the motivation to get fully dressed that morning). I felt safe on the island of my mat. No-one was looking at me, or comparing themselves to me, and there was no demand for forced energy or hyper excitement. It was calm, serene, with no sudden movements. Slow and steady. I can’t remember much from that first session, but what I do remember there was a lot of deep deep breathing like I had never done before (even in my singing days) and there was just this warm wash of calm inside like I had not felt in about six months. Like something warm and furry was hugging me from head to toe and whispering in my ear that I was safe, that it was ok. There was lots of sighing from the mats on each side of me, so I knew I wasn’t alone.

Sure enough, over the next few months, I slowly became friends with the people who took the class with me and around me. This was the first social contact outside of mine and Rich’s housemates that I had been able to have in about half a year. We would smile, and ask how each other were in the changing rooms, but always with a quiet calm and a feeling of acceptance. I was no longer a slave to the tunnel vision of my anxiety, now I was connecting again with other real human beings. Yoga was gently, but slowly, opening me back up, in the most calming and understanding way you can imagine.

Yoga was something I could do without a pounding heart rate, without getting elevated breathing, and without my adrenals going into overdrive. I was moving again, and I was getting stronger, and more balanced, and in control, and healthy by the day. I would wake up in the morning and stretch in bed before I did anything, just because it felt good to relieve some of the painful ache of depression in my bones, and the tension of anxiety from my neck and shoulders.

There is no doubt that Yoga is hard work, and it definitely is exercise. But without getting panicked, I would get the same letting-off-steam stress release I used to get from a long run, the same satisfied energy from a heavy gym work out, and the stretching -though gentle and patient-  was intense and deep and could take my breathe away. I soon learnt that Yoga is a tricksy one, it would sneak up on you, one stretch at a time, and before you know it you’ve flowed into a full hour of physical exercise.

Emotionally too, Yoga taught me to be more resilient, as I learnt to control my breathing in even the more difficult asana postures, and accept feelings of pain or discomfort with an open and curious mind rather than shutting them away and suppressing them. After I had been Yog-ing for about a month or two, I remember experiencing a strange sensation of power as I walked home one day. It was a feeling of deep love, satisfaction, and respect for my body, as if it was a separate being, a long lost friend rather than a intrinsic part of me, and I wanted to look after it and nourish it and let it live. Whether it’s in the breathing, the philosophy, or the very essence of the way it is done, Yoga taught me to love my body like no form of sport before ever had.

But over all of that, Yoga gave me something I never even knew was important. It gave me a sense of spiritual connection; a purpose to live, and a connection to something bigger than myself. I now believe this is essential to recovery from any type of mental illness. Physical, mental, and spiritual. The threefold path of health as a human being.

So yes, do try to find the physical exercise and movement that works for you, and love and nourish your body (it’s the only one you’ll ever get… probably), and do take your meds, and do see your therapist, and do all of those exercises and worksheets that you’re given. But don’t forget above all to keep seeking meaning and purpose in your life, to find your spiritual soul, and connect with who you really are, behind the chatter of your intellectual mind, and the pangs of your physical body. And then you might find, if you’re lucky, that underneath all of that mess and mush, you are Divine, and you deserve life.

 

I hope you’re all really well.

Stay breezey,

Roo xx.

 

 

Five Free Apps for Anxiety & Depression 


If you’re anything like anyone I know, whether you like to or not, you’re probably forced by work and society, to keep your mobile phone at hand, pretty much all hours of the day. And while this is great in that you are able to keep in contact with people who are far away, and never miss a new yoga article, or updated sports results, or latest science discovery, it also means that the temptation to distract yourself with games and social media has never been more… there.

I full well know the effects of endless scrolling and senseless games, especially when it comes to my mental health. While the mindlessness of it all can be a blessing for a while, over time, it can quickly become obsessive, and unsettling. With the relentless stream of hype coming in from the all corners of the world, it is no wonder that as nation we are experiencing an anxiety epidemic.

But wait, don’t throw your phone down the loo quite yet. Despite everything I’ve said above, (and trust me, I kind of wish my friends and job would let me ditch the phone) I truly believe that there is actually the potential for making your phone into your friend rather than your enemy here…

In this chaotic whirlwind life, I have a select few apps that I use daily that help me to feel more grounded and centred. I owe them a lot on my recovery journey from depression and anxiety. They’re enjoyable and forgiving, and the greatest thing is, being on my phone, I know they’re never far away! Win win 🏆
  

SuperBetter was developed by world-renowned game designer Jane McGonigal to help herself when she was struggling with depression following an operation that left her bed bound. Super Better is an imaginative and colourful way of playing, where it’s what you do in the real world what counts- drink a glass of water? Power up! Managed to leave the house today? Bad guy beaten! Planned, shopped, prepped, and ate a wholesome dinner? Quest accomplished! Did nothing today?That’s ok too 🙂 By distancing you from your discomfort, Super Better allows you to take control of your life again, one step at a time, helping you on your road to recovery as you name and face your demons, developing strength, courage, and patience, all of which can hold you in good stead for life!

