Helping myself

Help yourself

It’s strange to think that I finished my CBT sessions around two years ago now (why is time speeding up the older I get?!). As clear as day, I can remember walking out of my final session and thinking to myself “what the hell am I supposed to do now?!

It was a bizarre situation of feeling like my anxiety had improved over the course of the 12 weeks of therapy – which it certainly had – yet still feeling like I had quite a way to go before being ready to deal with my anxiety with no professional help whatsoever. It was almost like I was a half-healed cut off of which a plaster had been pulled far too early, exposing fragile tissue that could either carry on healing or reopen at the first sign of pressure (I think that metaphor worked…).

But of course, it wasn’t like I’d been thrown out in the cold. On the contrary, I’d been given an arsenal of CBT techniques to combat anxiety should it arise again. The still-feeling-a-bit-emotionally-fragile part just meant I could put these techniques to practice. And to this day, I still use them, challenging negative and nonsensical thoughts when they arise and using them to pull myself back to reality.

That isn’t to say anxiety isn’t still an issue. As indicated by my last post, I still have those days when I slip back into my old behaviours and utilising CBT techniques to their fullest potential can seem almost impossible.

Over time though, I’ve pinpointed certain things outside of CBT that can also prove therapeutic. Things that I like to call “safeguards” – activities that can help put things back into a ‘normal’ perspective.

Hitting the weights

Anyone that’s had mental health therapy is not going to be surprised when I reveal my first and biggest safeguard: going to the gym.

Now, I know gymming isn’t for everyone. A lot of people I know think of going to the gym like a chore and like it’s the last thing they would want to do with their time.

But for me, going to the gym makes me feel like I’m regaining some sort of control of my life. I know that working out is giving my body the chance to improve and when I’m hitting weights a bit heavier one day than I did the last time I was in the gym, then I feel like I’ve accomplished something. It reminds me that I can do some good even when my mental state is pretty shit.

To me it’s like a reminder that if I set my mind to something and focus on improving, I can do it, therefore, theoretically (and I say ‘theoretically’ because it’s never quite as simple as this) if I focus on improving my mental health, I can.

Returning to my bookworm roots

Something I have always loved doing is reading. Even when I was young and I was a pretty slow reader, I used to sit and read my newest book religiously until I finished it. I remember one time, having taken a copy of Goosebumps: Monster Blood IV out from the library when I was about 8 years old, I literally read it from the point I left the library to when I finally went to sleep at four in the morning.

There’s absolutely no way I could do that now (I cherish my sleep too much) but I am still quite obsessive about reading. The Game of Thrones books, for example, I absolutely rattled through those thanks to hours of commuting to work.

Personally, reading helps me forget about time. That might sound a bit odd, but a big thing that contributes to my anxiety is the feeling of constantly running out of time, like I need to be doing something for every single second of the day until I go back to sleep.

For me, when I start reading, I become absorbed in the story to the point that I’m no longer focused on what I could be doing with my time but instead just enjoying my book.

Training my mind

This one might feel a bit of a stretch for some so please bear with me.

When I was at my old job (the one that led to my diagnosis in the first place), I was told about an app called Headspace. It focused on something called ‘mindfulness’ – a technique that helps you become more attuned to how you are feeling, both physically and emotionally.

Being from a family that regards stuff like this almost like pseudo-science, I wouldn’t usually give something like this a go. But seeing as I didn’t have anything to lose, I decided to anyway.

Even in the space of 10 days (the app’s free period), I could feel that by the end of it I was starting to be more aware of my body, identifying any aches or strange sensations in my body physically, and being more aware of my mental state in certain situations. That, in turn, helped me understand when perhaps I should go to bed a bit earlier or give my body a break from the gym as well as understanding my emotional state a better in certain situations.

After giving the free version of the app a go, I’m now a full member and use it as often as I can to keep on top of things.

Helping yourself

Now, my safeguards are by no means going to work for everybody. The chances are that you’ve got your own in some shape or form.

