Friday, August 19, 2011

The sting of anxiety

My latest news is that I am back working part time as a Social Worker, yeah, not thrilled, but it's a means to an end for now & I'm trying to make the most of it.

Yesterday I attended an awesome Professional Development day to become an accredited facilitator of a group work program to assist children to manage their experience of fears, anxiety and depression. The program's been developed by a bunch of psychologists and is impressively evidence-based, which means that they've done their research.

Some of the research stunned me, for example, apparently adults who have mental health issues have signs and symptoms by the age of 12 years old. I thought of a few people I know, including myself, yes indeed I had signs of anxiety by 12. That anxiety goes untreated in most people until adulthood when their anxiety becomes debilitating, usually as the result of a stressful event or experience.

Research and anecdotal evidence from the therapist running the training indicates that depression often stems from anxiety. The theory is that we all tend to have fears and anxiety is a pretty common experience, it's part of being human. However if anxiety is ongoing and occurs regularly, we become exhausted, as a result we tend to become depressed. It's like we can no longer function with the high levels of arousal in our body, so we shut down and our affect becomes flat, our body movements and thinking slow down, it's a form of shutting down. This isn't to say we don't continue to experience anxiety, the two usually go hand in hand; but depression seems to be our body's response to ongoing anxiety. That's how most people end up with the double whammy- depression and anxiety.

Why is it that I'm writing about this today? Because it's personally significant and I felt like the learnings I got out of the PD yesterday created lightbulb moments. It's helpful to understand that because I didn't know about anxiety or learn how to manage it as a child, I am now having to do so in adulthood. Current stats say that 1 in 5 adults will be diagnosed with anxiety and/or depression atleast once in their life. This stat reminds me how normal it is, though I think we'll see an increase in the stats in future years, as currently many people go undiagnosed..struggling. I reckon more like 99% of people in the western world will experience anxiety and or depression in their lifetime (diagnosed..or not). For many of us it's a recurring experience; each time we understand a little more, we know more about how to manage the symptoms and will recognise what's happening more quickly so as we can get help more immediately.

I believe that anxiety and depression can help us to see what needs to change in our lives, I don't think it's just about how we think, that's kinda bullshit to me. It's in part how we think, but usually it's our external and interpersonal circumstances that can tend to get us down or into a worried state of mind. If those circumstances or relationships continue then often so does our inner experience of stress and worry. We can't always change our situation immediately, what we can do is reach out, get the help we need and soften, become more gentle with ourselves and try to find opportunities for positive experiences wherever possible.

What do you think about all this? Any lightbulb moments or stories to share?

Thanks to Cath at Precocious Lotus a number of Mental Health related blogs are now linked up, so if you want to read more, you can, please do add yours if you've blogged on a MH related topic!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Me V Me

Tonight I've been in battle, the part of me who wants to forget about everything and drift into peaceful sleep and the part that's calling for an opportunity to express herself. The latter has been calling for some time, and she has also been ignored. She wins tonight, because I was hearing a blog post being written in my head. That's not terribly comfortable or conducive to getting to sleep.

The me who wanted to express and to write also requested a bowl of muesli, her needs for food and expression are both being satiated right now.

Today was a kind of significant occasion. Today I walked down memory lane. I went job seeking, I went to a recruitment company that I'd had contact with before. Last year when I had contact with them I felt pretty awful, but also felt like I needed to get on with my life and that perhaps if I just took steps forward into work I would feel better. Nearly a year ago I was in the recruiter's office for an interview and I missed a call from my GP's office. When I returned the call I was asked to go into the clinic straight away because they'd found something in my blood tests. Anxiety coursed through my veins, I freaked out big time. I texted my Mum warning her that I was on my way to the GP and might need some support after the appointment. I didn't know what they might have found but I kept thinking it could be cancer or something equally awful. After all it would make sense that it was something awful, because I felt like a seriously ill person.

As it turned out I was seriously ill, not with cancer, with something very treatable, a thyroid condition. When my Dr told me, I was both relieved and confused. How had I come to have an overactive thyroid I'd wondered. I also started to wonder what the thyroid did, because I'd never given it any thought before now. I figured it must be capable of doing alot, seeing as it had made me so awfully sick.