  • HappyFit Optimism Work Out Free – By Russel Histon

Inspired by the TedTalk “The Happy Secret to Better Work”, HappyFit encourages you to do 6 exercises a day, for at least 21 days, that have been proven by studies to make you into a more optimistic person. Exercises include writing your daily graritudes, a highlight of the day, a ‘find the smile’ game, a 5 minute burst of physical activity, a 2 minute silent meditation, and a kindness act. Obviously, the phone doesn’t know if you don’t do burpees for the whole five minutes, but who are you trying to do this for?

 

  

  • Three App By Rachel Thomas

A beautifully minimalist designed app where you simply write three things you are grateful for every day. By the end of the year, you will have over 1000 logs of things you are grateful for! You can even set a daily reminder so you don’t forget to do it.

 

  • Calm: Meditation and simple Guided Mindfulness Exercises By Calm.com

Calm is my favourite app at the moment. Simple to use, with beautiful scenes and sounds from nature, the guided meditations are short and bright, making it easy to develop a daily meditation practise  even if you hate the thought of sitting still. You can track your progress over time, take part in week-long or month-long programmes, and also do your own timed silent meditation. I find this is great to whip out at lunch time at work when I know I need to meditate but can’t get my head to switch off. I couldn’t recommend this app enough!


 

  

  • Clue – Period Tracker By BioWinkGmbH

Now this one is, I suppose, more for the ladies, but I can’t see why it wouldn’t be helpful for guys too!? Clue may predominately be a period tracker, but I use it mainly to track my mood over time, and see how my energy levels and positivity is developing, month by month. It can also be really useful for tracking exactly when it is in the month you are feeling most down, and recognise if there is a pattern. This might help you knowing it could be something to watch out for as if this is the case it’s likely that your mood is affected by hormones, and can work as a reference point for discussion with your doctor.

So there you go. Five free apps that I believe are worth carrying your phone around for. Comments and conversation welcome- let me know of any apps that you use and let’s keep journeying on together.

And yes, you may admire my carefully arranged-by-colour homescreen.


I hope you’re really well.

Stay breezy 😊

Roo xx.

The Physical Ache of Depression

If anyone tells you that depression or anxiety is a mental illness that doesn’t effect you physically, they are lying. The same probably goes for any kind of mental illness in fact, but I can only speak for myself of course. Your mind and your body are a unit, not separate entities. So something that you think, you can feel- on an emotional, and, furthermore, on a physical level too.

And it works both ways. Try taking some slow, deep abdominal breaths for a few minutes, focusing on your natural rhythm, and you might become aware that your heart rate has physically dropped, and emotionally and mentally a calm washes over your mind. On the other hand, mentally picture last horror movie you saw, and you might notice your breathing gets shallower and more up in your chest as your heart rate increases. The mind-body link. The union of our bodies. It’s what makes Yoga, Meditation, and Mindfulness so powerful as tools to help us understand ourselves, and leave us feeling more balanced, calm, and in control.

But back to the physical aspects of Depression…

You know that feeling where you wake up in the morning and your whole body is heavy and warm, and you just can’t bring yourself to get out of bed? Imagine that, and then times it by about a hundred. That’s what I get, pretty much every day.

My depression sometimes manifests itself physically in me as something called Leaden Paralysis. It can range from a nauseating fatigue and accompanying dull ache, to a full blown paralysis, where I literally cannot move, speak, sometimes even move my eyes, and can only occasionally muster up the energy and motivation to moan something vaguely coherent. It is as if I have gone into slow motion. The tiniest movements make me out of breath with effort. My mind is still there, whirring away (probably going off into full blown panic mode too by now), but I just can’t bring my body to move. I take my attention to the tip of my finger, and I can’t find the energy to even wiggle it. The more I try, the more the painful ache washes over me, rooting me to the spot.

I used to describe it as if my bones were full of iron. Since then of course, I found out what it’s so fittingly called, and have changed my description slightly: a Leaden blanket, anchoring me down from the inside out. And I’m not alone…

Leaden Paralysis is found in people who suffer from Atypical Depression (that’s me! Woo!). The name doesn’t mean it’s an uncommon form of depression, it’s just a more specified part of Major Depression. In Atypical Depression, you tend to have less of a ‘numbness’ feeling that is sometimes described in other Depression forms, and instead you might be more likely to be hypersensitive and reactive to external forces.

