Editing Your Life

I think everyone has times in their life they wish they could forget. Or that they’d never happened. I have a big portion of my life that I am trying to move on from.

I don’t think ignoring that these things happened is helpful. After all, nothing can change the past. But there comes a point, when you have processed what happened, accepted it, and moved on, and you don’t want to be thinking about the crappy things.

I have realised that I am the kind of person that heavily edits my own life. I get rid of possessions that remind me of a bad time, like a dress I wore to a funeral, or a present from someone no longer in my life, or deleting photos from my computer. I find that this helps me stay focused on the present. Objects have such strong memories attached to them, and by getting rid of the object, I have alleviated some of my emotional anguish.

I have even taken down some of the posts on this blog, once again, editing the bad parts of my life out.

The flip side to this is that I have a very good memory, and I want to remember my life in as much detail as possible. I keep a notebook with tickets and scraps from all the cool stuff I have done, and I love looking back on it. I have kept all my old diaries, and notes and drawings that my friends gave me at school. I love having tangible things that document my life.

One of the things I have done to move on from this bad thing doesn’t involve completely removing it from my life. I have made some blog posts private, so they are there, but not when I look back over my main blog website.

Another things I have done is physically making some things private. I’ll explain what I mean by that. There are some parts of my teenage diaries that I cannot read, I know I am lying even in my diary and the cognitive dissonance is simply too much. But I didn’t want to throw away. So, I taped them shut. I physically made it so I can’t read them (unless I have a complete meltdown and rip them open like a bear). They are still in my box of sentimental items; they are there, and I can acknowledge them, but I can’t relive them.

I think this relates well to that mental image I have seen a lot, of packing things into boxes in your mind, having them there if you want to look at them, but not letting the take over your thoughts. And this balance, I believe is best. I don’t think it’s healthy to ignore the bad things that have happened to us. Accept them, process them, and acknowledge them if you need to. The rest of the time should be sent on things that make us happy.

Challenging my Anxiety

One of the things I was most nervous about coming to China was living with people the same age as me. Last time I was in a shared flat, I had an awful time. I was bullied, and my social anxiety got so bad that I was scared to leave my room, even just to go to the kitchen.

As it turns out, I think coming to China was exactly what I needed. It was a big step out of my comfort zone that so far, at least in terms of my social anxiety, has paid off.

I am really enjoying living with my flat mates. It helped that they were very welcoming, and it was almost an expectation that we would go out to dinner together. Not only did this force me to socialise, it helped with other aspects of my social anxiety. For example, I sometimes find it difficult to go outside, which is something I don’t really talk about. But, with two other people I don’t feel so self conscious. I can eat in public without too much anxiety. I can do normal things, and not panic about them.

As a contrast, I went for a walk by myself last week in the downtown area of Nantong. I was trying to take some pictures, and just explore the city. I ended up going home earlier than planned because I was feeling very anxious. So, while my social anxiety is better, and I’ve found some people who I can be comfortable around, there are still aspects of my anxiety that I need to work on. Travelling by myself is definitely part of that, which I am hoping to work on (I went to Shanghai by myself at the weekend!)

I already knew this, but being here has further proved that exposure therapy is very effective. If I hadn’t have pushed myself, and forced myself to feel the initial anxiety, I wouldn’t have had the pay off, of new friends and new experiences. I think it is important to realise that you can do all the things you want to, even if your anxiety tells you you can’t. It will be hard, but it will also be worth it.

 

Promise 3

Okay, now we are back on track with these promise posts!

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If your read my last post, you’ll know that when I earned my second bracelet after being 3 months self harm free, I was feeling very positive. It was very interesting reading that post back, now that I am 6 months clean, and to see the changes I have made.

I have been able to focus on more things that I love, and give myself more time to relax. I usually work six days a week, my day off being spent with my boyfriend. While that is lovely, it doesn’t give me a whole day that I can dedicate to doing what I want to do, and being a bit of a lone wolf, that is something I really enjoy.

However, for the past two weeks, I have given had the opportunity to take 2 days off per week, and it has been lovely. I have managed to maintain my work hours, which has alleviated my anxiety about money, and not working hard enough, and I even went for a massage last week. It was some much needed down time where I didn’t need to worry about anyone else.

Like I said in my last post, the bracelets are a good physical reminder that I don’t really want to hurt myself, not deep down. However, this does not stop the thoughts. Since my last promise, because of some of the difficulties I have had in the past few months, I’m not feeling as positive. I concur that the physical presence of the bracelets serves to remind me not to hurt myself, but it’s hard to get rid of the thoughts.

I have been struggling with urges, especially in the past month or so. I haven’t acted on them, but it’s still quite distressing. The thought that I was only a few weeks away from another bracelet actually helped me through. I know that’s a bit sad, but if I say I am going to do something, I like to follow through, and I hate letting myself down.

