Having grace for ourselves

8 09 2016

I wrote this recently for our work intranet… people seemed to appreciate it so I thought I’d bung it on here too…

When I was at university I studied Mathematical Sciences (essentially Applied Maths), this meant an awful lot of contact hours plus countless problem sheets for when you weren’t in lectures or tutorials. In short, if you weren’t on campus you always had some work over your head that you knew you should be doing. When I graduated I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, but one of the few things I knew was that I wanted my evenings and weekends back – definitely no further study or graduate schemes!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge advocate of going the extra mile, of hard work, of giving one’s best, but at the same time I’m also a huge advocate of looking after ourselves, of letting ourselves look after ourselves. I truly believe it’s important to have a good work life balance, to take lunch breaks, to log any overtime done to make sure time is taken back. I believe it’s an important element of health – physical, mental and emotional; it’s not laziness, it’s self-care.

Not only that, I think it makes us better employees. I can definitely bear witness that working through lunch means I’m pretty much useless all afternoon, which is why unless there is something very urgent or important on, you will always see me take a full hour break. That one hour vs the three in the afternoon with decent productivity is a good balance! If we keep doing the extra without taking time to rest, we risk burn-out.

Of course there are exceptions. In January this year I was in this office until 10.30pm for a major data pull, which was important at the time, (and I made it home just before the Indian takeaway closed!), as long as it doesn’t become a regular habit.

We’re told in the Bible, by God, to rest on the Sabbath, Jesus himself rested – what better example could we have?

We need to have grace with ourselves to let ourselves look after ourselves.


Reasons to stay alive – by Matt Haig

17 03 2016

This book is brilliant, everyone should read it, it should maybe even be on the National Curriculum.

I believed this before I even read it. The quotes on the front, back, and inside covers set the bar very high indeed – here are a couple of my favourites:

  • “Brilliant … should be on prescription” – Rev Richard Coles
  • “A small masterpiece that might even save lives” – Joanna Lumley

And they’re correct. Technically an autobiography, we travel with Matt Haig through his experience of anxiety and depression, through five sections: “Falling”, “Landing”, “Rising”, “Living” and “Being”.

One of my favourite things about the book is that I don’t think there was a chapter longer than 6 pages, and most chapters were 1-4 pages – it’s well and truly bite-size, which is handy for something that while massively educational for some, has the risk of being triggering for others. It’s not a long book either – it’s quite small in size, well spaced, and only ~250 pages, so really not too intimidating. For what can be a very heavy subject, it’s broken down brilliantly.

For me this book had two very different sides to it. I’ve said before that I have anxiety disorder, and so for that section of the book, I was reading him put into words things I’ve felt but never been able to explain, and just reading about others that have the same struggles is encouraging in knowing you’re not alone. The other half, depression, I have friends that struggle with this, but don’t know a tonne about it myself, and so for this side of the story, it was hugely educational. As someone experienced, and someone clueless, this book had something to say to me.

Some chapters are simply lists: How to be there for someone with depression or anxiety, Things that (sometimes) make me better, and of course, Reasons to stay alive, among many others. There’s also a further reading list at the back.

I’ve put some of my favourite nuggets below, but please please read this book.

  • “Doubts are like swallows. They follow each other and swarm together.”
  • “Adding anxiety to depression is a bit like adding cocaine to alcohol. It presses fast-forward on the whole experience. If you have depression on its own your mind sinks into a swamp and loses momentum, but with anxiety in the cocktail, the swamp is still a swamp but the swamp now has whirlpools in it.”
  • “If pills work for you it doesn’t really matter if this is to do with serotonin or another process or anything else – keep taking them. If licking wallpaper does it for you, do that. I am not anti pill. I am pro anything that works.”
  • “When every bit of you is panicking, then walking is better than standing.”
  • “I was starting to find that, sometimes, simply doing something that I had dreaded – and surviving – was the best kind of therapy.”
  • “I have been ill before, then well again. Wellness is possible.”
  • “Depression is smaller than you. […] It operates within you, you do not operate within it. [..] You were there before it. And the cloud can’t exist without the sky, but the sky can exist without the cloud.
  • “To panic without a reason, that’s madness. To panic with a reason, that’s sanity.”
  • “We cannot save ourselves from suffering by buying a [expensive gadget]. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t buy one, it just means we should know such things are not ends in themselves.”
  • “Just as none of us are 100% physically healthy no one is 100$ mentally healthy. We are all on a scale.”

reasons to stay alive

Robin Williams

12 08 2014

When a celebrity passes away, I often think it’s a shame, but don’t get too upset. The news this morning of Robin Williams’ passing I actually found really sad.

I think there are a few reasons for this. Firstly, he was an incredibly talented man. I went on his IMDb page this morning and just the immense list of quality films is amazing.

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#RIP Robin Williams.

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For me the top one of all has to be Mrs Doubtfire, (although there are several of his films I’m still yet to see) I think this film was the first thing I watched that dealt with the idea of divorce, it was a film that dealt with all emotions. But the mark of a good actor, I feel, is that you don’t even realise it’s them, and I found it so hard to believe that this woman could actually be the same Robin Williams!

Other favourites include Flubber, Aladdin and Good Will Hunting. Dead Poet’s Society is on my list of things to watch soon.

The other reason this has upset me is just the circumstances of his death. Depression is a frightening illness, and mental illness still doesn’t get as much exposure as it needs to reduce the stigma around it.

If any good comes from this, I hope it’s that more people become aware of the dangers of mental illness, more people open up about how they’re feeling, more people ask others how they’re doing. As I drove home this evening the guy on the radio was urging people to just talk to someone if they’re feeling low, to get help. You would never normally hear something like that on a drive time commercial radio programme. The change in attitude, the openess of the presenter, the frankness of it all reduced me to tears, we need more of that, that needs to be normal.