Other symptoms of Atypical Depression, aside from Leaden Paralysis, include excessive sleeping (10+ hours a night), heavy fatigue on a daily basis, having problems concentrating or decision making, weight gain, and being more prone to suicidal thinking than with other types of Depression. Of course, Depression is different for everyone, and you may or may not experience all or some of the symptoms above. Everyone feels things differently, and you’re never going to fit in the box perfectly, but it can be oddly comforting to see someone else describing what you have felt and realise you’re not crazy. When I first had this Leaden Paralysis happen to me I thought I might have been going into some sort of bizarre brain seizure, so it’s good to know what it is.

To see a more detailed list, and learn more about Atypical Depression, you can follow this link.

So how does someone deal with Leaden Paralysis when it starts affecting their lives?

The one biggest help I have found is to tell people. Be as open as you can about what happens to you physically, and let them know that it is a real thing. I know this can be terrifying, but you don’t have to tell everyone. If it’s a social event you’re missing, or work, you can just let them know you’re ill, and  leave it at that. As far as employers are concerned, you are under no legal obligation to disclose your any of your mental health records with them, unless you want to of course. But letting someone that you trust know what is going on can change the whole experience. Now when I feel the Paralysis coming on I can tell Rich and he understands in an instant what is going on because we’ve spoken about it before. He knows that I’m not just being lazy. He also knows that although I may not be able to move or speak for a while, I’m still there, and appreciate him chattering away to me as normal, or helping me sit down or get into bed, and put a film on in front of me.

I have no method for getting rid of the paralysis itself. It’s caused by the depression, so it’s a case of treating the root cause, rather than being able to doing anything particularly for the fatigue. So instead of trying to fix it, you can learn to cope with it. Over months I have learnt how to sit it out by making myself as comfortable as possible, keeping myself as calm and happy inside as I can, and waiting for it to pass. And it always does eventually. I can’t make it any less of a reality for me, but I can control how I react to it.

I practise Yoga daily. Even just a few gentle stretches in the morning helps to relieve some of the ache in my bones and move the energy around my body.

If you feel that you connect on an energetic level with yourself spiritually, you might also find Reiki can provide you with relief too, but I understand that it’s not for everyone.

When I can, I go for a deep tissue massage. Although they don’t always help with the ache, it can do, and either way it’s a great way of giving your body moving physically without getting out of breath.

Throughout the day, I always try to keep moving, alternating sitting down with something on my feet. The day is for action, the night is for sleep. The more I stay energised in the day, the better I will rest later. But I do give myself plenty of short breaks to rest in between activities.

Prepare yourself. Keep your phone close to you or your bed, so that if you feel it coming, you can call someone to let them know. Try not to be alone for long periods of time. In the past I have gone to stay with my parents when my housemates have been away for the week just in case, so that at least I have someone around to feed me if it gets really bad. Make meals in advance, so they are easy to get. The last thing you want is to stop eating because you’re too tired to get anything. I always leave myself leftovers from dinner the night before if I can so that if it does happen the next day while Rich is at work, I can eat something healthy, rather than falling back on sugary, fatty foods because I feel like I need some instant energy and that’s all I can manage at the time. I also keep a bottle of fresh water on my bedside table. Hydration and healthy eating is so important, yadah yadah yadah- so be your own best friend and make it easy for yourself.

Keep warm. There is nothing like the cold to make an ache feel worse. Hot baths and hot water bottles are your friend. I invested in an electric blanket a couple of years ago and have never regretted it for an instant. I unapologetically wear about a million layers wherever I go too. Thermals are not just for winter! And you can always take them off again.

Don’t reach for the caffeine. Maybe you’ll feel better initially, but what happens when it wears off again? It’s a nasty cycle, try not to slip into it.

But most of all, tell someone. And, as with all mental illnesses, don’t beat yourself up about it. It’s a symptom of an illness, an unfortunate situation that has happened, just like someone getting flu, or breaking a leg. It’s not a cause that you have created for yourself in any way by being weaker than anyone else.

Hope you’re all really well,

Stay breezey,

Roo xx.

Progressing with Patience

When I first was diagnosed, one of my biggest coping mechanisms was to consider my mental illness like any other physical injury I had ever had up until this point- as something that I will bounce back from, passing in its own time, given that I look after myself, rest up, and practise patience.

It’s a classic case of youthful thinking that I was, in some way, immortal, and that whatever happened, I would always be fine and just go back to how I was before. The idea of a sports injury sticking around as something I have to work with for the rest of my life was something that I couldn’t comprehend.

Of course, now I know that things don’t always happen that way. Bodies get old, and pain is stubborn, and one particularly persistent illness or injury may never quite seem to fade completely. You never quite go back to square one. But what you can do, if you’ll let it, is end up somewhere completely different.

In the yoga community, I have heard the most inspiring life stories from people, first hand, of how they were told they would never walk unaided again, or be able to go back to the work that they love, and yet they did. These people managed to overcome the odds stacked against them, working oh-so-slowly, and with all of the patience of the universe within themselves.

