Keeping on keeping on gets hard. Sometimes everything can feel like an uphill slog. Sometimes the hill has the angle of a rock climbing wall, and sometimes you’re wearing roller skates. At the moment, I feel like I am trying to climb a rock climbing wall (without the harness and someone below me with a belay), with roller skates on (not easy for rock climbing), and probably something awful happening to my hands. Maybe blindfolded too, just for good measure. So. Falling, that’s how I feel. Fall off said wall, back first, no clue what I’ve got to land on. This post is as much for me as it may be for you. Here are five tips on how to try and keep it together.
Going to be my first tip always. It’s taken a long time and a lot of technique change, but I’ve moved on from full blown attacks of anxiety and panic that have caused self harm slip ups, paranoia to the point of hallucinations and palpitations that you think might kill you. I can feel one coming on now – I can feel it physically, in my heart giving little jumps, my stomach dropping (- why does no one talk about almost shitting themselves thanks to anxiety? They should. It’s too real, we need to talk about stuff that isn’t nice – how else are we meant to problem solve, help seek and receive help if we can’t talk about it?), and the nervous ticks I know I’ve developed. Recently I’ve had serious problems with eye contact and have been finding it near impossible – it takes a concerted effort. And this isn’t just people in the shops or people I walk past in the street, but my boyfriend, too, and the person I had an interview with yesterday. But. Breathe. It sounds so shit and yoga ish (I love yoga, sorry but also not sorry at all), but breathe. Take that pause to stop. Just put a full stop on the situation. You don’t think you’re in control, that you don’t have the capacity to do it. But you do. Just, shush yourself, shush the inside voice. Stop. Put an imaginary plug on the emotional or inside-voice outpouring. Stop, put it down, close your eyes and focus on breathing in. Mindfulness 101, breathe, focus on this one action.
Do a Recce.
What’s a recce? Army lingo, my friends. I know this because I read Star Wars books, what can I say. Reconnaissance. Check in with yourself. This is basic self care stuff, too. Sometimes things build up and you don’t have a chance to clock yourself – do you smell funky? Have you changed your underwear recently? Last shower, last time you brushed your teeth? Have you taken your medication? Are you hungry, are you thirsty, do you have a headache, are your lips dry? Brushing my teeth makes me feel cleaner instantly, even if I am stinky and wearing the same house-only clothes as I was a week ago, even if I haven’t been able to tidy up my side of the room and am ankle deep in receipts and socks and empty paracetamol packets.
Sometimes sensory things will prompt reactions that I cannot explain, and that seem irrational. For example, if I’ve had a tough day and I feel a bit rough around the edges, I am likely to flip the fuck out when I hear a vacuum cleaner. I don’t know why, I can’t explain it. I have had screaming-crying-throwing fits in response to vacuum cleaners. When I use a vacuum cleaner myself, I tend to be just fine. Dogs barking is another one, dogs jumping up and barking make my heart jump into my throat. Sensory things can also get in the way of the things you might want to do: if something’s messy, been put away in the wrong place, smells funky, etc. Sometimes all it takes is changing just one thing to make everything a little bit better. If the trash bag is putting you off going downstairs and using the kitchen then taking the trash out will open up that whole space to you. It sounds pretty poor to use the phrase ‘baby steps’, but often I feel like its appropriate. If I can’t get dressed or washed or leave the house (or even, and more usually, my room/bed) I have to set these tiny goals, which I’m openly a bit embarrassed about, just to get the most minute things done.
Don’t Repress It.
One of the problems I’ve had over the last eight months is the fact that I decided (unconsciously, I think) that I was in fact just fine, and perfectly capable of managing everything. Everything that I have felt that has demonstrated that I am in fact really not fine, I have shut away, pushed down going “nope! It’s all good here!” And whilst maybe that’s functional in the short run, at some point, it might come back and bite you in the ass. Ignoring a problem which is likely to resurface, and with a vengeance, is (as a rule of thumb) a poor call – and that goes for most things in life, I think. One of the best things to do, and this really harps back to CBT, is acknowledge what you’re feeling. Don’t necessarily force yourself to disassociate (I’m very, very bad for this – I become too reflective, too analytical ..and then too critical), but take a moment to say, okay, I’m angry. Or sad, hurt. Embarrassed, ashamed, jealous. Your emotions are real and they are valid. Sometimes my emotions frighten me, either because they’re so strong or they feel somehow inappropriate. Sometimes I think that I’m feeling nothing at all, but in reality I’ve just flipped a switch to stop myself from feeling something that I don’t want to feel.
This is a biggie, and really I think it might be the hardest (or at least it is for me). We all have support systems, whether we realise it or not. And, if you’ve been through some kind of therapy before, you might be pretty familiar with the idea. When my hospital program finished we all had to fill out this sheet about our own danger signs, when we knew we were on a relapse cusp, and we had a list of ‘who to contact in an emergency’. Up until the beginning of this month I was using exactly zero percent of my support system. I have openly lied to my parents, boyfriend and flatmates about the state of my university work. Instead, I’ve fallen back to the health services and administrative services of the university – which isn’t ideal, seeing as they’re likely to be less invested in my personal welfare than a friend or family member would be. But, it’s something. The trick is knowing when to ask for help. The ‘when’ factor is a big deal, because the earlier you catch it, the easier it is to fix. I think people think of help seeking as being “hey I’m falling apart, please save me” but it really doesn’t have to so explicit or extreme (though I’ve certainly used that exact line at least twice). If you feel like being alone would be dangerous for you right now, ask a friend to go see a movie. I managed last week and I was so proud of myself. It got me out of the house, we had a lot of laughs, ate candy, had a really good walk, watched a terrible movie. It wasn’t dishonest because I was craving this friend’s company, I did want to see a movie, and I did want to laugh. There are so many people out there who like you and would like to hang out with you. You don’t need to tell them everything, but if you want to be open, why not. Go for it.
To anyone who’s struggling right now, head up and hold tight. You are loved. Keep on keeping on. If you’ve got any favourite self-care methods or ways you cope with things when they get too overwhelming, I’d love to hear them! Xx