New year, New Me??

So Christmas and New Year went in a flash, as they always do. Just like clockwork, I spent most of the time in a high state of Anxiety and with pretty low mood. Don’t get me wrong, I had a fantastic Christmas. I got to spend time with friends, family, catch up with people I haven’t seen in ages and chill out a bit. But with the time of year comes a lot of social gatherings, and we know how well I do with those. Day after day you have to spend your days surrounded by people, not really knowing what to say or who to talk to, or what to do with yourself. Which usually results in me having a couple of drinks to cope with the social anxiety I experience. And then a couple more. And so on until I’m losing control of myself, my dignity, volume, inhibitions, language and interpersonal social etiquette. Usually by the time I realise I’m getting a bit much it’s way too late, and I’m snowballed to a point I can’t control. Now I’m not usually that much of a dick anymore (I tried to leave that kind of behaviour behind me years ago, when I gave up a number of poisonous little habits – that’s a story for another day…), and it’s rare these days that I resort to the rude, obnoxious, insulting and horrific behaviour I used to have years ago. But even without that there’s still the guilt, anxiety, fear and toxic thoughts that come after an evening drinking. It’s a bit like a merry go round: you have a social situation coming up, you feel anxious, you drink to calm yourself, relax and enjoy the situation but continue drinking, you let your guard down and your behaviour becomes more spontaneous and sometimes a little intense, boundaries get crossed and you wake up the next day hating yourself for the slightest thing you did or said that you can’t really remember in full cause you’re hanging like fuck, you vow never to do it again, and the next social situation you go round again. It’s a fucker like that. Especially in a family like mine. Let’s just say we like a drink. Or 10. And we like a gettogether. Which usually means drinking. So at Christmas everything goes turbo, drinking, socialising, anxiety, self hatred. And cause the holidays start the week before Christmas Day and by the time that comes around I’ve usually been on the piss for a week straight already the big day is usually started with a tumble down the helter skelter of despair and the rest of the day trying to climb out of it, usually drinking to get on a level I can handle.

Now this post is not a self intervention “my name’s Nick and I’m and alcoholic” tearfest that it seems at the moment. I have a healthy (ish) relationship with booze. I know it doesn’t do me much good in my head so I try to limit my drinking to 2 days a week, usually a Friday and Saturday. And with Hockey on a Saturday I try to keep a lid on it Friday night, joining the family at our local for a few and then not many more at home. Saturdays I let go a bit and if I want to have a few more I do, and one heavy night a week I can just about handle, although hangovers are bad news for me at the best of times. Sunday is certainly not “Funday” in my word if I’ve had a few on Saturday.

So we’ve entered the New Year on the back of a heavy festive period. New Years Eve was the icing on the cake it seems, and I woke up the morning after in a world of pain. Hungover, ill, anxiety, regret, fear, all the good feels. Everyone is familiar with the post night out hangover fear and guilt that can cripple you and make you swear off drinking again. And when I was still feeling it in the evening, I presumed this was just another day in hangover paradise. I went to bed at 8pm, prepared to rejoin the outside world the next day. But that didn’t exactly happen…

I woke up to the mother of all headcolds. Turns out I’d finally caught “the bug” that’s been going around. It’s not surprising, spending 2 weeks boozing, eating indulgent food and working in a gym environment are all a fantastic set up to write you off for a few days. So I struggled into work, armed with a shit load of Lemsip, ready to attack 2018 with a vengeance. But something didn’t feel right. I had a hollow feeling that was more than just being ill. I felt disconnected more than I usually do after a hangover weekend. Couldn’t get back into work. Felt out of place more than usual. Whatever I did to try and kickstart it didn’t feel like it was working. I couldn’t hold a conversation with my clients. I struggled to get excited about work, hockey, training, anything really. January Blues gets everyone but this was weird. I felt like I was losing my grip on what fleeting resemblance of reality I have. Then the spiral started getting crazy. I’d find myself sat in my treatment room at work unable to move, think, speak for hours on end because I’m terrified that the world is gonna explode on top of me in a shitstorm. I’d be driving to work or hockey or football and suddenly realise I’ve had tears running down my face for the past 10 minutes, and haven’t realised cause I’ve tumbled down the rabbit hole. I’d be sat around my family and friends unable to speak, fighting the inward battle with my thoughts of not being good enough, being a burden on everyone and actually draining the positive energy out of a situation that I’m in. I know that’s not true but that little fucker inside my head likes to poison me with it from time to time.

