“Some days it storms, some days it shines. This is how flowers grow.” Pavana

I can’t believe I’m here. A few months ago I really didn’t think I would be. Ok, so it’s not that dramatic, I don’t mean here as in ‘alive’, I mean here, writing this blog, sitting here on the balcony, bathed in sunshine, of a ski chalet in France. Enjoying the stunning view across a field of snow, glittering like a carpet of diamonds, to a backdrop of mountains blanketed in snow and fir trees dusted with frost.  After five months of being mostly house-bound, and much of that in bed, this is a huge deal for me.

Having Anxiety and / or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome means letting people down and missing out on things. A lot. I’ve lost count of the number of nights out I’ve cancelled and times I’ve let friends down due to exhaustion or anxiety. All I can say is no one is ever more disappointed than me. The picture above is from the beginning of February, at the end of a rough old week of having crashed and been back mostly in bed. That night I was supposed to be at one of my oldest and best friend’s 40th birthday party (the same friend who’s hen party in Ibiza I missed a few years ago due to anxiety).  So fast forward a few weeks and I felt strong enough to travel (the hubby doing all the driving, bless him!) to France.  It was such a big moment for me I got incredibly emotional when we arrived and burst into tears of relief and happiness that I’d made it. I was just so grateful.

I think acceptance is one of the most important (and hardest!) things I’ve had to learn.  Accepting the bad days (or weeks) and relishing the good days. Not getting frustrated and mostly not trying to fight against it. Maybe we need the bad times to help us appreciate the good ones.

So yes, I’m disappointed I’m not out skiing with my husband, kids and friends as my wobbly bambi legs just wouldn’t be able to do it. Not to mention that anxiety and skiing aren’t a great mix!  I would love to be out there confidently skiing but there’s no point dwelling on that.

Instead I’ve embraced the change of scenery and celebrated the magical moments when I’ve felt up to getting out. So I’ve wandered over the road to that glittering snow field and made snow angels and ‘snow-bathed’ in the sun. I’ve joined the kids in some head-first, backwards ‘bottom tobogganing’ down a slippery, snowy slope. Fun and laughter are much-needed medicine right now! Just watch kids at play and take that lesson on board. As adults we can easily forget that playing and silliness is magical. It’s been a thoroughly therapeutic week.

In the back of my mind is always that slight worry that I might over-do it and end up crashing again.  But I feel far more at ease with that. I can now accept that it is likely to happen at some point as I try and work out where my limits are. And I know that fighting it only makes it worse. So I am careful, I balance doing things with plenty of rest time, and I’ve learnt to stop getting so frustrated about that.

Sometimes you have to stop trying so hard to ‘beat’ it. Accept that it’s a part of you, but it doesn’t define you. It’s not who you are. Befriending anxiety and seeing it as being on my side, rather than the enemy, has helped me immensely. It’s made me far less scared of it. If you haven’t read my first post about making friends with my anxiety (or Geraldine as I call her), I really recommend you do. If you work with your anxiety and become curious in learning about why it’s there and what it’s trying to tell you, you can hopefully begin to feel more in control, less helpless.

So here is a pic of me, a couple of weeks after the pic above, in France, relishing being out in the fresh air. It’s been said so many times, but being out in nature and appreciating the simple beauty of it, is very good for the soul.

img_9319

 

Keep Calm, It’s Only Christmas!

3C397E1C-4C10-4D4A-9A82-AB4FE501EB4F

It’s not exactly news that Christmas (or the ever-expanding Festive Season) can be one of the most fun but one of most stressful times of the year. The media has created an insta-perfect image of what Christmas ‘should’ look like.  Think along the lines of a White Company catalogue- decorated tree and table, which is of course heaving with a perfectly-cooked array of Christmas treats, surrounded by happy, smiling families, all wearing ironic Christmas jumpers. Oh and don’t forget the handmade gingerbread house, complete with stained glass windows!

Really? Is that what Christmas is?

