Relaxing

I lost my step-father at the end of January. As soon as I found out about it, I knew that I needed to visit my Mum. That was the easy part of course.

Over the last two months, my Mum & I have been trying to sort through so much of their life together. It hasn’t been easy to say the least. It has been stressful, tiring, wearing, exhausting and mentally draining.

University needed to be placed on ‘pause’ and I had to depend on the support of friends back home to make sure things kept running smoothly whilst I was away.

However, I have been incredibly fortunate to have friends on this side of the world that offered to let me stay with them for about 2 weeks before returning home. The whole idea is that I let myself have a ‘holiday’ from what I’ve left behind so that I can prepare myself for the recovery that needs to take place once I get back into the UK.

The purpose of relaxing is not lost on me, but I actually think this is first time that I’ve been consciously aware of the fact that I am actually capable of it. Even after I started to ‘chill out’ I started to question what I was actually doing with my time. There was a sense that I ‘should’ be doing ‘something’, although it’s pretty clear that there’s nothing I can do from here that will fix anything that needs to be done once I get back to England.

So, I’ve been attempting to really relax, and it’s been liberating and also a little telling. There are still a lot of ‘thoughts’, I worry about this that and the other, what impact my actions and words have on the other people around me and what I’m thinking and feeling and most importantly why? In the end however, I did concede and ended up purchasing myself a Bullet Journal so that I could take some more control of my life. Perhaps it’s a step backwards, but I can say that since I bought it, and started using it to log my much smaller day-to-day chores and events I feel much better about the whole thing.

Being able to look back and see what I’ve done is useful, and to give myself smaller goals that will help settle the uneasy feeling in my head has actually worked! It’s simple stuff too, less planning months and months in advance and more accepting each day as it comes. I’ve set myself little goals, ‘have a shower first thing’ or ‘put laundry away’ or ‘mail postcards’. It’s definitely easy to forget that these seemingly ‘simple’ things were at one point or another really difficult to accomplish – but just ordering my life some how has given me a greater sense of purpose.

Weird, honestly – because I was already doing those things, but it felt increasingly like I had to open myself up to a new project or plan some huge ‘game plan’ for the future.

The truth is that I have decided on a few avenues to follow once I get back home, and there are definitely jobs that I will need to ‘get done’ when I get there. Not that I’ve written them down! I have a feeling that will happen on my return to England on the plane, maybe? It’s a long, overnight flight – but there will definitely be time to take some notes and make a few lists.

Mostly, I’m just glad that I’ve been able to take a deep breath and just ‘be’. It hasn’t been easy, and I still struggle to ignore that nagging doubt and the constant questioning but it’s all practice isn’t it?

Advertisements

The Importance of Recording

One of the most useful things that I do now, is to keep a record of my daily ‘accomplishments’.

Right back in the beginning it was something that I attempted, but found that it was demotivating when all I did – day in, day out was sit and watch Netflix or play video games. Since then I’ve been able to learn to forgive myself, be kind to myself and show the same patience I’m capable of offering complete strangers.

Now, it feels like my most valuable tool.

For a long time I focused on working through a Bullet Journal to record and motivate myself on a day-to-day basis, and although I absolutely adore the concept and the work and fun that goes into keeping a journal like this, I found that a very different approach was important to help me to put together the foundations for my recovery.

A Bullet Journal actually created a wall between myself and my goals. When I would start a day with a beautifully thought out spread and only one goal to mark off I found it difficult to be attached to it, and equally difficult to go through the process of writing that same, single task over and over for days on end.

Giving up just wasn’t an option, so I chose instead to re-think my approach to keeping a daily account of my life.

My therapist was the first person to suggest that I keep a log of my daily activities. On a simple A4 gridded sheet of paper, with two boxes for morning, afternoon and evening I vaguely accounted for the ‘major’ things that I did every day. At first, they were incredibly basic. I ate food, I watched TV, I played video games. I met with a friend, I went for a walk.

