Its only recently I have discovered I suffer with anxiety.
When I say recently, its only been a year. My suffering has been around for at least 10 years. I’m sure you are all thinking, “how could you not know you suffer with anxiety?” Its simple really. I didn’t know what anxiety was. In my mind, if someone had anxiety it meant they were curled up in a ball, rocking backwards and forwards, chewing their fingernails. It is only over the past year that I have realised all of my symptoms actually point to me suffering from anxiety.
I’ve always felt pretty sound of mind. I thought that as a mostly confident person I was able to discuss my feelings openly until a pretty strong period of anxiety came about and I didn’t dare speak to anybody.
My anxiety started out quite small, I worked in a job I didn’t particularly like. Every morning I would have horrific stomach cramps, break out in sweats, feel faint. I went to my GP and was diagnosed with IBS. Making changes to my diet I never really noticed an improvement. After my first child was born I worked part time. Its only looking back now that I realise, I only ever suffered with “IBS” on the days that I went to work. Miraculously when I left that employment my symptoms stopped. I still didn’t realise it was anxiety.
Around the time my first child turned 3, my (what I now know to be) anxiety was about to reach a new level. Something I had never experienced before.
This is the biggest revelation for me. I have only realised this is to do with my anxiety over the past year, since more and more people are being open and honest about their own mental health (thanks Harriett – check out Toby&Roo for the blog post that inspired me to write my own). Bed time was a particular ordeal for me. As soon as my head hit the pillow, my mind would play out an accident where my child would die. Each night would be a different and equally distressing scenario. I would lie awake for hours arguing with myself that I was being silly, that it was an awful way to think, and to just GO TO SLEEP. I didn’t dare to tell anybody about my these intrusive thoughts, what if people thought I was crazy? what if they thought I was having some sort of a break down? what if they took my child?
They ebbed away after 6 months or so by themselves and now only ever pop back up if I am particularly stressed or run down. I deal with them the same way that you would deal with a bully, I ignore them. I let them play out in my mind because fighting them only made it worse. and then I ignore them.
A lightbulb moment occurred and realised it was actually anxiety I had been suffering from, I began to take steps to start looking after myself. The buzz word right now is Self Care, and that’s exactly what it is. I wasn’t looking after myself at all. I put everything I needed to the bottom of the list. A prime example is for the last two days, I’ve done the school run, come home, tidied the house, made the baby some lunch, fed him and popped him down for a nap, locked myself in the office and started work, until it is time to wake up the baby and head back out on the school run. I’ve skipped lunch for two days. Not through choice but through not choosing to look after myself. Today, I have recognised my lack of Self Care and have changed my routine.
Self care is a relatively new thing for me. For years I’ve glossed over my own needs in favor of those around me. But understanding that I am no use to anybody if I don’t look after my own needs I changed. Simple tasks, like after dropping the eldest at school the first thing I would do was put the kettle on and sit and have a drink before starting the housework. Then I would set aside one day a week to organise a cupboard or drawer that had been full of junk, or I picked up a book and started to read a chapter a night. I made small and simple changes to my lifestyle and really felt the benefit.
Changing behaviors I had developed over years was pretty challenging, so instead of having a whole life crisis and screaming I’m not eating enough fruit or drinking enough tea or getting enough exercise, and then trying to add it all into my day at once was never going to work. Or it may have worked for a day or two, before it would have been unsustainable. I would have taken the easy option and dropped it all. However by just changing one thing at a time, focusing on one objective at a time, Self Care became really easy to add into my lifestyle.
I walk on the school run instead of driving. Chatting with my children on the way there and way back, it starts the day off with some fresh air, conversation, and I feel more energised. Now I make sure that when I come in the first thing I do is pop the kettle straight on, and whilst its boiling I load the dishwasher. Then I sit and make sure I drink a cup of tea whilst its hot. Also I try make a date night once a month with my friends to pop out for a glass of wine at the local pub and its something I really look forward to. I joined a mum and baby group once a week to meet new people. I stared appreciating the quiet in the evening and making the most of it.
After the birth of my second child, it wasn’t feasible for me to go back into paid employment so I became a stay at home mum. It was suggested I could share my ideas after speaking with a family member, and so my business – Nudge Cards, was born. Each card is an example of how to add Self Care into your day in a super simple way. You can focus on each card for as long or as little as you like. I try to use a card a week, sometimes I use two cards a day. If I need some inspiration I shuffle the deck and let the cards decide for me. I want to create a community of people who can discuss and encourage each other. Bringing fresh ideas on how they are adding Self Care to their day. To share experiences and not feel like they are alone.
Having a hot cup of coffee isn’t a magic pill, and neither is going for a walk. But changing simple everyday routines in favor of putting yourself first, is. It is the first step to taking responsibility for your own physical and emotional health and well being. It is being proactive in strengthening your mental resilience.
One of my favourite quotes is “you cant pour from an empty glass”. Meaning you cant look after others if you don’t look after yourself. Self care is now a lifestyle choice for me, it is something I practice as often as possible.