Cotton Grass on the moors, Shutlingsloe from the distance, a resevoir, and sheep.
This lovely, sunny bank holiday weekend I am stuck at home recovering from a particularly annoying cold. So I thought I would share photos from last weekend; I went home to see my parents, and my father and I went for a walk on Sunday to Shutlingsloe, in the Peak District, and a nearby forest. As I had a bus to catch home in the afternoon, we made our walk a very early one – starting at around 9am in the morning. We first climbed Shutlingsloe, taking advantage of how quiet it was in the early morning, and how cool it still was. There were flowers out even on the moors- sloeberry bushes beginning to form their fruits, and rogue daisies, and fluffy cotton grass. I picked a stalk of those, running my fingers through the soft flower. We ascended and it was still up there, for once, and we sat and snacked as we gazed out onto the countryside and the hazy profiles of Cheshire and Greater Manchester in the distance. We then descended and went for a long meander, country roads, bare and gloomy pine forests, and then a grove of sycamore trees where, to our surprise, a huge amount of bluebells were carpeting the forest floor. It was stunning. We continued walking, exploring more mixed forests and another pine forest, and were quite tired by the end, as the sun got stronger and stronger, but it was very refreshing, and very pretty out there.

Bluebells. *_*
We have done that walk, or a walk like it, Shutlingsloe and the surrounding area, so many times now, so familiar now, there’s probably an entry on this blog with photos like this, but it’s still one of our favourites , and there is something to be said for the familiar. Even that can surprise sometimes, such as with the unexpected swath of bluebells. I was sorting through some old files the other day and stumbled upon a video of my father, my sister and I climbing Shutlingsloe several years ago, I was still small and chatting away to nobody, my sister was a teenager, whiny and annoyed, and my poor father meanwhile was just trying to film some scenery. It was snowing. And it surprised me to see us out in that weather, to see myself so confidently striding through the snow , ascending and descending what surely must have been a slippery path, surely, without concern. It’s amazing how fearless we are as children, and I wonder when fear and worry begins to set in? When do we become aware of danger? I wouldn’t go out on a walk like that in the snow now; I’d be scared of slipping and hurting myself, of getting stranded in freezing conditions. Younger me clearly wasn’t so concerned – even in simple trainers, she was happy to just walk. I guess that’s ultimately all there is to it, but it’s our minds that get in the way as we get older.

I recently went to see a new therapist and we were talking about my history and she asked me when it began – my anxiety- and I wonder too. It feels like it’s always been there, but when I look at pictures and videos of myself when I was younger I’m so bold and outspoken that clearly there was a time I was not? I must have just taken growing up a little too hard, or something. It’s puzzling how different I am as a child and as an adult. Something must have gone very wrong somewhere along the way.

Stack of fresh cut pine logs – my father and I counted the rings of the bigger ones and estimated them to between 50-60 years old. Forest scenery, an old road, and a small abandoned house in the forest. Someone had gone to the effort of researching the owner of that house, printing out and laminating a small information sheet and laying it at the base of the house. Very interesting.
Anyway, to go back to the topic of therapy – I decided to go private this time, sick of NHS waiting lists and the inflexibility of treatment options, and it’s very expensive, possibly too expensive to be feasible in the long run, but very thought provoking. I hope this time I can get a handle on my anxiety. Life is still not going well. I am grateful for the good moments – for forests full of bluebells and my family, and an hour with a therapist (an impartial voice) who understands. Life did not go the way I expected after graduating, and being an adult is hard.

I wish I could go out and explore this weekend – to another forest, another moor, to the seaside. It’s so nice to get out and breathe in some fresh air when your brain is all anxious and unhappy. Alas, stupid cold. I’m going to have to waste this weekend. :(

uri_mh1488118231382I went to see Cinderella last night. It was so good. Absolutely hilarious with a wonderfully talented cast. The music was stunning. The main actor / prince was played by a South African! The modern adaptation worked well, and wasn’t quite as surreal and experimental as Hansel and Gretel…I think I liked that it was more restrained when it came to the modern/digital effects. And did I mention that it was hilarious? I had a terrible view in the first half, blocked by those sat in front, but in the second half the woman behind me had somehow convinced those in front of me to switch seats with them…It was rather mysterious …. They didn’t seem to know each other and I don’t know how that happened. But my view improved too so I was pleased for whatever bargain had been made.