And what if your Christmas isn’t?

I’ve already heard people stressing out about Christmas. About having everything ready, and how they’ll cope on the day, what to buy, what to cook. And how on Earth they’ll pay for it all.

It seems to me that it’s all such a long way from the true spirit of Christmas.  So if you’re feeling the pressure of conforming to the ludicrously high expectations we seem to have about Christmas, it’s worth stopping to think, now, about how you could turn the stress dials down.

Last year I was pretty much bed-bound for most of December. I was devastated that I couldn’t even lie on the sofa and watch the kids decorate the tree, let alone get involved. CFS had my nervous system so revved up and my body so exhausted, that the excitement, noise and lights were such an assault on my senses that I lasted about two minutes before I had to take myself back up to lie quietly on my bed. My mum had to help me wrap presents and my husband did all the cooking on Christmas Day.

As someone who absolutely loves everything about Christmas (including the home-made gingerbread house) I had to completely lower my expectations. And guess what, we all had a lovely Christmas. We spent the morning opening pressies on my bed, and I had to leave the table before everyone else to go and lie down, but it was the most relaxed Christmas I’ve had in years. Yes I missed out on the parties and days out. But there’s other years.

And I’m so grateful that this year I’m far better, and, touch wood, hope to be back decorating the tree (if the kids will let me!).  I’m still not likely to be up to the parties, or going with the hubby and kids to London to see the lights – I wish I was, because as much as it’s all a bit far removed from the ‘real’ spirit of Christmas, I’m a sucker for all things glittery and sparkly.   But I can honestly say I’m fine with the fact that I can’t go.   That’s the way it is right now and I can let it upset me or I can choose to be happy about what I CAN do. Which is plenty. I mean, not being able to go to a Christmas party or see a few lights is a seriously 1st World problem, right?

SO HERE ARE MY TOP ‘CALM CHRISTMAS’ TIPS…

These are my three top tips for a calm and happy Christmas – and they’re not your usual ‘make lists’ and ‘be organised’. They basically all boil down to not giving a crap what everyone else thinks:

– VALUES: think about your values and how Christmas fits into those. Depending on how religious or spiritual you are, this might be thinking about the true meaning of Christmas or what this time of year means to you. What’s really important? Is it the perfectly-roasted potatoes and insta-worthy tree? The big pile of presents? Or is it about love, kindness and celebrating life?  Once you’ve worked out what YOU really think is important then keep that in mind with whatever you do. Because if Christmas is really just about love, does it matter if the turkey’s dry or you forget the cranberry sauce?  Do you really care if your table isn’t big enough to fit Great Auntie Pat and all her children around? Can you get some rugs on the floor and have a Christmas picnic?

– GRATITUDE: be grateful for what you have, however little, because there will ALWAYS be someone who would love to have what you have.  I think Christmas has become far too much about the presents. I mean even Jesus only got three!  And was born in a barn… no perfectly decorated house for him with matching plates and serviettes.

See if you can truly just accept and be happy with what you can do and what you can’t – and let the latter go.

– STOP COMPARING: Drop the perfectionist!  (This has been a biggie for me!) Something I’ve really understood recently (from some fantastic people including Faith Canter and her new book Loving Yourself Inside & Out, and Toby Morrison who runs CFS Health) is that we’re all busy comparing ourselves and trying to be like each other!  But it’s pointless – none of us are the same or on the same journey. We have no idea what’s going on behind other people’s facade. The reality is we all aspire to be these perfect people – but they don’t exist. They’re all trying to be like someone else too.  I’ve spent my life comparing myself (unfavourably) to other people and trying to be perfect. It’s exhausting and it’s fake. I’m a million times happier now I’ve decided that I just want to be me.

Keeping it simple, letting go of expectations, consciously enjoying each moment and remembering that, for me, it’s all about feeling the love – that’s the plan I choose for Christmas this year 🎄 💕

Hazel x

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Labels and our thoughts – can letting go of labels help to heal our bodies?