And no, of course they’re not the same people they were at the start- they have undergone an immense soul-changing journey – how could anyone be the same after that? They often come out of it with an entirely new life perspective, being more in control, more aware, more accepting, more understanding, and more patient with themselves, and with others, than they ever could have been before.

But of course it is hard to be patient, all the time, when the future seems to stretch out in front of you empty and bleak, and you feel like you are so far from where you want to be, and even further from what you were before.

I guess in recovery, it is important to let go of these self comparisons and expectations that you put on yourself, and try not to look too far ahead. To practise a different kind of patience with yourself, one where you are not waiting for something in particular, but one where you continue to pootle along on your path steadily and patiently in the face of obstacles (and of course there will be obstacles, life likes to do that for us to give us a little push from time to time).

The difference is to work with progression, rather than aiming for some sort of perfection. To let go of expectations or life plans and just see where you end up. To live in the present, as you are, and try to accept how you are feeling today and work with today, rather than getting frustrated with yourself for not being who you were before.

Because (and this can be a really difficult thought to deal with) you are not who you were before. And you will never be who you were before again. But instead, you are someone with the potential to be so. much. more. With the depth of your experience, you are creating the most beautiful landscapes of mountains and valleys within your soul. So it is ok to take your time. You are becoming more you. You are coming home to yourself.

Below is an extract that I was given by my therapist when I was moving on from my CBT course at Birmingham Healthy Minds. It is about faith, and patience, and doing everything from a place of love.

I hope you are all well.

Stay breezy,

Roo xx.


 

Doing the Best You Can
Progressing with Patience

by Madisyn Taylor

 

Try not to expect perfection when starting out on a spiritual path or attaining inner peace.

It isn’t always easy to meet the expectations we hold ourselves to. We may find ourselves in a situation such as just finishing a relaxing yoga class or meditation retreat, a serene session of deep breathing, or listening to some calming, soul-stirring music, yet we have difficulty retaining our sense of peace. A long line at the store, slow-moving traffic, or another stressful situation can unnerve you and leave you wondering why the tranquility and spiritual equilibrium you cultivate is so quick to dissipate in the face of certain stressors. You may feel guilty and angry at yourself or even feel like a hypocrite for not being able to maintain control after practicing being centered. However, being patient with yourself will help you more in your soul’s journey than frustration at your perceived lack of progress. Doing the best you can in your quest for spiritual growth is vastly more important than striving for perfection.

Just because you are devoted to following a spiritual path, attaining inner peace, or living a specific ideology doesn’t mean you should expect to achieve perfection. When you approach your personal evolution mindfully, you can experience intense emotions such as anger without feeling that you have somehow failed. Simply by being aware of what you are experiencing and recognizing that your feelings are temporary, you have begun taking the necessary steps to regaining your internal balance. Accepting that difficult situations will arise from time to time and treating your reaction to them as if they are passing events rather than a part of who you are can help you move past them. Practicing this form of acceptance and paying attention to your reactions in order to learn from them will make it easier for you to return to your center more quickly in the future.

Since your experiences won’t be similar to others’ and your behavior will be shaped by those experiences, you may never stop reacting strongly to the challenging situations you encounter. Even if you are able to do nothing more than acknowledge what you are feeling and that there is little you can do to affect your current circumstances, in time you’ll alter your reaction to such circumstances. You can learn gradually to let negative thoughts come into your mind, recognize them, and then let them go. You may never reach a place of perfect peace, but you’ll find serenity in having done your best.

The Swings & Roundabouts of Recovery

Recovery is a total oddball. Back and forth, to and fro, up and down. It just can’t seem to make up its mind. Or maybe that’s just the nature of depression. Who even knows any more?

What is for certain though is that recovery is not black and white, certainly not with mental illness at least. You do not wake up one day and everything has fallen into place and hey presto, you’re fixed. It ebs and wanes, coming and going. And that’s tough, because it can really knock you back when you’ve had a couple of great weeks and you feel strong and stable in yourself, and then it turns out that you’re… not quite there. And you’re back to spending days in bed staring at the clock with no energy or motivation to even get yourself some water. It really tests your patience, and your faith in yourself.

I haven’t written for a while because I just went through one of those up periods, set off by a change in medication, from Escitilopram to Sertraline. In this up time, I got enough energy to get myself a job and get back out into the real world, started writing for YogiApproved.com, and began my yoga teacher training course.

Changing medication seemed to be a great decision, and I felt so much stronger. It was utter relief. After so long, I felt like I had come up for air and was taking my first real breath in months. Food gained its taste, I recognised my friends faces again, the world was full of colour and beauty, and I didn’t have to think about trying to look after myself all the time. Life felt so light, and simple, and happy.

And now… things have started to take a turn again. I can feel that old exhaustion creeping back into my bones and the negativity and self doubt wrapping around my thoughts.