I went by myself but thankfully my sister let me text her as usual. It does make me feel a bit nervous going alone. A bit self conscious? At the interval I went to the bar to get a drink, I discovered you could get free water and ice to drink. Which yay. But . I stepped into someone before even getting to it, then I spilled the water, then I dropped my phone, then I managed to get my water and some ice in my bottle, picked up my phone and knocked into someone else on my way out. I get so clumsy when I’m feeling nervous. I was just so aware that everyone around me was in pairs or groups and it turned me into a clumsy idiot, making a fool of myself. I don’t mind doing things by myself, and I also like to use these outings as an opportunity to test/push my anxiety. If I can feel comfortable in my own skin when I’m alone, then I can surely feel comfortable around others. I don’t always succeed though. But that was just one small incident, the show itself was great.

Today I’m out in town. I went for my annual check up at the opticians (I’m that wierdo who actually goes every two years as recommended.) Thankfully my eyesight, although not perfect, is not so bad to need glasses. I’m in Starbucks now, writing this and treating myself to delicious things. :)

As usual the weekend is flying past. I’m sorta looking forward to the week as I’m out the office a lot…Nice to do different things and I get to go to site once which yes :)

“There’s a niche in his chest where a heart would fit perfectly and he thinks if he could just maneuver one into place –well then, game over”

Counselling has been going very well. Sometimes I struggle with CBT- I worry I’m not doing it correctly, or I don’t understand where its all going. I think I get what’s going on in my current sessions though, and I think I can see where I’m heading, and I like where I think I’m going to end up.

I think its safe to say that I’ve got the classic combo: generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) and social anxiety. Over the last few weeks my counsellor has been helping me a lot with addressing my thoughts- being aware of when I’m- a) “mind reading” during a conversation “they must think I’m such an idiot” , b) what if thinking “what if something bad happens” and c) catastrophizing “well of course something bad will happen”. And of course, negative thought patterns and trying to have more balanced thoughts. We also addressed “self focus” and bringing my attention away from myself to the other person and to the world at large. It’s so easy to get caught up in my thoughts and my feelings and to become lost in them. There have been lots of work sheets and some terrifying behavioral experiments. Its kinda amazing how distorted my view of the world is and the impossibily high standards I hold myself to. Just myself. I would never hold someone else to such standards, and I’m willing to forgive other people for their own mistakes far more easily than my own. I am my own judge and critic, and I am selfish and wrapped up snugly in my broken thoughts and self loathing. I am trying hard to soften up, to recognise the thoughts and rationalise them. I am trying to bring my attention and focus outwards.

We have reached the heart of the problem now, my counsellor and I, and that is that I worry. Too much. Mostly about uncertainty. And I then try to control that uncertainty in ways that would only make sense to myself, and maybe someone else with GAD. After working on the thoughts we are now directly addressing these behaviours that feed the thoughts. We are taking a step back to go forward- this is purposefully anxiety inducing. Like a vaccine- I need to be feeding myself a tiny bit of my sickness in order to build resilience of it. There is no talk about getting better in any of our sessions- its all about building up resilience. My illness does not have to control my life. Worry and anxiety are even normal, holding onto it and never letting it go…not so much.

Anyway, I had one of the most embarrassing sessions on Tuesday when I had to tell my counsellor all about the ways I try and control uncertainty, to help me feel like I’m preparing, to easy my worry and satisfy my anxiety. Take for example, leaving the house. The first stage- waking up and getting out of bed. Waking up is usually not hard, getting out of bed is. I have to go to work, but I’m worried about it, I may have a scary deadline, or a meeting, I may just feel simply overwhelmed at the thought of work, so I don’t want to move from the safety of my bed. I want to avoid the problem. Ok, now let’s say I’ve managed to get out of bed. I get ready and now I’ve got to leave the house. First I have to check I’ve packed everything, then check the windows are locked, then check the oven is off, the lights off, the fish are ok, did I forget to check that one window? Better check again. Did I pack a certain item? Better check. Eventually, I’m out the door. I lock the door. Check its locked. But is it really? I check again. I check I’ve got my keys. I turn to walk down the stairs towards the street but, is it really locked? And do I have my keys? I check both again. Only then can I leave the house.

I have a whole evening routine too. And things I do throughout the day.

My life is a series of avoidances and checks and excuses and worries. My counsellor says its classic GAD, I frankly just feel ridiculous, embarrassed and crazy. We made a list of all the things I do on a scale of how anxious it would make me feel to not do it. I’ve got a little chart where I can write down my tasks to address these tasks – that involve very purposefully not engaging in the behaviours that make me feel safe- and some metallic stars to reward myself. According to my counsellor, treatment is about being like a child again: I need to relearn many things. So I treat myself like a child in my rewards.

I want to do this, I want to change, I’m exhausted living this way, but recovery is pretty exhausting too. Well, I’m not quite in recovery, more hovering around that point. Getting there. But slowly.