Now this little unhealthy combination of behaviours was doing me no favours, and by now I’m getting pretty good at dragging myself back to reality when this happens. I can’t stop it from happening, but by using mindfulness, yoga, coherent breathing and putting my thoughts on trial (#CBT lifehacks), I can deal with it mostly. So I had to look at what was causing this, and deal with it before it became really damaging and I find myself drinking too much again.

Lets look at what’s happened recently that could be causing this. First thing, Christmas is a fucking hectic time and you’re being pulled in a million different directions. Anyone who knows me well knows how intense my nearest and dearest can be. They’re awesome and I love them, but fuck me I need a breather once in a while. So the festive period is gonna have had a little impact on you. So take a step back, and just concentrate on you for a bit. Then we look at work. Targets go up in January and steadily for every month after that. And I’m looking at my diary for the next few weeks and except for the odd regular in there I’m seeing tumbleweeds dancing across my treatment room. So I start panicking and have an anxiety attack. The most serious one for weeks. But in the midst of me curled up in a ball on my chair shaking like a shitting dog I realise – this is whats fucking with you at the moment Nick. No one put’s more pressure on you than you, and work is fucking filled with self pressure. So what do I do to get people in? I can’t pluck them out of thin air so what. I’ve never been a skilled seller or marketer so this shit don’t exactly come naturally to me. But I do what you need to do in a crisis. Write Shit Down. So I get my whiteboard (ooh look at me, I’ve got a Whiteboard, I must be really special) and start writing any new business idea that comes into my head. Flow charts, mind,maps, even an action plan comes out for the next 6 months. I put everything I’ve got in a list and send it to my bosses, cause as we know it isn’t weak to ask for help. The next day they come back with feedback, and on the whole they were well happy with everything. A few days later my diary is starting to fill up, clients are happy and money’s going in the till. And wouldn’t you know it, I’m starting to chill out a bit. Starting to feel like life is in my hands a bit and not just out of reach. Still struggling some days but on the whole I’m feeling ok. And ok in a genuinely good way, not a “I’m fine, leave me alone” kinda way.

The whole experience reminded me of something a close friend told me not so long ago. “Just This”. Sounds simple but whenever I start something or look at my life the snowball effect starts and I can’t control my racing thoughts. Using a “just this” attitude (just this day, just this client, just this game, just this meal, just this conversation etc) lets me be more in the moment and at peace with things, and I can actually enjoy what I’m doing. It’s not always that easy, it takes practice and I don’t always believe it but it does work when you give it a chance.

So after working through a couple of weeks where the world was collapsing around me, I now have some clarity on things. Not a fan of new year resolutions (I mean they’re great if they work for you but I prefer to look a bit bigger picture) but just reassessing my goals and priorities for the next few weeks and months. So we’re gonna look at doing the following:

Weekly yoga and coherent breathing practice – I’m gonna try daily but I’m not gonna put that pressure on. If we try for 3 times a week it’s more realistic for me.

Drinking in balance – Allow myself to enjoy a few beers on a Friday and Saturday but limit the times I drink and have a weekly allowance to stick to. Reduce not remove.

Sleep – I’ve been getting into the habit of binging Netflix before bed and that does me no favours! Time to get back to pre bed rituals of braindumping (or journaling) for 30 minutes and then reading  for 30 minutes.

Diet – Starting to understand the links between my IBS and stress levels. So instead of half heartedly staying away from Dairy and reducing Gluten and still having issues, lets take things a little more seriously. Gonna give probiotics a go as well.

“Just This” Focus – There’s gonna be a lot going on this year with work, friends, family, hockey, football and training. And there’s a couple of exciting projects I’ve got in the pipeline that could go turbo this year. I know that looking at them like spinning plates doesn’t work and fucks me up at times. So I’m gonna take a “Just This” attitude to everything. Plan out my weeks and months so I know what is coming and just deal with what is in front of me.

And focus on being the best version of myself I can be, not only for me but the people in my corner. We all got a headfuck of a messy one in 2017, and we don’t want to go back to that, the fallout was too much last time. I know it’s not going to be perfect, but I’m not looking for it to be.

Progress not perfection, acknowledgment of success and acceptance of failure.

Here’s to 2018.

Peeeeeeeeeeace fuckers.

 

 

 

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Fuck you change

*Disclaimer – I swear a LOT in this post. If you don’t like it, stop here. But it’s worth the read so if you can filter my F-Bomb’s please read on.

