Running From The Quiet

Do you ever just sit? Just sit, nothing else. No screens, no book, no conversation, just sitting. Letting your mind wander, noticing what you can see, and hear around you.

I don’t do it very often. Actually, I’m an expert at avoiding and distracting. Avoidance is rarely helpful, but distractions aren’t that bad, right? It’s good to distract yourself, isn’t it?  Unless you’re distracting yourself in order to avoid, even if that’s unconsciously.

I keep my mind so busy that it doesn’t have time to wander, ramble, and explore. When it comes to bedtime and there are, finally, no distractions I end up feeling utterly overwhelmed by all the thoughts and feelings that come up. Not necessarily trauma related either. Thoughts about the day, about things from ten years ago, about something I need to do tomorrow, about plans next week.

Keeping my mind busy and distracted all day usually means it hasn’t had time to sit and ponder things. I find I need time to just sit and think. I’m quite organised, so none of that needs doing, but my mind seems to need time to go over the day, and the past, and the future.

Journal writing is usually how I think, but I’ve been finding that too structured. I find myself needing a few hours throughout the day to just let my mind wander. This means no phone, no laptop, no TV. No constant distractions.

Today I spent my time on the train with my phone in my bag. I didn’t look at it except to check the time when I got off the train. I sat. I sat and noticed the other people on the train. I noticed the buildings we passed, the stations we went through. I noticed my mind wander to all sorts of things. It was oddly peaceful.

I needed that time away from constantly distracting myself to just be. I sat in silence on the train and just watched where my mind wandered.

Now, at the end of the day, I’m feeling more content and relaxed than usual. I feel like I have space in my head to deal with day-to-day tasks. It’s not bedtime yet, but I think my mediation before bed tonight will be easier as my mind has had time to wander.

Conversation inside is much easier as well. With my mind less cluttered I can hear and talk to nearly everyone inside.

I think taking a break from constantly distracting needs to be a change we make longterm. With just one day having noticeable benefits, I wonder what impact it will have on our mental health longterm.

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Adjusting

We’re home from hospital, and as excited as I was, it’s hard. I’ve been through this process before, and it takes time to adjust to being at home, but this time it feels harder.

Gone is the highly structured and enforced routine. Several weeks in hospital and nearly every day went like this:

7:30am – 9am: Breakfast

8am – 9am: Morning medication

9am: Community meeting

9:30am – 10am: Anxiety management group

10am – 11am: Morning tea

11am – 12pm: Morning group

12pm – 1pm: Lunch (and brief visiting hours)

1pm – 1:15pm: Lunchtime medication (if you have any)

1:30pm – 2:30pm: Afternoon group

2pm – 3pm: Afternoon tea

4pm: Walk/yoga/other group

5pm – 6:15pm: Dinner

5pm – 9pm: Visiting hours

8:45pm – 9:30pm Nighttime medication

10:30pm: Second round of nighttime medication for those who go to bed late (not me!)

All of that routine is gone. I didn’t participate in all of the groups because of my physical health issues, but there was still plenty to do. I also saw my doctor six days a week for what was often an intense therapy session. Plus chatting to my nurse in the morning and afternoon. Then throw in tidying my hospital room, washing my clothes, showering, and other self-care. Very little free time!

Now I’m home it’s really hard to keep any routine going. I can sleep when I want, for as long as I want. I can take medication when I want, eat when I want. Complete freedom.

Admittedly I was craving my freedom a couple of weeks in. Desperate to be able to have more down time, and time for Netflix. My focus was therapy though, so Netflix had to wait. Now I can watch as much as I want, but I’m finding myself bored with it already.

The hardest part? Loneliness. I’m an absolute introvert. I need time to myself to process my day, recharge, and plan for the next day. That doesn’t mean I don’t like socialising though.

In hospital it was easy. If I was feeling sociable I could sit in communal areas and chat with other patients. I could participate more in groups. I could stay longer in the dining room and chat with other patients after finishing my meal.