I’m also guessing that my own selection of safeguards will change over time because I’m pretty certain I’m going to experience mental health issues for the foreseeable future, meaning I’m going to have to keep adapting to try and keep on top of my mental state. And that’s the most frustrating thing about mental health issues: there isn’t really a “cure” to any of them, so the best you can do is find ways to try and deal with them.

But the key to all of this is not exactly what your safeguards are. It’s the fact that you’re willing to try and positively change the way you feel.

These safeguards help me. Hopefully they will help someone else too.

Speak soon.


One of “those days”

Those days
Credit: The Awkward Yeti

Ever have those days where you just know it’s going to be a bit shit?

I haven’t really struggled with my anxiety for a while now, mainly due to life getting in the way. I’ve been living in my own place with my girlfriend since February last year (which, if you’ve been reading my older posts, you’ll know is a big deal for me) and I’ve moved jobs, away from somewhere I didn’t feel valued to a fresh start in a new industry.

During that time, it’s felt like I’ve been slowly but surely regaining my confidence. I now feel more comfortable in social situations and more accepting of my own faults and how people react to them. I’m also a lot more open-minded about things than I used to be, which helps put things into perspective more often.

That being said though, there are still “those days” where I feel myself slipping into unhealthy anxiety behaviours. Those days where seemingly no matter what I try to do, however much I try to tell myself that anxiety is not something that I own but instead is something that I feel, no matter who I talk to about it, I simply cannot snap myself out of convince myself that things are better than they seem.

An example

A few days ago was a perfect example.

I woke up with a general feeling of annoyance and disdain – the cause of which I had no idea. I struggled to get myself out of bed and ready for work and sure enough, that led to me getting washed and dressed later than usual and leaving for work later than usual, meaning I had to briskly walk to the train station.

During my journey, I rounded a blind corner to be greeted by a guy on a bike (riding on the pavement, I might add) who has to swerve around me to avoid hitting into me. He rather annoyedly remarks “watch out for the bike mate” as he goes past (you know, because it was obviously my fault for not being able to see around blind corners… or expect bikes on the pavement). At this point, I start thinking “well, this is going to be a shit day isn’t it?“.

The rest of my journey is normal. I meditate on the train, like I have been since the New Year, and get my mind ready for work.

Once I’m at work, the first few hours pass by just fine. The people who sit around me, who I’m still getting to know, all seem perfectly happy and the usual joking and pissing around takes place until about lunch time.

With our focus wondering to our growling bellies, someone mentions going to a burger place for lunch. Everyone swiftly agrees and we head over to the restaurant.

As we walk there, I start sensing this general feeling of remoteness from the others. This is largely due to the people with me seemingly being less open to conversation with me than usual, yet happily chatting among themselves. Even the new girl – who started two weeks ago – is making conversation with the two guys and girl with which I’ve been working since before Christmas. The confidence (or arrogance – I haven’t made up my mind yet) that pours out of her is something I wish I had.

Comparing the difference in interaction between her and my colleagues and me and my colleagues starts to make me wonder just how much these people actually like me and what effect my turning around and going back to office would actually have on this lunch.

A strange lunch

After a rather painful 15 minutes walking, we arrive at the restaurant and take our seats. There’s five of us sitting at a table of six and I’m sitting at one end with one guy given the decision of sitting opposite me or opposite the guy at the other end. He chooses to sit opposite me which came as a bit of a welcome surprise.

After a couple of minutes, the waiter comes over and takes our orders. I order the mushroom burger which typically wouldn’t be my usual order, but I’ve drastically cut down my meat intake since New Year and quite frankly, I fancied something a bit different.

Bizarrely, at least to me, the selection was met with mocking from Miss Confrogance (a mash up term I am now officially coining) and the guy opposite me.

“Why would you come to a burger place and order a veggie burger?!” is the first question I’m posed with, laced with the same level of outrage you’d expect if I’d squatted over the table and… well you can figure it out.

Confused, I respond “I just fancied a change.”

“Must be part of your vegetarian-five-days-a-week plan,” is the response I get from Confrogance – a concept she came up with for me because I told her I don’t eat meat unless I’m out of the house. Personally, I’m quite surprised at how confident she was to mock such a thing considering we’ve only worked together for a couple of weeks, but then maybe that’s just my British belief to get to know someone a bit longer than two weeks before being comfortable enough to mock their beliefs kicking in. After making me feel uncomfortable, she moves on to mock the chicken burger ordered by the guy at the other end of the table.