It was the first time I’d recorded my day-to-day life as retroactively, and there were a few days when I completely forgot to write about what I’d done and therefore entire days were forgotten. I’m pretty sure that usually there was nothing significant about the things that I’d done, until I walked back into therapy and re-counted my week. Little things that seemed important when I’d done them, and then insignificant when I came to write down the last few days of activity were forgotten.

That important phone call that I’d been putting off for months to the bank, that form I filled out, the brief discussion I’d had with a friend or family member. Each and every single one of these things were important to my overall recovery from a very dark place that I’d managed to put myself in.

I kept these diaries for four weeks until I decided that enough was enough. My Bullet Journal had fallen to the way-side and turned into something like a book of lists (Books I owned and wanted to read, Holiday Destinations for the future, DVDs I owned, movies I’d watched) and I knew that whilst I was using those relatively small A4 sheets to log my weekly comings and goings it wasn’t going to satisfy me.

As a lover of notebooks and stationery, it wasn’t difficult to rifle through my ’empty notebooks’ drawer and find something to use to start logging my days, and even better that I’d found the perfect use for a notebook. (One of the reasons I have so many is that they’re all in there waiting for the perfect purpose. Sorry, notebooks.)

img_0816

So it began.

Almost 2 weeks later, I’m still swearing by it. Claiming that this act, and this act alone is the one reason that I’ve managed to pull myself up out of the funk I’d fallen into is a huge stretch of any imagination, but I feel very strongly that it has contributed to my continued improving mental health and will keep doing so much!

I write the time my alarm went off, and the time I actually got out of bed. Writing it down makes it a fact, and gives you a solid thing to refer back to. I find that when I am struggling the most I lose all sense of time and feeling and life. It’s easy for me to forget how I felt only a few hours ago, when I’m so preoccupied with the current moment, and the thoughts that are in my head at that time and in that place. So I feel it’s very important (for me) to be able to refer back to previous days, not to make negative comparisons or to judge the ‘value’ of the things I’ve done in the present day but to be able to look back and see, from hard factual evidence that ‘things’ over all are better now than they’ve ever been.

Thinking too hard about the shape of my life exactly a year ago would only promote a desire to reach out and take ownership of how I felt back then, in a time when my recovery was in it’s very early stages, and I feel very strongly that it would be detrimental to my health, but if I’d kept the same log I have now I might be able to recognise instantly the stark contrast in my mental health. Of course, it’s arguable – that if I’d kept a log back then, like I do now that perhaps my life would be very different but I also believe very strongly that it’s taken all of these incredibly small steps over the span of a year to get here at all and without them it just wouldn’t be possible.

We can’t fast forward progress, and we can’t force it. There are clear steps in any recovery that have to happen before you can continue on your way. That’s why we call them steps. It’s quite easy to visualise for example, the steps that might lead up to the second floor of your home and to accept the reality of the fact that before you can get to the tenth step, you have to make it up all the ones before that first.

Progress

I was going to come back with a huge update on my progress, but I feel like the whole thing would be very complex and complicated, long and possibly boring so I’m going to start from where I am right now.

Living in the moment is something I have being hearing here, there and everywhere at the moment, which might be because I’ve started listening, or because it really is something that’s taken a grip on the kinds of social circles I run in.

All I know is that yesterday, sat in my 14th therapy session – I understood what it felt like to be content with the way that things are right in that moment.

Getting to this point has not been an easy, or simple drive. There really was no direct route and it’s something I’ve heard all the time, both before I started to ‘get better’ and through this duration (which is by no means anywhere near it’s end, I’m completely and utterly sure!)

As always, I want to be able to write so that maybe, just maybe something I say is helpful for someone else. Our experiences are all so different, and I know that what works for me won’t necessarily work for others, but I also know that so much of the support and advice I’ve been offered over the years which worked for other people didn’t work for me. I’ll keep going on about it, mostly because it’s a part of my life and I understand it now, but the difference between a diagnosis of depression and one of Borderline Personality Disorder is one I wish someone had made for me years ago.