504B5A82-A58F-4667-83AC-BA503D73FA0BI haven’t written in a while, because in all honesty I just haven’t felt like doing so. It’s been a fairly tumultuous six weeks where at times I’ve felt like I’ve been flailing. Fighting against the wave instead of riding it, the water crashing over my head, pulling me under. At times I’ve managed to get my head above the water briefly, to take a breath, only for the next wave to engulf me. Finally, though, I stopped fighting, I stopped trying so damn hard to fix it and instead I relaxed and that’s when the wave carried me back to shore.

Now that the wave has gently put me down, I’ve been able to think about what these last few weeks have been about, why I needed to go through them and what I’ve learnt.

Which brings me to the theme of this blog. Labels.  Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Generalised Anxiety Disorder. Two of the labels I’ve been given over the last year. Yes, they have in many ways been hugely helpful. Having a name to pin things on means I’ve been able to look into these conditions, learn about them, speak to other people with them.  Give those people who ask, a name for what’s going on with me.

But other labels often come alongside these ones – words like ‘suffering from’ and ‘ill’ and needing ‘treatment’. Not exactly inspiring words.

So now I’m going to be a little controversial and I may upset some people reading this who have these labels. I’m all for debate so if you don’t agree (or do!) with what I’m about to say, please do pop your thoughts in the comments below.

First though I want to tell a quick, true story.  I can’t remember exactly who it’s about, but I think it’s Einstein.  One day, this boy (who we’ll say is Einstein) came home from school with a letter from his teacher for his Mother. When he asked what it said, she replied that the teacher said he was too clever and the teacher couldn’t teach him anymore and suggested his mother teach him herself. She did, and he went on to become, well, Einstein! But he later discovered that’s not what was in the letter at all. It actually said that he was failing so badly and was clearly so stupid that the teacher couldn’t teach him.  We now know he was actually dyslexic.  What might have been different if Einstein had grown up labelling himself as stupid?

Going back to chronic fatigue and anxiety, I think there comes a time when the labels become unhelpful and can contribute to keeping us stuck in our condition.  And I believe there’s enough science out there to back this up.

Because one of the main biochemical issues going on with both these ‘conditions’ is that the brain is stuck in the stress response. I’ve talked about this before so I won’t go into much detail, suffice to say that stress or anxiety releases stress hormones, which are vital to put our body into the very necessary fight or flight mode.  If the reason for the stress or anxiety goes away quickly then the brain stops pumping out these chemicals and the body calms back down. But if we’re under continuous stress (either mental or physical), a loop is created whereby the brain keeps releasing these chemicals into the body, so the body believes it’s under attack, which sends signals back to the brain that there’s a threat, which means it creates more stress hormones. And so it goes on, wreaking more and more havoc, until the cycle can be broken by calming down the body and the brain.

Whatever the initial trigger, this continued prescence of stress hormones causes a cascade of problems throughout the body – inflammation, gut issues (which themselves feed into the stress loop as the majority of seratonin – the ‘happy’ hormone – is produced in the gut, more than in the brain), fatigue, pain, brain fog, etc etc. Essentially it puts the whole body out of balance.  As an example, at the moment, when I get hungry, I get physical symptoms of anxiety – tightness in my chest and short of breath. My stress response is on such high alert that even hunger is telling my brain I’m under threat (of starvation) and it’s doing it’s thing by warning me physically.  I eat and the symptoms reduce.

So, to get back to my original point about labels.  When I think of myself as being ‘ill’ and ‘suffering from’ Chronic Fatigue Syndrome what does that thought tell my brain?  It tells it there’s a problem. And what if I were to think of myself as perfectly well and healthy, that my body is working exactly as it should be (by sending me stress signals, which are, after all, designed to keep me safe), I just need to work on breaking that stress cycle?  I might still have the same symptoms (I’m  not suggesting they’ll magically disappear – if only!) but I feel a hell of a lot more relaxed about them. And more in control. Which starts to send the message to my brain that I’m safe and it doesn’t need to do anything. I can relax.  And if I’m relaxed what might happen?  My whole system will gradually calm down and the stress response cycle will, in time, be broken.  Not straight away, but if it keeps getting positive messages instead of negative ones, it will stop reacting so much as it won’t be on such a constant high alert.