After that awkward exchange, we enjoy our burgers in relative silence with our mouths being occupied by burger and chips.

Then comes the bill. At no point in my life has splitting the bill exactly ever ended in everyone being completely satisfied with how things turned out. Everyone at the table obviously thought the same as they swiftly whip out their calculator apps and start totting up what they owed.

I’m the last to pay. The waiter asks how much I’d like to pay and I say “£16.80 for me please.”

“£16.80?” The waiter replies.

“Yes,” I confirm.

I notice Confrogance is shaking her head, along with end-of-table guy.

“What? Have I missed something?” I question before quickly explaining that “I’m going to add the tip on when he passes me the machine” just in case that’s what I’ve missed.

“He’s just taking the total you give him off the overall bill so you need to add the tip on beforehand,” says Confrogance, perfectly in sync with the waiter handing me the card machine and me noticing that there’s no option to add a tip.

“Oh…” I say, turning back to the waiter and saying, “sorry, could you make the total £18.70 instead?”

More head shaking.

“Seriously, what?” I ask, starting to feel flutters of anxiety as I fear I’ve completely missed something.

“How come you couldn’t just round it up to £19?” I’m asked.

I jokingly say that I’d already rounded up to the nearest 10p as my anxiety grows over the thought of these people thinking I’m a cheapskate.

Some awkward drinks

Eventually, the painful payment scenario ends and we wander back to work. The next few hours pass in a food coma induced-haze until the clock strikes 5:30. At this point, an email hits all of our inboxes at once: “The bar is now open!” signalling the opening of the Thursday night bar we have downstairs every week.

I head down with a junior member of staff who was present at lunch and I notice a shift in her manner toward me. It’s almost a bit complacent and she doesn’t give me much conversation to feed on. Again my mind begins to wonder – has the earlier experience altered her view of me?

We take a seat at one of the big benches, crack open a beer and start gorging on snacks. I start the talking and the lack of meaningful retorts from her continues, most of her responses being definitive and short. Why was she so eager to come to the bar with me in the first place if she didn’t fancy a conversation?

After about 10 minutes, the guy who sat opposite me at lunch comes and sits next to me, giving me an out of the one-sided conversation I’d been having. We chat for a while – an actual two-sided conversation this time – and finish our respective beers, at which point I ask “are you having another one?” He shakes his head whilst wondering over to where the beers are. He then stops, looks at the beers and turns back around toward me, but with a bizarre look as if he thought I’d be gone already. “Are you having another one?” I ask again, slightly confused at what was happening. Again, I’m greeted with a shaking head.

I leave and head home, questioning whether the guy was lying to me and actually stayed for another one like it seemed he was doing. As I expected from the moment I woke up, this day had turned out pretty shit.

It’s the small things

This might all seem a bit tedious but this is the kind of stuff that used to bother me all the time and, evidently, still does from time to time.

It’s these minor exchanges, strange expressions and over-reactions to what I would class as perfectly normal occurrences that really hit my confidence and make me re-examine everything I do. It makes me question loyalties of friends and loved ones, doubt my own capabilities and personality, and ponder whether everything is, in fact, ok.

Now, I know that there’s a high probability that I’m reading too much into situations like this. Maybe Confrogance was mocking because actually, she’s comfortable with doing so with me, which in itself is a compliment. Maybe the one-sided conversation I was having was the result of a long day for her. And maybe the guy really did just head home, as strange as it looked.

And that’s all I can do to remind myself that these days are just that: days. Not weeks, not months, not years. But single days that only last for 24 hours. And as much as it sucks during that day, I can only hope that the next day is going to be a lot better.

Speak soon.

Pointless pondering


What a few months have passed me by. It’s been pretty good for my New Year’s resolutions – I’ve moved out of my mum’s house and into a place with my girlfriend; I’ve kept on reading and writing (the latter has been on another blog of mine); I’ve crammed a lot of friend time in; and I’ve had the time to spend some quality time with myself. I’ve also been feeling a bit more confident in general and feel like my newly found independence has given me a certain freedom of expression that wasn’t there before. God knows why.