At home I’m almost always alone. My housemate is physically well and able, and is out a lot. It’s almost like living alone. It’s such a huge difference to being in hospital. In time I’ll adjust to spending more time alone, but for now it’s hard.

I wasn’t anxious about returning home, I was excited! I always am, and I think that makes me forget how hard the adjustment can be. Going suddenly from being surrounded by people, talking to multiple people multiple times a day to seeing one person, chatting briefly, then being alone all day is really difficult.

I feel so lonely. So isolated and alone. I’m working on it though. I’m not giving up and sitting in despair. I’ve got a couple of things planned with close friends and family. I just need to keep reminding myself that it’s okay to feel lonely. It’s okay to feel whatever I feel, but I need to remember that there’s something I can do about it too.

Onwards and upwards! More posts to come about the work we did in hospital.

Weighted Blankets for DID and PTSD: Three Years On

The title is a lie, it’s been three and a half years since I bought my weighted blankets, and then reviewed them. I still do not regret buying the blankets. I can’t remember how much the 4kg lap blanket, and 8kg single blanket cost. It was several hundred Australian dollars.

Last year, between multiple hospital admissions, I finally finished sewing all the fiddle tags onto my single 8kg weighted blanket.IMG_4981

There’s lace, chain, cord, zips, velcro, elastic, corduroy, buttons, sequins, and more! When I’m dissociated and need to ground myself I feel each one, and try to describe it to myself. I focus on what it feels like, how I’d describe it to someone who has never heard of, seen, or felt anything like it. Most of the time ding that is enough to lessen the dissociation to a point where I can move and talk. It’s not a magical quick fix that works instantly, or every time, but it does help.

Whilst the fiddle tags help with grounding and lessening dissociation, the weight of the blanket seems to help most with anxiety, and flashbacks. My anxiety is often tied in with the relentless worrying that I do, and sometimes spirals out of control. The flashbacks tend to come with some anxiety, but a lot of fear, even terror. Either way, intense emotions.

The weight of the blanket helps me calm down and settle. Usually I double up the blanket, and try to make sure all of it is on me, and not hanging over the sides of my body. The relief is instant. It’s almost like flicking a switch. I go from feeling distressed, anxious, and terrified, to calmer and more relaxed. My body relaxes as soon as the weight is on me. I liken the experience to holding your breath for as long as you can, then finally being able to take a breath. Instant relief. There’s also a sense of calm, safety, and security. Under that blanket I know I’m okay, I know I’m safe.

How often do we use it? Honestly, not very often now. Maybe once a month, but it depends how we’re feeling and what’s going on. It’s actually one of our most forgotten grounding skills. As much as it’s useful, we still forget and need to be reminded to use it by friends or our treating team.

The other use we’ve found for the weighted blanket is to help manage pain. I have ME/CFS (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) which causes, at times, severe pain. I’m not sure how the weighted blanket helps, but at a guess I think the weight helps my muscles to relax, which in turn helps lessen some of my muscle pain. Again, not a quick fix, and not something that will help everyone, but something I’ve found useful.

Please Don’t Give In To My Anxiety

“I could message you when I leave, then when I get there. That way you know I’m there before I ring the doorbell.”

This was what a friend suggested in response to my last post about social anxiety. No. Do not give in to my anxiety. Please dont’ try to make it ‘easier’ for me. It doesn’t help. Providing extra reassurance will only make my anxiety worse, and require even more reassurance in the future.

I appreciate people letting me know what time they’ll arrive at my house. That’s polite, and generally expected. I also appreciate you letting me know if you’re running late. That’s also polite.

The anxiety I experience when people visit my house is something I need to learn to tolerate. Trying to accommodate it, and make it easier isn’t going to be helpful to me.

What will help?

Deep breaths. Slowing my breathing down to lessen the physical effects of anxiety. Deep, slow breathing makes my heart rate slow down. It allows me to slow my mind enough to think more clearly.