And then my body has a chance of healing itself. Exactly as it’s designed to do.

So what if you were to believe that you’re not broken and you don’t need to be fixed? What if you could accept yourself exactly as you are and be ok with it?  You may still want to work on improving your health, or how you react to your thoughts, but if you come from a place of not thinking there’s anything ‘wrong’ with you, you’re just a normal, flawed but perfect human being, it’s a more peaceful place to start from.

I’d better add that I’m not suggesting I just pretend there’s nothing wrong so go off and do a 10k run. Clearly that would be disastrous. It’s not that it’s all in my mind. My body’s hugely fatigued and depleted and isn’t going to stop being so just because I decide to stop thinking of myself as ill.  I would do it huge damage if I ignored my current limits.  I’m absolutely NOT suggesting anyone do that.

I’m still pacing, doing only what’s manageable and resting regularly. I’m eating only (ok, mostly – I’m about 90/10 because over-obsessing about healthy eating is also anxiety-causing) nutritious foods, I’m cutting out as many of the toxins in my life as I can, only increasing activity slowly and listening to my body’s needs. It definitely needs time, and loads of care, to repair itself. It’s not about not accepting where you are at this moment. In fact, quite the opposite. It’s about accepting where you are but not letting it define you.

Because it’s not just that negative or stressful thoughts create chemical changes. They also influence our actions. If we think our current state can’t be changed, then the likelihood is that we won’t take positive actions to try and change it.  But if we believe our bodies are set up to self-correct (given the best healing conditions) then we’re far more likely to act accordingly and nourish our bodies and minds to give them the best possible chance of healing.

And if I’m wrong, and breaking the stress loop isn’t the answer, or is only one of the answers, well I’ll deal with that when I’ve given this approach some time. And at least in the meantime I’ll hopefully be a lot more relaxed.  Which is pretty nice.

Hazel x

Do your life choices make your heart sing? What our holidays can teach us…

IMG_2494

Aren’t holidays just the best?  A change of scene, a chance to get away from the usual  busyness of life.  I’m currently feeling blissed out lounging on a swingy chair by the pool in a beautiful spot in South West France on a family holiday.  Hubby and kids are off on a bike ride through the pine forests – which I’d desperately like to join them on but CFS of course has other ideas.  But I can’t complain, I’m having a wonderful week of rest and rejuvenation in the sunshine. Yoga, meditation, floating in the sea and the pool, lying in the sun, relaxing. I’m using my sunbathing time to really rest and recuperate – using things like breathing techniques, meditation, positive affirmations and visualisation to help switch off my brain’s sympathetic response, that fight or flight response that floods the body with stress hormones creating that feeling of stress and anxiety, and instead training my brain to switch on its parasympathetic response – the rest and relax response.  Chronic stress and anxiety keep the brain stuck in a circle of stress response because those stress hormones create a stressed state, which tells the brain that there’s a reason to be anxious, which further causes it to release more stress hormones. So using techniques to help interrupt this cycle is really important.

I’m also finding ways to do something each day that I really want to do, whilst resisting the temptation to do all the other things I also want to do but I know would be to much. So a few strokes in the pool rather than the gliding up and down the pool that I really want to do (and am visualising being able to do in the future!). It’s all about balance.

It’s got me thinking about why it is we love holidays so much. Ok it’s probably fairly obvious for Brits like me – sunshine and warmth on our bodies! The chance to swim in the sea, feel the sand between our toes, slow down and not have our days dictated by the clock. No alarm to wake us up, no work to go to. A change of scene, maybe different activities and sports to try. And time. Life slows down. We can do what we want, when we want.  We wander around with bare feet. No suits and ties constricting us. We spend more time outside. We do things we just wouldn’t normally do at home – like suddenly decide to drive to the beach to watch the sun go down and a storm come in, like we did a couple of nights ago. Not something we do when there’s school and work the next day.