Now, I don’t know whether it is some sort of initial placebo effect, but I remember feeling this same mood boost when I first went on Escitilopram too, way back in January 2015. In that up period I managed to get out of bed, started this blog, began my yoga practise, and started looking after dogs. It did me a world of good.

But then, slowly but surely, the up phase started to fade away, until I was even worse than before. Although I was spending less time in bed, I became engulfed with suicidal thoughts which I had never had before the Escitilopram.

So, I made the decision to switch to Sertraline, to see if this would work any better for me long term. Yet again, fantastic initial up period. But once more, I feel it slipping away from me again. It is worrying. But I guess I’ve just gotta keep on.

Maybe medication will never be a long term solution for me, but it’s nice to get a relief from my head, even if it’s just for a few weeks. It helps me remember what it feels like to live, and be healthy and happy, and what I am capable of. It gives me hope that I can feel like that again. It is possible.

I am sure that my recovery will continue to swing, and there will always be better times and worse times. It might be cruel, or frustrating at times, but I guess that’s just the nature of it, and so I must accept it for how it is. One thing that I do try to remember in all of this up and down, is that no matter how bad things get, I am part of a process that can only go forwards, constantly moving and learning and growing. I can never go back to how I was at the start, even if I find myself returning to bed for weeks again,  because it’s progression. It’s dynamic. And I have learnt so much.

I hope you’re all well,

Stay breezey,

Roo xx.

Why it can be so hard to help yourself when you’re depressed

There are plenty of suggestions out there of how to “make” yourself happy, or what to do when you’re feeling down, or lonely, or whatever. But depression has this wonderful way of making you feel like there is no point in even trying these things. Surely, these stupid little activities that seem so simple won’t really make any difference? Listing three things that you are grateful for- how’s that going to change anything? Taking the time to make my bed properly in the morning- come on, really? Physically forcing myself to something to smile, when I’m feeling so empty inside- it’s just so much effort, and so fake, it’s not gonna change anything, right? How can these things help me? How can anything help me? I’m lost. I’m helpless. I’m ill. What is the point?

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One of the major mental barriers for me that got in the way of doing anything for myself was fear. I would rather not try anything in the first place at all- partly out of a lack of motivation- mainly in case it didn’t work. Because if it didn’t work that would be one more thing to make me feel like a totally hopeless case. One more reason that I may as well just give up, disappear, and die. So I would rather not try. It’s more than a fear of failing. It’s a fear of finding out you really are as helpless as you feel.

I would, and still do, catch myself thinking like this sometimes. Often times, actually. It’s a case of classic negative spiralling thoughts, just going around and around your head like, what is the point in even trying? What difference can it even make? etc. etc. Depression can easily make you so cynical that you genuinely believe that nothing is going to work. Despite all of the proof out there, in your head, nothing will really help- not medicine, not therapy, certainly not all of these stupid “make me happy” activities.

Of course, eventually I got so desperate that I’d try anything. Whether it works or not, what did I care? If there’s no point in trying, I thought rationally, there’s equally no point in not trying. At the least these silly activities might pass the time. And that’s one more day that’s happened. One more day that’s passed. Time has a wonderful way of passing by itself, without any help from me. That thought has often been a comfort to me when I’ve been down.

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Anyway, like I said, eventually I started doing all of these silly little things that are meant to ward off depression, stress, or illness. How to “make myself happy”. However small or silly or patronising or empty they seemed. I would scour the internet for ideas- drinking lemon water, dry brushing my skin, eating turmeric and ginger, massage, walks, dogs, keeping a blog.

And… well, as time has passed and I’ve tried things out, I’ve come to realise that actually… actually… there’s often a reason people make these suggestions. The reason being, that sometimes, these little activities actually work. They can actually help lift my mood, however small that lift is.

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The more things you tick off those “happiness” lists, the more chance you have of finding things that work for you. We are all different, and illness of course affects us all differently, but through experimenting, patience, and perseverance you will gradually discover the tiny things that make a difference for you. And they add up.

So I have gradually been building up my armour against my depression this year. Training the black dog. It doesn’t always help, of course, I still have some truly terrible days and weeks, where the depression just swallows everything. But it can make the tiny difference that is needed. Because that tiny difference for me is monumental; it’s the difference between a day that is passed pointlessly and despairingly, compared to a day that is experienced, lived and enjoyed. It is the difference for me between giving up and keeping on going. It is the difference between choosing to act on thoughts of suicide and escape, versus knowing that it is worth battling on, and sticking it out for life.

I will post up soon all of my tips and techniques that I’ve adopted over this year, so that they can all be found in one place.

But for now, I just hope you’re all well.

Stay breezey,

Roo xx.

Remember When You Feel Alone

A good reminder to me why I do this blog, and also to any of you who also are out there sharing your stories and struggles with mental illness. Keep going, keep talking, keep sharing, keep supporting. Because there is nothing like knowing that someone else really understands where you are and has got through it before you. Personally, remembering this brings me so much hope and strength.