 

So in the last 3-4 months pretty much everything has changed. Because of events earlier in the year triggering a pretty fucking huge setback with all things inside my head, I decided I needed to do some new stuff and have a change of scenery. Well talking real I wanted to run away, hide under a rock, disown everyone and everything and hope no one ever looked at me ever again so I can just let the shame and hatred I had for myself take over. But that wouldn’t be very productive now would it?

If we look back to a few months back, I had to take a look at what wasn’t working for me. I was in a position of doubting everything about me. The only constants I could count on at the time were my family and close friends. My Corner. I’m so lucky to have them as I wouldn’t have made it through that time without them.

So a relationship ended pretty unexpectedly and pretty horrifically. It was pretty muddied waters cause it started through my Hockey Club, so there’s some crossover with people and I don’t know who the fuck I can trust anymore. You start seeing people very different going through any kind of personal trauma, almost like you’re viewing your life through someone else’s eyes. Like the camera angle of any first person game like GTA or COD. Being in that kind of dissociative state is not only really shit as you don’t live your life the way you want to but it also makes it hard to get any kind of balance or clarity. So I went back to basics. Who CAN you trust. Who’s the people in your corner. Who can you still count on. After reminding myself who they are I went through a period of needing certain people on pretty much a daily basis. I felt like a lost child who’s been left at the supermarket, and no matter how many aisles you check you can’t find your parents, and when you finally do you don’t leave them for fear they’re gonna abandon you.

Hockey has been a pretty big deal for me most of my life. I’ve played for the same club my entire life, for 20 years of an amateur hockey career. My Brothers and Dad also play for them and the place is like one big family. So when someone within that environment treats you so awfully, with such a disregard for how their actions are going to tear you apart even though they know you’re pretty fucked up already and so that the only way for you to put yourself back together is to Fuck Off and find somewhere else to call home for a while it feels pretty fucking shit. That place was a huge part of me and to walk away hurt. No one made me do it, it was my choice and everyone respected that it was the best option to move on and recover. But still, there weren’t that many people trying to make me stay and at the time it felt like the place that I’ve given so much of myself to over the past few years was a waste of fucking time. Now I could wax lyrical about the pain I went through, but again it’s not really very productive. And it gives the situation the power over me again and I’ve only just won that battle.  Well maybe not won but I’m starting to win.

To quote a certain perfectly rational French Footballer “I love this game”. So we start from scratch. Where to move to. I don’t really know anyone at any other clubs around where I live. What to do. After speaking to my brother, who used to play for a different team a bit further away I got in touch with them and I’m so glad I did. From the start, first game I went to back in Summer League I was welcomed with open arms. Whilst it’s a bit inconvenient having an extra half hour travel each way it seemed that I’d made the best choice. And I was out of what had become a complete cluster fuck of a toxic environment for me. Since then I’ve gone from strength to strength with them, playing some of the best Hockey I ever have, in a team that is headed for success. The anonymity I can give myself as well has allowed me to channel a large amount of the anger and rage that I was feeling into my sport. Cause that’s the only time in my life I manage to switch off the monkey in my head, when I’m on the Hockey pitch. For 70 minutes every Saturday I get to be free. The team are a perfect fit too. Everyone brings something different to the table but it just works. Talent, attitude, mentality, playing style, commitment, it’s got everything I want to be a part of.

Ever woken up mid conversation moaning about work on a Friday night at the Pub and suddenly realise how fucking boring you sound? Yeah so after 3 years of that I realised it’s probably time to sort my fucking act out. The joy of qualifying as a Soft Tissue Therapist (glorified massage therapist) this year was overshadowed by the trauma I mentioned earlier. I’m finally in the position to start living my life the way I want and help people with something I’m passionate about and I’ve done precisely fuck all about it, frozen into maintaining my current security and comfort. So we start looking at this properly. And wouldn’t you know it, when you start actually looking you can find some interesting shit that’s not gonna make you miserable. So I got myself a job working with a women’s football team as their Sport Therapist. Voluntary and part time but a top opportunity to gain experience in an area I really want to work in. And 2 weeks later I manage to get a full time Sport Therapist Role in a gym, 2 minutes from home. All seems to be slotting perfectly into place doesn’t it? Wait. This is still context.