But then the holiday ends. And we go back to ‘real life’. But what if we had a life we didn’t need a holiday from?  What can we learn from our holidays about ourselves and the life we’d really like to be living?  And could we be better at incorporating more of that holiday feeling into our everyday?  I’m not suggesting we then wouldn’t bother with holidays – I think they’re an important part of life as they give us the time and space that can be difficult to find every day. But we can definitely learn from what it is we love about them and do more of it. Which brings me back to the balance I mentioned earlier.

What I’ve realised is that I crave change. I don’t like being in the same place for too long. It can make me feel stagnant. I love being at home but I also know I want to experience as much of this world, and what it has to offer, as I can.  I also am happiest when I’m outside a lot. I love feeling the air on my skin, the sun (even the rain) on my face and the ground under my bare feet. I love being near water. And whilst some routine is good, I also need a break from routine, a chance to be spontaneous and feel free from routine’s shackles.  These are all things I can take home and find ways to include more in my life.  Could I get up early one morning and watch the sun rise? Of course I can!

I also read a beautiful, heartbreaking but inspiring poem this week, which I’ve already shared on my Facebook page (if you haven’t seen it you can find it at –  https://m.facebook.com/myfriendanxiety.blog). It’s about how we take that wonderful wild, free spirit we have as children and mould it into what we believe is ‘acceptable’ and ‘civilised’ behaviour.  We teach children how to pass exams so they can get a ‘good’ job. We make them wear the right clothes (school uniform, polished shoes, later maybe a suit and tie, or high heels to make their legs look longer). We even employ tutors so when they’re not in school we can make sure they don’t get behind or they get into the right school.  We taxi them to this activity and that club – so they have no time to just play and we have no time to play with them.  Is it any wonder that stress, anxiety and chronic illness are so on the increase?

And yes, I’m as guilty of the above as anyone. Which I’m pretty sure has contributed to my CFS. But I’ve been questioning it all for quite some time and am doing so more and more. While I test my seven year old daughter on her times tables in the car on the drive to France (so she ‘doesn’t get behind’) I’m wondering what the hell I’m doing.  Part of me craves upping and moving to somewhere completely different, where my children can learn about their planet through being immersed in it. Where they can run free, make mistakes, learn about life by living it, not by Googling it.

Until then, I’m going to work on bringing more of these things into our lives at home. I’m going to learn how to bring the holiday pace into our daym

So our ‘holidays’ won’t be breaks from ‘real life’ but a part of our lives that we choose to do just to get to experience different places.

Hazel x

https://m.facebook.com/myfriendanxiety.blog/?tsid=0.9860015289048174&source=result

Do more of what brings you joy – why happiness isn’t something you ‘find’, it’s something you create.

IMG_1529

It sounds almost too simple really doesn’t it.  If you want to be happier, do more of what you love!  But when you’re doing something that brings you joy, that you’re so passionate about doing, there’s just no room for anxiety or negative thoughts. Joy and fear just can’t occupy the same space.

There’s no getting away from the reality that anxiety is pretty crap. Yep that’s putting it mildly!  It’s scary, frustrating and can affect your whole life. But I truly believe it’s possible to take charge of anxiety and not let it rule you.  The more I find out about how the brain works, the more I realise that it can be re-trained if it’s fed the right things. And joyful thoughts and feelings are seriously nutritious food for the brain.

In fact, think for a moment about the physical feelings of anxiety – racing heart, shallow breathing, the feeling of adrenalin racing through your body. Now think about how passion and excitement feel – racing heart, shallow breathing, adrenalin coursing through your body. Same physical feelings, very different emotional feelings.  You know how if you want to do something badly enough you can somehow find the courage to do it, even if it scares the hell out of you? That’s because passion can always triumph over fear if it burns bright enough.