Therefore, my next promise to myself is: I will keep going, even when things are hard.

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Even when I am lying in bed, and thoughts of what I could do to myself are swirling in my head. Even when I have that object in my hand, the one that could do me harm. I will keep going.

Recovery isn’t about one day waking up and magically finding everything in your life easy, stress free and happy. I think it’s unrealistic to expect a life free of struggle, even when you are considered fully recovered. The important distinction, in my mind, between being recovered or not, is perseverance. When you are in recovery, you are fighting, and trying, and maybe still struggling, but you are able to pick yourself up after a bad day or week.

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So, if we were to boil it down, the three things my promises represent so far are strength, happiness and perseverance. I believe they are essential for a healthy life, and recovery from whatever you are struggling with.

Promise 2

So, remember that post I made about my reward system to help me stop self harming? Well, I did write a follow up a few months back, and I had planned to make it into a series. However, when I went to write the third instalment, I realised that I had not posted the second. I want to carry on with the series, so even though this post is three months late, for the sake of continuity, I wanted to share it.

To find the positives in this situation, I think posting this late gives me the benefit of hindsight. I can look at what I wrote, and see if I kept my promises, and whether I have made positive changes. I will be posting my third promise later in the week, with some follow ups to the promise I made here.

(NB: Everything in italics was written in June.)

It’s been three months since I made the post entitled “Promise;” three months that have been completely self harm free. That means it is time for another reward, and another promise.

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My second promise is “I will strive to pursue the things that make me happy.”

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I am still struggling, especially with my depression. I often feel worthless, that my life is stagnating, and there isn’t much point to anything. But, there are still moments of happiness. I just got back from holiday, and in spite of the everyday difficulties that mental health presents, I had a great time.

I want to dedicate more of my time and efforts to pursuing the things that I enjoy. I am learning to be unashamed about my interests, after hiding them for fear of judgment from people – people who are fortunately no longer in my life. I love nature, and animals, I love travelling and photography. I love crafts and yoga and being vegan. These are the things that keep me grounded when depression and self harm urges threaten my stability. Therefore, they are important, and deserve the time I dedicate to them.

I have found that the bracelets have helped me when I have had urges. Having the bracelets where I might cut myself gives a strong incentive not to do so. Even just looking down at my wrist, I am reminded of the promises I am keeping for myself. It makes me want to keep trying, because if I relapsed, the bracelets would be meaningless.

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With this new bracelet, my determination to recovery is renewed. The new, bright purple string next to the faded first bracelet shows my perseverance.  I will continue to add these small tokens of strength to my wrist. They may seem insignificant, but the knots that bind them to my body represent so much to me.

Once again, I encourage you to try this, or a similar method of tangible reward if you are trying to recover from self harm. It is really helping me, even though I have been trying to stop for a number of years. Battling self injury is a long process, fraught with set backs, so any tools we can use to help are worth trying.

Immature

Like a lot of people who struggle with anxiety, I find it difficult to get to sleep. I have racing thoughts and can’t shut my brain off.  I also have bad dreams when I am going through a period of heightened anxiety, and wake up in the middle of the night.

How do I deal with it? I sleep with soft toys.

I used to be really embarrassed about it, and scold myself for being too immature. However, I was struggling to sleep the other night, and having anxious, scary thoughts, I clung onto my softest panda, and I realised that there isn’t anything to be ashamed of.

I actually use my soft toys as coping tools in a variety of situations. My biggest cat is great for stress relief. It’s like a small pillow, and so densely stuffed that it’s essentially a giant stress ball that I can squeeze in my arms. It has proved very helpful in calming me down when I feel anxious or frustrated.

I even take soft toys out with me if I know I’m going to be going into an anxiety provoking situation. I have a tiny Tsum Tsum that fits in my pocket and is really soft and comforting to squeeze, and has helped me when I have experienced anxiety travelling and on public transport.

I don’t feel I should be ashamed of doing something that does really help with my mental health problems just because it might be seen as immature. I think the coping mechanism we have when we’re small, like cuddling a stuffed toy, can actually be very beneficial, much better than coping mechanisms that adults or older children might develop, like self harm.

Taking the example of falling asleep, when I was younger, I might have cuddled with a soft toy, or had a story read to me to help me get to sleep. When I was a teenager, I cut myself before I went to bed to calm me down, block out my negative thoughts and allow me to sleep. It is quite clear which of these is the better methods, and as I have gotten older, I have started to use the former method, of snuggling up to a soft toy, and listening to an ASMR video or audio book, to send me off to sleep. To me, this proves that the regression to a more “immature” habit, is actually very healthy.  I would much rather be seen as immature than hurt myself to deal with my mental anguish.