STOP worksheets. This specific worksheet has been helpful for me when experiencing all types of anxiety. It gets me to slow down enough to think through what’s going on. To begin with I filled out the sheet after the anxiety provoking event. The worksheet takes time and practice. Eventually I could do the worksheet whilst feeling anxious in order to lessen my anxiety. Now though? I can do the majority of it without actually writing it down.

Distractions are useful to a degree. I do find that it’s very important for me to look at the anxiety before distracting, otherwise distracting can become a form of avoidance. Looking at the anxiety can include doing the STOP worksheet above, as well as journalling or talking about what’s going on. Once I’ve done those things I’ll happily move on to distractions – TV shows, colouring, knitting, sewing, gardening, washing dishes, cleaning the bathroom, other household chores.

Comfort. Anxiety can be stressful and overwhelming. It’s draining and exhausting. Sometimes curling up in bed with a favourite blanket, a soft toy, and a warm drink (no caffeine!) can be helpful. It doesn’t address the anxiety, but I’ve found it to be an important part of self-care when stressed and anxious.

Grounding skills as well as being great for flashbacks and dissociative symptoms have also been helpful for my anxiety. My most helpful one at the moment is counting backwards from one hundred in multiples of three. It takes a lot of concentration! Which are most helpful for me has changed over time, and I try to add to or tweak the list as needed. Having an easily accessible list means that it’s easy to find and use when I’m not thinking very clearly.

Please be polite when visiting me, ask if I’m feeling anxious, and ask how you can help, but do not give in to my anxiety by providing constant reassurance.

Social Anxiety

Social Anxiety.

This is what happens when a friend visits me at home. It could be someone I’ve known for a few years or close to ten. Let’s say that this friend said they’d be at my house between 1pm and 2pm.

11am
They said they’d be here between 1pm and 2pm. I need to tidy. What if they’re late? What if they forget? Or if they come early? What do I say to them? What if we have nothing to talk about and it’s awkward?

12pm
One hour until they get here. Maybe. It could be two hours, but I have to be ready in one hour. I need to be dressed, brush my hair, look nice. What if they forget? Did I give them the right address? What if they go to the wrong house? I’ll watch TV to distract myself. Oh, but I need to make sure the house is tidy.

12:30pm
I think I’m ready. What if they forget? I need to check what time they said they’d come. Oh, and I’ll double check the address. What if I’ve given them the wrong address? Maybe I’ll get comfy on the couch. Then I can see people coming. Then the doorbell won’t make me jump.

12:50pm
They’re not here yet. They’re not early. It could still be an hour before they get here. I’m not comfortable on the couch. I’m exhausted and hot and want to rest in bed. What do I say to them? What if we have nothing to talk about? What will they think of me? They’ll see how horrible I look. They’ll hate me.

1:10pm
They’re not here yet. What if they’ve forgotten? What if something bad happened to them? Should I message them to check they’re still coming? I’ll make sure I gave them the right address. Oh, and what time did they say? Maybe I got the time wrong. Or the day. What day did they say they were coming?

1:25pm
Friend arrives.
Thank goodness they’re here. Oh, what do I say? They’re looking at me. What do they think?

1:35pm
Friend leaves.

1:36pm
Oh thank goodness they’re gone. It was nice to see them. They seem to like me. I think it went okay.

1:38pm
I hate myself. I hate my size and my shape. I’m sure my friend noticed. I’m such a horrible person. I wish I didn’t get so anxious. People are nice to me. They seem to like me. I make conversation easily. I still hate it. I wish I didn’t have to see people. Except that I get lonely, and I like spending time with people.

1:40pm
I’m useless. I get anxious over nothing. This is all so silly. I don’t know why I care so much. My friends seem to like me. No one makes them spend time with me or do nice things for me. I don’t know why anyone likes me. I hope I don’t have to talk to anyone else today.

 

As much as I enjoy seeing friends and interacting with them, the whole process can be incredibly draining. The anxiety and worry is the same for almost any social situation.

It’s something I’m working on, and something that’s going to take time to address. Awareness helps, but it’s only the start. Changing the thinking and making longterm change is the next part. That’s where I’m at right now. Still working on it.