Certain types of activity create an almost meditative quality, a quieter joy rather than a fierce burning joy. It’s called being in ‘flow’. It’s no less powerful. Your mind doesn’t wander off, you’re completely absorbed in what you’re doing.  Obvious examples are things like yoga, Tai Chi or even running.  I’ve been doing some painting recently and it’s the same feeling. I always use colours and images that bring me joy – so for me that’s lots of purples, pinks, turquoise, vibrant sunsets, birds, flowers.  Now, if I’m not in a great mood, painting’s one of the things I turn to.

What are your passions? What do you love doing – things that sweep you up and get you so absorbed there’s no room to think about anything else?

It’s so easy to get caught up in all the day to day stuff that ‘needs’ to get done. But what’s really important in life?  Yes, bills need paying, kids need taking to school, dinner needs to be made, but if you really want to do something you can – you have to – create a way.  Because it won’t just happen.  You can search for happiness as long as you like, reading books about how to be happy etc, but I’ve finally come to realise it’s way more simple than I thought.  Create a life you love.  Actually I do take that back, it’s not always simple when you have commitments, but there is always a way.

I can’t remember where I heard it, but I heard a story recently about a guy that had an accident and ended up paralysed from the neck down. He couldn’t do anything for himself and relied completely on his wife. She ended up sinking into depression. This wasn’t how she’d envisaged their life. So eventually the husband realised he had to do something – his wife needed him and she needed a life she loved. They ended up travelling the world.

You don’t have to be that drastic of course.  But you can create a life where you do more of what you love. Don’t hold yourself back or wait until something drastic happens to give you that wake up call.  Get up early and watch the sun rise. Start that hobby you’ve always wanted to do.  Whatever it is that ignites that fire of passion in you.

Last weekend I was camping with the hubby, kids and another family – one of my wonderful crazy best mates from Uni days who I’m lucky enough to live just a few minutes from. I knew it’d be a big ask for my still-fragile CFS body but I was so excited and we had an absolute blast.  I love waking up to the fresh crisp air, cooking outside around a fire, letting the kids run wild and getting filthy. There’s an absolute feeling of freedom that brings me huge joy.  Since we got back (I’m writing this four days later) I’ve been physically and emotionally exhausted from doing so much more, even though I thought I was being careful, and I’ve been mostly back in bed, recuperating. And I’ve questioned whether perhaps I shouldn’t have gone as I’d been progressing so well and it feels like a smack in the face to be back feeling crappy again. The anxious thoughts creep back in – what if this time I don’t get better?  But then I look back at the photos of us so happy, chilled out and laughing and I know that I wouldn’t take it back. We need those times of joy. They’re what life’s about.  I’ll never forget that weekend, it’ll always make me laugh thinking about it.  And the more we feed ourselves with those feelings, the more the brain chills out and gets used to that way of responding. It sends messages to our brain that everything is ok.

And my husband will roll his eyes when he reads this blog. It’s only something he’s been telling me for about five years. It took a while – and a huge wake up call – for the penny to drop for me.

I’ll stop blabbering on now and finish with a fab quote a friend shared recently that made me smile:

“The diem ain’t gonna carpé itself.”

What are you waiting for? Go and seize the day, in whatever shape or form you can.

Hazel x

 

What is going on?

A brave and honest account of the physical and emotional rollercoaster Chronic Fatigue Syndrome…

a snoozie life

shockWhat a difference a day can make. It is 11.27am and I’m typing this post after doing 30 minutes of yoga in the sun. I’m feeling calm and balanced and strong and awake. Yesterday at 11.27am? Well that’s a different story…

audiobox2I spent yesterday morning bawling. Not crying or weeping or sobbing but bawling. Huge sobs wracking my body, snot and tears sliming my face. And I just couldn’t stop. What triggered this episode of excess emotion? Well, I watched a very sad episode of the TV show, Nashville (those who watch this show will know why I was crying!). I often cry at TV, I’m an emotional person, but what started as a few stray tears escaping my eyes and a bit of snuffling quickly escalated. I ended up on the floor of the shower bawling. Why?

