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The last last panic attack of 2016 
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2016 Is nearing it’s end, only 11 days left to go… and the standard consensus across the board is that it’s been a shit year. Brexit, Trump and numerous celebrity deaths. Ok cool, I get it and I think it’s safe to say that it’s been a shock for all of us. However, not to sound like a screaming child but 2016 has also been one of the best years of […]

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Hi and Bye
howlongdopanicattackslast.com

Hello! Long time no blog. Just a VERY brief update to let you know that, yes, I am still alive, and university is finally over! I got my results a couple of weeks ago and managed to get a first class degree! I absolutely HATED my last year of uni, given how bad uni in general  was for my mental health (MASSIVE “mega-rant” coming about this in the future), and I’m still feeling very pessimistic about my future job prospects with a biological sciences degree, but at least all my hard work and stressing and all-nighters have paid off to an extent.

I had intended to write a few blog posts over the last two or three weeks but I’ve unfortunately been so busy that it hasn’t happened. The reason I’ve been so busy is that I’ve been preparing for a 5-week adventure abroad, on my own, which I leave for today. This is WAAAY out of my comfort zone and I’ve felt so anxious over the last few days that I have a constant sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I honestly think I must be crazy for signing up to this. It will challenge my anxiety like never before, and I just hope that I will be able to cope.  At the same time, though, I am really looking forward to this. Hopefully it will really help to boost my confidence. 

I’m sorry that I’ve been so terrible at responding to emails over the past year. Thank you to everyone who has emailed me or commented on my blog, and I’m really sorry if I haven’t messaged you back yet – it’s nothing personal. I’ll try and get caught up on all of that when I return from my trip. I really have missed my blog all these months, and the cathartic/ therapeutic effect of blogging. I have A LOT of updates to write, and a lot of other things I want to write about when I get back. Anyway, I’ve rambled on long enough, and I’d better get a move on – I have a plane to catch! Thanks for reading and speak to you all in 5 weeks!

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The After Christmas Toxic Detox due to too much food and alcohol that can cause panic attacks
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Happy new year! I hope that everyone had a nice Christmas? Now that January is here we tend to feel guilty about our indulgence over the holidays. (‘Indulgence,’ is basically a nice way of saying we stuffed our faces). January = detox, clean living and joining an expensive gym. As someone who is prone to black or white thinking, I must admit that after eating and drinking to excess, the idea of detoxification […]

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Theresa May – action, not talk please.
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To say that I have mixed emotions with regard to Theresa May’s very well publicised speech yesterday, is an understatement. On the one hand, mental health received a shout out on TV. Amazing! The stigma and problems surrounding it were formally recognised. I also like the prospect that every secondary school will receive mental health first aid training, to help teachers identify symptoms and students who may be developing issues. […]

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Demon whispers.
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**Trigger warning – do not read if feeling vulnerable.** On Sunday I felt the demon lurking, I always know when he’s coming, Tip toeing behind me like a child in the shadows. By Monday morning he saw an opening and sprang, pinning me down like a weight, & digging into my core until I was numb. It didn’t help that I had an event to attend that evening. I tried […]

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We’re All Mad Here – Giveaway!
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Greetings all! We made it through January, (by the skin of our teeth) and now it’s time to embrace February and all the possibilities that it may bring. But how? I hear you ask. Well what better way to celebrate the end of the most depressing month of the year than with…. BADGES!!  For the chance to win one please tweet this message: It’s Feb & We’re All Mad Here! https://www.amazon.co.uk/d/Books/Were-Here-Nonsense-Guide-Living-Social-Anxiety/1785920820 #Allmadherebook @ClaireyLove  […]

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Life is Good (update)
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I suppose I should begin this post with an apology – sorry for being a bad blogger! I’m finding full-time work (still at my supermarket job) much less stressful, but much more physically exhausting, than university – I seem to average about 7 miles of walking (to and from work, at work, and then walking my dog afterwards) in the average work day, and sometimes walk as many as 10 miles a day. The good thing about this is that I’ve lost weight, and – despite eating so much lately – have managed to maintain the weight. I also feel really fit (compared to my high school days anyway) and I’m probably in the best shape I have ever been right now (though there’s still a lot of room for improvement). The downside of this is that I always seem to be exhausted, and I also never seem to get anywhere near enough sleep these days, though this is also partly due to actually having some semblance of a life over the last couple of months (!!) I hope to make more time for blogging, because I really do miss it, and I have countless updates/ subjects that I want to write about.  However, I’ve had writer’s block every time I have attempted to write a blog post recently. I’m really out of practice, so please bear with me as I spew word vomit all over your screens.