So I’ve made the changes I needed to. Everything’s golden and I’m sailing my way through life on a cheesy little rainbow with a nearly psychopathic smile on my face all the time with my own personal theme song (“I Got Love” by The King Blues if you were wondering) playing in the background? Wrong.

Since I stopped counselling (because I felt I was ready to go at this on my own, not cause I think I’m “better” or in “remission” or whatever bullshit term you want to call it) things have been rocky as fuck. Every time I think I’m making progress and actually getting to grips with my own mind, something stops me in my tracks and sends me down a spiral. Cause this last few months I’ve been outside my protective little comfort zone. I’ve had to work really hard in new social situations and forming new relationships with people as a result of all the changes I’ve made. And that shit fucks me right up. I find it hard enough at times being in social situations with people I’ve known for years and completely trust. Not that I’m a quivering melt all the time (only half!) but when I find my anxiety getting stronger and my symptoms getting more extreme I can’t always control it and stop it from taking full control of me. Sometimes I just have to give in to it and withdraw to the dissociative state I hate so much. Most people who have experienced this will know too well the constant plate spinning running uphill through quicksand feeling, and how unbelievably draining it is to just keep going. So sometimes giving into it, as shit as it makes you feel and as hard as it is for the people around you, is the only choice. I hate the effect of my illness has on the people that care about me. They are always so amazing and supportive no matter which version of me turns up. I can’t be grateful enough.

Now I’m not just complaining for the sake of it. I know all the changes have been good for me, and I’ve benefitted from them. This isn’t about that. This is about the 45 minutes it takes me to send an email or a message to the company whataspp group because I’m petrified of the way someone is going to take it. This is about the hour each day I have to spend doing yoga and breathing exercises just to keep me from losing my mind and to ground me enough to carry on. This is about the agonizing 6 hours of mental torture I put myself through for something I’ve said in the bar after Hockey (I’m not exaggerating, literally screaming at myself in the car on the way home, negative self talk in the mirror, sleepless nights cause my head won’t switch off, random bouts of tears and agonising physical symptoms. Sounds fun huh?). This is about the hiding in my treatment room at work when everyone is socialising at the Christmas party, because if I stay in the room for any more than 10 minutes I’m going to not only scream, but run away from this place and cause a scene that’s going to make everyone see me in the worst light, I’ll probably lose my job and never get another one in this field again (trust me, I know how ridiculous this sounds). This is about the spiral of thoughts that enter my head every time I treat a client and we’re in complete silence because I can’t get words out as I can’t see through the whirlwind mess inside my head. This is about the crippling fear of going back to my old Hockey Club to watch my Brother or Dad play, and knowing that just walking in there is going to set me off for a few days. This is about the need to drink in social situations just to be able to talk to people. This is about the weight of pressure that is on my back, every day at work. This is about the changes I’ve had to make to keep myself safe, and feeling victimised as I never should have had to. It’s a regular story: person does terrible thing, victim has to completely alter life, person who did terrible thing gets away with it and everyone moves on like nothing happened. I know I’m sounding bitter and vindictive and to some extent there’s still those feelings there. I hate what has happened as it was so unnecessary. I spent so long being angry at the people involved, wanting them to feel even a moment of the pain I was going through and the shame I felt. But I like to think the universe works itself out in the end, not that I’m hoping those people have similar experiences to go through, I just know that for all the bad that has happened, the good will work it’s way back again. I  had to forgive those people as part of moving on. The hate is baggage, and makes us lesser people. Hate never solves any problems, it only causes more damage, like a nasty little bastard of a snowball. These things are sent here to test us and force us to learn from them if we want to keep going. And trust me I know every day that life’s not fucking fair. But this last few months gave the monkey inside my head so much power and strength over me. So now I fight every single day just to keep myself from falling into that dark place again. The place I never, ever want to return to. Cause I know that I’d struggle to come back from there. It was way too hard the first time.

Anyway, aggressive philosophy over, this is not a cry for help or a call for attention. I am ok. I have my coping mechanisms: yoga, coherent breathing, CBT, journaling/blogging, exercise, routine and goal setting. This is just me getting this out of my head, cause it’s been eating me up for a while without me doing anything about it. I know that any change is going to mess me about. It is going to make me question everything and need support at a very base level. It is going to hurt every time. But that’s ok because I have the proof that I can do it. Like I said in my last post, I’m not a martyr standing here saying look at me, I can handle change so I should be praised and lorded. Fuck that. I don’t want any attention for living my life, I just know that we have to keep speaking out about this, cause there’s always someone who needs to hear it.