Benefits of Yoga

I practise yoga (mostly) every day, and I couldn’t recommend it highly enough. I wanted to share some of the reasons why I love yoga, and what it has done for my general health and well being. I hope that maybe it will inspire someone to try it for themselves!

  1. Yoga gives me energy. Honestly, I know it may seem like it would tire you out, but it helps me feel more awake, whether it’s first thing in the morning, or after work when I need a little boost of energy. Yoga isn’t easy, and I do get out of breath, but it’s not like going for a run, when you might feel the need to lie down afterwards. I always want to be up and doing after a yoga routine.
  2. It’s very relaxing. I sometimes just do a series of rest poses, or still poses, like child’s pose, or a forward fold, and just stay there for a while. It can allow a brief moment for meditation, or push the negative thoughts you may be having out of your head. I think it helps to calm you down because of the focus on breathing, slowly and steadily, which naturally forces your body chill out.
  3. Yoga is helping me to love my body. It has made me fitter, more toned, and more flexible. In turn, that has made me feel better about my body. I can see how my body has changed since I started yoga, and I feel stronger. I used to be self conscious about my pudgy arms (and the scars) but I am starting to look at them differently now. I also feel better about my body shape in general.
  4. I use yoga to alleviate my IBS symptoms. I have ongoing stomach problems caused by stress, and I sometimes get painful cramps and bloating. Yoga not only relaxes me, taking away some of the root cause of my problems, stretching out my stomach helps my physical symptoms as well. I also believe doing it in the morning kick starts my digestive system, helping me digest my food better going through the day.
  5. I know there is a negative stereotype of people telling depressed individuals to “drink green tea and do yoga!!!” and they will be cured, and as much as I understand ho that attitude can be damaging, I find yoga does help with my depression. Okay, it may not be yoga specifically, but I think any kind of exercise of activity would yield the same results. It gets you up and moving, which helps me to shake off the sluggish feeling I sometimes get in the morning when I don’t want to get out of bed. It makes me feel I have achieved something that day, even if I have not left the house. On some days, it can help me reflect on what is going on in my head, giving myself some space and quiet to be present and acknowledge the thoughts that I am having. Doing that has even made me cry on one occasion, which is great because I sometimes struggle to show emotion when I am down. I’m not claiming yoga will cure your depression, but it has helped me.

Yoga is a wonderful way to keep your mind and body healthy. If you are interested in taking up yoga, I wrote a blog post on how you can get started as a beginner, which may be helpful to you.

Promise

My first therapist gave me a coping technique that I have not used in a while. She told me that I should plan rewards for when I reached a milestone of not cutting, for example 1 month without cutting, 2 months, 6 months and so on. In the early days, I did use rewards as an incentive, and I found it really helpful.

As I was approaching a year self harm free, I had stopped using most of my coping/distraction techniques, mostly because I didn’t need them anymore. I had urges, but I was able to ignore them on my own. I thought that I must be completely recovered, but it doesn’t work like that.

Out of nowhere, I had a really intense depressive period and self harmed. I think the reason I relapsed was because I wasn’t used to using my coping mechanisms, because I thought I didn’t need them. It gave me a bit of a wake up call, and I realised that I need to be looking after myself a bit more, and devoting time to self care and recharging even when I don’t feel like I need it.

I came up with a little reward system that I thought would be good to share, and will hopefully help me stay self harm free. I purchased 4 small bracelets on Etsy that are going to be physical reminders of my strength and perseverance. Using a similar idea as wish bracelets, for each one I will make a promise to myself before I tie it on my wrist, and when the string wears through, I will fulfil that promise.

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The promises are not going to be things like “I will not cut,” or “I will be happy,” because I can’t guarantee those things, and I don’t want to punish myself if I cannot fulfil them. They will be positive promises, looking to the future, focusing on my strengths and attainable goals.

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My first promise is this “I will come through this and be stronger because of it.” Sometimes, when things are hard, it is easy to lose yourself in negative thoughts. I have been doing really well recently, and I know that I can get to a place where I feel happy and functional most of the time. Just because I’m not there now doesn’t mean I can’t get back there. Also, as difficult as it is to remember, the struggles we go through are part of us, and can help us in the future to deal with problems again. This is why I know I will be stronger for dealing with this, and moving past my urges and negative thought patterns.

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I wrapped the others individual and hid them around my room (and will hopefully forget where they are). Every 3 months, a reminder will come up on my phone telling me where to look for the next reward, and I will make another promise to myself.

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I thought that this could be quite a fun thing to do, even if you just want to write yourself some promises in your recovery journal, without doing the rewards. I just feel that having something tied to my body will help me remember that I can pull through, especially since it is on the wrist that I would be most likely to hurt myself.

Please let me know if you do something similar to help with your recovery. I think it’s good to share these little coping mechanisms and behaviours that we learn along the way.