Well, there’s a few reasons why and one of them is that…

View original post 1,944 more words

Gratitude – the antidote to Anxiety?

IMG_1534

Last night I soaked in a beautiful bath fit for a Princess. My daughter and her friend had filled it with glitter and fresh lavender from our garden, so it seemed rude not to take the opportunity for a bit of relaxation on a cold and rainy August evening!  Being a practical kind of princess, I also tipped in some Himalayan bath salts – full of magnesium and great for releasing toxins from the body and for sleep.

I lay there, feeling full of love and gratitude for those two sweet girls, who had just, in their playing, reminded me that we should never lose our sparkle, just because we grow up.  I also felt an immense gratitude for the fact that I could enjoy a bath. Eight or nine months ago I could barely get in the bath, trying to wash myself took every ounce of energy, and when I got out I would have to lie on the bathroom floor, exhausted, until I could manage to get up and get back to my bed – which was right next door.  I know I’ve mentioned gratitude briefly in other blogs, but it’s so important it definitely deserves to shine all on its own.

One of the blessings of a chronic illness is that I seriously appreciate so many little things that I previously took for granted. I wasn’t ever ungrateful, but I didn’t stop to think about being grateful for them.  Now I’m grateful for everything. When I started being able to get out of bed and be downstairs some of the time, I was so grateful for being able to sit on my sofa. I am still grateful every time I sit on it. Then I was grateful for being able to have a shower, now I’m also grateful for being able to stand in the shower most days rather than sit in the bottom of it. I could go on forever, listing all of the things I’m so grateful for.

Almost every night, since April, I’ve been writing in my Journal at least three things I’m grateful for.  Some days it’s easier than others but I can always find something – and it gets easier the more you do it because then being grateful becomes a habit, just like anything you practice regularly.  The very first one I wrote was ‘I am grateful for being able to relax all morning in bed.’ I’ve also written things like being grateful for a text from a friend asking how I am, for sitting outside in the sun, for a beautiful flower in the garden, for a friend taking the kids out, for my husband cooking me dinner, the internet for keeping me in touch with people when I can’t get out and see them much, for feeling the grass under my feet. And so much more. You get the picture.

But you don’t have to be recovering from an illness to get grateful.  And you might be thinking what has got gratitude got to do with anxiety? According to people that know about these things, it’s impossible for the brain to feel gratitude and anxiety at the same time. And I know it works.  A couple of days ago I watched the trailer for what I think will be an amazing film, called UNrest.  It’s been made by an absolutely inspirational woman who has Chronic Fatigue/ M.E and will hopefully open people’s eyes to the illness.  However, in the comments underneath the trailer there were a huge number of people talking about how ill they are, how long they’ve been ill for and that there’s no hope of them getting better. I usually steer well clear of anything like that and am only a member of forums that are full of positive people working on recovering.  So it threw me a bit and I could feel myself starting to think anxious thoughts, like maybe I’m kidding myself that I’ll recover.  Luckily I’ve learned that kind of thinking isn’t helpful, and that it’s possible to change my thoughts (something I used to think I had no control over – I was so wrong!) so I knew I needed to stop myself. Having learnt so much about gratitude I knew that’s what I needed to do to turn my thoughts around.

So I decided to get grateful about everything that’s been positive about having CFS. You’d think there’s nothing, right? Well a while back I’d have thought the same. But I pretty quickly came up with a number of things I’m grateful to CFS for – like the fact I’ve had to slow down and learn to relax, which means I’m  WAY less stressed than I used to be, which isn’t just good for me but also for my husband and kids.  Like discovering a love of painting and writing this blog.  And other things I think I’ve gone on about before. But as soon as I started thinking gratefully I forgot all about being anxious and I went straight back into a positive mindset. If I’d let myself carry on with my pointless anxious thoughts, they’d have ended up spiralling.  But I caught them early on when it’s still possible to think rationally and make a conscious decision to change my thinking.