I do hope you’re all well.

Stay breezey,

Roo xx.

Secrets of Mental Health

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Help, Wanted

Coming off meds is no joke. The withdrawal side effects are horrendous. I’ve basically been floating round feeling like I’m high, my eyes do this weird zappy thing when I move my focus too quickly, and my head feels like a balloon that’s been blown up a little too much. And then there’s the nausea, achy joints, and stomach upsets. Add a fat dollop brain-fog depression and you’ve got it. My favourite.

But I am looking forward to having a little break from the meds. See where my head is on its own for a few days, without any medication influences. Getting my drive back for a bit (I hope) will be a relief too. I don’t know when I’m going to start on the new meds, but I’m very aware that it’s gonna be yet another two weeks of side effects for me whilst my body adapts to them again. Yay.

I just came back from the doctors. As always, I thought I was fine until he asked me how I was, and then it was floods of uncontrollable tears again. I felt really sorry for the guy. He’s an extremely good, sensitive doctor, but there I am bawling in his office, asking him things like, ‘Can you do anything else to help me?‘, and ‘will I get better from this, honestly?’, and he’d squirm his way through some long winded non-direct answers, all of which I’ve heard before. Because he knows as much as I do, that medically wise, he’s got nothing more to offer, and that depression wise, there are no guarantees. He’s prescribed me the medication, I’m on yet another ridiculously long waiting list to get some therapy, and I know all there is to know about my condition.

And meanwhile, here I am, having a good old cry while he hands me tissues and looks concerned. He doesn’t rush me of course, but I know he’s got lots more patients to see, so I may as well go home and have a cry there instead. At least that way I’m not wasting anyone’s time except my own.

I feel like I am running out of options, and all I have left to do now is wait this out. How long for? Who can tell. My whole life? Could well be.

And I know, it all about finding a balanced life, minimising stress, doing what you enjoy, and prioritising what’s really important like family, friends, and self-love.

But I feel like I’ve tried all that. And I continue to try. I meditate and do yoga daily. I use essential oils and include herbs in my diet that are meant to alleviate the effects of depression. I limit my caffeine intake. I eat regular, well balanced, homemade, wholesome meals. I practise mindfulness, constantly. I do art and craft. I live in the present. I treat myself kindly. I am so open and honest that I am basically transparent. I reach out to friends and family. I am perfectly in love and loved by Rich. I’ve made peace with all of that teenage strife stuff that’s in the past. I accept. I let go. I get up and I dress myself, every morning, no matter how down I feel. I plan for a future and take active steps towards it (like applying for my masters and making contacts for jobs) even if half the time the depression means I have no drive or even concept of the future as being a real thing for me any more. I’ve had massage therapy. I look after dogs (or they look after me). I’m trying everything.

So this is a cry for help, if anyone out there at all has any other suggestions of things I can try, at all, however tiny, silly, or insignificant they seem to be, however “out there” they are (I have a very open mind), please let me know.

Because I want to continue fighting this battle from all fronts.

Thanks.

I hope you’re all well,

Roo xx.

What It Feels Like To Lose Your Libido

When you’re feeling really down, sex is normally the last thing on your mind. Add certain medications into the mix, and it can be a downright no-go. I had been warned a loss of sex drive was a side effect of taking antidepressants, but I guess you never really think that the side effects are going to affect you, do you? What are the chances? 1 in 10’000? 1 in 100? 1 in 10?

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Truth is, it’s more like a 7 out of 10 chance. A low, or lack of sex drive, alongside a complete inability to orgasm, is among one of the most common complaints amongst people taking antidepressants, particularly (but not only) those on SSRIs, and this is often with immediate effect even from a relatively low starting dose.

So when I began taking regular meds I quickly noticed the change in me. First it was a like strange kind of solid… stability. With no hormone changes to upset my balance I felt wonderfully numb to any sort of drive or desire for anything sexual. It was as if that part of my mind had just been wiped. And I became increasingly aware of how everyone else is driven by it, even exploited by it – adverts, social media, fashion, music – all of it became laughable and down right boring to me.

But, of course, these drives (to eat, to sleep, to survive, to win, to have sex) are all part of what makes us human. And, as good as it was to feel a little more stable in myself, I also felt strangely distant from what made me… well, me.

Over time, I’ve realised what just a huge part of me this drive is. I am proud of how I look, and I guess something in my libido drove me to put more effort into my appearance to others, to care about what I eat, to work out more. To be deemed sexually attractive I guess. Now? I couldn’t care less. I eat healthily, and I am physically active still- but it is more of an internal caring for my physical health (I want to give my body the best chance I can for my mind to get better). No longer have I got that fierce drive behind my intentions, to make me run faster, further, harder like I did before. It is as if my competitive streak has been wiped along side my libido. And while this is healthy in some senses (I am, like, the most zen person in the gym), in other ways it is… kind of boring. And it can make it hard for me to connect with someone else, as I just can’t comprehend their desire to win.