That there are people ‘out there’, who are just like I used to be – in a constant uphill battle with themselves trying to work out why they feel so up and down is upsetting to me when the answer could be something quite so simple. I won’t reiterate the feelings I’ve lived through from confusion as to why I could not connect with others in my experience of depression – that’s all in another blog post from months ago I’m sure.

The last month of my life has been the most successful since I returned to Melbourne well over a year ago, but that’s not to say that I didn’t have to go through the last year to get where I am now.

Since travelling, my life has been full of comparisons. Right now there’s a lot of thought in my head about where I was last year, and mostly two years ago. I try hard not to dwell on it, but it’s difficult not to get the facts straight in my head. On this day two years ago I was staying with a friend in Washington State, just over a week into my epic journey. The thoughts and feelings I had then were so incredibly different to the outcome of it all, but I don’t really regret it, and even if some part of me does I am doing my best to challenge that thought and change it.

I could get upset that I took the money and ran rather than opting to pay off my debts. (It wouldn’t have covered it). Sat here right now I can think of a hundred things that I feel I ‘should have’ done, but as part of this entire process I am learning to challenge my thoughts and ultimately be kind to myself.

I forgive myself on a day to day basis, but to manage that I had to force myself back until I was in a place where I had absolutely no expectations for myself.

It was difficult, and for a lot of the time I felt very uneasy about the path my life was taking. There are pieces of advice, and things that people say to us which stick out sometimes, and I don’t think I will ever forget the words of my GP to me whilst I was in Melbourne. After making the decision to go home and recover I went on excitedly to tell him that “and then, maybe in three years or something I’ll be back working full time.” 

He turned to me, (he’d been writing something down) and he smiled and said, “Ollie. Stop thinking about what you’re going to do, and don’t make those kinds of goals.” We talked, briefly – about this idea that making goals like that for the future were only going to set me up for disappointment.

It’s taken until now, and I mean 3 months of ‘calming down’ whilst I stayed at my Mum’s, and 10 months settling back down in Lincoln, seeking out and going through therapy to get HERE. Here is just the beginning (and even that I think I’m not really supposed to bank on) but I know that even if things dip again, I can find this place.

This place is actually pretty comfortable. It’s not about the location, but the process. Obviously.

As someone who likes to claim to be a writer, one thing I’ve made sure to do for myself is to write. I write in a diary before bed, I write a daily account of what I do by the hour (which I believe is a part of schema therapy to try and establish routine – it’s been working), I try to write 3 pages a day of whatever comes into my head (Thanks to Morning Pages) for the inspiration.

It’s only been maybe a week or two of trying to establish a routine that I’ve finally managed to accomplish these things, but the most important thing has been to forgive myself when I’ve not managed them. Even though I’d tried to brush off the things that I don’t like, I ended up bringing it up with my therapist. She asked me what the problem was with spending two of my days pretty much just watching Netflix the entire day. Asked me who I knew who didn’t like to spend their evenings watching TV sometimes, or their weekends.

Accepting that my perception of a ‘normal person’ is twisted and unacceptable is going to take a while, just like the many other perceptions that I build for myself.

For the first time in a long time, I can see results. I can see that I’m forming a better opinion of myself, moving forward and doing things that I enjoy without stressing myself out over whether I should be allowed to do them.

Tools

I’ve been using a LOT of tools to help me get to where I am now, and I wanted to share some of them with you. x

Sleep Time – An app for the phone. You set a time that you want to wake up by, and by tracking movement on your bed, the app will (do it’s best) to wake you up during your lightest sleep phase.

img_0815

Daily Activity Diary – This was given to me by my therapist, weekly. I’ve found it’s been really helpful to keep a daily log of what I’ve done – I update it at least once a day, but try to keep on top of it for a more accurate record.

