Previously on my so-called life*

Somehow it’s suddenly almost mid-April and I’m back at work. This winter has been a bit of a blur and I’m not sure how to make sense of it all. So before I can move on, I’m going to try and write some major points down on “paper” to help me navigate through it.

So, after 2018 summer season, I was broken. It would be easy to say that it was just the work but I think it was an accumulation of many things that led to my breakdown. Because let’s be honest, it did look and sound awful like a breakdown. After one really bad episode, thanks to an encouragement from a friend online, I did something I never thought I would or indeed could do: I asked for help. I faced my enormous fear of doctors and went to see my GP.

So I sat there, almost nauseous with fear, shaking uncontrollably and trying not to cry (didn’t really work out), worried that I’d be sent home for wasting NHS time and money. I wasn’t. In fact, my Gp was and has been brilliant. It was such a huge thing for me to be taken seriously and not be brushed aside. I had a full bloodwork done and it confirmed that my old friend iron deficiency was back again, and as always, when I go low on iron, I go low. I’m not sure how medically sound it is but I always tend to go low after periods of being stressed out, so it wasn’t exactly surprising. But it’s still pretty annoying.

Besides starting on iron supplements once again, my GP also referred me to therapy, namely Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. She suggested also medication but also worried that it might be something that I might struggle to come off, so after some reading and consideration, I decided to try therapy first without medication.

The months after those first appointments with the doctor weren’t all plain sailing. Because I had managed to completely exhaust my body, I ended up catching every cold and virus and bug that went around and was coughing, sneezing or just generally feeling shit for about 2 months straight. Not to mention the tiredness – I felt more exhausted than ever and it just wouldn’t go away. Usually the iron kicks in quite quickly making me feel stronger just after a few weeks but this time, it took almost 6 weeks for me to start noticing the difference in how I feel. And then I caught the flu in February, which was the most horrible 5-day period of the winter. I regretted complaining about my colds because they had been nothing compared to that shit! It felt brutal, I couldn’t sit or lie down because my back and legs and arms were hurting and yet all I wanted to do was sleep. And the hallucinations from high temperature were just something else. Anyway, I am now really considering a flu jab for next winter because I really don’t fancy doing that again in the next few decades!

As for my mental health, it has been a bit of a rollercoaster. There were (and still are) so many moments when I almost regret going to ask for help. I feel like I’m overreacting and just seeking attention. Or at other times I just feel like I’m a complete basket case and that I should be kept away from people. I’ve had many meltdowns, some more embarassing than others (an email to work dripping from self-pity comes to mind….). The good old bathroom floor has had to endure quite a bit…

I met with a therapist for the first time in February and she collected my demons under a name: generalised anxiety disorder. The first few sessions I walked out of therapy feeling like I had just been through a boxing match and lost. I’ve never talked about how I feel, so I found it hard to suddenly have to explain and describe things. Did I also mention that I’m afraid of doctors (or anyone resembling one like a nurse, dentist, physio, optician, pharmacist etc)? I’ve now been to 5 or 6 sessions and it’s not fucking easy. I’m constantly swinging between “Yeah, I can do this, I can beat this thing!” and “God, I’m so fucked up they should just shoot me.” It’s been difficult to accept having to need help and having to be vulnerable but it has been equally difficult to let go of my thought patterns that have made me succumb to anxiety.

So that’s the honest summary of the struggles of this winter and an update as to where I am now. But it hasn’t been all dark and gloomy. As my 30th birthday present for myself, I bought my first car. (Because I’m a fucking adult now!) It’s a little Suzuki 4×4, comes with a few scratches and dents, so I don’t have to feel bad about those that I’m going to add. Although getting used to driving again after more than 18-months of being off the road was extremely nerve-wracking, I’m slowly gaining confidence. I’m okay with driving in the dark and I even drove on the motorway on my own the other day! My 3-point turns are completely on point (pun intended) but I still can’t park or reverse to save my life!

One thing that made me much more confident about my driving was taking my car to Isle of Harris. Although Scott did majority of the driving (especially going there through a snow storm in the middle of the night and getting us safely to Harris on completely ice-covered roads!), it make me trust my car and that just adds so much to decreasing my anxiety about driving. Harris itself was beyond words! A magical island! One of these days I will kick myself in the butt and edit my photos and put something together. I did write an essay about the seals on Harris, which I might share.

I’m slowly trying to get myself back into gear for doing more walking and running. I challenged myself by signing up to do a 13-mile walk/run in March called the DaffyDo. I entered with not very high hopes as my training for this was 3 weeks, one of which was just dominated by storms. I was sure it’ll take me about 3 and a half hours to get from Pooley Bridge to the top of Hallin Fell and back but I ended up finishing in 2 hours and 45 minutes. It was a beautiful day and I managed to run about 60% of the way (and walk all the uphills). I definitely did not feel fit but it also wasn’t as big of a struggle as I had feared it might be. I’m now pondering whether or not to sign up for a 20-mile challenge in October. The jury is still out…

Besides running, I have been trying to get some fitness back by being beasted by the wonderful Wiz Lees Fitness and a little bit of yoga (not really much this winter I’m afraid). Now that the season has started, I’m going to have to give up on the evening classes again but I have signed up for personal training sessions, which are brutal (but lovingly so.. right, Wiz?). Although Scott and Leigh-ann gave me the full collection of Wainwright’s books for my birthday as well as a poster for ticking them off, I haven’t really been walking in the hills much this winter. The most I did was on my winter walking course on Harris (still waiting to receive my certificate for that…). I am hoping to get back to it but with everything going on from my neck upwards, it has been a real struggle.