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Any activity that has any sort of sexual connotation is completely lost on me. Certain music types go straight over my head, let alone watching the videos that go with them. Dancing, which I used to love to the extent that I wouldn’t drink when we went night-clubbing so as to enjoy it more, has become almost a completely lost art to me. Clubbing itself is down right weird, let alone dressing up for it. Flirting and teasing is an absolute null, which I guess was a larger part of my interactions with others, gay, straight or otherwise, than I cared to realise before. Having proudly declared myself on my personal statement as ‘friendly, approachable and highly social’, I often now find myself with no desire to connect with new people I meet at all, let alone put any effort into my existing friendships. Jokes are lost on me, and I find myself more and more with nothing to add to conversation. I feel boring, dull, and not worthy of their friendship. Of course, much of this could be linked with my depression rather than my lack of libido, but it’s all mixed up and it’s not always easy to separate one from the other.

One thing that is definitely down to the side effects however, is how physical contact feels to me. I have been through a few occasions where I feel empty… completely uninterested in any sort of contact with anyone. Even just a touch on the shoulder might irritate me, rather than feel like a comfort. Being turned on at times feels more like a dull ache, a mild annoyance, than anything enjoyable. And, of course, not wanting to be insincere with my partner or myself, this leads to more and more physical rejection from me. Which puts more and more pressure on my partner to be constantly constantly patient and not get upset for me. I can’t even fathom the strength of character that Rich has shown for all of those times. He is my rock, and I love him so much.

I went from being one of the most tactile people in my circle of friends to one who would avoid physical contact at all costs. More and more distancing from the things that once gave me comfort. From my friends, from my partner, from myself.

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And what about love?

As my energy lifted, I realised that sometimes there was more than just a lack of libido going on. It could be more like a distinct lack of, well… anything. My antidepressants were, at times, having a profound effect on my feelings of personal connection. Ie. I was struggling to feel, and sometimes even understand the concept of love. In any sense. Romantic, parents and their children, even friendship.

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Of course, the one who noticed my lack of connection the most was the one closest to me, Rich. These extreme feelings of ‘nothingness’ would only last a few days at a time, thankfully, but still- it’s incredibly alarming and distressing when you look at the one who you’ve decided to spend the rest of your life with for some sort of comfort and still feel no interest of joy in life. Sometimes I would try to challenge the feelings, but the more I did that, the more empty I seemed to feel inside.

The physical side effects were excusable as being down to the drugs, but it was hard to find an excuse for the lack of love I was feeling. Even harder to discern whether these were genuine, completely natural feelings of my own, or whether it was just the depression making me think things I wouldn’t if I were healthy. Unless you’ve ever felt something like this yourself, it’s perhaps impossible for me to explain what it’s like to not be able to trust your own mind to know what’s best for you. It was a huge comfort to me therefore when I found studies online validating this very sensation. It helped me to explain it to others and, mainly, to comfort myself. As a creative type I had always invested a huge amount of my life to indulge in feeling through art, music, and performance. I quickly realised there was actually nothing I considered more terrifying in this world than to be unable to feel.

Add into this a mixture of self-hate, overthinking, and a general dissatisfaction with life from my depression (to put it mildly), and what can start out with a small doubt as to whether you are enjoying a conversation over coffee with one of your friends, can end up with you thinking that you just want to end your relationships with everyone you know, and even end your life.

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And all from a side effect of the meds that are meant to be helping you to get better.

The negatives seem to outweigh the benefits of taking the medication in the first place at all. But the good news is that there is a huge variety of agents for treating depression, and it is very normal for it to take a handful of attempts to find the right one for you.

The real problem is that doctors don’t seem to prioritise this subject when discussing depression and antidepressants with their patients. I only became aware that a lack of libido was a possible side effect of meds when I actually felt it happen for myself and then researched it. I know that GPs are under a huge amount of stress, especially when it comes to fitting it all in a appointment barely 10 minutes long, but still. I have so far seen at least 5 GPs, and 2 psychotherapists, and only 1 of those 7 ever asked me directly about my relationship with my partner, and certainly not about my satisfaction with my sex life.

The only other times I have discussed this with healthcare professionals is when I have been the one to bring up the subject myself. When this happens, maybe I have asked the wrong questions, but it has always focused around the physical side effects of the medications (the physical lack of libido), and even then not in terms of what that means for me personally or emotional.

The answer from my doctors has always been that ‘if it’s not too detrimental to your relationship, then it’s not worth changing the meds’. And I understand that, I do, I really do. I know full well how long it can take for these medications to kick in- weeks, even months long sometimes. And the thing is, it’s not “too detrimental”  to my relationship, despite having gone on for over 9 months now, because Rich and I talk about it. We have gone through a lot of pain together because of it, and, luckily for me, he’s much cleverer than to actually listen to me when I’m down. So we are strong. So strong.