“There is a fire deep inside us, and nobody else can see when it burns out.”

The longer you step back from blogging, the harder it is to step back in. You want to write a casual entry, but it feels like you have to fill in the spaces between, and it becomes awkward. So here I am discussing this awkwardness to ease back in. There will be gaps, perhaps.

Let’s just pretend they aren’t there.

I have now finished work for 2015. I have until January the 4th to collect my thoughts before starting again. Starting work has not been easy. By November I was back at the doctor’s office to get stronger medication and a referral to counselling. I’ve had a lot of problems sleeping and getting out of bed in the morning: it was humiliating being told off by my boss for tardiness. This isn’t who I am. But it, sadly, is who I let myself become. I tried to start running. I envisioned those characters in books and movies running away from their sadness and their anger and frustration, and unfortunately the reality is not so swift and graceful or relieving. I stopped running. I did some more Yoga, but not really enough. I took the stronger medicine. I ate badly and relied on plenty of sugar to get me through the days. Well, that is what I have been doing. That is what I am still doing. Work is very difficult, very challenging. I love it, it’s everything, everything I have ever wanted but it’s also very new, very different, and did I mention hard? There is a steep adjustment curve coming fresh from university. I am trying, trying much harder, taking every day at a time and persevering. I want so badly for this to work. To become the person I envision in my mind, and not let this anxiety cripple me.

My new city is still very different, and a little overwhelming. I have settled nicely into my new flat – I have my new marimo, I have been slowly increasing furniture, putting more pictures up, trying to keep up with the chores (there’s a rabbit hole you cannot fall down when you aren’t feeling mentally well: whatever happens, keep cleaning, keep showering, keep putting your best clothes on. Do not let your surroundings mirror your feelings, or they will consume you.) I have been into town a few times, and each time felt better and more proud of myself as the crowds make me feel just a little less shaky and nauseous. Somehow, I got my Christmas shopping done. I also invited my mother and my sister round to my flat for my mother’s birthday. My sister and I took our mother to see Girls, the musical based on the calendar girls. It was very British and very funny. My mother loved it. Before that, we took her out to a fancy supper. The place was loud and crowded and I hated it, but my mother thrived on the energy of all those people and being out. I was so happy to make her happy – this was my idea, and it had worked, I thought. The next day was not so great – my sister was grouchy, and my mother and I reacted to it, and it was pouring with rain, so a trip to the city centre to shop was not pleasant. We had to rush, too, which didn’t help. Then we went home. I felt sad and disappointed as to how things had turned out. We had a fancy lunch on Sunday, the whole family and my sister’s boyfriend, and I am embarrassed by how snappish and moody I was. I guess that childishly I wanted to get back at my sister. Her boyfriend was there – let me make her feel that same uncomfortableness I did on Saturday. Let her taste that bitter disappointment. That was my outing, and you ruined it. I can be a terrible person sometimes, especially when my anxiety isn’t stable. I can be so withdrawn and cruel when I am hurting. Its so easy to become self-absorbed when hurt. Pathetic, really. After lunch, my Dad took me home and the work/sleep cycle started again.

I will be going home for Christmas. Home again. I keep going home. Returning to the safety of the nest. I envision myself in a comfortable armchair, cat snuggled up on my lap, a warm and heavy weight slowly causing my legs to go numb, her claws slightly pressed into my thigh. A book, my kindle, browsing on my father’s tablet. The sound of the birds outside. The sound of my father and mother, inside, somewhere in the house. I want to be home.

And yes, it’s Christmas. I don’t feel particularly fazed, as ever. I never like this time of year. Its dark, the year is closing before I am ready for it to, and I want to go home to South Africa, and to what once was. Every year, the same heavy feeling of homesickness, but now, for the first time, it is rather the memory of it. I no longer have anything to long for, and the absence of those ties is perhaps worse than having them. I want to go back, fetch the rope and stretch it back out. Tie the knots a little tighter this time.

Next year I will be 24. I will have spent 18 years of my life in the UK. Some other dates, all around this time. My grandmother will be dead for three years. My cat, it is her 10th birthday on Christmas, which she nearly didn’t make – she had cancer, and maybe still has it. We are all ageing, moving slowly towards the inevitable end. I feel older. But also too young. I work every day feeling like I slipped into an alternate universe, or into another point of time, and am having to adjust despite my alienation and lack of understanding of this new, foreign culture. Next year, I will be working for the whole year. This is my life now. Its thrilling, but terrifying. Where will I be next year? Will I finally adjust? Will the counselling work out, third time a charm? Will I ever stop feeling embarrassed for every little thing I do or say?