Also, have some optional cheesy background music. Because, let’s be honest, it’s a nice change from the less upbeat songs I normally post on here. Also, damn you WordPress for no longer letting me post youtube videos without parting with my hard-earned cash! You’re just another greedy, elitist corporation!

Life is actually going really well in some areas at the moment, and I don’t think I’ve enjoyed life as much as I do right now since my last year of primary school. Why? For a start, I’ve actually had a social life over the last couple of weeks. After not seeing/ hearing from any of them in ages, all 3 of my friends met up with me in the same week, a couple of weeks ago. I can’t tell you how nice it is to be able to have a friendly chat with someone or watch a film/ play a video game with a friend at their flat. Life would be amazing if I had more friends, and/ or if I could meet up with my friends on a more regular basis. Even doing something with a friend once a week would be fantastic. I will hopefully be meeting up with 2 of those friends again over the next couple of weeks, which I’m looking forward to. I’m also hoping to do more travelling this summer – around Scotland, possibly around some of Europe (my youngest sister and youngest cousin were talking about this, and I may join them if they decide to go), and possibly back to Africa for a bit as well – but I haven’t planned/ organised anything yet. I don’t know if my work would let me have my job back afterwards, but if they wouldn’t, I’d still much rather go, and have the experience of a lifetime, than stay in the same monotonous and often frustrating job. I hope to start coming up with actual, concrete plans over the next few weeks. Other reasons as to why I’m enjoying life at the moment include feeling more like I am part of the family, being a lot less stressed since leaving university, and one other reason that will become apparent in my next post. I always felt like the black sheep of the family throughout my teenage years, but (although my mental health seems to be a bone of contention and something that they may never fully understand) I do feel more a part of family life, and more understood by/ involved with my family members. And my mental health/ life in general has certainly improved ever since getting out of that hellhole (university). People used to tell me that high school and university would be the best days of my life, but those were definitely the worst parts of my life so far. Things have improved greatly since leaving those days behind me. I know that my experiences can’t speak for everyone, but I just thought I’d clarify to those of you that have severe SA and are still going through high school/ university, it being “the best days of your lifeâ€� is utter bullshit. Just do your best to hang in there and get through it. Life is much better now, and I don’t think there is a single day from those years that I’d like to repeat.

Although things are going really well at the moment, I’m still feeling rather discouraged about the possibility of making new friends. There seem to be very few people my age on meetup.com in my area, and I still haven’t gotten weekends off, so I still can’t even go along to the women’s cycling group that I’ve wanted to go to for ages. I went along to a different meetup.com group last month, but I found myself wishing that I hadn’t gone. I was the youngest person there again (though not by decades this time), and was the only female there until the organiser (who was over half an hour late) arrived. I couldn’t really relate to/ converse with anyone in the group, and was so tired from work that I was just about falling asleep. I did manage to eat a meal in front of a group of strangers, which was no mean feat, but I spent the entire meet up just waiting for it to be over, so I could go home and sleep. So yeah…I don’t know how on earth I’m going to meet new friends that I can truly connect with. I can’t just give up though. I wish there were better ways of making new friends available to me. I even thought about starting my own meet up group, but I still don’t feel ready for something like that. It’s still too scary.