So that's what happened last time I left this recruiter's office, today I am gladly reporting no such thing occurred. But it was a time for reflection, I noticed that today when I walked in through those doors of the big city building that I felt a strength I hadn't had last year, one that I'd had to fake last year. I realised how far I'd come and how much had changed since that day. When I walked into the building nearly a year ago I'd believed I was just struggling with a bit of depression (even though symptoms said otherwise), I was employing all of the determination I could to act strong, be brave and 'overcome' my difficulties, I had a will of steel.

Today I took a moment to feel gratitude for being in a very different position, one that places me alot more 'in the know'. I know what was wrong, I know now that I am well on the road to recovery, towards full health and that it's safe to be applying for jobs. I might not feel so flash, but I think this time around it's a combination of general tiredness and feeling the effects of winter..and the effects of stepping back into 'the real world' after being sidelined for a year. I wouldn't blame you for imagining it's just awesome and that I'd be celebrating feeling better and being able to move on.

Unfortunately it's not so simple, I've got this 'story' I have to tell about why there's a 1 year gap in my resume. It's also a little more difficult as I'm no longer connected to the working community I used to be a part of, so I'm therefore an 'unknown' as a result of a geographical move. My confidence in what my body can cope with is not great; I know that it's more than likely that I will have times that I will struggle to find the energy for work. For a while work might be all I can do and the rest of my time might be taken up by recovery and sleep. Illness has changed me on all levels- mental, emotional, spiritual and physical; I am the same, yet so different. It's hard to know quite what that means; the only way to find out is to get back into things. It's daunting not knowing what it's going to be like to be the Sarah I am post illness. I can guarantee it won't be the same. I know there are things I need to consciously change, in relation to how I look at things and how I take care of myself; because they will be protective of my health into the future.

I'm in nervous anticipation of discovering this, trusting that I will cope, facing the issues that come with ongoing recovery/return to full health and dealing with the financial effects of long term unemployment. It's not always easy to see the bright side, but today I was truly grateful for being in a very different position to that of 1 year ago as I walked through the recruiters doors.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The pull

I've had my longest break between blogs ever. During the past two months I haven't completely forgotten about the blog, or that the answer is writing, but other things have kept me occupied and I haven't been feeling the pull to write like I was.

In my case, no news has pretty much been good news. I have been too busy living, stepping foot outside my door kind of living, to have the time, space or energy to write. I've also been busy enjoying communication and time spent with new and old friends; which has created a space for me to process things. Until recent months this blog was essential in creating space for me to process and come to terms with things while I was ill. It was like there was so much stuff coming up for me that I needed an outlet available 24/7; I was spending heaps of time alone (on the couch) so a blog was the perfect companion. I also felt like it was important to document things; as much for myself as for the possibility that my experience might help others through their own struggles.

So I'm not sure what's happening with the blog, I don't know if it has a future, I'm not feeling any great pull towards writing- though I know that this is sure to return at some point.

With all the change and development happening around getting back into work my focus is more on that. I've got one part time job, have applied for another, am establishing a private practice in counselling and have had another job suggested to me. I'm attempting to retain some sense of stillness amid this temporary chaos. I'm also trying to listen carefully to my wise one within, to ensure that I make decisions for my highest good. I've learned so many lessons during the past 18 months and have had moments of such great clarity about what's important in life; I don't want to forget them!

I do feel the pull of forgetting all of that, of switching off and just 'getting on with things' but I can't- thank goodness. I do get confused, sometimes in good health, or average health, it's easy to lose sight of what's important and to become preoccupied with the material world- money, clothes, home, what your neighbours and your friends are doing etc. That stuff has some serious weight to it in a way that feels so hard to resist.

Whilst I'm glad to be spending time back in this 'real world' with 'everyone else' I look back a little wistfully at the simplicity of being ill and the permission it granted me to be able to go inward, to rest, to put myself first and the way it forced me to be open to receiving help. I sure don't want to have to be sick to enjoy these things, here within lies my current challenge, ensuring that I get the aforementioned when I'm in good health, not only when I'm stuck and forced into it. The key is to love myself enough to give myself what I know I need and to do it without guilt or dis-ease, to do it because I am deserving and it's natural. I know that it's going to be essential in my continued increasing vitality and to a happy and balanced me. I'd like to say I'll keep you updated, but I'm not going to make any promises I can't keep- so we'll see huh :-)
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