Therapy – I can’t stress this enough, and it’s actually really upsetting to me when I hear that so many people are unable to access therapy. Just having someone that you see once a week is so helpful. Some useful things you can possibly do for yourself that I was asked to do by the therapist are:

  • Set a two hour window to go to bed between. (I started with 11pm – 1am, but this moved to 10pm-12pm)
  • Make sure you’re eating 3 meals a day
  • Write a list of POSSIBLE activities

Calm.com – I’ve been using this both from the website, and the app. Even after the initial 7 days of calm, there are other guided mindfulness activities you can do for free.

Be kind to yourself.

April Showers bring May BulletJournals

I finally bought a dotted, blue, moleskine to use as a bullet journal earlier in the month.

IMG_0348

It was admittedly a bit of a whimsical purchase, but I tried using an A4 lined notebook I had, a smaller A5 sized one – was lucky enough to find an ORANGE gridded notebook in Waterstones, but didn’t get along with it thanks to the spiral running along the side.

Honestly, my heart had always been set on the Moleskine or the Leuchtturm 1917. One day this month I went into a gorgeous local stationery artsy-crafty type place called Ruddocks and was overwhelmed with shoppers delight when I saw it there.

April has been a rather difficult month, so I set my sights on May. It’s my favourite month of the year for reasons I just cannot fathom (!!!). Since then I’ve been trying to get to grips with what trackers will work best for me.

Endless lists of unachievable goals and deadlines have proven to be incredibly helpful at this time in my life, but I wanted to share with you the things I’ve been working on.

IMG_0408

Okay, so I’m a little obsessed with the whole money making stuff at the moment, but it’s nice to be able to write something down once a day.

Small steps.

IMG_0409

I have borrowed/own far too many books and although this is one of my favourite pages so far, it always highlights just how far behind I am on my reading! To make matters worse, I keep going to the library and adding to the collection!

IMG_0404

Lots of my friends know how terrible I am at watching a film. This is a list of all the DVDs I currently own, and not unlike my other trackers – I’m hoping it will inspire me to take time to watch them and feel that little more educated about film. (Also, it can never hurt to watch Tony Stark one. more. time.)

IMG_0407

May’s Diary spread as it looks at the moment. Honestly. I could have cried when my pen started smudging across the page. I think it had a lot to do with something I discovered not too long afterwards.

IMG_0380

An achievement in itself, I present to you. The first pen that I have used until the ink ran out.

Retail Therapy

Last week turned out to be a pretty difficult one for me.

After scoring a grand total of 0 (zero) on the Department of Work & Pensions criteria for eligibility for ESA (despite scoring 20 on a PHQ9 test done with a mental health team member – within their highest bracket of depression.) I hit a low.

I won’t go into my very sore feelings about the current system, and the hoops I had to jump through just to know that there was something I could do, and no I wouldn’t be committing benefit fraud by signing on when I’m not able to work. Those are likely for another day, when I’m not in a state of flux.

No, this is about Saturday.

The story starts the night before, as so many stories do. Imagine my horror when I realised that the laptop charger for my beloved MacBook was no longer working. The white outer cable had split, exposing wires which somehow had frayed over a very short period of time. I made an executive decision there and then that tomorrow would require a trip to the StormFront shop in Lincoln.

It was a blood good job that ‘No Spend April’ had been such a beautiful success until then, because it meant I had more than enough for the £65 replacement.

Facing the crowds (it’s Lincoln, I hear you say what crowds??) wasn’t such a big deal for me when I had such a clear, and very important goal in mind. I’m not a poster child for ‘living without technology’. One day without the laptop is fine on my terms, but when the desire to do something online sets it’s difficult to handle. A lot of my current, daily goals actually actively require the use of the internet. (Funny how I managed that! =P)

I’m not going to lie, I really had to stay focused on my end goal whilst I was out. Keeping my head down and hunting for pennies to supplement this huge splurge was useful in making sure I didn’t clock each and every person around me. I dread to consider the notion that I might have completely blanked someone I knew in town. What I would say ran through my mind a fair few times, but I was on a bit of a high I felt sure I could manage.