I still have not the faintest idea what I’m going to do with my life after travelling, and I start to feel really down any time I start to think about it. I meant to see a careers advisor at my university a while back but I ended up getting too upset about the whole thing. I need to see someone about it soon, and start asking myself some soul-searching questions, or I may be stuck in a monotonous job that I dislike for the rest of my life. I know that I tend to catastrophise this sort of thing, and that I’m currently enjoying life even with a monotonous and frustrating job, so life will not necessarily be unbearable (in my head it will be) if I don’t end up in an enjoyable/ meaningful job. I would very much like if I could do something meaningful with my life though.

I’ve stopped seeing mental health professionals after completing a 12-week group CBT programme a few months ago (I need to write about this at some point), and (as no one I saw ever helped me much, and I’m doing so much better on my own) I feel this is the right decision for me. I still have so much frustration over the way I was treated by people who were supposed to be helping me, and over all the years I wasted in pointless therapy sessions. I hate that the potential misdiagnosis of autism is still hanging over my head as well. I never felt truly understood by anyone I saw, and some of them had not one iota of empathy. But that’s another rant…

In other news, my mum started dating again around this time last year, met a really nice guy, and they are now engaged. I was a little bit shocked that they were engaged only 8 months after meeting each other, but I’m sure they both have enough life/ romantic experience to know what they’re doing. He (my future stepdad) moved in with us a couple of weeks ago. Having so many people living together in a fairly small house is a bit of a nightmare at times, but he is a really nice guy and has made a real effort to get on with my siblings and I. I was so nervous the first time he came round to the house that I actually went and hid in the kitchen, but I’m so, so much more relaxed around him now. I’m really happy that he and my mum are both happy. We – the six people living in my household, and also my dad and his friend/ flatmate – are all going to Florida for a 2-week holiday in May (I had never been to another continent before I went to Namibia, and now I’ll get to experience 2 new continents in the space of less than a year!) I had worried that it would be awkward with dad being there, but he and my mum have remained really good friends, and he can always go off and do other things with his flatmate if he wishes. While I’m really looking forward to the holiday, going to Florida most likely means that both my future stepdad and my dad’s flatmate will have to find out about my scars, which I’m dreading. My mum, with my permission, has already told my future stepdad about my scars (though he hasn’t seen them yet), and thankfully, he does seem fairly understanding when it comes to mental health problems. But I am absolutely dreading having to tell my dad’s flatmate about it. I’m not sure he will be so understanding.

My mum and stepdad are also going to sell our house (though it may take up to a year or more for it to be ready to be put up for sale), and buy a new house about 2 or 3 miles away. There will still be enough room in their new house for my siblings and I to move in if we so wish, but lately, I find myself wishing that I could move out. My youngest sister has also spoken previously about wanting to move out as well, so we could possibly move out together and maybe with our other sister as well. It’s going to be so weird to see the house that I’ve lived in for the last 22 years of my life going up for sale; the house where I grew up. Everything is changing lately. But it all seems to be changing in a positive way. I have some more big steps ahead of me.

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getting to know my depression
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i live with depression. sometimes it’s major, sometimes it’s minor and sometimes i can’t tell if i have it at all. but i’ve been clinically diagnosed for over 13 years so i have gotten to know it pretty well. depression presents itself differently in each person. for me, depression feels like a deep, heavy sadness. like a thick fog that slowly rolls in and envelops every part of me. it’s so hard to see my way out and it blocks my vision of a positive future or even a tolerable present. through many years of treatment i have worked hard to understand how i feel when depression comes back and how i can take the best care of myself when i feel sick. a few weeks ago i wrote about getting to know my anxiety. today i am going to talk about getting to know my depression. here are some of my own red flags and what i do to help myself when they come up.

don’t panic. when i feel that first tinge of sadness or when i feel more tired that usual, alarm bells start to go off in my head. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO. NOT DEPRESSIONNNNNN!!!!!! for me, depression has been nothing short of devastating. it’s hard not to freak out when i feel it coming on. when i remember how sick i was, the thought of a relapse is absolutely terrifying – especially if i have been having a really good, upbeat streak. i feel my thoughts start to race ahead to the worst case scenario and a panicked feeling grows in my chest. this is a critical moment for me. this is a moment when i do have a choice. i have to stop and take a very deep breath. and then ten more. i talk to myself – sometimes out loud – and tap into my own strength and past experience. the conversation goes something like this: it’s ok to be scared of getting depressed again. it’s natural to feel anxious. you are a survivor. remember how much you have learned. whatever happens next, know that you can handle it.