So why the title? Well, to be honest, it’s to do with something that very recently happened to me which spurred me to get something off my chest.

A break from the norm

The ‘event’ happened at Gatwick Airport a couple of days ago on my way back from a work conference in Barcelona. My colleague and I had just got off the plane and rounded the corner to within sight of the passport control bit of the airport. As I’m walking towards where the queue begins, I notice there’s a queue of people coming from the opposite direction to us going towards the same queueing point.

At this point, I was unsure of what to do. On the one hand, I feel the compulsion to join the back of the queue coming from the opposite direction – a line of around 200 people. On the other, I watch as people from my flight walk straight towards the beginning of the queue and just kind of merge with the other line.

I decide I’m going to merge with the line but in between both the end of the opposite line and the start of the queue. I join the line and it’s moving pretty freely, some people are coming from the opposite direction and just walk straight into the beginning of the queue with no issue. I then start thinking, well if they can do that then is this line actually a queue? Like, why are we deciding to form a line before the actual queue starts?

So, in a move that is a break from the norm for me, I then begin walking my normal pace which naturally had me walking a bit faster than those directly in front of me. I don’t particularly think this is an issue considering the line itself is a few people wide and the sheer number of people ahead of us totalled another few hundred.

I get to the beginning of the queue point and I hear someone shout “Oi! You!”. I turn around and see this guy who strongly resembled a teacher from my old secondary school pointing directly at me. “Yeh, you! Quit pushing in!” I kind of freeze, not sure of what to do, just kind of looking at this guy. I decide to walk back to where my colleague is and join back in behind this guy, on the way back remarking “calm down mate, it’s not like I would’ve made much difference to you.”


Since that happened, the scenario has played through my head a countless number of times as I continue to break the situation down, replay it, and question whether I was in the right or not, beating myself up about it when I arrive at the “I was in the wrong” conclusion, and become frustrated I didn’t defend myself when I decide I was in the right.

Whether I was, in fact, right or wrong (I’m sure you’ll have your own opinion on it) isn’t the point of me telling this story. It’s the fact that I actually give too much of a shit sometimes.

You see, one of the first things I did was explain it to my girlfriend to get her opinion on the situation. Because I’d been through the scenario so many times in my head, I was expecting a really in-depth conversation about it. Instead, I just got a few response texts making light of the situation before moving on to a different subject. As a result, I feel frustrated that I don’t have a conclusive answer to my worries. That isn’t any fault of my girlfriend’s – it’s entirely mine.

Setting myself up for failure

And this is something I do with pretty much any situation I find myself in. Be it a brief exchange (friendly or not) with someone or an entire evening or interaction with someone.

The problem is, it’s not at all helpful. I think I’m helping myself when actually all I’m doing is setting myself up for failure. I will never get the response I want because I will never stop thinking about it and I’m the only one who has seen the scenario from my point of view.

The only thing I can really do is apply what I learned in my CBT sessions and try and break the thought cycle. I have to actively interject in the frantic thoughts and ask questions like “was it really that bad?” or “what can I actually do about it now?”And the answers are almost always no and nothing. It does help in most cases to help tone down the ruminating, although those scenarios do tend to randomly pop back into my memory every now and then.

Life lessons

I suppose that’s the ‘lesson’ I can suggest others to follow: challenge the perspective of your thought process. I know what ruminating is like and it almost feels like a chaotic cloud of different thoughts all playing at once in your head.

But it doesn’t have to be like that. They’re your thoughts and you can do what you want with them, so interject. Look at your thoughts logically, identify which ones are illogical/unactionable, and question them, then see what positives you can take from them. In this particular situation, I thought everyone in that line must hate me for what I’d done. But really, whether they do or don’t, what can I do about that? In terms of the ‘good’ thing I can take from it, perhaps I can just be more patient next time – like a life lesson.

So that’s where I’ll leave it. I hope this post actually made some sense.

Speak soon.