So I continue taking my meds, and I continue putting up with some days feeling distant, and some days knowingly hurting the ones I am close to in my pushing them away, and I wait for some magic lift of my depression. And when I talk to my doctor, my lack of libido remains low on the list, understandably perhaps, when it’s placed under such things as ‘suicidal feelings’ and ‘lost sense of purpose’. The question is, how much of that ‘lost sense of purpose’ is the depression any more, or how much is it actually enforced by the low sex drive?

But that doesn’t mean that it’s not still a huge problem for me, and affects Rich too, and it is certainly detrimental to my mental state. More than anything, I hate that I bring him pain sometimes, even if it is my illness, rather than me that is causing it – it can be so hard to discern the two from each other at times. Nothing is black and white.

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It’s a difficult subject to discuss it seems, even for me, and I’m not exactly shy when it comes to expressing my feelings. But that, if anything, raises the flag to me that it’s something that we need to talk about more.

Medications have proven to be effective in treating depression, so it’s not something that we should be scared of doing because of the side effects. Equally though, more people need to realise that discussing personal and private thoughts and feelings with a medical practitioner can be as relevant to your treatment and recovery as the physical symptoms themselves.

I don’t really know what I’m trying to achieve by sharing all of this with you, but I can only hope that it helps someone out there to see this all written down and realise that they aren’t alone in feeling how they do. Because at the moment when I type into my search bar ‘what it feels like when you lose your libido’, I just get tips on how to get it back and what might have caused it, rather than anything on what it actually means for someone to go through it.

So I hope this made sense to someone out there, because god knows I’ve spent enough hours trying to work it out myself.

I just want to say a huge thank you to Rich for allowing me to talk about this publicly, as obviously this doesn’t just affect me, but is hugely personal for him too. Probably that’s yet another reason it’s hard to talk about openly, especially if you have a long term partner, because it’s very much about them too.

I hope you’re all well,

Stay breezey 😘

Roo xx.

Black Dog, White Dog

One of the hardest things about beginning to recover from depression and/or anxiety is getting out of the safety of your home, running into old friends, and having to explain to them where you’ve been and what you’ve been doing for the last year.

Last January, when my anxiety and depression was pretty low, and diagnosis was very new to me, I had been in bed for three months, and the one thing I dreaded most about seeing my friends and family again was them asking me what I doing with my life at the moment, and what my plans were.

It was around this time I signed up for BorrowMyDoggy. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s basically an online dating site, but instead of seeking your romantic soul mate, you’re looking for some four legged furry company. Now I really want a dog, to keep me company, to distract me from my own thoughts a little bit, to love and play with, to get me out of bed. But, as I live in rented property, this isn’t really an option, and consequently, I decided to see if I could look after someone else’s dog instead.

A quick search for dogs in my area, a few messages, and a meeting with his lovely owner later, I soon met Jeff, the little white Cavachon with a huge personality. Into my life he bounded, a bundle of warm furry energy to keep me entertained and play with me all day in my depression. Jeff got me outside, out of bed, and moving again. He made me laugh and smile and kept me warm and always demanded my attention over the demons in my head.

But Jeff actually gave me even more than that. Pre-Jeff, I avoided anywhere I might see someone I knew. I knew that with Jeff however, I would be forced to walk him right across my old university campus, in front of the bike store I used to work, and indubitably I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep my face hidden from everyone forever.

And of course, I did run into people I knew. But suddenly, and to my great relief, I found that rather than asking how was, or what I was up to in life- instead, it was all about Jeff. Who was he? Where was he from? Can I hold him? Is he friendly? Does he want a treat?

I immediately and seamlessly slipped into being one of those people who talk about nothing but their dog. And I love it.

Jeff became my saving grace. I stopped being so scared of going outside. I began to meet new people, other dog walkers. I got more adventurous again. I could go food shopping without having a break down. I got more confident to go out without Jeff too. I got stronger. I even began to hope someone would see me, proud to have such a great dog to talk about who got all the attention. Now when people ask me what I’ve been up to I can tell them. I look after Jeff.

It wasn’t long before I made the progression to looking after all sorts of dogs, and even started getting paid for it. It’s a small business I guess. Right now in fact there’s a little maltese trying to clamber onto the sofa beside me, and yesterday I was walking a husky cross.

Looking after dogs was a real game changer for me in some ways. I’m still waiting to get a dog of my own, but I’m really loving looking after all of the pups I do already.

If you are based in the midlands (sorry international readers!) and are looking for someone to give your dog a loving home for either a long or short stay, get in touch, or find me on DogBuddy!

You can see some more pictures of the dogs I look after here. Enjoy 🙂

Hope you’re all well,

Stay breezey 🐩

Roo xx.