know my red flags. i have found it necessary to understand what my thoughts and behaviors are like when i start to spiral downwards. this helps me catch myself before i hit the bottom.  my first red flag is catastrophic thinking. nobody understands me. everyone else has it easier than me. i will never get over this.  who cares. it doesn’t matter how hard i try. i’ll never be good enough. once i start thinking or saying things like this, i know that my depression is flaring up. another clue is if my energy is low for several days and i find it hard to complete daily tasks, like cleaning, showering or cooking dinner. when i notice these warning signs, i try to pause and reflect on what might be triggering the thoughts or behaviors. i talk to someone, like my family or my therapist. while it’s tempting to ignore red flags, i have found that it’s super important to acknowledge and explore them. for me, avoiding or denying them only makes depression worse further on down the line.

remember that depression is an illness with symptoms. for a long time, i didn’t think of depression as an illness. it felt more like a personal defect that i needed to try to get over. looking back, i can see that this perspective made the symptoms of my depression feel even more overwhelming. i didn’t view my feelings or experiences as symptoms of an illness. sadness, guilt and isolation loomed large and my panicked reaction magnified their effects. through a lot of reading and conversation, i have come to accept that depression is, in fact, an illness. and for me, one that needs to be treated with both medication and therapy. shifting my perspective has helped me to react with less fear when my symptoms present themselves. they make more sense within the context of depression as a legitimate medical condition. i still feel sad, afraid and lonely, but i am able to recognize those feelings as connected to my illness and as symptoms that i can respond to with self care.

accept that i am in a finite period of depression. one of the hardest features of depression is that it makes you think it will never end. which is what makes the onset so scary. a difficult piece of my work in therapy has been accepting that i have a mental illness and building my ability to tolerate it when it flares up. as much as i wish it would, depression won’t just disappear. and somehow, as counter-intuitive as it seems, allowing myself to feel the depression and accept its presence alleviates some of my suffering. for me, the symptoms don’t last forever. i have made it through depression before and, as gut-wrenching as it was, i can do it again. i tell myself that it is ok to feel sad, or angry, or frustrated. this is a perfect opportunity to…

practice self care. for a long time, i ignored and denied my symptoms. if i felt sad, i hid it. i can’t tell you how many times i cried in my car or in the bathroom stall so nobody else would know. i almost never told others about my depression. if i felt exhausted, i pushed myself harder and if i felt inadequate, i took on even more responsibility. i had a lot of negative coping skills – like drinking, smoking, shopping and over-working. and then one day i crashed. and burned. it took me two years to recover. which is why, today, nothing is more important to me than self care. i had to start from the bottom and rebuild my life in a healthier, more authentic way.

i could write all day on self care so i’ll try to keep it short (for now). for me, self care means being honest about my diagnosis. i don’t lie anymore about having depression or about my dad’s suicide. i honor who i am and what i live with. self care means saying no to others when i am feeling overloaded. it means making time to relax, to exercise, to create and to connect with others. self care is using all my senses to soothe and recharge myself – body, mind and spirit. and i practice coping skills every day, not just when i am at my worst. this is what makes them more effective when i do have an episode of depression – they work because i have been practicing.

know when to ask for help. depression is serious. and for some people, like my dad, depression is fatal. suicidal thoughts are a common symptom of depression. and i know that if and when i have them, they are not to be ignored. if i ever have the thought that i would be better off dead, i know that this is the most serious of red flags.  i tell someone i trust immediately and i reach out for more professional support. i believe that i deserve help in treating my depression and i recognize that i can’t do it on my own. in the past i used a personal safety plan that outlined specific steps i would take in the event of suicidal thoughts – this was a very helpful tool. other red flags that indicate i need to step up my professional help are frequent crying, prolonged withdrawal from family or friends, and lack of desire to go to work. i always keep the national suicide prevention lifeline’s number programmed into my cell phone, so that i have someone to call at any minute of the day or night. while suicidal thoughts don’t mean that suicide is inevitable, it’s so very important to act immediately when they come up.