After skulking around the desk at the Apple store, uncertain whether some of the people across at the other side were in a queue, or waiting to be seen, or being helped I quite happily took time in staring at the very thing I needed to purchase. It didn’t take long to manage to make eye contact with someone who was clearly looking for their next customer and it’s really easy to explain something when you’ve brought along the offending power cable with you.

Ten minutes and £65 later. I was a happy bunny. The status quo had been restored. My connection to the wired world was assured! Now I could happily banish all creeping fears of a day spent at my Dad’s without a laptop to the bin – no longer could they linger in the back of my mind and poke and prod, using up the resources I quite clearly needed to function properly in the rest of the day to day to and fro that needs brain power.

The trouble with being a happy bunny without care is that my mind starts doing that thing where it wanders.

I’ve been BulletJournalling on and off for a while. I started out with a gorgeous, A4, lined Kikki K number all the way from Melbourne. It lasted into the middle of February and I traded it for a wired, A5, orange covered grid notebook from Waterstones. It was supposed to be perfect. I carefully accounted for all possible difficulties. I only used one side of the page, I numbered my pages, I left space for a contents page.

Only those moleskines. With their joined up pages. There’s no worry that the pages might get caught in the spiral when you turn them.

I was on a mission.

And so, I began bimbling. It’s a dangerous thing. I ventured into Paperchase – where I purchased a reduced, new case for my phone, a cute card that was reduced, and most importantly a care for my Mum for her birthday. They’re all valid purchases! I’ve needed a phone case since I upgraded to the iPhone 5! The birthday card was well over due, and reduced cards are wonderful, aren’t they?

From there I took on WHSmith. The only place I know in Lincoln which stocks VeganLife magazine.

The next stop was Waterstones, just around the corner and would you believe it. They’ve got Gridded Moleskines, at about £2 less than Paperchase.

IMG_0347.jpg

Into the basket it went. (It’s a proverbial basket.)

The next stop was the post office, to send my Mum’s card – but hang on just a minute. I can’t stand there in the Post Office queue without writing in Mum’s card.

Impromptu, yet necessary stop at Costa Coffee needed! Of course. A packet of their finest (vegan!) crisps, and a large, soy chai tea latte. (and on another note – I need to get in touch with Costa on account of the fact that they no longer sell their vegan fruit crumble. :( :( :(.)

So, I sit. I drink. I write in my Mum’s card. It’s good. Great. Fabulous.

Except, whilst I’m there by Costa – I might as well pop into Holland & Barrett and see what they have for sale! More money spent.

Next stop, the post office. Finally. The card is posted! (and has three days to make it’s journey. Eep.)

I’m not done yet. Going home to an empty house just means risking the chance of upset – so I take a wander through town. Actually. I’m still kind of hungry and you know what, I haven’t been to Cafe Shanti in a while. So why not treat myself?

It’s a grave error on my part, really. Yes, I love the place. They do good food, at good prices, with wonderful staff and lovely customers.

Ruddocks is on the way.

Ruddocks have it. Ruddocks. Have. Dotted. Moleskines.

IMG_0348.jpg

The price doesn’t matter. The fact that no less than an hour earlier I had already purchased a gridded journal doesn’t matter. I have it in my hands. This is the thing that is going to make Ollie Bullet Journal history! Victory.

I buy it. I even enquire into whether Ruddocks can get VeganLife in, rather than have to go to money grabbing, WHSmith. (It wasn’t the best experience.)

Naturally, my journey’s last stop is Shanti. The usual of course. Vegetable Lasagne and some kind of wonderful fruit tea in the cutest tea cups.

It’s the story of how I managed to completely and utterly decimate my bank account in the space of approximately two hours.

The story of how I decided that I really don’t need the second Moleskine. (which I ended up taking out of the packaging, despite knowing I wasn’t going to use it.) It’s why I’m setting up a giveaway on the Bullet Journal Junkies Facebook page, and just maybe why you’re reading?