The future and all the potentials it holds are enormous, it’s overwhelming, it’s amazing. Here’s to next year, here’s to this year. I survived it, in the end. Never thought I would, to be honest.


I went to the doctor today for a work medical. I was terribly nervous about it before hand. I knew what it would be about. I had filled out a medical form a few weeks ago where I had put details of my anxiety and the fact I was on antidepressants. I knew that this had come up as a red flag for HR. I was so terrified about saying the wrong thing and being found unfit for work or needing special precautions. I don’t want any of that. I never, ever want to give in to my mental illness or let it define me. To do that would be like giving up, like giving in. Then my father and I got terribly lost trying to find the health center and my father shouted at me for messing up the directions, and then I was sitting in a large, empty waiting room waiting for my medical to begin. All of it combined to make me feel panicked and like something very terrible was about to unfold. I quite frankly, wanted to run for the hills. (So to speak.)

The doctor was nice enough. He went to the same university as me, so he made small talk about it between routine questions. And yet, I left the appointment feeling upset and annoyed. In the end, I was told that he would tell my employer I was fit for work, but vulnerable to highly stressful situations, which I think sounds reasonable. But I also got the old you need to be in CBT talk combined with a dose of medicine won’t fix your problems. One thing I appreciated, of many, about my old doctor was the way he never pushed anything on me. When I said I did not want anymore CBT, that I had enough of it, my doctor understood. He let me take control of my treatment, and he never made me feel ashamed of my choices. This doctor did not.

It also annoys me, the way that CBT is touted as the answer to everything, as the great cure. It’s dangerous, I think, to give that impression to patients. Yes, for some people maybe it does work, but I don’t think it’s a one size fits all treatment such as it’s touted to be. And even if it helps, it may not cure. It didn’t for me. CBT was fine when I went through it but in the long run I don’t believe in going through CBT again and again and again. What is the point? I get it now. You go to the CBT, you come away with some things to think about, maybe a book to refer to in the future, and then it’s up to you. Even with the CBT it’s up to you. And quite frankly, all those questions and work booklets never did anything compared to having someone anonymous to listen to me. And I can quite easily ramble to my mother or write a diary entry instead of dragging myself to the doctors. It’s all the same for me, you know? I never quite got the point of CBT, or what exactly I was supposed to be learning or how I was supposed to be changing. It always made me feel vaguely confused. I always worried about putting the wrong answers to the questions and it all felt like one very difficult test without a clear marking guide.

Besides, you need to move forwards. I have moved forwards. I’m not at that stage now. This doctor was talking to me like I don’t know anything, like I have not been dealing with this for years and am still confused about it all. I’ve been having problems with my mental health for years and I can cope with it. Just about. I take my medicine, I try to eat well and look after myself. I do yoga and breathing exercises to help me relax (and to sleep). I try to be creative: to blog, to read, to do needlework. I push myself to do things that scare me: from the smallest things, like making phonecalls, to learning to drive, to completing a difficult degree and starting a graduate position. I don’t need to make any mood diaries or to evaluate my feelings: I understand, by now, my triggers, and what to do when triggered. When things get bad, I rely on beta blockers, I make sure to take a day or two off for wallowing, and then I throw myself back in the deep end. Ultimately, the only thing you can do is to keep going. To acknowledge the bad thoughts, but not let them define your actions. To always have hope for something better, that despite the bad foreboding feeling, something unexpectedly wonderful could also happen. No matter what, never give up hope. I felt myself slipping this last year of university, felt my hope beginning to twist and grow small. So I took medicine. I took strong medicine, I got through, and now I am on a low dose just to keep myself stable.

According to this doctor, taking medicine for anxiety is not right.

But you know, maybe I will up my medicine if things get really bad again, and I don’t need this doctor to tell me this isn’t a solution. I tried for years to cope without medicine, too ashamed to admit I needed it, and it was stupid. Being on medicine has its side effects, and it’s not the “happy pill” its touted to be, but it gives me the right edge to help me get through my days a little easier. I will not be made to feel ashamed of that. (Except I have, haven’t I?)

To me, more CBT would be running backwards, back to the start of my journey to forming myself into someone competent and capable. I no longer believe in recovery, but I believe that I can be strong, that I can live a brilliant, fulfilling life despite the darkness lurking in my mind. I believe in myself and my own strength. I can do this myself, with the support of my family, my doctor, and my little pills. I don’t need CBT.

Fine. Right now, I do not need therapy. Mostly I hate having it pushed on to me. Let me make my own choices about what is right for me. Don’t patronise me and make me feel like a child who knows nothing about what is best for herself. I am not so far gone that I do not understand myself or my needs.

(I feel so sad to leave my doctor behind in my old city.)