and finally, i remember that i am not depression. i am not my diagnosis or my mental illness. i am not depression – i have depression. when i am feeling especially blue, this is something i say to myself every day. depression impacts our thinking and makes it difficult to appreciate the whole picture of who we are. remembering that i am not depression puts some of the power back into my hands. i am reminded that i have so much strength, ability and compassion to use in support of myself when depression strikes. while i can’t control my symptoms and while nothing is more difficult for me than experiencing depression, it’s critical for me to remember that i deserve to, and will, feel better. i have become an expert in my own experience. developing awareness, acceptance, self care and support have shifted the way that i cope with depression.

to quote one of my favorite internet memes – i have survived 100% of my worst days. so far i’m doing great.

(check out the full version of the above comic strip at upworthy.com)

The post getting to know my depression appeared first on blue light blue.

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Someone call the papers!
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I mentioned in a previous post that I was attempting online dating again and that I might be meeting up with a guy from one of the sites. Well we did end up meeting up, and things have gone really well so far. I’ll need to write about our first date at some point, actually, as it makes for a funny story, in terms of how mortifyingly/ hilariously (depending on how you look at it) awkward I am. We’ve been going out for almost two months now, and I now have a boyfriend (!!!) Trust me when I say that no one is more surprised than I am! I was thoroughly convinced that I would never be in a relationship, given my mental health issues, unattractiveness, and low self-esteem. I still can’t really believe it now. This is a very prolonged and elaborate dream that I’m having. I really don’t want to mess this up, but I’m worried that all my issues that I mentioned above will inevitably ruin things. He knows all about my social anxiety and history of depression, and has so far been extremely patient and understanding, but it is still a worry. I have zero relationship experience (and not even much experience with friendships), and, as I mentioned before, being in a relationship/ getting close to someone is the area in which my anxiety and low self-esteem are most intense. I am also absolutely dreading meeting his parents (he has already met all of my immediate family, but his parents live up in the Highlands, so it will be some time before I have the opportunity to meet them, if everything continues to go well), even though they seem like lovely people. Everything in a relationship is so new and daunting to me.

While I’m of course really happy about finally having found someone I really like (and who apparently likes me) enough to be in a relationship, I am having huge issues with cognitive dissonance. For example, I can’t believe him when he says that he really likes me or that he finds me attractive, because most of my previous life experiences have taught me that I’m unlikeable/ unlovable, and that I’m hideously unattractive. Therefore according to the sum of my life experience and conditioning, he’s lying. And then I get suspicious and start to worry about what else he might be lying about. Stupid brain. All of this has made me realise that low self-esteem is my biggest issue/ obstacle. I’m currently reading a book on self-compassion in an attempt to address this. Another thing that I’m worried about is that I have intense anxiety/ issues around physical intimacy (I find it really difficult to talk about that kind of thing, but will hopefully write about it in more detail at some point, as I imagine it’s quite a common issue in those of us with SA). Even though he’s been super patient and understanding about this so far, I worry that my issues with this will eventually cause his patience to run out. Anyway…negative rant over.

It feels so great to finally have someone special in my life. I thought that romantic relationships would only ever be something that happened to other people, not to me. I’ve been so lucky to find someone so caring, patient and understanding when it comes to me and my mental health. I had the courage to be open with him about my issues, and he has accepted me, anxiety and all. I feel like this is someone that I may actually be able to trust and open up to completely. Although there are a lot of things about getting close to someone that make me really anxious, I have become so much more comfortable around him already (probably like a different person compared to how anxious I was on our first date), so I am hopeful that I will continue to improve and won’t let my anxiety get in the way of this part of my life. Even if things ultimately don’t work out, I’ve still really enjoyed our time together, and have some new happy memories to add to my collection. Any friendship or relationship that I have in my life is very precious to me. I won’t take this for granted, and I will certainly cherish this far more than most people.

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