It saddens me that the people who seem the most bright and cheerful are often the people that suffer the most with this. He was a talent that could never be equalled or replaced.

Tributes have been pouring in over social media, and possibly none more emotive than this one

Anxiety – One year on

8 08 2013

This time last year I wasn’t very well.

Reading through my personal diary entries from this time last year and seeing what a state I was in, it kind of surprises me. I didn’t really realise how bad it was until I started missing work. So I can’t help but feel so utterly blessed and grateful for how much things have improved and are better now!

Thanks so much to my wonderful friends and family for their prayers and support and for helping me through this. I may be on [very mild] medication, and I may not be 100% 24/7, but I am so much better than this time last year that it’s barely comparible! Last year it was dehabilitating, this year, barely noticeable!

Praise God! 🙂

This last year I have learnt:

  • Medication is not a bad thing. – Yes there is a massive stigma that comes with anti-depressants, and it really put me off taking them, but if I could have known then the change being on the smallest dose you can take would make, I would never have hesitated!
  • It’s good to talk. – A year ago barely anyone in my day to day life knew I suffered with anxiety, but when I was going through a bad attack, it was so much easier once I knew I could text people to ask for prayer without having to explain, or for the people I was with to know and so not to make a fuss and knowing how to handle me, again without me having to explain in any detail what was going on.
  • Loads of people suffer from mental health issues. – I really thought that all that “1 in 4 people are affected by mental health problems” stuff was over exaggerated, but as I talked with more people, the amount of them who said they either are or were at some point battling a mental health issue, on medication etc, really did surprise me! This is possibly what encouraged me most. Particularly one friend who I massively respect and would never had guessed in a million years was battling anything like this, turns out is – it doesn’t make you a bad person at all!!

I’m sure there’s more lessons to come out of this for me, but thought I’d share what I have so far.

Mental health is getting so much more press lately too. BBC have been doing a season on mental health. And more and more noteable people e.g. Stephen Fry, seem to be speaking out as charities like Mind and Time to Change work to increase awareness and decrease discrimination in this country. There’s really some great stuff going on and some fantastic progress being made.

Let’s not be afraid to talk about it!

A great write-up on anxiety disorders

4 11 2011

I used to have massive issues with anxiety disorders and anxiety attacks. Anyone who’s known me over the past 5-8 years will be able to see how many million times better I am these days (for which I am eternally grateful). But today on twitter someone tweeted a link to the article below, which is far and away the best article I’ve ever read on anxiety disorders. Advice for those who have them, and those who know those with them. I’m not saying I agree with every single bullet point, but the majority of this is spot on. Well worth reading if you suffer or have suffered previously, or are someone who knows someone who does:

how to decode a person with an anxiety disorder

things we are trying to do all the time:

  • be safe
  • things we can’t help but do all the time:

  • second-guess ourselves
  • behave impulsively and reactively
  • take everything personally
  • worry
  • worry
  • worry
  • have difficulty accepting compliments
  • have difficulty reciprocating friendly gestures
  • have difficulty finding the courage to respond
  • have difficulty not being suspicious of others’ intentions
  • make a huge deal out of the smallest thing
  • things you should keep in mind:

  • we’re scared of everything
  • pretty much all of the time
  • it’s an actual disorder
  • it manifests as impulsive behavior
  • you can’t fix us with words
  • telling us “worrying is silly” won’t make us stop worrying
  • it’ll only make us feel silly
  • and then we’ll worry even more
  • “oh god, am i worrying too much? what if they call me silly again?”
  • like that
  • also, we wear a lot of armor
  • cold, heavy, affection-proof armor with spikes
  • we constructed this armor as children
  • we’re fairly certain you will never be able to pry it apart
  • but there is a nice person under there, we promise
  • things you can do for a friend with an anxiety disorder:

  • stick around
  • ask them if they’re comfortable in a place or situation
  • be willing to change the place or situation if not
  • activities that help them take their mind off of things are good!
  • talk to them even when they might not talk back
  • (they’re probably too afraid to say the wrong thing)
  • try not to take their reactions (or lack thereof) personally
  • (the way they expresses themself is distorted and bent because of their constant fear)
  • (and they knows this)
  • give them time to respond to you
  • they will obsess over how they are being interpreted
  • they will anticipate being judged
  • it took me four hours just to type this much
  • even though i sound casual
  • that’s because i have an anxiety disorder
  • things you shouldn’t do:

  • tell us not to worry
  • tell us we’ll be fine
  • mistake praise for comfort
  • ask us if we are “getting help”
  • force us to be social
  • force us to do things that trigger us
  • “face your fears” doesn’t always work
  • because—remember—scared of everything
  • in fact, it would be more accurate to say we are scared of the fear itself
  • emergency action procedure for panic attacks:

  • be calm
  • be patient
  • don’t be condescending
  • remind us that we’re not “crazy”
  • sit with us
  • ask us to tighten and relax our muscles one by one
  • remind us that we are breathing
  • engage us in a discussion (if we can talk, then we can breathe)
  • if we are having trouble breathing, try getting us to exhale slowly
  • or breathe through our nose
  • or have us put our hands on our stomach to feel each breath
  • ask us what needs to change in our environment in order for us to feel safe
  • help us change it
  • usually, just knowing that we have someone on our side willing to fight our scary monsters with us is enough to calm us down
  • if you have an anxiety disorder:

  • it’s okay.
  • even if you worry that it’s not okay.
  • it’s still okay. it’s okay to be scared. it’s okay to be scared of being scared.
  • you are not crazy. you are not a freak.
  • i know there’s a person under all that armor.
  • and i know you feel isolated because of it.
  • i won’t make you take it off.
  • but know that you are not alone.