I also returned to my writing group and have actually managed to write a few things that I don’t completely hate. I have recently found a bit of confidence to write about my memories and my life experiences and they have been well received by the group. I have always thought that my life has been so uneventful and ordinary that no one wants to read about it. Also, I find it really good for sorting my shit out by just writing snippets of memoirs.

So there we go, that’s my last few months. I feel like I needed to write it out to start making a bit more sense of the blur of this winter. Maybe it’ll help me to write more. Maybe it’ll be another 6 months by the time I come here again. I don’t know. I’ll just try and get to the other side of this burnout-breakdown and see what’s left of me.

(*I remember always trying to imitate the dramatic voiceover at the start of TV soaps saying “Previously on The Bold and the Beautiful” etc but for little Eastern European girl, the word ‘previously’was pretty impossible to pronounce, so i’ve always wanted to say it)

Why I am taking a break from social media

Today I deleted the Instagram and Facebook apps from my devices. Why? Because I need a break and a chance to see clearly without the filters. I have already written about how I live a life with an Instagram filter but only in the last few days did I realise how much I am actually influenced by social media and how anxious and depressed it can make me.

Over the last week, I have suffered through some pretty horrible nights. I have found myself unable to sleep and my brain has been working overtime. I have wound myself up to a point where I found it difficult to breathe or just to exist. As a result I haven’t been feeling great all around. I’m scared of going to bed because I don’t know whether I am able to sleep tonight or have to go through the ordeals again.

What has helped me a bit over these last few days has been shutting off my phone and making an effort not to check it after going to bed. It might seems such an obvious thing but it has given me a few extra hours each night. I realised that one of the things that I kept checking was whether someone was “communicating” with me. I was checking for acknowledgment from others in the form of likes and comments on my photos on Instagram and Facebook. I kept trying to figure out what to post to make my life seem more interesting and to collect more likes.

I realise that this a dangerous road to go down. There are never enough likes to fill the void I thought I was feeling. I have been feeling very alone and vulnerable recently, like I am isolated from people around me. I thought that Instagram and Facebook would help me connect with people, but in fact, they made me feel worse. I know that most people tap twice on a post on Instagram just out of a habit without giving it much attention. Tap-tap, scroll, tap-tap, scroll… I do that, so why do I expect anyone else to concentrate any more. So in the end, those likes that I was so desperately expecting didn’t really fill my desire to be noticed, to be acknowledged, to be comforted in feeling alone and scared.

And when you are feeling alone and scared, other people’s carefully constructed and edited lives don’t make you feel any better either. I know that I shouldn’t compare myself to what other people post on social media, but it’s difficult not to when you are feeling down. I felt like I am not pretty enough, interesting enough, happy enough. I felt like I am not enough. So although I was scrolling through the feed in search for escape, it was getting even more locked up in my negative thoughts.

I didn’t delete my accounts and I have every intention to returning to them but I just need a week or two, or even just a few days of staying away. A few days where I don’t have to compare myself to what I could be. A few days when I don’t have to think about creating an image. I need a few days where I can feel my feelings and learn to not to mask them with filters. I need to learn not to look for acknowledgement somewhere where it’s not actually given.

Is it going to be difficult? I have no doubt it will be incredibly difficult. I have no problem admitting a certain addiction to social media. It will so tempting to scroll through Instagram posts first thing in the morning and refreshing Facebook feed as a break at work. It will take a while not to think about my day in terms of what interesting I could post on Instagram. It will feel even more lonely. But I hope it will hurt a little less, I hope I can sleep again with a bit more peace of mind knowing that I have chosen to miss it all. I hope I can at least for a minute stop comparing my life with others and feeling like a complete failure.

Life with Instagram filter

It is a popular talking point that social media isn’t an honest reflection of reality (no shit, Sherlock!). Our Instagram photos are edited and show triumphs and things we are proud of, our Facebook post aim to reflect how interesting our lives are and so on. I agree and I am guilty of the same crimes. However, I don’t think this is only true online. Many people put up a false front in offline as well.

I know I do. And I am pretty sure I am not the only one.

I’m one of those people who tend to walk through the days seemingly without a care in the world. I joke with customers and colleagues, I get on with work and find little extra bits to do. Every now and again I do some exercise and go on hikes. I talk about plans for future and seem excited about them. I can take and make jokes on my behalf. I talk about how lucky I am to live on the edge of the Lake District  and how much I love the hills. Every now and again, I attend social events and gatherings and chill out.

If you look at my Instagram account, it will probably tell you a similar story about me.

Someone meeting me for the first time might think I’m the most easy-going and carefree person in the world. And most of my friends, family and colleagues probably think something similar.

That’s my real life Instagram filter, a carefully constructed image. Just like no one would be impressed with mundane updates on social media, no one would find the reality of what I am particularly interesting or easy-going. Anxiety and depressive thoughts aren’t exactly the ice breakers that get the party started.

It’s as much about impressing other people as it is about self-preservation. I’m not sure if I could cope with day-to-day life without constructing this other (better) version of myself. It’s what keeps me going, it gets me out of bed in the morning. At the same time, it’s incredibly tiring and it makes it almost impossible to ask for help because my life appears to be so perfect, what reasons could I possibly have to be tired of it.

Just like we can’t see what’s been cropped out of Instagram photos, we don’t know what really goes on inside a person in real life. There are plenty of people who seem to be happy and genuinely are. But I bet there are just as many people who are using the happiness filter to hide the fact that this false front is the only thing that keeps them from falling apart.