Image result for Hell Yeah Meme

So there you have it, a more honest, brutal and soulful post that I’ve needed to do for a while. Do with it what you will: mock me, ridicule me, hate on me in the comments, like my words, rate my writing or support my message. I don’t give a fuck. I know that someone out there is gonna read this and relate. And who knows, it might actually help someone as much as it’s helped me putting the words on paper.

Peace, fuckers!

Nick

It’s ok to not be ok

It’s ok to not be ok”.

I didn’t fully understand that at first, I used to hate myself for not being able to just get on with life, and think it’s my fault I’m like this. Since my treatment I slowly started to get it, that this isn’t a choice or attitude problem and I’m not just attention seeking. Accepting that this is part of me and I can’t change that. I can now say to myself when I feel like the worlds falling apart around me “I’m not ok, but that’s ok” that helps to give me grounding and a brief moment of clarity.

For as long as I can remember I’ve always been worrying about everything. Seeking reassurance from everyone and never finding a sense of confidence in myself. Chronic low self-worth and constantly judging every action or decision I make as wrong first and then right later when everything is ok, and never feeling good enough for anything. Being set off when someone questions you and falling down the “helter skelter of despair” because you over analyse every little thing. After 13 years of that little merry go round I got to a point where my normal was to see myself as too broken to fix, and not worth anyone’s effort to try. So when I decided to get help last year after a pretty severe breakdown I wasn’t surprised to be diagnosed with severe anxiety and depression, it almost made a bit of sense of everything for the first time.

It’s perfectly normal to worry how people will react when you tell them (well duh, you’ve got anxiety, course you’re worried). I’ve always been quite an open person, not afraid to show my true colours, but this was different. I now had a label that people can assign to me to give some weight to their pre judgements and first impressions. I’m lucky to have a supportive family and group of close friends that would do anything for me. Telling most of them wasn’t so hard, they always knew there was something I wasn’t dealing with very well. Not all of them know how to react to it or deal with it but they’re still there for me.

It’s not all been that easy though. Most people who are open with this will know the “holy sh*t you’re pretty messed up aren’t you?” look with the pitying head tilt that a lot people can’t help but give when you talk real with them. Most people don’t mean to react like that, they just don’t understand it. Receiving that look never feels good but once you get past it and you can talk about it to help their understanding it gets easier.

Having the confidence to stand firm when someone doubts your condition can be tough, but once you learn to dig your heels in it’s pretty empowering to you and not the anxiety for a change. Breaking the stigma with just one person can make a huge difference. You don’t know who they’re talking to next, and they might be able to have that conversation with someone else. I’ve seen it be a chain reaction like that.

“Do you still get your Anxiety?”

This was the question I was asked by a close friend not so long ago. A friend who’s been in my corner through all this when it’s all going wrong. I explained to him how it’s not an on-off switch; or a you’re ill, then you’re better kind of thing. It’s a constant changing spectrum of good and bad thoughts and feelings, how it’s always there no matter what you try to do to get rid of that little monkey inside your head. That some days I wake up ready to take on the world, and the next I want to run away from everything and hide.

Around that time I realised people in your corner tend to be one of two types. People who understand it, are supportive and there for you and then there are people who “get it”. People who “get it” understand what it feels like to be 6 different versions of yourself in one day and not understand why, and for that to be the norm day to day. The first kind of people will always have your back but might struggle to relate to it. And that’s ok. There’s nothing wrong with not “getting” it, it’s being there for them that matters.

I am so grateful for the people who have my back. They are always there without me needing to ask. Whether it’s driving hundreds of miles to pick me up from a weekend away after I’ve had an emotional breakdown, sitting with me when I need to get out of a social situation and have some time inside my head, or even just asking me how I’m doing and listening to an honest answer when I give it. I love you all. You make it so much easier getting through the moments when I want to scream because a social situation is too much, or my self-doubt is snowballing out of control.

I now try to embrace the anxiety that has controlled me for so long. Talking about the bad times to try and keep some control and who knows, it might empower others to take action. I’m not trying to be a martyr or anything, but we can’t carry on with the “oh just get on with it” or “I’m fine” or “keep calm and carry on” burying behaviour that keeps people in a prison in their own head.

I don’t know what tomorrow brings but having the support around me of people who understand what I’m going through, keeping to my routines and talking about it, I know I give myself the best chance of fighting the monkey off, and I’m in the best place I could possibly be.