No matter what you’re going through, there’s always something to be grateful for, even if you have to look pretty hard some days. But isn’t it potentially life-changing to know that you have the power to change your thoughts? I’m not saying I’m now ‘cured’ of all anxiety, but that’s never been my goal. It’s to change the relationship to anxiety, and be able to control it rather than have it control me. How powerful is that?!

Hazel x

It’s ok not to be ok!

IMG_0007

I usually write my blogs when I’m feeling in a positive place, because I think that’s when I can send out positive messages and be most helpful. But this time I’m doing it a bit differently as I’m writing this at a time when I’m frankly feeling crappy. I’m in bed, physically and mentally tired and pretty emotional. I’m not writing that for sympathy, but I thought maybe it would be just as useful to both myself and people reading this, to show that I’m not always this positive person now who’s got life cracked and has all the answers!  Because I don’t.

I’m just back from a mostly lovely week staying in Jersey with one of my best friends. It involved tackling Gatwick airport, which I knew my legs wouldn’t get me through, so I (deep breath!) used a wheelchair. Ok that was a big one to say publicly!  I’d been very anxious the morning of the day we were leaving so I visualised the kids racing me around the airport and my smiling face when I arrived the other end to see my wonderful friend. And that really helped.

Most of the trip was fantastic. I loved catching up with my friend and her family, and I did far more than I thought I’d cope with physically. But it caught up with me towards the end (post-exertional malaise, often one of the main symptoms of CFS) not helped by what in hindsight I know was a crazy decision time-wise to wean off one of my meds (I should add it was with my doctor’s advice). Cue me now knowing what withdrawal symptoms are like! Let’s just say- not good. And not realising that’s what it was made it all really scary.  So I completely panicked and really struggled to get myself back to a better place.

So I’m back on the meds for now (again with my doctor’s advice) and will wait until I’m stronger and do it much more slowly next time. But it’s left me exhausted and not where I wanted to be, given how well I was improving.

But what I want to say is that it’s fine. It’s fine to feel crappy. It’s fine to struggle and not have all the answers. It’s fine to question and doubt yourself and your ability to keep going and finding the strength to persevere when life’s tough. It’s completely human to have times where you just have to fall apart for a while.  In fact letting yourself fall apart when you need to can be far more helpful than trying to keep going and forcing yourself to feel better.

So today I’m giving myself permission to feel my crappy feelings, to rage against the unfairness of it all, to feel disappointed that I’d been doing so well and frustrated to feel like I’ve gone backwards. Because it’s only by acknowledging those feelings and letting myself go through them that I can deal with them and move through them. And come out the other side feeling stronger again.  Because what I have definitely learnt by now is that I do come through the other side.

So once I’ve let myself go through the crappy feelings, I’m more ready to look at doing something more more constructive.  And doing things like writing this is what helps that process. Getting it all down on paper (or blog) really does help. I’ve also booked in a chat with one of the coaches at CFS Health, one of the Chronic Fatigue recovery clinics I work with, I’m watching inspirational videos and reaching out for practical help and a bit of good old mum TLC. Because I also know that whilst it’s up to us to be our own coach and cheerleader, we don’t have to do it alone.  But we do have to take responsibility for doing something about it – and learn the lesson from what we did, or didn’t do.

So a bit of a different post today – but I hope it’s helpful to see that we can all feel vulnerable and have bad days. I’m down, but I’m not out!  And when I rise back up I’ll feel even stronger because I’ll know I survived, just like we do every time life gets tough.

So go easy on yourself, don’t give yourself a hard time if you’re struggling. You don’t learn when life’s easy!  It’s the tough times that help you grow.

Hazel x